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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.

About Monica, Mother of Augustine: 

St. Monica was the mother of St Augustine of Hippo, and it is from his writings that she is known. Her husband, Patricius, was a man of modest rank at Thagaste in North Africa; they had three children, of whom Augustine was the eldest, and when he was eighteen his mother was left a widow. Monica had tried to bring him up as a Christian, but she was over-ambitious for his worldly success, and he regarded her religion with scorn. Augustine was converted to Manichaesim, a dualistic religion of Persian origin that was popular at the time.   His earlier vacillations and his liaison with a woman of unknown name caused Monica the deepest distress.  They had a son,  Monica’s grandson.  Augustine named him Adeodatus, “Gift of God”. During this time a bishop whom she had consulted gave her the famous reassurance, ‘It is not possible that the son of so many tears should be lost.’

When in 383 Augustine slipped away to Italy, Monica followed him, first to Rome and then to Milan, where she became an obedient disciple of  St Ambrose. Three years later her devoted pertinacity was rewarded, when Augustine decided to receive baptism: she ‘rejoiced triumphantly’, and retired with him and his friends to Cassiciacum, a happy woman. After the baptism they set out to return to Africa. St Augustine records that at the port of Ostia on the Tiber he and his mother were joined in a most moving conversation on the everlasting life of the blessed; five days later she fell ill, and died there. St Monica had at times been a trying mother, and Augustine had not always been a considerate son; but he had come to recognize her as his true mother in the spirit as well as in the flesh: his own experience taught him to speak of parenthood as a sort of bishopric. (Adapted from The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, by David Attwater)

 

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 reflected in her life God’s Word, the Epistle reading:  Ephesians 5:21-23.   She knew her husband to be her head…but in Christ Jesus .    The Ephesians passage is not the model in our day of the liberated woman…or man for that matter. As husbands in Christ means a whole different way than the world’s way of parenting:  a husband is to be like Christ.  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”  (Ephesians 5: 25).  In fact, in the Ephesians text,  there are more verses on husbands than wives, and probably needs to be.  

A neo-feminist wag could harumph and say, Noted for being a mother!  As if that is no accomplishment!  “Being a king, an emperor or a president is mighty small potatoes compared to being a mother…” (see rest of Billy Sunday’s  quote here). Monica’s  strength was her Lord and she prayed for the conversion of both her husband and their son, yet like us she was a sinner.  She also wanted worldly success for Augustine.  Mother and son did not see eye-to-eye.  Yet, Monica persisted in prayer for them and in Christ they knew by faith through His grace, they were reconciled.  Monica is encouragement for us  persist in prayer and not give up (cf.  Luke 18:1ff). Patricus and his son Augustine were baptized.  Her son became one of the most important theologians and pastors whose writings influenced one young monk, centuries later,  in the Order of St. Augustine:  Martin Luther. As you read in the bio, Augustine thought of the family as a kind of bishopric.  Dr. Luther wrote about fathers and mothers being bishops and bishopesses for their children!    Monica’s son’s  feast day is tomorrow. Freedom in Christ is praying for someone who may not even want your prayers. 

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)

 

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“(The Church) is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God”

(The Large Catechism, from Luther’s teaching on the 3rd Article of The Creed)

I was reminded in my studies today that this Sunday, 4th Sunday in Lent, Laetare,  (“Rejoice with Jerusalem!”, from the Introit, Isaiah 10a and 11a, for this Sunday)  is in the United Kingdom, “Mothering Sunday”. It was on this Sunday when everyone  in the UK would return to the church in which they were baptized, their “mother church” and it eventually became the UK’s Mother’s Day, but unlike our Mother’s Day, I like the direct connection of their Mothering Day with the Church, Baptism and Lent, and the family. I came across this article by Pr. Ristau, (he has a different theme  than this article: worth reading!) in which he extensively quotes Meditation XXIII, “The Dignity of the Church”, from  Sacred Meditations, by Johann Gerhardt in which Pr. and Prof. Gerhardt uses the Biblical imagery of the Church as our mother:

The holy Church of God sustains the relations of mother, virgin, bride. She is as a mother because she daily bears spiritual sons to God. She is as a chaste virgin, because she keeps herself pure from all unholy alliances with the devil and the world. She is a bride, because Christ hath betrothed her to Himself by an eternal covenant, and hath given to her the pledge of the Spirit.

