Monday, June 27, 2011

June 27 - Commemoration of Cyril of Alexandria

I first became aware of Cyril... well, probably in Dr. Weinrich's Early Church class, but I guess I forgot him after the exam was over. While doing sermon prep in Year C about 4 years ago, I noticed that Cyril kept having these great quotes in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Luke. So I did some research and got a great bargain on his Lukan commentary. The way he pulls in the rest of Scripture when commenting on Luke's writings. WoW. Here's a few links:

Cyril's Commentary on Luke (though it doesn't have the cool icon art that my book does) and John

Commemoration of Cyril of Alexandria by Paul McCain
Statue of St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Nicolas...Image via Wikipedia

Patristic QuoteS of the Day from William Weedon - who will be on Issues, etc this afternoon talking about this saint

And speaking of Issues, etc (which I still haven't won a Blog of the Week yet from them! Stiff competition) - here's what Rick Stuckwisch and Heath Curtis had to say.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

2nd Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 8A) - Romans 7:1-13

Apostle Paul - mosaic in Monreale CathedralImage via Wikipedia
(HT - Rev. William Cwirla)

If anyone has ever confronted you with your sin and asked you why you did it, and you honestly could not give them a reason, Romans 7 is for you.
If you think that someday you will figure out how to follow Christ the right way and not be so sinful, Romans 7 is for you.
If you think sin is no problem for you and the Christian life is easy, then Romans 7 is for you.
If you think the Christian life is too hard and you have given up on ever getting into Heaven, then Romans 7 is for you.  In short, St. Paul wrote Romans 7 for every one of you and for me.
Actually, the Apostle wrote Romans 1-6 for us as well, and Romans 7 builds on the major points he made earlier.  Since Paul assumes you know them, so it would be good to read through Romans at home this week.  In short, Paul works like a lawyer, presenting evidence and arguments to make his case.  But unlike any ordinary lawyer, he switches off from prosecuting you for your sins to being your defense attorney.  In Romans 1, he begins his case presenting evidence against those who honoring false gods or no god at all – their false belief leads them to fill their lives with all manner of evil.  And right as Paul has you cheering him on for shooting down those proud sinners with both barrels of God’s Law – right then in Romans 2, the Apostle turns the shotgun of the Law at you!  Yes, you who look down on the evil people who are destroying our country – you practice the very same evil that you condemn (2:1) – the same greed, nastiness, strife, deceit, gossip, pride, the same disobedience and heartlessness.  You have no excuse for any of this!  Especially since you know that the Day of Wrath is coming, the Day God’s righteous judgment against sin is revealed.
When Paul gets you owning up to your sin and shame, he switches his tone from prosecuting to defending, as he writes, “23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3).
We get into God’s good graces not by our works, but as His gift in Christ.  We get forgiveness for the sins that shame us as His gift in Christ.  We get rescued from the Hell we deserve by grace, as His gift in Christ.  We do not even think of boasting that we are better than unbelievers – or anyone for that matter – because our eternal life is all God’s gift in Christ.
Paul knows how Sin wants you to think that now it does not matter how bad you live, since you will be going to Heaven no matter what.  But God forbid that we take God’s kindness for granted.  Paul reminds you of your Baptism in chapter 6 to begin the illustration that continues into our chapter 7 today – an illustration that uses death, of all things.  You died in Christ and were buried with Him in Baptism.  God declared you dead to His Law.  Sin no longer reigns over you.  Christ does.  “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).  You are as dead as dead Jesus hanging on His Cross when it comes to the Law.
Now Paul builds on that point with an illustration from marriage – a wife is bound to her husband, and husband to wife, “’Til death do us part.”  There is no mention of divorce here because he is talking about how God says life should go.  God tells married women they are not to go off and live with another man while the husband is alive.  But if her husband dies, the Lord says she is free from the Law of marriage, free to enter another marriage if she wants.
Paul says you are like that free widow.  Your baptismal death has set you free from the Law.  Free from your bondage of sin.  Free to belong to the God who raised Jesus from the dead.  Free to live a new life.  Free to bear fruit to God as branches joined to Christ the Vine.
Now there are two opposing forces in our lives – our flesh and the Holy Spirit.  Our flesh is filled with sin – but here the Apostle is not so much talking about all those dirty thoughts, words and deeds – like murder, theft, lying, and rebellion.  Paul is talking about our condition of sin.  Like a cancer, sin has invaded your body, taking over your cells, wreaking havoc so that your body is not able to do what you were made to do.  And just as the body cannot cure itself of cancer, neither can it cure itself of sin.
