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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Lutheran Pastor and Professor Hermann Sasse observed that in the first two centuries of the Church, the pagan world had great and mighty religious rites, but compared to the Church, her rites were and are so simple:   bread, wine, water and through it all the Word of God and the crucified and Risen Christ.  Truly, what we  actually are, that is,  who we are is Who’s we are. It’s not scary and we don’t have to be scary.  Maybe it shows from Whom comes great a grace, so great a salvation.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  (2 Corinthians 4:6-8 English Standard Version)

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In this antiphon the Church remembers Sinai.  The Lord is the Lawgiver.  Adonai is another name for the LORD.  Adonai is used about 340 times in the Old Testament and is usually translated as Lord.  Adonai was used in Israel as a substitute for the divine Name, Yahweh, the Tetragrammaton.  Adonai evokes the majesty of the one true God who gave His Law on Sinai and before that appeared in the burning bush to Moses.  When Adonai appeared to Moses it was with the promise of the divine Name:  I AM.  The great I AM would save His people Israel from slavery in Egypt.  He gave the Law to save us from ourselves, for without law we resort to brutality in word and deed.  The Old Adam needs God’s Law.

Flannery O’Connor was a novelist and short story writer and for what it’s worth, one of my favorite writers.  She lived a short life, because of lupus, and she was a devout Roman Catholic living in Milledgeville, Georgia, in the “Christ obsessed south”, as she put it.  After she published a novel, Wise Blood, it was reviewed in Time and  she wrote to a friend about the attention it was receiving: 

Although I am a Catholic writer, I don’t care to get labeled as such in the popular sense of it, as it is then assumed that you have some religious ax to grind.  However, since the review in Time, my mail has been full of attempts to save me from the Church…

This letter is dated 23 April 1960.  Not much has changed of the secularist society trying to save us from the Church or Christians from Christianity, or believers from the Bible, or the faithful from the Lord.  Curious isn’t it?  By so saving us,  then we won’t be narrow minded and mean spirited.  Granted that there are such in the Church, yet it was by God’s grace, that ‘narrow-minded and  mean spirited’ Christians developed schools and universities, hospitals and orphanages, cared for the dying, fed the hungry, did not abort their young, nor sought personal revenge.  They did so not to be saved but  because they were saved from their own idols.  Why did Christians so serve?  God’s Law showed them by His Law the way to go, and when in sin, the Way out:  He sent His Son to bear our sin and be our Savior.    

In a secularist post World War I Germany, which earlier in the century had developed a Biblical scholarship denying the Bible as God’s Word, it was ripe in it’s secularist liberalism for open mindedness.  It has to be remembered that the Nazis were both anti-Jewish and anti-Christian. The path to tyranny is a Church-less, Word-less, God-less, Law-less, Christ-less world. It’s in the novel Wise Blood that Hazel Motes becomes a street preacher proclaiming “the Church without Christ”.   Sadly timely. The soul is made to adore and without the Lord, will adore the idols of this world and the Leader can step into the temple of our souls and the soul becomes the haunt of the new Baals.  It is into the idolatrous world that the Lord came, born of the Virgin Mary, to save us from those trying to save us from the Lord…and for our would be ‘saviors’  as well.  And this is the reason the Church is called to pray and sing till the end of all days:

Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

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 Lord God, heavenly Father, You promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, You led him to the land of Canaan, and You sealed Your covenant with him by the shedding of blood. May we see in Jesus, the Seed of Abraham, the promise of the new covenant of Your Holy Church, sealed with Jesus’ blood on the cross and given to us now in the cup of the new testament; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

About Abraham Abraham (known early in his life as Abram) was called by God to become the father of a great nation (Genesis 12). At age seventy-five and in obedience to God’s command, he, his wife, Sarah, and his nephew Lot moved southwest from the town of Haran to the land of Canaan. There God established a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:18), promising the land of Canaan to his descendants. When Abraham was one hundred and Sarah was ninety, they were blessed with Isaac, the son long promised to them by God. Abraham demonstrated supreme obedience when God commanded him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. God spared the young man’s life only at the last moment and provided a ram as a substitute offering (Genesis 22:1-19). Abraham died at age 175 and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah, which he had purchased earlier as a burial site for Sarah. He is especially honored as the first of the three great Old Testament patriarchs—and for his righteousness before God through faith (Romans 4:1-12). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, cph.org)