Our mothers and fathers are of such importance that the Lord sanctified such by the 4th Commandment and being born of His Mother, with Joseph as His faithful stepfather. Luther in his explanation of the 4th Commandment, tellingly wrote this of the crucial nature of mothers and fathers, so much so that,

“…even if we had no father and mother, we ought to wish that God would set up wood and stone before us, whom we might call father and mother. How much more, since He has given us living parents, should we rejoice to show them honor and obedience, because we know it is so highly pleasing to the Divine Majesty and to all angels, and vexes all devils…”

I would suppose those who are orphans, either by death or divorce of their parents might achingly  know this.  Likewise, without God as our Father, and the Church as the Lord’s Bride, our mother, we DO set up “wood and stone before us”, as idols, false gods and are lost. “No man will have God for his Father who refuses to have the Church for his mother upon earth” (Gerhardt).  And this mother does not abort her children nor despise her womb. Just the opposite:  The Lord makes us His own through the waters of rebirth (!), as we are baptized into His Body, His Church (cf. 1 Corinthians 11: 1ff).

Indeed, Laetare! And the rejoicing will be consummated when He comes again.  I close with another portion of Pr. and Professor Gerhardt’s Meditation:

Meditate, O devout soul, upon the worthiness of the Church, and take heed lest thou do anything unworthy of her.  The Church is thy spiritual mother; take care that thou despise not her voice as she speaks to thee. She is thy mother, and through word and sacraments thou oughtest draw all thy spiritual nourishment from her. The church is as a chaste virgin ; if thou then wouldst be true to her, abstain from the embraces of the world ; thou belongest to her, see then that thou dishonor not thyself nor her by any unholy alliances with the devil. The Church is the bride of Christ, and so is every godly soul ; let it take heed then not to cling to Satan in an unholy union. Thou, 0 my soul, art the bride of Christ; see to it that thou lose not the earnest of the Holy Spirit which Math been given unto thee; thou art the bride of Christ, pray unceasingly, that thy heavenly Bridegroom may hasten to lead thee unto the marriage feast above. Thy Bridegroom may come in the quiet and security of the midnight hour (Matt. xxv. 6); watch therefore, that when He cometh He may not find thee sleeping, and shut the door of eternal salvation upon thee. Let thy lamp be filled with the oil of faith and be brightly burning, lest at the coming, of thy heavenly Spouse thou sbouldst seek in vain for oil for thy lamp (Matt. xxv.).

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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.

Intro:  St. Joseph has been honored throughout the Christian centuries for his faithful devotion in helping Mary raise her Son. Matthew’s Gospel relates that Joseph was a just man, who followed the angel’s instructions and took the already-pregnant Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:24). In the Gospels according to Matthew and Mark, Jesus is referred to as “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). This suggests that Joseph had building skills with which he supported his family. Joseph was an important figure in the early life of Jesus, safely escorting Mary and the child to Egypt (Matthew 2:14) and then settling them back in Nazareth once it was safe to do so (Matthew 2:22). The final mention of Joseph is at the time the twelve-year-old Jesus visits the temple in Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 2:41-51). Joseph, the guardian of our Lord, has long been associated with caring parenthood as well as with skilled craftsmanship.

Reflection:  The narrative of the birth of Jesus features two earthly fathers:  Joseph, the step-father of Jesus and King Herod the Great.  The Lord told Joseph to flee because  King Herod the Great, outsmarted by the magi, set out to kill all Bethlehem’s male children under the age of two in order to kill a threat to his throne. Herod had 17 children and he had many of them executed, along with his wife.  After his death, the kingdom was divided into four regions and four of his sons became rulers of those tetrarchs. Herod Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded.  Not one thing that Joseph ever spoke is recorded in the Scripture, yet he was silently obedient to the Lord as Jesus’ stepfather and guardian. When he found out that his betrothed Mary was pregnant, without him, he decided to quietly divorce her to save her shame. He fled to Egypt with his family, at great risk, trouble and cost. He took care of  his family. He brought them to worship in Jerusalem and at the synagogue in Nazareth every Saturday. He did what a father is to do.  His stepson Jesus was known as, “the son of the carpenter”, thereby showing how much Jesus reflected the labor of his step-father.   He had other children, one of whom, James would become a pillar of the Church in Jerusalem.  James’ Epistle is part of the canon of the New Testament.  

Herod the Great and Joseph is certainly a contrast in two diametrically opposed types of fathers.  The difference?  One obeyed his own lusts and flesh, thus the devil, and corrupted his family.  Herod was merely a biological father. The other obeyed in true faith the Lord and His Word and guided his family by truly being a father according to the 4th Commandment. Though not Jesus’ biological father, but as many stepfathers, more than a father than Herod!  Herod, in our day, would be the stuff of the media, the internet, fame and power.  Joseph probably would be considered a narrow-minded and dogmatic redneck:   but whom would you want as your father? Herod the Great did not point his life toward the Lord, the Almighty Father.  Joseph did and still does.  I think March 19th should be  the Church’s Fathers’ Day.

