April 30, 2006

2 Ti 3-4 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

(For comments on Isaiah 25:1-9, April's seasonal canticle, see comments in the background for this month's reading [also viewable in a downloadable PDF] and the Biblog from when we read the whole chapter.)

2 Timothy 3-4 finishes the book by taking us through Paul’s charge to Timothy (2:1-4:8) and his request of Timothy (4:9-22). We live in the last days of 3:1 (and see 4:3-4), but sadly the folly of the kind of people Paul describes is not clear to as many as we would pray (3:9). We have a wonderful description of Holy Scripture in 3:14-17 (one that is used as a basis for this prayer), and we see in 4:13 Paul’s concern for either Old Testament books, copies of his own letters, or possibly copies of Gospel accounts. Remember as you read 4:1 and the verses following that Paul is writing these things for Timothy and his congregation. As you see in 4:2, preaching is more than saying happy things: the proclamation of the law must precede the proclamation of the Gospel. Paul sees the end of his life as the completion of an offering to God and the victory as in an Olympic game (4:6-8). Note well that the first part of verse 22 is directed in the singular “your” to Timothy, a reminder of the gift of the Spirit in his ordination (as in our use of this verse in the liturgy); the second part of the verse is directed in the plural to Timothy and the congregation—and to us!

A weekend news cycle doesn't stop me from giving you a few Tidbits. A Ten Commandments monument goes on trial in Oklahoma Monday, and a “Christian” attorney says he thinks such displays will survive. ... In another "Dean scream", the head of the Democratic Party has said he wants to go after churches’ tax-exempt status, and at least one religious leader has called him to account. ... And, just in time for the July ratings period, tune in (or don’t!) for a new nationwide live prayer TV show.

May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always, and may you today receive through Word and Sacrament the great gift of forgiveness Jesus won for you by His death and resurrection.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 29, 2006

Ps 120 / 2 Ti 1-2 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 120 begins a group of psalms known in Jewish liturgy as the “Great Hallel” (Psalms 120-134). All have the title “A song of ascents” (NIV, NASB; “degrees” KJV), which is variously thought to refer to those returning from exile to Jerusalem, to worshipers “going up” to Jerusalem as part of religious pilgrimages for festivals such as the Feast of Tabernacles, to the liturgical ascent of the stairs going up to the Temple, and to the progression of thoughts the songs make toward a higher thought. So collected in the final assembling of the book of Psalms, the individual psalms may not originally have been written for such purposes. Perhaps also somewhat linked to Psalm 119:176, Psalm 120 may be a king’s prayer for God to deliver him from false accusers. Verses 1-2 are addressed to God; verses 3-4 speak rhetorically to the psalmist’s adversaries, and verses 5-7 complain over the enemies’ extended harassment.

2 Timothy 1-2 begins the next of Paul’s letters in canonical order. As noted previously when we began this group of books, Paul likely wrote this letter while imprisoned for an extended period of time in Rome before he was martyred. More personal than the other Pastoral Letters, this one, too, is still official. Relatively alone, Paul calls for Timothy but writes the letter realizing he might die before Timothy gets there. Thus, the letter has been called Paul’s “last will and testament”.

After the opening address and thanksgiving (1:1-5), 2 Timothy 1-2 takes us through Paul’s appeal to Timothy (1:6-18) and into his charge to Timothy (2:1-4:5). We hear how Timothy’s faithful upbringing was at the hands of his mother and maternal grandmother (1:5). Paul again refers to Timothy’s gift of the Holy Spirit at his ordination (1:6-7). Paul recognizes the normative force of his inspired teaching (1:13), and he sees the necessary process of handing down the true faith (2:2). At the center of that faith is Jesus Christ, God and man, about Whom Paul quotes what may be an early Christian hymn (2:8-13). Paul’s direction to avoid arguing about words (2:14, 23-24) should not be taken as if contending for the faith is not important. And, we should also note that not everyone is willing to be taught in order to be lead to repentance and escape from the devil’s trap.

Wow! Tidbits two days in a row! The next “Terri Schiavo” could be right here in central Texas. ... Christians will join others in a rally Sunday calling for more action in Darfur. ... Concerns are raised as new survey shows more gay “couples” want to adopt children. ... A top Vatican official urges a boycott of The DaVinci Code movie. ... And some people I know aren’t the only ones complaining about “liberal” news media.

May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always, and may you tomorrow receive through Word and Sacrament the great gift of forgiveness Jesus won for you by His death and resurrection.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 28, 2006

Ps 119:169-176 / 1 Ti 4-6 / Tidbits!

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Reading Psalm 119:169-176 (Taw) today we finish this acrostic psalm of 22 parts. This part is consistent with a couple of those that immediately precede it in that they earnestly petition God for help. The last three verses of this part (vv.174-176) conclude the whole: because he delights in God’s torah and trusts in God’s judgments, the psalmist, no matter how sure of himself he has sounded previously, is lead to confess that he knows he is a sinner in need of the Lord seeking him out.

1 Timothy 4-6 finishes the first of Paul’s Pastoral Epistles. We read Paul’s directions to Pastor Timothy for responding to Gnosticism’s second and third attacks on the Christian faith, by corrupting the daily life of the church and its teachers, 4:1-6:2 and 6:3-21, respectively. Notable in 4:1-2 are that people abandon the faith when they turn away from the true teaching and that they do not think they are outside the faith despite the fact they are (see also 6:20-21). (Compare what Paul says to what the so-called scholars say who claim that Gnostics such as those that authored the Gospel of Judas were within Christianity.) In the same letter where Paul speaks of clergy as married (3:2), we read that “hypocritical liars” forbid marriage of those otherwise eligible to marry (4:3), and, though Paul is primarily referring to the Gnostic heresy, we might think of Roman Catholicism forcing its clergy to remain unmarried and the problems that forced lack of marriage has brought about. Timothy’s “youth”, for which some apparently thought less of him (4:12), was about 30 years of age. Part of Timothy’s responsibility as pastor was the public reading of Holy Scripture, preaching and teaching (4:13), and for such work he was given a special gift of the Holy Spirit in his ordination (4:14; on the laying-on of hands in ordination, see also 5:22). Word and deed confess the faith (4:16), and in that same vein note how family members are to provide for their fellow immediate family members (5:4-8). Paul says that pastors deserve their wages and that accusations against them should not be entertained without two or three witnesses (5:17-21).

People have emailed asking for them, so, after ten days without them, I have the return of the Tidbits! A Roman Catholic priest’s murder of a nun in 1980 may have been some sort of ritual killing. ... The Texas State Supreme Court is going to hear a case stemming from a church practicing discipline, but it seems more than might first appear is at stake. ... Speaking of the separation of church and state, Norway may give up official “Lutheranism” after 469 years. ... The British judge who presided over the “Da Vinci Code” copyright infringement case apparently wrote its ruling with his own code. ... And, the 100th “snowflake baby” reportedly has been born (you may recall previous discussion in this forum regarding embryo adoption).

May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 27, 2006

Ps 119:161-168 / 1 Ti 1-3 / Christianity in the news media

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 119:161-168 (Sin and Shin) expresses well the psalmist’s perseverance in the midst of persecution. Unlike the previous two parts of the psalm, this one does not contain a single petition! Instead, the psalmist describes what he is doing by virtue of God working in Him. For such blessings, the psalmist does more than praise God morning and evening or even three times a day—he praises God the perfect number of seven times. Thus, verse 164 is notable for supporting the practice of the seven “hours” of prayer that were often the schedule in convents and monasteries: Lauds/Matins, Prime, Terce, Sext, None (pronounced like "hone"), Vespers, and Compline. You may recognize at least two of those, Matins and Vespers, from The Lutheran Hymnal, and those of you familiar with Lutheran Worship or Lutheran Service Book may also know Compline.

1 Timothy 1-3 begins our next Biblical letter of Paul’s, but first we should note that the two letters to Timothy and the one to Titus are in a different category of sorts from the preceding nine letters of St. Paul’s. This letter and the next two are called Pastoral Letters (accent on the first “a”, and note no “i”) because they were written to pastors (shepherds) Timothy and Titus regarding the congregations (flocks) in their care. While addressed to the pastors, the letters were also intended for the church members, though maybe not so much 2 Timothy, which appears to be more of a personal letter than the other two. The usual theory behind the three Pastoral Letters is that, after the imprisonment of Paul in Rome described in Acts 28, Paul was released and began his Fourth Missionary Journey, heading to Spain and to some of the churches he had previously established, such as Crete, Ephesus, and Philippi. While on that journey Paul is thought to have left Titus with charge of Crete and Timothy with charge of Ephesus. The letter to Titus and the first one to Timothy are thought to have been written later in Philippi, and the second letter to Timothy is thought to have been written from Rome, where Paul ended up imprisoned again and this time martyred (probably either before A. D. 63 or after A. D. 67).

The first letter to Timothy directs him to refute three false teachings of the Gnostic heresy that was plaguing the church at Ephesus. 1 Timothy 1-3 takes us through the brief salutation (1:1-2) and how to respond to Gnosticism’s first attack, that upon the law and Gospel (1:3-3:16). The “trustworthy saying” of 1 Timothy 1:15 (and see 3:1; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8) probably is an expression already familiar to the churches, possibly some sort of early creedal statement (see also 3:16). Paul is lead in 1:18 to doxology, praise of God, by considering God’s plan of salvation and how it works out in the lives of people. Paul again refers to church discipline in 1:20. In 2:1’s four different descriptions of prayer, some see a reference to the Divine Service and its Litany, Collect, Prayers of the Church, and Eucharist. God’s expressed will that all be saved is stated well in 2:3-4, and we should remember that people can resist God’s grace and bring about a consequent will of God that is different from this expressed one. Jesus’ exclusive role as mediator is stated well in 2:5-6, excluding the saints, Mary, and anyone or anything else with which someone might try to supplant Him. The role of women in the church is discussed in 2:9-15, and we observe that it is based on the order of creation, which is not overridden by the order of redemption. The person described in 3:1-7 is a “bishop” (KJV, ASV) or “overseer” (NIV, NASB; the Greek is episcope, which gives us “Episcopal”), what we call “pastor”. The “deacon” was one who served in order to allow the pastor (also called an “elder”) to devote more attention to Word and Sacrament ministry (Acts 6:2, 4). The description of the person “qualified” for the pastoral or deaconal office is not, however, a higher standard to which only pastors and deacons should strive but one that ideally would describe all Christians.

I have almost had my fill of Christianity in the news media! Many of you know that I frequently defend the news media, but in most of the recent coverage, about such things as the Gospel of Judas, that I have seen and heard the sources the reporters are using, the people they are interviewing, are not ones who genuinely confess the Christian faith. I have no problem with hearing from liberal Bible scholars, as long as their opinions are balanced with statements from conservative scholars. Take Wednesday’s NPR “Fresh Air” interview with Bart Ehrman, for example. Among the misinformed opinions Ehrman gave was one that said the view that the soul goes to heaven when the body dies is inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching that there is a bodily existence on earth in the afterlife. Well, no, the view the soul goes to heaven when the body dies is not inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching that after He returns the soul in heaven is reunited with a resurrected body to enjoy a bodily existence on the new earth. Ehrman is also quoted in National Geographic’s big article in its May issue regarding the Gospel of Judas. I finally got my hands on a hard copy of that article, and I shouldn’t have wasted the $4.95+tax, as the article was the same online, and it didn’t include any more of the text of the so-called Gospel than what was online. The last example of bad reporting regarding Christianity that I want to give is an article from the April 17 issue of U.S. News & World Report where another liberal scholar’s admittedly fictional book is used as the basis for questioning Who Jesus is and what He said and did. A member of the congregation recently gave this article to me and asked about the role of Jesus’ “brother” James. The article, by giving undue authority to the author of the fictional book, suggests “For some 30 years after the Crucifixion, James dominated the Jesus movement through his leadership of the church in Jerusalem” but that “orthodox Christianity … reduced his role” as part of “the effort of an increasingly gentile church to suppress the original and solidly Jewish message and mission of John the Baptist, Jesus, and James” (p.52). “Orthodox Christianity” did not reduce James’ role; James is thought to have been martyred in A.D. 62. And, "Orthodox Christianity" was as authentically Jewish as John, Jesus, and James, while the Jews of Jesus' day and since are not. We can—and will in May—read more about James in Acts, and we will also read his letter. In the meantime, we can wonder whether the saying “any publicity is good publicity” applies to Christianity. I can agree that people’s questions prompted by the news media can lead them to explore the faith more, but if they are turning to the news media for answers instead of to the Church, then their last states are worse than their first (Luke 11:26 KJV).

There's a new Q&A online now, and thanks to the person who sent in the question. Everyone's questions are welcome. May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 26, 2006

Ps 119:153-160 / 2 Th 1-3

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 119:153-160 (Resh), like yesterday’s section, is somewhat dominated by prayers for deliverance. Note how there are similar petitions in the majority of its verses: deliver (v.153), defend (v.154), redeem (v.154), and preserve (vv.154, 156, 159). In verse 153 the psalmist has not forgotten the Gospel, as well as the “law” (torah again). Similarly in verse 156 the Lord does not preserve our lives according to His “laws” (NIV), but according to His “judgment” (KJV) in view of our faith in His promises (v.154). People who like to think the Bible teaches “hating the sin and loving the sinner” should try to reconcile that with sections of Holy Scripture such as this one! The psalmist has the right regard for God’s teaching, and has disregard for those who do not. Still, of course, God and we want all people to repent, so we do reach out in love first with the proclamation of the law to help them recognize their sin and, when they do, then with the proclamation of the Gospel so they can know they can be forgiven by faith.

