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Archive for February 23rd, 2014

Lessons:  St. Matthew 5:38-48 Psalm 119:33-40, HE 1 Corinthians 3:10-23 Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

  From the Gospel, St. Matthew 5:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

 The Lord in His Sermon on the Mount to His newly called disciples presupposes they will have enemies. He said earlier to them, You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, different than the society and culture round about. The disciples will have enemies, not because they attacked and pillaged the world but because they serve the Savior of the world, and love Him, above all things, and their enemies,  and the world knows it and hates them for it. They love Him as He first called and loves them.  If a church does not have enemies, maybe that church is no longer salt or light.  It is tasteless and dark, and the devil loves that, if he can love anything.   Jesus says love your enemies, not surrender to them.  A church that does not have enemies, maybe has surrendered the truth who sets us free to the enemy, and the loss of saving truth obviously does not save…the church nor the enemy.  It is obvious from Leviticus the Lord calls us to be holy not nice.  It is to His holiness, the holiness of His love, we are called by the holy Lord become flesh and made holy by His Wounds inflicted by His enemies, that is, usFor if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.   

 Jesus says six times, You have that it was said…but I say to you.  Again, He is not correcting the Law of God but it’s misinterpretations.  “Eye for an eye” is used as text, actually pretext for vengeance.  Still is. You’ve heard, maybe you’ve said, especially when discussing capital punishment.   “You know eye for an eye!!!”  Shalom Aleichem, who wrote the short stories of Tevye the milkman which was made into the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, said, “Eye for eye..”, then everybody would be blind and toothless.

 First, This is said to the government, and is a, “… sound principle for the instruction of the judge; Fair compensation should be granted for injuries received. It was the Lord’s way of curtailing revenge”(Kretzmann). It is quite ‘normal’ if someone hits you to say quite ‘naturally’:  I’m going to kill you, and mean it.  Civil law curbs our wanton hatred and with it, violence, vengeance and vigilantism.

 Second, again the Lord presupposes the disciples, His church will be persecuted and this is the response to personal persecution. But as persecution just may be against the law of the nation the church is in, the church and her Christians must seek legal recourse.  The Apostle did when he was about to be flogged, Paul told  the Centurion that he was a Roman citizen. It was against the law of the Empire to flog a Roman citizen, he did not want to be beaten…again.  Jesus does not forbid legal recourse.   

 Third, as indicated,  revenge is considered “normal” or “natural”, that is, normal and natural to fallen human nature.  It is the plot of many a movie, soap operas, novels and video games.  It is so fallen-natural to hate the enemy.  I know.  I did not and can still not have warm Christian feelings toward certain people from my previous congregation, and living in a small town, I can have several awkward moments in one visit to Walmart or Krogers…and them as well.  It is ‘natural’ to hate, and that’s the problem, considered as natural, that is, acceptable.  The Lord’s solution: pray for those who persecute you. C.S. Lewis knew a man who met Adolph Hitler.  This man had every reason to despise Hitler.  Lewis asked his friend, What was Hitler like?  “Like all men…like Jesus Christ”.  It is so, so easy to vilify an enemy as less than human, as Tolkien did with the orcs, physically distorted and ugly creatures.  But our enemy looks like us. Pray for those who persecute you, no, it is not easy, believe me. Loving is not necessarily a warm feeling, but serving the enemy…with those who wronged me, if I waited for my heart to prompt me to serve those I do not like, even hate, it will be a long time. Our prompt is not the fallen human heart, but it is His Word and the Word made flesh. But don’t merely believe me.  Believe the one who prayed nailed to the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Including me, and you and the other guy. After all, as Jesus said, His Father causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 

 It is a good system, after, it is the Lord’s and of course, it is more than a “system” but eternal life Jesus points us to in Himself as He came from the Father to us all, the just and the unjust, giving His rain for us all and His forgiving for us all.  Believe Him always and everyday for those who persecute you, and the guy whom you would love to persecute.  The Lord fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit, which includes prayer for the enemy, not to wound and kill the enemy, but heal him or her and ourselves:  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  It is only in communion with Jesus Christ we can so live and be actually natural, according to the divine and human natures one in Jesus Christ. We do not pray as we ought but the Lord, the Holy Spirit prays in sighs too deep for words:  Lord, have mercy.

