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Archive for August, 2014

 

Let us pray:

Almighty God, You gave Your servant John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in both his preaching of repentance and his innocent death. Grant that we, who have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, may daily repent of our sins, patiently suffer for the sake of the truth, and fearlessly bear witness to His victory over death; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Appointed readings: Romans 6:1-5Mark 6:14-29

About this festival:
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 to their fathers.” And in the footsteps of the prophets who had gone before him—in anticipation of the Christ whose way he prepared—this servant of the Lord manifested the cross by the witness of his death. (From theTreasury of Daily Prayer, p. 670.

Reflection:  The Tetrarch Herod Antipas hears the news of Jesus’ Name becoming well known.  Herod Antipas heard theological discussion on the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. 

Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” (Mark 6)

In a similar fashion, Jesus asked for the same discussion over His identity in Mark 8: 27-30 and received similar answers from His disciples:

 And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8) 

The similarity of these responses seem to reflect the theological scuttlebutt. It’s like all the ways people fashion the Lord into their own image, forgetting we are made in His and redeemed in Him. The theological answers are about the same except here in chapter 6, Herod Antipas reaches a theological conclusion, but Peter made his confession:  “You are the Christ.”   Herod Antipas concluded:   “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”  (vs. 16)

Herod came to a conclusion about John. A conclusion may reflect an intellectually settled opinion but that’s all.  A confession involves one’s whole person.  A person will not risk martyrdom for a conclusion but risk one’s life for a confession. A conclusion is obviously not the same as confession.  Peter’s Confession comes by the revelation of the Father (St. Matthew 16:17). Herod’s confession comes from his own estranged head and heart.  Herod Antipas’ conclusion is his own ‘theology’ which seems to come from his need, even to feel bad about his immorality marrying his brother’s wife.    

Herod Antipas’ conclusion was factually incorrect, but why would he have reached such a conclusion?  Herod Antipas had John in his palace to preach.  He kept John safe, we are told.  Maybe Herod Antipas reached his conclusion because he could assuage himself in the guilt of his sin of killing the prophet by the lie  that John was actually alive, resurrected!  Very convenient!

We really  do not know the reason Herod kept John alive because the text does not say so  Never the less, ‘Jesus-is-John- raised- from- the-dead” is blatantly a false theology.  With many blatant false theologies, men and women assuage themselves  of their guilt from Scientology to Mormonism to all other sorts of works righteousness to all sorts of spiritualities, thereby skirting the real thing:  forgiveness of sinners in the Lord, true repentance, day by day, in His grace, mercy and peace. I think all false theologies are but reflections of sinful hearts. Only the true Messiah forgives sinners as John foretold.  False messiahs and their theologies enslave people to themselves.  John was imprisoned by Herod Antipas but Herod was in a far worse prison: his own mind cut off from the Lord. Confession of His holy Name for sinners is repentance and forgiveness. Herod wanted to be excused not forgiven because forgiveness would have meant Herod leaving his sinful way of life.   Herod Antipas wanted to be excused of his guilt by this false and heretical teaching that “John is alive”,  but there are no excuses before the living God:  In Him there is only forgiveness.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1)  

O Lord, You granted Your prophets strength to resist the temptations of the devil and courage to proclaim repentance. Give us pure hearts and minds to follow Your Son faithfully even into suffering and death; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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Augustine

 We turn to You, the Lord our God and as best as we can give we give You thanks.  We beseech You that in Your goodness You will hear our prayers and by Your power:  drive evil from our thoughts and actions, increase our faith, guide our minds, grant us Your holy inspirations, and bring us to joy without end through Your Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.              (A prayer adapted from a benediction by which St. Augustine ended at least two of his sermons)

About Augustine of Hippo, Pastor and Theologian: Augustine was one of the greatest of the Latin Church Fathers and a significant influence in the formation of Western Christianity, including Lutheranism. Born in AD 354 in North Africa, Augustine’s early life was distinguished by exceptional advancement as a teacher of rhetoric. In his book Confessions he describes his life before his conversion to Christianity, when he was drawn into the moral laxity of the day and fathered an illegitimate son. Through the devotion of his sainted mother, Monica, and the preaching of Ambrose, bishop of Milan (AD 339-97), Augustine was converted to the Christian faith. During the great Pelagian controversies of the fifth century, Augustine emphasized the unilateral grace of God in the salvation of mankind. Bishop and theologian at Hippo in North Africa from AD 395 until his death in AD 430, Augustine was a man of great intelligence, a fierce defender of the orthodox faith, and aprolific writer. In addition to Confessions, Augustine’s book City of God had a great impact upon the Church throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  St. Augustine was contemporary to the fall of Rome.  This is from a summary of Augustine’s magnum opus, The City of God (Sparknotes: “St. Augustine: The City of God”) and what prompted the Bishop to write this book: 

