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Archive for the ‘Pro-life’ Category

 Text:  St. Matthew 2:13-23

The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents: Some accounts number them at more than ten thousand, but more conservative estimates put their number in the low dozens. 10,000 children or 1 child murdered is one child too many.  The picture above  is a painting by Giotto di Bondone (1266/7 – 1337).   It is eerily prescient of  the many pictures of the bodies of Jews in piles in the concentration camps. Their only crime was they were of the same religion as the One born this holy season.  It makes no sense.  Neither does any abuse of children sexually, physically and/or emotionally from Newtown to our town.

Herod the Great was probably a functional atheist; he thought he ruled by his own right and authority.  He was his own god as all dictators and tyrants vainly and terribly imagine themselves.  We read a lot about the atheism of a Christopher Hitchens, but he pales to the tyrants. With no fear of God in the multitude of  Herods, it seems in our days and centuries and it’s lack of the fear of the Lord, we are in the most functionally atheistic of all time.  We do what we please.  Children are expendable. We are own gods.

The gripping movie, Judgment at Nuremberg  is about the trials after World War II of the lower level Nazis, in particular, the judges who sent the ‘mental defectives’, and other “undesirables” to their deaths after a “legal trial”.  A key character is the  fictional judge, Ernst Janning (played by Burt Lancaster).  He was known in the Weimar as one of the greatest legal minds in Germany.  He participated in the crimes against humanity for the Nazis yet he knew it was wrong.  In one of the last scenes of the movie, Herr Janning asks the main American judge, Hayward (played by Spencer Tracy) to come and visit him in his prison cell.  It turns out for the reason that Janning wanted a kind of absolution:

Janning: Those people, those millions of people. I never knew it would come to that. You must believe that, you must believe that.

Judge Hayward:  Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

The death of one man or one child makes it easy for the autonomous, ‘kingly’, ‘great’ self to kill more and more. Mother Theresa said, “… if we accept that the mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? Any country that accepts abortion, is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants.”  It took one Child to reverse the sin of Adam.  The holy innocents unwilling death and the grief of Rachel, their mothers,  weeping for them who are “no more”, fulfilled the Scripture that the Child of Mary would die as One for them all.  

The murder of even one child, spiritually and/or physically, begins the spiral into hell, for a person, a  church, a nation, a family. When Israel rebelled, Isaiah tells us in today’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah 63:7-14:

But they rebelled
    and grieved his Holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
    and himself fought against them.

The Lord became their own enemy because we our own worse enemy.  People will go to great lengths – even kill, even kill their own babies,  to preserve their self-esteem, social status, economic viability, popularity amongst friends, or even for reasons as vain as their “girly figure” and thus tilt the balance of this world’s favor toward themselves.  Trying to save themselves and their trivial treasures, the world enacts Herod’s decree again and again and again as they hurt one another, abort their children, and follow the forked tongue of the serpent against holy families and the holy one of God.   (Pr. Tony Sikora’s sermon on same text) Recently Thrivent for Lutherans in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota has been giving their “choice dollars” to Planned Parenthood, purveyor and promoter of abortion.  After a protest from Pastor Harrison, President of the LCMS and the Wisconsin Evangelical LutheranSynod, they stopped it but they also stopped all monies going to pro-life groups. “We recognize that the eligibility of a Planned Parenthood affiliate, approved by one of our local chapters, has been controversial.” Abortion isn’t controversial; it is evil. Abortion is intrinsically immoral, essentially and immutably wrong. (Pr. Todd Wilken)

 Too controversial.  We are killing ourselves by the plummeting birthrate instead of heeding the  Lord’s command to be fruitful and multiply.  Too controversial.  We are to receive His children in His Name.  And so the Lord Jesus set great store about the faith of a child which must be inviolate.  This is only a  speculation:  Jesus’ Mother and Step Father may have eventually told Him what had happened on the day of infamy in Bethlehem.  The Lord Jesus Christ taught as a man:

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,[a] it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

