Archive for April, 2020

Paperback God in the Dock; Essays on Theology and Ethics Book

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”― C.S. LewisGod in the Dock: Essays on Theology (Making of Modern Theology)

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Vincent van Gogh - Shepherd with flock of sheep

I was reviewing a couple of my past Good Shepherd Sunday sermons, and one of them had the quote below by Pastor Klemet Preus, LCMS. Considering that this faithful pastor died in 2014, the timeliness of this citation was quite overwhelming as we are staggering through the Wuhan virus lock downs at our homes, and congregations also been in lock down and have been live streaming worship services:

“If the Divine Service is viewed primarily as our praising God, then you can do that just as well from home. In fact, once we have looked at the topic of vocation, you will see that we can serve God better in the world than in the church building. But if the service is understood as God giving us the forgiveness of sins, then you’ve got to be there. It is very possible that the low attendance at Sunday services seen in so many churches today is a reflection of how we define the service. If I am acting, then I can do it another time.  But if it is God who acting, then I better be there.” (Pr. Klemet Preus) 

It seems to me that so much in post-modern American church life has prepared us for the relative ease by which we have accepted at home worship. As Pr. Preus wrote, if the Liturgy is primarily about “our praising God”, then we can do that anywhere, from home. All the Proper Prefaces for the Liturgy of Holy Communion begin thus: “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father through Jesus Christ, our Lord…” Yes, we can pray and praise the Lord anywhere and this is meet, right and salutary so to do and we should and can so pray to the Lord (for instance, see 1 Thessalonians 5:17); but it is only when the Lord, the Good Shepherd, gathers His flock, typically on the Lord’s Day, Sunday (in Spanish, Domingo), at His Table that He has prepared in the face of our enemies (see Psalm 23), are we fed and watered by God’s almighty Word. He gives us what He has promised: His grace, mercy and peace for sheep who go astray everyone to his own way (!), see Isaiah 53). We need the strength of the Lord in His flock, the communion of the saints, for our vocations and joys and struggles in our various vocations, in the week ahead so to pray at all times and in all places! The Divine Service is not about our praising God first, but the Lord giving us His gifts, His Word of Law and Promise in His Words (the Bible, and flowing out of the Word: sermon, Christian education) and the blessed Sacraments of Holy Communion and Holy Baptism. Further, we need the conversation and consolation of the brethren for encouragement and communion. The Lord’s flock means we are called and need to, well, flock together!

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Pin on Icons - Feasts

From Pr. Johann Gerhard’s Sermon on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24):

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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St. Mark, The Evangelist

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, You have enriched Your Church with the proclamation of the Gospel through the evangelist Mark.  Grant that we may firmly believe these glad tidings and daily walk according to Your Word;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord,who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10 Psalm 146  2 Timothy 4: 4-18  St. Mark 16: 14-20

Bio:  St. Mark was the author of the second Gospel, which he composed, according to some Early Church Fathers, when the Christians in Rome asked him to write down the preaching of the apostle Peter. Mark, also known as John Mark, was originally from Jerusalem, where the house of his mother Mary was the center of the early Jerusalem Church (Acts12:12). He was brought from Jerusalem by Paul and Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 12:25), and it was from this city that they set out on the first missionary journey. When Paul and Barnabas were preparing to go on the second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them again, but Paul objected because Mark had left them during the first journey. Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus, while Paul took Silas as his new companion (Acts 15:37-40). Later, Paul reconciled with Mark and was working with him again (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11). Finally, Mark was found laboring with Peter in Rome (1 Peter 5:13). Tradition says that Mark was instrumental in founding the Church in Alexandria, becoming its first bishop, and, also that he suffered a martyr’s death. (from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Early non-Biblical Attestation to the Authorship of St. Mark from Papias (early first third of the 2nd Century):

We shall add, as being a matter of primary importance, a tradition regarding Mark who wrote the Gospel, which [Papias] has given in the following words: “And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterward, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the needs [of his listeners], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. That is why Mark made no mistake when he wrote these things as he remembered them. Above all else, he took special care not to omit anything he had heard and not to put anything fictitious into what he wrote.”—Fragments of Papias, a bishop of the early Church)

