Let us pray:
Almighty God, You gave Your servant John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in both his preaching of repentance and his innocent death. Grant that we, who have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, may daily repent of our sins, patiently suffer for the sake of the truth, and fearlessly bear witness to His victory over death; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Appointed readings: Romans 6:1-5; Mark 6:14-29
About this day: In contrast to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (observed on June 24), this festival commemorates his beheading by the tetrarch, Herod Antipas. From the perspective of the world, it was an ignominious end to John the Baptist’s life. Yet it was in fact a noble participation in the cross of Christ, which was John’s greatest glory of all. Christ Himself said that there had arisen none greater than John the Baptist. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets and also the herald of the New Testament. As the forerunner of Christ, John fulfilled the prophecy that the great prophet Elijah would return before the great and terrible day of the Lord. By his preaching and Baptism of repentance, John turned “the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” And in the footsteps of the prophets who had gone before him—in anticipation of the Christ whose way he prepared—this servant of the Lord manifested the cross by the witness of his death. (From theTreasury of Daily Prayer, p. 670.
Reflection: Let us remember why John the Baptizer was killed:
St. Matthew14: 3For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”
John taught the sanctity of marriage to the powers that be. This is what cost John his life and his life is a martyria, a witness, to the Word in and out of season.
Marriage has been “out of season” (see2 Timothy 4:1-3). As the years rolled on, I spend more and more time in confirmation classes, on the 6th Commandment, than on the other nine: You shall not commit adultery. From The Small Catechism by Dr. Martin Luther:
What does this mean?–Answer.
We should fear and love God that we may lead a chaste and decent life in words and deeds, and each love and honor his spouse.
In teaching this commandment, I ask the class for the ways in which this commandment is broken. The dry-erase board fills up very quickly: adultery, divorce, “hooking-up”, living together, pornography, incest, masochism, sadism, masturbation, abortion, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, bestiality, polygamy, etc. Now our sexuality is not virtuous, never has been since Eden. And then I point out that we are forgiven in Jesus Christ, upon His Cross, He bore our sin and is our Savior. I take the eraser and swipe through the black ink a cross. One year a confirmand exclaimed, “That’s heavy”. Yes! His Cross was heavy, as heavy as our sin.
John the Baptist bore the brunt in preaching the sanctity of marriage in his day. We must also and in marriage be helpmates one to the other, modeled after Christ and His Church, His Bride and modeling to the world the marriage of two Baptized sinners in Christ. People who have been blinded by the “god of this world” (cf.2 Corinthians 4:4) will go to great lengths to protect their immorality and numb their guilt horribly: from changing the meaning of the Bible (let’s call it Biblicide) to killing a prophet.
This may be the first time in Western European history that the list above has been legally sanctioned and for a good part of society and culture accepted. We are living in a neo-pagan, neo-Roman world, as did our forebears in the Church did from AD33 to Edict of Milan in AD313 (see: Edict_of_Milan). Ever more we need Luther’s counsel in the Large Catechism on the 6th commandment:
But because among us there is such a shameful mess and the very dregs of all vice and lewdness, this commandment is directed also against all manner of unchastity, whatever it may be called; and not only is the external act forbidden, but also every kind of cause, incitement, and means, so that the heart, the lips, and the whole body may be chaste and afford no opportunity, help, or persuasion to unchastity.
We need the lesson from John the Baptizer. John was last of the prophets. One of the verses that has haunted me is this one from Isaiah 52:11, and it is cited by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:17:
Therefore go out from their midst,and be separate from them, says the Lord,and touch no unclean thing;then I will welcome you…
This verse may be the basis of the Amish way of life, at least in the movie ‘Witness'(!) Does this mean we need to be like the Amish? St. Augustine preached on the Prophet Jeremiah which speaks to the Lord’s prophet, John, the way the Church is and should be as in 2 Corinthians 6: 17:
How many and vehement rebukes did Jeremiah preach against the sinners and wicked ones of his people. Yet he lived among them, he entered into the same temple with them, celebrated the same mysteries; he lived in that congregation of wicked men, but by his preaching “he came out from among them.” This is what it means “to come out from among them”; this is what it means to not “touch the unclean thing.” It means not consenting to them in will and not sparing them in word. I say this of Jeremiah, of Isaiah, of Daniel, and Ezekiel, and the rest of the prophets, who did not retire from the wicked people, lest they should desert the good who were mingled with that people. (emphasis my own)
“It means not consenting to them in will and not sparing them in word.” The Lord has called His Church as the communion of His Will and Word, both of which are one. As in the days of the Roman Empire, the Church did not consent with much of the pagan culture and touched not the unclean things. Do Christians fail in the sanctity of marriage? Yes, but this can not be an excuse to continue touching unclean things and so sin (see Romans 6:1-3) When we do sin, we know the terrors of hell and turn in repentance to the Lord Who died and rose for us.
