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Posts Tagged ‘Cross’

For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9

 

READINGS:  Numbers 11:4–6, 10–16, 24–29 Psalm 104: 27-35  James 5: 13–20 Mark 9:38–50

The Lord’s concern in response to the disciples’ question about the man casting out demons in Christ’s Name is like Moses’ response about Eldad and Medad receiving the Holy Spirit outside the Tent of Meeting:  Would that all people be prophets and the Lord’s Spirit be upon them! The Lord’s will is all people to be saved in the sheer gift of Himself to know Him and love Him and love our neighbors aright. 

“As a true servant of God, who was not jealous for his own honor, but desired only the extension of God’s influence and power, Moses wished only for a further extension of the Lord’s gift of grace. A little more of this same Spirit in our days would help to solve many of the problems of the Church.” (From The Popular Commentary (1924), by Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Lutheran Pastor and Scholar)

The Lord’s solution of political problems is not pastors, ministers and priests offering political solutions to people who suffer from the spiritual problem of sin.  The Lord’s solution is salvation in teaching and preaching Christ, His Cross, His resurrection and ascension, His Word of Law and Promise. Not a pope nor a president telling us pollution is bad, or abortion for that matter, but God’s Word and teaching thus sayeth the Lord from the  Bible.  The greatest apostolic ministry is not first casting out demons, that is, rare, but receiving a cup of water because, beloved in the Lord, “you belong to Christ”.  You belong to Christ. This means the person giving the cup of water to one of Jesus’ own, is beginning to believe through the grace of God in, through and with His Son Jesus Christ and that is quite a reward.

The one who has given the apostle a cup of cold water because He belongs to Christ, one of the little ones, like the child Jesus enfolded into His arms, and so Jesus is clear:  the greatest sin is to cause him or her believing in Christ to sin. So solemnly in a three-fold repetition

If your hand causes you to sin …

If your foot causes you to sin …

If you your eye causes you to sin

“Causes you to sin” in Greek is root of our word scandal, which was something that  causes you to stumble, into sin.  Now it is clear my hand does not think nor does the eye nor does the foot.  Oh, my hand hit you, now hand apologize and cut it out. That’s an absurdity as is sin.  Jesus knows what needs to be cut out.  He already taught earlier in chapter 7 the defilement comes out of the heart:  “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, etc.”.   Cut it out. Arduously keeping the Law of God will cut out some outward behaviors, which is good, but the heart condition remains. The Lord by His Law shows us the true source of the offense:  the heart, that is, the will.  He has cut out the blockages of sin and death and hell.  He cut it out in His Body upon the Cross. Salt stings in order to preserve.

“Christ here mentions some other members that are very apt to offend, to commit sin, to lead others into sin. The law of sin is always active in our members. Here it is necessary that a person keep these members in subjection. For the Lord speaks figuratively and does not want to be understood, as Luther says, that He here advocates physical mutilation or dismemberment, since that would obviously not take the sin and the desire to sin out of the heart. It is the heart which must be controlled by the spirit of love toward Christ and our neighbor, in order that the hand, the foot, the eye do not perform that which sin desires them to do.”  (From The Popular Commentary (1924), by Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Lutheran Pastor and Scholar)

Cutting it off is called confession, cutting it out to be healed in His forgiveness. His Word like a surgeon’s scalpel cuts to heal. “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;  There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.” The costly balm is Christ’ blood.

Churches have greatly watered down the Word of God to make it palatable for ourselves and the results have been disastrous, tolerating all sorts of sin, as in marriage, thus causing one of the little ones who believe in Christ to sin. Look at what the rampant sexual immorality of our time has cost children in divorce, abuse, pornography…and so let’s water down the saltiness of the Law of God  which mean  no repentance, no return to the Lord your God for He is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Still:  “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul”.

