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Archive for August, 2013

Concordia and Koinonia

Appointed readingsRomans 6:1-5Mark 6:14-29

About this day:   In contrast to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (observed on June 24), this festival commemorates his beheading by the tetrarch, Herod Antipas. From the perspective of the world, it was an ignominious end to John the Baptist’s life. Yet it was in fact a noble participation in the cross of Christ, which was John’s greatest glory of all. Christ Himself said that there had arisen none greater than John the Baptist. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets and also the herald of the New Testament. As the forerunner of Christ, John fulfilled the prophecy that the great prophet Elijah would return before the great and terrible day of the Lord. By his preaching and Baptism of repentance, John turned “the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children…

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About Monica, Mother of Augustine: A  native of North Africa, Monica (AD 333-387) was the devoted mother of St. Augustine. Throughout her life, she sought the spiritual welfare of her children, especially that of her brilliant son Augustine. Widowed at a young age, she devoted herself to her family, praying many years for Augustine’s conversion. When Augustine left North Africa to go to Italy, she followed him to Rome and then to Milan. There she had the joy of witnessing her son’s conversion to the Christian faith. Weakened by her travels, Monica died at Ostia, Italy, on the journey she had hoped would take her back to her native Africa. On some Church Year calendars, Monica is remembered on May 4. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing  House)

From The Confessions of Augustine of Hippo,Pastor and Hippo, feast day, August 28th:

(Monica) was brought up in modesty and sobriety. She was made by You obedient to her parents rather than by them to You. When she reached marriageable age, she was given to a man and served him as lord. She tried to win him for You, speaking to him of You by her virtues through which You made her beautiful, so that her husband loved, respected and admired her. She bore with his infidelities and never had a quarrel with her husband on this account. For she looked forward to Your mercy coming upon him, in hope that, as he came to believe in You, he might become chaste….

Another gift with which You endowed at good servant of Yours, in whose womb ou created me, my God, my mercy (Ps. 58:18), was that whenever she could, she reconciled dissident and quarrelling people. She showed herself so great a peacemaker that when she heard from both sides many bitter things, Monica would never reveal to one anything about the other unless it might help to reconcile them….

At the end, when her husband had reached the end of his life in time, she succeeded in gaining him for You. After he was a baptized believer, she had no cause

to complain of his behavior, which she had tolerated in one not yet a believer. She was also a servant of Your servants: any of them who knew her found much to praise in her, held her in honor, and loved her, for they felt Your presence in her heart, witnessed by the fruits of her holy way of life. She had “testimony to her good works” (1 Timothy 5:10). She had brought up her children, enduring travail as often as she saw them wandering away from You. Lastly, Lord—by Your gift You allow me to speak for Your servants, for before her falling asleep we were bound together in community in You after receiving the grace of Baptism—she exercised care for everybody as if they were all her own children. She served all as if she was a daughter to all of us. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing  House)

Scripture:

Proverbs 31: 10 An excellent wife who can find?
   She is far more precious than jewels.
11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
   and he will have no lack of gain.
12She does him good, and not harm,
   all the days of her life.

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1: 5

 

Reflection:  Monica’s husband was an adulterer.   She stayed with him.  She was faithful. She probably took literally the Epistle reading:   Ephesians 5:21-23.   She wanted her husband to be her head…but in Christ Jesus.  She is not the model in our day of the liberated woman!  Thank, God.  Her strength was her Lord and she prayed for the conversion of both her husband and their son.  I am not saying that a wife in an abusive marriage should stay.  Monica was not physically abused.  She was, though, spiritually and emotionally hurt by her feckless husband and faithless son.  She persisted in prayer for them.  Both were baptized.  Her son became one of the most important theologians and pastors whose writings influenced one young monk in the Order of St. Augustine:  Martin Luther.   Augustine’s feast day is tomorrow. Freedom in Christ is praying for someone who may not even want your prayers.  

P.S. Sometimes I think a day like this one should be for the Church, Mother’s Day.