 Fourth, the law of God shows us when we are the Lord’s enemies!  It is amazing to read that the Lord our God put forth as a commandment not to curse the deaf nor trip the blind. How outrageous!  How horrible!  This isn’t right! It’s not normal! I never! Really, “I never”?!  Only God can say “never” and “ever” but if it’s wrong, I can do it.   Were people tripping the blind and cursing at the back of deaf of  person?  Maybe not…maybe.  Mr. Chad Bird has this reflection on today’s Old Testament lesson, in his blog:

 “…obvious wrongs are expressly forbidden because humanity excels at calling evil good and good evil. Granted, I do not foresee a day when tripping the blind will be deemed decent behavior. But, then again, I suspect that few Americans, fifty years ago, ever envisaged a day when it would be considered decent and acceptable to clinically murder fifty million unborn babies either. Be not deceived. Any boundaries to humanity’s capacity for evil are drawn with pencils, easily erased and widely expandable. Good is defaced as “bigoted, narrow-minded, oppressive.” Evil is prettified as “loving, freeing, merciful. This one command, don’t trip the blind, thunders this universal truth: humans perpetually fail at being humane.”

 It is accepted as “normal” and “right”, the “choice” of  the killing of 50 million unborn children.  We heard so many supposedly small ways in the Old Testament lesson from Leviticus we think we do right when it is not even close, doing wrong:  towards the poor, our neighbor’s property, getting as much as we can in life.  As in harvesting the fields to the edges and leaving nothing for the hungry and sojourner because I want it all!  The refrain for all those commands is “I am the Lord”.  It seems like such a small things that the Lord God puts His Name on, but they are not small things.  He lays Himself on the line for our own humaneness, living.  The Lord did once and for all. His love and mercy is perfect and mercy’s perfect deed is the Cross and that is the perfection the Lord guides us toward and more, in…in His mercy: for you, for me and for the other guy, even the enemy. 

 “…you are Christ’s, but Christ is God’s. Since the believers belong to Christ by faith, in and through Him their royal power is exercised. In this relation, therefore, there is praise for no one but Christ. And Christ is God’s, the believers thus, through the Son, being united also with the Father and partaking of His eternal power. God, therefore, is all in all, and it behooves all Christians, instead of spending valuable time in petty bickerings, in forming factions, and in boasting in men, to devote the energy of faith to the spread of His honor and glory. God’s field of tillage, God’s building, God’s temple, we Christians are, because we belong to Christ. And this great honor, on whose account we fall down before God in humble adoration, teaches us to deny the ungodliness of the praise of men and to glory in the Lord alone.” (Rev. Paul Kretzmann)

 

 

 

 

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Intro:   Polycarp’s martyrdom on this date around AD 156 deeply impressed the nascent Church and can not be glossed over.   Polycarp was a link between the time of the Apostles and post-apostolic era.  He was martyred when he was 86 years of age by being burned,and when the flames did not hurt him, he was stabbed in the heart.  Eyewitness accounts said the smell was of baking bread.  His name means, “much fruit”.  Below is a short bio from The Apostolic Fathers edited by Jack Sparks of the Eastern Orthodox Church:

“Take the oath and I will let you go,” said the proconsul. “Revile Christ.”

“I have served Him eighty-six years,” replied Polycarp, “and in no way has He dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

Thus the aged and much revered bishop spoke, in full knowl­edge of the outcome. His martyrdom was sealed. His life had stretched from the days of the apostles till the middle of the second century, and on a February day in about 156 he moved on with honor to the church enrolled in heaven.

We first meet Polycarp as the relatively young bishop of Smyrna when the aging Ignatius of Antioch was on his way to mar­tyrdom. It was in Smyrna that Ignatius made that famous rest stop on his final journey, and Polycarp was the only individual on record to whom the great martyr ever addressed a personal letter. In the years that followed, Polycarp gathered Ignatius’ letters and passed them on to others.

Irenaeus, who was bishop of Lyons in the latter half of the second century, tells us that Polycarp was a disciple of the apos­tle John and indeed knew others who had seen the Lord in the flesh. The witness of Irenaeus is important because he appar­ently grew up in Smyrna. What he says of Polycarp indicates that the bishop of Smyrna was most concerned about the pres­ervation of the orthodox faith. One incident he reports demon­strates the severity of Polycarp’s attitude toward heresies and heretics. Polycarp, says Irenaeus, once met the heretic Marcion on the streets. “Do you recognize me?” asked Marcion. “In­deed,” replied Polycarp, “I recognize you as the firstborn of Satan!” (Adv. haer 3:3,4).

Though Irenaeus hints at several letters by Polycarp, only  one has come down to us. That letter is to the church at Philippi and reflects the same concern for truth and orthodoxy we have already mentioned. His letter is filled with, indeed almost made up of, quotes from the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles of the New Testament, as well as the letters of Clement and Ignatius. Some critics have sneered at Polycarp because he is so uncreative and offers no new theological insight. We can be glad he was the way he was. Through Polycarp we have not only a link with the ear­liest days of Christianity, but a faithful transmission of apostolic doctrine as well. No, he was not creative. He was a loyal disci­ple of Christ and the apostles.

