May 31, 2006

Ac 13-14 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

(For brief comments on the seasonal canticle for May, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, see the May 1 Biblog post and links there.)

Acts 13-14 narrates Paul’s first missionary journey from beginning to end and thus continues the section telling how the Word of the Lord unites Jew and Gentile in one, free Church (which section is summarized in 16:5). We might say on the basis of 13:3 that Barnabas and Saul (or Paul, see 13:9) were commissioned for their work as missionaries at large, that is, they had that office invested in or to them or were inducted into that office, since they were previously ordained as apostles. John Mark sets out with them but for some unknown reason eventually returns to Jerusalem (13:5, 13), and later we will see what Paul thought about that. The “message of encouragement” in 13:15 is essentially a sermon, and you note how the Synagogue service had a schedule of readings as do liturgical services today. Paul and Barnabas usually began with the Jews, the most likely to receive them (as I have indicated previously), and then proceeded to the Gentiles. The shaking of the dust off the feet in 13:51 is in keeping with the command of our Lord in places such as Luke 9:5. Paul and Barnabas are “the apostles” referred to by 14:4, sent as a representative of and with the authority of the sender. The teaching of 14:22 was not only lived out by Paul and Barnabas but is also true for us today. Missionaries at large Paul and Barnabas selected and ordained pastors for and from among those in the congregations they established. We should note that properly ordered Word and Sacrament ministry is what calls congregations together (they are not really established without ministry in this true sense) and that the people in the congregation do not normally select or make their pastors without representatives of the Church itself.

There are seven tidbits for you today. South Dakota’s new abortion ban may not go into effect as scheduled on July 1. ... A new poll suggests Americans support the Marriage Protection Amendment and are opposed to gay marriage, but not all the news from the poll is good. ... A recent federal appeals court ruling may mean that Georgia’s textbooks get anti-evolution stickers after all. ... A suburban Ft. Worth elementary school edited out “In God we trust” from the nickel on its yearbook cover. ... A misinformed and naïve study says those “born again” aren’t bearing fruit. ... Madonna’s reached into her old bag of tricks. ... And, not only are movies based on comic books not safe, neither are established comic book characters, according to this link a reader emailed in (and thanks for that).

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

May 30, 2006

Ps 149 / Ac 11-12 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

The fourth of five Hallelujah Psalms that end the Psalter, Psalm 149 is a two-stanza psalm of praise and responsibility by Israel, the elect people of God. The first stanza (vv.2-5) calls the people to praise the Lord, their King, especially for His electing Israel and saving the repentant (v.4). The second stanza (vv.6-9) prays that the people also execute God’s judgment or vengeance (the opposite of salvation) on the nations that reject Him. As with other psalms of praise we have read in the Old Testament prayer book or “hymnal”, we notice that the “new song” is new because of the Lord’s latest saving deeds (v.1), that music is prominent with the sung praises (v.3), and that praise is not limited to daytime assemblies of the congregation but is also to take place at night at home (v.5).

As we read Acts 11-12, we conclude the major section of Acts dealing with the Word of the Lord becoming a light to the Gentiles (summarized in 12:24), and we begin the next major section dealing with the Word of the Lord uniting Jew and Gentile in one, free Church (summarized in 16:5). Chapter 11 tells of the events that followed Peter’s visit with Cornelius (vv.1-18) and of the Church in Antioch (vv.19-30). Chapter 12 tells of Herod’s attempting to imprison Peter and of his subsequent death. Note in 11:1 that the “brothers” are the believers and in the verses following that those in the Church are accountable to one another but subject to the Holy Spirit. The repetition of Peter’s vision and visit here not only functions in the narrative but serves a greater purpose of reinforcing and emphasizing the importance of the story for the hearers (like the frequent repetition of Paul’s conversion account). Note in 11:14 that Cornelius’s whole family was included not only in the message of salvation but presumably also in the baptism (10:48)—one of the places where “whole families” are baptized, no doubt including infants. In 11:19 Antioch is reintroduced (see 6:5); the city is important since it was “the third city of the Roman empire (after Rome and Alexandria)” and, with Barnabas’s recruiting of Saul (vv.25-26), would become the home base for “Paul’s” three missionary journeys (which we will see in 13:1-4; 15:40; 18:23). Barnabas and Saul also take up the first of several collections for relief efforts in Jerusalem (11:30). Herod Agrippa I of 12:1 is a grandson of Herod the Great and nephew of Herod Antipas (the Tetrarch), both mentioned in the Gospel accounts (see this Q&A), and his concerns about a rival king or religion rivaling Judaism would be similar. John Mark is reintroduced in 11:12 and becomes more significant in 12:25 and later in Acts. After the servant girl left Peter outside the door (vv.14-16), people said it must be his angel, which statement reflects a belief that everyone has a personal angel that looks like the person, but the passage does not mean such is actually the case. The narrative of Herod’s death is important, if for no other reason to prepare us for Paul to go before his son, Herod Agrippa II (25:23 and verses following), who was reportedly 17 at the time of his father’s death.

I have three tidbits for your post-holiday Tuesday. Tax dollars in Massachusetts are allegedly being used to push the homosexual agenda on school children as young as kindergarten. ... A federal judge reportedly won’t let a Philadelphia homosexual activist group out of a lawsuit stemming from Christians arrested for protesting at a gay pride event. ... And scholars say the legalization of gay marriage could end religious freedom as we know it.

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

May 29, 2006

Ps 148 / Ac 9-10 / “The Da Vinci Code” / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

We read Psalm 148 today, as we continue with the five Hallelujah Psalms that conclude the Psalter. Psalm 148 calls all of creation to praise the Lord, and, as one commentator says, the Church is cast “as the choir-leader of the universe”. You can easily imagine the psalm chanted responsively by half-verse, and this psalm is a good example of how the second half-verse restates the content of the first. Working from the top down, the first of the psalm’s two six-verse stanzas calls to creatures in the heavens (see v.1), and the second to creatures on the earth (see v.7). They are concluded with the reason for the praise. Notice in verse 13 how “name” and “splendor” (NIV, “glory” KJV, ASV, NASB) are equated and both placed above the heavens and earth giving Him praise. The “horn” of verse 14, as we have seen before, can be symbolic of strength, and here it especially refers to the Lord’s anointed, the king, and of all the kings to the King of Kings, our redeeming and saving King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Reading Acts 9-10 today, we finish one major section of Acts, that section dealing with the Word of the Lord triumphing over persecution (concluded in 9:31), and begin another, that section telling of the Word of the Lord becoming a light to the Gentiles (concluded in 12:24). The first half of chapter 9 (vv.1-31) tell of Saul’s conversion, the rest of chapter 9 (vv.32-43) tells of Peter’s ministry to Aeneas and Dorcas, and chapter 10 gives the narrative of Peter and Cornelius. As you begin chapter 9 you are subtly reminded that we have heard of Saul before (7:58). Note the name for Christianity used in 9:2 and elsewhere in Acts (after Jesus’s own words in John 14:6). Note well how Jesus identifies persecuting the Church as persecuting Him (9:4-5). Saul’s meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus and his subsequent meeting with Ananias convert him to faith, fill him with the Holy Spirit at his Baptism, and put him into his apostolic office. Saul not only immediately began to preach, but he also almost immediately began to know what it was to suffer for the Name’s sake (9:16). Saul eventually is accepted by the Jerusalem apostles and sent from Caesarea to Tarsus. Peter’s miracles are like those of His and our Lord—they were intended to and actually did create faith in those who heard of them. Peter’s vision and his interaction with Cornelius show clearly that God wills not only Jews but also Gentiles be saved and that the Jewish dietary laws do not need to be followed legalistically. God even set some Gentiles apart with a special manifestation of the Holy Spirit to make yet even more clear to all that Jew and Gentile alike would serve in the Kingdom. The Old Testament had envisioned salvation going from the Jews to the Gentiles, so Peter’s experience with Cornelius did not begin some sort of new dispensation. And, for some time the Jews remained the first field of work in each community, as they were most likely to be looking for the coming Messiah.

Although it was likely down by more than 50% from its opening weekend last weekend, “The Da Vinci Code” movie still probably grossed more than $33 million this past weekend, including my $6.25. I wasn’t going to see it, but I went anyway because I am teaching a Bible class on the movie Sunday, June 4, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Austin and Sunday, June 25, at Grace, Elgin. For me, there were few surprises, either dramatically or theologically. If you have at all seen or heard the coverage following the book and leading up to the movie, you know that the movie has been critically panned and that many of the ideas it presents as fact are simply untrue. I’ll have more to say about it in those classes, but in the meantime I again recommend that you do not see it and direct you to a friend’s blog where she tells how, when she was watching it, the movie burned as heretics of old.

Tidbits today begin with the mounting death toll from the Indonesian earthquake and one way you can help. ... With the Senate vote on the marriage protection amendment nearing, the outlook isn’t too good, but here are some ways you can act. ... The North Carolina Baptist State Convention gets tough with congregations that affirm homosexuality. ... Despite some bad reviews and claims of homosexual meaning, “X-Men: The Last Stand” is already thought to have set a box office record this weekend. ... And a recent study suggests more parents are using television as childcare, almost giving new meaning to in loco parentis.

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

May 28, 2006

Ps 147 / Ac 7-8 / Deacons and Pastors / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

One both of five “Hallelujah Psalms” and of the final Psalms, Psalm 147 praises God chiefly for His salvation and creation, and the psalm calls for such praise. The Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament) split this psalm into two between verses 11 and 12 and thus returns to the numbering scheme we have with Psalm 148 (having much earlier merged into one psalm those which we have as Psalm 9 and 10). Psalm 147 was perhaps written for the Levites to use when the walls of Jerusalem were dedicated (Nehemiah 12:27-43). The more personal matters of the return from exile (vv.2-3) and revelation to the people (vv.19-20) frame what can be classified as praise for creation, providential provision, and security for the nation. Note the slight warning the wicked receive (v.6) and the full-range of weather described (vv.8, 16-18). Martin Luther used verses 9-11 as part of his Small Catechism prayer for use after meals.

Today we continue to hear of the Word of the Lord triumphing over persecution as we read Acts 7-8. Specifically, we concentrate on Stephen (chapter 7) and Philip (chapter 8). Really an answer or defense of his faith, Stephen’s “speech” in chapter 7 essentially recounts salvation history from Abraham to Jesus, with inspired interpretation and application of the Old Testament. Verse 56 is notable for Jesus “standing” instead of “sitting” at God’s right hand, and it is usually said that Jesus was “standing” to receive Stephen. As we transition from Stephen to Philip, the mention of the participation of “Saul” (later “Paul”) is important to lay the foundation for his conversion coming in chapter 9 tomorrow. More than just a literary transition, however, 8:1-3 also points out how God uses persecution and things people intend for evil to build His Church and thus for good. So, the Gospel spreads to Samaria, the second concentric circle named by our Lord in 1:8. We must be careful with 8:15-17 that we do not understand the passage to mean the Holy Spirit was not given in Baptism; rather, it appears that in order to make clear the apostolicity of the Samaritan church the laying on of the apostles’ hands was used to give a special gift of the Holy Spirit (as in ordination) so that some of the Samaritans might also manifest the miraculous signs. The desire to buy the Holy Spirit expressed by Simon the sorcerer, perhaps the same as Simon Magus who is described as an arch-heretic and “father” of Gnosticism, provides sharp contrast to its being a free gift. (Incidentally, some wrongly find in 8:15-17 proof not only for the rite of Confirmation but also for their claim that Bishops must confirm those baptized.) The words of the Ethiopian eunuch in 8:31 are significant in that they tell us God’s normal way of working faith is through the preaching and teaching office. Depending on what translation you read, you may or may not have 8:37, a verse that has a disputed textual history, being found in some of the surviving New Testament manuscripts but none dating earlier than the sixth century, although reflecting a tradition of belief about the Ethiopian’s confession that goes back to the second century.

A few more words are in order about deacons and pastors. In yesterday’s post I pointed out that the material work of the deaconate was different from the spiritual Word and Sacrament ministry of the elders (pastors). Stephen and Philip are listed in Acts 6:5 as deacons, but quite quickly Stephen and Philip are both described as doing wonders (Acts 6:8 and 8:6, respectively), and Philip is described as doing things proper to the Office of the Holy Ministry, such as preaching in 8:12 and baptizing in 8:38, as well as being specifically called an evangelist in 21:8. We do not have a lot of detail in Acts itself, but faithful teachers, such as Martin Chemnitz, said that Stephen and Philip moved from the rank of deacon to that of pastor. The matter is not simply academic, for it has practical implications today for “offices” created by human authority, such as parochial school teacher, DCE (Director of Christian Education), DPS (Director of Parish Services), or whatever names they are given: those in them are not properly given the exercise of the Office of the Keys and therefore should not preach or administer the sacraments, whether or not they are considered to be called and ordained.

Holiday weekends were usually slow for news, but I still found five tidbits. Convicted former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay reportedly continues to say that he’s innocent but also that he believes God will work things out for good. ... Two previous FDA commissioners supposedly overruled a committee to keep the so-called morning-after abortion pill off the market. ... A lawsuit makes Penn State again allow “intolerant” speech on campus. ... Ford goes forward undaunted with its gay agenda. ... And, who’s buried in Grant’s tomb? Archaeologists are still not sure what exactly they discovered that previously was announced as a burial chamber.

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

May 27, 2006

Ps 146 / Ac 5-6 / Folos / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

You can tell we are getting near the end of our first read through the Psalter, as Psalm 146 is the first of five “Hallelujah” psalms that close the collection of Psalms. Similar to yesterday’s psalm in a number of specific ways, Psalm 146 is also generally similar in that it praises the Lord, makes no petition, and gives only slight warnings of the wrath on the wicked. The Lord is the proper subject of our faith and trust, as well as our praise, for above all He saves us. Our proper response is one of life-long praise. Note that verse 3’s “son of man” (KJV, ASV; “mortal men/man” NIV, NASB) is not to be confused with “the Son of Man”, that is, Jesus, though the Hebrew expression is the same ben-’adam. You might be familiar with The Lutheran Hymnal #26, which is a wonderful hymn based on this psalm.

