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Posts Tagged ‘Repentance’

Lent and Ash Wednesday

During the forty days of Lent, God’s baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting, and alms giving. Lent is a time in which God’s people prepare with joy for the Paschal Feast (Easter). It is a time in which God renews His people’s zeal in faith and life. It is a time in which we pray that we may be given the fullness of grace that belongs to the children of God.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15: 47-49

“Image is everything” was an ad slogan a few years back.  “Image” in Greek is “icon”. The Lord teaches us in His Scriptures that we bear two icons:  the icon of the man of dust and the icon of the man of heaven.   Those images are everything. We bear these images at the same time. 

The Lord formed man out of the dust, dust in the Hebrew  is“adam”, the man from the “adamah”, soil.  He breathed into the man the breath of life.  He still does.  “After God had so bountifully offered proof of His goodness, our first parents behaved as though the Devil intended only good and God intended only ill.” (Franz Delitzsch)  They bought that lie after the dialogue with the father of all lies.  And the Lord said to our first parents: 

“…for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return”

(Genesis 3; also Ecclesiastes 3: 20)

The very words this ancient practice of the Church cites on this day. A custom of tracing a cross of ashes on the forehead is not prescribed in the Bible, but it illustrates the reality of  fallen human nature.  The same words from Genesis are spoken at a graveside as the casket is lowered into the adamah.   This is our “natural body”, a “living being” that was meant to live days without end, but now in sin it now returns to an end: dusty death.  The natural is first, the icon of the man of dust.

We live by the Lord’s promise alone, His Word alone, His Word who became flesh, the last Adam, life-giving Spirit:  Jesus Christ.  He is from heaven.  He became entirely as the first man:  dust, a natural, fleshly body… and He became the now fallen and sinful and disgraced natural body.  We heard again on Transfiguration Sunday He shone like the light of heaven, un-borrowed, uncreated light of heaven so that it is unmistakable:  here is God in man made manifest.  The man and the woman were created by the Lord in His own image, in His own image He gave them, male and female, the stamp of His divinity.  The image is cracked beyond human repair. Jesus Christ was and is this perfect image before the Fall and now incarnate and on Golgotha He become utterly broken and debased image of the man of dusty sin and death. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He is risen.  He is the life-giver bearing in His hands the marks of the Cross breathing His grace, mercy and peace, His forgiveness into this image and man of dust.     

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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From a Sermon on New Year’s Eve by Pastor C. F. W. Walther:

For Baptism is a bath that washed me not only once when I received it—washed me pure with Christ’s blood—but it continuously washes me clean even daily for as long as I hold it in faith. For just as that same water of the flood drowned the sinners, but Noah with his relatives were brought to salvation and carried to Mount Ararat, so also did the water of my Baptism drown my sins, but my soul was brought to the eternal mountain of divine grace. And just as once those same waves of the Red Sea, which swallowed up Pharaoh and his army, were a protective wall for Israel, so also has my baptismal water swallowed up all of my damnation and is for me a sure wall before God’s wrath and punishment….

Now then, all of you who believe in God’s Word, let your watchword for entering the new year be this: “I am baptized!” Although the world may laugh at this comfort, the enthusiasts vex its confidence … nevertheless, abandon any other dearly held pledges and speak only throughout the entire year to come, in all terrors of conscience and necessity through sin and death: “I am baptized! I am baptized! Hallelujah!” And you shall prevail! In every time of need, you will find comfort in your Baptism; on account of it Satan will flee from your faith and confession; and in death you will see heaven opened and will finally come into the joy of your Lord to celebrate a great year of jubilee, a year of praise, with all the angels forever and ever. Amen!

 

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In articles on current cultural trends, this poem by Yeats is cited many times especially the verses I have boldfaced: 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.
 