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

St. Mark alone uses a pointed verb for both our Lord’s Baptism and when the curtain of the temple divided. From this Greek verb,  σχίζω, schiso, we derived our word, “schism”.  The heaven were ripped asunder when Jesus came up out the Jordan and the Holy Spirit descended as a dove.  The temple curtain was likewise torn, ripped-asunder.  The Temple curtain was, as seen below, a large curtain between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.  The Holy of Holies held in the first temple, the Ark of the Covenant. Only the great High Priest, properly cleansed by sacrifices and ablutions, could enter into the Holy of Holies once a year, on the Day of Atonement.  Knowing these facts, the Book of Hebrews  is understood in its many references to Jesus as the High Priest, e.g.:

when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9)

Jesus, the great High Priest, did not need to be made holy and offer sacrifice for the sin of the world, yours and mine, as He is the Holy One of God who offered Himself as the Sacrifice, once and for all, so that  by faith through grace He makes us holy.

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5)

When  the temple curtain which is the final barrier that separates God’s people from his immediate presence is torn open, the Kingdom of God is open to all believers (see the Te Deum Laudamus in Matins).  In Jesus’ Baptism, the wall of separation is violently ripped open. Jesus is baptized unto the death. The tearing open of the heavens is an expression of God’s desire to be at one with humanity, with you and I, as well as a vivid picture of the price that would have to be paid. “Mark would have us know our Lord’s entire ministry is a passion story, whereby he tears open the curtain of separation between God and man, and ensuring an everlasting Yom Kippur, that is, a Day of Atonement.” (Dr. David Scaer). 

On the Eve of the Festival of St. Mark, thirty-seven years ago, I was ordained into the Holy Ministry of the Church.  Maybe the main directive for every pastor is to show people and God’s people the open door to heaven by and through teaching and preaching the Word of God, and the right administration of the Sacraments. The goal of every Christian is to show people to the church door, through which, the Lord said He is present in His Word and in His Sacraments.  As Jesus said, I am the door of the sheep.  When we say to someone, Let me show you door, it is a rebuke to tell the person to get out.  In Christ, when a pastor says, let me show you the Door, he is guiding you to the gate of eternal life with the door marked with His own blood.  

15 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron. (Psalm 107)

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Learning in War-Time by C. S. Lewis – TheWeeFlea.com

Because of a recent article in The Federalist, I read this morning, “Learning in War Time” by C. S. Lewis. “Learning in War Time” was originally a sermon he preached in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, Autumn, 1939. You can find the sermon here. It’s about the necessity of college continuing even during a world war. Lewis wondered, given that a student might not finish university because a student might be called up, even die, should one even begin a course of studies during the “great war”. Lewis also queried in the wider understanding of life and death, that is, eternity, for the Christian student:

He must ask himself how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology

He answers this legitimate concern, and when you read “European War”, think of corona virus:

If human culture can stand up to that, it can stand up to anything. To admit that we can retain our interest in learning under the shadow of these eternal issues, but not under the shadow of a European war, would be to admit that our ears are closed to the voice of reason and very wide open to the voice of our nerves and our mass emotions.

Lewis continued and again, as you read “war”, read corona virus:

This indeed is the case with most of us: certainly with me. For that reason I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective, The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life”. Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of cries, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never come. Periclean Athens leaves us not only the Parthenon but, significantly, the Funeral Oration. The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumable they have their reward. Men are different.They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffold, discuss, the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.

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God’s Earth Day

Image may contain: sky, mountain, cloud, tree, outdoor and nature, possible text that says '"While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." Genesis 8: 22 imaflip cum'

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
    the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
    and established it upon the rivers. Psalm 24: 1-2

50 years ago today was the first Earth Day. I was a junior in high school and promoted the first Earth Day. The goal was and still as conservation of our natural resources and to stop polluting the water and sky. At my encouragement my Mom stopped buying laundry detergent with phosphates. We can see what can happen when the Lord is excised from His earth. I still believe in conservation but conservation of the earth has devolved into pagan worship of the earth: see this recent article in TeenVogue. As if earth is our Mother but the earth is not our mother. God is our Creator and Father, not the earth. As G. K. Chesterton wrote:

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity. Nature was a solemn mother to the worshipers of Isis and Cybele. Nature was a solemn mother to Wordsworth or to Emerson. But Nature is not solemn to Francis of Assisi or to George Herbert. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.”

The mere pursuit of health always leads to something unhealthy. Physical nature must not be made the direct object of obedience; it must be enjoyed, not worshiped. Stars and mountains must not be taken seriously. If they are, we end where the pagan nature worship ended. Because the earth is kind, we can imitate all her cruelties. Because sexuality is sane, we can all go mad about sexuality. Mere optimism had reached its insane and appropriate termination. The theory that everything was good had become an orgy of everything that was bad.