Reading Acts 5-6 today we finish the first major section that tells of the Word of the Lord in Jerusalem, as summarized in 6:7, and we begin the next major section that tells of the Word of the Lord going to Samaria and triumphing over persecution (that section will be summarized in 9:31). First we hear of Ananias’ and Sapphira’s lying to the community and to the Lord, which events were set up in yesterday’s reading of 4:32-36. Note in 5:3 the contrast between Satan’s work and that of the Holy Spirit. Verse 11 is notable for its first use in Acts of the Greek word for “church” (ekklesia), which most properly refers to its leaders and the community, locally and universally, called out by God and gathered around Word and Sacrament. Next, the works of the apostles are described, through which the Lord added to the Church (5:14), but also on account of which the apostles were persecuted. Note what the high priest says in 5:28 (perhaps in response to statements such as those in Acts 2:23, 3:13-15, and 4:10-11) and how he seems already to have forgotten what was said at the time of the crucifixion (Matthew 27:25). Gamaliel in verse 34 is noteworthy, as he may have been the grandson of the moderate Pharisee Hillel, and he was the teacher of Saul, who is also known as Paul (Acts 22:3). Also noteworthy is the response of the apostles in 5:41 to their suffering. Note well that “house to house” in 5:42 (NIV, NASB; “in every house” KJV; “at home” ASV) does not refer to door-to-door evangelism but to the closed communion of the house churches in contrast to the public evangelism done in the Temple courts. The selection and ordination of deacons in 6:1-6 is not for Word and Sacrament ministry but the oversight of material relief, despite what the Texas District might try to do at the upcoming convention. (I’ve often said if a biography of my life should ever be written it should have the title based on 6:2, “It is not good that the elders wait on tables”, although I think table service experience is good experience for those in the pastoral office, and Jesus Himself used such imagery, as in Luke 22:27 and Matthew 20:28.) Finally today we hear of Stephen, one of the seven deacons. We call them “deacons”, incidentally, because the Greek noun diakonia is used in 6:1 (translated “ministration” KJV, ASV; “distribution” NIV; “serving” NASV) and the Greek verb diakoneo is used in 6:2 (translated “serve” KJV, ASV, NASB; “wait on” NIV). The charges against Stephen in 6:13-14 were strikingly similar to those against Jesus; we’ll hear more about Stephen tomorrow.

I have two Biblog folos today. First, in response to my comment yesterday a reader emailed to say that an Orthodox Jew would be offended by prayers for conversion, but the reader didn’t say whether such prayers would be considered anti-Semitism. The same reader connected the dots I intended between the anti-Semitism story and the Pope’s visit to Poland and Auschwitz and some I didn’t intend back to the previous day’s story about England’s gene checking and worldwide persecution of Christians.

When a Jewish source is being quoted I usually read in vain for some mention of the non-Jews who died under Hitler. I think at the last Pope’s visit to Auschwitz they mentioned 20 nationalities. The elderly and disabled were “undesirable” under Hitler, and now England is going to check on genes! It is the same mentality, but the ethnicity of the doctors often astounds me, all other things considered. … How many churches will burn before anti-Christianity is a “current event”? How many Africans butchered because they are not Muslim? Or Indonesians? Chinese? But these are only poor people; they do not have Swiss bank accounts. A treasury in heaven, we hope, for all of them.

Indeed, we know with the certainty of faith that the faithful poor in spirit inherit the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20), and the persecution of Christians is expected to happen to those of all nations and races, for such distinctions disappear in the order of Redemption (Galatians 3:26-29). I agree that the financing of the European reconstruction did dictate early policy decisions about Israel. But, to be fair, we did see the Secretary of State respond to the case of the man in Afghanistan who was being persecuted on account of his faith, but that was only after there was a significant outcry in this country, one that I continue to think misunderstands the nature of life under the cross.

Second, another email brought this link, found from following a link I gave yesterday, with a question about the meaning of “net neutrality”. You can find an answer to that question here, and I guess we all have to take notice that whether government imposed as in China or self-imposed as in Google’s case, restrictions on search engines are restrictions on search engines. All of this reminds me about a recent discussion I had with my nephew about freedom of speech.

Tidbits today number twelve. Nepal has left behind its royal, Hindu government, and, even though it is supposed to be good news for Christians, the move is not ending all the country’s problems. ... The Canadian newspaper that said Iran was going to make religious minorities wear identifying badges has retracted the story. ... Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus spoke out on Democrats’ attempt to woo Christian voters, and she’s got a great quote in the column about them not being “born again yesterday”. ... The Immigration Bill passed the Senate and is going to a conference committee, but some think Bible verses relating to immigration are still up for debate. ... News out of the LCMS today includes this almost unintelligible statement from the CTCR regarding public rebuke of public sin (which has some good and some bad in it) and this “timely” decision by the CTCR to an issue that was hot like five years ago. ... There’s more here on the immortality debate we saw earlier this week. ... A Kentucky judge banned prayer at a high school graduation ceremony, but the students prayed anyway. ... The Kentucky Board of Education wants to remove Jesus from the dating of history. (I guess they won’t bother to tell anyone how the dating scheme actually started.) ... A bill requiring California textbooks to have positive portrayals of gays, lesbians, and transgendereds is going to get Governor Schwarzenegger’s veto. ... Religious civil rights leaders’ names are being used to lure people to porn sites. ... And apparently even comic book superhero movies aren’t safe anymore (see here and, for a different reason, here).

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 12:22 AM

May 26, 2006

Ps 145 / Ac 3-4 / Folos / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

The last of our psalms of David, Psalm 145 is a wonderful hymn of praise to the Lord for His virtues and the deeds they produce; note the absence of any sort of petition. Besides being told the psalm is an alphabetical acrostic (each stanza beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet), we can observe that structurally there is an introduction (vv.1-2) and conclusion (v.21), with four stanzas in between, each introducing and then developing its own theme: the Lord’s greatness, introduced in verse 3; the Lord’s graciousness and compassion, introduced in verse 8; the Lord’s faithfulness and love, introduced in verse 13b, and the Lord’s righteousness and love, introduced in verse 17. Note how knowledge of the Lord’s greatness evident in His creation, provision, and redemption is passed from generation to generation. We communicate such Good News as the Holy Spirit gives us opportunity through our respective vocations. The Lord’s graciousness and compassion are also told to all people the Lord has made; we do not keep it a secret from different ethnic or racial groups. The Lord’s faithfulness and love is especially evident to the downcast and afflicted who repent. Verses 15-16 are used by Martin Luther in his Small Catechism as verses before the prayer he gives to be used at the beginning of meals. Finally, the Lord’s righteousness and love are shown to those who seek, call upon, and believe in Him. Verse 20 has the only word of warning in the whole psalm.

Acts 3-4 continues the telling of the Word of the Lord in Jerusalem. Specifically, we hear of Peter and John healing a man and getting arrested as a result (3:1-4:21) and of the community of goods (4:32-37), which sets up an incident that we are not scheduled to read until tomorrow. Note well that the crippled man believed in Jesus, by Whose authority and power the man was healed. Peter’s preaching does not blame the Jews for Jesus’s death to the exclusion of all people’s responsibility by way of their sin, and see how it serves the call to repentance: sorrow over sin and faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness. Watch your translation of 3:21: “Whom [the] heaven must receive” (KJV, ASV, NASB) is okay, but the NIV’s “He must remain in heaven” is not. The NIV’s translation reflects a reformed understanding that Jesus is somehow confined to heaven and therefore, among other consequences, cannot be present with His real, physical body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. As Peter continues his Biblical sermon, he touches on Deuteronomy 18’s prophecy of the Prophet like Moses, and he seems to single out Samuel as a starting point since he anointed the first kings and spoke of the Messianic kingdom (we’ll read more about those events soon enough). As chapter 4 begins we hear of the Sadducees being irked by the teaching of the Resurrection. Like Jesus had done before him, Peter’s defense of his and John’s action draws on Psalm 118:22. An especially important verse to note is 4:12, and we must always apply it to those in our world today whom so many would say can be saved by believing in something other than the true God as He has revealed Himself in the God-man Jesus Christ. Such a necessary and life-giving message Peter and John could not help but preach. The believers were one in heart and mind and thus worshipped together. St. Luke also tells us that they shared their possessions, but such a “community chest” or communal living was not commanded then or now.

I received several emails as Biblog folos to yesterday’s post. One email commented that the tests being used on the embryos in Britain to determine whether to let them live or die may even create defects where none existed. A second email sent this article about how Oregon’s legalizing physician-assisted suicide has increased non-assisted suicide rates, which article was found by following a link from something I linked. And, a third email reacted much as I did to yesterday’s convergence of the Acts account of Christ’s ascension with Ascension Day: “Wasn’t that neat!”

I have seven Tidbits to end your work-week. One-hundred-thousand petitions supporting the Marriage Protection Amendment were this week delivered to Capitol Hill. ... Weeks before their convention, a Texas Episcopal priest’s petition drive nets 900 clergy signatures asking their church body not to approve gay bishops or same-sex unions. ... The Church of Scotland this week moved closer to being the first British church body to bless so-called gay marriages. ... Roman Catholic officials in Vermont are putting parish assets in trusts to protect them from priest misconduct lawsuts. ... Pope Benedict got a warm welcome in his predecessor’s homeland. ... U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice says anti-Semitism is a current event. (I hope they don’t regard praying for the conversion of the Jews to be anti-Semitic.) ... And, graduation ceremonies are held locally tonight, but I hope they’re not like these.

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

May 25, 2006

Ps 144 / Ac 1-2 / Tidbits / Ascension Day

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Said to be another Psalm of David, Psalm 144 prays God to give the King victory over his enemies so that psalmist will praise the Lord and the kingdom will be secure and thus prosper. Although the psalm may have grown out of David’s statement in 1 Samuel 17:47, parts of Psalm 144 (especially vv.5-8) are quite similar to Psalm 18, and it may be that this psalm was composed by or for a post-exilic king in David’s style and borrowing from a Davidic psalm. Verse 3 may be familiar to you after reading Psalm 8:4 and Hebrews 2:6, and verse 4 likewise after reading verses such as Psalm 39:5-6. Similarly verse 9 expresses a familiar theme in the psalms (as in Psalm 96:1). Verse 11 rephrases and essentially repeats verses 7-8 as the psalm transitions to the benefits of God answering the prayer for deliverance. Like the people of Israel, we are blessed by God’s electing us in grace to be His people and thereby saving us through faith in Jesus Christ Who died for our sins.

With Acts 1-2 we begin reading the New Testament’s only “historical” book, which will take us into June and be the last New Testament book we read until we take up Matthew in November. St. Luke’s Gospel account promised Theophilus and other Gentiles a full and orderly account to help them be certain about what they had been instructed (Luke 1:1-4): “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1, NIV and NASB). Acts continues that record, telling what Jesus did and taught from His ascension forward by means of the Holy Spirit and those apostles and others sent by Him through the Church—pastors and people together. The Divinely-inspired book does not claim to be a full history but gives select facts and events that serve its purpose. The book presents the Resurrected and Ascended Christ to the World, confronting all different types of people with the offer of His salvation. Luke, himself a Gentile and trained physician, was one of those through whom Jesus and the Spirit worked, as we can see sections in the book of Acts where “we” is used, indicating Luke’s accompanying Paul on various parts of his missionary journeys. We do not have firm indications of where Luke wrote the two volumes of his work, Luke and Acts, but we do believe he likely wrote them in the mid to late 60s, either after the events narrated in chapter 28 or after the death of St. Paul. The title given to the work, “The Acts of the Apostles”, seems unlikely original to Luke and ill-fitted as a description of the book. Acts 1:8 indicates how Jesus said the Gospel would spread, and Luke’s historical account seems to consciously take the progress of the Word from Jerusalem to Rome as its theme, offering summarizing statements at six points along the way (Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; and 28:31), which we essentially will use to subdivide the book, although our reading plan does not adhere to those divisions. (The summaries seem to center on key people, topics, problems, and the Gospel’s geographic spread.) One other note, understanding the theme of the book as tracing the Word’s spread to Rome helps us understand why it ends somewhat abruptly with Paul in a Roman prison and with some believing the Word and others rejecting it.

Acts 1-2 begins the section that is summarized in 6:7, of the Word of the Lord in Jerusalem. Chapter 1 begins the book and tells of Jesus’s post-resurrection ministry and of the disciples waiting for the Holy Spirit, and chapter 2 tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit and that coming’s immediate results. I want to comment on just a few things. We should not understand 1:5 to mean that we are not baptized with the Holy Spirit in water Baptisms. Jesus’s comment in 1:7 applies to us today, that knowing the times or dates of His return is not for us, either. Verse 11 anticipates Jesus’s bodily return on the clouds of heaven “with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). The “upper room” in 1:13 may be where the Last Supper was held, and it may have been in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, the evangelist and Gospel worker who you may recall may have “escaped” from the betrayal scene as a youth (Mark 14:51-52). In the list of the disciples (v.13), note that Bartholomew is called “Nathanael” by John (John 1:45-49; 21:2); James son of Alphaeus is “James the younger” (Mark 15:40); “Simon the Zealot” is to distinguish from Simon Peter (“Zealot” is said to be the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew and Aramaic words for “Cananaean”); and that “Judas son of James” is to distinguish from Judas Iscariot (John 14:22), as is calling him “Thaddaeus”, what may have been a name of endearment (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; elsewhere he is called “Judas Thomas” and thus speculated to have been the twin to Thomas). As for the “brothers” in verse 14, I have probably said enough elsewhere. Verse 18 does not contradict Matthew 27:5. Note how the apostles have criteria for selecting Judas Iscariot’s replacement, narrow down the list, but then leave it to the Lord to decide (1:21-26)—it’s a practice congregations would do well to follow in calling pastors. The reference to “tongues” of fire and “other tongues” just happens to share the same word; for more on the tongues of fire (2:3), see my “From our Pastors” in the June issue of Grace to You that will be out this Sunday. Peter preaches a good Biblical, Christ-centered, law-Gospel sermon. You might notice how Baptism is encouraged for everyone, young and old (2:38-39). The passive voice in 2:41 and the active voice in 2:47 are saying the same thing: God adds to His Church. We should do as the early believers did: continue in the apostles’ teaching and in the breaking of bread and prayer (2:42, 46), as we do in the Word and Sacrament parts of the Divine Service.

