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Archive for the ‘Decalogue’ Category

Romans 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (emphasis added)

In the Apostle’s inspired teaching on the role of God’s Law in the Lord’s plan of salvation, Paul makes a keen observation. First, it is self-evident that the “work of the law is written in their hearts”, that is, the Gentiles, which means myself and probably most of you reading this. Second, God’s law is written into the “conscience”. Third, the conscience “bears witness” to the eternal and enduring validity of God’s Law, that is, everyone has a conscience. Fourth, the substance of the witness to God’s Law are the Gentiles’,“…conflicting thoughts that accuse or even excuse them.” It is on that part of the verse I will concentrate.

I remember cartoons which show a character with a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other, as the character’s moral conflict, “conflicting thoughts” to do right or wrong. The actual conflict is the “…conflicting thoughts that accuse or even excuse them”. Everyone thinks and knows what is right as the Law is written into our heart. We know what is right and good but the further conflict is we should do the good, but we do the very thing we hate: see Romans 7: 13-25. The Lord’s spiritual use of His law is to accuse us that we don’t do the good. As the blessed Lutheran Confessors correctly taught: Lex semper accusat, the Law always accuses.

It is also self-evident that the conscience is fallen and in sin from the get-go and cannot stand the accusatory, blazing and penetrating, piercing light of God’s Law, by itself. The conscience cannot tolerate long the spiritual accusation that I must do good but I don’t want to,and I have not and there is, “hell to pay”. So the fallen conscience makes for itself a placebo cure for our conflicting thoughts that we must do God’s Law, “even excuse them”, that is, us. We come up with all sorts of excuses for ourselves and we hear them everyday, from others and ourselves:

“Oh, no one is perfect.”

“Everyone is doing it”

“We all make mistakes.”

“God will understand after all He forgives.”

“It’s not a big thing.”

“No one will notice.”

The excusing may be as simple as the shrug of the shoulders, “Whatever” and equally deadly. Maybe you have your own rendition of excuses. Note that many of the excuses above should have an exclamation mark, so emphatic is the excuse because of the Law’s accusation and our “conflicting thoughts”. The point here is this: they are our excuses trying to soften the Law’s just accusation. The Lord does not excuse us. He is not a self-indulgent Father: “Oh, that’s okay, do better”. There is no wiggle room for the Old Adam under the perfect light of God’s Law. There is no excuse. The Lord does not excuse, He forgives. The Lord does not excuse from the cross. The Holy Spirit points us ever to Jesus Christ.

After excusing ourselves,the next move of the accusing and excusing conscience is pointed to someone else: “Look, look at what that guy did! I’m not that bad!” Pride is always comparison: not only that I am better than the other person, but I am not as bad as my neighbor. As it is written:

Romans 2: 1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

The inner Pharisee lurks and needs to be put to death. It revolves around the self. Every Gentile carries within “a secret miniature of the Last Judgment” (Rev. Prof. Martin Franzmann) and the Lord on “that day”, the day of judgment the Lord will expose the secrets of men. We can not hide from God as Adam and Eve tried to do. He did not shed His blood on the cross to excuse us. There is no escape no matter the fine tuning of the excusing machinations of the conscience, because He judges the sinner… and the only Way out is God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, from the accusing and excusing conscience to the conscience purified (see 1 Peter 3: 21):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

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The Weimar Altarpiece, 1555, by Lucas Cranach the Younger
Please note that Luther and the Reformers wanted to be “seen” in only place at the foot of the Cross in adoration of Jesus Christ as Luther points to the Bible which pointed them and points us to the Lord.

“Some two years ago I wrote a little book on indulgences, which I now deeply regret having published. For at the time I still clung to the Roman tyranny with great superstition and held that indulgences should not be altogether rejected, seeing they were approved by the common consent of men… I beg both booksellers and readers to burn what I have published on that subject.”—Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520

This is the way Martin Luther, a scant 3 years after he posted 95 Theses thought about them.  His 95 Theses were too ROMAN Catholic, not adhering and agreeing to the clear Word of Bible in regards to say, purgatory.  They were not truly catholic which means not Biblical.  “Catholic” literally means “according to whole”, the whole of God’s Holy Word.  It is historically incorrect to say that on October 31st, the Church was reformed.  It may have begun but the real reformation of the holy, catholic and apostolic Church began on June 30th, 1530 when the princes and electors presented to His Serene Majesty, Emperor Charles V, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession.  They, that is the princes and electors along with the confessors of the Faith, Luther, Melancthon, et. al., did not reform the Church:  The Word of God alone did that, does that and will.  Our calling is to preach and teaching His Word as clearly as possible.

On this day, we celebrate all together too much one man, Martin Luther. If you want a fuller article on my appraisal of this day, please read my article Ad Fontes!  Doctrine at Brothers of John the Steadfast.

What was all the fuss about back in the 16th Century that caused a schism?  Answer: Justification.  On this day, justification by grace had not been spelled out. The Lutheran Confessions is why I am a Lutheran and also a catholic.  The Confessions contain Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms which are to be prayed:  The Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, Holy Communion, prayed, meditated upon, taught, in response to Jesus Christ so we may be still and receive His Word for the strengthening of faith.

In my amateur historical understanding, the center of the fuss was over the following article in The Augsburg Confession presented on this day, these 2 sentences caused the furor:

Article IV: Justification.

Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God  by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received  into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rom. 3, 4).

 The papal theologians had been teaching and preaching for too long:  Christ, yes, faith in Him, yes, but Christ plus something else:  works. “We do our best and God does the rest.”  No, we have not done our best and the Law shows us this.  The Gospel, the Lord’s one work of universal (catholic)  salvation in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ means that the whole papal system of rosaries, pilgrimages, indulgences can not save one.   Christ alone has, by grace alone known by Scripture alone in the life of His Church.  Even the Law of God can not save (see Galatians 2:19 Galatians 2:21, Ephesians 2:6-8 ).

The papal church knew Article IV meant the undoing of the system.   When the papal theologians responded to the Augsburg Confession with their Confutation, then Melancthon wrote The Apology of the Augsburg Confession and Melancthon’s apologia (defense) of Article IV, Justification, was the longest. These two sentences summed up, not the faith of the Reformers, but the faith as taught, preached and written in the Bible.  These two sentences undermined the institutional church’s hegemony on the lives of catholics/Christians with a system of works, obligatory works to gain salvation.  

The Reformers presented on this day their Confession, based soundly  upon the Scripture and the 3 Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles, Nicene and Athansasian), that salvation in Jesus Christ is sheer gift for sinners who can not attain heaven by anything we can ever do.  The Fathers at Augsburg began this Confession of the catholic Church with the Creeds to demonstrate that Justification is the key of Scripture and had been taught and preached and administered since the Apostles through all the ensuing centuries, but lost and forgotten by the papal church.

 Further, the Reformers were as catholic as Augustine was in the teaching of justification in Christ alone.  The Confessors at Augsburg were not really trying to “change” the Church, or leave the Church, but change it back to the way it was according to the Gospel.  It was a conservative reformation. They did not want to start a new church, as did Calvin and Zwingli.  The orthodox confessional Church is catholic.  It was a reformation not a revolution, yet this conservative reformation had revolutionary aspects for a tradition that confused itself as the truth, both Roman Catholic and Protestantism:

The Lutheran Church has not the slightest theological interest in this antithesis between Catholicism and Protestantism. It does not know to which side it belongs. If only there were a clear-cut contradiction between true and false doctrine in the antithesis! But this does not happen to be the case. For there are heresies in Protestantism which are just as dangerous as those of Catholicism. Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Anthanasius and Irenaeus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation.For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. (Here We Stand (1932) by Rev. Hermann Sasse, Lutheran theologian and professor, at the time publication at the University of Erlangen)

This lively iconographic image shows Word and Sacraments, the Preaching of Christ and Him crucified, freely given rein by the Word for the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people for their faith and faith active in love.

Let us pray…

Lord God, heavenly Father, You preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg. Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; 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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This posting is a follow-up to the previous one regarding Lucas Cranach the Elder‘s painting, “The Allegory of Law and Grace“.

There is not one painting with the theme of Law and Grace by Lucas Cranach the Elder, but many paintings and in addition his drawings and woodcuts on the same theme.  This theme was so popular that another German artist, Hans Holbein the Younger painted the same allegory.

Lucas Cranach and his family were friends of the Luthers.  Their friendship in Christ is most likely responsible for the differences between two paintings of the theme Law and Grace by the artist.  Note the differences below.  The first one is the earlier Prague painting, the next one is the later Gotha painting.  What are the differences?  

“Prague”

“Gotha” Type

Let’s first look at the less obvious change.  In the “Prague” painting, on the Law side we see depicted a group of tents in the background illustrating the narrative of the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:8-10  ) which our Lord used to describe His Messianic role, see John 3:13-15 Note that in the second painting the “Gotha” panel it has been moved into the Gospel side.  John Dillenberger in his book, Images and Relics in the time of the Reformation and the Renaissance, notes the high probability, given the friendship between Cranach and Luther that Cranach  made this change of  depiction, because Cranach had bee more fully catechized by Dr. Luther.  But why the change?

 Luther did not distinguish between law and gospel in terms of Old Testament and New Testament, for there was law in the New Testament, and gospel in the Old. The other subjects fell easily into either the Old or New Testament divisions. But law and gospel did not easily fall into one or the other testament, thus requiring a decision. The scene of the serpents that devoured the people, who then were saved by their looking at the elevated serpent, is recorded in the Old Testament; but it is actually the symbol of grace. The church had interpreted the serpent being lifted up as a prefiguration of Christ having been lifted up. Luther, looking at the Cross, could…speak of the “brazen serpent Christ,” thereby showing his radical reading of the Old Testament from a Christological perspective.[1]

A correction on the quote above:  the Church did not interpret the bronze serpent being lifted up as a prefiguration of Christ’s crucifixion, no, Christ did! Again, Luther did not come up with “his radical reading of the Old Testament” from the perspective of the accomplishment of salvation in Jesus Christ  (“christological”) on his own.  St. Augustine centuries earlier said that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. This unity of Testaments in Jesus Christ is inherent in the texts of both Old and New Testaments,  Dillenberger is right on target, though, that the notion that the OT   equals Law and NT equals Gospel/Grace is incorrect.

Now to the obvious difference in the paintings:  the Man, that is Adam, in the earlier painting is smack dab in the middle.  In the later painting, he is on both sides. Dillenberger in the quote above correctly wrote that the earlier painting suggests a decision by Adam as to which side he wants to be in.  Indeed, Luther may just have corrected his friend!