In A.D. 410, a pivotal moment in Western history, the Vandals, under the command of their king, Alaric, captured the city of Rome. Rome was known as the Eternal City because the Romans thought that it would literally never fall, and the year 410 shook this belief to its foundations and ultimately led to the collapse of the Roman Empire. The world itself seemed to have been destroyed, and everyone sought answers about what to do and what to believe in. Those who adhered to the waning pagan faith were quick to blame the Christians, claiming that the gods had abandoned Rome because many Romans had forsaken them and taken the new faith. These Romans claimed that Christians were not patriotic enough because they asked people to serve God rather than the state, and they advocated forgiveness toward enemies.(emphasis my own)

One of the accusations that pagan Romans leveled at Christians was they were ‘atheists’.   The Christians were not worshipers of the gods, that, is non-believers or atheists.  As the quote above indicates, Romans considered the gods and goddesses as instrumental for Rome’s success, and so the further charge of not being patriotic, or  traitorous atheism.  God and the state were considered one, even to the point that the State was god in the form of the Caesars who proclaimed themselves deities.  Christians did not serve the State as god.  The revolution in Christ then and now is Christians prayed for Caesar but not to Caesar (Pr. Lou Smith).  The accusation that the Christians served God rather than the state is one we hope will be heard in our day as well.

We are living in Roman times.  When God is removed from the public square then the State will become god, or the church (Fr. Richard John Neuhaus).  We might be there and while the world burns, churches fiddle as Nero did when Rome burned.  Churches fiddling around with changing worship services, dumbing down doctrine to no doctrine at all, accepting immorality as ‘alternative lifestyles’ or identifying the Christian faith as an American value. If we were a Christian nation, then we would be persecuted.  St. Augustine, with the Church, out thought, out prayed and so by God’s grace alone, out lived the fall of an empire.  We see the shaking of the foundations in our day and time. We serve in the city of man as good citizens and as citizens in the Kingdom of God, the Reign of Christ through His Word coming into the world and finally when He comes in glory. The Lord’s Church can not be fooling around any longer, we do not have the luxury to do so.  St. Augustine, as Pastor and theologian, meant he cared for God’s people through the Word and cared for the Word as a theologian. We do not need mega-congregation super star pastors who write shallow best selling books of works righteousness, but those who loved the Lord in His love serve and care for that Word for all people in our earthly cities, who think things through, by God’s grace in Jesus Christ for us sinners.  We are much afraid these days as I would guess the Romans were in their day.  I have only read selections from  Augustine’s City of God, but I am reminded of these Scripture verses that seems appropos on the feast of St. Augustine and The City of God:

Hebrews 11:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations,whose designer and builder is God.

Hebrews 13:

14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus come.

For further and better reflection:

Christmas Day:  Third Mass, John 1:   1—14, also addressed to the newly Baptized:

“For from the Gentiles we have come, and in our forefathers we worshiped idols of stone.  So we also have been called dogs (Mt. 25: 26)…But to you grace, has come.  As many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God.  See!  You have come here newly-born (by baptism):  he gave them power to be made the sons of God.  To whom did he give it? To them that believe in His Name.  And how do they become the children of God?  Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. They are born of God, when they have received the power to become sons of God…The first birth is from a male and a female;  the second from God and from the Church.  Behold they are born of God…How has this come to be?  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.  Wondrous exchange!…Lift up your heart to the possession and enjoyment of higher things.  Do not stick fast in earthly cravings. You have been purchased at a price:  for your sake the Word was made flesh.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, on John 6:  1—15:

“For the daily ordering of this whole world is a greater miracle than the feeding of five thousand men from five loaves.”

“We must also ask the miracles what is it they tell us of Christ:  for they have, if we understand it, their own manner of speech.  For as Christ is the Word of God, any deed of the Word is a sermon to us.”

Easter Sunday, on Mark 16: 1—8, addressed also to the newly Baptized:

“For this divine condescension cannot be truly understood, and human thought and language fails us, that without previous merit on your part this free gift has come to you.  And for this do we call it a grace:  because it is given gratis.  And what grace is this? That you are now members of Christ, Children of God; that you are brothers of the Only-Begotten!”