I have five tidbits for you today. A U.S. House subcommittee voted to give more money for condoms around the world but cuts abstinence funding at home. ... Pope Benedict says Canada secularism keeps people from having hope. ... Britain okays killing embryos that might be at risk for adult illnesses. ... Planned Parenthood is opening a clinic/spa in Minnesota. ... And, Rhythm and Blues star Gladys Knight, a former Baptist, speaks out about becoming a Mormon.

Today is Ascension Day, but the Easter season continues for the next ten days until Pentecost, so the Resurrection greeting at the beginning of this post is still appropriate. Even though on the church calendar we wait with the apostles through Exaudi Sunday between the Ascension and Pentecost for the coming of the Holy Spirit, we remember that for us Jesus is not gone but has changed His mode of presence with us, found now in Word and Sacrament, never leaving or forsaking but abiding with us always even unto the end of the age.

Oh, grant, dear Lord, this grace to me,
Recalling Thine ascension,
That I may ever walk with Thee,
Adorning Thy redemption;
And then, when all my days shall cease,
Let me depart in joy and peace
In answer to my pleading.
Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal 216:3)

(I’m also appreciating how our Daily Lectionary is providing such timely reading for us!)

Questions and comments on the Biblog or the readings are always welcome from anyone at any time—just use the link on the left side near the top of the main Biblog page. 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

May 24, 2006

Ps 143 / Jn 20-21 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Another psalm of David and the last of the seven penitential psalms, Psalm 143 prays not only for Divine deliverance but also for Divine direction. God’s righteousness and mercy and David’s relationship to God by faith, both mentioned at both the psalm’s beginning and end, can be regarded as the basis for the prayer. Between them David describes the affliction he is suffering (vv.3-4), remembers God’s past deliverance to encourage him in his present prayer (vv.5-6), and makes the prayer itself (vv.7-10). You may recall that “hiding the face” (v.7) is the opposite of looking on in blessing. What the NIV and others translate as “unfailing love” (v.8) is God’s mercy. Verse 10 has a clear reference to and request for the Holy Spirit, especially appropriate as we move towards the observance of our Lord’s ascension this Thursday.

Today reading John 20-21 completes the section dealing with the Word speaking God’s grace and truth (chapter 20) and takes us into and through the Gospel account’s conclusion (chapter 21). The “other disciple” at the beginning of chapter 20 is again the Evangelist, St. John (as also in chapter 21). Verses 21-23 are especially important in this chapter, as they tell of Jesus formally sending the apostles and empowering them with the Holy Spirit to exercise the Office of the Keys to loose or bind, forgive or not forgive, sins on God’s behalf. The juxtaposition of verse 29 with verses 30-31 is striking in that everyone who has not “seen” Jesus as a first-hand eyewitness must rely on the Word as the basis of faith. Chapter 21 gives Jesus’s “third” appearance to a group of disciples, almost as a complete number of appearances verifiable by two or three witnesses—with the testimony of witnesses being a recurring theme in the Gospel account. This miraculous catch of fish bears striking resemblances to that in Luke 5:1-11, and a former classmate of mine from seminary and present brother in the ministry has studied and written extensively about the events in John 21. Jesus’s three-fold exhortation to Peter seems to correspond with his three-fold denial (19:15-18, 25-27). How blessed we are that Peter and the others did feed and take care of Christ’s lambs and sheep, also making sure there were other undershepherds of the Great Good Shepherd to care for us in His flock today.

Tidbits are back today after a three-day break. Iran closes a newspaper after a cartoon ridiculed an Iranian ethnic minority. ... Canada’s prime minister is said to have been part of a disinformation campaign about Iran that said religious minorities in that country would have to wear badges like Jews did under Hitler’s Germany, although other media outlets continue to report the claims as fact. ... Liberal politicians try to find moral authority without the Bible. ... A liberal “clergyman” likens supporters of a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to witch burners. ... Randall Terry, the evangelical who founded Operation Rescue, has converted to Roman Catholicism. ... Oh, the arrogance of humanity and its scientists! ... And, here’s a movie “review” that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

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

May 23, 2006

Ps 142 / Jn 19

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 142 is ascribed to David at the time that he took refuge in a cave while fleeing Saul (perhaps as narrated in 1 Samuel 22). Thus, we expect the psalm to plead for God to deliver him from a powerful enemy. In the psalm, David seems to be alone, though by appealing to God he confesses that he has not been abandoned, and he anticipates company after God’s deliverance (v.7). Even though David had loyal comrades with him, verse 4 suggests even the all-seeing God cannot find a truly selfless friend with David. Note also in verse 4 the right hand, where one would expect a helper or defender to be (the right side is said to have been more vulnerable because it was where the weapons were). Verse 5’s reference to the Lord as David’s “portion” expresses the Lord being the sustainer and preserver of his life, as well as that possession that satisfies him; in other psalms, such as Psalm 73:26 where the author is a Levite, the “portion” has an expanded meaning since the Levites did not have an allotment of land when Israel conquered Canaan. Also in verse 5, because the Lord lives, the one possessing Him will always be in “the land of the living”. The “prison” in verse 7 could refer literally to the cave but more likely refers figuratively to his afflictions. We are also afflicted, but, like David, we can be content with the Lord as our portion.

John 19 continues the section we began yesterday in which the Word speaks God’s grace and truth (an elaboration of the theme introduced in 1:16). Chapter 19 tells of Jesus's being sentenced to be crucified, the crucifixion, Jesus’ death, and His burial. Note in verses 19-20 the notice fastened above the cross, written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek; artistic renderings of the crucifixion usually abbreviate only the Latin Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (INRI). Jesus’s entrusting His mother to the care of the Apostle John in verses 25-27 is also understood figuratively as Jesus entrusting the care of His Church to her ministers (note again how the author of the Gospel does not name himself). Verse 30 is sometimes understood as Jesus's giving the Holy Spirit, not just willingly giving His life in death. In that same vein, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are seen in the water and blood flowing from Jesus’s pierced side in verse 34. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus—note how John recalls the events of chapter 3—bury Jesus at least temporarily. Stop and reflect on how Jesus received what we deserved but did so that we will not die eternally but like Him live!

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:28 AM

May 22, 2006

Ps 141 / Jn 17-18 / “Da Vinci Code”

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Perhaps from the time David was persecuted by Absalom, Psalm 141 is another psalm of David praying for deliverance, although this one is especially notable for verse 2’s likening the lifting up of hands in prayer to the incenses of the evening sacrifice. (The reference is apparently not to the incense offering but to the offering of the evening sacrifice to which some incense was apparently added.) Jesus’s sacrifice of Himself on the cross is the only sacrifice that can and does atone for our sins, but Jesus’s sacrifice brings forth our sacrifices of thanksgiving, prayer, and praise. From some of its earliest days, this psalm was used as an evening hymn of the liturgy, and verses with a lovely setting are also used in the liturgy of Evening Prayer in Lutheran Worship (carried over into Lutheran Service Book). With David we pray in this psalm to avoid sins of the tongue and all other temptations, including table fellowship with the wicked (v.4). At the center of the psalm, verse 5 develops its own theme, and note how Christians should react to well-intended correction from other Christians. Verse 7 expresses the hope of the Resurrection with the bones of the dead cast as fields plowed preparing for sown seed.

Reading John 17-18 finishes the section on the Word received by the disciples (chapter 17) and begins the next section of the Word speaking grace and truth, elaborating on 1:16. Chapter 17 is also regarded as Jesus’ High Priestly prayer for Himself, the disciples, and all believers. Verse 3 is notable for its explanation of how eternal life is obtained. Verse 6 says more that the disciples have “treasured” the Word, not “obeyed” it (NIV; “kept” KJV, ASV, NASB). Verse 13 brings up the theme of full and complete joy. The world hates those who receive the Word, but Jesus does not pray for believers to be taken out of the world (vv.14-16). Yes, Jesus wants all believers to be united (vv.20-21), but such unity must be in the Word (see also v.17), not in some false unity reached by compromising aspects of Jesus’ teaching. Such unity in doctrine is needed to reach out to the lost in the world (v.23).

Chapter 18 narrates the details about Jesus’s arrest and questioning, along with Peter’s denials. In St. John’s Divinely-inspired account, Judas leads the soldiers and others to the Garden of Olives, but Jesus voluntarily identifies Himself. Notice how verse 14 recalls 11:49-50. The “other disciple” in verses 15-16 is believed to be the Evangelist, St. John. Verse 36 clearly gives an important aspect of the teaching about Jesus’s kingdom, one those wanting an earthly kingdom all too easily overlook. Similarly, Pilate’s question in verse 38 speaks to all those in our world today who wrongly deny that there is absolute truth.

Despite really bad reviews from critics and people seeing the movie, “The Da Vinci Code” reportedly made an estimated $77 million over the weekend. The Rev. Dr. Scott Murray has some helpful insights about the movie in the May 22 “Memorial Moment” linked here.

I’m sorry for the lateness of today’s post. May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 11:43 AM

May 21, 2006

Ps 140 / Jn 15-16

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Like so many psalms, Psalm 140 prays for God to deliver the psalmist from his enemies. The psalm can be divided into four stanzas with a conclusion. Each stanza has essentially one key petition, and the conclusion expresses the psalmist’s confidence that the Lord will deliver the psalmist and that the faithful will praise the Lord. Note how the arrogance of the wicked is contrasted to the humility of the righteous.

Continuing the major section we began yesterday, John 15-16 gives us Jesus’ teaching regarding the following subjects: the vine and the branches, how the world will react to the disciples, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus’ return to the Father. The teaching about the vine and the branches emphasizes the need for Christians to stay connected to Christ through Word and Sacrament (the fruits, the good works, naturally follow). As Jesus was treated, so Christians should expect to be treated on account of bearing Jesus’ Name. As Jesus’ departure neared, He told the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Guide into all Truth; with the Holy Spirit’s help the disciples would be in true fellowship and eventually have complete understanding, with no more questions.

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

May 20, 2006

Ps 139 / Jn 13-14 / Folo / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

In Psalm 139 David, or an author writing in David’s style, confesses God’s knowledge of him and his thoughts, and the psalmist confesses his own inability to escape God or understand God’s ways, nor can he be out of God’s loving protective reach. (This psalm echoes thoughts found in Job.) God created the psalmist and us, and we can make the same confessions of God and ourselves. God’s “days ordained” (ASV, NIV, NASB) for us are known and sketched out in the book of His revealed Word but not so fatalistically determined that we are like puppets on a string. We want to be like the psalmist and be zealous for the Lord but leave vengeance to God. As in other psalms, the psalmist does not claim to be perfect but to be devoted and faithful to God. Note also how the psalm comes full circle, having confessed God’s searching in the beginning and inviting such searching in the end.

John 13-14 begins the next major section of this Gospel account (chapters 13-17), telling how the disciples received the Word and thus elaborating on 1:12. Today we read of Jesus enacting an example of His love (chapter 13) and of the beginning of His teaching about His departure and the coming of the Holy Spirit (chapter 14). The foot washing should point us to Holy Baptism, which by faith makes us clean. Again we are reminded that the crucifixion is the moment of glorification, as our suffering like Christ is the path to our glory. Christ’s command to love is not “new” but given a new nature in that Christ’s love for them and us has given it new meaning: laying down His life for His friends (John 15:13, and see how John alludes to it in 13:37-38). The beginning of chapter 14 may be familiar with verses regarding our Lord’s preparing us a heavenly place and with Jesus’ statement about Himself being the only way to the Father. To ask something in Jesus’ Name is to ask something in complete accord with Jesus’ will and plans. Jesus does not leave His Church when He ascends, but He changes the way that He is present with Her—being present in Word and Sacrament that believers are able to receive and thereby “see” Him with eyes of faith enabled by the Holy Spirit. In those same ways Jesus gives the peace between God and human beings, the peace of the forgiveness of sins, which is a far different peace than that the world seeks.

Today’s Biblog folo comes after a tidbit yesterday linked to televangelist Pat Robertson’s prediction that a tsunami would hit the coast of the United States. A reader emailed the questions whether Robertson was soliciting donations and whether anyone had heard of the 700 Club helping in disaster situations. I admit the report I linked sure made it sound like he was seeking donations, and I’ve never heard of the 700 Club providing disaster relief, but then I’m not a viewer, either. (There’s not much more here.)

Tidbits today have a concentration of media-related stories. A Missouri community has banned more than three unrelated people living together in the same roof. ... Controversy over the Islamic headscarf apparently was behind a shooting this past week. ... Reminiscent of the Mohammed cartoon controversy, the University of Oregon student newspaper is under fire for printing cartoons of Jesus as a homosexual, but the American Family Association is calling for people to express their outrage in a civil way. ... Religious groups around the world join together to keep calling for a boycott of “The Da Vinci Code” that opened yesterday in theatres worldwide, although it can only show in India with a disclaimer. ... The movie “Brokeback Mountain” was shown in a Kentucky school prompting controversy there. ... A woman’s creative way to communicate her wishes about dying probably won’t be effective. ... And if you need a place to take a nap, don’t sleep in the coffins in Canton, New York!

Remember you are invited to join us tomorrow for Bible class as we finish our study of Christ’s descent into hell using Luther’s “Torgau Sermon” (in this PDF). 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

May 19, 2006

Ps 138 / Jn 11-12 / Christ’s descent into hell / Biblog folos / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Another psalm of David, Psalm 138 praises God for glorifying Himself and answering the prayer of David. The other “gods” in verse 1 are likely pagan gods or the kings who “represent” them. Though the Temple had not yet been built during David’s reign, “temple” in verse 2 could be referring to the Tabernacle David set up, especially as the Hebrew word heykal is not strictly used to refer to the Temple. David prays that other kings will come to worship God when they hear of His deliverance (vv.4-6), and he confesses that the Lord favorably regards the repentant but delivers wrath to the proud. We can especially pray verse 8, knowing that the Lord has a plan for us, too.

