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“As two pieces of wax fused together make one, so he who receives Holy Communion is so united with Christ that Christ is in him and he is in Christ.”-St. Cyril of Alexandria

Bio: Cyril (ca. A.D. 376-444) became archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt, in 412. Throughout his career he defended a number of orthodox doctrines, among them the teaching that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is “rightly called and truly is the Mother of God”–Theotokos, “the God-bearer” (Formula of Concord, VIII, Ep VIII, 12). In 431 the Council of Ephesus affirmed this teaching that the Son of Mary is also true God. The writings of Cyril on the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ reveal him to be one of the most able theologians of his time. Cyril’s Christology influenced subsequent church councils and was a primary source for Lutheran confessional writings. (Source: LCMS website:  Commemoration Biographies)

Reflection:

All theology is Christology.  Faithful Christianity is doctrinal and the doctrine is Christ.  Cyril was an adamant defender of the pure doctrine  of the nature of Christ.  Heresies seem to fall off the true doctrine horse on one of two sides:  Jesus is pure God and only appeared to be a man, e.g. gnosticism or Jesus was only a man, e.g. Arianism, that is, He was a good teacher.  Either way we end up without the Savior of the world (cf.John 4:421 John 4:14).  Cyril articulating the orthodox doctrine that Mary is Theotokos, the bearer of God (cf. St. Luke  ) was less about Mary and more about the true nature of Christ:  She bore God in her womb incarnate in Jesus.  Only “the Sacred Head now wounded” could and did bear the sin of the world: yours and mine.  Fall off the horse on either side, we are no longer following the Lord.  Pure doctrine matters.

Pure doctrine matters and this has been the rallying cry of all true pastors, theologians, seminary professors and all the Church for centuries.    Another defender of pure doctrine Pr. and Doctor C. F. W. Walther (first President of Concordia Seminary/St. Louis and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) had this to say about pure doctrine:

“…what an awful delusion has taken hold upon so many men’s minds who ridicule the pure doctrine and say to us: “Ah, do cease clamoring, Pure doctrine! Pure doctrine! That can only land you in dead orthodoxism. Pay more attention to pure life, and you will raise a growth of genuine Christianity.” That is exactly like saying to a farmer: “Do not worry forever about good seed; worry about good fruits.” Is not a farmer properly concerned about good fruit when he is solicitous about getting good seed? Just so a concern about pure doctrine is the proper concern about genuine Christianity and a sincere Christian life. False doctrine is noxious seed, sown by the enemy to produce a progeny of wickedness. The pure doctrine is wheat-seed; from it spring the children of the Kingdom, who even in the present life belong in the kingdom of Jesus Christ and in the life to come will be received into the Kingdom of Glory. May God even now implant in your hearts a great fear, yea, a real abhorrence, of false doctrine! May He graciously give you a holy desire for the pure, saving truth, revealed by God Himself! (Proper Distinction between Law and Promise, Third Evening Lecture)

Only the enlivening orthodoxy of the Word of God, Law and Gospel, gives us life in the preaching of Christ and Him crucified.  Cyril knew this. He planted the good Seed of Christ. Below is an example from St. Cyril of such a lively orthodoxy:

“We can never be tired of hearing about the crowning of our Lord, and least of all in this most holy Golgotha…. Let none be weary. Take your armor against the adversaries in the cause of the cross itself; set up the faith of the cross as a trophy against our opponents. For when you are going to dispute with unbelievers concerning the cross of Christ, first make with your hand the sign of Christ’s cross, and the gainsayer will be silenced. Don’t be ashamed to confess the cross, for angels glory in it, saying, ‘I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified’ (Matthew 28:5)….

“Now Golgotha means ‘the place of a skull.’ Who prophetically named this spot Golgotha, where Christ the true head endured the cross? As the apostle says,

  • ‘He is the image of the invisible God’; and a little after, ‘He is the head of the body, the church’ (Colossians 1:15, 18).
  • And again, ‘the head of every man is Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:3);
  • and again, ‘who is the head of all rule and authority’ (Colossians 2:10).

The head suffered at ‘the place of a skull: O wondrous prophetic name! The very name also reminds you, saying, ‘Do not think of the Crucified as of a mere man. He is the head of all principality and power. He who was crucified is the head of all power and has for His head the Father, for “the head of every man is Christ…. and the head of Christ is God” ‘ (1 Corinthians 11:3)”(Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 13.22-23).

Heavenly Father, Your servant Cyril steadfastly proclaimed Your Son, Jesus Christ, to be one person, fully God and fully man.  By Your infinite mercy, keep us constant in faith and worship of Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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As a pastor, I need to comment on Mr. Donald Trump’s answer to an interview question by Mr. Frank Luntz about Mr. Trump’s religious faith.  Here is the salient portion, from a CNN article:

“People are so shocked when they find … out I am Protestant. I am Presbyterian. And I go to church and I love God and I love my church,” he said.

Moderator Frank Luntz asked Trump whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions.

“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Trump said that while he hasn’t asked God for forgiveness, he does participate in Holy Communion.

“When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,” he said. “I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.'”

First, I am glad Mr. Trump loves God and his church, that is, his congregation, but loving God and your congregation is not salvation.  The emphasis is on me, not on the Lord who is the Savior.  Basing everything on the self is as old as Adam.  Again, as old as Adam when the serpent dealt with Adam and Eve:  eat and you will be like God.   Mr. Trump sounds likes he has imported into the Christian faith his best-selling book title, The Art of the Deal.   Mr. Trump eats Holy Communion as a bargain base salvation:  eat the “little cracker”  and be saved and feeling “cleansed” is ex opere operatum, the work working the work.  The Reformers used that Latin phrase to describe the mechanical view of the sacrament without faith and repentance, and so the Lord’s forgiveness. Such a mechanical view is just an easier and nicer version of Islam’s five pillars of the faith:  Just do it. I will call it “little cracker” theology but Holy Communion is about the totality of the faith in the Lord, the blessed and holy Trinity. With our own religious reasoning, the old Adam is in the driver seat and the devil has his foot on the accelerator.   

Second, and more importantly, how did Mr. Trump come to these terrible conclusions?  My speculation is from poor Christian education, or catechesis, or a total lack of it, and I tend toward the latter conclusion.  If I were the minister welcoming Mr. Trump into the congregation, I surely would be teaching him tithing plus “proportional giving”!  And to forget about the rest of the Bible, that is most of it because it would just turn him off. This temptation has become part and parcel in congregational life as a response to decreased membership.  I uncritically bought into the slogan:  Get them involved before they join.  I found out in so many Lutheran congregations (ELCA) that people from other congregations never had an adult catechism class before joining…and most likely not in their previous church bodies as well.  This then describes the crisis of the Church in the 21st Century that has been well documented, that so many do not know the doctrines, even deriding doctrine as an impediment to church growth. Doctrine is not an impediment to church growth, but it is essential for growth in the love and knowledge of the Lord.  In a sense, I do not blame Mr. Trump for his conclusions if he has not been taught even the rudiments of Christian doctrine.  Mr. Trump is exhibiting the Old Adam: salvation by works, without grace, that is without Christ.

Third, without proper teaching of Law and Promise, Mr. Trump’s answer belies the lack of any understanding of sin and guilt.  Without the Law, then truly, per Mr. Trump, why bring God into it?  Another king, a real one, when he realized by God’s law, the depth of his sin, in committing adultery with Bathsheba, cried out and prayed,

  Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment. Psalm 51

King David avoided God and obviously did not bring “God into it”!  David had not asked God for forgiveness.  Thankfully, King David was found out and the Lord found him. Sadly, in Mr. Trump’s answer the Law has already  convicted him but the old Adam knows the art of the deal…and the dodge, I am not really guilty, I do my best.  You can only dodge the Lord’s just death sentence for so long. I was afraid and so I hid-Adam (Genesis 3).  No conviction from the Law in body and soul, that we are dead in our trespasses, and so no repentance…and finally no forgiveness, that is, no Jesus Christ, who is there from the beginning for the sinner: “Come to Me” (see Matthew 11:28.   Matthew 19:14 John 5:40  John 6:37  John 7:37 ) The Lord desires all to be saved, see 1 Timothy 2:4.

Finally, the difficulty in evangelization in our day and time is so many people, including many Christians will be satisified by Mr. Trump’s answer.  A great difficulty in evangelizing in our day is that so many people think they know what Christianity is but really don’t have a clue as does Mr. Trump.  This should challenge pastors and congregations in the Church, the Lord’s Body, to be ever be apt to teach and preach.

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New Testament Reading for Today:  Hebrews 13: 1-21

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Introduction:  The New Testament reading is the pastor’s encouragement to the Church in times of persecutions from without and within.  The meditation below is by Pastor Scott Murray (Pastor, Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, TX) from his book  A Year with the Church Fathers: Meditation for Each Day of the Church Year (I am not paid by Pr. Murray to so advertise but gladly do so!)  The meditation is on the verses cited above.

Meditation

We presume that something is better than nothing. This truism is not always true. It is better to be without a leader than to have one who teaches us into hell. If we are to imitate the faith of those who lead us, we need someone leading us who has sound teaching, someone who is faithful to Christ the Word and His Holy Scripture. Without that faithful instruction, we are being led into misbelief, which is the worst vice. It is the worst evil, because it has such horrible results. We are all sinful, even and especially our Church leaders. If we wait until the Church leader arrives who has no fleshly weaknesses or spiritual peccadilloes, we will be waiting forever. Such a person ministered visibly only once among men.

So what should we look for from leaders? The faith. We need them to teach us Christ, His death, His life, His sacrifice for our sins—all that He has done “for us men and for our salvation.” We should imitate the faith that leaders teach. The substance of what is taught, of what is to be believed, should be the outcome of their lives. Like us, our leaders are imperfect clay pots. The excellence of what is preached should commend them to us. Let’s expect neither more nor less.

“When should we obey an evil leader? What kind of evil do we mean here? If he isevil in regard to faith, flee and avoid him. Not just if he is a man, but even if he is an angel from heaven. But if his life is evil, do not pry. This case I am not arguing from my own opinion, but from Holy Scripture. Hear Christ say, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat’ (Matthew 23:2). Having previously spoken many fearful things concerning them, Christ says, ‘Practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice’ (Matthew 23:3). They have the dignity of office but have an unclean life. Pay attention not to their life but to their words. As regards their character, no one would be harmed by it. Why? Both because their characters are manifest to all, and also because, although they might be ten thousand times as evil, they will never teach what is evil. But in regard to the faith, the evil is not apparent to all, and the leader with a wicked faith will not decline to teach it” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Hebrews, 34.1).

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

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P1020383Now that I have your attention! This past week was college tour time with our youngest. I took the photo above during our college tour of William and Mary College(W and M), founded 1693, second oldest college in our nation, in Williamsburg, VA.  W and M is a state school. Our tour group is in the picture.  Needless to say, I was struck by the poster in the foreground.  Thomas Jefferson was a graduate of W and M.  The main building, designed by Christopher Wren, is the oldest college building in the USA and it has a chapel in it.  Maybe you heard the controversy of cross on the altar which is considered offensive to other religions.  It was decided to move the cross to the side and put it in a glass case, as a kind of an artifact:

Wren Chapel cross

Unusual for a college tour, we had two tour guides, a sophomore and a freshman. When we went to see a dorm room,   the very perky freshman explained that at the beginning of the year, her floor gathered together to set rules for themselves by a process of “self-determination”.  She thought this kind of awesome.

 

Three pieces of a puzzle:

  1. “I love female orgasm”
  2. Cross in  a glass case
  3. “Self-determination”

Oh, and one more piece of the puzzle:

4. Twice during the tour, we were regaled with the highlight of the year at W and M which is in December, ostensibly the Christmas season:  the yule log ceremony.  Every year a large “yule log”, a big piece of timber is brought in. Every participant in the ceremony is given a sprig of evergreen with which they strike the yule log, for “good luck” and then it is thrown into the fire to “burn away all our worries” over the upcoming final exams.  Then the President of this prestigious college is dressed up as Santa Claus and he reads “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.  And they say there is no religion in a state school!

Back to the puzzle pieces and you have probably put them together.  Note, that in the bulletin board poster, orgasm is singular, well, as if the female orgasm is substitute for say, Jesus, as in “I love Jesus”. It’s all about SELF-determination.  It’s all about ourselves in the yule ceremony. Christianity is an artifact. Yes, there is religion at this state college and it is the religion of the mirror:  the self and the sacrament of the self is uninhibited and ‘free’ coitus.  The self rules in the self-confident omni-competent culture  which gives us everything we need:  from toilets to smartphones to air travel.  Christian religion can get in the way of  that…or should.  Religion itself, especially Christianity, is assimiliated to the society to go with the flow.  

As the Church, we too are recipients of the technological marvels of our time…as was the Church in the time of the great technological marvels of the Roman Empire.  Then and now, something is missing, actually Someone and then the elites wonder about the rise of rape, murder and suicide.

The Christians of the medieval age, the so called dark age, started universities and colleges recognizing in humility the great gifts the Creator bestowed upon us to be taught and learned.   But when that humility goes…

Two more observations from college tours:

  1. At the University of Richmond (Richmond VA), founded by the Baptist church (but no longer associated with the Baptists) at one point in the tour, our able junior tour guide said we are at the heart of the campus.  “There is the Science building, over their the dining hall…”, etc…except right behind him was the sizable Gothic style Chapel, on possibly the highest point of the University of Richmond, but he did not mention that white elephant behind him.
  2. A few years ago, my wife went with our daughter to tour nearby Roanoke College, Salem, VA.  This is a Lutheran college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the college is the second oldest Lutheran college in the nation. The Virginia Synod  of the ELCA has it’s offices in the old chapel on campus as they built a larger one some thirty of so years ago.  On their tour, when it was question time, my wife  asked for verification of the fact known to her that Roanoke is a Lutheran school.  The  guide responded that yes, it was, but (don’t worry) you’d never know it.

Will our colleges and universities know the Church is there?  There are many orthodox Lutheran campus ministers and ministries fighting the good fight. Pray for them and support them.  We are living in the post-Christendom era.  Sometimes we have to fight the vestiges of a Christianity and it’s distortions  of the doctrine in the Bible.  Never the less…

The Gospel lesson for this Sunday (7th Sunday after the Epiphany, 2/23/14) is St. Matthew 5:38-48 in which our Lord teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those persecute us.  Unlike, say Cairo, Egypt or Saudi Arabia, none of us have ever been slapped in the face or our clothes stolen off our backs or our church buildings burned to the ground.  Yet He calls us to love our enemies,  and the cultured despisers of  the Faith, that is, serve them as He has loved and served us who have been  His enemies…of God ( Romans 5:10).  Now we must point out the false teaching of many and not put up with it but with love and service to those in the universities and colleges and we can do it in only way: In Christ Jesus. And so who will believe if we  point the finger at them and not point them to the Savior? I close with verses from this Sunday’s Gospel and Dr. Paul Kretzmann’s commentary (1924):

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you. The injunction receives its application at all times and in all places. The impressiveness of the passage is heightened by the contrast presented in each member of the saying. Cursing is met with blessing; hatred, which leads to injuries, with well-doing; and abuse of all kinds, culminating in persecution arising from religious hatred, with prayer and intercession. Whatever meanness the enemies may devise, love’s ingenuity will find a way of overwhelming them with goodness. For its object is always to find ways and means of winning the adversary, and, above all, of gaining him for the Lord.

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When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?–St. Luke 7: 24

St. Luke 7: 22-23 “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

 Blessed are those who are not scandalized by Me. Jesus is definitely the reason for the season; but the Lord Jesus is also  the scandal of the season.  Why do so many want to take Christ out of Christmas?  Excise Him from the public square?  Excise any mention of Him from public discourse?  No one would dare do that with Muhammad, say.  If that is true, why? One reason, some folks would be scared about a fatwa against them.  The actual reason:  Muhammad is a dead false prophet and the world loves falsehood and lies.  Muhammad can do nothing today.  Jesus Christ is risen.  He changes us by the preaching and teaching of the Word:  absolving, forgiving, filling and renewing. Those holding onto their sin stop up their ears to the joyful noise of the Coming One as did the Pharisees and scribes who would not be baptized by John.  Jesus Christ is the Coming One.  Everyday cannot be Christmas but everyday can be Advent: come, Lord Jesus, come, enlighten the darkness of our hearts.  He sees and blesses in the worst distresses.  Muhammad cannot. There is no agape, love in Muhammad.  Jesus Christ is love’s pure light.  The world knows that and wants to hide Him to be hid from Him. As the Israelites said of the prophets in days of Isaiah (chapter 30: 10-11):

“Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
prophesy illusions,
leave the way, turn aside from the path,
let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”

The world was scandalized by both John and Jesus because John primarily preached the Law of God and Jesus the  Gospel of God primarily and worse for the world: they preached it truly.  John said everyone needs baptism.  You cannot escape. Flee for refuge to His infinite mercy.  All are sinners, all have been warned about the wrath of God against all ungodliness and those who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1: 18). but those who were dead, blind, lame, leprous, are cleansed and forgiven and cling to Him in true faith for He has done that, raise the dead, give sight to the blind, the lame to walk, the leprous to cleanse.  Pr. Johann Gerhard preached it well:

“All His outward miracles—as he healed the blind, the deaf, the mute and raised the dead—point to what He wanted to accomplish inwardly for the soul’s health.  With this, He wants to show He had come to heal the inward damage of the soul—the fount from which all these physical ailments flow, namely sin.  He did not primarily and solely come to take care of the body’s well-being; for other holy men of God like Elijah and Elisha also had done this.  They had miraculously healed the physical ailments of the body.  Instead, Christ came to heal the entire person…He  principally came to help the soul from the misery of sin,which no holy man of god had ever done, nor could do.  Tthat’s also why the outward miracles ceased, but His inward work of grace still endures forever. “ Gerhard, pp. 26-27

He comes to us to save us, the coming one to work grace within and by doing so faith, hope and love.  We so need Him these dark days.

 Joy to the world the Lord has come…not joy of the world.  There is little joy in the world, the flesh and certainly not the devil. It is set in upon itself.  Incurvatus se, is the Latin saying describing sin at the time of the Reformation: curved in upon oneself and that is darkness. On a sunny school day in Newtown, Connecticut, this past Friday,  we saw that darkness again:  20 children massacred. When Jesus was born the rage of Herod the Great was such he killed all the male children in Bethlehem age 2 and younger.  The Holy Innocents. Herod the Great was bent in upon himself.  We do not know how many Holy Innocents there were. The Bible does not tell us but it tells us this:  one child murdered is one too many:  in a classroom or in the womb.  The incurvature of the soul is monstrous these days in so many ways. A curved spine is impossible to heal but so is a curved soul but with Him all things are possible. It is the curved soul that wreaks way more harm and horror than a curved spine, maybe not murder, but say infidelity in marriage, or…You name it and it has been named by the Lord in the 10 commandments.  The One who was the only one who ever walked on earth not curved in upon Himself at all can heal the soul. John preached to show the people their sin within and Jesus came to show them His mercy to turn them without:   

…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” 

Blind, lame, leprous deaf and dead is poor in the spirit indeed.  Preached Good News of the Word that comes to us outside of our bodies and souls to heal them and seal them with the Holy Spirit.  People were scandalized that God could so mightily forgive in such a weak vessel as Jesus of Nazareth.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Today’s opening collect is a one sentence prayer:

 Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation

This prayer is so needed these days by us all. Jesus will not dance to the tune of the world. People say to Him: You did not take much notice of how much we have done and have done for You. You did not dance to our tune.  They imagine that God owes them eternal life for their merits and holy life (Johann Gerhard). It is as if the Lord says:  My people please believe what I have done for you!  Show me your wounds and I show you My Hands, scarred for all time by the Cross and I give you life. 

Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation

You did not expect to see in the desert a reed shaken in the wind, a man who falls prey to every new idea that comes down the pike.  A man who is tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. 1 Timothy 3:  15if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth Revelation 3: 12: The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.. Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.

For those who mourn, Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.  

For those who do not know where to turn:  Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.

For the Church that she may preach His unvarnished truth the light of His Word:  Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.  

 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4: 7

 

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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.  With more than a little bit of help by the teacher (!):  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.

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 (seeEdict_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?  As St. Augustine preached so that His people will be spared and I would add, as John and the Lord calls us:  to true repentance that sinners might turn to the Lord and live.

This means that marriage is a true good work by which the Lord preserves life in the world and by it He gives forgiveness:  see 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.

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.

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