Archive for January 19th, 2015

“…the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Introduction:  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s  “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”  dated April 16th, 1963, was written to clergymen who did not like the non-violent protests of civil rights movement. Like the Apostle Paul, Dr. King wrote from prison. His letter is an apologia, a defense of  non-violent protest against injustice.  It is a long letter. Below are citations from it.  You can read the entire lettehere. The entire letter is worth the read.  He should be noted for the “I Have a Dream” speech and whole lot more.

Reflection:  Dr. King wrote this when I was nine years of age.  One of the most important inventions of the 20th century is still the television.  We saw in black and white on the nightly news non-violent protesters beaten, hosed and pursued. I still remember my Father saying this is not America.  This letter is a measured response to the resistance to resistance to evil.  I have emphasized a couple of quotes below that I think are especially needed in our time in the Church within the public square.

First, note that Dr. King had no troubles with the “separation of Church and state”.  It was not about the 10 commandments in a court house but in the courts of public opinion and policy.  Still is.  It is not about manger scenes alone in public squares but His Incarnation for us in our public squares.  

Second, he had no trouble invoking the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as reflective of our “Jude0-Christian heritage”.  We must not be either as we witness the executive and judicial branches of government usurping our founding documents to enforce health care and abortion, and abortion as health care;  mandating the denial of marriage between man and woman;  government setting policy for the  whole nation by the abnegation of the Congress and the people to the federal government’s agencies;  allowing a virulent religion which hates homosexuals and women to have a pass.  Since the State can do all of this  as a supposed “moral good”, then what is stopping said State from even more curtailing of our Constitutional liberties?   As Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of blessed memory wrote, When the Church is excluded from the public square then the State will become the church.  No one could convince Dr. King that the Church did not belong in the public square.  Yet, many are still doing that these days in the name of immoralities and abortions of conscience.  We must take heed to Dr. King’s epistle:

  • I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my a particular home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
  • We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words [sic]”Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
  • We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
  • You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”
  • Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes and “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.
  • We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws. I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
  • But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist — “Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice–or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
  • There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest. (emphases my own)
  • Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.
  • But the judgement of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.
  • One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, and thusly, carrying our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

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Text:  1 Corinthians 6: 19-20

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

 What happens in a temple?  What was the Temple in Jerusalem all about? The Temple was for prayer, praise and thanksgiving.  The Temple in Jerusalem was for sacrifices for the atonement of sin and wrong.  The Temple in Jerusalem, the first one built by King Solomon, was the place of the Ark of the Covenant, that is, the Temple in Jerusalem was for the Word of God: preached and taught. The Temple was for the Word of God  that is central and crucial:  God’s Name. As the LORD said, the Temple was the place of God’s Name so that many would call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved.  The Temple, the place for the Word of God, was the time and place for saving doctrine making saving faith.   So the Temple was for the building up of God’s people in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. The Temple was God’s plan for Israel as God has planned the Temple not made with human hands, Jesus Christ. “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? 

 The number one sense organ for the Lord’s Temple are our ears.  When Hannah’s prayers were answered for a child, as she prayed at Shiloh where the Ark of the Covenant was at that time, she rejoiced when she knew she was with child.  Because the Lord heard her, she named her son, Samuel, literally God hears.  And God hears was in the Sanctuary at Shiloh, assistant to the priest, Eli and one evening he hears a voice. As we heard in today’s Old Testament reading, he had heard the Lord and His Word to him.  Eli said, when you hear, say, “ Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  Eli was right:  the only  way that Samuel did know the Lord until the Lord revealed His Word to Samuel.  The Word made flesh, His epiphany has been revealed to Jew and Gentile:  Jesus Christ. He revealed His Word, His Name to you when  pastor a poured water over your head and said, You are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Your plural bodies are just like the Temple in Jerusalem was:  the place for His Name.  We trace the Cross over these Temples at the Name of the Holy Trinity, we are reminding ourselves we that our selves are not our, you were bought for a price.  What price?  Millions and millions of dollars, no!  You were bought by the holy, precious, innocent sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, God in man-made manifest. And the Corinthians were selling out their temples for the price of a one night stand. “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? 