Jesus is clear:  the result is hell, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. We have watered down hell.   Hell has been watered down for people who don’t believe it, but note that it is still in full force for someone I don’t like! Then the belief is quite strong!  Hell is not merely fictional frightening children’s tale to scare, “…rather, they are true reason publicly proclaimed with a straightforward voice.” (St. Basil).    Hell is where the stink of putrefying sin always feeds the worms, the maggots.  Such is a world which harvests aborted infants’ body parts, commits genocide, beheads Christians and others, says nothing to “hooking-up”, or getting ahead at all costs using people is okay, its called being a “winner”.  Hell is a Biblical doctrine.  The Lord wants no one in hell, but all to be saved and come to the knowledge of Christ.

The list of ingredients on a food package always begin in descending order with  ingredient that is the most and salt is not usually the main ingredient.  In the Church, and proclaimed throughout the world, the main ingredient is the Name of Jesus Christ for us and our salvation.  When salt becomes more important than the main ingredient then there are problems.  When our theological solutions become more important than Christ our Lord, not interpreting truly the Scriptures, the Word of God, then men follow manmade doctrines such as the office of the pope, as the head of the church. He’s not, Christ is, as the Bible makes clear.  During the Pope’s visit, they had a canonization Mass in D.C.  As one reporter said, The pope made a new saint today.  No, he did not, most emphatically, none of the 266 popes ever made a saint.  The church does not make saints, Christ Jesus does.  The saints in Christ are His baptized, His little ones, not the great ones.  Salt does not make salt. The Lord does.  You are the salt of the earth. Not you should be, you must be, you can be, or we’ll make you salt.  You ARE.  Not by your doing, nor your works, but by the gracious work and word of Jesus Christ, whose we are, is who we are.    

The lesson ends with Jesus speaking of salt.  He did this early, Matthew 5:  Y’all are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost it’s saltiness what is it good, except to be thrown out and trampled on by men.  Funny thing though:  salt, sodium chloride, is quite the stable compound and does not lose it’s saltiness.  You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant  with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt. Leviticus 2: 13.  The Lord’s covenant, His testaments, old and new endure as salt, stable.  His promises fulfilled in Christ are there, His Word for us and for our salvation.  The very Word wounded for our sin.

Salt is a cheap grocery item in our day, but not back in the time of Christ.  Salty ocean water had to dry out and the salt gathered which could be filled with impurities. The impurities would dissipate the saltiness of salt and so salt loses is saltiness and becomes worthless.   So does the  impurities of  false doctrine, and unrepentant sin.

“Where the salt loses its saltiness, and the Gospel is spoiled with doctrines of men, there the old Adam no longer can be spiced, there the worms will grow. But salt is sharp; therefore it is necessary to have patience and peace in the salt.” (Martin Luther)

And sayeth the Lord, “ You will be salted with fire:   the fire of His Law and judgment, the fire of His mercy for sinners the fire of the Holy Spirit purging and renewing His Church;  the fire of His love for you and our neighbors to know the peace of God surpassing  human understanding.  His Word is our salt, preserving and flavoring our lives, making us thirsty for the draught of His Baptism and His Word. The word “salary” comes from the Latin for “salt”.  Roman soldiers received a stipend for salt.  My Dad told me that in the army, part of the rations was a salt tablet because it was indispensable to stay alive and keep on going.  His Word is the salt of the testament in Jesus. Have this salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another, the salt of the new and everlasting covenant in His Body and Blood. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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A voice says, “Cry!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
    and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
    when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40: 6-8

What we think is weighted with glory in this world is but a blade of grass in the Lord’s eyes, but the glory of His love for sinners in Jesus Christ, who bore the weight of the sin of the world in His Body, lifted upon the Cross, outweighs all this world’s vain glory.

