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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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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Let us pray:   

Triune God, whose very Name is holy, teach us to be faithful hearers and learners of Your Word , fervent in the Spirit as Apollos was, that we may teach it correctly against those who have been led astray into false and error and that we might follow the example of Aquila and Priscilla for the good the Church You established here and entrusted into our humble care;  for You, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Aquila and his wife Priscilla (Prisca), Jewish contemporaries of St. Paul, traveled widely. Because of  persecution in Rome, they went to Corinth where they met the apostle Paul, who joined them in their trade of tentmaking (Acts 18:1-3). They, in turn, joined him in his mission of proclaiming the Christian Gospel. The couple later traveled with Paul from Corinth to Ephesus (Acts 18:18), where the two of them established a home that served as hospitality headquarters for new converts to Christianity. Apollos was one of their numerous Jewish pupils in the faith. An eloquent man, Apollos “spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus” (Acts 18:25). He later traveled from Corinth to the province of Achaia, where he “showed by the Scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus” (Acts 18:28). Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos are all remembered and honored for their great missionary zeal. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Please note that the Roman persecution and exile of the Jews was the historical cause by which Paul met this faithful couple in the Lord:

And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. Acts 18:2

The three of them met in Corinth where the Apostle evangelized.  The author of Acts, Luke, tells us that the three of them met because of their vocation, “tent makers by trade” (This means they were leather workers and as Paul was a trained Pharisee, it was customary for a Pharisee to have a trade).  It just so happened that by Claudius’ edict this godly couple met Paul and they were all tentmakers and Christians? Was it a historical accident that Paul met this Christian husband and wife and Apollos? We do not know in this concrete event in the Church’s history from the Bible per se, but we do know that the Lord is,

“…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1)

and

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

The Lord brings about His plan in ways that to the human eye are hidden but He is working to bring us His salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.  As C. S. Lewis pointed out about friendship:

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” ― C.S. LewisThe Four Loves

And with missionaries and evangelists and pastors and layman, not to reveal merely the beauties of others, but  to reveal the beauty of the Lord and His salvation and His way for faith to everlasting life in His Name.

This day is especially good to remember to always pray for all businessmen, tradesmen, day-laborers and to  pray for the Church’s mission and her missionaries in daily life that the Lord’s salvation be brought to those with ears to hear: “the poor in spirit”.

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A Hymn on the Transfiguration of our Lord,  by Pastor Mark Preus, St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Laramie, WY

This hymn is dedicated to the saints of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church

  1. On the mountain shone His glory,
    Face as bright as is the sun;
    See fulfilled the prophet’s story:
    “This is my beloved Son!”
    Here the majesty of heaven
    To the Son of Man is given,
    Glory which already He
    Holds from all eternity.
  2. Peter, James and John are kneeling,
    Where the prophets testify,
    By their presence Christ revealing
    As the one who came to die.
    He by blood he will be spilling
    Israel’s exodus fulfilling,
    Passing through the sea of red,
    Where the lost to life are led.
  3. This is he in darkness shining,
    Whom no darkness overcame,
    He, whose Spirit is refining
    All who call upon His name;
    He, the star of Easter’s morning,
    Preaches truth until the dawning
    Of the light within our heart
    That his coming will impart.
  4. Here in our own human nature
    Find the foretaste of our joy;
    See the Maker in His creature
    With the power to destroy
    All of Satan’s snares that caught us,
    Death and all that sin has brought us –
    Perfect picture here we see
    Of what we in heav’n shall be.
  5. For the death we long have dreaded
    Goes this man who is our God;
    To Jerusalem is headed
    On the lonely, narrow road;
    Where his own mock and abhor him,
    There our joy is set before him
    In the cross’s shame and pain,
    Suffered for the sinner’s gain.
  6. Alleluia! Sing his praises,
    Sing the light in which He lives!
    For the fallen souls he raises,
    For the sins that he forgives,
    For the Gospel he has spoken,
    For the Scripture still unbroken,
    For the peace his Spirit brings
    All the Church His glory sings.

Recommended tune: Jesu, Meines Lebens Lebens. Christ the Life of all the Living

 

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