Collect of the Day:

O Lord, You strengthened Your patient servant Monica through spiritual discipline to persevere in offering her love, her prayers, and her tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine, their son. Deepen our devotion to bring others, even our own family, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.

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About St. Bartholomew, Apostle:  St. Bartholomew (or Nathanael, as he is called in St. John’s Gospel) was one of the first of Jesus’ twelve disciples. His home was in the town of Cana, in Galilee (John 21:2), where Jesus’ performed His first miracle. He was invited to become one of the Twelve by Philip, who told him that they had found the Messiah in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. (John 1:45). Bartholomew’s initial hesitation to believe, because of Jesus’ Nazareth background, was quickly replaced by a clear, unequivocal declaration of faith, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). He was present with the other disciples (John 21:1-13) when they were privileged to see and converse and eat with their risen Lord and Savior. According to some Early Church Fathers, Bartholomew brought the Gospel to Armenia, where he was martyred by being flayed alive.

Reflection:  Maybe you heard last year about this botched ‘restoration’ of a beloved Image result for botched painting restoration italypainting in a Spanish church.  The painting  depicts the moment when Pontius Pilate said to the crowds in the mood for a crucifixion, Behold the Man!  See John 19:5  Or as it is the Latin Vulgate:  Ecce Homo.  The Italian press are saying the painting should now be called, Ecce mono, Behold the monkey! The elderly woman who did this, had the permission of the parish priest and she said she had the best of intentions.

Many people have the best of intentions in redoing the image of Christ to burnish His meaning for us, but it becomes a botched job and yes, done with the best of intentions. As C. S. Lewis famously and correctly wrote:  

“There have been too many historical Jesuses – a liberal Jesus, a pneumatic Jesus, a Barthian Jesus, a Marxist Jesus. They are the cheap crop of each publisher’s list, like the new Napoleons and new Queen Victorias. It is not to such phantoms that I look for my faith and my salvation.” 

Then we think we have trained Jesus to do our bidding for what we think are the solutions to our problems.  But a solution is not the same as salvation.  Then we end up with a distorted version of the Lord, as distorted as the erstwhile restoration above and we can only say, Ecce Mono, a trained monkey at that.

There is an ancient tradition that The Apostles’ Creed was written by the Apostles and each wrote 1/12 of the Creed.  This has no basis in historical fact, but on this Apostle’s day, it shows there is only one authorized version of the Lord Jesus Christ:  His chosen apostolic witnesses, like Bartholomew (or Nathanael), accurately preached what is authoritatively recorded in the  inspired Four Gospels and the entire corpus of the New Testament.  

Look at Nathanael: When Nathanael was told by Philip that he had found the Messiah, Nathanael famously quipped:  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  (John 1: 46).  He did not know what he was saying.  After Jesus meets Nathanael, He comments that he is an Israelite in whom there is no guile.  Nathanael seems to have been dumbstruck, How do you know me?  Jesus said before I called Philip, I saw you under the fig tree.  This really gets him!  Nathanael answered him:  

 “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Nathanael began to give his confession, his apostolic witness:  He is the Son of God, King of Israel.  Yet, Jesus deepens Nathanael’s confession  with the prophecy of Golgotha and the Resurrection:  Heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.  This refers to Jacob’s dream of a ladder with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. See:  Genesis 28:11-13.  Jacob called the spot Bethel, literally House of God.  Jesus is the House of God (see John 2: 21).  The Apostolic Witness is to the Incarnation and His Crucifixion and Resurrection.  This witness, this Good News, for sinners was preached by the 12, clearly.   When the Savior and His work is clearly taught and preached, according to the Bible, received and yes, eaten and drunk, by hungry and thirsty sinners (see Matthew 5:6then the Holy Spirit is working faith in you.  This is the clear picture of Ecce Homo and needs no restoration by the likes of me or even a theologian with 100 Phds.  Do not trust any theology that deviates by invention and innovation the clear apostolic witness in the Bible.  