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I am re-reading That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis, the third of Lewis’ space trilogy.  One of the main places in the novel is Belbury, the headquarters of the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments, or “the N.I.C.E.”.  The N.I.C.E is an institute that wants to take over England and the world and make it devoid of all ‘superstition’, especially the Christian faith.  A main character, Mark Studdock, has been selected to join the N.I.C.E.  He is an unbeliever. In this scene Mark is being programmed under the threat of violence to think “objectively,” meaning without influence of the “chemical reactions” that produce our moral (read emotive) judgments. The scientist in charge of his progress commands him to trample an almost life-size realistic crucifix. Mark hesitates… and puts his life in danger.

Mark was well aware of the rising danger. Obviously, if he disobeyed, his last chance getting out Belbury alive might be gone. The smothering sensation once again attacked him. He was himself, he felt, as helpless as the wooden Christ. As he thought this, he found himself looking at the crucifix in a new way—neither as a piece of wood nor a monument of superstition but as a bit of history. Christianity was nonsense, but one did not doubt that the man had lived and had been executed thus by the Belbury of those days. And that, as he suddenly saw, explained why this image, though not itself an image of the Straight and Normal, was yet in opposition to crooked Belbury. It was a picture of what happened when the Straight met the Crooked, a picture of what the Crooked did to the Straight—what it would do to him if he remained straight. It was, in a more emphatic sense than he had yet understood, a cross.

The Cross is the place where, “…the Straight met the Crooked” and in the midst of the ruins of World Trade Center workers found beams from the twin towers in the shape of a cross, see the header picture above of that cross.  The Straight met the Crooked and the sign of the cross shows, “…what happened when the Straight met the Crooked a picture of what the Crooked did to the Straight-and what it would do to him if he remained straight”.  It is only in the helplessness of the very Son of God is our help for those who mourn, for those who are angry, for those who make for peace, for those who protect us from evil.

President George W. Bush, at a service at the Washington National Cathedral, on September 14, 2001, observed:

Our purpose as a nation is firm. Yet our wounds as a people are recent and unhealed, and lead us to pray. In many of our prayers this week, there is a searching, and an honesty. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on Tuesday, a woman said, “I prayed to God to give us a sign that He is still here.” Others have prayed for the same, searching hospital to hospital, carrying pictures of those still missing.

God’s signs are not always the ones we look for.

He has given us the sign that He is still here.  Even in the midst of tyranny, He will depose the tyrant and the terrorist.  In the midst of the rubble, His sign was still there. He calls to remain Straight, love our enemies but never surrender to them.  It was not the sign we were looking for, but the one we needed. He has entered our history and will lead us home. 

Collect of the Day

Most merciful Father, with compassion You hear the cries of Your people in great distress.  Be with all who now endure affliction and calamity, bless the work of those who bring rescue and relief, and enable us to aid and comfort those who are suffering that they may find renewed hope and purpose: through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

 

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not nice

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3: 15-16

A dear friend and colleague’s screen saver  was, “Nice is the enemy of the good”. A tombstone with the motto, “He was nice” is not one for the ages.  All people with a backbone were decidedly not nice at times, yet “nice” is the supreme compliment.  “Nice” means pleasing, agreeable but in a sort of bland way:  “’Have a nice day!’ ‘No thanks, I have better plans’” (Woody Allen).  The Lord has a much better plan for us all.

I think “lukewarm” is synonymous with “niceness”, neither hot nor cold.  Unlike Goldilocks’ “neither hot nor cold, just right”, this “just right” of niceness is not just quite right for the Church’s life and preaching.  Matthew Henry , the 16th/17th Century non-conformist minister, in his enduring commentary, bluntly wrote, “They may call their luke warmness charity, meekness, moderation, and a largeness of soul; it is nauseous to Christ, and makes those so that allow themselves in it.”  So, because you are nice, neither good nor bad, I will spit you out of my mouth.  Lutheran pastor and scholar, Paul Kretzmann on the same text:  

He (Jesus) is constrained to vomit them out of His mouth. That is the judgment of the Lord upon all such as are not seriously concerned about their Christianity, that still profess to be Christians, usually from some ulterior motive, and yet will not oppose the godless ways of the world. They want to mediate between Jehovah and Baal, between God and the world, between Christ and Belial, between light and darkness, between faith and unbelief, between righteousness and unrighteousness. Such people the Lord cannot bear, and unless they change their tactics very decidedly, His disgusted attitude will result in their punishment, in their being excluded from the blessings of the Kingdom.