Second Sunday after Easter, on John 10:   11—16

“To you it is not said:  be something less than you are;  but rather, learn what you are. Know that you are weak, know that you a man, know that you are a sinner; know that it is He Who sanctifies you;  know that you are stained by sin.  Let the blemish in your soul be made manifest in your confession, and you shall belong to the flock of Christ.  For the confession of your sins invites the Physician to heal  you; just as when he who is sick says, ‘a am well’, he desires no help from the physician.  Did not the Pharisee and the Publican go up into the Temple?  The one boasted of how strong his soul was; the other showed his wounds to the Physician.”

Pentecost, on John 14:  23—31

But whom do you say that I am? And Peter as the leader of the others, one speaking for all of them, said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God (Mt. xvi).

This he said perfectly; most truly. Rightly did such an answer deserve to hear: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood has not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee, because thou hast said this to me; thou hast spoken: now listen; thou hast confessed: receive in turn a blessing. Therefore: And I say to thee: Thou art Peter: because I am the Rock, thou art Peter; for the Rock is not from Peter, but Peter is from the Rock; because Christ is not from Christian, but Christian is from Christ. Arid upon this rock I will build My Church: not upon Peter (non supra Petruin) who thou art, but upon the Rock (sed supra petrain) Whom thou hast confessed. I will build My church: I will build thee, who in this answer are in your­self the figure of the Church.

16th Sunday after Pentecost, on Luke 14:  1—11

“Do you desire to escape from an angry God?  Then fly to an appeased One:  fly nowhere from Him, only to Him.”

The Feast of All Saints, on Matthew 5: 1—12

 “Riches can indeed perish; and would that they perished before they caused you to perish.”

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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.

About Monica, Mother of Augustine: 

St. Monica was the mother of St Augustine of Hippo, and it is from his writings that she is known. Her husband, Patricius, was a man of modest rank at Thagaste in North Africa; they had three children, of whom Augustine was the eldest, and when he was eighteen his mother was left a widow. Monica had tried to bring him up as a Christian, but she was over-ambitious for his worldly success, and he regarded her religion with scorn. Augustine was converted to Manichaesim, a dualistic religion of Persian origin that was popular at the time.   His earlier vacillations and his liaison with a woman of unknown name caused Monica the deepest distress.  They had a son,  Monica’s grandson.  Augustine named him Adeodatus, “Gift of God”. During this time a bishop whom she had consulted gave her the famous reassurance, ‘It is not possible that the son of so many tears should be lost.’

When in 383 Augustine slipped away to Italy, Monica followed him, first to Rome and then to Milan, where she became an obedient disciple of  St Ambrose. Three years later her devoted pertinacity was rewarded, when Augustine decided to receive baptism: she ‘rejoiced triumphantly’, and retired with him and his friends to Cassiciacum, a happy woman. After the baptism they set out to return to Africa. St Augustine records that at the port of Ostia on the Tiber he and his mother were joined in a most moving conversation on the everlasting life of the blessed; five days later she fell ill, and died there. St Monica had at times been a trying mother, and Augustine had not always been a considerate son; but he had come to recognize her as his true mother in the spirit as well as in the flesh: his own experience taught him to speak of parenthood as a sort of bishopric. (Adapted from The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, by David Attwater)

 

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 reflected in her life God’s Word, the Epistle reading:  Ephesians 5:21-23.   She knew her husband to be her head…but in Christ Jesus .    The Ephesians passage is not the model in our day of the liberated woman…or man for that matter. As husbands in Christ means a whole different way than the world’s way of parenting:  a husband is to be like Christ.  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”  (Ephesians 5: 25).  In fact, in the Ephesians text,  there are more verses on husbands than wives, and probably needs to be.  

A neo-feminist wag could harumph and say, Noted for being a mother!  As if that is no accomplishment!  “Being a king, an emperor or a president is mighty small potatoes compared to being a mother…” (see rest of Billy Sunday’s  quote here). Monica’s  strength was her Lord and she prayed for the conversion of both her husband and their son, yet like us she was a sinner.  She also wanted worldly success for Augustine.  Mother and son did not see eye-to-eye.  Yet, Monica persisted in prayer for them and in Christ they knew by faith through His grace, they were reconciled.  Monica is encouragement for us  persist in prayer and not give up (cf.  Luke 18:1ff). Patricus and his son Augustine were baptized.  Her son became one of the most important theologians and pastors whose writings influenced one young monk, centuries later,  in the Order of St. Augustine:  Martin Luther. As you read in the bio, Augustine thought of the family as a kind of bishopric.  Dr. Luther wrote about fathers and mothers being bishops and bishopesses for their children!    Monica’s son’s  feast day is tomorrow. Freedom in Christ is praying for someone who may not even want your prayers. 