We even think we could destroy the earth. Yes, we theoretically can but the Lord won’t let that happen, as the Genesis text in the meme above attests. Neither can we do with the earth only according to our whims and we can see the results of that as well: pollution. The Lord will bring all creation to an end in His time and with that Day, He will judge the living and the dead and bring in the new creation in Christ. Our role is as caretakers. But once the Lord is removed from the picture, we become lords and the Teenvogue article linked above is just one example of where we have landed: sheer paganism and an orgiastic society. This is what happens when the Lord is not acknowledged. We can see this in the Old Testament and today.

James Luther Mays has this cogent commentary on Psalm 24: 1:

The declaration concerns everything in the world and everyone who lives in it. Because the inhabitants of the world depend on it for existence, they are included in the ownership of the LORD. The LORD owns the world, says the confession, because it is his work. His work is described as a founding and establishing on seas and rivers. The description is creation language that speaks of the world as the product of an ordering power who provides stable and reliable existence out of formless and unstable chaos…

The declaration that the LORD is owner is an intentional denial that anyone else is. In Israel’s culture the denial was directed against any deity, such as Marduk, for whom similar claims of sovereign possession were made in Babylon. It relativized the claims of human rulers and entrepreneurs whose ownership of parts of the world always tended to absolutize itself…What the confession excludes in the modern world must be made clear by the congregation who profess it. It excludes any scientism that takes the world to be merely the result of inexplicable and purposeless causes. It raises questions about every tendency of human beings to absolutize ownership. To whom do we think practically and operationally the world belongs? To a roster of nations? To the state? To corporations? To whoever has money to get title to pieces of it? The confession qualifies every conceivable answer to such questions (emphasis added).

And I add fanatical environmentalists.

Remember the purpose of the Lord’s earth is not our worship of it, but to sustain our bodily life, also part of the Lord’s creation. So, enjoy the Lord’s good creation. Break the quarantine and go outside. Plant a flower even if where you are, buying the seed is illegal! See what the Lord has done and rejoice in His creation and take care of creation as Adam was called to do so.

Let us pray…

Almighty God, You bless the earth to make it fruitful, bringing forth in abundance whatever is needed for the support of our lives. Prosper the work of farmers and all those who labor to bring food to our table. Grant them seasonable weather that they may gather in the fruits of the earth in abundance and proclaim Your goodness with thanksgiving; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.


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Yom Hashoah - Community Synagogue of Rye

This day is for the remembering of the 6,000,000 Jews who were killed in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Christians must remember.

During World War II, in the French mountains, the Huguenot town of Le Chambon lived the Gospel. This town of 5,000 Huguenots saved the lives of 5,000 Jewish children from genocide. Mr Pierre Sauvage filmed a documentary about the town of Le Chambon. Mr. Sauvage was born in the town and his life saved in Le Chambon. This clip from the documentary may have something to say to Christians in 21st Century America:

The question is asked, why did the holocaust happen? Related is the question, why did so few Christians try to stop it? But another question seldom asked, Why did many Christians risk their lives saving Jews? In an essay entitled, “Where are you, Adam?”, by Rabbi Marc Gellman,  among the many cogent Torah-centered observations, gives this as an answer to the last question I asked. It really gets down to it, will we obey God rather than men? (see Acts 5: 29)

In The Altruistic Personality, their book about Christians who saved Jews during the Holocaust, Samuel and Pearl Oliner asked what distinguished the rescuers from the majority who did nothing, or were complicit. Their conclusion was that they were not distinguished by educational level or by political views or even by attitudes towards Jews. They were, however, different in two critical respects: they were strongly connected to communities that had straightforward and unsophisticated understandings of right and wrong, and they had a powerful sense of moral agency and shame. They said over and over again in interviews that they could not have lived with themselves—and many said they could not have answered before God—if they had not done what they had done. The righteous gentiles of the Holocaust came from communities and families that had prepared the way for their courage by teaching them how to feel shame and therefore virtue and courage. In this country those same institutions are often preparing the way for moral relativism and cowardice by teaching that nobody really knows what is right and what is wrong, so what the hell.

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Promise | "While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." Genesis 8: 2 | image tagged in holy bible,genesis,noah's ark | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

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The Epistle Reading for yesterday in from Hebrews 12: 1-24 wherein we are reminded of two Biblical mountains: Sinai and Zion. There are many significant mountains but Sinai and Zion top the list but also a mountain inbetween, more of hill: Golgotha. On these mountains the Lord teaches us.

