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Archive for September, 2011

Note:  An excellent article regarding angels is found on this blog:  St. Michael and All Angels, by A. L. Barry, a former President of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Note also the Angelic Quiz! But for today’s feast:

True/False:  Angels and men are both created by the Lord for praise.

Answer:  Yes.

Some years ago one of my sisters-in-law commented that she could not imagine heaven as continual singing.    G.K. Chesterton wrote that he found it amazing that the Lord created not one daisy but a million daisies.  Chesterton asked:  why?  Because the Lord does not tire in creating.  He  keeps on creating.  Chesterton then points out that in playing with children, they will say, do it again until the adult is plain exhausted. We have a hard time imagine ourselves always singing because the tired Old Adam  is waiting for the final redemption.  We are old.  Children are filled with the exuberance of life.  We are old but our Father is forever young:  do it again.

The sinless angels never tire  of praising. It is like  a song that we sing and love to repeat  in it’s fulsomeness. Do it again. Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemman says that man is homo adorans, worshiping man. We were made to adore that which is not us which is the other (in Greek:  hetero), not worship ourselves, our mirror image, that is , the same (in Greek: homo).

The angels of God worship: pray, praise and sing continually.  When the Lord reveals Himself to His prophet Isaiah in the Temple, the scene is one of worship and adoration:

1In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

 the whole earth is full of his glory!”

 4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, andthe house was filled with smoke.  Isaiah 6: 1-4

The thrice-Holy is sung every time in the Divine Liturgy:  “…with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Thy Holy Name, ever more praising Thee and singing:  Holy, Holy, Holy:  the very song of heaven.  We sing the thrice-Holy just before the Word of Institution.

The very song of heaven is liturgical.  On the island of Patmos, when John is granted the apocalypse (literally, revelation), he sees:

 11Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12saying with a loud voice, 

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

 13And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 

14And the four living creatures said,

“Amen!”

and the elders fell down and worshiped.

A question that plagues certain circles of the Church is about contemporary worship and the uplift that ‘praise hymns’ deliver.  The thinking is that Liturgy is stodgy and does not ‘reach’ people, especially young people.  But the exact opposite point is true:  worship is not to ‘reach people’ ,but God Who has first reached to us in His beloved Son and in the life of Israel.

Further some pastors will argue that Liturgy is not in the Bible.  It is!  Isaiah saw it.  So did John on Patmos.  The longest book in the Bible is a kind of a hymnbook filled with liturgical songs:  Psalms.  In fact, the Temple in Jerusalem was planned according to the Lord’s specs in heaven (see Exodus 25:8-10).  Now, in Christ Jesus, He is the Temple not made by human hands (see John 2:20-22) and,

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1: 3)

And again, He showed to Moses, the various and many Psalmists and John the Word in worship and  “… God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). The worship of the Church in the Word is just not bound to one place any longer. Liturgical worship is both ordered and the order is in the Scriptures.  This is the heart of faith’s fulfillment of the 1st Commandment, and the 2nd and 3rd as well:  You shall have no other gods before Me.  The angels of God are witness to the true worship of the Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They do not worship themselves and their religious feelings but the fount of pure goodness.  “It often happens-and the danger seems greater today than in earlier times-that a liturgical community measures the achievement of a celebration against its own edification, according to the measure of how much the particpants take part in it and care up in it, instead of being captured by God and His gifts and letting Him take part”, so wrote Roman Catholic theogian, Hans Urs von Balthassar, and then he points out his can happen in both traditional and non-traditional forms.   “…the inclination of a community (is) to celebrate itself instead of God.” Doesn’t that ring true?

Liturgy can get us off ourselves and point us in the right direction. Further, so much contemporary worship is entertainment and in fact one Lutheran pastor extolled “entertainment evangelism”!  But entertainment is for the individual, not the community. We think worship is what I want.  Then it tends toward homolatreia (coined by Rev. Lou Smith), that is worship of the same, not the other and it is the functional synonym for idolatry.  But in  fact, praise itself is communal.  C. S. Lewis pointed out in his book on the Psalms that when we find something good and praiseworthy, we want to have someone else join us, “Isn’t this wonderful?”  Praise,he wrote, is it’s own appointed consummation.  Praise and worship will be consummate in the life of the world to come.  Do it again.  The angels teach us this by their adoration of the Lord.  And we have dress rehearsals every time we come together for prayer and liturgy.