Some have thought education is the answer.  Evil people behave the awful ways that they do because they do not know any better.  Just teach them enough religion, and they will become better people.  Surprisingly, Paul says that learning God’s Laws can actually make a person worse.  When his teachers taught young Paul that commandment forbidding us to sinfully desire stuff that God says does not belong to you, then Paul not only knew “You shall not covet”, he also knew sin too.  It was about like a commandment saying, “You shall not yawn” – and the minute a person hears that, they cannot stop themselves from yawning.  Which might not be the best example for a preacher to use, but anyway, Paul could not stop himself from coveting – and this was a good young Jewish kid who did not know what coveting was 5 minutes ago.
In other words, that foreign invading cancer of Sin takes the opportunity of all those “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” and it deceives us to death.  We think we can keep the commandments.  Yet the harder we try, the worse it gets.  Either we deceive ourselves more into ignoring our sin and becoming proud about how happy we imagine God is with us, or else we see our sin and despair of God’s love.  So the end result is actually the opposite of what we might expect – spend time in the Bible and Sin becomes all the worse.  Not that the Bible makes us do all those evil things – God’s Law is holy and righteous and good.  But the sin that lives in us responds to it in very bad ways.  The more we learn the Scriptures the more sinful we become.  “Sinful beyond measure” is the way Paul says it.  So sinful, you despair of saving yourself, which is precisely the point.
Our text stops here, but Paul goes on to his next point which is what you will hear next Sunday, writing, “We know that the Law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.”  Notice that he does not say, “I *was* unspiritual before I was a Christian and got straightened out,” but he says, “I am unspiritual.”  Do not be thinking St. Paul is any holier than you are, as if you just needed to figure out the secret to becoming a superChristian like him.  Do not think Paul has found the answer to the righteous life inside of him by getting all spiritual.  You will hear Paul say next week in the end of Romans 7 that nothing good lives naturally inside of him.
And you will hear Paul describe the war that goes on inside himself.  He sets his mind on doing the good, but he cannot get it done.  What he does is the evil he hates – and this is an Apostle of the Lord talking.
If you think it is easy being a Christian, guess again.  Never mind what the false preachers say about all your problems being fixed if you just give your heart over to Jesus and clean up your act.  Consider how Martin Luther once wrote that he was most troubled in his life when he had no troubles at all.  At those times he thought he had gotten so far off the righteous way that the Devil saw no reason to mess with him.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus lovingly warns us that where He brings His saving work, there will be a cross for His follower to carry.  And sadly many of you know situations our Lord describes - Christians with families divided for and against Jesus.  They daily have reason to ask themselves, “Am I doing this out of love for Christ, or am I loving this family member more than I love Jesus?  Am I more concerned about what they might say than what the Lord does say?” The temptation to seek peace at any and all costs is a strong one, especially among people you have to live with.  Jesus responds to this by saying, “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth,… but a sword.”  That sword of His Word cuts right through the heart of each and every one of us.  It literally means losing your life.  Dropping dead to your self in order to find your life in Christ.
         Jesus is the One who saves us from our sin-filled bodies and souls, for He is the One who gave His perfect and innocent body and spirit into death on a Cross.  He cleanses and renews us by baptizing us into His death and grave.
Therefore, Paul goes on to say in Romans 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  That Judge Whom Paul spoke of in Romans 2, coming on the Day of wrath to reveal His judgment against sin, has already declared you to be innocent.  He has no condemnation for you, for all that sin of yours that should lead you to eternal shame.  "For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” as God has done by sending His Son to be the sacrificial offering for our sin.
Today we struggle.  With our flesh corrupted by sin we serve the Law of sin.  Yet with minds renewed by the Spirit, we serve the Law of God.  That is how it is – the life of Christ in a body of death.  And that helps us to learn to believe that our salvation from Hell into Heaven is not our doing, but must be by God’s grace, through faith, for Christ’s sake.  Amen.
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Friday, June 24, 2011

