Archive for October, 2010

We Pray:

Almighty and gracious Lord, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defend us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Intro:  The painting below is by Lucas Cranach the Elder.  He lived in Saxony in the 16th Century and was  a friend of  Martin Luther. It seems that their families were friends.  The painting depicts Law and Gospel.  The proper distinction between Law and Gospel (or Promise) was first taught in The Book of Concord, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:  “All Scripture should be divided into these two chief doctrines, the law and the promises.”  Both the Law and the Gospel IS God’s Word to us:  to show us our sin and then show us our Savior.  We so need both.  The Word is rightly divided between Law and Gospel and is yet one Word of God doing two things, slaying the sinner and making alive the man in Christ ,  but Law and Gospel  must not be divorced from each other.  Cranach’s painting depicts this distinction.  In the painting, on the bottom, are the Scripture quotes which are the basis of Cranach’s painting:  see last paragraph below for those passages. 

Obviously, Cranach wanted his painting to teach us about the  proper distinction between the Law and Promise (Gospel).  It might be helpful to copy and paste this painting to get a larger look at it. Here are some questions to get you into the painting.  Post your answers for a discussion:

  1. Note the tree in the middle which divides the painting:  What is the difference between it on the left and the right side of it? In good Catechism fashion, What does this mean?
  2. How would you describe the three presentations of the Lord Jesus Christ?  What is significant about their placement?
  3. What is pointing to in the Law side?  The Gospel side? To what are they pointing?  Who are the figures doing the pointing? What does this mean?
  4. What Old Testament scenes depicted on the Law side?  Is their Gospel or Promise in the Law side? Is their Law in the Gospel side?
  5. Who is chasing the man in the left side?  What destination is the man headed?  What destination is the man headed on the right side?
  6. What lies under the feet of the lamb?  Who is the lamb? 
  7. Who is the naked man on each side of the painting? Different men or the same man?
  8. Is there a continuity between the two halves?  If so, what is it?
  9. What  do the Scripture quotes tell us about the painting?
  10. Do you have questions about this painting?

The Law is headed by a citation from Romans 1.18: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men.” The Gospel is headed by a verse of Isaiah 7.14, which shows the prophetic link between the Old and New Testaments: “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son.” Beneath the depiction of hte Law are quotations spelling out its significance ( Romans 3.23; 1 Corinthians 15.56; Romans4.15; Romans 3.20 and Matthew 11.13). The Gospel is likewise supplied with texts on faith (Romans 1.17 and 3.21 –both classic expressions of the basic Lutheran doctrine that the just live through faith), and expressing the hope of salvation (John 1.29; 1 Peter 1.2 and 1 Corinthians 15.55).

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“He assumed flesh and blood and bone like us, yet without sin, which is our lot. The devil hates to hear this joyful tiding, that our flesh and blood is God’s Son, yes, God himself, who reigns in heaven over everything. Formerly, each Sunday, we used to sing Nicea’s confession of faith, formulated at the Council of Nicea, in the words: Et homo factus est, “And he became man,” and everyone fell to his knees. That was an excellent, commendable custom and it might well still be practiced, so that we might thank God from the heart that Christ assumed human nature and bestowed such great and high honor upon us, allowing his Son to become man.”

 From Martin Luther’s Sermon for the Annunciation

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“These women were exemplary Christians who demonstrated their faith by their material support of the Church. Dorcas (also known as Tabitha) was well-known and much loved for her acts of charity in the city of Joppa, especially for her making clothes for the poor. When Dorcas died suddenly, the members of her congregation sent to the neighboring city of Lydda for the Apostle Peter, who came and raised her from the dead (Acts 9:36–41). Lydia was a woman of Thyatira, who worked at Philippi selling a famous purple dye that was so much in demand in the ancient world. She was also a “worshiper of God” at the local synagogue. When the Apostle Paul encountered her in prayer among other proselyte women, his preaching of the Word brought Lydia to faith in Christ. She and her friends thus became the nucleus of the Christian community in Philippi (16:13–15, 40). Phoebe was another faithful woman associated with the Apostle Paul. She was a deaconess from Cenchrae (the port of Corinth) whom Paul sent to the church in Rome with his Epistle to the Romans. In it he writes of her support for the work of the early Church (Rom 16:1).” (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer)