God is glorious with His saints and angels:   Come, let us worship Him.

(Opening versicle for daily prayer)

Let us pray:

everlasting God, whose wise planning has ordained and constituted the ministry of men and angels in a wonderful order, mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve you in heaven, so by your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

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On this blog the one posting that recently has garnered the most  interest is the quote from David Brooks of The New York Times:  “How Morality Became Obsolete”  In a previous short-lived blog of mine the posting that showed the most readers was on the 3 Uses of the Law.  I can be dense, but I sense an interest here.

When the Lord laid down His Law on Mt.Sinai, “… Mt. Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.” (Exodus 19: 18)  And the Lord had previously told Moses, whoever touches the mountain will die. (Exodus 19: 12)   It was terrifying when the Lord gave His Law. We do not want the things we have done and left undone and the secrets we have  hid to see the light of day. This might get a sense of the Scripture:  No one wants to walk a “perp walk” to be seen by all in the glare of  the media.  No wonder the wonder of the giving of God’s Law is attended with fear and trembling.

And yet, “…the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good”. (Romans 7: 12) The Law is finally and fully about love which is service and devotion.  A scribe asked the Lord, which is the greatest commandment?  Jesus answered, “…The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one;   and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’   The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (St. Mark 12 19—21).   The summation of the Two Tables of the Law occurs  after the Triumphal Entry and just days before His crucifixion.  Love is not something lightly or easily done.  In fact our love would kill Him and His love alone saves us. Our Lord is summing up the Law here.     And so according the Lutheran Confessions in The Book of Concord, the Law does three Biblical actions, curb, mirror, guide:

 CURBS:  The Law is a curb. It keeps us from going off the road and hurting ourselves and each others.  The Reformers called this use of the Law the political or civil use.  The Law’s civil use civilizes us because we need to be!  As James Madison wrote, there has to be government because men are notangels.  It curtails externally because we would murder, thieve, and whore against each other at random. It is the utterly random world envisioned in the novel, Lord of the Flies.  “Just ask yourself the question: which came first, the first limit on speed or the first accident? It is the accident which is judged to be bad. And then speed limits are established in the effort to limit the evil of accidents.”  (Pr. Lou Smith)  It’s civil use means it the way in which we are civilized.  Again, Rev. Pr. Louis Smith, of blessed memory, writes about this civilizing effect of the Law:

First, the law functions civilly; to civilize, if you will, the Old Adamic beast that strives against God. While normatively expressed in the Bible’s Decalogue, this Law is active in the world whether or not we accept the Bible’s authority. If anyone does not want to believe that, just have them check the death rate. It remains at a constant one per person. The way in which the Law civilizes us is by confronting us with our own mortality. Where sexual license, for example, replaces marital fidelity, the risk of disease and most horrid death rises. Where property is not honored all our lives are in jeopardy. Where parents are not honored, the aged are in danger. And the problem with a youth culture is that nobody remains a youth. The result of this confrontation with God’s law, is the great variety of human law. This human law is natural law, not in the sense that the discreet detail corresponds to some natural underlying law code, but in the sense that every law, even the most perverse, is rooted in the effort to deal with our sense of mortality.

So morality obsolete?  Hardly.  We sense something is profoundly wrong and our solutions, advice and the like have not curbed our deathly nature.  As Pr. Smith above points out that the Law’s proscription is simple:  No!!! We think when we are in control everything will get better, an ideology of progress.  Pr. Smith:

“Cheer up, things could get worse.” So I cheered up and sure enough things got worse.” The old joke catches the problem. In fact change is not always for the better. Not by a long shot. But the ideology of progress has no way to deal with that.”

As much as we think, I am master of my own destiny, the destiny is still spiritual and physical death  and the Lord says to us in His  Law says to us, as curb:

Jean-Paul Sartre is more Biblical than sentimental Christianity:  No Exit.  Jesus was not a merely a good teacher who gave us good advice. As C.S. Lewis pointed out that we have centuries of good advice and one more piece won’t help much. At the center of the Bible is death and then… And the utter culmination of all history occurs in the No Exit of the Cross and death, His death.   The  segue way to the 2nd use certainly overlaps:  Law as mirror, it shows us our sin so we can know by faith our Savior.

