Archive for August, 2019

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From Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis, Volume 3 of Luther’s Works (CPH, 1961):

Other sins — such as wrathfulness, impatience, and drunkenness — naturally bring shame because of their foulness. Those who indulge in them know that they have sinned. Consequently, they blush. But vainglory[1]and trust in one’s own wisdom or righteousness is a sin of such a kind that it is not recognized as a sin. Instead, men thank God it, as the Pharisee does in the Gospel (Luke 18:9-14); they rejoice it as in an extraordinary gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is an utterly incurable and devilish evil.

From this evil God preserved saintly Abraham by subjecting the glorious conqueror (see Genesis 14) to such an affliction that it is necessary to comfort him with a divine word. Although, as I have said, the nature of the trial is not certain, yet the circumstances prove that it was so severe that Abraham was utterly disheartened.

Perhaps Abraham was troubled about his offspring, as his words indicate. God had promised him the land of Canaan and an eternal blessing; but since Sarah was barren, and the hope of children was almost entirely denied, he thought: “Why is it that God, who is so merciful toward you, does not give you a son? Perhaps you have offended Him, and He has changed His mind.”

I dare not maintain that this was the affliction. Accordingly, I am going along with the general rule: that God makes His saints sad again after they have been gladdened, lest they become proud and smug; that after they have been made alive, He leads them down to hell, in order that He may lead them back from there. But if our surmise as to the specific and individual nature of the affliction now under consideration is not correct, we are not in error with regard to the general pattern.

The words “Fear not, Abram” are absolutely clear. They show the saintly man did have great fear and the very affliction of mistrust.  Otherwise why would God add: “I am your Shield; your shall be very great”? Therefore, Abraham thought: “Perhaps has chosen someone else, since He will fulfill this promise; and knows whether this very victory is everything He has promised you?”

When God withdraws His hand, the flesh creates for itself an odd dialectic and rhetoric. Against these battering-rams, so to speak, with which Abraham’s heart is pounded the Lord erects three grand bulwarks: “Fear not, Abraham, I am your Shield, your reward shall be very great” (Gen.15: 1)

[1] Definition of vainglory. 1 : excessive or ostentatious pride especially in one’s achievements. 2 : vain display or show : vanity.

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Appointed Scripture Readings: Genesis 15:1-6 Psalm 33: 12-22 Hebrews 11:1-16  The Holy Gospel: St. Luke 12:22-40

Text for this Sermon: “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

All Scripture is divided into Law and Promise.  By His Law, the Lord commands us the way we are to live. By His Promise and promises, the Lord gives us His life to live. Genesis 15: 1 is promise.  Promise or Gospel is not only in the New Testament but in the Old Testament as well.  The Lord gave His precious promise to Abram, I am your shield and with the promise of reward: Abram will be the father of many nations. This is the first time in the Bible, and in the first person, the only time Lord says, “I am your shield.” Of the 76 times the word shield(s) is used, 26 of those times it is in reference to the Lord.  This first time, which is the only time the Lord says it about Himself personally is to one of His chosen, Abram (Abraham). The Lord said it to Abram one to one so that, by the word of the Lord, the Lord would make faith in Abram:  I am your shield.

The Lord said first, Fear not. “Fear not” is also a precious promise to many: to Israel, to Mary, when an angel appears, when risen Lord appears to His disciples…and the Lord said it twice in today’s Gospel to those anxious and worried about will we have enough to live, be secure. The Lord said to them that He may say it us.

 As in “I am your shield”, this is the first time the Lord said “Fear not” to anyone in the Bible. It is obvious, the Lord knew Abram was fearing.  But why?  At this juncture, Abram had every reason not to fear: in previous chapter,  he had won a great battle and was blessed by the priest of the most high God, Melchizedek, King of Salem, King of Righteousness who brought  bread and wine.  Then he acted righteously and shows  the quality of his character: the King of Sodom wants to give Abram his possessions;  but Abram demurs and faithfully says to Sodom’s King: 

“I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 

Now here in at the beginning of chapter 15, Abram has fear and again, why? He had just won an important battle and was faithful in his response to the King of Sodom:  Abram was on the top.  The clue is Abram’s question:  Will I have a son? The Lord had promised him a son and Abram would become a father of many nations. Having the son of Eliezer did not work and God’s promise was late in coming. It doesn’t take much for things in life to quickly unravel. It only takes one dark cloud on a sunny day to cause fear and trepidation. Throughout the Bible, in our lives, a man is doing well in the Lord’s sight and then something happens, even small, a small doubt.  Paul said he had surpassing visions then the Lord gave him a thorn in the flesh which humbled the Apostle.  Paul could not trust his own good works and the Lord threw Paul back upon the Lord’s steadfast grace and mercy: “My grace is made perfect in weakness”. Abram could not trust his own works to produce an heir, that is the continuation of life, even eternal life, the Lord’s promise to him.  The Lord promises his reward will be great.

