Archive for May, 2018


Isaiah 11: 1-5

Psalm 138

Romans 12: 9-16

St. Luke 1: 39-56

Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your Son and made known through her Your gracious regard for the poor and lowly and despised. Grant that we may receive Your Word in humility and faith, and so be made one with Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities  is set in  London and Paris, powerful world capitals, during the seismic upheaval of the French Revolution.  Another familiar fiction title referencing twin power centers is from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the second book, The Two Towers.  The one tower  is in the land of Mordor and the other in Isengard:  the former  tower is in the dark abode of the dark lord, Sauron  and the latter, under the control of a ‘white’ wizard Saruman tempted and fallen into the lies of Sauron. Saruman’s is called the Black Tower.  Closer to home, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan were a conspicuous sign of corporate power and influence, no doubt the reason for them being a target for the murderers from the east.

Luke began his Gospel with the narrative of the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus and so the central figures are their Mothers: Elizabeth and Mary and the story of  their pregnancies.  Luke chapter 1 could be called, “The Tale of Two Wombs”.   

Reflect with me on the contrast between a tale of two cities and the Tale of Two Wombs.  Elizabeth bore John, the forerunner of the Christ, and Mary, the Mother of the Lord.  Both narratives have this in common: both are about power, but power of wholly/holy different kinds. Yes, power exerts influence over nations and peoples but Tolkien’s two towers  are about the power to wage war with the engines of war.    The blessed wombs of Elizabeth and Mary are about peace, the peace of God which surpasses understanding which keeps our hearts and minds in Christ (Philippians 4:7).  The cities and towers of this world offer temporal peace, the children of Elizabeth and Mary give eternal peace, not as the world gives. 

The influence of the two different twos make are considerable.  The former is terror over the hearts and minds of men and the latter comfort for sinners to repent from hatred and greed to the living God. The Gospel midst the terrors of nations is that war will one day cease and the peace of Kingdom of God will have no end.  The tale of two cities and towers are about death. The tale of the two wombs are about life, eternal life.

The figures of Saruman and Sauron fascinate us with their aura, even mysticism of the raw exercise of influence…and evil. The origin of the word “fascinate” is most interesting:

1590s, “bewitch, enchant,” from Middle French fasciner (14c.), from Latin fascinatus, past participle of fascinare “bewitch, enchant, fascinate,” from fascinus “a charm, enchantment, spell, witchcraft,” which is of uncertain origin. Earliest used of witches and of serpents, who were said to be able to cast a spell by a look that rendered one unable to move or resist. Sense of “delight, attract and hold the attention of” is first recorded 1815.

To fascinate is to bring under a spell, as by the power of the eye; to enchant and to charm are to bring under a spell by some more subtle and mysterious power. [Century Dictionary]

(Online Etymology Dictionary)

The point is another comparison between the ‘twos of this world” and the two wombs, the true stories of Elizabeth and Mary, and it lies with us, the Old Adam and Eve wanting to be like God, controlling good and evil…or we think we can. We enjoy  and are fascinated by those who are apt at the exercise of power in this world, but the tale of two wombs is  not fascinating because this is power sadly foreign in the world of sin: the power to create life and recreate life.

“Fascinate” has to do with being bewitched, under a spell.  Man needs something to break that spell.  In the stillness of the Visitation we drawn away from spells of the evil one. In Luke chapter 1, is the Verbal icon of  the sheer beauty of these two women. It is my opinion that the thousands of painting and icons of the Visitation are mute proof of the joy of this embrace.  There is no joy in Mordor nor at a guillotine, and joy abounded when Mary visits Elizabeth. When Mary goes to see Elizabeth, her kinswoman, the encounter is celebrated with this feast day:  The Visitation.  This visitation is no “power lunch”, no high stakes conference.  The Visitation is beautiful because of the great grace of God unveiled in their wombs for the fallen sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.  There is no beauty in Mordor nor at a guillotine because it is devoid of agape, of love.  There is power  in the Visitation: the power to save and give life not to destroy and take life. If the fascination of the Old Adam is a spell and the enchantment of evil (and I think it is), then the Visitation begins to break the spell.    This is the true story of the light shining in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1) The spell is broken finally and fully at the Cross of the Son of Mary. He breaks the power of sin and evil and gives eternal life.



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Today is the  day for remembering those who died in our Nation’s battles to protect our constitutional liberty.  It was originally called Decoration Day as family and friends went to cemeteries to decorate grave sites of those who died in battle.  This custom began after the Civil War and the profound grief  over so many killed in that war north and south. The day was changed by an Act of Congress in 1967 to make for a convenient three day weekend, along with other holidays.

