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Archive for September 5th, 2012

But I shot a man in Reno,
Just to watch him die,
When I hear that whistle blowin’,
I hang my head and cry.                                       (“Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash)

In our ever quickening news cycles, the news from a week ago can seem to be a  long time ago.  Our memory is injured and that in itself is devilish.  When we have a tooth-ache, that’s when one wants to see the dentist;  but the pain goes away, so does the need to see the doctor, but the problem is still there.  We were immersed in the stark news from a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20th. We were flummoxed again.  Now, not so much and so maybe this is a time to give some reflection. The problem is still there.

The usual refrain now in these group murders is the “lone madman” theory.  Mark Steyn in an excellent article in National Review, “In Search of ‘Why'” (8/13/12) points out that in Aurora there is, “…no ‘why.'”  Steyn makes a crucial distinction: some do violence for a purpose, such as Major Hasan in the Fort Hood shootings, others like the Aurora killer does not.   Steyn quotes the previous Batman movie when Alfred the Butler says to Master Bruce:  “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Some, he writes, saw this as an incisive analysis  of Al Qaeda, etc. “The jihad boys enjoy, as the Joker does, the body count.” It finally does not matter.

C. S. Lewis’ second book in his science fiction triology, Perelandra, takes place on a planet (Venus) which is still in the state of innocence.  It is covered entirely by ocean with floating islands and one piece of fixed land.  Two Englishmen, Ransom and Weston, rocket to the planet and meet the Lady.  The Lady has been told by Maledil that you may spend the night on any of the floating islands but on the one fixed island she may not so spend the night.  It turns out that Weston is actually the “Unman”, that is the evil one and his intent is to tempt the Lady. In a scene that I find to be one of the most horrific in fiction, Ransom discovers ‘Weston’ for who he is and I think this begins to speak to understanding Aurora and other acts of purposeless violence. The scene is diametrically opposed to the beauty of Perelandra:

Ransom sat looking out from the edge of the forest in which he had slept, on a flat sea where there were no other islands in view. He had waked a few minutes before and found himself lying alone in a close thicket of stems that were rather reed-like in character but stout as those of birch trees and which carried an almost flat roof of thick foliage. From this there hung fruits as smooth and bright and round as holly-berries, some of which he ate. Then he found his way to open country near the skirts of the island and looked about him. Neither Weston nor the Lady was in sight, and he began walking in a leisurely fashion beside the sea. His bare feet sank a little into a carpet of saffron-coloured vegetation, which covered them with an aromatic dust. As he was looking down at this he suddenly noticed something else. At first he thought it was a creature of more fantastic shape than he had yet seen on Perelandra. Its shape was not only fantastic but hideous. Then he dropped on one knee to examine it. Finally he touched it, with reluctance. A moment later he drew back his hands like a man who had touched a snake.

It was a damaged animal. It was, or had been, one of the brightly coloured frogs. But some accident had happened to it. The whole back had been ripped open in a sort of V-shaped gash, the point of the V being a little behind the head. Something had torn a widening wound backward—as we do in opening an envelope—along the trunk and pulled it out so far behind the animal that the hoppers or hind legs had been almost tom off with it. They were so damaged that the frog could not leap. On earth it would have been merely a nasty sight, but up to this moment Ransom had as yet seen nothing dead or spoiled in Perelandra, and it was like a blow in the face. It was like the first spasm of well-remembered pain warning a man who had thought he was cured that his family have deceived him and he is dying after all. It was like the first lie from the mouth of a friend on whose truth one was willing to stake a thousand pounds. It was irrevocable….  

At last he got up and resumed his walk. Next moment he started and looked at the ground again. He quickened his pace, and then once more stopped and looked. He stood stock-still and covered his face. He called aloud upon heaven to break the nightmare or to let him understand what was happening. A trail of mutilated frogs lay along the edge of the island. Picking his footsteps with care, he followed it. He counted ten, fifteen, twenty: and the twenty-first brought him to a place where the wood came down to the water’s edge. He went into the wood and came out on the other side. There he stopped dead and stared. Weston, still clothed but without his pith helmet, was standing about thirty feet away: and as Ransom watched he was tearing a frog—quietly and almost surgically inserting his forefinger, with its long sharp nail, under the skin behind the creature’s head and ripping it open. Ransom had not noticed before that Weston had such remarkable nails. Then he finished the operation, threw the bleeding ruin away, and looked up. Their eyes met…

It (Weston) looked at Ransom in silence and at last began to smile. We have all often spoken—Ransom himself had often spoken —of a devilish smile. Now he realised that he had never taken the words seriously. The smile was not bitter, nor raging, nor, in an ordinary sense, sinister; it was not even mocking. It seemed to summon Ransom, with horrible naivete of welcome, into the world of its own pleasures, as if all men were at one in those pleasures, as if they were the most natural thing in the world and no dispute could ever have occurred about them. It was not furtive, nor ashamed, it had nothing of the conspirator in it. It did not defy goodness, it ignored it to the point of annihilation. Ransom perceived that he had never before seen anything but half-hearted and uneasy attempts at evil. This creature was Whole-hearted. The extremity of its evil had passed beyond all struggle into some state which bore a horrible similarity to innocence. It was beyond vice as the Lady was beyond virtue.

It became for Weston the whole-hearted enjoyment of evil for it’s own sake.  Evil is beyond the ken of even sin.  Mr. Steyn in that same article mentioned seeing the last installment of Mission Impossible and it’s exquisitely filmed technological violence, commented”…but it isn’t about anything. It’s like a perfectly executed act of mass terrorism  for no reason at all.”  James Holmes did it for no reason at all, except to watch people die.   We too have a voyeurism for the dark.  It is into this darkness, the Lord came.  

“How often the priest had heard the same confession–Man was so limited: he hadn’t even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died: the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater the glory lay around the death; it was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or civilization–it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” 
― Graham GreeneThe Power and the Glory

I have said many times to my wife that certain movies, like the Die Hard movies, I love to see the bad buy die a satisfying death.  But there is nothing in death or evil or sin that is satisfying, only God’s grace and peace satisfies, His blood shed on the Cross for the blood shed.

Israel ben Eliezer, the founder of the Hasidim in 18th century Eastern Europe said that when we have beheld evil is so that we know the evil is also within so that we repent.  Our hope in Jesus Christ is that like Johnny Cash, we hang our head and cry. We could ban guns, movies, you name it, but it will not stop sin and evil. Only the One Who died upon the Cross has and will: our Ransom.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5

O God,  You see that of ourselves we have no strength.  By Your mighty power defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul;  through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Come, Thou precious Ransom, come,
Only Hope for sinful mortals!
Come, O Savior of the world!
Open are to Thee all portals.
Come, Thy beauty let us see;
Anxiously we wait for Thee.                                       (Lutheran Service Book, #350)

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Prayer of the Day

O God, who alone knits all infants in the womb, You chose improbable servants—old and childless—to conceive and parent the forerunner of Christ and, in so doing, demonstrated again Your strength in weakness. Grant us, who are as unlikely and unworthy as Zechariah and Elizabeth, the opportunity to love and serve You according to Your good and gracious will; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.

About Zechariah and Elizabeth:  Zechariah and Elizabeth were “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). Zechariah, a priest in the Jerusalem temple, was greeted by the angel Gabriel, who announced that Zechariah and Elizabeth would become parents of a son. Initially, Zechariah did not believe Gabriel’s announcement because of their old age. For his disbelief, Zechariah became unable to speak. After their son was born, Elizabeth named their son John.  Zechariah conformed his wife’s choice, and his ability to speak was restored.  In response, he sang the Benedictus, a magnificent summary of God’s promises in the Old Testament and prediction of John’s work as forerunner to Jesus (Luke 1: 68-79). Zechariah and Elizabeth are remembered as examples of faithfulness and piety. (Modified from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  The Gospel according to Luke begins with the birth of John and Jesus.  As part of the warp and woof of the narrative is the praise of God in what could be called Psalms:

  1. The Magnificat, Mary’s Song of Praise:  St. Luke 1: 46-55
  2. The Benedictus, Zechariah’s Song of Prophecy, St. Luke 1: 67-69
  3. The Gloria in Excelsis Deo, the Song of the Angels, St. Luke 2: 14
  4. The Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, St. Luke 2: 29-32

The titles of these psalms is from the Latin Vulgate translation and reflect an old tradition of naming a psalm after the first word in the song:  1. Magnify;  2. Blessed; 3. Glory in God in the highest;  4. Now depart.  All of these songs have been included in either the Prayer offices of the Church and/or the Divine Service.

In their old age, like another “unworthy and unlikely” couple centuries before,  Abraham and Sarah, the priest and his wife would have a son:  the son to be the forerunner of the very Son of God, the Messiah.  What almost becomes overlooked by the faithful and diligent reader of the Word is that the Lord’s promises come through married couples and their families: Adam and Eve, Noah and his wife, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah and throughout all generations to Zechariah and Elizabeth and another unlikely couple:  Joseph and Mary.  Why does the Lord do so?  I do not think we know directly from Holy Writ but we do know the Lord created marriage and family,and it was good.  And given the state of the family, yes, even in the Bible, the contrast between His saving promise and our utter need for His salvation is clear!  Only He can breach the gap and has. He did not want His love of His good creation,  in bondage to sin, to end but be extended in His redeeming in the fullness of time: the gestation and birth of His only-begotten Son.  His promise of redemption could only find it’s home in a family for the generations of humankind.  Therefore,  Zechariah had much to sing about in the  praise and blessing of  the Name of the Lord in  his  marriage to Elizabeth! How do we know salvation and the Lord who is our Savior:  Answer: “by the forgiveness of our sins”: 

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for He has visited and redeemed His people
69and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of His servant David,
70 as He spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies
   and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
   and to remember His holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
 74that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
   whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (St. Luke 1)

The Benedictus is the song sung every day  in Matins. As John paved the way for the coming of Jesus the Christ, so by the Lord’s promise fulfilled to Zechariah, we each and every day in prayer, in the Benedictus, prepare our selves for the work of the Messiah in our vocations. Matins is good way to begin the day.

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