“…the Gotha panel becomes the norm, perhaps because it was closer to what Luther meant. It provided a picture of the ramifications of law and gospel for each person, rather than a demand that either law or gospel be accepted.[2]

It sure looks like in the earlier panel Adam, that is all of us, needs to make our decision for Christ.  The panel of the Law shows the depth of sin, death and the power of the devil.  Only the spiritual use of the Law, showing us our sin, can we know the depths. First, given the graphic illustration of the Law, it’s a “no brainer” as to a decision!  But even so the Old Adam tenaciously will hold onto the “dearest souvenirs of hell”(C. S. Lewis). And the subtle serpent will not present himself so baldy, but in disguise as “light”. We can not make the move by our decision from the left panel to the right panel:  only the Lord can and has through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel does the Holy Spirit literally transfer us from Law to Grace:

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14/ emphasis my own)

So that, we are not under Law but under grace:

 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6: 13-14)

The Law is necessary in the second panel to show us our sin and point us ever to our Savior lifted up on the Cross, so we do not present our “members” as instruments for unrighteousness, but      “…to God as instruments for righteousness”, because as the Apostle plainly states, “SINCE,  you are not under law but under grace.” (emphasis my own).  Luther posted his 95 Theses on purpose on the eve of All Saints Day, November 1.  The second painting depicts more closely the Scripture and the verses cited.  It is a wonderful reminder not only of God’s grace in Jesus Christ but the power of His overwhelming  Sacrifice which alone, ALONE transfers us  in His rule and reign, saints by grace, not our works, so that by His grace we will produce fruit pleasing in His sight. So note, the tree in the middle is fruitless on the law side, but fruitful unto salvation in Jesus. 

By grace! None dare lay claim to merit;
Our works and conduct have no worth.
God in His love sent our Redeemer,
Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth;
His death did for our sins atone,
And we are saved by grace alone

Blessed Reformation Day and All Saints Day!


[1] Pages 98-100, Images and Relics by John Dillenberger (Oxford University Press, 1999)

[2] Page 100, ibid

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Lessons:  Acts 16: 11-40;  Acts 9: 36-43;  Romans 16: 1-2

Prayer 

 Filled with thy Holy Spirit, gracious God, thine earliest disciples served Thee with the gifts each had been given: Lydia in business and stewardship, Dorcas in a life of charity and Phoebe as a deaconess who served many. Inspire us today to build up Thy Church with our gifts in hospitality, charity and bold witness to the Gospel of Christ;  who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

These women were exemplary Christians who demonstrated their faith by their material support of the Church. Dorcas (also known as Tabitha) was well-known and much loved for her acts of charity in the city of Joppa, especially for her making clothes for the poor. When Dorcas died suddenly, the members of her congregation sent to the neighboring city of Lydda for the Apostle Peter, who came and raised her from the dead (Acts 9:36–41). Lydia was a woman of Thyatira, who worked at Philippi selling a famous purple dye that was so much in demand in the ancient world. She was also a “worshiper of God” at the local synagogue. When the Apostle Paul encountered her in prayer among other proselyte women, his preaching of the Word brought Lydia to faith in Christ. She and her friends thus became the nucleus of the Christian community in Philippi (16:13–15, 40). Phoebe was another faithful woman associated with the Apostle Paul. She was a deaconess from Cenchrae (the port of Corinth) whom Paul sent to the church in Rome with his Epistle to the Romans. In it he writes of her support for the work of the early Church (Rom 16:1).

One can say that in Christianity the extraordinary has become ordinary, but also the ordinary has become extraordinary, usual unusual, the common uncommon,that what all do has been transformed into priestly work and to a sacrifice that is offered to the most high God…. [T]he Lord Jesus was followed by a number of women whose names have come down to us. Kings are forgotten, emperors have fallen into the dust and there is no one to remember them; the names of these women, however, are still being mentioned. There are only a few things we know about them, and what is said seems insignificant to us. They made offerings  to the Son of Man from what they had …provided such little services, as he deserved before all others.  But because the common uncommon, thus these names are written in the Book of books.

…I said that because of Christianity uncommon has become common and the common uncommon the Spirit and the purpose and way it was done…. I point to Matthew 25. What does he say there by separating the sheep from the goats? Whom does he praise? Whom does He reproach? Whom does he call to inherit the kingdom of his Father? Does he call the heroes, who accomplished great things, the kings with their crowns and those who struck with their great swords and brought about great changes upon earth? What does He do? He names and praises the same common things that I have said Christianity has made uncommon. He says: “I was hungry” and so forth—”come, you blessed of my Father” (Mt 25:34)…. Thus, he asks for the food, for the drink, for the gift of oil and wine. He asks for all these common things, which I have said have become uncommon through his Spirit.—J. K. Wilhelm Loehe  (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

One More Reflection:  Do great things.  America will be number one again.  Be a winner.  This is the way the world thinks and we do as well.  Serving is not natural, that is, according to fallen human nature which is self-centered and ego driven, damaged in the Fall, damaged beyond all human repair. When I re-read Pr. Loehe’s reflection above, this is not the Christianity I want. I want successful and powerful Christianity especially in our mission here.  I think all the lamentation, “America is no longer a Christian nation”,  is the lament over lost power.  The Church had no political power and authority when Dorcas, Lydia and Phoebe lived upon this old earth. When it does boast political power, then the dangers abound.  As our Lord said to Pilate, “My Kingdom is not from this world.”  The Church did have power, though:  the Word and Deed of Jesus Christ in the lives of His faithful people.  Kings and the mighty change the world according to their will and things get worse. They make news but it is really as “old as Adam”.  The faithful women did good things in Christ Jesus and Faith, and things were better, you know, salt of the earth, and people believed in the Lord.  We think our smartphones are just wonderful and adorable, the gadgets of power and we listen to them.  We need to listen to our Lord in His Word Who alone can change our souls day by day  to love as He first loved us.  