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)

 

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Clearly Christ

Reflection:

Last year a woman did a botched ‘restoration’ of a beloved painting in an Italian church.  The painting depicts the moment when Pontius Pilate presents the tortured Christ to the crowds and says, Behold the Man!  (John 19:5)  or in Latin:  Ecce Homo.  The Italian press said it 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 redo 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 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.  We end up with a distorted version of the Lord, as distorted as the erstwhile restoration above and we can only say, Ecce Mono. The Apostles, including Bartholomew, presented Jesus Christ as He presented Himself, not fuzzy as in the botched job above, but clearly, thorns and all, and His grace, mercy and peace for all botched restorers: Behold your God!

 Read a similar article on the theme of refashioning  Christ into our own image:  Your Own Personal Jesus by Chad Bird

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Please note that Bartholomew was also known as Nathanael.

St. John 1:43-51 English Standard Version (ESV)

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth,the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And 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.”

 

The lesson occurs after Jesus’ Baptism.  Two days before today’s lesson, John the Baptist preaches his testimony, Behold!  the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  John gives his testimony to the Lord’s Baptism and the Holy Spirit descending as a dove upon the Lord.  Then John preaches the same sermon to his two disciples, Andrew and Peter.   Today’s lesson picks up the “next day” after John’s testimony and Jesus calls Philip and Bartholomew, or as Bartholomew was also called, Nathaniel.  This is just the beginning of John’s Gospel, and except for the Baptism of Our Lord, nothing much as happened:  no signs or great deeds, Jesus has not yet preached nor taught but He does call by His Word.  The Word made flesh makes Bartholomew, Philip, Peter and Andrew His disciples to follow Him, as much as the Word made the heavens and the earth:   the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

 Who did Philip find?   Notice what Philip and Bartholomew did not not say : 

  • They did not find a great preacher…Jesus had not even preached yet in John chapter 1, but the Father testified at His Son’s Baptism, This is my beloved Son, Listen to Him.  John preached Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Where the Word is preached in purity of doctrine, the Holy Spirit gives testimony as He did when He descended at Jesus’ Baptism.  But Philip and Bartholomew did not find a great preacher, yet, but the Word made flesh.
  • They did not find the founder of a great new religion. As Bonhoeffer said, Jesus did not come to found a new religion but to give life…eternal life to all those who believe. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  John 10: 10.  The Holy Spirit through the preaching was breathing new life into men and women.
  • They did not find a congregation with a great choir, a great youth ministry, or any great program but they found the beginning of the Church in with and under Jesus Christ with the great promises of God fulfilled in Christ for us all. 
  • They certainly did not find themselves!  That was a quest not so long ago, I just want to find myself.  Once that is said, it is clear the person is lost and on our own, we are.  As it turned out,  Jesus found Barholomew. Later on Jesus is very clear, You did not choose Me but I chose you that you should go out and bear much fruit.(John 15: 16).  He chose so not to lose His own, so that His own would hold in true faith, as did the Canaanite woman, and the Samaritan woman, and the woman who was a sinner.  Those women are all picture of the Church, tending towards idolatry and immorality and transformed by Christ’s Word, His call.  The evangelist John presents the way people deepen their faith and it begins here in today’s Gospel