Another Collect for this Day : 

 Filled with thy Holy Spirit, gracious God, thine earliest disciples served thee with the gifts each had been given: Lydia in business and stewardship, Dorcas in a life of charity and Phoebe as a deacon who served many. Inspire us today to build up thy Church with our gifts in hospitality, charity and bold witness to the Gospel of Christ;  who livest and reignest with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Reflection:  These holy women, who were made holy by Faith in Jesus, are acknowledged in the prayer above in their various vocations:  business woman and steward, charitable worker and deacon or deaconess, that is one who serves. Lydia was the first convert to the Faith in Europe.  And as a business woman who sold the dye of Royalty purple (BTW:  that’s why purple is the color used in Advent and Lent), she might have been quite well-to-do.   I am struck by the non-judgmental listing of “business’  alongside with a churchy sounding word, “deacon”.  These are all vocations from the Lord, yes, even business!   If it weren’t for business, there would be no jobs.  There is no occupation that is displeasing to the Lord, except those occupied with evil. Even a ‘churchy’ vocation can be used to serve self and not the Lord.  And business men and women can serve the Lord and His people, and not the self,  as can being a deacon or deaconess.  Daily repentance is turning toward the Lord our whole lives to serve Him and His people. 


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Let’s face it:  we probably all have all sorts of  thoughts running through our heads while listening to the pastor preach.  Since I am not preaching much right now, awaiting a Call,  I get to listen to a couple of preachers involved with the Lexington Lutheran Mission.  The pastor and the vicar preach solid sermons.  Real ‘meat and taters’ stuff, nothing vegan about those sermons!   And last night during Pr. Beasley’s good sermon on Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, I was a’thinking.  Yes, alot of the thoughts are not of a nobler vein:  such as, concentrating on the pastor’s goop on his lower lip or the pretty girl in the pew on the left or “I wish Ted would lay off  the cologne”.  This is probably one reason why the Lord offers us His forgiveness in the course of  even an hour, hour and a half, Divine Service because we sin during the Service.  And if it is a good sermon, a solid one, then being the lamb being fed (see St. John 21:  15-19) and the lamb  might have further thoughts and reflections on the Word being preached.  Here is my offering, FWIW, on the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.   First the Lesson from the English Standard Version, St. Luke 18:  9-14:

 9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

That poor tax collector!  So ‘down’ on himself!  He’s off by himself, literally downcast, beating his chest and desribing himself as a “sinner”.  He has some issues!  Bad marriage?  Dysfunctional family?  Substance abuse?  Who knows?  But obviously nothing is  looking up for him and he feels bad about himself.  Wouldn’t you want just to give him some positive reinforcement about his life, to affirm his gifts and abilities in order to build up his self-esteem?  And isn’t that what the tax collector is suffering from: low self-esteem?  He just needs to feel good about himself again!  That’s the ticket!  Then in this psycho-babble assessment, it would mean that since the tax collector has low self-esteem, then the Pharisee has high self-esteem.  The Pharisee is bristling with positive self-image.  He would be assessed as psychologically healthy!  He is self-confident, a fully realized individual.  He stands tall…okay, he’s a little full of himself, but that is being judgmental. 

Yes, that is what crossed my mind while Pr. B. was preaching last night.  It was a nightmarish thought.

Years ago, Newsweek magazine (before it went off the idealogical deep-end) had a front page article entitled:  “The Curse of Self-Esteem”.  This Newsweek edition was at the height (or more like,  the depths) of the Self-Esteem Movement sweeping our schools. In my previous congregation in Norfolk, there were spate of suicides in a local school.  In the confirmation class, I brought this up as a topic of pastoral concern.  I asked the class, what’s being done in your school about this?  Aaron, a quiet lad, rolled his eyes and smirked.  I smiled and said, “Aaron, what’s being done?  He said, “Today, in school we had to write a letter to ourselves of what is good about ourselves.”  Aaron thought it ridiculous.  I agreed but worse,  I thought it  was dangerous and said so and why:  looking the wrong way. 