The lukewarm and the nice will be excluded from the Kingdom?!  Hey, that’s not nice!

 We don’t want to, using ‘60s vernacular, “turn someone off” to the Church by our strident attitudes.  After all,   “It is nice to be nice to those who are nice” (“Colonel Frank Burns”, M*A*S*H).  In that sitcom, Frank Burns’ statement was meant to be nauseating because it is.  

The Lord, in the epistolary section of the Revelation, is speaking to congregations, not individual Christians.  We have a churchly hangover from the ‘50s and ‘60s of “nice congregations”, “lukewarm”. My Father grew up in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod in southern Minnesota. When I was child, visiting Minnesota, he would argue with his in-laws,  who were not Lutherans, about church.  My aunts and uncles complaining about you “German Lutherans”, all that “sitting, standing and kneeling”, especially the kneeling and the worst: “We can’t even receive Communion!”  I knew as a kid, hmmm, we’re different.  We were not “nice”, but that was going to change.   Downplay the doctrine and the practice to get new folks in. I would be catechized well and as a pastor I went along with the program.  I confess:  I was nice. Offer first the programs of the congregation, later the promises of Christ, and practice open communion. We waffled between “Christ and Belial, light and darkness, faith and unbelief, righteousness and unrighteousness” to “reach people”.    If niceness has become a synonym for lukewarmness, then it is a sin, especially in light of the 1st Table of the Law. 

Here is one congregational example of such waffling to get people in and not offend.  My first call was as assistant pastor in a large LCMS/AELC congregation. The sanctuary was quite a charming colonial edifice which was desirous for weddings.  Now, the senior pastor’s wedding policy was complicated in his “schedule of fees and donations” for member and “non-member weddings”. Most weddings were of the non-member category. The spring and summer seasons sometimes included several weddings each weekend.  The justification was that these unchurched couples would, “at least hear the Gospel”.  Pre-marital counseling sessions were required, (it was part of the program) and I began to realize that my sermon would have to be one helluva sermon for the couple, nervous, even nauseous, to “hear the Gospel”.  I do not remembering ever seeing those many newlyweds come back to Church.

I began to be discomfited with this practice, but I was single at the time, and an extra $100 or so every weekend, or more, plus a gift from the couple, was kind of nice…oh-oh.  Anyway, I never said anything to the senior pastor about my misgivings because those wedding services paid. 

Now the next verse in the Revelation 3 text is not usually cited: 

17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” 

Yes, pastors and congregations prospered and we were decidedly less poor  by “reaching out” in this nice way under the guise of “evangelism”.  I think that mega-churches are not new but are old, as they are actually retro mega-throwback ‘50s congregations, the ultra-nice church but using better marketing tactics to sell their niceness now on steroids:  see Joel Osteen. Merging lyrics from the sitcom “Cheers” and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” applies:  “Come where everybody knows your name and to forget about life for awhile”.  It is so nice.  It pays but at a price for the soul of a church:  “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked”. The church thus has  acquired immune deficiency syndrome to  the onslaught of virulent atheistic secularism under the guise of niceness. After all, “…even a frank enmity against the Christian religion is more promising in a person than the luke warmness and spiritual indifference which these people showed (Matthew Henry)”.

In writing this, I looked up similar articles and came across a good one: “Have a Nice Church” by Fr. Peter Toon. I will be citing his article. “Have a nice Church”  is something our Lord never said. The Lord has a better Church than our nice one.

