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 Text:  St. Matthew 2:13-23

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, the martyred innocents of Bethlehem showed forth Your praise not by speaking but by dying.  Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Intro:  Matthew’s Gospel tells of King Herod’s vicious plot against the infant Jesus after being “tricked” by the Wise Men.  Threatened by the one “born King of the Jews,”  Herod murdered all the children in  and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2: 16-18).  these “innocents,” commemorated just three days after the celebration of Jesus’ birth, remind us not only  of the terrible brutality of which human beings are capable but more significantly of the persecution Jesus endured from the beginning of His earthly life.  Although Jesus’ life was providentially spared at this time, many years later, another ruler, Pontius Pilate, would sentence the innocent Jesus to death. (From:  The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents: Some accounts number them at more than ten thousand, but more conservative estimates put their number around a dozen. 10,000 children or 1 child murdered is one child too many.  The picture above  is a painting by Giotto di Bondone (1266/7 – 1337).   It is eerily prescient of  the many pictures of the bodies of Jews in piles in the concentration camps. Their only crime was they were of the same religion as the One born this holy season.  It makes no sense.  Neither does any abuse of children sexually, physically and/or emotionally from Newtown to our town.

Herod the Great was probably a functional atheist; he thought he ruled by his own right and authority.  He was his own god as all dictators and tyrants vainly and terribly imagine themselves.  We read a lot about the atheism of a Christopher Hitchens, but he pales to the tyrants who think they are gods. With no fear of God in the multitude of  Herods, with the lack of the fear of the Lord, we are in the most functionally atheistic of all time.  We do what we please.   We are own gods and children.  The result?

“Question: Who is the most obnoxious, Protestants, Catholics, or Jews?

Answer: It depends on where you are and who you are talking to—though it is hard to conceive any one of the three consistently outdoing the other two in obnoxiousness. Yet, as obnoxious as are all three, none is as murderous as the autonomous self who, believing in nothing, can fall prey to ideology and kill millions of people—unwanted people, old people, sick people, useless people, unborn people, enemies of the state—and do so reasonably, without passion. Adolf Eichmann was a good family man, a devoted husband and father.”-Lost in the Cosmos:  the Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy (novelist)

The gripping movie, Judgment at Nuremberg  is about the trials after World War II of the lower level Nazis, in particular, the judges who sent the ‘mental defectives’, and other “undesirables” to their deaths after a “legal trial”.  A key character is the  fictional judge, Ernst Janning (played by Burt Lancaster).  He was known in the Weimar as one of the greatest legal minds in Germany.  He participated in the crimes against humanity for the Nazis yet he knew it was wrong.  In one of the last scenes of the movie, Herr Janning asks the main American judge, Hayward (played by Spencer Tracy) to come and visit him in his prison cell.   Janning wanted a kind of absolution:

Janning: Those people, those millions of people. I never knew it would come to that. You must believe that, you must believe that.

Judge Hayward:  Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

The death of one man or one child makes it easy for the autonomous, ‘kingly’, ‘great’ self to kill more and more. Mother Theresa said, 

“… if we accept that the mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? Any country that accepts abortion, is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants.”  

It took one Child to reverse the sin of Adam.  The holy innocents unwilling death and the grief of Rachel, their mothers,  weeping for them who are “no more”, fulfilled the Scripture that the Child of Mary would die as One for them all.  

This is only a  speculation:  Jesus’ Mother and Step Father may have eventually told Him what had happened on the day of terror in Bethlehem.  The Lord Jesus Christ taught as a man:

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

The Lord became a child to make us His children and so we are;  as it is written in Galatians 4:4-7: our adoption as the Lord’s sons and daughters.  The Child gives the childless hope, the loveless love, the faithless faith, in the great exchange:   His health for our sickness, His love for  us His enemies, His wisdom for the foolish to make us His own, His death  for our life, His resurrection for our eternal life, so we are born again, His baptized to receive children, from day 1 to the 100th year, in His Name, baptizing them, as we have been by His grace alone, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  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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Clement (ca. A.D. 35–100) is remembered for having established the pattern of apostolic authority that governed the Christian Church during the first and second centuries. He also insisted on keeping Christ at the center of the Church’s worship and outreach. In a letter to the Christians at Corinth, he emphasized the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Let us fix our eyes on the blood of Christ, realizing how precious it is to His Father, since it was poured out for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to the whole world” (1 Clement 6:31). Prior to suffering a martyr’s death by drowning, he displayed a steadfast, Christ-like love for God’s redeemed people, serving as an inspiration to future generations to continue to build the Church on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Christ as the one and only cornerstone. (from The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod website, see Blogroll on sidebar)

