Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Lenten Meditation on Psalm 130: Out of the Depths Have We Cried

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.

Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.

If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?

But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.

My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning:

I say, more than they that watch for the morning.

Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy,

and with him is plenteous redemption.

And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Suffering is a part of life in this world, and our current global crisis is yet another example.  While some suffering is easy to compartmentalize because it is a tornado which struck over, or a tsunami which struck over there, or a political collapse which struck over there, or a famine which afflicted people over there, global catastrophes make it difficult for anyone to escape the present pain.  Even individual pain of those around us is easier to compartmentalize and distance ourselves from, because it is not happening to us personally.  Yet today the world is reminded that it is a fallen place, and that pain can strike everyone, everywhere.  There is no escape based on race, or location, or gender, or philosophical persuasion.  There may be distinctions of mortality based on age and physical fitness, but young people and old people are suffering together.

Today, most churches are empty, obeying the government mandates to restrict travel and gatherings which could speed the rate of infection.  Businesses are shuttered except those deemed essential by bureaucrats who have assumed emergency powers from local to national levels, and neighbors look suspiciously at each other as some bow easily to government restrictions and others refuse in more libertine conviction.  Much of the world today is huddled in their homes, afraid of what the future holds for them and their families, unable to escape from the pain and suffering now made present by a microscopic virus.

But this is not the first time a plague has scorched the earth, and it is unlikely to be the last.  Our world is broken, and we live out our lives in this broken world with varying degrees of pain and death all around us.  The Creator of this world tells us by His own Eternal Word that what He originally made perfect, we have corrupted by our own selfishness, pride, and evil intentions.  It is by our own hand that this world exhibits such pain and destruction, by our own fault that fallen humanity is now wounded by the creatures which originally lived in harmony together.  It was not our Creator’s design that we should be huddled in fear against an unseen viral assailant, but in cutting ourselves off from Him, we have made ourselves fragile and frail.  Our fall into sin was a fall into death, as we abandoned the Lord of Life to pursue ends apart from Him.  These depths into which we have fallen are full of misery and torment, where even the good creation of God becomes to us a source of death through the natural law we have violated.

It is from these depths that the Psalmist cried nearly 3000 years ago, and from which the people of God have cried since the time of the Fall.  Yet the Psalmist’s cry is not one of despair, but of hope—a hope rooted in the Word of the Lord who promises to save His people from death in this world and the next, by saving them from the sin and evil which originally cast them into these hellish depths.  It is a cry which acknowledges the reality of pain, the torment of hounding death, but which declares more powerfully the redemption and rescue of our Lord.  Disease and pestilence have been known by every generation, and in every generation there has been a witness to the One who is greater than every disease and every pestilence.

Our Creator tells us that this was not His intention for His people or His world to fall into the depths we have plunged it, and that He has no intention of leaving it there, either.  Even as we fell, He spoke His Word of promise that He would rescue all who would put their trust in Him.  To a world now grown old under the curse of the Fall, that same Word of promise comes to our generation.  The Word which was carried by the Prophets through war and exile, destruction and captivity, plague and persecution; the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us in our Lord Jesus Christ, who took our fall upon Himself, that He might lift everyone out of these horrible depths; the Word which the Apostles carried after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, through martyrdom and reviling, political oppression and devious intrigue; the Word which was carried by those who believed after them, through the rise and fall of empires, through flood and earthquake, through violent storms of nature and man; this is the Word which comes to you today, persisting beyond all time and place, bringing the Gospel promise of peace and salvation by grace through faith.

This living Word of redemption and hope, is Jesus.  It is to Him that we call from the depths of our suffering, and it is He who has promised to carry us through every torment and every travail.  It is Jesus alone who has born our suffering and our death through His Cross, and who shall lead us safely to an eternity restored to His fellowship.  It is Jesus who shared the undimmed glory of the Father and the Spirit before the world began, and who has done all things necessary to gather us into that glorious fellowship forever.  It is Jesus upon whom our souls wait with surer promise than the next coming morning, knowing that we are not abandoned in these depths, but that we shall see His redemption and resurrection from all our iniquities with our own eyes.