Notice that in the parable the Pharisee is looking one way and the Tax Collector another way:  the Pharisee is looking to himself, and even though the Tax Collector “…would not even lift up his eyes to heaven…”, paradoxically, he was still looking towards the Lord and His plenteous forgiveness.  So that’s the first thing that makes the self-esteem ideology a curse  in our day and time:  looking the wrong way.  But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s say the taxcollector was cheating on his wife or beating his children or drinking too much, or even doing all three,  and from God’s Holy Law realizes: I am a sinner.  He is really feeling bad about himself and guess what?  He should be and that’s okay!  And the Pharisee is looking down on the tax collector and that’s not okay. The Pharisee should be feeling bad about himself as arrogant but he’s not and so his “self-esteem” is sinful! 

One caveat:  there is actual low self-esteem,  that is low self-regard based upon, for instance, emotionally abusive situations growing up. If you ever say to your child, “You never do anything right”, that is not good.  It’s not true, for one thing, the child does do good things.  But said long enough, she might begin to think, I never do anything right, I’m always screwing up etc.  This is not good and then the adult needs some counseling.  But with the Self-Esteem Movement, something else has been afoot.

The tax collector’s prayer, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  is the basis in the Orthodox Church for the Jesus Prayer:  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  I think this is a prayer that every Lutheran should have in their prayer arsenal.  But the self-esteem movement is so pervasive that even some of the stalwart Orthodox (not exactly a progressive lot on the whole!) argued that maybe they should pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful”, period, because the “sinner” part was, after all, rather self-deflating to a person.  Low self-esteem!  Aargh. Notice what is lopped off:  the sinner ‘part’.  My contention is that the Self-Esteem Movement, in fact most of post-modern thought, is the whole-sale attack on sin, making it  a non-category, lopping it off,  and so there can be no absolute Moral Law, i.e. the Ten Commandments.  The problem with that?  It’s a lie and we deceive ourselves.  In fact, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1: 8).  Self esteem movement does not work:  if it did, then for instance,  the suicide rate should be dropping.  It’s not dropping off because our eyes are turned inward. 

We can not admit, God be merciful to me a sinner.  We can not admit,yes, I have done wrong.  Even worse:  we are not SUPPOSE to admit that!  And it gets even worse: then the proclamation of the Lord’s forgiveness upon the Cross, where the Lord Himself, His breast was beaten and killed for our reconciliation, is not preached, taught, counseled, given.  There is a good German theological word for this application of the Gospel, Seelsorge, literally, care of souls.   And it’s sad to note that in a church body, like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which would confess every week practially 1 John 1: 8 would now being saying, We really don’t have any sin, either de facto or de jure.  And a church of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit can become a church of me, myself and I.

For instance:   Matthew was tax collector whom the Lord called (St. Matthew 9: 8-10).  In fact, in the listing of the Apostles, only in Matthew’s Gospel is the entry, “…and Matthew the tax collector..”   (St. Matthew 10: 3).   Obviously, so done by Matthew himself!  The sound doctrine (see 1 Timothy and Titus for use that phrase) is to know one is sick and the Physician heals.  Matthew always realized his sin and even better, by His grace, knew His Savior.  St. Paul would always regard himself as the “chief of all sinners” present tense (see 1 Timothy 1:14-16) and better, He and you and I have a  present-tense Savior.  We can only be sinners in front of this Lord and so rejoicing in daily prayer, He has had mercy and so are justified. We are sinners of his redeeming, lambs of His own flock. 

We need to be more taught and practiced in the care of souls, seelsorge, not first human counseling, but the counsel of heaven, of the Lord’s reign. Dear Lord, help Your Church, redeemed by Your blood, to apply the salve of salvation in Your death and resurrection for Your people looking for salvation in all the wrong places.  Amen.

