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Archive for July, 2014

Iraq’s Waterless Christians: The Campaign to Expel a Religion

July 22, 2014 BloombergBusinessWeek

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Ezekiel, the son of Buzi, was a priest, called by God to be a prophet to the exiles during the Babylonian captivity (Ezekiel 1:3). In 597 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army brought the king of Judah and thousands of the best citizens of Jerusalem — including Ezekiel — to Babylon (2 Kings 24:8-16).

Ezekiel’s priestly background profoundly stamped his prophecy, as the holiness of God and the Temple figure prominently in his messages (for exampleEzekiel 9-10and 40-48). From 593 B.C. to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 B.C., Ezekiel prophesied the inevitability of divine judgment on Jerusalem, on the exiles in Babylon, and on seven nations that surrounded Israel (Ezekiel 1–32). Jerusalem would certainly fall and the exiles would not quickly return — the just consequences of their sins.

Especially in the early part of the book, much of what the Lord “said” to His people was delivered in the form of action prophecies. In these, Ezekiel acted out representations of coming events pertaining to the fall of Judah, the destruction of the temple, and the seeming end of the Davidic line of kings. These action prophecies included the eating of the scroll (3:1-2), being struck with dumbness (3:22-27), sketching of the city of Jerusalem (4:1-3), lying on one side and then the other (4:4-8), eating restricted rations cooked on a fire of dried dung (4:9-17), and shaving his hair and beard with a sword before dividing the hair (5:1-4). Some seem a bit strange at first glance, once we understand their meaning and context, their messages are quite easily comprehended.

Once word reached Ezekiel that Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, his message became one of comfort and hope. Through him God promised that his people would experience future restoration, renewal and revival in the coming Messianic kingdom (Ezekiel 33-48).

Much of the strange symbolism of Ezekiel’s prophecies was later employed inthe Revelation to Saint John. Among these are the visions of the four living creatures as seen inEzekiel 1 and Revelation 4. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? Ezekiel 18: 23

Ezekiel called a thing what it was.  He did not call sinfulness, “dysfunctional behavior”, he called it wickedness, as did his brother prophets.  The question of morality is not about psychology but spirituality. The only way the word wicked is said in our day is maybe,  “Oh, that was wicked”, that is, something that is actually good. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, we do not need a big brother state to enforce “newspeak”.  

The divinely inspired prophet leveled the Word of God at wickedness, but not only toward other nations, but primarily his own nation, Israel.  All the prophets primarily  preached.

Was Israel wicked?  Answer:  Yes.  

By what standard did the prophets know Israel was wicked?  Answer:  The Law of God.  

Was the Lord and His prophet’s goal to destroy Israel in it’s wickedness?  Answer:  No, but as we read above, the goal was repentance and life in His Name.

The Church in the United States is wicked and full of dead men’s bones.  Marriage between man and woman is denied.  Abortion is promoted.  Divorce is winked at.  The poor are extolled while we worship our unappeasable appetites.  Celebrity is likewise extolled and adored while saintliness is considered antiquated, in other words, Christians are practicing idolaters.  Good works as salvation via social activism is openly promoted while faith is assumed.  At church assemblies people know more about Robert’s Rules of Order, than the Lord’s rules, that is, the Law of God.  The newest fad of  ‘theology’ is read or lectured and the Bible is denied. Christians are more interested in updating their Facebook status than in improving their hearts and souls through the Word of God.  A comfortable Christ is preached but not the crucified Christ. We worship on our derrieres on padded pews and want our worship likewise padded, but not desiring the comfort of the Gospel for sinners.  As there really are no ‘sinners’, no one is wicked.  

I think it was unintentional prophecy when the Lutheran Book of Worship came out and the verses  from 1 John 1 was incorporated into public Confession and Absolution:

 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

The Church  in the United States has done a good job in making Christ a “liar”, in His so great a salvation, but it is obviously the churches which have been fooling themselves.  The churches are wicked. The Lord God sent His Son into our wickedness and it is His Cross that moves us to see what wickedness has wrought:  so great a Savior.  The following quote is from Spiritual Meditations by Pastor Johann Gerhard:

Jacob served fourteen years to win Rachel for his wife ; but Christ for nearly thirty years endured hunger, thirst, cold, poverty, ignominy, reproaches, bonds, the scourge, the vinegar and gall, and the awful death of the cross, that He might prepare for Himself and will as His bride the believing soul. Samson went down and sought a wife from among the Philistines, a people devoted to destruction (Judges xiv. 3), but the Son of God came down from heaven to choose His bride from among men condemned and devoted to eternal death. The whole race to which the bride belonged was hostile to the heavenly Father, but He reconciled it to His Father by His most bitter passion. The bride was polluted in her own blood (Ez. xvi. 22), and was cast out upon the face of the earth ; but He washed her in the water of baptism, and cleansed her in the most holy laver of regeneration (Eph. V. 26).

 Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Ezekiel, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

 

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The Prophet Elijah hiding in the cave

The prophet Elijah, whose name means “My God is Yahweh [the LORD],” prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel primarily during the reign of Ahab (874-853 BC).

Ahab, under the influence of his pagan wife Jezebel, had encouraged the worship of Baal throughout his kingdom, even as Jezebel sought to get rid of the worship of Yahweh. Elijah was called by God to denounce this  idolatry and to call the people of Israel, to the worship of Yahweh as the only true God (as he did in 1 Kings 18:20-40). Elilia., was a rugged and imposing figure, living the wilderness and dressing in a garment of  camel’s hair and a leather belt (1 Kings 18:20-40).

He was a prophet mighty in word and deed. Many miracles were done through Elijah, including the raising of the dead (1 Kings 17.17-24) and the effecting of a long drought in Israel (1 Kings 17:1). At the end of his ministry, he was taken up into heaven while Elisha, his successor, looked on (2 Kings 2:11). Later, the prophet Malachi proclaimed that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6), a prophecy that was fulfilled in the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

The narrative of Elijah begins at 1 Kings 17: 1 and ends with Elijah’s assumption into heaven, II Kings 2: 12.  

It was tumultuous ministry because it was a tumultuous time.  The Kingdom of Israel, after the death of Solomon, was divided into two kingdoms in 922 BC: Israel (Northern Kingdom) and Judah (Southern Kingdom) by the Lord due to the sin of Solomon and his son.  Please note how many were idolaters,  adulterers and murders:

Kings of Israel (Northern Kingdom)

Sexual immorality and violence go hand-in-hand with idolatry because idolatry focuses everything upon the Old Adam and it’s lust to power.  “…all man’s Babylons strive but to impart/The grandeurs of his Babylonian heart” (Francis Thompson, +1907).  The Assyrian Empire conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC.

 In the Northern Kingdom the Lord sent His prophets to proclaim His Word to a wayward Israel for 2 centuries.  Elijah was one of the greatest. The worse of the kings of the north was Ahab  with the power behind the throne,  his wife Jezebel, an idolater.  Elijah is introduced into the narrative without explanation and my guess is that his reputation preceded him.  In a confrontation  Elijah challenged the false prophets of Baal that Ahab had allowed into the Lord’s Temple at the behest of his pagan wife, Jezebel.  

17When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” 18And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals. 19Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” (1 Kings 18)

Elijah spoke the Truth to power and power did not like it. See John the Baptizer and King Herod Antipas. In our day, political and religious leaders have, “…abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals”, usually the Baals of their own fallen hearts.   In short, the LORD won through His chosen prophet and preacher of the Word against the false prophets.  But then Elijah hears that Jezebel wants to kill him, Elijah flees. Elijah  is overwhelmed.   He asks the Lord to take away his life (1 Kings 19:  4).  I think this is intra-Scriptural proof the utter historical veracity of the Bible:  a prophet is shown with all his faults as a fallen son of Adam. You can’t whitewash Old Adam, only the Lord can make him clean. Elijah hides himself in a cave.  The Lord knows where he is.  And after,  a great wind, an earthquake and fire, the Lord’s voice, His Word is heard in “a small still voice” (1 Kings 19: 12, KJV).  The next time we hear of Elijah is when he and Moses are speaking with the Lord Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration about His “departure”, in Luke’s Gospel, literally, His exodus: not to flee from slavery but to free all those in slavery (Luke 9:29-31).  All come to faith, not primarily by the powerful deeds of Jesus, His miracles,  but by the small still anguished voice from the Cross:  “It is finished”.  The King upon the Cross did what no earthly kingly would ever do or could ever do:  die for His subjects, bearing their sins. Indeed, 

22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1;  emphasis my own)