Reflection:  With the war, and the previous wars in the Middle East involving Islam, many assert that since Abraham is the father of faith, there are three Abrahamic religions:  Islam, Judaism and Christianity.  In Romans 4: 16, the Apostle Paul calls Abraham, “…the father of us all”, that is Jew and Gentile. The problem is that there is a stark difference in understanding the nature of faith between Christianity on the one side, and Judaism and Islam on the other. The distinction is read in this Scripture passage:  

For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.(Galatians 3: 18)

The basis of Judaism and Islam is law, or even man-made law. Keep it, you are saved, except the Law of God is whittled down into man-made rules and regs which appear strenuous and strict…. and keepable.  Faith is based upon the promise.  “For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:3 The law had not been given at this time. When the Lord showed the stars in the sky to Abraham, the sign of the promise that Abraham would conceive a child, then did he believe.  Abraham seized the promise, God’s faithful Word of promise. Faith comes by the Word of promise,not the law.  Law is about no. Promise is about Yes, that finally and fully all the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20).  

When it comes to the Law of God, we do not keep it.  We usually do not have to go further than the first commandment to see in our wills that we worship and adore other people, place, things and devils as more important than the one true God. After the fall of Adam and Eve, murder, vengeance, violence, sexual immorality and idolatry entered the world.  Genesis chapters 3-11 are the sad news and it reads like a the daily news.  Then in chapter 12: 1, out of nowhere, the Lord calls Abram (as he was known then):  

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”So Abram went, as the Lord had told him

This is the Lord’s promises one after another:  four “I wills”.  Abraham obeyed by faith, not by the law, for faith comes by the Word of promise.

Abraham was truly a man by faith alone. How does faith come? Faith can not come by the Law. Law, even God’s Law, shows us His will, what is not permitted.  Law takes no faith. It’s spiritual use focuses inward upon our souls. True faith does not look inward, for then I see nothing but sin and death,but outward to the One who forgives and gives life.  It comes by preaching and teaching of the Word and the Word is Christ.  The Lord was with Abram and he heard and he believed.  Abraham never saw the fulfillment of his offspring as the stars in the sky: only one son, Isaac.  One son is enough and the one Son is more than enough. Still Abraham did not see for he walked by faith and not by sight, as we all do. He did not found a new religion but Abraham is  the father of Faith. In fact, he was not a Jew, but a believer in the God Who called him, and that is why the Lord renamed Abram, Abraham, literally, father of a multitude, of all those who believe in the Lord who forgives in the Seed of Abraham, Jesus and are now children according to the promise:  

15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed,who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

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About Lawrence:  Early in the third century AD, Lawrence, most likely from Spain, made his way to Rome. There he was appointed chief of the seven deacons and was given the responsibility to manage Church property and finances. The emperor at the time, who thought that the Church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lawrence to produce the ‘treasures of the Church.’ According to tradition,  Lawrence brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity. He  jailed and eventually executed in the year AD 258 by being roasted on a gridiron. His martyrdom left a deep impression on the young Church because he was a Roman citizen tortured and executed by Roman authorities.  Almost immediately, the date of this death, August 10, became a permanent fixture on the early commemorative calendar of the Church.  (adapted from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH). The particular persecution that led to Lawrence’s execution began in anno Domini 257:

…the Roman emperor Valerian began a vigorous persecution of the church, aimed primarily at the clergy and laity of the upper classes. All of the properties of the church were confiscated and assemblies for worship were forbidden. On August 4, 258 the Bishop of Rome, Sixtus II who had just become bishop the year before, and his deacons were apprehended at the cemetery of Callistus where they were celebrating the liturgy, and all except Lawrence were summarily executed and buried in the same cemetery…Lawrence, who knew of the location of the Church’s treasure, was tortured and then executed on August 10.

