January 31, 2006

Ge 49-50 / Biblog comments / Tidbits

(For comments on Luke 1:68-79, the seasonal canticle for January, see the background for January and the January 1st Biblog.)

Today’s reading of Genesis 49-50 finishes both the account of Jacob (37:2) and the book of Genesis. Genesis 49:1-28 gives us Jacob’s blessing his sons, 49:29-50:14 the death of Jacob, 50:15-21 Joseph’s reassurance to his brothers, and 50:22-26 Joseph’s death. More than just blessings on his children, Jacob’s words are prophetic for their descendants but based also on the past. For example, Simeon and Levi’s violence (see Genesis 34:25-29) comes back to haunt them, as it were. The fourth-born son, Judah, receives leadership, especially as it is fulfilled in the Messiah, to Whom the scepter and ruler’s staff most especially belong, that is, Jesus, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5). Genesis 50:20, as I indicated previously draws our attention to a key point not only in Genesis but throughout salvation history: God working good even out of otherwise bad situations. Joseph makes the same request as Jacob, that to be buried in the Promised Land, but, where Jacob’s request was fulfilled shortly after his death, Joseph’s would be fulfilled much later (see Exodus 13:19). The embalming was necessary in both cases because travel was necessary.

Two Biblog comments today: first, in response to Sunday’s post, an emailer commented that the people protesting the gay agenda by buying and selling stocks will likely not be the ones to profit from the venture, and, second, in response to yesterday’s post, an emailer expressed appreciation for the shepherd connection between Genesis and Luke 2:8-20.

After a day without anything, today I have a few tidbits for you. First, here’s some "conservative" reading in advance of President Bush’s State of the Union address tonight. ... As “Brokeback Mountain” is expected to top the list of Oscar nominations out today, we can accurately say you do know them by their fruits. … The Roman Catholic Church may be one step closer to giving its former pope official sainthood status. … You can find some interesting religious art here. ... And finally, thanks to a link emailed from a reader: do you have brunch after church or Church of Brunch?

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 30, 2006

Ps 58 / Ge 46-48

Though deserved, we find what seem to be some pretty harsh words in Psalm 58, and they seem even harsher when we recall that the psalm finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, Who was condemned to death though found innocent. The psalm begins with words spoken to God but really addressed to the judges who are not upright (vv.1-2). Then, the criticism of the wicked judges continues, linking their actions to their wicked natures given at birth and likening them to a snake that cannot be charmed (vv.3-5). Using what is said to be usual Near East curses, the psalmist next prays God to stop those judges from doing more harm and to purge them from the land (vv.6-8). Finally, the psalmist expresses his confidence that God will condemn the wicked judges and reward those who are righteous on the basis of the faith God gave them (vv.9-11).

Today’s reading of Genesis 46-48 continues the account of Jacob (37:2), with 46:1-47:12 telling of Jacob’s reunion with Joseph and the settling of his family in Egypt, with 47:13-31 telling of the continuation of the famine and Joseph’s promise to Jacob (also known as Israel), and with chapter 48 telling of Jacob “adopting” Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, as his own and blessing the younger ahead of the older. Notice how God’s Presence and promise goes with His people and is passed from one generation to the next. As we begin to anticipate the book of Exodus, note how God is already at this time promising that Jacob’s descendants will return from Egypt to the Promised Land. There may be irony in that under Joseph’s leadership the Egyptians sell themselves to Pharaoh as landless slaves, while Jacob’s descendants gain land and prosper, but as Exodus begins Jacob’s descendants will be slaves to the Egyptians. Jacob, who as the younger struggled for his older brother’s birthright and who wanted the younger of two sisters ahead of the older, blessed Manasseh and Ephraim opposite their birth order and their father’s expectations: an example of the Bible’s recurring theme of a great reversal, under which, as Jesus says, the last are first, and the first last. One final thing: noticing Jacob and his family’s occupation as shepherds and Jacob’s reference to God as his Shepherd, does the angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth to shepherds seem all that surprising?

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:01 AM

January 29, 2006

Ps 57 / Ge 43-45 / Tidbits

Psalm 57 is linked with the events of 1 Samuel 24:1-3 and may be a prayer at night looking for perhaps both the literal and figurative dawn. The psalm has two parts, each ending with the same refrain (vv.5, 11): the prayer for mercy and deliverance (vv.1-4) and praise for God’s anticipated answer (vv.6-10). The idea of the shelter of wings in verse 1 has been seen before (for example, Psalm 17:8, and see Jesus’ use in Matthew 23:37). I find verse 2 to be extremely comforting (see also Psalm 138:8): God will fulfill (NIV, “accomplish” NASB) His purpose regarding me; in a very real sense it is not up to me. God sends His love and faithfulness (vv.3, 10), most concretely in His Son, Jesus, our Savior. The response of praise from the psalmist makes reference to singing with instruments of the temple liturgy, and his response of praise is a model for us.

Continuing the account of Jacob (37:2), today we read Genesis 43-45, which tells of Joseph’s brothers’ second trip into Egypt, including Joseph revealing himself to his brothers. Jesus' ancestor Judah emerges as the new leader of the clan, making a more sacrificial offer for Benjamin’s safety than his older brother Reuben had (42:37). Again you might notice the repetition of certain elements of the story, repetition which helped fix the story in the hearts and minds of those who heard it. You should also notice the example of forgiveness Joseph extends to his brothers who had done so much wrong to him. You might also notice how, in Israel’s arrival in Egypt, there are some subtle anticipations of their departure, such as 45:18, 20 where the best of Egypt is to be theirs (see Exodus 12:36). Perhaps most important to notice, however, is how God worked through these events, even though intended for evil, to bring about good (look ahead briefly, to Genesis 50:20). His purposes were fulfilled for them and are fulfilled for us.

Today's tidbits begin with Washington state’s gay bill of rights reportedly passing that state’s House of Representatives, though some are said to be fighting back against the forces thought be behind the gay agenda in that state. On the other end of the country, the University of Florida is said to be pushing an homosexual agenda, while across the big pond Christians reportedly kept quiet as the European Union banned homophobia. … Back in this country “The Book of Daniel” was seen as the logical conclusion of liberal Christianity, and there is more reaction here to the NBC show’s cancellation after only three episodes.

God bless your day, and may you permit Him to make it holy for you by the right use of His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 28, 2006

Ps 56 / Ge 40-42 / Abortion tidbits

Psalm 56 is said to be connected to the events of 1 Samuel 21:10-15, and thus in this psalm David understandably prays earnestly for the Lord to help him. Note how as in so many psalms that we have read the psalmist remains confident that the Lord will answer his prayer, and he vows to praise God as a result. (Verse 4 and verses 10-11 come close to being a refrain, and they bring to mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28, and see also Hebrews 13:6.) Many people think they can promise God something in exchange for Him answering their prayers, but that is not what the psalmist is doing—his praise of God is the thankful response for something God will do solely out of love and mercy.

Genesis 40-42 continues the account of Jacob (37:2) by following him who best represents him, his son Joseph. Two of Pharaoh’s chief officials join Joseph for a time in prison, where he interprets their dreams, in chapter 40. Pharaoh dreams and Joseph interprets in chapter 41, and Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt in chapter 42. Joseph does not interpret the two officials’ dreams on his own; as Joseph says in 41:16, only God interprets dreams correctly. Yes, there is a little wordplay in 40:13 and 19, one with the figurative meaning of releasing and the other with, shall we say, a more literal meaning. In 41:32, the two dreams are as if two witnesses to the same truth. The city of On in 41:45 could be the same city that we talked about in connection with Isaiah 19:18. Joseph’s brothers bowing down in 42:6 fulfills Joseph’s dream of 37:7, 9. Don’t you think it is hard to read of the three days in 42:17-18 (and 40:13, 19, 20) and not think of the three days between Jesus’ death and resurrection?

Here are some abortion tidbits for today, nearly one week after the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. A Nebraska minister’s invocation for a recent session of that state’s senate reportedly pushed an abortion button, while that senate itself considers a move to better protect unborn children. … Focus on the Family’s website claims a CBS poll shows a widening gap between a majority of Americans that is pro-life and a minority that supports abortion, but its own article does not support its headline, nor is the CBS poll to which it refers locatable on the CBS site. … One study shows abortion increases a woman’s chances of having sleep disorders, another shows a decline in the percentage of babies aborted, and there is controversy over yet other research. ... Blogging is said to help the anti-abortion cause, but if you want a more traditional way to help the anti-abortion cause, today from 1-3 is the Texas Rally for Life march in Austin.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 27, 2006

Ps 55 / Ge 37-39 / Webber’s “Joseph” / Biblog folos / Tidbits

You think you have it bad? You should see … That thought came to my mind after reading Psalm 55. David’s plight through which the Holy Spirit prompted him to write Psalm 55 (possibly the conspiracy by Absalom described in 2 Samuel 15-17) must have been pretty bad; his anguish exudes from nearly every syllable! Yet, no matter how much better or worse our own situations are in comparison, by God’s promise to David and to each of us He sustains us through them. David wanted to escape, as we, too, often want to do, but instead he casts his burden (KJV, NIV “cares”) on the Lord (see also 1 Peter 5:7), and we should do so, too. Rest assured God did not ignore David, and He does not now nor will He ever ignore you. His faithful stand redeemed even now and will ultimately be vindicated, while the wicked betrayers and conspirators will perish. Trust in Him!

Genesis 37-39 focuses almost exclusively on the account of Jacob (37:2-39:23, see 37:2), or more precisely his older son, Joseph, of his preferred wife, Rachel; Joseph is said to represent Jacob/Israel more than anyone else in his generation, and the narrative gives some pretty clear reasons why. Chapter 37 tells of Joseph’s dreams, chapter 38 is an interlude of sorts telling of Judah and Tamar, and chapter 39 tells of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. There is some implied contrast between Joseph, who was forced to leave his family but remained faithful, and Judah, who voluntarily left his family and had less than faithful results (note well that time is a bit compressed in chapter 38). Despite the less-than-ideal relations in Judah’s line, Tamar and her son Perez do stand as ancestors of King David and our Lord Jesus Christ. (The scarlet thread in 38:28 is not the only one that comes close to Jesus’ line—see Joshua 2:17 and 21.) As God worked good through Judah and Tamar, so God worked good through Potiphar’s wife’s deception.

I am a bit of a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music, but I am not all that familiar with his show “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. I do know “Technicolor” is a trademark, if not a registered one. Perhaps some of you know more about Webber’s “Joseph” and can comment on whether the show is edifying in any way.

Emails necessitate some quick Biblog folos. Regarding my post Tuesday an emailer asked if Rachel “wanted” her father’s household gods (Genesis 31:19): that’s a little hard to say, though we know she took them and later concealed them (31:35)—the immediate context seems to suggest that she thought she “deserved” them as an inheritance (31:14-16 and confer Dr. Luther), though in Genesis 35:2 she has to give them up anyway. Regarding my post yesterday about Rueben exercising early his rights as firstborn and then losing them, an emailer asked if I was referring to Genesis 35:22: yes, and see Genesis 49:3-4; 1 Chronicles 5:1; and today’s reading for how Rueben’s leadership seems ineffective. At least one commentator says as the firstborn Rueben would have inherited Bilhah at Jacob’s death. (Dr. Luther, by the way, blames Bilhah for the matter, as well as Rueben.) Another emailer remarked on the comfort of Dr. Luther’s comments about being gathered to the fathers (Genesis 35:29), and I then noted the allusion in Luther’s comments to Luke 21:18. (Maybe, as the emailer asked about the emailer's hair, that means I will be reunited with all the hairs I only “think” I have lost?)

A "quartet" of tidbits are offered here for today. It is not a Bible class in New Braunfels public schools that’s causing controversy but the book that will be used. … Oprah yesterday apologized for betraying viewers by recommending an autobiographical book that has turned out to be more fiction than fact. What was more striking to me was an ABC News "Nightline" piece last night (sorry, can't find a link to it) that put Oprah's on-camera apology in the same category as Jimmy Swaggert's and Dan Rather's apologies and Bill Clinton's denial--an interesting grouping, given that Swaggert's and Clinton's were related to sex scandals and Clinton's wasn't even an apology! Sign of the times indeed. ... Public schools in San Francisco reportedly have a controversy over posters calling the schools a “safe” place (reminding me of a concern I have about a similar program at my undergraduate alma mater and where money donated there goes--something I first learned about through the July 2005 issue of Concordia Journal, p.246). … And, closer to home again, though other religious leaders there are less than thrilled with the establishment, a Roman Catholic priest blessed a new Hooters in Waco. Care to join me in a Kyrie (Lord, have mercy!)?

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 26, 2006

Ps 54 / Ge 34-36 / Tidbits

Psalm 54 is most likely a prayer David prayed when living through the event described in 1 Samuel 23:19. The psalm is typical in many ways, including the psalmist’s cry for vindication at the psalm’s beginning, his confidence of triumphing at the center of the psalm, and his vow of praise at the psalm’s end. Note the basis of God’s Name (v.1) and the vow to praise God’s Name (v.6). God’s Name is a way of referring to the Lord Himself, His accessibility to us, etc. God puts His Name on us in Holy Baptism, where He also makes us His children and forgives our sin through water connected with His Word. The psalmist’s vow to praise is never the reason why God answers the prayer, but rather it is a “freewill offering”, praise and thanksgiving brought about by what God has done, just as in the Divine Service the primary focus is on God’s serving us with the forgiveness of sins, not on our prayer and praise, which God brings about as a result of what He has done.