Prayer of the Day

Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Elijah, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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Blessed Lord, since You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord,  who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 Text:  St.  Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The parable of the Sower is about the Sower.  A sower sows seed and he did so in a rather liberal manner by just casting the seed all over the place, all over the earth. The sower’s seed is the “word of the Kingdom”, the Word of God’s reign. After all, the Father causes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust. After all every Word that proceeds from God, every Word of the Bible, by His Word every man can live.  Jesus asked the disciples, Who do men say that I am?  Some say one of the prophets, some say John the Baptist…The Sower is not sowing men’s words, men’s opinions about God, man made theologies and religions, but the Word of the Kingdom, God’s reign, His Church.  Jesus already taught the disciples to pray, Thy Kingdom Come. God’s Kingdom, His Reign through, with and under His Son Jesus Christ will come without our prayer but in this prayer petition we pray it comes also among us day by day, as Luther taught in the catechisms. Nations and kingdoms rule by force and sadly sometimes by  the love of force. The Lord’s reign comes by the force of His love which is grace and peace for burdened sinners.  Jesus reiterated John the Baptist’s sermon:  The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and  believe the good news.  The Church is Jesus’ seed company.

The Lord teaches that the  seed as the word of the Kingdom.  What is that word?  It is the Word of the Cross.  The reign of God does not come by glory but by suffering, the Cross. Seeds can only grow by being buried  in the soil.  Men and women are dead in His crucifixion and rise by the power of His indestructible life.  Hard-scrabble sinners seizing in faith Jesus Christ for the water of forgiveness in Baptism.  Into that hard-scrabble field He sent and went with His disciples, Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the eons.  He sent His disciples into a creation in “bondage to corruption”, as it is written in Romans, to spread the Word.  Amidst our own sin and sorrow, fightings and fears within and without, He has planted His Word, His seed.  Just think of the church throughout the world, His field in severe oppression in Islamic nations, in China, in Africa:  flourishing with enemies all about. The soil that is good is the soil that knows it cannot produce a plant, it needs a seed, good seed, from the Sower’s hand, His nail imprinted Hand, the Word of God’s grace and peace in Jesus Christ.  In His hand are the depths of the earth, His hands formed the dry land. Good soil knows it is soil.  The root word of “humility” is “humus”, soil.  Other soils, other people, other souls just won’t get it.

The Pharisees accused Jesus as a man healing people by the power of “Beelzebul, the prince of demons”.  Just before that charge, it is reported in Matthew 12: 14 that the Pharisees “…went out and conspired against Him, how to destroy Him.”  In chapter 11 the Lord’s cousin, John the Baptist had sent his disciples who did not really get it that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.  Two cities of which Jesus did many great deeds were unrepentant.  The times were hard and so was the soil. And here in chapter 13 sprouting up is our Lord’s Sermon of Parables: three quarters of them are all about seeds and plants growing.  This is what the reign of the Lord is like.  “It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.”  1 Corinthians 15:  43

A seed in the ground growing. Sown in weakness.  Sown in death.  Against amazing all odds. Even malicious enemies. There is no moral law which makes a seed grow.

Along the beaten path, the road very traveled, that every Tom, Dick and Harry walks, the easy path that leads to destruction,  the devil comes along and snatches the seed of the Word of God’s reign.  Others, will fall on rocky ground and the Word is received with joy but something goes wrong or someone makes fun of the person’s new faith, it withers and dies.   Then the thorns of the “cares of this world”, and “deceitfulness of riches” chokes “the word” and there is no fruit.  His teaching here to the crowd is also guide to the harvest in the Lord’s reign of what to look out for in tending the fields.  The crowd goes down that easy path to destruction, not to tag along.  Yes, there will be tribulations, but behold, as He said, You will have troubles in this world, but behold, I have overcome the world…and wealth’s deceitfulness, it deceives with false security. But in the good soil Jesus taught the seed will produce a harvest, bountiful and green.  The Lord sends forth His Word like the rain and the snow and He purposes for it His will for us and our salvation.  The Lord numbers the harvest, 100, 60 or 30 bushels of grain, not us. The Lord  does this,

“…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” 

