A new and real human fellowship

Posted on September 10th, 2014

Regarding “the question of truth,” Hermann Sasse observed that

The American concept of the church basically avoids this question. It surrenders dogma and liturgy as something unessential—“ trifling matters” as Goethe put it. For us, however, both of these belong to the essence of the church: the Word and the Sacrament, confession and liturgy. We understand the protest against an ossified orthodoxy and a dreary ritualism , and we agree with this protest. But we believe that the church possesses in the Verbum Dei [“ Word of God”] the eternal truth, over against all the relativism of human knowledge. And we believe that in the evangelically understood Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, that in the liturgical life of the church which is grounded on these things, the powers are present which are able to establish a new and real human fellowship, even in an age in which all human fellowships are unraveling.

Letters to Lutheran Pastors – Volume 1 (Kindle Locations 973-979)

The human genome and the mind of God

Posted on September 9th, 2014

dna

An intriguing argument from Oxford mathematician John C. Lennox on the existence of information pointing to a source of creation outside of our material universe:

Above and beyond that, there is the major scientific discovery— one of the greatest of all time — that in each of the ten trillion cells of our body we humans possess a “word” of mind-boggling length, the human genome. This “word” is 3– 5 billion “letters” long, written in the four chemical “letters” C, G, A, T. (Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science, p100).

That word encoded within each human being is information. Information is recorded and communicated via matter – but the information itself is non-material.

“The nonmateriality of information points to a nonmaterial source — a mind, the mind of God” (ibid.)

 

Sermo Dei: Trinity 12, 2014

Posted on September 7th, 2014

Trinity 12

September 7, 2014

Baptism of Landon Robert Andrews

Mark 7:31-37


When God made man, He did not make him defective. His ears were opened to the music of creation. His tongue, discovering nourishment and sweetness planted all around him, responded by singing the praise of his Maker, who had done all things well.

Sucking in a gulp of air, the man was glad. He did not know how to sigh except in contentment.

Creation-hands-L

All this changed when death entered the world. The man’s sigh became his bitter companion. Breath burst forth from his rancid mouth in anger, annoyance, sorrow, until the day he sighed his last and returned to the earth. Gone were the days when a man said of God, “He has done all things well.”

Then, God entered His creation. In Jesus, God became man. And when this perfect Man Jesus comes to a broken man—and indeed we all are broken—what does Jesus do? “Looking up to heaven, He sighed.”

What does this tell us about Jesus? What does a sigh mean? For us at least, often frustration, discontent, melancholy. What does it mean for Jesus? Perhaps all of those together. He confronts, in this one man, the situation of every man: the purpose of creation has been circumvented. An architect comes to a house and says, “This is not how I designed it.” Yet such an analogy fails us, for what God has made is not merely an object, but a person. A physician may want to restore proper functioning to the body, but the Creator is interested in more: God wants to restore the human person to communion with Himself, and to participate in the ongoing care of creation and procreation.

All this is broken. So Jesus sighs. Elsewhere in the New Testament sighing is expressed as groaning or grief. And the sighing which is a groan is typically indicative of the corruption of creation and the longing for a remedy. St. Paul says to the disciples in Rome, “We also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8.23). And again, the same idea in 2 Cor. 5:2, 4:

For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven … For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.

He is anticipating the hope of the disciple of Jesus, which is not a bodiless heaven, but the resurrection of the body, being “further clothed” with a glorified, fully restored body.

The enfleshed God, Jesus, goes through all this groaning in a twofold way: both for Himself, as He experiences the brutal beating and execution, but also on behalf of others, such as the deaf mute in today’s Gospel, whom Jesus loves both as a fellow human and as the man’s Maker.

So Jesus is God in the flesh, who enters His creation to repair, redeem, restore. Our vocation, man’s calling from the beginning, was to care for and tend the creation as God’s representatives upon the earth.

The friends of this man with broken hearing and speech did not have the means to repair their friend. But they knew Who did. So they bring their friend and request to Jesus. That’s all prayer is: bringing your requests to the One who promises to hear and answer, the One who made and still cares for His creation.