Though we suffer with our fallen world, we suffer as those who have a certain hope.  Let the people of God call out from the depths of our pain and sorrow, with a faith which clings to the promise of Jesus’ salvation, and a repentance which turns from the ways of death which brought us all to our lowly state.  And we shall see, in the fullness of time, not only our own restoration, but that of the whole world.  Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Meditations for the Lenten Week of 22 March, 2020: John 9

And Jesus said,

“For judgment I have come into this world,

that those who do not see may see,

and that those who see may be made blind.”

Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words,

and said to Him, “Are we blind also?”

 Jesus said to them,

“If you were blind, you would have no sin;

 but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.”

The text of John chapter nine recounts the story of Jesus granting sight to a man born blind.  All miracles are by definition rare, but such a miracle as this was so rare that no one had ever heard of it happening.  In fact, most people of the time (and many today, also,) assumed that God’s judgment is upon the family of such a person born with a defect, and so appeals to God for restoration were not readily forthcoming.  The blind man Jesus healed was such a person, disregarded and judged wanting by those who passed him by, but precious in the eyes of his Creator.  It is likely this man had little or no education, except what he was able to hear from those around him, and perhaps what he was able to glean from his parent’s instruction before he was out on the streets as a beggar.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were the polar opposite of this poor blind beggar.  They were educated in the Law and the Prophets, held in high regard as teachers and leaders of the people, and sought to keep themselves aloof of a filthy and sinful world.  To these educated elite, the healing of a blind man on the Sabbath was a violation of the Mosaic Law (not what was written by Moses in the Torah, but what had been added as Tradition and commentary by the elders over the previous 1500 years) regardless of the mercy or good it accomplished in the blind man.  Such educated men, believing their eyes wide open enough to judge everyone around them, condemned both Jesus and the blind man who testified of His healing gift.

When Jesus found the previously blind man, now healed but cast out (excommunicated) from the Jewish community, He used the moment to teach everyone something about what true sight meant.  The previously blind man received a free gift of grace from Jesus, and in return, trusted Jesus in faith, receiving forgiveness, life, and salvation through Him.  The Pharisees, having seen His many miracles and works of grace given to the people, chose instead to condemn Him and plot His murder.  Both received unmerited grace, but reacted in very different ways; the one responded by faith and love, the other responded by disbelief and hatred.  To the response of faith, grace upon grace was multiplied unto eternal life.  To the response of unbelief, grace was turned to judgment unto eternal condemnation.

As the Church continues her walk through Lent, it is important to remember Jesus’ lesson to the blind man, the Pharisees, and His Disciples.  We are a people who have received the grace of Jesus Christ’s Word of Law and Gospel, His blessings of forgiveness and life.  Having received such grace, we are enlivened and enlightened to respond by His Holy Spirit in lives of faith, repentance, hope, trust, and love.  Such lives of faith are blessed beyond measure in this life and the world to come, granting us victory over sin, death, hell, and the power of the devil through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. 

And yet, with such grace and blessing comes a warning we dare not forget:  to those whose eyes are opened to the light and life of Jesus’ Eternal Word, and yet reject Him in hatred and derision, there is no escape from the sins in which all mankind finds themselves entangled.  Like the blind beggar who could not by his own power escape the blindness into which he was born, so neither can any person escape by their own power from the sin and death into which they are born.  To remain bound in our sins is a sentence of eternal death, of separation from the Lord of Life in this age, and for all ages to come.  To see the gift of God’s mercy and grace which frees us from death and hell, and to reject it, leaves a soul bound in death and hell.

We are reminded today that Jesus’ call to forgiveness and life is one of grace which can only be received by faith, raising us up to live in Him and His Word forever.  As the Word of the Lord comes to all for their restoration and salvation, it empowers all to freely respond either in faith unto eternal life, or in unbelief unto eternal death.  By the power of the Holy Spirit working miracles more glorious than the recovery of sight to those born blind, through the Eternal Word of Jesus’ everlasting Gospel:  repent, believe, and live.  Amen.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Vunerability of Paganism: Meditation on Luke 8, for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee.  And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not.  (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.)

And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him.  And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep.  And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them.   Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked.