The VFW in a 2002 Memorial Address stated:

Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day. (Wikipedia)

I agree. In the same Wikipedia Article:

Starting in 1987 Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran, introduced a measure to return Memorial Day to its traditional date. Inouye continued introducing the resolution until his death in 2012.

It was obviously never passed.  I admire the Senator’s tenacity. The Church too has moved holy days to fit changing lifestyles. October 31 is the feast of the Reformation but now it is on the Sunday closest; likewise, All Saints, traditional date, November 1 is observed on the closest Sunday.  Why? Answer: “No one would come out for a weekday service”, or very few.  Real answer:  It’s not convenient. I have gone to Memorial Day observance here in our town for maybe 15 years, at times with a groan, but  ever encouraged.  Here is picture of this year’s ceremony:

Memorial Day 2018

There were maybe a 100-200 people there out of a town of about  7,000. I noticed some of the same folks every year. I’m glad they are there. We were actually encouraged to sing The National Anthem. It’s nice to have a three day weekend but the attendance at this Memorial Day observance is stagnant.  I think this is a much better way to honor America than at a NFL game. A NFL game costs hundreds of dollars. Today’s observance was free for free Americans to remember those who died for our freedom.

As Americans we need to know, for example, the difference between Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day.  We should visibly honor our nation and so be formed as citizens.  We should be crowding the local observances in our towns and cities and what comfort that would give to veterans and their families! As Christians we should be crowding the Church every Sunday not to be entertained but engaged and challenged and remember the sacrifices of the saints and martyrs and live lives worthy of our calling.  We need to remember and be taught and deepened in the truth of Law and Gospel in order to live as light in the world and so be formed as the Church, the Body of Christ, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, and as citizens of our free nation.  This is not convenient..  Many have been martyred for their Christian faith and it was not convenient.  Many who died for our Constitutional freedoms likewise and it was not convenient. 

We need to remember the oath every member of the military takes:

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God

In a similar way,  the Commander-in-Chief, senators, congressmen and FBI agents make a similar oath with the vow to, “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”.  As I have heard at least two speeches by military officers at the Commissioning ceremony at VMI point out:  You will swear your allegiance not to a man, but to the Constitution. Neither the Church nor our nation is a dictatorship of a man, or relativism, or an ideology. The Constitution was brilliantly designed to stop political dictatorships.  But profoundly and deeply, the greater need is freedom from spiritual dictatorship of sin, death and the power of the devil as proclaimed and given in a real history and recorded in the Bible. Christians obey Words on a page as God’s Word became flesh.


For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5: 1

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John 3:

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.


“Preach nothing but Jesus Christ and of faith in him.  This is the sense of this Gospel text…it was not the act of looking at the serpent that cured,; it was the words, the faith in the words…it was faith in the Word that did it…I find that Christ, not only has the form of a serpent without venom; but I also feel power in Him which will cure me of venom…He was to assume the form of an accursed and damned man, yes, of a serpent, and become the Savior of the world. The world seeks to be saved by good works, but it pleased God to help mankind in this way…All the stories of Holy Writ, if viewed aright, point to Christ.”—From Dr. Luther’s Sermon on St. John 3: 14-16




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Heavenly Father, when he was still a child You called Your servant Bede to devote his life to serve You in the venerable disciplines of religion and scholarship.  As he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of Your truth to his generation, grant that we may also strive to make You known in all the world in our various vocations;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Bede (673-735) was the last of the early church fathers and the first to compile the history of the English church. Born in Northumbria, Bede was given by his parents to a monastery in Northern England at the age of seven. The most learned man of his time, he was a prolific writer of history, whose careful use of sources provided a model for historians in the Middle Ages. Known best for his book, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, he was also a profound interpreter of Scripture; his commentaries are still fresh today. His most famous disciple, Cuthbert, reported that Bede was working on a translation of John’s Gospel into English when death came, and that he died with the words of the Gloria Patri on his lips. He received the title “Venerable” within two generations of his death and is buried in Durham Cathedral as one of England’s greatest saints

“Whenever we enter the church and draw near to the heavenly mysteries, we ought to approach with all humility and fear, both because of the presence of the angelic powers and out of the reverence due to the sacred oblation; for as the Angels are said to have stood by the Lord’s body when it lay in the tomb, so we must believe that they are present in the celebration of the Mysteries of His most sacred Body at the time of consecration.” + St.  Bede the Venerable

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Esther is the heroine of the biblical book that bears her name. Her Jewish name was Hadassah, which means “myrtle.” Her beauty, charm, and courage served her well as queen to King Ahasuerus. In that role she was able to save her people from the mass extermination that Haman, the king’s chief advisor, had planned (2:19–4:17). Esther’s efforts to uncover the plot resulted in the hanging of Haman on the very same gallows that he had built for Mordecai, her uncle and guardian. Then the king named Mordecai minister of state in Haman’s place. This story is an example of how God intervenes on behalf of his people to deliver them from evil, as here through Esther he preserved the Old Testament people through whom the Messiah would come. 