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General Intro to Commemorations of Old Testament:  The introduction of Old Testament saints into the cycle of commemorations in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is most welcome because it is most Biblical.  We may not think of the Old Testament worthies as “Saint”, but think again!  Hebrews 11 has been called the “hall of heroes”, or I call it the roll-call of the saints in Christ and all of them as recorded in the Old Testament!  In the Eastern Orthodox Church, they put “St.” in front of the OT saints, so:  St. Jonah!  It is these saints who first cheer us  on and encourage us saints in Christ Jesus to persevere, as recorded in Hebrews 12, the crescendo of the roll-call:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Now let’s look at St. Jonah!

Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Jonah, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

About Jonah:

A singular prophet among the many in the Old Testament, Jonah the son of Amittai was born about an hour’s walk from the town of Nazareth. The focus of his prophetic ministry was the call to preach at Nineveh, the capital of pagan Assyria(Jonah 1:2). His reluctance to respond and God’s insistence that His call be heeded is the story of the book that bears Jonah’s name. Although the swallowing and disgorging of Jonah by the great fish is the most remembered detail of his life, it is addressed in only three verses of the book (Jonah1:17; 2:1, 10). Throughout the book, the important theme is how God deals compassionately with sinners. Jonah’s three-day sojourn in the belly of the fish is mentioned by Jesus as a sign of His own death, burial, and resurrection (Matthew12:39-41). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:

Many years ago, when I first read Jonah on my own, no longer in Sunday School, I was amazed by it!  Now if you have not read it (it’s short, more like a short story), this is a spoiler alert. Just skip the rest of the reflection!  Read Jonah  and come back for the reflection. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you read/re-read Jonah?  Notice that in chapters 1-3, we are not told why Jonah runs away when the Lord called him to preach to the great capital of the Assyrian Empire, Ninevah.  Oh, Jonah was reluctant prophet, we were taught.  Yes, he was, but  reluctance is the result, not the cause.  We are not told why he was reluctant.

When Ninevah, from the King down, repents, the Lord forgives and changes His mind about His judgment towards them.  The Lord takes no pleasure in  the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn from their evil to the Lord and live (see Ezekiel 33:11).  So Jonah, after Ninevah’s repentance unto life in the Lord’s grace, parks himself outside of the great city and we are told he is angry. Dr. Reed Lessing (professor OT, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in his commentary Jonah), points out that  the 4 times the word anger appears (really:  infuriated),it is in the last chapter and it’s subject is Jonah!  Why was he angry?  Finally, after all the action in the first 3 chapters we find out that his anger is coupled with the reason why he fled to Tarshish and away from  the Lord’s call, from Dr. Reed’s translation:  “For this reason I previously fled toward Tarshish because I knew you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in loyal love, and changing your verdict about evil.”  Jonah fled because of God’s grace! He fled because He did not destroy the Gentile Assyrians!  Jonah’s true confession of the Faith (“…you are a gracious and merciful God, etc.) becomes in Jonah’s heart and mouth his accusation against the Lord! Is your evil because I myself am good? (see  Matthew 20:1:  literal translation of the second question!). Yes.  Ask any congregation, ‘do you want to grow?’ and the answer is yes.  But I would maintain we may  not want this to happen  to the point of those people joining who don’t deserve it like we do who have “…borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat”  (Matthew 20: 12) and they receive the same, even the most wicked and at the 11th hour:  the Lord’s free gift of grace to all who hunger and thirst, and repent and turn to the Lord (see Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Matthew 20: 1-16/ Matthew 20 ).  From Dr. Lessing’s commentary:

We simply stand under God’s overflowing grace like rain, allowing its cool refreshment to fill our dry cracks. Then we pick up the bucket and dump it on someone else. Grace flows from Yahweh not on those who attempt to earn it, but on those who confess their need for it. The Spirit-empowered response is then to share it. But Jonah is like the angry older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:28-30): he views God’s lavish welcome for undeserving sinners who repent as an insult to his “deserving” self. The prophet has yet to embrace the Law and Gospel character of God expressed in James 2:13: “For judgment is without mercy to one who has not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

One last thought:  Jonah ran away twice.  The Lord never runs away and He sought Jonah twice.   Blessed Jonah’s Day!