“We have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind”.  We went along with the prevailing winds to get along so the “cultured despisers of the faith” would accept us and we them.  Many parents and pastors eschewed saying and meaning, “no”.  In regards to marriage and weddings, we were nice a long time before Obergefell Day, June 26, anno Domini 2,015.  The Pill was the answer to coitus non fecundus and so coitus non interruptus.[i]  Divorce and remarriage in the 70s was accepted. “Living together” meant that a couple could really find out if they were meant for each other.  We called it ala Henry: “charity, meekness, moderation, and a largeness of soul”, that is, we were nice. Fr. Peter Toon,

“Since much modern mainstream “orthodoxy” feels the need to be nice, this means that it only can be bold to make a stand and to speak out for the Lord when this action comes within (what most conservatives in the pews perceive as) the spectrum of being nice. So, for example, homosexual practice may be condemned but not the modern contraceptive culture in which both homosexual and much heterosexual sex thrive. Apparently, this is because many conservatives do not like the former and, in the main, exist within the latter.

Our largeness of soul accepted much that was small and dark and dirty, as if it were charity on our part.

The solution is not to be nice but nasty?  No, for being purposely nasty and mean is not in keeping with the Decalogue. We are not go out of our way to be nasty but we are in the Way to preach, teach and live in the Word of God, spoken, written and Incarnate and it won’t be at times ‘nice’. The goal is goodness. Even “ET” got that much right, when he said, “Be good” to the children, it wasn’t “be nice”. It is about the “hard and narrow way” and in the Way, it is about daily repentance and contrition and His costly forgiveness, putting to death the sin of niceness.

I close with Fr. Peter Toon’s last paragraph of his article.

“Maybe all who claim to be conservative and orthodox ought to try not to use the word nice for a month and see whether or not this helps us to think and to act as faithful Christians in the modern troubled Church.”


[i] An aside regarding contraception:  From Pope Paul IV’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Of Human Life, (the one about The Pill), the section, Consequences of Contraception and in my opinion this is prophetic:

“Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.”

 

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Collect of the Day

O God, enkindled with the fire of Your love, Your servant Bernard of Clairvaux became a burning and a shining light in Your Church. By Your mercy, grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline and may ever walk in Your presence as children of light; through Jesus Christ. our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About Bernard: A leader in Christian Europe in the first half of the twelfth century AD, Bernard is honored in his native France and around the world. Born into a noble family in Burgundy in 1090, Bernard left the affluence of his heritage and entered the monastery of Citeaux at the age of twenty-two. After two years, he was sent to start a new monastic house at Clairvaux. His work there was blessed in many ways. The monastery at Clairvaux grew in mission and service, eventually establishing some sixty-eight daughter houses. Bernard is remembered not only for his charity and political abilities but especially for his preaching and hymn composition. The hymn texts “O Jesus, King Most Wonderful” and “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” are part of the heritage of the faith left by St. Bernard. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Addendum:   His zeal for the truth of the Gospel and the faith quelled many heresies.  But, “…in 1146-1147 Bernard led the preaching of the second Crusade and was sharply disappointed by its failure.” In historical retrospection, his eloquent preaching of the Crusade was misplaced.  Yet, “In his zeal he attacked the luxury of the clergy, the persecution of the Jews, and the abuses of Roman Curia.  Renowned as a great preacher, he brought to an end the pre-scholastic era, and he is sometimes called ‘the Last of the Fathers.’” (quotes from Festivals and Commemorations by Rev. Philip Pfatteicher)

Man can do many impressive things, after all we are created in the image of God.  Man’s reason and capabilities still have the broken fragments of the image of God in them and do great things, that people marvel at human ingenuity and invention, but they save only in time and for a time. Applauding our creations is finally clapping at a mirror. There is an intimate urgency in man that cries:  there must be more. That cry results either in pride or despair, better despair to hear the Gospel for our repair.  Pride in the abilities we have is wrong as we think our talents come from our selves.    We have called our selves “Homo Sapiens”, “Wise Man” and “Homo Faber”, “Creator Man”.  We are not self-created. As a species, we humans think more highly of ourselves than we ought (cf. Romans 12:3). The Lord holds before our eyes and hearts the perfect icon or image of Himself: His Son upon the Cross (cf. Colossians 1:15). 