Those who understand the Word and to understand the Word one stands under the Word, not over it.  If some preacher, preaching something about Jesus says, If you just have really strong faith, then your will have fill in the blank, usually wealth, health and power, then I would be fancying myself a faith that I stand over God’s Word. Faith is not about getting what we want, but receiving what the Lord gives:  His grace, mercy and peace for us all. The sower is not efficient in his sowing technique, called “broadcast sowing”.  He broadcasts the Word of the Kingdom with liberal abandon and those who get it marvel that His Word would grow in them, and ever more marvel at the wonders of His generosity and grace.  The broadcast continues.  He who has ears, let him hear, Jesus tells the crowd.  He is still working the crowd, actually, working the soil. His will is that all come to the knowledge of the truth.  In Matthew chapter 11, He invites, Come to Me all who are burden and heavy laden.  In chapter, five, “The poor in spirit are blessed, because the reign of heaven is theirs!”  Jesus will work the soil in it’s  hardness, thorns and rocks.  As a grain of wheat, proclaimed Jesus, remains alone, until it is planted in the soil and dies and comes to life again, it can not bear much fruit.  The Word made flesh is the Word of the reign of God planted in His Cross for us all. His death is our death, the death of the deeds of the body and the Holy Spirit makes alive His Church, His people, His soil, His souls, as He is risen from the dead.  I am the vine you are the branches, without Me you can do nothing..

Is it not written that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are poor in spirit? Faith is, then, a poverty of spirit, a hunger and thirst, a poor, empty heart opening toward God so that He can put His grace into it. When God bestows His grace upon us, we are born anew and become partakers of the new life.(Bp.Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God)

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I recommend the following short bio of Bp. Giertz here at Aardvark Alley. I think July 12th should be recognized  as the Commemoration of Pastor Giertz, Pastor and Theologian.

Bp. Giertz was a bishop and a theologian and a writer and in particular a novelist. He was a thorough-going Lutheran Confessional Pastor. He stood up for the orthodox Confessional and true doctrine and faith as his church in Sweden was abandoning it.  

One of his most read novels is The Hammer of God.  The novel is actually three novellas about a parish in Sweden covering three  time periods in the 19th and 20th centuries.  FWIW:  The Hammer of God is probably my most dog-eared novel.  It truly is a narrative telling of  God’s Law and Promise and God’s promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ by grace alone for sinners alone…from day 1, from birth.  In the revivalism of the time, many Lutheran pastors were saying that infants could not be baptized and so believe.  Pastors Ahlberg and Fridfelt have the following discussion:

“But children cannot believe,” said Ahlberg, whose eagerness was increasing. The others listened in complete silence. “‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’ Thus faith is necessary for baptism.”

“No, not for baptism, but for salvation. Jesus does not in that passage say what is necessary in order to be baptized, but what is necessary in order to be saved. Faith and baptism are two that belong together. Don’t you see, Ahlberg, how dreadful it would be if children could not believe? In that case they could not be saved, either.”

Fridfeldt was himself startled by this thought, which just now came to him. Was this just juggling with words? But then he remembered Frans, the dying old man, and his grandchild, and he felt that there was a deep and edifying connection.

“It may very well be that we have drawn wrong conclusions regarding faith,” he continued. “Faith does not dwell in our brain or in our thoughts. Faith is not a work which we accomplish; it is not a gift that we give to God. Being made righteous by faith does not imply that faith is some kind of payment that will serve as well as our almsgiving and good works. Is it not written that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are poor in spirit? Faith is, then, a poverty of spirit, a hunger and thirst, a poor, empty heart opening toward God so that He can put His grace into it. When God bestows His grace upon us, we are born anew and become partakers of the new life.”

O Lord God, heavenly Father, we pray that, as You raised up Bo Harald Giertz to lead Swedish Lutherans into a renewed appreciation of their confessional heritage and trust in the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as You spoke to the entire Church through his writings, so You would continue to provide faithful pastors and leaders, keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, defend us against all enemies of Your Word, and bestow on Christ’s Church Militant 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.

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“Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” Judges 7: 20

Today’s Old Testament reading is Judges 7, the Narrative of Gideon and his 300 soldiers against a numerical and militarily superior Midianites.   It is a great read. 300 soldiers against an overwhelming force is the other true story of the 300 Spartans who held off a superior Persian Army at the Battle of Thermopylae.  This story has been made popular in the movie, 300.  But Gideon and his three hundred won with out initially drawing their swords. In fact, note that the LORD on purpose whittled down Gideon’s men to 300!

