Archive for September, 2012

The Joy of Lamentation

September 26, 2012 2 comments

Last week I was in Fort Wayne for a continuing education class with Dr. John Kleinig, who is, I think, retired from a professorship at the seminary of the Lutheran Church of Australia.  Between the class and difficulties with my internet connection, which are still ongoing, I was unable to post anything.  One of the topics discussed in the class was on my mind this morning as I lay awake for the last hour, unable to go back to sleep.


The class was on the book of Exodus, specifically how Israel was delivered from slavery in Egypt and formed into a liturgical community—that is, a worshipping community.  Israel was not freed simply to be another nation among nations but to be the people among whom God lived and was worshipped.  But the subtext of the class was worship and our contemporary predicament of being disconnected from biblical worship.


One of the things Dr. Kleinig said was that western people have forgotten how to lament, and that this has had tragic consequences for the church in the western world.  If you have read Dr. Kleinig’s book on Christian spirituality (and if you haven’t, there is pretty much no book I could recommend as highly—it was life changing for me), or if you have attended Doxology (a Lutheran training program for pastoral care), you are familiar with the topic. 


There are several different genres of psalms in the psalter.  There are penitential psalms, which express grief and remorse over sin and seek forgiveness from God.  There are seven of these in the psalter.  Then there are psalms of ascent, which were hymns sung by pilgrims to the temple in Jerusalem.  They were used liturgically when worshippers travelled to Jerusalem, or perhaps in the temple itself.  I think there are 14 psalms of ascent.


Then there are psalms of lamentation, where the psalmist brings anger and grief in the midst of suffering to God in the form of complaint.  The psalms of lamentation have a particular structure, which I won’t get into.  Dr. Kleinig outlines this structure as a way to bring our anger and suffering before God.  He points out that there are vastly more psalms of lament or lamentation than there are penitential psalms, although pious Lutherans are comfortable praying the penitential psalms and confessing our sins, and often aren’t sure what to do with the psalms of lamentation, where David or another psalmist will protest their righteousness, complain at God, and call for God to punish their enemies.  Yet there are something like 50 psalms of lament out of the 150 in the bible.


Why are there so many?  Why do I know how to pray the penitential psalms but find it difficult to make sense of the psalms of lament?  What are we missing by not knowing how to pray them? 


I want to explore these questions.  I won’t be able to get it done in a single post, though.


To begin with, I, along with other Lutherans who at least sometimes want to pray, approach the bible with the correct belief that I am a sinner.  Because I am a sinner, the only righteousness I can claim before God, and my only ground to stand on, is His sheer mercy in Christ.  God does not count my sins to me, but counts me righteous for the sake of Jesus’ suffering as my substitute.  He died for me, the righteous for the unrighteous.  On account of His death which atones for my sins I am righteous before God.  Otherwise, in me, there is nothing but sin which provokes God’s righteous wrath.


That being the case, when someone wrongs me, what do I do?  Since I have sinned against God and my neighbor, but I live by Christ’s forgiveness, I assume (rightly) that I should forgive those who sin against me.  When I suffer, I should forgive as I have been forgiven. 


But I’m not very good at that.  Besides, sometimes you forgive, and the person continues to sin against you.  Then what?  It’s not so hard to forgive things that don’t hurt.  But some sins committed against you hurt deeply.  Sometimes they go on for years, and the person committing them doesn’t even acknowledge that they are doing it.  Oftentimes they are inflicted by people you love and on whom you rely.  More than that they are people God calls you to love and care for—it could be your spouse, family member, your pastor (or parishioner.)  At the end of the day God forbids us to take revenge on anyone but seek everyone’s eternal good, no matter what they do to us.


So what do you do?  Matthew 18 says “If a brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”  But not every sin is such that you can or should confront it directly. And what when you have confronted it and the sin goes on—either because the person committing it doesn’t acknowledge it, or because for one reason or another they continue to repeat the sin?


Then Jesus says to bring with you someone else, and if that doesn’t work, you take it to the church, and if that doesn’t work, the church excommunicates the culprit.


But of course, there are very few churches that practice church discipline.  In my congregation, even if we had many people who were willing to, we couldn’t do it yet, because the congregation is simply too immature spiritually, and I have not been mature enough spiritually to lead them to the point where they would be able.


Besides, even in a church where discipline is practiced, how can a child practice Matthew 18 with his parents?  Does a wife with a husband suffering from addiction always want to have him disciplined or leave him?  What does a pastor do when a sizeable group of ignorant people cause him trouble?  Does he want them to be disciplined when they don’t really even know what they’re doing?


No, not always.  So it isn’t always as simple as just applying Matthew 18.  Yet, Matthew 18 does show that “turn the other cheek” doesn’t mean “do nothing, don’t say anything.”  Besides, that way of dealing with anger doesn’t work.  Very few people are capable of not getting angry and doing destructive things when they are chronically sinned against.


Then sometimes you confront it with the person, and you pray about it to God, and you push and push against the intolerable situation, and nothing changes.  This is the most painful part of  the whole affliction—that you don’t know when the suffering will end, and there’s nothing you can do about it, and God doesn’t deliver you.  And time keeps ticking.  Weeks, months, years go by and nothing has changed.  And as you get older (as I am getting older; I never used to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and not get back to sleep)—you start to realize that if things don’t change, you’re never going to get back what is being taken away from you by the person or things that are causing you pain.  Then maybe after awhile you realize—it’s too late, and exactly what I feared when this suffering began has happened.  Maybe the pastor who I resent has continued his foolish ways of pasturing, alienated my children, and now they’re teenagers who won’t go to church and it’s too late to hope that they will make it into young adulthood without falling away.


Or it’s too late—my hope of having a happy marriage in my youth has been destroyed.


Or the congregation that has been giving me hell for 10 years hasn’t changed, and now my youth ends and I have nothing but failures to look back on.


I could think of dozens more hypothetical situations like this that I or people I know have experienced in part.


Finally, you have this thought process that starts when you want to complain to God about your suffering: “Who am I to complain to God?  Isn’t that the same as the grumbling Israelites who provoked God’s wrath?  On top of that I know that I am a sinner, so who knows whether I haven’t done more to sin against this person who sins against me, and I’m not even aware of it?” 


Here is where the psalms of lamentation would help us, if we were able to pray them, or if we were able to lament according to their pattern. 


First of all lamentation allows us to acknowledge our suffering as it really is before God, with all its ramifications.  We go to God and say, “Because of what this person is doing, I am in pain, and I am losing what belongs to me, and I will never get it back.  And You are able to help me, yet You have not.”


Secondly, in lamenting we confess faith in Christ.  We say, “I am righteous.  I am righteous because you have promised me that I am counted righteous because of Jesus.  Even though I am dying because of this affliction, and even though I do not know to what degree my sins may have brought this suffering on me, I know that You are still perfectly pleased with me because Jesus has redeemed me with His holy, precious blood.”


Third, we claim and confess before God that He will deliver us and bless us, and that even  in giving us affliction He still is dealing with us as a loving father who only wants to see what is good come to us.  The psalms of lament usually end with a profession of trust in God and thanksgiving, as though God had already delivered us.  How can we pray this way in the midst of ongoing suffering?  Because God has promised.  He is well-pleased with us for Jesus’ sake.  He will not cast us away.  “All things work together for the good of those who love God, and are the called according to His purpose.”  (Rom. 8:28)  And when He has allowed our affliction to work in us what pleases Him and what will lead toward His good purposes for us, He will bring it to an end and deliver us. 


By lamenting we put the matter in God’s hands, and we know that something is being done about our trouble.  By putting it in His hands we honor Him.  We are saying, “You are God.  You will be faithful to me and will keep Your promise.  You will handle this better than I will, and You are trustworthy.”


We also confess the Gospel, and do not allow ourselves to be deceived by Satan.  We are saying, “Whatever my sins are, God still regards me as righteous, as He promised to do in Baptism, in the Gospel, in the Absolution, and in His body and blood.  I am loved by Him.  I am the apple of His eye.  So I will be safe and this will turn into blessing.”  We find comfort, and at the same time we acknowledge that God’s promise of salvation is true, and we defy and escape from Satan’s trap, which would have us think that perhaps God’s promise had failed or does not apply to us.


It seems to me that there are several obstacles that keep me (us) from praying this.  I will name them, but then I’ll have to explore them further in another post.


One is that lament is coming to terms with death.  When you suffer for a long time, maybe the most painful part of it (especially as you get older) is the death of what you had hoped for for your life (or maybe someone else’s).  I think it is in Lamentations 3 where Jeremiah mourns this way: …So I say, ‘My hope has perished, and so has my expectation from the Lord.  Remember [my affliction?], the wormwood and the gall.  My soul remembers them…But this I call to mind, therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed.  His mercies never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”


Whatever it was Jeremiah hoped for—enjoyment of life as a young man on earth?  Seeing Israel become godly and not brought into the dust of death for its sins?—he acknowledges that it is over.  It’s not going to happen.  That hope is lost; it has died. 