The Name of God is not mentioned once in The Book of Esther, nevertheless His providence is throughout  the narrative. In  the narrative of Joseph, Genesis 37-50, the Lord is spoken of yet does not speak much or seems to be directly involved, yet His providential hand has left His, if you will, hand prints all over the narrative forming Joseph. The Lord is Emmanuel, God with us.   In the end of the narrative Joseph tells his 11 brothers, who did great evil against Joseph,

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

(Gen. 50) In Esther, Mordecai says to Esther, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 14)  The Lord is working deeply in and for His people. We wonder why the Lord is silent, yet by faith we are assured by His Word in Esther and Genesis, and many other places in Scripture, the Lord is working His salvation for His faithful people.

When Esther is brought before the King, though she is offered to wear beautiful clothes, she does not.  She is a virtuous woman.  “…commendable friendship which maintains virtue is to be preferred most certainly to wealth or honors or power.”–(St. Ambrose of Milan, on The Book of Esther)  Mordecai does not pay homage to a man, Haman.  Esther and Mordecai have a commendable friendship for they both maintained virtue as they were formed and informed by God’s Word.  Such strength of virtue from the Lord sustained them through trial and temptation, as it did for Joseph falsely accused and then imprisoned. 

We need more than ever to be so formed for the times we are in and we will be, but not by the times themselves. The Jews were a target for the malice of the world.  Esther was called to help stop, “the destruction of the Jews.” (Esther 4: 7)  Their destruction was stopped then.  Centuries later, the destruction of the Jews would be tried once more and it was horrific:  the 6 million and that time it was not the gallows but the gas chambers of the Nazis.  Yet, the Jews were  not destroyed.  And as their younger brothers, Christians, have not been destroyed.  Esther and Mordecai stepped into the breach.  We must also  say No to tyranny and Yes to freedom in Jesus Christ, Son of Israel. Though the world bends the knee before wealth, honors and power, we know they are its unholy idols and by which we are tried and tempted to leave the Lord we love and who so loved us.  We, with Esther and Mordecai, must assert, The Lord our God, the Lord alone is God.  Thus He forms us in commendable friendships to maintain virtue in a time gone awry and upside down.

 Let us pray,   

O God, You graced your servant Queen Esther not only with beauty and elegance but also with faith and wisdom. Grant that we, too, might us the qualities that Your have generously bestowed on us for the glory of Your mighty name and for the good of Your people, that through Your work in us, we may be advocates of the oppressed and defenders of the weak, preserving our faith in the great High Priest who intercedes on our behalf, Jesus Christ , who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Translation: “In this Sign, You Will Conquer”

Constantine I served as Roman Emperor from A.D. 306 to 337. During his reign the persecution of Christians was forbidden by the Edict of Milan in 312, and ultimately the faith gained full imperial support. Constantine took an active interest in the life and teachings of the church and  called the Council of Nicaea in 325 at which orthodox Christianity was defined and defended. His mother, Helena(ca. 255-329), strongly influenced Constantine. Her great interest in locating the holy sites of the Christian faith led her to become one of the first Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Her research led to the identification of Biblical locations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and beyond, which are still maintained as places of worship today.

From The Ecclesiastical History of Christianity by Sozomen (Salminius Hermias Sozomenus[a] (GreekΣωζομενός; c. 400 – c. 450 AD), also known as Sozomen was a historian of the Christian Church.)

Chapter 3. By the Vision of the Cross, and by the Appearance of Christ, Constantine is led to embrace Christianity.— He receives Religious Instruction from our Brethren.

We have been informed that Constantine was led to honor the Christian religion by the concurrence of several different events, particularly by the appearance of a sign from heaven.

When he first formed the resolution of entering into a war against Maxentius, he was beset with doubts as to the means of carrying on his military operations, and as to the quarter whence he could look for assistance. In the midst of his perplexity, he saw, in a vision, the sight of the cross shining in heaven. He was amazed at the spectacle, but some holy angels who were standing by, exclaimed, Oh, Constantine! By this symbol, conquer! And it is said that Christ himself appeared to him, and showed him the symbol of the cross, and commanded him to construct one like it, and to retain it as his help in battle, as it would insure the victory.

