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Posts Tagged ‘Word of God’

Intro:   Polycarp’s martyrdom on this date around AD 156 deeply impressed the nascent Church and can not be glossed over.   Polycarp was a link between the time of the Apostles and post-apostolic era.  He was martyred when he was 86 years of age by being burned,and when the flames did not hurt him, he was stabbed in the heart.  Eyewitness accounts said the smell was of baking bread.  His name means, “much fruit”.  Below is a short bio from The Apostolic Fathers edited by Jack Sparks of the Eastern Orthodox Church:

“Take the oath and I will let you go,” said the proconsul. “Revile Christ.”

“I have served Him eighty-six years,” replied Polycarp, “and in no way has He dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

Thus the aged and much revered bishop spoke, in full knowl­edge of the outcome. His martyrdom was sealed. His life had stretched from the days of the apostles till the middle of the second century, and on a February day in about 156 he moved on with honor to the church enrolled in heaven.

We first meet Polycarp as the relatively young bishop of Smyrna when the aging Ignatius of Antioch was on his way to mar­tyrdom. It was in Smyrna that Ignatius made that famous rest stop on his final journey, and Polycarp was the only individual on record to whom the great martyr ever addressed a personal letter. In the years that followed, Polycarp gathered Ignatius’ letters and passed them on to others.

Irenaeus, who was bishop of Lyons in the latter half of the second century, tells us that Polycarp was a disciple of the apos­tle John and indeed knew others who had seen the Lord in the flesh. The witness of Irenaeus is important because he appar­ently grew up in Smyrna. What he says of Polycarp indicates that the bishop of Smyrna was most concerned about the pres­ervation of the orthodox faith. One incident he reports demon­strates the severity of Polycarp’s attitude toward heresies and heretics. Polycarp, says Irenaeus, once met the heretic Marcion on the streets. “Do you recognize me?” asked Marcion. “In­deed,” replied Polycarp, “I recognize you as the firstborn of Satan!” (Adv. haer 3:3,4).

Though Irenaeus hints at several letters by Polycarp, only  one has come down to us. That letter is to the church at Philippi and reflects the same concern for truth and orthodoxy we have already mentioned. His letter is filled with, indeed almost made up of, quotes from the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles of the New Testament, as well as the letters of Clement and Ignatius. Some critics have sneered at Polycarp because he is so uncreative and offers no new theological insight. We can be glad he was the way he was. Through Polycarp we have not only a link with the ear­liest days of Christianity, but a faithful transmission of apostolic doctrine as well. No, he was not creative. He was a loyal disci­ple of Christ and the apostles.

Near the end of his life Polycarp made a visit to Rome to dis­cuss with Bishop Anicetus a number of church matters, appar­ently including the date of Easter. The Eastern churches were still celebrating Easter on the exact date of Jewish Passover, while Rome was using a specified Sunday each year. Neither agreed to change, but their fellowship was not disturbed. Before he left Rome, Polycarp, at the invitation of Anicetus, led in the celebration of the Eucharist. The two men parted in full agree­ment to leave their respective traditions as they were.

Last of all we have an eyewitness account of the martyrdom of Polycarp. Perhaps by request, the church at Smyrna pre­pared a full account, to be sent to the church at Philomelium and other places. This clear and simple testimony of the martyrdom of an aged saint should bring tears to the eyes of any believer. Some have questioned the record because of the miraculous ac­count of the means of his death. But there is great danger in rejecting a miracle on the grounds that “such things just don’t happen.” Some have done so and thus have rejected the mira­cles of the Scriptures.

Polycarp’s last prayer is characteristic of the man and a clear testimony of his faith. He concluded with, “I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ your beloved Son through whom to you with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory now and forever. Amen.”

Below is a selection from The Martyrdom of Polycarp.  Please note that the first Christians were accused of “atheism” because they would not sacrifice to the false god of Caesar, and so they were considered as not believing and thus imperiling the ‘divine’ order of the Empire and the Emperor.

“…the police captain, Herod, and his father, Nicetes, met (Polycarp); they transferred him to their carriage and sitting down beside him tried to persuade him, saying: “Why, what is wrong with saying, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and sacrificing, and so forth, and thus being saved?” At first he did not answer them, but when they persisted, he said: “I am not going to do what you advise me.”  Since they had failed to persuade him, they uttered threats and hurriedly pulled him off so that as he was descending from the carriage he scraped his shin. And without turning around, he walked along briskly as though he had suffered no injury. As he was led into the stadium with the uproar so great that it [the announcement of Polycarp’s apprehension] was not heard by many….