Reflection:  The Commemoration of St. Lawrence is in this part of world history quite timely, to say the least, given the martyrdoms that have occurred and are happening in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Nigeria.  It is hard to contemplate Lawrence being killed by being roasted live on fire.  It is hard to believe a 5 year old boy being cut in half by ISIS.  We hear that ISIS is full of anger and hatred…but are they?

Were the Nazis full of hatred and anger when they murdered 6 million Jews and 5 milion Gypsies, Communists, homosexuals and Christians?  Probably at one time.  In a seminary seminar course on the Holocaust we studied the fact that initially the Nazis  took Jews in train cars to isolated areas and then gunned them down burying them in mass graves. The Nazi State soon realized this was using too much ammunition, time and effort, too many vital war assets. Eventually they improved the ‘extermination’ of Jews and others with the invention of Zykon-B gas and high tech ovens to burn the bodies efficiently into ashes.  There was no more anger and hatred, just cold-blooded technological efficiency.  

ISIS can cut a boy in half with disinterested efficiency.  We exterminate some 2 million  infants a year in abortion with medical technology that is suppose to save lives.  Dr. Mengeles are active in our country daily.  The Roman Emperor probably executed many others by grilling them alive without batting an eye.  Just think of the depth of depravity of sin!  Animals do not kill each other for idealogy or sport or enjoyment, but man does.  When the Church is driven out by a government, eventually the State becomes god and will not tolerate the one true God, but Lawrence served the poor in Jesus Christ.  We remember Lawrence but not the tyrant who had him murdered.  I have known Lawrences but I have never met anyone named Valerian or Nero. We remember what the Lord said to Saul on the road to Damascus:   “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9: 4-5) As Pr. Fiene ended an excellent article,

“”May God turn the hearts of all who are abusing, raping, terrorizing, and killing our brothers and sisters throughout the world. May God bring them to faith in Christ, who has put away their murderous sins and won every gemstone of His Father’s love for them. May God fill our enemies with the Holy Spirit, that they may put down their swords and share the treasure of Christ’s kingdom with those whom they once sought to destroy.”

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

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Collect of the Day

Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, and to another the word of faith. We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servant Athanasius, and we pray that by his teaching we may be led to a fuller knowledge of the truth which we have seen in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Acts 20:19-35

Psalm 71:1-8

2 Corinthians 4:5-14

St. Matthew 10:23-32

About  Athanasius, Church Father:

  • Athanasius was an Egyptian by birth and a Greek by eduction
  • His parents were both Christians and wealthy and Athanasius received both a solid secular and catholic (Christian) education in the city of  Alexandria, Egypt.  Alexandria was a city noted for it’s learning and it’s martyrs.
  • Athanasius lived during the most horrible of the persecutions of the Church under Diocletius, and then Maximin, from when Athanasius was 5 till he was 14, when it finally  ended in Egypt 311.
  • During the time of the persecution, many Alexandrian Christians fled to the desert and thus some began monasteries.  The most known of the monks was Anthony.  Athanasius knew him and eventually wrote Anthony’s biography.
  • He was a teenager when the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 making Christianity a legal religion in the Empire.
  • But after about six years after the Edict, a bishop, Arius, began teaching that there was a time, “…when Christ was not”, thus denying Biblical, catholic and orthodox doctrine.
  • But before the onslaught of the Arian heresy, Athanasius wrote two small books:  Against the Heathen, in which he refutes contemporary paganism (please note: paganism was in it’s pure form at that time, without heretics mixing in Christianity) and the demonstration of the possibility of the knowledge of God by the human soul.  The second one, On the Incarnation of the Word  of God, was on Word made flesh. “It is not speculative, it is not original…not even controversial”, because Arius had not yet started down the wrong path.  The photo above and the quotes below are from this volume, available at St. Vladimir’s Press.  This edition features an introduction by none other than C. S. Lewis.
  • Athanasius was present at the Council of Nicaea as a non-voting Deacon.
  • He was ordained in 328 as Bishop.
  • Athanasius lived his whole life in Alexandria except for the five times he was forced into exile for his preaching and teaching. He stood alone for the Faith delivered to saints once for all (Jude 1:3). Yet,he was known by his contemporaries as a kind and gentle man, of great education and humility.  He was short of stature.
  • His name is associated with the third creed of the Church, confessed in The Book of Concord, the Athanasian Creed, though most likely he did not write it,  nevertheless the creed is a solid reflection of Christian and orthodox theology as taught by the saint.
  • In 356, Anthony died at the age of 105. The desert monks gave support for their brother, Athanasius, especially when he went into exile.
  • After the fifth exile, Athanasius  had seven years of fruitful peace in his labors as a pastor and theologian.
  • He died on this date in 373 as Patriarch of Alexandria.
The information above and the quotes below are all from On the Incarnation, with Introduction by C. S. Lewis, published by St. Vladimir Press in a new translation.
 