Near the end of his life Polycarp made a visit to Rome to dis­cuss with Bishop Anicetus a number of church matters, appar­ently including the date of Easter. The Eastern churches were still celebrating Easter on the exact date of Jewish Passover, while Rome was using a specified Sunday each year. Neither agreed to change, but their fellowship was not disturbed. Before he left Rome, Polycarp, at the invitation of Anicetus, led in the celebration of the Eucharist. The two men parted in full agree­ment to leave their respective traditions as they were.

Last of all we have an eyewitness account of the martyrdom of Polycarp. Perhaps by request, the church at Smyrna pre­pared a full account, to be sent to the church at Philomelium and other places. This clear and simple testimony of the martyrdom of an aged saint should bring tears to the eyes of any believer. Some have questioned the record because of the miraculous ac­count of the means of his death. But there is great danger in rejecting a miracle on the grounds that “such things just don’t happen.” Some have done so and thus have rejected the mira­cles of the Scriptures.

Polycarp’s last prayer is characteristic of the man and a clear testimony of his faith. He concluded with, “I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ your beloved Son through whom to you with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory now and forever. Amen.”

Below is a selection from The Martyrdom of Polycarp.  Please note that the first Christians were accused of “atheism” because they would not sacrifice to the false god of Caesar, and so they were considered as not believing and thus imperiling the ‘divine’ order of the Empire and the Emperor.

“…the police captain, Herod, and his father, Nicetes, met (Polycarp); they transferred him to their carriage and sitting down beside him tried to persuade him, saying: “Why, what is wrong with saying, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and sacrificing, and so forth, and thus being saved?” At first he did not answer them, but when they persisted, he said: “I am not going to do what you advise me.”  Since they had failed to persuade him, they uttered threats and hurriedly pulled him off so that as he was descending from the carriage he scraped his shin. And without turning around, he walked along briskly as though he had suffered no injury. As he was led into the stadium with the uproar so great that it [the announcement of Polycarp’s apprehension] was not heard by many….

 Now a voice from heaven came to Polycarp as he was entering the stadium: “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man!” (Josh. 1:6,7,9.) No one saw the speaker, but many of ours heard the voice. And then as he was brought forward, there was a great uproar now that they heard that Polycarp had been apprehended. So when he was brought forward the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp; and when he admitted it, he tried to persuade him to deny, saying: “Respect your age” and all the other things they usually say: “Swear by the Genius of Caesar, change your mind, say, ‘Away with the atheists.’ ” Polycarp looked sternly at the whole crowd of lawless heathen in the stadium, indicating them with a wave of the hand, groaned and looked up to heaven, and said: “Away with the atheists!” When the proconsul persevered and said: “Take the oath and I will let you go; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied: “I have served him eighty-six years and in no way has he dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”

 Since he persisted and said: “Swear by Caesar’s Genius,” he answered: “If you vainly expect that I will swear by Caesar’s Genius, as you suggest, and pretend to be ignorant who I am, listen (to what I say) openly: I am a Christian. If you want to learn the teaching of Christianity, name the day and hear (about it).”  The proconsul said: “Persuade the people.” Polycarp replied: “To you indeed I have considered myself accountable; for we have been taught to render fit honor to rulers and authorities appointed by God in so far as it is not injurious to us [cf. Rom. 13:1,7;1 Pet. 2:13ff]; as for these, I do not consider myself bound to make my defense before them.”

Comment:  Note that what the Christians were asked to do, burn a little incense to Caesar and swear by him is really a ‘small thing’, as it was pitched toward the Church.  As the proconsul said, what is wrong with saying, Caesar is Lord?  Indeed!  It might seem such a small thing to “go with the flow”, do what others are doing which seems so much fun and the like.  But it’s not a ‘small thing’ and Polycarp knew what it meant:  denying Jesus Christ who saved him.  

I like Fr. Sparks’ comment that Polycarp’s one letter shows he was not creative.  He quoted the Bible. No, he was not creative. He was a loyal disci­ple of Christ and the apostles.”   I took a course in seminary, “Creative Ministry”.   We make ministry ‘creative’?  No, the Lord does.  He re-creates us through His Ministry of Word and Sacraments through His called pastors and bishops.  Polycarp was not creative:   he was faithful.  He was a faithful servant of Jesus.  Satis est.  That is enough and Christ will fill us by His grace for us sinners.

Let us pray:  O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to Your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior, and steadfastness to die for the Faith, give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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