These holy women, who were made holy by Faith in Jesus, are acknowledged in the prayer above in their various vocations:  business woman and steward, charitable worker and deacon or deaconess, that is one who serves. Lydia was the first convert to the Faith in Europe.  And as a business woman who sold the dye of Royalty purple (BTW:  that’s why purple is the color used in Advent and Lent), she might have been quite well-to-do.   I am struck by the non-judgmental listing of “business’  alongside with a “churchy”  sounding word, “deaconess”.  These are all vocations from the Lord, yes, even business!   If it weren’t for business, there would be no jobs.  There is no occupation that is displeasing to the Lord, except those occupied with evil…or vocations used for ignoble ends with sinful means.  Even a ‘churchy’ vocation can be used to serve self and not the Lord.  And business men and women can serve the Lord and His people, and not the self,  as can being a deacon or deaconess.  Daily repentance is turning toward the Lord our whole lives to serve Him and His people.  It is in our daily vocations that we can serve and love our neighbors as to Christ Himself, not to save ourselves, Jesus has already done that, but that our neighbor be served and be pointed to the Savior.  Dorcas, Lydia and Phoebe did so by charity, hospitality and serving, not waiting for suspect government to help the poor, the stranger, the widow, but actual acts of of corporate mercy.  

Almighty God, You stirred to compassion the hearts of Your dear servants Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe to uphold and sustain Your Church by their devoted and charitable deeds. Give us the same will to love You, open our eyes to see You in the least ones, and strengthen our hands to serve You in others, for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” St. Matthew 18: 10

Introduction:  The following quote is from Luther’s House Postil  (“House Sermon”: he preached daily in his home) on St. Matthew 18: 1-10.  This is one of the two appointed Gospel lessons for St. Michael and All Angels, see “Read Before You Hear” above.   He is preaching on the Word in which the Lord says that children have guardian angels. He takes up the topic that the Lord highly values children, even to send His “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1: 14) to guard them. After reading this sermon, the take away can be “things don’t change”.  In negative, sadly yes but also in the positive, in the Godly:  The Lord commands and helps us to raise our children, something no government, nor school can finally do.  Government and school are to protect and defend families, not replace them.

“Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” In other words, Whoever is responsible for a child, physically and spiritually, trains him properly so that he learns to know God, learns not to curse, swear, or steal; to him I say that he is receiving me personally, is loving me as if he were carrying me, Mary’s child, in his arms and taking care of me just as my mother Mary has taken care of me. That is preaching ever so sweetly and tugging at us ever so winsomely.

 But why does the Lord do it? Solely for the reason that he understands very well how eager young people are to listen to obscene things and how easily they are misled. Moreover, evil mouths are only too happy to lend assistance here and—may plaintive cries rise to God in heaven!—we now find boys and girls, ten and twelve years old, who can curse and swear a blue streak about hurts, physical disorders, pustules, and the like, and are otherwise devoid of shame and are vulgar in speech. From whom do they learn this? From no one else but from those who should be restraining them, from father and, mother, and from shameful, wicked servants (see footnote below). Young people come to know such things more quickly and pay more heed to them than to the Lord’s Prayer. This has its roots in that old, evil firebrand, our sinful nature, that sticks within us. That is why Christ preaches here so compellingly and admonishes so tenderly to take care of young people, saying, When you train one of these little ones, when they are brought up in the fear and knowledge of God, in godliness and modesty, you then have done me the greatest service. I have assigned my noble servants, the beloved angels, to serve and attend them. Remember this and do likewise, do not offend them, let them hear no evil, and minister to them willingly.

Footnote:  Most of us do not have servants in our homes, but we do have electronic servants:  television, radio, CDs, DVDs and especially the internet.  They are our servants not our masters, yet young people in particular can mastered by them with a false, heretical and devilish view of the world. (And so can adults!) Young people can know a wicked song lyric quicker than the Lord’s Prayer, as Luther points out.  These servants can be wicked and want to master.  Fathers and Mothers, and Grandparents must be, with the angels, on guard for such, restricting at times the abuse the devil heaps on us through them.