That’s how affliction goes with me.  I had some plan or other.  It may have seemed—and may still seem—like a God pleasing plan.  I may not have been wrong to expect it.  It may be that I was sinned against when I did not receive it—my neighbor who has a calling to love me did not fulfill his calling.  An example would be a pastor who had planned to help his congregation bring the Gospel outside of its four walls and reach out to its community, and instead met with constant opposition from members of the congregation.  After a certain point of struggling and praying, he comes to the conclusion that it is now too late.  Maybe the congregation’s unwillingness has gone on so long that he is looking at its impending closure.  If that were me I would find great difficulty accepting it.  How could this be God’s will?  Why didn’t God intervene, even when I prayed and worked so hard?  How could it please Him that this congregation close its doors instead of preach the Gospel?  And I would also feel angry that I had, seemingly, wasted years preaching and serving a congregation only to see it all fall apart, knowing that on top of it the failure of the congregation would be seen as my fault.  And I would have the nagging fear that maybe, in fact, it was.


In lamentation, we come to terms with the death of our hopes for this life.  Maybe “come to terms” is the wrong phrase.  We acknowledge the death of our hopes.  This is very difficult for me, and I think for all Americans.


Connected to this is a latent theology of glory that seems to stick to me in spite of my knowing better.  I think that my victory and success is partly from the Gospel, and partly from my actions.  I think that my reward is in heaven, but also at least sometimes it should be visible and tangible.  But really the only victory Christians have is Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection.  Any victories that we have in our life of discipleship are really Christ’s victories; they are the playing out of His victory on the cross and in His resurrection in our bodies.  So His victories in us are going to frequently look and feel like defeats and failures on our part.  Christ is our only victory and our only reward.  If my church grows or shrinks, nothing is proven by that in itself.  I can neither take comfort in its growth or its decline; my comfort is Christ and His Gospel, and the visible fruit of a pastor’s work must be interpreted by the light of the Gospel.  Because Jesus has reconciled me to God, my church’s growth or decline is evidence of His love toward me. 

But until recently I did not really grasp or understand that was how it works.  That is faith.  That is the faith which Jesus works in us—faith that sees the waves of the sea about to destroy the little fishing boat, but says, “Jesus is with us, so we are safe—“even though all we see and feel is darkness, terror, despair, wrath, hell.  Even if Jesus seems to reject me, faith does not give up.  Like the Canaanite woman, to whom Jesus said, “No,” who still did not turn away but kept praying—not to wear Jesus down, but because she was sure of His grace, even though He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.


Finally, I think I (and most American Lutherans I know) have a real difficulty with the idea that we are actually and truly righteous before God by faith.  Since I sin, I think, I can only confess my sins, and never claim God’s help, deliverance, and favor to me over against those who mistreat me.  But really, if God actually counts me righteous, I can protest my innocence to God.  This is not saying, “I never sinned.”  It is saying, “You promised to cover my sins.  You do not lie.  So I speak to you as one who is innocent and righteous in your sight.”  I am not claiming that I am better than the one who sins against me.  I am telling God that He is truthful, so I know He will regard me as righteous, because that is what He promised.


I will continue this topic at some point, because it is immensely comforting in ongoing suffering.  What a beautiful thing it is to suffer and yet know for certain that God is still well-pleased with you, gives you access to Him in Your suffering, honors you by making you a participant in Jesus’ suffering, and turns even your suffering into eternal glory and blessing!  If you believe this and learn to lament, then you are joyful even in suffering, knowing yourself to be God’s beloved child and heir.  And upon the death of your own hopes you receive the hope of eternal joy, which enables you not to fear death or anything else that human beings or Satan can do to you.


Related Links

Repost: from Luther’s Church Postil, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

September 16, 2012 Leave a comment

…This is the way of faith, it pictures God’s goodness to itself in this manner, never doubting but that it is really so; therefore it makes bold to bring its petition and to present its need.

15. But see, how unkindly he turns away the humble request of his mother who addresses him with such great confidence. Now observe the nature of faith. What has it to rely on? Absolutely nothing, all is darkness. It feels its need and sees help nowhere; in addition, God turns against it like a stranger and does not recognize it, so that absolutely nothing is left. It is the same way with our conscience when we feel our sin and the lack of righteousness; or in the agony of death when we feel the lack of life; or in the dread of hell when eternal salvation seems to have left us….

16. This is where faith stands in the heat of battle. Now observe how his mother acts and here becomes our teacher. However harsh his words sound, however unkind he appears, she does not in her heart interpret this as anger, or as the opposite of kindness, but adheres firmly to the conviction that he is kind, refusing to give up this opinion because of the thrust she received, and unwilling to dishonor him in her heart by thinking him to be otherwise than kind and gracious – as they do who are without faith, who fall back at the first shock and think of God merely according to what they feel, like the horse and the mule, Ps 32, 9.


18. Hence the highest thought in this Gospel lesson, and it must ever be kept in mind, is, that we honor God as being good and gracious, even if he acts and speaks otherwise, and all our understanding and feeling be otherwise. For in this way feeling is killed, and the old man perishes, so that nothing but faith in God’s goodness remains, and no feeling. For here you see how his mother retains a free faith and holds it forth as an example to us. She is certain that he will be gracious, although she does not feel it. She is certain also that she feels otherwise than she believes. Therefore she freely leaves and commends all to his goodness, and fixes for him neither time nor place, neither manner nor measure, neither person nor name. He is to act when it pleases him. If not in the midst of the feast, then at the end of it, or after the feast. My defeat I will swallow, his scorning me, letting me stand in disgrace before all the guests, speaking so unkindly to me, causing us all to blush for shame. He acts tart, but he is sweet I know. Let us proceed in the same way, then we are true Christians.

15th Sunday after Trinity. “He is our true Father and we are His true children.”

September 16, 2012 2 comments

15th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 6:24-34

September 15, 2012

“He is our true Father and we are His true children”


Brothers and sisters in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 


 I. Intro: “These words God tenderly invites us to believe that we are His true children and He is our true Father.”

A.  Why we memorize the catechism: to continually learn and be comforted in trial that God  is our Father.

B.  (Therefore we remain with Luther like little children who are students of the catechism.)

C.  Theme: God is our true father and we are His true children

i.  How is he our Father?

ii.  How do we live as His children?

  1. D.      Since God is our true father and we are His true children, why are we so anxious?  Jesus comforts His disciples.

II.  How is God our true Father?

  1. A.                    We are anxious as we serve Mammon. 
    1. i.         Mammon is the pursuit of wealth and other earthly things as a way of trying to make our lives secure.
    2. ii.        We serve Mammon, seeking wealth or power or friends or what have you so that we won’t have to worry about the future.
    3. iii.      But mammon doesn’t make anyone secure.  More wealth or success means more worries.
    4. iv.      If it does make someone secure, this is even worse because it cannot deliver us from death and God’s judgment.
    5. B.                    Where does our anxiety come from?
      1. i.         From our alienation from God.

                                                                          a.       The Father shows love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments (Small Catechism, close of the commandments)

                                                                         b.      He punishes the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him.

                                                                          c.      The Introit said, “Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer, listen to my plea for grace,” but the Lord does not listen to those who do not love Him and keep His commandments.

                                                                         d.      Yet we know that we break the Lord’s commandments, so how can He hear us?  So we know from the Law, whether written on our hearts or learned from the 10 commandments, that we have no claim on God for Him to give us food or clothing, or keep us alive, or declare us righteous on the day of judgment.

  1. ii.         Only the Gospel can assure us that we have a gracious God.

                                                                          a.      Only in the Gospel, where God has promised the free forgiveness of sins; and He has proclaimed this Gospel since the first man and woman fell into sin.

                                                                         b.      Yet original sin—the guilt in which we were born and the unrighteousness that has completely corrupted the nature we have from the time of conception, makes us unable to recognize the seriousness of God’s wrath against sin, and unable to believe the promise of the forgiveness of sins only on account of Christ.

                                                                          c.      We by nature think that we can please God by our own strength, by the exercise of our free will.

  1. 1.        But we never know we have in fact pleased God
  2. 2.        So with this uncertainty, we serve mammon, thinking, “This is the only way I can be sure I’ll be taken care of.”

                                                                         d.       So we remain anxious, always trying to make sure we’ll be able to take care of ourselves, never willingly admitting that we cannot secure our own lives but only make ourselves worse and add sin to sin, rebellion to rebellion.

  1. C.                    The cure for anxiety—the Gospel.
    1. i.         Our anxiety is not supposed to be cured either by doing good works or by serving mammon to make sure that we have enough to take care of ourselves.
    2. ii.        Instead, our anxiety can only be cured by finding refuge in God’s grace, apart from our works.