Please pray…

Almighty God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, chose Bartholomew to be an Apostle to preach the blessed Gospel.  Grant that Your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

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I came across this chart of “repentance” today.  This is a Bibically  false understanding of repentance.  Why?  If you do not know the answer read below.

Notice that this view of repentance is all man-centered, “climbing Jacob’s ladder”, I would surmise to reach God and  the “Gift of forgiveness and peace”.  One could make the chart above a board game, “Spiritual Careers”.

The  chart above is from a Mormon web-site, but it is the view of too many.  Note that in the first step, “Realize: Know you’ve made a mistake” begs the question:  How?  When I watch celebrities caught in a misdeed,notice it’s when they have been found out!  Then one has a moral epiphany!  We all do when we’re caught. There is only one way to realize I’ve made a mistake…that is sinned against God and done that which is evil in His sight (read again David’s Psalm 51):  God’s Law.  

Lutheran Theologian Gerhard Forde’s most influential book was Where God Meets Man and he employed the metaphor of “going up the down staircase”.    In days past, high schools use to have “up staircases” and “down staircases” with a sign:  “Don’t go up the down staircase”.  The old Adam thinks he can achieve salvation, by going up the down staircase but that is pure works righteousness.  If I or you do the chart above, what’s missing?  Actually:  Who’s missing?  No Lord: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Not a lick about God’s Word.  “Word” is Latin is “verbum” from which we have our word, “verb”:  His Word of Law is a verb causing true sorrow over sin.  His Word of Gospel shows us our Savior so we can repent. In the chart above, salvation is  on us, not Christ. Without Christ, I think I’m standing on the top like the cartoon character: Look at me! Or there could be a cartoon character on the bottom in utter dejection: despair.(see Luke 18:  9-14). Where God meets man is in His Son Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. He came down the up staircase of our self-righteousness.  He meets us where we are, have been and will be. His Word alone.  People dead in their trespasses can’t walk up stairs. He opens the door as He is the door.  His forgiveness causes true contrition and sorrow over sin:  look at Him, sacred head now wounded, with grief and shame  weighed down. He has met man on His Cross. He bore our burden so we can lay ours down, repented in His redemption.  The Three R’s of forgiveness are Redeemed, Reconciled, Repented, right here, right now in the preaching and teaching of the Word.  He has come down the down staircase in His Body and Blood for us all.  

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This is  “Hell Week” at the Virginia Military Institute during which the incoming class of “rats” begin the “ratline.”  They have to memorize the Rat Bible.  According to the 2013-14 VMI handbook, the Rat Bible is a 

Small book of facts about VMI’s history and certain information
specific to the current year; must be in a Rat’s possession at all
times; Rats are responsible to know and recite the contents of
this book.

First comment:  The ability “to know and recite the contents” of the Holy Bible is even more essential as it is the Word of God!  Or at least a Christian Lutheran should be  able to recite verses  and portions of the Holy Scriptures and have a Bible in one’s possession at all times: this is a godly discipline. Memorization is crucial when the written text is not at hand.

Second:  What is a rat? According the Rat Bible, rats are, “The lowliest and dumbest of God’s creatures”.  First: do not tell the ACLU that God is mentioned in the Rat Bible!  But that definition aptly describes the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve fallen in sin.  Only man can be so stupid to go it alone without the Lord: “I did it my way”.  The Lord became the lowliest and dumbest of His creatures whom He made to be His highest and  most bright of His creatures. He became man so that  in Him by His grace, no longer a rat, not  a creature, but now His son or daughter by Baptism and faith.

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ at VMI!

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About Samuel:  Samuel, last of the Old Testament judges and first of the prophets (after Moses), lived during the eleventh century BC. The child of Elkanah, an Ephraimite, and his wife Hannah, Samuel was from early on consecrated by his parents for sacred service and trained in the house of the Lord at Shiloh by Eli the priest. Samuel’s authority as a prophet was established by God (1 Samuel 3:20). He anointed Saul to be Israel’s first king (1 Samuel 10:1). Later, as a result of Saul’s disobedience to God, Samuel repudiated Saul’s leadership and then anointed David to be king in place of Saul (1 Samuel 16:13). Samuel’s loyalty to God, his spiritual insight, and his ability to inspire others made him one of Israel’s great leaders. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House.)