 Now a voice from heaven came to Polycarp as he was entering the stadium: “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man!” (Josh. 1:6,7,9.) No one saw the speaker, but many of ours heard the voice. And then as he was brought forward, there was a great uproar now that they heard that Polycarp had been apprehended. So when he was brought forward the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp; and when he admitted it, he tried to persuade him to deny, saying: “Respect your age” and all the other things they usually say: “Swear by the Genius of Caesar, change your mind, say, ‘Away with the atheists.’ ” Polycarp looked sternly at the whole crowd of lawless heathen in the stadium, indicating them with a wave of the hand, groaned and looked up to heaven, and said: “Away with the atheists!” When the proconsul persevered and said: “Take the oath and I will let you go; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied: “I have served him eighty-six years and in no way has he dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”

 Since he persisted and said: “Swear by Caesar’s Genius,” he answered: “If you vainly expect that I will swear by Caesar’s Genius, as you suggest, and pretend to be ignorant who I am, listen (to what I say) openly: I am a Christian. If you want to learn the teaching of Christianity, name the day and hear (about it).”  The proconsul said: “Persuade the people.” Polycarp replied: “To you indeed I have considered myself accountable; for we have been taught to render fit honor to rulers and authorities appointed by God in so far as it is not injurious to us [cf. Rom. 13:1,7;1 Pet. 2:13ff]; as for these, I do not consider myself bound to make my defense before them.”

Comment:  Note that what the Christians were asked to do, burn a little incense to Caesar and swear by him is really a ‘small thing’, as it was pitched toward the Church.  As the proconsul said, what is wrong with saying, Caesar is Lord?  Indeed!  It might seem such a small thing to “go with the flow”, do what others are doing which seems so much fun and the like.  But it’s not a ‘small thing’ and Polycarp knew what it meant:  denying Jesus Christ who saved him.  

I like Fr. Sparks’ comment that Polycarp’s one letter shows he was not creative.  He quoted the Bible. No, he was not creative. He was a loyal disci­ple of Christ and the apostles.”   I took a course in seminary, “Creative Ministry”.   We make ministry ‘creative’?  No, the Lord does.  He re-creates us through His Ministry of Word and Sacraments through His called pastors and bishops.  Polycarp was not creative:   he was faithful.  He was a faithful servant of Jesus.  Satis est.  That is enough and Christ will fill us by His grace for us sinners.

Let us pray:  O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to Your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior, and steadfastness to die for the Faith, give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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Bio:  Jacob, the third of the three Hebrew patriarchs, was the younger of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. After wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, Jacob, whose name means “deceiver,” was renamed “Israel,” which means “he strives with God” (Gen. 25:26; 32:28). His family life was filled with trouble, caused by his acts of deception toward his father and his brother Esau and his parental favoritism toward his son Joseph (March 31). Much of his adult life was spent grieving over the death of his beloved wife Rachel and the presumed death of Joseph, who had been appointed by the Egyptian Pharaoh to be in charge of food distribution during a time of famine in the land. Prior to Jacob’s death during the blessing of his sons, God gave the promise that the Messiah would come through the

“The great Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, was once approached by a woman distressed from her recent reading of Romans 9:13. “I cannot understand,” she said, “why God should say that He hated Esau.” “That is not my problem, madam,” Spurgeon replied, “My difficulty is to understand how God could love Jacob.”–Fr. Reardon, Touchstone.

The Lord’s favor is on those who are repentant. Esau was not repentant.  Jacob knew he was a “deceiver”!  Esau sold his birthright and was only sorry for losing it, not for the sin of doing so.  As Luther commented that Esau was contrite because of punishment not because of the sin against God.  God could wrestle with Jacob because Jacob knew his sin…Esau was on the sidelines waiting his due.  The Lord can work with sinners as they know their sin, He changes them by His grace and providence…and with Jacob it took time…with us as well.  Sin is a tangled web, as we see in Jacob’s family of origin and in his own family with his two wives, Rachel and Leah and his two concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah.  Eleven of his 12 sons sold their brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt and then told their Father, Jacob, Joseph had been killed by a lion.  Families have problems, many times grievous and perplexing beyond therapeutic help, yet God’s promise is for sinners and the Lord works through what we have called in our day, “dysfunctional families”. Jacob spent most of his life grieving for the death of his favorite wife Rachel and thinking his son Joseph dead.  Eventually, the 11 brothers repented.  As someone has commented:  it took the Lord only 6 days to create the heavens and the earth but 33 years to redeem us…and when we factor in the great history of Israel:  a lot longer, but He did so at the right time and He would do so again through Jacob’s son Joseph. And in the Son of Joseph, centuries, later, the Christ, the Son of God redeemed the world.