The apostle Bartholomew exclaimed after Jesus found him, called him and especially said I saw you under the fig tree with great enthusiasm, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”   This sounds really good, the good confession.  It is but it is not complete.  Bartholomew went from Rabbi to Son of God, and the first two  phrases magnifies the last phrase:  Bartholomew’s final confession is that Jesus is the King of Israel.  He is, but not in a political sense.  In John 6, when Jesus feeds the 5,000, the evangelist John alone tells us another reason the Lord went off to pray by Himself:  the crowds were trying to make Him king. The Lord would have none of that.  There is a Biblical doctrine that there are 2 Kingdoms of God’s right and left hand.  Left hand are the kingdoms, nations of this world by which the Lord rules temporally and the Kingdom of His right hand, the reign of God in Jesus Christ coming spiritually  in the preaching and teaching of the Gospel.  When men confuse those two hands into one hand, tyranny is the result.   See ISIS, for then a political kingdom can do anything in the Name of God with seeming impunity. The Lord will have none of that yet He will bring tyrants down from their thrones in this world with the sword, if needs be.  And at great cost. See Hitler who proclaimed the 1,000 year kingdom.  The titulus, the plaque that Pilate put on the cross in 3 languages read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.   When the Lord, after being beaten is brought before Pilate and John alone tells us more of the conversation they had and it centers on Jesus  being King.  Jesus does not deny that He is King but the scope of His kingdom is a temporal one:  “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is the proof text showing the falsehood of the doctrine of the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth.  Jesus says to Bartholomew, You will see greater  things, the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.  When Jacob had his dream of a ladder to heaven, and just as Jesus said, Jacob saw the angels ascending and descending on it and the Lord stood above it and with Jacob, the Lord coming down the patriarch Jacob.  Jacob exclaims:

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

 Awesome means full of awe.  Bartholomew would see something greater, the house of God , the gate of heaven, Jesus Himself in His crucifixion and resurrection.  “The Kingdom of heaven is open to all believers” (Te Deum Laudamus).   As Jesus said in John 10, I am the gate of sheep, the door. He is the key to the Father’s heart.  “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”  Golgotha was an awesome place and where the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection is preached for us tired sinners, as Jacob did a lot of running, we see the Lord in His Word, the house of  God and the gate of heaven.  The vain idols of this world are seen for what they are:  despotic, deathly and done for, desperately lashing out.  This is why those who try to put God out of the public square can not tolerate those who do not go along, who are freed in Jesus Christ. Political tyrants can not tolerate the true King over men’s souls and bodies.

I was the pastor at St. John’s Lutheran in Norfolk.  Behind their Altar, there are the 12 Plaques of the Apostles.  Each of the Apostles have something that signifies the apostle.  11 or the 12 Apostles, according to the Bible or reliable tradition, were martyred, and their symbol is tool used for their execution.  Bartholomew, tradition says, evangelized Armenia and was flayed to death. His symbol is a knife…and a Bible.  One day a woman in the congregation came to me and said, I don’t like those plaques, they are so gruesome.  Yes, they are…and I could never imagine that someone was flayed alive.  We know it now as we see Christians being tortured and killed in the Middle East.  Why?  They carried the Bible, the Word of God, as the Word made flesh, carried them day by day with His Word of reconciliation and peace into the world, a dark world, a world as dark as it has ever been in these days. Not only to those oppressed by sin, death and the devil, but the oppressor as well.  In various and many ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.  In a short while, we will hear a profession of faith into the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and receive a new member.  The questions here are the similar as in confirmation.  When I was confirmed in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, I don’t remember two of them, such as, “ Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?”  This is a timely addition in this world, in which the persecution of Christians is on the rise.  Will I face death and before that socially being mocked?  There is only one answer:  “I do, by the grace of God.”

 Note that in John chapter 1 the Word of Christ is brought by word of mouth from person to person.  Just think, that until Christianity was made the legal religion of the Roman Empire in 312, for over two centuries this is the way the saving faith was spread, not by the temporal sword, but by the Word alone, Jesus Christ. the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,  Under at times severe persecution and social ostracizing, it spread, and the Word of the Lord grew exponentially.  People came to faith. I think this is the model for us as well.

Bartholomew and the Apostle’s preaching was as sharp as the knives that were wielded legally to kill them.  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  AS the Apostle Paul wrote, we carry this treasure in in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

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I gave blood today and every donor has to ask a string of questions to assure the purity of the donor’s blood.  There is more than one question about intravenous drug use, AIDS and homosexual contact.  So if taking drugs and homosexuality are so “okay” or right, then how can such ‘normal’ activities spread disease leading to death?  There is not one question to the effect:  Have you made love to your wife/husband in the last year?  There won’t be, or need to be such, because fidelity in marriage will not lead to tainted blood, but sleeping around will and same sex genitals do not fit into each other is basic biology and causes problems physical as well as spiritual.  The Lord has a plan for our life!  The Red Cross wants your “gift of life” to be clean, and bad blood not to be shared.  Finally and fully, the Red Cross can not clean our blood, but by the Cross, Jesus has.