2 Thessalonians 1-3 begins and ends our next Biblical letter of Paul’s, as we proceed in canonical order. This second letter to the people at Thessalonica apparently was also written from Corinth, about a month or so after the first letter (maybe 50 A.D.). There likely was some communication from Thessalonica to Paul in reply to the first letter, possibly in the form of a letter from them to Paul or from his messenger returning back to Paul with a report. (There may also have been a forged letter of some sort from Paul to them!) The congregation(s) there still stood firm in the face of persecution, but it seems some of the false teaching about Christ’s coming was gaining ground. So, in his reply, Paul does two things: warns those overexcited about Christ’s coming and comforts those who are worried about whether or not they are among those who will be saved when He does come. And speaking of coming, where Paul in the first letter indicated an expectation to return to Thessalonica, apparently by the time of the second he is said to have received a vision telling him to stay put in Corinth (the claim is based on Acts 18:9-11).

2 Thessalonians can be broken down into three major parts: the expected introductory thanksgiving and prayer (chapter 1), the instruction about the Day of the Lord (chapter 2), and the concluding exhortations, greeting, and benedictions (chapter 3). I want to make brief comments on three different verses (as always, you are welcome to ask questions on any others). First, note how in 1:8 punishment is visited on those who do not know God; the notes in my Study Bible suggest those who have never heard of God are not included, but we must question whether such people really exist. Also I think that in that same verse we would say “Gospel” is used in a wide sense, as including the law that calls for “obedience”. All have failed to obey the law, and those who do not trust in Christ for forgiveness will be punished. Second, in 2:3 Paul refers to the “man of lawlessness”, whom we would say is likely the worst of the antichrists. As I have noted in the Biblog previously (for example, December 6 and December 21), Lutherans believe, teach, and confess that the office of the pope is that of the Antichrist. Third and finally, in 3:14 Paul speaks of breaking fellowship with those who do not accept the teaching (see 1 Corinthians 5:9, 11, the only other places in the New Testament where the same Greek word for such disassociation is used); the goal in such cases is always to lead the person to repent.

There are two new prayers posted: one for before your reading and another for after your reading. May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 25, 2006

Ps 119:145-152 / 1 Th 4-5 / Catch-up

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Unlike Tsadhe, yesterday’s section, Qoph, today’s section, Psalm 119:145-152, contains many petitions, and one commentary suggests that’s typical of the latter part of the psalm. Take note of verse 146’s “save me”; the Hebrew word stems from the same root as “Hosanna” which means “Save!”. In verse 149 the NIV’s “love” is again hesed, or “mercy”. I liked verses 150-151 and their little play on near/far, and the “law” the wicked are “far” from is torah again. Notice how in many verses there is both a petition and a benefit or result to God answering that petition. Our Collect form of praying is similar: there is usually an address to God, a rationale for the prayer, an actual petition, a benefit from God granting the petition, and a termination to the prayer.

Reading 1 Thessalonians 4-5 wraps up the first of the letters we have to the Church at Thessalonica, with Paul exhorting the people about their personal lives (4:1-12), the coming of Christ (4:13-5:11), and church life (5:12-22); verses 23-28 give his final prayer, greetings, and benediction. The focus on sexual sins in 4:1-8 is not because Paul was prudish or fixated on sex, but he is consistent with the Old Testament, where you can also find statements about the particularly offensive nature of sexual sins. One of my favorite passages for Christians who have lost Christian loved ones is 4:13; we can grieve but not as those who have no certain hope of the resurrection. (In a sense, I don’t know what we are supposed to say to unbelievers or Christians who lost unbelieving loved ones.) Remember that “sleep” in 4:13 and verses following refers to the body’s time in the ground, not to some sort of “soul sleep”. On the basis of Bible passages such as those here in 1 Thessalonians, we do not believe, teach, or confess that the soul enters some sort of suspended state between the time the body dies and is raised on the last day. Rather, we believe, teach, and confess that upon death the soul goes to its eternal destination (heaven for believers, hell for unbelievers), where it remains until it is reunited with its body at the last day. Be careful of those who would suggest on the basis of 4:16-17 that there is a secret rapture that would leave unbelievers behind on earth with a sort of second chance to believe. What Paul teaches here is consistent with the teaching of Jesus recorded in the Gospel accounts: there is one public return of our Lord at which He will declare His judgment on believers and unbelievers, those living and those who had previously died. The Lord’s coming in glory to judge the living and the dead may in one sense be unexpected (like a thief comes in the night, 5:1-2), but in another sense for believers His coming is as inevitable as a pregnant woman’s labor pains (not like a thief, 5:4). Again we find the believer’s armor (as in Romans 13:12; 2 Corinthians 6:7; 10:4; and Ephesians 6:13-17). Finally, note again the kiss of peace in 5:26 that indicates the context of the Divine Service.

After my computer crash, the busy end of the Lent, and the beginning of Easter, I finally think I can catch-up on some readers’ comments that have been emailed. Way back in March when we were reading Luke 16:1-13, the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, a reader emailed in response to my March 27th Biblog post wondering if the steward wasn’t just taking an excessive cut of the transaction and, if the creditors had paid the full amount, who would have gotten it. The reader mentioned personal experience overseas where it was expected that household staff would get a percentage of the price of produce purchased at the market. I suppose excessive cuts of the transactions could have been what got the manager in trouble in the first place, and some cut even may have been expected. Nevertheless, the money was not being paid in the parable, and the manager, as the reader and I both agreed, was reducing the bills to buy friends for when he lost his job.

Another reader emailed to express enjoyment of the current books we are reading.

I have found reading Paul's letters very interesting. … I am realizing how many of my questions from the Old Testament readings are being answered … Also I find Paul’s letters very confirming to what we believe. Makes me wish that non-believers could just read Paul's letters and realize their salvation!! Oh if it were only that easy!

Indeed! We say, of course, that what we believe, teach, and confess is based on the Bible, so we should definitely worry if we found something in the Bible contrary to what we say we believe.

After I posted a link in the March 25th Biblog to a report about Pope Benedict installing new cardinals, a reader observed in that report that their red hats symbolized their “willingness to shed blood to promote Christianity” and wondered if it meant their own blood or someone else’s. I had figured it meant their own, and the reader did a little digging and got back to me with the previous pope’s explanation at a previous installation.

Receive the red biretta as a sign of the dignity of a cardinal, as a reminder that you must be ready to act with renewed vigour, up to the point of shedding your own blood for the Christian faith, for the peace and tranquility of the people of God and the spread of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

According to the report the reader found, the cardinal given that explanation needed a little more explanation (my word) shortly after, when he questioned some of the Roman Catholic church’s position and got, the report said, “a poke from the shepherd’s staff”.

Unrelated to the readings or my posts, another reader sent the following part of post from this site; it brought me found memories and put a smile to my face, so I thought I would share it.

Those of us who grew up with the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes" probably remember the time the two main characters were reading a book together, and Calvin said, "It says here that 'Religion is the opiate of the masses.' What do you suppose THAT means?" In the next panel, the family TV was thinking to itself, "It means Karl Marx hadn't seen anything yet."

I suppose if Calvin’s creator Bill Watterson were doing the same strip today he might attribute the same final statement to the Internet.

Speaking of TV, a reader emailed this link that’s bad news for those of us who like to flip channels during commercials, and a reader emailed this link to a post about “heterophobia” on college campuses.

Thanks for being patient with me while that all sat in my in-box and letting me catch-up all at once. I also have some new Q&A posted here. Keep the comments and questions coming, and I might even get my own tidbits back in the Biblog soon! May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 24, 2006

Ps 119:137-144 / 1 Th 1-3

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 119:137-144 (Tsadhe) says repeatedly how righteous the Lord and His judgments are. The psalmist says how he is worn out contending for the Lord and His torah. The only petition in this part of the acrostic Psalm 119 comes in verse 144: “give me understanding, and I shall live” (KJV). We pray for that understanding of God’s Word and know that He sends His Holy Spirit to guide us into the way of all truth (Psalm 119:30; John 16:13).

With today’s reading of 1 Thessalonians 1-3 we quickly move into yet another of Paul’s Epistles. Remember that these letters are not in chronological order, because the letters to the Thessalonians are thought to have been written from Corinth while Paul was on his Second Missionary Journey. Paul had been directed by God to go directly to “European” cities like Thessalonica, passing by Asia as the next logical stop for his apostolic work. Thessalonica was another important city that proved important for the spread of the Gospel. The capital of the Roman province of Macedonia (essentially half of Greece), it, too, was a harbor town and on the crossroads of the Via Egnatia, the road that connected Rome with the East. (The road was named for Graeus Egnatius, the proconsul of Macedonia who ordered the “way” be constructed.) Paul began his work in the city, as usual, in the Jewish synagogue, but after three weeks that aspect ended, and he moved to work more exclusively with the Gentiles, probably for several months, before he was forced to leave before his work was through (Acts 17:1-9 gives a condensed summary). As he continued on from Thessalonica to places such as Corinth, Paul continued to be concerned about the new congregations he had helped found and apparently sent Timothy to see how they were doing. Timothy returned with a good report, and Paul sent the letter we know as 1 Thessalonians.

According to one outline of the letter, 1 Thessalonians 1-3 takes us through Paul’s thanksgiving for the people there (chapter 1) and his defense of his actions and absence (chapters 2-3). Quite quickly in the letter (for example, 1:9-10) Paul brings out what will be a principal theme: the teaching about the last things or end times (what is called “eschatology”). Note throughout today’s reading the power attributed to God’s Word as a means of conversion (for example, 1:5; 2:13). Paul makes much of his own work in order, as much as possible, to support himself (2:9; confer Acts 18:3’s report of his making tents in Corinth), and today there are many who suggest pastors should similarly support themselves. In general, I think St. Paul, an apostle-at-large to the Gentiles, worked in unique circumstances establishing congregations, which circumstances are quite different from those of today’s pastors, who are often assigned to established congregations blessed by God enough to support their full-time worker(s) or sent by organizations able (if not willing) to support them while they establish new congregations. One thing that has not changed in time is the role of persecution in the life of the Church, her pastors and people, in this world. Less background and more meat await us as we finish this letter tomorrow.

May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:01 AM

April 23, 2006

Ps 119:129-136 / Col 3-4

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 119:129-136 (Pe) expresses the psalmist’s regard for God’s teaching and prayers pertaining to it. Only by God’s turning to us in mercy (v.132), revealing Himself to us (v.130), and directing us (v.133) are we as redeemed children able to see the wonderful nature of God’s commands (v.129), long for them (v.131), and obey them (v.134). The psalmist recognizes his own sin (v.133) and weeps over those who flagrantly break God’s laws (v.136). He also alludes to the Aaronic benediction (v.135; Numbers 6:24-26).

Colossians 3-4 finishes off yet another New Testament book. Today in this letter we read Paul’s description of life in Christ (3:1-4:6) and his final greetings (4:7-18). Our minds are to be fixed on heavenly things, and we are to crucify the sinful nature. Christians are to live together in the forgiveness of sins, forgiving one another as God has forgiven them. Note again the role of sung confessions of the faith in letting Christ’s word dwell in us (3:16). Paul’s closing remarks are extended and provide much fodder for tracing out who's who among his coworkers and the circumstances of the letters.

May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always, and may you today receive through Word and Sacrament the great gift of forgiveness Jesus won for you by His death and resurrection.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 22, 2006

Ps 119:121-128 / Col 1-2

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

In Psalm 119:121-128 (Ayin) the psalmist calls for the Lord to deliver the psalmist from his enemies and to vindicate the Lord’s statutes. The psalmist prays for mercy for himself and essentially the wrath of judgment for his oppressors, who follow the wrong path. Especially in the NIV, verse 126 is quite a demand: “It is time for you to act, O Lord”. One could suggest the psalmist is being presumptuous, although the psalmist is only calling for the Lord to do what the Lord has promised to do. We, too, pray, “Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come!” (Revelation 22:20).

As we rapidly move through the letters of Paul in canonical order, with Colossians 1-2 today we begin yet another book and will finish it tomorrow. The third of the four Captivity letters in the Bible’s order, Colossians actually may have been written first. (Philemon is the last of the four, but it comes much later in canonical order due to its nature as more of a personal letter.) A man by the name of Epaphras apparently came from Colossae, a city in Asia Minor east of Ephesus, to visit Paul while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Epaphras may have helped found the church in Colossae, and, while he brought good news of it, he also was concerned about a new teaching there that seemed to distort the Gospel. We don’t know a great deal about that false teaching, but we can deduce that it was a form of gnosticism (like that you may have heard about in connection with the so-called “Gospel of Judas”), which claimed to impart secret knowledge (the Greek word gnosis gives us our English word “knowledge”), emphasized Jewish ritual, and called for giving up certain things. In short, things were getting in the way of the Gospel’s emphasis on Christ and His unique and complete work of obtaining the forgiveness of sins.