 How do you build a temple?  When it comes to building a mortar and bricks temple, I would not know where to begin, but I do have darn good idea of the ways to desecrate and destroy a temple.  For instance, synagogues spray painted with swastikas and Torah scrolls defiled.  Religious leaders preach hatred and violence in their temples, against gays, women and the infidel, in the name of their deity. Ministers preaching same sex marriage, abortion from the pulpit, and the congregation giving the Amen or shrugging their shoulders with the “whatever” attitude.  When the greed of the so-called prosperity gospel is preached, but not the Lord who prospered us with His blood for our eternal salvation, money becomes the idol.  The hot theological issue in Corinth was that since the body does not matter, and Jesus has saved us and we are very spiritual, it is okay to hook-up with a prostitute. In response to the Corinthian Christians immorality, the Apostle Paul wrote to them the Gospel:  “You are a temple of the Holy Ghost”.  The church, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, in Corinth, the house of the Lord was fast becoming a whore house, but the Lord had claimed the Corinthians as His House, in His love poured out through His only-begotten Son.  “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? 

The priesthood at the time of Israel was hereditary.  Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas were priests in Shiloh like their father and the Word of the Lord was rare in those days.  Why was the Word of the Lord rare in the days of Samuel?  Hophni and Phineas were stealing from the sacrifices from the people and laying with the women who came to worship at Shiloh.  It’s hard to hear the Word of the Lord, when ears are filled with wickedness.  Hophni and Phineas had turned to their own way.  It’s hard to hear the Word of the Lord when the ears are filled with clamor and dispute. You are a temple of the Holy Ghost.  The temples of fame, wealth, personality, power cost a lot: our own souls.  This Temple is bought with price of Jesus’ blood, His sacrifice once and for all,not in the temple but for the Temple, for us. .  “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? 

 The Lord wants it be known we are a temple of the Holy Ghost within you.  He saved what He created and will bring it to fruition in the kingdom come.  He loves mankind.  He saves His creation, it’s worth saving, after all it is good, and man and woman. As in Psalm 8:

 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor. Ps. 8

 For you formed my inward parts;    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.Wonderful are your works;    my soul knows it very well. Ps. 139

 The Lord made human nature for Himself in faith and love.  He restores us in His reconciliation upon the Cross. God made us in His own image, in His own image He made us.    Man’s natural habitat, his nature, is not sin. It is faith. 

 Jesus said to Nathaniel that he would see heaven opened. The allusion in seeing heaven opened is the Patriarch Jacob’s dream on his way to Haran. The dream is commonly called Jacob’s ladder but what he saw in his dream was more like a temple and the Lord stood next to him on the road and the angels ascending and descending…but this is key: heaven opened.  Heaven opened when Jesus Christ was baptized and heaven opened when the Cross is lifted high, the mark of the true temple, of heaven come down in a Man, Jesus Christ for our forgiveness.  Truly, greater things will Nathaniel see:  the epiphany of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.  Clinging and holding to Jesus Christ in His promised Presence in the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament is the reception in faith of His forgiveness.  The angels are messengers of God, bringing God’s Word to His people.  The Lord promised Nathaniel He would see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.  He would see the many messengers of God’s Word proclaiming, teaching and living the Word of the Promises of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Our ears hearing the Gospel and faith clinging to the Savior in His love of mankind.  .  “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? 

 In the Gospel, one to one John the Baptist told his disciples, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, then one to one , then Andrew tells Peter, then Philip tells Nathaniel.  This is how the faith was spread throughout the Roman Empire under persecution, no church buildings but the temple of the Holy Ghost was there and the church grew exponentially.  Today’s is also the Confession of St. Peter. The Church held and holds to the confession of Christ. Bonhoeffer:

 Peter’s church, that does not mean a church of opinions and views, but the church of the revelation; not a church in which what “people say” is talked about but the church in which Peter’s confession is made anew and passed on; the church which has no other purpose in song, prayer, preaching, and action than to pass on its confession of faith…

 You could be and maybe have been part of a neighbor, friend or family members’ divine and eternal joy  in Christ by confessing Christ is your Lord.  You are the Lord’s talking Temple. The place with His people receiving the fruits of Jesus’ sacrifice, once and for all, for prayer, praise and thanksgiving, the place of His Word, His Name.  His Temple is all gift.  “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? 

 I conclude with a quote from Luther’s Sermon on today’s Gospel:

 “…what Christ cannot abide is if I assume that His kingdom is built on my wisdom and riches and that it cannot stand firm and endure without the protection, counsel and service of kings, princes, and lords.  Christ can very well dispense with all this.  He wants it clearly and definitely understood that all who seek entry into His kingdom must seek it by nothing but grace.  Christ has regard for no one because of his pile of guldens (money), his beauty, his wisdom, his golden hair, or because he wears a garment embroidered in gold or silver, or a gray coat. No, it is grace alone that counts.  His is to be a kingdom of grace, belonging to those who are wretched and poor, whether they be men or women, rich or poor.”

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


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