Our participation in the ongoing care of creation is an important part of the framework for how we think about the sexual ethic for the disciples of Jesus. The church does not forbid, for example, sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman for the purpose of repression or upholding a supposed patriarchal system; rather, everything is for the promotion, protection, and preservation of the family, especially those who are most often victimized: women and children.

An excellent article in The Week with the clearly written title “Why So Many Christians Won’t Back Down on Gay Marriage” (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, Sept. 3, 2014) is one of the best summaries of the reason for the Scriptural teaching on sexuality. Here is just a portion:

Christian opposition to homosexual acts is of a piece with a much broader vision of what it means to be a human being…. Everything in the Universe has been put here to be used by God’s children to reflect his loving glory — and to teach them about God’s love. This is particularly true … of the unique sexual complementarity between men and women. The sexual act is meant to reflect God’s love by fostering a union at once bodily and spiritual — and creates new life. … The fruitfulness of the marriage act reflects that God is a creator and has charged man to be an agent of his ongoing work of creation. And, finally, if God’s love means total self-giving unto death on a Cross, then man and wife must give themselves to each other totally — no pettiness, no adultery, no polygamy, no divorce, and no nonmarital sexual acts.

The inclusion of pettiness alongside adultery indicates what’s really going on: are our relationships oriented toward winning—getting our own way—or toward the blessing, the healing, the care and love of spouse? Our pettiness is a sign of our brokenness. Repent, and ruminate on what Jesus did in today’s Gospel.

Jesus Heals the Deaf Mute

What results from Jesus’ healing the deaf mute is not simply a successful medical procedure, or even a miraculous medical procedure. Ephphatha, “Be opened!” Jesus says, just as at a baptism, and his hearing was renewed, and the man spoke plainly, rightly.


Last Thursday Mrs. Hull at our Back to School night spoke about the students studying logical fallacies this year. She emphasized that it is not enough to teach the students how to detect logical fallacies; it is imperative that they learn how to respond to bad arguments with charity. When we hear about the deaf mute “speaking plainly,” or literally, “speaking rightly,” we learn that it is not enough to say the right thing, but as God’s Word teaches us, to speak the truth in love.

What would it mean for us to speak rightly? What would it mean to hear correctly? We must listen before speaking. Above all we listen for what the Word of God says about us: I am a creature of God (creature and not Creator, and thus a man under orders, under authority). I am broken – but redeemed by Jesus. Sins forgiven, I’m sent back to my family to forgive sins, and out into the world to do honest work that helps my neighbor.

Thus hearing, we speak, plainly with no games, but correctly, i.e., patiently with love. With such speaking, you bring your complaints to God, and your thanksgiving to God. And then speak positive, constructive words about your neighbors. And where they have gone astray, you forgive.

James Julius Esget

The ceremonies of Baptism are not the main thing; the only necessary thing is water and the Word of God. But we include things like the saying of Jesus, Ephphatha, “Be opened!”, the sign of the cross on the person’s lips, and speaking the Our Father directly into the baptized one’s ear to indicate that Baptism is not a task to mark off your spiritual to-do list, but the entrance of the Spirit of God into your life, transforming your hearing and speaking. It’s important that we pray for Landon Robert today, for all the baptized, and for ourselves, for that ongoing work of Jesus and His Spirit in our lives, that receiving the Father’s forgiveness, we also are transformed to hear and speak rightly.

Then in the resurrection, not only will our body be restored, but the soul that drives ears and lips, and we shall say, “He has done all things well.” +INJ+

Vocation and Virtue

Posted on September 5th, 2014

Vocation and Virtue:

What’s the Purpose of a School?

For Immanuel Lutheran School’s Back to School night; adapted from a longer essay written Spring 2014.


Introduction

Our culture pressures us to parent in unhealthy ways. Last Spring, the Washington Post had a feature on the parenting culture that drives children to succeed to the detriment of other values. The Post profiled Wilma Bowers, leader of a movement “that seeks to upend the achievement-at-all costs intensive parent and school culture” in northern Virginia.

