Archive for September, 2010

Angelic Quiz

Tomorrow, the 29th, is the Commemoration of St. Michael and All Angels.  Here is a little quiz to see what you know about angels. All the answers are true/false and you can find out the answers tomorrow, right here:

1)      The most reliable source about angels is Jewish folklore. 

2)      The word “angel” literally means  a woman with wings.

3)      Angels are created.

4)      Angels are ministering spirits to serve us.

5)      Human beings can “earn their wings” and become angels.

6)      Angels are dumb.

7)      There are ranks of angels, kind of like in the army.

8)      Lucifer, or the devil, is a fallen angel.

9)      We are to pray to angels because they are heavenly beings.

10)  There was war in heaven.

11)  Angels usually provoke fear in people.

12)  This is the best quiz on angels I have ever taken!

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Galatians: Questions

The short video here points out an interesting literary aspect of the letter which the Apostle uses to state clearly the urgency of the Galatian’s desertion of the Gospel.  The Bible Study on Galatians continues this Saturday at 4pm. 

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Agnus Day

The following comic strip is on  today’s Holy Gospel,  St. Luke 16:  19-23.  Agnus Day is by Lutheran Pastor,  James Wetzstein: Agnus Day Comics. He cites a scholarly citation in the quoted intro below.  It is an interesting look at this Lesson.    

“Some of the rarer manuscripts add the editorial comment that Jesus also told this story in Bethany at the banquet given for his friend (the comfortably middle-class) Lazarus, after he was raised. According to this variant, everyone at the table had a good laugh. That Jesus is such a kidder.”

After all, did Lazarus,  the dead brother of Mary and Martha (St. John 11) do anything to raise himself from the dead? Wasn’t it all by the Word of Christ Jesus?  As Vicar Jim preached on Saturday:  did the poor man Lazarus have any good works in order to gain heaven to be at the bosom of Abraham?    And days before Luther died, he said, “It is true, we are all beggars.”   –Pr. Schroeder

 Agnus Day appears with the permission of http://www.agnusday.org

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Molly Ziegler-Hemmingway is a member of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod who writes a regular column for Christianity Today, the Wall Street Journal, etc.  This is from   Christianity Today   and was posted at Cyberbrethren, one of the oldest Lutheran blogs. 


Before my friend’s dad became a Lutheran pastor, he was a rough and tumble seaman who, well, swore like a sailor. He was even reprimanded once by a Navy superior for using excessive foul language. So when The Pacific, HBO’s new series about Marines in World War II, came out, he made sure to catch it.

But he could not watch it. The language—particularly the taking of the Lord’s name in vain—was just too much. When a sailor says you’ve crossed the line, you’ve crossed the line.

The series was on HBO, a venue that loves going to extremes. But taking the Lord’s name in vain has become something of a pastime in popular culture.

Jonathan Chait, a senior editor at the liberal political magazine The New Republic, wrote a blog post during the health-care debate that shocked me. “J—- C—–,” the headline began, followed by the statement that some arcane legislative process was “Not That Difficult!”

When Tiger Woods returned to golf following his sex scandal, he retained his habit of cussing a blue streak whenever he made a bad shot. “G–! Tiger! J—- C—–!” he said after a lousy drive. The announcers didn’t even flinch. Critics scolded Brit Hume for suggesting that Woods needed Christ’s forgiveness, but almost no one cared when Woods swore in Christ’s name.

Vice President Joe Biden got a lot of grief for dropping the f-bomb before President Obama signed health-care legislation into law. But how many people noticed that he used “Jesus Christ” to curse in a Wall Street Journal interview last year?

It used to be considered unacceptable to speak this way. Now it’s beyond common.

Exodus 20:7 tells us, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (ESV).

For many of us, this commandment means, “Don’t cuss.” It does—but it means so much more than that.

Unlike the mythic gods of the ancient world, Yahweh is not revealed only by things in nature but is primarily known by his name and the deeds associated with that name. In the prologue to the Ten Commandments, Yahweh identifies himself and says he brought the Hebrews out of bondage. God’s name is mentioned 5,343 times in 23,213 verses of the Hebrew text of the Bible.

“It is the revelation of his name that makes the Hebrews into his people, and it is by his name that he is to be remembered among his people forever. The name, then, is the only thing that Yahweh’s people have by which to know and to worship him,” writes David L. Adams in The Anonymous God.