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
 
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
I thought of this poem especially in regards to the current presidential election season and the second boldfaced verse:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.
The citation of this verse is used to describe what I am concerned about.  The best lack all conviction because the “wise”, the “wisdom of the world” and the “debater of this age” (1 Corinthians 1) states there is no truth which has existed before you and I came on the scene.  All truth is relative, even the conspiratorial assertion that truth is used by the powerful to oppress the weak. This is the stuff of academia.  All truth is about power as a tool, not as words that guide and enlighten and are, well, true.  Then the worst are filled with passionate intensity and  the passionate convictions are loudly espoused by most of the presidential candidates and the endless cycle of blogging, political radio call-in shows, Facebook posting, articles, TV shows. 
What is the reason for all the passion?
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
The falcon can not hear the falconer, people do not want to listen to any lord but themselves.  What is put into the center?  Our Selves, our feelings, our passions.  We listen only to ourselves. “What is your passion?” is  a typical question which gets out of hand in the public arena.  Note how many times in a discussion we begin with, “I feel…”  and then comes the passionate intensity, as if that is an argument. It is not, it is not a conviction, but only a self-induced assertion. No one wants to say, “I know…”.  Ian Anderson, lyricist and lead singer of “Jethro Tull”, in his song, “Thick as a Brick” nailed it:  “I may make you feel, but I can’t make  you think.”  All of television which one endless treadmill of sound bites, has only one power:  to make you feel…good, bad, angry or sad, and then bend you.  Every commercial creator knows that…and so does the demagogue. With the human self at the center, which can not hold, though man idolatrously thinks so, the result?
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
As a pastor, I think of “ceremony of innocence” as the Sacraments, rites and rituals of Christ’s Church, His Word to  us all.  Even the Word is packaged as a song to excite the emotions, the self, playing to the self, not singing to the Lord. Is mere anarchy loosed upon the world?  Yes.  Yeats wrote this poem after the end of the horrors of the first world war, “the war to end all wars”.  Then came the next “blood-dimmed tide” loosed:  the Second World War, then Korea, Vietnam, then the first and second Iraq wars and the terrorists’ war (we are against terrorists not a concept, “terror”) and in between too many genocides from Jim Jones to Pol Pot to Rwanda…and now the Islamic Jihadists’ War to unite all mankind under Islam.  They want to hold the “centre”.  Anarchy is loosed upon the earth.
Then comes finally comes the “rough beast” “slouching”to be born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Christ, is the anti-Christ, the lawless one, see 2 Thessalonians 2:  1-12.  Today’s Great O Antiphon is the one about God’s Law:
“O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”
Before he is the anti-Christ, he is anti-Law, fleeing the center to become a law unto himself, the center.  So many so-called churches despise God’s Law but His Law always points out our sin to point us to the Savior, the true and only Center. What stops anti-Christ?  The rulers of this age are always  “vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle”.  This is as Yeats wrote, the “Spiritus Mundi”, “Spirit of the world”. As King Herod was so he slaughtered all the male children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem.  The King who became a child will stop this once and for all in His last Advent, He came in weakness, He will come in power, when, “… the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.” 2 Thessalonians 2

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This mosaic of Ambrose might actually be a rendering of his likeness.

The Son of God, being about to bring together His Church, first works through his young servant: and so it is well said: the word of the Lord came unto John, etc., so that the Church has its beginning not from man, but from the Word. (emphasis added; Ambrose on Matthew 3: 1-11, the Season of Advent)

“In Milan I found Your devoted servant the bishop Ambrose, who was known throughout the world as a man whom there was few to equal in goodness.  At that time his gifted tongue never tired of dispensing the richness of Your corn, the joy of Your oil, and the sober intoxication of Your wine.  Unknown to me, it was You who led me to him,so that I might knowingly be led by him to You.”  ( From the Confessions of St. Augustine)

Born in Trier in A.D. 340, Ambrose was one of the four great Latin Doctors of the Church (with Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great). He was a prolific author of hymns, the most common of which is Veni, Redemptor gentium (“Savior of the Nations, Come”). His name is also associated with Ambrosian Chant, the style of chanting the ancient liturgy that took hold in the province of Milan. While serving as a civil governor, Ambrose sought to bring peace among Christians in Milan who were divided into quarreling factions. When a new bishop was to be elected in 374, Ambrose addressed the crowd, and someone cried out, “Ambrose, bishop!” The entire gathering gave their support. This acclaim of Ambrose, a 34-year-old catechumen, led to his baptism on December 7, after which he was consecrated bishop of Milan. A strong defender of the faith, Ambrose convinced the Roman emperor Gratian in 379 to forbid the Arian heresy in the West. At Ambrose’s urging, Gratian’s successor, Theodosius, also publicly opposed Arianism. Ambrose died on Good Friday, April 4, 397. As a courageous doctor and musician he upheld the truth of God’s Word.