From this Mountain, we know we sin. On Mt. Sinai, the LORD God came down and gave His Ten Commandments (Exodus 19).  The scene was terrifying. The LORD told Moses, “Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.” Indeed!  Can you climb this mountain by keeping God’s Law to reach the top? When we are found out in a sin, say a lie, we are like deer caught in headlights!  We are frozen, DEAD in our tracks. The Law is but a mirror bright to bring the inbred sin to light.  “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7: 24)

From this Mountain, we know our Savior from sin. A young man asked a pastor, “Since we are all climbing up the same mountain to God, aren’t all religions the same?”  By no means!  The inerrant Scriptures are clear:  This is the Lord Who came down from the mountain for us in our flesh. No other religion can so teach!  Climbing up Sinai makes Mt. Everest a snap to climb!  Since we can’t reach the top, the Lord came down all the way: first in a manger, a feeding trough (Luke 2:12)  He went even lower:  On Golgotha, the place of the Skull, He went into death on the Cross to bear our sin and be our Savior, so as He is risen, He can raise you up.

To the eternal Mountain, your Savior leads you. The Lord lead us to Mt. Zion, His Church, His Body ( 1 Corinthians 12)  where He gives us Himself in the preaching and teaching of His Word and in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Don’t we have to make the first step to follow Him?  Did Lazarus make the first step out of the tomb on his own?!  “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10: 17) The word of Christ is for your forgiveness, peace and salvation, delivered for you in His Church.

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Petition · Political Parties: Boycott 'Made in China' products in ...

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, in the February 1997 edition of his journal, First Things, wrote about boycotting China. Please read this piece. Little has changed in 23 YEARS since Fr. Neuhaus wrote about this. Isn’t it about time that Americans fully engage in boycotting Chinese goods? At lease this time around, we have a President who knows about China and warned us about this before he was elected. Our vote does not matter to the Communists, but our dollars do. Christians should not be supporting a tyrannical regime of Godless Communism which keeps secret viruses that kill (as just one example!) and at our expense, both private dollars and federal dollars support a regime that kills Christians and Muslims:

“It was a handsome coffee mug in the bookstore of a university I was visiting, and I had my money out when I noticed on the bottom, “Made in China.” No thanks. My gesture will make no discernible difference to U.S. businesses exploiting slave labor, but one must do something.

A. M. (Abe) Rosenthal is a real bulldog on the subject and keeps coming back to it in his column in the Times of the Big Bagel (as Taki of Spectator notoriety calls our town). A recent column begins, “America at election time: two Chamberlains and not a Churchill in sight.” A touch of hyperbole? Not really. What China is doing to its own people and Tibet—and is probably getting ready to do in Hong Kong—is monstrous. Recent months have witnessed a renewed and massive crackdown on Christians, Protestant and Catholic, but few here seem to take notice. Clinton had promised to do his peaceful best to address human rights violations in China, but on May 28, 1993, he abandoned that promise, fatuously claiming that economic engagement with China would improve the lot of everyone. Some thought it reminiscent of Reagan’s “constructive engagement” with South Africa under apartheid, but the parallel does not hold. A good case was made at the time, and it is strengthened in retrospect, that constructive engagement did contribute to the toppling of the apartheid regime. Not so with China. Rosenthal writes,

“From that day in May when Mr. Clinton publicly and without apparent shame canceled his own promise to use tariff pressure for human liberties, there was no doubt what would happen. The incarceration and torture meted out to dissidents in China increased. So did China’s military strength and influence abroad.”

Many of the biggest enterprises in China are in fact owned by the military, and there is no shortage of documentation that the regime is brazenly using U.S. contracts to build up its military, while insisting that nobody has a right to “interfere” in its internal affairs. And of course corporations argue that, if the U.S. was not getting the trade, other countries would. Some of us are still of the quaint view that America should be different, and should be willing to pay a price for it. Rosenthal again: “At least the Communists are true to their own principles and system. Repression is the government’s bloodstream. Tens of millions have sweated their lives away in slave labor camps. Thousands of political prisoners are still incarcerated.” I don’t feel righteous about doing without that mug, but with it I know the morning coffee would get the day off to a sleazy start. For further grist for the mills of your intercessory prayer, you might send for “Anthems of Defeat” (Asia Watch, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017).

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