The first tablet of the Law includes the commandments connected with God’s self-revelation, which have specific threats of punishment and are expanded with explanations. That probably indicates that God cares deeply about his name and how we use it. Surely something so important to God ought to be important to us, even if it’s completely counter to the spirit of our culture.

Unlike other commandments dealing with adultery and murder, the third commandment’s prohibitions can be harder to recognize as sin. We think it doesn’t matter as much because, after all, it’s “only words.”

The second commandment doesn’t just mean we should avoid cursing or swearing in God’s name. It’s possible to violate it even if we never utter a curse word.

Martin Luther said that “the greatest abuse” of this commandment occurs “when false preachers rise up and offer their lying vanities as God’s Word.”

In other words, false doctrine taught by those who claim to speak for God is worse than the crudest and most profane comedy special ever to air. When pastors go beyond Scripture to promote the gospel of prosperity or to tell parishioners not to worry about sexual immorality, they are not just wrong—they have also blasphemed God’s holy name.

As with all commandments, we keep them not just by avoiding certain behaviors but also by doing good works. So we are reminded to pray, praise, and verbally give thanks to God for his goodness and to call out to him in times of trouble. We must work to ensure proper teaching and employ God’s name in defense of truth and goodness.

Or, as the psalmist says, “… call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (50:15, ESV).


This was not in the article but it is the basis of the article and it is always good to remember:

You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.

What is this?  What does this mean?

Dr. Luther, from The Small Catechism:  We should fear and love god so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie or deceive by His Name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks

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From Narrative Commentary to the Divine Service by John Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions Director of Field Education at Concordia Theological Seminary FortWayne, IN:

It is only through the forgiveness of sins that we enter into the life of heaven. To confess your sins is to speak the truth about your life. This truth you learn from the Word of God and He, through the Holy Spirit, teaches you to say what He says (same/say). God seeks that truth in the heart and on the lips. To confess your sin is to same/say “Amen” to God’s just verdict that you have sinned against Him and so deserve only death and hell.

The truth of your sinfulness is answered by the truth of God’s forgiveness for the sake of the suffering and death of His Son. From the lips of a man “called and ordained” as a servant of the Word, your ears hear God Himself speaking absolution, that is, the forgiveness of sins. To that forgiveness, faith says “Amen,” to this verdict of God, “Amen” is the great word of worship; it indicates that the gift has been received.

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“Eat, Pray, Love”

             In the  latest  National Review edition, Ross Douthat reviews the movie, Eat Pray Love, which stars Julia Roberts. His review is entitled, “The Mirror’s Shallow God”  Caveat:  I have not seen the movie and after reading Mr. Douthat’s review I do not think I will:  after all, a purpose of movie reviews is help decide whether to lay out money or wait for the DVD or not even bother with even the DVD! His  movie review  also speaks to the cultural resistance Christians of all stripes must engage in, being, in the world but not of it.  

            The movie is from a book by one Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Roberts is Elizabeth. Mr. Douthat wrote that this movie is, “…the most self-consciously spiritual movies you’ll see this year, and also one of the most appalling.”  Why does he find it “appalling”?

            Gilbert, in an unhappy marriage, falls on her knees in her apartment and prays to God for guidance.  Personally, I think this is good and it is not appalling.  But what does God tell her to do?

  1.  First, break up with your husband but her husband’s, “…chief sins seem to be a slightly haphazard career trajectory and a disinterest in accompanying his wife on some of her travel journalist junkets.”
  2.   Then God (or should I write “God”?) tells her to temporarily live with a young handsome man played by James Franco.   But this “relationship” gets messy, so the deity tells her to move on. So the deity tells her to go “globetrotting” around the world for a year.
  3. First stop: Rome. In Rome, Gilbert  learns the “spirituality” of eating pasta, a lot of pasta.
  4. Second stop:  India where she learns meditation and how to forgive herself.
  5. Third stop:  Indonesia where she has another affair with a Brazilian divorcee…and all of the these stops  on her itinerary planned by her divine travel agent, “God”.

            Who is this “God”?  I think Mr. Douthat nails it:

“If everything “God” wants sounds sus­piciously like what a willful, capricious, self-indulgent Western woman with too much time and money on her hands might want … well, then you’ve unlocked the theological message of this movie. Late in her ashram phase, Gilbert distills it to bumper-sticker length: “God dwells with­in me, as me.” And what that God wants for her, inevitably, is the fulfillment of that inner self, the renunciation of its hang-ups and self-doubts, and the gratification of its desires.”  And so the title of review:  The Mirror’s Shallow God.”