In reading Genesis 34-36 we finish the account of Isaac (34-35:29, see 25:19) and begin and nearly finish the account of Esau (36:1-43, see 36:1). Again, both of these accounts are less the accounts of Issac and Esau themselves as the accounts of their descendants. Chapter 34 tells the sad story of the rape of Dinah, a daughter of Jacob and his first wife Leah. Jacob and his sons deceive the Canaanites and misuse a sacred ceremony for an unholy purpose, but it would appear that the Canaanites had no intention of really being a part of the covenant with Israel. Chapter 35 tells of Jacob’s return at God’s direction to Bethel and beyond, including the deaths of Rachel and Isaac. The firstborn son of Jacob (also known as Israel), Reuben, prematurely exercised his rights as firstborn and lost his legal status as firstborn. Note that 35:29’s “gathered to his people” does not just mean death (which is what the “breathed his last” and “buried” also talk about), but rather "gathered to his people" also speaks of the soul of the faithful believer in the Messiah continuing on in God’s presence, and it speaks of the resurrection of the dead. Dr. Luther's comments regarding this expression follow (from AE 6:281).

This manner of speaking, “he was gathered to his fathers,” bears witness to the future resurrection of the dead since, indeed, it is a people to whom we are gathered. For on dying we do not disappear into the air. Therefore the Holy Spirit does not say: “He disappeared after he ceased living” but “he was gathered.” He was not scattered, tossed this way and that, or afflicted as he was in a wretched and disastrous life but freed from all evils and gathered to his people like the other fathers who sleep in peace and whom God gathers into His bosom, where they enjoy pleasant rest. This is the force of these words which are used quite significantly. There is a people of the dead, among whom are Adam, Seth, Abraham, Deborah, etc. These people have been gathered into the bosom and arms of God. There they enjoy pleasant rest and they will be resurrected in their time. By this figure, then, Holy Scripture shows that the fathers died not as the heathen die, but that they have been gathered together and are preserved under the hands of God. In Is. 57:2, for example, we read: “Let peace come; may he rest in his bed who has walked in his uprightness.” And the hour will come in which they will appear again and come forth from their graves more beautiful than the sun and the stars, namely, those who walked uprightly. Reuben did not come to this hope of a future resurrection unless he was purged by penitence, even as Paul was a persecutor and enemy of Christ who shed much innocent blood, but he removed this sin by the blood of Christ.

Such passages should therefore be carefully noted together with the words which the Holy Spirit employs. God does not cast off or scatter the saints but gathers them, and in such a way that not even one of their bones or hairs perishes. Moreover, the brothers Esau and Jacob came together for the burial. In the text Esau is placed before Jacob. There is no doubt that Esau also visited his father previously and that his father often reproved him in a loving manner and admonished him to lay aside his hatred and desire for vengeance. So he came to the funeral to indicate his obedience and respect toward his father. This is a sure sign that he returned into favor with his brother and attached himself to the true church so that he might become a partaker of the spiritnal promise from grace, if not from the promise. Similarly, we heathen are received into favor not as a result of a promise but from mercy.

Chapter 36 tells of the descendants of Esau (also known as Edom), the progenitor of who was just mentioned in 35:29. One noteworthy thing among this list is in verse 11, where a name given which brings to mind Eliphaz the Temanite from Job 2:11.

Today I have a trio of tidbits. Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, one dealing with love, came out yesterday as expected. … There’s apparently an internal conflict in the United Methodist denomination over supporting homosexuality. … And, President Bush’s spokesman is not saying whether or not the President will order the military to allow chaplains to pray according to their faith traditions.

Here’s a new prayer you can use in connection with your reading of the Daily Lectionary. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 25, 2006

Ps 53 / Ge 31-33 / Biblog folos / Tidbits

Atheists are hit right off the bat in Psalm 53, which carries much of the same sentiment and wording as Psalm 14 (see comments on that psalm here). Psalm 53:5 differs, however, from Psalm 14:5-6, at least in how the thought is expressed. In this case the seemingly unthreatened enemy falls victim to its fear, where in Psalm 14 the enemy seems to be afraid because it is aware of God’s presence with His people. With the psalmist, we also look forward to Judgment Day and God fully and finally bringing us back from our captivity to sin (the NIV’s “restoring fortunes” can be misleading).

Genesis 31-33 continues the account of Isaac (25:19), at least as his line continues through Jacob, of whose return home and activities once there we begin to read today. Regarding chapter 31, again I think it is more important to see God’s hand working through the events to return His promise-bearer to the Promised Land than to let some minor details trouble us. We certainly can question the deceptive acts of some of the parties, but we see God working good through them nevertheless. I’ve previously commented that Jacob’s cousin-wives presumably believed in God, and 31:19 does not necessarily go against that claim but simply says that Laban, their father, had idols. Dr. Luther in his comments on 31:19 goes on at length to explain both why Rachel’s taking the gods, thereby sinning against the 4th and 7th Commandments, might be justified in light of the 1st Commandment and why Rachel, a believer according to Luther, might have taken them to begin with from her father, who Luther says was an idolater (see in our library at Grace the American Edition of Luther’s Works, volume 6, pages 25-35). Note also the covenantal meal in 31:54, symbolizing peace and acceptance between the parties, and recall the meal of the New Covenant in which we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins--peace and acceptance. Regarding chapter 32, note first Jacob’s humble prayer to God, confessing his unworthiness for all the Lord’s blessings, note second Jacob’s seeking a blessing from God as he wrestled with Him, and note finally the name change to "Israel" that resulted. Regarding chapter 33, note well how Esau who had wanted to kill Jacob (27:41) now welcomes him as a brother and how Jacob sees God’s favor in Esau’s welcome. One commentator suggests that, in the gift to Esau from the abundance God had given to Jacob, Jacob in effect returns the blessing Rebekah and Jacob stole from Esau (chapter 27).

I have two Biblog folos tonight. The first regards polygamy and other marital irregularities in Christ’s line. I observed in yesterday’s Biblog post that Judah, in whose line Christ stands, was born of Jacob’s first wife, Leah. Well, a little further down the line, as one emailer pointed out, stands David and his non-first wife Bathsheba and their son (Solomon, according to Matthew 1:6; Nathan, according to Luke 3:31 and 1 Chronicles 3:5). Again, God was able to work good through less-than-desirable circumstances. Pastor Sullivan recalled Acts 17:30 and suggested the same principle may have applied to the patriarchs and their polygamy.

The second folo regards Canada’s election of a Conservative Prime Minister and some links and discussion in yesterday’s Biblog post. One emailer enjoyed, as I did, Canadian comedian Rick Mercer, who gave the example of President Bush and Ralph Nader working together as a way of illustrating to Americans the idea of a governing party that does not have a 50%+1 majority of the votes. That so-called minority government is the case in Canada now, and that is expected, as the emailer suspected, to make it harder for the new Prime Minister to revisit a previous decision legalizing gay marriage in that country, forcing him to act as more of a moderate than a true conservative.

Florida’s apparent failure to get an anti-gay marriage measure on the ballot for a state constitutional amendment is the first of my tidbits for today. … Apparently there will be no more chapters for the gay son and other characters in NBC’s “Book of Daniel”, discreetly dropped from NBC’s Friday night schedule and reportedly cancelled--see here, here, and here. (If the show has been cancelled, it makes this dated piece still linked on msnbc.com a little laughable.) There is a response to the reported cancellation here from the American Family Association that campaigned against the show and one here from the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. … Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, one dealing with love, is expected today. … Here is a church body that takes seriously its positions and how congregations might go against them. … That “three-quarters of America’s youth (73%) have engaged in at least one type of psychic or witchcraft-related activity, beyond mere media exposure or horoscope usage” is just one of the latest findings from surveys done by The Barna Research Group. … And, black rapper Kanye West poses as Jesus on the next cover of Rolling Stone due to hit newsstands this Friday, not a "good" one.

One new and one revised Q&A here. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 24, 2006

Ps 52 / Ge 28-30 / Tidbits / Biblog Comment

After reading Psalm 51 yesterday, Psalm 52 is quite a change! Denouncing an attacker (possibly as described in 1 Samuel 22:9-10), David confidently boasts in the Lord. Though at the time the enemy may have been laughing at David, in the end David and the righteous would laugh at him. David had faith in the Lord’s mercy, and he promises to always praise the Lord.

Genesis 28-30 continues the account of Jacob (see 25:19), narrating his activities away from home. First, in 28:1-9, Isaac commands Jacob not to marry a Canaanite woman (see more on this request here). Second, in 28:10-22, Jacob has a dream or vision of a stairway to heaven (see clues on interpreting the vision see John 1:51, 14:6, and 1 Timothy 2:5). Third, in 29:1-14, Jacob arrives in Paddan Aram, where he meets his Uncle Laban and his two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Fourth, in 29:15-30, Jacob marries Leah and Rachel over the course of more than seven years (note some irony in Jacob, the deceiver, being deceived and in his wanting the birthright of the firstborn and then getting the firstborn—though he and Rachel would later also deceive Laban). Fifth, in 29:31-30:24, God blesses Jacob with children by both of his wives and their maidservants, though it is two of Leah’s sons, Levi and Judah, who end up having the more important descendants (there is also irony in Rachel’s plea of 30:1 and 30:24, as 35:16-19 tells how she later died giving birth to her last son). Sixth, in 30:25-43, God miraculously increases Jacob’s flocks.

Just a few tidbits today. Though Austin’s Life march is next Saturday, the big Roe v. Wade anniversary rally was yesterday in Washington, D.C., with an audio appearance by President Bush. … And, President Bush told students at Kansas State that he has not seen the gay cowboy movie “Brokeback Mountain”, but sadly the President, who prides himself on his Christian faith, did not use his bully pulpit to speak out against Hollywood’s homosexual propaganda or the immorality of the gay lifestyle. (One report I saw called “Brokeback” a blockbuster, which I think is a bit of an overstatement—even though it moved up to #5 and surpassed “Narnia” at the box office this past weekend, it has about one-seventh of that movie’s total gross, and it is far short of the usual $100-200 million threshold for blockbuster status.) … Gay marriages now legal in Canada may soon not be, since that country apparently has elected a new government of Tory Conservatives, though with a plurality but not a majority of the votes. There were some questions about fraudulent emails, and a Canadian comedian was even called on to share some Canadian political humor here, south of the border.

I hope a number of you would echo the following Biblog comment I received via email yesterday.

WOW, what great blessings the online Lectionary and Biblog have been to me. I had always “intended” to do a daily Bible study, but I never really found anything truly meaningful to sink my teeth into. I had tried the Portals of Prayer numerous times, but they were just not enough to get me truly committed. … I am truly committed to the Lectionary, and I find myself spending over an hour each day really trying to get the most out of every daily reading. And the Biblog is just icing on the cake to summarize and to make things even clearer. And I really appreciate you taking the time to answer [the] questions! I am amazed at just how interesting it can be and how much I have learned.

Praise God for His working as He promises through His Word; to Him alone be the glory! (And, speaking of the questions, there are more with answers here.)

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:16 AM

January 23, 2006

Ps 51 / Ge 25-27 / God’s role in disasters / Abortion demonstrations / Biblog comment

Today we read Psalm 51, what may be one of the best known psalms after Psalm 23. Psalm 51 is another one of the seven penitential psalms and is usually associated with the events of 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25, especially David’s confession to Nathan and Nathan’s individual absolution (2 Samuel 12:13). This psalm has a number of points worth noting. Though David speaks of Old Testament ritual cleansing in verses such as 2 and 7, we should think of New Testament cleansing as in Holy Baptism. All of our sins are sins against God (v.4), and we are sinful from the moment of conception (v.5)—and thus accountable from the moment of conception, there is no later age of discretion or assent. Because we are by nature unholy, we deserve to be cast out of God’s presence (v.11), but God forgives us, making us holy and enabling us to come into His presence (something passing by the Baptismal font on our way to the altar is intended to remind us). Note also from v.11 that the Holy Spirit departs after the so-called “mortal” or deadly sins and that such sinners need to be reconverted (David is often used as a relevant example). Psalm 51:10-12 is used in the Divine Service’s Offertory, and verse 15 is used in the liturgy of Matins, of which it is said, “these words are used to refer to God’s absolution, which alone can enable sincere worship.”

As we today read Genesis 25-27, we finish the account of Terah (25:1-11, see 11:27), we read more about Ishmael’s descendants (25:12-18), and we begin the account of Isaac (25:19-35:29, though today we only read through chapter 27). Chapter 25 does not necessarily follow chronologically after the events of chapter 24; Abraham may have taken Keturah as his wife some time earlier. Isaac’s twin sons, Jacob (later called Israel) and Esau spawn two nations hostile towards each other. The events of chapter 26 recall the famine Abraham experienced and his interactions with an ancestor of Abimelech, down to the same kind of statements about the relationship between Isaac and Rebekah, who, like Abraham and Sarah, were also related more distantly apart from their marriage. Note how Esau marries outside the faith and causes more grief for his parents (26:34-35)! Genesis 25:34 hints at what comes in chapter 27—Esau loses the birthright and then also the blessing of his father as a result of treachery by his younger brother and mother, though fulfilling the Lord’s promise in 25:23 and pointing to the kind of great reversal we find in the first being last and the last being first and in the innocent Jesus suffering, dying, and rising to save us, the guilty.