When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country.   Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed.  Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again.

Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying,  Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.

Much can be learned from Jesus’ engagement with this possessed man in the land of the Gadarenes, and of particular interest in our day and times may be the radical vulnerability of pagan people to diabolical abuse.  In this recounting by Luke, Jesus found a man who was so oppressed by demons that he had been completely ostracized from his community and his family, dwelling instead in the tombs where he could see the foreshadowing of his own demise.  The local people attempted to bind him, but the demonic Legion which infested him gave him supernatural strength to break and escape his bonds, leading the people to be both terrified of him and terrorized by him.  The Scriptures do not reveal why this man is more tormented than the other pagans around him, what led to his possession by this Legion of unholy spirits, or why this situation has been allowed to continue so long.  What is clear, however, is that the demons know and recognize Jesus immediately for who He is, and that the rules of their game with the pagan Gadarenes has now radically changed.

Many peoples around the world in non-Christian cultures have had similar experiences, as recounted in their own folklore and the journals of explorers and missionaries.  Demons or evil spirits dominate the fears of many people, and those fears work themselves out into religious systems which try to evade, appease, resist, or serve them.  Thus, many of these religious systems share traits that are remarkably similar, whether they are found in Asia, Africa, the Americas, or various far flung Islands.  Evil spirits make havoc of communities across the globe and across the centuries, such that the story of the possessed Gadarene is not so foreign to a global stage.

Truth be told, such stories are not so foreign now, even in previously Christian countries such as our own.  Where people have stepped away from Jesus and living faith in His Word, they have often found themselves beset by evils they cannot control nor comprehend.  In the West, our culture is quickly being subsumed by humanistic atheism which presumes to elevate man as his own god, claiming the universe and chance as his origins, and hedonistic power as his summit.  Of course, man standing alone in his own meager power among the unseen hosts of this universe makes him easy prey for those who would manipulate, abuse, and ultimately destroy him.  His delusions of his own deity hold nothing at bay, and thus our culture is awash in epidemics of drug abuse, violence, hatred, fear, and a rising form of paganism that attempts to evade, appease, resist, or serve the dark forces which pursue them from the shadows.  The vapidity of materialism is giving way to a new spirituality with its modern shamans, and city streets filling with people like the hapless Gadarene of Luke 8 while others huddle in fear behind their own locked doors.

And yet, it is Jesus who continues to arrive on the shores of our oppressed communities, seeking and saving those lost under the horrible tyranny of dark Legions.  His emissaries whom He has sent forth in the power of His Word and Sacraments, by grace through faith in Jesus alone, approach the merciless hordes of demonic forces in His Name.  As when Jesus engaged the Legion possessing the maniacal Gadarene, the demons know Jesus and His divine authority far better than the people He is sent to save.  They know that His Name and His Word are sovereign in every square inch of this vast universe, and that they cannot resist Him who is the Word which made, sustains, and will judge all things.  They may beg and plead and howl, but in the end they must obey the Word of the Lord, even when spoken by weak and sinful human emissaries who stand redeemed in His Word by grace through faith.  Wherever His people abide in Him, there He is among them, the sovereign King of the Universe who deigns to be the Savior of all mankind.

And yet, there will be those who are so terrified by the presence of the King, that they will beg the Savior to leave them in their darkness.  Like the Gadarene community who saw the salvation of the oppressed man and yet begged Jesus to depart, so will some communities in our time push the Church and the emissaries of Jesus back into the boat out of fear of having the King of the Universe in their midst.  For the very presence of the King reminds every soul that we are not our own gods, that we are accountable to the One who has given us our life, and that in our own broken sinfulness we cannot save ourselves from the cursed darkness into which we so easily fall.  The presence of the King reminds us that our self-imposed delusions are like vapors of smoke, and that our pretenses to sovereignty are but vain dreams of fevered minds.  The Law of the King reminds us of who we really are, and the destiny we face apart from him, bound for eternity in the same burning darkness which is the prison made for the devil and his evil hosts.  For reasons unfathomable, there will be some who prefer to keep their delusions and embrace a terrible fate according to the Law, rather than receive the free gift of Jesus’ Gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation accomplished through His Vicarious Atonement for us upon the Cross.