Ambrose by his preaching and teaching of Christ brought Christ to many including Augustine.  Ambrose is quoted six times in The Book of Concord:  The Lutheran Confessions. In the longest Ambrose quote in the Lutheran Confessions, in the Apology, Article IV, Justification, the Bishop wrote:

Moreover, the world was subject to Him by the Law for the reason that, according to the command of the Law, all are indicted, and yet, by the works of the Law, no one is justified, i.e., because, by the Law, sin is perceived, but guilt is not discharged. The Law, which made all sinners, seemed to have done injury, but when the Lord Jesus Christ came, He forgave to all sin which no one could avoid, and, by the shedding of His own blood, blotted out the handwriting which was against us. This is what he says in Rom. 5:20: “The Law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Because after the whole world became subject, He took away the sin of the whole world, as he [John] testified, saying John 1:29: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” And on this account let no one boast of works, because no one is justified by his deeds. But he who is righteous has it given him because he was justified after the laver [of Baptism]. Faith, therefore, is that which frees through the blood of Christ, because he is blessed “whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” Ps. 32:1,104].

Ambrose set the true New Testament doctrine of Justification to a hymn, the well renowned hymn for  Advent:  Savior of the Nations Come

Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here Thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh–
Woman’s Offspring, pure and fresh.

It is not that we come to Christ,but Christ has come to us. He chose such a birth! Our worth is not in our works but in the Word, the Word made flesh. This is the reason Ambrose is cited in the Confessions and the reason Augustine, an adulterer and pagan philosopher, could hear His Savior. He did not bring people to Christ, but Christ to people.  In Matthew, He is called: Emmanuel, God with us.  He chose us, not because we were so good for ‘his team’, but we needed choosing to be cleansed in the laver of Baptism. This is the Gospel in a nutshell and it as the word “Gospel”, good news. 

(Read more on St. Ambrose here)

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Justinian was emperor of the East from A.D. 527 to 565 when the Roman Empire was in decline. With his
beautiful and capable wife, Theodora, he restored splendor and majesty to the Byzantine court. During
his reign the Empire experienced a renaissance, due in large part to his ambition, intelligence, and
strong religious convictions. Justinian also attempted to bring unity to a divided church. He was a
champion of orthodox Christianity and sought agreement among the parties in the Christological
controversies of the day who were disputing the relation between the divine and human natures in the
Person of Christ. The Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in A.D. 533 was held during his reign
and addressed this dispute. Justinian died in his eighties, not accomplishing his desire for an empire that
was firmly Christian and orthodox.
Introduction:  We  pray that our government will protect our right of religion as strongly as Justinian did for the Christian faith in the Roman Empire.  We also pray that the government protect us from tyranny of itself and others, especially in our day Islamic terrorists.  Yesterday we saw and heard the reports of the coordinated terrorist attacks on the sovereign nation of France.  The quote below is the one chosen for this Commemoration of Justinian in the Treasury of Daily Prayer (LCMS).  It is quite apropos for the day after the terrorist atrocities in France and those continuing in Syria and Iraq.  The Lutheran Reformers taught that God’s Word points out to us that the Lord rules in two ways:  the kingdoms of His left hand, the nations, physically and temporally, and through the Kingdom of God in Christ, spiritually and physically.  Christians serve in both rules as the Lord is ruler of both.  This is our hope in the face of terror.  The quote is from Luther’s Commentary on Psalm 2.  I have bold-faced the portion regarding the Lord’s rule through the nations and italicized those comments in regards to the Kingdom of God.

The office of Christ is described most clearly, namely, that He will not bear the sword, that He will not found a new state, but will be a teacher to instruct men concerning a certain unheard but eternal decree of God.

Therefore, even if other kings must also make laws and govern through laws, nevertheless their chief function is not to teach or to pass laws, but to punish evil men with the sword and to defend good men. They are consequently like lictors or hangmen of God. For, as Paul says, “they bear the sword to terrify the wicked and for vengeance” (Rom. 13:4). Their own duty is, therefore, not to teach, because they do not rule over consciences or hearts, but only to restrain the hands….