After fear not, the Lord said to Abram, He said:  I am your shield. He said to Abram “Fear not” to say the same to us.

The Lord is our shield, and His shield is synonymous with faith. Ephesians 6: 16:  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. 

The Roman soldier’s shield protected him from head to toe.  Arrows were tipped in tar and lit and then shot.  The Roman soldier would soak his shield in water to douse the flaming darts.  This may be a reference to Baptism through which we are washed and faith is given, so that as the Baptized, putting on the shield of faith, in order “… to extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.  The evil one will shoot at you doubt and despair at your inability to withstand your own lusts of eye and heart: “Oh, you’re not a good Christian.  If you really were a Christian, you would not be feeling like this.”  “No, Satan! It is because I am a Christian that I know this and can cry out, I am baptized! Lord, save me!”  You cannot stand up against such, with all your works, except by the shield of faith, the shield given to you by His grace, not by your works (!), as He died and rose for you. (Ephesians 2). 

For many years, probably from the 1950s and on, congregations have been operated and been used as dispensers of spiritual goods: fellowship groups, worship, a Bible study or two, community presence, marriage mills, baptisms without active membership, a place for the local boy scout troop and the like.  A lot of that has gone away and rightly so. The mega-churches have done a great job of ratcheting this up to the maximum utilizing fine-honed tactics and techniques.  All of this has made for atomized congregations who are basically customers who may or may not form friendships with their fellow congregants. Maybe we only had a veneer of unity but not necessarily unity in faith and doctrine, as so many congregations were so busy with programs that the teaching of the promises of God played second fiddle to our busyness. For what it’s worth, years ago I said church was more about programs than promise. Then we became more and more attracted to proving our usefulness to the world, and not wanting to offend the world in order to get them into our services, we allowed for false gods with non-Christian doctrines, just as King Solomon allowed his wives to have their false gods in Jerusalem and the Temple. While we were sleeping, or sleep walking, the enemy came in and sowed bad seed in the ground (see Matthew 13:24-29). We were no longer walking by faith, but by sight.  By sight we look to the works of our hands, and the Lord has a name for that: idolatry.

And we forgot the saints who fought nobly of old.  Today (10 August) is the Commemoration of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr who on this date was martyred in AD 258.  He was a deacon in Rome. The emperor at the time, who thought that the Church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lawrence to produce the ‘treasures of the Church.’ According to tradition, Lawrence brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity. He was then jailed and eventually executed in the year AD 258 by being roasted on a gridiron. This reminds us that gold does not make the Church, only the blood of Christ makes the Church, His Body.

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The Roman soldier in battle was not alone but had to rely on his fellow soldiers. Standing in formation with their shields for combat the soldiers overlapped their shields to help protect their comrade in arms.  When besieging a city, they protected themselves in what they called the “tortoise”, Latin testudo. They would move that way in order to besiege a city. 

We are not alone. We need to close ranks as never before, without giving up true doctrine and practice. I have thought that we don’t need bigger congregations but more congregations, small ones to close ranks.   The Roman soldier would not forsake his vows to Caesar and the Empire. The Roman was always looking toward the protection of Rome.

Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah,  Joseph, Moses, the people of Israel, Rahab the prostitute, Gideon,  Barak,  Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel and the prophets…as listed in Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith, the great cloud of witnesses and their shield was faith.  Did they know the anxieties we are all subject? Would we have enough food on our tables, a roof over our heads and clothes on our back?  Of course.  Faith is not only historical knowledge about the Lord, the Bible and the like, but faith is trust.  Is the Lord trustworthy?  Now sometimes the response to fear, “Oh, don’t be so scared”, is rightly met with bemusement at best. Yet, a child scared of a thunderstorm, or the monsters underneath his bed, and Dad comes in and basically says, Fear not, the child begins to calm down. Dad’s presence is itself an answer.  Why?  Faith, trust in his Father who has a track record of faithfulness.  When our Lord says “Don’t be anxious”, He knows of what He speaks.  He gives examples from creation:

Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 

Does the Lord know something about the ravens and the lilies? Yes, I would think so since He created them and takes care of them, so He cares for us.  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  Sometimes I think I need this verse tattooed on my arm to read daily.  The devil daily shoots the flaming darts of anxiety and anxiousness at us and a lot of that comes from the worldly culture, from TV, the internet, advertisers and the like. anxiety dwells in the heart.  The Roman’s shield was to protect the torso, the heart,the abdomen, all open to attack.  So the Lord knows:

But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 

The Lord redirects us: 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

For Abram was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. We have a city who founder, and foundation is the Lord Himself, Christ Jesus. Let us remain true and steadfast to Christ Jesus and the Kingdom of God, not for our sakes alone, but for the life of the world.

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Abram’s great reward from God was faith in the God of promise, His shield and ours,  and the Lord gave Abraham the child of promise. The Lord redirected Abram to look up at the stars, heaven itself, count the stars. The stars were a sign pointing to the promise as is the bread and the wine as His Body and Blood point to His presence.  Abram never did see Israel and the Church and yet his reward is great. The Son of Abraham came among us full of grace and truth, Jesus Christ.

The One had no where to lay his head who was ever on the move to the Cross, leads us.

The One who was stripped has clothed us in Baptism.

The One who hungered and thirsted feeds us the bread of life.

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Gold does not make the Church, only the blood of Christ makes us into the Church.

Concordia and Koinonia

Gracious Lord, in every age You have sent men and women who have given their lives for the message of  Your Gospel and all the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.  Inspire us with the memory of those martyrs for the Gospel, like Your servant Lawrence, whose faithfulness led them to the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to Your Son’s victory over sin and death, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

About Lawrence: Early in the third century AD, Lawrence, most likely from Spain, made his way to Rome. There he was appointed chief of the seven deacons and was given the responsibility to manage Church property and finances. The emperor at the time, who thought that the Church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lawrence to produce the ‘treasures of the Church.’ According to tradition,  Lawrence brought before the emperor…

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Today’s Gospel lesson for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (8/4/19) is St. Luke 12: 13-21, the Parable of the Rich Fool. Jesus teaches about covetousness and wealth. Dr. Paul Kretzmann in his Commentary on the Bible(1924) observed regarding this Text:

His goods were his god; in them he trusted to bring him happiness and the fulfillment of all his desires. This man, like most rich men, made the mistake of considering the additional wealth an asset, whereas it was a liability. Every dollar that God blesses a person with beyond the actual needs of life for himself and his family is not an asset in God’s sight, but a liability. The prayer of Agur, Prov. 30, 8. 9, is very necessary in our days when the love of money, covetousness, is stalking through the land, sowing dissatisfaction and strife in every station of life. But into the midst of these rosy meditations thundered the voice of God: Fool, man void of sense and understanding, in this night thy life is asked of thee. And the greater reckoning will follow. That which thou hast gathered, whose will it be? But even as foolish are all people that think only of gaining riches for themselves, the goods of this world, neglecting to seek the true wealth, the spiritual, heavenly gifts. (emphasis added)

The Prayer of Agur, Proverbs 30:8-9, is most instructive for us almost a century later. We wink at the sin of adultery in all it’s forms, but we do the same regarding the 1st Commandment and with it greed and covetousness. These verses should often be prayed:

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God.

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St. Luke 12: 15c

Fake Life, Dangerous Life | "...ONE'S LIFE DOES NOT CONSIST IN THE ABUNDANCE OF HIS POSSESSIONS.” | image tagged in truth | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

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A lot of the media buzz after the last two Democrat Party debates was about Marianne Williamson. She spoke about ‘spirituality’ during the debates and our nation’s spiritual problem(s). She has written 13 books, one of which was a best seller. The post-debate media coverage tended to portray her as ‘wacko’, out there and the like, as if Ms.Williamson is on the fringe of religion. She is not. I maintain Ms. Williamson is a purveyor of the new mainstream ‘spirituality’.

