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Archive for February, 2013

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3: 13, NIV)

Appointed New Testament Reading for the Tuesday of the Week of Lent 1:

 Mark 3:  20Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat.21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

 28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

 31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking about at those who sat around him, he said,”Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and eternal God, Your Son Jesus triumphed over the prince of demons and freed us from bondage to sin. Help us to stand firm against every assault of Satan, and enable us always to do Your will; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Meditation by Pr. Scott Murray, A Year with the Church Fathers: Meditations for Each Day of the Church Year (CPH):

Mary had a unique relationship with Jesus. She was His mother according to the flesh. However, that relationship was not all sweetness and light. She had seen the nakedness of His human flesh and so forgot that He was eternally begotten from the Father. One day, Mary, perhaps convinced by His brothers, came to rescue Him from Himself. He refused rescue from the way of the cross. When she called for Him, He pointed to His disciples and expressed His preference for those who believed in Him over those who were merely related to Him by flesh.

Our mothers also have a unique claim on us. They have given us life. Nevertheless, that claim does not extend to our life in Christ. A second and indestructible life has been granted to us through the rebirth of Baptism. That claim is the greater one. Our life together as the baptized gives us unity through water, which is thicker than blood, because it unites us in one family marked by the sonship of Christ. An illustrious ancestry is less important than the family created by Baptism.

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Martin Luther, born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany, initially began studies leading toward a degree in law. However, after a close encounter with death, he switched to the study of theology, entered an Augustinian monastery, was ordained a priest in 1505, and received a doctorate in theology in 1512. As a professor at the newly established University of Wittenberg, Luther’s scriptural studies led him to question many of the Church’s teachings and practices, especially the selling of indulgences. His refusal to back down from his convictions resulted in his excommunication in 1521. Following a period of seclusion at the Wart­burg castle, Luther returned to Wittenberg, where he spent the rest of his life preaching and teaching, translating the Scriptures, and writing hymns and numerous theological treatises. He is remembered and honored for his lifelong emphasis on the biblical truth that for Christ’s sake God declares us righteous by grace through faith alone. Luther died on February 18, 1546while visiting the town of his birth. (from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by Concordia Publishing House)

Lessons:

Psalm 46
Isaiah 55:6-11
Romans 10:5-17
John 15:1-11

Prayer of the Day

O God, our refuge and our strength, You raised up Your servant Martin Luther to reform and renew Your Church in the light of Your living Word, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Defend and purify the Church in our own day, and grant that we may boldly proclaim Christ’s faithfulness unto death and His vindicating resurrection, which You made known to Your servant Martin through Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

Here you can see what it means to believe. It may indeed seem an easy matter, but it is in fact a high and great art. Therefore when you feel your sin, when your bad conscience smites you, or when persecution comes, then ask yourself whether you really believe. At such times one is wont to run to saints and helpers in cloisters and in the desert for succor and relief, crying: “O my dear man, intercede for me! O dear saint, help me! O let me live! I promise to become pious and to do many good works.” That is how a terrified conscience speaks. But tell me, where is faith? If you believe in the words of Christ, “None of them is lost whom Thou hast given Me” (John 17:12), then, as a Christian, you must say: “I acknowledge no saint here. I am a poor sinner deserving of death; but in defiance of sin and death I cling to Thee, and I will not let Thee go. I have taken hold of Thee, dear Lord Christ. Thou art my Life, and this is the Father’s will, that all who adhere to Thee have eternal life and be raised from the dead. In the meantime let my fate be what it will. I may be beheaded or burned at the stake.” No other life—whether it be called the monastic life or the life of St. Augustine or of St. John the Baptist—will arm a person for victory. Only faith in Christ can do so.

—Martin Luther

Reflection:  One of the last words that Fr. Luther preached were:  “It is true.  We are all beggars.”  We are all beggars with the Lord Who has given us all things and above all things: His beloved Son Jesus Christ.  In the quote above, Fr. Luther makes that clear we only cling to Jesus Christ.  We can not go running to and fro to ‘saints’.  I realize that sounds in our 21st ears so antiquated:  it is, in a literal sense.  Yet, in our day and time, we do go running to ‘saints’, but we would not call them ‘saints’.  They are powerful personalities, preachers, presidents, especially on TV and in their number 1 bestsellers.  We do go running after the Rick Warrens, the Joel Osteens, the Robert Schullers, the Joyce Meyers, etc and if we do then we think we will really live,(so we think) and then we will have our best lives NOW, we will be purpose driven, we will be positive in all we do and win, we are the ones we have been waiting for.  We still say as Luther said in his day about such ‘seekers’, “I promise to become pious and to do many good works”, that is, the ‘good works’ the Warrens that the Osteens, the Schullers, the Meyers, etc. say we must do in the book we just plucked down $19.95 to be ‘spiritual’.  We still buy indulgences to get our lives out of our self-made purgatories, but we just spend our way deeper into the debt…of the devil.