Christ left these things to the kings of the world; to His own people He says: “It shall not be so among you” (Matt. 20:26). For His kingdom stands in the Word, and His office is to teach. He left the care of swine to the kings of the world, for they have been provided with a staff with which they can drive cattle. But His office is … to preach, to tell of God’s decree. This definition of the kingdom of Christ is clear enough and the proper distinction. But few truly comprehend it. That harmful mixture of both kingdoms continually clings to people’s hearts to such an extent that it is difficult even for spiritual-minded to distinguish this kingdom properly from the kingdom of the world.  Nevertheless those who believe in another life after this life see that the services of kings and governors are necessary for them in this life, but that they need Christ the King for another and eternal life. 

A tyranny that has been around since Mohammed is his religion.  It is the “harmful mixture” of religion and politics.  I do not want to suggest that Islam is about the Kingdom of God. It is not.  Islam bears the sword.  Luther saw the terrible danger of the Church bearing the sword as it has from time to time as a betrayal of Christ and the Word of God and this is evident in Islam.  Islam bears the sword in the name of it’s god and wants to establish a religious empire over the entire world.  It is written in Romans 13 that the ruler,

“… is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

It is wrong when the ruler does bear the sword in vain, that is, to let temporal evil have another day.  Pray for the government, police and armed forces of France and NATO, and for our own government and armed forces that Islamic terrorism be utterly stopped, as Nazism was crushed.  Still the anti-Christ of Islam and it’s ideology is strong and will probably reappear and will be with us till Christ’s return but as the Church we can do one more thing:  pray for the conversion of Muslims, men and women for whom Christ also died and bore their sins as well as our own.

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There was a Roman Catholic priest who did not believe in the Biblical doctrine of original sin, but wrote about “original goodness” (He was excommunicated, I believe, and rightly so).  Generally, I think the heretical notion of “original goodness” is the basic theological problem of the post-Enlightenment/post-60s world view.  If we just make society better we will have better people except that would mean upper income neighborhoods should be Eden revisited.  They are not.  If we go with this heresy, then what becomes of the rule of law, and with it police and armies? And before those authorities what becomes of the need for the original authorities, instituted by God:  mother and father? Father and mother are called not only to curb but to guide and direct their children to the Lord’s Way and in His Way.  We still need all these authorities  because of the tendency from the origin of man to do terrible things to man. When we look to our selves as pretty good, then pretty bad stuff happens. This is what Lutheran theology has called the political use of the Law as curb to humankind’s wayward lusts to steal, hurt and murder in original sin.

I thought of this recently because of a song from the 80s and this stunning lyric: 

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas,
Everybody’s looking for something.

Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused.

This describes original sin.  I do not know if Annie Lennox is a Christian but she sure describes this key doctrine better than the social romantics who believe in social engineering.  What she describes is not  sweet. The Lord knows that as He has  told us:  see Matthew 15: 18-20; Romans 3: 9-18. And so He did not come looking for Himself but for us He came down from heaven. Annie Lennox’s solution?

Hold your head up
Keep your head up, movin’ on
Hold your head up, movin’ on
Keep your head up, movin’ on
Hold your head up
Keep your head up, movin’ on
Hold your head up, movin’ on
Keep your head up, movin’ on

It is good, in this dog-eat-dog world, to “hold your head up” and keep “movin’ on” but to where and  to whom?  Into this abusive world came One who never abused but was abused beyond recognition, so we are forgiven.  Yes, He said, hold your head up and look to Me Who has seen your plight as He is our light in this dark world.  Yes, Keep on movin’, following Me.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12)

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At this time the Daily Lectionary Old Testament readings are from the prophet Jeremiah.  Yesterday’s lesson is Jeremiah 3: 6-4:2 in which we read:

The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore?

False gods were worshiped on “…every high hill and under every green tree”.  Before the building of Temple in Jerusalem, Israel and Judah had some hundred shrines.  After the Temple was built, these worship sites became infused with Canaanite idolatry, combining the worship of the one true God with false gods.  This is called “syncretism”.  Since Canaanite idolatry was a fertility cult for the male and female deities to unite and so ‘insure’ the fertility of the land for a good harvest;  and so there were cult prostitutes to unite with the heretical priest to manipulate the deities for their favor.  Israel could well have been both spiritually and physically playing the whore, though the distinction between physical and spiritual is not as distinct as we tend to think.

