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Text:  Hebrews 11

Today’s Epistle reading is the Roll Call of the Heroes of Faith in Jesus Christ with the theme verse, the 11: 1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.

In the middle of the Roll Call, there are verses of hope in Christ, by faith, toward the Lord’s will in Christ for all:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.

The  hymn “I’m but a Stranger Here” (#748, Lutheran Service Book) expresses an Biblical truth we seem not to like as Christians, the first stanza:

I’m but a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home;
Danger and sorrow stand
Round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland,
Heaven is my home.

This reminds me of the country song lyric, “Everyone wanna go to heaven, but no one want to go now”.  We like it here.  We have a hard time with the understanding that, “earth is a desert drear”.  Never before in the history of the world have so many people enjoyed the life that just a century before was limited to the wealthy few:  single family dwellings, lawns, vast entertainment possibilities through, radio, TV, internet, even indoor plumbing.  Prosperity preachers make much ado about this that we can even more if we strike a deal with the Almighty. We are very much at home here and now and want to hold on for dear life…even Christians. Yet, if what I have written is true, we are being false to the faith and hope the saints of old lived in Christ:  the Lord has a better plan.  The Lord laid out this plan in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth:  an enduring city, who’s builder is none other than the Lord Himself.  Even our desire, even lust, for the “good life”, the “best life” now and forever demonstrates that eternity is part of our very thoughts, reflecting in a fleshly way, the Lord Himself. Ecclesiastes 3:

 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Eternity is in our will, that we know we were made forever with the Lord, yet on our own we can not find out “what God has done from the beginning to the end”.  Now with the Lord’s revelation finally and fully of the Incarnation, Ministry, life, death, resurrection and ascension of His Son our Lord, Jesus Christ, we know by what the Lord is doing.  For all our pagan attempts to hold onto life, grab all the gusto, we are looking to ourselves, inwardly, the despair of our times.  All the heroes of the faith, from A-Z, from Abraham to Zechariah were directed by the Lord to seek a “homeland”.  “Homeland Security” cannot give finally security and yet we seek homeland security for the here and now.  The hope of the homeland which is secure forever has been given:  the city of God.  We think our I-Phones/Pods and Pads are the “bomb”, giving us information and control at a finger swipe but all the while we want to be loved.  We live as if this were it, and fear and tremble that it is not. But,

“With all true Christians running
Our heavenly race and shunning
The devil’s wiles and cunning”,

we know by the Lord’s scarred hands that this world is not the final resting place.  Christ is.  I am, maybe like you, not too crazy about dying…but when we know sin is death, Christ is life eternal, seeking His homeland is sanity in this dark world for which Christ died.

In the Hall of Heroes of the Faith, note that all the saints therein were looking forward in hope, in the hope of Christ to come.  They had no cathedrals, except the Temple not made with human hands:  Jesus Christ (John 2:21; 1 Corinthians 3:17 ).  We pray many will hear the Word and come to faith.  But if faith is only for this world, or even for our congregation alone, then we are of all people the most to be pitied:  but Christ is raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:18-20).  It is clear from Hebrews 11:  Faith not only clings to Christ for what He has done for us but what He will do:  Thy Kingdom Come, based upon the Rock of our salvation,what He has done from womb to tomb to the Resurrection. Our national pastime, baseball, has it right:  to go home, after all the strike outs, errors, missed catches, we can in Christ. The homeland is given even now:

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.-St. John 14: 23

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O God, our refuge and strength, You raised up Your servant Katharina to support her husband in the task to reform and renew Your Church in the light of Your  Word. Defend and purify the Church today and grant that, through faith, we may boldly support and encourage our pastors and teachers of the faith as they proclaim and administer the riches of Your grace made known in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Katharina von Bora(1499–1552) was placed in a convent when still a child and became a nun in 1515. In April 1523 she and eight other nuns were rescued from the convent and brought to Wittenberg. There Martin Luther helped return some to their former homes and placed the rest in good families. Katharina and Martin were married on June 13, 1525. Their marriage was a happy one and blessed with six children. Katharina skillfully managed the Luther household, which always seemed to grow because of his generous hospitality. After Luther’s death in 1546, Katharina remained in Wittenberg but lived much of the time in poverty. She died in an accident while traveling with her children to Torgau in order to escape the plague. Today is the anniversary of her death. (Collect and Intro fromThe Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

 

Martin Luther’s Home The Luther family, wife and six children, and various students and visitors lived in the central part of the building. He was given the building by one of the aristocrats supporting his movement.