One of the prophecies of the coming of the Christ is Isaiah 9: 1-7, “For unto us a child is born” and in verse 4 it is written:

For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.

The reference, “the day of Midian” is to Judges chapter 7.  In Isaiah 9: 2 is verse that  the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.  The great light, as in the light shining in the darkness from the torches of Gideon and the 300 in the clay jars, broken open, shining upon the Midianites setting them into confusion and disarray, thus saving Israel, as with light of Christ, the Word made flesh, the great light, shining in the darkness.  Professor and Pastor Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) preached it well:

“(The) rescue from the Law, says Isaiah, is prototyped through the very slaughter which Prince Gideon executed over the Midianites, mightily defeating them in Judges 7; for there it is recorded that Gideon did not achieve victory over the Midianites by the power of a mighty army, but through a marvelous and (to reason) a ridiculous manner. He took three hundred men, divided them into three groups, and gave into the hand of each one a trumpet and an empty jug and a torch. As they arrived at the place of the army, he commanded them that they should blow the trumpet and break to pieces the jugs in their hand. In this manner the Midianite army was chased into flight, and the Lord created a situation such that each sword in the entire army was in opposition to the other.

Now just as Gideon overcame his enemies at that time, not with great outward might, but rather through a common invisible manner, so also this Child and this Son, born for us, as Isaiah says, did not utilize outward pomp and power to rescue His people from their enemies. Rather, He began it foolishly, allowing Himself to be nailed to the cross, to the point where His vigor and strength were dried up like a shattered potsherd (Psa. 22:16). Thereafter He let His divine brightness [glory] and might shine forth with His resurrection and commanded that the trumpet of His Word be [sounded] in all the world.

The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom our remaineth. (A Mighty Fortress is Our God, by Martin Luther, TLH #262)

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Today’s Old Testament reading in the Daily Lectionary is Judges 6: 1-14. The narration of Gideon is Judges 6-8, three chapters.  He obviously towers as a judge and warrior. Gideon was a hero, but as he towered he first cowered.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, the angel declared the Lord’s blessing:  “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” (6: 12).  This “mighty man of valor” immediately responded, if the Lord is with us, where has He been of late? Where are all His wonderful deeds?   Here Gideon sounds like 21st century man filled with doubt and cynicism, not exactly the major motion picture portrayal of a “mighty man of valor”! After all, the Midianites had conquered and controlled Israel for seven years and oppressed Israel. What could Gideon do?   “And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (vs. 14).   Just as with Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre, the angel is the LORD.  His comment, “go in this might of yours” may be sarcasm.  Gideon makes abundantly clear in the next verses he has no “might”.  He tells the LORD his tribe is the weakest of the 12 tribes of Israel and of his tribe and his family, “…I am the least in my father’s house” (vs. 15).   Gideon asked, “How can I save Israel?” (vs. 15).  The Lord responds, “ “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (vs. 16)  The LORD reiterates the blessing:  I am with you. 

I am with you:  Those 4 English words sum up the Gospel promises, as our Lord’s final words before His ascension, “Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the ages of ages” (Matthew 28)  In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus, literally, “God saves” is  Emmanuel, God with us.  When the LORD said to Gideon “I am with you”, Jesus Christ was with Gideon.  The LORD has quite a track record of choosing the least, the last and the lost to bring His Word into this world:  David, a shepherd boy, of the least of the cities of Judah, Bethlehem;  Abraham, a pagan idolater;  Moses, a stammering murderer;  Peter, a fisherman;  Paul, a persecutor of the Church…there are more. You. Me. Gideon asked, How can I save Israel?  Gideon had that right:  he could not save Israel, only God can, but men and women of faith in the LORD are part of His salvation as He saved them first, as He did Gideon: I am with you.

Then Gideon asked for a sign (vs. 17) and he asked the LORD to stay put till he brought Him a gift (vs. 18).  The LORD said, “I will stay till your return”. The LORD is steadfast.