Is the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Or, is the question, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” In the case of Jesus, the question is the first one, and the second one applies to us. The Austin American Statesman published a piece on Saturday discussing God's role in disasters. The answer given by Avrel Seale of the Bahai Faith seems to be that God is us and that God allows such disasters for us to show love to our neighbors. The published answer also says God is in control of such events and regards Him as a “cause” of them. I do not want to respond at length to the published piece, but I do want to say that we certainly agree that God is in control, at least permitting the consequences of sin in the world to take their toll and that we can and should reflect God's love to disaster victims. More importantly, however, and this is something that you do not find explicit in the article, God reveals to us that He desires such disasters to lead people to repent of their sins and turn to Him with faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. And speaking of repentance …

Yesterday’s anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion was marked by abortion demonstrations by both sides in such places as San Francisco, but the annual march in Washington, D.C., is today. Austin’s demonstration is scheduled for Saturday, I believe. Let us pray “For all children still in the womb, that God would protect them from willful death by abortion; for all pregnant women, that God would lead them to rejoice in the life that they bear; and for our society, that we would provide places of refuge for the pregnant and the unwanted”.

I certainly want your feedback on the Daily Lectionary pages and the Biblog, and I was pleased recently to receive a Biblog comment in an email that read in part:

I just wanted to drop you a note to let you know how very much I appreciate these pages and to thank you for the time and effort you put into them. They are soundly Scriptural, thoroughly Confessional, and altogether insightful for application in our daily walk with the Lord.

Thank you for your comment, and God bless all y'alls’ day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:21 AM

January 22, 2006

Ps 50 / Ge 22-24 / Anniversary of Roe

Psalm 50 presents a judgment scene of sorts, beginning with the Lord calling heaven and earth, who witnessed the covenant made with Israel (Deuteronomy 30:19; 31:28), to join Him as He comes to judge. First He judges His people (vv.7-15), and then He judges the wicked (vv.16-23). The people of Israel were beginning to think, like the neighboring people, that God depended on their sacrifices instead of the sacrifices pointing to the one, final sacrifice by which God would redeem His people from their sins. Then and now, the highest worship of the Gospel is to seek the forgiveness of sins. The wicked participate in the liturgy but do not seek and receive God’s gifts. God may seem not to notice, but He is giving them time to repent. With repentance, the offerings of thanks and praise produced by faith honor God and are on the way to salvation.

As we continue to read the account of Terah (see Genesis 11:27), today in Genesis 22-24 we read of God testing Abraham and of Nahor’s sons in chapter 22, of Sarah’s death in chapter 23, and of Isaac and Rebekah in chapter 24. Chapter 22’s highlight is Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his one and only teenage son (see the second window in our nave), which wonderfully points to God’s sacrifice of the Man, Jesus, for us. Verses 8 and 13 are especially important in that regard. Contemporary songwriter Michael Card puts it so beautifully:

Did Abraham himself not say
God would provide a lamb
To take instead the punishment
That should belong to man?

Truly, Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The narrative of Nahor’s sons in Genesis 22:20-24 seems to prepare us for chapter 24. Chapter 23, meanwhile, tells of Sarah’s death, and with verse 4 we might note that we, too, are strangers in this world: Heaven is our home (see Hebrews 11:9-10 and “I’m but a stranger here”, TLH #660). Chapter 24 tells how God provided a wife for Isaac with some use of camels as a sign (I won’t tell you how the preacher at my ordination made use of this text). Aside from the importance of the narrative (in effect repeated to help hearers remember it), the fact that Isaac married Rebekah and then loved her (v.66) is significant.

Though today is the anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion, the annual march is tomorrow. Let us pray “For all children still in the womb, that God would protect them from willful death by abortion; for all pregnant women, that God would lead them to rejoice in the life that they bear; and for our society, that we would provide places of refuge for the pregnant and the unwanted”.

God bless your day, and may you allow Him to make it holy for you by the right use of His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 21, 2006

Ps 49 / Ge 19-21 / Tidbits

Faith in the Lord not riches mattering is the theme of Psalm 49. Verses 1-4 introduce the psalm, and verses 5-6 lay out its theme in a rhetorical question. Verses 7-9 are especially important in that they remind us that not only do riches fail to redeem us, but we need God to redeem us. Verses 10-14 speak to the temporary nature of riches and the people who have them. Verse 15 is also especially important in that it is a bold statement of eternal life with God. Verses 16-19 help us keep the big picture in mind, and verse 20 reminds us that riches are not bad in and of themselves but that the rich person also needs understanding, which in this case would be the wisdom that begins with the fear of the Lord.

We continue to read the account of Terah, or more specifically Abaham’s people, in Genesis 19-21 (see Genesis 11:27). Chapter 19 tells of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, where homosexuality was so much the central sin that it becomes known as “sodomy” (see Jude 7). Though Lot’s wife perished for disobedience while fleeing, Lot and his daughters escaped, though the three sinned in conceiving the ancestors for nations that long would be enemies of Abraham’s descendants. Chapter 20 tells of Abraham’s conflict with Abimelech, including Abraham again describing Sarah as his sister, which he claims to be an accurate description. Chapter 21 tells of the long-awaited birth of an heir to Abraham and a treaty with a descendant of the Abimelech of chapter 20. The selection of Isaac over Ishmael is a selection on the basis of grace—significantly expounded by Romans 9:6-8 and Hebrews 11:17-19, the latter of which also makes reference to what we will read about tomorrow.

Today’s tidbits are the following. The would-be papal assassin has gone back to jail. … The Vatican weighs in again on Intelligent Design, just cut from a California school’s philosophy curriculum. … South Africa’s Supreme Court has ruled a gay marriage ban unconstitutional there, and a Maryland judge made a similar ruling, which will now be appealed to that state’s highest court. … Supposedly conservative women are said to be big fans of “Brokeback Mountain”. … People who are trying to marry me off may not want to go to this extreme. … And rest assured there are no blogger lies here!

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 20, 2006

Ps 48 / Ge 16-18 / Tidbits

Psalm 48 confesses and praises God for the security He provides His chosen people; any enemy coming from any direction will not be able to get at believers in the Church. Mount Zion and the Holy City of Jerusalem come together and are both described as beautiful; they are lofty and secure because of God. Note well the connection between the proclamation of His past deeds and the worshipers’ experience of God’s saving action in the liturgy and how they both lead to praise and evangelism.

Genesis 16-18 continues the account of Terah (11:27), narrating more details about Abram’s people. In chapter 16 we see how Sarai impatiently tried to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise of an heir to Abram before God was ready to bring it about. “The Angel of the Lord” in 16:7 may well have been an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ. Chapter 17 tells of circumcision as the “sign” of the covenant, and we remember that Baptism is the circumcision of the New Testament. The eight days of 17:12 was symbolic of re-creation, and Baptisms were similarly often done when infants were eight days old (notice how our Baptismal font is eight-sided). Chapter 18 tells of the Lord visiting Abraham with two angels: telling Abraham that he will have a son by Sarah and that Sodom will be destroyed. Abraham pleads with God to have mercy on the city for the sake of his nephew Lot and his family, but as we will read next time not all of his family was righteous and thus the city was destroyed.

I have a handful of tidbits for you. The State of Virginia looks to be going the way of Texas and working to pass an amendment to that state’s constitution in defense of traditional marriage. … Marrying for money works in one sense, according to this report. … NBC reportedly won’t be getting money from Geico insurance, which is no longer a sponsor for “The Book of Daniel”. … Georgia state senators are said to be considering having a class on the Bible taught in public schools. … And, is there really no such thing as blogging?

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 19, 2006

Ps 47 / Ge 13-15 / Biblog folos / Tidbits

Psalm 47 may have been written for and used in the Feast of Tabernacles, at an observation of which Solomon may have dedicated the Temple. Later, Jews used the psalm as part of the synagogue liturgy for their New Year festival (Rosh Hashanah), and today Christians often use the psalm in connection with our Lord’s Ascension (see, for example, The Lutheran Hymnal, p.160). Verses 1-4 call the people to praise God, Who has ascended His throne as the most-high God and King, benefiting His people. Verses 5-6, possibly spoken in the liturgy by a different voice, tell of the Lord’s ascension, which may have been acted out by the carrying of the ark, the Lord’s throne, into the Temple, His palace. Verses 7-9 include another call to praise the Lord (note the liturgical aspects expected of this praise), and see how the psalmist anticipates the final and full fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.

Events of Abraham’s land and people are narrated in Genesis 13-15, the continuing account of Terah (11:27). In chapter 13 we read how Abram and Lot separated: note Abram’s worship of the Lord in 13:4 and in 13:12-13 the anticipation of future events involving Sodom (chapters 14 and 19). Lot seems to be, we might say, flirting with disaster, by living near people known to be evil; how often we do likewise! In chapter 14 we read of Abram rescuing his nephew Lot from hostile kings and of the appearance of and table fellowship with Melchizedek, a type of Christ (see Hebrews 7). In chapter 15 we read of God’s covenant with Abram, including 15:6, an all-important verse that connects faith with righteousness. We are among the innumerable children of Abraham when we likewise believe and are saved.

For Biblog folos today, I begin with a comment one reader made after I mentioned in the January 14th Biblog post that Canada was considering legalizing polygamy. The reader pointed out that Canada was considering legalizing what Muslim law already gave to its adherents. Here are more details on Canada’s proposal than I could find before, and here is an interesting defense of Islam’s practice, not that I buy it, however.

Another Biblog folo has to do with contrast I, in the January 16th Biblog post, tried to point out in Genesis 4:26 between Adam’s line through Cain and Adam’s line through Seth. A reader emailed asking me to explain that further. Moses by Divine inspiration notes that Seth and his descendants called on the Name of the Lord; that dependence on God is in contrast to Lamech’s, Cain’s descendant’s, arrogant defiance of God’s will described in the immediately preceding verses. Chapters 5 and 6 then lay out Seth's more-righteous descendants and Cain's more-evil descendants.

And last for the Biblog folos, a couple of reader comments: the first, pertaining to Genesis 7, that all the animals fitting into the ark and living together there for more than one year had to be a miracle, and the second, pertaining to Genesis 9:17, that discover of the meaning of the rainbow and the beautiful thought it will now call to mind. Count the latter among the blessings of being in God's Word!

Finally for today, some tidbits! The New Testament makes it clear that the Church grows when persecuted, so this news out of Iran is no surprise. ... The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday on an abortion case but did not really touch the central issue. … Canada’s Conservative party, ahead in the polls leading up to next Monday’s national election, may give Parliament a chance to reconsider its previous measure legalizing same-sex marriage in that country. … Gay, lesbian, and transgendereds in this country apparently are planning to make a "statement" at the annual White House Easter Egg Hunt. ... And, two surveys by The Barna Research Group suggest Protestant pastors misjudge where God is on their parishioners’ priority lists. Good thing we’re not Protestants!

A few new questions and answers are posted here. Keep the emails coming, and God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 18, 2006

Ps 46 / Ge 10-12 / Tidbits

Martin Luther’s hymn , “A Mighty Fortress is our God” (TLH #262) is a paraphrase of Psalm 46, which psalm begins with a bold confession of faith in God despite the seeming undoing of creation itself (vv.1-3). Verses 7 and 11 are a refrain in the psalm, perhaps the people’s liturgical response to the proclamation spoken by a priest or Levite, first to the blessings on Zion (vv.4-6) and then to God’s triumph over the nations (vv.8-10). Regarding verse 4, Jerusalem had no river of its own, but the river to which the psalm refers may be a figure of speech for God’s blessings (see also Revelation 22:1; note also that, early on, Baptisms were usually done in moving bodies of water such as rivers and streams). The first part of verse 10 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, echoing, as it does Exodus 14:14; we do not need to work ourselves into a frenzy but simply believe.

Genesis 10-12 includes the complete accounts of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (10:1-11:9, see 10:1) and of Shem (11:10-26, see 11:10), and today’s reading begins the account of Terah (11:27-25:11 see 11:27, though today we only read through the end of chapter 12). In the first account, note that Shem’s line is the chosen line and gives us the English words “Semites” and “anti-Semitic”, and note that Canaan’s land is later called Palestine after the Philistines. The events of 11:1-9 are said to have taken place earlier than the full extension of the genealogies, as 10:4, 25, and 31 seem to reflect, and note that the people arrogantly plan without regard for God’s will or intent (and note again the inter-Trinitarian dialog in 11:7). The second account gives an extended genealogy of Shem, more or less in preparation for the third account and Shem’s important descendant, Abram. The third account begins with God’s call to Abram and the covenantal promises that would often be repeated to Abram and his descendants. Commentators differ on what to make of Abram’s telling Sarai to describe herself as his sister: some who want to keep Abram as innocent as possible say that Sarai was closely related to Abram by virtue of their marriage and that is all she (v.13) or he (v.19) was saying, others who are more willing to allow that Abram could sin see it as an example of his sometimes wavering faith. We certainly never need to fear that God will fail to keep His promises to us and take such steps to prevent things from hindering them—we need only be still!

Tidbits for today follow. The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday ruled the federal government cannot punish doctors who assist with suicides in Oregon where such acts are permitted, but congress may yet intervene. ... Pope Benedict’s first encyclical is expected to deal with love and could be out any day. ... And, some are already talking about potential cancellation for NBC’s “The Book of Daniel”, but not because of its bad content but because of low ratings (though I would say the bad content is responsible for the low ratings).

