Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptizer: A Devotional Commentary

Romans 6:1-5 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection;

Mark 6:14-29 King Herod heard this, for his name had become known, and he said, “John the Baptizer has risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” Others said, “He is a prophet, or like one of the prophets.” But Herod, when he heard this, said, “This is John, whom I beheaded. He has risen from the dead.” For Herod himself had sent out and arrested John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for he had married her. For John said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias set herself against him, and desired to kill him, but she couldn’t, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he did many things, and he heard him gladly. Then a convenient day came, that Herod on his birthday made a supper for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and those sitting with him. The king said to the young lady, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” He swore to her, “Whatever you shall ask of me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” She went out, and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” She said, “The head of John the Baptizer.” She came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptizer on a platter.” The king was exceedingly sorry, but for the sake of his oaths, and of his dinner guests, he didn’t wish to refuse her. Immediately the king sent out a soldier of his guard, and commanded to bring John’s head, and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the young lady; and the young lady gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard this, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.

Jesus said that among those born of women there was none greater than John the Baptist. There was no greater prophet. John did not live like a "great" man. He lived in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey and he was eventually thrown into prison and beheaded. Such is the life of a "great" man in the kingdom of God because such is the life of the King of the kingdom. John spent his adult life pointing us to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John preached the harsh realities of the law and for his preaching of the law he was thrown into prison and eventually beheaded. We don't like the truth. When our sins are exposed for what they are, even our most obvious ones, we react defensively and try to shut-up the whistleblower. Most of us don't have the legal power to execute the whistleblower and so instead we avoid or maybe even slander the whistleblower. But our avoidance and our slander d0 not make our sins any less real. Beheading John the Baptizer did not make the sin of Herod any less real.

Herod knew this. Herod's fear increased after executing John the Baptizer. When Herod heard of Jesus he thought Jesus was John the Baptizer raised from the dead. Herod was afraid because he committed sin against a mere man. He should have been more of the judgment of God. Hiding and denial are absolutely useless before God. Jesus did raise the dead and did rise from the dead Himself. Jesus died for Herod's sins of adultery and murder just like He died for your adultery and your murder. The death of John the Baptizer atoned for noone's sins but the death of Jesus atoned for John the Baptizer's sins and your sins.

You have been baptized into Christ Jesus. You have become a partaker in His death. You will also be part of His resurrection.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Feast of St. Bartholomew: A Devotional Commentary

Proverbs 3:1-8 My son, don’t forget my teaching; but let your heart keep my commandments: for length of days, and years of life, and peace, will they add to you. Don’t let kindness and truth forsake you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor, and good understanding in the sight of God and man. Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Don’t be wise in your own eyes. Fear Yahweh, and depart from evil. It will be health to your body, and nourishment to your bones.

2 Corinthians 4:7-10 But we have this treasure in clay vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not to despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed; always carrying in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Luke 22:24-30 There arose also a contention among them, which of them was considered to be greatest. He said to them, “The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so with you. But one who is the greater among you, let him become as the younger, and one who is governing, as one who serves. For who is greater, one who sits at the table, or one who serves? Isn’t it he who sits at the table? But I am in the midst of you as one who serves. But you are those who have continued with me in my trials. I confer on you a kingdom, even as my Father conferred on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. You will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Little is known about the life of St. Bartholomew. But he gave His life for preaching Jesus. According to one tradition he was beheaded. According to another he was flayed alive and crucified upside-down. He was a clay vessel just like you. Just like you, Bartholomew believed he deserved a special in the kingdom. Bartholomew received his special seat by carrying Christ with Him wherever He went and then being martyred.

King Jesus gives us a kingdom. King Jesus brings us into the reign of God but not by conquering all the earthly, evil kingdoms with the power of the sword. King Jesus brings us into the reign of God by dying and by killing us and by giving us His crucified body and blood to eat and to drink. When you see what the kingdom is all about and who it is all about, where you sit doesn't really matter anymore. The kingdom is a feast where we eat and drink Jesus.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Trinity 12: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 29:17-24 Isn’t it yet a very little while, and Lebanon will be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field will be regarded as a forest? In that day, the deaf will hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind will see out of obscurity and out of darkness. The humble also will increase their joy in Yahweh, and the poor among men will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. For the ruthless is brought to nothing, and the scoffer ceases, and all those who are alert to do evil are cut off— who cause a person to be indicted by a word, and lay a snare for the arbiter in the gate, and who deprive the innocent of justice with false testimony. Therefore thus says Yahweh, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: “Jacob shall no longer be ashamed, neither shall his face grow pale. But when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in the midst of him, they will sanctify my name. Yes, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. They also who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who grumble will receive instruction.”