His love begins with one child, first protected by His Law, “Thou shalt not murder” and now by His Resurrection. The Child was called out of Egypt, God’s Son, so that all children could have His Kingdom by Baptism and faith.  The Son, the Child called out of Egypt, the Exodus is His Body and Blood, circumcised on the 8th day, desires for all to believe in Him…and preventing them a millstone fastened  around his neck and drowned is suitable. Out of Egypt, the Father called His Son, His true Son, who did not rebel, the Child born for us. The Lord became a child to make us His children and so we are;  as Paul wrote in today’s Epistle, Galatians 4:4-7: our adoption as the Lord’s sons and daughters.  The Child gives the childless hope, the loveless love, the faithless faith, in the great exchange:   His health for our sickness, His love for  us His enemies, His wisdom for the foolish to make us His own, His death  for our life, His resurrection for our eternal life, so we are born again, His baptized to receive children, from day 1 to the 100th year, in His Name, baptizing them, as we have been by His grace alone, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

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Prayer of the Day

O God, who alone knits all infants in the womb, You chose improbable servants—old and childless—to conceive and parent the forerunner of Christ and, in so doing, demonstrated again Your strength in weakness. Grant us, who are as unlikely and unworthy as Zechariah and Elizabeth, the opportunity to love and serve You according to Your good and gracious will; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.

About Zechariah and Elizabeth:  Zechariah and Elizabeth were “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). Zechariah, a priest in the Jerusalem temple, was greeted by the angel Gabriel, who announced that Zechariah and Elizabeth would become parents of a son. Initially, Zechariah did not believe Gabriel’s announcement because of their old age. For his disbelief, Zechariah became unable to speak. After their son was born, Elizabeth named their son John.  Zechariah conformed his wife’s choice, and his ability to speak was restored.  In response, he sang the Benedictus, a magnificent summary of God’s promises in the Old Testament and prediction of John’s work as forerunner to Jesus (Luke 1: 68-79). Zechariah and Elizabeth are remembered as examples of faithfulness and piety. (Modified from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  The Gospel according to Luke begins with the birth of John and Jesus.  As part of the warp and woof of the narrative is the praise of God in what could be called Psalms:

  1. The Magnificat, Mary’s Song of Praise:  St. Luke 1: 46-55
  2. The Benedictus, Zechariah’s Song of Prophecy, St. Luke 1: 67-69
  3. The Gloria in Excelsis Deo, the Song of the Angels, St. Luke 2: 14
  4. The Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, St. Luke 2: 29-32

The titles of these psalms is from the Latin Vulgate translation and reflect an old tradition of naming a psalm after the first word in the song:  1. Magnify;  2. Blessed; 3. Glory in God in the highest;  4. Now depart.  All of these songs have been included in either the Prayer offices of the Church and/or the Divine Service.

In their old age, like another “unworthy and unlikely” couple centuries before,  Abraham and Sarah, the priest and his wife would have a son:  the son to be the forerunner of the very Son of God, the Messiah.  What almost becomes overlooked by the faithful and diligent reader of the Word is that the Lord’s promises come through married couples and their families: Adam and Eve, Noah and his wife, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah and throughout all generations to Zechariah and Elizabeth and another unlikely couple:  Joseph and Mary.  Why does the Lord do so?  I do not think we know directly from Holy Writ but we do know the Lord created marriage and family,and it was good.  And given the state of the family, yes, even in the Bible, the contrast between His saving promise and our utter need for His salvation is clear!  Only He can breach the gap and has. He did not want His love of His good creation,  in bondage to sin, to end but be extended in His redeeming in the fullness of time: the gestation and birth of His only-begotten Son.  His promise of redemption could only find it’s home in a family for the generations of humankind.  Therefore,  Zechariah had much to sing about in the  praise and blessing of  the Name of the Lord in  his  marriage to Elizabeth!