In the Harry Potter novels and movies, muggles are magic folks with a non-magic blood. In one of the books, there was a movement amongst the nasty magic folks for pure bloods.  My wife reminded me after reading this article that the muggles were also called by the ‘pure’ magic folks the highly derogatory “mudbloods”, so I changed the article’s title. Even in non-fictional life, “mudblood” sounds nasty.   It is in life. Yes, it is self-evident that we can do a lot to insure our blood is pure by NOT doing certain activities as indicated in the Red Cross questions, but once we think our blood is pure from, or by  birth then we are heading towards racialist and racist tyranny.  Then we think we’re pretty good, but the Lord is clear in His Word, the Bible we are not good. The point is our blood is not pure, as the hymn’s lyric nails it: 

For He alone, whose blood was shed,
can cure the fever in our blood

We are all mudbloods, that is, born in original sin (Psalm 51:5;  Genesis 6:5Jeremiah 17:9Romans 3: 9-20).  We are born with bad blood and it can get worse, but not so bad that the blood of Christ shed for sinners can not cleanse us (Hebrews 13:12) from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) and has and does (Matthew 26:28).

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Many times I have been moved when I have witnessed, or as pastor led prayers in military ceremonies.  I have seen many a parade at the Virginia Military Institute and for all their rote marching, nevertheless, it is a solemn celebration that captivates.  I have led prayers at Navy retirements and once at a Navy commissioning of a “mustang“.  I have been moved at the simple eloquence of uniformed military presenting the colors on Memorial Day.  Given the gravity of the work our nation’s soldiers and sailors do on a daily basis protecting the Constitution and our nation, and what they are trained to do in war if needed, is reflected in a military ceremony which  portrays dignity of that purpose and vocation to that purpose.

I was struck by Pr. Gerhard’s meditation title, “The Dignity of the Church”, especially when I remembered this picture from a few years ago of bishops with clown noses.  Now I have been complicit in some of this nonsense over the years, such as,  I promoted a balloon release in a sanctuary for Ascension Thursday. It was all fairly silly…and lacking in dignity We have done many, too many silly things in Church, all with the purpose of being “relevant” and “reaching out to people”, as a way to be ‘joyful’.  Flippancy and joy are not the same.  As the noted 19th Century Baptist preacher said, and rather prophetically:  

Christians are being martyred as I write and you read this, not for wearing clown noses but for proclaiming Jesus as Lord.  They are not about public relations, but the Lord who sent His Son to die for a public weighted in death and despotism.  I think worship services lacking in dignity are an invitation to eventual apostasy.  We are called and baptized to a serious purpose, defending,yes, but also proclaiming the Lord.  Our vocations as parents, children, pastors, workers etc. is as the Lord’s, the salt of the earth.  The Church’s dignity is reflected in the liturgy of the Church which portrays the dignity of that purpose and vocation to that purpose, so the Lord captivates us in His freeing Word. Liturgy  is done by “rote”,  to show Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow (cf. Hebrews 13:8). Our vocations, the Lord’s call to Himself is for joy,”the serious business of heaven” (C. S. Lewis), not to be flip and forget about life, but joyful in the Life of all the living who finds us and saves us, and remember.  “Dignity” is from the Latin, “dignus”: worth.  The Lord has made us worthy, let us not do unworthy things.  From Pr. Gerhard’s meditation, The Dignity of the Church, for our encouragement:

Meditate, O devout soul, upon the worthiness of the Church, and take heed lest thou do anything unworthy of her.  The Church is thy spiritual mother; take care that thou despise not her voice as she speaks to thee. She is thy mother, and through word and sacraments thou oughtest draw all thy spiritual nourishment from her. The church is as a chaste virgin ; if thou then wouldst be true to her, abstain from the embraces of the world ; thou belongest to her, see then that thou dishonor not thyself nor her by any unholy alliances with the devil. The Church is the bride of Christ, and so is every godly soul ; let it take heed then not to cling to Satan in an unholy union. Thou, 0 my soul, art the bride of Christ; see to it that thou lose not the earnest of the Holy Spirit which hath been given unto thee; thou art the bride of Christ, pray unceasingly, that thy heavenly Bridegroom may hasten to lead thee unto the marriage feast above. Thy Bridegroom may come in the quiet and security of the midnight hour (Matt. xxv. 6); watch therefore, that when He cometh He may not find thee sleeping, and shut the door of eternal salvation upon thee. Let thy lamp be filled with the oil of faith and be brightly burning, lest at the coming, of thy heavenly Spouse thou shouldst seek in vain for oil for thy lamp (Matt. xxv.).

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