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Genesis 11:  Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

The Babel builders sought on the plain of Shinar absolute and eternal security.  How?  Spiritually, by making a name for themselves and physically, by building the world’s first skyscraper.  This is still the lust of the Old Adam because he turned his back on the Lord. 

Years ago, I preached on the tower of Babel and as an example of “making a name for ourselves”, I used Trump Towers, named after it’s builder Donald Trump.  At the time, in Virginia, the response to my illustration was from a couple of members: “Who’s Donald Trump?”  We can not say that any longer. 

Genesis 11: 4 has become a commonplace tag on the lust for security:  I’ll make a name for myself, even to the point of crime.  This contrasts sharply with the next chapter in Genesis, verse 2, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”  The Lord’s Word came to Abram as sheer promise and gift without any asking on Abram’s part.  “Gifts are given to be received, not to be repaid. They thereby establish and define relationships”(Mark A. Seifrid).  The Lord graced Abram and thus He established and defined the relationship.  Abraham could never repay the gift of walking with the Lord in his journey.  When presidents, prime ministers, tyrants, dictators are forgotten, the name of Abraham is remembered on account of his descendent according to the flesh: Jesus Christ.

We are easily awed by the rich and famous and all their works and ways. If we did not want what they have, then the lottery would not exist. Remember:  the rich and famous exact from the ‘gift’ of their largesse more than you and I could ever give.  It is never a gift.It’s the devil’s deal and his deal is always the art of the deal. The hold they have over us is our own fears, like the Babel builders: not to be scattered and supposedly  have in ourselves eternal security but it has never worked that way:  see the pharaohs of Egypt, the Caesars, the Hitlers, the Mussolinis and the like.  All dust but who we remember  is Abraham and his name is on no tower.  It is better to follow a presidential candidate who at least has a veneer of humility and  knows what he/she can not do as the President of this most powerful of all nations: offer eternal security in wealth and power. No skyscraper can ever touch  God and reach heaven, only the Lord who has touched us, the beloved and only-begotten Son of God.  Only the Lord does that by His Son Jesus Christ by sheer grace for the haughtiest of men, that is, for us all.

Let us pray…Almighty God,   our heavenly Father, Your mercies are new every morning;  and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul.  Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience;  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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Wednesday in Holy Week

COLLECT OF THE DAY:

Merciful and everlasting God, You did not spare Your only Son but delivered Him up for us all to bear our sins on the cross. Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him, that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS:

Isaiah 62:11-63:7

Psalm 70 

Romans 5:6-11

St. Luke 22:1-23:56 or St. John 13:16-38

The Epistle Reading:  Romans 5:6-11  English Standard Version (ESV)

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory is set in Mexico, the 1920s when the Roman Catholic Church had been suppressed.  Priests were not allowed to say Mass.  The main character is an unnamed priest, given to whiskey, who goes about the country saying clandestine Masses.  In the scene quote below he is in a shed and mestizo is crawling in the shack and grabs the priest’s ankles.  He wants the priest to hear his confession about adultery and “boys”, as his confession comes forth between his yellowed teeth, the priest reflects:

“How often the priest had heard the same confession–Man was so limited: he hadn’t even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died: the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater the glory lay around the death; it was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or civilization–it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” 

Greene is illustrating the Scripture text appointed for Holy Wednesday from Romans, above. For God and country, a man will dare to die.  Even for a “good person”.  When I think of the petty larcenies and lusts lurking in the attic of my heart, it’s shameful. It is true we can not even invent a new vice  (nor a new virtue! As C. S. Lewis wrote that a man can not produce a new value as much as he can not create a new primary color).   I do not remember if the priest absolved the penitent in the novel.  Christ Jesus has for all who know they need fixing in their hearts. He will. No amount of fixing on our part will do it.