In chapters 1-3 we read Paul’s introduction to the letter (1:1-14, with what you might expect by now: greetings, thanksgiving, and prayer), his treatment of the full glory of Christ (1:15-23), his discussion of the full glory of the Gospel (1:24-2:5), and his refutation of the heresy (or false teaching) that was threatening the Colossian church (2:6-2:23). Notice how much the circumstances that prompted the letter are evident already in its thanksgiving and prayer. Paul may again be drawing on an early Christian hymn in 1:15-20, which emphasizes the supremacy of Christ in creation and redemption. Creation itself is attributed to Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, though works of the Trinity towards the world can properly be attributed to any one of the three Persons. Redemption is more than a spiritual thing; the physical body is central. The Gospel “mystery” is not secret knowledge but fully revealed and preached, both to the Colossians and Laodiceans (people in a congregation not far from Colossae). This letter is full of rich teaching about Christ, His Incarnation, His work of redemption, and His delivering the benefits of that work to us in the Sacraments. The freedom of the Christian under the Gospel is also treated here. Note that we can resolve all we want to change our lives, but laws themselves do not and cannot restrain the sinful flesh. Such changes can only be brought about by the Holy Spirit.

May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always, and may you receive tomorrow through Word and Sacrament the great gift of forgiveness Jesus won for you by His death and resurrection.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 21, 2006

Ps 119:113-120 / Php 3-4

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 119:113-120 (Samekh) again emphasizes our love for God’s teaching (torah in v.113) and what should be our “hate” of hypocrites and enemies of God. God’s promise sustains us, and, as our response, we fear, love, and trust in God.

Philippians 3-4 finishes the book, with Paul warning against those who emphasize the law too much and those who do not emphasize the law enough (chapter 3) and with Paul exhorting the people in Philippi and concluding the letter (chapter 4). Paul describes himself as a Jew par excellence, but he does not trust in such works of the law that people can do but in the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ (3:1-11). So believing, we at least try to live as we should and eagerly look forward to the resurrection of the transformed bodies and heavenly life (3:12-4:1). Paul’s exhortation to rejoice in 4:4-7 is a well-known passage, and we should especially note how we are to thank God in all circumstances before we ask more of Him and, in so doing, find His peace. In another well-known passage, Paul encourages us to focus our thoughts and actions on positive things (4:8-9). Paul’s teaching about contentment in any and every circumstance is worth our attention, and we can think of this teaching in light of the Commandments, especially 6, 7, 9, and 10 (4:10-13).

May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 20, 2006

Ps 119:105-112 / Php 1-2

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 119:105-112 (Nun) emphasizes the importance of God’s Word for showing the path to light and life. The Holy Spirit uses the Word in leading us to repent, revealing Christ to us, and showing us to live. God’s Word promises He will save us no matter how much we are threatened by our enemies.

Philippians 1-2 begins the next letter of Paul in canonical order, and this letter to those in Philippi is another of the so-called Captivity Letters. Philippi in Macedonia was a Roman colony, where soldiers were settled, located on the system of Roman roads at a strategic point. There Paul knew conflict and joy, especially as the church grew. A significant event there was Paul’s imprisonment and the conversion of his jailer. Paul had been in Philippi on his second missionary journey and began his work at what was likely an open-air place of prayer alongside a river. Soon, however, a wealthy woman named Lydia was converted by the Holy Spirit and opened her home for the church to meet. Her generosity set the tone for the church’s life, with the people there supplying Paul’s needs while he was in Thessalonica and Corinth. At the time this letter was written, Epaphroditus, bringing a gift from the Philippians, had come from Philippi to visit Paul while he was imprisoned again, but this time in Rome. The letter has the central theme of joy in the midst of suffering.

Today’s reading takes us through the letter’s introduction (Paul’s greeting, thanksgiving, and prayer), news from prison, exhortations, and his actions on behalf of the Philippians. Paul explains how his being imprisoned is again serving the Gospel. His desire to depart and be with Christ but needing to remain to serve the churches is striking, and a tension I identify with, eagerly waiting for the fully-realized eschatology (so much so I picked this verse and its surrounding context as one of the readings for my funeral service). Paul encourages the Philippians to be united in the one confession of the faith and so contend for the Gospel. He encourages them to be humble, as was Christ. To help drive home the teaching of Christ’s humility St. Paul in 2:6-11 may make use of an early Christian hymn that confesses both Christ’s humiliation (vv.6-8) and exaltation (vv.9-11). On the last great Day even those who denied Christ will be forced to worship and confess (2:10-11), although at that time it will be too late. (Note that in 2:6-7 the KJV’s “form” is a better translation than the NIV’s “nature”.) Like the Philippians, we are to work out our salvation, not as if we earn it by the things we do, but by receiving God’s gift of forgiveness through Word and Sacrament and thus by allowing God to work in us. Thus, Paul is sending Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippians.

If you find the Daily Lectionary pages to be helpful, you are not alone, so did everyone responding to our online survey; read more about the results here. We haven’t received any questions about the readings in a while, so the Pauline Epistles must be much easier to understand or I’m just explaining them so well you don’t need to ask! (Ha, ha.) Your questions are always welcome. May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 19, 2006

Ps 119:97-104 / Eph 4-6

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

If you have been reading along, you likely will recognize some familiar themes in Psalm 119:97-104 (Mem). One of those familiar themes is that of the two paths (vv.191, 194). Another familiar theme is that of the psalmist’s love of wisdom. The “law” the psalmist says he loves in verse 97 is God’s torah, which I have said we should think of more as “teaching” or “doctrine” in the sense of both law and Gospel (see also “words” as “promises” in v.103). God’s teaching in His Word is greater than what earthly teachers teach (v.99) and than what older people know from experience, the so-called school of hard knocks (v.100).

Having read yesterday what the Church is, today in Ephesians 4-6 we read what is entailed with membership in the Church. St. Paul describes how we should live with one another in Christ. The grace God has given to us saves us by forgiving our sins through faith in Christ, which forgiveness is delivered to us through the Office of the Holy Ministry (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teaching shepherds). Those in the Office are to perfect the saints, to do the work of ministry, and to build up the body of Christ (4:12). The KJV has this right, while other translations mistranslate this verse; pastors are not to equip the saints for the saints to do the work of ministry, because the saints receive the gifts, not distribute them. As Paul continues, the teaching and building up is to bring about unity in the confession of the faith (the only basis of true unity). Unity in the confession of faith also brings forth good works as evidence of the faith. Among those good works is forgiving one another as we are forgiven and at least trying to keep the commandments. The role of music in and worship in being filled with the Spirit is notable, as is the way that the marriage of husband and wife is to reflect Christ’s relationship to His Church. Since Christ’s and His Bride’s battle is primarily in another realm, we as their soldiers need armor and weapons that are also otherwordly.

May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:02 AM

April 18, 2006

Ps 119:89-96 / Eph 1-3

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

We begin the second half of our acrostic psalm with Psalm 119:89-96 (Lamedh), and its first three verses (vv.89-91) are an introduction of sorts to the second half. As I read Lamedh, I thought verse 91 was especially comforting, reminding us that God is in complete control and rules all for the good of His Church. I was also struck by verse 94, the first part of which was used in the recent movie about Martin Luther as Luther’s spiritual adviser tried to help the young monk find peace for his troubled conscience.

Ephesians 1-3 begins the next letter of St. Paul in canonical sequence. Ephesians is one of four letters called the “captivity letters”; the others are Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians. Remember that Paul went from Corinth to Jerusalem, where he was arrested and appealed to Caesar. Paul was eventually taken to Rome, where St. Luke’s divinely-inspired account in Acts describes Paul preaching and teaching openly (Acts 28:31). Paul apparently was also free to communicate with the churches under his authority. There is evidence in the Bible itself connecting three of these four letters, though there is also reason to believe Ephesians was not originally written for the Church at Ephesus. Nevertheless, this letter we call Ephesians teaches well the nature of the Church, with Paul asking for people in the congregations to pray for him and holding up the importance of their prayers. The letter can be broken down into two parts: what the Church is (chapters 1-3) and what membership in it entails (chapters 4-6).

Thus, today’s reading covers Paul’s teaching about the Church. Paul greets the people (1:1-2), glorifies God for redeeming people in Christ (1:3-14), gives thanks to God and prays to Him for the people hearing the letter (1:15-23), discusses the Gentiles’ participation in God’s redemption (2:1-22), and prays for the Gentiles (3:1-21). Notice in the beginning of chapter 1 how Christ is the Head of the Church (1:10), and notice how we are brought into God’s order of salvation by the seal of the Spirit, Holy Baptism (1:14). God’s power that raised Christ from the dead now works for us in His Church (1:19-20), as Christ rules all things for the benefit of the Church (1:22-23, confer Psalm 119:91 above). The opening of chapter 2 makes clear that we are spiritually dead and unable on our own to believe in Jesus or come to Him, accept Him, decide to believe in Him or follow Him, or anything of the sort. Ephesians 2:8-10 is a significant statement of salvation by grace through faith, with works needing to follow but having no role in our salvation. We were all dead in trespasses and sins and are all saved by grace through faith, so we are part of the same body of Christ, with there being no difference between uncircumcised Gentiles and circumcised Jews. The body imagery continues into chapter 3. The Gentiles were always intended to be included in God’s economy of salvation, and so the prophets spoke in the Old Testament. Paul’s suffering on account of preaching to the Gentiles should not have made the hearers of the letter despair (3:13). So, Paul prays to the Father, “from whom all fatherhood is named” (3:15), to strengthen the readers both to grasp and know God’s love (3:16-19), the contemplation of which leads Paul--as it should lead us--to glorify God (3:20-21).

May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always. Pray with me on this last of our three high Easter days, Easter Tuesday (The Lutheran Hymnal, p.69):

O almighty and eternal God, who through the resurrection of Thy Son hast sealed the covenant of man’s reconciliation, grant unto us who joy in this Thy covenant grace to show forth in our lives that which we profess with our lips; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 17, 2006

Ps 119:81-88 / Gal 4-6 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

In Psalm 119:81-88 (Kaph) the afflicted psalmist prays for the Lord’s deliverance. He is nearly at his end, but he continues to hope in the Lord’s Word (v.81). He is visibly afflicted (v.83, and confer Galatians 6:17 that we read below) and knows he is asking “When?” as if impatiently waiting (vv.82, 84). His opponents attack his reputation, contrary to the Eighth Commandment (v.85), but he nevertheless appeals to the Lord’s mercy (v.88).

Just like that with Galatians 4-6 we finish this book. Chapter 4 finishes Paul’s defense of the Gospel, and chapters 5-6 give his defense of the freedom of the Gospel in practice and his concluding remarks. I want to comment on a few verses. Galatians 4:4-5 is a favorite passage of a dear friend of mine, and so it has become one of my favorites, too. Not only does the passage emphasize our Lord’s incarnation and keeping the law for us, but it also teaches wonderfully how the Incarnation came at the time God intended and, thus, how all things happen according to God’s timing. The passage also continues the child-slave and childbirth imagery Paul uses both before and after it. Galatians 5:2-3 does not say that traditional circumcision is wrong in and of itself, but the passage does teach that someone who surrenders Christian freedom for the sake of acceptance surrenders the Gospel itself. In 5:9 we find the yeast figure of speech used again, as in the appointed Epistle for Easter (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). In 5:16-26, the acts of the sinful nature are wonderfully contrasted to the fruits of the Spirit; would that we were able to bear better crops! There seems to be a contradiction between 6:2 and 6:5, but 6:2 is referring to one another’s sins (as in Romans 15:1-3), and 6:5 seems to be referring to our own answering to God, which for the Christian is not an intimidating event, for we know we will be seen with Christ’s righteousness. According to 6:10, our acts of charity, while they should extend to all, should especially extend to brothers and sisters in Christ. Finally, Paul takes the pen into his own hand to finish the letter that most likely had been dictated to a coworker.

Despite the slow-news weekend, I have three tidbits for you. There’s new violence reported between Christians and Muslims in Egypt. ... Violence around the globe was a topic of the Pope’s Easter message “to the city and the world”. ... And here’s an Easter-related story where life is imitating art a little too closely.

May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always. To that end, join me in the Collect of Easter Monday (The Lutheran Hymnal, p.68).

O God, who through the resurrection of Thy Son didst bestow life and freedom upon the world, continue, we beseech Thee, these thy gifts unto Thy people that they both walk in perfect freedom and attain unto life eternal; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:08 AM

April 16, 2006

Ps 119:73-80 / Gal 1-3 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 119:73-80 (Yodh) confesses the Lord as physical creator and prays Him to complete the psalmist’s spiritual formation, too. There’s no accusation but complete trust in verse 75’s statement of the Lord as the source of the psalmist’s affliction. You might also note what is said to be a “concentric” structure to this stanza, with verse pairs from the beginning and end working their way towards the center.

Galatians 1-3 begins the next canonical epistle (letter) of St. Paul. Paul’s first missionary journey took him and Barnabas to work among the churches of Galatia, a Roman province in Asia Minor, and that work was one of the things that brought conflict between the Jewish and Gentile Christians to a head. (There is debate over precisely which churches Paul includes in “Galatia”, but which side of the debate one takes does not impact the meaning or value of the letter.) The Apostolic Council, about which we will read when we read Acts, spoke to questions about what part of the law Gentiles might be asked to keep under the freedom of the Gospel. While the Council decided the matter, it hardly ended the conflict. Judaizers, Jewish converts to Christianity who called for keeping more of the Old Testament law than did the Council, sometimes called the “circumcision group”, went to the churches in Galatia and attacked Paul’s authority, attacked the Gospel Paul preached as lacking God’s demands, and attacked the proclamation of salvation by grace alone through faith alone by claiming it would result in immoral lives. In his deeply personal but still official letter to the churches of Galatia, Paul defends against each of those three attacks.