Reading John 11-12 today completes the section of St. John’s Divinely-inspired account that tells of Israel’s rejection of Jesus (detailing the second half of 1:11). First we read of Jesus's raising Lazarus (11:1-54), and then we read of the results of Jesus’s Ministry (11:55-12:50). As John makes the family connection for Lazarus he essentially assumes his hearers know the account in chapter 12 that he hasn’t even told yet. In 11:4 Jesus is not mistaken about how Lazarus’s sickness will end, but He is foretelling his resurrection. Jesus in verse 6 is not indifferent to the situation, but He is waiting for the right time, something verses 9-10 bring out as well. Verses 25-26 are a wonderful and clear statement of not only what Jesus gives those who believe in Him but also what He Himself is, and Martha’s confession in verse 27 is also wonderfully strong. Verse 35 tells of Jesus’s quietly weeping after witnessing Mary’s wailing. (I've learned there are equally short verses elsewhere in the Bible.) John subtly repeats and emphasizes details that make the miracle all the more pronounced, and the nearness to Jerusalem and the large number of witnesses help explain why this miracle of our Lord attracted more ire from the Jews than other raisings. Note in verses 45-48 how the Jews did not deny the miraculous signs but refused to let them have their intended result—faith. Caiaphas’ prophecy was wrong in how he understood it, since the Romans still came and destroyed the nation as such, but his prophecy was accurate in that Jesus died for the salvation of all people.

Mary’s anointing that begins chapter 12 is significant, as Jesus explains (v.7). The narrative also gives John an opportunity to tell more about Judas. The Jews welcome Jesus as a king, with victory palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” (“Save!”). Their other statements are drawn from psalms used in the processional Passover liturgy. Jesus’ manner of entry fulfilled prophecy made by Zechariah, as the disciples later came to realize. The Pharisees in verse 19 perhaps said more than they realized, as the next subsection tells how Greeks came to see Jesus. The Greeks’ request in verse 21 is sometimes found inscribed in church pulpits. Jesus again refers to Himself needing to be “lifted up”, that is crucified, and notice well the theology of the cross throughout this section, that things are not as they seem: what appears to be death is life, what appears to be defeat is victory. There is a close connection between Jesus, the Father, and the words of Jesus that ultimately will condemn those who fail to believe in Jesus. Jesus does not come to judge, but judgment is inevitable, and those today who refuse to believe that God would judge anyone do not know the God of Holy Scripture.

Sunday in our Adult Bible Study at 9:15 we will have more on Christ’s descent into hell. We had some good discussion last Sunday as we began to go through Martin Luther’s “Torgau Sermon”, and I got some good feedback from people in the class. All are invited to join us, and you can read up on what you missed here (the sermon is about 5 pages in the middle of this 14 page PDF; we got through paragraph 10 last week).

Yesterday’s return of the tidbits after three days prompted a number of Biblog folos. Regarding NASA’s attempted censorship, one email commented that what made this particular thing to censor odd was that it was a government initiated call to prayer. As for “The Da Vinci Code” movie, one email wondered how it would be interesting if people just stayed away from it, and another email gave this link to a report where one of the movie’s stars says Roman Catholics should at least be glad that Jesus wasn’t portrayed in the movie as gay. (“Codswallop”, by the way, is British slang for “nonsense”.) On the topic of birth control, yet another email gave this link to one of the New York Times’ 10-most read articles over the past two weeks.

Even more tidbits today. A ruling was expected early this morning on whether a Kentucky graduation ceremony could include a prayer. ... A U.S. Senate committee has approved a constitutional amendment on gay marriage. ... Politics meets pornography in a strange case in Alabama. ... Televangelist Pat Robertson turns tele-weatherman and predicts the U.S. coast could be hit by a tsunami. ... Internal conflict in the Anglican (U.S. Episcopal) Church is growing and now involves civil courts. ... The Associated Press reportedly hasn’t corrected a false story about how lesbians perceive pheromones. ... And, this report tells us whether Canadians wrongly think they can be religious apart from corporate worship.

A total of five new Questions and Answers are posted: two beginning with this one and three more beginning with this one. (Remember that the Q&A appear above the line in inverse order of the verses to which they correspond and in order of the verses referenced below the line.) May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:37 AM

May 18, 2006

Ps 137 / Jn 9-10 / Biblog folo / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 137 plaintively remembers the Babylonian captivity. One can say that the psalm has three stanzas: one remembering the sorrow and torment (vv.1-3), the next committing totally to Jerusalem (vv.4-6), and the third praying for the Lord to destroy Edom and Babylon (vv.7-9). (That scheme, while having some merit, separates verses 3 and 4 that seem to belong together.) While sitting by the Tigris and Euphrates, among other canals and rivers, the exiles repentantly mourned their separation from Jerusalem and refused to play their harps or sing joyous psalms of the liturgy simply to entertain the Babylonians. The exiles, however, did not forget God or the language of worship. According to Obadiah and Jeremiah, Edom, the descendants of Jacob’s (Israel’s) brother Esau, helped the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and mistreat its inhabitants. Women and children were not spared in war, and the psalmist prays for violent destruction of the children of Israel’s enemies—not for vengeance alone, but so that a new generation might not raise up the defeated nation. The Old Testament psalmist was zealous for the Lord and His nation, but we in the New Testament Church do not have a “nation” as they did and know the Lord’s kingdom is not of this world. (By the way, Psalm 137:1-4 was the basis for one of the songs in the early 1970s musical “Godspell”, the second act’s “On the Willows”.)

Continuing Israel’s rejection of Jesus, John 9-10 tells of the Sabbath healing of the man born blind and the judgment Jesus’ coming brings (chapter 9), of Jesus the door to the sheepfold and the Good Shepherd (10:1-21), and of the Jews rejecting Jesus testimony of Himself as the Christ (10:22-42, although there is some link to the “sheep” discussion earlier in the chapter). Right at the beginning of chapter 9 (vv.1-5) we note that general consequences of sin in the world and our sinful natures are not to be attributed to specific sins. This healing on the Sabbath can point to our recreation and spiritual healing in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. The man born blind is quite sharp as he contends with the Pharisees investigating the healing (especially 9:24-34). To the once-blind man, the truth about Jesus is as plain as day, but to the seeing Pharisees are blind to the truth. The irony is rich and intended. People today who claim to have understanding and yet do not see the truth about our Lord are similarly condemned.

All of the Old Testament understanding of shepherds as caretakers and leaders is in the background of chapter 10 and helps us understand it. The Pharisees are clearly being targeted as those whom the sheep should not follow because they are false shepherds, thieves, and hirelings. Verses 10, 4-15, and 18 especially are wonderful statements about our Lord’s gift of life and His offering Himself as a sacrifice for us. None of Jesus’s teaching or His miracles convinced the Jews that He was the Messiah, and, when He plainly identified Himself as sharing the Divine substance with the Father, the Jews wanted to stone Him. Jesus argues with them from Scripture, but ultimately again miraculously passes through their midst. The postscript, as it were, to the chapter (verses 40-42) again brings in the testimony of John the Baptizer.

I have one Biblog folo today. After I mentioned in yesterday’s post that Psalm 136:1 is part of both a familiar and less-familiar after-meal prayer, a reader emailed to also point out its use in the liturgy of the Divine Service in The Thanksgiving, a Versicle and Response before the Post-communion Collect (see p.30 in The Lutheran Hymnal). Unfortunately, the other Versicle and Response, which can be sung to the same setting that is given, is seldom if ever used.

After three days without tidbits, they're back! Georgia officials are going to appeal to the Georgia State Supreme Court a judge’s ruling that overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage, while the U.S. Supreme Court lets stand a Washington State Supreme Court ruling potentially giving parental rights to a lesbian splitting from her “partner” (here’s Focus on the Family’s take on the story). ... The First Lady says she doesn’t want gay marriage used as a political issue (here’s the American Family Association’s response to that), and in a somewhat related story Democratic Chairman Howard Dean says his party has a lot in common with Christians, but notice how none of the “values” he identifies are ones you will find in the Bible. ... Medical experts disagree on whether the abortion pill RU-486 is to blame for the deaths of four women in California. ... Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan, a one-time Missouri Synod Lutheran and editor of the American Edition of Luther’s Works turned Eastern Orthodox and Yale University professor, died last Saturday of cancer in Connecticut. ... NASA recently backed down from an attempt to censor employees making a religious announcement, and a ban on Bible study is lifted for public areas of a South Carolina complex that provides housing to those on public subsidies. ... A survey out this week suggests Protestant ministers and churchgoers differ on how to spend a financial windfall. ... And, major celebrities involved with “The Da Vinci Code” movie comment on the controversy over the movie as it premiered at the Cannes film festival, where it got mixed reviews. Meanwhile, a survey in Britain suggested the book by the same name has undermined the Roman Catholic faith there, but a survey in the United States suggests the book has had the opposite affect here.

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:53 AM

May 17, 2006

Ps 136 / Jn 7-8

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Like Psalm 135, Psalm 136 praises the Lord for His creation and redemption. The psalm most likely was sung by alternating between a leader and choir or worshipers, who responded with the refrain: His mercy (KJV; “love” NIV; “lovingkindess” ASV, NASB) endures forever. The refrain appears elsewhere in the Old Testament, perhaps as a sort of shorthand for the use of the whole psalm. Again like Psalm 135, Psalm 136 begins with a three-fold call to praise and recalls God’s creation, deliverance from Egypt, and the conquest of Canaan. Some of us learned verse 1 as a prayer after a meal, which follows Martin Luther’s Small Catechism example, though Luther’s prayer after a meal is longer than what I learned.

John 7-8 continues the major section of St. John’s Divinely-inspired Gospel account telling how Israel rejected the Word, a theme introduced in the second half of 1:11. Chapters 7 and 8 tell of Jesus in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles and a controversy that ensued there then. A notable verse includes 7:5, where St. John indicates that the “brothers” or “kinsmen” of Jesus did not believe in Him. The miracle in view in 7:21 seems to be the healing of 5:1-9. Though the Jews denied they were trying to kill Jesus (7:20), the people in Jerusalem seemed to know of the plot (7:25) and did not really think Jesus was the Christ (in v.26 their answer expects the answer “no”). Jesus knows what they think and addresses their thoughts (7:28-29). Jesus identifies Himself as the fulfillment of all the Feast of Tabernacles pointed to with words that are better translated as follows (vv.37-38).

If one might be thirsty let him come to Me; and let the one believing in Me drink; just as the Scripture has said, “Rivers of living water from within Him will flow.”

In chapter 7 we also find different Jewish readings about the origin of the Messiah, including the right one in 7:42. Nicodemus, a Jewish ruling council member who had come to Jesus in chapter 3, stands up for him a little by suggesting the council itself had broken the law, which they were accusing Jesus of doing. One of the most highly contested sections of Scripture, on a textual basis, is 7:53-8:11, and whatever else we do with the section we must not read it as if Jesus does not take sin seriously. As chapter 8 continues, we see again the themes of darkness and light and testimony. Jesus speaks of His death by crucifixion (the “lifting up” in 7:28, and see 3:14). The freeing-power of the truth is often misapplied by people who quote 8:32, although in our time few people are willing to grant that there even is absolute truth. The Jews’ reaction to Jesus’ statement shows they have a short memory, since the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt for several hundred years. Note in 8:41 the Jewish leaders’ suggestion about Jesus’ parentage. This particular confrontation with the Jews builds and builds until Jesus essentially uses the “I am” name of God (8:58) and prompts the Jews to want to stone Him. He appears to escape from them by some use of His divine attributes (8:59). He escapes at least until the time was right for Him to be lifted up in order to die for your and my sins.

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

May 16, 2006

Ps 135 / Jn 5-6

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 135 itself praises the Lord and calls all to praise Him. With echoes of other psalms, this psalm praises God as Lord of creation and all nations and as their only Redeemer. Most likely composed for the Temple liturgy, the psalm has an initial call to praise with a three-fold use of the Lord’s Name (vv.1-2) and a concluding call to praise with a four-fold use of the Lord’s Name (vv.19-21). In between are stanzas of varying lengths that recall God’s past deeds, including showing favor to and delivering Israel (also called Jacob). There is sharp contrast between God and idols who are made by human beings and can do nothing for them (note, for example, the “winds” God sends in v.7 but how the idols lack “breath”—the same Hebrew word, ruwach, is used in both places). The living Lord dwells in Zion (that is, Jerusalem), and from there His praise goes forth and tells of Him to the entire world.

Also expanding on John 1:11, John 5-6 begins the next major section of the Gospel account, which tells how Israel rejected the Word. Chapter 5 tells how Jesus heals a man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem and how the incident reveals Jesus’s oneness with God and the Jews’ estrangement from God. Chapter 6 tells of Jesus's feeding five-thousand men in Galilee but also of all of His followers except the Twelve leaving Him. Note the importance of water in connection with the healing of chapter 5, even though Jesus actually heals without the use of the water in this case. Jesus offers spiritual resurrection from the dead to those who are willing to hear, which spiritual resurrection also will lead to a physical resurrection one day. Testimony about the Son plays prominently again in this chapter, too. Note well the importance of Holy Scripture in the search for the Son and His being the center of all Scripture. That same Scripture accused the Jews then and still today accuses those who do not believe.

In chapter 6’s report of Jesus’s feeding miracle, note how by Divine inspiration St. John recalls the language of the night Jesus was betrayed and thus the Lord’s Supper. The people had a wrong understanding of the kind of King Jesus is, and so He withdrew from them. Jesus teaches them that more important than plain bread for their bodies is bread that is also food for their souls. Notice in verse 29 how Jesus says the true work God requires is faith, and even that faith Jesus describes as God’s work. Yet, Jesus is not received only by faith, but in the Sacrament of the Altar Jesus is also received by mouth in bread that is His body and wine that is His blood. Jesus’ body and blood feed our bodies and souls. As Holy Baptism is necessary for salvation, so is receiving the Sacrament of the Altar. The Jews did not react well to Jesus’ teaching, but He did not soften it—on the contrary, He pushed the envelope and made it clearer that they were rejecting Him. When asked if the they were also going to leave, Peter answered for the Twelve that there was no place else to go, for Jesus has the words of eternal life. We can and should say the same thing! (In fact, verses 68-69 are used in anticipating the Gospel reading in the liturgy of Divine Service II in Lutheran Worship, and that use carried over into Divine Service I and II in Lutheran Service Book.)