                                                                          a.      That is, by believing His promise to be a gracious God to us;

                                                                         b.      His promise that He is our Father and is well-pleased with us through the obedience and death of His only-begotten Son

                                                                          c.      As a result He remembers our sins no more, but promises in the Gospel that He has given the righteousness and death of His Son to us as a gift, and now He reckons us to be perfectly obedient in Christ.

  1. iii.       You have a gracious God.  That is the good news for you.

                                                                          a.      Not by anything you have done

                                                                         b.      But by the doing of God’s well-pleasing Son.

  1. 1.        He became a man
  2. 2.        Kept God’s commandments
  3. 3.        Died and received the penalty of God for Your sins
  4. 4.        Rose from the dead and lives to pray to His Father constantly on Your behalf
  5. 5.        Rules His kingdom to give You this good news and to capture Your heart so that You believe that God is totally pleased with you for the sake of His Son’s obedience to the law for you and His death for your sins.

                                                                          c.       He pledges this to you in Baptism.

  1. 1.        God is Your true Father.
    1. a.        He certified that Jesus was His well-beloved, well-pleasing Son when He was baptized and received your sins.
    2. b.       In Your Baptism into Christ, the Father pledges and certifies that you are His true Son, because you have been born again into Christ.
    3. 2.        Jesus’ righteousness covers your sin which provoked God’s anger and which you cannot get rid of yourself.
    4. 3.        This is how you find the assurance that You have a gracious God.
    5. D.                    Since God is our true Father, why do we worry when things in our lives look as though God has forgotten us and is going to let us starve?
      1. i.         Would He do that to someone who is always pleasing to Him?  If so, then He is a liar.  He promises to do good to the righteous, and He made a promise that you are righteous through Christ alone.
      2. ii.        Does this mean that we are really unbelievers, since we so often act as if God is not our true Father and will not take care of us the way that any halfway decent father would on earth, or when we run around seeking what the unbelievers seek, as though God were not gracious?
      3. iii.      Jesus does not say that.  He says that we have “little faith.”

                                                                          a.      Usually if we have no anxiety about anything, that is not a sign of faith but of hardness of heart, of not feeling our sins. 

                                                                         b.      Christians are more likely to experience anxiety about their earthly life than nonbelievers, because Christians face constant opposition from the devil, their sinful flesh, and the world. 

  1. 1.        The flesh constantly insists that God in untrustworthy and gives lousy gifts.
  2. 2.        The devil constantly works to drive us to despair
  3. 3.        The world hates Christians and frequently fights against them

                                                                          c.       So Christians will have more temptation to be anxious about their earthly lives.

                                                                         d.      But Jesus does not want us to remain small in faith, even though He does not cast us out for our little faith.

  1. 1.        So he allows us to be tested so that we don’t know how we will make it and are forced to look to Him and depend on our heavenly Father to provide for us.
  2. 2.        Remember how Jesus dealt with His disciples who He here calls “Ye of little faith”
    1. a.        The storm on the sea
    2. b.       Peter walking on the water
    3. c.        The feeding of the 5000
    4. d.       Finally His own passion and burial, where they thought themselves and Him cast away by God.
    5. e.        All these things were to teach the disciples to trust that God was their true Father and they were His true children
    6. f.         Even though they were seeing the opposite, Jesus taught them through suffering and deliverance that they had to depend on Christ’s word of promise and not their reason and senses.
    7. g.        That is what He is also teaching us through our suffering.
    8. h.       Faith has to become strong, because one day we will die, and on that day we must be able to look at death and judgment approaching and not be torn from the assurance that God is our true Father, even though our hearts are terrified.
    9. i.         That is only possible when the Holy Spirit has taught us to believe God’s Word in spite of what we feel, or see, or think
    10. E.                     Jesus’ encouragement: The Father’s grace to those less valuable than us.
      1. i.         Jesus encourages us here, and also mildly rebukes us.
      2. ii.        Look at how God feeds the birds and clothes the grass
      3. iii.      Are you worth less than the birds and grass?

                                                                          a.      Every human being is worth more—even those who will be lost—because Jesus joined the same human nature which we share to Himself.

                                                                         b.      You are certainly worth more than the grass and the birds unless Jesus Himself is not worth more to the Father

  1. 1.        Because the Father paid for your redemption with His Son’s suffering and death.
  2. 2.        And you stand before the Father as Jesus’ twin, because Jesus’ righteousness has been given as your royal robe, like the coat of many colors that Jacob put on his favorite son Joseph.
  3. 3.        It was put on you when you were baptized into Christ.

                                                                          c.       So how much more will the Father take care of your needs of the body—food, and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, wife and children (Small Catechism, Apostles’ Creed, 1st article).  

  1. 1.        He gives those already to the heathen who are not clothed in the righteousness of Jesus and who do not believe the Gospel
  2. 2.        Because He is gracious
  3. iv.       How and why the Father feeds the birds and clothes the grass

                                                                          a.      Is it because of their hard work?

  1. 1.        Is it because the birds worry, and wrinkle their foreheads, and try to scrape together enough to carry them through the winter?
  2. 2.        Is it because the grass slaves away and spins cotton into thread and buys silk and makes its own lilies?

                                                                         b.       The birds receive food and the grass splendid clothes without doing anything.

  1. 1.        They can’t do anything but receive.
  2. 2.        Like little children, whom Jesus says the Kingdom of God belongs to.
  3. 3.        The animals and plants God cares for physically, but God gives us what we need for our bodies, and the kingdom of heaven, without our work.
  4. 4.        Because He is gracious and loves His whole creation.

                                                                          c.       How much more will your Father in heaven provide what we need for our bodies and lives when He covers and clothes the shame of our sins?

  1. 1.        He does this without our making it happen for ourselves
  2. 2.        He gives His only begotten Son.
  3. 3.        How can He then not give you what you need for this life?
  4. 4.        What kind of father on earth doesn’t provide anything for His children and makes them go do it themselves?
    1. a.        Fathers make their kids work, if they understand their office as a father.
    2. b.       But they don’t feed and clothe and educate and give gifts to their kids because the kid has earned it
    3. c.        Both the command for the child to work around the house and the food and shelter and gifts come from the father’s love, which has nothing to do with deserving anything.

  To seek the Kingdom of God first is to pray to God that He gives us His Holy Spirit; without the Holy Spirit we cannot believe in Christ or do a single good work.

  That is why Jesus teaches us to pray continually for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

       We pray, “hallowed be Thy name,” and “Thy Kingdom come” before we pray “give us this day our daily bread.” “Thy kingdom come”: is when “our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His Holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

       Don’t run after what the unbelievers do, as though you had no God!  The Father tenderly invites us to believe “that He is our true  Father and we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask of Him as dear children ask their dear Father.”

What God ordains is always good: He is my friend and Father

He suffers naught to do me harm Though many storms may gather.

Now I may know, both joy and woe;

Some day I shall see clearly

That He has loved me dearly.  (LSB 760 –hymn of the day—stanza 4)



The peace of God, which surpasses understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 

Self Examination Questions: The Sixth Commandment (part 2)

September 15, 2012 2 comments

Salomon Liscovius, from Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz 

4.       Haven’t my actions, now and then, been impudent and thoughtless? [thus revealing trust in myself instead of God, and my failure to appreciate my vulnerability to sexual temptation?  Vanity, arrogance, and irresponsibility make a person vulnerable to lust.]


5.       Haven’t I often leant my ears to impure conversations, my eyes to look at lewd people, pictures, or other causes of stumbling?  Haven’t I myself given offense to others through suggestive, unseemly words?


6.       Have I guarded myself earnestly from all impurity, fornication, and whoring, regardless of what other names they may go by?


7.       Have I avoided idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, evil company and slutty or sexually suggestive clothing?

The Movie that Got the Ambassador Killed

September 15, 2012 Leave a comment

I briefly started to look at the movie that is causing all the riots.  “The Innocence of Muslims.”

I don’t mind criticizing Islam. As a matter of fact, I don’t mind criticism of Christianity.  Frequently this kind of criticism is false and full of half truths.  But when people lie and tell half-truths about Christianity, I know that fair-minded people will eventually find out the truth.  The rabble of course will listen to any kind of evil story it wants to believe.

I guess we could say the man who made it had a right to do it.  I watched all of two minutes and was disgusted; it was lewd and it was along the lines of a minstrel show.  That’s not the kind of freedom of speech I want to be fighting for.

Well, I hate KFC too. But where does Allah say that if he gets blasphemed you should take it out on a fast food restaurant? If it does say that in the Quran, I’m kind of jealous.

Still, when riots are touched off by a movie as obviously idiotic as that one, it at least partly looks like Muslims are looking for an excuse.

Then again, who knows.  Maybe if someone had made a movie about Jesus like that 200 years ago, our grandparents would have rioted.  But they just did make a movie about Jesus like that when I was a little kid, “The Last Temptation of Christ.”  And I think some nuns stood on a picket line, but I’m pretty sure no one was killed.