          Mr. Douthat rightly calls this “religious tourism”.  He points out that this is offensive to true adherents of the various religions she delves into.   But in Rome, she does not even bother with Catholicism. Why?    Mr. Douthat:

“During her sojourn in Rome, where a rather well-known world religion makes its headquarters, she just eats and eats and eats. After all, why even dabble in a spiri­tual tradition that you know would disap­prove of your life choices, or frown on your God-is-me epiphanies? Better to keep tucking away the pasta, and then hustle on eastward looking for gurus less judgmental than the pope.”

 And who are the followers of the other religions that might be offended by this movie?  “If I were Indian or Indonesian or even Italian, I would watch this self-indulgent spectacle with a mounting hatred for everything American.”  Mr. Douthat refers to John Bunyan’s great 17th century story of Christian’s journey by faith to the celestial city, Pilgrim’s Progress.  But as C.S. Lewis entitled his first fiction as a Christian, Pilgrim’s Regress and we are tending to go backwards, not forwards following, “Christ the pioneer and perfect of our faith” (see Hebrews 12: 1ff). 

            And I found out it in the review that Mr. Douthat is Roman Catholic and he concludes with a favorite quote of mine from  Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton ( Wiki-article on Chesterton ) from over a hundred years ago which fits this movie all too well and it’s religion: 

“”Of all horrible reli­gion the most horri­ble is the worship of the god within…. That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones wor­ship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within.”

Some discussion questions, and you might have your own and answers for them as well:

   Why do you think Chesterton  thinks that old-fashioned idolatry is better than self-worship? Hmmm…what commandment(s) are  broken in this movie?  And it is quite common for this one particular commandment to be broken these days both in movies, TV and “real life’.  Why is it broken with such regularity?   Generally speaking, Why all the “relationship” language? Why do we find it so difficult to have a religion that does not say both Yes (promise) and in particular No (law)?  How do we keep our selves away from the “mirror’s shallow God”? How prevalent is this religion?   In what ways can we help people who are lost in error’s maze?

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Philemon 1-2; 23

Verses 1 and 2:  Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,        To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Verse 23:  Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

Notice how many fellow workers and brothers Paul names in this very short letter:  nine.  He also gives greetings to, “…the Church in your house”, which would mean even more!  As I earlier stated, notice the series of amazing  coincidences  of Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus found  himself in jail with the Apostle.  Coincidence?   A dear sister in a previous parish would always tell me, “Pastor, not coincidences but God-incidences.”  I think that works for Philemon…and for us as well.

We like to think in terms of  “networking”, or “network”, or how about “net work”, as in fishing net?  This work of the Lord’s is His Church and in that net to catch fish for Kingdom, and each has his or her part.  Another understanding of mission is “rescue mission”.  But notice throughout this short Epistle:   who does the finding?  The Lord and the Lord casts us forth in our daily lives.    The people Paul mentions have a part in the fabric of the net of His Church (see 1 Corinthians 12:   12-21) and each part is different yet works together according to His Word alone. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8: 28)

A rescue mission…our Good Shepherd seeking high and low for those perishing.  After 9/11 awe witnessed on television fireman and police and EMT seeking high and low, at peril to their lives, for those perishing in the World Trade towers.  They each had their vocation to do so.  “Onesimus Project” is a fairly good understanding of the Church being aware in prayer of the ways the Lord can use us  in our vocations for rescuing the least, the last and the lost.  Lost and found…yes, in the Lord we can be Onesimus, useful, more than slaves to our passions, brothers and sisters in Him Who died and rose and lives that we live. and so, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent,children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Phillippians 2:  14-16)

“Lord, made me a useful servant.  Thank you for my near and extended family in Christ.  Amen”  (Prayer in the footnotes for Philemon in The Lutheran Study Bible,  The Lutheran Study Bible: at Concordia Publishing House)

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Philemon 11

(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)