What is a whore?  A woman who sells her body to men for sex.  Israel had sold out to false gods and it sure seems it is usually for sex as idolatry leads ever to fornication.  The prophetic pattern against sin is always in this order: idolatry, then immorality.  False gods demand exorbitant fees, and as they are demons (see 1 Corinthians 10:20) , we sell our soul to them,  the faustian ‘bargain‘, and so lose our soul.  Israel was losing her soul as were the Christians in Corinth.  The devil’s best stratagem is not necessarily and initially direct appeals to the flesh but appeals to spirituality and the so-called refinements of sophisticated spirituality.   This is great cover up  which eventually leads to lusts of the flesh, e.g. divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage,”hooking-up”, orgies and drugs, pornography. We have seen this with churches one by one falling like dominos. 

The Lord first warned about the high places.  Israel bought into a lie, but the one true God can not be bought. He is truth as He is love.  Here we can see the utter reality of the Lord:  He can not be bought or need we to sell our souls to Him!  The false gods always want us to sell out our bodies and souls like a whore for the price of our freedom in Christ. He found and saved Israel, not Israel by herself at all.  He bought them and brought them with cords of love, Hosea 11:

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim* to walk;
    I took them up by their arms,
    but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness,
    with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
    and I bent down to them and fed them.

 *Israel

And as the Lord spoke His Word through Jeremiah:

“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
    for I am merciful,
declares the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.
13 Only acknowledge your guilt,
    that you rebelled against the Lord your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
    and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the Lord.

Return, faithless ChurchThe Book of Life_No Words.  

 

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Lessons:  Acts 15: 12-22a, Psalm 133, James 1: 1-12, St. Matthew 13: 54-58

Prayer of the Day:

Heavenly Father, shepherd of Your people, You raised up James the Just, brother of our Lord, to lead and guide Your Church. Grant that we may follow his example of prayer and reconciliation and be strengthened by the witness of his death; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Biography: St. James of Jerusalem (or “James the Just”) is referred to by St. Paul as “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). Some modern theologians believe that James was a son of Joseph and Mary and, therefore, a biological brother of Jesus. But throughout most of the Church (historically, and even today), Paul’s term “brother” is understood as “cousin” or “kinsman,” and James is thought to be the son of a sister of Joseph or Mary who was widowed and had come to live with them. Along with other relatives of our Lord (except His mother), James did not believe in Jesus until after His resurrection (John 7:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:7). After becoming a Christian, James was elevated to a position of leadership within the earliest Christian community. Especially following St. Peter’s departure from Jerusalem, James was recognized as the bishop of the Church in that holy city (Acts 12:17; 15:12ff.). According to the historian Josephus, James was martyred in AD 62 by being stoned to death by the Sadducees. James authored the Epistle in the New Testament that bears his name. In it, he exhorts his readers to remain steadfast in the one true faith, even in the face of suffering and temptation, and to live by faith the life that is in Christ Jesus. Such a faith, he makes clear, is a busy and active thing, which never ceases to do good, to confess the Gospel by words and actions, and to stake its life, both now and forever, in the cross. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:

James repeatedly addresses in his epistle “my brothers”.  In 2: 15, he speaks about ‘a brother or sister” being poorly clad.  If “brothers”  refers to the entire congregation, sisters included, regardless of sex, then why would he add “sister” at 2: 15?  Wouldn’t “brothers” be enough at 2: 15?  Yes, it would have but the case has been made that “my brothers” refers to James’ brother pastors (1), therefore like Paul’s letters to Timothy, James is also a pastoral epistle, that is, addressed to a pastor or pastors. This is further corroborated in 3: 1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  James wants to impress fellow pastors to be strict about the doctrine they teach.  In this chapter, he uses many analogies, one being the human “tongue” (verses 4-5):  

 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

A week from tomorrow  is October 31st, the Feast of the Reformation.  The blessed Reformers were very much concerned with the preaching and teaching Office of Pastor.   Priests at the time of the Reformation were beating congregations down with the Law, both God’s and man made churchly rules and regs that by them we can attain heaven.  It was a curse.  Pastors are called as  ordained Servants of the Word so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His single-Handed salvation of us all be preached for the increase of saving faith.  James further writes  that with the tongue we bless the Lord and curse our neighbors.  James was encouraging his brother pastors to be clear in preaching the Word, rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel so that a “harvest of righteousness” come to fruition in the making of “peace” (verse 18), God’s peace which surpasses all understanding.