Let us pray:  Lord Jesus, scepter that rises out of Jacob, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, rule our hearts through Your suffering cross and forgive us our sins, that we may become partakers of Your divine life;  for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

 

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Today’s New Testament reading is from the Apostle Paul’s letter to Pastor Timothy,  2 Timothy 4: 1-5 (emphasis my own):

1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.3 For the time is coming when people will not endure soundteaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

In the first picture is a false love that merely loves what I want, but the second picture is of the Love who loves even those who don’t want Him.  False love makes us curved in.  His true and holy love makes us sound as He teaches sound doctrine in His Church and calls us out the darkness into His own most marvelous light Take your pic as He has picked you.

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 Bio: Given the added name of Chrysostom, which means “golden-mouthed” in Greek, Saint John was a dominant force in the fourth-century Christian church. Born in Antioch around the year 347, John was instructed in the Christian faith by his pious mother, Anthusa. After serving in a number of Christian offices, including acolyte and lector, John was ordained a presbyter and given preaching responsibilities. His simple but direct messages found an audience well beyond his home town. In 398, John Chrysostom was made Patriarch of Constantinople. His determination to reform the church, court, and city there brought him into conflict with established authorities. Eventually, he was exiled from his adopted city. Although removed from his parishes and people, he continued writing and preaching until the time of his death in 407. It is reported that his final words were: “Glory be to God for all things. Amen.”

Writing

“He gave Himself a ransom,” he said, how then was He delivered up by the Father? Because it was of His goodness. And what does “ransom” mean? God was about to punish them, but He did not do it. They were about to perish, but in their stead He gave His own Son and sent us as heralds to proclaim the cross. These things are sufficient to attract all and to demonstrate the love of Christ. So truly, so inexpressibly great are the benefits that God has bestowed upon us. He sacrificed Himself for His enemies, who hated and rejected Him. What no one would do for friends, for brothers, for children, that the Lord has done for His servants; a Lord not Himself such a one as His servants, but God for men, for men not deserving. For had they been deserving, had they done His pleasure, it would have been less wonderful. But that He died for such ungrateful, such obstinate creatures, this it is which strikes every mind with amazement. For what men would not do for their fellow-men, that has God done for us!

—John Chrysostom

 

(Source for the above: The Treasury of Daily Prayer)

And since he did everything in order to teach us, and suffered everything for the same reason, so here also He willed to be led by the Spirit into the desert, to meet the devil in combat, and so that no one should be shocked if, after receiving baptism, he suffers even severer temptations: as though something strange had happened; but that he may learn to stand firm and endure with fortitude what happens according to the ordinary rule of our life.This is the reason you received arms; not to stand at ease, but to fight  (Sermon by St. John Chrysostom, on the Temptation narrative in Matthew 4: 1ff)

Sam-wise Gamgee told Frodo, when Frodo was in the depths about the burden of the ring and the struggle they were engaged, that there is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo and it’s worth fighting for.  St. John Chrysostom thought so.  As it is written in the Bible, “the good fight of faith”.  St. John Chrysostom did so fight.  He fought not with a sword but the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (see Ephesians 6).  The good is Christ Himself, His blood and righteousness for us all.  The good is Father of Christ and all of the Lord’s creation including you to set you free.  The good is the Lord, the Holy Spirit, ever teaching us the faith sanctified by His grace.  St. John Chrysostom nailed it:  Jesus’ temptations are what is expected in bringing forth the truth of God’s Word.  Like Jonah, we want to run away from the Lord’s call.  Like Peter, we  deny the Lord.  Like Thomas, we doubt His eternal life, His resurrection.  When we go see the doctor, we are a patient and are to have patience, but when it comes to sin and evil we must become impatient in our No to the devil and all his empty promises.  It always seems like the devil is winning but that is his strategy, his lie to fool us.  Christ Jesus is no fool.  Like all the saints of yore, the only way is to stand fast in His Word and be steadfast.  The Good Physician is ever present in His Word and Sacraments to heal by His grace. 

Prayer of the Day:

O God, You gave to your servant John Chrysostom grace to proclaim the Gospel with eloquence and power. As bishop of the great congregations of Antioch and Constantinople, John fearlessly bore reproach for the honor of Your name. Mercifully grant to your church bishops and pastors who are like John in preaching and fidelity in their ministry of the Word to your people, and grant that we all be partakers of the divine nature through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You adn the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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“So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, and took food and was strengthened.” – Acts 9:17-19. This is one of the scenes from the window of St Paul’s life in Melton Mowbray.