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:19 AM

January 17, 2006

Ps 45 / Ge 7-9 / Tidbits

The superscription of Psalm 45 calls it a song of love or a wedding song. The psalm probably was composed for a king in David’s line and used at a number of royal weddings, but most properly now the psalm is applied to the Messiah and His Bride, the Church. One commentator points out a two-fold structure to the psalm and two parts to each of those parts as follows: words spoken to the king (exhortation, vv.3-5, and glory of the king, vv.6-9) and words spoken to the bride (exhortation, vv.10-11, and glory of the bride, vv.12-15). The latter part of verse 1 is often applied to all the Divinely-inspired writers of Holy Scripture. The reference to grace and lips in verse 2 may be behind the reference to the gracious words from Christ’s lips in Luke 4:22. Note how in verse 10 the bride is to be more loyal to her husband (her lord, v.11) than her own family.

Genesis 7-9 completes the account of Noah (see 6:9) and the flood (not a regional one, as some claim, but a worldwide flood, as the account makes clear, for example 7:19). The Lord’s shutting the door in 7:16 to protect Noah and his family is noteworthy, and protected they were for more than one year after the flood began. After that, the rest of chapter 7 speaks of judgment, but note well the switch to redemption at the beginning of chapter 8. Note in 8:20-22 the worship of the Lord and its relation to the ongoing sinful nature of humanity and God’s Gospel promise of preservation. In 9:2-4, meat is given for people to eat, with some limitations, and note in verses 5-6 the consequences for murder of human beings, for they still bear the image of God. The end of chapter 9 tells us that even Noah was not perfect and it also sets up the account that will follow in chapter 10. Despite the devastation of the flood, St. Peter can say that the water saved Noah and his family and points to Baptism that saves us (1 Peter 3:20-22; there is also the connection between their ark and ours, that is, the Church).

For tidbits today I have the following. Israel apparently accepted Pat Robertson’s apology for comments about Ariel Sharon’s stroke, but this report doesn’t say if the $50 million Christian Heritage Center is back on (see the January 14th Biblog post, and there are more details about the park here). ... The Golden Globe awards last night are described here as “a triumphant night for films dealing with homosexuality and transsexuality.” Just when you think society cannot get worse! … And, here’s another blast against NBC’s “The Book of Daniel”. This one details the curious reaction of the Episcopalians and points out something I had failed to notice—the cancellation of the more uplifting show starring so-called Gospel singer Amy Grant that previously held "The Book of Daniel's" Friday night timeslot.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 16, 2006

Ps 44 / Ge 4-6 / LHM Float

Psalm 44 begins with great praise of God for the things He has done in the past (vv.1-8), moves to the people’s present situation (vv.9-16), seems to plead innocence at least of the immediate consequences perceived as being suffered (vv.17-24, though no innocence is expressed in this psalm), but nevertheless in the end trusts in God’s mercy (vv.25-26). I was struck by the way the psalmist describes God working through the people, even though deeds appear to be done by them (for example, v.5). Notice the sheep imagery relating to God as the Good Shepherd/King (v.11, confer v.22), and see how the Divinely inspired St. Paul makes use of verse 11 in Romans 8:36. We know that God had a plan for what the people were experiencing that had to be for their good, even as we often experience things for reasons we cannot immediately understand, other than to know that God is in control and rules all for the benefit of His Church, and thus ultimately for our good.

In reading Genesis 4-6, we finish the account of the heavens and the earth (4:1-4:26, see 2:4), read the entire account of Adam’s line (5:1-6:8, see 5:1), and begin the account of Noah (6:9-9:29, see 6:9). Eve thinks her firstborn son is the fulfillment of God’s promise, but Cain is quite the opposite. Last week when riding a city bus in Austin, I heard two men trying to figure out how sin related to Cain and Abel; one of them thought Abel somehow did not have original sin, but I helped them see that both sons were sinful and that Abel’s offering was acceptable to God because of what was in his heart—the right attitude towards God, recognizing all was from Him and generously giving back to Him. Note that Cain’s reply to God’s question in 4:9 is not something we ought to be saying—we are our sibling’s keepers in a sense. Adam and Eve had other children, especially daughters, who helped populate the land (for example, 5:4), and the record of Adam’s death in 5:5 introduces a refrain that will frequently recur (5:24 is a notable exception) and that reminds us of God’s judgment of sin. Note that God’s institution of holy matrimony is already perverted by Lamech’s polygamy (4:19). The contrast between Adam’s line through Cain and Adam’s line through Seth is explicit already in 4:26 but finds other forms of expression throughout the book. Genesis 6:5 is another strong statement of the corruption original sin brings to all human beings, even us descendants of Adam and Eve. Yet, like Noah, by walking with God in faith we, too, can be described as righteous.

In the January 2nd Biblog post I mentioned a question asked me about the LHM Float in the Rose Bowl Parade. I finally got an email back from the PetalPushers: “As with a precious gift (like wedding rings) the gift of the cross is presented on a pillow.” Well, as long as we are not suggesting that the way of the cross is soft and easy!

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 15, 2006

Ps 43 / Ge 1-3

Psalm 43, thought possibly to have been a part of the same psalm as Psalm 42 at one time, prays for God to deliver the psalmist from his enemy and to restore the psalmist to God’s presence. Note in verse 3 how light and truth are personified to work out, respectively, God’s salvation and care for His faithful. As in so many psalms, praise for God flows in confident expectation of His deliverance. Note also that verse 5 echoes the refrain from Psalm 42:5, 11.

Today we return to the Old Testament and “the beginning”, Genesis 1-3. Be sure to look over the introductory comments in the Background Information for January's readings. Genesis 1:1-2:2 can be seen as serving as an introduction of sorts to the book. By that same view, Genesis 2:3-4:26 is the account of the heavens and the earth (see 2:4, though we only read through chapter 3 today). Though some people see a difference between creationism and intelligent design, we can certainly say that the Creator designed everything intelligently! Be sure to notice the Trinity in Genesis 1:1-3 (God= Father, spoken Word=Son, and Spirit of God hovering over the deep) and such places as Genesis 1:26 (inter-Trinitarian dialog). Creation also is from nothing; God alone can create from nothing, others can only pervert His creation. Genesis 2:7 details the unique creation of human beings, with the body and soul. Creation finished on the sixth literal day was complete and good; the fall of the angels takes place some time after and before the events of chapter 3. After they gave in to temptation and sinned, the man and the woman try to cover their shame and, in the end, blame God for their fall. God nevertheless has a plan of salvation for them, and He makes the first sacrifice to provide more meaningful clothes for them. Note well the first promise of the Gospel in 3:15, where the Seed of the Woman is Christ, whose heel is struck on the cross, but Who by that same event crushes the head of the devil. The last part of 3:19 is used in the committal service and the rite of imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday—a good reminder of our frailty on account of our sin, but never to be so gloomily held that we forget God’s sure and certain promise of the bodily resurrection and life eternal with Him where we will access the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:2), often pictured in Christian art as the cross.

God bless your day, and may you allow God to make the day holy for you with the right use of His Word and Sacrament!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 14, 2006

Ps 42 / Mk 15-16 / Biblog folo / Tidbits

Psalm 42 begins what is called “Book II” of Psalms, in which the predominant word used for “God” is the Hebrew word Elohim. Psalm 42 is closely connected with Psalm 43, from which some speculate it was separated for liturgical reasons. Moreover, the superscription attributes authorship of this psalm to the Levitical choir of the Korahites. All of you who are hunters should relate well to Psalm 42, as a deer longing for water on which its life depends is just one of the expressions of longing for the Temple of God that the psalmist uses in verses 1-4. Verses 5 and 11 are a refrain of “faith encouraging faith”, as in Psalm 27; notice the dialog, as it were, between the redeemed and sinful natures. Verses 6-10 review the troubling of the psalmist’s soul. Water is again prominent in verse 7, but in part water is prominent as a figurative expression of what is troubling the psalmist. Verse 8, the center of the psalm, confesses the Lord’s 24-hours-a-day presence despite the psalmist’s trouble. When we are afflicted and need encouragement as the psalmist did, we can remember God has made us His children in the water of Holy Baptism, drowning our sinful nature and bringing to life the redeemed person in us.

Mark 15-16 wraps up St. Mark’s account of the Gospel. Special items to notice in the Passion narrative include: Jesus’ cry at the separation from His Father, preserved in Aramaic in 15:34; the centurion’s confession of Jesus’ human and Divine natures in 15:39; and the three women identified in 15:40 and 16:1, two of whom are also mentioned in 15:7 (Salome is thought to have been Zebedee’s wife and thus the mother of James and John). Note the textual questions about 16:9-19, and see my comments on this matter in the background for January’s reading.

For a Biblog folo, I was asked to explain my statement in Thursday’s Biblog Tibits that “the Israel of the Old Testament is the Church of the New Testament”. The Bible teaches that New Testament Gentile converts are a part of the same family of faith as Old Testament Jewish believers. However, dispensationalists, some of whom see at least two different Gospels, see them as two different churches. The Bible teaches that the promises of eternal blessings in God’s presence belong to the Old Testament faithful of Israel and to their successors in the New Testament Church. Dispensationalists, however separate the two and place importance on the restoration of the physical land of Israel and Temple worship there before Jesus returns—they do not see that the Old Testament promises expressed in terms of the Land are fulfilled for the New Testament Church ultimately when Christ comes in glory. Those infected with this false teaching of dispensationalism, as Pat Robertson would appear to be, not only err in their understanding of the Bible but also, as a result, place an extremely high priority on protecting the land of Israel and have had a documented undue influence on American foreign policy. (My comment yesterday came as Pat Robertson apologized at least the timing of his comments that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke was punishment from God for giving away part of the land of Israel, but the apology apparently did not come early enough for Israel’s tourism minister to stop talks with Robertson about setting up a “Christian Heritage Center” in Galilee.)

I have a few more tidbits for today. Conservative Anglicans are reportedly calling for the Episcopal Church to repent, the controversy centers over the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness of Christ. Sound familiar? … New research suggests religious influence delays teens having sex, and while the research in itself may not be all that surprising the group is said to be a secular group that usually encourages condom distributions to control teen pregnancy. … A survey I mentioned in the January 11th Biblog post that showed high school seniors are conservative on abortion is interestingly said to show the same seniors are liberal on homosexuality. You can find the survey here. ... A couple that met and dated on the Internet now also reportedly got married electronically. Do we say their two computers have been made one? What a mockery of the one-flesh union God instituted marriage as. … Oh, and remember my saying you would hear more about the polyamorists? Well, reportedly Canada’s Justice Department, after a study funded by that country’s taxpayers, is now recommending legalizing polygamy. Lord, have mercy!

I forgot to mention earlier this week that I saw a few minutes of the PBS “Walking the Bible” special I mentioned in the January 2nd Biblog post; what I saw was interesting. As of Friday I have posted nearly one dozen new specific questions and answers on the readings and nearly half a dozen new general questions and answers. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 13, 2006

Ps 41 / Mk 14 / Tidbits

Psalm 41 was David’s prayer when he was sick, and it also can be our prayer when we are ill, but we need not limit praying it to such times. Sickness is in the world because human beings sin, but when we get a specific illness we should not see the specific illness as punishment for a specific sin (though it may be a consequence of a specific sin). Verse 9 suggests that the close friend who betrayed David had shared a covenant meal with him, which friend at least one commentator suggests is Ahithophel (see also Psalm 55); see how Jesus uses verse 9 in John 13:18 (which I had not previously noticed was a reference to a psalm verse). Note that verse 13 is more likely a close to the so-called “Book I” of the Psalms, than it is a close to this particular psalm.

Mark 14 tells of Jesus’ anointing at Bethany and then the beginning of the events of Jesus’ Passion. This long chapter is very rich, unfortunately space here does not permit a full commentary but just a few select comments. The anointing of Jesus by Mary, Martha’s and Lazarus’ sister (John 12:3), indicated her “deep devotion to Jesus”, but Judas (Matthew 12:4-5; see also Mark 14:10) objects that the act was a waste; Jesus’ comments in reply should by no means be taken as indifference to the poor. Note well that Jesus’ betrayal and death are closely connected to the Passover celebration, as Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice to which the Passover pointed. The ordinary unleavened bread and wine of the old Passover meal are given new meaning and additional substance--Jesus' real, physical body and blood--as Jesus explains to His disciples. (Again the “many” in v.24 is either a figure of speech for “all” or a reference to the “many” who will believe and thereby benefit from Jesus’ blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.) Note well the singing of a hymn in verse 26! Jesus tells the disciples that they will fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7 (rich in imagery we have seen in places such as Isaiah 40:11 and Psalm 23), which they later do. In verse 33 note again the inner circle of disciples (treated differently back in Mark 3:13-19). Verse 36 is another example of how the personal union of the Divine and human natures in Christ and the relationships between the three Persons of the Trinity are ultimately beyond our understanding. Verse 38 is a good example of how saint and sinner at war within us (see also Romans 7:23). The young man of verses 51-52 is thought to be the evangelist Mark himself. Jesus' statement in verse 62 is regarded as blasphemous by the Jewish leaders because Jesus claimed to be God, Who, of course, He was. Finally, note how Peter reacts after his sin with sorrow and eventually trust that Jesus will forgive Him, in contrast to Judas elsewhere, who despairs of God’s mercy and sins further. After our manifold denials of Jesus in our lives we want to be sure to have Peter’s posture of sorrow and combine it with faith that trusts God to forgive us for Jesus’ sake.

A few tidbits today: there is reportedly a New Zealand study coming out done by a pro-abortion researcher that nevertheless supports the claim that women who have abortions suffer emotionally. … A survey in this country suggests most churches are under-using the internet, and another survey by the same company suggests that the churches’ size matters in how the internet is used. … Televangelist Pat Robertson apologized in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s son (you can read it for yourself: page 1, page 2--these are jpg files, and you may need to hover over the image to get the button to appear in the lower right-corner of the image so you can make the image big enough to read); note Robertson still does not recognize that the Israel of the Old Testament is the Church of the New Testament. … NBC’s new promos for “The Book of Daniel” are calling it TV’s “most talked about program”, but what they don’t say is that people are not saying good things about the show (read here and, if you have lots of time, you can read NBC’s own “Book of Daniel” bulletin board).