In vss. 19-24, Gideon gives his gift and the LORD consumes it in fire. What can we give to the Lord who has given us all things?  The LORD gave His sign and Gideon dries out, “Alas, O LORD God”  And the LORD said to him,“Peace be with you.  Do not fear; you shall not die.”  The LORD is our peace and here for the third time the LORD gives the promise:  I am with you.  Gideon builds at altar at the spot and calls it “The LORD is peace”.  The LORD gives His peace, not as world gives, He gives Himself (John 14:27).  Now Gideon will wage war and destroy altars of demons.  Not peaceful, you say?  But the horror is idolatry and immorality which are not peace at all. The world calls good evil and evil good.  This vain world thinks if we are peaceful, while committing idolatry and immorality, we have peace, but we do not.   And the sword of God’s Word will cut it out, as did Ehud with Eglon, the war of our flesh, the world and the devil.  As Gideon, as Ehud, as Deborah, we are up against overwhelming odds.  Again,before  Gideon towered, he cowered and it was only in the power of the LORD, could Gideon triumph, but it was finally not the triumph of Gideon!  I too would have said just what Gideon said and I have!  We are called not to save the world, but to serve the Savior and hold on to His promise: I am with you, as He held  up Gideon.

 

 

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“But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died.” Judges 4: 21

Read today’s Daily Lectionary Old Testament reading is the narrative of Deborah, Barak and Sisera:  Judges 4.

Deborah, a prophetess, and a Gentile woman Jael were decisive in beating a foreign power with “900 chariots of iron”, an overwhelming force.  They helped win the victory for idolatrous and once again, repentant Israel.   The Lord promised the Israelite Barak the victory. It took Deborah to coax him into battle with the promise that a woman would carry out the victory.  Barak was like another general, the union one, George Meade, who after winning the battle of Gettysburg should have pursued the Lee and his army and utterly stopped them, per Lincoln’s desire, but Meade did not.   Barak, whose name means “lightening” was anything but quick and decisive, like Meade.  In fact, Barak wanted Deborah to go with him.  Deborah had faith in the Lord at His Word…Barak’s faith seemed to be weak. A woman’s act of winning the battle meant only one thing in that culture:  shame. God’s Word is the strength and honor of both men and women. The glory of Israel was not the strength of their arms but the arm of their strength was the Word of God. 

 Jael lured the fleeing General Sisera into her tent and then drove a stake through his head into the ground:

“God had His way by incorporating the Gentiles into His plan.  The stake of the cross was firmly planted by Christ into the head of our enemy. Boldness in the faith is now the legacy left to us Gentiles.” (Pr. Scott Murray, A Year with the Church Fathers, 9 July meditation) 

The battle lines are becoming clearer every day as our nation and world dissolves into secularism and sectarianism and idolatry.  The Church must stand firm in the faith and firm in the love of our neighbor.  Deborah mostly sat under the palms with God’s Word from which she rendered the wisdom of God’s Word.   A moving cup can not be filled.  We need to be still, and so stilled,   in prayer and meditation to be filled with the Word through the Holy Spirit, as Deborah.  May these narratives from Judges, also God’s Word, fortify us in the Incarnate Word,  Jesus Christ.   

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word, curb those who by deceit or sword would wrest the Kingdom from Your Son and bring to nought all he has done. (Hymn by Martin Luther)

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“And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly.” (Judges 3: 21)

Currently the Daily Lectionary Old Testament readings are from The Book of Judges, the seventh book in the Bible.  

After the conquest of the land in Joshua is the period of the Judges of Israel.  Judges is a cyclic history of idolatry, punishment for it at the hands of a foreign power which conquers the land for a number of years, then Israel’s  prayer for deliverance and the LORD raising up a judge, endowed with the Holy Spirit (see Judges 3:10 ,  Judges 6:34Judges 9:23, etc) to fight and drive off the occupying power.  Then there is peace in the land of promise until the Israelites again worshiped false gods.  The repeating verse in Judges is:

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. (verse 11)

This statement occurs seven times to introduce a new episode in the history of the Judges.

We need to rid our imaginations of the notion of a “judge”, as in a court of law complete with black robes and a gavel, when thinking about the Judges of Israel.  They were wise, in terms of using their quick wits to save the people, such as the two most famous of the Judges, Gideon and Samson.  The Judges were Spirit endowed warriors whose strength was the LORD and His Word.  

Today’s reading from The Book of Judges is Chapter 3:  7-31, the Narration regarding Ehud.  Ehud was the judge and the foreign king was Eglon.  Ehud had a plan to kill the king:

15 Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, and the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab.16 And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his clothes. 17 And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. 18 And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who carried the tribute. 19 But he himself turned back at the idols near Gilgal and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he commanded, “Silence.” And all his attendants went out from his presence.20 And Ehud came to him as he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber.And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. 21 And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. 22 And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out. 23 Then Ehud went out into the porch and closed the doors of the roof chamber behind him and locked them.

