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Archive for November, 2015

Advent Meme of the Day

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Noah Icon, Kramer Chapel, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN

 Psalm 29
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-12, 17-23
1 Peter 3:18-22 or Hebrews 11:1-3, 7; 12:1-2
St. Matthew 24:36-44

 

Almighty and eternal God,  according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all.  Grant that we may be kept safe and secure  in the holy ark of the Christian Church, so that with all believers in Your promise, we would be declared worthy of eternal life,through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

 Noah, the son of Lamech (Gen 5:30), was instructed by God to build an ark, in which his family would find security from the destructive waters of a devastating flood that God warned would come. Noah built the ark, and the rains descended. The entire earth was flooded destroying “every living thing that was on the face of the ground, both man and beast” (7:23). After the flood waters subsided, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. When Noah determined it was safe, and God confirmed it, he and his family and all the animals disembarked. Then Noah built an altar and offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for having saved his family from destruction. A rainbow in the sky was declared by God to be a sign of His promise that never again would a similar flood destroy the entire earth (8;20).  Noah is remembered and honored for his obedience, believing that God would do what He said He would. (From LCMS website)

 Reflection: 

When I served as Pastor at a congregation with a pre-school, a teacher impressed on me this about Noah:   we tell it like it’s a cute kiddie  story complete with Disney-like animals, a big boat and a flood but it’s about God’s judgment on all flesh.  It really isn’t “nice”:

13And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh,for the earth is filled with violence through them. (Genesis 6)

And in the narrative the word “violence” is central reason for God’s judgment.  Violence is not “nice”:  war, tyranny, murder, suicide, abortion, bloody fights, seemingly endless video games,  are not the picture of man made in the image of God.  There is no sin in a Disney world…and no forgiveness either. This violence and the unrepentant violent must die and God’s righteousness live.  So Noah becomes the image of Baptism: drowning and living, dying and rising.

Today is the First Sunday in Advent and the collect of day’s main petition is,

…Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come,  that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance…”

The “threatening perils our sins” is like a flood rising higher and higher about to drown us and it has.  This is a fitting picture on the Commemoration of Noah and it fits together all together too well.  On our own, we can maybe tread water for awhile, under our own power, and think we are pretty good swimmers.  Once the Law of God shows us the peril, we  give out and realize  can not save ourselves…we are like Peter trying to walk on the water and we see the waves and we sink.  On our own, we are sunk.  The Lord interceded for obedient Noah and his family and the lesser creatures to save them.  The Lord interceded for us by sending His Son.  Jesus Christ was baptized into the flood of our sins to save us.  Baptized, we “walk wet” in His grace, mercy and peace, so we can live His life, dead to sin and alive in Him, to promote and serve life temporal and eternal in good works for our neighbors.  He is the only reason we so live and will live again at His coming again.  In Advent, we rejoice in the Lord’s total immersion into the threatening dangers of our sin.

This Advent the palpable fear and terror of ISIS is upon us as we have seen them beheading Christians which is the depths of gratuitous violence ‘sanctioned’ by a false religion.  ISIS sadly may behead Christians, as other and many persecutors have done in the past, but they can not behead the Church’s Head, Jesus Christ.  He holds His Church in His hands in the midst of terror…and anxiety.

The icons above and below are from the Baptistry of Kramer Chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN.  One is of Noah and the other of our Lord’s Baptism.  The sinless One Who did not need to be baptized for His sin, nevertheless, immersed Himself into the sin of the world.  The immersion began when He was conceived in the Virgin Mary, in the amniotic fluid of His Mother, indeed:  

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.” Psalm 139 

The prayer after the icon is by Martin Luther and it is prayed at a Baptism and it is a good prayer for anytime, as we are baptized and we are His.

Icon of the Baptism of Christ, Kramer Chapel Baptistry

Almighty eternal God, who according to thy righteous judgment didst condemn the unbelieving world through the flood and in Thy great mercy didst preserve believing Noah and his family, and who didst drown hardhearted Pharaoh with all his host in the Red Sea and didst lead Thy people Israel through the same on dry ground, thereby prefiguring this bath of thy baptism, and who through the baptism of thy dear Child, our Lord Jesus Christ, hast consecrated and set apart the Jordan and all water as a salutary flood and rich and full washing away of sins: We pray through the same Thy groundless mercy that Thou wilt graciously behold this N. and bless him with true faith in the Spirit so that by means of this saving flood all that has been born in him from Adam and which he himself has added thereto may be drowned in him and engulfed, and that he may be sundered from the number of the unbelieving, preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom, serve Thy Name at all times fervent in spirit and joyful in hope, so that with all believers he may be made worthy to attain eternal life according to Thy promise; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (emphasis added), St. Luke 21: 36, from the Gospel Reading, 1st Sunday in Advent, Year C

In Advent, and at all times:  to whom or what do we bow our heads and fold our hands and pray? 