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 12, 2006

Ps 40 / Mk 13 / Biblog folo / Other reading plans

Psalm 40 is one of my favorite psalms, in part because of its use in connection with the Office of the Holy Ministry and partly because of a beautiful song by the group U2 based on this psalm. David, the divinely-inspired psalmist, recalls the Lord’s past deliverance and how it prompted him to praise the Lord and faithfully confess and proclaim the Lord. Then, David turns to the Lord with his present needs. Verse 6 used to make me want to get an ear pierced and wear a cross in it to reflect the custom in which the servant’s ears would have a nail driven through them into the doorpost of the home where he worked. (To see the lyrics to U2’s take on this psalm, click here.)

We read Jesus’ teaching of the end times in Mark 13. You should find this chapter at least a little clearer than most of Revelation. Let me take note of a few things. With verse 10, remember that we with the church since New Testament times can expect Jesus to return at any time, so we see the “sign” of the Gospel being preached to all nations as already having been fulfilled. One way of understanding verse 14 is to see Jesus' body hanging on the cross as the abomination that causes desolation, though a more usual understanding is to locate the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in the Romans setting up a statue of the emperor in the Most Holy Place of the Temple after taking Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (though by then the Temple was meaningless as far as God was concerned). In verse 30, the “generation” is often taken as “race”, which allows for some of the signs still needing to be fulfilled. Finally, verse 31 is a great comfort for us as we read through the Bible.

Today's only Biblog folo is next. In Monday’s Biblog post I linked to news about the United Methodists and ELCA sharing communion. A reader emailed a question about the size of the ELCA, thinking its description as 4.9 million members was lower than its old description as 5.2 million members. Indeed, a check with the ELCA reveals a drop from baptized membership of 5,251,534 in 1988, the year of its formation, to 2004 baptized membership of 4, 930, 429. I’m not sure whether the LCMS has experienced a similar decline of 6% over the same period. The same reader questioned what was meant when the ELCA was called “mainline Protestant”; though so far I have not heard back from the ELCA, here is one explanation of that term. (You wouldn’t call these Anglicans “mainline”, and remember I don’t call Lutherans “Protestants”, even though they were a part of the action that gave "Protestants" their name).

There are other reading plans for the Bible out there. I noticed yesterday that the LCMS website has daily Bible reading on it and says “Through the Bible in a Year”. But, with only 13 verses assigned yesterday, it must be selected highlights (and that site offers no resources to help understand the readings). Perhaps that reading is like this one from the new Lutheran Service Book, which gives two readings, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, each about 15-35 verses, which over the course of the year has one read one-third of the Old Testament and nearly all of New Testament. I think I like our arrangements better. How about you?

I have updated the answer to a question about charismatic gifts, and I wanted you to know that if you watched the Rose Bowl last week, you were not alone (not that you thought you were)! God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:26 AM

January 11, 2006

Ps 39 / Mk 12 / Tidbits / Biblog printing

Psalm 39 appears to be closely related to Psalm 62 in the following ways: by the superscription’s mention of Jeduthun (one of David’s three choirmasters, this one representing the family of Merari), by a similar theme (the nothingness of humanity), by similar Hebrew vocabulary, and by the same theoretical background (possibly the rebellion by David's son Absalom). Witnessing the prosperity of the wicked, the psalmist wanted to not complain, especially not in such a way that his enemies might know of it, but keeping quiet ended up only making the matter worse (vv.1-3). So, he turned to God in prayer, asking God to help him calmly submit to the suffering by showing him that the suffering could only be brief since life itself was short (vv.4-6). (If you are wondering, one handbreadth is about four inches.) The only hope both for this brief life and for that life which is to follow is the Lord—the same Lord who justly lets the psalmist suffer the consequences of his sin (vv.7-11). Note well the plea for forgiveness of sins—the same plea we make to God in our daily confession of sins, which plea He answers with His Means of Grace, especially Holy Baptism, individual Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar. Finally, the psalmist repeats his prayer for an end to his present suffering (vv.12-13). Though usually the Lord’s “look” is a look of love and blessing, in this case the psalmist refers to the Lord’s “look” of wrath, wanting that “look” to be turned away.

Does that explanation help you? Taking a closer look at this psalm helped me! Psalm 39 relates very closely to our new Sunday Adult Bible Study topic of suffering (you are welcome to join us for that study at 9:15 in the new parish hall). And, on the topic of sins of the tongue, you might want to check out the Memorial Moment for January 10th (which deals a bit with the 8th Commandment), what one reader called “a good sermon on protecting the sheep from wolves”.

Mark 12 continues the narrative, begun yesterday in chapter 11, of Jesus’ final confrontation with the Jewish leaders. Set during Holy Week, today we read the Parable of the Tenants (12:1-12), Jesus’ comment on paying taxes (12:13-17), what Jesus had to say about marriage after the resurrection of the body (12:18-27), what are the greatest commandments (12:28-34), the real relationship between David and “David’s Son” (12:35-40), and the so-called Widow’s Mite (12:41-43). The Parable of the Tenants, as the Jewish leaders themselves realized, targeted them for their past mistreatment of the prophets and for their future mistreatment of Jesus. Jesus draws on such passages as Isaiah 5:1-2 and quotes from Psalm 118. Then, some of the Pharisees and influential Jews who supported Herod and his position given by Rome tried to get grounds for Roman charges against Jesus. Jesus, however, saw through their trap and tried to teach the people both to give that which bore the image of Caesar (the coin) to Caesar and to give those things which bear the image of God (themselves) to God. Next, another of the Jewish parties, the Sadducees, tried to trap Jesus. The Sadducees denied the resurrection of the body but set that denial aside long enough to use the resurrection as part of a challenge to Jesus. Again, Jesus saw through their challenge and flat-out rebuked their error, even limiting Himself to the little part of the Old Testament that group accepted. In the process, Jesus also made a comment that is often misused to claim that people will not know other people, such as their spouse, in heaven. What Jesus says is that men will not take wives, nor will women be given in marriage. One of my married seminary friends one time said well that it was hard to imagine that one would not know in heaven someone who had been such an important part of one’s life on earth. Next in Mark’s account, Jesus lists two commandments, love of God and love of neighbor, as an answer to the Pharisee’s question about the greatest commandment. Notice well that Jesus’ later comment to him that he is “not far” from the Kingdom of God does not put him in it, since he was still trying to justify himself by his works. Then, Jesus, quoting Psalm 110:1, stumps the Jewish leaders by asking them a question they could not answer, a question about David’s relationship to the Messiah. Jesus indicts the Pharisees of various wrongs, including devouring widow’s houses, which charge seems to lead to the next and final section of the chapter. The widow gave generously from the little she had, in sharp contrast to others who gave a much smaller percentage of their abundance. We want to cheerfully give back to God from what He has entrusted to our care in keeping with His blessings to us.

Some tidbits for you today: The Indiana State Senate has reportedly opted for silent prayer to avoid the controversy plaguing that state’s House of Representatives. … Despite recent high-profile cases, Americans’ attitudes regarding end of life issues are relatively unchanged, according a recently released survey. … You will find somewhat surprising results in a survey of high school seniors attitudes toward abortion. … Ever hear of “polyamorists”? If you have not before, you may be hearing more about them soon. … The latest news on “The Book of Daniel” is here, but someone ought to tell the Focus on the Family spokesman that Jesus is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, not the Third!

Today our church secretary and I came up with a Biblog printing solution, at least for Internet Explorer. If you do not want to print all of the most recent Biblog posts or the entire archive, you can select the text you want to print, go to File>Print and then choose "Selection". That way you will only get the text you want to print. Please email me using the link on the left of your screen with any problems you are having with the Biblog format, as well as with any comments or questions on the Biblog posts or the Daily Lectionary readings.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 10, 2006

Ps 38 / Mk 11 / “Self” esteem? / Joint communion / Biblog folo

Psalm 38 is another one of the seven penitential psalms. David by Divine inspiration recognizes that he deserves the Lord’s punishment on account of his sin but pleads for deliverance. Sickness is a consequence of sin in the world, but we ought not interpret David’s words to mean God sends specific illnesses as punishment for specific sins. David confesses his sin and pleads for the Lord’s forgiveness, confident he will receive it on faith, not on the basis of anything he has done. Verses 21-22 may be familiar from liturgical usage. Psalm 38 overall is a good model of our own confession to God in confident faith He will forgive us for Jesus’ sake.

Mark 11 begins this Gospel account’s telling of our Lord’s Passion. We read of Jesus entering Jerusalem (11:1-11), withering a fig tree (11:12-14, 20-25), clearing the Temple (11:15-19), and facing a final confrontation with the leaders of the Jews (11:27-33). On the day we commemorate as Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem and was greeted as the Lord’s Messiah with psalm verses used in Passover processions that anticipated the Messiah’s arrival. Note that “Hosanna” is Hebrew for “Save” and that in the Sanctus of the historic Christian liturgy the cries of the people as Jesus entered Jerusalem have been combined appropriately with the “Holy, Holy, Holy” of heavenly worship (Isaiah 6:3). The fig tree Jesus cursed on the Monday of Holy Week is found withered the next day, and, after His disciples express surprise at that fact, Jesus speaks about how prayer should be made with confidence and after one has forgiven the sins neighbors have committed against him or her. Jesus clears the Temple because those selling items there were doing it not to provide a service to worshipers traveling long distances but to take advantage of them and because in the process they were denying the Gentiles the sanctity of their only place of worship. The incensed leaders of the Jews confront Jesus over His authority to act as He did, but, because they would not answer His question, neither did He answer theirs.

Should we really have “self” esteem? In the January “Focus on the Family Bulletin” insert in yesterday’s service folder, Dr. Dobson answered a question about the impact of the Bible’s teaching on original sin. Dr. Dobson denied that “we are inferior” and pointed to our creation in the image of God as making us invaluable. Dr. Dobson, however, failed to acknowledge that we lost part of the image of God when the first man and woman sinned in the Garden and plagued the human race with the corruption of original sin. We truly have very little value of ourselves, but what makes us have value is that God loved us and sent His Son Jesus to die for us. Because we have been redeemed by Christ’s holy, precious blood we have value before God and in the eyes of one another. (In Him the image of God is restored.) We really do not have “self” esteem, but we have, what author Don Matzat called in a book written during his more orthodox days, Christ Esteem.

Joint communion was reportedly celebrated Sunday in Cleveland between United Methodists and so-called Lutherans of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The sharing of the sacrament, approved at the ELCA’s national convention last summer, wrongly comes before the two bodies have reached agreement in doctrine. They incorrectly see the sacrament as a way by which agreement can be reached instead of sign that there is agreement on the teaching of Christ. Moreover, even with the change in the Methodist position on the presence of Christ in the sacrament, I do not think they confess the real, physical presence of Christ’s Body and Blood as Luther did and his followers traditionally have done.

Finally one Biblog folo. In yesterday’s Biblog post I linked to “Battleground God”, and at least one reader responded after trying it out. The email included a reaction to the site’s reference to God as “she” and a willingness to say what the “testers” wanted to hear in order to get through the test “with no hits and only two bullets” (after practicing a little on the "easier" exercise). Anyone else try it out? If so, how did you do?

You may have noticed some formatting changes on the Biblog; we are working to make it easier to read. We are also working to make it easier to print; the navigation will no longer attempt to print, but the whole page (either the five most recent posts or the whole archived month) will still print. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 09, 2006

Ps 37 / Mk 10 / Tidbits

Anyone who has ever wondered why the evil seem to prosper while the Christians seem to decline needs to read Psalm 37! Where good and evil struggled in the psalmist’s day for control over Israel’s territory, for us the struggle is not over the literal land of Israel but for the new earth of eternity after Christ’s return in glory. See how the theme of the psalm is the question over who gets this “land” (vv.9, 11, 22, 29, 34; verse 11 seems to be echoed by Jesus in Matthew 5:5). The wicked try as they might with all their various tactics, while the righteous humbly trust in the Lord and by His Spirit produce the works that identify them as righteous through faith. The wicked may flourish for a time, but in the end the righteous have the eternal inheritance and the secure dwelling in the “land”.