Galatians 1-3 then takes us through the opening of the letter and Paul’s defense of his apostolic authority (chapters 1-2) and into his defense of the Gospel (chapter 3). Notice right away how any different “Gospel” Paul says is no Gospel at all (1:6-7) and that eternal damnation is what a preacher of any such Gospel deserves (1:8-9)—the Greek word “anathema” is a formal denouncing or cursing. Paul and all true servants of Christ care little for whether people are pleased with their work (1:10). To help make his case, Paul tells his conversion story and his interactions with the other apostles (1:11-2:21), which we will read more of when we read Acts. Nevertheless, note 2:16, an important verse with its three-fold rejection of justification (salvation) by works and its clear statement of justification through faith in what Christ Jesus has done for us. In chapter 3, Paul uses Abraham as the archetypal example of salvation by faith, with an often-cited verse, Genesis 15:6. All those who believe the Gospel are spiritual—if not also literal—descendants of Abraham. Another key verse on the same theme as 2:16 is 3:11. We hear a good expression of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement in 3:13-14. Finally, note that Baptism does not destroy the order of creation but establishes an order of redemption (3:26-29).

After the Great Three Days I have just three tidbits. There’s a call for a disclaimer on “The Da Vinci Code” movie. ... Pope Benedict is said to have borrowed the language of evolution for his homily at the Easter Vigil. ... And, for more on the custom of Easter Vigils among Lutherans (something I mentioned in yesterday's post) click here.

You can find a new prayer for your Bible reading during this Easter season here, and I sincerely pray that on this greatest feast day of the Church year that you will make (or have made) your way to receive God’s great gift of forgiveness through Word and Sacrament.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:50 AM

April 15, 2006

Ps 119:65-72 / 2 Co 11-13 / Tidbits / Easter Vigil

In reading Psalm 119:65-72 (Teth), I was struck by how the psalmist really has a good perspective on life and suffering. The psalmist knows that the Lord’s teaching (torah) is more precious than much silver and gold. Because the Lord is good, He can only do good things (v.68), and so the psalmist prays for the Lord to do those good things (v.65), even if that means suffering. Moreover, the psalmist twice says how the Lord’s afflicting him was beneficial: returning him from straying (v.67) and teaching him the Lord’s decrees (v.71).

2 Corinthians 11-13 finishes the last major section of the book and concludes the book. First Paul defends himself from the boasting and accusations of the false apostles by doing a little foolish boasting of his own. Note how Paul says not everyone who claims to preach or believe in Jesus preaches or believes in the same Jesus (11:4). Since Satan can pretend to be an angel of light, so also the false apostles can pretend to be apostles of Christ (11:13-15). Paul “boasts” to the Corinthians about his heavenly vision not so much to trump the visions his opponents claimed to have but to contrast it with his humbling affliction, the thorn in his flesh. The words of the Lord to St. Paul in 12:9 are true also for us; far better than the Lord removing our affliction is our submitting and letting Him reveal His power in our weakness. Note in 12:12 how signs and wonders mark an apostle; we do not have apostles today with the same authority nor should we then expect the same marks. Anticipating his third visit, Paul next warns the Corinthians to prepare for that visit (12:14-13:10). Finally, he greets them and, like the end of Romans, refers to the Kiss of Peace (13:11-14).

I have five tidbits for you today. Overturning Roe v. Wade would reportedly still leave abortion legal in 43 states, though Louisiana is said to be the latest state to try to enact a state ban. ... The U.S. military admits damaging Babylonian ruins. ... Some ancient ruins in Mexico are apparently buried under the site of a Good Friday reenactment. ... A Vatican official in a Good Friday sermon blasted the “Da Vinci Code” and “Gospel of Judas”. ... And, a survey says Lutherans don’t attend church as much as the most frequent attenders, those in the Church of Christ or those who are Mormons.

Today is Holy Saturday (or Easter Eve), the third day of the Triduum, the sacred “three days” that commemorate the Christian faith’s central events. Holy Saturday is sometimes observed with an Easter Vigil. Already in the third century Christians gathered after sundown on the Saturday before Easter in order to pray and receive the Sacrament of the Altar. The ancient service is full of wonderful readings from salvation history and related prayers, accompanied by symbolism such as darkness turning to light (as if night is turning to day). Those being instructed in the faith were baptized and then communed. Though the Easter Vigil fell out of use for a time until its reintroduction last century, it may be the origin of such things as Sunrise services and Confirmation on Palm Sunday. Previously I have attended and participated in Easter Vigils, Roman Catholic and Lutheran. Whether you attend one or not, you can join me in the Collect for Easter Eve (The Lutheran Hymnal, page 6?).

O God, who didst enlighten this most holy night with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection, preserve in all Thy people the spirit of adoption which Thou has given, so that, renewed in body and soul, they may perform unto Thee a pure service; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:03 AM

April 14, 2006

Ps 119:57-64 / 2 Co 8-10 / Gutenberg & Indulgences / Tidbits

As Zayin, yesterday’s part of Psalm 119, thought of the Lord at night, similarly today’s portion, Psalm 119:57-64 (Heth), thinks of the Lord at midnight. The psalmist speaks of the Lord as his “portion”, which can suggest that the psalmist was a Levite, since the Lord was said to be the Levites’ portion of the promised land, as their lives were supported by the people’s offerings to the Lord (Deuteronomy 10:9; 18:1-2; Numbers 18:21-24). Reading verses like verse 58 we are no doubt tempted to think that our action of seeking God or of considering our ways is the reason for His graciousness. But, while such in one sense could be said to be the case, in another sense such is not the case. He calls us to faith and motivates us to try to keep His laws by His love that fills the earth (v.64). All those who believe and are blessed by that love come together in the closest of fellowships (v.63), the Sacrament of the Altar.

2 Corinthians 8-10 takes us through the next major section of the book (chapters 8-9), which deals with Paul’s present encouragement of the Corinthians, and into the last major section of the book (10-13), in which Paul defends his authority and area of work. Paul especially encourages the Corinthians to give joyfully and cheerfully for the saints at Jerusalem. He gives the example of the Macedonians to spur the Corinthians on, and he points to Jesus as the greater example of selflessness. The Jerusalem saints needed the Corinthians’ support at this time, but Paul envisions that at some future point the roles would be reversed and that, like the Old Testament manna (Exodus 16:18), everyone will have enough. Titus and another coworker of Paul’s (perhaps Luke or Barnabas) would bring this letter to Corinth and to help collect the offering before Paul arrives, possibly with some from Macedonia. Like chapter 7, chapter 10 provides some clues to the previous relationship between Paul and the Corinthians. Basically his opponents there were making false charges about Paul’s authority and the merit of what he was saying, but Paul firmly refutes their charges and promises a full exercise of his authority if things are not different when he arrives in Corinth. Moreover, he claims that if anyone has moved into anyone else’s territory, it is not he but his opponents, the false apostles, about whom we will read more tomorrow.

We've got more on Gutenberg and indulgences. A reader, whose email about the Martin Luther document and Gutenberg Bible at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center I mentioned yesterday’s post, emailed again with links (here and here) to more details and evidence about Gutenberg’s press and indulgences it apparently printed in 1452 prior to printing the Bible that bears its name. Thanks for the information! (Someone please tell Wikipedia!)

The following are some not so good tidbits. The Food and Drug Administration supposedly clears the abortion pill RU486 of one recent death, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. ... Despite evidence abortion can cause breast cancer, one of the nation’s biggest organizations helping fight breast cancer apparently is working with what is called the world’s largest abortion providers, though I haven’t seen the evidence that says the organization is funding abortions. ... Former President Jimmy Carter is trying to get Baptists to overcome their differences. ... Did you know (or care?) that someone can be a Roman Catholic and a Scientologist? That's what Tom Cruise says, and I'm sure he's an authority. ... And, today may be Good Friday, but it has been a bad week for representations of religion on TV, from the Gospel of Judas, to the new Ten Commandments movie, to this week’s episode of “South Park”, and to a new show called “Popetown”.

Today is Good Friday, and, we want to solemnly celebrate our Lord’s sacrifice of Himself for us on the cross. Even if you cannot make it to the Tenebrae service tonight at 7:00 pm, you can join me in the Collect for Good Friday (The Lutheran Hymnal, page 67).

Almighty and everlasting God, who hast willed that Thy Son should bear for us the pains of the cross that Thou mightest remove from us the power of the adversary, help us so to remember and give thanks for our Lord’s Passion that we may obtain remission of sins and redemption from everlasting death; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 13, 2006

Ps 119:49-56 / 2 Co 5-7 / Luther at UT / Tidbits / Maundy Thursday

Psalm 119:49-56 (Zayin) emphasizes how comforting God’s Word is to us. The psalmist first asks God to remember what He has promised to believers, for those promises in His Word are the basis for our hope (v.49), especially in time of suffering (vv.50, 51, 52). God’s unchanging character is comforting precisely because He remains constant (v.52)—how different from people today who think God’s Word or Church (if not God Himself!) needs to change with the times. No matter where we are in our temporary existence in this life, we can praise God in song (v.54).

2 Corinthians 5-7 finishes the first major section of the book, which deals with Paul’s defense of his past actions and ministry. In 5:1-10 we find a view of this temporary life in comparison to the next eternal life that is quite different from society’s view. Note well that the reward described in verse 10 either has nothing to do with how we are saved or looks at our works as evidence of our faith. In 5:11-6:10 Paul describes the ministry of reconciliation. Note that the “us” in verse 18 and the “we” of verse 20 does not refer to every Christian as if everyone is a minister or ambassador, and also note how the reconciliation in verse 20 is passive—we do not do it but allow it to be done. Verse 21 is a great statement of the Gospel and the great exchange that takes place between our sin and Christ’s righteousness. The “no stumbling block” principle of 6:3 does not mean compromising the confession of the faith, as if we can say God doesn’t condemn a sin because that condemnation might be offensive to someone. In 6:11-7:4 Paul appeals to his children in the faith to separate themselves from false teachers and false teaching; the “yoking” image appears to have some background in Deuteronomy 22:10, and application has also been made to prohibit marriages between Christians and non-Christians. Finally for today, in 7:2-7:16 Paul refers to his own circumstances and the joy produced by the news Titus bore from Corinth to Paul in Macedonia, which verses also provide clues to the events between 1 and 2 Corinthians (see the background on the letter in yesterday's post).

Did you know about Luther at UT? A reader emailed seeing a document handwritten by Dr. Martin Luther in an exhibit at the University of Texas. Though I am somewhat familiar with the exhibit, I was not aware the Luther document was part of the exhibit, although I am familiar with the document. (I personally examined the document and presented a paper on it at an academic conference back in 2003.) The exhibit is on the technology of writing and is housed in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, where one of the five complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the United States is also displayed. The reader emailed that the guide told them that before printing the Bible Gutenberg’s press was used to print indulgences. This report does not say anything about that.

Another near-perfect number of tidbits for you today. Arizona’s democratic governor has vetoed another pro-life bill; this one would have required doctors to tell women having an abortion that the baby will feel pain. ... A conservative Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregation in Minnesota is drawing fire from county officials for refusing to care for a man who had a sex change. ... Roman Catholic leaders in Canada have excommunicated a liberal priest for starting a schismatic congregation. ... Episcopalian pastors whose conservative congregations have left their liberal church body have formed their own pension fund as part of a parallel structure preparing for the church body to break apart. ... A Tennessee congressman wants Congress to reaffirm the national motto “In God we trust”. ... A survey out this month says Americans trust atheists least of all (see the first item here), but a spokesman for the American Atheists reportedly predicted that in five to ten years they will be accepted in America just like everyone else. I expect so, given how our society continues to increasingly tolerate everything except intolerance. ... A different poll suggests highschoolers are attending church more than their parents. ... If you haven’t had enough of the Gospel of Judas, you can read what the LCMS is saying on its website and what the Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray of Memorial Lutheran Church in Houston has said. ... And, finally, if you are against bunnies at Easter, maybe you should go to New Zealand.

Today is Maundy Thursday, which name comes from the Latin for “command”, and the “command” in view is not so much an order to wash feet (John 13:14) or even a “new command” to love one another (John 13:34). Rather, the “command” in view is the institution of the Sacrament of the Altar, the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given for the forgiveness of sins with bread and wine and its “do this” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 10:24-25). Join me in the Collect for Maundy Thursday (The Lutheran Hymnal, page 66).

O Lord God, who hast left unto us in a wonderful Sacrament a memorial of Thy Passion, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may so use this Sacrament of Thy body and blood that the fruits of Thy redemption may continually be manifest in us; Thou who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:51 AM

April 12, 2006

Ps 119:41-48 / 2 Co 1-4 / Tidbits

Psalm 119:41-48 (Waw) prays for the Lord to send His promised mercy to the psalmist with the result that the psalmist will testify to his enemy and confess his faith to kings. The psalmist may have been a priest with the responsibility of teaching the king, and the verse was applied to the bold confession of faith the reformers made to the emperor in the 16th century. With all the emphasis on the law, we might be surprised to read verse 45’s “walk about in freedom”, and even though St. Paul can write of our being slaves to righteousness there is a tremendous freedom in the Gospel, especially the freedom from slavery to sin, which freedom is ours by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 1-4 begins our reading of the second letter that we have from the Corinthian correspondence. Paul likely wrote what we know as 1 Corinthians from Ephesus in the spring, and just before winter that same year from Macedonia he likely wrote what we know as 2 Corinthians. A usual theory is that, in between, Timothy, who delivered 1 Corinthians and briefly worked in Corinth, returned to Paul with such a bad report that Paul quickly went to Corinth himself. That visit was “painful”, and Paul later, having returned to Ephesus, apparently had to write a “severe” letter that, in this theory, was not preserved by the church. That letter was thought then to have been sent with Titus, who later met Paul in Macedonia and reported to Paul some good news and some not-so-good news, prompting the "third" letter (what we know as 2 Corinthians) and the visit that followed. In short, the context for 2 Corinthians is that the church in Corinth was still dealing with some of the same challenges and was in some ways worse. The letter known as 2 Corinthians can be broken down into three major sections, and all of today’s chapters fall into the first, in which Paul defends his past actions and ministry.