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 Almighty God, our Father, Your blessed Son called Luke the physician to be an evangelist and physician of the soul. Grant that the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments may put to flight the diseases of our souls that with willing hearts we may ever love and serve You; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 147:1-7
Isaiah 35:5-8
2 Timothy 4:5-15
Luke 10:1-9

St. Luke, the beloved physician (see Colossians 4: 14) traveled with Paul on his missionary journeys (see Acts 16: 10-17;  20: 5—21:18; Acts 27: 1—28: 16).  The early church historian, Eusebius (born AD 263) said that Paul claimed Luke’s Gospel as his own for its healing of souls.  Luke wrote both the Gospel that bears his name and Acts of the Apostles.  This means that St. Luke wrote over a third of the New Testament!  It is only from him that we read of the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.  And both have a travel in them.  In fact, Luke/Acts is like one extended travelogue.  In Luke 9: 51 we are told, “Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem…”(New King James) And the phrase “it came to pass” means a solemn change in the direction of the narrative.   From that verse the travelogue begins with an intense focus:  Jerusalem and Holy Week.  All the Gospel readings this summer have been from this section of the Gospel 9: 51 to the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, beginning at 19: 29.  It is a meandering journey with many incidences and people and places and confrontations and comforts. 

We Americans love to travel and most of our forebears traveled great distances to arrive to these good shores.  We still love to travel:  get in the car and “hit the road”.  “The road ever leads onward” (JRR Tolkien) applies to us. Getting on the interstate or the secondary roads and the scenic routes  and all of them are markedwith signs. 

 We all have known dead ends.  Funny thing: so many dead ends we keep on pursuing: drugs, money, fame, sex, power, pornography etc, ad nauseum.  We keep on going down dead ends.  St. Paul knew this very well: “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.   Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.   I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.   For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.   But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”  (Romans 7: 19ff)  Think St. Paul knew about going down dead ends, even after his conversion and baptism? 

Paul needed to turn back. “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (Romans  7: 24-25)  He was going the wrong way.  But there is only One that kept him on the road:   Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit through His Word.

He made a:

And truly, this is when the saying is applicable: “But by the grace of God, go I”.

St. Luke saw many people re-directed from death, sin and the power of the devil because of Jesus Christ. Luke was told the Lord’s travel itinerary for the Church: 

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1)

This is about the Lord leading us to His kingdom and the fulfillment of the new creation in Christ Jesus. Now there is much I could both write and say about this theme of the travelogue.  But one more:  ever heard this saying:  “It is better to travel hopefully, than to arrive”? What a bunch of baloney!  Whoever said that did not have children in the back seat of the car or carriage.  What is the number 1 question kids ask on a trip?  Yes:  “Are we there yet?”  Imagine quoting that saying at them?!  Children know here:  it is about the destination and the One who is leading us there and others as well lost along the Way (see Luke 15!). 


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Below is a quote from Francis Pieper (1852-1931), a theologian of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He wrote the multi-volume Christian Dogmatics  which is used in LCMS seminaries.  Now this is not an easy quote to read, considering it includes Latin phrases but they are all translated!  We talk  a lot  in our day and time about “feelings”:   just consider how many discussions include sentences beginning with, “I feel…”   So much of Christianity is about feelings and not the Divine Fact.   And then we turn in upon ourselves.  This is  harmful to a sturdy Faith in the Lord Who has come to us.  Dr. Pieper did  a fine job of explaining it:

 This is done whenever they base the certainty of grace, or of the forgiveness of sin, on their feeling of grace or the gratia infusa [infused grace], instead of on God’s promise in the objective means of grace. All of us are by nature “enthusiasts.” Instead of listening to and believing God’s declarations of love in the Gospel, in the means of grace given by Him, or, in other words, instead of fixing our gaze on God’s reconciled heart which—thanks be to God!—is a present reality through Christ and is revealed and offered to us by God in the Gospel and the Sacraments, we look into our own heart and seek to gauge God’s feelings toward us by the thoughts and moods we find in our heart. But that amounts to a practical denial of the fact that God has reconciled us to Him through Jesus Christ, and hence to a practical denial of the means of grace, in which God acquaints us with this completed reconciliation.