But we do not despair.  Like the newly freed Gadarene who would follow Jesus into the boat, we who have been freed from Satan’s tyranny are sent back into our communities, our families, our friends, to tell what great things God has done for us.  We become His emissaries to a dark and suffering world, bearing the truth of His Eternal Word and Eternal Life which makes demons quake and repentant souls rejoice.  We continue to land on the shores of every place we go with the light and compassion of Jesus, knowing that whether we are invited to stay or pressed to depart, we go every step and every breath with Jesus.  And if we encounter a tormented Gadarene in our place of work, our coffee shop, or our living room, we bring with us the Word of Jesus to liberate and redeem them in Jesus’ Name, and send them as we have been sent, to tell what wonderful things our Savior has done for us.  Amen.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Throwing Bread to the Dogs: A Meditation on Mark 7

And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, 
and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: 
but he could not be hid.

For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, 
heard of him, and came and fell at his feet:
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; 
and she besought him that he would 
cast forth the devil out of her daughter.
But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled:
 for it is not meet to take the children's bread, 
and to cast it unto the dogs.
And she answered and said unto him, 
Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table 
eat of the children's crumbs.

And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; 
the devil is gone out of thy daughter.
And when she was come to her house, 
she found the devil gone out, 
and her daughter laid upon the bed.

I confess that no matter how often I read this story, it always unsettles me.  Jesus, the Son of God made flesh, who comes to save the entire world from sin, death, hell, and the power of the devil, because He is the eternal Creator and Savior of all the world, in this story seems to have a bias for the Jewish people over others.  And more than a bias, He used insulting language to respond to a Greek woman who pleaded with Him to rescue her daughter from possession by a demon.  Anyone who has been up close and personal with a demon knows how vile, dangerous, and malevolent they are, how bent upon the desecration and destruction of the human race they show themselves to be.  This mother, having watched a demon wreak devastation upon her child, sought out Jesus and begged Him to save her precious little girl.  How then could a just, loving, and saving God brush her aside with a racial slur, inferring that His gifts were primarily intended for His own people?

It is first important to note that the text does not reveal what was in this woman’s heart, nor in the hearts of His disciples and those around Him.  We might assume this woman is motivated by love of her daughter, but we do not know what other mixtures of pride and wickedness also flow out of her fallen heart, as Mark’s earlier recording of Jesus’ teaching in this chapter describe— for it’s not anything from the outside going in which defiles a person, but that which flows out of a person’s fallen and twisted nature which defiles him.  The reader is tempted to judge Jesus harshly for His treatment of this woman, but only He really knew this woman’s heart.  Perhaps our discomfort in reading Jesus’ words to the desperate woman reveal something about us that we are uncomfortable acknowledging.

For both Jews and Greeks, and every other race of people under the sun, there is a temptation to entitlement before God.  Such a sense of entitlement shows up as a manifestation of pride, demanding of God what we think we are due by virtue of our own dignity and self-worth.  What this pride fails to recognize is that before God we deserve nothing but death and hell.  Our fall into sin and depravity was not God’s doing but our own, choosing evil over good, hatred over love, destruction over life.  As a whole human race, we are fallen from our Creator’s design, with a twisted nature which pride goads into judging ourselves as righteous and God as unjust.  Pride seeks to make God our servant and bend Him to our will, resulting in a delusional sense of entitlement that manifests in all sorts of bizarre pagan religious trappings.  For the Jews who thought themselves specially entitled to God’s favor by virtue of their birth and nation, or the Greeks who thought themselves entitled by virtue of their own special peculiarities, the problem is the same:  pride is a dangerous delusion, an idolatry which presumes the mantle of divinity, casting ourselves as our own impotent gods who have no ability to rescue from our impending death and hell.