Mark 10 narrates Jesus’ ministry in Judea (essentially the old southern kingdom of Judah) and Perea (east across the Jordan): teaching about divorce (10:1-12), blessing little children (10:13-16), answering the rich young man (10:17-31), making another passion prediction (10:32-34), addressing the request of the “sons of thunder” (10:35-45), and healing blind Bartimaeus (10:46-52). In the teaching about divorce, we want to remember that the hard-hearted are generally outside of the faith, that verse 9 can have the sense that human beings cannot separate what God has joined together, and that St. Mark’s divinely inspired account gives an absolute “no” to remarriage after divorce. (Luther and most Lutheran theologians grant the possibility of divorce and remarriage for the so-called "innocent party" in a marital breakup and in some cases for the "repentant-guilty party".) Strikingly, Jesus puts Himself on the same side of the issue of Herod’s and Herodias’ marriage as John the Baptizer had, which move resulted in John’s death (Mark 6:14-26). (Mark’s clear teaching ought to be especially noticed by the larger number of people reportedly considering divorce in the month of January.) In the blessing of little children, notice that in verse 14 the KJV’s and ASV’s “suffer” means the same as the NIV’s “let” and the NASB’s “permit”. Jesus teaches that we are to have child-like faith (not childish faith), and His teaching should raise questions for those who would deny Baptism, the Divinely appointed means of entering the Kingdom, to little children. The rich young man wants to get eternal life on his own merits without the grace of God, even though he is unwilling to keep the first commandment (without which it is impossible to keep any of the others). Nevertheless loving the man for his earnestness, Jesus makes it clear that entering the kingdom is only possible with God, and His comments in verses 29-31 must not be taken as any sort of promise of prosperity in this life. As the group makes its way towards Jerusalem, likely in the procession of Passover pilgrims, Jesus again predicts His death and resurrection, perhaps intending to remind His followers that the resurrection was a part of the expected events so that they would not so completely fear the coming crucifixion. As happened shortly after the previous recorded passion prediction (Mark 8:31-38 and 9:33-37), the disciples again miss the nature of Christ’s kingdom. James and John want positions of glory, when the nature of Christ’s work is to serve (note well 10:45 and its theme of your and my redemption, and remember that here “many” is the same as “all”). Finally, as if to illustrate the healing and saving nature of His work, Jesus gives sight to the son of Timaeus.

Some tidbits for you on this Monday: the man who tried to murder Pope John Paul II is expected to go free today. … Four NBC affiliates, perhaps bowing to pressure initiated by the American Family Association, which continues its campaign, reportedly refused to air the controversial new show titled “Book of Daniel” that premiered last Friday with “so-so” ratings. … "Brokeback Mountain", the so-called “Gay Cowboy” movie supposedly did a little better at the box office this past weekend, probably due to its showing in more theatres. An Utah theatre at the last minute is said to have decided not to show the movie, and the movie is reportedly still not “playing in Peoria” (where I grew up), literally or figuratively. … A U.S. Navy chaplain who reportedly began a hunger strike in December after he lost his job for praying in Jesus’ Name was expected to end his protest this weekend after some hairs were split between sacred and secular prayers. Chaplains in other branches of the service are said to be involved in similar flaps and similar calls for an executive order permitting them to pray according to their “faith traditions”. … Finally, while driving to church Sunday morning, I heard on NPR part of a BBC radio report about “Battleground God”, a challenge to see if one’s faith is logically consistent. The challenge is not for the faint of heart, but it can be fun if you remember that our faith is not logically consistent by the world’s measure and that reason is not to reign supreme over faith but have a servant’s role. (More on that, if I ever finish my dissertation!)

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 08, 2006

Ps 36 / Mk 9 / “Orthodox Christmas”

In Psalm 36 we find a sharp contrast between the wickedness of some and the goodness of God. Verses 1-4 describe the wicked as having no regard for God, plotting evil when planning the day’s activities, and the like. Verses 5-9 describe God’s goodness and mercy towards the world, preserving humans and animals, providing life and illumination to all types of people, etc. Verses 10-12 present the prayer that God would continue to be gracious to the faithful, and especially verse 12 confidently anticipates God’s just judgment on the wicked. Be sure to see Christ through the Baptismal waters and reference in verse 9 to the “fountain of life” (see such passages as Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13; John 4:10, 14; John 7:37-38; Revelation 22:1-2, 17).

Mark 9 continues to tell of events while Jesus was withdrawn from Galilee, and then it tells of His final ministry in Galilee. We find accounts of the Transfiguration (9:1-12), of an exorcism from a young boy (9:14-32), of a debate over who is the greatest (9:33-37), of the nature of fellowship (9:38-41), and of the danger of causing sin (9:42-50). Jesus’ inner circle of disciples (Peter, James, and John) seeing the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain can be said to be seeing the kingdom of God come with power. The Transfiguration is the clearest revelation of the Divine nature in the Man Jesus (“God in man made manifest”, the refrain of a well-known Epiphany hymn--see TLH #134, "Songs of Thankfulness and Praise"). Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah, whom the disciples recognize or deduce the identity of from the conversation, and Peter wants to hold on to the moment of glory by building tabernacles for them, instead of facing the suffering of which Jesus had recently spoken (Mark 8:31-33). The Father’s voice from heaven, as at Jesus’ Baptism (Mark 1:11), emphasizes Jesus’ Sonship and beloved status and this time adds the exhortation to heed what Jesus says. On the way down the mountain, Jesus identifies John the Baptizer as the expected Second Elijah who had been rejected (Mark 6:14-29). Once down the mountain, Jesus casts out a demon from a young boy, after addressing a question about the boy’s father’s faith. The words of the boy’s father in verse 24 can be our constant prayer: “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” There may be a distinction in demons apparent from verses 18 and 28-29, or Jesus’ statement may go more to the disciples assuming they had the power to cast out the demon without remembering from where their authority to do so had come. Next Jesus speaks about the servant nature of the kingdom and how welcoming those who come to the kingdom is the same as welcoming Jesus Himself. Then Jesus speaks about who is “with and for” Him or who is “against” Him. (For much more on this particular saying of Jesus especially as it compares to statements that basically say the opposite, see an article I authored that was published in the theological journal of the Lutheran seminaries in Canada.) Finally Jesus speaks of the dangers of causing someone else to sin or of allowing oneself to be lead into sin. Though there have been those who have taken Jesus’ words here very literally, He really is speaking more figuratively about the great importance to be placed on avoiding sin and striving to enter the kingdom by faith in Him.

We have moved on to the Epiphany season, sometimes called “Gentiles’ Christmas”, but I was reminded by an article on the Statesman’s web site that the Orthodox Christmas is just beginning.

God bless your day, and may you truly make it holy by using His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 07, 2006

Ps 35 / Mk 8 / Potpourri of Biblog folos and tidbits

Psalm 35 quite simply calls for the Lord to fight on behalf of the psalmist, who is suffering attacks from those with whom he has been quite close. Verses 1-3 make a general appeal to the Lord, and three sections of petitions follow, each concluding with its own commitment to praise the Lord for His deliverance (4-10, 11-18, 19-28). In contrast to other psalms we have read, the psalmist does not proclaim his innocence but rather describes himself as not deserving the attack from his foes. Likewise we do not necessarily deserve the attacks from the devil, and we pray with the psalmist, “Say unto my soul, ‘I am your salvation’,” and we respond with praise of God for His deliverance in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Mark 8 continues to narrate events that took place while Jesus was removed from Galilee. Today we read of the feeding of the 4,000 (vv.1-13), the warning about yeast (vv.14-21), the healing of a blind man (vv.22-26), Peter’s confessing Christ (vv.27-30), and Jesus' making His first so-called “passion prediction” recorded in St. Mark’s account by Divine inspiration. After the second miraculous feeding St. Mark tells how Pharisees still were not convinced of Jesus’ authority despite the fact that He had just given them bread from heaven as God had given their ancestors through Moses. In the warning about yeast note that not every time yeast is mentioned it is bad (see Matthew 13:33), though in this case it appears to refer negatively to the Pharisees and Herod’s desires to see miraculous signs. When the blind man was given back his sight, Jesus apparently restores the sight in stages, perhaps to help the man understand precisely what Jesus was doing for Him: first he sees but cannot exactly distinguish things, and then he can see and perceive. In the next section Peter, on behalf of the disciples, makes an accurate confession of Jesus in sharp contrast to what others confessed of Him, and we are reminded that subsequent controversies have necessitated the elaboration of even the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds (not to mention the Augsburg Confession!) in order to better confess Jesus in the face of the world’s inadequate or false confessions. Finally in chapter 8, Jesus predicts His death and resurrection but is rebuked by Peter, prompting Jesus to speak of the way of the cross, reminding us that such is our way of following Jesus, too—not all roses but far more thorns until the glory of heaven.

Today I have a potpourri of Biblog folos and tidbits. In yesterday’s Biblog post I commented on Mark 7:24-30 that Jesus knew the woman was “happy to ‘settle’ for the crumbs, which are really no worse than the bread itself.” A reader emailed a comment about not understanding “no worse than”, but nevertheless rightly understood it as meaning, “in her case, the same and as valuable as the loaf on the table!” The reader also went on to suggest that “One might consider the anemic ‘wafer’ we are accustomed to ‘a crumb’ but with the presence of Christ’s Body still the bread of life.” I would say, yes, that even if the wafer is split into much smaller pieces, as can be done to ensure the last few communicants receive the Host without consecrating more wafers, each communicant still receives the whole Body of Christ, Who is the Bread of Life. Ultimately, of course, the woman in Mark’s account received, in at least a figurative sense, that Bread.

Also in yesterday’s Biblog post I linked to Rabbi Marc Gellman’s column in Newsweek this week about some of the religious trends identified by The Barna Research Group in 2005. One reader emailed:

I wonder if he isn't right about people wandering from church to church, or out of church, because of “anemic prayer life”? The kind of songs which go with guitars and drums are cotton candy, and the kinds of “original” prayers offered with them speak more to Political Correctness than to the needs in the congregation, in my limited experience. Small wonder that even the eager proponents of “praise” services were looking somewhere else after they got what they asked for!

I essentially agree. The most important thing to consider in finding a church is that which is taught both in the doctrine from the pulpit and in the practice of the congregation, such as the liturgy and hymns. Dissatisfaction with so-called “contemporary” services and the seeking out of more structured and ancient forms is not a new trend, however, though it may be increasing.

Finally from yesterday’s Biblog in noting that it was the Epiphany of Our Lord, I provided a link and some information to the 1857 song “We Three Kings”. One reader recalled learning that song in public school pageants and, thinking of budget cuts forcing cuts in music programs, commented:

I wonder if the decrease in singing in the service is related to the decrease in time and money spent on music for all the children as opposed to the “choirs” in public school. In elementary school, we all sang; nobody told us how good or bad we were.

There may well be a link between the two declines. Incidentally, I found a much older hymn in Lutheran Worship last night, #76 “O Chief of Cities, Bethlehem”, that included as its 4th stanza a similar meanings for the Magi’s gifts:

The golden tribute owns Him king,
But frankincense to God they bring,
And last, prophetic sign, with myrrh
They shadow forth His sepulcher.

On the topic of Epiphany, you might check out the Rev. Dr. Scott Murray’s “Memorial Moment” from yesterday. He also had a good epistle regarding “incessant doctrinal purification” on Wednesday.

Someone truly does need to “police” doctrine and practice. At least President Bush on Friday somewhat rebuked televangelist Pat Robertson for saying God made Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s suffer a stroke as punishment for giving away parts of Israel in the peace process. Robertson clearly does not understand that the only Israel that matters in our New Testament time is the spiritual Israel, that is, the Church.

On the Today Show yesterday morning I saw an interview with Aidan Quinn about the new NBC show “The Book of Daniel”, which I have previously mentioned in a Biblog post. While I can’t find a link to the interview and clip of the show that they showed, I can assure you that you won’t find good theology on the show. I must agree with Quinn, however, when he says that pastors are flawed human beings, too. The show premiered last night, but I saw enough in the clip to know I did not need to waste time watching it, and I hope you did not either.

A reader emailed a link to a story that aired on Good Morning America Friday about how in Italy a court may rule whether or not the Roman Catholic church is abusing the people by swindling them and whether or not the Roman Catholic church basically made up the character of Jesus, allegedly basing Him on a first-century anti-Roman Jew named John of Gamala (there is just a very little more about John of Gamala here).

In the January 5th Biblog post, I shared a link sent to me for an Austin-area church that rescheduled its Wednesday night service on account of the Rose Bowl. A more astute web-page reader than I am emailed to point out that that church only has one communion service a month, and that on the first Wednesday of the month. How sad that Holy Communion has such a minimal role in that congregation’s worship life, though I suppose that minimal role is to be expected when the church doesn’t really believe God is doing anything through the meal.

In the December 29th and January 3rd Biblog posts, I linked to reports about churches that were robbed on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in New Jersey and Maryland, respectively. One of our members emailed some details about a robbery of St. Paul’s Lutheran church (then ULC now ELCA) in Linden, New Jersey, back in the mid-1960s. As the story goes, Friday’s Christmas Eve offering, Saturday’s Christmas Day offering, and Sunday’s regular offering were all taken from the not-so-safe safe. When the news got out, congregations in the area reportedly donated to help make up St. Paul’s end-of-year shortfall! I have not heard of that happening after the more recent robberies.

More Q&A posted here and ongoing thanks to our Grace webmaster for his part in making this whole process possible. With Microsoft reportedly shutting down a Chinese blog that was said to violate that country’s laws, one wonders how long we will have true freedom of speech on the internet if the American courts keep going the way they are. In the meantime I can still say “God bless your day!”

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 06, 2006

Ps 34 / Mk 7 / Religious trends (2) / Epiphany

Psalm 34 is in some ways a unique offering of praise to God. The superscription connects the psalm with the events of 1 Samuel 21:10-15. The psalm also is exceptional in how it leads to instruction about God and His ways. You may recognize a number of this psalm’s verses, and, if you have been reading with us, you will likely recognize some familiar figures of speech and themes. Peter even uses verses 12-16 in 1 Peter 3:8-12. I direct your attention to verse 8 and encourage you to think of the Sacrament of the Altar, for there is no more concrete form of both physically tasting and of realizing how wonderful God’s love for you in His gift of forgiveness is. Verse 9 emphasizes that while we who believe in God may lack some things in our lives, we lack nothing good that we need (although, as the REM song says, “What we want and what we need / Has been confused”). Also give attention to verse 20, which seems to be behind St. John’s reference in John 19:36.