June 24 - The Nativity of John - What Luther Says

 HT: Rev. Matt Harrison for this quote some of you may have read yesterday -

Matt HarrisonImage via Wikipedia
no, not this Matt Harrison.
…And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! Jn. 1:36

Other prophets have also foretold how Christ would come and how He would free the world from sins. But neither Isaiah nor Jeremiah would have been able to say: This is the one whom you must accept. John is the only one whose voice was the first to announce Christ and whose fingers pointed to the person where the forgiveness of sins is actually to be found. No human being had ever had or seen fingers like those of John, with which he pointed to the Lamb of God. Therefore, when we are oppressed by sin, or terrified by the Devil or by Death, what we need to do is to look at the mouth and fingers of the preacher, who will give us the correct teaching and show us how to come to the forgiveness of our sins and how to make our peace with God. This is the joy that the whole world, not just Elizabeth and Zechariah, should have in John.

Saint John the Baptist Pointing to Christ; Mur...Image by Lil' Rhody Dan via Flickr

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Martin Luther in Luther’s Breviary: A Meditation for Each Day of the Year (Wartburg Verlag 2007), p. 192

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 20 - John 18 (better late than never) + Trinity Sunday Sermon

The interactive workings of the mind, heart and Scripture is fascinating.
About like seed planted that suddenly appears above ground, 
as Someone once said...

poImage by donielle via Flickr
The first season DVD setImage via Wikipedia

I've noticed a lot of movies and tv shows I watch explore the question, "Who are you?" - the most recent being Kung Fu Panda 2.  Though I had seen such movies as Star Wars deal with the question, I was not explicitly aware of it until Babylon 5.  The driving story arch across the first seasons had to do with two sets of aliens guiding and using humans and other alien races in their conflict with each other.  One asked "Who are you?"  The other asked, "What do you want?"  The results were disastrous (genocide) when the second question was answered before the first.

What is truth?Image via Wikipedia
This morning these thoughts all came together for me with the John 18 reading from Monday.  For Adam and Eve's forgetting they were God's creatures, for David's forgetting neglecting his duties as King when it came to Uriah and his wife,
for the way you forgot 
you are the child of God 
when pursuing what your sin wanted 
earlier today - 
turning a deaf ear to the Truth, 
and for every time in between,
Jesus remembers who He is as King under God when He speaks to Pilate (John 18:33-37) so that He would be our perfect substitute in the image of God and man.

Below is the sermon I preached for Trinity Sunday, which was influenced by my viewing of Kung Fu Panda 2, based on what the Sober Peasant preached some years back.