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“Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish. If we do, we may live, and such a return might have one minor advantage. If we believed in the absolute reality of elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion. While we believe that good is something to be invented, we demand of our rulers such qualities as ‘vision, ‘dynamism’, ‘creativity’, and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much rarer, and much more beneficial—virtue, knowledge, diligence and skill. ‘Vision’ is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his job.” From the last paragraph of C. S. Lewis’ essay, The Poison of Subjectivism

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The TV sitcom, The Office is about just that:  an office.  ‘Dunder-Mifflin’ is a company that sells paper for businesses.  That’s it.  What made this sitcom such a hit? What was the “com” in the “sit” (situation), i.e. comedy?  The boss, ‘Michael Scott’, was always desirous to be more than a boss of an office whose goal is simply better sales and service.   Michael wanted the office, that is, his co-workers, to be friends or even more: a family. He wanted to be their friend, counselor, cheerleader, big brother.  And so, Michael insinuated himself into the lives of the employees.  I found this sit-com to be at times very funny and at times painfully exasperating to watch Michael at “work”.  He went beyond the stated goal of the office:  selling paper and providing a friendly and efficient service.

I assume that the reason this caught on is that many who work in other offices in other companies and corporations find this as well:  the corporation/office going beyond its stated goals.  Please notice how many times the word “community” is invoked in the media, not about a town or a congregation but for corporations, people of similar likes, government, etc.  A community are people living in closer, well, communion, with each other.  Certainly, mother and son is a closer communion than employer/employee.  The sitcom “The Office” with it’s various crossovers of the limits of an office that sells paper could be humorous…but the crossovers of the God given limits of various offices can be downright tragic.

In the Book of Concord: The Lutheran Confessions (from here on, BoC), the Reformers teach the Biblical understanding of “office”.  Their first concern is the office of Pastor/priest.  In the time of the Reformation, Church and society both thought that the office of monk or nun, and with it, celibacy was a superior way to attain to heaven.   As in another sitcom when an Italian waitress’ son says he wants to be priest, she declares:  “I have a get-of-hell card!”  First, there is no office by which one simply doing it attains heaven, then Jesus Christ died for no reason.   Second:  The Reformers noticed that monk/nun is not found in Scripture but on the first pages of the Bible you read about marriage between man and woman, husband and wife and so father and mother.

Monk is a man-made office.  Parent is a God-given office.   Mother and Father are offices. This may sound funny in our ears.  When I think of “office”, I immediately think of a place…but it is more than a place.  I opine that the BoC put into our vocabulary a word as crucially important:  vocation.  Vocation is practically a synonym for office in the BoC..  Mothers, fathers, children, husbands and wives are God given vocations, offices.  In fact derived from them are teachers and governing authorities.  There are also vocations in work. God gives work as well.  All are true callings. These are offices in creation, in the created orders of this world.  In the Kingdom of God, through His Church, He established the office of pastor. These are all God pleasing vocations by which we serve God and neighbor.

In The Small Catechism by Dr. Martin Luther, he listed “The Table of Duties” for the various offices/vocations. The duties of each said office is described by the appropriate Scripture passages.   In the Catechism, the Scripture verses are printed out but for sake of space I only include the citation but each is worth reading.

For Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers. 1 Tim. 3:2ff ; Titus 1:6

What the Hearers Owe to Their Pastors. 1 Cor. 9:14;Gal. 6:61 Tim. 5:17-18; Heb. 13:17

Concerning Civil Government. Rom. 13:1-4

What Subjects Owe to the Magistrates. Matt. 22:21; 1 Pet. 2:13f; 1 Tim. 2:1f; Titus 3:1;Rom. 13:1,5ff

For Husbands. Col. 3:9 1 Pet. 3:7

For Wives. 1 Pet. 3:6Eph. 5:22

For Parents. Eph. 6:4

For Children. Eph. 6:1-3

For Male and Female Servants, Hired Men, and Laborers. Eph. 6:5ff ; Col. 3:22

For Masters and Mistresses. Eph. 6:9Col. 4:1.

For Young Persons in General. 1 Pet. 5:5-6

For Widows. 1 Tim. 5:5-6

For All in Common. 1 Tim. 2:1-2

Rom. 13:8ff

Notice the following aspects of the offices/vocations above:

  1. Overlap  I am a Father, Husband, Pastor, Son, Citizen.  I hold 4 offices and called to each one.  At various times, one office will take precedence over the others.  Your 9-5 job is not your only calling nor  even the most important!
  2. Service  Each office renders a service to our neighbors:  family, friends, co-citizens of both the kingdom of God and the kingdoms, nation wherein we dwell.  Within our vocations we serve and love our neighbor. Our vocations do not save us.  Only the absolutely unique of Messiah, as He fulfilled that vocation perfectly, has saved us.  Our vocations do not save us but they help and serve our neighbors.
  3. Limitations  Each office/vocation has limitations.  Just like a physical office has walls, there are boundaries to each office/vocation with each office’s respective duties.  For instance: A  civil authority does not preach the Gospel.  This is a confusion of offices.
  4. Trespasses of Office  A trespass is just that: a crossing over of a boundary, a limitation and this causes problems that are both humorous and tragic.

Part II

It is trespasses of offices/ vocations that cause sin.  For instance, when the offices  of say, Mother and  Son are crossed, and a mother lays with her son, this is gross violation of office.  Or when a teacher has intercourse with her student.  This is an egregious example but we know it happens, but a lot of the confusion of office sounds good initially but is a  gross denial of the office.

The holder of an office is to serve the office in behalf of others, according to the principles of that office, not for the office to serve the holder of it.  In Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer on “The Fuhrer Principle”, or Leader principle prevalent in Germany at the turn of the last century and imbibed fully by Adolph Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s critique of this principle is actually quite simple: “The Leader is completely divorced from any office, he is essentially and only the ‘the Leader’”. Bonhoeffer points out that “office” restricts any leader from acting on his own accord, or charisma because the man who fills the office is accountable before “penultimate authorities” such as “Reich or state” which are all accountable to God. The purpose of any office, in politics or church  is to be of service. But once, as in the Fuhrer Principle, the great divorce between man and office the following occurs:

“If he understands his function in any other way than as it is rooted in fact, if he does not continually tell his followers quite clearly of the limited nature of his task and of their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol—then the image of the Leader will pass over into the image of the mis-leader, and he will be acting in a criminal way not only towards those he leads, but also towards himself.”

This idolatry has become endemic in a media age. So-called ‘evangelists’ have so-called ‘ministries’ with their names before the word “ministry”. I have thought “Mark Schroeder Ministries” has a great alliterative ring to it and it does. The Old Adam wants others to be attached to the personality and so control others by the dark urges of unregenerated flesh. Now at first this all appears to be “good”. The congregation wants a pastor with a winsome personality, a charismatic presence in the pulpit (or walking up and down the aisles) who is a friend to all. The pastor buys into it. And so do presidential candidates: “We are the ones we have been waiting for” (Candidate Obama). For instance, previous Presidents in televised addresses to the nation speak from  the Oval Office, but our current President did so from the East Room of White House, with it’s hallway, complete with columns as backdrop. Then with these idolatries of varying degrees, the office is disregarded and this is “criminal”, breaking the Law of God and the laws of men, in our nation, The Constitution. An important Scripture verse in regards to the purpose of the pastoral office in our day, as in was in the charismatic milieu of the Roman Empire is 2 Corinthians 4:5.

In a previous congregation, a woman who was smart legal secretary, an accountant, wife and mother took on the responsibility of church treasurer.  We were talking on the phone and she lamented that she wished she could do more for the congregation but she was swamped.  I reminded her about her offices, not mentioning the word “office” and I said that is the way you serve the Lord.  After a pause, she said, Thanks Pastor, it’s like big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

Knowing our calling and the calling and offices of others can go along way to know who we are and what God expects of us.  We will violate our offices and so Luther in The Small Catechism, in the Order of Confession, instructs clearly and rightly, which is to say Biblically, about vocations and our not keeping them and so please note: most of the Order of Confession and Absolution is about our offices/vocations:

What sins should we confess?

Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess those sins alone which we know and feel in our hearts.

Which are these?

Here consider your station according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, a man-servant or maid-servant; whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, slothful; whether you have grieved any one by words or deeds; whether you have stolen, neglected, or wasted aught, or done other injury.

Pray, Propose to Me a Brief Form of Confession.

Answer.

You should speak to the confessor thus: Reverend and dear sir, I beseech you to hear my confession, and to pronounce forgiveness to me for God’s sake.

Proceed!

I, a poor sinner, confess myself before God guilty of all sins; especially I confess before you that I am a man-servant, a maidservant, etc. But, alas, I serve my master unfaithfully; for in this and in that I have not done what they commanded me; I have provoked them, and caused them to curse, have been negligent [in many things] and permitted damage to be done; have also been immodest in words and deeds, have quarreled with my equals, have grumbled and sworn at my mistress, etc. For all this I am sorry, and pray for grace; I want to do better.

A master or mistress may say thus:

In particular I confess before you that I have not faithfully trained my children, domestics, and wife [family] for God’s glory. I have cursed, set a bad example by rude words and deeds, have done my neighbor harm and spoken evil of him, have overcharged and given false ware and short measure.

And whatever else he has done against God’s command and his station, etc.

But if any one does not find himself burdened with such or greater sins, he should not trouble himself or search for or invent other sins, and thereby make confession a torture, but mention one or two that he knows. Thus: In particular I confess that I once cursed; again, I once used improper words, I have once neglected this or that, etc. Let this suffice.

But if you know of none at all (which, however is scarcely possible), then mention none in particular, but receive the forgiveness upon your general confession which you make before God to the confessor.

Then shall the confessor say:

God be merciful to thee and strengthen thy faith! Amen.

Furthermore:

Dost thou believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?

Answer.

Yes, dear sir.

Then let him say:

As thou believest, so be it done unto thee. And by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive thee thy sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Depart in peace.

But those who have great burdens upon their consciences, or are distressed and tempted, the confessor will know how to comfort and to encourage to faith with more passages of Scripture. This is to be merely a general form of confession for the unlearned.

Only in Jesus Christ’s absolution, which is absolute, can we proceed.  God grant it in our dark days!

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Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Moses, You began the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-time prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacrament;through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Moses was born in Egypt several generations after Joseph brought his father Jacob and his brothers there to escape a famine in the land of Canaan. The descendants of Jacob had been enslaved by the Egyptians and were ordered to kill all their male children. When Moses was born his mother put him in a basket and set it afloat in the Nile River. He was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised by her as her own son (Exod 2:1–10). At age 40 Moses killed an Egyptian taskmaster and fled to the land of Midian, where he worked as a shepherd for forty years. Then the Lord called him to go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh, “Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness” (5:1). Eventually Pharaoh gave in and, after the Israelites celebrated the first Passover, Moses led them out. At the Red Sea the Egyptian army was destroyed and the Israelites passed to safety on dry land (Exodus 12-15). At Mount Sinai they were given the Law and erected the Tabernacle (Exodus 19-40). But because of disobedience they had to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Moses himself was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, although God allowed him to view it (Deuteronomy 34). In the New Testament Moses is referred to as lawgiver and prophet. The first five books of the Bible are attributed to him. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  Moses looms over the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, or the Pentateuch and so the whole Bible.  C. S. Lewis points out that the way to Golgotha must always pass by Sinai, that is the only way to know the Gospel is to spiritually know the Law accusing and showing us our sin so we can see by faith our Savior.  It is Jesus Christ Who looms over and under the New Testament but even more:  all of creation, all of the world. The comparison between Moses and Jesus is important: 

Hebrews 3:  Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

and

St. John 1: For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

But when we forget the Ministry of Moses we do not know the Ministry of Holy Spirit.  When we forget the Law, license looms. When we forget the Gospel, despair grabs hold. The difference between Moses and Jesus, Law and Promise, the one Word of God is beautifully illustrated by Lucas Cranach in his Law and Grace and our journey with first Moses, then and forever with Moses with, in and under Jesus Christ:

:

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About Samuel:  Samuel, last of the Old Testament judges and first of the prophets (after Moses), lived during the eleventh century BC. The child of Elkanah, an Ephraimite, and his wife Hannah, Samuel was from early on consecrated by his parents for sacred service and trained in the house of the Lord at Shiloh by Eli the priest. Samuel’s authority as a prophet was established by God (1 Samuel 3:20). He anointed Saul to be Israel’s first king (1 Samuel 10:1). Later, as a result of Saul’s disobedience to God, Samuel repudiated Saul’s leadership and then anointed David to be king in place of Saul (1 Samuel 16:13). Samuel’s loyalty to God, his spiritual insight, and his ability to inspire others made him one of Israel’s great leaders. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House.)

Reflection: 1 Samuel tells us that  Saul sparing the life of King Agag though the Lord told Saul not to spare his life.   Saul did so because of compassion though he had no direct command from God to do so. The Lord told Saul that his life was then forfeit. 

In  seemingly less strenuous circumstances we think it’s all right to do something because we think, God will understand, He is compassionate.  Like the businessman on a long trip away from family, a few drinks in the hotel bar, a nice woman with a sad story…God will understand.  The husband’s  wife nor his children will understand.  The Lord understands all together too well and He is judge of the living and the dead. The businessman in question builds his own theology to cover his sin but only repentance on account of the blood shed by Jesus can heal.  

We can build a whole false ethos around under the cloak of  ‘theology’. Pr. Murray (Pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, TX)  points out that we are pretty good at “creating our own righteousness”.  The Law shows us if our moral behavior  is God pleasing   in way of our commitments and relationships in life:  mother, father, brother, sister, citizen, etc. The way to find out quite easily if what we are doing is actually holy is to ask: Is it conformity to God’s Law?  If not, then pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.”

Samuel’s very name means literally “God hears”.  He was named so because Samuel’s Mother, Hannah was childless and God heard her distress.  “Surely to obey the voice of the Lord is better than sacrifice.”  Samuel heard for the Lord heard him…and us as well to the depths of our sinful being. 

For further reflection, Meditation by Pr. Murray, from his A Year with the Church Fathers (CPH) in which he addresses do-it yourself theology…false theology: 

There can be no freeform holiness that comes from our own hearts. We often define and act on our own set of pious principles in seeking our own righteousness. This is purely a rebellion against the clear and unchanging will of God in the Law. There can be no holiness apart from the specific commands of a holy God. Our revision of the divine Law arises from seemingly righteous principles. Perhaps Saul spared Agag (1 Samuel 15) out of a desire to be compassionate and gracious, which God Himself claims to be (Psalm 86:15). Why shouldn’t Saul be able to get in on the compassion act? Simply because he had a direct command from God to do otherwise.

A veteran pastor was confronted by two married couples whom he considered pious members of his parish. They announced to him that they were swapping spouses and wondered if he might unite them in a double wedding. They argued that their spouse swap was loving and that, after all, the Holy Spirit had let them know that this was a good thing. He strongly suggested to them that they could not ignore the Sixth Commandment, and that maybe their spouse swap was merely self-serving. Our impieties are often perpetrated for pious reasons; love and compassion being common among those pious reasons. We even argue that God agrees with us. Like Saul, who as a worldly ruler considered it his prerogative to spare Agag, our pieties tend to benefit ourselves. We must flee from creating our own righteousness and remain tied down to the clear Word of God.

“Saul saw fit to use compassion when he spared the king whom God commanded to be slain (1 Samuel 15:9-11). However, he deserved to have his disobedient compassion, or, if you prefer it, his compassionate disobedience, rejected and condemned, that man may be on his guard against extending mercy to his fellow man in opposition to the sentence of Him by whom man was made. Truth, by the mouth of the Incarnate Himself, proclaims as if in a thundering voice, ‘Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’ (John 3:5). And in order to except martyrs from this sentence, to whose lot it has fallen to be slain for the name of Christ before being washed in the Baptism of Christ, He says in another passage, ‘Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it’ (Matthew 10:39)” (Augustine, On the Soul and its Origin, 2.17).

Almighty God, in Your mercy You gave Samuel to courage to call Israel to repentance and to renew their dedication to the Lord.  Call us to repentance as Nathan called David to repentance, so by the blood of Jesus, the Son of David,  we may receive the forgiveness of all our sins;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

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Collect of the Day

Almighty God, heavenly Father, through the patriarch Isaac You preserved the seed of the Messiah and brought forth the new creation.  Continue to preserve the Church as the Israel of God as she manifests the glory of Your holy Name by continuing to worship Your Son, the child of Mary;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

About Isaac:  Isaac, the long promised and awaited son of Abraham and Sarah, was born when his father was 100 and his mother 91. The announcement of his birth brought both joy and laughter to his aged parents (so the name “Isaac,” which means “laughter”). As a young man, Isaac accompanied his father to Mount Moriah, where Abraham, in obedience to God’s command, prepared to sacrifice him as a burnt offering. But God intervened, sparing Isaac’s life and providing a ram as a substitute offering (Gen. 22:1–14), and thus pointing to the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world. Isaac was given in marriage to Rebekah (24:15), and they had twin sons, Esau and Jacob (25:19–26). In his old age Isaac, blind and feeble, wanted to give his blessing and chief inheritance to his favorite—and eldest—son, Esau. But through deception Rebekah had Jacob receive them instead, resulting in years of family enmity. Isaac died at the age of 180 and was buried by his sons, who by then had become reconciled, in the family burial cave of Machpelah (35:28–29). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  The enduring legacy of the Lord’s Word to the prophets is that His Word is given through marriage(s) and families, culminating in a Holy Family in Bethlehem.  These families do have their moments!  As when Rebekah schemes to have her favorite son Jacob receive Isaac’s blessing.  Funny how the Lord works things out but after all it was the Lord who named the son of the promise to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Laughter (Genesis 17:19)  Just think: Father and Mother calling to their son, “Dinner time, Laughter”.

One of the single longest chapters in Genesis is chapter 24 and it is all about the way the Lord arranged the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah.  It is a moving love story.  In some ways, the main character is Abraham’s unnamed servant who acts as the Lord’s matchmaker.  We are told he prayed as the chapter proceeds. This is significant because this is the first time in Genesis when someone else, besides Abraham, prays to the Lord of Abraham!  Truly, Abraham is the father of faith.  It is  easy to gloss over, but important. The servant’s prayer is for a wife for Isaac as the Lord wills for His creation.  This long chapter is about marriage between man and woman and through marriage and family, His will of creation continues and so does redemption:  the Son of Mary, the step-son of Joseph.

Today marriage is under assault as no other time but this is just the outworn post-enlightenment understanding of the so-called “new morality” of the ’60s, which is really the old immorality dressed up to look hot.  It’s hot…hotter than hell.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, you can no more make a new value than you can a new primary color.  Luther said it well, “All heretics have denigrated matrimony and have sought for and begun some newfangled and bizarre way of life.”  (Luther’s Sermon on John 2: 1—11, 1533, Luther’s House Postils, vol. 1)  The commemoration of Isaac is another good day to remember that before the Fall, the Lord gave us marriage, and here is more Luther on this crucial and central part of our lives, culture, society and Church:

  • “So here all will depend on a sound knowledge and understanding of what this “What God has joined together,” is trying to say. It does not say, “What joined itself together,” but, “What God has joined together.” The joining together is easily seen, but men refuse to see that it is to be God who does the joining. As soon as a joining together has come about by the parties’ own efforts, they immediately want to hang God’s name over it as a cloak to hide their shame, and say that God did it. This is misusing and dishonoring God’s name and is contrary to the second commandment. The verse itself clearly indicates that two kinds of joining take place, one by God, the other without God. Joining without God means that which is done by us ourselves without his word and commandment; joining without God means that which is ourselves alone without his word and commandment. Now we have taught so often that we should do nothing unless we have the express approval of God’s word; God himself has nothing to do with us, nor we with him, except through his word, which is the only means by which we recognize his will, and according to which we govern our actions.”  On Marriage Matters”, LW volume 46, The Christian in Society
  • “’Let the marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.’ Hold fast to that, those of you who are married. St. Augustine writes in one place concerning married people, that even if one of them is somewhat weak, etc., he should not be afraid of the sudden and infallible Day of the Lord; even if the day of the Lord were to come in the hour when man and wife were having marital intercourse, they should not be afraid of it. Why is this so? Because even if the Lord comes in that hour he will find them in the ordinance and station in which they have been placed and installed by God.”From Luther’s Sermon ‘A the Marriage of Sigismund von Lindenau, 1545, LW 51
  • “For here (in marriage) God says to the man: You are my man; and to the woman: You are my woman.” –ibid
  • “…let’s learn this object lesson well, so that each of us willingly and contentedly serves and supports the estate of marriage which our Lord himself ordained and honored and created to be a wellspring and source of all other estates on earth. For every king and ruler support the establishing of households, or marriage (they themselves have stemmed from the estate of marriage), because there would be neither people nor means to support government were people not to marry. For the householder, father, or mother, must lay the foundation upon which all estates in the world, from the loftiest to the lowliest are sustained. For this reason our Lord God has caused the marriage estate to be a wellspring of every gift that belongs to our life and existence, as Scripture states: ‘Eve is the mother of every human being.’” (ibid)

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