The truth is that every man, woman, and child, regardless of race, affiliation, nation, or peculiarity, is the filthy little dog underneath the Master’s table, unworthy of any good thing set upon it.  When the Greek mother of a hopelessly possessed child realized that she was entitled to nothing from Jesus, but rather begged Him of His mercy to grant her what she knew she did not deserve, she and everyone around her learned something critically important about their God.  In addition to His justice and truth, His power and His righteousness, He is also merciful and gracious.  His love does not come to us based upon our worthiness, but upon His unfathomable compassion.  Jesus knew that so long as anyone approached God in a vain pride pride of seeking justice for what we feel entitled, we could only receive the just reward of the Law which strips every delusion bare, and reveals the fate of every evil creature before a perfect Judge.  But in a faith and repentance which seeks grace and mercy, our Saving God is quick to respond with forgiveness, life, and salvation in this world and the next.  While according to the Law we stand condemned for the sake of our own most grievous fault, in the Gospel of Jesus’ vicarious atonement for our sins through His life, death, and resurrection on our behalf, we receive all the gifts of His grace by a humble, repentant faith in Him.

Pride is always uncomfortable in the glaring light of humiliation, but such divine light is the beginning of our healing and restoration before God.  To know that we are the little dogs who are unworthy to be sustained by the crumbs which fall from our Master’s table, is to know that we are unworthy by own merits of the grand feast He has set before us.  But in a living faith which trusts in God’s promises of mercy and love, we find that we are not merely left to scrounge for scraps, but invited to sit at the table for the sake of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, clothed with His righteousness in place of our own fallenness.  For it is not God’s desire to give us what we deserve according to His justice, nor to validate our deadly delusions of pride and entitlement.  Rather, it is His desire to pour out His riches of grace and life without measure upon all who will repent and believe in Him.

If the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Greek mother of a possessed child makes you uncomfortable, it is the antiseptic of God’s Word and Spirit reaching your heart’s font of pride which resists knowing who you are, and who your Creator really is.  Let the Law break your prideful heart so that you might know the truth of your condition, that together with the whole human race, there is none who can rightly demand any good thing from our Maker.  But in this realization, hear your Savior’s gracious Word of forgiveness and life, receiving from Him a saving faith which trusts His promises and turns from the delusions of evil.  Hear the Word of the Lord which seeks not to give you the scraps you don’t deserve, but the fullness of His eternal banquet, where grace upon grace abounds unto you in eternal life, and joy, and peace.  Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Renewed in the Spirit of your Mind: A Meditation on Ephesians 4

This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, 
that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, 
in the vanity of their mind,
Having the understanding darkened, 
being alienated from the life of God 
through the ignorance that is in them, 
because of the blindness of their heart:
Who being past feeling 
have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, 
to work all uncleanness with greediness.

But ye have not so learned Christ;
If so be that ye have heard him, 
and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, 
which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
And that ye put on the new man, 
which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

Wherefore putting away lying, 
speak every man truth with his neighbour: 
for we are members one of another.

St. Paul’s teaching to the church at Ephesus continued in chapter 4, to draw a distinction between the inner and outer lives of unbelieving Gentiles and believing Christians.  In verse 17 he began with a phrase concerning the vanity of the unenlightened mind, hardened and blinded against what is good and holy, given over to pursue the lustful desires which bring forth evil actions.  This state of being is ostensibly what many of the Christians in Ephesus had suffered prior having been born again by water and Spirit, through faith and repentance in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Before the dawn of saving grace had softened their hearts to perceive the love of God given to them through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, they had also surrendered themselves to the vain pursuit of empty passions, were aliens from the eternal life of God, and were marked by the evil thoughts and actions which chased them into death and hell.  Only after this regeneration were the Gentile Christians of Ephesus able to truly trust and love God, to not only do good works rather than evil, but to desire the good over the evil.

This distinction is highlighted when Paul pointed out that having learned rightly of Jesus, they would be given His Holy Spirit to believe and live in Him, putting off the “old man” which pursued selfish lusts and evil actions, and thus be renewed in the spirit of their mind, putting on the “new man” which is a new creation of God in Jesus Christ, informed and motivated by His love, righteousness, and holiness.  This conversion would be the work of God Himself, who came to them through His preached Word of Law and Gospel, and whose Holy Spirit would enliven and enlighten them by grace through faith in Jesus.  Instead of an unenlightened mind motivated by a fallen spirit whose highest pursuits were empty vanity, the Christian was given a renewed mind motivated and inspired by a renewed and sanctified spirit.  Thus Paul could show the Christians in Ephesus that their only path to holiness and eternal life was in Christ, who alone renewed both their soul and their intellect to love, trust, and follow Him.