In the prayer of the day, we pray, ” Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him, that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil”.    In Advent there is a collect with a similar petition that “our hearts may be fixed where true joy is found.”  Fix:  eyes on the prize or corrected/ healed.  Which is it?  I suppose the former but the former makes for the latter.  This prayer presupposes we have confessed our need to be fixed!It seems that Judas did not see himself as one who needing fixing, otherwise he would have repented.  I know a Lutheran campus minister in Southern California who will sit outside at a table in the commons areas with large sign reading: “Christianity is for the Weak”. I think this accusation was first re-hurled at the Church in our day and time with the Communists, “Religion is the opiate of the people”, a sop for the weak.  I did the same as my colleague at a campus here and had a young man look at me incredulously that I was reiterating this statement. I said it’s true:  Christianity is for the weak, that is, Christ Jesus is for the weak, the poor in spirit, the repentant sinner. God and Man in One, Christ Jesus died for the weak that we be forgiven in joyful repentance. And nowadays, Christianity seems to be for the spiritually powerful, who have all sorts of the religious/spiritual excitements and enthusiasms as I have seen on TV with too many ‘evangelists’ who preach themselves and read the titles of the latest ‘Christian’ book fad.  And the poor man or woman, knowing their need, despair that they surely can not be saved look at the ‘new’ Pharisees. If that were the case, then all of Scripture is wrong!  He lifts up our hearts and eyes to Him lifted upon the Cross. Our eyes fixed upon Him, in the depths, height and breadth of His love stretching out from the Cross to us  and we are fixed, by steadfast faith, as sinners, in Him.  It seems to me that sin, death and devil dogs us when we are not so steadfast in faith.  Our true condition apart from Him is just as it is written in Romans 5:  weak, sinner, enemy,dead and you can not get weaker than dead.  His power and glory has been shown upon the Cross and on the third day and today. We are justified, reconciled and we shall be saved, the weak steadfast in the grace wherein we stand. In this we “rejoice”! Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!

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The Bible, the entire Old and New Testaments, in most translations,  does not have one word that is translated “infidel”.  Note: religions that call someone “infidel” use such a designation as justification to execute that person.  The Lord has other plans for us:

“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”-Ezekiel 18: 23

God our Savior… desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.-1 Timothy 2

The Lord and His Gospel is  for Muslims, and infidels and you and me.  His love is for us all and He killed sin in His Body upon the Tree so that in Him all can be free.

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The hand pointing to heaven was the sign in the 60s-70s for the “Jesus People”.  It signified Jesus is the one way to heaven.   If I stood on a busy street corner, with my index people pointing up, folks would start looking up to see what I was pointing to!  Is it a bird, is it a plane…Is someone jumping? Or asking what you are pointing to. “Jesus”  “Ahh, I don’t see Him.”  Pointing to thin air.  Or doing such indoors pointing to  the ceiling. Stuck.  One way to Jesus sign went the way of the Dodo bird.  Jesus Christ is not thin air.  The problem with that sign is it’s ambiguity.  Making the sign of the cross is utterly unambiguous…it’s absolutely clear:  Jesus Christ died for me, a sinner and I’m a Christian.  I’m a catholic.  The sign of the cross does not point to thin air, but the Holy One of Israel alone.  We are not stuck in our sins but freed from them in His Word to us, for us, in us, preach, taught and administered in the Sacraments. It points to the history of our salvation in the Lord as accurately recorded in the Bible.  The sign of the Cross is unmistakable.  No mistake that Jesus Christ died and rose for us all.  This was, “…according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:  23).  Definite.

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But I shot a man in Reno,
Just to watch him die,
When I hear that whistle blowin’,
I hang my head and cry.                                       (“Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash)

In our ever quickening news cycles, the news from a week ago can seem to be a  long time ago.  Our memory is injured and that in itself is devilish.  When we have a tooth-ache, that’s when one wants to see the dentist;  but the pain goes away, so does the need to see the doctor, but the problem is still there.  We were immersed in the stark news from a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20th. We were flummoxed again.  Now, not so much and so maybe this is a time to give some reflection. The problem is still there.

The usual refrain now in these group murders is the “lone madman” theory.  Mark Steyn in an excellent article in National Review, “In Search of ‘Why'” (8/13/12) points out that in Aurora there is, “…no ‘why.'”  Steyn makes a crucial distinction: some do violence for a purpose, such as Major Hasan in the Fort Hood shootings, others like the Aurora killer does not.   Steyn quotes the previous Batman movie when Alfred the Butler says to Master Bruce:  “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Some, he writes, saw this as an incisive analysis  of Al Qaeda, etc. “The jihad boys enjoy, as the Joker does, the body count.” It finally does not matter.