A Reflection from Lewis’ Intro:

St. Athanasius has suffered in popular estimation from a certain sentence in the “Athanasian Creed”….the words “Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly” are the offence. They are commonly misunderstood. The operative word is keep; not acquire, or even believe, but keep. The author, in fact, is  not about unbelievers but  deserters, not about those who have never heard-of Christ, nor even those who have understood and refused to accept Him, but those really believed, then allow themselves, under the sway of sloth or fashion or any other invited confusion to be drawn away into sub-Christian modes of thoughts. They are a warning against the curious modern assumption that all changes of belief, however brought about, are necessarily exempt from blame…

His epitaph is Athanasius contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world.” We are proud that our own country has more than once stood against the world. Athanasius did the same. He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, “whole and undefiled,” when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius—into one of those “sensible” synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.

Quotes from On the Incarnation:

  • “The Savior is working mightily among men, every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond the Greek-speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching.  Can anyone, in face of this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life?  Does a dead man prick the consciences of men, so that they throw all the traditions of their fathers to the winds and bow down before the teaching of Christ?  If He is no longer active in the world, as He must needs be if He is dead, how is that He makes the living to cease from their activities, the adulterer for his adultery, the murderer from murdering, the unjust from avarice, while the profane and godless man becomes religious?  If He did not rise, but is still dead, how is it that He routs and persecutes and overthrows the false gods, whom unbelievers think to be alive, and the evil spirits whom they worship?  For where Christ is named, idolatry is destroyed and the fraud of evil spirits is exposed; indeed, no such spirit can endure that Name, but takes to flight on sound of it.  This is the work of One Who lives, not of one dead; and, more than that, it is the work of God.
  • “For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker?”
  • “….it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body.”
  • “How could He have called us if He had not been crucified, for it is only on the cross that a man dies with arms outstretched?”
  • “He deals with them (“them”=us!  Please note: by this time in his book, Athanasius has portrayed Biblically and correctly man as an idolater, Romans 1, doomed to death on account of sin and disobedience and so the sheer wonder of the Incarnation-Pr. Schroederas a good teacher with his pupils, coming down to their level and using simple means. St. Paul says as much: “Because in the wisdom of God the world in its wisdom knew not God, God. thought fit through the simplicity of the News proclaimed to save those who believe.” (1 Cor. 1: 23) I Men had turned from the contemplation of God above, and were looking for Him in , the opposite direction, down among created things and things of sense. The Saviour of us all, the Word of God, in His great love took to Himself a body and moved as Man among men, meeting their senses, so to speak, halfway.”

 

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Introduction:  Today’s appointed Psalmody is Psalm 119: 9-16.  Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (+9 April, 1945) in his unfinished commentary on the longest single chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, has these sharp observations on verse 9

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to Your word.

A young man here asks the question of his life, and he asks it not because of flaming idealism or enthusiasm for the good and noble in general, but because he has experienced the power of the Word of God and his own weakness.