Eusebius, surnamed Pamphilus, affirms that he heard the emperor declare with an oath, as the sun was on the point of inclining about the middle of the day, he and the soldiers who were with him saw in heaven the trophy of the cross composed of light, and encircled by the following words: By this sign, conquer.

This vision met him by the way, when he was perplexed as to whither he should lead his army. While he was reflecting on what this could mean, night came; and when he fell asleep, Christ appeared with the sign which he had seen in heaven, and commanded him to construct a representation of the symbol, and to use it as his help in hostile encounters. There was nothing further to be elucidated; for the emperor clearly apprehended the necessity of serving God.

At daybreak, he called together the priests of Christ, and questioned them concerning their doctrines. They opened the sacred Scriptures, and expounded the truths relative to Christ, and showed him from the prophets, how the signs which had been predicted, had been fulfilled. The sign which had appeared to him was the symbol, they said, of the victory over hell; for Christ came among men, was stretched upon the cross, died, and returned to life the third day. On this account, they said, there was hope that at the close of the present dispensation, there would be a general resurrection of the dead, and entrance upon immortality, when those who had led a good life would receive accordingly, and those who had done evilwould be punished. Yet, continued they, the means of salvation and of purification from sin are provided; namely, for the uninitiated, initiation according to the canons of the church; and for the initiated, abstinence from renewed sin. But as few, even among holy men, are capable of complying with this latter condition, another method of purification is set forth, namely, repentance; for God, in his love towards man, bestows forgiveness on those who have fallen into sin, on their repentance, and the confirmation of their repentance by good works.

Reflection:  We do know that by the 4th Century, the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity after over 2 centuries of persecution, sometimes wicked and bloody.  Yet at the eve of the Battle of Milvian Bridge, it is estimated that up to half the Roman Empire was Christian.  For over 2 centuries, the Church lived in a world that thrived on conquering and living off the conquests of gold and human flesh.  Christians already knew what Constantine saw about the Cross of Christ, By this Sign You Will Conquer, but even more:  

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8: 37

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I have learned a few things from watching the situation comedy,”The Big Bang Theory” and one is the meaning of vexillology:  the study of flags.   In the Church Year, the color is red for Pentecost, symbolizing the fire of the Holy Spirit and the tongues of fire that rested on the Apostles. 

This is the Altar at Concordia Lutheran Mission for Pentecost.  We put up the flags  as a reminder that beginning at Pentecost, and continuing Image may contain: table and indoorto this day, 2,000 years later, the nations hear the Word of God in their own language (Acts 2:  6 and 11)

Red is also the color for the feast days of martyrs.  Then red signifies blood.  In flags, likewise red can mean blood but also valor and strength.  Valor and strength means risking one’s life in defense of a nation.

Note the many flags with the color red!  Jesus died for the life of the world.  Many of the flags of the world can be a salutary reminder of that God so loved the world, He gave His only-begotten Son.  In an intimate connection, red can remind us of the Holy Spirit:  The Holy Spirit who is God before time and in the beginning,  “…was hovering over the face of the waters.”  The Holy Spirit who descended on the 120 Galileans gathered in Jerusalem and then gave the gift of language to speak the Gospel for all the nations gathered there for Pentecost (Acts 2: 6-11).  The Holy Spirit, as the Son taught concerning the Spirit, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16: 14).  The Holy Spirit’s book is the Bible and the core curriculum  is Christ for us and for our salvation.  The Lord sends out the Apostles as witnesses (John 16:27), with the Spirit to forgive and retain sin (John 20: 21-23).  He sent them baptizing and teaching  “all nations”  (Matthew 28: 19-20).  As we are baptized in the Name of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are baptized in the Holy Spirit.  This is for all nations as even the secular flags of the world give mute witness to the Lord of all nations. Yet even more, infinitely more (!), the Lord of all nations,the Holy Spirit witnesses to the Son in  His blood of the New Testament beginning in Baptismal waters, as John sums it up for us:

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify:the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.  (1 John 3)

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Matthew 28: 20)

*Octave:  Originally the 8th day after a Church feast or festival, beginning the count with the day of the feast or festival itself; later the term came to denote all 8 days.  The Lord rose from the dead on the first day of the week.  With 7 days in the week, the First Day, the Day of Resurrection is then the 8th day.  Likewise, in the Old Testament the 8th day is important as in circumcision on the 8th day.  Also, many of the Festivals of Israel have a week for the Festival culminating on the 8th day.

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