This is still our vocation in marriage, according to the Lord’s Word of Law and Promise, not to touch the unclean thing. Possible? Not on our own but only in Him are all things possible. As John was a prophet, he did not spare them in the Word of God. The Church can not either. Why? Not sparing them the Word so that they,with us come to true repentance and be spared, that is, receiving His forgiveness through grace for us all. So that sinners might turn to the Lord and live.
Marriage is a true good work by which the Lord preserves life in the world and through families He gives forgiveness through His promise: See the Patriarchs and their families and in the fullness of time: the Holy Family. Marriage is a central means to love our neighbor. From Luther’s Large Catechism:
God has also most richly blessed this estate above all others, and, in addition, has bestowed on it and wrapped up in it everything in the world, to the end that this estate might be well and richly provided for. Married life is therefore no jest or presumption; but it is an excellent thing and a matter of divine seriousness. For it is of the highest importance to Him that persons be raised who may serve the world and promote the knowledge of God, godly living, and all virtues, to fight against wickedness and the devil.
Collect of the Day:
O Lord, You strengthened Your patient servant Monica through spiritual discipline to persevere in offering her love, her prayers, and her tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine, their son. Deepen our devotion to bring others, even our own family, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.
About Monica, Mother of Augustine:
About Monica, Mother of Augustine: A native of North Africa, Monica (AD 333-387) was the devoted mother of St. Augustine. Throughout her life, she sought the spiritual welfare of her children, especially that of her brilliant son Augustine. Widowed at a young age, she devoted herself to her family, praying many years for Augustine’s conversion. When Augustine left North Africa to go to Italy, she followed him to Rome and then to Milan. There she had the joy of witnessing her son’s conversion to the Christian faith. Weakened by her travels, Monica died at Ostia, Italy, on the journey she had hoped would take her back to her native Africa. On some Church Year calendars, Monica is remembered on May 4. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)
Proverbs 31: 10 An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
12She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1: 5
Reflection: Monica’s husband was an adulterer. She stayed with him. She was faithful. She reflected in her life God’s Word, the Epistle reading: Ephesians 5:21-23. She knew her husband to be her head…but in Christ Jesus . The Ephesians passage is not the model in our day of the liberated woman…or man for that matter. As husbands in Christ means a whole different way than the world’s way of parenting: a husband is to be like Christ. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5: 25). In fact, in the Ephesians text, there are more verses on husbands than wives, and probably needs to be.
Monica is noted as being a Mother. A neo-feminist wag could harumph and say, Noted for being a mother! As if that is no accomplishment! “Being a king, an emperor or a president is mighty small potatoes compared to being a mother…” (see rest of Billy Sunday’s quote here). Her husband was a philanderer. She stuck with him for his conversion. Monica’s strength was her Lord and she prayed for the conversion of both her husband and their son, yet like us she was a sinner. Her brilliant son was Manichean philosopher and had a child out of wedlock. Yet, Monica persisted in prayer for them and in Christ they knew by faith through His grace, they were reconciled. Monica is encouragement for us persist in prayer and not give up (cf. Luke 18:1ff). Patricus and his son Augustine were baptized.
Her son became one of the most important theologians and pastors whose writings influenced one young monk, centuries later, in the Order of St. Augustine: Martin Luther. Dr. Luther wrote about fathers and mothers being bishops and bishopesses for their children! Monica was a bishopess to her family. Monica’s son’s feast day is tomorrow. Freedom in Christ is praying for someone who may not even want your prayers.
From The Confessions of Augustine of Hippo,Pastor and Hippo, feast day, August 28th:
(Monica) was brought up in modesty and sobriety. She was made by You obedient to her parents rather than by them to You. When she reached marriageable age, she was given to a man and served him as lord. She tried to win him for You, speaking to him of You by her virtues through which You made her beautiful, so that her husband loved, respected and admired her. She bore with his infidelities and never had a quarrel with her husband on this account. For she looked forward to Your mercy coming upon him, in hope that, as he came to believe in You, he might become chaste….Another gift with which You endowed at good servant of Yours, in whose womb ou created me, my God, my mercy (Ps. 58:18), was that whenever she could, she reconciled dissident and quarreling people. She showed herself so great a peacemaker that when she heard from both sides many bitter things, Monica would never reveal to one anything about the other unless it might help to reconcile them….At the end, when her husband had reached the end of his life in time, she succeeded in gaining him for You. After he was a baptized believer, she had no cause to complain of his behavior, which she had tolerated in one not yet a believer. She was also a servant of Your servants: any of them who knew her found much to praise in her, held her in honor, and loved her, for they felt Your presence in her heart, witnessed by the fruits of her holy way of life. She had “testimony to her good works” (1 Timothy 5:10). She had brought up her children, enduring travail as often as she saw them wandering away from You. Lastly, Lord—by Your gift You allow me to speak for Your servants, for before her falling asleep we were bound together in community in You after receiving the grace of Baptism—she exercised care for everybody as if they were all her own children. She served all as if she was a daughter to all of us. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)
Easter Sunday, on Mark 16: 1—8, addressed also to the newly Baptized:
“For this divine condescension cannot be truly understood, and human thought and language fails us, that without previous merit on your part this free gift has come to you. And for this do we call it a grace: because it is given gratis. And what grace is this? That you are now members of Christ, Children of God; that you are brothers of the Only-Begotten!”