Reflection: 1 Samuel tells us that  Saul sparing the life of King Agag though the Lord told Saul not to spare his life.   Saul did so because of compassion though he had no direct command from God to do so. The Lord told Saul that his life was then forfeit. 

In  seemingly less strenuous circumstances we think it’s all right to do something because we think, God will understand, He is compassionate.  Like the businessman on a long trip away from family, a few drinks in the hotel bar, a nice woman with a sad story…God will understand.  The husband’s  wife nor his children will understand.  The Lord understands all together too well and He is judge of the living and the dead. The businessman in question builds his own theology to cover his sin but only repentance on account of the blood shed by Jesus can heal.  

We can build a whole false ethos around under the cloak of  ‘theology’. Pr. Murray (Pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, TX)  points out that we are pretty good at “creating our own righteousness”.  The Law shows us if our moral behavior  is God pleasing   in way of our commitments and relationships in life:  mother, father, brother, sister, citizen, etc. The way to find out quite easily if what we are doing is actually holy is to ask: Is it conformity to God’s Law?  If not, then pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.”

Samuel’s very name means literally “God hears”.  He was named so because Samuel’s Mother, Hannah was childless and God heard her distress.  “Surely to obey the voice of the Lord is better than sacrifice.”  Samuel heard for the Lord heard him…and us as well to the depths of our sinful being. 

For further reflection, Meditation by Pr. Murray, from his A Year with the Church Fathers (CPH) in which he addresses do-it yourself theology…false theology: 

There can be no freeform holiness that comes from our own hearts. We often define and act on our own set of pious principles in seeking our own righteousness. This is purely a rebellion against the clear and unchanging will of God in the Law. There can be no holiness apart from the specific commands of a holy God. Our revision of the divine Law arises from seemingly righteous principles. Perhaps Saul spared Agag (1 Samuel 15) out of a desire to be compassionate and gracious, which God Himself claims to be (Psalm 86:15). Why shouldn’t Saul be able to get in on the compassion act? Simply because he had a direct command from God to do otherwise.

A veteran pastor was confronted by two married couples whom he considered pious members of his parish. They announced to him that they were swapping spouses and wondered if he might unite them in a double wedding. They argued that their spouse swap was loving and that, after all, the Holy Spirit had let them know that this was a good thing. He strongly suggested to them that they could not ignore the Sixth Commandment, and that maybe their spouse swap was merely self-serving. Our impieties are often perpetrated for pious reasons; love and compassion being common among those pious reasons. We even argue that God agrees with us. Like Saul, who as a worldly ruler considered it his prerogative to spare Agag, our pieties tend to benefit ourselves. We must flee from creating our own righteousness and remain tied down to the clear Word of God.

“Saul saw fit to use compassion when he spared the king whom God commanded to be slain (1 Samuel 15:9-11). However, he deserved to have his disobedient compassion, or, if you prefer it, his compassionate disobedience, rejected and condemned, that man may be on his guard against extending mercy to his fellow man in opposition to the sentence of Him by whom man was made. Truth, by the mouth of the Incarnate Himself, proclaims as if in a thundering voice, ‘Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’ (John 3:5). And in order to except martyrs from this sentence, to whose lot it has fallen to be slain for the name of Christ before being washed in the Baptism of Christ, He says in another passage, ‘Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it’ (Matthew 10:39)” (Augustine, On the Soul and its Origin, 2.17).

Almighty God, in Your mercy You gave Samuel to courage to call Israel to repentance and to renew their dedication to the Lord.  Call us to repentance as Nathan called David to repentance, so by the blood of Jesus, the Son of David,  we may receive the forgiveness of all our sins;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

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