“This feature of our Christian life must occupy us as long as we live. Christianity is an absolutely unique religion. It completely transcends human horizon and our inborn conception of religion. Native to us is the opinio legis [the opinion of the law], the religion of the Law. When we observe virtue in ourselves, we regard God as gracious. When we discover sin in us and our conscience condemns us because of it, we fear that God is minded to reject us. But the Christian religion teaches that God is gracious for Christ’s sake “without the deeds of the Law,” hence without regard to our keeping or transgressing of His Law. The righteousness that avails before God lies outside ourselves (Triglotta 935, F. C., Sol. Decl., III, 55). It is the acquired righteousness of Christ; in other words, the forgiveness of sins, which God pledges to us for Christ’s sake in the means of grace. Therefore our spiritual life is lived on the right basis and in agreement with the unique character of the Christian religion only when we—to express it in the words of Luther—“soar above ourselves” and base our faith in God’s grace on the means of grace lying outside us, the Word of the Gospel and its seals, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

“The gratia infusa—in its good sense as true Christian sanctification, or holy living—is, of course, also intended to be a signum et testimonium [a sign and testimony] of divine grace (Trigl. 199, Apol., III, 154 f.). But the gratia infusa is always imperfect. It does not stand the test before man’s conscience or the revealed Law of God. Our practice therefore must remain as Luther describes it: “There is no good counsel other than to disregard your own feelings and all human solace and to rely only on His Word” (St.L. XI:455).”

Francis Pieper, vol. 3, Christian Dogmatics, electronic ed., 131-32 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999

Dr. Pieper Quote

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October 9th was the Commemoration of Abraham, Patriarch.  Yes, I am late on this posting but Abraham is for more than a day, as the Lord said, “…that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”(St. Luke 20: 36—38)   How?  Because of the Lord’s promises are eternal which instill Faith to everlasting life in His Presence.

Abraham’s genealogy is stated in Genesis 11:  24—31 and the narrative proper of Abraham commence in Genesis 12: 1.  Up until this point in Genesis everything is fairly well screwed-up after the Fall when Adam and Eve bit into the serpent’s lie, “you will be like God” (Genesis 3 ):  murder, never ending vengeance, violence, self-named cities, and then God’s judgment in a Flood, followed by drunkenness, and in chapter 11,  a tower built to reach the Almighty, in order for people on the Plains of Shinar to , “…make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11: 4) We can read Genesis chapters 3—11 every day, not only from the Holy Scriptures, but also in the so-called daily ‘news’, but it is really the ‘olds’: murder, vengeance, violence, drug abuse.  It’s as “old as Adam”.

With the Lord’s Call to Abraham, what was violent, vengeful and idolatrous, is eventually replaced by what is human and humane in Abraham. And it is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes!  The Lord does something new beginning in chapter 12, verse 1.   Why is the Lord’s Call the beginning of humanity and humaneness?  Here was a man, Abraham, who did not want to be like God.  He had faith.  He knew he was created and not the Creator:   Abraham could be a man by faith alone. He did not found a new religion but Abraham is called the father of Faith. In fact, one of his ancestors, Joseph, would also be a man of faith, not having faith in himself.  After Joseph is reconciled with his 11 brothers, after 20 some years of estrangement, he declared to them:  “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:  19)

Now in this post, I can not relate the whole Abraham saga, it covers Genesis 12: 1—Genesis 25:  8, from his call to his death.  But I want to concentrate on what is the climax of the Abraham saga:  when the Lord told Abraham to go to a mountain, Moriah, to sacrifice his son, the son of promise, the son to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, “his only son” there.  This is recorded in chapter 22.  I just wrote that Abraham by faith in the Lord was human and humane and in chapter 22, here is something by our understanding that is inhuman and inhumane.  It is easy to read it quickly, it’s only 19 verses but Scriptures can not be sped-read, but read slowly.  And in these densely written 19 verses I will only make two points.

We are told that it took 3 days of laborious walking to reach Mt. Moriah…3 days, 3 long days in which Abraham thought and thought and thought but we are told not what the Patriarch thought.  But what would any father think after His God commanded him to sacrifice his son, his only son, the son of the Promise?   Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s reflection on Abraham and the Binding of Isaac accents the possible thought narrative of the Patriarch.  Kierkegaard makes many points regarding this narrative but I have found these two most illuminating:

1. Kieregaard points out that Abraham doubted not.  If he had, he could have done something “great and noble”.  Abraham could have defied God and His command, His testing.  In stead of sacrificing Isaac, he could,

“…have plunged the steel (of the sacrificial knife) in his own breast. And he would have been admired throughout the world, and his name would not have been forgotten; but it is one thing to be admired and another, to be a lode‑star which guides one troubled in mind.” 