From a Sermon preached by Pr. and Prof. John T. Pless, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN, 19 March, 2,013, on the Gospel for this day:

Joseph does seem to have a whole lot of attention in the story. The annunciation, the angelic announcement made to him is less dramatic than the one made to Mary. Mary is given to respond in a song the church still sings, the Magnificat. Joseph is silent, but he is also faithful and obedient in his vocation as husband and father. He does what the angel tells him to do. He takes Mary and the infant Jesus to Egypt, doing what good husbands and fathers do for their families—providing for them, caring for them, and guarding them. And when the danger of Herod is past, he listens to the angel and takes Mary and Jesus back home to Nazareth in Galilee and lives out his days as husband and father. Joseph does not have a major part to play in the New Testament, and he only gets a minor feast day in the liturgical calendar overshadowed by Mary’s big day—the Annunciation on March 25and even more so by Good Friday and Easter now so close on the horizon. But it is a good thing to remember Joseph, Guardian of our Lord. He was not the biological father of Jesus; Jesus did not have his DNA, but he was father to Jesus, and he cared for his Son, guarding and keeping him with an eye on him who was Father to them both, your Father in Heaven. From this Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, all fatherhood receives its name. The little baby cared for by Joseph from Bethlehem, in Egypt, and in Nazareth, is the one who makes of us all sons of God through faith in his atoning sacrifice, the fruits of which we eat and drink today at this altar in the new testament of his body and blood. Amen.

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“Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD” is an article from Psychology Today and is found here.  It is worth a full read.

From the article:

“French parents have a different philosophy of discipline. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.”

This was of course the ‘American’ philosophy as well but it really is not an American philosophy, it is the Biblical doctrine and practice from the Lord Himself in the 4th Commandment, with Martin Luther’s concise teaching on it:

The Fourth Commandment

Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.

What does this mean?–Answer. We should fear and love God that we may not despise nor anger our parents and masters, but give them honor, serve, obey, and hold them in love and esteem.

In most of Luther’s concise teaching on each of the commandments there is a Negative and a Positive of the Law, including being a child and being a mother and a father.  It comes as a revelation in America’s popular magazine  Psychology Today that French parents actually say No to their children.  For instance: Just think about the use of the word “affirmation”:  without any discipline, no “No” so that  the child’s “self-esteem” is not hurt.  The tip-0ff to the real American philosophy of child rearing, not the Biblical one, which began with the elites telling Americans the way to parent was epitomized by Dr. Benjamin Spock in his seminal best-seller:  Baby and Child Care, first published in 1945.   I very quickly found these two quotes from Dr. Spock:

What good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is usually best after all.

Happiness is mostly a by-product of doing what makes us feel fulfilled.

 So a mother or a father can run on her or his “feelings”?   It seems such advice of following one’s heart is the quagmire  from which  the exponential rise of  child abuse rose  in our generation.  Happiness is a by-product, but not from”FEELING fulfilled”, but happiness is a by-product of doing a task, a job, a service well.  “Feeling fulfilled” is amorphous, and I can feel good and fulfilled after a drink, a pizza and while we’re at, why not drugs?  A mom told her pastor that her one year old child is the “boss”.  I tried to gently correct her and I pray she hears.   “Amorphous” literally means without form.  God’s Law forms our lives. Limits are boundaries as “Forgive us our trespasses”.  There is no law in a feeling but there is Law in  God’s Word and disciples of Jesus Christ adhere to a discipline which is godly and humane.  Note that Luther lists “love” as the last quality in the 4th Commandment.  In The Large Catechism Luther correctly teaches that honor includes love. Note:  what Psychology Today, which is all about the somewhat science of psychology, is implicitly applauding in this article: spirituality, the spirituality from Law, as part of the remedy of ADHD.  

The Lutheran Confessions teach that all Scripture is correctly divided between Law and Promise (Gospel), that is:   God’s No and God’s Yes. I have preached, taught and  discussed that we have so relegated God’s No as “rigid” in our self-affirming, self-esteeming American society. Churches and congregations which try to teach God’s No and God’s Yes  are likewise considered too strict or worse, fundamentalist! If a political party is not “affirming”, it’s called “the party of no”.  And now we can see what happens when folks try to distinguish between No and Yes as in France and for many of you in  your own families.    With our self-indulgent, slothful child-rearing, we have sown the wind and have reaped the whirlwind, and it is children who are being spiritually, emotionally and physically hurt.  We can’t follow our heart, we should only follow God’s Word.  He knows more about us than we do.

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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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