Holy Trinity Sunday (and Father's Day)
Genesis 1
Image of God Restored

         America based its right to declare independence from England on the principle that all men are created equal – and yet many of the signers owned slaves.  When the Constitution was adopted years later, slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person.  Thanks be to God that those days have passed, yet today US laws still  see some people as more valuable than others – namely, too many see those in their mothers’ wombs as less than a person.  And who is considered more important – a sports star or a resident of a nursing home.  Even in our personal lives we make value judgments.  Is a person worth our time?  Our effort?  The request for money from a charity.  The friend who needs help – or the neighbor you don’t like.  And we decide that not all of these are equal.  Some are more worthwhile.
Today we are reminded that in the beginning, God created man and woman equal but different.  Both equally loved by God, but He puts them together differently with complimentary parts and roles.  Adam to be husband and then father of the whole race of humanity, and Eve to be wife and mother to all the living.  Created differently, but yet equally created in the image of God.  Blessed differently, but equally together and not apart.  “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
But what does it mean that “God created man in His own image”?  No other creature or thing was created with this.  God deemed everything else good, but not even the angels were created in God’s image.  This honor was only given to humanity.  This image of God business means not that we looked like God does, but that we had His perfect righteousness.  We had His right knowledge of the way things were, the way we were, and the way He is.  We had true fear, true love, and true trust in God and in each other.  We cared for each other rightly and could receive that care.  We listened to one another and heard everything right as we said everything the right way.  And God shared with us His authority over the world He made.  Just think about Adam giving names to all the animals – or how still to this day people name their children and their pets.
Yet as you know, that perfection is long gone.  The image of God was lost at the Fall.  Even when God tells us precisely who He is in the Scriptures, we get Him wrong – let alone what type of false God people imagine when they live apart from the Bible.  Instead of a loving Father, God is often seen as a demanding and sometimes mean, or sometimes weak deity.  How could anyone love someone like that, or put our confidence in him, her, it, they, or whatever type of supreme beings you could come up with.  Often times those gods become a version of me, only much better.  And so my will becomes the gods’ will and I choose what lessons I want to learn – instead of having a loving Father who teaches me according to His will how I should go.  And not for His benefit, but for my good in the end.
Sin has broken Creation – just consider the storms that worked through here the past two mornings, and the far worse destruction in Joplin and Japan.  Yet even more tragic than that is how sin has torn us apart.  We are now different than what Adam and Eve were – and we judge and love and care for other people differently than we should.  From the moment Adam and Eve sinned, they became sinful, ashamed, and corrupt.  They had lost the glory and image of God and they became embarrassed by their nakedness.
Not wanting to be seen, they hid themselves from each other with fig leaves, and hid themselves from God with bushes.  Fig leaves and bushes are just as flimsy as the excuses we use and the other things we hide our sin and brokenness behind.  We want to keep others from knowing who we really are, so we put up masks so that people will think differently about us.  We find substitute images for the image of God that we lost.  So that you look holy, or brave, or kind, or at least not so damnable.  The Declaration of Independence is right in this – we are all equal – equally deserving of Hell.  Equally corrupt before the throne of the Almighty Judge – every person 100% sinful.  We might successfully fool some people into thinking better about us, but all our lies work about as poorly as fig leave and bushes when it comes to God.
Yet as you have heard, the God who originally created us in His image does not leave us fallen and broken.  For the God who creates is also the God who re-creates.  He – not us – is working to restore His image through Christ in our fallen and broken bodies and souls.  For we did not bring Jesus to us, but the Father sent His Son.  As the true and exact image of God the Father, Jesus shows us is a true man, unbroken by sin.  Jesus is the Righteous One who knows the Father, has complete confidence in His Father, and does His Father’s will at all times – not grudgingly, but willingly.
Jesus comes not primarily as an example to imitate, but to restore to us the holy image that we lost.  He took from us our sinful ways of dishonoring Our Father in Heaven – and, considering that today might have you thinking of your earthly fathers, Jesus also took from us all our guilt for breaking the Fourth Commandment, and all the others too.  Jesus claimed our broken image and the punishment and death we had earned for His own.  In return, as we heard last week, Jesus gave us His Spirit.  And through the Holy Spirit, the image of God is again given to us.  The Spirit of God who was present and active at Creation, hovering over the waters, is now present and active in you, re-creating you, making you new, re-shaping and conforming you to the image of God.  He flew down into you at the Baptismal waters of His Triune name.  The Father who sent His Son sends His Spirit now to you.  And the Holy Spirit now joins you to the Son who takes you to the Father.  To forgive us and bring us back to the place God gave us in the beginning.
You see, we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday not simply to proclaim who our God is – the Three persons, and yet one God; each fully and equally God, none less valuable or important than the other; and yet not three Gods or Lords, and not three parts of God, but one God.  Although we certainly do that, Holy Trinity Sunday is first and foremost about who God is for us, what He has done and does and will do for us; and how the Triune God continues to apply Himself to His lost world for the life of the world – to restore His image in us.
And with that understanding, we might look at the Holy Gospel in a different light.  Not so much about what we do as the Church that baptizes and teaches and makes disciples; but rather what the Father and Son and Holy Spirit are doing through His Church.  Creating disciples, baptizing, teaching, feeding, forgiving, raising to new life – God doing His stuff in His ways through His Word, water, His body and blood.  Creating something valuable out of nothing.  Making us precious in His sight though we were worth less than nothing because of our sin.  He who spoke to create the World now speaks through our voices to create again disciples, Children of God in His image, conformed to the likeness of Christ.
        Thus we worship the Triune God not simply here, but daily in our lives by living out that image we have been given again.  Working against sin to love and care and judge and value others the way that God has been and is and will be for us.  Giving to those the world counts as the least.  Determined to see each life as worth our own.  Living as Christ in the world, the Righteous One who judged you and your eternal life to be worth His precious blood and innocent suffering and death.  He suffered the shame and nakedness of His Crucifixion – and then He rose from the dust of death to life, so that all who believe in Him would be raised to live with Him forever.
        As Christian Churches around the world today say, “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity.  Let us give glory to Him for He has shown His mercy to us!”  Amen.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 14 (not Pentecost Tuesday) - John 15

