Archive for August, 2017


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.  There are many versions of the Lord.  Pastor Matt Richard, in his book, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up:  12 False Christs identified these twelve as:  The Mascot; One Option among Many; The Good Teacher; The Therapist; The Giver of Bling; The National Patriot; The Social Justice Warrior; The Moral Example; The New Moses; The Mystical Friend; The Feminized Jesus; and The Teddy Bear. 

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 our 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.   John not only prophesied of the Messiah but also the means by which the Messiah would cleanse us and make us His own: in Baptism in His Name.  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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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: How do we live as Christ’s very own, His Church, in a Roman world?  St. Augustine was contemporary to the fall of Rome. Empires do not easily fall and in their demise,the foundations are shaken.  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)

We too are living in Roman times and possibly in the collapse of an Empire and large parts of the Church. When we look at the carnage reaped in lust and greed, the raging denial of marriage, the immorality of wealth not related to the Commandments and morality, we may not be overcome by the Vandals, as was Rome of old, but we are vandalized by the denial of God’s Law and God’s Christ.  The Christians are being blamed for being too rigid, so judgmental and the beginning of the wholesale denial of Christians’ free speech. 

How do we live as Christ’s very own, His Church, in a Roman world?

Today’s Epistle reading is 2 Corinthians 6: 1-18 and in the Treasury of Daily Prayer, the Writing selection is from a sermon by St. Augustine. St. Augustine preached on these verses from the Epistle reading:

“Therefore go out from their midst and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing.”

St. Augustine on this verse:

How many and vehement rebukes did Jeremiah preach against the sinners and wicked ones of his people. Yet he lived among them, he entered into the same temple with them, celebrated the same mysteries; he lived in that congregation of wicked men, but by his preaching “he came out from among them.” This is what it means “to come out from among them”; this is what it means to not “touch the unclean thing.” It means not consenting to them in will and not sparing them in word. I say this of Jeremiah, of Isaiah, of Daniel, and Ezekiel, and the rest of the prophets, who did not retire from the wicked people, lest they should desert the good who were mingled with that people. (emphasis my own)

 It means not consenting to them in will and not sparing them in word.  We will find ourselves as the Church in trouble by not sparing them in word as we give our witness by not consenting with them what we do and don’t do.  We are called to do so by not lording it over others, but by serving them in love as we too have consented in will, in thought, word and deed, with sins the Lord deplores and has carried in His sinless body upon the Cross.  Our service of witness is with the Apostle, we too are chief of sinners. Neither did St. Augustine, and the Church then, adopt the practices of their Roman world and neither did they adapt the Church, her sacred songs and prayers and the orthodox doctrine of the Scriptures to an immoral society.

O Lord God, the light of the minds that know You, the life of souls that love You, and the strength of the hearts that serve You, give us strength to follow the example of Your servant Augustine of Hippo, so that knowing You we may truly love You and loving You we may fully serve You–for to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ, our lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.

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Meme of the Day

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This is  “Hell Week” at the Virginia Military Institute during which the incoming class of “rats” begin the “ratline.”  They have to memorize the Rat Bible.  According to the 2013-14 VMI handbook, the Rat Bible is a 

Small book of facts about VMI’s history and certain information
specific to the current year; must be in a Rat’s possession at all
times; Rats are responsible to know and recite the contents of
this book.

First comment:  The ability “to know and recite the contents” of the Holy Bible is even more essential as it is the Word of God!  Or at least a Christian Lutheran should be  able to recite verses  and portions of the Holy Scriptures and have a Bible in one’s possession at all times: this is a godly discipline. Memorization is crucial when the written text is not at hand.

Second:  A VMI rat memorizes the ‘rat’ bible because of fear of punishment.  A Christian reads the Bible out of fear and love of the Lord:  fearing to lose Him, rejoicing in His mercy which found us.

Third:  What is a rat? According the Rat Bible, rats are, “The lowliest and dumbest of God’s creatures”.  First: do not tell the ACLU that God is mentioned in the Rat Bible!  But that definition aptly describes the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve fallen in sin. Only man can be so stupid to go it alone without the Lord and even sing, “I did it my way”. The Lord became the lowliest and dumbest of His creatures whom He made to be His highest and  most bright of His creatures. He became man so that  in Him by His grace, no longer a rat, not  a creature, but now His son or daughter by Baptism and faith.

This coming Sunday is a day unique in the liturgical year and specific to Lexington and Rockbridge County in Virginia:  “Rat” Sunday.  After hell week, on “Rat” Sunday,  all the rats can go off post to a church or synagogue if they want to and boy, do they want to!  So “Rat” Sunday acutely means for the rats a day of rest, giving it a rest, a Sabbath in the Lord.

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ at VMI!

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A Primer We Need

Today’s appointed New Testament reading in the Daily Lectionary is the “Love Chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13:

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

This has been the Scripture read at many a wedding, though the Apostle wrote it for a congregation (in Corinth) with problems and not for a nuptial ceremony.  The Congregation in Corinth was abounding with spiritual gifts but were abusing them.  In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul teaches that the Church is the Body of Christ and ends with the promise that in the next chapter he would show them, and us, a more excellent way, than even speaking in tongues.

In most of the weddings that I have attended the last 10-20  years, 1 Corinthians 13 has not been read as it once was.  This is only a casual notice.  If this the case, or not, it is as if we all know what it is to love.  I think this is the situation in the world these days.  In one sense, we all want to be loved but to actually love someone else is difficult.  Born with original sin, we do not love as ought and the problem is loving as we should not.