There were many people at one given time for dinner or to stay.  Students, pastors fleeing from oppression, friends and dignitaries were guests in Luther’s home and Frau Luther took care of them all, overseeing a house staff.  Luther would preach in their home, and the those sermons are called “hausepostilles”, or house sermons.  In a 3 volume edition of Luther’s Hauspostils is a little bit more about Katharina von Bora:

The HAUSPOSTILLE, or house postils or sermons, need to be distinguished from Luther’s KIRCHENPOSTILLE, or church postils. The term “postil” itself derives out of the Latin phrase post ilia verba textus, “after those words of the text,” and refers to the commentary or homily which followed upon the reading of the standard pericope, the Gospel or Epistle, by the preacher at the service of worship. ..The house postils or sermons, on the other hand, which constitute the volumes of our translation, were delivered by Luther in the intimate circle of his family members and a few others. The Luther household was often quite extensive—a real test for Katie’s ingenuity at balancing the family budget!—because of relatives, students, and associates who were domiciled there or regularly present at Luther’s elbow for one reason or another.

We have narrowed our focus on the so-called HAUSPOSTILLE of Luther, the sermons which he delivered in the famous Lutherhalle, or Luther house, in Wittenberg, the old monastery of the Augustinians. Luther had been a member of this monastic order since 1506 when he completed a one-year probationary novitiate, and in a sense he really felt he had not left it until June 13, 1525when he married Katharine von Bora, who had been a nun. Luther had lived in the old monastery ever since joining the faculty at Wittenberg in 1511. Here he had his living quarters, often preached for the Augustinian chapter, and eventually also delivered his lectures as professor of Biblical theology at the university. Elector Frederick the Wise had designated the old monastery to be the family home for Luther and Katie, as Martin affectionately called his bride. She was up to the challenge, and with him established a model parsonage family and home. Together they rejoiced over a circle of six children that gladdened their hearts, but then also saddened them when Elizabeth died as an infant and Magdalene as a vivacious teenager.

Reflection:

Katharina von Bora was by no means a modern or a post-modern woman.  She is the antithesis of the so-called ‘liberated’ feminist.  She did not seek to “find herself”.  She did not “shop till she dropped”.  She could not have fathomed having an abortion.  She was not  “self-fulfilled” and yet she could run a household the size of a small business. She was not looking to smash “glass ceilings”. Women today seek in this zeitgeist (“spirit of an age”) is also what men look for in our so-called ‘enlightened’ age  and it is certainly not what our Lord says:  deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Me.

Frau Luther was no nun.   You can not find a word about nuns in the Bible but much about wives and mothers who were heroes of the faith in Old and New Testaments:  Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel…Mary.  She was not ‘holy’ by her self-chosen ‘spirituality’ and holy deeds  but made holy by her faith in Jesus Christ lived in her domestic vocation. She was the antithesis in some ways of a Mother Teresa. Katharina is the model of woman that pertains to all of humankind and those of the household of faith:  fathers and mothers and their children and the 4th and 6th Commandments.  We need to look more at a saint like Katharina than a Teresa.  

The crescendo of Proverbs is the last chapter, 38 and it is all about wives and mothers. I think Frau Luther  epitomized this last chapter of the book of Proverbs.  God be praised for all faithful wives and mothers who confess Jesus Christ!

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.
13She seeks wool and flax,
   and works with willing hands.
14She is like the ships of the merchant;
   she brings her food from afar.
15She rises while it is yet night
   and provides food for her household
   and portions for her maidens.
16She considers a field and buys it;
   with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17She dresses herself with strength
   and makes her arms strong.
18She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
   Her lamp does not go out at night.
19She puts her hands to the distaff,
   and her hands hold the spindle.
20She opens her hand to the poor
   and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21She is not afraid of snow for her household,
   for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
22She makes bed coverings for herself;
   her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23Her husband is known in the gates
   when he sits among the elders of the land.
24She makes linen garments and sells them;
   she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
   and she laughs at the time to come.
26She opens her mouth with wisdom,
   and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27She looks well to the ways of her household
   and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28Her children rise up and call her blessed;
   her husband also, and he praises her:
29“Many women have done excellently,
   but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
   but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31Give her of the fruit of her hands,
   and let her works praise her in the gates.

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There are two scenes in the Gospel: one with Jesus  and the Pharisees and the second with Jesus and the disciples and the children.  Both scenes involve children in two strikingly different ways.