This past May, I resigned after serving as the chaplain for our local hospice (paid position) for three years. I began to read about the transformation of the role of hospice chaplain according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association (NHPCO). Our local hospice decided to produce a brochure about their hospice chaplaincy, initially entitled, “Spiritual/Existential Therapist””. I encouraged the brochure committee to drop the word “existential” since most people do not what that word means. They did and so the chaplain was no longer a chaplain but a “spiritual therapist”.

This new job title demonstrates to me that the mainstream understanding of “spiritual” and “spirituality” is the now familiar category of “spiritual, not religious”. Religion is a bad thing but especially Christian religion and particularly orthodox Christian religion. On more than one occasion, I found this out working as a hospice chaplain in our small college town. One example: the director asked me to pray at a public hospice function, I closed with the Aaronic Benedition, Numbers 6: 22-26. The next day the director called me to her office to tell me that a couple of board members were offended by the benediction. I incredulously asked, Why? “It’s not inclusive but exclusive. The use of “God” is okay but not “Lord”. One of the central canons of the new orthodoxy of ‘spirituality’ is inclusivity and with it hard and dogmatic tolerance. All ‘spiritual’ roads leading to ‘god’ are good. This is “nones” spirituality. The new ‘spirituality’ is not centered in the Lord but in you. Marianne Williamson is a mainstream representative of this ‘new’ ‘spirituality’.

One of the Ms. Williamson’s quotes from the debates is:

“If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.”— Marianne Williamson​

There is plausibility in what she said. Bureaucracy and bureaucrats can not solve actual spiritual problems. But who is the problem today? Answer: the President. He has brought up “this dark psychic force of collectivized hatred”– I have read NHPCO literature about spiritual/religious matters and much of it sounds like Ms. Williamson’s convoluted ‘spiritual’ language, newspeak.–Let’s say for argument’s sake, the “dark psychic force” is sin, the sin of anger and hatred which are actual sins. This only means the sin has always been there and maybe the President has shined a light on it. If I shine a flashlight into a dark, old basement and the rats start scurrying, the flashlight did not create those rats or bring them up, conjure them, as Ms. Williamson seems to be saying. She is saying, as the others, if we just get rid of the President, everything will be light and good. I wonder whom else Ms. Williamson and others (!) would want to get rid of for their ‘perfect’ inclusive society? Answer: probably orthodox Christians.

I think President Trump has shined the light of honesty on the dishonest practices of the ruling elite who control mainstream thought in politics, education and many religious groups. For instance, it was said by President Clinton in the ’90s that abortion should be: “safe, legal, and rare”. Sounds good. People bought it because evil likes to lie hidden even in plain sight under the patina of ‘goodness’, lest evil be exposed. Abortion is manifestly safe but not for the child! And not for the spiritual and emotional well being of the mother. It may be legal but it is absolutely immoral. Abortion was and is not rare and the elites did nothing to go toward that goal but the pro-life movement has and this movement is despised by the mainstream elites. I think the rage today comes from evil being exposed to the light of day. “Safe, legal and rare” was and is a lie. So President Trump forcefully talked about the horrors of abortion and the rats went scurrying and they hate it and direct their hatred to the scapegoat in Chief. So Ms. Williamson’s quote are just lies, true spiritual lies. She is as dangerous to the body politic as are the abortionists and socialist/communist candidates because she wants to commit abortion of the soul under the guise of her self-chosen ‘goodness’.

I have put the word “spirituality” in single quotes because in the Holy Bible “spirituality” is Holy-Spirit-ualty that is the Holy Spirit teaching and preaching in the Church Jesus Christ. I think the reason the elites do not want the Name to be spoken is they kind of know that the Lord actually does change people to be His own in His mercy and forgiveness. They resist this because the Old Adam likes wallowing in the self and it’s self-made religion…better the devil you know. Forbidding and/ or not saying the Name of the Lord is as old as the beginnings of the Church: See Acts 5: 28-30. Ms. Williamson’s ‘spirituality’ is the new ‘spirituality’ of religion of the mirror, of Narcissus, always looking into the dank basement of the heart and soul of man without the Lord and then “following your heart”. The devil does not want us to look into glorious face of Jesus Christ but the Lord does! See 2 Corinthians 4:6!

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