As in Paul’s time, so in our own, there is a distinction between those who are motivated by a darkened and fallen spirit toward dark and evil passions, and those who have been renewed in their spirit and their minds to pursue love, peace, joy, righteousness, holiness, and truth.  Many Christians who were not raised to know Christ from their youth, were once those who used their darkened intellect to justify themselves and others in the breathless pursuit of vain things, sometimes even having the appearance of righteousness, but eventually being proved out by the false assumptions of their selfish ideals when the results were death, suffering, division,  enslavement, and destruction.  Even long time Christians who wander from the regular nourishment of God’s Word, or who become deceived by false teachers of false gospels, find themselves falling back into the same.  But whether a person comes to living faith in Jesus early or late in life, the distinction remains the same— those who live in Christ are new creations, whose spirit and mind are guided by the Spirit and mind of Jesus, who is the very Word of God made flesh; and those who pursue themselves, their falsehoods, and their twisted passions as they plunge willfully or ignorantly into eternal destruction.

The dialogue between the Church and the world is helped greatly by remembering what St. Paul taught the Christians at Ephesus, as is the conversation between various Christians concerning how we should walk together.  While the history of Christian thinkers, writers, philosophers, and theologians has shown repeatedly the intellectual integrity and rigor of Biblical life and doctrine, conversion is not accomplished by the work of one intellect convincing another.  Apologists at their best expose the irrationality and inconsistency of attacks against Christian faith and life, while showing the intellectual superiority of God’s Word over the shifting vanities of human speculation.  But the real conversion of a person happens through the work of the Holy Spirit, moving through His Word and Sacraments, giving faith to repent, believe, and live in Jesus.  Thus the conversion of the world which would precipitate the improvement of their motives and moral actions among each other, is accomplished not by the gymnastics of human reason or effort, but by the Word and Spirit of God alone.

Therefore, St. Paul concludes, let us speak truth to one another, for we are all member of each other; the various factions of Christians among themselves, the whole of humanity as one human race, and the whole of creation in which we were placed.  That truth, which is Jesus and His Word, is the common link which unites us all, seeks to save us all, and calls us all into life forever in our Creator.  Only there, in Jesus, do we find the renewing of our spirits which also informs our intellect, and thus reforms our lives and deeds among one another to be guided not by selfish desire, but by divine love.  Only there, in Jesus, do we find the common language which speaks to our salvation from the dark pathways of death, and to our reconciliation with the eternal Author of Life.

Hear the Word of the Lord come to you this day, calling you away from the vanities of your own fallen mind as well as the vagaries of fallen social luminaries, that you might receive His free gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation by faith in Him.  Hear Him call to you, be you barbarian or Greek, free or oppressed, Christian or pagan or humanist or any other distinction under the sun— that He might renew the spirit of your mind through His Word and Spirit, and create in you a new person whose life is forever guarded and kept in Him.  Amen.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Because he said: A Meditation on Mark 6

For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, 
and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, 
his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her.
For John had said unto Herod, 
It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife.

Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, 
and would have killed him; but she could not:
For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, 
and observed him; and when he heard him, 
he did many things, and heard him gladly.

And when a convenient day was come, 
that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, 
high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;
And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, 
and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, 
the king said unto the damsel, 
Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.
And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, 
I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.

And she went forth, and said unto her mother, 
What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.
And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, 
I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.
And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, 
and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.

And immediately the king sent an executioner, 
and commanded his head to be brought: 
and he went and beheaded him in the prison,
And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: 
and the damsel gave it to her mother.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark 6 is a good reminder that political persecution for the sake of preaching God’s Word has existed for a very long time.  John the Baptist, whom Jesus said was not only the greatest of the prophets, but that no other person born of women had arisen greater than he, found himself in prison because he dared tell King Herod that his chosen bride was unlawful for him to have.   Of course, John had no ability to change the king’s decision, to influence politics (Israel was never really a democracy, and it certainly wasn’t during the Roman occupation of Jesus’ day), or to wield any earthly power; John simply bore God’s Word.  Herod wanted his brother’s wife, and she seemed eager to improve her rank by ditching her previous husband and becoming the consort of the king.  Abandoning marriage vows is not lawful before God, and Jesus pointed out specifically during His ministry that this kind of divorce and remarriage is just adultery dressed up in socially acceptable clothes.  Because John called Herod and Herodias’ sin what God’s Word said it was, refusing to celebrate and affirm their twisted delusion, John found himself imprisoned and eventually beheaded through the political intrigue of the slighted lovers.