2 Corinthians 3:4-11 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God; not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God; who also made us sufficient as servants of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the service of death, written engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly on the face of Moses for the glory of his face; which was passing away: won’t service of the Spirit be with much more glory? For if the service of condemnation has glory, the service of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For most certainly that which has been made glorious has not been made glorious in this respect, by reason of the glory that surpasses. For if that which passes away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.

Mark 7:31-37 Again he departed from the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and came to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the region of Decapolis. They brought to him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. They begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside from the multitude, privately, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat, and touched his tongue. Looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was released, and he spoke clearly. He commanded them that they should tell no one, but the more he commanded them, so much the more widely they proclaimed it. They were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He makes even the deaf hear, and the mute speak!”

Jesus heals the deaf man, but not in a respectable way. A simple wave of the hand may have been acceptable but Jesus sticks his fingers in the guy's ears, spat and then sticks it on the guy's tongue. It often pleases God to work through the use of material objects and we tend to find this offensive. We are closet gnostics who regard matter as offensive. Naaman the leper thought the whole dipping in the Jordan business was silly and useless and many in the church today think the same thing about baptism. But it pleases God to work this way. We are not just spirits trapped inside of evil, useless bodies waiting for our escape into the spirit world. Our bodies are part of who we are and Christ came to redeem your entire person. God does not save us by making us less material. Instead, God comes and joins us in our human bodies. Jesus sighed. He breathed in this man's sickness and took it upon Himself. The hands of God that were used to create man were used to open this man's ears. The finger of God that wrote the ten words on the tablets that were given to Moses touched the tongue of this man and gave him speech.

God still works through material objects. Through His Word joined to the water God washes away your sins. In the Lord's Supper He places His very body upon our tongues and gives you His blood to drink for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus works faith in us and gives us ears to hear and opens our lips to declare His praise.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord

Isaiah 61:7-11 "Instead of your shame you shall have double; and instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be to them. For I, Yahweh, love justice, I hate robbery with iniquity; and I will give them their recompense in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which Yahweh has blessed.” I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its bud, and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord Yahweh will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.

Galatians 4:4-7 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of children. And because you are children, God sent out the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Luke 1:39-55 Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah, 1:40 and entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. It happened, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, that the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She called out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy! Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord!” Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for he has looked at the humble state of his handmaid. For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed. For he who is mighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name. His mercy is for generations of generations on those who fear him. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down princes from their thrones. And has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things. He has sent the rich away empty. He has given help to Israel, his servant, that he might remember mercy, As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever.”

Mary is truly the Mother of God and in this passage she speaks on behalf of the church. The Holy Spirit is truly present here and does what He always does. He doesn't speak of Himself but speaks of Christ. The Holy Spirit works faith in John the Baptizer, causing him to leap in his mother's womb when Mary spoke her words of greeting while bearing the Christ-child. John the Baptizer was not a prodigy, he didn't have superhuman cognitive ability. But faith is a gift and he was a receiver of that gift. Through the Word spoken by Mary faith was worked in the heart of John the Baptizer just as faith is worked in us through the Word spoken by the church. The Word of the Church is powerful because it is given to her by the authority of Christ. The Church repeats Christ's Words. Mary had Jesus within her in an objective way. He wasn't some feeling in her heart. He was truly present in her womb. Christ is not present in some sentimental way in His church. He is truly present and objectively gives us His body and blood in the sacrament of the Altar through the instrument of the church.

Mary is filled with the Holy Spirit and doesn't start talking about her feelings. She talks about Jesus. She speaks of her own blessedness as an objective reality--not because of some sinless life but because of what she has been given. She is the God-bearer! All generations must call her blessed! It would be crazy not to! God's mercy and strength are objectively displayed in making her the God-bearer.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Trinity 10: A Devotional Commentary

Jeremiah 8:4-12 Moreover you shall tell them, Thus says Yahweh: Shall men fall, and not rise up again? Shall one turn away, and not return? Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return. I listened and heard, but they didn’t speak aright: no man repents him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? everyone turns to his course, as a horse that rushes headlong in the battle. Yes, the stork in the sky knows her appointed times; and the turtledove and the swallow and the crane observe the time of their coming; but my people don’t know Yahweh’s law. How do you say, We are wise, and the law of Yahweh is with us? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has worked falsely. The wise men are disappointed, they are dismayed and taken: behold, they have rejected the word of Yahweh; and what kind of wisdom is in them? Therefore will I give their wives to others, and their fields to those who shall possess them: for everyone from the least even to the greatest is given to covetousness; from the prophet even to the priest every one deals falsely. They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among those who fall; in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, says Yahweh.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 Now concerning spiritual things, brothers, I don’t want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were heathen, you were led away to those mute idols, however you might be led. Therefore I make known to you that no man speaking by God’s Spirit says, “Jesus is accursed.” No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” but by the Holy Spirit. Now there are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are various kinds of service, and the same Lord. There are various kinds of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; to another faith, by the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, by the same Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discerning of spirits; to another different kinds of languages; and to another the interpretation of languages. But the one and the same Spirit works all of these, distributing to each one separately as he desires.