There are two new Questions & Answers here, and thanks as always to those who submit the questions. May the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection fill your heart and comfort you today and always!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:55 AM

May 15, 2006

Ps 134 / Jn 3-4

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

The last of the songs of ascents, Psalm 134 is thought to be a liturgy used as the worshipers left the temple after the evening service. Those departing spoke verses 1-2 to the Levites who kept watch during the night, exhorting them to praise and prayer, and one of the Levites spoke the benediction of verse 3 back as a response.

John 3-4 finishes the section that expands on 1:11 in the prologue: Jesus coming to His own people. Today we read of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (really 2:23-3:21), John the Baptizer’s last witness to Jesus (3:22-36), Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman (4:1-42), and the “second” sign (4:43-54). I draw your attention to the following points.

From the darkness of night, Nicodemus comes to Jesus with an inadequate confession (3:1 and verses following), and Jesus immediately challenges him. The Greek word in verse 3:3 can be better translated born “from above”, though “again” would clearly be implied. Sinful human flesh gives birth to sinful human flesh, and thus all people of any age need the birth from above in Holy Baptism. Notice that even though Jesus does not specifically refer to Holy Baptism we know that is the birth “of water and the Spirit” about which He does speak. Jesus's reference to Moses and the snake later known as Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4) does not come as far out of nowhere as it might seem: the bronze snake was a means of grace beneficial to those who had faith, as is, in this case, Holy Baptism—not to mention also Holy Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar. People love to quote 3:16, and many add 3:17, but few go so far as to quote 3:18, where we should note that the condemnation for unbelief is already taking place. As we read in 3:22 and verses following, John the Baptizer did not lose all his disciples to Jesus (as he did, presumably, Andrew and John the Evangelist [1:35]). Despite what John the Baptizer’s disciples say in 3:26, Jesus probably was not personally conducting Baptisms (4:2). Some Bible scholars differ as to whether the words of 3:31-36 belong to John the Baptizer or St. John the Evangelist; either way the emphasis on testimony begun in the prologue is continued in these verses.

In 4:4 and verses following Jesus teaches a Samaritan woman about living water, which can also be a reference to Holy Baptism, the water of life. The translation of 4:16-18 is in many cases problematic, as most Bible translations render a pronoun differently than the noun to which the pronoun refers. The following is a little more precise.

He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” The woman answered and said to Him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have said well, ‘A husband I do not have,’ for five men you have had, and whom you have now is not your husband, this truly you said.”

Jesus's next answer to the woman (vv.21-24) should not be taken, as it is taken by some, to mean that worship with other believers in a church building is not important or is in any way false worship. If receiving God’s gift of forgiveness sacramentally with other believers was unimportant, then why did the believers in the early church do so? The woman’s trip back into town to bring her friends to Jesus is significant, for it shows how the average believer is to be involved in evangelism or mission outreach: inviting friends to come see and hear Jesus, for us that means to the Divine Service. Again, her testimony to her friends is what leads them to Jesus initially, but Jesus’ own words to them are the basis for their faith (4:39-42). Notice in verse 46 how St. John recalls the miracle of chapter 2 with a simple phrase. Jesus performs another miraculous sign for a believing Galilean official, even though He disparages the general people there for wanting them (v.48). Too often we, too, want such miraculous or telltale signs and wonders in our lives, even though we have great miracles in salvation through water and the word and life-giving Body and Blood in bread and wine.

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:57 AM

May 14, 2006

Ps 133 / Jn 1-2 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 133 is the last of four songs of ascents ascribed to David, and the psalm praises the unity of brothers and sisters in the true teaching of the Church, for there the Lord’s blessings are to be found, namely eternal life. The psalmist uses two figures of speech to picture the impact of such unity: one is oil poured on the head, and the other is dew falling from heaven. At least in Aaron’s case, the anointing oil was intended to run from the head down to the bottom hem of the robe to set the whole priest apart for service to the Lord (Exodus 29:7 and Leviticus 21:10). Mount Hermon, a higher elevation, accumulated water and in a sense sent it as dew to Mount Zion and made it more fruitful. Just as all the people of Israel living in diverse places were to be united, at least in the case of the feasts for which they went up to the Temple, in their place of worship in Jerusalem, so all God’s people living in diverse places are to be united in and made holy by the one Biblical confession of the faith (John 17:17). Where there is unity in the faith there truly is eternal life, and the good news of salvation can be spread out as a blessing to others.

With John 1-2 we move from the letters written by the Apostle John to the Gospel account that bears his name, though he is essentially unnamed in the account. I’ve mentioned a little about John when we began reading his letters, and there’s a little bit about the nature of his Gospel account here. John gives the purpose of writing the Gospel account near its end in 20:30-31. John writes aware of conflict in the church and temptations she faces. For example, John treats at length of Jesus’ conflict with the Jews, perhaps as a result of treating at length of Jesus’ Jerusalem ministry, but in so doing John is also calling the Jews to repentance. There may also be in the Gospel account some regard for followers of John the Baptizer who had not yet begun to follow Jesus Christ. And, probably no surprise to you by now, John also deals with the threat of Gnosticism by emphasizing the humanity and divinity of our Lord.

There are various ways of outlining the book, but any reasonable outline will admit the prologue to the Gospel (1:1-18) basically states the message of the whole book in a highly compressed form, and the rest of the book (1:19-21:25) expands on that theme. The opening chapters, 1:19-5:54, for example, expand on 1:11, Jesus coming to His own people. In the part of that section that we read today we hear the witness of John the Baptizer (1:19-34), the confession of the first disciples (1:35-51), the revelation of His glory in the first sign at Cana (2:1-12), the cleaning of the Temple (2:13-22), and a hint at what is coming when we read chapter 3 tomorrow (2:23-25).

I want to note a few things about today’s reading. Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own rules about Greek grammar to get around the clear statement of Jesus’ divinity in 1:1. Note in 1:3 the role the Second Person of the Trinity is given in creation. In 1:5 we read that not all understand the light nor can the darkness extinguish it (light versus darkness is a recurring sub-theme in this Gospel account). In 1:6 “John” is John the Baptizer, as always in St. John’s account. The “witness”, “testify” (and its “testimony”), and “belief” in verse 7 are all prominent throughout the Gospel. Verses 12-13 with the emphasis on salvation by grace alone find a place in the liturgy of Morning Service without Communion. Verse 14 tells of the Incarnation, the pre-existing Word taking on human flesh, speaking of the Word “tabernacling” among us in human flesh, as God dwelt among His people of old in the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Verse 16 can be understood as calling the law “grace” on top of which is given still more “grace”—the Gospel. John the Baptizer’s statement in 1:29 is steeped in Old Testament meaning and tells that Jesus dies for us and our sin. In 1:51, Jesus in a sense explains Jacob’s vision of a ladder or stairway from heaven. Mary the Mother of our Lord has an important role not only in 2:1-11 but is also found later at the foot of the cross (19:25). Water and wine being used in Jesus’ first miracle in this account is also significant, and they, too, are found later at the cross (19:29, 34). Realize that people who are Christians in a sense know the basic account and that it takes very little in the text for the Spirit to bring a richer meaning to their minds (just as St. John likely knew the other Gospel accounts that covered the “basics”). Jesus' words in 2:19 come back to haunt Him, as it were (see Matthew 26:60-61; 27:40; Mark 14:57-59; 15:29).

Just five tidbits to start your week. The U.S. House approved a measure Thursday that allows military chaplains greater freedom to pray as they see fit, but still not total freedom. ... A looming split over homosexuality has now taken place in the American Baptist Church. ... A Virginia farmer has been told he violated zoning laws when he let a church services be held in his barn. ... An admittedly biased poll says Americans want laws in this country to more closely reflect international public opinion. ... And, the United States is tied with Britain for only the 10th best place in the world to be a mother. Blessed Mother's Day, nevertheless!

I pray you join(ed) us today for the first of two special Sunday morning Adult Bible Study sessions dealing with Jesus’ descending to hell. We are going through a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther that has confessional status among Lutherans. You can find the published translation we will use in the study, along with the introduction and notes that accompanied it, here (a 14 page PDF, of which the sermon is about 5 pages in the middle).

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

May 13, 2006

Ps 132 / 2 Jn, 3 Jn, Jude

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 132, another song of ascents, prays for the son of David reigning over the kingdom of Israel. Unlike other psalms we have been reading recently, this one was likely written earlier, perhaps even for the dedication of the original temple or coronation of the king. There are two main petitions, verses 1 and 10, each of which is followed by two four-line Hebrew stanzas with the same form of an introduction, quotation, and a final couplet. The basis for the first is David’s vow to the Lord, and the basis for the second is the Lord’s oath to David. Verses 9 and 16 are significant in how the ministry that is characterized by God’s righteousness and salvation results in sung praise from His holy people who receive those gifts.

In 2 John, an antilegomenon (a work spoken against), the “elder” (the Apostle John) writes to “the elect lady and her children” (a church). This letter seems to be written to the same recipients as 1 John, and 2 John shares some of the same themes, such as an emphasis on the commandment of love, the reality of the Incarnation, and the Son as the only way to the Father. This letter contains some of the New Testament’s sternest warnings against being a part “of those who pervert the Gospel”.

3 John, another antilegomenon, deals with a missionary problem. John wrote to a Christian named Gaius to support his having welcomed traveling evangelists, but a man named Diotrephes was trying to take over church to which Gaius belonged, had refused to welcome the evangelists, and even opposed the elder, John, by trying to put people like Gaius, who had welcomed them, out of the church. Though addressed to Gaius, 3 John does still have a “catholic” or “universal” aspect. The letter mentioned in 3 John 9 may be 2 John. There does seem to be some tension between 2 John directing people not to welcome traveling evangelists and 3 John praising Gaius for doing so; the difference seems to be that those welcomed were apparently sent by John. Such things must be in tension.

Jude, yet another antilegomenon, was apparently written by a brother of James, the “brother” of Jesus (see the May 6th post). Jude is specifically mentioned in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55 and is referred to in Acts 1:14 and 1 Corinthians 9:5. Jude writes to oppose false teachers within the Church who were teaching that Christian freedom included freedom to sin. Because these false teachers would not separate themselves from the Church, the Divinely-inspired Jude says the Church must separate itself from them. (Verse 12 may well indicate that they should not be participants in the communion of the Church.) Jude makes use of non-canonical writings (vv.9, 14), perhaps because he is trying to address the false teachers on the basis of their own evidence. As noted previously here, Jude bears some striking similarities to 2 Peter. There are those who argue that Jude borrowed from 2 Peter, and there are those who argue that 2 Peter borrowed from Jude; there is insufficient evidence to reach a firm conclusion as to which came first, but knowing that the same Holy Spirit is behind them both seems to me an adequate explanation for their similarities. By the way, the sainted Dr. Barry, former president of the LCMS, used verses 24-25 after his signature.

Tomorrow in our Sunday morning Adult Bible Study we’ll begin a two-part discussion of our Lord’s descent into hell, making use of a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther that has confessional status among Lutherans. The Descent is an important article of faith and should comfort us. If you want to read ahead, you can find the published translation we will use in the study, along with the introduction and notes that accompanied it, here (a 14 page PDF, though the sermon itself is about 5 pages in the middle).

We’re nearly halfway through May, and we haven’t had any questions submitted about our readings this month; remember your questions are always welcome (use the “Submit Questions” link at the left on the main Biblog page). 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 01:35 AM

May 12, 2006

Ps 131 / 1 Jn 4-5 / Christ’s descent into hell / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 131 is the third of four songs of ascents ascribed to David. David confesses humility that leads to inner peace and calls for the nation to do always as he has done. David is sometimes described as the model of humility and inaction, letting God act and draw David out and letting others do as they might, trusting God to ultimately bring justice. The picture of the psalmist’s soul as a weaned child with his mother is a beautiful one, described by one commentator in the following way.

As a weaned child … lies upon its mother without crying impatiently and craving for its mother’s breast, but contented with the fact that it has its mother—like such a weaned child is his soul upon him … his soul, which is by nature restless and craving, is stilled; it does not long after earthly enjoyment and earthly good that God should give these to it; but is satisfied in the fellowship of God, it finds full satisfaction in Him, it is satisfied (satiated) in Him.

Too often our human pride wants to put us on the same level as God, and too often we try to probe things that are beyond our understanding. This psalm is a wonderful prayer to help shape us the way we should be and give us such peace.

1 John 4-5 right away makes it clear that the confession of a person is to be used as the basis for testing them (4:1-6). John also continues addressing his theme of love, making it clear that real love is God’s sacrifice for us (4:7-21). Note in those verses the discussion of God’s dwelling in us. The water and blood in 5:6 in the letter’s original setting primarily refuted a Gnostic false teaching that an ordinary man named Jesus was adopted by the Second Person of the Trinity at his Baptism (water) but abandoned at his Crucifixion (blood). Thus, saying Jesus came by water and blood is to say Jesus always was and always is human and divine. We do not err when 5:6 also reminds us of the water of our Baptisms and the blood we receive in the Sacrament of the Altar (see also John 19:34). Verses 7-8 may differ for you depending on what translation you are reading, as some translations choose to follow late variant readings in some manuscripts of the letter and others do not. (Do not let such variant readings bother you; no central teaching of the faith is at stake in this or any other texts with variant readings.) Jesus as the only revealed way to heaven is expressly stated in 5:11-12. John’s stated purpose in writing the Epistle (5:13) is quite similar to that he gives for writing the Gospel account that bears his name (John 20:31). And, one final note, the only sin that leads to eternal death is unbelief, and neither the prayers of a believer for such an unbeliever nor a “prayer” offered by an unbeliever can do anything about that sin (5:16-17), unless the Holy Spirit leads the unbeliever to come to faith, in which case the person is no longer committing the sin that leads to eternal death

Going back to Psalm 131’s theme of not probing too far into things beyond our understanding, a special two-part Sunday morning Adult Bible Study beginning this Sunday, May 14, at 9:15 will discuss Christ’s descent into hell. We will make use of Dr. Martin Luther’s so-called “Torgau Sermon” given confessional status by The Book of Concord (see Article IX of the Epitome and Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord). Christ’s descent into hell is an important article of faith, especially in that it provides us a great deal of comfort! You can find the published translation we will use in the study, along with the introduction and notes that accompanied it, here (a 14 page PDF), if you want to print them out and read them in advance (otherwise we will have handouts in the class).