 I have enjoyed, yes, enjoyed, teaching this lesson to confirmation classes in my overview of Bible, especially when it’s most boys.  Why?  It’s so gross! Moses is clear in telling us that Ehud’s sword was two-edged.  In the New Testament a two edged sword is featured prominently:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4: 12)

Out of Eglon came “dung”. It is not pretty what comes out of us when we sin.  It’s a load of dung, dead stuff and it stinks.  The two edged sword was an important military weapon because the attacker could up up and down with it  in a person’s abdomen in order to separate joints and marrow, thus making sure the person was killed.  

The LORD’s will in His Word is to slay and kill the Old Adam. The Old Adam is fat with his own lusts and self worship. The Old Adam is spiritually obese.   Iniquity and evil and sin are not nice.  It’s gross. We like to think too nicely of God’s Word.  It is not a pillow but a sword.  His Word is sharp, as in His Word of the Law.   The LORD cuts and kills in order to heal and make alive in His Son Jesus Christ, the Physician who has come for the sick.  After Ehud and his army’s conquest, by first killing Eglon, the Moabite king, and then the Moabites, “…the land had rest for eighty years” (3: 30b).  The LORD drowns us in Baptism to pull us out as His sons and daughters, but the Old Adam is a mighty good swimmer.  We do have rest in Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:28) but, well, we do some crappy things.   He will kill to draw out the venom as He has done for us all upon the Cross. Here is a prayer petition that the Judge of Israel would know:

 Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom…

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“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” St. Matthew 11: 28

Text:  The Holy Gospel, St. Matthew 11:25–30

St. Irenaeus of Lyons, pastor and bishop, who lived in the 2nd century, whose most noted writing was Against Heresies, wrote: 

“For error is plausible and bears a resemblance to the truth but requires to be disguised;  while truth is without disguise and, therefore, has been entrusted to children.”

The shocking part of that quote is that the truth has “…has been entrusted to children”!  Not to the adults, not to the learned, not to theologians.  This is keeping with our Lord Jesus Christ who prayed to His Father,

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.    St.Matthew 11

When it comes to right or wrong, adults like to think in terms of “moral grays”, make things complicated. but a child does not:  it is either right or wrong.  It is that way with the Gospel:   a child gets it. I have done wrong, God is great, He loved us upon the cross.    Creation is good.  I have done wrong.   We are forgiven. This is truth without disguise.  The Father reveals His love to children not the “learned and the wise”. Jesus Himself entrusts it to children:  even if the child is a 100! It is in keeping with Irenaeus and his love of Scripture is the lyrics of the old Sunday School song:

Jesus loves me! This I know,  For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong, They are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! He who died, Heaven’s gate to open wide; He will wash away my sin, Let His little child come in. Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

Yet, the undisguised truth of God’s Word has so much that even the most able minds cannot understand it all.  But them some then try to fit God’s Word to their self-conceived good words and works. Self-conceived in one’s own works and words is finally self-centered.  In Irenaeus’ day there were the Gnostics who said creation is evil, spirituality is good. Plausible…except it is not the Scripture:  see Genesis 1 and the refrain, It is good, seven times culminating in the God’s declaration of His Word: And it was very good! See Jesus Christ:  God became FLESH, His own creation!  It is the heretics, who have had enough of God’s own truth, to disguise and then complicate the truth of God’s own Word, now looking to themselves and a ‘superior’ spirituality.  It looks good but it is a wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing (see Matthew 7:15).  Beware,  said faithful pastors like Irenaeus.  Irenaeus also famously said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”  How?  Answer:  Jesus loves me.  Upon Him, the solid rock, we can grow and be edified, built-up by the Holy Spirit.  A child can get it and it is entrusted to His children of all ages and for all the ages until He comes again.

At that time, Jesus prayed the first part of today’s Gospel.  At that time, when things were going against Him and folks were just not getting His invitation by His grace alone to the eternal life He offers in God’s own forgiveness.  The deaf hear, the blind see, the dead are raised and blessed is he who takes no offense at that, Jesus said to John’s disciples earlier in chapter 11.  Children, infants are not in control.  They are dependent.  Those wise and understanding in their own eyes are not dependent and think they are in control over their salvation.  Not a baby, actually, not any man.    