“What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? 2] Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. 3] If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.” (The Large Catechism, Explanation of the 1st Commandment, by Martin Luther)

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Dr. Pchurch-peopleaul Kretzmann’s Commentary on Luke 21: 38:

V. 38. And all the people came early in the morning to Him in the Temple for to hear Him.

Note: Many a Christian of our days might learn a lesson from these people that got up unusually early and thronged to the Temple to hear the Lord, whereas many in our days act as though they were conferring a favor upon the Lord by appearing at His house some half hour after service has begun.

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This TV ad was banned in the UK for being offensive.  It is very good.  The article about this ad is also good: The Lord’s Prayer Advert Has Been Banned For Being Offensive – Which It Is” by Andrew Wilson

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Clement (ca. A.D. 35–100) is remembered for having established the pattern of apostolic authority that governed the Christian Church during the first and second centuries. He also insisted on keeping Christ at the center of the Church’s worship and outreach. In a letter to the Christians at Corinth, he emphasized the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Let us fix our eyes on the blood of Christ, realizing how precious it is to His Father, since it was poured out for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to the whole world” (1 Clement 6:31). Prior to suffering a martyr’s death by drowning, he displayed a steadfast, Christ-like love for God’s redeemed people, serving as an inspiration to future generations to continue to build the Church on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Christ as the one and only cornerstone. (from The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod website, see Blogroll on sidebar)

Reflection:  In the bio above and in the quote below the word “fix” is employed.  In the Prayer of the Day for the 5th Sunday after Easter, the Church prays,

“Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where trues are found, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord…”

Our hearts, that is,  our wills are fixed, that is, guided, repented, repaired in the fruit of the joys of His crucifixion and resurrection by our hearts fixed on Him,  His forgiveness for us, in us, with us, His life in our lives. His gift of life is His blood.  We can not repair our hearts, our wills on our own.  No one did heart surgery on himself, one needs a physician. We are fixed by fixing our hearts and eyes on Jesus Christ and that “fix” is prayer, the prayer of faith in the Lord, in Whom we are made one in Christian love and Pastor Clement made this clear:

From Pastor and Bishop Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians:

This is the way, beloved, in which we found our salvation, Jesus Christ, the high priest of our offerings, the protector and helper of our weakness (cf. Heb. 2: 17, 3:1, 4: 15)

Through him we fix our eyes on the heights of heaven, Through him we see mirrored the flawless and sublime countenance of God (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18), Through him the eyes of our heart have been opened, Through him our foolish and darkened understanding springs up to the light,Through him the Master has willed that we should taste immortal knowledge;

For “since he is the express image of his greatness, he is as much superior to angels as his title is superior” to theirs (cf. Heb. 1:3-4)

Let us then, men and brethren, engage in our service with complete earnestness under his faultless order. Let us consider those who serve under our military commanders, with what good discipline, subordination, and obedience they carry out orders.  Not all are prefects or tribunes or centurions or captains of fifty and so on, but “each in his own rank”(I Cor. 15:23)carries out orders under the emperor and the commanding officers. The great cannot exist without the small; neither can the small exist without the great: there is a certain mutuality in the whole, and this is beneficial to it. 

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, Your servant Clement of Rome called the Church in Corinth to repentance and faith to unite them in Christian love. Grant that Your Church may be anchored in Your truth by the presence of the Holy Spirit and kept blameless in Your service until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

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Does someone fall into sin? Does his despair even urge him to suicide? Let him but invoke this life-giving name (Jesus)and his will to live will be at once renewed. The hardness of heart that is our common experience, the apathy bred of indolence, bitterness of mind, repugnance for the things of the spirit—have they ever failed to yield in presence of that saving name? The tears he barrier of our pride—how have they not burst sweeter abundance at the thought of Jesus’ name?