Abraham would have been remembered as one who defied God, but then again, what else is new?  In our day, he would have been applauded by the generally atheistic media as one who resisted “religious fundamentalism”.  Yes, he would have been admired throughout the world. But Abraham hoped against hope, that is, the hope the Lord instills by His Promise against Abraham’s hope, human hope alone, which ‘hopes’ only according to what we expect, which is to rule and be like God, God-like. Abraham did not believe in himself but in the One Who called him.  After all, this is the Lord Who brings something out of nothing, even things that are from that which is not.  This true hope in the Lord, this Faith, made Abraham a creature who trusts in the Lord alone:  a lode-star to guide us.

2.  Kierkegaard:

 “I am by no means unacquainted with what has been admired as great and noble, my soul feels kinship with it, being satisfied, in all humility, that it was also my cause the hero espoused; and when contemplating his deed I say to myself: “jam tua causa agitur.” (“Your cause, too, is at stake”).I am able to identify myself with the hero; but I cannot do so with Abraham, for whenever I have reached his height I fall down again, since he confronts me as the paradox.”

I can think myself into the hero quite easily.  When I was a child, I could easily imagine myself as Superman, invulnerable, helping the helpless, a hero.  I could imagine myself John Wayne saving my unit on patrol in battle. I could think myself Zorro slaying evil. I can still think that way!   Heroes are super-men (see Nietzsche:  uber-mensch), god-like, saving those who deserve to be saved.  But Abraham?  Trusting the Lord at His Word, even when His Word speaks against His Word?   When everything is contrary to what we expect in a deity?  As on the Cross?   And for 3 days God was dead.  The Cross is contrary to everything we expect in a deity.  If I can not think myself in to Abraham, I certainly can not identify myself with Christ Jesus, the Lord. And Jesus is The Seed of Abraham (see Galatians 3: 16).  He was crucified for people who did not deserve one iota God because of their sin.  This is the Faith which justifies through the Lord’s promise alone and makes us men and women, human and humane and Faith alone receives the Promises of God which are all fulfilled in Jesus the Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1: 20).  The world think it a hard and dreadful faith:  but what is truly hard and dreadful, faith or sin, peace or chaos, the world as it will be or world as it is?  Abraham believed, hoping against hope and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (see Romans 4: 2-3). Reckoned by whom?  The LORD, blessed be His Holy Name!

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Galatians 1

This Saturday at 4pm Vicar Jim, beginning with chapter 1, will be taking us through the Text of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.  While you work on your computer, listen to chapter 1: 

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Luther commenting on Galatians 1: 3: 

 “Grace to you and peace  from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”

“The Apostle’s greeting is new to the world and had never been heard before the proclamation of the Gospel. Grace and peace—these two words embrace the whole of Clhristianity.  Grace forgives sin, and peace stills the conscience.  The two devils who plague us are sin and conscience, the power of the Law and the sting of sin (1 Cor. 15: 56).  But Christ has conquered these two monsters and trodden them underfoot, both in this age and in the age to come…The more we work and sweat to extricate ourselves from sin, the worse off we are.  For there is no way to remove sin except by grace…Many have worked hard, inventing various religous orders and disciplines, to find peace and  quiet conscience, but instead they have plunged even more deeply into even greater mistery, for such tactics are merely ways of multiplying doubt and despair.  Therefore your bones and mine will know no rest until we hear the Word of grace and cling to it firmly and faithfully.”

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O everlasting God, whose wise planning has ordained and constituted the ministry of men and angels in a wonderful order, mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve you in heaven, so by your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

Note:  We had computer problems here but our educational, vocational, entertainment and communications center is up and functioning, like a new computer!  I blogged earlier that I would give the answers to the Angelic Quiz.  The answers are found  in  the following article by  Rev. Dr. A.L. Barry, (11th President of the LCMS, from 1992—2001) on angels! Tricky, aren’t I?  It’s a good read.

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St. Michael is mentioned in the Book of Revelations, 12:7: “And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon.  The dragon and his angels waged war and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

Angels are the subject of considerable speculation and no little mythology and popular misconception. The best way to think of what is going on all around us is to consider what happens when an infant’s father goes off to war. All about there is raging conflict, yet the child innocently and happily remains unaware of it. And so with us, while we certainly do have glimpses of the ongoing struggle between good and evil angels, for the most part, we too are unaware of the cosmic struggle that is ongoing until the end of days, when Christ returns. And so, on this festival day, we praise and thank God, joining with all the angels, in adoring Him and giving Him glory.