The Pharisees wanted to “test” Jesus.   The Pharisees hoped for a “gotcha’ moment and test Jesus on a very important and serious subject: divorce.  Now, it is very easy as we read and hear the lesson to gloss over a variance in verbs. Jesus asked them, what did Moses command you?  The Pharisees responded, Moses allowed or permitted…Jesus spoke of commandment and the Pharisees spoke of permission.    One Rabbinic school taught only adultery can sever a marriage.  The other school said if a wife ruins dinner is grounds for dismissal and divorce, like ruining dinner.  What situation may a man dismiss/divorce his wife and still keep the law of God and be saved? 

That is pure works righteousness: trying to save ourselves but worse:  how much can we get away with?  You could divorce your wife because she burned the eggs? Oh, how ludicrous, I say.  What were those people thinking about?!  Look at our time.  When it comes to marriage and the family the question is still asked: What is permitted? What can we get away with?

The answer has been with remarkable, clear and accompanied by terrifying results:

  • No fault divorce
  • Divorce and remarriage as serial monogamy
  • living together
  • Abortion
  • Contraception
  • Both to be paid for by  the government against 1st Amendment rights
  • “making love” became “hooking up”
  • Homosexuality and same sex so-called ‘marriage’
  • pornography
  • prostitution
  • Bestiality

I could go on. All is permitted. Jesus said to the Pharisees that Moses allowed divorce for your “hardness of heart”.  The Greek Word there is sclerocardia, sclerosis of the heart, hardening of the arteries, clogged with lust and vice.   Moses gave you this  commandment because of your hardened-hearts, willful and unlawful.  He speaks to us all here.  God speaks His Law to us all here. What is always the result of such sclerosis of the heart?  A heart attack: Broken hearts, broken lives, broken families, broken children and a broken nation.  Many know of this in their own families, with friends and co-workers.  Nothing is stable.

In this Presidential election year what is the number 1 topic?  The economy, stupid. Jobs, jobs, jobs.  Money.  I think it is an important and even a crucial debate. But note:  marriage and the family, under the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage, are relegated to the corner of the public square as “social issues” something apart from the economy, as if marriage and the family is secondary.  As far as I can tell from when Reagan was first elected as President in 1980, through the 1st Bush, two terms of the Democrat Clinton and two terms of George W. Bush we have had some 28 years, in my estimation, of a robust economy. So everything was good?  Oh, but now we’re going broke?  Now we’re in debt up to our eyeballs?  In those 28 years we saw the further disintegration of family and marriage. The Lord speaks to us of a different brokenness and a much more profound debt.  January 2013 will be the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.  We’ve talked about sex endlessly.

They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think it is the other way round. I think the human race originally hushed it up because it had become such a mess. 

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, which was original radio talks he gave in England on BBC during the depths of World War II in the 40s. For all the chattering, now we can whatever we want, it sounds like willful and wayward children. So many are not happy but terrified by the instability caused by emotional pain, risk of disease and trying justify the unjustifiable of breaking the commandments.  Sclerosis of the heart.  Marriage and family are not secondary to the economy, the economy is secondary to marriage and family.  It is our servant not our master. We only have one Master and He died and rose for us all. We can have it all and yet are broke in breaking God’s law and hence lives. We have been flat broke for along time now.  Up to our eyeballs in debt.   Christ Jesus came to be the very heart of the prayer He taught us:  Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Christ Jesus is the only hope for healing of marriage and family in His forgiveness of us all. 

Therefore,  Jesus redirected the Pharisees not only to the Law of God, His Law but to the beginning, to His sheer grace and peace to Adam and Eve. It was not good for the man to be alone, the Lord observed so He made a helpmate suitable for Adam.   The Lord gave Adam every creature but none were suitable.  I have read the word “help” is the Old Testament is usually used of God except for the woman. Marriage is the Lord’s sheer gift before sin entered the world, as is everything we touch, hear,  and see. Marriage is the Lord’s always new math: 1 + 1 equals 1.    Marriage is God’s gift to Adam and Eve.  Marriage begins the Bible and even as sin entered the world, the Lord did not abandon His gift of marriage to men and women.  The Bible is the history and story of marriage and families from the beginning to Abraham and Sarah to Joseph and Mary and Christ and His Church and in the new creation when the heavenly Jerusalem descends as His bride. The stories of those families is checkered as ours, at best.  The Lord gave His promise through many of those families.  The Lord came and sought His bride and slipped the pure gold wedding ring of His salvific love on our finger, in true faith.  What is Mine is thine and what is Thine is Mine, He said in His eternal vow.  All your brokenness of sin I have taken upon Myself and I give you all that I have:  grace, mercy and peace, the fidelity of love stronger than sin and death.  You divorce Me, but I will not divorce Thee.