Acts 9:1-22  Galatians 1:11-24 Matthew 19:27-30

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, You turned the heart of him who persecuted the Church and by his preaching caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world. Grant us ever to rejoice in the saving light of Your Gospel and, following the example of the apostle Paul, to spread it to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About the Day:  St. Paul’s life-changing experience on the road to Damascusis related three times in the Book of Acts (9:1-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18). As an archenemy of Christians, Saul of Tarsus set out for Damascus to arrest and bring believers to Jerusalem for trial. While on the way, he saw a blinding light and heard the words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” In Damascus, where Saul was brought after being blinded, a disciple named Ananias was directed by the Lord in a vision to go to Saul to restore his sight: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts9:15). After receiving his sight, Saul was baptized and went on to become known as Paul, the great apostle.

Suggested Reading from the Book of Concord: Large Catechism IV 56-67

(Source for the above: The Treasury of Daily Prayer)

 I would guess that if you asked a knowledgeable fellow Lutheran and Christian when was Paul converted, the answer would be, ‘On the road to Damascus”  But based upon the Text and from it, Luther’s sermonic insight,  Saul’s conversion does not take place on  the road to Damascus but in the Word and the Font, prayed and administered by the pastor, Ananias.  What happened to Saul on the road was not his conversion but the apocalypse by the Lord to Saul, noting that  our word “apocalypse” is from the New Testament Greek, “reveal”, and “reveal” is the word the Apostle Paul used in his letter to the Galatians: Galatians 1:16.  

 Saul is blinded for 3 days (vs. 9) as in the Lord in the tomb for 3 days.  Saul was blinded by his own sin and the Lord’s judgment of his sin in consenting to the arrest and murder of Christians, such as the first martyr, Stephen, see Acts 7: 60-8:1.  Only by the Word of the Gospel that Ananias administered in prayer was Paul able to see and in Baptism be saved, receiving Christ Jesus’ forgiveness in His death and resurrection (see Romans 6: 1-11!!!).

Note:  there is no “decision of Christ” at all!  As Paul well knew this when he wrote:  “The letter (of the Law) kills, and the Spirit gives life.” (see 2 Corinthians 3:6) There is no intervention of the choosing self, the Old Adam.   It is all the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes! Receive the Holy Ghost, says the Pastor on the street called straight.  We look for God in all the wrong places.  We think it should be glorious, but it is not, it is the Cross. Jesus does not give Saul any instruction but to go the means He Himself has appointed for Saul to be washed and saved:  Water and the Word (cf. St. Matthew 28: 18) (1)

Recently I re-watched Woody Allen’s  movie, Love and Death, which is  his funny take on 19th century Russian novels and his character continually asks for ‘vision’, a revelation, for the proof of the existence of God. Luther compared the “enthusiasts” to the way the Lord Himself has appointed the means of His salvation, His Word and Sacraments. (2)   Those so  wanting a revelation will be disappointed, deluded and demonized. We have all sorts of people who consider themselves “spiritual” and even think the Lord has revealed Himself to them apart from His Word and Sacrament and then go on to  deny His means of grace.  But the Lord directed Saul to the Font, as Paul would also direct the Lord’s people, as did the Lord,  and as a  saint in your life also pointed the way to the Lord in His forgiveness for you:  not in the sky, but in the laver of regeneration. (3)  Thank Him for His grace which causes the blind to see His love in the washing unto eternal life! (see 1 Corinthians 6:11)  Saul knew his washing quite well!

FOOTNOTES:

(1)  From Luther’s Sermon on, Acts 9,  The Conversion of St. Paul

Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. (vs. 6)

Although he speaks with Paul directly from heaven above, God does not intend to put away the pastoral office or establish something extraordinary for him. Indeed, he might have spoken to him directly and revealed what he wanted him to do, but instead he directs him to go to the parish pastor in the city where he would hear and learn what he was supposed to do. Our Lord God does not purpose some special thing for each individual person, but gives to the whole world—one person like the next—his baptism and gospel. Through these means we are to learn how to be saved, and have no need to wait for God to reveal some new thing from heaven, or send angel.  For it is his will that we go to hear the Gospel preached by the pastor;  there we will find him, and in no other way.

