Archive for June 23rd, 2019

Years ago, when visiting Historic Williamsburg, Virginia, we stopped at the print shop.  They sold pamphlets printed as it was done in the 18th Century.  I purchased the pamphlet you see above.  By today’s standards, the sermon is long!  And by today’s standard of the supposed Berlin wall between church and state, it is remarkable that a sermon was delivered to the House of Burgesses, that is, the government.  This Sermon was an eye opener for me. 

Gaming, or Gambling, can be a pleasant diversion and amusement, as the Reverend Stith begins his sermon. Yet gambling morphs into grave moral sin.  We have seen in our day and time this deformation of public character through legal gambling.  At one time, the only place an American could gamble was in Las Vegas. No longer.  Gambling is in Atlantic City, St. Louis and I do not know how many other cities and states.  It is a mainstay on Indian reservations.  Almost every state in our Nation has a state lottery and when the money is big enough, this makes news.  In every gas station in the country, one can wager and also gamble on line.

I maintain that legal gambling is one of the demons we have let loose.  We are living in an age of pandemonium.  The word pandemonium literally means: all the demons.  A discipline once lost is very difficult to regain.  As we begin to legalize marijuana, we must stop that and illegalize gambling.  Rev. Stith’s arguments are clearly correct.  So, I will be posting selections from his sermon for your enlightenment.

A couple of notes on the English text:  “gaming” is “the practice of gambling” and I have substituted the original “gaming” with “gambling” and “gamester” with “gambler”. I have kept the original capitalization.  I hope you can come to enjoy the precision of older English!

Rev. Stith’s “observations” are on whom we sin against when we gamble: “…our Neighbor, against our Country, against our Families, against ourselves, and against GOD”.  In 1752, the Reverend demonstrated what has happened in our day with legal gambling. My selections will be on each of Rev. Stith’s topics of observations and so we begin with the gambling as sin against our Neighbor:

“…however, void of Guilt so childish an Amusement may be, yet no such Thing, I am sure, can be pleaded in Excuse of high Gambling, which is an evident and undeniable Sin. For we therein sin against our Neighbor, against our Country, against our Families, against ourselves, and against GOD. And therefore, in the Prosecution of this Discourse, I beg Leave to make some Observations on each of those Heads. And,

I. IN Gambling we sin against our Neighbor, as we therein covet our Neighbor’s Goods, and are undoubtedly guilty of an eminent Breach of this tenth Commandment. For Covetousness is the Mother-Passion to the Spirit of Gambling; and no true Gambler sits down to play with his Neighbor, without a determined Design against his Purse and his Property. It is not, to relieve the Mind after hard Application to other more severe and useful Pursuits, or to divert and trifle away an idle Hour, that the Gambler plays, —but it is wholly with a View to get Money; -— and the more he wins from his Neighbor, his Friend, or his very Brother, the more is he pleased, and the better are his Ends answered; so that, in Mind at least, we are evidently guilty of hurting our Neighbor, as we design and endeavor to gain from him his Necessaries and Conveniences of Life.

AND indeed, it were well, if it stopped there, and went no farther than a bare Desire and Intention of Mind. I am afraid it is constantly led on and brought into Act, and too often settles into a fixed Habit of Fraud and Knavery. For that Man must certainly be an extraordinary Person, who can be forever hankering after and eager for his Neighbor’s Goods, and yet keep himself from all dishonest Arts and fraudulent Practices towards obtaining.

Rev. Stith points out that gambling is hard to resist and will lead to more sin against our Neighbor, “downright Stealing and Robbery”.  Gambling becomes a way of ‘life’. In addition to breaking the 10th Commandment, others are broke as well,  such as, the 5th and 7th Commandments, Thou shalt not murder and Thou shalt not steal. Gambling can result in “Dueling and Murder”, “Despair and Distraction of the Ruin and Beggary upon their families. Yet, even worse, gambling,

 “…has sometime carried the unhappy Wretches to that highest and most horrid of all Crimes, the Sin of Self-Murder; and has them rush wildly into the Presence of Almighty GOD, with all their Sins and Iniquities fresh upon them, without a Possibility of redeeming their Conduct by a future Repentance and Amendment”

Next installment:  Gambling as Sin against our Country.

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Text:  St. Luke 8: 26-39

The Law imprisons us by showing us our sin.  If we think we can free ourselves from our wrong and our fallen human nature, then we are just rattling the prison bars.  All those movies with a jailed man rattling the prison bars, crying out, Warden, I want the Warden, I’m innocent.  You know they’re not. But when the Lord shows us in the Law that we have only been rattling our cages, He came to free us as He did the man from Gerasenes.

Two groups in the Gospel lesson for today:  the legion of the demons and the townspeople.  The demons beg Jesus, “…not to command them to depart into the abyss”. The demons don’t want to depart into the abyss, or hell. The townspeople asked Jesus to depart from them, “…for they were seized with great fear”.  The townspeople want Jesus to depart from them, for they were afraid of Him as He is the end of the world. But the man whom the Lord had freed by His Word alone, begged Jesus to stay.  Neither the demons nor the townspeople wanted Jesus to stay and abide with them.  The demons begged Jesus to leave and the freed man begged Jesus to stay. The choice is so clear: hell…and not heaven. The abyss or Jesus.   Jesus is our  spirit-uality alone. His grace,His peace,His freedom, His righteousness alone saved the man with the legion of demons.