Does this question about the blameless and pure way sound inconsistent with youth, freedom and affirmation of life?  If so, it is only because we have become accustomed to a very godless conception of youth and are no longer able to understand the power and fullness of life which is found in innocence.  It is very presumptuous and wrongheaded to that a man has to become entangled in the guilt of life in order to know life itself, and finally God.  We do not learn to know life and guilt from own experience, but from God’s judgment of mankind and His grace in the cross of Jesus Christ.

It has become clearer in my studies that  pre-war, pre-Nazi Germany had a large youth movement just we had in our country the 1960s.  In both time periods youth were extolled as the measure of the good and the noble.  A Lutheran pastor and theologian, Kurt Marquart, wrote in an 1978 article on liturgy, the following trenchant comment on the Church:

Who, after all, could respect an institution which is, after two
thousand years’ experience, so confused about its functions as
to say, in effect: “Dear children, help us! We are no longer
sure about what we ought to be doing. Perhaps you might
have some good ideas?” Who could possibly take seriously the
play -worship prefixed with that horrid word, “experimental”?
The fact is that no healthy. viable society lets its children
arbitrate its values. It is for the elders of the tribe to guard its
cultural heritage and to transmit it solemnly to the younger
generation-never vice versa. Also in our society the problem
is not with the youth but with their elders. 

In Bonhoeffer’s time, before World War II, after the utter devastation of the first World War, a youth movement began in Germany that was looking for a leader, (German: Führer) to lead them to a new day. In 1933, after Herr Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, Bonhoeffer gave a radio address, “The Younger Generations’ Altered Concept of Leadership” based upon “Führer Princip” or Leader Principle”.  It was cut short, history can only guess who cut it short and Bonhoeffer later gave it again. I wrote an article about this principle at Brothers of John the Steadfast.  Yet it all started in a youth movement. One musical caught the incipient terrors of this youth movement, Cabaret, in a song written for the musical (set in prewar Nazi Germany) which almost sounds like a song of that era:

It seems to me at least that in Bonhoeffer’s comments on Psalm 119: 9 that  he is reflecting a saying of this new understanding of youth. He calls it “godless”.  Growing up in the 60s, I was told that you have to become thoroughly immersed in “living” to understand life.  No, says Bonhoeffer, based upon God’s Word:  we learn of life, it’s guilt and redemption only in God’s Word.  I was never directly taught that it is good to be innocent,as it was derided as naiveté.  Look at what youth, unrestricted by any wisdom, Biblical or traditional, wrought in Germany.  Look what has happened with my generation dictating, not merely bad liturgy, but what we wanted:  drugs, pot, ‘free’ love, narcissism, abortion, STDs.  Look at what has been wrought.  Bonhoeffer:

“Not good intentions, burning ideals, nor even work and fulfillment of duty can keep the way pure, only God’s Word can do that.

We need the Word of Lord more than ever, beloved in the Lord.

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At this time of the year, the sentiment above is expressed.  It is well meant.  In today’s reflection by Pr. Scott Murray in his book,    A Year with the Church Fathers: Meditations for Each Day of the Church Year, he notes that birthdays are for the person whereas our Lord’s birth day is for us. “For me?!”, the surprised birthday boy exclaims.  The Lord’s birth is for  us.  His Incarnation is for us:   “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (St. Luke 2: 11;  emphasis my own).   In fact, our human fallen nature, our sinful self, is very much against God (see Romans 5:10;  Ephesians 2:1-3)  The wonder of His coming is that He is for us because we are so against ourselves.   How do we know this?  Before the Lord is for us, He is very much against us in His Law which His Law shows that we disobey. Maybe the other “reason for the season” is sinners.  There are only sinners around the manger, the first sign of His coming and the last sign of His redemption:  His Cross.  Happy Birthday to Jesus?  Maybe it is all of heaven rejoicing over a sinner’s repentance and the Lord saying as He baptizes us: Happy New Birthday to You! (Luke 15:7).  “For me?  You shouldn’t have.  I don’t deserve it”.  “Now you are beginning to believe!”

FOR YOU!

“…for us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man…” (The Nicene Creed)

 

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