Mark 7 narrates a number of events during Jesus’ withdrawal from Galilee. First in 7:1-23 we read of Jesus’ comments regarding what is clean and unclean. Note how Jesus is far more concerned about moral cleanliness than the ceremonial cleanliness of the Pharisees. Moral laws are God’s, and many of the ceremonial laws and traditions were those of the Pharisees. The example Jesus gives is of taking away money that would have been used to support one’s parents and instead giving it to the temple. The things offensive to God are the evils that come out of our sin-infected hearts. Second in 7:24-30 we read of the great faith of a woman from Syria whose daughter was possessed. Jesus talks about the bread belonging first to the Jewish “children” versus the Gentile “dogs”, but He knows how she will respond, happy to “settle” for the crumbs, which are really no worse than the bread itself. Third and finally in 7:31-37 we read of another miracle, Jesus healing a man who could not hear or speak (the KJV’s “dumb” = the NIV’s “mute”). Note how the people in the miracle recognize Jesus as the essential Messiah (see Isaiah 35:5-6). This reaction in verse 37 is said to be the greatest-ever astonishment of the crowds at Jesus’ work. How astonished are we at what Jesus does for us in Word and Sacrament?

I’m not usually one to direct people to a Jewish rabbi other than Jesus, but Newsweek’s columnist Marc Gellman this week writes about some of the same religious trends identified by The Barna Research Group that I commented on in my Biblog posts December 28-31. As you might expect, Gellman has a different take on them than I do.

The Gospel reading for Epiphany Day is Matthew 2:1-12. While we love to set up Nativity scenes with the “wise men” (KJV; “Magi” NIV) present and to include them in our Christmas pageant, St. Matthew’s Divinely-inspired account gives us some clues this is a different event at a different time and place: v.11 “house” (instead of stable), v.11 “child” (as opposed to an infant), and Herod’s order in v.16 to kill all the boys two and under (instead of only those newly born). The 1857 song “We Three Kings” (written for a Christmas pageant!), while perhaps misleading us into thinking the men were kings of some sort, at least does a good job of relating the significance of the gifts: gold pointing to Jesus’ status as a King, (frank)incense pointing to His being God, and myrrh pointing to His impending death for our sins. The number of Magi is usually taken from the number of gifts, and tradition has also given names to the three wise men. The festival is important for being the first “revelation” of Jesus to the Gentiles and “showing forth” God in the flesh of the man Jesus—the Greek word from which the word “Epiphany” comes means “to show forth”.

God bless your Epiphany Day!

As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold;
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward, beaming bright,
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led by Thee! (TLH 127:1)

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:26 AM

January 05, 2006

Ps 33 / Mk 6 / Biblog folos / Christmas question / Hooked ’em!

Psalm 33 may have been used as a liturgy of praise to the Lord. A leading Levite, the Levitical choir, and the people probably all participated. The psalm is one of only a handful of the early psalms without a superscription, so the original occasion that prompted the praise is harder to determine. Again in verse 3 remember that the “new song” is not because a new form of song is better but because the Lord has done something new to deliver His people. Notice how the Lord’s all-powerfulness is comforting because it means that His merciful and gracious plans for us who believe cannot fail (see especially vv.11, 18-19).

Mark 6 narrates some events of Jesus middle Galilean ministry, as well as His withdrawal from Galilee to the eastern and then western shores of the Sea of Galilee. First in 6:1-6 we hear how people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth were unwilling to believe in Him despite their amazement at what they heard. Jesus Himself is only called a carpenter in 6:3, and we note that their question is insulting, suggesting that Jesus was no different than anyone else. Jesus certainly could have done more miracles there (He had the power), but He chose not to do so given the people’s lack of belief. Second in 6:6-13 we read of the sending out of the Twelve previously called as “apostles” (those sent; 3:13-19). Notice how the people to whom the Twelve ministered were to provide for their needs, and notice how the Twelve were effectively to curse those who refused to welcome them and to repent. Third in 6:14-29 we hear of Herod’s reaction to the ministry of the Twelve in Jesus’ Name, and we hear how John the Baptizer came to his earthly end. (See also my answer to a question about John’s imprisonment.) Fourth in 6:30-44 we hear of Jesus’ welcoming back the apostles and eventually feeding more than 5,000 people. Notice especially Jesus’ compassion and the image that is used in verse 34. Jesus teaches and then feeds, which is the same pattern we have in the Divine Service: Word and Sacrament. The Lord’s Supper is at least intentionally brought to mind by the wording of verse 41. Fifth and finally in 6:45-56 we have the account of Jesus walking on water. There verses 51-52 are striking for what they say about the disciples—hardheartedness is usually a term used to describe Jesus’ unbelieving and impenitent opponents.

We have a few more Biblog folos today. In regards to Psalm 32 in yesterday’s Biblog post I wrote, “we do well to think of individually confessing sins that especially trouble us to the pastor as God’s representative and receiving God’s forgiveness from the pastor as from God Himself.” A reader emailed that “we might do better to do it”, to which I wholeheartedly agree. In answer to the same reader’s question about “When, where?” I would answer: whenever and wherever you want! Pastor Sullivan and I both are more than happy to hear confessions and pronounce absolution.

In response to yesterday’s reading of Mark 5:21-43, one reader emailed to ask who could keep the raising of Jairus’ daughter quiet with all those mourners in the house, and the same reader pointed out that Jesus’ requests for silence usually are ignored. I am inclined to agree that the story was bound to get out, as the Holy Spirit has made sure it did through St. Mark’s Gospel account! Yes, Jesus’ requests to keep the Messianic secret a secret do somewhat get ignored, and perhaps that is also part of God’s plan to create enough animosity to Him that He ultimately would be crucified.

In yesterday’s Biblog post I talked a little about the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who was born the son of a Lutheran pastor who died some five years later. One reader emailed to say, “Nietzsche sounds like a good guy here. I hadn’t thought that was the case. If not, where did he go wrong?” The short answer is when he went to college and began studying philosophy! (Yes, philosophy is part of the doctoral degree for which I am in the process of writing my dissertation.) A bit more seriously, Nietzsche is said to have decided to give up theological studies by the time he finished his Latin school training and was headed to the University of Bonn at the age of 20, and a year later he told his mother he was going to study philology (defined as “literary study or classical scholarship”). Later a love for philosophy and music took him away from philology, and he was entrenched in philosophy by the age of 25. Some of his most anti-Christian writings were produced when he was in his mid-40s.

In the December 29th Biblog post I mentioned a real Grinch that stole an Christmas offering from a Roman Catholic congregation in New Jersey, but there was an even more daring robbery of a Methodist congregation on New Year’s Eve in Maryland reported.

One member who worshipped elsewhere over the Christmas weekend emailed a Christmas question about the carol “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”, asking if it was in any “approved hymnal” I know of. Well, if by “approved hymnal” you mean The Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Worship, or Hymnal Supplement ’98, then, no, it is not in an approved hymnal (nor is it expected to be in Lutheran Service Book). The carol is, however, in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, the hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the old “little Norwegian” synod, which hymnal may have been in the pew racks where this member worshipped. The carol said to be one of the oldest and most popular of carols at least goes back to 1827 in one form or another and was popularized by Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol. This carol is said to have originated on the streets and not in the church (here’s a page with some interesting background). The carol had to be known to the compilers of the 1942, 1982, and 1998 LCMS collections and was not apparently chosen.

You remember the flap over canceling Sunday church services because it was Christmas Day? One of our members emailed that an Austin area church rescheduled services because of the Rose Bowl. I wouldn’t have done that, but I’m glad that the Longhorns Hooked ’em 41-38 (though sadly in part due to a bad call) and that the Tower was orange!

God bless your twelfth (and last) day of Christmas!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:50 AM

January 04, 2006

Ps 32 / Mk 5 / Biblog folos

Another of the so-called “Penitential Psalms”, Psalm 32 speaks well of the blessings of confession and absolution. (The other penitential psalms are 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143; see p.167 in The Lutheran Hymnal.) Psalm 32 may have been used as liturgy, spoken by David and God (with a priest voicing God’s speech) at the sanctuary in the presence of other worshipers. Though part of verse 5 is used in The Lutheran Hymnal liturgy of what is called corporate confession, we do well to think of individually confessing sins that especially trouble us to the pastor as God’s representative and receiving God’s forgiveness from the pastor as from God Himself. St. Paul quotes verses 1-2 in Romans 4:6-8. Verses 3-5 remind us that God uses afflictions in our lives to lead us to repent; they can also be consequences of our sin, though not punishment for our sin. Verse 6 reminds us that “now is the day of salvation” (Isaiah 49:8; 2 Corinthians 6:2), but such will not always be the case. Verse 9 indicates that we should be more receptive to God’s will than animals who respond to tugs on the reins. In verse 10 “the wicked” are often those who are “proud” and refuse to submit themselves to God or to turn repentantly to Him; they think they are a law unto themselves, that they can live by their own standards, what seems right to them. Finally, verse 11 calls all present to worship God.

Mark 5 continues to tell of Jesus’ “middle” ministry in Galilee; today we continue to read of Jesus’ trip across the Sea of Galilee, specifically a mass exorcism (5:1-20), and of two miracles Jesus did when back in Galilee (5:21-43). The casting out of the “legion” of demons from the man perhaps near the modern village of Khersa is remarkable especially in how it shows Jesus pitted against the many forces of evil in the world, which are set to harm the image of God in which people were created. In 5:19, Jesus tells the man who had been demon possessed to tell his family about what the Lord did, and we are likewise encouraged to share with our loved ones what the Lord has done for us (you are not told to go door to door telling strangers about Jesus). (Jesus seems to be less concerned about word of Him as Messiah spreading in Gentile territory, where false Messianic ideas were less likely to arise; compare 5:43 after Jesus returned to Galilee.) After Jesus returns to Galilee, He heals Jairus’ daughter and a woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years and who had “suffered many things of many physicians” and only gotten worse (v.26, KJV; the phrase about "suffering many things" is noticeably absent from the account of St. Luke, the beloved physician—see Luke 8:41-46 and Colossians 4:14). Note that in the Greek of verse 34 Jesus says to the woman that her faith “saved” her, which better helps us realize the connection between the physical and spiritual healing Jesus brings. We are also saved spiritually and ultimately healed physically, even if only at the resurrection of the body.

With the busy-ness of the late-Advent and early-Christmas season, I have let a number of Biblog folos accumulate. Here’s a big step towards catching up. In the December 23rd Biblog post on Psalm 22 I mentioned that “we struggle to understand how Jesus could be forsaken by the Father with Whom He shared the same substance” and one reader emailed about an ongoing dispute between two members of the Missouri Synod over whether God died. While I have not followed their controversy all that closely, I can try to explain a little about whether or not we say “God died”. Jesus Christ was true God and true man, and He died on the cross. Thus, in the person of Jesus Christ we can and must say that God died. Did all of God die? Well, the emailer suggests that “if all of God died, one would expect the stars to fall and everything else to implode”, and I tend to agree. Colossians 2:9 does say of Christ that, “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (KVJ), but this passage would not seem to mean that the Godhead in its entirety dwells in Christ but rather that the fullness of God’s “love and power acts and rules in all its perfection through Christ” as a body’s vital powers flow from its head (Gerhard Delling). Christ is God’s agent in the world and by virtue of His office exercises all of God’s authority and bears His full glory (and remember that the moment of the glorification of Christ is on the cross). Jesus’ committing Himself into His Father’s hands (Luke 23:46, a quote, as we saw yesterday, of Psalm 31:5) would be impossible if the Father and Holy Spirit were suffering and dying with Jesus. In fact, the idea of the Father suffering, a notion called “Patripassianism”, was a false teaching in the early days of the Christian Church, though it usually came about by denying a distinction between the Father and the Son in a misguided (though perhaps well-intentioned) effort to preserve the one God. The 20th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had his main character in Also sprach Zarathustra proclaim that God is dead, but there the message was a far cry from a proclamation of the death of Jesus on the cross. Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran pastor whose father died early in his life but who nevertheless went on in his boyhood to write religious poems and set psalms to music. Nietzsche may have known the line from a 1641 hymn stanza by Johann Rist: “Gott selbst ist tot” (God Himself is dead). Rist, however immediately follows that line with “Am Kreuz ist er gestorben” (on the cross He is killed). The idea of translating into a hymn “God is dead” apparently was too shocking for those translating the hymn we know as “O Darkest Woe”, where in the second stanza the line in question is sung “God’s Son is dead” and what is localized on the cross is “His expiation / Of our guilt”. (See The Lutheran Hymnal 167:2; the Lutheran Service Book will reportedly translate the line: “Our God is dead”.) In “Alas! and did my Savior Bleed” (TLH 154:3), “God, the mighty Maker, died” can be understood to refer clearly to the Son, “by Whom all things were made” (the Nicene Creed; see John 1:3).

When Psalm 23 came up on our schedule I commented in the December 24th Biblog post that “Our English word ‘pastor’ ultimately is traced back to the Latin word for ‘shepherd’”. One reader emailed a question about why the Rev. John W. Berg who was recently removed from the Wisconsin Synod’s clergy roster would object to the use of the word “pastor” and prefer to be called “Father Berg”. Well, Rev. Berg and I touched base via email, and he explained to me that he really does not object to the term “pastor” and that most of the people in his parish call him that. The title “Father” for a spiritual leader has Biblical and Confessional origins, but apparently some in the Wisconsin Synod (WELS) complained on the basis of Matthew 23:9 about Berg’s self-use of the title and told him not to use it. Thus, on the basis of Formula of Concord X, Rev. Berg now feels bound to use the title himself (and so do many of his members since the controversy erupted), since he is free to use it, has been told he cannot, and thus must use it to demonstrate his Christian freedom to do so. Incidentally, I am told by a well-respected Ft. Wayne seminary professor that the term “pastor” was not used in the Reformation and that the Pietists may have been responsible for the use of the term.