Reflection:  In the bio above and in the quote below the word “fix” is employed.  In the Prayer of the Day for the 5th Sunday after Easter, the Church prays,

“Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where trues are found, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord…”

Our hearts, that is,  our wills are fixed, that is, guided, repented, repaired in the fruit of the joys of His crucifixion and resurrection by our hearts fixed on Him,  His forgiveness for us, in us, with us, His life in our lives. His gift of life is His blood.  We can not repair our hearts, our wills on our own.  No one did heart surgery on himself, one needs a physician. We are fixed by fixing our hearts and eyes on Jesus Christ and that “fix” is prayer, the prayer of faith in the Lord, in Whom we are made one in Christian love and Pastor Clement made this clear:

From Pastor and Bishop Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians:

This is the way, beloved, in which we found our salvation, Jesus Christ, the high priest of our offerings, the protector and helper of our weakness (cf. Heb. 2: 17, 3:1, 4: 15)

Through him we fix our eyes on the heights of heaven, Through him we see mirrored the flawless and sublime countenance of God (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18), Through him the eyes of our heart have been opened, Through him our foolish and darkened understanding springs up to the light,Through him the Master has willed that we should taste immortal knowledge;

For “since he is the express image of his greatness, he is as much superior to angels as his title is superior” to theirs (cf. Heb. 1:3-4)

Let us then, men and brethren, engage in our service with complete earnestness under his faultless order. Let us consider those who serve under our military commanders, with what good discipline, subordination, and obedience they carry out orders.  Not all are prefects or tribunes or centurions or captains of fifty and so on, but “each in his own rank”(I Cor. 15:23)carries out orders under the emperor and the commanding officers. The great cannot exist without the small; neither can the small exist without the great: there is a certain mutuality in the whole, and this is beneficial to it. 

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, Your servant Clement of Rome called the Church in Corinth to repentance and faith to unite them in Christian love. Grant that Your Church may be anchored in Your truth by the presence of the Holy Spirit and kept blameless in Your service until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

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Elizabeth  of Hungary, born in Pressburg, Hungary, in 1207, was the daughter of King Andrew II and his wife Gertrude. Given in an arranged political marriage, she became wife of Louis of Thuringia (Germany) at age 14.

Her spirit of Christian generosity and charity pervaded the home she established for her husband and three children in the Wartburg Castle at Eisenach. Their abode was known for hospitality and family love.

Elizabeth often supervised the care of the sick and needy, even giving up her bed to a leper at one time. Widowed at age 20, she arranged for her children’s well-being and entered into life as a nun in the Order of Saint Francis. Her self-denial led to failing health and an early death in 1231 at the age of 24. Remembered for her self-sacrificing ways, Elizabeth is commemorated through the many hospitals named for her around the world.

(From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

As I write this pious people are saying that we should welcome Syrian refugees and show them hospitality, after all, Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary were refugees refused hospitality the night before Jesus’ birth.  This understanding Luke 2 is currently in the blogosphere. This sentiment demonstrates a lack of understanding of both the Biblical text and hospitality. 
The  word translated as “inn”, in Luke 2,  in N.T. Greek is actually a house. It is not the same Greek word as in the prodigal of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan puts up the man in “inn”, an actual hostel for overnight lodging. The word in Luke 2 is a house, a home. Since Joseph was of the “house and lineage of David”, he probably had kin in Bethlehem. If you had family, it would have been shameful to stay at a hostel. And the house may have been quite full, yet Joseph’s kin put them up, but the Luke 2 does not tell us they stayed in the stable. Just when Mary gave birth. she laid Jesus in the “manger”, lit. a feeding trough, because there was no room in the inn. A family with a new born, and an exhausted Mary,needed a quiet place. The hospitality was given by Joseph’s kin to Mary and him and now their firstborn. Given that this keeps to the text a whole lot more, the other good impulse in the Christmas narrative is it is about family, and a Holy Family, but a family and God’s blessings come through families from Abraham and Sarah to Joseph and Mary.
In our world, we would expect the Roman government to have a federal program to put up families in new towns to fulfill the new IRS requirements. Let someone else be hospitable to family and the sojourner. It is easy to talk about how hospitable and caring we are when are not actually the ones doing the hands on hospitality! We feel real good when we tweet how caring we are. It is a different matter to care for our neighbor or family member with all their “stuff” in their needs, sorrows, peculiarities etc. “Love your neighbor as yourself”, sounds easy, after all I want to be loved when I’m cranky, poor, sick, etc, okay, Love your neighbor as your self”. Sure let government do that. Do we as Christians and as Americans even know how to be hospitable to even our own, let alone the sojourner, in our homes? I know this does not provide a solution to the Syrian refugee crisis, but it would be different to think about Christian congregations (as after the Vietnam War, congregations welcomed the Hmong people), synagogues and even mosques. As a pastor I would want the Syrians checked out thoroughly. Are their Syrian organizations who would be willing to help? Ex-pat Syrians who have already set up residency to help? Conservative and liberal we now think only government and talk about the need to “think outside the box”!

Elizabeth of Hungary, and Martin Luther in the quote below teach us in word and deed the Biblical understanding of hospitality and it is hands on, not hands off letting someone else doing it, especially government! After all, our salvation was and is “hands on”, nail-imprinted Hands.  Luther and his wife and family were quite hospitable in opening their home to all sorts of people.  One of the job descriptions of a bishop/pastor is hospitality: “Therefore a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable…” (1 Timothy 3:2)  It is not first for the next guy’s home, but our own. 

Reflection by Dr. Martin Luther:  

This is … an outstanding praise of hospitality, in order that we may be sure that God Himself is in our home, is being fed at our house, is lying down and resting as often as some pious brother in exile because of the Gospel comes to us and is received hospitably by us. This is called brotherly love or Christian charity; it is greater than that general kindness which is extended even to strangers and enemies when they are in need of our aid…. For the accounts of the friendships of the Gentiles, like those of Theseus and Hercules, of Pylades and Orestes, are nothing in comparison with the brotherhood in the church; its bond is an association with God so close that the Son of God says that whatever is done to the least of His is done to Himself. Therefore their hearts go out without hypocrisy to the needs of their neighbor, and nothing is either so costly or so difficult that a Christian does not undertake it for the sake of the brethren, … But if anyone earnestly believed that he is receiving the Lord Himself when he receives a poor brother, there would be no need for such anxious, zealous, and solicitous exhortations to do works of love. Our coffers, storeroom, and compassion would be open at once for the benefit of the brethren. There would be no ill will, and together with godly Abraham we would run to meet the wretched people, invite them into our homes, and seize upon this honor and distinction ahead of others and say: “O Lord Jesus, come to me; enjoy my bread, wine, silver, and gold. How well it has been invested by me when I invest it in You!”

For our Daily Prayers:  

for the poor

for the sick and suffering

for the unemployed

Mighty King, whose inheritance is not of this world, inspire in us the humility and benevolent charity of Elizabeth of Hungary.  She scorned her bejeweled crown with thoughts of the horned one her savior donned for her said and ours, that we too, might live a live of sacrifice, pleasing in Your sight and worthy of the Name of Your Son, Christ Jesus, who with the Holy Spirit reigns with You forever in the everlasting kingdom. Amen.

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Recently my wife, my mother-in-law and I went to The Cloisters.  My wife and I enjoy thoroughly The Cloisters.  It is a museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.    The Cloisters is a reconstruction of  large segments of abandoned ruins of European medieval monasteries and churches  on the Palisade in northern Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River. It houses an exquisite collection of Medieval Church art. You can read more about it here.During our recent visit, this painting gripped me:  St. Michael Slaying the Anti-Christ:

Artist: Master of Belmonte (Spanish, Aragon, active ca. 1460–90) Date: 1450–1500 Culture: North Spanish Medium: Tempera and oil on wood Dimensions: Overall: 85 1/2 x 47 in. (217.2 x 119.4 cm) Classification: Paintings-Panels Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1955

 

The portrayal of the anti-Christ is the reason I was taken aback. This is the photo I took of the detail:

P1030224

What is the meaning of the anti-Christ’s body with reptilian arms and especially the leering, grinning faces from his body?

First, this portrayal reminded me of 20th Century Modern as it is akin to surrealism. 

Second, this portrayal is non-Biblical and rare because Michael defeats the devil (Revelation 12:7), not anti-Christ, though, we could say the anti-Christ is  devilish.

Third, it looks as if the figure of the anti-Christ is guiding Michael’s spear into his/her/it’s mouth.

Adding up those 3 observations comes this conclusion: this portrayal is lurid.  One of the definitions of lurid is:  “very vivid in color, especially so as to create an unpleasantly harsh or unnatural effect”.  This lurid portrayal is clearly contrasted with St. Michael, splendid in the whole armor of God, an angel, powerful and resplendent.  Yet, before this, the anti-Christ, sitting in the Temple, saying he is the Christ, redefining sound doctrine was certainly well hidden in his faux beauty.  As the anti-Christ seems to guide Michael’s spear, in an almost phallic way, this foul beast is now shown for his/her/its true colors, but it’s true lurid colors is flesh without spirit and the Holy Spirit, every part of the body leering forth its utterly narcissistic pleasures.  C. S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, his fiction of letters between a chief tempter in hell and a sub-tempter novice, says this:

“Humans are amphibians– half spirit and half animal…As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for as to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation– the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks”

C. S. Lewis also calls the human body, “those vast and perilous estates” which we think we own and control and the anti-Christ sets up his own religious rule that says, Yes, you do and you can be like God, controlling good and evil.  Like an amphibian with the Sword of the Spirit, that is, the Word of God thrust down anti-Christ’s foul mouth of teaching heresy, he mutates into pure flesh, even grinning from the crotch.  That grin is surely the smirk of our lustful times. The anti-Christ’s message is lawless, see 2 Thessalonians 2:3, that is without the Law of God showing us our sin, so that man can not see his Savior, Jesus, the Son of the Father, light from light, very God from very God (Nicene Creed).  Notice the devilish lie in Lewis’ depiction:  “constancy…is undulation”.  It is not!  Constancy is change?! This is what the whole vain dark world has been teaching and screeching about for along time now.  Constancy is steadfastness in the Lord’s steadfast love for us in Christ Jesus which purifies all our loves: and so:

“The night is far gone;  the day is at hand.  So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 12: 13).

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2 Timothy 2:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

 

Three seemingly disparate events are associated together on this date:  

1.  On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the armistice was signed ending World War I and this date became Veteran’s Day.  We remember all military, soldiers and sailors, who have defended our nation in war.  We thank them for their service and the best way to do that is, as is rightly encouraged in the media: THANK A VETERAN TODAY! 2. On this date, Martin of Tours, Pastor and Bishop was buried in the city of Tours, France:

Martin was born about the year 316 in the town of Sabaria in the Roman province of Pannonia, present day Hungary, of a pagan family, his father a Roman legionary. He spent his boyhood in Pavia in Lombardy where he came under Christian influence, and at the age of ten he decided on his own to become a catechumen (a catechumen is a person preparing for Holy Baptism. When he was fifteen, being the son of a soldier, he was drafted to serve in the army. He was apparently a good soldier and popular with his comrades. One winter night when he was stationed in Amiens, Martin saw a poor old beggar at the city gate shivering in the cold, and, having nothing else to give him, he drew his sword, cut his own cavalryman’s cloak in two, and gave half to the man to wrap himself in. The next night Martin dreamed of Christ in heaven wearing his half-cloak and saying, “Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak.” The young soldier, however, found it increasingly difficult to combine his own ideal of a Christian life with the duties of the military. Eventually he decided to be baptized and asked to leave the army, since he was no longer willing to kill. Like his modern counterparts, this fourth century “conscientious objector” had difficulty proving he was not a coward, but finally he was released, now about twenty years old. (from Festivals and Commemorations by Philip Pfatteicher)  But sensing a call to a church vocation, Martin left the military and became a monk, affirming that he was “Christ’s soldier.” Eventually, Martin was named bishop of Tours in western Gaul (France). He is remembered for his simple lifestyle and his determination to share the Gospel throughout rural Gaul (present day France) (Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

3.  On November 10th, 1483  a miner and his wife gave birth to a son.  Baptisms were done quickly due to infant mortality. The next day Hans and Margarette brought their son for Baptism, St. Martin’s Day.  So they named him Martin, as was the custom, after the saint’s day he was baptized.  The son baptized today was Martin Luther.

What do these 3 commemorations have in common? They are all about being a soldier.  We give thanks for those veterans who served in our armed forces.  I have heard many a veteran say that I did my duty and I came home.  Listening to vets, and yes, watching war movies, war is hard, to say the least.  Many veterans do not want to say what happened over there.  They bore arms to defend our freedoms inscribed in the Constitution, the words of the charter of our political freedom.

Martin of Tours left one army and joining the militia Christi, the army of Christ for the salvation of souls.  Christ enlisted him. As bishop he did battle against the heresies of his day and served his people the green and eternal pasture of the Word of God.  He fought against the powers and principalities:  sin, death and the power of the devil. The man named after him, Martin Luther, likewise did the same. Martin and Martin bore the weapons of the Spirit to defend the charter of our eternal salvation, one Lord, one faith, one birth.  Martin and Martin did their duty, lived their callings.  

As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that he was enlisted by the Lord!  Soldiers have a clear discipline and as Christians, disciples have a discipline to not get entangled in civilian pursuits, that is in the world, but for the world to fight the good fight of faith, so that souls are saved.  Paul focuses Timothy and us on the Lord.  When a superior officer comes into the room, all the soldiers come to attention as we do when we stand to hear the Gospel in the Divine Service.  And all soldiers suffer, as did Paul, Timothy, Peter and all the army of Christ, and as our armed forces do in combat, and even in peace.  We fight for freedom’s sake Christ has set us free and in Christ to not submit again to a yoke of slavery, see Galatians 5:1. This day is united in thanksgiving for our freedom, political and spiritual.  The armies of darkness are on the move again in our nation and amongst the nations.We are freed from  the tyranny of political and spiritual despots and so freed to serve our neighbor, our nation and church, as free citizens of both that  tyranny is defeated, finally by the Lord’s weapons:  the weapons of the Spirit, cf. Ephesians 6: 10-20.

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead; We give thee thanks for all those thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence, that the good work which thou hast begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.

 Lord God of hosts, Your servant Martin the soldier embodied the spirit of sacrifice. He became a bishop in Your Church to defend the catholic faith. Give us grace to follow in his steps so that when our Lord returns we may be clothed with the baptismal garment of righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns With You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

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9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7

There was a famous TV preacher who wrote a book about the Beatitudes  entitled, “The Be Happy Attitudes”. What a crock!  Full disclosure:  I have not read said book.  I guess that the way to be ‘Be Happy Attitudes’ is by us thinking positive, happy thoughts and doing positive happy things. In it’s place, that’s okay but in terms of the Lord’s so great a salvation, it’s all on me but the clear sense of the Beatitudes, our blessing, our salvation, does not rest on me or you but upon the One who blesses that is the Lord. The problem is not unhappiness primarily but sin crucially. The false, ‘be happy attitudes’ are aspiration, our going up to God. The Lord’s Beatitudes are inspiration.  Inspiration is literally “in spirited”, hallowed, made holy by the Holy Spirit witnessing to the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, filling the lungs of our souls with the Spirit of His grace, mercy and peace.  All the saints in Christ have known this in Christ. 

The Lord who calls the least, the last and the lost into His reign seems to enjoy creating out of nothing, as He did the heavens and the earth.  On each day of creation, after creating out of nothing, by His Word, He said, “It is good”.  The Lord likewise redeemed the saints out of the nothingness of sin, death and the power of the devil, by His blood shed for us all.  The saints are the roll call of the least, the last and the lost. His redemption is good.  His blood is for our good. His blood made us His, justified by grace through faith, as He became sin.    

During an interview with a comedian, the topic was atheism and faith.  The comedian was asked are you believer?  After all, aren’t you a Roman Catholic?” “Yeah, I believe and I’m a Roman Catholic but with what’s been happening recently,  I believe the book but not the cast.”  I guess the “cast” being the priests, bishops etc. and I took the book to be the Bible, the Word of God. Not a bad answer.   I believe the book, the Word of God and more than that:  because of His Word toward us in Jesus Christ, the lodestar of the Bible is why I believe His book, His Word.  What is His Word toward us and all humankind?  It’s not a principle, a program, a holy political platform, an ideal that the Lord presents and proclaims to us but he comes to us in a very concrete person:  Jesus Christ. 

 The comedian went amiss though with his jibe at the “cast”.  The Bible is quite a cast of characters! 

  • Abraham, a pagan idolater to be father of nations;
  • Moses, murdered an Egyptian the same Moses who didn’t talk so well is given the Law to lead a people out of slavery by speaking God’s Word;
  • a prostitute, Rahab saves Israel in the fall of Jericho;
  • a Gentile woman, a Moabite, Ruth becomes the foremother of King David and Jesus Christ, David’s Lord; David, a shepherd boy; 
  • “I’m only a youth” Jeremiah, a teenager called to proclaim God’s unvarnished truth to a very wayward Israel;
  • Peter, James and John, fishermen called to be Apostles into the world with the light of Jesus Christ;
  • Paul, persecutor and would-be murdered of Christians…and it’s a cast of millions as we heard in the first lesson. They did this all by faith alone.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

God loves the world. It is not an ideal man that He loves, but man as he is; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find abominable in man’s opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, the real man, the real world, this is for God the ground for unfathomable love, and it is with this that He unites Himself utterly. God becomes man, real man. 

God became a real man so we can be real men and women. This cast I trust because they were (and are!) so very real and loved and called by the real Lord to be his real people, really knowing they are sinners at the same time made right, justified in Christ alone and His work, as worked out in our lives by the Holy Spirit.

Beatitudes are the blessing of Jesus Christ toward real men and real women.  If the Lord wanted to bless ideal men and women, he would have said, Blessed are the rich in spirit, Blessed are those who are positive Blessed are the warriors, Blessed are the powerful…If the Lord had wanted only ideal men to come to Him, He would still be sitting on that mount waiting to open His mouth till this day.  But open His mouth He did:  Blessed are the poor in spirit, mourning, etc…not exactly a recruiting poster for denominational Christianity purpose driven, positive thinking, your best life now as the purveyors of the national religion with their feet planted firmly in their time teach it. but real men and real women, the least the last the lost. “The Few, the Proud, the Marines” is a good recruiting ad but in the One who calls us its, the many, the lowly, poor in spirit, mourning at the way the world is to be His saints.  But there is a similarity between the marines and the saints in one way:  both are in formation.  The saints are not being conformed to the pattern of this present world but being transformed by Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and the Lord’s tools are in arsenal of His Word:  faith, peace, prayer, salvation.  The saints are a work in progress, to be saints, but His work always.   Unlike the other Marine slogan, “Never given, always earned”, here it is Always given, never earned.  And also:  Always given, ever learned. 

This cast both then and now have a script, the Scripture, our lines, His inerrant Word to learn, pray, speak and live. The problem is when we are always adlibbing our own lines, thinking we know what the playwright really wanted to say and it’s look at me I’m pretty good.  “Oh, I want my part to really be moving” and we act out of character.  We should know our lines, and the Lord’s lines are good.  Man does not like the Playwright’s Script and rewrites it, but once that is done, it is no longer the real play and the Script-ure  is nothing to play around with.  When man starts rewriting the Bible, like Joseph Smith, Mohammed and liberal/progressive Christianity,  the result will always be a water downed version with lines that might be tough but will always be showing how holy we are. It’s called being a Pharisee, a hypocrite.  The Lord, blessed be His Name has given us His real lines for real people that eventually by faith through His grace we cherish in our hearts and souls and minds to live them in real living. When an actor auditions and does well he will receive a call back.  Now we receive callbacks from time to time, not when we have done well, but  we are called back when we have done not done well at all: flubbed our lines, tried to hog the stage, talked about others in the cast.  The Lord calls us back in true repentance, by His Law, the script that is totally demanding, to confess our bad acting and be forgiven by His grace alone.

This past Friday, Pr. David Ongwaye messaged me on Facebook about how I was doing and I told him I was making Scripture cards to go along with the candy we passed out on Halloween at the Mission. He wrote, Trick or treating?  I don’t know what you’re talking about!  I explained Trick or Treating to our Kenyan brother.  He wrote back:

“It must be enjoyable and such (a) show of kindness should always be the fruit of our spirit as Christians. That is why we are unique people!” I responded:  “That’s a good thought! I never thought of trick or treating that way!” Pr. Ongwaye:  “What else can we say! How can we be known to be Christ’s disciples if we can’t show our love to our neighbours!”.

His Church is cast of millions upon millions, that John could not count from every tribe, nation, tongue.  The saints love in word and deed.  Saints believe and saints live the faith always in Christ in the communion of saints. We remember those who have exited the stage who’s part in our lives sustained us and other saints granted by the Lord for major roles who of course weren’t acting at all.  They knew who they were because they knew Who’s they were: Jesus’ own. Jesus has promised there will be a cast reunion in the resurrection into the Kingdom come. This cast, His Church, His communion of saints, is not perfect, by any stretch and yet it is not an excuse to do bad but to love as we have been so loved. This communion of saints is not an ideal or utopian community but a real one, a real cast of characters.  In a stage rehearsals, the manager is there with the script feeding lines to the actors as they learn the script, so is the Holy Spirit.  The saints are not us vs. them but in Christ Jesus for us all.  A cast that does not lift high themselves, but lifts high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore His sacred Name.  We bear on our brows the sign of Him who died and rose for us all.  Lift high His Cross so others may know the Way, the Truth and the life, Jesus Christ.

 

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World War II American Patriotic Anti-Nazi Poster public domain image: Vintage Patriotic Anti-Nazi Poster from 1943 World War II: THIS IS THE ENEMY in large text below an image of a menacing swastika sleeved hand driving a bayonet through the Holy Bible by artist Barbara Marks; published by the Office of War Information, Washington, D.C. printed 28 x 20 inch color lithograph by U.S. Government Printing Office: 1943-O-533688; a public domain image of a historic U.S.A. American Government Patriotism Symbol copyright free image of a patriotic WWII Anti-Nazi poster titled This is the Enemy. .

This World War II American anti-Nazi poster is definitely from a different era.  The concern clearly expressed is that the Nazis were the enemy of the Christian faith represented by the  Bible.  The Nazis were trying to kill the Bible, that is the Word of God.  In fact, the Nazis even produced their own Bible which is called “the Hitler Bible”.  Hitler and company did their own version of the commandments, Hitler’s 12 commandments.  

The federal government produced this poster in ’43, and 71 years later, government (federal, state and local) is trying to do what the Nazis could not.    A Houston mayor subpoenas pastors for their sermons because they brought a lawsuit against the city regarding LGBT style legislation for unisex public bathrooms.   Prayers in school and at public events forbidden. Anti-Zionism is just a mask of the new antisemitism. Universities and the military removing Bibles in their guest rooms, curtailing the Gideons. The social ostracization of churches who deny same-sex ‘marriage’ (pseudogamy, false marriage) as “homophobic”. I do not think that we are living a Nazi-like nation, but it must be remembered that when the Nazis began their campaign against Church and synagogue, many thought this was a good thing.  Those who did not,  said little or nothing…and churches saying nothing as if in the poster, now the Bible is the enemy and killing the Word is a good thing.  

The knife to Scripture was not  first wielded by secularist proponents, but by friends of the Bible:  19th and 20th Biblical scholarship.  The Biblical scholarship that denied Scriptural inerrancy and authority.  It was initially less like a knife and more like a scalpel, removing those living parts of God’s Word that do not comport with the secularist, worldly agenda:  ordination of men, abortion, greed,lust, same-sex marriage and the denial of gender, etc.  Again, this was done within the Church, by ‘friends’ who were (are) trying to make the Bible relevant, timely, palatable and all under the rubric of ‘doing good’.   Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus for Him to  use the Word for His own purposes for ‘doing good’, on the devil’s terms.  This is grim.  This is the struggle of our time, against the zeitgeist of the powers and principalities in the heavenly places (see Ephesians 6:12 ).

The most sung and loved of the sizable number of Reformation hymns is “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by Dr. Martin Luther, the last stanza, emphasis my own:

God’s Word forever shall abide, No thanks to foes who fear it;

For God Himself fights by our side with the weapons of the Spirit.

Were they to take our house, Goods, honor, child or spouse,

Though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.

The Kingdom’s ours forever!

 Jesus promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church.  Then Peter tried to deter Him from being crucified. Peter eventually denied Jesus three times.  The dark army was moving and it was met by the Lord of Hosts upon the Cross.  He is  risen.  He then sent the Church militant moved out into occupied territory with His Word alone.  

One of the periods of Christian history we tend to overlook is the two centuries, from AD33 to AD312 (The Edict of Milan), in which the Church grew greatly under mild and severe persecutions.  The Church had no churchly institutions.  No government to give them a hand to help, but the hand of government to hurt and martyr.  No Bill of Rights protected their religious freedom.  They lived in a society in which sexual immorality was taken for granted, from the almost pornographic statuary of Greece and Rome to acceptance of deviancies of all descriptions. The Church had the Bible, the Word, the Sacraments, prayer, faith, hope and love, weapons of the Spirit, the armor of God (Ephesians 6).  The Lord watched over His Church, His bride, His body and still does. 

It may be that the chastisements of the Church, mild and severe, are the Lord’s way of teaching us the faith anew.  His Word will not be killed, on purpose or by accident by the hand of mortal man,but the Word dies in our hearts when we seek other comforts and hopes, however pious looking. When the religion of the self’s symbol is the selfie and the mirror, rapt continually looking at ourselves, we do not see the enemy coming from behind. The Church had enemies and Jesus said, Love your enemies, yet they were still enemies. Love them, but do not surrender to them. It is those times when Christ and His Church seems to have had no enemies may be the times of faithlessness and apostasy.  When the Church is derided,denied and decried, then rejoice and be glad, said Jesus, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.This does not mean we are to be “nice” and not say anything when wolves in sheep’s clothing preach a false Gospel.  As a dear colleague liked to say, Nice is the enemy of the good.  Americans want to do right and when someone says I am hurt by what you Christians say or do,an American’s response: “Oh, we do not want to hurt anyone.”  The answer of “no”  maybe that is the very thing they and we need to hear and then the Yes of the Gospel of Jesus.

This World War II poster is scary.  When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned, he wrote his brother Pastor, Timothy this:  

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! (2 Timothy 2)

Paul was bound but the Word is not. He was chained as criminal for the crime of preaching Christ which is no crime. Luther and the Reformers knew this. They knew the knife of those who denied the authority of Scripture alone.  They did not prevail. Luther and company did not prevail, the Lord did. He still will.  He calls us, as He did the blessed Reformers:  Confess Christ! Fear not, I am with you until the end of the age. You do not build the Church, I do.  You are to confess. Confess Christ as Lord! Confess Christ so that saints are remade in Baptism. All the saints surround the Church encouraging us to look to Jesus Christ alone, His grace alone, as  His baptized saints. 

Let us pray…Almighty and gracious Lord,  pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defend us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace; 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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King of Glory mosaicIntro:  The following quote is from Dr. Martin Luther’s, The Bondage of the Will.  Luther’s magnum opus is a direct response to the great humanist scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam and his book, On the Freedom of the Will.  Luther sees in a particular quote by Erasmus a criterion of the Faith that is hardly Scriptural.  Luther’s response is a pointed one to all sorts of Christianity, liberal, progressive or conservative, in our day which is “sinking sand”:

“Here, I see you are taking the view that the truth and usefulness of Scripture should be measured and decided according to the feeling of men-to be precise, of the ungodliest of men; so that nothing henceforth will be true, Divine and wholesome but what these persons find pleasing and acceptable;  and what is not so will at once become useless, untrue and harmful.  What else do you here plead for, but that the words of God may thus depend on, and stand or fall by, the will and authority of men?  But Scripture says the opposite, that all things stand or fall by the will and authority of God, and that all the earth keeps silence before the face of the Lord (cf. Habakkuk 2: 20).”

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