“Oh, he’s useless…no good.”  “What a useless waste of time!”  “It’s useless.  I give up!”  At one time or another we have all said something like that and it is a word of judgment, of law: a judgment of others or of our selves. It appears that in the  house and home of Philemon, Onesimus was useless.  We are not told in what ways he was useless as a slave.  Not obedient?  Slothful?  He had talents and abilities he did not use?   Maybe he did alot of, well, “brown-nosing”?  We do not know.  But he was useless.  We do not know why Onesimus ran away.  A conjecture:  like Jonah, the Lord caught up to Jonah as Jonah ran away and Onesimus’ uselessness was catching up to him as he ran away and the Lord found him in a jail…with His Apostle!  Then what a conversation Onesimus and the Apostle had in jail!   The  Apostle Paul knew Luke’s Gospel full well…after all, in Acts, Luke has sections in which he reports  he was there with Paul.  And at the end of Philemon, notice who else is with Paul in Rome! (verse 24)  The Apostle knew the Lord’s command:   “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that  repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”  (Luke 24:  46-48)  “Yes, Onesimus, your uselessness is real!  You are not doing as you should and so you dig a hole deeper for yourself and you can not get your self out.  And now you are a runaway slave and so are a criminal and the hole is even deeper.  Philemon has his rights under Roman law.  But there is One Who went into the hole Himself, born under the law:  Jesus Christ, God Himself.  The Lord has shown you your sin but better: He has shown you your Savior!  And that hole was His Cross and grave.  Luke told us that Jesus forgave a repentant thief on the Cross.  He even forgave me, the chief of sinners.  You have heard my story. Onesimus, He is risen and by His blood, He makes you right with God.  The Lord became a slave, as we all were enslaved to sin and death and the power of the devil, in order to bear our sin in His own Body.  Onesimus, His commands are not burdensome: repent and believe in the Gospel.”  In Christ Jesus alone, and His decision for us and for our salvation, Onesimus became more than a slave, a brother, Paul’s child and heart.  Onesimus’ name literally means “useful”.  In Christ Jesus, Onesimus became his own name.  He was lost and was found.  Even now.

Post-script:  According to a letter from St.Ignatius to the Ephesians, as he was going to be executed by the Romans for the Faith, Ignatius mentions one “…Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love and…your bishop.” (that is, pastor)!  St. Ignatius wrote this around the year 100. So this means that Paul’s letter to Philemon  was written only 40 prior to Ignatius’ letter.  We do not know if the two men so named were one and same, never the less, it is in keeping with the working of the Lord Who creates out of nothing, from Abraham,an idolater,  to Moses, a murderer and a stutterer, to David, a lad, to Paul, a persecutor of Christians, to a runway slave named Useful.

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Philemon, verses 1-7

                            An “epistle” is literally a letter.  They were letters, though, to be read publicly as in this epistle to Philemon to the Church meeting in the home of Philemon, Aphia and Archippus (verse 2). It was personal, yet public.   The Apostle began his epistles with the recipients of his writing, then with an apostolic greeting and then a thanksgiving for the letter’s readers

Excursus:   regarding verse 3:  “Grace and peace…”:  the Apostolic greeting and it’s variations has been customary  greeting for a Lutheran pastor to begin his sermon.  Why?  First it’s a profound prayer and benediction in the Lord for the congregation and secondly, for the congregation to know that the sermon which follows is derived from Scriptures, both Law and Gospel, and does not deviate on purpose from the apostolic Faith, see verse 6.

Excursus: verses 4—7: the Greek word for “thanksgiving”, eucharisto, in vs. 4 is the basis of the one of names for Holy Communion:  The Eucharist.  Galatians is the only letter that does not begin with a thanksgiving, see Galatians 1:  1—6. Why?

                             Paul does not identify himself as an apostle at all in the letter but quite frankly, “…a prisoner for Christ Jesus”, or it can be translated, “…a prisoner of Christ Jesus”.  Yesterday I wrote that there are depths of meaning of freedom, slavery and imprisonment in this short letter.  Paul was imprisoned yet free.  St. Ambrose (340—397, Bishop of Milan)  preached the following on Philemon which indicates these levels of meaning: 

 “How many masters he has who runs from the one Lord. But let us not run from Him. Who will run away from Him whom they follow bound in chains, but willing chains, which loose and do not bind? Those who are bound with these chains boast and say:” Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy.” It is more glorious for us to be bound by Him than to be set free and loosed from others.”