As we walk through the season of Pentecost, it is important to remember that while we have been given by Jesus the authority and duty to abide in God’s Word, to preach it, bear witness to it, and to remain faithful to it, the world around us will not always receive it gladly.  Jesus, as the very Word of God incarnate, was received by some, rejected by others, and some even used their political or social power to plot His murder on a Roman cross.  As we bear the Word of Jesus in our own time and place, we should not think that somehow we will arise above our Master, for if the world hated and persecuted Jesus, they will hate and persecute His faithful followers, as well.  Jesus told us as much before His ascension into heaven, even as He told us not to fear this world, because He had overcome it through His life, death, and resurrection on our behalf.  The people of God have always lived out this truth, from Abel who was murdered by his own brother, to the prophets who were slaughtered for their faithful witness before reprobate kings and queens, to the Apostles and their descendants who suffered under the hands of tyrants, pagans, apostates, and heretics.  

And the same is true of our own age.  In China, only those churches which the government controls are allowed to preach, and to only preach the message which the atheist government permits.  In India, Christians are regularly accosted, raped, and murdered by Hindu mobs while the police look on approvingly, only later to feign their disapproval.  In many Islamic countries,  governments institute Sharia Law to keep Christians politically and socially enslaved below Muslim citizens, and then promote or turn a blind eye to the Muslim mobs which bomb, shoot, and burn their churches, and kidnap their children to be sold into sexual slavery.  In these lands the blood of the martyrs flow daily, and like John the Baptist, they are persecuted and murdered for the sake of their fidelity to God’s Word.

In our own lands, the tides of this persecution continue to rise.  ANTIFA mobs and social justice warriors target anyone who refuses to celebrate and affirm every kind of debauchery, insanity, and deviancy, stigmatizing Christians into unemployment and financial destitution.  We have thought crimes on our books which seek to prosecute the malleable concept of “hate,” oddly and often used to protect the hateful wrath of those who cannot abide anyone who might insinuate their behavior is unhealthy, unhelpful, or unlawful before God.  Professors and teachers, merchants and store owners, artists and executives, clergy and laity, politicians and staff workers, scientists and doctors, and numerous others in every walk of life have felt the seething, manipulative hatred of a world that will not abide the Word of God, and many have tired to find ways to live out their Christian convictions without drawing such violent attention to themselves.  Some even abandon it altogether, bowing to the world’s preference for darkness over light.

Yet the calling of Christ to His people continues through His Word and Spirit, regardless of the hatred of evil people and spirits, or the apostasy of those who reject it to substitute human opinion in its place.  That living Word of Jesus continues to work in the world, revealing the darkness of our hearts and our fallen nature which leads all of us toward death, and yet also offers to all people forgiveness, life, and salvation by grace through faith in Him.  The Law which Jesus sends to reveals our brokenness, is salved by the Gospel He brings to heal us— the faith and repentance He calls us to, leads us to turn from the ways of death and evil, and puts our feet firmly on the path of life, beauty, love, peace, hope, and joy.  Such a Word, though scorned by some, is the power of God unto salvation for all who will trust and receive it, binding to God with unbreakable bonds every reconciled soul which lives and rests in Him.  By the power of this Word every demonic force has been put to flight, every dark corner made bright, and every infestation of evil purged.  It is a Word which has inspired the saints and martyrs, Prophets and Apostles, to stand before an irrational and hate filled world with love, compassion, and courage, bearing witness to the love of God which seeks and saves everyone who will trust in Him.  It is a Word which fears no wrath of man, no executioner, no prison, no calamity, because the eternal life which comes through this Eternal Word transcends every passing darkness.  