Bernard of Clairvaux wrote of this:  

We must hate and shun that presumption which would lead us to glory in goods not our own, knowing that they are not of ourselves but of God, and yet not fearing to rob God of the honor due unto Him…. Ignorance is brutal, arrogance is devilish. Pride only, the chief of all iniquities, can make us treat gifts as if they were rightful attributes of our nature, and, while receiving benefits, rob our Benefactor of His due glory…

We do need to fear “…to rob God the honor due unto Him”, because in faith in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, everything we see, hear, touch and smell we know by true faith are His gifts toward us and in the fullness of time our redemption in Christ.  Bernard continued:

The Father of Christ, who makes all things new, is well pleased with the freshness of those flowers and fruits and the beauty of the field that breathes forth such heavenly fragrance. And He says in benediction, “See, the smell of My Son is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed” (Gen. 27:27). Blessed to overflowing, indeed, since of His fullness have we all received (John 1:16).

Be Thou my consolation,

My shield, when I must die;

Remind me of Thy passion

When my last hour draws nigh.

Mine eyes shall then behold Thee,

Upon Thy cross shall dwell,

My heart by faith enfold Thee.

Who dieth thus dies well.

—O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

(LSB 450:7)

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About Lawrence:  Early in the third century AD, Lawrence, most likely from Spain, made his way to Rome. There he was appointed chief of the seven deacons and was given the responsibility to manage Church property and finances. The emperor at the time, who thought that the Church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lawrence to produce the ‘treasures of the Church.’ According to tradition,  Lawrence brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity. He was then jailed and eventually executed in the year AD 258 by being roasted on a gridiron. His martyrdom left a deep impression on the young Church because he was a Roman citizen tortured and executed by Roman authorities.  Almost immediately, the date of this death, August 10, became a permanent fixture on the early commemorative calendar of the Church.  (adapted from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH).

Reflection: I would think Lawrence knew the location of the Church’s treasure! He knew exactly where it was as in the old pirate maps: when X marks the spot, that is the Cross of Jesus Christ.  He knew that the treasures of Christ’s grace is for the  poor, the lame, the orphans and the widows, for all who hunger and thirst for righteousness, that is, the poor in spirit.   In the midst of Watergate in the 70s, Bob Woodward was told by his informant, “to follow the money”.  All of the world follows the money.  Lawrence did not “follow the money”: he followed His Lord and yours.  As a steward of Jesus Christ, His deacon, Lawrence maintained earthly treasure probably well but gold does not make the Church, only the blood of Christ.

When the Church and her Christians think the true treasures of the church are in the offering plates/big budgets  or our “creative ministries” or our programs, and not the Cross and Sacraments, Scripture and Service in His love, then, “…we are in danger of losing the things that make the Church in favor of those who claim to make the Church.  Church leaders only gain legitimacy when they are the delivery point of the divine gifts.” (Pr. Murray, A Year with the Church Fathers, CPH)  Lawrence and many others so delivered the divine gifts and were delivered up as martyrs and their witness heartens us.

The Commemoration of St. Lawrence is our time quite timely, to say the least, given the martyrdoms that have occurred and are happening in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Nigeria.  It is hard to contemplate Lawrence being killed by being roasted live on fire.  It is hard to believe a 5 year old boy being cut in half by ISIS.  We hear that ISIS is full of anger and hatred…but are they?

Were the Nazis full of hatred and anger when they murdered 6 million Jews and 5 milion Gypsies, Communists, homosexuals and Christians?  Probably at one time.  In a seminary seminar course on the Holocaust we studied the fact that initially the Nazis  took Jews in train cars to isolated areas and then gunned them down burying them in mass graves. The Nazi State soon realized this was using too much ammunition, time and effort, too many vital war assets. Eventually they improved the ‘extermination’ of Jews and others with the invention of Zykon-B gas and high tech ovens to burn the bodies efficiently into ashes.  There was no more anger and hatred, just cold-blooded technological efficiency.  

ISIS can cut a boy in half with disinterested efficiency and many other brutalities.  We exterminate some 2 million  infants a year in abortion with medical technology that is suppose to save lives and then ‘harvest’ the organs and sell them.  Dr. Mengeles are active in our country daily.  The Roman Emperor probably executed many others by grilling them alive without batting an eye.  Just think of the depth of depravity of sin!  Animals do not kill each other for ideology or sport or enjoyment, but man does.  When the Church is driven out by a government, eventually the State becomes god and will not tolerate the one true God, but Lawrence served the poor in Jesus Christ.  We remember Lawrence but not the tyrant who had him murdered.  I have known Lawrences but I have never met anyone named Valerian or Nero, maybe someone would name their dog ‘Nero”. We remember what the Lord said to Saul on the road to Damascus:   “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9: 4-5) As Pr. Fiene ended an excellent article,

“”May God turn the hearts of all who are abusing, raping, terrorizing, and killing our brothers and sisters throughout the world. May God bring them to faith in Christ, who has put away their murderous sins and won every gemstone of His Father’s love for them. May God fill our enemies with the Holy Spirit, that they may put down their swords and share the treasure of Christ’s kingdom with those whom they once sought to destroy.”

Gracious Lord, in every age You have sent men and women who have given their lives for the message of  Your Gospel and all the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.  Inspire us with the memory of those martyrs for the Gospel, like Your servant Lawrence, whose faithfulness led them to the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to Your Son’s victory over sin and death, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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“The Law is but a mirror bright to bring the inbred sin to light…” (The Lutheran Hymnal, Salvation Unto Us Has Come, #377

“Salvation unto Us has Come”
by Paul Speratus, 1484-1551

1. Salvation unto us has come
By God’s free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.

2. What God did in His Law demand
And none to Him could render
Caused wrath and woe on every hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the Law requires,
And lost is our condition.

3. It was a false, misleading dream
That God His Law had given
That sinners should themselves redeem
And by their works gain heaven.
The Law is but a mirror bright
To bring the inbred sin to light
That lurks within our nature.

4. From sin our flesh could not abstain,
Sin held its sway unceasing;
The task was useless and in vain,
Our gilt was e’er increasing.
None can remove sin’s poisoned dart
Or purify our guileful heart,-
So deep is our corruption.

5. Yet as the Law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and hath God’s anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He hath for us the Law obeyed
And thus the Father’s vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

6. Since Christ hath full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Thy grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,
Thy death is now my life indeed,
For Thou hast paid my ransom.

7. Let me not doubt, but trust in Thee,
Thy Word cannot be broken;
Thy call rings out, “Come unto Me!”
No falsehood hast Thou spoken.
Baptized into Thy precious name,
My faith cannot be put to shame,
And I shall never perish.

8. The Law reveals the guilt of sin
And makes men conscience-stricken;
The Gospel then doth enter in
The sinful soul to quicken.
Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;
The Law no peace can ever give,
No comfort and no blessing.

9. Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
Yet faith alone doth justify,
Works serve thy neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.

10. All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God that saved us by His grace,-
All glory to His merit!
O Triune God in heaven above,
Who hast revealed Thy saving love,
Thy blessed name be hallowed.

Hymn 377
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Rom. 3: 5
Author: Paul Speratus, 1523, cento
Translated by: composite
Titled: “Es ist das Heil uns kommen her”
Tune: “Es ist das Heil”
German melody, c. 1400

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