(2)  From Luther’s Sermon on, Acts 9,  The Conversion of St. Paul

Those who seek for some special revelation get what they deserve, namely, the devil. The enthusiasts—Carlstadt, Muentzer, and others like them—gather in a corner waiting there for the Lord God and the Holy Spirit. The devil dupes them into thinking that they can importune our Lord God to give them a special direct revelation. Our Lord God, thereupon, purposely sends them a delusion, according to which the devil comes to them in the form of an angel to punish them. Our Lord God did not mandate anything extraordinary for Paul to do, for he, after all, had heard the physical voice of Christ, the Lord, and he was to become a foremost preacher. Instead he is told to go into the city and to hear Ananias. So, get up and go! he says. Nothing special beyond this is done, no further instruction there along the road, no baptism, just the directive to go where his Word and baptism are to be had. And Paul willingly complies with the Lord’s directive, although he does not yet know where and by whom this will all happen. (emphasis my own)

(3) From Luther’s Sermon on, Acts 9,  The Conversion of St. Paul

After the Lord Jesus Christ reveals Himself to Saul of Tarsus, Saul could no longer see and this is where we read Luther’s  House Postil (Sermon) for this Feast Day.  Then I will comment on it, especially the bold-faced sections,  and the day:

“(Saul) was now ready to be taught. The man, who is called Jesus of Nazareth, is able to speak with such earnestness that it goes deeply to the heart. Paul would have despaired and died, had not Christ again pulled him to his feet and comforted him, as he now says:

At this juncture, then, our Lord God sends Ananias to meet Paul, to preach the Word to him and baptize him; he lays his hands upon him and says:  Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way as thou tamest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. (vs. 17)

Thus Paul came into the light of the Word, to baptism, to the Holy Spirit, through Ananias who was no more than a finger compared with Paul, like a little candle in comparison with the sun. From him, this little wooden match, Paul was to take his light; from this little doctor the famous Doctor Paul was to hear what he was to do!

That is something we must really note well, so that we esteem the preaching office as we ought.  Paul receives his sight, his insight and the Holy Spirit, through the ministry of Ananias, so that he knows who Christ is, understands the power of baptism, and forthwith emerges as a changed man.

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Edward Burne-Jones, “St. Timothy and His Grandmother Lois” (c. 1872), Vyner Memorial Window in Oxford Cathedral.

Prayer of the Day

Lord Jesus Christ, You have always given to Your Church on earth faithful shepherds such as Timothy to guide and feed Your flock. Make all pastors diligent to preach Your holy Word and administer Your means of grace, and grant Your people wisdom to follow in the way that leads to life eternal; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Psalm 71:15-24
Acts 16:1-5
1 Timothy 6:11-16
Matthew 24:42-47

Bio:  St. Timothy had Christian believers in his family. His mother, Eunice, was a Christian woman and was the daughter of a Christian woman named Lois (2 Timothy 1:5). Acts records that St. Paul met Timothy on his second missionary journey and wanted Timothy to continue on with him (16:1-3). Over time, Timothy became a dear friend and close associate of Paul to whom Paul entrusted mission work inGreeceandAsia Minor. Timothy was also with Paul inRome. According to tradition, after Paul’s death, Timothy went to Ephesus, where he served as bishop and was martyred around AD 97. Timothy is best remembered as a faithful companion of Paul, one who rendered great service among the Gentile churches.

Reflection by  Fr. Valerius Herberger (21 April 1562-18 May 1627,  German Lutheran preacher and theologian)

Dearly beloved, today we celebrate the commemoration of St. Timothy. He was born in Lystra (Acts 16:2); his father was a pagan, but his mother, Eunice, born an Israelite, had accepted the Christian faith and had committed her son, Timothy, to be raised by her mother, Lois, who was also a Christian. So Timothy learned the catechism from his grandmother. See, dear parents, what the diligent training of children can do! Now since he was a good, excellent thinker,St. Paulaccepted him as his colleague or chaplain, and since he improved himself daily, Paul eventually ordained him as bishop ofEphesus, where he was also killed by the raging pagans.S t. Pau lloved him dearly, which we can see from both epistles that he wrote to him. In 1 Timothy 1:2, he calls him his true son in the faith. From these two epistles, many passages shine forth like the stars of heaven:

  • 1 Timothy 1:5: “The aim of the commandment is love from a pure heart and from a good conscience and from a faith unfeigned.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:15: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
  • 2 Timothy 3:12: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Since St. Paul and St. Timothy were dear friends, they were put beside each other in the calendar, and also on the day of St. Timothy, the Gospel of John 15:9-16 is read, which speaks of pure love and friendship.

(Source for the above: The Treasury of Daily Prayer)

Reflection:  According to tradition, Timothy, Preacher of the Gospel, was martyred.  Today in the 3 year Lectionary the Gospel lesson is Jesus in Nazareth in their Synagogue and eventually the congregation wanted to kill Him.  There is a Jewish saying, “A rabbi who’s congregation does not want to throw him out is no rabbi;  and a congregation that does throw him, that rabbi is no man”.  Today with all the “super-pastor” mega stars, it is hard to imagine a congregation wanting to kill  a pastor…or before that, throw him out.  I have been told to leave a congregation and I somewhat know the feeling.  What is it about pastors that some congregations want to stop their ministry as they did Jesus Himself?!  Pr. Paul Kretzmann from his   commentary on today’s Gospel, St. Luke 4:

The attempt to kill the Lord: V. 28. And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, v. 29. and rose up, and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong. V. 30. But He, passing through, the midst of them, went His way, v. 31. and came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the Sabbath-days. V. 32. And they were astonished at His doctrine; for His word was with power. 

Up to this point the congregation had listened to Jesus, though with growing indignation, since He dared to expose and flay their national vice, their self-righteous pride. But now their indignation, which filled them to overflowing, carried all reason and common sense before it. The entire population shared in the movement. Rising up, they cast Him out of the synagogue, out of the city. And then they deliberately laid hold upon Him and led Him to a precipice of the hill on which their city was built, a place where there was a steep, sheer drop into the valley below, their intention being to throw Him down bodily. Theirs was the action of people that have lost all semblance of calm reasoning, whom insane wrath has deprived of the ability to think right and to consider the consequences, a typical mob, such as are the rule to this day under similar circumstances. As long as faithful pastors speak in a general way in their preaching and admonishing, they have peace and are even praised. But if the same men dare to point to individual sins, they are accused of unjust criticism and condemnation. For it is a peculiarity of the truth that it embitters and makes enemies where it does not work conversion. There is no worse censure for a pastor than that winch was spoken of one concerning his position in his congregation: We do not hurt him, and he does not hurt us. (emphasis my own).

I think that a mob is the aggregate of the self-righteous.  Eventually a mob would prevail in their will on the greatest preacher who ever lived.  The sermon made flesh bore the sin of the mob to set us free from self-righteousness.  Timothy knew what his fellow pastor, the Apostle Paul preached:

 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3).

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The Epistle Reading for this Sunday, Third Sunday after Epiphany, 24 January, anno Domini 2,016 is 1 Corinthians 12:12–31a, specifically on 1 Corinthians 12: 13.  This commentary is a true Biblical commentary on the false interpretation that there are two baptisms:  a water baptism and then a ‘Spirit Baptism’.  Pr. Schroeder

Here in Baptism (12:13) is the most basic foundation for the church’s unity,  a unity which transcends traditional divisions between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free people, and (as Gal 3:28 adds) between men and women. On the basis of one Baptism (Eph 4:5) in one Spirit, all are “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28; cf. Jn 17:21). The word “all” occurs twice in 1 Cor 12:13; the word “one” occurs three times: “we all were baptized with one Spirit into one body, … and we all were given to drink one Spirit.” There is nothing in the text about a second experience of “Spirit baptism,” an experience granted only to some consecrated believers, which is subsequent and superior to water Baptism. That Pentecostal doctrine of a second baptism is, by its very nature, divisive, because some believers then consider themselves to be on a higher spiritual level than other ordinary Christians. It leads to arrogance and to despising brothers and sisters who are equals in Christ. Paul’s teaching, on the other hand, stresses what “all” (twice in 12:13) Christians have in common by virtue of their one Baptism with “water and the Spirit” (Jn 3:5). That simple Baptism with water, and God’s Word is the powerful Baptism in the Spirit.” (page 445; emphasis original by author)

(Lockwood, Gregory J., Concordia Commentary:  1 Corinthians, St. Louis, MO, Concordia Publishing House, 2000)

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Introduction:  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s  “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”  dated April 16th, 1963, was written to clergymen who did not like the non-violent protests of civil rights movement. Like the Apostle Paul, Dr. King wrote from prison. His letter is an apologia, a defense of  non-violent protest against injustice.  It is a long letter. Below are citations from it.  You can read the entire letter here. The entire letter is should be read as part of our civic duty. 

First, note that Dr. King had no troubles with the “separation of Church and state”.  It was not about the 10 commandments in a court house but in the courts of public opinion and policy.  Still is.  It is not about manger scenes alone in public squares but His Incarnation for us in our public squares.  My wife asked me why was Rev. King named “Martin Luther”.  This has more than a passing interest to this Lutheran as well.  I do not know why the Father and Mother of Martin Luther King, Sr. gave him his name, except to opine:  Martin Luther, in his preaching and teaching of the Gospel, was for the freedom of the Christian against all tyrannies political and spiritual.  Martin Luther got himself in trouble by no plan of his, likewise, Martin Luther King, Jr.  Those tyrannies intersect at many places both in the Lord’s house and the courthouse.

Second, Pr. King had no trouble invoking the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as reflective of our “Judeo-Christian heritage”.  We must not be either as we witness the executive and judicial branches of government usurping our founding documents to enforce abortion as health care;  mandating the denial of marriage between man and woman;  government setting policy for the  whole nation by the abnegation of the Congress and the people to make law to the federal government’s agencies;  allowing a virulent religion which hates homosexuals and women to have a pass, that is, Islam;  or curtailing our first amendment rights for the Church to preach the Bible that marriage is between a man and woman alone as “hate speech”, and so deny our first amendment rights.  Since the State can do all of this  as a supposed “moral good”, then what is stopping said State from even more curtailment of our Constitutional liberties?  As Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of blessed memory wrote, When the Church is excluded from the public square then the State will become the church.  

No one could convince Dr. King that the Church did not belong in the public square.   Yet, many are still doing that these days in the name of immoralities and abortions of conscience in looking for their religious jollies in mega-churchly entertainments.   We must take heed to Dr. King’s epistle (emphases my own):

  • I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my a particular home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

  • We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words [sic]”Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

  • We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

  • You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”

  • Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes and “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

  • We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws. I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

  • But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist — “Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice–or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

  • There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

  • Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.

  • But the judgement of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.

  • One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, and thusly, carrying our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence

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Facebook friends posted a CBS article entitled, “Surprising facts about your favorite fast food chains” with this teaser line:

“As Chick-fil-A moves into Manhattan, some New Yorkers are surprised to learn it’s closed on Sundays; but it’s not the only fast-food chain with quirks.”

So it is quirky for a store to be closed on the Sabbath?  At one time, many states and towns had  “blue laws” preventing businesses from being open on a Sunday…some still do even in New Jersey!

Now we have come to a point that the secularized and even paganized media thinks that the Sabbath, for both Jew and Gentile, is “quirky”, peculiar, out of place in our 24/7 world.  In one sense this is sad that the culture is increasingly becoming neo-pagan, but in another sense it is understandable:  that the ways of the Lord are not the way of the world, the flesh and the devil.  It is most certainly true. The Lord’s Way is out of place, and pace (!), in our 24/7 world. Friends in Christ, let’s  be quirky Christians in Christ, through in faith in Him and love toward our neighbor!

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Jesus asked the crowd, What did you go out to see?  A reed shaken by the wind? Luther called pastors preaching to, “…temper the truth to the sensitive fastidiousness of fashionable hearers” “reed preachers”.  John was no reed-preacher. His sermons on marriage landed him in Herod Antipas’ prison and John’s head was handed to Herodias.

In the classic movie, Casablanca, set during World War II, in Casablanca, Morocco, the Nazis have not quite taken over the town. It was a French colony and the Renault is the Captain of the French police force.  Captain Renault stated succinctly his political philosophy and position:  “I blow with the wind and the prevailing wind is from Vichy”. Vichy was the French government collaborating with the Nazis.  Too many times, churches and her Christians collaborate with their Vichys, have “blown with the wind”, that is cooperating with the world. In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul wrote that the Lord gave us “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” to teach and preach the Word, administer the Sacraments;   that is the “work of ministry”.  In that work of ministry that we have received, so we are grounded in Christ as we are founded by the Holy Spirit, in Him to the glory of God the Father.  “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”   Paul wrote to Timothy that in the last days, and these are the last day, when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  Captain Renault collaborated with the Nazis for his passions: women, drunkenness, gambling, and his own power. Those who are faithful to the Lord in oppressive times might lose their heads and those in good times who are faithful to the world and its passions, have handed their heads over to the devil.  

 John the Baptist sounded so harsh, You brood of vipers!  In movies, he is portrayed as screaming and hollering as he preached.  Maybe he was simply forceful for the Word of God comes like a hammer.  Maybe it is true that every age gets the saint it needs, for the saint acts like an antidote to the Vichy fashions of politics, religion and the like.  Every video clip I have seen of President Harry S. Truman, he seemed to be a real nice guy, except he was called “Give ‘em hell Harry”.  He was asked about the reason for that name, “I told the truth and they thought it was hell”.  For the proud and the boastful, for the self-secure and omni-competent, yes, Jesus and John’s message will seem like hell. Neither were reed preachers. But to the blind, the mute, the deaf, the dead and the poor they brought the good news of the God’s reign. 

“…in Christ’s kingdom things are different. He does not operate with strong, holy people but with weak, poor sinners of whom Christ said: “The blind receive their sight, the dead are raised up.” Now to raise the dead is a great miracle; but a far greater, wonderful miracle, one which does not receive the recognition, is that God has ordained a king to preach the gospel to sinners.”(Luther)

Then there are those preachers who teach that yes, Jesus will sure help you, it is by grace, but  do the good deeds to get into heaven, if you just do good works, are purpose driven, witness to 10 people this week, give God the glory everyday then you will really be a Christian.  I will call them “deed preachers” that by our deeds we can save ourselves by earning merit badges to heaven, when Christ Jesus in His Incarnation has done it all. They imagine that God owes them eternal life for their merits and holy life (Johann Gerhard).

And there are those who preach Jesus Christ for weary sinners, those who mourn, who are poor in spirit, who make for peace, all whom Jesus blessed in the Beatitudes.  The Church catholic and confessional which preaches Jesus Christ, the fullness of God, the fullness of man, who came down to heaven, who’s Advent we celebrate as He drew near in the Womb of the Virgin Mary. This is all summed up in the three Creeds of the Church.  The Church with those preachers are Creed preachers. 

Reed, deed or Creed preachers?  Reed, deed or Creed churches?  Reed, deed or Creed Christians?

John was no reed preacher, with his polling numbers in hand to tailor the message, to make millions and live in soft clothing in a mansion built by ministry dollars. Like Creflow Dollar who wanted his televangelist audience to donate for a new jet for the minister.   The mega-congregation minister in North Carolina who has million dollar plus mansion.

In Christ, reed, deed, creed, is reversed, creed, deed then reed.

Creed preaching is preaching God’s Word.  John preached the Creed that the Messiah is coming, the Coming One and out of the Creed, faith,  comes forth deeds, maybe not as great as John’s, but as the Christ the fruit of love, joy and peace endures in families, churches, societies and cultures.  John was steadfast in the Word.  He did not blow with the prevailing wind, yet he could be shaken. Living the creed in our daily vocations, but even if they are outstanding deeds, they do not save the soul, only one deed has and will,  the deed of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  But out of the creed, faith in His Word will come forth deeds, the good works that God has prepared beforehand to be our way of life.  Justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is not an excuse “…to pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 4)  His grace, His love is the cause of faith, then love but only His love justified, made us right to do the right and the good.  As John the Baptist preached, bear fruits befitting repentance.   “In the case of our justification, which is the full and perfect acceptance of the believer unto eternal life, certain effects in our life, such as the new obedience, follow rather slowly because of the weakness of our flesh.” (Martin Chemnitz). 

Creed then deed which is taking care of the reeds. In Matthew 12, the Evangelist, inspired by the Holy Spirit, quotes Isaiah at the exact moment after Jesus cured the man with the withered hand and the Pharisees were plotting to destroy Him:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
    my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased…
20 a bruised reed he will not break

A bruised reed He will not break…not strong powerful Christians but bruised ones, as Jesus told John’s disciples, the blind, the leprous, deaf, the dead, and poor have good news preached to them, a  King who preaches to the poor the Gospel. We can add to the list the Beatitude list, poor in spirit, those who mourn, the persecuted and reviled on account of our King’s Name. Reeds, frail flesh, easily swayed, easily broken. Pastor Paul Kretzman from his 1918 commentary on the Isaiah passage in Matthew:

(Christ’s) spirit would be neither that of contention nor of blatant self-advertising after the manner of preachers that bring their names to the front, but forget the Gospel they were sent to preach. So gentle, sympathetic, and kind would His spiritual ministry be that those that are weak, whose faith was at the point of extinction, could depend upon His help. The bruised reed is carefully bound up until the contusion is healed; the weak Christian receives strength from above. The lamp of faith which is at the point of expiring will receive fresh oil from the Gospel. 

After the Roman soldiers, plaited the King’s crown of thornes, thrusting it on His head, they then gave Him a reed as His scepter and mocked Him kneeling before Him saying, Hail!  King of the Jews!  That reed is us to rule in mercy and the strength of the One who died for sinners and rose again.

A bruised reed he will not break, then it is written and quoted, a smoldering wick He will not quench, Christian’s faith who is not always strong, a smoldering wick.  He will bring to light by the light of His Word.

Today’s opening collect is a one sentence prayer:

 Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation

This prayer is so needed these days by us all.

It is as if the Lord says:  My people please believe what I have done for you!  Show me your wounds and I show you My Hands, scarred for all time by the Cross and I give you life. 

Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation

For those who mourn, Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.  

For those who do not know where to turn:  Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.

For the Church that she may preach His unvarnished truth the light of His Word:  Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation

 Let us pray: 

Preserve your Word, O Savior,
To us this latter day,
And let your kingdom flourish;
Enlarge your Church, we pray.
Oh, keep our faith from failing;
Keep hope’s bright star aglow.
Let nothing from truth turn us
While living here below

 

 

 

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