The Turk Rips Up a Bible in Cairo

September 14, 2012 2 comments

I guess if I want to be an enlightened human being, I shouldn’t refer to the guy as “The Turk.”  Clearly he’s not a Turk; He’s Egyptian.  But Luther referred to Muslims in general as “The Turk,” and this is a Lutheran blog.

Apparently the guy doesn’t know that most Americans don’t really care if some guy in Cairo tears up a Bible, because they’re not Christians in any real sense.  He also doesn’t understand that Christians are not permitted to respond to blasphemy against their God with violence, but rather to suffer it and pray for their enemies.  Muslims can’t understand this, I don’t think.  It always appears from the press reports that Muslims generally think that Westerners are Christians.EmperorSuleiman

Why do they think that?  I think, judging as an outsider, that it has to do with the nature of Islam.  Islam is inherently theocratic.  Or maybe it would be better to say that Islam has as its goal to influence and ultimately be ascendant in every part of human society and thought.  Of course this tendency is present in other religions, including Christianity; but then in Christianity there is always the cross, which promises that Christians will always be being cast out and sacrificed in this world.  So the idea of a Christian society becomes difficult.  A moral society you can have.  A Christian one seems impossible; how can you have a society run by a little flock of people who by definition must be cast out?
Anyway, it’s not that way with Islam.  If you are living in an Islamic society, you’re either a Muslim or one in subjection to Islamic law, and you are pledged to not betray your Muslim protectors.  You can be a lousy Muslim or a good Muslim; it doesn’t matter.  It’s still your identity.  At one time Europeans were kind of like this.  They were “Christendom.”  If you tore a Bible, or desecrated the reserved host, or raped a nun, you not only committed blasphemy but also insulted their nation and ancestors.  But today it’s not that way.  And even back in the days when it was that way in Europe and the US, the outrage provoked by individuals committing sacrilege is not really sanctioned by Christianity.  “If your enemy strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you…” That doesn’t really go very well with calling for the death penalty of a guy who tore up a bible.

There is probably another facet to this as well.  Here in the USA, if my sister or cousin is a big harlot and gets pregnant by God knows who, we are embarassed of her.  But we don’t say, “I am Karl, son of Paul, son of Lyndon, and my slutty cousin has brought shame on the family name.”  We consider ourselves individuals.  Whatever my relatives may do doesn’t really define who I am.

But this does not appear to be true of many people from the muslim world, among whom honor killings continue to occur even once people have moved to western nations where killing your slutty cousin is frowned upon.

I suppose the idea is that in these patriarchal societies, men are responsible for the behavior of people who dwell under their roofs.

Well, I’m a fan of patriarchy, so I don’t fault them for that.  I’m not really a fan of honor killing, though.  I suppose I agree that a housefather should exercise authority over those whom God has given him authority, although I don’t think killing is the responsibility of any except civil authorities.  But on the whole I can agree that if my kid maims your kid, I am responsible.

But if my kid says that Islam is a false religion, or that the Quran is not God’s book, and that Muhammad was a false prophet, I’m supposed to shut him up?  Or the reparation you want is my kid’s blood?

No, that’s ridiculous.  What you’re really saying is that you demand that I submit to your religion, your god.

I don’t demand that unbelievers believe in my God.  He does, and He threatens, but He does not authorize me to punish those who do not believe.  When I vote, I do vote to uphold the moral law–right and wrong.  But I do that not in an attempt to push my religion on people; I do it because the moral law is not a matter of faith but a matter of reason, and is required for the good of everyone in society, regardless of what they believe.

Other Americans are not required to respect the Bible.  I don’t expect them to, because they aren’t Christians.  If we lived in a society where most of the people were Christians, or claimed to be, then I could see refusing to put up with people burning the bible.  I wouldn’t be in favor of killing people, but an unbeliever who wants to live among Christians, meanwhile blaspheming and provoking them–well, that’s stupid.  In that case I could seek extraditing them to Mexico or Cuba or somewhere where they didn’t care.

So I could see where Muslims might get upset if a Christian burned a Quran in public in the middle of Cairo and wanted to kill him or banish him.  But instead, some guy insulted Islam who lives in another country, and Muslims kill an American ambassador and riot all across the world?

Well, we had better pray that God does not give us into the hands of the Turk like we so richly deserve.  Actually though, I think we would be better off.  Would it be better to have a bunch of idolatrous fanatics who uphold the moral law rule you, or a bunch of godless women and neutered, effeminate men?  Well, neither one seems all that great, and Christians will face persecution either way.

And can you imagine the horrors that are going to happen to Christians in majority muslim nations now?  They’ve already been blowing up the Iraqi Assyrians and the Copts in Egypt so as to almost eliminate a millenia old population in both countries; but what will it be like now that there’s an excuse?  Oh God, have mercy on the poor Copts, for Christ’s sake; and have mercy on all those who follow the false prophet Muhammad, that they may know Your Son, Jesus Christ.  And have mercy on us miserable Christians in the United States, so that we love our enemies, and those who are driven by violence and self-righteousness, whether secularists or Muslims, may see You in us.  Amen.

Here’s the article

(AINA) — During the demonstration which was held in front of the American Embassy in Cairo on Tuesday, 9/11, a Muslim cleric named Abu Islam tore and burned the Holy Bible in front of thousands of Muslims. His action was met with applause and anti-Christian cheers from the demonstrators. Before leaving the demonstration and getting into his car, he told the crowds “next time I will urinate on it.”

The video above shows the Muslim cleric tearing the Bible. The video says:

  • 0.02 “the overwhelming Book, the Book of Truth and Peace. The place for these words and this book is over the heads because it is the real inspiration… (He places the Koran on his head) voices chanting Allahu Akbar.
  • 0.30 He Says: message to the Egyptian Christians. Out of respect and politeness to the Egyptian Christians we will not do the same like what they did to our God’s book , we will be generous towards you today and say we will respect you “momentarily.” We will respect this book which is in the Arabic language.
  • 0:54 Demonstrators’chants “Coming, Coming O Islam”
  • 1.09 Abu Islam holds another bible and says: This is the book the dog Terry believes in, as well as those dogs with him the Egyptian Christians in America.
  • 1.19 Abu Islam: Today I can only TEAR IT APART. He starts tearing the bible and throwing the leaves towards the mob, amid chants of Allahu Akbar and “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Mohammad is coming.”
  • 2.06 Abu Islam saying: to all the cross worshippers around the world we will not keep quiet . Today, we tore it.
  • 2.13 a man in blue beside him burns the bible raising it for everyone to see.
  • Abu Islam: Salamu Aleycom (Peace be with you) and leaves, with mob chanting “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Mohammad is coming.” “Governing, governing, O Koran.” “Coming, Coming O Islam.”

Dr. Mustafa Maraghy, professor of law and Islamic law at Cairo University, filed a complaint with the Attorney General against the cleric, whose real name is Ahmed Abdullah. The complaint cited Abdullah, who is the owner of the TV channel the Islamic Nation, for contempt of religion, disturbing public security and peace.

Dr Maraghy, who is the chairman of the Coptic Coalition, said that tearing and burning the Holy Bible, which all Christians in the world believe in, is a “villainous and barbaric act.” He added that it is not permitted at all to defame religions. “The same hurt feelings we felt by the film which insulted the prophet is the same that we felt by this criminal act,” he said.

He vowed that the Coptic Coalition will not ignore such “ignorant people” but will prosecute them. The Maspero Coptic Youth Union has called on President Morsy to intervene immediately to put an end to any efforts which would kindle the fire of sedition between Muslims and Copts.

Another complaint was also filed this morning against Abu Islam by Karam Gabriel, lawyer with the Copts of Egypt Coalition, for his recent burning of the Holy Bible as well as his previous insults to Christianity through his books and through his Islamic Nation TV Channel.

The Coalition, which has among its members Muslims and Copts, has issued an official statement condemning the film insulting the Prophet of Islam. Magdy Saber, spokesman for the Union, condemned Abu Islam’s tearing and burning of the Bible in front of the Copts who were present before the US Embassy, where they had gone in support of their Muslim brothers regarding to prophet’s film.

Saber demanded from officials to take the necessary measures to prevent sedition among the Egyptians. “If we condemn the film-makers of the prophet film who live outside Egypt,” he said, “we should also condemn this disgraceful act in Egypt, stressing the need to punish Abu Islam for his irresponsible actions.”

In an interview today with The Mohit newspaper, Abu Islam denied burning the Bible, he said “I tore it apart and threw it to the demonstrators to step on it with their shoes.” He added, “Next time I will make my grandson urinate on it, as the saying goes, an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth and the starter is at fault.”

Commenting on the fact that the film producers do not represent all Copts and the masses of the American people and therefore their holy book should not be insulted in response, Abu Islam said “if someone one did something, everyone bears the guilt and bears the outcome. Did not all Muslims bear the pain of what Osama bin Laden did? Did not all Muslims bear the pain of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman being described as a terrorist? Let them taste from the cup the Islamic world had to drink.”

