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Archive for February, 2015

Psalm 73 English Standard Version (ESV)Book Three, 

73 Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works.

73 Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works.

From Martin Luther’s Introductions to the Psalms:  

“The 73rd psalm is a psalm of instruction against the great vexation that the godless are rich and everything goes well for them. They ridicule the poor and afflicted saints as if God neither knew nor regarded them. They consider only themselves and their holy works and what they taught and said as precious, heavenly, and godly wisdom and holiness. This causes much pain, so that the psalmist says, I was brutish and ignorant … toward You,” that is, I was called a godless heretic and despiser of God. Then, he says: Stop! Go into the sanctuary and hear what God’s Word says of them. Look at the former examples in the histories, and you will find that they all at once come to nothing, for there is no ground or foundation under them, but only slippery footing.” (from Reading the Psalms with Luther)

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Text:  Exodus 20: 1-21

For our Wednesdays in Lent, the option in Evening Prayer is Sermon or Catechetical Instruction.  We will have catechetical instruction on the chief parts of Dr. Luther’s Small and Large Catetchisms.  We begin where Luther began:  the 10 Commandments. 

There are laws of nature and there is the moral law of God.  It is difficult to disobey, say, the law of gravity.  We can escape gravity only with a whole lot of help, as with the help of a jet or a helicopter.  We have to go out of the way to disobey the laws of nature.  Note: there really can not be disobedience of the laws of nature.   This would mean there are repercussions to such disobedience, that is, punishment and it is deserved. It would imply there is right and wrong gravity, but there is not.  In contrast to the Laws of Nature, it is quite easy to disobey the Law of God.  We tend to do that quite a bit.  For the Law of God is about right and wrong in this fallen world. There are repercussions, such as punishment, deserved, both temporal and eternal.  His Law is the only law that keeps society and culture from veering off a cliff.  His Law alone shows us our sin.  His Law alone shows us the good we can do. 

We live in an era that violently believes that man is the measure of all things and so believes in relativism. C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity in his first section on the Law of God: 

“Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.”

Well, until now. Putting our self first is a cottage industry in our day and time.  In fact, putting the self first is praised.  “I did it my way”.  Having any woman, or man that you liked?  See TV, see movies.   In our days, in our zeitgeist, literally “the spirit of an age”, we are taught there is no absolute moral law as the basis of right and wrong. Right and wrong are mere human constructs brought together by human agreement.  It’s all relative.  But is it right ever to rape a woman?  If there is no absolute moral law, then the difficulty of parenting becomes impossible, but it is not as there is right and wrong.  A child needs limits, his behavior in word and deed circumscribed and so do adults!  The Law of God is summed up by God’s only begotten Son: You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul and mind and the second is liken unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  We were made for God and each other, in relation to the Lord and in each other. This is clear as the nose on your face. We all do have the moral compass of the Law of God.  God’s law is even more concrete than a compass:  it was initially written on two stone tablets, hard as rock. 

Lewis’ Mere Christianity were originally radio talks on BBC during World War II, when the Nazis were trying to bomb Britain out of existence: 

“What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practiced? If they had had no notion of what we mean by right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed them for that than for the color of their hair.

 “Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining “It’s not fair” before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter, but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as Right and Wrong— in other words, if there is no “Law of God”—what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? 

            Now the first Table of the Law can not be legislated into civil laws of nations, when it has been, the result has been tyranny of the worse type:  see Sharia Law;  see ISIS.  The first table of the law is, though, the beating heart of the Law.   God’s first commandment is not that He is the Lord, but that you shall have no other gods before Him. The first three commandments are all about worship and what or who we worship.  Every atheist has a god he or she believes in:  reason, talent, fame, self, money.  So do Christians have those other gods, and those gods are at the whimsy of fallen flesh.  The Lord our God is not.  He is the only true God because He alone teaches honor and love, as embodied in the 10 commandments.  The second table of the Law flows from the first, and some of Second Table is the basis of civil law, such as not stealing, no murder.  The last commandment is about coveting, the inordinate loves of things, people and devils above the Lord.  No earthly government can legislate the mind nor the heart nor the soul.  It has been tried and the result is tyranny of the worse sort.  