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Prayer of the Day:

O Son of God, our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, You called Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle and evangelist. Through his faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About St. Matthew: 

St. Matthew, also known as Levi, identifies himself as a former tax collector, one who was therefore considered unclean, a public sinner, outcast from the Jews. Yet it was such a one as this whom the Lord Jesus called away from his occupation and wealth to become a disciple (Matthew 9:9-13). Not only did Matthew become a disciple of Jesus, he was also called and sent as one of the Lord’s twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4). In time, he became the evangelist whose inspired record of the Gospel was granted first place in the ordering of the New Testament. Among the four Gospels, Matthew’s portrays Christ especially as the new and greater Moses, who graciously fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matthew5:17) and establishes a new covenant of salvation in and with His own blood…in celebrating this festival, we therefore give thanks to God that He has mightily governed and protected His Holy church through this man who was called and sent by Christ to serve the sheep of His pastures with the Holy Gospel.

St. Matthew was an excellent, noble man–not only one of the 12 fountains of consolation, the apostle of Jesus Christ of paradise, a holy evangelist, whose  words flow d from the great fountain in paradise, Jesus Christ.  He not only praised the Lord in his heart and with his tongue but also put his quill to paper and wrote his account as a memorial…pay attention so that everything in and about you is directed toward the glory of the Lord, according to David’s example in Psalm 103:2. In the kingdom of God it is said…”Strive with every skill and word, to please your Savior, Christ the Lord.”   None of Mother evangelists described the history of  the Lord Jesus to such an extent as Matthew. He also has many beautiful passages that cannot be found in the others.

  • Here the Lord Jesus says (Matthew 11:27-29), “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
  • And again (Matthew 18:19-21), “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.”
  • And in Matthew 28:19-20, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

These three passages, which should cause the legs of all devout Christians to run quickly to the Church, were written only by Matthew.

—Valerius Herberger

(Quotes above from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:

This Sunday we will hear again from St. Matthew’s Gospel, his reportage of Jesus’ very words:  “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” Many of you know that tax collectors were second class citizens, at best, at the time of Jesus upon earth.  They were lumped together with sinners or here with whores!  We do not know what Matthew thought and felt as he heard Jesus speak about one such as Matthew entering the Kingdom before the super-religious of his day.  Since there is more joy in heaven among the angels over one sinner repenting, I would guess Matthew felt joy.  He had been forgiven in Christ Jesus, the very Son of God.    Of Matthew, Mark and Luke who record the list of the Apostles, only Matthew lists himself with his former job:

Matthew 10: 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

He could have written: Matthew the former tax collector, but he did not. Just think:  the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to write the Gospel and of course, the words above. It seems Matthew never forgot who he  was and Who’s he was.  He was justified by grace through faith in Him, and not by his deeds. And out of the faith came forth in Matthew the fruit of love in the Gospel he wrote. We give thanks to the Lord for all His mercy toward us sinners and tax collectors!

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The following summation of Mr. Brooks’ article is from the 9/23/2011 edition of The Week:

If it feels right to me, then it is. That, said David Brooks, pretty much sums up the moral philosophy of most young Americans, who have grown up unmoored from any cultural or religious framework for knowing right from wrong. In a depressing new book, Lost in Transition, a group of sociologists documents how people in their late teens and early 20s have come to view moral choices as “just a matter of individual taste,” and seem perplexed when asked to make judgments about behavior that earlier generations would clearly label as wrong. Cheating on tests? Infidelity? Drunken driving? In interviews, young people say that decisions about such behavior are “up to the individual.” There is virtually no sense of any overarching value system or obligation to society or to others. “I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it,” is a typical refrain. For this, we can only blame schools, institutions, and families. From blind deference to churches and authority, our society has swung to the other extreme, and now morality is purely “something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.”

My Comment:  What Mr. Brooks has left out is this  aspect of this moral decline of an absolute moral code:   Protestant denominations were particularly complicit in this.  Neo-liberals did not want at all “blind deference to churches”,  they/we wanted “dialogue” about divorce, war, abortion, homosexuality, feelings etc. etc.(many still do: see the ELCA). In the 60s the old morality was replaced by the “new morality”, which as one evangelical said back then was just the old immorality.  We bought into values clarification with a Christian veneer in which the self is the final moral arbiter.  We did this in youth groups. We “reaped the wind and sowed the whirlwind” (see Hosea 8:7).  The whirlwind?  Wrath.  The Law of God is written into our very being.  If we deny this, bury it, we are doing the impossible.  The wrath of breaking His Law and denying it is visited upon us.  We say as we do something blatantly wrong, “What the hell!”.  In deed, what the hell we pay in anger at each other, in self-destructive behaviors and idolatry (see politics, conservative or liberal today).