“Until now we have not heard any condemnation from any Muslim organization or Al-Azhar,” said Coptic activist Mark Ebeid, “as our church did concerning the Prophet film. We have hope that the Church will say something about our Holy Book.”

By Mary Abdelmassih

Prayer on the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

September 14, 2012 2 comments

113. Prayer on the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Johannes Eichorn (1511-1564),  from Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz  September 11, 2012

Lord God, heavenly Father! We thank You for all Your benefits. You have given us our body and life and have graciously preserved us to this day. Do not take Your blessing away from us, we pray, but protect us from greed and stinginess, that we serve, love, and cling to You alone, and not sin against You by idolatry and the shameful worship of mammon. Grant that we put all our hope and confidence only in Your goodness and grace, and receive all our consolation from the same, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

“That’s Too Catholic” part 1: Shaving.

September 10, 2012 Leave a comment

The Augsburg Confession: WAYYYYY too Catholic.

I can’t tell you how many times people in my congregation have said to me that I was doing something that was “too catholic.”  9 times out of 10 whatever it was that was “too catholic” was a  very small departure from the baptist/methodist liturgical ethos and piety that is familiar to so many Lutherans. IE, “You made us stop singing happy birthday in the sanctuary (after 5 years.)  That’s too Catholic!”

So after awhile, I tried using “that’s too catholic” as a way of preventing changes that people asked for that I didn’t want, or in order to puncture people’s certainty that everything they like and were familiar with was not catholic, and eveything they didn’t like was catholic.

I decided to start adding this regular feature to the blog called, “That’s too catholic.”  I will either be describing things that Lutherans will frequently say is “catholic”, and how they’re not.  Or I will point out how a lot of things that Lutherans love and would complain about if you took them away are really originally from the Roman Catholic church.

Now, for our first example. When I grew a long beard several months back, all I ever heard was about how I should shave because I looked like I lived in a cardboard box.  Back then my best response was, “I’m trying to reach the young people, because beards are cool now.” 

Little did I know that when I was told to shave by someone shaking my hand outside of church and was told that my beard was like that of a bum, I should have made a deeply disgusted face and said, “Shaving?  That’s too catholic!”  [I have really tried this response in a couple of cases, but I’ve found it didn’t work any better than the “trying to reach the young people” thing does.]

See the post below.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Lutheran Beard

Feel like doing something Lutheran for Reformation Day? Misplaced your copy of oppressive canon law and thus can’t toss it in the bonfire? You can metaphorically, yet more substantially, oppose the false pretenses of the Bishop of Rome (if you are a secular cleric) by growing a beard.

[Luther is the guy on the top.  He grew the beard when he was in hiding after he became an outlaw and was fair game to be killed by order of the German Empire.  The second guy is Martin Chemnitz.  He helped write “The Formula of Concord”, the final document in the Book of Concord, the confessions of the Lutheran church.  He is considered the second greatest Lutheran theologian in history after Luther.]

Apparently Lutherans grew beards in reaction to the canon law of the Pope’s church, which made it mandatory for clergy to shave.

So far as concerns England in particular it was certainly regarded throughout the Middle Ages as uncanonical to allow the beard to grow. A cleric was known as a shorn man (bescoren man, Laws of Wihtred, A.D. 96), and if it should seem that this might refer to the tonsure, we have a law of King Alfred: “If a man shave off another’s beard let him make amends with twenty shillings. If he bind him first and then shave him like a priest (hine to preoste bescire) let him make amends with sixty shillings.” And under Edgar we find the canon: “Let no man in holy orders conceal his tonsure, nor let himself be misshaven nor keep his beard for any time, if he will have God’sblessing and St. Peter’s and ours.” A similar practice obtained generally throughout the West and it was one of the great subjects of reproach on the part of the Greek Church, from the time of Photius onwards, that the Romanclergy systematically cut off their beards. But as Ratramnus of Corbie protested, it was foolish to make an outcry about a matter which concerned salvation so little as this barbæ detonsio aut conservatio.

The legislation requiring the beard to be shaved seems to have remained in force throughout the Middle Ages. Thus an ordinance of the Council of Toulouse, in 1119, threatened with excommunicationthe clerics who “like a layman allowed hair and beard to grow”, and Pope Alexander IIIordained that clerics who nourished their hair and beard were to be shorn by their archdeacon, by force if necessary. This last decree was incorporated in the text of the canon law (Decretals of Gregory IX, III, tit. i, cap. vii). Durandus, finding mystical reasons for everything, according to his wont, tells us that “length of hair is symbolical of the multitude of sins. Hence clerics are directed to shave their beards; for the cutting of the hair of the beard, which is said to be nourished by the superfluous humours of the stomach, denotes that we ought to cut away the vices and sins which are a superfluous growth in us. Hence we shave our beards that we may seem purified by innocence and humility and that we may be like the angels who remain always in the bloom of youth.” (Rationale, II, lib. XXXII.)

The kind of effeminate thinking in the last quote is the very reason that we should recognize the spirit of antichrist at work in Rome.  By extension, Durandus is arguing that men are more sinful than women.  But Scripture teaches that it is the office of men to lead spiritually, and that it was the neglect of this office that led to the fall into sin.  So why should clergy, of all people, want to look less manly and more feminine?  So they can be more like the woman who was deceived by the serpent?

Femininity and Christianity should not be synonymous.

The Catholic Encyclopedia goes on:

In spite of this, the phrase barbam nutrire which was classical in the matter, and was still used by the Fifth Council of Lateran (1512), always remained somewhat ambiguous. Consequently usage in the sixteenth century began to interpret the prohibition as not inconsistent with a short beard. There are still many ordinances of episcopalsynods which deal with the subject, but the point upon which stress is laid is that the clergy “should not seem to be aping the fashions of military folk” or wearing flowing beards like goats (hircorum et caprarum more), or allowing the hair on their upper lip to impede their drinking of the chalice. This last has always been accounted a solid reason in favour of the practice of shaving. To judge by the portraits of the popes, it was with Clement VII (1523) that a distinct beard began to be worn, and many among his successors, for example Paul III, allowed the beard to grow to considerable length. St. Charles Borromeo attempted to check the spread of the new fashion, and in 1576 he addressed to his clergy a pastoral “De barbâ radendâ” exhorting them to observe the canons. Still, though the length of clericalbeards decreased during the seventeenth century, it was not until its close that the example of the French court and the influence of CardinalOrsini, Archbishop of Beneventum, contributed to bring about a return to the earlier usage. For the last 200 years there has been no change, and an attempt made by some of the clergy of Bavaria in 1865 to introduce the wearing of beards was rebuked by the Holy See.

As already noted, in Eastern lands a smooth face carries with it the suggestion of effeminacy. For this reason the clergy, whether Catholic or Schismatic, of the Orientalchurches have always worn their beards. The same consideration, together with a regard for practical difficulties, has influenced the Romanauthorities in according a similar privilege to missionaries, not only in the East but in other barbarous countries where the conveniences of civilization cannot be found. In the case of religious orders like the Capuchins and the CamaldoleseHermits the wearing of a beard is prescribed in their constitutions as a mark of austerity and penance. Individualpriests who for medical or other reasons desire to exempt themselves from the law require the permission of their bishop.

So as a good Lutheran, I can’t allow any bishop to tell me how long my beard can be.  I’m almost required to grow a long beard.  And am I going to let the women around me tell me how long my beard can be?  No, no, no.  We must stand firm in the freedom with which Christ has made us free men.  Thus, I’m going to grow a sweet beard not only for Reformation but maybe all the way to Easter.  No razor shall touch my face, except maybe a little bit on the sides so that it grows down instead of out, because my beard got kind of round last time.

It’s funny that in Eastern lands a smooth face carries with it the suggestion of effeminacy.  You know, if we weren’t used to men trimming or shaving off their beards all the time, it would look effeminate to us too.  Kind of like it would look masculine to us for women to wear pants all the time if we had lived a few decades ago when you could still see women wearing dresses.  I’m afraid dresses are going to become extinct.

At this point the deeply moving writing of Clement of Alexandria on this matter needs to be heard:

To such an extent, then, has luxury advanced, that not only are the female sex deranged about this frivolous pursuit, but men also are infected with the disease.  For not being free of the love of finery, they are not in health; but inclining to voluptuousness, they become effeminate, cutting their hair in an ungentlemanlike and meretricious way, clothed in find and transparent garments, chewing mastich, smelling of perfume.  What can one say on seeing them?  Like one who judges people by their foreheads, he will divine them to be adulterers and effeminate, addicted to both kinds of venery, haters of hair, destitute of hair, detesting the bloom of manliness, and adorning their locks like women….For their service the towns are full of those who take out hair by pitch plasters, shave, and pluck out hairs from these womanish creatures.  And shops are erected and opened everywhere; and adepts at this meretricious fornication make a deal of money openly by those who plaster themselves, and give their hair to be pulled out in all ways by those who make it their trade, feeling no shame before the onlookers or those who approach, nor before themselves, being men.