Luther’s question haunts, “But tell me, where is faith?” The One in Whom you are baptized and believe, however weak your faith, did not sell you a book but has written your name in the book of life as He has made you His own.  He did not sell you nor sell you out, but has bought you, not with gold or silver, but His own precious blood.  (Romans 5:91 Corinthians 11:25Ephesians 1:7Colossians 1:20Hebrews 9:10-121 Peter 1:18-201 John 5:5-7)   No, I acknowledge I am no ‘saint’ like them. I am a poor sinner, deserving of death.  It is true, we are all beggars.  Oh, for a love that will not let me go. He won’t…Luther knew quite well that when he wrote the words above, he could have been burned at the stake.  He had no armor, save faith in Jesus Christ  (Ephesians 6:15-17) and it is more powerful than all the ‘spiritual’ books of self-chosen works piled together.  Here I stand.

The video below  was a promo for The Wittenberg Trail.  But I think it is also  a good description of the Lutheran Church in communion, not with the times we are in, but with the continuity of the Faith of all the ages in Word and Sacrament, as taught by Fr. Luther and the blessed Reformers–Pr. Schroeder

  

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Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) was a brilliant student of the classics and a humanist scholar. In 1518 he was appointed to teach along with Martin Luther at the University of Wittenberg. At Luther’s urging, Melanchthon began teaching theology and Scripture in addition to his courses in classical studies. In April of 1530, Emperor Charles V called an official meeting between the representative of Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism, hoping to effect a meeting of minds between two opposing groups. Since Luther was at that time under papal excommunication and an imperial ban, Melanchthon was assigned the duty of being the chief Lutheran representative at this meeting. He is especially remembered and honored as the author of the Augsburg Confession, which was officially presented by the German princes to the emperor on June 25, 1530, as the defining document of Lutheranism within Christendom. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  Philip Melanchthon also wrote The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (synonym of “apology” is “defense”).  It is  the second document  in The Book of Concord .  Not so long after the Augsburg Confession was presented to His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Charles V in the meeting of the Diet, in the city of Augsburg June 30, the papal theologians wrote the Roman Confutation of the Confession which was read publicly on August 3rd in the same place as the Augsburg Confession.  By April or May of 1531, Melanchthon wrote the final draft of the Apology and it eventually was signed as a Confession of the Faith as well.

The longest single section in the Apology is Article IV:  Justification,  some 60 pages.  This was and is still the central issue both dividing the churches and  the one doctrine which unites the Church.

In our corner of the world, one of our weekly newspapers has directory for churches.  The local Roman Catholic congregation describes quite clearly their doctrine:

“Assisted by Divine Grace, we have both the ability and the responsibility to live moral lives, taking as our standard of behavior the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes.”

In other words:  It’s  law alone with a little grace thrown in.  They have it “bass ackwards”!  And the Beatitudes are also Law?  The Law does not bless but accuses rightly of our sin.  The Lord blesses in the Beatitudes:  pure Gospel.  One of the summaries of the Biblical Doctrine of Justification is “sola gratia”, by grace alone.  But obviously the Roman doctrine says Jesus did not do a good enough job, in fact, you O man,you O woman,are still in the driver’s seat.   We are not assisted by divine grace, but saved by grace alone:

Ephesians 2:8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

One of the charges against the Reformers was that Justification was a heretical innovation.  The Book of Concord begins with the 3 Ecumenical/Universal Creeds of the Church to show that we are in apostolic succession of the pure saving doctrine from the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry:  The Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds.   Before this becomes overly long, for instance, St. Augustine is very clear that it is by Jesus Christ ALONE, we are saved.  In his sermon on John 5: 1-8,  he points out that in the healing of the man was done amongst 5 porticos in the Temple and they represent the 5 Books of the Law. He preached:

Why, then, was the Law given? He goes on to say, “But the Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” … The five porches are the Law. Why did not the five porches heal the sick? Because, “if there had been a law given which could have given life, surely righteousness should have been by the law.” Why, then, did the porches contain those whom they did not heal? Because “the Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” (The Scripture passages are all from Romans)

Almighty God, we praise You for the service of Philipp Melanchthon to the one holy, catholic and apostolic church in the renewal of is life in fidelity to Your Word and promise.  Raise up in these gray and latter days faithful teachers and pastors, inspired by Your Spirit, whose voice will give strength to Your church and proclaim the ongoing reality of Your kingdom;  through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