Romans 1:  18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

Only then can we pray from the depths:  Lord, have mercy.

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(note:  Ozymandias is another name for Ramses the Great, Pharoah of Egypt, the 19th Dynasty)
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
“In the Cross of Christ I Glory” by John Bowring, 1792-1872

In the Cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time.
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.

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About Holy Cross Day:

One of the earliest annual celebrations of the Church, Holy Cross Day traditionally commemorated the discovery of the original cross of Jesus on September 14, 320, inJerusalem. The cross was found by Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. In conjunction with the dedication of a basilica at the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the festival day was made official by order of Constantine in AD 335. A devout Christian,Helena had helped locate and authenticate many sites related to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus throughout biblical lands. Holy Cross Day has remained popular in both Eastern and Western Christianity. Many Lutheran parishes have chosen to use “Holy Cross” as the name of their congregation. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:

According to one story, Helena actually found 3 crosses and in order to determine which was the true cross, her son, the Emperor brought dead bodies and they figured that if it’s the true cross and it touched the dead man, the man would come back to life and sure enough…

In Medieval Europe, there are many relics of the ‘true’ cross in their many, many cathedrals and churches.  Luther quipped: There are so many relics of the true cross .  you could rebuild Noah’s Ark (!)

I think the basis of this day is “over-the-top” but nevertheless, it is a salutary reminder of the Cross and what happened upon it, at this time of the year.

First:  it is not the cross that’s important, but the One Who died upon it.  The cross can be denigrated into a superstitious amulet.  Even Protestants fall prey to this:  for instance, see the hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross”.  We become so fixated on it, when our eyes and hearts should be  fixed on the One Who was crucified upon it.

Second:  as indicated, it comes at this time of the year:  the beginning of the school year, autumn is a week away, the harvest will be brought in. In Judaism and Eastern Orthodoxy, September is the beginning of their liturgical years.  It is appropriate:  life continues in the deadening of the year and minds and hopefully even souls are educated in this change of season.  We give thanks to the Lord for the harvest.  Needless to say, we urbanites and suburbanites, are insensible to the rhythms of seed-time and  then harvest. But Holy Cross can remind us the Lord will bring in His Harvest by His Sacrifice upon the cross:  hearing, learning and growing in the good news of forgiveness once and for all. The cross is like a shepherd’s staff by which He gathers us to Himself.  (See John 12:31-33

Third:  the reminder of the Lord’s crucifixion is not to relegated to Good Friday alone and even then most Protestants don’t bother.  The way of His suffering, death and resurrection, the only Way,  is our daily forgiveness, salvation and bread unto eternal life. Making the sign of the cross upon our bodies is a good reminder that in Christ Jesus is our hope of salvation, body and soul. Luther said every morning, make the sign of the cross and pray.  Cathedrals in Medieval Europe were built in the shape of a cross:

The quote on the photo up top, We preach Christ and Him crucified  (see 1 Corinthians 1:22-24), is in present tense:  the present tense Savior for present tense sinners.  His forgiveness, by the sign of His Cross, is our daily nourishment to live with ourselves and each other.  Our lives are hid in His (see:   Colossians 3:2-4)  We are to die daily to sin and so rise in Him to walk today in His Way, bearing our cross (see Matthew 16:23-25)

In the Orthodox Church this day is called, “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross”.  This does not necessarily mean a facile triumphalism or a theology of glory.  It is the exaltation of Jesus Christ and not to be ashamed of His sacrifice for us all, for the whole world (see Romans 1:15-17,  Hebrews 12:1-3) What the worldlings exalt in this sin-soaked world, which we tend to applaud,  can not compare to the exaltation of His love for sinners (see Romans 5:7-9) .  A blessed Holy Cross Day!

“Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ, the love of Christ proclaim, till all the world adore His sacred Name.”

Let us pray…

Merciful God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might bear the sins of the world and draw all people to Himself. Grant that we who glory in His death for our redemption may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God,  now and forever.

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The front cover article of The Week (9/9/2011) has  a cartoon of Gov. Rick Perry, holding a Bible, and Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, hands in prayer position, with the title:

“A Matter of Faith: Should politicians be judged on their religious beliefs?”