I was pruning a bush in our front yard a few weeks back, and I noticed a vine precious to me was clinging to this bush.  An observer might wonder why I didn't trim both bushes equally.
And so it is with our Christian life when the Father prunes us, and we wonder why He prunes here and not there, this part of my life and not that, me and not her...  Perhaps it is because a third person needs that bit not cut off for support.
If I prune as I think is best,
though I am barely a novice gardener,
and really do not know what I am doing
and do what I do for my own enjoyment of how it looks to me,
how much more does Our Father prune
as He knows is best?
For He is the omniscient Creator
who always works things together not for His good, but for the good of those who love Him.
The vine that is spoken of in this post - though when pruning was done, the flowers had already gone.  The bush to your left has a matching pair that you can just see to the right, which the clematis has attached itself to, and thus saved the bush from more pruning.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost - Luke 21:20-38 and Hymnody

Holy SpiritImage by micmol  via Flickr
Apparently I was not the only one to see a beautiful connection between today's Feast and the readings assigned in TDP - so did the Hymnody editor (I assume that was Rev. Henry Gerike), as we sing from the Pentecost hymn "Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord" for the Spirit to impart strength to our weakness as He prepares each heart.

O Christ, once we were a people whose hearts were weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life.  We were doomed for the Day of Judgment to spring upon us like a trap.  But on this day in the Church we remember how You work to prepare us for that Day as You send forth Your Spirit - not only into the hearts of your preachers, but also into the hearts of Your hearers through Holy Baptism for the forgiveness of their sins.  We praise you for repeating in our lives this great miracle of faith, and now pray for our enemies and all who do not believe in You, so that they with us would "have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36)
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tuesday in Easter 7 - Psalmody

Description unavailableImage by larry&flo via Flickr
Never ceases to amaze me how appropriate passages can be for the day.  Just before our pre-VBS staff meeting, I realized I didn't have a devotion ready!  So I quickly grabbed TDP.  Wow.  Psalm 111 went so well! Not just in speaking of studying and praising and remembering the Lord's deeds.  But also consider the reference to the work of His hands (v 7).  Ordinarily we might take this as Creation.  But when I read it 2 minutes before the meeting, my mind went immediately to the hands that were nailed to the Cross, that held fish to show He was not a ghost, that were shown to remove Thomas' disbelief, and hands that were raised in blessing upon the disciples when Christ ascended.  A question entered my head: "Is this stretching the meaning of the work of His hands?"  And yet, consider how redemption is the theme of the next sentence.

What do you think?
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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ascension Theology for 3 year olds

Jesus with children, early 1900s Bible illustr...Image via Wikipedia
conversation the other night -

T: "Daddy, where is Jesus?"

Me: "He's right here.  He is always with us.  We just can't see Him right now."

T: "Will we see Him tomorrow?"

Me: "I don't know.  Maybe.  Probably not."

T: "When we see Him, can He take a picture with us?"
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