I have a "perfect number" of tidbits for your Friday. That Roman Catholic priest in Ohio was convicted of murdering that nun in a ritual killing before Easter 1980. ... Colombia has legalized abortion despite Roman Catholic opposition there. ... The Vatican has approved revised sexual abuse policies for the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. ... There’s some confusion over just why democrats are complaining about a new health bill. ... Ford shareholders leave alone the company’s pro-homosexual equal employment policy. ... Starbucks is another company said to strongly support homosexual causes. ... And a recent study suggests fewer Americans are going to church each week than other studies would indicate.

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:03 AM

May 11, 2006

Ps 130 / 1 Jn 1-3 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 130 is not only another song of ascents, but it is also the sixth of the seven penitential psalms. The psalmist calls from the depths of distress and the grave and pleads with the Lord to hear his prayer (vv.1-2). The psalmist knows and confesses that the Lord would be justified in destroying sinners, but the psalmist also knows and confesses that the Lord forgives those who fear (believe in) Him (vv.3-4). Thus, the psalmist patiently waits for the Lord to do what He has revealed in His Word He will do, waiting through the night of danger for the salvation of the morning (vv.5-6). Finally, the psalmist calls all of Israel to trust in the Lord and in His mercy for full and free redemption (vv.7-8). For the psalm’s expression of human being’s fallen state, the freeness of God’s mercy, and redemption’s nature, Martin Luther called this psalm and others a Psalm of Paul. We have a beautiful setting of this Psalm in The Lutheran Hymnal, #664. (See also the notes on Psalm 130 here.)

1 John 1-3 begins our reading of the three “catholic” or “universal” letters authored by St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. John son of Zebedee and cousin of Jesus outlived all the other apostles and is the only one believed to have died from natural causes, while he was in exile on the island of Patmos. In the book of Acts we read of John working with Peter during his life, and later John apparently moved to Ephesus, where he is thought to have written much of what bears his name in the New Testament. (This letter is thought to have been written between A. D. 90 and 100.) In all of his writings, John proclaims Jesus as Lord, proclaims the reality and power of the Holy Spirit, and speaks knowing the end is near. The first letter is clearly aimed at false teachers who arose within the church but at the time of writing were separate. Presumably early Gnostics, the false teachers essentially claimed to be elite Christians with some form of immediate communion with God. While they deceived some, John was not deceived, and he sees in them the spirit of the antichrist in that they denied the humanity of Christ. The letter, which lacks some usual elements of epistles (including an explicit identification of its author), moves like St. John’s Gospel account in a spiral fashion, with overlapping divisions and subdivisions, giving many key sayings along the way, which is also similar to how the book of Revelation that he also authored works.

As you make your way through today’s reading, be sure to note the vividness of John’s eyewitness testimony (such as 1:1-4). Unlike the claims of the false teachers, fellowship is with Father and Son and with fellow believers, purified of sin by the blood of Christ (1:5-10). The liturgy of Divine Service II in Lutheran Worship made use of 1:8-9 (see Divine Service I and II in Lutheran Service Book), and those verses and the one following are notable for their indictment all of sin. As expressed in both chapters 2 and 3, redeemed children of God live in the light and love according to their vocations (2:1-14). John does not give new teaching per se (2:7), but he reminds them of what they know and accents its truth against the false teaching (2:21). Be sure to realize that John is not saying we will be able to live sinless lives but that our lives should be characterized by doing what is right.

Today's tidbits have an embedded Biblog folo! The U.S. House of Representatives this week could approve a measure allowing military chaplains to pray the way they want to pray. ... Roman Catholics in India want criminal action against U.S. filmmakers, though a cardinal there has supposedly called for people to pray for them, too. ... Israeli rabbis say they won’t necessarily recognize U.S. conversions. ... Planned Parenthood somewhat ironically launches a Mother’s Day fundraising drive. ... As the Ford Motor Company continues to advocate for the homosexual agenda, shareholders will vote on whether to exclude sexual orientation from the company’s employment policy. ... In yesterday’s post I raised some questions about a previously linked study on lesbians’ brains, and now there’s also this and this. ... And finally, a reader emailed this link in a notice that the National Geographic Channel is tonight at 11 p.m. CDT broadcasting a show called “Fire Ants: Texas Border Massacre” (the show will also air at 6 p.m. Saturday, May 13, and at 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 17).

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

May 10, 2006

Ps 129 / 2 Pe / Lesbian brains / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 129, another song of ascents, is dramatically different from the ones we have been reading. This prayer against Israel’s enemies consists of two major stanzas: the first (vv.1-4) declares how the enemies may have won an occasional battle but have not ultimately triumphed over Israel, and, as a result, the second (vv.5-8) confidently prays against the nation’s enemies that remain. Aside from prosperity under David, Solomon, and the occasional other faithful king, Israel had been afflicted from her days in Egypt forward (vv.1-2, which days various Scriptures call Israel’s “youth”). Hostile foreign powers inflicted injuries on Israel, but the Lord delivered the nation (vv.3-4), for the Psalmist the most recent freeing was likely from Babylon. Verse 5 calls for the Lord to judge justly against Israel’s enemies. Verse 6 apparently envisions grass that sprouts on hardened roofs of houses where the soil is not prepared for the grass to grow, nor is the soil deep enough for roots, and from where, as verse 7 indicates, there is thus no harvest. Verse 8 prays that the harvesters of such grass not exchange the usual pleasantries (see, for example, Ruth 2:4). Be sure to realize that the “Zion-haters” of the Old Testament are not to be equated to those in our time who express any sentiment against the nation of Israel but rather to those who speak and work against Christ’s Church.

Another “Catholic Epistle” and antilegomenon, 2 Peter is regarded as the book “with the weakest historical attestation of any book in the New Testament.” There is no unmistakable evidence of it being known and used before the end of the second century or early in the third. Nevertheless, the general address of this letter and the reference to it being a “second letter” make likely Peter’s also writing it from Rome to the same recipients as the first letter, though later (perhaps A. D. 65-68), but there is some internal evidence to suggest the letters were intended for different audiences. Sometimes called “the Epistle of Knowledge”, the letter was written to strengthen and defend Christians’ hope. It is worth noting that most modern “scholars” think someone other than Peter wrote the letter, and they do so for various reasons, including similarities between 2 Peter 2 and the letter of Jude. All of their arguments can be answered reasonably, and there are compelling reasons to believe Peter himself did write this letter, such as its containing vivid eyewitness testimony. Moreover, there is no apparent reason for 2 Peter being a forgery, and the church did admit the letter to the canon despite due caution and criticism at a time when heretical sects were supporting their false teaching with pseudo-apostolic works (such as the Gospel of Judas that has been in the news of late).

2 Peter is variously broken down. One outline sees the body of the letter containing an exhortation to growth in Christian virtues (1:3-11), the purpose and authentication of Peter’s message (1:12-21), a warning against false teachers (2:1-22), and the fact of Christ’s return (3:1-16). Another outline sees the letter dealing with Christian hope: its greatness (1:3-11), its certainty (1:12-2:22), and its delayed fulfillment (3:1-18). Martin Luther said chapter 1 describes Christendom at the time of the pure gospel, chapter 2 in the time of the pope and doctrines of men, and chapter 3 when people despise the gospel and all doctrine, believing nothing.

For my part, as usual, I want to highlight a couple of important verses. In 1:13-14 Peter seems to be referring to revelation from the Lord, possibly that of John 21:18-19, and in 1:15 he could be referring to St. Mark’s account of the Holy Gospel. In 1:16-18 Peter refers to the Transfiguration, and 1:21 is a key verse regarding the inspiration of Holy Scripture. The talking donkey of Numbers 22-24 is referenced in 2:15-16. God’s being outside of time is behind 3:8, as is Psalm 90:4, but we inside time should know God’s patience is for people to repent (3:9, 15). Peter knows at least some of Paul’s letters and puts them on the same level as other Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures (3:15-18).

Today’s Biblog folo has to do with a story linked yesterday about lesbian brains. A reader emailed to point out the small sample size: 12 lesbians, 12 straight women, and 12 straight men. I had missed that when I read the article the first time, and I guess I did not pay close enough attention to the methodology of the study, either. Some studies that claim physiological causes for such things as Alzheimer’s disease study brain tissue after the people have died. This study did not do that, nor did it use MRIs or other equipment to monitor brain activity; this study relied on the twelve individuals to rate their reactions to pheromones, “chemicals derived from male and female sex hormones”. Researchers do not even agree whether people actually respond to these smells. I wanted to read more in the actual report, but when I checked the Table of Contents for the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the article was not listed.

I have some wide-ranging Tidbits for you today. Radio broadcasts of Roman Catholic masses in Ireland are said to interfere with airplane safety. ... Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reportedly says religion has a place in foreign policy. ... Boston College has created a controversy over a scheduled speech by and honorary degree to be given to current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who faculty members say is inconsistent with Roman Catholic beliefs. ... I linked last Friday and Saturday word of concerns over a lesbian member of the Indigo Girls speaking to a United Methodist women’s rally; here is the official word that the rally was just great—I guess you can say that if you don’t think there’s anything wrong with homosexuality. ... And, can you believe people are claiming men’s and women’s restrooms discriminate against transgendered people? Lord, have mercy!

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:27 AM

May 09, 2006

Ps 128 / 1 Pe 3-5 / Folo / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Like yesterday’s Psalm 127, today’s Psalm 128 is another song of ascents dealing with home and family. The “fear” of the Lord in verses 1 and 4 frame verses 2-3 as the psalm’s center and main body; verses 5 and 6 are a concluding benediction likely spoken by a Levite as the people gathered from their homes to worship in Jerusalem. The grape vine and olive tree in verse 3 were especially important in providing the staples of wine and oil. In the benediction you can see the blessings of prosperity, national security, and long life.

With today’s reading of 1 Peter 3-5 we finish this book. Again I want to comment on just a few verses and, as always, invite you to ask about anything not clear to you. In 3:1-2 notice how believing wives are to witness to their unbelieving husbands by their deeds. No denigration of women is intended in 3:7, and we should note that women are equal with men in the order of redemption. Again in 3:13-14 we see that suffering for what is right is a blessing (see also 3:17 and 4:12-19). Significantly 3:15-16 anticipates people asking questions of Christians about the way they live their lives—a striking experience when the Holy Spirit brings it about—and tells how Christians should answer. Christ’s descent into hell to declare victory as part of His exaltation is referred to in 3:18-20. Peter in 3:20-22 gives us the wonderful analogy between the flood and Baptism; I am always struck by how the flood is described as saving Noah and his family when it destroyed everyone else. Christ’s willingness to suffer innocently motivates us to do the same (4:1-2). The expected coming of Christ keeps us focused on minimizing sin in our lives and doing the good deeds of love (4:7 and verses following). Peter’s exhortation to the elders (that is, pastors) in 5:1-4 echoes Jesus’ reinstating Peter after His resurrection (John 21:15-17) and is used in liturgies of ordination. There’s a vivid description of the devil in 5:8-9, and it seems Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” echoes these verses:

Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us.
This world's prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He's judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

One final note, Peter’s co-worker Mark in 5:13 is commonly held to be St. Mark the Evangelist, who is thought to have recorded from Peter’s preaching the Gospel account that bears his name and whose family may have otherwise been significant.

I have a brief Biblog folo: in last Friday’s Biblog a tidbit dealt with teens exposed to Harry Potter not hearing anything against it in church, and a reader emailed about concerns about the cliquish nature of the stories and about reading books children brought home and discussing the books with them. I agree on both counts!

I have five Tidbits for you today. New research claims to support the position that sexual orientation is physiologically determined. Even if the claim is true, homosexuality remains a sin. ... A Virginia businessman is being told he must reproduce gay videotapes that go against his Biblical values. So much for free enterprise! ... The University of Texas capitalizes on the Judas Gospel and The Da Vinci Code, and the University’s resident liberal “Bible scholar” takes a surprisingly conservative view. ... After ten seasons the TV show “7th Heaven” last night aired its last episode. ... And, just in time for Mother’s Day here’s an estimate on what stay-at-home moms are worth. (I’d say, “priceless”.)

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:44 AM

May 08, 2006

Ps 127 / 1 Pe 1-2 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

The only of the songs of ascents ascribed to Solomon, Psalm 127 gives wisdom regarding home and family. The first of the two stanzas (vv.1-2) seems to deal more with physical shelter, security, and food; the second of the two stanzas (vv.3-5) seems to more with those who benefit from the blessings of the first stanza. We may say that we build a house, keep its occupants safe, and put food on the table, but ultimately such blessings are from the Lord. Children especially were a blessing in Old Testament times when a family’s inheritance would be lost without them and when witnesses were needed to defend against false accusations at the “courts” that took place at cities’ gates. In New Testament times of Gentiles grafted into the family tree of the Church, the new and more important kinship ties are those of brothers and sisters in Christ born through the waters of Holy Baptism and united by and in the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus, Jesus and Paul can downplay the need for usual family relations and emphasize the powerful witness of those who forego such relationships to witness to the nearness of the end.

Continuing with the so-called “catholic” or “universal” letters, today we read 1 Peter 1-2. This book, among the homologoumena (those books about which all speak the same, that is, favorably), is presented and taken as the work of the Apostle Peter. He who three times denied the Lord on the night in which He was betrayed, strengthened the brethren as the Lord called him to do (Luke 22:32). The letter was most likely written from Rome (“Babylon” in 1 Peter 5:13) during the persecution of Christians there, which lead up to Peter’s own martyrdom. (An approximate date is A.D. 64.) Peter addresses Gentile Christians throughout the five provinces of Asia Minor regarding their being persecuted. Those congregations are generally thought to be more the territory of Paul than Peter, but Paul may have asked Peter to write the letter, for it was at least recorded by Silvanus (also known as “Silas”), who was a companion of Paul. The central theme of hope in the face of persecution was certainly one the two apostles shared.