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for He has visited and redeemed His people
69and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of His servant David,
70 as He spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies
   and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
   and to remember His holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
 74that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
   whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (St. Luke 1)

How do we know salvation and the Lord who is our Savior:  Answer: “by the forgiveness of our sins” The Benedictus is the song sung every day  in Matins. As John paved the way for the coming of Jesus the Christ, so by the Lord’s promise fulfilled to Zechariah, we each and every day in prayer, in the Benedictus, prepare our selves for the work of the Messiah in our vocations, and we too are “improbable servants”.   Matins is good way to begin the day.

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“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
    but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
    for not by might shall a man prevail.

1 Samuel 2: 9, from The Song of Hannah

Hannah was the favored wife of Elkanah, the Ephraimite, and the devout mother of the prophet Samuel. He was born to her after years of bitter barrenness (1 Sam 1:6–8) and fervent prayers for a son (1:9–18).After she weaned her son, Hannah expressed her gratitude by returning him for service in the House of the Lord at Shiloh (1:24–28). Her prayer (psalm) of thanksgiving (2:1–10) begins with the words, “My heart exults in Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord.” This song foreshadows the Magnificat, the Song of Mary centuries later (Lk 1:46–55). The name Hannah derives from the Hebrew word for “grace.” She is remembered and honored for joyfully having kept the vow she made before her son’s birth and offering him for lifelong service to God. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

God the Father Almighty, maker of all things, You looked on the affliction of Your barren servant Hannah and did not forget her but answered her prayers with the gift of a son. So hear our supplications and petitions and fill our emptiness, granting us trust in Your provision, so that we, like Hannah, might render unto You all thankfulness and praise, and delight in the miraculous birth of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Reflection:  In high school (I graduated in ’72),  I was the president of the social science club (I was a class-A nerd!) and the club went  to hear Dr. Paul Ehrlich speak at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on his huge best seller Population Bomb in which he argued Malthusian horrors of overpopulation, decreased productivity and rising prices resulted in a global crisis bar none.  His book has been reprinted 20 times.  None of his predictions came true.  Just think how many ‘scientific’ doomsday scenarios grip the public media.  He argued for ZPG:  zero population growth, that is replacement breeding, 2 or less children. I even remember in high school being relieved it was only my sister and I in our family.  This thinking has permeated Western civilization to the point Biblical scholars debunk the Lord’s imperatives to be fruitful and multiple in Genesis 1.  When in a liberal Lutheran church body (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)I heard in an evangelism presentation that we can not count on families (or what’s left of them) filling the church.  Such a ‘tactic’ was derided as “bedroom evangelism”.      

I thought of these terrible reminiscences in reading in Hannah’s brief bio above about her “bitter barrenness”.  “Bitter barrenness” surely described Hannah’s soulful plight and ours as well.  When Elizabeth was greeted by her kinswoman Mary, she exclaimed blessed is the “fruit of your womb”. The Visitation is sheer joy.  We want wombs no longer fruitful.  We want barrenness, bitter barrenness as a way to ‘solve our problems’, but it has not.  ZPG in Europe will result in the demise of those once Christian populations, but it also is a cause of the demise of life and joy.  Pro-life is more than no abortion.  Pro-life means children.  Our solutions to problems both actual and perceived become even greater problems.  In Hannah’s bitter barrenness, she prayed. The Lord answered her prayer and she conceived and named her son Samuel, literally God hears.  There was good news in the bedroom of Hannah and Elkanah and in the bedroom of Joseph and Mary.  We must take the Lord at His Word of promise to be fruitful because on this Labor Day (9/1/13), parenthood is the highest vocation in creation which is blessed by the Lord with His Word in the 4th Commandment: Honor your father and your mother.  No children means no honor.  We live in a shameful age.  Christians must be as Hannah and be Samuel, trusting in the Lord: He hears.

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About Monica, Mother of Augustine: A  native of North Africa, Monica (AD 333-387) was the devoted mother of St. Augustine. Throughout her life, she sought the spiritual welfare of her children, especially that of her brilliant son Augustine. Widowed at a young age, she devoted herself to her family, praying many years for Augustine’s conversion. When Augustine left North Africa to go to Italy, she followed him to Rome and then to Milan. There she had the joy of witnessing her son’s conversion to the Christian faith. Weakened by her travels, Monica died at Ostia, Italy, on the journey she had hoped would take her back to her native Africa. On some Church Year calendars, Monica is remembered on May 4. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing  House)

From The Confessions of Augustine of Hippo,Pastor and Hippo, feast day, August 28th:

(Monica) was brought up in modesty and sobriety. She was made by You obedient to her parents rather than by them to You. When she reached marriageable age, she was given to a man and served him as lord. She tried to win him for You, speaking to him of You by her virtues through which You made her beautiful, so that her husband loved, respected and admired her. She bore with his infidelities and never had a quarrel with her husband on this account. For she looked forward to Your mercy coming upon him, in hope that, as he came to believe in You, he might become chaste….

Another gift with which You endowed at good servant of Yours, in whose womb ou created me, my God, my mercy (Ps. 58:18), was that whenever she could, she reconciled dissident and quarrelling people. She showed herself so great a peacemaker that when she heard from both sides many bitter things, Monica would never reveal to one anything about the other unless it might help to reconcile them….

At the end, when her husband had reached the end of his life in time, she succeeded in gaining him for You. After he was a baptized believer, she had no cause

to complain of his behavior, which she had tolerated in one not yet a believer. She was also a servant of Your servants: any of them who knew her found much to praise in her, held her in honor, and loved her, for they felt Your presence in her heart, witnessed by the fruits of her holy way of life. She had “testimony to her good works” (1 Timothy 5:10). She had brought up her children, enduring travail as often as she saw them wandering away from You. Lastly, Lord—by Your gift You allow me to speak for Your servants, for before her falling asleep we were bound together in community in You after receiving the grace of Baptism—she exercised care for everybody as if they were all her own children. She served all as if she was a daughter to all of us. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing  House)

Scripture:

Proverbs 31: 10 An excellent wife who can find?
   She is far more precious than jewels.
11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
   and he will have no lack of gain.
12She does him good, and not harm,
   all the days of her life.

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1: 5

 

Reflection:  Monica’s husband was an adulterer.   She stayed with him.  She was faithful. She probably took literally the Epistle reading:   Ephesians 5:21-23.   She wanted her husband to be her head…but in Christ Jesus.  She is not the model in our day of the liberated woman!  Thank, God.  Her strength was her Lord and she prayed for the conversion of both her husband and their son.  I am not saying that a wife in an abusive marriage should stay.  Monica was not physically abused.  She was, though, spiritually and emotionally hurt by her feckless husband and faithless son.  She persisted in prayer for them.  Both were baptized.  Her son became one of the most important theologians and pastors whose writings influenced one young monk in the Order of St. Augustine:  Martin Luther.   Augustine’s feast day is tomorrow. Freedom in Christ is praying for someone who may not even want your prayers.  

P.S. Sometimes I think a day like this one should be for the Church, Mother’s Day.

Collect of the Day:

O Lord, You strengthened Your patient servant Monica through spiritual discipline to persevere in offering her love, her prayers, and her tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine, their son. Deepen our devotion to bring others, even our own family, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.

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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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Intro:  This coming Sunday, 14 June, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, the Old Testament reading is Leviticus 18: 1-5, 19: 9-18.  The reflection by James Kushiner, Editor of Touchstone magazine, is on 18:1-5 and then the verses immediately following.  He sends e-mails to subscribers and this one is good commentary on the Leviticus passage as a word of encouragement.   I highly recommend Touchstone magazine.

This morning, dutifully following the St. James Devotional Guide, I turned in Leviticus (ok, not my favorite book), to chapter 18. I was startled by its timely message.

This chapter opens, “And the Lord said to Moses”: “Say to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord your God.'”

Then, a prelude introduces the commandments which fill the chapter: “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall do my ordinances and keep my commandments and walk in them.”

This summary is sealed with, again, “I am the Lord your God.” The chapter ends with, “I am the Lord your God.”

Why the solemn emphasis? What exactly do “they do” in Egypt and Canaan that Israel must never do, “these abominable customs which were practiced before you”?

The chapter forbids certain sexual relations and forms of sexual intercourse. First, the laws prohibiting various degrees of what we call incest are given. Then adultery. Then the killing of one’s children by offering them by fire to Molech–this stands out as the only item not directly about sexual intercourse. (But then, again, one could [and should] note that today Molech devours children by abortion, which is tied directly to the great rise in sexual promiscuity.)

Next, there is a clear prohibition of homosexual relations, followed by a prohibition against bestiality. Today, sexual restraints are now being put aside, bit by bit. The Lord warns: “By all these [practices] all these the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves.” The result: “the land vomited out the nation.”

Those who argue for a “progressive” modern sexual ethic for Christians neither know history nor the power of God. It closes: “So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs which were practiced before you, and never to defile yourselves by them: I am the Lord your God.”

 We Christians must stand apart from societal standards in these matters. And it may cost us: as reported here, among recent Department of Justice directives to employees is “an order for workers to vocally affirm homosexuality. ‘Don’t judge or remain silent,’ the brochure read. ‘Silence will be interpreted as disapproval.'”

Christians belong to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not free to alter his laws and do with our bodies whatever we please: “As exiles and aliens abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your souls.” (1 Pet. 2:11) “You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 1 Cor. 6:20) Like Israel of old, we are a people set apart. He is the Lord, not us. The use of our bodies should honor God. Without God, nations will regress to the practices of old Egypt and Canaan.

 That’s what I read in Leviticus this morning. While sobering in view of current societal regress, it is also heartening to be reminded that fidelity is called for–and also possible, through Christ, in whom we are made new. 

Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,

James Kushiner

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“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in tombs bestowing life.”-Orthodox Paschal Hymn

Introduction: The Eastern Orthodox Churches have a great custom by calling the first week of the Paschal (Easter) Season “Bright Week”.  A great way to begin the 50 Days of Pascha leading to Pentecost, as we look at what our risen Lord taught His Church for her life and mission into the world.   Easter, like Christmas, is not only a day each, but  a season each.

Further, as Lent is time of preparation for seekers to be Baptized, then the Paschal Season is a time for the newly baptized, and the ‘oldly’ baptized as well, to be instructed in the Way of the Lord more fully.  St. Basil the Great wrote it well regarding Baptism in Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection:

“This is what it means to be born again of water and Spirit: the water accomplishes our death, while the Spirit raises us to life. This great sign of baptism is fulfilled in three immersions, with three invocations, so that the image of death might be completely formed, and the newly baptized might have their souls enlightened with divine knowledge. If there is any grace in the water, it does not come from the nature of the water, but from the Spirit’s Presence, since baptism is not a removal of dirt from the body, but an appeal to God for a clear conscience (1 Peter 3: 21)  The Lord describes in the Gospel the pattern of life we must be trained to follow after the (baptismal) resurrection: gentleness, endurance, freedom for the defiling love of pleasure, and from covetousness. We must be determined to, acquire in this life all the qualities of the life to come. To define the Gospel as a description of what resurrectional life should be like seems to be correct and appropriate, as far as I am concerned.”  (On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great; emphasis my own)

Easter Monday:

COLLECT OF THE DAY

O God, in the paschal feast You restore all creation. Continue to send Your heavenly gifts upon Your people that they may walk in perfect freedom and receive eternal life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord,who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

READINGS

Exodus 15:1-18

or Daniel 12:1 c-3

Psalm 100 (antiphon: v. 5) Acts 10:34-43

or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8

Luke 24:13-49

VERSE:

Alleluia. Christ Jesus abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Alleluia. 2 Tim. 1:10

 Reflection:  The Baptismal and resurrectional life is engendered is by repentance and forgiveness as the Lord made plain on the road to Emmaus with His disciples who did not recognize Him.  They saw it was the  Lord in the breaking of the bread as He gives us His bread, the Word of God and Sacrament of the Altar  for our journey as His Church, His body in the world.  In His Word, the Lord Jesus gave them a heart to be taught and to burn with the fire of His life and love.  In the disciples’ despair the Lord Jesus lifted them up. His Word, Incarnate, Written, Taught and Preached  is always central, foremost in our life together for His formation of His resurrectional life in us as His baptized children.  “A child listens to his parents, from whom he was conceived and born, speaking to him with heart-felt desire and love. If you are born of God, then you will gladly listen to God the Lord speaking to you in His Word-especially regarding the resurrection of Christ, by which He has brought such precious gifts along for for us…O Holy Trinity, You Self-sufficient Love, ignite also in our heart this fire of Your Love!” ( Rev. Pastor and Professor Johann Gerhard, +1637)

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Scripture Readings
2 Samuel 7:4-16
Romans 4:13-18
Matthew 2:13-152:19-23

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, from the house of Your servant David You raised up Joseph to be the guardian of Your incarnate Son and the husband of His mother, Mary. Grant us grace to follow the example of this faithful workman in heeding Your counsel and obeying Your commands; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Reflection:  I think  March 19th, Joseph, Guardian of Jesus should be observed by the Church as Fathers’ Day, as the following reflection by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon in Touchstone magazine makes clear and as does the issue of Touchstone on St. Joseph also makes clear.  (BTW:  Touchstone is an excellent Christian and orthodox magazine).

There is something strongly impressive in the Bible’s final remark on the life of St. Joseph: “Then [Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. . . . And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:51–52). The Son of Godwas raised, that is to say, as any little boy should be raised, growing day by day in the practical and moral skills of life, the formation of character, even as he grew in height and build. While God’s Son assumed humanity in his mother’s womb, it was Joseph who taught him what it means to be a man. Thus, Joseph was to leave the forming mark (charakterin Greek) of his own manhood on the God-Man. Jesus, in his hometown, was known as “the carpenter’s son” (ho tou tektonos huios—Matt. 13:55).

Few if any writers have shown as much exegetical insight into St. Joseph, I think, as Bernard of Clairvaux, who preached a homily on this saint back in the twelfth century. Bernard spoke of Joseph as “the man of virtue,” who “deserved to be so honored by God that he was called, and was believed to be, the father of God” (meruit honorari a Deo ut pater Dei et dictus et creditus sit).

Detecting the subtle suggestions dropped in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Bernard compared St. Joseph to his Old Testament counterpart, Joseph the Patriarch. Both men, Bernard noted, were men of chastity, unwilling to touch women who did not belong to them. Each man, likewise, was driven into Egypt by the ill will (invidia) of others, in the first case by the older sons of Jacob, and in the second by King Herod.

Both men were given divine messages in their dreams. The older Joseph “provided grain, not only for himself, but for all the people,” while the later Joseph “received for safekeeping the Living Bread from heaven, both for himself and for the whole world.”

In the biblical genealogies, Jesus’ lineage is traced back to David, not through his mother, but through Joseph, to whom Jesus had no biological relationship (Matt. 1:16; Luke 3:23–31). Thus, Jesus inherited the messianic title “Son of David,” not through Mary, but through the man who served him, literally,in loco parentis (in place of parents).

Bernard was impressed by Joseph’s Davidic lineage:

Truly of the house of David, this man [vir iste] Joseph truly descended from the royal stem, noble in lineage, more noble in mind. . . . Indeed was he ason of David, not only in flesh, but also in faith, in holiness, in devotion. The Lord found him, as it were, another David, a man after his own heart, to whom he could safely commit the most secret and most sacred purpose [arcanum] of his heart—to whom, as to another David, he manifested the deep and concealed things of his wisdom, and whom he would not permit to be ignorant of the Mystery which none of the princes of this world have known. To him it was given to see what many kings and prophets had longed to see, but had not seen, and to hear, but had not heard. And he was given, not only to see and to hear, but also to carry, to lead, to embrace, to kiss, to nurture, and to guard. (Super Missus EstHomiliae2.16)

Every vocation is unique, surely, in the sense that the Good Shepherd calls each of his sheep by its own proper name. Still, there was something more particularly unique about the vocation of St. Joseph.

Just how does a man learn the proper form and method for being the foster-father of God’s Son and the spouse of that divine Son’s virgin mother? One suspects that there were no manuals on the subject. Joseph was obliged simply to follow God’s call wherever it led. Like Abraham, “he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). And if Abraham, in thus following God by faith, is called “our father” (Rom. 4:12), there must be some sense in which St. Joseph serves as our foster-father.

With so distinctive and demanding a vocation, we might excuse Joseph if, on occasion, he sometimes felt anxious and insecure. The available evidence, however, indicates that this was not the case. Joseph appears four times in the Gospel of Matthew, and every single time he is sound asleep. Whatever troubles Joseph endured, they did not includeinsomnia. Joseph’s vocation was not simply difficult; it was impossible. Consequently, he realized that all of it, in the end, depended on God, not himself.

(Taken from Christ in His Saints)

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The following is from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod website and it states the crucial distinction between the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches regarding the pope–Pr. Schroeder

Habemus Liberatorem!

Unless you haven’t turned on the TV, radio, or visited a website today, you’ve heard the news that a new leader of the Roman Catholic Church has been elected—a new pope, Francis I.  Should we, as Lutherans, care who that leader is?  After all, he’s not our leader and we don’t agree with many of the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings.

We should care for at least one reason:  how the world views biblical teachings on moral issues.  Whether we like it or not, the news media often looks to papal teachings as representative of “conservative” Christianity.  And, while we disagree with the pope on many serious areas of doctrine, we do often agree on teachings such as male ordination, abortionhomosexuality, and sex outside of marriage.

But far more important than the views of any earthly church leader, is God’s own Word.  We’re reminded in Hebrews, Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)  What is most important for any Christian leader?  That He speaks and teaches the true Word of God.  Habemus papam?  We have a pope?  No, more importantly for all the world to hear is HABEMUS LIBERATOREM!   – We have a Savior!  That is, Jesus Christ and him alone!

Jesus Christ alone is the Lord of the Church.  Jesus Christ alone is the hope for the world.  Jesus Christ alone is the one who has made full atonement for all sin through his death at Calvary.  Jesus Christ alone has risen and has assured all that through faith in him alone, apart from any works of man, salvation for eternity is a certainty!

My addition:

This:  

or this:

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Intro:  The First Part is from the bio in Festivals and Commemorations by Rev. Philip H. Pfatteicher.  The Second Part is a citation from the Passion of Perpetua and Felicity as quoted by Rev. Pfatteicher in the same book.   The Third Part is my reflection.  Peace in the Christ, Pr. Schroeder

First Part:

No saints are more uniformly honored in all the early calendars and martyrologies than these African martyrs. In 202 the emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity and harsh per­secution ensued. Arrested in Carthage were Vibia Perpetua, a noble­woman from Thuburbo, twenty-two years old; her infant child; Felic­ity, a pregnant slave; Revocatus, a slave; Saturninus; Secundulus­all catechumens. Later their catechist, Saturus, was arrested also. While under house arrest they were baptized.

Perpetua’s father urged her to renounce the faith, but she refused, and was imprisoned. In prison, she had a vision of a golden ladder guarded by a dragon and sharp weapons that prevented ascent, but nonetheless she walked over the dragon and reached a beautiful place. Her father repeated his plea in vain and repeated it again before the people in the arena.

The steadfast Christians were condemned to be given to wild beasts at a celebration in honor of Caesar Geta. Perpetua had another vision, this time of her seven year old brother Dinocrates, who had died of cancer, in heaven. Felicity was not to have been executed with the others since it was illegal to execute a pregnant woman, but three days before the spectacle Felicity gave birth prematurely to a girl, who was adopted by a Christian family, and gladly joined the others in martyrdom. After scourging, they were led to the amphitheater, and according to the apparently contemporary account of the mar­tyrdom, were mangled by the beasts, but survived to be beheaded with a sword.