And where is the man, who, terrified and trembling before impend­ing peril, has not been suddenly filled with courage and rid of fear by calling on the strength of that name? Where is the man who, tossed on the rolling seas of doubt, did not quickly find certitude by recourse to the clarity of Jesus’ name? Was ever a man so dis­couraged, so beaten down by afflictions, to whom the sound of this name did not bring new resolve? In short, for all the ills and dis­orders to which flesh is heir, this name is medicine. For proof we have no less than his own promise: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”(Psalm 49: 15)  Nothing so curbs the onset of anger, so allays the upsurge of pride. It cures the wound of envy, controls unbridled extravagance and quenches the flame of lust; it cools the thirst of covetousness and banishes the itch of unclean desire. For when I name Jesus I set before me a man who is meek and humble of heart,(Matthew 11: 29)  kind, prudent, chaste, merciful, (Titus 1: 8) flawlessly upright and holy in the eyes of all; and this same man is the all-powerful God whose way of life heals me, whose support is my strength. All these re-echo for me at the hearing of Jesus’ name. Because he is man I strive to imitate him; because of his divine power I lean upon him. The examples of his human life I gather like medicinal herbs; with the aid of his power I blend them, and the result is a compound like no pharmacist can produce.

(From Sermon 15 on the Song of Songs, Bernard of Clairvaux, 1090-1113)

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Meme of the Day

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Elizabeth  of Hungary, born in Pressburg, Hungary, in 1207, was the daughter of King Andrew II and his wife Gertrude. Given in an arranged political marriage, she became wife of Louis of Thuringia (Germany) at age 14.

Her spirit of Christian generosity and charity pervaded the home she established for her husband and three children in the Wartburg Castle at Eisenach. Their abode was known for hospitality and family love.

Elizabeth often supervised the care of the sick and needy, even giving up her bed to a leper at one time. Widowed at age 20, she arranged for her children’s well-being and entered into life as a nun in the Order of Saint Francis. Her self-denial led to failing health and an early death in 1231 at the age of 24. Remembered for her self-sacrificing ways, Elizabeth is commemorated through the many hospitals named for her around the world.

(From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

As I write this pious people are saying that we should welcome Syrian refugees and show them hospitality, after all, Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary were refugees refused hospitality the night before Jesus’ birth.  This understanding Luke 2 is currently in the blogosphere. This sentiment demonstrates a lack of understanding of both the Biblical text and hospitality. 
The  word translated as “inn”, in Luke 2,  in N.T. Greek is actually a house. It is not the same Greek word as in the prodigal of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan puts up the man in “inn”, an actual hostel for overnight lodging. The word in Luke 2 is a house, a home. Since Joseph was of the “house and lineage of David”, he probably had kin in Bethlehem. If you had family, it would have been shameful to stay at a hostel. And the house may have been quite full, yet Joseph’s kin put them up, but the Luke 2 does not tell us they stayed in the stable. Just when Mary gave birth. she laid Jesus in the “manger”, lit. a feeding trough, because there was no room in the inn. A family with a new born, and an exhausted Mary,needed a quiet place. The hospitality was given by Joseph’s kin to Mary and him and now their firstborn. Given that this keeps to the text a whole lot more, the other good impulse in the Christmas narrative is it is about family, and a Holy Family, but a family and God’s blessings come through families from Abraham and Sarah to Joseph and Mary.
In our world, we would expect the Roman government to have a federal program to put up families in new towns to fulfill the new IRS requirements. Let someone else be hospitable to family and the sojourner. It is easy to talk about how hospitable and caring we are when are not actually the ones doing the hands on hospitality! We feel real good when we tweet how caring we are. It is a different matter to care for our neighbor or family member with all their “stuff” in their needs, sorrows, peculiarities etc. “Love your neighbor as yourself”, sounds easy, after all I want to be loved when I’m cranky, poor, sick, etc, okay, Love your neighbor as your self”. Sure let government do that. Do we as Christians and as Americans even know how to be hospitable to even our own, let alone the sojourner, in our homes? I know this does not provide a solution to the Syrian refugee crisis, but it would be different to think about Christian congregations (as after the Vietnam War, congregations welcomed the Hmong people), synagogues and even mosques. As a pastor I would want the Syrians checked out thoroughly. Are their Syrian organizations who would be willing to help? Ex-pat Syrians who have already set up residency to help? Conservative and liberal we now think only government and talk about the need to “think outside the box”!

Elizabeth of Hungary, and Martin Luther in the quote below teach us in word and deed the Biblical understanding of hospitality and it is hands on, not hands off letting someone else doing it, especially government! After all, our salvation was and is “hands on”, nail-imprinted Hands.  Luther and his wife and family were quite hospitable in opening their home to all sorts of people.  One of the job descriptions of a bishop/pastor is hospitality: “Therefore a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable…” (1 Timothy 3:2)  It is not first for the next guy’s home, but our own. 