C. S. Lewis’ second book in his science fiction triology, Perelandra, takes place on a planet (Venus) which is still in the state of innocence.  It is covered entirely by ocean with floating islands and one piece of fixed land.  Two Englishmen, Ransom and Weston, rocket to the planet and meet the Lady.  The Lady has been told by Maledil that you may spend the night on any of the floating islands but on the one fixed island she may not so spend the night.  It turns out that Weston is actually the “Unman”, that is the evil one and his intent is to tempt the Lady. In a scene that I find to be one of the most horrific in fiction, Ransom discovers ‘Weston’ for who he is and I think this begins to speak to understanding Aurora and other acts of purposeless violence. The scene is diametrically opposed to the beauty of Perelandra:

Ransom sat looking out from the edge of the forest in which he had slept, on a flat sea where there were no other islands in view. He had waked a few minutes before and found himself lying alone in a close thicket of stems that were rather reed-like in character but stout as those of birch trees and which carried an almost flat roof of thick foliage. From this there hung fruits as smooth and bright and round as holly-berries, some of which he ate. Then he found his way to open country near the skirts of the island and looked about him. Neither Weston nor the Lady was in sight, and he began walking in a leisurely fashion beside the sea. His bare feet sank a little into a carpet of saffron-coloured vegetation, which covered them with an aromatic dust. As he was looking down at this he suddenly noticed something else. At first he thought it was a creature of more fantastic shape than he had yet seen on Perelandra. Its shape was not only fantastic but hideous. Then he dropped on one knee to examine it. Finally he touched it, with reluctance. A moment later he drew back his hands like a man who had touched a snake.

It was a damaged animal. It was, or had been, one of the brightly coloured frogs. But some accident had happened to it. The whole back had been ripped open in a sort of V-shaped gash, the point of the V being a little behind the head. Something had torn a widening wound backward—as we do in opening an envelope—along the trunk and pulled it out so far behind the animal that the hoppers or hind legs had been almost tom off with it. They were so damaged that the frog could not leap. On earth it would have been merely a nasty sight, but up to this moment Ransom had as yet seen nothing dead or spoiled in Perelandra, and it was like a blow in the face. It was like the first spasm of well-remembered pain warning a man who had thought he was cured that his family have deceived him and he is dying after all. It was like the first lie from the mouth of a friend on whose truth one was willing to stake a thousand pounds. It was irrevocable….  

At last he got up and resumed his walk. Next moment he started and looked at the ground again. He quickened his pace, and then once more stopped and looked. He stood stock-still and covered his face. He called aloud upon heaven to break the nightmare or to let him understand what was happening. A trail of mutilated frogs lay along the edge of the island. Picking his footsteps with care, he followed it. He counted ten, fifteen, twenty: and the twenty-first brought him to a place where the wood came down to the water’s edge. He went into the wood and came out on the other side. There he stopped dead and stared. Weston, still clothed but without his pith helmet, was standing about thirty feet away: and as Ransom watched he was tearing a frog—quietly and almost surgically inserting his forefinger, with its long sharp nail, under the skin behind the creature’s head and ripping it open. Ransom had not noticed before that Weston had such remarkable nails. Then he finished the operation, threw the bleeding ruin away, and looked up. Their eyes met…

It (Weston) looked at Ransom in silence and at last began to smile. We have all often spoken—Ransom himself had often spoken —of a devilish smile. Now he realised that he had never taken the words seriously. The smile was not bitter, nor raging, nor, in an ordinary sense, sinister; it was not even mocking. It seemed to summon Ransom, with horrible naivete of welcome, into the world of its own pleasures, as if all men were at one in those pleasures, as if they were the most natural thing in the world and no dispute could ever have occurred about them. It was not furtive, nor ashamed, it had nothing of the conspirator in it. It did not defy goodness, it ignored it to the point of annihilation. Ransom perceived that he had never before seen anything but half-hearted and uneasy attempts at evil. This creature was Whole-hearted. The extremity of its evil had passed beyond all struggle into some state which bore a horrible similarity to innocence. It was beyond vice as the Lady was beyond virtue.

It became for Weston the whole-hearted enjoyment of evil for it’s own sake.  Evil is beyond the ken of even sin.  Mr. Steyn in that same article mentioned seeing the last installment of Mission Impossible and it’s exquisitely filmed technological violence, commented”…but it isn’t about anything. It’s like a perfectly executed act of mass terrorism  for no reason at all.”  James Holmes did it for no reason at all, except to watch people die.   We too have a voyeurism for the dark.  It is into this darkness, the Lord came.  

“How often the priest had heard the same confession–Man was so limited: he hadn’t even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died: the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater the glory lay around the death; it was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or civilization–it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” 
― Graham GreeneThe Power and the Glory

I have said many times to my wife that certain movies, like the Die Hard movies, I love to see the bad buy die a satisfying death.  But there is nothing in death or evil or sin that is satisfying, only God’s grace and peace satisfies, His blood shed on the Cross for the blood shed.

Israel ben Eliezer, the founder of the Hasidim in 18th century Eastern Europe said that when we have beheld evil is so that we know the evil is also within so that we repent.  Our hope in Jesus Christ is that like Johnny Cash, we hang our head and cry. We could ban guns, movies, you name it, but it will not stop sin and evil. Only the One Who died upon the Cross has and will: our Ransom.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5

O God,  You see that of ourselves we have no strength.  By Your mighty power defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul;  through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Come, Thou precious Ransom, come,
Only Hope for sinful mortals!
Come, O Savior of the world!
Open are to Thee all portals.
Come, Thy beauty let us see;
Anxiously we wait for Thee.                                       (Lutheran Service Book, #350)

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On Baptism

The following quote is from a solid article in the current edition of Touchstone magazine.  It is by Pr. Paul Gregory Alms (LCMS) and you can find the article here.-Pr. Schroeder

In one of the great baptismal scenes of the New Testament, we see the contrast between an entry into the Christian life that appears painless and miraculous and an entry that involves death with Christ in the waves. It is the story of Peter walking on the water. Peter sees Christ striding over the deep and gets the idea to do it himself. Calling on Jesus to enable him to follow, he steps out of the boat.

And he does walk on the waves. Peter is walking on the water, upright, proud, connected to Jesus. But the stormy deep claims her own. Peter must be swallowed by the water before he can truly follow Christ. He begins to sink. His baptism has begun. His false pride is drowned. Peter cries out, “Save me, Lord.”

Here is baptism. Man’sfoolish pride is extinguished in the water; the inexorable pull of death grabs at and claims its own; and the pitiful confession is forced out of lungs now filling with the waters of judgment: “Lord, save me.”


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What does sin look like?  No, it does not look like the front page of the newspaper, or the daily internet feed…that’s too easy, for then I can say, It’s them, not me…that somehow I am exempt from the sin of the world for which Christ Jesus came? I am not.

If I think I am, I lie and His truth is not in me, but beloved in the Lord, His truth is in me. 

What does sin look like?  It looks like the Word picture, the verbal icon we just heard from St. John’sGospel and as we sung and prayed in O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.  Sin looks like Jesus Christ: there, in Him as He is beaten, flogged, derided, spat upon, impressed with a crown of thorns, mocked, whipped 39 times, chained, bound, nails pounded into His feet and hands, thirsting…bloody and naked.  Adam, after he ate of the tree to become like God, saw he was naked and he was ashamed.  Jesus died naked for all to see, bearing the shame on the Tree for you and for me, so He calls us to His own.

What is unbearable to see in my self, He makes bearable by carrying our shame. He has.  once and for all: He does and He will be our Savior.  Not just in one time of decision, but His decision is to be your Lord day by day.    What is unbearable to see in your self, He has bourn.  Do not look inward, look outside into His Face, His Cross, His Word, His life.  This word picture is for you that when sin and sorrow oppresses, we see not only what our sin looks like but we hear who our Savior is and immensity of His burden. For you. The two most important words in Holy Communion are For you, as in His body broken for you, His blood shed for you.  Everyone of His Words from the Cross are for you. I will focus on two:

In the old B.C. comic strip by the late Johnny Hart, two cavemen are gazing off and the one asks, “Do you believe in heaven or hell?” “It depends on what I did the night before.”

This is great cartoon!  It is a great cartoon of God’s Law!  On Good Friday we are reminded heaven or hell depends finally and fully  upon what He did…for you!  He does not want to give you hell, but His heaven as the thief on His right hand knew he deserved,  as we all do, and there on his cross he confessed his sin:

 

 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  St. Luke 24

There is little ditty, made popular by the Taize community, with the lyric straight from thief on the cross, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  It is simply repeated again and again and again, but it never comes to the answer to the thief’s repentant prayer and his answer, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”[1] This is what finally matters and upon which our salvation rests in true repentance…today you will be with Me in Paradise:  for you.  Even before the last day, when we know of the Lord’s love toward us it is paradise even now:  for you.     

 

It is finished. Finished…come to a completion, fulfilled. Here in His Body is the beginning of the end of the world and beginning of eternal life in Him…for you.


[1] Insight courtesy of Pastor Mark Jasa, campus minister at USC, from his video blog

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