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About Philemon and Onesimus:  Philemon was a prominent first-century Christian who owned a slave named Onesimus. Although the name “Onesimus” means “useful,” Onesimus proved himself “useless” when he ran away from his master and perhaps even stole from him (Philemon 18).  Somehow Onesimus came into contact with the apostle Paul while the latter was in prison (possibly in Rome), and through Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel he became a Christian. After confessing to the apostle that he was a runaway slave, he was directed by Paul to return to his master and become “useful” again. In order to help pave the way for Onesimus’ peaceful return home, Paul sent him on his way with a letter addressed to Philemon, a letter in which he urged Philemon to forgive his slave for having run away and “to receive him as you would receive me” (v. 17), “no longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother” (v. 16). The letter was eventually included by the church as one of the books of the New Testament.  (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

 

Read an Entire Book of the Bible!  The Book of Philemon (English Standard Version): 

 1Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon’s Love and Faith

4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Paul’s Plea for Onesimus

8Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required,9yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I

became in my imprisonment. 11(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

Final Greetings

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24and so doMark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Reflection:    Physical slavery is evil but ever more is spiritual slavery. Chains can be seen.  Chains on the soul not so much.  Philemon, the slave master, Onesimus the slave and Paul reminded both they have one Master.  Further, master and slave were brothers in Christ, in fact, the Apostle sent Onesimus back, “no longer a slave”.  The Apostle Paul could have commanded Philemon but he did want to act the master!  He was called to be Servant of Jesus, and in Greek the word for servant, “doulos” can also be rendered “slave”.  Slave to Jesus yet free!  Free from sin, freed to serve in His love.  Jesus Christ changes hearts and so changes the injustice of sinners.

Please pray…

Lord God, heavenly Father, You sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a brother in Christ, freeing him from his slavery to sin through the preaching of the Apostle St. Paul. Cleanse the depths of sin within our souls and bid resentment cease for past offenses, that, by Your mercy, we may be reconciled to our brothers and sisters and our lives will reflect Your peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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A Cartoon…

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There was a Valentine and the caption of this cartoon fairly well sums up what we know of him.  Pr. Abrahamson has an excellent article over on the blog Brothers of John the Steadfast to show from original source material that the Church did not adapt the martyrdom of Valentine to compete with pagan customs of the 3rd century,  Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Valentine’s Day.  This is his conclusion and then I have a reflection:

So much imaginative legend has grown up around St. Valentine that today it may be hard to separate fiction from truth. This leaves us to consider why it is that we have Saint’s days in our liturgical calendar. The purpose is that we may use their example of clinging to Christ against all the storms this world can throw at them, their examples of holding fast to the doctrine of Christ for the salvation of their souls, their examples of love for God and love for neighbor in spite of their own sinfulness in this sin stained world.

Christ said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Christ lived and died this example. He rose again to show He conquered Satan, Sin, and Death.

It wasn’t until the 1750s A.D. that men began to create the notion that the choice of St. Valentine’s day had other motivations than just the fact that February 14th was the day he was believed to have died.

This article is an effort to remove the chaff from the kernel that we may “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” without giving “heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.”

Reflection:  My opinion is. with the current disestablishment of the Church, and the rise and desire for non-ritual worship services, that the void has been filled for such rites and rituals by the secular and idolatrous culture.  Valentine’s Day is now associated, not even with romantic love, but pure lust. Valentine’s Day has become the ‘high holy day’ of coitus and coitus is it’s ‘sacrament’.    In a society in which marriage is disparaged with every turn, so “love” has been debased with every turn.  I like sit-coms on TV.  Valentine’s Day becomes the plot in many especially for “hooking-up”.  It may be my imagination but as a kid, fifty years or so ago, Valentine’s Day was just a sentimental time.  No longer.  But even love as a mere sentiment of the arrows of  “cupid”, the god Eros is dangerous, remembering Eros was the false god of ‘love’ that is  lust and from that name we have our word “erotic”. 

St. Valentine is also about love, God’s love, agape in Jesus Christ.  This is one of those rare times that Valentine’s Day falls in Lent, the day right after Ash Wednesday.  Love is not neutral.  It is a good, an ultimate good. (1 Corinthians 13: 13 ).  But sinners like me don’t love as we ought.  Jesus came in love to redeem our love and cure and heal it.  I’m sure Saul of Tarsus thought he loved: the Torah, his people and the like and he wanted to murder Christians but Jesus revealed to Him  His true love, even to one as Saul:

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5: 6-8

Paul’s use of the 1st person plural pronouns “we” and “us” was honest and he found out about love, true love: He loved sinners to death, His death on the Cross.  Luther on the difference between agape/charity and our love :

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.

The Apostle wrote in Romans 6:1ff that when we were baptized we were baptized into His death…our love is also crucified so  that His true love take root in repentance and forgiveness and our hearts are made alive.  Paul and Valentine were both martyrs for our true Love.

I send you all a Valentine, from Martin Luther, his seal:

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