What About Angels?

Angels capture the imagination of people everywhere, and they always have. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about angels, along with superstitions and unscriptural understandings. This pamphlet will provide a Biblical perspective on angels.

Do angels exist?
The Word of God—not popular television shows or magazine articles—is our only reliable source for knowing what angels are, and what they do. The Bible teaches us that God made angels during the six days of creation. Before creation there was only God (John 1:1-3), and after creation, we are told that on the seventh day God” rested from all the work of creating he had done”(Gen. 2:3b). The Bible does not indicate on which day of creation God made angels. But angels are very real.  What does the word “angel” mean? The word “angel” comes from a Greek word that means “messenger. ”Angels are God’s messengers. Elsewhere in the Bible,angels are described as spirits (cf. Acts 23:9;Heb. 1:14). The word “angel” is actually a description of what they do.

What are angels?
Angels are spirits. They are beings who do not have a physical body. Jesus Himself said, “a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). Evil angels too are described as not having” flesh and blood”(Eph. 6:12). In the Scriptures, when angels do appear in human form, this is only a momentary appearance for those who need to see them. Angels are not gods. They are God’s creation and serve His holy and perfect will. The good angels are said to be” ministering spirits”(Heb. 1:14), sent by God to serve us, His people.

 Are angels human?
Human beings are the crown of God’s creation. Only of human beings, and no other creature, did God say, “Let us make man in our own image”(Gen. 1:26). Furthermore, the Scriptures reveal that only into human beings did God breathe the breath of life (Gen. 2:7). Also, God did not give angels rule over His creation. This privilege He gave only to mankind (Gen. 1:26-28). Angels are not human beings. They exist as spirits who serve God and His people.  Do human beings become angels when they die? No, human beings do not become angels when they die. The Scriptures are clear on this point. Until the last day, the souls of the dead are before the Lord, enjoying peace and rest in His presence, awaiting the final day when they will receive glorified bodies for all eternity (see 1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 5:17; Rev. 7). 

Are angels intelligent beings?
The Bible describes angels as having both intelligence and a will. The good angels know and follow the wisdom of God, which He has revealed through Christ to His church (Eph. 3:10). They gladly serve us, who are the heirs of the salvation Christ has won for us (Heb. 1:14). However, angels do not know all things. For instance, they do not know the thoughts of our hearts (1 Kings 8:39).   Angels are extremely powerful beings. They are described as “mighty ones”(Ps. 103:20; 2 Thess. 1:7). The good angels guard and protect God’s children (Ps. 91:11-13). The power of the angels is never unlimited, but is always subject to the will and authority of God.  Evil angels too are powerful beings. The Bible tells us that they hold captive all unbelievers (Luke 11:21-22; Eph. 2:2). Believers in Christ are able to withstand the temptation of evil angels through the power of God (Eph. 6:10-17).

Where are angels?
Angels, like God, do not inhabit the same physical dimension that human beings inhabit. From time to time, they are ordered by God to appear in our physical dimension. Thus, while there are times when angels will make an appearance at a distinct place (cf. Acts 12:7), they remain beings that inhabit no physical space. 

How many angels are there?
The Bible does not give us an exact number, but does clearly teach that there are incredibly large numbers of angels who serve God. Scripture speaks of “ten thousand times ten thousand angels”(Dan. 7:10). Elsewhere Scripture speaks of “a great company of the heavenly host”(Luke2: 13).  From every indication in the Bible, there are an unimaginably large number of angels, of whom we are totally unaware most of the time. There is a fixed and limited number of angels, never increasing or decreasing. Unlike human beings, angels do not marry and have children (Mark 12:25). They are immortal.

Are all angels the same?
Within the large numbers of angels there are apparently certain orders or classes of angels. Scripture speaks of “cherubim” (Gen. 3:24; Ps. 80:1),“seraphim”(Is. 6:2),“thrones or powers or rulers or authorities”(Col. 1:16),“archangel”(1 Thess. 4:16).  Also among the evil angels there are ranks and classes of angels(Matt. 25:41). Satan is described as the “prince of the devils”(Luke 11:15). It is pointless, however, to try to invent complicated divisions and ranks of angels, since Scripture itself does not provide us with this information.