I want to comment on just a few verses. Timothy was with Paul (1:1) but not necessarily a co-author or the letter; the use of the first person plural “we” is what can be called an editorial plural (for example, 1:8). In 2 Corinthians 1:4 will be familiar if you are participating in our Sunday morning study of suffering. He has to defend his changed plans from charges his opponents in Corinth were making against him (1:15-2:4). Too often we say “yes” and either mean “no” or end up failing to follow-through, but we can be sure God does not speak that way. Note in 1:20 the congregation’s role in receiving and affirming God’s gifts with a strong “Amen”. Holy Baptism is sometimes called a “seal” of the Spirit, which may be what Paul is referring to in 1:22. The matter of an offending sinner who had repented is addressed in 2:5-11, and the person in view may be the same as in 1 Corinthians 5. Either way, the principle of forgiveness remains. Note the close Old Testament connection between tablets of stone and a covenant, on which Paul draws in 3:1-6 and verses following (along with the fading brightness of Moses’s face). Verse 6 is sometimes seen as making a distinction between the law that kills us by showing us our sin and the Gospel that gives us new life in Christ. Like the Jews who could not see Moses’ face are the unbelievers who are blind to the Gospel. Paul and his coworkers are the “jars of clay” (cracked pots, I sometimes say) that God miraculously works through. As in the first chapter, so in the fourth Paul writes of his suffering being for the other believers’ benefit. Moreover, the suffering in this world is light and momentary and outweighed by the glory of heaven (on 4:16-18, confer Romans 8:18).

I have a nearly-perfect number of tidbits for you today. A reader emailed in this link to a story about protest over a gay student getting expelled from a Christian University (and thanks for doing so!). ... Focus on the Family is blasting a UT professor, and someone explained to me that the prof once equated the value of human beings with that of lizards, his area of study. ... New Orleans’ St. Augustine parish is going to reopen (see the last item here). ... A Pennsylvania United Church of Christ congregation withdraws from its church body over gay-marriage (see the last item on this page). ... Kenny Rogers reportedly has a new song out telling the story of abortion from a father’s point of view. ... The TV show “South Park” returned with a new episode last week taking on its own Scientology dispute and the Islamic cartoon controversy (you can read some bloggers’ comments on the episode about halfway down this page). ... A&E starts a new reality show on Easter Sunday where four men consider the priesthood but are struggling with potential celibacy. ... Similar is a new book centering on second-career men entering the priesthood. (I know some of the lives of second-career pastors I know would make good reading.) ... And, a link I posted Monday said of the new "Ten Commandments" movie Monday and Tuesday nights "can't miss", but the few minutes I saw Tuesday night were totally missable for all sorts of reasons.

Join me in the Collect for Wednesday of Holy Week (The Lutheran Hymnal, page 66).

Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds are continually afflicted, may mercifully be relieved by the Passion of Thine only-begotten Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:08 AM

April 11, 2006

Ps 119:33-40 / 1 Co 15-16

In Psalm 119:33-40 (the section known by the Hebrew letter “He”) the psalmist offers a prayer consisting of a series of short petitions. The petitions variously have reasons for their being asked or benefits from them being granted. Both the inner person (the heart in v.36) and the outer person (the eyes in v.37) need to be directed from the worthless, material things, but ultimately the Lord’s work of salvation brings about faith in Him (v.38).

We finish the book as we read 1 Corinthians 15-16; chapter 15 teaches about the Resurrection (just in time for Holy Week!), and chapter 16 concludes the letter. Belief in the bodily resurrection is just part of the Christian faith (Romans 10:9), though, as I linked last week, reportedly most Americans reject it. We might be looking at an early creed of sorts in 15:3-5. St. Paul recognizes his own place in the group of the apostles but confesses that any success is to be attributed to God (15:9-11). If the bodily resurrection is to be rejected, then there is no point to believing and those who preach are liars. But, since Christ, the second Adam (a connection made in our church’s Nativity Window, and see vv.47-49), has been raised, then everyone else also will be raised. There is no teaching of a millennium in 15:25, but rather St. Paul refers to Christ’s reign now. Little is known about precisely what St. Paul refers to in verse 29, but we can conclude with some degree of reliability that, while the practice was wrong and that people knew that it was wrong, even it argued in support of the resurrection. For, if there were no resurrection, of what benefit would the dead receive from someone being baptized for them (not that there is a benefit to them)? The erring philosophy referred to in verse 32 uses a quotation from Isaiah 22:13 to imagine that there are no consequences in the life to come from what happens in this life. Opposite denying the bodily resurrection is being too wrapped up in questions about what the bodily resurrection will be like, and St. Paul deals with those concerns in 15:35-57. Verse 50 uses “flesh and blood” to refer to sinful human beings, not to suggest that we must be free from the body to enter heaven.

Chapter 16 includes several final matters. The first of those is the collection for the Jerusalem saints (16:1-4), and we can learn much here about our own offerings to God. Next, St. Paul writes of his immediate plans and those of his coworkers, and he makes requests of the Corinthians regarding how the coworkers are to be treated. The holy kiss in 16:20 again likely refers to the part of the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar that would have come right after St. Paul’s letter would have been read. St. Paul signed his letter (v.21), which probably would have been written down by a coworker as St. Paul dictated it. Note the “Come, O Lord” (in Aramaic “Marana tha”), which we also saw in Revelation 22:20.

Join me in the Collect for Tuesday of Holy Week (The Lutheran Hymnal, page 65).

Almighty and everlasting God, grant us grace so to pass through this holy time of our Lord’s Passion that we may obtain the pardon of our sins; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 10, 2006

Ps 119:25-32 / 1 Co 12-14 / Folos / Tidbits

Psalm 119:25-32 (Daleth) speaks of the psalmist’s resolution to cling to the Lord’s Word no matter his circumstances. The desperate straits the psalmist expresses may be both physical and spiritual. I am inclined to see in verses 25-26 a confession and absolution (the dust of repentance is significant, and also see verse 28), with verse 27 praying for the change of life that ideally follows. Verses 29-30 describe the two opposite ways we have seen before (such as in Psalm 1). All roads do not lead to the same place, let alone heaven! Finally note that in verse 32 the Lord “enlarges” the psalmist’s heart (KJV, ASV, NASB; not sets it free, NIV), which means that the Lord has filled the psalmist with joy, no doubt in the absolving of his sins.

1 Corinthians 12-14 can be said to deal with the so-called “spiritual gifts”. The need for the Holy Spirit in order to make a confession of Jesus, which need is expressed in 12:3, is noteworthy. Every Christian truly has that “gift”, but one of the following “spiritual gifts” are not necessarily given to each and every Christian (12:4-11). I know not only that our church body has been infected with the “spiritual gift” virus (inventories, and the like) but also that that virus is pandemic. Nevertheless, that understanding is simply incorrect. What St. Paul teaches is true, of course, that the Holy Spirit used various manifestations to give authority to those proclaiming the Word in the earliest days of the Church, but we should not expect such things as miraculous power, prophetic predictions, speaking in tongues, and the like today (on this maybe see 13:8-9?). The unity in the Body of Christ, which we all enter by Baptism, is most important, and note that Baptism does not destroy the order of creation and differences between male and female (12:12-13). The gifts were apparently causing divisions within the Corinthian congregation(s), and St. Paul again uses the illustration of the human body to emphasize how each member is important (12:14-26). I am amazed that people who try to minimize the distinction between clergy and laity can get by these verses! Again verses 27-30 are not setting up some sort of hierarchy or mandatory polity, nor should we necessarily expect to have someone to fill all of these “offices”. The Lutheran Confessions make it clear that the gifts that matter are “eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life” and that these gifts come “through the office of preaching and through the handing out of the holy sacraments” (for example, AC XXVIII:8-9). Thus, when it comes to the Divine Service we all do not want to be “leaders” but to be recipients of the gift of forgiveness that God Himself delivers through His called and ordained servants.

Chapter 13, which is frequently a reading used at weddings, speaks primarily of the “agape” love God has for human beings, and, thus, to some extent only by analogy does it speak of the love of husband for wife or vice versa. (The KJV’s “charity” is really archaic here and brings too much to our minds “charity” as in a “charity case”.) Love is a fruit of the Spirit, to be sure, but in this context arguably it could be described as a kind of “greater” spiritual gift (12:31) we should all desire. The other miraculous gifts are nothing if not motivated by and used in love. Yet, love, despite 13:13, cannot “trump” faith and hope, as if out of love for the lost we compromise the content of the faith, as many sometimes argue on the basis of this passage we should do. When faith (or truth) and love are in tension and choices between them must be made, faith is central because the exercise of love depends on the proclamation of the Gospel and the distribution of the Sacraments.

Chapter 14 then indicates how the use of the gifts the Spirit gives are to build up (edify) the Church, the Body of Christ. The “prophecy” in view here in chapter 14, as suggested by verse 3, may be what we would think of today as preaching. Speaking in tongues (different languages) is especially useless for the believers unless there is someone to interpret, and, again, such miraculous gifts are no longer expected today. (Verse 10 would especially seem to rule out the meaningless blathering in unintelligible languages that takes place in some places.) Note in verse 16 the congregation’s role to what they hear in the Divine Service, but also remember the general principle of verse 40. You can see some elements of the Divine Service in verse 26, including some that came from Old Testament Temple and synagogue worship. The created order (man before woman) comes into play again in 14:33b-28, as it did in 11:2-16. (For more on the created order and what it means for the service of women, click here.)

I have two Biblog folos continuing topics from yesterday’s post, but I hope to keep them shorter than the discussion of these topics there! First, the more I think about Senator Clinton’s comments, the more I think she must have been referring to the fact that the Republican version of the Immigration Bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives would more or less make it a crime to help or harbor those in the country illegally. Yes, the example of the Good Samaritan and Jesus’ own teaching do encourage us to help those in need, but nowhere does Jesus say we should help criminals in such a way as to keep them from the authorities God has established. Perhaps Senator Clinton’s “understanding of the Scripture” has not been extended to Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus speaks of showing love to Him by visiting the least of His brethren in prison.

Second, I wonder how many of you saw the “Gospel of Judas” special last night on the National Geographic Channel? I'd like to say the show was as bad as I expected, only in some ways it was worse: repeatedly asking the wrong questions, asking them of the wrong source (Robert Schuller as the conservative voice? Please!), and making misleading and simply incorrect statements about the Bible, its accounts, and what “scholars” say about it. Particularly irritating was that words were used sloppily in the report, such as “authentic” being used where “genuine” was meant. I have no doubt this find is “genuine”, that is an actual copy dating back to the second or third century of a translation of the so-called Gospel of Judas. However, to the extent the document claims to report what actually happened between Judas and Jesus, the find is anything but “authentic”, that is “entitled to acceptance or belief, as being in accordance with fact, or as stating fact; reliable, trustworthy”. Finally, I think it is noteworthy that the four Gospel accounts that made it into the canon of the Bible are accounts of the Holy Gospel (“of Jesus Christ, the Son of David/God” comes quickly in both Matthew and Mark) according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The “Gospel of Judas” by its very name seems far more concerned about Judas and far less concerned about Jesus. Almost enough said?

Some odd tidbits for your first day of the work-week. Child pornography is said not to be a big issue around the world. ... In this country, the Christian Coalition has reportedly fallen on hard times. ... The Pope had a big crowd for Palm Sunday, but would someone please tell NPR that more than Roman Catholics observe the day? ... A U.S. gay TV network apparently won’t air a pro-gay United Church of Christ commercial. ... And, the new Ten Commandments miniseries is said to be “Can’t Miss”, and remember the times in that article are EDT.

If you want to have special devotions this Holy Week, you might make use of the liturgical propers available in the front of The Lutheran Hymnal, such as this Collect for the Monday of Holy Week (page 65).

Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who amid so many adversities do fail through our own infirmities, may be restored through the Passion and intercession of Thine only-begotten Son; who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:16 AM

April 09, 2006

Ps 119:17-24 / 1 Co 10-11 / Folos / Tidbits

The third part of the acrostic psalm before us, Psalm 119:17-24 (Gimel), deals in part with the division between those who reject the Lord’s teaching and those who delight in it. We need God’s Spirit to open our eyes to faith, and so believing we find ourselves to be “strangers” (“sojourners” ASV, the same word sometimes translated “aliens”) on earth as we journey to our heavenly home. God’s Word counsels us along the way. Our attempts to keep His commands found in that Word flow from His love for us in Christ, and we do not reach that heavenly home because of our trying to live a good life but only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 10-11 finishes the section we began yesterday on questionable practices by using Israel’s history as warnings (10:1-22) and applying the principles St. Paul has given (10:23-11:1), and 1 Corinthians 10-11 begins a new section of instruction regarding public worship by discussing propriety in worship (11:2-16) and the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34). Note how in the warnings from Israel’s history, which likely will be familiar if you read the Pentateuch with us, Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar are in view as the very things by which we are strengthened on our journey through this life. Especially comforting is 10:13, which promises with God’s help we can resist any temptation to sin that we face. Where Paul had previously indicated believers were free to eat food sacrificed to idols (chapter 8), in 10:14-22 he is saying one cannot participate both in the worship of pagan idols and in Christian worship. The distinction between doing something permissible and something beneficial from 6:12 is recalled in 10:23. The principle of 10:31 should not be abstractly understood in such a way as to give license to any and all behavior but must be understood in its context. Understanding 11:2-16 is difficult, but however it is understood we must be careful not to so much dismiss its strictures as bound to that time and place that we open the door to dismissing the rest of the New Testament’s teaching. On the topic of the Lord’s Supper, 11:17-34 seems to speak of a so-called “agape meal” that was more of a substantial meal than but included our Sacrament of the Altar. As the Corinthians observed it, they seemed to have been divided along social-class lines instead of recognizing the sacramental body of Christ that effects, or brings about, the ecclesiastical or churchly Body of Christ. Deciding to receive the Sacrament of the Altar and knowing what is there is in some ways up to the individual (11:28), but there are other considerations, and the ultimate decision of whom to admit is that of the faithful steward of the mysteries (4:1-2).

I have a number of Biblog folos today, the first of which comes after a reader emailed a question about Romans 14 and 15 and how they pertain to the so-called “contemporary worship” debate. I more or less alluded to their application to that matter in the April 5 Biblog post, but the reader asked, “What about contemporary worship where both the law and Gospel are preached?” The historic liturgy’s proper distinction between law and Gospel is not the only reason we use it: the liturgy with its repetition helps shape the faith of those who participate in it. While Luther under Romans 14 and 15 allows some freedom for some liturgical variation, he by no means would allow the wholesale abandonment of the historic liturgy or a so-called Lutheran service built differently every Sunday. Moreover, he wants areas to have common practice so people do not “get confused and discouraged” or “perplexed and offended”. Simply put he says, “As far as possible we should observe the same rites and ceremonies”, noting that we especially need them in so far as we all are sinners. He says,

We cannot have one do it one way today, and another, another way tomorrow, and let everybody parade his talents and confuse the people so that they can neither learn nor retain anything. What chiefly matters is the teaching and guiding of the people. That is why here we must limit our freedom …

Luther recognizes the potential for some to be bored, but tedium is not for him a convincing argument:

This is what I have to say concerning the daily service and instruction in the Word of God, which serves primarily to train the young and challenge the unlearned. For those who itch for new things will soon be sated and tired with it all, as they were heretofore in the Latin service. There was singing and reading the churches every day, and yet the churches remained deserted and empty. Already they do the same in the German service. Therefore, it is best to plan the services in the interest of the young and such of the unlearned as may happen to come. With the others neither law nor order, neither scolding nor coaxing, will help. Allow them to leave those things in the service alone which they refuse to do willingly and gladly. God is not pleased with unwilling services; they are futile and vain.

So far Luther. You can find these quotes of his and more along those lines in volume 53 of the American Edition of Luther’s Works (we have it in our Grace Library).

More on Hillary Clinton’s statement, linked in Friday’s discussion of “aliens”, regarding “criminalizing the Good Samaritan and Jesus” by a proposed immigration bill is today’s second Biblog folo. A reader emailed asking how the immigration bill would criminalize the Good Samaritan, and I really do not know what Clinton meant. I have searched and searched on the internet for a transcript of her comments to see if there is more explanation than the one line that others are quoting so frequently, but I have been unable to find a transcript. Senator Clinton’s own website does not have the March 22 remarks, and my request emailed to her staff prompted an automated reply that due to the volume of mail from New Yorkers she does not respond to messages from those in other states. She might have meant that if the Holy Land had had such an immigration law the Good Samaritan, who was from another land, might not have been able to be there to do his good deeds. That meaning, however, presupposes that the Good Samaritan would have entered the Holy Land illegally. Or, she may have meant that the Good Samaritan would not be allowed to enter this country if we had such an immigration law, but that also presupposes that the Good Samaritan would try to enter this country illegally. In my own trying to put the best construction on her comments about Jesus, I first thought she meant that Jesus would have been criminalized in His own land if it had had the proposed law, but that doesn’t make sense, since He was born there and had native-born rights. Then I thought she must have meant that Jesus would have been criminalized in the United States if we had the proposed law, but that presumes Jesus would have entered the country illegally, which, to use her words, “It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scripture” He would do.

The third Biblog folo today has to do with a report linked in Friday’s post that suggested only half of the people who have attended church recently believe they will experience a physical resurrection. A reader emailed to ask what those people hear in church, “How to have a successful life?” Perhaps! One of the “experts” quoted in the report said, “This reflects the very low state of doctrinal preaching in our [Southern Baptist] churches”. That denomination may not use the ancient creeds that confess a resurrection of the dead or body, but one of the other “experts” in the report suggested that even those creeds can be understood to refer to a spiritual resurrection. The study concluded that people just don’t know Christianity teaches a physical resurrection of the body. So that there is no doubt: it does.

The topic of embryo adoption is a Biblog folo of a sort. Following a link in Friday’s Biblog post and going further led one reader to this page about CBS doing a story regarding surplus embryos and how the story’s producers and correspondent edited out any reference to the National Embryo Donation Center and adoption as an option for these fertilized human eggs or “pre-implantation human life”, as the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) calls them in its September 2005 report Christian Faith and Human Beginnings (which you can find here). The reader remembered that the CTCR gives embryo donation as one option for surplus embryos, and the reader commented that it is a better option than the CTCR’s other option—a couple’s using all the embryos at once—since multiple births can leave some of the children with severe mental and physical problems for life.

The final Biblog folo today has to do with the so-called “Gospel of Judas”. I have previously posted links to reports about it, as on March 4 and April 1, and I have discussed the formation of the canon in this General Q&A. Still, a reader emailed this link to one of the latest reports about Judas’ “Gospel” requesting I comment further on it. So, with that, the publication of the work, and the National Geographic TV special tonight, I will make some additional comments. The report the emailer linked says the Judas Gospel shows “the diversity of beliefs in early Christianity”; well, it certainly shows the diversity of beliefs somewhere near the time of early Christianity, not necessarily “in” early Christianity. As we read in the New Testament itself, there have always been those who depart from the true apostolic teaching and are rejected as heretics by the Church. The report itself points out how the early church father Irenaeus denounced the writing. Although the report quotes Elaine Pagels (whom I also heard Friday on the Today Show) saying the people who kept the writing did not think of themselves as heretics, no heretic ever does! People did then as people do now: follow false teaching because they are blind to the truth and for some reason are convinced the false teaching is right. (Precisely whose fault that is might be said to be at stake in the debate over this so-called Gospel account, but more on that below.) The report also refers to “an old school of thought” that Judas’ role was to complete the prophecies, and that debate has come up in contemporary culture before. For example, in the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”, the Judas character in the first act song “Damned for All Time” sings to the priests,

I have no thought at all about my own reward
I really didn’t come here of my own accord
Just don’t say I’m
Damned for all time.

Then, in the second act song “Thursday Night, The Last Supper”, the Judas character sings to Jesus,

You want me to do it!
What if I just stayed here
And ruined your ambition?
Christ you deserve it!

I have also seen a Lutheran congregation present a chancel drama where Judas is on trial but eventually welcomed into heaven as if he, like Peter, had repented of his sin in connection with the crucifixion and believed he was forgiven.

I mentioned that the question of who is to blame for people following false teaching is somewhat at stake in this whole debate. Efforts to redeem Judas run somewhat parallel to debate about the very nature and origin of evil (see, for example, this report, and note Pagels being quoted again). Pope Benedict XVI last month rightly stood by the usual portrayal of Judas, for there are parallels between Jesus-Judas and good-evil. To some extent, surrendering Judas is surrendering evil. Yet, the good-evil debate itself is nothing new. Philosophers and theologians have struggled for millennia how to explain the origin of evil in a world that God created good. The question of whether Judas “had to” betray Jesus and take his own life is somewhat akin to the question of whether some are fatalistically doomed to disbelief and hell. In a very real way we cannot answer such questions to everyone’s satisfaction. The Bible teaches us that God wants all people to be saved and yet that all people are not saved. Thus, we believe, teach, and confess that to the extent people are saved it is God’s doing and that to the extent people are lost it is their own doing. Judas was clearly part of Jesus’ inner circle but succumbed to temptation, betrayed Him, and no longer believed—evidenced by despair of God’s mercy and rejection of the offer of forgiveness. Such is what the authoritative, apostolic writings of the Church tell us, and believers hold to those writings in the Bible no matter what other writing comes along and no matter who claims otherwise.

In the final analysis about the “Gospel of Judas”, this writing is nothing new. The early church rightly rejected it and other heretical so-called Gospel accounts and so do we, but, in today’s culture where no truth is absolute, we can expect many to welcome the “diversity” such accounts bring. Keeping Judas as an icon of evil is important because that is how the Church has always understood him and because to surrender that understanding is wrongly to give in to the moral relativism rampant in our culture and abandon the faith that has been given to us.

I have three international tidbits for you. Canadian regulators say “no” to Catholic radio in Toronto but “yes” to gay radio. ... In Britain, the “Da Vinci Code” author is cleared of copyright infringement. ... And would you believe flying to Paris helps pay for condoms in lesser-developed countries?

May you today receive the forgiveness of sins God so graciously offers in Word and Sacrament, and may He bless you this Holy Week as we join in the cry “Hosanna!” and thus also “Crucify Him!”

All glory, laud, and honor
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King. (TLH #160:5)

Let all God's people say "Amen!"

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 08, 2006

Ps 119:9-16 / 1 Co 7-9

Psalm 119:9-16 (Beth) is the second part of the acrostic Psalm 119. We see the psalm’s focus on instruction in verse 9. The “word” that is hidden (or “treasured up”) in the heart in verse 11 can be equal to the whole Old Testament and thus include God’s “promise” and be a Gospel motivation for not sinning. Verse 13 points out how we say back to God what He first says to us—a description of what happens in the historic liturgies of the Church. I was struck again in today’s reading how the psalmist uses so many different words that have similar meanings; I read one source that said the psalmist uses at least six of these synonyms of a sort in each of the psalm’s 22 parts.

1 Corinthians 7-9 gives St. Paul’s instruction on marriage (chapter 7) and begins his instruction on some questionable practices by both setting out and illustrating his principles (chapters 8 and 9, respectively). Chapter 7 is a continuation of a sort from the topic of sexual immorality in chapter 6. The single estate is to be praised (7:1, 38), the Lutheran Confessions say more than the married estate, though not as if it earns salvation. (Can you hear the single pastor?) Yet, those who are married should have just one spouse of the opposite sex, and they should not forego marital relations except for a time and by mutual consent (7:2-7). Paul, who himself probably was widowed, divides people into different groups based on their status and gives advice to each (we must be careful not to take advice given to one group and willy-nilly apply it to another). Those whose spouses are with the Lord should try to remain faithful to them and not marry again (7:8-9, 39-40). Those who are married and who for any reason separate must remain “unmarried” or be reconciled (7:10-11). Those who are married to an unbeliever should not leave him or her (7:12-14). Those whose unbelieving spouse leaves them are not obligated to give up the faith to save the marriage (7:15-16). Remaining “unmarried” or being reconciled would seem to be what Paul would say to the believing spouse, though the Lutheran Church traditionally has interpreted verses 15-16 as grounds for divorce on the basis of desertion for any reason, even though St. Paul talks only of desertion on account of the faith. Those who are virgins can and should remain as they are (7:25-26) due to the urgency of the last days (7:29-35). Chapter 8 recalls the principle of Christian freedom and liberty that we saw in Romans, this time with the example of food sacrificed to idols. Since idols are nothing, people are free to eat that food, unless someone would be caused to sin against his or her conscience or to fall from the faith by their doing so, in which case people should not eat it. In chapter 9 Paul expresses the rights he has as an apostle, such as making a living from the Gospel, yet he says he has not used those rights. Paul’s willingness “to be all things to all people” does not mean he would compromise the Gospel in order to attract people to it, for then that to which he would be attracting them would not be able to save them. Paul’s final words of this chapter (9:24-27) draw on the image of the games that alternated with the Olympics, in which a wreath of perishable flowers was a desirable prize that merited intensive training; he is suggesting the crown that does not perish is worth a more rigorous discipline.

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life, and so believing may you tomorrow receive the forgiveness of sins He so graciously offers in Word and Sacrament!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 07, 2006

Ps 119:1-8 / 1 Co 4-6 / Biblog folo / Aliens / Tidbits

Psalm 119:1-8 is the first of 22 parts of Psalm 119. The psalm is an acrostic, with each of the parts and each of the stanzas in that part beginning with the same successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet—today “Aleph”. A suggestion is that the author, possibly a priest, wrote the psalm after the exile and wrote it to be read and meditated on as instruction in godliness. The basis of that instruction is God’s Word, both in its aspects of law and Gospel. Remember that the word translated “law” is not always the opposite of Gospel but can in this passage mean God’s teaching in general or the Scriptures themselves. Verses 1-3, though a piece of the first part, are more of an introduction of sorts to the whole. Verses 4-8 recognize that God has given precepts, decrees, commands, and laws to be obeyed, but the psalmist confesses he does not obey them; the psalmist vows to continue trying to keep the decrees and pleas that the Lord not abandon him—those four things together do not make a bad model for us.