1 Corinthians 13 is a primer on love, as is the entirety of Scripture.  C. S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves taught that in Biblical Greek there are at least four words for love:  storge (natural affection), eros (sexual love), philos (brotherly love) and agage (unconditional love).  We bandy our one word for “love”, “love” as if we have our doctorates in love but we do not.  The Scripture is the way the Lord teaches the way we are to love and the Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in Tri-unity of perfect love and so teaches us through His Word of Law and Promise the fullness of love and the way we are to love.    It means bearing the cross and dying to ourselves in contrition and repentance, so the new man arises day by day in Christ Jesus.  “Faith and hope have to do only with God.  But love has infinite offices outwardly toward humanity” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Lutheran Confessions).  In a similar vein, Orthodox bishop, Kallistos (Ware) said that there are no new ways of sinning but always new ways of love.  

Faith is the root so that love is the fruit.  The Lord gives us growth through His Word and there is only one way His love is taught in His school: the Church and the school’s textbook is the Bible and the many examples of faith, hope and love are the saints.

Of faith, hope and love, the Word is clear:  love is the greatest.  Why? One day, when the Lord comes, faith and hope will not be needed but love endures.  Yet, here and now love by itself is not enough.  We need faith and hope in the One who first loved us.  We fail in loving and the Lord is forgiving.   “Good works always follow justifying faith and are surely found with it–if it is true and living faith (James 2: 26).  Faith is never alone, but always has love and hope with it (1 Corinthians 13: 13)” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Lutheran Confessions).

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Meme of the Day

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“What a superb and wonderful object lesson this is, therefore, to teach is what a mighty, powerful, all-availing thing faith is. Faith takes Christ captive in his word…you say, the woman responds, that I am a dog.  Let it be, I will gladly be a dog, now give me the consideration that you give a dog.  Thus, she is catches Christ with his own words, and he is happy to be caught…I am not a child nor am I of Abraham’s seed, but you are a rich Lord and set a lavish table. Give your children the bread and a place at the table; I do not wish that. Let me, merely like a dog, pick up the crumbs under the table, allowing me that which the children don’t need, or even miss, the crumbs, and I will be content…So she catches Christ, the Lord, in his own words and with that wins not only the right of a dog, but also that of the children.  Now then were will he go, our dear Jesus?  He let himself be made captive, and must comply.  Be sure of this:  that’s what he most deeply desires.” (from Luther’s Sermon on today’s Gospel reading)

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Collect of the Day

Almighty God, Your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, and to another the word of faith. We praise You for the gifts of grace imparted to Your servant Johann, and we pray that by his teaching we maybe led to a fuller knowledge of the truth which we have seen in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

About Johann Gerhard:  Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) was a great Lutheran theologian in the tradition of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Martin Chemnitz (1522-86) and the most influential of the seventeenth-century dogmaticians. His monumental Loci Theologici (twenty-three large volumes) is still considered by many to be a definitive statement of Lutheran orthodoxy. Gerhard was born in Quedlinburg, Germany. At the age of fifteen he was stricken with a life-threatening illness. This experience, along with guidance from his pastor, Johann Arndt, marked a turning point in his life. He devoted the rest of his life to theology. He became a professor at the University of Jena and served many years as the superintendent of Heldburg. Gerhard was a man of deep evangelical piety and love for Jesus. He wrote numerous books on exegesis, theology, devotional literature, history, and polemics. His sermons continue to be widely published and read. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  A dear colleague, Pr. Lou Smith, years ago gave me my first volume of sermons by Pr. Gerhard.  I am still purchasing and reading Pr. Gerhard’s work.  The prayer petition has been answered for myself and many others that through his sermons and reflections we gain a fuller understanding of the truth.  He believed the Scriptures are not only the Word of God but also the words of God. Pr. Gerhard is one of my favorite theologians because he prayed with the Church, he preached and taught the Scriptures with the Church and desired to give praise to God alone through His mercies in Jesus Christ for him and us all.

His sermons are wellsprings of Scripture.  As one pastor in an introduction to a volume of Gerhard’s sermons wrote:  “He saw the New Testament through Old Testament eyes.”   He lived and breathed the Scriptures as they are the very words of the Holy Spirit writ into His creation for our redemption in Jesus Christ.

I could quote for a long time his sermons.  Here is one citation.  It is from the end of his sermon on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24) and it is , to say the least, timely:

For just as fire is an effective, active thing and always climbs upward, so also will the fire of love and devotion be effective and active in us, lifting up our hearts towards God. Just as these disciples, when they felt the power of Christ’s Word in the heart, prayerfully reached out and begged Him (since it was evening) to remain with them and come in with them, so also when the fire of the divine Word has properly warmed our hearts and ignited the fire of love in us, we too will beg Christ with sincere, believing prayer that He would remain with us. We will say with Jeremiah, ch.14:8—O Lord, You are the Comfort of Israel and its Helper in need. Why do you portray Yourself as if You were guest in the land and a stranger who abides inside only for the night ? We are in need of the same kind of petition and invitation. For it is applicable:

 1) To the “evening of tribulation,” [for] as all kind of dark, threatening clouds of misfortune break forth here, hardly any star shines any more [and] everything is full of tragedy and misery. 

2) To the “evening of doctrine.” The divine doctrines are darkened through various errors; Christ, the Son of Righteousness, is almost totally covered over by the thick clouds of false doctrine. 

3) To the “evening of the world.” The world has come to its “evening” and to a dead decline. Thus we do well to petition: O abide with us, Lord Jesus Christ, since it now is evening. But especially when the evening of life comes into play, when things decline into our life’s end and departure, we want to reach for Christ with sincere prayer, asking that He would abide with us, and ignite in us, amidst the darkness of death, the light of comfort and life. In keeping with His precious promises, He wants graciously to fulfill this in us, as we cling simply to Him. This is the kind of heart He wants to give us by His grace. Amen.

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“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

The ending of President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, Saturday, March 4, 1865.  He was assassinated the next month.

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Video of the Day

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