Filled with one’s own wisdom, fame, power, and wealth, the learned and understanding, cannot be filled with the Lord.  It  is in our time we have the expression, He or she is filled with himself.  But not only individuals but nations and religions.  Jerusalem, which should have filled with the Lord as no other city on earth, was very filled, obese with their own spirituality and their King came riding in lowly and riding a donkey, emptied of fame, fortune and riches.  He was emptied, it says in the Bible, even death on a cross.Many suffer from spiritual obesity going from one leaking cistern to another.  Spiritual obesity is starving to death People go to and fro seeking spiritual experiences but the one spiritual experience all avoid like the plague is what the Lord says to us in His Law.  God’s Law will empty any one of us.  His Law is good, love is good, as the command is good, but I do the very thing I hate and this the Law shows me.  The great apostle Paul understood that in spades.  As a Pharisee he was probably well acquainted with the phrase: to put on the yoke of the Law, God’s Law. He knew this conflict in his soul, actually Paul called that spade a spade, he called in it a “war”, which is in everyone’s soul in Christ Jesus.  Jesus prayed, Come to me all who are burden and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Jesus answered Paul’s prayer.  The dictionary definition of rest is: 

a bodily state characterized by minimal functional and metabolic activities

a :  freedom from activity or labor

b :  a state of motionlessness or inactivity

c :  the repose of death

The conflict in Paul did not mean to try harder to be saved or get good with God, another self-help book, another TV guru.  The conflict means only one thing, the third dictionary definition of rest: the repose of death.  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Not me, not you, Come to Me all who are burden and heavy laden. Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. His Law exposes the inner wretch in us that we can sing, Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. This is, as Jesus says, the Father’s gracious will to so reveal to us His Son. He chooses to reveal this to those who know their burden, Come to Me. The Word of God has two parts:  contrition and sorrow over sin, the weak and weary soul and the second part, the Gospel forgiveness and so the Lord gives us the Sacraments with those two parts,

“Here there are two parts. The “labor” and the burden signify the contrition, anxiety, and terrors of sin and death. To “come to” Christ is to believe that sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. When we believe, our hearts are brought to life by the Holy Spirit through Christ’s Word. Here, therefore, are these two chief parts: contrition and faith.” (The Book of Concord:  Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XII, Repentance)

From the learned Book of Concord and a child can understand it.

We are in the midst of summer and vacations.  Is rest and vacation the same thing?  And the congregation responds:  Good question, Pastor!  Maybe you, or family and friends, have said after a vacation:  “I need a vacation”, because many get tired by the effort and planning to “get away from it all”.   “Vacation” is from the verb “to vacate” which means a person’s active will and works to leave and go some place else, with the hopes that a change will be relaxing, but it may not be necessarily restful.  We “vacation plan”.   “Rest”, on the other hand, is utterly passive.  Rest, Sabbath is God’s plan.

“You shall observe the worship day,

That peace may fill your home and pray,

and put aside the work you do,

so that God may work in you.

Have mercy, Lord.” (#581,Lutheran  Service Book, “These are the Holy 10 Commands, by Martin Luther)

 Rest means to entrust one’s self in it’s entirety to something or someone greater than myself, as in the hymn lyric, “I rest on His unchanging grace”.  Rest means in a word, doing nothing. Rest means being, not doing, and we will so serve actively in His grace. Rest means ceasing to create the world and receive the Lord’s creation as His gifts to us all.  And as Lutherans are want to say Biblically, doing nothing to save oneself. Our works, however good, cannot save us, only His good work in Jesus Christ has.  The word translated as “little child” can also be rendered infant. Helpless as a baby, is an old expression.  It’s not God helps those who help themselves, it is God helps those who can’t help themselves.  Natalie and were married 27 years ago on July 4th and as the pastor said, Interdependence Day. Our help is in the Name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. Rest means the one who is “gentle and lowly in heart”.  His yoke is not the Law but Grace, means “learn from Me”, not new rules and regs, new powers and principles, but learning Christ Jesus for life, the reign of the Lord,  eternal life day by day and yes, by prayer, Sacrament, Scripture, and  “you will find rest for your souls”.  In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy  Spirit. Amen.

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