In the house the disciples rebuked the fathers and mothers bringing children to Jesus.  Jesus snorted with indignation at them.  This Scripture is the one used at every Baptism in the Lutheran Church.  The Christian home is a baptized home, prayerfully every member in it, cleansed in His forgiveness is every sinner therein.  Marriage and family were given before sin entered the world.  Marriage and the family is fallen but not forgotten by the Lord.  It is His good gift still to us all.  Jesus was born of a family and a marriage and had half-brothers and sisters in that family.  He extends His family to us all so that Baptism is the golden ring of faith and salvation for us all to forgive and to build His Church in our families upon the rock who is Jesus. He plants His Cross in our homes and hearts.  As many have home-schooled, we all must home-church. A forgiveness which is impossible for sinners to accomplish, but which is as hard as nails and with Him all things are possible. As He said from the Cross: It is finished.  You have My wedding ring. The Christian home is a baptized home.  There is no adult baptism.  All baptism is baptism of children, of infants,  to be like a child, knowing on our own we make a mess of so much and can, but in Him we are saved and receive like a child all His gifts, as a child does from Mother and Father.  The Pharisees wanted to have an adult theological discussion in order, well, to finally get their way in salvation, find out what is permitted  See how much one can get away with and then see  Jesus blessing the children and the two are related meeting as at an intersection:  His Cross.  He enfolded into His arms the children that day and blessed them. He still does and has for you. 

 

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“…all authority flows and is propagated from the authority of parents…”

The quote above is from Martin Luther’s teaching on the 4th Commandment, Honor Thy Father and Mother, in The Large Catechism.    Luther’s understanding of the 4th commandment was commonplace in Western civilization and history.  It has come under attack for years now. In Luther’s day, the papal church held that other ways of living, that is, monasticism, were of greater ‘spirituality’ than of marriage.  As he taught the 6th commandment, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

…this estate (of marriage)  should not be despised nor held in disrepute, as is done by the blind world and our false ecclesiastics (church officials), but that it be regarded according to God’s Word, by which it is adorned and sanctified, so that it is not only placed on an equality with other estates, but that it precedes and surpasses them all, whether they be that of emperor, princes, bishops, or whoever they please. For both ecclesiastical and civil estates must humble themselves and all be found in this estate

When by God’s grace, Luther re-discovered the Gospel, he also rediscovered marriage between man and woman and the centrality of the Christian home.  The “…blind world and false ecclesiacrats” (“ecclesiacrats’=denominational officials) in our day, in many denominations, especially in Protestantism,  assault marriage and the family unrelentingly:  abortion, living together, alternative ‘families’, same-sex marriage and the like, all as good for, or  equal to, marriage between man and woman.  The blind world certainly does, as Luther wrote in  another context: “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)  

Note  the order of the commandments:  the 4th, the home, the 6th, marriage and in between, Thou shalt not murder.  Home and marriage is for life, not abortion and death,but helping our first neighbors, our families, our children to live and live well. Every impartial study I have read on the family points out that those raised in a two parent, mother and father, household fare better than in other type of household.  This does not mean that single-parent homes are to be disregarded but it is not encouraged as a way of life.  Single parent homes need the help of the church and all neighbors. Those who were divorced, spouse died or unmarried parent, generally want marriage. Marriage is the universal experience of humankind.  Luther:

For both ecclesiastical and civil estates must humble themselves and all be found in this estate…Therefore it is not a peculiar estate, but the most common and noblest estate, which pervades all Christendom, yea which extends through all the world.

But the blind world and false ecclesiacrats are harmful in this reality because they espouse ways that are sinful.  It is clear in our very DNA and the way we are made, as Luther wrote above, family and marriage “…extends through all the world.”

Luther clearly taught, based upon Scripture, that the purpose of government is to protect the family, not replace it.  He understood this is one of the purposes of the government:  to help the family, to serve families, not for families to serve the government.  I will be forthright.  Mr. Romney’s acceptance speech for his party’s nomination for the office of President prompted this reflection, especially when he said,

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.”

This is the first time I have heard any politician plainly state the proper of the government.  The proper role of government is servant, not master. I pray and hope Mr. Romney, as President, with the Congress, and the American people, can restore government to it’s proper constitutional role, which is the Biblical role.

In the movie Fiddler on the Roof, the rabbi is asked by his students, “Is there a proper blessing for the Czar?”  “A proper blessing for the Czar…hmmm. Ah!  God bless the Czar and keep him far away from us!”. 

Lord, keep this nation under Your care. Bless the leaders of our land that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to the other nations of the earth. Grant that we may choose trustworthy leaders, contribute to wise decisions for the general welfare, and serve You faithfully in our generation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray.

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