 Many pastors/ministers/ priests,  at the time of the Reformation,  and now  concentrate the people’s attention on themselves and not Jesus Christ, even fleecing the flock to have mega-churches with mega-incomes. Dr. Scaer in his commentary on The Epistle of James:

“The problem of poverty in the congregations seems to have caused some members and especially the clergy to cater to the rich during the worship services in a most conspicuous way. The rich did not provide for the poor and, worse, were dragging members of the congregation into court, probably ecclesiastical ones. They did little, if anything, to provide for the support of the clergy, a problem later faced by Paul (2 Cor. 11:9; Acts 18:3).”

Has the Lord’s salvation come from the heart of Joel Osteen or your pastor or the Pope or your income? By no means! Pastors are called to preach Christ, not the Christian, and the riches of His grace for sinners.  The place of salvation is not the creature, but  the Creator who sent His only-begotten Son.  Preaching the Christian will set the ship of the Church (Latin: navis, ship and from it, nave, where a congregation sits), the wrong way, not Jesus Christ’s way.  Bitter jealousy and rivalry, over “ministries” will result (see verses 14-16) and will result in “every vile practice”, like a mega-church pastor building a million dollar home.  Many such pastors sell their books and preach their books, but not The Book, the Scriptures. Such bitter jealousy for more is not of the Lord, and as James wrote, saving wisdom, the Word made flesh comes from another source,

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. verse 17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 1: 17

Almighty God, grant to Your church Your Holy Spirit and the wisdom which comes down from heaven, that Your Word may not be bound, but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people. In steadfast faith, we may serve You and in the confession of Your name, abide to the end through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

(1)  From James:  The Apostle of Faith commentary by Dr. David Scaer

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“To be a Christian is a great thing, not merely to seem one. And somehow or other those please the world most…please Christ least…. Christians are made, not born.”-St. Jerome

St. Jerome’s Vulgate Translation:  St. John1: 1

In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum
            In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God: and the Word was God.

In ipso vita erat et vita erat lux hominum
            In him was life: and the life was the light of men. 

Prayer of the Day

O Lord, God of truth, Your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light on our path. You gave Your servant Jerome delight in his study of Holy Scripture. May those who continue to read, mark, and inwardly digest Your Word find in it the food of salvation and the fountain of life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Jerome, Translator of Holy Scripture:  Jerome was born in a little village on the Adriatic Sea around AD 345. At a young age, he went to study in Rome, where he was baptized. After extensive travels, he chose the life of a monk and spent five years in the Syrian Desert. There he learned Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament. After ordination at Antioch and visits to Rome and Constantinople, Jerome settled in Bethlehem. from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, he used his ability with languages to translate the Bible into Latin, the common language of his time. This translation, called the Vulgate, was the authoritative version of the Bible in the Western Church for more than 1,o00 years. Considered one of the great scholars of the Early Church, Jerome died on September 30, 420. He was originally interred at Bethlehem, but his remains were eventually taken to Rome. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Reflection:  We make much ado about miracles in the Bible as well we probably should, but there are some miracles that go totally unnoticed, as in:

For out of Zion shall go the law,
   and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2

and

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. Revelation 14: 6

From the least of the tribes and nations of earth comes forth the Word of God and specifically, the Word made flesh, “…to every nation and tribe and language and people.”   He has made known to all His Law and Gospel.  And there was a priest of Jesus Christ, one Jerome,  translating the Bible into a language by which all of Europe for 1,000 years could listen to the Word of God.  Vulgate Latin become the lingua franca, the common language of the Church.  It was not God’s language for God’s language, His Word, His tongue are the mighty deeds in Jesus Christ, as it clear in Acts 2:7-9, but they heard it  in  their own “native language”.  This is the Pentecost of translation begun in Jerusalem.  It has not stopped. The Bible is the perennial best seller in the world.  The Pentecost of His published Word was continued by Jerome and many others.