In the January 2nd Biblog post I asked the rhetorical question: “Can someone who believes not take part in the worship of the community?” One reader emailed:

As you said, The Lord’s deliverance should always lead us to praise him. Whenever my prayers are answered, I am always reminded of the lepers that were healed and only one returned to thank and praise Jesus. In answer to your question, I would say “no”. If you believe then you should be drawn to worship with others, giving your thanks and praise to God.

Those comments are well put! I would also say that, if you believe, you will hunger and thirst for the Sacrament of the Altar (John 6:53), the reception of which is yet another reason to be in the Divine Service.

Also in the January 2nd Biblog post I made mention of the Old Testament context of the sending of authoritative representatives, and a reader emailed asking me to elaborate on that concept. I should have explained it better when I mentioned it, but such was one of the constraints of blogging away from my home office! The Hebrew verb transliterated shalach (used, for example in Isaiah 6:8) and put into Greek with the verb from which we get “apostle” has to do with “sending” a messenger with a special task or message. The sender and sending are emphasized, not the one sent, though God expects the one sent will be obedient to Him. The one sent is an official envoy, representative, or ambassador who acts with the authority of the sender. Though neither the Hebrew nor the Greek term originally has explicitly religious content, the Greek word does eventually become a particularly theological term. Jesus was “apostled” by the Father and in turn “apostles” the Twelve (John 20:21, though St. John’s account uses the Greek word apostello almost synonymously with pempo—the first emphasizing the authority of the one sending, the second the involvement of the one sending in the acts of the one sent).

In yesterday’s Biblog post I linked to a hymn by Mary A. Baker, though in my initial post I mistakenly typed her name as “Mary Baker Eddy” (an error I subsequently corrected). I only realized my mistake after a reader emailed and asked if that was the same Mary Baker Eddy who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist and who denied the chief doctrines of Christianity. Mary Ann Baker (1831-1921) was a Baptist who reportedly lived in Chicago and was involved in the temperance movement. Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), who was also known as Mary Morse Baker, was born a Congregationalist and did indeed found the Christian Science movement. I am happy to stand corrected, and please forgive my initial mistake.

I am also happy to report I have also caught up with questions some of you have submitted; you can find the questions, answers, and a way to submit more questions here. God bless your eleventh day of Christmas!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:12 AM

January 03, 2006

Ps 31 / Mk 4

Psalm 31 is said to be the psalm that expresses the most “sturdy trust in the Lord” in the face of human opponents, but we can also pray it confidently in the face of spiritual enemies. For example, Jesus quoted verse 5 on the cross (Luke 23:46), and Dr. Martin Luther teaches us to pray the same way in his Morning and Evening Prayers: “into Thy hands I commend myself, my body, soul, and all things.” Anticipation of delivery (or perhaps past delivery) leads the psalmist to praise God (vv.21-22), and we can and should likewise praise Him while we are experiencing afflictions He in His mercy permits and even before we are fully delivered from this world.

Mark 4 continues to tell of Jesus’ “middle” ministry in Galilee; today we read some parables of the kingdom (4:1-34) and of the beginning of Jesus’ trip across the Sea of Galilee, specifically the calming of the sea (4:35-41). Remember with the parables there is generally one primary point of comparison, and we must avoid trying to make every single detail line up to something else. In case of the first parable, the Parable of the Sower (or perhaps better put “the four soils” that respond differently to the seed they receive), we have Jesus’ own explanation of the parable given later privately to the disciples. Note that Jesus is not trying to hide details about the kingdom; the “secret” is openly proclaimed to all, but only those with faith truly understand it. The results of Jesus’ preaching are like those of Isaiah’s (whom Jesus is quoting in Mark 4:12—see Isaiah 6:9-10): some believe and others harden their hearts. The third parable, that of the Growing Seed, is notable in that like God’s Word we who share it really have nothing to do with whether or not it produces fruit, nor does it need our special methods to produce fruit: it does it all by itself, by God’s power and authority. The incident of Jesus calming the storm demonstrates both that Jesus is Lord over all creation and that when we are in His boat (that is, the Church), we who believe do not need to be afraid of the storms of life that come our way. I remember well Mary A. Baker’s hymn on this text that we sang when I was in choir growing up.

Sorry for the later posting today, but nevertheless God bless your tenth day of Christmas!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 09:04 AM

January 02, 2006

Ps 30 / Mk 3 / Tidbits

Though the background of Psalm 30 is somewhat uncertain, the psalm contains a number of well-known verses. From the content of the psalm we deduce that David had some sort of close call with death, possibly from an illness, and that he wrote this psalm to publicly praise the Lord. The superscription says the psalm is for the dedication of the temple, and at least one commentary points to 1 Chronicles 21:1-22:6 as detailing that as the occasion for this psalm, including the predicament from which David was delivered. These two “theories”, if you want to call them that, are not inconsistent, nor is the later use of the psalm relating it to Israel’s exile or the still later use of the psalm in connection with Hanukkah, which celebrates the rededication of the inter-testamental Temple (circa 165 B.C.). Verse 5 is one of the well-known verses from this psalm, emphasizing the eternal joy that comes after a short period of grief or suffering. Likewise, verse 11 speaks of the “mourning” that God turns into “dancing” by leading us from repentance and suffering’s grief and sorrow to the joy of His salvation. As in so many of the psalms, be sure to notice how the Lord’s deliverance leads us to praise Him. Can someone who believes not take part in the worship of the community?

Mark 3 wraps up Jesus’ early Galilean ministry and moves to His middle ministry in Galilee. We have another Sabbath offense to the Pharisees (3:1-6), crowds following Jesus and evil spirits confessing Him (3:7-12), the naming and sending of the Twelve apostles (3:13-19), the claim that Jesus acted by the devil’s authority (3:20-30), and the emphasis on spiritual relationships (3:31-34). In the first section, note how already there is division over Jesus, Who He is and what He does. His opponents always expect Him to answer their questions, but they refuse to answer His, and you can read of His reaction! In the second section the people are coming from virtually all over Israel and the confession of Jesus as the Son of God goes strongly to one of the themes of Mark’s account (even if the demons were hardly the channel for that confession and if their confession was discouraged by Jesus). In the third section, note how some of the disciples but not all are sent as authoritative representatives. The “apostling” comes in a rich Old Testament context of the shalach, and Jesus was “apostled” by the Father and in turn “apostles” others. Note also how the evangelist (the writer of the Gospel account) reminds us of Jesus’ betrayal and death even in this otherwise “innocent” listing of the apostles. In the fourth section, there is an anticipation of the “family’s” later intervention. The scribes attribute Jesus’ work to the devil, which Jesus then equates to the so-called unforgivable sin. Pastor Sullivan recently put it well when he said that if you are worried about committing this sin you probably do not need to worry about it. Put another way, any and all sins damn, but the only “sin” that really damns is failing to answer the Spirit’s call to repent. The illustration Jesus uses of entering the strong man’s house is usually associated with Jesus’ descent to hell: He is the stronger man who enters the strong man’s house. (See my professor’s and my translation of Luther’s sermon on the descent—page 5 and following of this PDF.) Finally, as we discussed in Adult Bible Class on Christmas Day, the so-called “brothers of Jesus” are often understood to be step-brothers (earlier sons of Joseph by a previous wife) or cousins—not necessarily as sons of Mary and Joseph. Regardless of the precise relationship these thought-to-be-relatives of Jesus had, Jesus emphasizes the spiritual relationship shared by those who keep to God’s will and answer the call to repent and believe. Our spiritual relationships begin at the Baptismal font where we become Children of God and thus brothers and sisters, and we can also find our “blood” ties in the Sacrament of the Altar where we share the Blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

Here are some timely tidbits for our continued study and the second day of the calendar year. You’ve been reading the Bible, now “walk” the Bible through a three-part PBS special titled “Walking the Bible”; you can read more about the special here and see the schedule for the special on Austin’s KLRU here. ... What’s being called “The largest, most comprehensive Museum Exhibition on the history of the Bible—ever!” opens at the Florida International Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, January 13th. Titled “Ink and Blood: Sacred Treasures of the Bible” the exhibit includes manuscript fragments and a replica of Gutenberg’s printing press. No word yet on whether the exhibit is ever going to be anywhere in Texas, but you can see a real Gutenberg Bible at the University of Texas’ Humanities Research Center—one of five complete Gutenberg Bibles in the United States. ... As for a number of years now, Lutheran Hour Ministries (also known as Lutheran Layman’s League) will have a float in the 2006 Tournament of Roses Parade thanks to a group of some 5,000 Lutheran volunteers known as the Petal Pushers. Whether or not you are rooting for the Longhorns, you can enjoy the parade and the LHM float; the parade takes place January 2 at 10 a.m. CST. The theme of the parade is “It’s Magical” and is intended to celebrate those moments in life that seem “too good to be true”, and the LHM float emphasizes the cross of Christ as the instrument of God’s love that may seem “too good to be true” but really is true. (Asked about the pillows on which the cross is resting, the best I could come up with was that books of the Gospels used to be placed on pillows on altars.) It almost goes without saying that the game is Wednesday night at 7:00 CST on ABC.

God bless your ninth day of Christmas!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

January 01, 2006

Lk 1:68-79 / Mk 2 / Abortion tidbits / Naming of Jesus

The Benedictus, Luke 1:68-79 is the seasonal canticle for January. This prophecy and praise by John the Baptizer’s father Zechariah recognizes John as the forerunner to the Redeemer, the Horn of Salvation (for more on the “horn” imagery see the December 19th Biblog post). Zechariah’s prophecy is in keeping with all prophecy that has gone before. Note well that the purpose of the rescue and deliverance is for those redeemed to “serve” the Lord (v.74, KJV and others), but the meaning behind the Greek word latreuo there is "worship", and, of course, when we come to worship God He serves us with the forgiveness of sins, which Divine service thereby brings about our praise and thanksgiving. Note that in verses 76-79, Zechariah is more directly addressing John. In my head I always hear verses 68-79 as they are sung in the Gospel Canticle of Lutheran Worship’s order of Morning Prayer (pages 239-242), which we sang quite regularly in the daily chapel services at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario. If you look at that text and tune, you will notice that verse 74 is paraphrased “to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life,” and, if you can pick out the tune, you may notice how the melody especially brings beauty to the text. (For additional comments on Luke 1:68-79, see the background for January's readings.)

Today we read Mark 2 in which we continue to hear of Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee: the healing of a paralytic (2:1-12), the calling of Levi (also known as Matthew, 2:13-17), the questioning about fasting (2:18-22), and the saying about Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath (2:23-28). We might note the faith of the four men determined to bring the paralytic to Jesus in the house (which may have belonged to Peter). We definitely should note the connection between the healing and the forgiveness of sins: healing is a sign that Jesus is God and has the authority to forgive sins. That authority to forgive sins is given by Jesus to the apostles and to their successors, that is, pastors today (for example, Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23). Jesus’ mission is to call sinners to repentance and ultimately to provide them with forgiveness, and His meals with sinners during His earthly ministry point us all to His table fellowship in the Sacrament of the Altar, where we sinners are given the forgiveness He won for us. Fasting is fine outward preparation for the Sacrament, but fasting can never be imposed on someone the way the Pharisees imposed it in Jesus’ day. Likewise, picking grain while walking through a field on the holy day was not forbidden by God, but the Jewish tradition had forbidden it. Jesus, as the Son of God and the Son of Man, is Lord of the Sabbath, and His Word and the needs of His people supersede the legalistic Jewish tradition that obscured the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith.

There is usually some attention given in local media outlets to the first area baby born in the New Year. Christians should hardly be able to think about new babies born without thinking of all of those babies that are never born. Let me temper your New Year’s celebration with a few abortion tidbits. A study in Acta Paediatrica, an European medical journal, reportedly suggests that women who have had one abortion are more likely than other women to abuse a child born later, going against a popular claim that abortion prevents child abuse and neglect. Priscilla Coleman, of Bowling Green State University, who has written a number of other articles related to abortion and its aftermath, studied more than 500 Baltimore, Maryland, women with a pattern of child abuse or neglect. The study, of course, could not determine if the women who had the abortions would have abused their children anyway. January 22, 2006, is 33rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in the United States, and the death toll in this country keeps mounting. With the pending approval of Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, one analyst speculates that changes could be in store for how the nation’s highest court rules on abortion-related cases. Let us pray the court moves in a pro-life direction, but let us not be surprised if it does not.

January 1 is New Year’s Day mostly because eight days after Jesus’ birth it was the day on which He was circumcised and named and thus it was an appropriate day to begin the Year of Our Lord (Latin anno domini). Note that the name “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua” and means “the Lord saves”. The Lutheran Hymnal #114, “Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love” is a wonderful hymn for the Naming of Jesus, and it well draws on a number of Biblical texts (in New Testament order): Matthew 1:21, 25; Luke 1:31, 2:21; Acts 4:12, 10:43; Ephesians 1:21; Philippians 2:9-11.

God bless your eighth day of Christmas and your whole new calendar year, and may you truly make it holy by the right use of His Word in all its forms!

Jesus! Name of wondrous love,
Human name of God above;
Pleading only this, we flee,
Helpless, O our God, to Thee. (TLH #114:6)

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM