Concordia and Koinonia

1. O little flock, fear not the Foe
Who madly seeks your overthrow;
Dread not his rage and power.
What though your courage sometimes faints,
His seeming triumph o’er God’s saints
Lasts but a little hour.

2. Be of good cheer; your cause belongs
To Him who can avenge your wrongs;
Leave it to Him, our Lord.
Though hidden yet from mortal eyes,
His Gideon shall for you arise,
Uphold you and His Word.

3. As true as God’s own Word is true.
Not earth nor hell with all their crew
Against us shall prevail.
A jest and byword are they grown;
God is with us, we are His own;
Our victory cannot fail.

4. Amen, Lord Jesus, grant our prayer;
Great Captain, now Thine arm make bare,
Fight for us once again!
So shall Thy saints and martyrs raise
A mighty chorus to Thy praise,
World without end. Amen.

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A clip from the 1961 movie, Question 7 about a Lutheran pastor and his family in East Germany. I pray this clip is not prescient. If we don’t fight for the truth, God’s truth won’t go away, but we will.

1 Kings 18: Elijah and Ahab
 17When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” 18And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals.  (1 Kings 18)

Prayer of the Day

Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Elijah, You continued 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-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The narrative of Elijah begins at 1 Kings 17: 1 and ends with Elijah’s assumption into heaven, II Kings 2: 12.

The prophet Elijah, whose name means “My God is Yahweh [the LORD],” prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel primarily during the reign of Ahab (874-853 BC).Ahab, under the influence of his pagan wife Jezebel, had encouraged the worship of Baal throughout his kingdom, even as Jezebel sought to get rid of the worship of Yahweh. Elijah was called by God to denounce this  idolatry and to call the people of Israel, to the worship of Yahweh as the only true God (as he did in 1 Kings 18:20-40). Elilia., was a rugged and imposing figure, living the wilderness and dressing in a garment of  camel’s hair and a leather belt (1 Kings 18:20-40).He was a prophet mighty in word and deed. Many miracles were done through Elijah, including the raising of the dead (1 Kings 17.17-24) and the effecting of a long drought in Israel (1 Kings 17:1). At the end of his ministry, he was taken up into heaven while Elisha, his successor, looked on (2 Kings 2:11). Later, the prophet Malachi proclaimed that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6), a prophecy that was fulfilled in the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Living in the Baal Lands

Elijah was in the minority of the true faith of Israel.  He had help but at times he felt alone (1 Kings 19: 4,10).  His own nation, the Lord’s chosen people, were being ruled by a King and his wife who introduced false religion into the promised land (1 Kings 16: 29-34). It must have been for the faithful Israelites, like Elijah, so strange, so not normal, even frightening that Baal worship was being so accepted by God’s own people.  Baalism was a fertility religion to ‘insure’ the fertility of the earth for a harvest.  By certain rituals, involving temple prostitutes, they thought they could influence Baal for the harvest.  This religion had the attraction of sexual promiscuity. Israel fell to Baalism many times in its history recorded in the Old Testament.  In the time of Elijah, Baalism was accepted by the King and his Queen, that is, the government while the true faith of Israel was oppressed.  Eventually, Queen Jezebel wanted Elijah’s death(1 Kings 19: 2).

With the lockdown, pandemic, riots, the rise of Marxism, increasing animosity of Christianity, false doctrine preached and taught in churches, atheism and idolatry, hatred of patriotism, the destruction of authority, we too seem to be living in a Baal land. King Ahab himself goes to visit Elijah and…

 17When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” 18And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals.  (1 Kings 18)

Elijah was risking his life even talking like this.  We will lose friends in sticking up for the Lord in Word and deed. Maybe our current time’s severe problems are God’s own judgment:  if we had been sticking up for the Lord and faithful to His Word,  telling of Him, living as seven days a week Christians, many more would be saved, and so strong in the Lord to remain steadfast in Him.  Maybe this time is our wake-up call.

 Yet, people are troubled.  God’s Word came to Elijah and in a kind of parable in real life, His Word came through Elijah to another Sidonian (same as Jezebel), the widow of Zarephath! (1 Kings 17: 8-16).  The church is and will be accused of “troubling” our own country which has, “abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed…” false gods.  Yet He wills His Word for both Jew and Gentile, Christian and not Christian to be planted and lived (St. Matthew 13: 1-9).  Maybe like Elijah, like John the Baptist, “…the voice of one crying in wilderness” (St. Luke 3: 4), are saints for our time. We too will be saints crying in this wilderness.

Question 7 is a 1961 American-West German film directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starring Michael GwynnMargaret Jahnen and Christian de Bresson. It won the National Board of Review Award for Best Film.

The movie takes place in post-war Communist East Germany, it is about the family of  Lutheran minister Friedrich Gottfried. The Church is under the control of the Communist Party. The Communist Party decreed that all children of “dissidents” are denied entry to higher education. Peter, the Pastor’s son, wants to be accepted into a music conservatory.  All students must answer seven questions to be accepted into university. Question 7 is key for Christians/Lutherans.

It’s available on Amazon Prime: both live streaming and DVD.

I think it will explain what communism/socialism is like and is instructive for our witness today—Pr. Schroeder

There are loyal husbands, wives, citizens, Christians. The problem is not that loyalty no longer exists, because if it was gone, the chaos and mayhem would be over the top. Yet, at times, we know and see that society and church are clearly over the top. The general problem not that virtue is extinct like the do-do bird, but virtue is no longer extolled, educated and encouraged: in families, churches and schools. This includes loyalty. Why? Substitute ‘virtues’ have been taught, such as: ‘sensitivity’, ‘openness’,’inclusivity’. True virtue, based upon the 10 Commandments, are directed toward our neighbors, like the loyalty of Ruth to Orpah, and Orpah’s God and people.

Concordia and Koinonia

Image result for Ruth icon

Ruth 1  But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

Collect of the Day

We pray…

Faithful God, You promised to preserve Your people and save Your inheritance, using unlikely and unexpected vessels in extending the genealogy that would bring about the birth of Your blessed Son. Give us the loyalty of Ruth and her trust in the one true God, that we, too, might honor You through our submission and respect and be counted among Your chosen people, by the grace of Jesus…

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Today’s Old Testament reading is Judges 7: 1-23 and  it is the narrative of Gideon and his 300 soldiers against a numerical and militarily superior Midianites.   It is a great read. 300 soldiers against an overwhelming force is the other true story of the 300 Spartans who held off a superior Persian Army at the Battle of Thermopylae.  This story has been made popular in the movie, 300.

The forces of Israel at the beginning (vs. 3) were 22,000.  The Lord says,

“The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’

Judge 7: 2

The Lord tells Gideon to proclaim to the forces, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.” 

Wow.  Then the troops are eventually reduced to 300 (verses 4-8)! Again, the Lord did this on purpose.  At Thermopylae, the 300 were outnumbered by a Greek soldier betraying his fellow soldiers.  And again, the reason the Lord did this is so the Israelites could NOT say, “My own hand has saved me.”  

One of the prophecies of the coming of the Christ is Isaiah 9: 1-7, “For unto us a child is born” and in verse 4 it is written:

For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.

The reference, “the day of Midian” is to Judges chapter 7.  In Isaiah 9: 2 is verse that  the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.  The great light, as in the light shining in the darkness from the torches of Gideon and the 300 in the clay jars, broken open, shining upon the Midianites setting them into confusion and disarray, thus saving Israel, as with light of Christ, the Word made flesh, the great light, shining in the darkness.  Professor and Pastor Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) preached it well:

“(The) rescue from the Law, says Isaiah, is prototyped through the very slaughter which Prince Gideon executed over the Midianites, mightily defeating them in Judges 7; for there it is recorded that Gideon did not achieve victory over the Midianites by the power of a mighty army, but through a marvelous and (to reason) a ridiculous manner. He took three hundred men, divided them into three groups, and gave into the hand of each one a trumpet and an empty jug and a torch. As they arrived at the place of the army, he commanded them that they should blow the trumpet and break to pieces the jugs in their hand. In this manner the Midianite army was chased into flight, and the Lord created a situation such that each sword in the entire army was in opposition to the other.

Now just as Gideon overcame his enemies at that time, not with great outward might, but rather through a common invisible manner, so also this Child and this Son, born for us, as Isaiah says, did not utilize outward pomp and power to rescue His people from their enemies. Rather, He began it foolishly, allowing Himself to be nailed to the cross, to the point where His vigor and strength were dried up like a shattered potsherd (Psa. 22:16). Thereafter He let His divine brightness [glory] and might shine forth with His resurrection and commanded that the trumpet of His Word be [sounded] in all the world.

The light shines in the darkness to this day and the darkness has neither understood nor overcome it (St. John 1: 5).  We got to let His light shine in these days of darkness and terror as He shines the light of His resurrection into our hearts. Truly, my own hand has not saved me. The hand of Jesus has saved us.

C. S. Lewis on the Coronavirus

What might CS Lewis say of our new COVID situation? … Here’s what he said in 1948 about the mental shift required by living with the threat of the atomic bomb. Substitute “atomic bomb” with COVID:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

Jesus teaches the apostles on the sword and peace, the Cross and life.

What kind of sword does our Lord speak about?  I am not talking about one of the various types of swords used in the 1st century, but swords still in needed use today.  There are two swords: 

  1. The temporal, physical sword to keep good order in society and culture to curtail external sin, wielded by government alone. Romans 13,  for (the ruler, i.e. government) is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
  2. The eternal, spiritual sword of the Word of God: Hebrews 4: 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Ephesians 6 and take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God

Jesus in the Word of God, the Scriptures teaches about two types of peace:

  1. Temporal peace, for the sane, and wholesome order of nations and cultures for which we are enjoined to earnestly pray for:  First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 1 Timothy 1.
  2. Eternal, spiritual peace:   Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  Eternal, spiritual peace is fulfilled by Jesus Christ upon the Cross for the life of the world:  For he himself (that is, the Lord Jesus Christ) is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.  His peace is His reconciliation between God and man and each other. His peace is eternal life.  It is sheer gift by His grace which we can not earn nor enforce! The Church can not, must not ever try to enforce grace as grace and force are a damning oxymoron. 

 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Wasn’t the Lord at His birth heralded by angels to the shepherd, Peace on earth?  Isn’t one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit peace? In today’s Gospel, Is Jesus referring to temporal peace or eternal peace? Yes, temporal peace. He has not come to set up a one world government, as say communists or Marxists, or fascists of the left or the right, cult leaders or as in Islam, but His eternal reign, His kingdom. His reconciliation in the hearts and souls of men which is the salt of the earth,  the light of the world, freely given, freely received for our freedom from the world, the flesh and the devil for service to our neighbor. In the Divine Service, the Pastor ends the sermon with the Votum: Philippians 4:7  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.This is not simply a fine how-do-you-do or a swell way to end a sermon. The Latin word, votum means a vow and in the pagan religion of the Roman empire it was a vow to a deity, but Phillippians 4: 7 is no vow to God! It is the Lord’s vow, His promise to you.

Jesus teaches He will cause conflict in families that is  a sword.  Which sword is Jesus teaching about? Temporal, time conditioned sword or the spiritual sword of the Word of God?  The Lord is not telling us He is wielding the sword of governmental force, as He makes clear to the Church in night in which He was betrayed: “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Yet the spiritual sword will cause conflict even in families.  In Muslim families,  if a family member becomes a Christian that person can be put to death. To follow Christ can be a dangerous thing.  Now maybe it’s not so severe and violent here, but still, a family divided, a house divided, is not a pleasant thing. Maybe you’ve experienced that in your own family. Many have experienced grief because of, say, adult children who were raised in the church but who now have abandoned the faith and left the church and taken on the ways of the world. It can be a heartbreak and an ongoing heartache. Yet, in Christ, we with full hearts and voices sing,

Oh, blest the house, whate’er befall,
where Jesus Christ is all in all!
For if he were not dwelling there,
how dark and poor and void it were!

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  Note that our Lord does not say not to love and honor your father and mother!  Some say, family is everything.  No, it’s not for the faithful.  The 4th commandment, Honor your father and your mother, is not the 1st commandment. Family can be an idol as any person, place or thing can be a false god. It can even result in the oft quoted, “Don’t go against the family”. Jesus speaks here about the 1st commandment, have no other gods before me, we are to fear, love and trust in God above all things.  The key words loving father or mother “more than me”.   Loving anyone or anything more than the Lord is the definition of idolatry.

Some now say self righteously and riotously, not that the family is every thing but the family is nothing, after all it takes village to raise a child, i.e. government. No. The first thing communists do is to devalue the family for their ends of their version of utopia on earth, the classless society.  “The old family structure is now merely a hindrance” (From a 1920s Soviet Communist).  From today, the Black Lives Matter website,

“We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

BLM does not know history as it distorts history to the point of wiping it out. The so called “western-prescribed nuclear family”, did not originate in the West, but in the near East, commanded on a mountain called Sinai, the 4th commandment, and the family originated in a garden called Eden. Don’t go against the family becomes sinister in communism.  The State, the Party rules as god. This false god is totalitarian, ruling over the total of life, that is, physical life.  Yes, they can kill the body but not the soul.  The greatest stories of spiritual freedom have been heard from concentration camps, the gulags of the Soviet Union, prisoners in our own jails, in the prisons of North Vietnam, in the POW camps of Imperial Japan, the underground churches of Communist China. Only the Lord rules over the totality of our life through Jesus Christ.

Jesus teaches the apostles on the sword and peace, the Cross and life. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.   Crosses were for crucifixion, to put one to death.  Jesus bids us to take up our cross and die, dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. This dying and rising is Holy Baptism.  If a man has beheld evil, he may know that was shown to him in order that he learn his own guilt and repent; for what is shown to him is also within him.  Only the Lord can so enter and make us clean. Luther:

 “The Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”  

As a child we may have heard, or as a parent may said, regarding misbehavior and wrong, cut it out. The Lord’s cross is His spiritual sword of His Word to kill and make alive, a two edged sword.  Then we know again His peace which passes all our understanding.  We are freed to serve as we have been served by the Lord Himself and as He still does in all that He has given us in creation, redemption and sanctification.  We are forgiven servants. We serve not to be self-serving and save ourselves by our deeds (as if we ever could even in a thousand lifetimes) but serve our neighbor in God’s love alone in the deed of His atonement, as we are saved by Christ’s holy Cross and suffering. 

“The Lord God at times permits such suffering to come from friends; this is so that we will not cling to them with too great love and thereby forget God. When our own friends revile and persecute us, we see that we should not rely on humans but alone on God; we can then say with David in Psalm 27:10: “When my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord takes me in”.  (From a Sermon by Pastor Johann Gerhard)

Jesus put the apostles, His “little ones”,  on the front lines of this world, with His Cross and His eternal life in them, with them, for them…for His Church as well. Those who falsely preach your best life now are idolatrous.  It is about Christ’s life yesterday, today and forever.

In the General Index of my edition of Lutheran Confessions, under the topic, “Scriptures, Holy”, there is this listing: “Scriptures, Holy: the Spirit knows what he says”. I love that:  The Spirit knows what He says! He knows what is written and incarnate for our salvation: sword and peace, the Cross and eternal life.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Praying hands | Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer

From The Lutheran Service Book: Pastoral Care Companion: Prayer, “Following an uprising, conflict, or war

Gracious God and Father, though Your Son, Jesus Christ, came to bring us Your heavenly peace, violence and conflict still rage among Your children on earth. We thank You that in Your mercy and goodness You have caused recent violence [in location] to come to an end. Bring a restoration of calm and security, and heal the wounds that have been inflicted. Preserve the peace that has come so that what has been laid waste and made desolate can again be planted and built up. Open Your fatherly heart and bountiful hand to help all in need. Grant that we all may live together in unity and peace, and let all hatred and ill will be remembered no more. Give us that peace which the world cannot give, and grant us grace that, delivered from all conflict and strife, we may live in harmony and safety, and finally, having gained the eternal rest of the saints in glory, may praise and bless, worship and glorify You forever; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns

From Luther’s Sermon on Today’s Gospel:  “For they (the wise and understanding of the world) want to attain peace of conscience through their own counsels and accomplishments and their own self-chosen ways, and they will not cease doing so until they see that their sins have been purged through satisfaction and their self-will has been satisfied, which is impossible and is only to build on sand [cf. Matt. 7:26].Therefore, no matter how much they work, labor, and speculate, they accomplish nothing else except to increase the restlessness of their souls, which is just what they are seeking to escape through all their efforts. But one cannot escape it except through knowing the Father and the Son, that is, through knowing the grace and mercy of God which is freely given to us in Christ.”

“…Christ now says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” [Matt. 11:28]; for you cannot refresh yourselves, you  cannot give yourselves rest, but I can. What  IS there left in you? Get out of yourselves and come to me. Despair of yourselves and hope in Me, just as Abraham went out from his country, his kindred, from his and his father’s house. For we ourselves are a father’s house, we ourselves are the world.  Therefore we must go out of ourselves, for we labor and are heavy-laden.”

From St. Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. AD 130-200):  “For error is plausible and bears a resemblance to the truth but requires to be disguised;  while truth is without disguise and, therefore, has been entrusted to children.”

The Formula of Concord, on the Lord’s Supper:“For Christians who are of weak faith, diffident, troubled, and heartily terrified because of the greatness and number of their sins, and think that in this their great impurity they are not worthy of this precious treasure and the benefits of Christ, and who feel and lament their weakness of faith, and from their hearts desire that they may serve God with stronger, more joyful faith and pure obedience, they are the truly worthy guests for whom this highly venerable Sacrament [and sacred feast] has been especially instituted and appointed;  as Christ says, Matt. 11:28: Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Also Matt. 9:12: They that be whole need not a physician, but they that be sick. Also [ 2 Cor. 12:9 ]: God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. Also [ Rom. 14:1 ]: Him that is weak in the faith receive ye [ Rom 14:3 ], for God hath received him. For whosoever believeth in the Son of God, be it with a strong or with a weak faith, has eternal life [ John 3:15f. ].

And worthiness does not depend upon great or small weakness or strength of faith, but upon the merit of Christ, which the distressed father of little faith [Mark 9:24] enjoyed as well as Abraham, Paul, and others who have a joyful and strong faith.”

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