In the following I comment on a few verses from today’s reading. You see the beneficial nature of suffering described in 1:7 as refining and purifying faith. Holy living is expected in 1:14-16 for God is holy. If you know the Small Catechism’s explanation to the Second Article of the Apostolic Creed, you will see in 1:18-19 a basis for Luther’s words in that explanation. The “born anew” of 1:23 is a slightly different expression from the “born from above” in John 3:7. And, so born we should crave pure milk (2:2, where milk is not used negatively in contrast to meat, as in Hebrews 5:12-14). Much is made of the holy and royal priesthood of the Baptized (2:5, 9), but we must not make more of it than the passages will bear. Every believer is to make sacrifices of praise and confession to God, as every believer’s priesthood is first and foremost toward God. Not every believer is to preach or administer the sacraments, as not every believer’s priesthood is first and foremost toward the World. The World may witness believers’ praise and confession, but the stronger witness to the world is that of good deeds that prompt questions and give us occasion to give an answer or defense of our faith (more on that tomorrow with 3:15). Note how suffering for things we have done wrong is not to our credit but only suffering that is unjust, such as that Christ suffered (2:19-21 and verses following).

I have a trio of Tidbits to start your work week. A Florida scientologist says he has super powers after a Los Angeles training program, and Tom Cruise’s Scientology antics may have affected his box office take this past weekend. ... Bono, lead singer for the one-time Christian rock group U2, gets to be news editor of a British newspaper for a day. ... And, here’s a story about the “quicker vicar”. I was a runner when I was a vicar but not quite like this (and, by the way, vicars in our church body are student pastors but regular clergymen in England).

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

May 07, 2006

Ps 126 / Jas 4-5 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 126 seems to celebrate at least some of the exiles’ return from Babylon. There are two stanzas of, as we have them, three verses each (four lines each in the Hebrew): the first celebrating the return so far, and the other praying for the return still to come. Whether your translation makes it clear or not, verses 1 and 4 begin with the same Hebrew phrase, which is why it is thought at least some of the captives are not yet returned. The “dreaming” in verse 1 is because the deliverance was so great and perhaps so like they had dreamt that they could hardly believe it. While laughter can be used negatively, the context in verse 2 would suggest a more positive use, as in joy. (Laughter also bridges nicely from the dreams of verse 1 since laughter can be a response to something unbelievable, as when Sarah laughed in Genesis 21:6.) The streams in the Negev (v.4) are dry in the summer but run again when “winter rains renew their flow”. Verses 5-6 are a beautiful picture of how God turns sorrow to joy in many aspects of our lives, whether from repentance to faith, suffering to relief, or death to resurrection.

Reading James 4-5 today finishes the book. We read yesterday the first three of the six units of James’ central call to turn in repentance, and today we read the other three units: to turn from assimilation to the world to God (4:1-12), from the world’s self-assurance and accumulation of wealth (4:13-5:6), and to rest in the Lord and patient good works anticipating His Coming (5:7-20). “Unanswered” prayer is a theme that occurred yesterday in 1:5-8 and recurs again today in 4:2-3 and 5:13-18 (on which, see below). The invitation in 4:8 is an important one, I think, and needs to be properly understood. Of course we cannot by our own reason or strength come to God, but once the Holy Spirit has given us new life in faith we can and should come to God’s altar to receive the forgiveness of sins, and we do so by way of the Baptismal font, where more than our hands were washed—our hearts were purified. Haughty and unbelieving laughter is to change to the sorrow of repentance (4:9). The command not to judge a neighbor in 4:12 must not be understood in such a way as to forbid God’s Word being used to judge and in so doing to prepare one for repentant faith. Deo volente (or just “DV”), “God willing”, is a good expression to use, James says in 4:15, not only to remind ourselves but also to witness to others. The anointing of the sick described in 5:13-15 is used by some and even counted as a sacrament by some of those, but we should remember that prayers in faith are prayed according to God’s will and that those are only answered positively when God wills for the person to be made well. The confession of sins described in 5:16 is not as one would confess to a pastor but as one confesses to a brother or sister in Christ the sins one has committed against him or her. As for 5:19-20, we can be one of God’s tools for bringing people back into the fold of faith where the blood of Christ covers a person’s many sins.

You'd never guess it was a weekend for all the Tidbits! The head of a Mormon sect makes the list of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted. ... A Roman Catholic priest in New Jersey confesses to stealing $2 million from his parish. ... A Bible college student has confessed to setting fire to an adult bookstore in Tennessee. ... The Massachusetts Supreme Court may keep people in that state from voting on whether to overturn the Court’s legalization of gay marriage. ... The Episcopal church in California yesterday elected a heterosexual bishop who is expected in June to get the final nod for the post. ... Southern Baptists “repent” of “triumphalism” and other “sins”. ... And today is Internet Evangelism Day! In its honor, why not invite a friend or two (or more) to join you in following the Daily Lectionary? Send this link in a personal email to join us!

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

May 06, 2006

Ps 125 / Jas 1-3 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Another songs of ascents, Psalm 125 speaks to the blessings of the Lord upon His faithful people, even when someone wicked rules the land. I want to make just two comments. First, wicked rulers might try to corrupt righteous people in the land (v.3), but the righteous should never obey such rulers when their commands go against God’s Word. Rather, the righteous who have vocations to do something about the wicked rulers should take action, and the rest should wait for God to deliver them. Second, the “good” that we do for which the Lord rewards us with “good” (v.4) is produced by the Holy Spirit working in us through faith.

Reading James 1-3 today takes us into the next of what have been called the Catholic (that is, universal) Letters, which specific letter is also among the antilegomena, those works “spoken against”, meaning their position in the canon was at some point disputed or doubtful. James may have been one of the first New Testament letters written, likely during the period covered by Acts 1-12. The letter is thought to have been sent by James to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel, perhaps those scattered after Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1; 11:19). Of the various men named James in the New Testament, the author is thought to be, along with Jude, a "kinsman" of the Lord (see, for examples, Matthew 13:55; John 7:2-5). James later rose to be the leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17) and thus presided over the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:13-29) and greeted Paul (Acts 21:18). (According to tradition, James was martyred about A.D. 66, and the Roman sack of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was even seen by pious Jews as God’s punishing Israel for putting James to death.) As Jesus warned the Jews of His day about saying one thing and doing another, so James warns the Jewish Christians about only believing without doing. He draws on the Words of the Lord and the Old Testament. Like Hebrews, the book is a homily in letter form, and its great theme is one of repentance. Martin Luther, the first of whose 95 Theses was to live every day in repentance, could object to the book’s treatment of justification by faith (especially as it was used by his opponents) but could also praise the book, at least for its presentation of the law of God.

James’ call to repentance can be broken down into six units, each with two aspects. Today in James 1-3 we read three of those calls: to turn to God (1:2-27); to turn from a self-contradicting faith to true and active faith (2:1-26); and to turn from human wisdom to Divine wisdom (3:1-18). Right away in the letter we are reminded of the benefits of persecution (1:2-4, 12). And, James makes it clear that while God tests people temptation is from the devil (1:13-15). The dangers of the tongue are also clear, already in 1:26 (developed further in 3:3-12). A key verse in the next part is 2:10, which verse convicts us all of all sin. Note well in the discussion of faith and works (2:14-26) that the works are the evidence of faith and not the basis for salvation—salvation only comes by grace through faith.

Sorry if there's a majority of gay Tidbits today. But, first, on President Bush’s spokesman’s last day he refuses to comment on the chaplain prayer flap. ... The Waco family of a Baptist pastor is suing after the pastor last October was electrocuted during a Baptismal ceremony. ... Episcopal eyes are on California today where a the election of a gay bishop could split the denomination. ... Gay activists’ own research is said to show children adopted by gays are more likely to be gay. ... A campaign starts in schools to tell children it is possible to “change” their sexual preference. (I hope they emphasize the Gospel as the source of such transformation.) ... I didn’t realize when I posted the link yesterday that the lesbian activist scheduled to speak today to a United Methodist women’s rally was one of the Indigo Girls. ... And people are said to be taking their facts from The Da Vinci Code because they aren’t learning church history anywhere else.

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 12:30 AM

May 05, 2006

Ps 124 / Heb 11-13 / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

One of the four songs of ascents ascribed in some manuscripts to David, Psalm 124 praises the Lord for delivering Israel from enemies (most likely chiefly Babylon) who not only attacked the nation but held it captive (v.7). Unlike other psalms where the liturgical use likely called for responses by half verse or whole verse, a leader likely spoke verses 1-5 of this psalm, and the people responded with verses 6-8. Note how the people’s confession of God’s greatness includes an admission of their own nothingness. In that same vein, we appropriately use verse 8 in the preparatory part of the Divine Service in The Lutheran Hymnal and Lutheran Service Book (Divine Service III).

Today is the last of the four promised days, so with Hebrews 11-13 we take in the book’s final plea for persevering in the faith (chapters 11-12) and its concluding material (chapter 13). The definition of faith in 11:1 is significant, especially in the King James where the language better conveys how faith is the actualization of our hope. Those who want proof before they believe do not understand the very nature of faith! This definition of faith is important in the verses that follow, the vast majority of which compose the so-called roll-call of faith, with various “heroes” listed and described. Note well that none of these were perfect, and that all were forgiven and saved by faith, with their deeds being the Spirit-wrought fruit or proof of their faith. If you have been reading with us, most of the events of chapter 11 should be familiar, and others will be as we continue in the Old Testament in the months ahead. Note especially how the author of Hebrews considers Isaac in some sense to have died and been resurrected (11:17-19). Do not misread verses 39-40: all those listed lived by the promise of the Messiah, while we live with His fulfilling the promise. Chapter 12 draws on athletic imagery that would be familiar to the original audience in Roman, and we should be inspired by their faithful examples to be faithful ourselves (12:1-3). The corrective discipline God applies to us is a sign of His love and having adopted us as His children (12:4-13). Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion are beautifully contrasted in 12:18-24, and the author encourages his original audience and us faithfully to join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in the Divine Service (12:22-29). The final, concluding material of the book includes a wonderful statement about God’s unchanging nature (13:8), a reminder that the Christian altar is closed to those who do not confess the faith (13:10), an exhortation to offer the sacrifice of praise and confession (13:15), and a reminder that the people’s leaders are accountable to God for their service as undershepherds and what the implications of that relationship are (13:17).

I have ten Tidbits for you today. A United Methodist minister’s decision to deny an openly gay man church membership is essentially upheld by the U.M.C.’s highest “court”. ... Meanwhile, a federal appeals court says its okay to punish a Baptist prison chaplain for denying an openly gay man to lead a praise band. ... A Navy chaplain faces a court-martial for praying in front of the White House. ... Somehow not inconsistently, the United States is fighting to free people in Afghanistan and Iraq, but so far there’s reportedly a long way to go towards religious freedom. ... The top Roman Catholic in England wants amnesty for illegal Christian immigrants in that country. I guess the fact that the so-called Christians have come into that country illegally makes no difference. Even Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon. ... The Vatican excommunicated two bishops and two would-be bishops in its dispute with China. ... A group of United Methodist women are protesting a lesbian activist scheduled to address their gathering. ... A new pro-abortion report allegedly overlooks negative evidence and comes from a biased source--part of Planned Parenthood. ... That agency, meanwhile, is said to be luring women to their centers with free iPods. ... And a new Barna poll in this country says teens are exposed to Harry Potter with little to no teaching against him in their churches.

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

May 04, 2006

Ps 123 / Heb 8-10 / Chaplains’ prayers / Marriage protection / Day of Prayer / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Another of the songs of ascents, Psalm 123 is a simple prayer humbly asking for God to show mercy. In some ways echoing Psalm 122, this psalm uses figures of speech to illustrate the people’s dependence on God (as slave to master, or maid to mistress). Verses 3-4 indicate the immediate reason for the prayer is the contempt and ridicule the faithful were suffering at the hands and tongues of the proud and arrogant.

Reading Hebrews 8-10 begins and finishes the major section dealing with the superiority of the work of Jesus, our High Priest. The section can be broken down into subsections dealing with a better covenant (chapter 8), a better sanctuary (9:1-12), a better sacrifice (9:13-10:18), and exhortations based on those things (10:19-39). Especially in these chapters, the divinely-inspired author of Hebrews explains how things in the past were “types” that prophetically pointed to their fulfillments, sometimes called “antitypes”. In 8:8-12 the author quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34, what is the longest New Testament quotation from the Old Testament, reasoning that there must have been something wrong with the old covenant if there was a need for a new one. If you have read through the Pentateuch, the opening verses of chapter 9 will be a summary of familiar details. Notice the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice expressed in 9:12 (see also verses 26, 28), and notice in 9:13-14 how the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice are delivered sacramentally to benefit those who have faith. Significantly in 10:5-7 words from Psalm 40:6-8 are put on the lips of Jesus. Our communion liturgy echoes 10:22 as the pastor invites us to confess our sins and receive forgiveness; note the reference to Holy Baptism. Verse 24 especially encourages us to continue to attend the Divine Service. Those who reject the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection cannot be forgiven, for faith in Him is the only way revealed to us of being forgiven (10:26-27). Similarly 10:29 warns us against disregard for the Blood of Christ, including treating it as something “common” that anyone can receive without consideration of what they believe. The imminent coming of the Lord drives the author to encourage his original audience and us to persevere in the faith, even in the face of increasing persecution (10:32-39).

Chaplains’ prayers have been the topic of quite a number of tidbits here since the Biblog began (most recently there was one in the April 6th Biblog post). I have come to accept that the various branches of the U.S. military do not allow public prayers in Jesus Name, and I have been relieved to know that the military’s various guidelines allow a chaplain to abstain from praying publicly against conscience and to do so without penalty. What surprised me, and I suppose should not have, was word this week that the leader of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is more concerned about the possibility chaplains would not pray and be penalized than about the possibility that they would pray under such restrictions. But, anyone who has been aware of problems in the Synod since September 11, 2001, knows how the leader of the Synod handles public prayer that is less than faithful. (You might also note what is being reported in that news release about the state of the Synod’s finances and the reason given for why.)

News came last week that the LCMS’s leader is one of a group of religious leaders supporting the so-called Marriage Protection Amendment that’s supposed to come up in Congress in June. (You can read the proposed text of the amendment here.) The Synod’s leader cited society’s need for marriage and support of the people in the Synod for the measure as reasons for speaking out; I guess God’s view of marriage in the Bible doesn’t merit mentioning. (Not even marriage’s reflecting Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church, was mentioned—maybe because Jews joined in the statement?) As do homosexual advocates, the religious leaders pointed to the divorce rate as something that denigrates marriage, but they blamed the courts instead of permissiveness within their own church bodies, where no doubt some of the blame also lies.

Today, May 4, is the 55th Annual National Day of Prayer. You can find more information about the Day here. If you were at Grace last Sunday, you may have received a bookmark with the “2006 National Prayer” by Dr. Henry Blackaby. I found the prayer to be lacking, in that it overlooks God’s greatest revelation of mighty works in the Person of Jesus Christ and asserts promises made to our country that to my knowledge God has never made. Instead, you might pray the prayer that follows.

Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage. Grant that we remember Your generosity and constantly do Your will. Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action. Make us who came from many nations with many different languages a united people. Defend our liberties, and give those entrusted with the authority of government the spirit of wisdom that there may be justice and peace in our land. When times are prosperous, let our hearts be thankful; and in troubled times do not let our trust in you fail; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

(The preceding prayer was slightly adapted from Lutheran Worship #123, found on page 126 in the pew edition and 139-140 in the Altar Book.)

All that and Tidbits too! A federal judge is telling the City of San Diego to remove a cross that’s been part of a war memorial for more than 50 years. ... Kansas’ House of Representatives wants schools in the state to teach about abortion and fetal development. ... Pope Benedict may move to liberalize the Roman Catholic position on contraceptives. ... Roman Catholic officials in Germany want to block the broadcast of “Popetown”. ... And a poll suggests Canadian clergy are stressed out.

There are three new Q&A posted: this one and two others starting here. 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

May 03, 2006

Ps 122 / Heb 5-7

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Psalm 122 celebrates and prays for Jerusalem, though not so much the city as what the city represents: God’s peaceful Presence among His people and His ruler who protects the people. That such words could be said of Jerusalem even after the exile is a strong witness to the certain hope the people had in God and His Anointed One, even as we today look not for Mideast peace and a temple in the literal Jerusalem but for the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-2).

Hebrews 5-7 concludes the section dealing with Christ’s superiority to the priests in Aaron’s line (4:14-7:28). We read how Christ can deal gently with us because of His position (5:1-5). The quotation of Psalm 110:4 in 5:6 will be important as the author develops the contrast between the line of Aaron’s priesthood and that of Melchizedek (see chapter 7 and Genesis 14:18-20). The author exhorts his original audience and us today to grow in faith, moving from the food of infants to the food of those who are more mature (5:11-6:3). The exhortation turns into a warning about how those who reject salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ cannot be saved because they reject the very thing that can save them (6:4-12). The author’s argument about Melchizedek’s priesthood being greater than that of Aaron, who was a descendant of Levi, is in part based on the fact that Abraham, arguably in whom Levi was as a seed, tithed to Melchizedek (or more precisely, to God, but thereby benefiting God’s priest, Melchizedek).

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

May 02, 2006

Ps 121 / Heb 1-4 / Folos / Without shepherds / Tidbits

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

You can imagine people making their way up to Jerusalem chanting Psalm 121 responsively by whole verse, as if the dialogue were taking place within the pilgrim’s own heart. (We have a beautiful setting for chanting this psalm: #665 in The Lutheran Hymnal.) Psalm 121 is another “song of ascents” (NIV, NASB; “degrees” KJV), and its verses step through thoughts. The Lord watching over the psalmist is the psalm’s major theme, and its assurance is as true for us as it was for the psalmist. Remember the benefits of shade (vv.5-6) that we have seen in previous psalms. Verse 8’s “going out and coming in” (the NIV colloquializes the order) can be understood as “from and to” the Lord’s Presence in Jerusalem. We rightly use part of this verse of Holy Scripture in the Baptismal liturgy. After our Baptism puts us in God’s Presence, we go out and come in repeatedly until the last day when we come in and stay for eternity.

Reading Hebrews 1-4 today makes it the first of four days we get to spend reading one of my favorite New Testament books. The book was probably originally more of a typological and practical sermon based on Old Testament texts than a letter like those we have been reading (see Hebrews 13:22). The name “Hebrews” was likely added later when the book was placed in the New Testament, though its hearers or recipients were surely Jewish Christians being tempted to revert to Judaism to avoid persecution. For various reasons, a usual theory is that those to whom the book’s words were originally intended were probably in Rome. There is less agreement on just who wrote the letter, with some saying Paul, others Timothy, still others Barnabas, and yet others—including Martin Luther—Apollos. (The lack of a clearly identified author within the letter itself may be one of the reasons why it was among the “antilegomenon”—works that were sometimes spoken against. The letter was most likely written before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple there. The author emphasizes Jesus’ humanity and His work as all-sufficient Prophet, Priest, and King, and the author is well aware that we are living in the world’s final days, and that urgency drives the exhortations of this book.

Today Hebrews 1-4 takes us through the Prologue (1:1-4) and into the first major section, that dealing with Christ’s superiority to significant figures of the Old Covenant (1:5-7:28). Within that section, today we read of Christ’s superiority to the angels (1:5-2:18), Moses (3:1-4:13), and the Aaronic priests (4:14-7:28). The opening verses, 1:1-2, make Christ’s Words on par with the Old Testament and also tell us not to expect any other revelation like His. These verses are also used in the liturgy of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Service Book. Jesus’ sitting down is an important point in the author’s reasoning that the work of purification of sins is done (1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). Notice how the author uses various Old Testament passages to support his initial point regarding Jesus, Who reigns, being better than the angels, who serve. We also see how the signs and wonders confirmed the Word of salvation (2:4), which Word, if we ignore, we cannot be saved (2:1-3). The sanctification referred to in 2:11 will be a recurring theme. What great comfort there is for us that Jesus shared our humanity and experienced what we experience (2:14-18; see also 4:15). Jesus is not the new Moses, as some fancy Him, but as the Son better than Moses the servant (3:1-6). The author bridges nicely from the discussion of the Day of Salvation and the coming rest to his discussion of that rest, greater under Jesus than Moses (4:1-13). Hebrews 4:12 is a wonderful statement about God’s Word, and verse 16 speaks an exhortation to come to the Divine Service for us to receive the gift that best meets our need, felt or not.

Today I have a few follow-ups to previous posts, what I like to call Biblog folos. First, in the April 29th post I linked to an article about a top Vatican official urging a boycott of the Da Vinci Code movie. A reader emailed to highlight the following quotation from the article.

[If] such lies and errors had been directed at the Koran or the Holocaust they would have justly provoked a world uprising.

The reader agreed, and I do, too. Perhaps Christians are more tolerant than we are given credit for. Also on the topic of “that movie” and my little rant April 27th against how the news media handle Christianity, a reader sent this comment found elsewhere on the internet about a “60 Minutes” Sunday night about the movie.

Just watched the 60 Minutes "Da Vinci Code" piece. Very good expose of the central thesis as a complete hoax by a French kook in the 1960s. I taped it off and may use it in Bible class. It was very well done, and I must commend CBS for an excellent piece of investigative journalism.

So says Pastor Kevin Vogts of Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church, Dakota Dunes, South Dakota.

Second, in the April 30th Biblog post I linked to a report about Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean wanting to do away with churches’ tax exemption if they don’t stop getting involved in politics. A reader emailed to say the tax exemption for protected religious speech is a “good trade”, but the same reader pointed out that “those who hate Christian values are out to take both, as they have already done in Canada and some ‘Lutheran’ countries.” If not already, soon, I am sure.

Third and finally for my folos, you’ve heard people say “My God would/wouldn't do this or that," regardless of what the Bible says about the God, but a reader emailed me something said by hip-hop star Mary J. Bilge, quoted in Blender magazine, that takes the cake (or at least the bling).

My God is a God who wants me to have things. He wants me to bling. He wants me to be the hottest thing on the block. I don't know what kind of God the rest of y'all are serving, but the God I serve says, “Mary, you need to be the hottest thing this year, and I'm gonna make sure you're doing that.” My God's the bomb!

If you’re not hip to bling, you can check this out (but if you don't know "the bomb", this isn't going to help). And for just a little more on that story, and on reinforcement of your decision not to see “MI3” read this.

As part of its “Day without Immigrants” coverage, one of the Austin TV stations Monday night titled a story “Sheep without shepherds?” The title seems to be a reference to Matthew 9:36 and Mark 6:34. Of course, we just had “Good Shepherd Sunday”, so one almost wonders if this was another attempt to say “Jesus was an immigrant” (see Monday’s Biblog post), as if Hillary Clinton was right and that our immigration laws would have criminalized Jesus (see, most recently, the April 11th post). Again, I think few people have problems with legal immigrants; the problem is with those who are illegal immigrants. Incidentally, the hill country sheep didn’t lose their shepherds, as those immigrants, legal or not (the story didn't say, I don't think), stayed on the job.

I have just three Tidbits today. A number of American Baptist Churches are reportedly leaving their national body they find to be too liberal on homosexuality. ... Gay marriage apparently isn’t as popular as activists want you to think. ... And, don’t set this aside to read later!

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:11 AM

May 01, 2006

1 Sa 2:1-10 / Tit & Phm / Jesus and immigration

He is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

With the beginning of a new month is a new seasonal canticle—1 Samuel 2:1-10, which is known as Hannah’s Prayer or Song. You can read some information about this canticle in the background for this month’s reading (available as a downloadable PDF here). We will read more about Hannah and Samuel when we read the books that bear his name in June and July, but you can appreciate the canticle without all of that context. Know that Hannah’s words can and should find a place on our lips. We experience the great reversal she describes so well; we experience the great reversal by God’s mercy and grace raising us from our death of repentance to new life in Him.

Reading Titus and Philemon today finishes up St. Paul’s letters. The book of Titus, the last of the Pastoral Letters (see the background on them here) is similar in many ways to 1 Timothy. Paul’s coworker Titus had been especially helpful to him in his communication with the Corinthians, and in the case of this letter the church in question is in Crete, where the congregations needed much work to be firmly established. Paul wrote to Titus to encourage him, to help him combat false teaching threatening the church there, to give him advice in his work of building up the church there, and to sanction Titus’ work with Paul’s own apostolic authority. The book of Philemon is one of the Captivity Letters (see the background on them here), and it is also much more of a personal letter than any of Paul’s other letters that are preserved in the Bible. In fact, the letter itself suggests there was little difference between Paul as the official apostle and Paul as the private person. Philemon is generally thought to have been a slave-owner in Colossae, and apparently a slave of his named Onesimus had made his way to Rome and somehow met up with Paul. The letter of Philemon was sent with the letter to the Colossians, and in it Paul asks not only for Philemon to forgive Onesimus but also for Philemon essentially to free Onesimus to return to Paul.

Aside from the introductory and concluding remarks, the letter to Titus can be seen to cover four major points: appointing elders (that is, pastors), 1:5-9; exposing false teaching, 1:10-16; edifying (that is, building up) the church, 2:1-3:8; and excluding from the church persistent false believers, 3:9-11. Elders (pastors) and overseers (bishops) are the same people in Paul’s treatment in this letter, with the terms perhaps emphasizing maturity or experience and responsibility, respectively. Note how the way we live our lives is to confess our faith (the link between 1:6 and 2:1 and verses following), with the contrast between the false teachers and Titus being most pronounced. The ultimate motivation for the way we live our lives is the redemption (justification) and transformation (sanctification) that Jesus brings about (2:11-14). Titus 3:5b-7 is a strong statement regarding Holy Baptism, part of the “trustworthy saying” to which Paul refers in 3:8. The “divisive person” of 3:10-11is a “heretic”, someone who taught and believed false teaching; such divisions are necessary (see 1 Corinthians 11:18-19, where there should not be divisions in the form of “sects” but there must be divisions in the form of “heresies”).

The letter to Philemon, like the letter of Jude, is treated as one chapter, only designated by verse numbers: the greeting (1-3), thanksgiving and prayer (4-7), principle plea for Onesimus (8-21), and the closing matters (22-25). You quickly see that Philemon and his wife and perhaps son housed a congregation in Collosae. Paul refers to Onesimus as his convert (“son”, v.10) and makes a play on his name, which means “useful” (v.11). Paul intercedes for Onesimus in a way similar to how Christ intercedes for us (and a way also recalling the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-36).

I almost hate to bring it up again, but last night on the news in a story previewing an immigration rally to be held at the state capitol today I saw another big sign that made a connection between Jesus and immigration. Was Jesus an immigrant? Well, I suppose in a sense you could say according to His Divine nature He was a stranger to to this world (as we are, in a similar sense), but, since He was born a Jew in Jewish land, I don't think He was an immigrant in the sense we usually use. Even when He went to Egypt He was only there temporarily, and under no circumstances did Jesus do anything illegal. You see, much of the political rhetoric out there trying to persuade people to go easy on those who have come into this country illegally appeals to our own immigrant backgrounds as if we are all in the same boat, if you will pardon the play on words. All immigrants may have been created equal, but, based on how they got here, all immigrants are not now equal, at least not in the eyes of the law. Like many of your immigrant ancestors, my immigrant ancestors (at least to the best of my knowledge) did not come into this country illegally. Yes, we are a nation of immigrants, except for those who are descendants of Native Americans. However, we are not, or at least have not been, a nation of illegal immigrants, perhaps until now. Jesus was not about illegal immigration, no matter what the signs might say. Jesus was and is about love and forgiveness, but not the kind of love and forgiveness that seeks the elimination of temporal consequences for breaking temporal laws, laws which on the basis of Romans 13 can legitimately be argued to have God's own authority behind them.

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