                            Before Paul refers to Philemon as his “co-worker”, he calls him “beloved”. “Beloved”, in Greek is a form of the word, agape, as in, for instance, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3: 16).   The Church Fathers, based upon ancient traditions, surmised that Apphia was Philemon’s wife and Archippus their son.  If so, the Apostle is writing to a family (see yesterday’s posting) and now this family is in Christ Jesus by Baptism and the Faith and not only them, but the Church meeting in their home.  As we sang on Saturday was probably applicable to Philemon’s household: 

 Oh, blest the house, whate’er befall,
Where Jesus Christ is all in all!
Yea, if He were not dwelling there,
How dark and poor and void it were!

Excursus, personal note:  since my resignation, this has been the closest I and my family have been to a house-church of the 1st and 2nd centuries:  Confirmation instruction in our dining room, and worship and a LLM meeting in our living room also in our home a pot-luck brunch. Personally, it seems “meet, right and so to do”. 

 It is easy to gloss over these first seven verses but notice the depth of love in Christ Jesus in this letter’s opening. In fact, verse 7, “…the hearts of the saints” and in verse 12, “…my heart” shows this depth. The normal Greek word for “heart” is “cardia” (as in our word, “cardiac”, etc.) But Paul uses a Greek word hard to translate into idiomatic English:  it’s literally, “bowels”.  For instance, in Luke, when our Lord sees the funeral procession of the son of the widow of Nain, it is reported, “…he had compassion”, again, the Greek, “bowels”.  The heart was considered to be the seat of the will and the “gut” as the seat of emotions. 

Excursus:  “Agape” is not derived from us but from the Lord. Philemon, his family and the Church meeting in their home made their confession of “the Faith” in the Lord and continued to do so. Agape is based upon faith as faith is the work of the Holy Spirit to confess,  Jesus is Lord (see 1 Corinthians 12: 3) The word “confession” in Greek is “homologia”, literally the “same word”, or maybe the “same Word”.  Doctrine matters. It is “sound doctrine” (see 1 Timothy 1: 10;  6: 3; Titus 1: 9;  2:1 and the Greek word for “sound” is one in which derive our word,”hygiene”: sound, clean). God’s Word,  in which  Paul, Timothy, Philemon, Aphia, Archippus, the Church meeting in their home, were on the “same page” of the Bible.

                                                   The word love, or “agape”, then is used two more times (verses 5 and 7)  and two times the word “faith”, literally “the faith” (verses 5 and  6).  This results in joy. Please note:  the basis of Paul’s love is not his feeling but God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, what He has done in our forgiveness,  resulting in the good works in Philemon’s home and the Church in the neighborhood:  “…the sharing of your faith”.  Yes, time for more Greek:  “…the sharing of your faith” is literally:  “…the koinonia of the faith, yours”.  “Koinonia”  is one of the Greek words I have used for the blog’s title.  “Koinonia” also is translated as “association, communion, fellowship, close relationship”.  As we share (koinonia)  in the Lord’s Blood, see 1 Corinthians 10:  16,  “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (literally, koinonia, communion”) in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation (koinonia!) in the body of Christ?”, then we share in the Faith and so share our faith.  “Koinonia” is used many times:  1 Corinthians 1: 9;  2 Corinthians 1: 9; Philippians 1: 2 etc. Here in Philemon it also has the nuance of “fellow feeling”. Paul’s prayer that this sharing of faith results in “good”: the knowledge of all that is good in Christ Jesus…and for Philemon and his household and many others this family in Christ Jesus knows…and this epistle testifies to the fact that  the Faith in Christ Jesus would spread all the way to Rome…as when Paul met the runaway slave Onesimus in a prison.

 Thought/Discussion/Study Questions: 

  1.  “It is more glorious for us to be bound by Him than to be set free and loosed from others.” (Ambrose)  How would you understand this in light of the book of Philemon?  Luther wrote:  “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none, a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”  What understanding does that bring to bear on Paul being imprisoned, yet free?
  2. How can “koinonia of the faith, yours” inform and instruct our “sharing of the faith”?  Is this sharing primarily for the individual or the congregation or both?  Can there be “sharing of the faith” apart from confession and Holy Koinonia?
  3. As a pastor, in a denomination going against the Scripture, I had  heard the following familiar saying used to justify staying together: “We just agree to disagree”.  Is that saying applicable to the church? What does “confession: saying the same word” say to that saying?

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