Reflection by Dr. Martin Luther:  

This is … an outstanding praise of hospitality, in order that we may be sure that God Himself is in our home, is being fed at our house, is lying down and resting as often as some pious brother in exile because of the Gospel comes to us and is received hospitably by us. This is called brotherly love or Christian charity; it is greater than that general kindness which is extended even to strangers and enemies when they are in need of our aid…. For the accounts of the friendships of the Gentiles, like those of Theseus and Hercules, of Pylades and Orestes, are nothing in comparison with the brotherhood in the church; its bond is an association with God so close that the Son of God says that whatever is done to the least of His is done to Himself. Therefore their hearts go out without hypocrisy to the needs of their neighbor, and nothing is either so costly or so difficult that a Christian does not undertake it for the sake of the brethren, … But if anyone earnestly believed that he is receiving the Lord Himself when he receives a poor brother, there would be no need for such anxious, zealous, and solicitous exhortations to do works of love. Our coffers, storeroom, and compassion would be open at once for the benefit of the brethren. There would be no ill will, and together with godly Abraham we would run to meet the wretched people, invite them into our homes, and seize upon this honor and distinction ahead of others and say: “O Lord Jesus, come to me; enjoy my bread, wine, silver, and gold. How well it has been invested by me when I invest it in You!”

For our Daily Prayers:  

for the poor

for the sick and suffering

for the unemployed

Mighty King, whose inheritance is not of this world, inspire in us the humility and benevolent charity of Elizabeth of Hungary.  She scorned her bejeweled crown with thoughts of the horned one her savior donned for her said and ours, that we too, might live a live of sacrifice, pleasing in Your sight and worthy of the Name of Your Son, Christ Jesus, who with the Holy Spirit reigns with You forever in the everlasting kingdom. Amen.

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Recently my wife, my mother-in-law and I went to The Cloisters.  My wife and I enjoy thoroughly The Cloisters.  It is a museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.    The Cloisters is a reconstruction of  large segments of abandoned ruins of European medieval monasteries and churches  on the Palisade in northern Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River. It houses an exquisite collection of Medieval Church art. You can read more about it here.During our recent visit, this painting gripped me:  St. Michael Slaying the Anti-Christ:

Artist: Master of Belmonte (Spanish, Aragon, active ca. 1460–90) Date: 1450–1500 Culture: North Spanish Medium: Tempera and oil on wood Dimensions: Overall: 85 1/2 x 47 in. (217.2 x 119.4 cm) Classification: Paintings-Panels Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1955

 

The portrayal of the anti-Christ is the reason I was taken aback. This is the photo I took of the detail:

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What is the meaning of the anti-Christ’s body with reptilian arms and especially the leering, grinning faces from his body?

First, this portrayal reminded me of 20th Century Modern as it is akin to surrealism. 

Second, this portrayal is non-Biblical and rare because Michael defeats the devil (Revelation 12:7), not anti-Christ, though, we could say the anti-Christ is  devilish.

Third, it looks as if the figure of the anti-Christ is guiding Michael’s spear into his/her/it’s mouth.

Adding up those 3 observations comes this conclusion: this portrayal is lurid.  One of the definitions of lurid is:  “very vivid in color, especially so as to create an unpleasantly harsh or unnatural effect”.  This lurid portrayal is clearly contrasted with St. Michael, splendid in the whole armor of God, an angel, powerful and resplendent.  Yet, before this, the anti-Christ, sitting in the Temple, saying he is the Christ, redefining sound doctrine was certainly well hidden in his faux beauty.  As the anti-Christ seems to guide Michael’s spear, in an almost phallic way, this foul beast is now shown for his/her/its true colors, but it’s true lurid colors is flesh without spirit and the Holy Spirit, every part of the body leering forth its utterly narcissistic pleasures.  C. S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, his fiction of letters between a chief tempter in hell and a sub-tempter novice, says this:

“Humans are amphibians– half spirit and half animal…As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for as to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation– the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks”

C. S. Lewis also calls the human body, “those vast and perilous estates” which we think we own and control and the anti-Christ sets up his own religious rule that says, Yes, you do and you can be like God, controlling good and evil.  Like an amphibian with the Sword of the Spirit, that is, the Word of God thrust down anti-Christ’s foul mouth of teaching heresy, he mutates into pure flesh, even grinning from the crotch.  That grin is surely the smirk of our lustful times. The anti-Christ’s message is lawless, see 2 Thessalonians 2:3, that is without the Law of God showing us our sin, so that man can not see his Savior, Jesus, the Son of the Father, light from light, very God from very God (Nicene Creed).  Notice the devilish lie in Lewis’ depiction:  “constancy…is undulation”.  It is not!  Constancy is change?! This is what the whole vain dark world has been teaching and screeching about for along time now.  Constancy is steadfastness in the Lord’s steadfast love for us in Christ Jesus which purifies all our loves: and so:

“The night is far gone;  the day is at hand.  So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 12: 13).

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