The Lord brought forth His Word out from Zion. This is the Lord’s great deed by which He civilized a world in, through and by  His Word as we await for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory.   Jerome facilitated the greatest publishing event in the history of the world that had already begun: The Holy Bible.  It is the Word alone which testifies God’s will for us.  If it was not, then Jerome would have translated human tradition for the world to read, but he did not.

It is a high vocation to be a Translator of Scripture.  The Bible or portions thereof have been translated into some 2, 287 languages.  This is a good day to pray for all translators, missionaries, seminarians and Biblical professors.  

The King James Version renders Mark 13: 10: “And the gospel must first be published among all nations”, and Isaiah 52:7 that blessed are the feet which, “publisheth salvation”. The word “publish” is from same Latin root as our word “public”. “Vulgate” from “vulgur” meant in Latin “public” as well.  The Lord makes public His Word.  It is not merely a private thing but for the whole world and our nation.  He calls His Church to continue this work till the consummation of all things so that many may call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved.

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For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9

 

READINGS:  Numbers 11:4–6, 10–16, 24–29 Psalm 104: 27-35  James 5: 13–20 Mark 9:38–50

The Lord’s concern in response to the disciples’ question about the man casting out demons in Christ’s Name is like Moses’ response about Eldad and Medad receiving the Holy Spirit outside the Tent of Meeting:  Would that all people be prophets and the Lord’s Spirit be upon them! The Lord’s will is all people to be saved in the sheer gift of Himself to know Him and love Him and love our neighbors aright. 

“As a true servant of God, who was not jealous for his own honor, but desired only the extension of God’s influence and power, Moses wished only for a further extension of the Lord’s gift of grace. A little more of this same Spirit in our days would help to solve many of the problems of the Church.” (From The Popular Commentary (1924), by Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Lutheran Pastor and Scholar)

The Lord’s solution of political problems is not pastors, ministers and priests offering political solutions to people who suffer from the spiritual problem of sin.  The Lord’s solution is salvation in teaching and preaching Christ, His Cross, His resurrection and ascension, His Word of Law and Promise. Not a pope nor a president telling us pollution is bad, or abortion for that matter, but God’s Word and teaching thus sayeth the Lord from the  Bible.  The greatest apostolic ministry is not first casting out demons, that is, rare, but receiving a cup of water because, beloved in the Lord, “you belong to Christ”.  You belong to Christ. This means the person giving the cup of water to one of Jesus’ own, is beginning to believe through the grace of God in, through and with His Son Jesus Christ and that is quite a reward.

The one who has given the apostle a cup of cold water because He belongs to Christ, one of the little ones, like the child Jesus enfolded into His arms, and so Jesus is clear:  the greatest sin is to cause him or her believing in Christ to sin. So solemnly in a three-fold repetition

If your hand causes you to sin …

If your foot causes you to sin …

If you your eye causes you to sin

“Causes you to sin” in Greek is root of our word scandal, which was something that  causes you to stumble, into sin.  Now it is clear my hand does not think nor does the eye nor does the foot.  Oh, my hand hit you, now hand apologize and cut it out. That’s an absurdity as is sin.  Jesus knows what needs to be cut out.  He already taught earlier in chapter 7 the defilement comes out of the heart:  “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, etc.”.   Cut it out. Arduously keeping the Law of God will cut out some outward behaviors, which is good, but the heart condition remains. The Lord by His Law shows us the true source of the offense:  the heart, that is, the will.  He has cut out the blockages of sin and death and hell.  He cut it out in His Body upon the Cross. Salt stings in order to preserve.

“Christ here mentions some other members that are very apt to offend, to commit sin, to lead others into sin. The law of sin is always active in our members. Here it is necessary that a person keep these members in subjection. For the Lord speaks figuratively and does not want to be understood, as Luther says, that He here advocates physical mutilation or dismemberment, since that would obviously not take the sin and the desire to sin out of the heart. It is the heart which must be controlled by the spirit of love toward Christ and our neighbor, in order that the hand, the foot, the eye do not perform that which sin desires them to do.”  (From The Popular Commentary (1924), by Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Lutheran Pastor and Scholar)

Cutting it off is called confession, cutting it out to be healed in His forgiveness. His Word like a surgeon’s scalpel cuts to heal. “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;  There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.” The costly balm is Christ’ blood.

Churches have greatly watered down the Word of God to make it palatable for ourselves and the results have been disastrous, tolerating all sorts of sin, as in marriage, thus causing one of the little ones who believe in Christ to sin. Look at what the rampant sexual immorality of our time has cost children in divorce, abuse, pornography…and so let’s water down the saltiness of the Law of God  which mean  no repentance, no return to the Lord your God for He is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Still:  “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul”.

Jesus is clear:  the result is hell, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. We have watered down hell.   Hell has been watered down for people who don’t believe it, but note that it is still in full force for someone I don’t like! Then the belief is quite strong!  Hell is not merely fictional frightening children’s tale to scare, “…rather, they are true reason publicly proclaimed with a straightforward voice.” (St. Basil).    Hell is where the stink of putrefying sin always feeds the worms, the maggots.  Such is a world which harvests aborted infants’ body parts, commits genocide, beheads Christians and others, says nothing to “hooking-up”, or getting ahead at all costs using people is okay, its called being a “winner”.  Hell is a Biblical doctrine.  The Lord wants no one in hell, but all to be saved and come to the knowledge of Christ.

The list of ingredients on a food package always begin in descending order with  ingredient that is the most and salt is not usually the main ingredient.  In the Church, and proclaimed throughout the world, the main ingredient is the Name of Jesus Christ for us and our salvation.  When salt becomes more important than the main ingredient then there are problems.  When our theological solutions become more important than Christ our Lord, not interpreting truly the Scriptures, the Word of God, then men follow manmade doctrines such as the office of the pope, as the head of the church. He’s not, Christ is, as the Bible makes clear.  During the Pope’s visit, they had a canonization Mass in D.C.  As one reporter said, The pope made a new saint today.  No, he did not, most emphatically, none of the 266 popes ever made a saint.  The church does not make saints, Christ Jesus does.  The saints in Christ are His baptized, His little ones, not the great ones.  Salt does not make salt. The Lord does.  You are the salt of the earth. Not you should be, you must be, you can be, or we’ll make you salt.  You ARE.  Not by your doing, nor your works, but by the gracious work and word of Jesus Christ, whose we are, is who we are.    

The lesson ends with Jesus speaking of salt.  He did this early, Matthew 5:  Y’all are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost it’s saltiness what is it good, except to be thrown out and trampled on by men.  Funny thing though:  salt, sodium chloride, is quite the stable compound and does not lose it’s saltiness.  You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant  with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt. Leviticus 2: 13.  The Lord’s covenant, His testaments, old and new endure as salt, stable.  His promises fulfilled in Christ are there, His Word for us and for our salvation.  The very Word wounded for our sin.

Salt is a cheap grocery item in our day, but not back in the time of Christ.  Salty ocean water had to dry out and the salt gathered which could be filled with impurities. The impurities would dissipate the saltiness of salt and so salt loses is saltiness and becomes worthless.   So does the  impurities of  false doctrine, and unrepentant sin.

“Where the salt loses its saltiness, and the Gospel is spoiled with doctrines of men, there the old Adam no longer can be spiced, there the worms will grow. But salt is sharp; therefore it is necessary to have patience and peace in the salt.” (Martin Luther)

And sayeth the Lord, “ You will be salted with fire:   the fire of His Law and judgment, the fire of His mercy for sinners the fire of the Holy Spirit purging and renewing His Church;  the fire of His love for you and our neighbors to know the peace of God surpassing  human understanding.  His Word is our salt, preserving and flavoring our lives, making us thirsty for the draught of His Baptism and His Word. The word “salary” comes from the Latin for “salt”.  Roman soldiers received a stipend for salt.  My Dad told me that in the army, part of the rations was a salt tablet because it was indispensable to stay alive and keep on going.  His Word is the salt of the testament in Jesus. Have this salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another, the salt of the new and everlasting covenant in His Body and Blood. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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