In other words, the classical world was full of what we now call metrosexuals.

But for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, to arrange his hair at the looking-glass, to shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them, how womanly!  And in truth, unless you saw them naked, you would suppose them to be women.  For although not allowed to wear gold, yet out of effeminate desire they enwreathe their latches and fringes with leaves of gold; or, getting certain spherical figures of the same metal made, they fasten them to their ankles, and hang them from their necks.  This is a device of enervated men, who are dragged to the women’s apartments, amphibious and lecherous beasts.  For this is a meretricious and impious form of snare.  For God wished women to be smooth, and rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane; but has adorned man, like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him, as an attribute of manhood, with shaggy breasts, –a sign this of strength and rule.  So also cocks, which fight in defence of the hens, he has decked with combs, as it were helmets; and so high a value does God set on these locks, that he orders them to make their appearance on men simultaneously with discretion, and delighted with a venerable look, has honored gravity of countenance with grey hairs.  But wisdom, and discriminating judgments that are hoary with wisdom, attain maturity with time, and by the vigour of long experience give strength to old age, producing grey hairs, the admirable flower of venerable wisdom, conciliating confidence.

This, then, the mark of the man, the beard, by which he is seen to be a man, is older than Eve, and is the token of the superior nature.  In this God deemed it right that he should excel and dispersed hair over man’s whole body.  Whatever smoothness and softness was in him He abstracted from his side when He formed the woman Eve, physically receptive, his partner in parentage, his help in household management, while he (for he had parted with all smoothness) remained a man, and shows himself man.  And to him has been assigned action, as to her suffering; for what is shaggy is drier and warmer than what is smooth.  Wherefore males have both more hair and more heat than females, animals that are entire than the emasculated, perfect than imperfect.  It is therefore impious to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness.  But the embellishment of smoothing (for I am warned by the Word,) if it is to attract men, is the act of effeminate person,–if to attract women, is the act of an adulterer; and both must be driven as far as possible from our society….

….Rather we ought not to call such as these men, but lewd wretches, and effeminate, whose voices are feeble, and whose clothes are womanish both in feel and dye.  And such creatures are manifestly shown to be what they are from their external appearance, their clothes, shoes, form, walk, cut of their hair, look.  “For from his looks hall a man be known,” says the Scripture, “and from meeting a man, the man is known: the dress of a man, the step of his foot, the laugh of his teeth, tell tales of him. ”

… Lions glory in their shaggy hair, but are armed by their hair in the fight; and boars even are made imposing by their mane; the hunters are afraid of them when they see them bristling their hair.

…Of the nations, the Celts and Scythians wear their hair long, but do not deck themselves.  The bushy hair of the barbarian has something fearful in it; and its auburn colour threatens war, the hue being somewhat akin to blood.  Both these barbarian races hate luxury…I approve the simplicity of the barbarians: loving an unencumbered life, the barbarians have abandoned luxury.  Such the Lord calls us to be—naked of finery, naked of vanity, wrenched from our sins, bearing only the wood of life, aiming only at salvation.

Clement of Alexandria, “The Instructor,” Book 3, Chapter 3 (p. 275 f. in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2)

I guess here is where I have to give the caveat that you are free in Christ to shave and dye your hair or whatever.  However, I do think Clement has some points here that we shouldn’t brush off so easily–about the sin of vanity, for instance.  About the order of creation and the wickedness of trying to invert it.  But I’ll save it for another post.

Just be a real Lutheran and grow a beard.

Beggars Don’t Make Deals. Trinity 14 Sermon.

September 9, 2012 7 comments


Fun at last years’ church picnic

I had to edit this sermon on the fly because it was too long.  I’ve been trying to write them out again so I can get back to preaching around 10 minutes or 15 minutes.  But it’s not working because now I just write longer sermons.  The first version was about 500 words longer. 

A 24 year old man visiting the church told me, “I felt like you were talking directly to me.  And I like how you connect the preaching to real life.”  I put this down not to brag but because I’ve had so many other people tell me something like, “You have to stop preaching like you’re in the 16th century.  The young people aren’t interested in that.”  In fact  I just heard that from some people who transferred to another church a few weeks ago. 

I got all upset about that.  I don’t take the compliments to heart as much as the criticism.  But really preachers shouldn’t take either to heart.  If someone feels like I was speaking to them, and it was the Lord’s message, thanks be to God that He was able to hear Jesus who loves His lost sheep, and thanks be to God that I got to deliver the message from my Lord. 

14th Sunday after Trinity (Church Picnic)

St. Peter Lutheran Church/ Hamel Woods

St. Luke 17:11-17

September 9, 2012

“Beggars Don’t Make Deals”


Dear Christians:


You’re in trouble, and you’re desperate to get out of it.  Have you ever been there?  You’re in trouble.  It was a test you didn’t study for, or you’re getting pulled over, or the teacher caught you and you’re sweating through the rest of the day wondering whether she’s going to tell your parents.  Or your spouse caught you again.  Or you’re late again.  Or your child or your mother is in danger. Or it’s you; you might die.


Now you start praying frantically, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, please don’t let it happen.”  But the normal praying to God doesn’t seem to be enough this time, because sometimes God says no.  So you start trying to make a deal with God.  “Oh God, please help me out of this, and I promise I’ll go back to church.”  “Oh God save me and I’ll start living right.”  “Oh God, just let this not happen and I’ll never ask You for another thing.”  “Oh God, make this go away and you can have my whole life.  Take everything!  Just save me from this.”


Have you ever prayed a prayer like that?  Once, twice, a hundred times?  But then how many times after the danger had passed did you forget what you promised, or did you say to yourself, “Ah, I got all excited about nothing”? 


God is full of mercy, and He graciously turns danger away from us many times when we pray like that, even many times when He knows that we won’t keep our promises.  But the danger that we won’t keep our promises is less of an issue than the fact that we think, somewhere deep down in our hearts, that God needs to be bribed into giving a gracious hearing to our prayers.  Or that we have bargaining chips that we can use on God. 


God wants us to ask Him for help, for good things.  He commands us to ask Him.  It is a good thing when in times of great distress we humble ourselves before God.  Fasting and mourning during tragedies and  seeking God in prayer is something that people do in the Bible frequently.  Lutherans used to observe “Days of Humiliation and Prayer,” particularly when some great trouble was facing the church or the community or nation.  But although God does not despise a broken and contrite heart, we don’t force His hand.  We are beggars, and beggars don’t make deals.  We ask God to show us mercy.


 The life of faith is lived out in prayer.  It begins with the beggar’s cry for mercy, it fights unbelief and keeps its confidence that Christ will give what He has promised, and it perseveres until, having received what is promised, it gives thanks to God.

God doesn’t need to be bribed.  He wants to be gracious to us and answer our prayers for the sake of Jesus.  The thing is that we just don’t ask Him very much.  We don’t ask very much because we don’t like coming to Him as beggars who depend completely upon mercy.  We ask with our lips, but our hearts are not in it,  not with the sincerity and urgency of beggars. 


When I lived in Seattle, there was a man who used to sit on the sidewalk asking for spare change.  Yet he wore Oakley sunglasses and a designer puffy coat.  He didn’t even try to hide that he wasn’t really in need.  And when he asked for help he said, “Spare change?” in such a half-hearted way it made me kind of angry.  A person who really needed help would probably look the part, but he certainly wouldn’t ask for help as though he could take it or leave it!


Yet that is very often how we pray.  Not like people who really need it.  Not like beggars.  We still have a lot of pride, and we often think we can make a deal with God.  That kind of prayer is more likely to test God’s patience than to get a favorable hearing.


2. Have mercy. 

For instance, each week in the Divine Service or Matins we sing “Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.”  The greek words for this are Kyrie Eleison, “Lord, have mercy”, and so that part of the service is called the Kyrie.  Yet so often while singing those words, and then later in the week as we work, and deal with our families and with one another at church, we act like we need mercy about as much as the guy with designer sunglasses in Seattle.  Our hearts are not crying out for mercy from Jesus, even though our lips may say it.


Contrast that with the ten lepers in the Gospel appointed for today.  Leprosy meant a disgusting skin disease.  It could have meant fingers and toes and noses and lips that had fallen off—horrible disfigurement.  It meant being cut off from the people of Israel and cut off from the presence of God in the temple.


Were they half hearted about gathering together and calling to Jesus for help?  No.  St. Luke tells us they lifted up their voices and cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  They gathered together in a group in all their wretchedness.  They didn’t try to hide their shame or desperation.


Leprosy, despite the fact that its results are horrible to look at, is not a painful disease.  The skin disease that we usually call leprosy causes numbness.  People lose fingers and toes because they no longer feel pain in those parts of the body.  So their bodies get mangled, and their extremities fall off, but they don’t feel it.