In reading 1 Corinthians 4-6 today, we finish the section we began yesterday dealing with the divisions in the Corinthian church (1:18-4:13), and we take in all of the next section dealing with moral and ethical disorders (chapters 5-6). First Paul wraps up his discussion of a wrong understanding of the role of the Lord’s servants, moves on to the wrong understanding of the Christian life, and then wraps up his treatment of the Corinthians’ divisions. The “mysteries” or “secret things” of God in 4:1 are generally taken to be the Incarnation and all its saving aspects, including the Word of God and His Sacraments. Verse 5 must not be taken as to exclude the Word of God doing its inherent judging between good and evil, believers and unbelievers. Be careful to note where Paul uses sarcasm and irony to humble the Corinthians, as in verses 8 and 10. He warns the Corinthians as his children in the faith (vv.14-15), even as he refers to Timothy as his “son” (v.17). Chapter five takes up the matter of the Corinthians not practicing church discipline as they ought. Contrary to the Old Testament (remember Leviticus 18:8; Deuteronomy 22:30; 2:20), a man apparently had an improper relationship with his stepmother, and the church, pastor and people together, had not cut him off from the fellowship of the Church (that is, kept him from communion; see also v.11) so that he might realize the severity of his sin and repent. The man is a bad example for the rest of the believers, and to make that point St. Paul uses figures of speech about yeast and the Passover’s unleavened bread. Verse 9 is sometimes understood to refer to an earlier letter to the Corinthians that is now lost, but it can also be taken with verse 11 to refer to the letter that is 1 Corinthians. Note that Christians should not completely remove themselves from the world and its sinfulness, but they should not let the world’s open immorality continue in the church. Chapter 6 deals with lawsuits before unchristian judges (vv.1-11) and with sexual immorality (vv.12-20), though there is a natural transition between the two topics. The matter of Christians making civil lawsuits is much debated, especially in the recent lawsuits stemming from disputes within our church body. Paul seems to be suggesting that Christians should judge Christian matters and that to some extent people should be willing to suffer wrongs knowing God will ultimately judge and vindicate, especially the sexual offenders. Sexual immorality is especially grievous sin because it is sin against the body, which is meant for the Lord, in fact is a member of the Lord, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and at the last will be raised by Him. Verse 16 does not mean that every sexual union creates the same one-flesh relationship as that created in marriage. Remember, too, that despite the especially grievous nature of sexual sins there is still forgiveness for them, freely for Christ’s sake.

The Biblog folo today is a response to a link in Wednesday’s post regarding the life story of C. S. Lewis. A reader emailed to say that Doug Gresham is Lewis’ stepson who claims to tell “the rest of the story” even though “he was away at boarding school most of the time”. The reader wrote, “I read the book; I wouldn’t have the movie as a gift.”

Do we have “aliens” in our midst? I’ve been wondering about that the past few weeks as we’ve been hearing reports of the work on the new immigration bill making its way through the U.S. Congress. (A National Public Radio piece Thursday well said how the terms used in the debate connote a great deal, and I prefer “illegal immigrant” to “illegal alien”.) The U.S. Senate Thursday reportedly struck a compromise on the measure, though its version is quite different from that the House passed. Political rhetoric in the debate has crossed into the religious, with Senator and presidential-wannabe Hillary Clinton saying even Jesus himself would not be welcome here. Some religious leaders, such as Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney and this group of Evangelicals, have been quick to support some of the provisions being considered, though not agreeing on what should be passed nor with the best interpretation of the Biblical texts supporting their positions. Leviticus 19:34, for example, says the “alien” (NIV; “stranger” KJV, ASV, NASB ) should be treated as native-born, for the Israelites were “aliens” (NIV, NASB; “strangers” KJV; “sojourners” ASV) in Egypt. Does that mean we should welcome those in this country illegally? Not necessarily. The “alien” living amongst the Israelites was like a catechumen, someone being instructed in the faith with a view towards converting. Israel’s leaders ruled both as government and church, and that is hardly the case with the United States’ leaders. (Remember that many of the so-called Evangelicals do not correctly understand the difference between the kingdom of the left, the government, and the kingdom of the right, the Church.) We can and should love those aliens who legally dwell in our midst, but that does not mean our country needs to overlook the fact that many others broke the law to get here. We can show love to them by helping them in their native lands and, most importantly, by reaching out to them with the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, for in that regard we are all aliens in this world sojourning to our heavenly home (Hebrews 11:9-10, 13-14, 16).

I have a few Tidbits for the last day of the usual work-week. As part of National Domestic Violence Prevention Month a varied group of religious leaders, including some Jews, have spoken out against violence against women. ... The American Civil Liberties Union is reportedly going after the Boy Scouts again (you can read facts here and commentary here). ... The City of San Francisco is said to be going after Roman Catholics. ... New statistics show which church bodies growing and which are not. ... And, just in time for Easter a poll shows just more than one-third of Americans believe in the resurrection of the body.

This may be your last chance to respond to our Daily Lectionary survey. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 06, 2006

Ps 118 / 1 Co 1-3 / Tidbits

Psalm 118, the last in a series of six Jewish Temple festival liturgy psalms, came to be used in thanksgiving for God delivering the nation, though the precise origin of the psalm is disputed. The psalm may have been what Jesus and His disciples sang that night just before Jesus was betrayed (Matthew 26:30). The psalm begins with a call to praise (vv.1-4), proceeds to a song of thanksgiving (vv.5-21), continues with the people’s rejoicing (vv.22-27), has a final word of praise (v.28), and ends with a liturgical conclusion that echoes the opening call to praise (v.29; see also the use of the refrain in Psalm 136). We can rightly imagine that the opening call to praise was sung responsively, with the laity, clergy, and catechumens responding in their respective stanzas (vv.2-4) and moving in a procession (vv.19-20, 27). Actions done “in the Name of the Lord” are done with His authority and help (vv.11-12, 26), and recall how Jesus was welcomed when entering Jerusalem (John 12:13; see also verse 27) and how we welcome Him in the historic liturgy of the Divine Service. The “tents” of v.15 may connect this psalm to the Feast of Tabernacles. Verse 17 is said to be one reason why this psalm was one of Dr. Luther’s favorites. Jesus makes it clear that He fulfills verse 22 (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10-11; and Luke 20:17). Verse 24 is not simply about God as the source of every day but but also and perhaps more so about God making the day of joy possible by His work of deliverance.

A new day from the Lord and with 1 Corinthians 1-3 we move into new books. Like Romans, St. Paul is thought to have written 1 and 2 Corinthians, perhaps from Ephesus, while on the Third Missionary Journey, dated about 52-56 A.D. St. Luke’s Divinely-inspired account in Acts tells of various conflicts Paul had in Ephesus, which are reflected in the Corinthian correspondence, as the two existing letters and other hypothesized ones are called. Corinth may have been the largest city in Greece at the time, and it was significant for its commerce, culture, pagan religions, and immorality. Paul had worked in Corinth for some times and regarded himself as the Christian congregations’ spiritual father, but he was not the only one who had worked there, and the people there were somewhat divided on the basis of the different church workers and even an outside influence. Various questions had apparently been put to Paul, and he undertakes to answer them.

1 Corinthians 1-3 includes the introduction to the book (1:1-9) and begins its first major section dealing with divisions in the church (1:10-4:21). The unity St. Paul wants his hearers to seek is in Christ. Paul does not in 1:17 play down Baptism but rather emphasizes that in his missionary-at-large role his primary responsibility was preaching. One of the themes of the letter that contrasts human and divine wisdom is already emerging in 1:17 and is more fully developed in 1:18-2:16 attacking a wrong understanding of Christianity’s message. The theology of the cross is clear here, too, where things are the exact opposite of how they appear. The Crucified Messiah instead of a triumphant one was so the opposite of what the Jews expected that they rejected Him. Note in 1:30 how Christ is our sanctification, in both the wider sense as including justification and the more narrow sense as only the Holy Spirit working to make us holy in our lives. Paul’s preaching did not on its own convert people to the faith, but the Holy Spirit working through the Word did; people on their own, moreover, cannot accept heavenly matters. Paul wants to move on to meatier matters, but he finds that the people are too divided in their immaturity. Note well how to God goes the glory for any conversion and growth (3:5-9). Finally, note how in 3:16-17 he introduces a theme that will come up again in chapter 6.

I have no few religious-oriented tidbits. No cause was given (at time of posting) for a fire that destroyed an East Austin Church, but arson is said to be behind the latest church fire in Alabama. ... A federal panel wants Jews to be protected by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. ... There’s more criticism here of the Navy’s new rules banning prayer in Jesus’ Name. ... A former Salvation Army chaplain says a judge kicked him off the ballot for a Pennsylvania state house seat because of his religion. ... “People of faith” reportedly differ as a Minnesota marriage law dies in committee. ... An Arkansas high school Baccalaureate ceremony is said to have violated the law. ... And, there’s a lot of speculation in this report of a missing link.

We will be closing our Daily Lectionary survey soon. If you have not already completed it, please take a few minutes to do so, and thank you, if you have. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:09 AM

April 05, 2006

Ps 117 / Ro 14-16 / Walking on ice / Tidbits

Psalm 117, the shortest psalm in the book of Psalms and also the shortest chapter in the Bible, is the fifth in a series of six psalms used in the Jewish Temple festival liturgy. All nations and people are exhorted to praise and extol the Lord on account of His love (“merciful kindness” KJV) and faithfulness (“truth” KJV). That love-and-faithfulness are frequently paired and not just in the psalms. Both are attributes of God revealed to us as the means to our salvation. In a sense, this short psalm succinctly states well the main reason that we have for praising and extolling the Lord.

(If you missed my comments on Romans 13, please see the revised version of yesterday’s post.)

Romans 14-16 finishes the section we began yesterday dealing with how righteousness is lived out, concludes the letter (15:14-33), and gives Paul’s commendation and greetings (chapter 16). Romans 14:1-15:13 states well how the principle of Christian freedom or liberty works, with the stronger believers making concession for the weaker ones. The Divinely-inspired St. Paul gives various examples: foods, festivals, and the like. (Dr. Martin Luther can use this same principle in one of his many arguments for not giving up the historic liturgy of the Church.) In many ways, something that can in one case be considered a matter of indifference in another case is not. The suggestion here not to judge one another on such matters is the same one we make regarding those who kneel and those who do not, those who make the sign of the cross and those who do not, etc. (Note how, in a neat sort of Daily Lectionary convergence, Paul in Romans 15:11 quotes Psalm 117:1.) The “holy kiss” in 16:16 is a reference to a part of the Divine Service that came before communion (Paul’s letter was probably read originally as a sermon of sorts), and verses 17-19 makes it clear that that communion was only to be open to those who shared the apostolic faith. Finally, Paul’s concern about going to Jerusalem (Romans 15:31-32) proved to be well-founded, as Acts 21:17-28:31 tells how the Jews prompted Paul’s arrest and began a process that did take Paul to Rome. If not quite how he expected to get there, God certainly worked through that way to get him there. (We read Acts next month if you don’t want to read that account right now.)

Would you believe that when the disciples thought Jesus was walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:47-41; John 6:16-21) that He was actually walking on ice? I wouldn’t. A reader emailed this link with the comment: “Amazing the lengths people will go to explain away miracles”. Such speculation as that in the link misses the fact that the whole point of a miracle is not to have some rational explanation but to be a sign of Divine authority and power. If Jesus was walking on ice, He would not have to be God, and you would not need faith. Some sort of scientific proof is, in a sense, the opposite of faith (see Hebrews 11:1). When our human reason is used to judge what Scripture says we ultimately destroy our own salvation.

Some tidbits for today follow. Gay rights groups are apparently staying out of a gay marriage lawsuit that may be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court because they are afraid they will lose. ... The top Roman Catholic in the United States says his fellow Roman Catholics should work to pass the marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. ... The head of the Mormons gives a reflective good-bye of sorts. ... More people are thought to be reading their Bibles, but one third of all Americans are thought not to have gone to church in the last six months. And, there's yet another film project dealing with C.S. Lewis.

We will be closing our Daily Lectionary survey soon. If you have not already completed it, please take a few minutes to do so, and thank you, if you have. You are also invited to join us for our last mid-week Lenten Vespers service tonight at 7:00 with supper preceding at 6:00. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 02:02 AM

April 04, 2006

Ps 116 / Ro 10-13 / Tidbits

Psalm 116 is fourth in this series of six psalms used in the Jewish festival liturgy at the Temple. Psalm 116 praises the Lord for answering the psalmist’s prayer by delivering the psalmist from death. The psalm can be broken down into three main divisions: verses 1-6, 7-14, and 15-19. The Lord’s deliverance prompts a response of love and continued prayer to the Lord. Those referred to in verse 6 are those with child-like (not childish) faith; Dr. Martin Luther similarly referred to the "simple folk", suggesting contrast to the scholastic theologians who speculated and probed too far into the mysteries of God. Verse 10 seems to have a cause and effect relationship: belief brings affliction. The sacrifice of confession and praise that is Psalm 116 is part of its own answer to the question of verse 12. Verse 13 in its original meaning was no doubt to the cup of wine drunk as part of the thank offering at the end of a festival meal celebrating the Lord’s salvation, but those cups of thanksgiving pointed forward to the great meal in which we have table fellowship with the Lord. Thus, with the New Testament Church we understand the cup of salvation to be the chalice in the Lord’s Supper. (Verses from this psalm are used in connection with the Sacrament of the Altar in the liturgy of Divine Service II in Lutheran Worship and in the corresponding Divine Service I and Divine Service II in Lutheran Service Book.) The Lord has such great regard for our lives that He sent His Son to be born, die, and rise again so that we can be His saints, His holy ones.