Hear the Word of the Lord come to you this day, calling you to live in Jesus by grace through faith, undaunted and unafraid of the petty, transitory persecutions of wicked men.  To you has been given the forgiveness, life, and salvation won for the whole world through the Cross of Jesus, and to you has been given the mission to bear witness to the reconciling love of Christ to everyone around you.  Hear this Word of the Lord which compels and forces no one, but calls, enlightens, and enlivens everyone who will repent and believe, that through you Jesus’ Word of reconciliation might touch every soul around you— even those who hate and persecute you for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sent with Power: A Meditation on Mark 6

And he called unto him the twelve, 
and began to send them forth by two and two; 
and gave them power over unclean spirits;
And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, 
save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:
But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.

And he said unto them, 
In what place soever ye enter into an house, 
there abide till ye depart from that place.
And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, 
when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet 
for a testimony against them. 
Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable 
for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, 
than for that city.

And they went out, 
and preached that men should repent.
And they cast out many devils, 
and anointed with oil many that were sick, 
and healed them.

It is tempting to look at the state of the Church today, and see it as a mess.  Regardless of which Christian tradition one examines or finds one’s self in, there is plenty of scandal, incompetence, intrigue, and charlatan antics to go around.  There are church leaders angling for power or prestige, hucksters trying to separate gullible fools from their money, self righteous authors writing self help books to line their own pockets, abusers of young and old, cantankerous cranks and prideful ignoramuses.  And that’s just briefly looking at the inside.

Outside, the Church is beset by politicians who try to use her people and resources for political gain, and when even marginally rebuffed, attempt to destroy her; by academics who spin off endless vacuous theories to debunk the ancient witness of Scripture, who when when revealed as frauds, shift their attacks to other venues; by a media which seeks to use her foibles as entertainment, presenting biased and shoddy journalistic research as incontestable fact, then bristling with animus when confronted for their errors; by those who prefer darkness and evil to the light of God’s Word, who try by every means to extinguish the light which reveals their depravity; by demonic hordes who tempt and seduce the minds of fallen men into every form of evil, always urging the world toward bloodbath, insanity, and destruction.

On most levels of observation, the Church of Jesus Christ looks pretty weak and insignificant— not so unlike Jesus appeared during His earthly teaching.  Beset on all sides by every conceivable enemy, and in His humanity like us in every way except without sin, the divine Son of God embraced the weakness of persecution and eventual death on a cross to accomplish the greatest victory ever recorded in the history of the world.  Through His weakness, His omnipotent power was made manifest over sin, death, hell, and the devil, securing for every person the promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation forever.  Rising triumphal from the grave and before His Ascension into heaven, Jesus gave these powerful gifts He had secured for the world to His Church, carried forth by the Apostles and their successors into every generation, right down to our own.  These gifts of divine power and authority were shrouded in His Word and Sacraments preached and administered according to His institution and command, entrusted to sinners saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  Thus the Church became the living extension of Jesus’ Incarnation in the world, where His triumphal power would be made known through weakness until the end of time, when Jesus’ final return to judge the living and the dead will remove all shrouds of mystery, and every eye will behold the Lord of Glory face to face.

And so, the Church continues to battle her enemies inside and out, to struggle in faith and repentance against sin, death, and the devil wherever they rear their ugly heads.  She continues to bear the scorn of those who despise her and her saving Lord, of hypocrites and heretics and schismatics of every type and kind, and the manipulation of bureaucrats and politicians in secular or ecclesiastical garb.  In fact, every Christian wrestles with the same forces inside himself every day of his life, so that the existential struggle of faith on the individual and global scales are really one and the same.  But even so, shrouded within this mess of weakness, is the Eternal Word of God which comes to save every soul who will repent and believe in Jesus.

To you this Word comes again today, looking weak and despised by the world, but to those who believe, it is Word of eternal life which conquers every enemy of the human race.  Hear His Word come to you this day, that this treasure of infinite worth might be yours by grace through faith in Jesus, and that you, though broken and weak, may become yet another sanctified vessel by which the saving power of Almighty God will flow to everyone around you.  Amen.