“There’s such a status thing here: ‘I went [to] Georgetown. I want my kid to go to Georgetown or better.’ It’s such a rat race,” says Bowers.… “Nobody is taking a step back and asking, ‘Is going to Princeton going to make me happier in the long run? Is this even right for my child?’ Because there are real consequences to living this way.”

Bowers knows it’s a high-stakes parenting arms race in McLean and communities like it. The obsession with grades and college résumés can overwhelm everything.

As Immanuel transitioned in the last decade to a classical school that is both serious about Christianity and demanding academically, we have attracted two kinds of families: those who wanted a rich Christian environment for their children, and those who had aspirations of success for their children with hopes that the classical curriculum could help them achieve that success.

Yet that is too simplistic. The truth is, most of us want both of these – but they can end up in competition with each other.

If you could only choose one for your child: to be a disciple of Jesus, or to have a successful life as the world counts success, which one would you choose?

And now think about that tension a little differently: What kind of life do you hope your child will have? Not what kind of living, measured by money or status, but what kind of life, lived in service to God and neighbor?

I would like to address that question through the lens of virtue and vocation.

ILS chapel


Defining Terms: Virtue and Vocation

Virtue

Virtue is having “an inner disposition to perform morally right acts.” In the plural, virtues includes wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice, as the cardinal virtues, and faith, hope, and love as the theological virtues. (See “VIRTUE,” Pocket Dictionary of Ethics, 125.)

The virtues work together for virtues, doing what is right. We need wisdom to know the right thing, courage to do it, temperance in the face of opposition, and justice in our actions. As Christians, we perform such things with faith in God’s mercy, hope in His redemption, and love for His creation.

Whereas the world pushes us to ask, “How can our children be successful?”, we instead want to ask, “How can we cultivate in them these virtues?”

This is done by teaching them about their callings, the doctrine of vocation.


Vocation

The secular meaning of Vocation is a job done for money. This is deeply problematic, revealed by the question frequently put to stay-at-home mothers: “Do you work?” “When are you going back to work?” Domestic work, the care of home and family, is not regarded as an authentic calling, authentic vocation.

Christian theology recognizes callings not centered around employment but relationships, centered around home, family, church and neighborhood. From birth we have the first calling from which all others flow: “Honor your father and your mother.” To this is attached other callings to the people with whom we share relationships: brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, neighbors, pastors, then teachers and classmates. Growth in strength and intellect generates new callings: citizen, worker, employer, husband, wife, and as God blesses us, children of our own as we become father, and mother. While the responsibility of a father is different from that of a son, both are summarized by God with a single word, “Love.”

The son loves his father by obeying him. The father loves his son by protecting him, clothing him, feeding him, educating him.

Every vocation is a calling to love.

Where does the school fit into this? The school is not a separate authority, equal to or higher than the parents. Lutheranism understands the pedagog to be acting in loco parentis.

Parenting - hands


In loco parentis – The Purpose of Parenting

In loco parentis means that the school acts under the authority of the parent. The parent, not the government or church, is the ultimate temporal authority over the child. Before God made church or state, He made the family, the first and highest of all institutions.

The ultimate eternal authority over the child, of course, is God. So the church should tell you what it means to be a parent, what God’s Word says, but the Church should have no police powers to punish you.

So the school acts under the aegis of the parents to help father and mother carry our their vocation, their calling toward their children.

What are these callings? After food, clothing, shelter, and security, we parents need to teach our children to be independent, prepare them to serve their neighbors, and guide them toward the kingdom of God, recognizing that we will one day be separated in this life and they will have to continue their journey without us.

How does the school help you in your vocation to parent your children? There is practical wisdom to be inculcated: germs infect; fire is good for heating and cooking, but must be controlled; you need to sleep; “Stop, look, and listen before you cross the street; use your eyes, use your ears, then use your feet.”

All this is part of the meaning of the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother, that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” This is wisdom. But for things to truly “go well,” our children must take in the higher wisdom: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

There are so many things we parents need help with. There’s a reason why the “What to expect…” books are so popular: we need wisdom from those who have been there before, and often an objective look by a person not as emotionally invested. For with the people we love, especially our children, we can panic over the slightest spot on the skin, but also rationalize away serious problems in our child’s mind or heart.

Here is where the Classical Christian school comes in, as a partner with parents in preparing children to fulfill their callings before man and God.


The Classical Christian School: Partnering with Parents to Prepare Children to Fulfill Their Callings before Man and God

The first level of school is typically Kindergarten, “children’s garden.” Our children are like little seedlings, and just like growing things in the soil have enemies in the form of rabbits, bugs, weeds, and disease, so do our children have enemies: a hostile culture, distractions, the infection of sin. Plants need watering and pruning, gardens need weeding, and your children will need a pruning and weeding force in their lives. This is never for the purpose of hurting the plant or the child, but for their growth and fruitfulness.

Parents, and a classical Christian school, take these precious little seeds, and every day water and weed the garden, shepherd and tend them in such a way that they grow into human beings of virtue. We take little boys and girls with the goal of them becoming men and women who know wisdom, and can apply it in the world.

Perhaps you have aspirations for your children to be admitted into a great university and get a great job. That’s not wrong, but must not be your primary aspiration. What they need most is to learn virtue.

For that, you need help from the outside. You know your children best – but you are not able to be entirely objective. The school helps parents in their vocation by identifying strengths and weaknesses that our subjective positions as parents may not see.

We understand this easily with physicians: we bring our worries about this or that medical concern, and he tells us not to worry; but then he finds something else that we did not even see, and guides us to the remedy.

Along with our bodies, our minds and souls need healing. The school serves not only to impart knowledge, but to impart wisdom to use knowledge to good purposes, which is to say, to bring a child to the point where he or she can be virtuous.

I am looking forward to our partnership this year, and may God grant us growth in virtue to fulfill our vocations.

Meditation on Psalm 93

Posted on September 3rd, 2014

We live in a world of uncertainty and instability. Alarm bells clang regarding climate change, with fears of rising sea levels as harbinger of impending ecological devastation. Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, the Ukraine, and elsewhere spark fears of a great conflict on a global scale.

But the uncertainty and instability now goes to the human person itself. Point to an ultrasound picture of a pregnant woman’s womb and ask, “What is that?” The scientific and moral reality gives way to an unstable world where only the strong are allowed to survive.

4D Ultrasound of baby yawning in the womb. Image from LifeNews.com

4D Ultrasound of baby yawning in the womb. Image from LifeNews.com

The simple matter of boys and girls is no longer so simple. Mount Holyoke, an historic women’s college, has announced a broad redefinition of eligible students, recognizing “that self-identity may change over time.” That does not mean self-identity as Christian or atheist, Republican or Democrat, carnivore or vegan, but self-identity in terms of whether you are a man or a woman. Here is Mount Holyoke’s new policy:

The following academically qualified students can apply for admission consideration:

•Biologically born female; identifies as a woman

•Biologically born female; identifies as a man

•Biologically born female; identifies as other/they/ze

•Biologically born female; does not identify as either woman or man

•Biologically born male; identifies as woman

•Biologically born male; identifies as other/they/ze and when “other/they” identity includes woman

•Biologically born with both male and female anatomy (Intersex); identifies as a woman

The following academically qualified students cannot apply for admission consideration:

•Biologically born male; identifies as man

 

All this with the recognition that what you identify as may change, as entire new categories of human persons are invented.

When tonight’s Psalm, Ps. 93, says, “The world is established; it shall never be moved,” this is speaking about the structure of the cosmos. We are created as particular people in a particular time, and there are challenges associated with your life in your body lived out in your time and in your place. The vocation of being you is a calling to live out who you are not in the realm of fantasizing about being someone different but about being God’s creature in the place where He has put you.

There is something extraordinarily freeing to confess, “The world is established; it shall never be moved.” God made the world, and although it is now in bondage to decay, and the principle of death permeates all things, still, the God who made the world promises the regenesis of the cosmos, the resurrection of the dead at the renewal of all things.

Which means that, on a practical level, the wasp which has invaded your home or the leaking toilet must be dealt with, yet there is no need for fear about the sun exploding in nuclear fury or an asteroid careening into us. It will be no surprise if the world ends this way, or more likely through a nuclear holocaust of our own making. Still, “The world [the cosmos] is established; it shall never be moved,” and God the Creator cares for all things, even at the end of all things in this age.

It also means that, if your life is difficult, if you do not have enough time to work on this or that, if you cannot achieve something you dreamed about, then you should instead say, “This is the concrete life God has given me to live out. I will act in the here and now according to God’s will, and not despair that things are like this.” For the LORD is enthroned above the  roiling waters, and they shall be still at His command.

In the ancient world, waters particularly were associated with chaos. But the Lord reigns upon the waters, He is mightier than their thundering (Ps. 93:4). Into the chaos and churning waters teeming with sin stepped Jesus, and precisely there did He reign; He is “robed in majesty” as the Spirit descends upon Him. He did what the Father willed, taking on our nature, and what is more, taking on our sin. For all this, He was tormented by the devil and mocked by the world. Even still—or rather, precisely because of all this—to Him the Father says, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

Baptism of the Lord Jesus

To us, in our little lives in our little corners He says the same thing: “You are My beloved son, My beloved daughter, in You I am well-pleased.”

Step back into the chaos and be who you are: a baptized child of God. Face down the despair and the uncertainty with the concrete knowledge that by the decree of Father, Son, and Spirit, “The world is established; it shall never be moved.” +INJ+

Church as social corporation

Posted on September 3rd, 2014

A portion of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s assessment of American churches in the 1930’s:

So what stands in place of the Christian message? An ethical and social idealism borne by a faith in progress that— who knows how —claims the right to call itself “Christian.” And in the place of the church as the congregation of believers in Christ there stands the church as a social corporation. Anyone who has seen the weekly program of one of the large New York churches, with their daily, indeed almost hourly events, teas, lectures, concerts, charity events, opportunities for sports, games, bowling, dancing for every age group, anyone who has heard how they try to persuade a new resident to join the church, insisting that you’ll get into society quite differently by doing so, anyone who has become acquainted with the embarrassing nervousness with which the pastor lobbies for membership— that person can well assess the character of such a church. All these things, of course, take place with varying degrees of tactfulness, taste, and seriousness; some churches are basically “charitable” churches; others have primarily a social identity. One cannot avoid the impression, however, that in both cases they have forgotten what the real point is.

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (p. 107)

Peddling live rattlesnakes

Posted on September 1st, 2014

Rattlesnake

How sad it is, then, to reflect on what the world actually hears from the church in so many instances. We offer to sell them the mystery of the love of God in Jesus; but the way we talk about God and Jesus only makes it sound as if we are trying to peddle a live rattlesnake. People converted by fear-mongering are people converted from evil, not to the truth.

Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Kindle Locations 1524-1526)

Sermo Dei: Trinity 11, 2014

Posted on August 31st, 2014

August 31, 2014

Baptism of Elijah Robert Preus

Luke 18:9-14

 


Labor Day weekend should make us think about the meaning of work. Every work that makes the world beautiful or functional, every work that serves the neighbor, is a good work.

Work itself was intended to be good. The word “work” we now associate with drudgery – something unpleasant yet necessary. But work is honorable and noble. Including—or rather, especially—everyday work.

After the Bible, the Small Catechism is the most important book for Lutherans. Often ignored is the Table of Duties, which is introduced like this: “Certain passages of Scripture for various holy orders and positions, admonishing them about their duties and responsibilities.” What are these “holy orders and positions”? Not just “Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers,” but Citizens, Husbands, Wives, Parents, Workers of All Kinds, Widows – every legitimate station in life is a holy order. I am so grateful for the people who care for our altar. To prepare for communion, and clean the vessels afterwards, is a good work. (And we need more people to help. Contact the church office and volunteer.) But to clean the dishes at home, to prepare a meal for your family, to clean the toilet, to wipe up your child’s vomit, is a good work just as valuable. Work done honestly is good work, and pleasing to God.


In today’s parable, the Pharisee has done good works. And they are, in fact, good. “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess,” he says.

Are these things good? Yes. Fasting—going without food—and tithing—giving an offering of ten percent of your income—these are good things. They don’t come to us naturally. We want to consume, to eat and drink and be merry; and we want more money, not to give it away. With these works, the Pharisee in many ways stands higher than us. He practices self-denial. So should we. He gives his money away. So should we.

The problem comes when we stand before God and say, “I am a good person.” What do you say about yourself? Do you say, “I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most”? Or do you say, “I have tried to be a good person”? “Sure, I’ve made some mistakes, but I volunteered here, I helped there, I tried to do right by my kids.” This is often accompanied by a complaint: “I deserve to be treated better by my wife/husband/employer/mother/daughter/father/son. Yes, I lost my temper, yelled or sulked or wrote a vitriolic email – but do you understand how they hurt me?”

All this is an attempt to justify yourself, to show yourself to be in the right.

If you are playing a game, if you are monitoring an election, if you are a police officer on patrol, by all means appeal to the law, enforce the rules, penalize every infraction.

But life with our neighbor and with our family can not work that way. And that’s because life before God does not work that way. There is only one thing to say before God, and that is what the tax collector said: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

And he, Jesus says, went home justified. Why? Because he confessed that he could not justify himself, he could not declare himself to be right, righteous, good, holy, just before God. The good things the Pharisee did—and they were good—were not good enough. For the Law demands a much more comprehensive goodness – a goodness of the heart, a heart that loves God and neighbor, not self.

Pharisee-and-Publican

Now tax collectors, as we know, are powerful and unpopular people. The kind of tax collector Jesus mentions in this parable was doubly hated, both for corruption and for working with the Roman occupiers. Thus a tax collector stood as a perfect example of how God’s mercy works, how justification works. God justifies the ungodly. God justifies the unworthy. God justifies the one who does not, cannot work.

That’s why the baptism of an infant is such a beautiful example of how God’s kingdom works. A child who cannot feed, clothe, or shelter himself is helpless. That’s who God helps. That’s who God justifies. That’s what the tax collector makes himself before God: helpless, utterly dependent on the mercy of God.

And since we are rejoicing today at the baptism of Elijah Robert Preus, we should note he is the great-grandson of the late Dr. Robert David Preus, a great teacher and leader in the church who is known for his profound exposition of the doctrine of justification. In his last published work, Justification and Rome, he said that justification “is the basis of the Christian religion and life, for it is the very essence of the Gospel itself.”

What has the Pharisee made the basis of his religion, the basis of his life? His works. What has the tax collector made the basis of his religion? Standing before the altar, he confesses his sin and asks for God’s mercy. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Striking his breast, the tax collector also uses striking language. Instead of employing the typical term for mercy, eleison, He uses a term that fits the location, in the temple, where a lamb burns twice daily on the altar for sacrifice. As the smoke of the sacrifice rises up, the tax collector prays, “God, provide atonement for me, a sinner.” That’s his meaning: “have mercy, provide atonement, turn Your wrath away from me.”

Baptism 800x474

It’s all very concrete and located. We can imagine people praying anywhere—and God is everywhere—but He has located His mercy in very specific places. For this tax collector, atonement, justifying mercy was located in the temple in Jerusalem; for Elijah Robert Preus, it was located today in the Sacrament of Baptism which Christ instituted. Likewise you receive these gifts when you come to private confession and hear the Word of Jesus spoken specifically to you. Then coming to the altar, we can make the same prayer: “In the body and blood of Your Son Jesus, provide atonement for me, a sinner.”

Our modern Bibles the New King James and the English Standard Version translate the prayer of the tax collector “be merciful” in other places as propitiation, a sacrificial word for appeasing wrath and bringing justice. St. Paul the Pharisee said in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood” (Romans 3:23–25 NKJV).


Our work is good, but for justification, we need God’s work, His justification, His redemption. That’s why the tax collector, whom everybody would see as a bad man, stands higher than the Pharisee, a good man:

The Pharisee points to his works. The tax collector points to his sins.

The Pharisee points to himself. The tax collector points outside of himself, to the sacrifice.

Before God, we must not point to anything in ourselves. There is no justification for ourselves, except in Jesus who justifies us by His action, His work, His cross, His righteousness, His mercy.


And what might that mean, then, for how you treat others, people who have wronged you? C.S. Lewis said, “We all agreed that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it.” In so many of our relationships, we demand that the person who has hurt us or wronged us justify herself, make atonement for his sins, pay restitution. Stop it. Forgive. For we pray these two prayers together: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”; and, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” 

God grant that we sinners look to Jesus and return to our homes justified and full of forgiveness for His sake. +INJ+

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Posted on August 29th, 2014

Matins, Immanuel Lutheran School Teacher Work Week

Friday, August 29, 10:00 a.m.

The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

Mk. 6.14-29


Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Preparing to begin a new academic year, we would like an inspiring message, climbing mountaintops, slaying giants, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”! But that’s not what we get. We get John the Baptist, decapitated.

 

The world’s heart has not improved, but love has grown still colder, and our brethren across the globe are facing beheading.

 

In such a world, what are we to do? What is our mission, here in this Alexandrian outpost of the Lord’s Church? First, we learn from St. John to hold fast to the commandments of God. “John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’” (Mark 6:18 ESV) The first thing we do every year is review the Decalog, instructing our students to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, to honor father and mother, to not kill, and to not commit adultery. That was the one that got John in trouble.

 

For us to teach the Word, we first must submit ourselves to it, and that begins with repentance. While John was bold in confessing the truth of God’s Word, his personal confession was this: I am not worthy to loose the sandal strap of Jesus. He must increase, I must decrease. As the world, so it seemed, flocked to hear him speak; as his popularity went viral, he instead proclaimed the virus that is in the human heart, the contagion of concupiscence, and pointed everyone to Jesus. Follow Him!

 

But “Herodias had a grudge against him” (Mark 6:19 ESV) Setting aside the reason for a moment, is there anything of Herodias in you? Do you bear grudges against anyone? Do you remember how others have treated you, and keep it in a bitter place? God’s Word should have driven Herodias to repentance, but instead it drove her to greater sin.

 

Meanwhile, King Herod was eager to listen to John, but “When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed” (Mark 6:20 ESV). We will encounter parents and students and a culture that is greatly perplexed by what we teach. St. Irenaeus, in speaking about false teachers, likens them to a person who reassembles a beautiful mosaic that depicts a king so that the tiles now form an image of a fox. Our task in this new year is to put the pieces into place, the passages of Holy Scripture but also the glory and beauty of God inscribed in trees and flowers, the laws of science and the harmony of music, showing how all these tiles, assembled and viewed properly, show us the King of the Universe, who made heaven and earth and proclaimed it good.

 

Not everyone will view that image of the King. Some prefer the fox: the distorted, the corrupt, the perverted, the pornographic. Still others, like Herod, are caught between the Word and the world. For some time, Herod sought to have it both ways. Imprison John, but keep him safe and listen to him. That’s what we would like to do with the Word. Keep it in a safe place, where it cannot do too much damage. It is tempting to hold the Word captive, imprison it so that we can visit it from time to time, let it out of its cage for awhile, but not giving it free course.

 

Like Herod, we are eventually compelled to choose, for no man can serve two masters. Eventually, a pseudo-princess will force our hand: go the easy road that allows us to save face, or travel the hard road that leads to life. St. Mark describes the inner conflict of Herod: “The king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.” (Mark 6:26 ESV)

 

And so John the Baptist was beheaded. Yet he did not lose his life. He had it already in the One of whom he testified, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

 

This day of John the Baptist’s beheading is thus the perfect day to finish our preparations for the new year. For we are not only preparing our students to make a living, but to make a dying. And in Jesus, “dying, we live.” +INJ+