What are evil angels, and what do they do?
Originally, all angels God created were good and did His will perfectly. At some point after God created them, some angels chose to rebel against Him. They fell away from God and into great sin and evil. At that point, they were confirmed in their evil condition. There is no hope for them. In Matt. 8:29, they recognize that there will be a time when they must suffer eternal torment and punishment for their rebellion against God.  Satan is the chief evil angel, the “prince of demons”(Luke 11:15). Here is how our Lord Jesus Christ describes Satan: “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies”(John8: 44). When precisely the evil angels rebelled and fell away from God we cannot say for sure, but we do know it was some time at the very beginning of the world. Most Christian church fathers believe that the evil angels’ original sin was pride, based on the fact that Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve was an appeal to their pride. Also, 1 Tim. 3:6 indicates that pride was the cause of the devil’s condemnation.  The devil is our great enemy, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”(1 Pet. 5:8). The Bible tells us that the devil is the cause of unbelief in the world (Eph. 2:1-2). Every person who does not believe the good news of Christ Jesus is thinking and doing what the devil wants. Unbelievers are described in the Bible as being in the devil’s kingdom and under his power (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13). The very fact that people do not realize this, and even deny it, is the devil’s greatest deception. The devil is so deceptive; at times he will even disguise himself as an “angel of light”(2 Cor. 11:14). In fact, the Old Testament once refers to Satan as “Lucifer,” which means, “light bearer”(Isa. 14:12; KJV).  We need to keep in mind that all the Bible says about evil angels, and their eternal punishment, is for the purpose of making us recognize the need to repent and to believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who has ransomed mankind by His death, and saved us for eternal life, not in hell, but in heaven.

What do good angels do?
Good angels enjoy the blessing of being able to see God. They are in the immediate presence of God, always beholding His great glory, majesty and power (Matt. 18:10). This is called the “beatific vision,” which all Christians will enjoy one day when they are in heaven.  God’s Word reveals the following things about the activity of good angels: They praise God (Is. 6:3; Luke 2:13), and they are the Lord’s servants in the world and in the Church (Ps. 103:20-21; Heb. 1:14).  God sends angels to serve and to protect Christian believers in their work and their callings in life (Ps. 91:11-12). They attend to the dying (Luke 16:22). They care for children (Matt. 18:10). Angels are deeply interested in all that occurs in the Church. They adore and take great joy in the work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world (Luke 2:13; Eph. 3:10). They rejoice over every sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).  Scripture mentions the presence of angels at every great event in the Kingdom of God. Angels were present when God gave His law on Mount Sinai (Deut. 33:2; Gal. 3:19). Angels were present at the conception, birth, resurrection and ascension of our Lord (Luke 1:26; 2:11; Mark 1:13; 24:5ff; Acts 1:10ff). Angels will come with Jesus when He returns on the last day (Matt. 13:41ff. ; 24:31).  The Bible tells us that angels are present in the public worship of Christians (1 Cor. 11:10). God also uses angels to help the family and to preserve law and order (Gen. 24:7; Matt. 18:10; Dan. 10:13).  How are we to treat angels? We need to praise and thank God for good angels. We are told that we are to take care not to offend them through sin and unbelief (1 Cor. 11:10; 1 Tim. 5:21). But the Scriptures are also clear that we must not pray to angels, nor offer them our worship. The angels themselves protest any worship given to them (Rev. 22:8-9).  As believers, we have the privilege of having angels surrounding us and protecting us and working to do God’s good and perfect will in our lives. Our hope and trust is always in God, whom we know sends His angels to watch over us and to see us through whatever difficulty in life may come our way.  Because of our Lord Jesus Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death for the sins of the world, we have the assurance of the complete and total forgiveness of all our sins. We know that God loves and cares for us as His own dear children. Furthermore, we know that the Lord sends His angels to care for us in order that some day we may join them, and all the company of heaven, in seeing God and singing His praises for all eternity. 

A.L. Barry

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