With the last commandment we are back at the first.  As it is written, covetousness is idolatry. The Law shows us that sin is one vicious circle. We cannot get out of that vicious circle on our own by any stretch.  This is reason Luther begins the Catechisms with the Law:  so we know the absolute Law of God which we can not fulfill in a thousand life times. “It was a false, misleading dream that God his Law had given that sinners could themselves redeem and by their works gain heaven. The Law is but a mirror bright to bring the inbred sin to light that lurks within our nature”  It was for this world Christ died. Into this vicious circle, came the Christ.   In this zeitgeist, we tend to be soft in the head with hardness of heart. 

Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23: 29) It breaks the stony ground of the heart. His Hammer is the Law.  Into this hardhearted world came Jesus Christ.  Here is the beating heart of the Law, perfect love.  The only One who has perfectly kept the Law fulfilled the Law.  Harder than even the rock of the law is the rock of our salvation:  Jesus Christ.  When the Law shows you your sin, don’t look to the Law for help, it offers none.  When the Law shows you your sin, look to Jesus Christ, the beating heart of God and every word and deed of Christ, finally and fully Good Friday, who did for all the world atone.  He is our mediator.

 “Outside Jerusalem, there is a hill of yellow, naked stone, ugly and hard as a dead man’s skull. Long ago men bored a socket in this rocky hill and planted a cross there, and on that cross they hanged the only one of our race who was righteous and had perfectly fulfilled the law. God permitted this to happen because, although he had tolerated sin in former ages, he wanted once and for all to show that he was righteous and that sin is followed by condemnation and punishment, and that he will not countenance any tampering with his standards of holiness. But so wonderful is God that he let all the curse and penalty of sin fall upon the Innocent One, who freely gave of himself in death for us. He was made a curse for our sakes. Thus he redeemed us from the condemnation of the law. He was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. He bore our sins in his own body on the tree, and by his stripes we are healed.”(The Hammer of God, novel by Bp. Bo Giertz)

We have heard what is the Lord’s will and  next week, we look again at the second chief part of the Catechism, the Apostles’ Creed, by  which we confess the faith in the Lord so that we may gladly hear His Word and do it, as He has done all for us in creating, redeeming and sanctifying us.

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Meme of the Day

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Meme of the Day

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Islamic State in Syria abducts at least 150 Christians

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Most of the symbols of the 12 Apostles include a depiction of the instrument of their martyrdom. For Matthias it may have been an ax.

Lessons:  Isaiah 66: 1-2  Psalm 134  Acts of the Apostles 1: 15-26   St. Matthew 11:  25-30

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, You chose Your servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve. Grant that Your Church, ever preserved from false teachers, may be taught and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

St. Matthias, Apostle

St. Matthias is one of the lesser-known apostles. According to the Early Church Fathers, Matthias was one of the seventy-two sent out by Jesus in Luke 10:1-20. After the ascension, Matthias was chosen by lot to fill the vacancy in the Twelve resulting from the death of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:16-25). Early Church tradition places Matthias in a number of locations. Some historians suggest that he went to Ethiopia; others place him in Armenia, the first nation to adopt Christianity as a national religion. Martyred for his faith, Matthias may well have met his death at Colchis in Asia Minor, around AD 50. The Church of St. Matthias at Trier, Germany, claims the honor of being the final burial site for Matthias, the only one of the Twelve to be buried in Europe north of the Alps.

