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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:  Today’s Commemoration of Zechariah and Elizabeth is on the United States’ Labor Day. Elizabeth in her old age gave birth to John:  she surely did labor!  We know Zechariah served as , “a priest before God”(St. Luke 1: 8) but I do not think that was a paying job.  He probably had another job or vocation.  We know for instance that Joseph was a carpenter but his occupation is not essential to the Biblical narrative. We know these saints by something far more important than their employment.

When we meet someone, one of the usual first question is: “So, what do you do for a living?” As important as jobs, labor and vocations are, they are finally supportive of our real labors:  maintaining marriage, family, house and home.  “What do you do for a living?”  I am a Father, a husband.  This is my life before God.  This is my priestly duty, my lot. So if I were, say, an accountant, that would be a supporting vocation to my living.  Critics have noted that in the old TV show, “Leave It to Beaver”, we never find out what Ward, the father of the Cleaver family, does for a job.  It seems the critics take umbrage with that but it tells us that is not crucial. The sitcom was about a family, even more the Bible! And   Zechariah and Elizabeth are remembered for their faith and service before God, as people of faith, a father and a mother,  not their net worth.

Zechariah’s Song, the Benedictus (The first word in the psalm in Latin, “Blessed”) is prayed every day in Matins and Morning Prayer.  It is included below.  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. Zechariah prophesied.  Matins is good way to begin the work day, every day we labor.

St. Luke 1

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)

 

 One of the great leaders in Europe at the close of the sixth century, Gregory served in both the secular and sacred arenas of his era. As mayor of Rome, he restored economic vitality to his native city, which had been weakened by enemy invasions, pillage, and plague. After he sold his extensive properties and donated the proceeds to help the poor, he entered into full-time service in the Church. On September 3, A.D. 590 , Gregory was elected to lead the church in Rome.

As Bishop of Rome he oversaw changes and growth in the areas of church music and liturgical development, missionary outreach to northern Europe.  From Festivals and Commemorations by Pr. Pfatteicher:

Gregory’s use of monks as missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons was his single most influential act in determining the future of Christian culture and institutions. In 597 he sent Augustine of Canterbury and forty monks to evangelize Britain. The story told by Bede is that Gregory saw some fair-haired slaves in Rome and, being told that they were Angles, is said to have replied, “Not Angles but angels” and decided that they must be Christianized.

He also established a church-year calendar still used by many churches in the western world today. His book on pastoral care became a standard until the 20th century. And having read most of St. Gregory’s reflections on Pastoral Care, it is too bad that it is no longer considered a “standard”.  One reads in it a humble man, a humble pastor, a humble Christian.  As St. Gregory preached on Ezekiel: “So who am I to be a watchman, for I do not stand on the mountain of action but lie down in the valley of weakness?” (Adapted from The Lutheran Church-MIssouri Synod web-site, Commemoration Biographies)

Reflection:  

The following quote is from St. Gregory’s Sermon for the 2nd  Sunday in Advent, text, St. Matthew 11: 2-10. He shows that in our ‘small ways’ we too can be like John the Baptizer with the Message for a friend. The only stat I cite regarding evangelism is that the majority of people who join a congregation do so because a family or friend invited them.  Historical reminder:  the Church spread by the Word of the Gospel going from mouth to ear for the first 2 centuries of the Church as the Church was illegal and persecuted. Here is eloquent testimony and encouragement to so invite a friend or family member, just as Philip said to Nathanael, “Come and see” (John 1:46)

You… who live in the Tabernacle of the Lord, that is, in the Holy Church, if you cannot fill up the goblets with the teachings of holy wisdom, as well then as you can, as far as the divine bounty has endowed you, give to your neighbors spoonfuls of the good word!

And when you consider that you have yourself made some little progress, draw others along with you; seek to make comrades on the road to God. Should one among you, Brethren, stroll out towards the forum or the baths, he will invite a friend whom he thinks is not busy to keep him company. This simple action of our ordinary life is pleasant to you, and if it be that you are going towards God, give a thought not to journey alone. Hence it is written: He that heareth, let him say: come (Rev. xxii. 17); so let him who has heard in his heart the invitation of divine love, pass on to his neighbors around about him, the message of the invitation. And though a man may not have even bread wherewith to give an alms to the hungry;  yet, what is still more precious  is able to give who possess but  tongue. For it is a greater to strengthen with the nourishment of a word that will feed the mind for ever, than to fill with earthly bread a stomach of perishable flesh.

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and merciful God, You raised up Gregory of Rome to be a pastor to those who shepherd God’s flock and inspired him to send missionaries to preach the Gospel to the English people. Preserve in Your Church the catholic and apostolic faith that Your people may continue to be fruitful in every good work and receive the crown of glory that never fades away; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Making the sign of the cross is utterly unambiguous…it’s absolutely clear: Jesus Christ died for me, a sinner and I’m a Christian.

Concordia and Koinonia


The hand pointing to heaven was the sign in the 60s-70s for the “Jesus People”.  It signified Jesus is the one way to heaven.   If I stood on a busy street corner, with my index people pointing up, folks would start looking up to see what I was pointing to!  Is it a bird, is it a plane…Is someone jumping? Or asking what you are pointing to. “Jesus”  “Ahh, I don’t see Him.”  Pointing to thin air.  Or doing such indoors pointing to  the ceiling. Stuck.  One way to Jesus sign went the way of the Dodo bird.  Jesus Christ is not thin air.  The problem with that sign is it’s ambiguity.  Making the sign of the cross is utterly unambiguous…it’s absolutely clear:  Jesus Christ died for me, a sinner and I’m a Christian.  I’m a catholic.  The sign of the cross does not point to thin air, but…

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Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Joshua 3: 11

About Joshua:  Today we remember and thank God for His faithful servant, Joshua. Joshua, the son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim, is first mentioned in Exodus 17 when he was chosen by Moses to fight the Amalakites, whom he defeated in a brilliant military victory. He was placed in charge of the Tent of Meeting (Ex. 33:11) and was a member of the tribal representatives sent to survey the land of Canaan (Num 13:8). Later, he was appointed by God to succeed Moses as Israel’s commander-in-chief. He eventually led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land and directed the Israelites’ capture of Jericho. He is remembered especially for his final address to the Israelites, in which he challenged them to serve God faithfully (Josh 24:1–27), concluding with the memorable words, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”(24:15). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  Some may know he was “Israel’s commander-in-chief”. Some may know that the 6th book of the Bible is named after him.  Most people might know that “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho.”  The Battle of Jericho is recorded in chapter 6 and then follow 18 chapters of the Conquest of the Land.   Joshua and the Israelites fought against the seven nations:the Canaanites, Amorites, Jebusites, Hittites, Hivites, Girgashites and the Perizzites.

Joshua and the Israelites fought many a bloody battle. Modern/post-modern ‘sensibilities’ do not like the Book of Joshua because it is considered to be militaristic and violent.  The Promised Land was given by the LORD but the people fought for it.  We think enemies can be won over to be  ‘nice’ like us.  The seven nations had “detestable practices” , such as “child sacrifices, the practice of divination or sorcery, and occult activity.  In addition, Leviticus 18 and 20 detail the rampant sexual depravity among the Canaanites.” (“The Peoples of Canaan, The Lutheran Study Bible, page 345). 

What follows after the entrance into the Land, the Crossing of the Jordan, the first circumcisions and Passover therein, and then the Battle of Jericho, in the next 18 chapters is quite a slog.  They,  and only the Israelites, then were engaged in both physical and spiritual warfare, physically killing the enemies.  Spiritually we must kill enemies, 

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, againstthe spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6: 12, from the Epistle Reading for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (9/2/2012)

Yet they are enemies, the cosmic powers, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, even in the Church, giving their consent to sexual immorality   and covetousness.  This blind world does not see it but we can see the breaking of every commandment every day on our favorite television programs. We have seen it in ourselves by God’s Law and we cry out, Kyrie Eleison, Lord, have mercy.    By God’s grace alone in Jesus Christ, we see the Canaanite, Jebusite etc. occupation of our own souls.

The name “Joshua”, literally means “God Saves”.  Joshua in Hebrew is pronounced, Yeshua and transliterated into Greek it became Iesus,  then transliterated into Jesus.

Joshua of old led the Israelites through the waters of the Jordan into the promised land for the conquest.  Jesus Christ leads us through the waters of Holy Baptism into the promised land of eternal life and leads, “the pioneer and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12: 2) for our struggles, the crucified and risen Lord before us, beside us, within us, around us. He is the new and living covenant of the Lord of all the living who went through the waters for us and our salvation. Yes, it is a slog when we see politicians approving abortion and the abortions of their consciences.  It is a slog when we see church bodies emasculate even the mention of  spiritual warfare as “too militaristic” so that a man and a woman does not stand in the battle.  It is a slog when in our lives we see so many fighting and fears within and without.

Joshua took a stand with his house:  we will serve the Lord.  Jesus Christ took His stand and served the Lord to us all, the LORD God of Sabaoth for our battles and struggles to defeat the Hittites, the Canaanites etc.and now by His grace alone won over to the Lord.  He made us His own, forgiven and drafted into His army. Joshua declared: as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. In Baptism we renounce the devil and all his empty and false promises.   More than ever, we need the conscientious decision of every husband and family to say as Joshua did, “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord”, and not the false gods and practices of those around us, not only for our salvation but others to come to faith in Jesus Christ. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Your servant Joshua led the children of Israel through the waters of the Jordan River into a land flowing with milk and honey. As our Joshua, lead us, we pray, through the waters of our Baptism into the promised land of our eternal home, where You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Meme of the Day

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 readingsRomans 6:1-5Mark 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 52:11and 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.

 

Augustine | “DO YOU DESIRE TO ESCAPE FROM AN ANGRY GOD? THEN FLY TO AN APPEASED ONE:  FLY NOWHERE FROM HIM, ONLY TO HIM.” ST. AUGUSTINE | image tagged in cross | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

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