The record of the Passion of Perpetua and Felicity is one of the most ancient reliable histories of the martyrs extant. Part of the Pas­sion is said to have been written by Perpetua herself as a kind of diary record of her visions, and part by Saturus. The introduction and the conclusion are by an apparent eyewitness, said by some to have been the church father Tertullian. The Passion, which recalls the bib­lical book of Revelation, is an important document in understanding early Christian ideas of martyrdom, providing a vivid insight into the beliefs of the young and vigorous African church. It was enormously popular, and St. Augustine, who quotes it often, had to warn against it being put on the same level as Holy Scripture. Perpetua and her companions were very popular in Carthage, and a basilica was erected over their tomb.

Second Part:  From the Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas

The day of their victory dawned, and they marched from the prison to the amphitheatre joyfully as though they were going to heaven, wit

h calm faces, trembling, if at all, with joy rather than fear. Per­petua went along with shining countenance and calm step, as the beloved of God, as a wife of Christ, putting down everyone’s stare by her own intense gaze. With them also was Felicitas, glad that she had safely given birth so that now she could fight the beasts, going from one blood bath to another, from the midwife to the gladiator, ready to wash after the childbirth in a second baptism.

They were then led up to the gates and the men were forced to put on the robes of priests of Saturn, the women the dress of the priestesses of Ceres. But the noble Perpetua strenuously resisted this to the end. “We came to this of our own free will, that our freedom should not be violated. We agreed to pledge our lives provided that we would do no such thing. You agreed with us to do this.”

Even injustice recognized injustice. The military tribune agreed. They were to be brought into the arena just as they were. Perpetua then began to sing a Psalm: she was already treading on the head of the Egyptian. Revocatus, Saturninus, and Saturus began to warn the onlooking mob. Then when they came within sight of Hilarianus, they suggested by their motions and gestures; “You have condemned us, but God will condemn you” was what they were saying. At this the crowds became enraged and demanded that they be scourged before a line of gladiators. And they rejoiced at this that they had obtained a share in the Lord’s sufferings.

First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sit­ting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side.. . . but the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord as the people wanted them to go, and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway, was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetua. Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as shewas by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.

Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honors, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less signifi­cant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendour and immeasurable power for all the ages.

Amen.

The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, ed. and tr. Herbert Musurillo, 129-131. © Oxford University Press 1972. Used by permission of Oxford University Press.

Third Part:  Reflection

An early Christian writer, Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220) famously penned “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”  This was literally so in the building of the first church structures:  they were erected over the sites of martyrdom, as was the case of Perpetua and Felicitas (see bio above), after Christianity became a legal religion after AD312.  We erect church buildings in our day after a church building committee has taken in consideration all sorts of factors but this one is major:  visibility, with good parking.  Now parking is important and convenient.  But it is a sobering reminder that the first basilicas, etc. were not built on convenient locales.  Martyrdom is not convenient, only expedient for the persecutor, or  so such a person, government etc. thinks. Though  I will hazard a guess that the sites of church buildings on the locales of martyrdoms met the visibility requirements:  coliseums, courts etc.  The martyrs were publicly executed in a “high traffic area”, a crossroads of civilization.  The martyrs let their light so shine before others, even in death, that others might see their good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (see Matthew 5:15-17).  The word “martyr” in New Testament Greek is literally “witness”.  We are to be prepared to give our witness at any time (see   1 Peter 3:14-16) even when not convenient.  I am no expert at witnessing, but the faith to so witness  comes  not from within but from with out:  in the Lord,  in the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 10:19-21).   The martyrs who witnessed by their blood give us good courage so that others might call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved.  The martyrs, contrary to other ‘martyrs’ in our day and time, did not destroy themselves to take others with them and so die.   They died so that the we might live in Christ Jesus, in His Church, by faith and in love, and indeed:  “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Let us pray:

O God the King of saints, who strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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