Reflection: From Luther’s Lectures on Galatians (see Galatians 1:  11-12), volume 27,Luther’s Works:

. . . Christ wanted no one to be made an apostle by men or the will of men but as the result of a call from Him alone. For this reason the apostles did not dare elect Matthias; they gained his appointment from heaven in answer to their prayer. And it was from heaven that God called Paul himself and made him an apostle, in particular through the voice of the Holy Spirit. “Set apart for Me,” He says, “Paul and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them.” Thus Paul boasts in Rom. 1: , that he was set apart for the Gospel of God,  inasmuch as he himself, together with Barnabas, was set apart for the uncircumcised and the Gentiles, while the rest of the apostles were sent to those who were circumcised.

Note also that Paul makes the name “apostle” so emphatically expressive of an office and of dignity that he uses it as a participle and says “an apostle, not from men,” which means “sent, not from men”. . . . All these facts aim to make you see with what care Christ has established and fortified His church, lest anyone rashly presume to teach without being sent by Him or by those whom He has sent. For just as the Word of Cod is the church’s first and greatest benefit, so, on the other hand, there is no greater harm by which the church is destroyed than the word of man and the traditions of this world. God alone is true, and every man a liar. Finally, just as David once left behind all the means by which Solomon was to build the temple, so Christ has left behind the Gospel and other writings, in order that the church might be built by means of them, not by human decrees.(emphasis my own)

The building materials chosen will show for themselves on the Day if they were the Lord’s building materials or not (1 Corinthians 3:11-13.  The Gospel and other writings, that is the entirety of the Scripture, along with the Sacraments and from Word and Sacraments, preaching, teaching, praying, doing good works builds up the Church.  Through it all, it is finally and fully the Lord Who builds His Church (“I will build My Church”, see  St. Matthew 16:18).  

The apostle Matthias was a key building block in the Lord’s Church  (see 1 Peter 2:5, Ephesians 2:19-21). We do not know much about him.  This reminds me of The Tomb to the Unknown Soldier and the saying on it:  “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier known but to God”.  “Here rests in honored glory a saint known but to God”.  I hear on TV someone saying of someone who died, “I’ll remember him always”…as long as the “always” is that person’s life span. We can not remember “always”, that is forever.  The Lord remembers His saints, by name as He baptized them in His Name.  You and I won’t be remembered always on this earth and in this world.  We will all be unknown saints, yet built into the Lord’s Church, which He promised the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, when built with God’s Word, and not by human decrees building the church in their own image.  When parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends told you about Jesus, said as God said there is right and wrong, who forgave you in Christ as they were forgiven, you were being built up in the template of His Church, His temple, His Body. Except his name,we only know the name of Matthias and that he was chosen to replace Judas amongst the apostles.  For Matthias, your ancestors in the faith of the Church, like Matthias were called by the Lord in His death and resurrection, awaiting our Easter day.  Come, Lord Jesus. 

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About Polycarp:   Polycarp was a central figure in the early church. A disciple of the evangelist John, he linked the first generation of believers to later Christians. After serving for many years as bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp was arrested, tried, and executed for his faith on February 23, c. 156. An eyewitness narrative of his death, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, continues to encourage believers in times of persecution.

Polycarp’s martyrdom on this date around AD 156 deeply impressed the nascent Church and can not be glossed over, especially in our day and time.  The icon on the header of this blog is a new icon.  It was commissioned by the Coptic Orthodox Church.  It is of the 21 Coptic Christians martyred in Libya.

Polycarp was a link between the time of the Apostles and post-apostolic era.  He was martyred when he was 86 years of age by being burned,and when the flames did not hurt him, he was stabbed in the heart.  Eyewitness accounts said the smell was of baking bread.  His name means, “much fruit”.  More about Polycarp, Pr. Weedon’s discussion on Polycarp, on confessional Lutheran radio, Issues, Etc. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beginning of Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians:

Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi: Mercy to you, and peace from God Almighty, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, be multiplied.

I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love [as displayed by God], and have accompanied, as became you, those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord; and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now, and bringeth forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death, [but] “whom God raised froth the dead, having loosed the bands of the grave.” “In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; ” into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that “by grace ye are saved, not of works,” but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.

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

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