Luke 19:41-48 When he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had known today the things which belong to your peace! But now, they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come on you, when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, surround you, hem you in on every side, and will dash you and your children within you to the ground. They will not leave in you one stone on another, because you didn’t know the time of your visitation.” He entered into the temple, and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of robbers’!” He was teaching daily in the temple, but the chief priests and the scribes and the leading men among the people sought to destroy him. They couldn’t find what they might do, for all the people hung on to every word that he said.

If only you knew the things that would bring you peace. The Israelites had a history of ignoring, persecuting, or even killing those who brought them peace and so does the church today. The church, just like the Jews, considers these people to be troublemakers. Jesus was disturbing the peace by interfering with the plans to make money for Judaism Inc. He spoke openly against Judaism Inc.'s mission and vision statements. Jesus made it very clear that God's house is a house of prayer, not a house for making a buck. Jesus interfered with their plans for financial peace.

In many places today, if you insist that Jesus be preached they will drive you out. They will accuse you of all kinds of crazy things. If you approach the leadership of a church or denomination and insist on Jesus in the preaching and the liturgy, they will say you are divisive and a troublemaker. We're all united, don't try to cause divisions by your insistance on Jesus.

Jesus is a threat to their false peace that they have when they put confidence in whatever program they want to promote. Jesus is a threat to your peace when you place your confidence in your own plans and ideas. Jesus threatens the peace of even the most pious ideas of religious men.

But Jesus brings us true peace that will never be found in our own plans and schemes. Sometimes Jesus will bring havoc and all kinds of misery to our lives so that he can bring us peace. Jesus brings peace to the suffering in the midst of their suffering. Jesus tells us that our sins our forgiven. Jesus feeds us His very body and blood. Peace cannot be found in religious fads and schemes. Peace can only be found in Jesus Himself by being united to Him and feeding on Him.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Trinity 9: A Devotional Commentary

2 Samuel 22:26-34 With the merciful you will show yourself merciful. With the perfect man you will show yourself perfect. With the pure you will show yourself pure. With the crooked you will show yourself shrewd. You will save the afflicted people, But your eyes are on the haughty, that you may bring them down. For you are my lamp, Yahweh. Yahweh will light up my darkness. For by you, I run against a troop. By my God, I leap over a wall. As for God, his way is perfect. The word of Yahweh is tested. He is a shield to all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, besides Yahweh? Who is a rock, besides our God? God is my strong fortress. He makes my way perfect. He makes his feet like hinds’ feet, and sets me on my high places.

1 Corinthians 10:6-13 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Neither let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them committed, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell. Neither let us test the Lord, as some of them tested, and perished by the serpents. Neither grumble, as some of them also grumbled, and perished by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall. No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Luke 16:1-9 He also said to his disciples, “There was a certain rich man who had a manager. An accusation was made to him that this man was wasting his possessions. He called him, and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ The manager said within himself, ‘What will I do, seeing that my lord is taking away the management position from me? I don’t have strength to dig. I am ashamed to beg. I know what I will do, so that when I am removed from management, they may receive me into their houses.’ Calling each one of his lord’s debtors to him, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe to my lord?’ He said, ‘A hundred batos of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred cors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ His lord commended the dishonest manager because he had done wisely, for the children of this world are, in their own generation, wiser than the children of the light. I tell you, make for yourselves friends by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when you fail, they may receive you into the eternal tents.

Reading this parable should cure anyone who reads it of the notion that the parables are about how to run a successful business. It should also cure anyone who reads it of the idea that God acts reasonably towards us. This is perhaps the most offensive parable to all forms of religion. What kind of God would commend an unfaithful steward for forgiving the debts of others after already being fired for his own unfaithfulness? But this is exactly what God does all the time. In fact if the stewards were a "faithful steward" he would have been kicked out of the kingdom. The unfaithful steward had no false notions about his own faithfulness and worthiness. But he knew that his Master was merciful. He put all his hope and all of his trust in the mercy of the Master.

This parable shows us what the office of the holy ministry is all about. It's not about faithful stewards who stand as an example of faithfulness and tell others to imitate them. It's about unfaithful stewards--sinners who are worthy of the Master's temporal and eternal punishment who go around telling other debtors that their sins have been forgiven. They have no right to this forgiveness. They have not earned this forgiveness. The steward has not earned any right to mess with the debts of others. But the Master is merciful. The Master Himself died for the debts owed to Him.