We have a disease just like that.  However, we don’t feel it, even though it disfigures us, cuts us off from God, isolates us from other people, and impoverishes us.  It is a disease of spiritual deadness called original sin.  It’s easy to ignore this disease because we don’t feel it.  These lepers were disfigured and ugly by their disease, and they could see and feel their outcast status.  But we don’t feel or see the effects of original sin at work within us.  We don’t, by nature, feel how we are cut off from God.


Usually it’s some other kind of desperation that begins to bring us to God.  Only then do we begin to hear the Word of the Lord in His law that exposes the gruesome damage original sin has done to our soul.  We recognize through the Law that we constantly transgress God’s will in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  Only then do we begin to recognize our spiritual leprosy and how it makes us repulsive in God’s sight, brings His wrath upon us.  Then we begin to recognize how bad our situation is and how desperately we need God’s help.


3.  Prayer and faith

But true prayer doesn’t come simply from beginning to recognize our desperation.  That is more likely to drive you away from praying.  The lepers weren’t supposed to come very near to Jesus.  The law of God demanded that they stay away from people who were clean.  Yet they drew near to Jesus and raised their voices to Him.  They did this because in spite of their sickness, and in spite of God’s law which made them outcasts, they believed in Jesus.  They had confidence in Him.  They had heard about Him—that He healed the sick, and that He had compassion on those who came to Him for help.  They came knowing the depth of their sickness, but faith in the Word about Jesus made them able to come near and ask for His help.


That’s the way it is with our prayers.  True faith in Christ gives birth to prayer.  True faith dwells in the hearts of sinners who recognize their unworthiness to speak to Jesus.  But they come with confidence that Jesus will hear them because they have learned from the Gospel that Jesus is not only able to help sinners, but loves them and wants to save them and help them. 


When you have a good conscience like that, you can pray.  You are sure that Jesus will hear you graciously and will grant you your request, or, if not that, then something better.  But without knowledge of sin there is no prayer, because there is no recognition of who we are and who God is.  Only beggars can properly pray and ask for mercy. 


With a bad conscience, there is no courage or motivation to pray.  Just think of how we have prayed in times of crisis!  Think of how many times you’ve prayed in trouble and doubted that God would listen to you because of your sins.  Think of how often you’ve become sluggish about praying at all, especially when you get depressed or the devil and the flesh remind you of the greatness of your sins.  It’s easy to talk about the greatness of our faith, but so often when trouble comes what we really want to be able to find something in ourselves that will give us assurance that God will hear us.

But true faith recognizes that there is nothing in us like that.  It trusts only in Jesus and His mercy and promises.  It says, “I am a beggar, I am aware that I deserve nothing but punishment.  But Jesus is able to help me with my spiritual leprosy as well as my earthly suffering.  And He wants to help me, because He came to earth to ransom those who are nothing but beggars, just like me.  He came to save sinners, so He will receive me and hear my prayer, because I am a sinner.  Even though I am unworthy to come near Him, He will not cast me away.


That is how true faith is.  It is not lazy and just vaguely hopes everything will turn out.  It is confidence about God’s mercy toward us in Christ—that God is gracious to us for Christ’s sake.  And so true faith boldly comes to God with its requests, with confidence that God will receive our prayer.  Lord have mercy.   I have no bargaining chips, only sin.  Yet He will not cast me out, because He is merciful and has come to take away my sins.


4.  Most fall away

Here is where the really sad part of the story comes in.  Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests.  That was what lepers did when they thought that they were healed of leprosy.  Then the priest would certify before God that they were truly cleansed, and they would be received back into fellowship with the people of Israel. 


When Jesus told them to go to the priests, He was telling them to behave as if they were already cleansed. 

However, He did not give them a promise that they would be cleansed.  He just told them to go.  Now at this point the lepers could have become angry and said, “He let us down!  We heard that He cleansed and healed people who came to Him!  Now he’s sending us to the priests!  The priests already know that we have leprosy.”


But the lepers didn’t do that.  They trusted Jesus.  This is how faith works.  It trusts Jesus to be gracious to us even when it isn’t obvious that He is being gracious.  Unbelief would see this command of Jesus as incomprehensible and would begin to doubt His goodness.  But the lepers went believing that they would be healed, or if they weren’t healed, that Jesus would be giving them something even better.

There is no need for us to make deals with God, even if we could.  We are beggars asking for His mercy.  But we are assured of His mercy, that He will give us far above and beyond what we would even think to ask.  Because of this the peace of God reigns in our hearts and we are not enslaved by worry.  When we are anxious, it is due to our unbelief that God hears us and will always do good for us.  But don’t doubt that!  He has promised you His grace in Christ.


But something strange happened to the lepers.  Either on the road or in Jerusalem, 9 of them, despite the faith that brought them to Jesus and which led them to follow His instructions and go to the priests as if they were already cleansed—9 of them fell away. 


It’s hard to say with certainty why.  One explanation is that when they got to Jerusalem the chief priests convinced them that it was actually God working through the priesthood that healed the lepers.  The priests were not fans of Jesus.  His teaching and authority and popularity threatened their power.  But the priests had their authority from the Scripture.  In the Old Testament God appointed the sons of Aaron as priests who would enter into His presence on behalf of the Israelites.  Maybe the lepers were convinced by the priests that Jesus was a false prophet, and so they lost their faith in Him.  Their condemnation of Jesus would have had great weight, because it would have meant that if these lepers continued to confess Jesus as the one who healed them, they would have remained excommunicated from the people of Israel and the temple.  The priests could have also had them killed if they accused the lepers of blasphemy.


But the temptation they faced is one that we face too.  Oftentimes through one suffering or another people come to Jesus and they are truly broken and empty beggars.  They come to Jesus for healing and deliverance from a bad conscience or poverty or some other tribulation.  But when they get what they asked for from Jesus, they forget about Him.  Why?


Because we don’t want to be beggars.  We want to stand on our own two feet.  And Jesus takes away our ability to brag that we stand on our own two feet.  To be a Christian is to depend on Jesus only.  We have nothing but Jesus.  No matter how long we are Christians, no matter how many good works we have done, our righteousness and our trust is always only Jesus.


So when the priests said, “Jesus didn’t actually heal you.  It was the God of Israel in this temple, working through us—“ that was a powerful temptation.  It was a temptation that said, “Now you can be like everyone else.  Now you no longer have to be an outcast.” 


These lepers still had something in themselves that they could hang on to.  They were Israelites.  They had the DNA of God’s chosen people.  If they stuck with Jesus they would lose all that.


Because Jesus was an outcast.  The leaders of God’s people rejected Him.  He was cast out as one who was unclean.  Later He was put to death on a cross—the death of a man cursed by God.  Just like a leper—since leprosy was usually viewed as a divine curse and punishment.  The 9 Jewish lepers didn’t want to go back to being an outcast.  That meant they stayed at the temple and didn’t go back to Jesus.


One leper did go back.  Only one fell at Jesus’ feet and gave thanks to Him.  He gave thanks to God not at the splendid temple in Jerusalem, but at the lowly feet of Jesus, at the temple of Jesus’ human flesh, which would soon be pierced, nailed to the cross as a castaway, as one cursed by God.


This man was a Samaritan.  Samaritans were as hated by the Jews as Christians would later hate heretics.  This heretic was the only one who did not fall away, who stayed with Jesus not only for physical healing, but returned to give thanks to Him, and thus received not just bodily blessings but the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.


Some people teach that Christians, once they become Christians, can never fall away.  That is not true.  People often begin with faith in Jesus but are later turned aside from Him.  Like a dog that returns to its vomit, oftentimes we are laid low and come to Christ, but later we get on our feet again and no longer want to stick with Him through shame, and rejection, and persecution.


The one who persevered did not have the gifts that the others had.  He was not a Jew by birth.  They had been taught the word of God since they were little.  The Jews had God’s presence in the temple.  The Samaritans did not. They were not God’s chosen people.  Yet the leaders of the people of God, and all the lepers were all rejected by God.  They fell away.  Only this Samaritan knew where God’s grace was truly to be found—in the lowly temple of Jesus’ flesh. 


Jesus’ mother sang a song when He was born called the magnificat.  In that song she sang these words: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich He has sent away empty.”


Our flesh hates being a beggar.  But beggars are the only  ones who receive Christ’s mercy and stay in it—poor, wretched sinners who have nothing to rely on except Christ and His pure mercy, which moved Him to die for sinners.


5.  We should give thanks to You…

The life of faith perseveres until it receives what is promised and gives thanks to God.

Thanksgiving is the completion of the life of faith.  When we come to our rest at the right hand of God it will be endless thanksgiving.  It will be the thanksgiving of beggars who have received salvation.

But thanksgiving begins now.  Faith in Christ does not only result in earthly blessings; faith in Christ takes hold of something much greater than that.  It claims cleansing and forgiveness of sins.  It claims Jesus Christ as its own.  Jesus Christ, dead for our sins on the cross, risen from the dead, sitting at the right hand of the Father.  Ours.  Now.

