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Born c. 69, Polycarp was a central figure in the early church. A disciple of the evangelist John, he linked the first generation of believers to later Christians. After serving for many years as bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp was arrested, tried, and executed for his faith on February 23, c. 156. An eyewitness narrative of his death, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, continues to encourage believers in times of persecution. Below is an excerpt from The Martyrdom of Polycarp and you can find out more about the Saint here.

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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 Image result for Polycarpbrought 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?”

To our ears, the crowd’s cry, “Away with the atheists”, as a denial of Christianity may sound strange.  The understanding in those days was the gods and goddesses of the many city states and of the Roman Empire were considered to be integral and essential to the welfare of city and Empire.  If they were not worshiped, then it was thought city and Empire would be adversely affected.  The Christians were denying the existence of all the mythologies of the gods and goddesses, so they were considered atheists.  Even worse they were considered to be trouble-makers, disturbers of order and against the very fiber of the culture, and so, “away with the atheists”.  Christians in our days are considered to be a type of atheist in the religions of sex and self.  For instance,  many consider it is ‘hate speech’ to publicly state marriage is between man and woman only.  If Christians do not buckle under to the new regime and it’s fanatical dogmatism of sex and self, then we are the disrupters of the order and ‘goodness’. If Christians do not give obeisance to the dictates of lust and narcissism, efforts have been made to curtail this nation’s first amendment rights.  We do deny the enslavement of the bodies and souls of our fellow citizens to the false gods of slave and sex, but with Polycarp, we are called to confess Christ as Lord and we are His people for freedom of friends and family from those gods and goddesses. Unlike Polycarp at that time, no one in our beloved nation has been burned at the stake.  Yet we have seen in the Middle East another anti-Christian Islamic movement, ISIS, putting to death in horrible ways many of our brothers and sisters.  With Polcarp, we can not blaspheme our King who has saved us.

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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JUST GIVE ME THAT OLD TIME RELIGION | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

Psalm 12 English Standard Version (ESV)

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    Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone;
    for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
Everyone utters lies to his neighbor;
    with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
    the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail,
    our lips are with us; who is master over us?”

“Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan,
    I will now arise,” says the Lord;
    “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”
The words of the Lord are pure words,
    like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.

You, O Lord, will keep them;
    you will guard us from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl,
    as vileness is exalted among the children of man.

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The following is an excerpt from a 2013 interview of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia published in The New York magazine.  The judge was a devout Roman Catholic. After the interviewer asked about the judge’s belief of heaven and hell, the interviewer tried to change the subject but Scalia wasn’t biting and he kept on the topic of Christian and Roman Catholic belief.  The entire interview can be found here.  The section on Christian belief begins on page 4.  I included this interview section because it is good as the judge is blunt about our popular culture and it speaks to the truth of Scripture in terms of the Lenten and daily struggle against the devil and his empty promises.-Pr. Schroeder

 

Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.

You do?
Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.

Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.

Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

No.
It’s because he’s smart.

So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the ­Devil’s work?
I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.

Well, you’re saying the Devil is ­persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament.

Right.
What happened to him?

He just got wilier.
He got wilier.

Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

I hope you weren’t sensing contempt from me. It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.
I was offended by that. I really was.

I’m sorry to have offended you! 
Have you read The Screwtape Letters?

Yes, I have.
So, there you are. That’s a great book. It really is, just as a study of human nature.

 

About Philemon and Onesimus:  Philemon was a prominent first-century Christian who owned a slave named Onesimus. Although the name “Onesimus” means “useful,” Onesimus proved himself “useless” when he ran away from his master and perhaps even stole from him (Philemon 18).  Somehow Onesimus came into contact with the apostle Paul while the latter was in prison (possibly in Rome), and through Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel he became a Christian. After confessing to the apostle that he was a runaway slave, he was directed by Paul to return to his master and become “useful” again. In order to help pave the way for Onesimus’ peaceful return home, Paul sent him on his way with a letter addressed to Philemon, a letter in which he urged Philemon to forgive his slave for having run away and “to receive him as you would receive me” (v. 17), “no longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother” (v. 16). The letter was eventually included by the church as one of the books of the New Testament.  (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH) The Book of Philemon  is the third shortest book in the Bible and it is one of the Apostle Paul’s Epistles and you can read it here.

 

“Oh, he’s useless…no good.”  “What a useless waste of time!”  “It’s useless.  I give up!”  At one time or another we have all said something like that and it is a word of judgment, of law: a judgment of others or of our selves. It appears that in the  house and home of Philemon, Onesimus was indeed useless.  He was not living up to his own name, Onesimus, “Useful”. We are not told in what ways he was useless as a slave.  Not obedient?  Slothful?  He had talents and abilities he did not use?   Maybe he did a lot of “brown-nosing”?  We do not know.  But he was useless. We do not know why Onesimus ran away.  Maybe he wanted to be free, but freedom, as bondage is of two types:  physical and spiritual and sometimes they cannot be readily separated.

A conjecture is, as the Lord caught up to Jonah as Jonah ran away and as Jonah,  Onesimus’ uselessness was catching up to him as he ran away and the Lord found him in a jail…with His Apostle!  Then what a conversation Onesimus and the Apostle must have had in that jail cell! The Apostle did not command that Onesimus be welcomed back by his owner, Philemon. The Church overly loves to legislate. At a wedding, a Roman Catholic said to me, What I like about the Lutherans they don’t have rules.  I chuckled and said, We find the 10 commandments quite sufficient.   In fact, it seems that the Apostle did not issue many rules and regs.   For instance:  When the Church in Corinth was allowing for prostitution, Paul did not appeal to the 6th Commandment, but of course he clearly points out what they were doing was sin.  But the remedy is not the Law but the Gospel:

18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6)

The Law does not save but shows we need saving.  Flee from immorality, wrote Paul. Onesimus  may have thought he was fleeing  from wrong but there is no escape from God’s Law. And the Gospel Word alone finds us as the Lord did through His Apostle. The Apostle’s appeal is to the Gospel by which the Lord forms us in His grace, mercy and peace and has redeemed us and our brother next to us, even a runaway slave the Apostle met in jail. His appeal is to Who’s we are and who has bought us, “…with a price”:  the blood of Christ.  The Law shows us when we are useless, the Gospel of the grace of Christ makes us useful through faith in Him by His grace:

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon)

Lord God, heavenly Father, You sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a brother in Christ, freeing him from his slavery to sin through the preaching of the Apostle St. Paul. Cleanse the depths of sin within our souls and bid resentment cease for past offenses, that, by Your mercy, we may be reconciled to our brothers and sisters and our lives will reflect Your peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

There are three set of threes in the Gospel lesson: 

First set:  Jesus takes up on the high mountain apart Peter, James and John

Second set:  Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah

Third set:  The Son is transfigured, and then soon the cloud “overshadows” them all.  When Mary asked the angel Gabriel, How can she conceive, “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”  The Greek verb for “overshadow” ἐπισκιάζουσα  is the same in Luke as in today’s Gospel from Mark:   The overshadowing cloud is the sign of the Holy Spirit.   The Father speaks, This is my beloved Son, the Holy Spirit descends and the Son is transfigured.   This should sound familiar for this is what happened when Jesus was baptized:  The Father spoke, the Spirit descended and that time the Son is baptized. The third set of threes is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three yet the one God and Lord of us all.

When Israel had finished building the tent of meeting, Exodus 40:   Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  This maybe the reason Peter offers, with the help of Peter and James, to build three tents. The Greek for “tent” can also be translated “tabernacle”:  of that well known movable temple of God after the pattern of  which the temple at Jerusalem was built.

Peter’s offer to build 3 tents, tabernacles which could have made that high mountain a shrine above all shrines one earth but the Lord’s will is not a place but you.  For you He came down from that mountain as Peter, James and John in the end saw Jesus alone.  Alone to go to the Cross and continue his journey through Lenten Lands for us and for our salvation. 

“Where and what is the strength and power of your salvation?  Christ, Christ assuredly has raised you up again.  He, the Good Samaritan, has healed you.  He, the good friend, has redeemed you with His life and set you free.  Christ, I say, Christ is He.  And so the strength of your salvation is the strength of Christ.” (St. Anselm)

He goes forward so to be our strength. 

Building three tents would suggest that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were equals.  As many teach these days the Lord is equal to Mohammed and Buddha.  Jesus shone  alone  with unborrowed light and Moses and Elijah did not, neither did Buddha and Mohammed.  And none of them died for sinners.  The voice of the Father puts His seal upon His Son by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, the one God.  This faith we must cling  to and keep as without  it we are lost and can not be saved. So Jesus brings Peter, and James and John, with their darkness into the light to be enlightened.. “The Voice did not say:  ‘These are my beloved sons.  For One only is the Son; others are adopted.”—St. Augustine. 

 “…He asked them:  Whom do men say that the Son of man is, they said to Him: Some say Elijah;  some others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.  And so He led them up into a high mountain, and showed that he was not Elijah, but the God of Elijah;  that neither was He Jeremiah, but He had sanctified Jeremiah in his mother’s womb; that neither was He one of the prophets, but the Lord of the prophets, and he had that had sent them.”—St. Ephrem

But in another sense, He is not equal to Elijah, Moses, nor Mohammed.  In fact, He became less than Mohammed and Buddha and Joseph Smith and you and I.  The One who is greater than all became less than Moses and Elijah.  The One transfigured would be disfigured beyond recognition, as one from whom men hide their faces (Isaiah 53) He became sin who knew no sin. Jesus is the Way of the Lord to us.  He is love’s pure light shining on us in the darkness of sin and sadness, in the lowest place, on another hill called Skull, He bore the darkness of us all. We look to that forlorn mount where He bore our sin and not the mount of the Transfiguration.  We look to our hope from that Hill, not Capitol Hill. We look to Him the true temple, not these temples, the temples of our  heads. He knew what He was doing when He took Peter, James and John up to the high mountain so it was clear as to the One who would be walking the way to the Cross and another 3, the third day when Peter, James and John would finally report what happened that day on the high mountain apart. He is the Lord of heaven and earth, on the earth to lead us to heaven.

His very clothes shone with light that no bleach could clean. He cleanses us from the inside out by His grace held in the true faith.  Don’t do anything to get His salvation as we can’t. “Grace flows from the Lord not on those who attempt to earn it, but on those who confess their need for it.”  (Reed Lessing, Commentary on Jonah)  Don’t we have to do something to be a Christian?  Yes.  But it is not what we usually think that is by our works and spiritual exertions we can save ourselves.  When Epiphany begins we hear the narrative of our Lord’s Baptism and the Voice speaking, This is my beloved Son and now at the end of this season, the same sentence is preached by God the Father in His most excellent sermon, who is always His Word, Jesus Christ and now He adds: Listen to Him. This is what we are to do:  Listen to Jesus in His Word in prayer, Scripture, fasting, serving and giving to the poor.  The Voice spoke.  Interestingly enough, the phrase, “The Voice” is used of a singer with an unmistakable voice.  The Voice of the Father is unmistakable, without mistakes:  This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.  This is a tender and caring voice of the Father, though angry at our sins, nevertheless  has shown mercy in His only begotten Son and when He spoke Peter, James and John saw Jesus alone: listen to Him in every Word that proceeds from His mouth and everything He did, He will do, the Word made flesh for our salvation. Jesus is unmistakably God who died for you and rose that you are His own in the set of threes that is  ever One, undivided and united as we are baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.—2 Corinthians 7: 10 

…when a fornicator, a drug addict, a  drunkard begins to sorrow because he has wasted the glory days of his youth, when he has ruined his body and has become prematurely senile—that is a sorrow of this world. When a vain person is plunged into sorrow over his sins because he has lost some of his prestige, his good looks lost and then botoxed, when a thief sorrows over his thieving because he has landed in jail—all of that is worldly sorrow. As it is written, worldly sorrow or grief produces death.

However, when a person grieves over his sins because he sees hell before him, where he will be punished for having insulted the most holy God—that is godly sorrow, provided that it has not been produced by imagination through a person’s own effort. God alone can produce genuine godly sorrow. May God grant us all such sorrow!

(Quote adapted from Law and Gospel by C.F.W. Walther)

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