Controlling evil in this world is like the Gerasene townspeople control attempts. They kept the man “..under guard and bound with (him) with chains and shackles”, but he would ‘break the bonds”.  The demons gave him supernatural strength…or what appears to be supernatural strength. “Oh, I have a powerful thirst”. “I could eat a horse”.  Those are minor examples of desire which morphs into lust, uncontrollable lust. I want more and more and the intensity by which a man goes after his lusts can seem superhuman and are applauded in our culture.  Greed, lust, envy, covetousness, run amok. And even with chains and shackles can we stop human nature?  Even imprisoned, in maximum security, in solitary confinement, without a whore in sight, no drugs within reach, with no money to spend and a place to spend it, is such a man still a sinner?  The Law can politically lock him and prevent evil externally and do so in everyday life but to free and to save is the Lord’s alone to do…but internally, that is in the soul?  No one ever became good by an act of Congress.  Man even rejoices in evil.  As this theologically correct, yet scary, rock anthem has it:

No stop signs, speed limit
Nobody’s gonna slow me down
Like a wheel, gonna spin it
Nobody’s gonna mess me around
Hey Satan, paid my dues
Playing in a rocking band
Hey mama, look at me
I’m on my way to the promised land, whoo!

I’m on the highway to hell
Highway to hell
I’m on the highway to hell
Highway to hell

Don’t stop me

What man does not do, or stop to do,  in order to fill himself! And the Lord says Stop! and shows us the way to heaven in Christ Jesus.   

The man, who for “…a long time” was naked, not lived in the house but among the tombs, reminded me of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings. Gollum wore no clothes, had not lived in a house for decades,  living in desolate and dead lands and caves, and most food disgusted him as he liked to eat living creatures “warm and wiggly”.  Why?  He was insatiable to have the ring of power and he could exhibit tremendous strength in fighting for his lust, hitting, scratching and biting. What is the demonic but Gollum, lust let loose and yet imprisoned thinking that the ring will free him:  the depths of hell till the Law shows us we have been rattling the bars and only the Lord in His perfect forgiveness, by His blood cures the fever in our blood.

Our fatal will to equal Thee,
Our rebel will wrought death and night. We seized and used in prideful spite
Thy wondrous gift of liberty.
We housed us in this house of doom,
Where death had royal scope and room
Until Thy servant, Prince of Peace, breached all its walls for our release.

Thou camest to our hall of death,
O Christ, to breathe our poisoned air, to drink for us the dark despair
That strangled our reluctant breath.
How beautiful the feet that trod
The road that leads us back to God! How beautiful the feet that ran
To bring the great good news to man!

O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth”, Lutheran Service Book #834

Now a subtext in Lord of the Rings is Frodo’s relationship with Gollum. Frodo was empathetic to Gollum’s plight, as Frodo also was beginning to know the devastating effect of the ring of lust on his heart, soul and mind. Frodo held out hope that Gollum could be freed and remember his real name, Smeagol.  But Sam-wise Gamgee  thought differently. Frodo held out compassion and empathy to Gollum, as Gandalf had rightly instructed him.   Frodo could not free Gollum.  Frodo could not save him. Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people! 

How beautiful the feet that trod
The road that leads us back to God! How beautiful the feet that ran
To bring the great good news to man!

In the previous lesson, Jesus says to His disciples that He wanted to cross the Sea of Galilee and when they do a storm arises.  In this dramatic lesson, Jesus stills the storm, He silences the chaos of the deep. And as soon as He sets on shore in Gerasene, he is met by the man with the legion of demons. It was a plan, the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. He came to free the man and you.

This lesson ends with peace, the Lord’s peace which He gives not as the world gives. What does the Lord’s peace look like?  I think we have an icon of the Lord’s peace in today’s Gospel lesson.  When the Lord freed the man from Gerasenes from the legion of demons, the contrast could not have been greater. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.  Freed from sin, death and the power of the devil, ever abiding in Christ, even when He is not physically near.

  • Sitting at the feet of Jesus:  38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. St. Luke 10: 38-39 1 Peter 2:2  Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.
  • Clothed: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. What does our christening garb look like? 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. As Christians, the Lord continues to teach us how to dress and put on Christ.
  • In his right mind:  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12: 2 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Philippians 2   Our mind set on the Lord, not our selves. 

The demons were afraid of Jesus because they knew Who He is and what He could do to them.  The Gerasenians were also afraid of Jesus because of what He did for that poor man, freeing him from the demonic and the man and Jesus were right then and there the Church, the temple of the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father. The Gerasenians were afraid because they beheld the Kingdom of God come into their midst, a foreign land in this dark demonic world. In the summer, we hear about people going to foreign countries and cities, maybe our churches are like foreign countries, that is, an outpost of the Kingdom of God. Church should not be like going to a mall or a movie theater with a little religion and religious advice thrown in, in order to adjust ourselves to the world. Or as a Christian wrote in a letter about his fellow Christians:  “Every foreign land is their home, and every home a foreign land” (from the Letter to Diognetus, 2nd century).

The Lord has given us a right mind, a transformed one, a mind which is sane.  Maybe the time is here when so much madness is let loose, when pandemonium is about (“pan: all; demonium: the demons”), they will go after those in their right minds, crying he’s mad! He must be chained and put in bonds. 

We are called and restored by our Lord to our right minds, clothed in Him alone at His feet…and obeying His command to the man,  “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.  Did the man only tell about his being freed from the legion of demons? That would have been enough, but once the Lord has broken into our prisons to free us, maybe the man began to see by faith of all the Lord has done in creating, redeeming and sanctifying him.

O Spirit, who didst once restore
Thy church that it might be again the bringer of good news to men,
Breathe on Thy cloven Church once more,
That in these gray and latter days
There may be those whose life is praise, each life a high doxology
To Father, Son and unto Thee.

“O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth”, Lutheran Service Book #834

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