My short  answer:  No. Not as a constitutionally mandated religious litmus test for candidates:  it does not exist in the Constitution as we will see again.

The Church has lived under many different kinds of government, including Caesar, pagan Caesar in the 1st centuries of her life.  When the Apostle Paul exhorts us to obey Caesar and pray for him, the Caesar was Nero.  If government stopped wrong doing, then  it was doing one of it’s primary functions and so insured peace.  See Romans 13: 1ff. It’s based on Biblical facts in Romans 13: 1ff, etc.:  The Lord rules in two ways.  In an earlier posting  Labor Day Loving, which was about the Reformer’s rediscovery of the two Kingdoms, I posted:

“…the Lord works through two ways, through His left hand and His right hand, that is the kingdoms (nations/government:  temporal) of this world and through the Kingdom of God, or the reign of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ coming into the world (eternal)…what unites the two kingdoms is:

1.  The Lord is God of both.

2. The Christian is called by the Lord to serve in both.”

The Church is not called to wield the temporal sword, that is coercive power, to control society.  At the time of the Reformation the papal Church did exactly that in many and various ways.  In a parallel way, the State/government does not enforce the Kingdom of God, the Church, for its citizens.  The two realms have two different vocations.  When we confuse the two then we have the prospect of tyranny.

In the 1930s, a group of Lutheran and Reformed pastors and theologians issued “The Barmen Declaration” as a response to the Nazi’s formation of the “German Church” to insure Nazi ideology and national unity.  The pastors said that the Church does not fulfill the vocation of the State and the State does not fulfill the vocation of the Church.

One of the best ways this has been implemented has been, I think, in our own country, in understanding the proper vocations of the two kingdoms or rules, is  in The Bill of Rights, the 1st Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It is the italicized part that interests us here (but the entire amendment is an integral whole).  Since there is not official establishment of a religion, nor the prohibition against it’s free exercise:  Could a Jew be president?  Of course?  A Mormon? Yes.  An atheist?  Yes.  Even a Lutheran!  The Congress can not establish a religion as the state church, mosque or synagogue or…and this is crucial:  even to establish state atheism! (BTW:  see the former Soviet Union)  I think that this is what some people want. The President also can not establish a religion nor denigrate or deny such.

So how  should we judge elected officials and the politicians to run for high office? The criteria to judge a president is clearly spelled out in The Constitution in the oath of affirmation of the President:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

This oath is the basis of all the oaths that Senators, Congressmen, officers in the Armed Forces take! Will said politicians to the best of their ability, “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”?  This is essential.  Would I prefer a Christian president, senator, etc.?  Yes! Necessary, no:  as long as they do what their oath requires.

At a recent pastors’ Bible study, a colleague said that the wrong-headed thing we did was use the term “homeland” and the ‘homeland’s protection, in regards to terrorism.   He pointed out that never have we ever said that our goal is to protect the “homeland” (sounds nationalistic in a bad way to me) but to an idea and an ideal:  The Constitution!  These words formed our country, and are still doing so.  This again is what all federally elected officials and the Armed Forces are to “…preserve, protect and defend” against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Will the president, congress, Supreme Court, go beyond the rule of law? Will they do what the words order? This is what matters most.  So the government which wields the temporal sword, as it says in the Constitution, is to protect our country so that the Constitution may be lived.

In the old and ancient Star Trek, Kirk has follow up on a renegade star ship Captain who has interfered with another planet’s development.  The people on this planet are in a bloody war between Asian-looking tribes, the Coms and a white barbarian tribes, the Yangs.  It makes no sense to Kirk, until the climax, when the Yangs win and they bring out their sacred colors:  The flag of the USA!  Kirk realizes Coms means Communists and Yangs means Yanks, Yankees!  Oh, yes, it is preposterous!  And in the final scene, the Yangs bring out also the sacred box with the sacred words, the E Plebista. Take a look:

I know: it’s out there and even hammy and goofy, but I find something prescient about this.  Have we forgotten our written compact till it has become gobbledygook?

Yes. But can we as individual citizens of this realm, this Constitutionally ordered land, judge our politicians based upon their religious beliefs? Of cours we can!  See the rest of the 1st Amendment!  So what the executive editor at The New York Times, Bill Keller,  recently wrote, as reported in The National Review, is just wrong, vis-a-vie the founding documents of our nation:

“I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon…or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this land.”

Is Mr. Keller saying the Declaration of Independence is wrong? I too want to know if a candidate ascribes to an authority higher than himself!  If one ascribes to an authority higher than one’s self, this means government is not the end all and be all.  Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance, sees the acknowledgement of a power greater than ourselves as crucial for freedom from alcohol addiction.  I know this is not the Christian faith, but is sure a prelude to it or can be.  It is a humble notion:  we are not god.

But Mr. Keller is up to something else.  He  wants a candidate to have  no fealty to anything higher than the Constitution. Contra Mr. Keller, we have always recognized an authority higher than ourselves!  The Declaration of Independence’s famous words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Watching President Obama’s recent address to a joint session of Congress, there emblazoned above him are the words:  “In God  We Trust”.   Every one who takes a vow, say in Court, does so on a Bible.  Mr. Keller is free to his opinion but it is not written into the documents of our founding nor in law.  I must conclude that Mr. Keller wants atheism for his candidates…or for them to shut up about faith, thus wanting to abridge their free speech. He wants state-sponsored secularist atheism.  The problem with Mr. Perry and Mrs. Bachmann’s free exercise with it for a a Mr. Keller is  they do not keep faith in the closet!  Constitutionally, they do not have to!  But Mrs. Bachmann might be terrible at defending the constitution but a Buddhist might be good at it!

But the scary thing is:  if there is no authority higher than the Constitution (which the founders wrote there is!), then it must follow that the authorities,  that is government, is absolute!  This has never been the compact inherent in the Declaration nor the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights.  A Mr. Keller wants to stop the free exercise of religion or severely curtail it and maybe more.

It is written  in the New Testament we are to pray for Caesar.   We are to pray for Caesar not pray to him.  This was a revolutionary idea in the Roman Empire.  Still is.

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The televised images of 9/11 are etched on the memories of those who watched the events of that day.  One of the images was  firemen going into the twin towers to fight the fire and save those trapped and lost.

Every disaster has clips of those looking high and low for those in the rubble in hope of life.

In movie “The Rite Stuff” about the original Mercury 7 astronauts who were all either Air Force or Navy jet pilots.  One of wives reminisces about going home to New York City.  Her friends talked about their husbands working on Wall Street, Madison Avenue, “…and places like that” and how it was a dog eat dog world and so cut throat.  “Dog eat dog…cut throat..I wonder…”, the tired pilot’s wife said, “…what they would say if they were told that their husbands had a 1 out 3 chance of not leaving that boardroom alive.”

The NYC firemen were killed in the service of their vocations.  This is  a sure testimony to faithfulness in serving our neighbors in a man’s vocation, to find and save even one who is  perishing. It is humbling.

Jesus spoke about the Kingdom a lot.  One time He said it is like  a shepherd who has 100 sheep and loses one, leaves the 99 upon the mountains in search of the 1 lost sheep.  Against all odds.  A losing proposition. In the parable, we are not told the length of time: a hour, hours…into the dark night?  He finds it!  He brings the lost sheep home upon the shoulders.

So many times we think of the pictures of Jesus carrying lamb on His shoulders.  In the parable, it was not a lamb.  It was a full-grown sheep weighing a few hundred pounds.  Like a firemen carrying a fully grown man out of burning building.  Rejoice! There is more rejoicing in heaven over one who repents than 99 who do not.

Jesus went into the burning building.  No chance of Him coming out of alive. He came to save those who were lost.  He is risen.  In the midst of the Twin Towers the cross above, from beams of the Word Trade Center, was found.  May He always find us.

Our bravery and courage should be like those who firemen:  to search for the lost. We are not yet called to be martyrs.  Our risk might be social discomfort, i.e. shame.  But we are not ashamed:  for He died and rose for you. “Oh, wondrous thought He found me when I sought Him not!”  In this crooked and lost generation, our vocation as His Church is not spiritual self-satisfaction but to be ready to bear the hurting home.  He will.

Let us pray…

Lord Jesus, light of the world, You shine with the brightness of the sun in the darkness of our crooked and twisted generation.  Give us strength to shine as lights in the world as we live out our baptismal life by serving our neighbors with thanksgiving and joy as sacrificial offerings of mercy and love;  for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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