“It is truly good, right, and salutary, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord…” 


Why should we give thanks to God in every circumstance, whether it is pleasant or not—whether we have earthly blessings or suffering? 


Because Jesus gives us His body and blood.  And having that, we have everything.  If we have Jesus’ body and blood given for us, we are saved and nothing can hurt us—no suffering can rob us of everlasting life.


We have the victory no matter what.


Christian faith does not merely seek and receive blessing from Christ.  It also continues and bears the fruit of thanksgiving.  Faith perseveres and proves itself by giving thanks to Jesus.  And that means not merely with our lips, but also with our bodies and lives.  Faith in Christ results in thanksgiving, where we offer ourselves and all we have and are back to Christ in joy and gratitude, since He has saved us.


That is our holy work, our holy sacrifice, as Christ’s royal priesthood.  Paul says in Romans 12: Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.  This is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.


The 9 lepers who fell away were conformed to the world.  They went back to relying on themselves.


But the Samaritan was transformed.  Not only was he healed physically, but He began to see where the healing from the uncleanness of original sin is found.


It is found in the body of Jesus.


In Jesus’ body is where our cleansing from sin has been completed.  He was without sin, yet He died as an unclean thing under the wrath of God. 


We come to Him by faith.  We believe that His body and blood were given and shed for us.  We eat and drink His body at the altar and by faith receive assurance that our sins are forgiven, destroyed, and that we have life, even though we still see the uncleanness of original sin, spiritual leprosy, at work in us.


Yes, your sins are destroyed in jesus’ death, and life and purification and holiness are yours in His resurrection.  You share in all of this because He has said it is yours in Your baptism.


And so by faith we fall at His feet and give our whole selves to Him, because nothing can harm us if we have purification from this spiritual leprosy.


We can’t see Jesus today, so how can we fall at His feet and thank Him?


First of all, come receive His body and blood, and hold fast to His promise that your sins are forgiven and cleansed by it.


Secondly, give thanks to Him and call on Him in every trouble.


Third, offer your body up to Him.  Let Him have your money, time, heart.  Serve His body, the church, particularly on sinful Christians.  Show mercy to the poor, give yourself in service to those Christ would have you serve in your calling.  If you want to give all of yourself to Christ in thanksgiving for Him giving all to you that is where He sends you.


Be comforted O Christians by Jesus’ body and blood which is the cure for your spiritual leprosy!  Then you will bear the fruit of thanksgiving and love.  This is the work that Christ is building His church among us to do.  He gives You His gifts so that we may not go back and stand on our own two feet, but stay with Him who was made an outcast for us.  And with Him we become servants of the outcasts and unclean.



Phone Scam Warning

September 8, 2012 3 comments

I got a phone call this afternoon claiming to be from microsoft and saying that a lot of users have  a virus and he was calling to help me fix it.  After a little bit I started thinking it was a scam, so I played along while this Indian voice told me to bring up the “run” box on Windows and go to system review.  I went to some screen that had a whole bunch of “warning” messages, which the guy claimed was a virus that was multiplying on my computer.  Then he directed me to a website, where I realized they were either going to have access to my computer, or they were going to have me pay to download something, or both, and at that point I hung up.  Pretty early on I started thinking that if Microsoft had given me a program that was going to ruin my computer with viruses they would probably make sure to fix the problem for free.

Anyway, sure enough, this scam has been going on for a couple of years.  If you get a phone call like this, now you can save yourself five or ten minutes and just hang up immediately.

Virus phone scam being run from call centres in India

Britons targeted by cold callers pretending to be from Microsoft phoning to fix a fake computer problem

Beware cold callers – especially those claiming your computer has a virus. Photograph: Corbis

The scam always starts the same way: the phone rings at someone’s home, and the caller – usually with an Indian accent – asks for the householder, quoting their name and address before saying “I’m calling for Microsoft. We’ve had a report from your internet service provider of serious virus problems from your computer.”

Dire forecasts are made that if the problem is not solved, the computer will become unusable.

The puzzled owner is then directed to their computer, and asked to open a program called “Windows Event Viewer”. Its contents are, to the average user, worrying: they look like a long list of errors, some labelled “critical”. “Yes, that’s it,” says the caller. “Now let me guide you through the steps to fixing it.”

The computer owner is directed to a website and told to download a program that hands over remote control of the computer, and the caller “installs” various “fixes” for the problem. And then it’s time to pay a fee: £185 for a “subscription” to the “preventative service”.

The only catch: there was never anything wrong with the computer, the caller is not working for Microsoft or the internet service provider, and the owner has given a complete stranger access to every piece of data on their machine.

An investigation by the Guardian has established that this scam, which has been going on quietly since 2008 but has abruptly grown in scale this year, is being run from call centres based in Kolkata, by teams believed to have access to sales databases from computer and software companies.

Matt, a Londoner who has recently set up his own company, had just arrived home at 7pm when the phone rang and someone with an Indian accent asked for him by name, quoting his address. “It’s Windows tech support here,” said the caller. “We have reason to believe that there’s a problem with your computer. There have been downloads of malware and spyware, and they’re slowing down your computer.”

He went along with the caller’s demands to log into a website and enter a six-digit code into his computer. “I thought it was a new service from [Microsoft] Windows,” he said. “I could see them moving the cursor about. It took about half an hour.”

The caller could not have obtained Matt’s name via HP or PC World, where he bought the machine, because he gave his business address, not his home address, during the purchase.

This suggests that the caller was using the phonebook to find names. Patrick McCarthy, who lives in Dublin, received a call from one of the companies – but they addressed him by the name of the apartment block where he lives instead of his own name, a longstanding error in the Irish phone book.

Often, the victims are inexperienced or elderly, convinced by the apparent authority of the callers and the worrying contents of the Event Viewer. In fact, such “errors” are not indicative of any problems.

Investigators who have spoken to the Guardian on condition of anonymity say that one man, based in the city of Kota in Rajasthan, is behind the centres running the scams.

He has provided fake documentation to a number of payment companies including PayPal and Alertpay, a Montreal-based online payment company, to set up accounts which route money to a bank account in Kota with Axis Bank.

Though people on dozens of web forums have recorded their experiences with the scammers, police and trading standards officers in the UK are powerless to stop them.

UK telephone numbers for contacting the company on the sites are not “geographical” ‑ tied to a location ‑ but instead allocated to voice-over-internet providers.

That means that the calls connect internationally, but cost the scammers almost nothing when anyone calls them.

In the same way, it costs them virtually nothing to make the calls because the international part of the call goes via the internet.

If the payment has been made on a debit card ‑ as many are ‑ there is no hope of reversing the payment. A number of payment organisations used by the scammers have shut down their accounts. PayPal, the eBay-owned credit transfer company, and AlertPay have both taken rapid action against scam sites which used them.

In March, site hosting company Hostgator shut down one of the longest-running sites used for the alleged scam,, after complaints.

After confirming with Microsoft that the site was not acting for it, Hostgator immediately shut it down. Josh Loe, Hostgator’s co-founder, said that following the initial complaint, “we asked for more information regarding this to confirm. We received a message from a Microsoft representative via this particular person who contacted us first about this. At that time it was enough evidence to close the site and it was done so the same day.”

But one investigator who has been tracking the growth of the scam says the challenge is that new sites offering the same fake “service” keep popping up “like mushrooms”.

At first the scammers tried desperately to maintain the reputation of their sites, by flooding any forum which garnered enough criticism of their activities with postings claiming that the site helped fix their machine.

But the poor spelling and grammar of the replies – allied to internet addresses which show that the commenters are based in India – contrasted sharply with that of people in the UK, US and Australia complaining about the attempted scam.

Now they have shifted to creating multiple sites from templates, using stock phrases and photos. However, investigators are sure that the same man ‑ and central operation ‑ is behind all of the schemes. “I don’t think that this could really have spread that far. Even if they can see that some of their friends are making money from this, the calls are too similar every time,” said one. “It’s got to be the same organisation each time.”

Microsoft denies any connection with the companies that call people up offering these services.

When contacted about the scams, Microsoft said it was “currently investigating a series of instances in which the business practices of an organisation within the Microsoft Partner Network [that] have given rise to significant concerns from a number of sources. We take matters such as these extremely seriously and will take any action that is appropriate once our investigation is complete.”

Three weeks after being contacted by the Guardian, it issued another statement: “We confirm that we have taken action to terminate our relationship with certain partners who are clearly misrepresenting their relationship with us and using our company name in order to facilitate their telephone scam operations.”

However, this week, two sites alleged to be involved were still listed as “Microsoft Gold Certified Partners”, which Microsoft says means that they must have “demonstrated expertise” and “must employ a minimum number of Microsoft Certified Professionals”.

The company has noticed the problem. “Microsoft does not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer,” it says on its website.

“If you receive an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft Tech Support, hang up. We do not make these kinds of calls.”

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