“Riches can indeed perish; and would that they perished before they caused you to perish.”
Sermon on The Feast of All Saints, on Matthew 5: 1—12
About St. Bartholomew, Apostle: St. Bartholomew (or Nathanael, as he is called in St. John’s Gospel) was one of the first of Jesus’ twelve disciples. His home was in the town of Cana, in Galilee (John 21:2), where Jesus’ performed His first miracle. He was invited to become one of the Twelve by Philip, who told him that they had found the Messiah in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. (John 1:45). Bartholomew’s initial hesitation to believe, because of Jesus’ Nazareth background, was quickly replaced by a clear, unequivocal declaration of faith, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). He was present with the other disciples (John 21:1-13) when they were privileged to see and converse and eat with their risen Lord and Savior. According to some Early Church Fathers, Bartholomew brought the Gospel to Armenia, where he was martyred by being flayed alive.
Reflection: In 2013, in an Italian town a 83 year old widow ‘restored’ a beloved painting of Christ (see above) in an Italian church. The painting depicts the moment when Pontius Pilate said to the crowds in the mood for a crucifixion, Behold the Man! See John 19:5 Or as it is the Latin Vulgate: Ecce Homo. She obviously botched the restoration! The Italian press said the painting should be called, Ecce mono, Behold the monkey! People were saying she should be sued. The elderly woman who did this, had the permission of the parish priest and she said she had the best of intentions. A year later the town was elated over the botched restoration because of publicity it caused bringing in many tourists into the town of Borja, a rather unremarkable town. The mayor of Borja said it put the town on the map!
Many people have the best of intentions in redoing the image of Christ to burnish His meaning for us, but it becomes a botched job and yes, done with the best of intentions. As C. S. Lewis famously and correctly wrote:
“There have been too many historical Jesuses – a liberal Jesus, a pneumatic Jesus, a Barthian Jesus, a Marxist Jesus. They are the cheap crop of each publisher’s list, like the new Napoleons and new Queen Victorias. It is not to such phantoms that I look for my faith and my salvation.”
These new “Jesuses” do put their authors and artists on the map of publicity for awhile, like in the town of Borja, or back in the ’60s when a theologian declared God is dead, or the artist putting a crucifix in a vial of urine, or various Christian despising atheists, or supposed Christian theologians declaring heir views on the Christ. Like a monkey, people have trained Jesus to do their bidding for what they think are the solutions to our problems. In one congregation that I served the Word, we wanted a booth at local festival but the leadership balked at the possible brochures I had regarding the Lord: “Too strong” “Might be offensive”. In other words, a Thomas Kincaide version of the Light of the World. But they had the best of intentions! Remember the saying that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. The botched restoration filled the village coffers of Borja…for a time. But a solution is not the same as salvation. Solutions are temporal and if according to the world, not truthful: to say the least! Then we end up with a distorted version of the Lord, as distorted as the erstwhile restoration above and we can only say, Ecce Mono.
There is an ancient tradition that The Apostles’ Creed was written by the Apostles and each wrote 1/12 of the Creed. This has no basis in historical fact, but on this Apostle’s day, it shows there is only one authorized version of the Lord Jesus Christ: His chosen apostolic witnesses, like Bartholomew (or Nathanael), accurately recorded the work and Word of Jesus, the Son of the Father, the Word made flesh, in the inspired Four Gospels and the entire corpus of the New Testament. The Creeds are the accurate summaries of the Holy Scripture.
Look at Nathanael: When Nathanael was told by Philip that he had found the Messiah, Nathanael famously quipped: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1: 46). He did not know what he was saying. After Jesus meets Nathanael, He comments that he is an Israelite in whom there is no guile. Nathanael seems to have been dumbstruck, How do you know me? Jesus said before I called Philip, I saw you under the fig tree. This really gets him! Nathanael answered him:
“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”