Romans 10-13 can be said to complete the major section we began yesterday dealing with the vindication of God’s righteousness and to begin a new major section dealing with how righteousness is practiced. St. Paul continues to deal with the example of the Jews’ rejection of God. Romans 10:4 is a significant passage, where “end” has the sense of “goal” and “fulfillment” and righteousness refers to Christ’s righteousness given to all who believe. We do not get this righteousness for ourselves (vv.6-7, quoting Deuteronomy 30:12-13), but it comes to us by faith. Note that verses 9-10 are not talking about different things or different results: confessing with the mouth and believing with the heart are two sides of the same coin, as Jesus being Lord and God raising Him from the dead are the same faith, and being saved and justified are the same things here. The progression in verses 14-15, 17 is an important one used as a basis for the church sending pastors out to the mission field. The fact that not everyone believes does not negate the fact that the Word has gone out to the ends of the world. There are those who have heard: the remnant of Israel, or the true, spiritual Israel, which includes ingrafted Gentiles. Jews can still convert, of course, and in the General Prayer of the Morning Service without Communion, we pray for that very thing. Nevertheless, the example of the Jews who are not presently saved serve as a warning to all believers that they can fall from grace. We must be careful not to interpret, as do some, what Paul says in 11:25 and verses following as if there will be or must be a mass conversion of the Jews before the last, great day of Christ. Consideration of such matters leads Paul and should likewise lead us, not to speculation or logically-consistent statements, but to the type of glory-speaking we find in 11:33-36. Saved, we live our lives as living sacrifices, not conforming to the world but being transformed. We all have different “functions” in the body and are all needed for its health (Paul is not in 12:6-7 describing spiritual gifts that we can “inventory”). Love is not only to be shown towards members of this body but also towards those who act against it. That love is lived out in the world even by submitting to hostile governments, for even they are established by God. As we consider the imminent end of the age, we especially want to keep the commandments, summed up in the single word “love”. And, we know that when we fail to keep the commandments, as we will, that God’s love brings us forgiveness.

I have five tidbits for today. The national teen pregnancy rate is said to be dropping. ... A U.S. Supreme Court justice reportedly made an obscene hand gesture Sunday at a mass for lawyers. ... Newly-restored documents linking Christianity to Judaism are on display. ... A Bible publisher is refusing to publish Bibles with a controversial cover. ... Years ago they came up with the Folk Mass, so I suppose the U2 Eucharist shouldn’t surprise us, but both are ignorant of history—the Christian Church has survived nearly two millennia on the historic liturgy. What’s wrong with that?

Your input is important to us! Please take a few minutes and complete the Daily Lectionary survey. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 03, 2006

Ps 115 / Ro 7-9 / Tidbits

The next in the series of six psalms that were used in the festival liturgy at the Temple is Psalm 115. This psalm is thought to have been written for the dedication of the temple built after the people returned from exile (Ezra 6:16) and to be broken down into five different parts spoken by the people, the Levitical choir leader and choir, and the priests. All glory is given to God, even as He does what seems best to Him, whether to the benefit or detriment of Israel. The nations taunt Israel, but their gods are worthless, and the nations will be as useless as their false gods. As the people—perhaps broken into laity, clergy, and catechumens—trust in the Lord, so He blesses them. He is in His exalted realm, from where He can bless them, and the people are in their realm, in which they can receive His blessings.

Romans 7-9 completes the major section we began yesterday dealing with sanctification and begins a new major section dealing with the vindication of God’s righteousness. I mentioned yesterday that Christians in this lifetime remain both saint and sinner, and there is no greater discussion of that point than Romans 7, especially verses 14-25. (There is much debate whether Paul is talking about himself before or after conversion; the present tense is one of the major reasons we think he is describing himself even after conversion.) Christians may be dead to the law, in that the law’s condemnation no longer threatens them, but that does not mean the law does not serve an important function or have an important use for us. The law helps the “law of the mind” (vv.23, 25)—that is, the redeemed nature—know what the new life should look like.

Chapter 8 describes how we live in the Holy Spirit after Christ kept the law for us. Verses 5-11 are strong and clear descriptions of what we cannot do outside of faith and can do because of Christ in us, even if our physical bodies still are subject to temporal death. “Abba” in verse 15 is an Aramaic form of intimate address to God as our Father. Verse 18 is a good “big picture” perspective on our earthly suffering in comparison to our heavenly glory. Verses 26-27 assure us that the Spirit intercedes for us when we do not know what to pray or cannot pray for ourselves. God’s purposes for us are “clear” in verses 28-30: all things serve our salvation. God’s foreknowledge and predestination are not fatalistic, as if they so lock things into place so that some are so-saved that they cannot fall away or that others are so-lost that they have no chance for salvation. St. Paul makes clear that if we are saved it is God’s doing, and we know that if we are lost it is our doing (see chapter 9). Verses 31-39 are wonderfully comforting verses that leave no doubt how much God loves us and in Christ gives us all we need. Suffering and affliction are not intended to get in the way of our relationships with God but rather further them along.

Chapter 9 takes up the example of the Jews as those who have previously rejected God’s salvation. God’s Word cannot be blamed for their rejection. Abraham’s physical children can be divided into those who believe and those who do not, just as his non-physical children can be divided into those same two categories. The example of the Jews is used by Paul to make clear that salvation is by God’s grace and mercy, but God does not give His grace and mercy in some arbitrary way. Paul adduces various Old Testament passages that speak of the restoration of Israel and applies them to the spiritual Israel, the New Testament Church. The unbelief of literal Israel comes about by trying to achieve salvation through works instead of faith in Christ. Dr. Luther rightly sees that any religion that does not focus on salvation by faith in Christ alone is truly a religion of works righteousness.

Tidbits are few and far between over the weekend and into the week. The Afghan turned Italian man who converted from Islam to Christianity now reportedly goes by his name given in Baptism. One year after his death, Pope John Paul II could soon be “Saint John Paul the Great”. ... And dodgeball and one youth minister apparently don’t mix in Missouri.

Your input is important to us! Please take a few minutes and complete the Daily Lectionary survey. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 02, 2006

Ps 114 / Ro 4-6 / Survey / Tidbits

Today’s psalm is Psalm 114, the second of six psalms in a row used in the Jewish festival liturgy and, like Psalm 113, one sung before the festival meal. Psalm 114 is rife with references to water as it recalls the events of the Exodus: the Red Sea and Jordan River parting (vv.3, 5) and the provision of water from the rocks (v.8). There is also a figure of speech involving lambs (vv.4, 6). The images of water and the Passover meal were appropriate to the Feast of Tabernacles and the Passover, respectively, and also remind us of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar, respectively.

Romans 4-6 finishes the major section we began yesterday dealing with imputed righteousness (or justification) and begins the next major section dealing inherent righteousness (or sanctification). The principle of justification by faith was laid out in 3:27-31, so now the divinely-inspired St. Paul illustrates it (chapter 4). Abraham, who was a classic example to the Jews of justification by works, St. Paul uses as an illustration of justification by faith, based primarily on Genesis 15:6. Verbs such as “counted”, “reckoned”, “credited” and “imputed” all in this context mean the same thing—the righteousness was not Abraham’s but was given to him from somewhere (or Someone) else. Circumcision came some 14 years later (Genesis 17) as a sign or seal of the covenant, not as a work whereby Abraham himself earned righteousness. Note also in chapter 4 how law and promise (Gospel) are distinguished and seen as opposites. Next, in chapter 5, St. Paul talks about the benefits of such imputed righteousness (5:1-11) and then contrasts sin and death with the gift and eternal life (5:12-21). Romans 5:3-5 is a notable passage: we can rejoice even when we are experiencing afflictions because we know they are for our good. Note also how “justified”, “saved”, “reconciled”, and “forgiven” are at times used interchangeably. Romans 5:12-21 clearly teaches original sin brought about by Adam and passed to us all. In chapter 6, Paul deals with two false conclusions that someone might make from what he said in chapter 5: that we should go on sinning so grace can increase (6:1-14) and that we should go on sinning because we are no longer under the law (6:15-23). St. Paul describes how our old natures are put to death in Baptism, and he describes how the new nature that comes to life, while no longer a slave to sin, is now a slave to righteousness. We should not expect that in this life we will completely make the transition from sinner to saint who no longer sins, but that is a topic of chapter 7, and we don’t officially read that until tomorrow.

I have been enjoying sneaking peaks at the data accumulating in our survey. We do value your input, especially at this one-third mark of our year-long journey through the Bible, as we are considering a few changes. If you have not yet responded to the survey, please do so; it only takes 5-10 minutes, with the questions you are asked and thus your actual time depending on how you answer. If you have already responded, thank you, and, as much as I would like to see as many responses as possible, please only respond once.

I have just a trio of tidbits to start your week. An official for a Native American reservation within South Dakota’s borders says it’s exempt from the state’s abortion ban. ... Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice has joined the protest against U.S. military chaplains praying in Jesus’ Name. ... And, the United Methodist Church says it is on the decline, but denomination officials do not seem to recognize the Holy Spirit’s role in conversion.

Why some books are in the Bible and not others is the topic of this new Q&A. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life, and so believing may you todoay receive the forgiveness of sins He so graciously offers in Word and Sacrament!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

April 01, 2006

Is 25:1-9 / Ro 1-3 / Gospel of Judas / Tidbits

Today begins a new month and a new book, so you have double reason to check out the background information for April on-line here or available to download here. The seasonal canticle for April is Isaiah 25:1-9; you can find more comments on it from when we read the whole chapter.

Romans 1-3 begin the epistle or letter of St. Paul that stands at the head of his contributions to the New Testament canon. While on his third missionary journey, Paul had been looking forward to visiting Rome after leaving Corinth (where he likely wrote the letter to the Romans), visiting Ephesus, and returning to Jerusalem with the offering for the saints there. Paul writes to the church at Rome (likely many small house churches) to prepare them for his visit there and also to “solicit” the Roman Christians’ support for his trip beyond Rome to Spain. The Church at Rome had developed out of the synagogue and thus was heavily Jewish as well as Gentile. Paul knew from his own experience, both as a Jewish convert and as a missionary to churches of such composition, that the Christians had to make a radical break with Judaism, and likely for this reason this letter that expounds the Gospel so well deals at length with Israel. Of course, the letter to the Romans was seminal for the Reformation that God wrought through Martin Luther, who praises the letter as the purest and clearest Gospel, while also commenting on its teaching about law, sin, punishment, grace, faith, righteousness, etc.

Romans 1-3 take us through the introduction to the letter (1:1-15), the statements of its theme (1:16-17), all of the major section dealing with the unrighteousness of all people (1:18-3:20), and the beginning of the major section dealing with the imputed righteousness of justification through Christ received by faith (3:21-5:21, though today we only read through the end of chapter 3). Do you ever jump to the end of a letter to find out whom it is from before you read it? In Biblical times the senders identified themselves at the beginning of the letter, as St. Paul does in 1:1-6. Next in the introduction, he identifies to whom the letter is sent and greets them (1:7). Finally in the introduction, Paul praises the Romans’ faith and describes his desire to visit (1:8-15). The first half of the statement of the theme (1:16-17) was my confirmation verse. Paul describes Jew and Gentile alike as unrighteous by nature. In the case of the Gentiles he especially details the sin of homosexuality as a culmination of their rejection of God (1:18-32). The Jews are no less unrighteous for keeping the law externally but not relying on faith for salvation (2:1-3:8). The bottom line, demonstrated with various Old Testament passages, is that by the law’s standard all are unrighteous (3:9-20). In contrast is the righteousness of the Gospel, God’s righteousness through faith in Christ to all who believe (3:21-31).

After seeing a promotional spot for a special on the National Geographic Channel called “The Gospel of Judas”, a reader emailed asking if I had heard anything about the "Gospel of Judas". To air on April 9, 10, and 13, the special is described on the Channel’s website as follows.

Discovered by chance in the 1970s, a document that lay hidden for nearly 1,700 years emerges today as the only known surviving copy of "The Gospel of Judas." The Gospel of Judas traces the incredible story of what has happened to the document since it was found, the recent authentication process, and key insight gleaned from its translation and interpretation. The research will reveal fascinating details contained within the document as well as key sections translated from its ancient Coptic script.

I had previously heard of the document, and in the March 4 tidbits I posted a link to a report of one scholar’s dismissal of its value, and there are other similar reports. Somewhat like the so-called “evidence” behind “The da Vinci Code” and “The Jesus Papers”, these documents were likely known at the time of their writing and were rejected by the Church because the teaching they contained departed from that which had been handed down from Christ to the apostles and to their successors.

I have five tidbits to end your week. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled a Mosque visit this past week when threatened with hecklers. ... There’s a new development in the Islamic cartoon controversy. ... The cost of the Roman Catholic clergy sex scandals in the United States has now topped $1.5 billion. ... Chalk up one victory for a critical treatment of Evolution. ... Here’s a reason not to be a Wells-Fargo customer.

There are three new Q&A posted here. If you are reading this post, we would like to know what you think about the Daily Lectionary pages. Please take 5-10 minutes to answer our Daily Lectionary survey if you have not yet already done so, and thank you, if you have. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life, and so believing may you tomorrow receive the forgiveness of sins He so graciously offers in Word and Sacrament!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM