Monday, January 31, 2022

Mark's thoughts: How should a Lutheran view the Apocrypha?


In recent years, the Apocrypha has received increased attention among Lutherans.  Concordia Publishing House even published The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition with Notes.  There is no doubt that the Apocrypha is a key resource for understanding the history, thought and piety of Second Temple Judaism.  It is also certainly true that the early and medieval Church used the Apocrypha as Scripture.  It is not surprising that this background left an impression on the Lutheran Church as the Apocrypha held an ambivalent status that surprises a modern Lutheran who knows only the Old Testament and the New Testament in the Bible.

However, an examination of the history of the Old Testament canon, of Luther’s translation of the Bible, and his own comments about the Apocrypha are a helpful caution against over emphasizing the importance that the Apocrypha has for Lutherans.  While they may provide interesting and pious reading, they are not inspired Scripture and in number of cases provide accounts that most likely did not occur.

The books of the Old Testament were written between ca. 1400 B.C. (Pentateuch) and ca. 400 B.C. (Chronicles).The evidence indicates that the Jews had a fixed collection of authoritative works in the first century A.D. (most likely this had come into being during the time of the Maccabees, second century B.C.).While the temple stood, the standard for the canon revolved around which books were laid up in temple (see Josephus, Antiquities, 3.1.7; 4.8.44; 5.1.17).  In his Antiquities he relates how they were laid up in the temple and describes this as if it had been that way for quite some time. Josephus in the first century A.D. Against Apion (1.37-43) tells of how there were 22 books.

Other evidence indicates a fixed and limited canon of Scripture.  Fourth Ezra (post 70 A.D.) says that there are 24 books (14:22-48) (24 is the most common way of describing things, though the books can be grouped in different ways).  The Babylonian Talmud (dated to 200 AD, but based on traditions that may extend back as far as 70 AD) lists 24 books that are identical to our Old Testament (B. b. Baba Bathra 14.14b-15a).  The fact that these diverse and varied sources (the Greco-Roman influenced Josephus, the apocalyptic work of Fourth Ezra, and the beginnings of rabbinic Judaism) all designate a limited canon is significant.

 Writers from second century B.C. to the first century A.D. cite every book of our Old Testament as Scripture except for Ruth, Song of Songs and Esther.  At the same time, Jews were reading for edification other works such as those usually called Apocrypha (e.g. Tobit, Sirach, Maccabbees) and Pseudepigrapha (e.g., 1Enoch).  The Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint (LXX), collected canonical books together with what we now know as non-canonical books (works that were edifying reading).  Modern scholarship has recognized the diversity that existed in Second Temple Judaism.  There is little doubt that there were readers who treated the writings as Scripture. However, this was not the prevailing view (see above) and it is not the view of the New Testament.

 The NT never quotes the Apocrypha as Scripture.  As part of the Jewish cultural milieu these works were well known and often express entirely orthodox ideas.  It is not surprising that New Testament writers allude to them or use language that calls them to mind, such as Paul does with Wisdom of Solomon 13-15 in Romans 1:19-21, 23-25. Only Jude cites the Pseudepigrapha (Jude 9 tells of the account from the Assumption of Moses; Jude 14 refers to 1En 1:9).  However, there is debate as to how exactly Jude is using these texts.  2 Peter, which seems to be related to Jude, doesn’t use these citations.

We must not underestimate the influence of the break between Christianity and Judaism around the end of the first century A.D.  The Church became Gentile and no longer had a connection with the setting in which the canon arose.  The distinction between canonical Scripture and edifying works was no longer understood.  It wasn’t until the fourth century A.D. that the technology of the codex allowed for all of the OT be put in one codex.  Before this time it wasn’t obvious which ones were “in the book.”

The earliest Christians such as Paul used the Greek translation of the OT, Septuagint (LXX), when citing Scripture.  The LXX became the Christians’ book since during the second century A.D. Jews produced new translations of LXX in order to remove readings that lent themselves to Christian interpretations of the Old Testament (Aquila, Symmachus).  From the second century A.D. on, Christians began to use all of LXX.  Most readers were no longer fully aware of the distinction between the books within this collection.  However, there were doubts and disagreements.  Around 180 A.D. Melito of Sardis relates the canon he learned from the Jews (it differs from ours in that it adds Wisdom of Solomon and omits Esther) (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4.26.13-14).  Melito assumes that Christian canon is same as one he received from the Jews.

Prior to Jerome (late fourth century A.D.) Latin translations of the LXX had been done (in which the canonical and Apocryphal books were mixed together).  Jerome produced a new translation of the OT from Hebrew originals and a new translation of the Apocrypha from the Greek.  Jerome was familiar with Jewish canon and stated that outside of the 22/24 books (depending on how you combine them), all the rest are Apocrypha.  They could be read for edification but should not used for establishing dogma (see the discussion in F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 87-93).  The same view can be found in Athanasius 22 books (ca. 296-373 A.D.); Synopsis Scitpurae Sacrae 22 books (ca. 350-379 A.D.); Cyril of Jerusalem 22 books (ca 350 A.D.); Epiphanius – 22 books (exact same list as our canon) (ca. 320-400 A.D.); Gregory of Nazianzus 22 books (ca. 370 A.D.).

The Vulgate, like earlier Latin editions, included all of the books together.  Most in the Church used the entire Vulgate on an equal basis.  However, the Church also remembered the distinction indicated by Jerome.  Hugh of St. Victor, head of school at Abbey of St Victor at Paris in the twelfth century said that Apocrypha could be read but didn’t have authority (On the Sacraments, I, Prologue 7).

Although the psuedepigrapha was used by the early church (probably influenced by the books’ own claims to be prophetic), usage declined rapidly after the time of Origen (late second century A.D.) and they were no longer in the picture by the fourth century A.D.

Martin Luther’s treatment of the Apocrypha in the German Bible that he helped produce provides useful guidance in how Lutherans should approach the these works. First, Luther did not follow the practice of the Vulgate (or of the Septuagint) in which books of the Apocrypha were mixed in among canonical books.  Instead, he set the Apocrypha off as a separate section. Second, “Luther’s translation of the Apocrypha was selective in that he omitted some of the books or portions that had been included in the Septuagint and Vulgate” (Bachmann, nt. 1, Luther’s Works 35, pg. 337).  Third, in addition to setting the Apocrypha off as separate material, the 1534 printing of the Bible included the title: “Apocrypha: These books are not held equal to Holy Scripture: and are still useful and good to read” (“Apocrypha: Das sind Bücher so nich der heiligen Schrift gleichgehalten: und doch nützlich und gut zu lessen sind”) (text cited from Reu, Luther’s German Bible, 225.)  Reu correctly observes that by this title page the Apocrypha are “marked as something secondary in contrast to the canonical books” (Luther’s German Bible, 226).

Finally, Luther’s assessment of a number of books in the Apocrypha as expressed in his 1534 prefaces correctly frames the manner in which we should view them.  He says of Judith: “If one could prove from established and reliable histories that the events in Judith really happened, it would be a noble and fine book, and should properly be in the Bible.  Yet it hardly squares with the historical accounts of the Holy Scriptures, especially Jeremiah and Ezra” (LW 35, 337).

Instead. Luther describes it as a kind of pious fictional literature: “Therefore this is a fine, good, holy, useful book, well worth reading by us Christians.  For the words spoken by the persons in it should be understood as though they were uttered in the Holy Spirit by a spiritual, holy poet or prophet who, in presenting such persons in his play, preaches to us through them” (LW 35, 339).

He says of Tobit: “What was said about the book of Judith may also be said about the book of Tobit.  If the events really happened, then it is a fine and holy history. But if they are all made up, then it is indeed a very beautiful, wholesome, and useful fiction or drama by a gifted poet” (LW 35, 345). Thus Luther’s assessment is: “Therefore this book is useful and good for Christians to read.  It is a work of a fine Hebrew author who deals not with trivial but important issues, and whose writing and concerns are extraordinarily Christian” (LW 35, 347).

Luther says of Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon: “But the texts of Susanna, and of Bel, Habakkuk, and the Dragon, seem like beautiful religious fiction, such as Judith and Tobit, for their names indicate as much” (LW 35, 354; Bachman notes that: “The subordinate role of the prophet Habakkuk in Bel and the Dragon verses 33-39), as well as the reference to him in the opening verse of the Septuagint text … may have led to Luther’s inclusion of the name in the title; nt. 65).

Of course, what would become the Roman Catholic church took a very different approach towards the Apocrypha.  In addition to past use in the Church, the status of the Apocrypha was wrapped up in other doctrinal issues (for example, Roman Catholics used 2 Mac 12:46 which talks about making atonement for dead as a verse in support of purgatory).  In 1546 the Council of Trent made the Vulgate text the authoritative text and accepted all the books without distinction. This continues to be the Roman Catholic position.

So what is a Lutheran to make of the Apocrypha?  In my New Testament graduate studies I have worked extensively with them as sources for understanding Second Temple Judaism. Certainly, they are very important in this role.  But for the lay person, what importance do they really have?  They are not part of the canonical Old Testament, and are not the inspired Word of God.  There are books that contain pious, orthodox statements (e.g. Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach) that are similar to what are found in the Psalms and Wisdom literature of the Old Testament.  A number of the writings (e.g. Judith, Tobit, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon) are best understood as pious fictions that can be read as conveying some spiritual worth.

However, the net result of reading the Apocrypha is very minimal.  If one has completely mastered the Old Testament and New Testaments, then certainly the Apocrypha is something to read.  Personally, I have not in any way arrived at the point, so I will continue to focus on the canonical Old and New Testaments.  I suspect that most people will find themselves in the same position.    



Sunday, January 30, 2022

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - Mt 8:23-27


Epiphany 4

                                                                           Mt 8:23-27



          When launched in the 1958, the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest Great Lakes freighter.  She was 729 feet long – the equivalent of two and a third football fields. She was able to carry a massive load of iron ore from the west to steel mills in the east as she plied the Great Lakes. The impressive ship was a favorite sight of those who lived in that region.

          However, despite her size, a storm on Lake Superior proved to be too much for her.  In November 1975 the Edmund Fitzgerald encountered a storm with extreme winds and waves that were up to thirty five feet.  In one of the last messages sent by the captain he said: “I have a bad list, lost both radars. And am taking heavy seas over the deck.  One of the worst seas I’ve ever been in.”  The Edmund Fitzgerald sank in the storm, and the entire crew of twenty nine men was lost. Their bodies were never recovered.

          If the conditions turn against you, bodies of water can be a threat to any sized ship.  That is true is you are in a massive freighter on Lake Superior.  It is also true if you are in a small boat on the Sea of Galilee.  In our Gospel lesson this morning, we learn about how the disciples of Jesus encountered a storm that threatened to sink their boat. They react in fear instead of faith.  And Jesus demonstrates that he is the incarnate Son of God who has come to bring God’s reign to a fallen world.

          The Gospels depict Jesus’ ministry as one in which he was constantly busy preaching and healing.  Just before our text, Jesus has healed Peter’s mother in law from a fever. Then we are told, “That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’”

          Our Lord based his ministry at Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, and frequently travelled on the water as he went from place to place.  It was only natural. First, it was easier than walking.  And second, he had among his disciples men who had been professional fishermen.  They knew all about sailing and could take Jesus wherever he needed to go.

          Our Gospel lesson begins with the words, “And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.”  Jesus and the disciples set out on the Sea of Galilee, and as they were traveling on the water two things happened. First, Jesus fell asleep in the boat. And second, a great storm arose on the sea.

          Jesus was asleep in the boat.  Our Lord was obviously tired from his work of ministry, and so he fell asleep.  In fact, he was sleeping so soundly that he had not even been aroused by the storm that was now threatening the boat.

          Jesus was tired and slept.  In this simple fact we receive an important reminder about who Jesus is.  During Christmas we celebrated the incarnation – the fact that the Son of God entered into our world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  Jesus is God in the flesh – he is true God and true man. We tend to focus on the fact that Jesus is true God, because of course, that’s what makes him unique and our Savior.

But it is equally important to realize that Jesus is truly human in all ways that we are, apart from sin. The Son of God took on a human nature in the incarnation in order to redeem and restore our humanity to what God intended it to be.  Our Lord Jesus lived as one of us in the world, and he knows every human experience – not just because he is the omniscient Son of God – but also because he lived them as one of us in this world.

Our text tells us that a great storm arose, one that was causing the boat to be swamped by the waves. The disciples – even those who had spent their lives on the Sea of Galilee – were fearful. So they went to Jesus and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”

Now on the one hand, this seems like it was the appropriate thing to do.  The disciples faced danger, and so they went to Jesus. But our Lord’s response soon tells us that this was not the act of faith.  Instead, it was one that was driven by fear.  He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”  In the midst of the storm that appeared to threaten the sinking of the ship, Jesus asked, “Why are you afraid?”  Now from a worldly perspective the answer was obvious: There as a great storm and the boat was being swamped by the waves!  But Jesus question points to a deeper truth.  Jesus was in the boat with them and so there was no need for fear.

And that leads next to Jesus’ assessment of the disciples: they were of little faith.  Their action of waking Jesus in the midst of the storm showed that they did not fully trust and believe in him.  But note also that our Lord says that they are of little faith.  This was still faith in Jesus.  Even if it was not yet would it could be – what it should be – their waking the Lord and calling out to him for help did show faith.

Like the disciples, we are people who at times do fear.  We do have doubts.  We do fail at those moments when we should speak and act in ways that are produced by faith in Jesus Christ.  We need to confess these for what they are – a lack of faith.  They are sin – the old Adam at work in us.

But at the same time, if we are willing to confess them as sin, then that is the voice of faith.  Admittedly, these failures demonstrate little faith.  It is a faith that needs to grow and mature – and we’ll talk more about that later – but it is still faith.

After Jesus described the disciples as of little faith, he then demonstrated why he should be the object of great faith.  Matthew tells us, “Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”  Our Lord rebuked the winds and the sea – he ordered them to cease.  Next week we will celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.  After Jesus and the disciples had come back down from the mountain where this had taken place, he encountered a man who son was possessed by a demon.  There too we hear the same word: “And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.”

Both of these actions – rebuking the winds and sea, and rebuking the demon – show us who Jesus Christ is and what he has come to do.  He is the Son of God in the flesh.  And he has come to bring God’s reign – his saving action to reverse all that Satan and sin have caused in this world.

Jesus and the disciples encounter a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Rather than calm, they are met by disorder. Rather than something that is good, they are met by something that is not good.  In the storm we see what the apostle Paul describes in the epistle lesson today: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

The Fall and the entrance of sin have warped and twisted not only us, but creation itself.  The Son of God entered into our world in order to reverse all that Satan and sin have caused.  He came to renew us and creation itself.  He came to make things very good once again. We see this when Jesus performs miracles of healing. We see it when he casts out demons. And we see it in our text when Jesus rebukes the storm and brings calm to the Sea of Galilee.

After Jesus had stilled the storm, we hear in our text, “And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’”  We know the answer.  He is the Lord. He is the Son of God.  He is the Creator of the cosmos.

In our text, Jesus displays this incredible power.  And yet the means by which the Lord carried out his mission to bring God’s reign culminated in an action which is the opposite of power in every possible way.  The Son of God became man in order to defeat sin and death by suffering and dying on the cross.  He came to be the sacrifice for sin in our place.  He came to receive God’s judgment against sin that we deserve.  The Son of God became man, without ceasing to be God, in order to die.

That death redeemed us from sin – it freed us from the damnation we deserve. And on third day, God carried out his act of new creation when he raised Jesus from the dead. He began the resurrection of the Last Day when He raised Jesus with a body that can never die again. Because this has happened to Jesus, the risen and exalted Lord will return on the Last Day to do it to us as well.  And his saving actin will not be limited to us. It will include the renewal of creation itself that has been damaged by sin.

Jesus Christ is the Lord who died on the cross to give us forgiveness. He rose from the dead to defeat death and give us the guarantee of resurrection and eternal life.  These are the reasons that we can have great faith in Christ. This great faith holds on to Jesus no matter what is happening.

In our Gospel lesson Jesus stills the storm and rescues the disciples from danger.  But before doing that, his response to them was, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”  Jesus’ point was that since the Lord was with them, there was no need to fear. The same thing is true for us, no matter what the outcome may be.

The Edmund Fitzgerald sank.  The most famous ship sinking in history, the Titanic, was not caused by the waves of a storm but instead by ice, as more than fifteen hundred people died.  No doubt in these and in the thousands of other ship sinkings that have resulted in death, many who have died have believed in Jesus Christ.

Our Gospel lesson does not teach us that Jesus is going to deliver us from every storm of life.  Until Christ returns it is a fallen world, and we are sinners who will die.  Some of these experiences and deaths will be tragedies that leave us numb.

What our text teaches us is the need for faith in Jesus Christ – a strong and mature faith.  There is no need for fear because Jesus Christ, the risen and exalted Lord is with you no matter what happens.  You live a life that Paul described as being “in Christ.”  You live a life that has been linked to the Lord because you have received Christ’s Spirit in baptism. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death, and so you will share in his resurrection.  The risen Lord said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We do not want to be people of little faith.  We need to be people of mature and strong faith.  In seeking this goal we need to be involved actively in reading and studying God’s Word, for it is through the word that Christ’s Spirit causes us to grow in faith.  We need to be taking God’s Word into ourselves as we learn it by heart.  When was the last time that you memorized a Bible verse – that you took it into your mind and made it part of you?  That Word of God is there for the Spirit to use as we encounter different circumstances. 

And of course, we need to live a life that is rooted in weekly attendance at the Divine Service. We need to be hearing God’s word preached and receiving the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament. This regular pattern of being in God’s house gives us spiritual nourishment that we need if we are to be strong in faith.

Yet there is another side to this as well.  The old Adam in us fights against the things I have just mentioned. He his content to keep us with as little faith as possible.  And so God at times allows things in our lives that force us to turn towards him.  Like the coach who must push his players so that they improve, God also uses time of difficulty and challenge to cause us to grow and mature in faith.

In our Gospel lesson, the disciples found themselves in circumstances that did just this.  Jesus describes them as “O you of little faith,” but this was just one experience that was part the process by which they came to understand who Jesus was.  They did not achieve a full understanding until after Jesus rose from the dead. And then? They were willing to suffer and die in order to tell others about Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord.  Because we know the same Lord, we are able to trust and believe in him and his care, as he sustains us in faith through his Means of Grace.



Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Feast of St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor


Today is the Feast of St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor.  Titus was a Gentile who was a trusted co-worker of St. Paul in Greece, Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and on the island of Crete.  He assisted Paul in the collections for the Church in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:3-6) and was instructed by Paul to organize the church on Crete (Titus 1:4-5).  According to tradition, Titus returned to Crete where he served as bishop until he died at the end of the first century A.D.

Scripture reading:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:1-9)

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, you called Titus to the work of pastor and teacher.  Make all shepherds of Your flock diligent in preaching Your holy Word so that the whole world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul


Today is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  First named Saul, Paul was a Pharisee from Tarsus who came to live in Jerusalem.  He was a rising star in the Judaism of his day and was so zealous for the faith as he understood it that he actively persecuted the Church (Galatians 1:11-24).  As he travelled to Damascus to persecute the Church there, the risen Lord Jesus appeared to Paul and as a result of this, Paul became a believer and was baptized (Act 9).  Not one of the original twelve apostles, because he was called directly by the risen Christ, Paul was also designated as an apostle.  He was active in proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles as he went on at least three missionary journeys to Asia Minor and Greece.  Because he had persecuted Christ’s Church, Paul considered his call and conversion to be a dramatic demonstration of God’s grace, love and forgiveness (1 Timothy 1:12-17).

Scripture reading:

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 9:1-22).

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, You turned the heart of him who persecuted the Church and by his preaching caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world.  Grant us ever to rejoice in the saving light of Your Gospel and, following the example of the apostle Paul, to spread it to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



Monday, January 24, 2022

Feast of St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor


Today is the Feast of St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor.  Timothy was the son of a Gentile father and Jewish mother whose mother and grandmother were Christians.  St. Paul met Timothy on his second missionary journey and Timothy became a trusted co-worker who engaged in mission work in Greece and Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).  According to tradition, after Paul’s death, Timothy went to Ephesus, where he served as bishop and was martyred when he was beaten to death by a mob of pagans.

Scripture reading:

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:11-16) 

 Collect of the Day:

Lord Jesus Christ, You have always given to Your Church on earth faithful shepherds such as Timothy to guide and feed Your flock.  Make all pastors diligent to preach Your holy Word and administer Your means of grace, and grant Your people wisdom to follow in the way that leads to life eternal; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



Sunday, January 23, 2022

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany - 2 Kgs 5:1-15


Epiphany 3

                                                                                                 2 Kgs 5:1-15



          For anyone facing a serious illness for which no treatment seemed possible, it would be a difficult burden to bear. The future would seem to hold nothing more than the continuing challenge of living with the condition. Perhaps the illness even threatened death as it continued its course over time.

          Yet, what if we learned that a treatment existed that offered the possibility of complete healing?  Certainly, we would be extremely motivated to seek it out.  No doubt, we would be willing to go wherever we needed in order to receive the treatment. We would be willing to go to a specialized hospital like the Mayo Clinic because the treatment offered the hope of healing and relief.

          In our Old Testament lesson, we hear about a man who was in just such a situation. Our text begins by saying, “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.”

          Our text describes events in the ninth century B.C. The nation of Israel had divided into the southern kingdom of Judah, and the northern kingdom which continued to be called Israel.  During this time, the northern kingdom of Israel was regularly attacked by the nation of Syria.  Syria had a powerful military force, and Naaman was a very successful commander.  He must have been extremely talented, because he had gained this position in spite of the fact that he was a leper.

          We learn that in one of the raids carried about by the Syrians into Israel, a little girl had been taken as a slave and now worked in the service of Naaman’s wife.  The girl showed faith in God’s work through his prophet and a very caring heart because she said to Naaman’s wife, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

          When Naaman learned about this he reported it to the king of Syria. The king wanted to help his valued leader, and so he sent Naaman with gifts of gold and silver to the king of Israel, along with a letter which said: “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

          Now the king of Syria was operating on the basis of assumptions about how things worked.  Normally, a man who had the reputation of being a healer was a servant and subject of the king. The king was the king, and he could order the man to do what the king wanted. 

However, things were not this way in Israel. In this case, the “healer” was the prophet Elisha.  In the Old Testament, one of the prophets’ main jobs was to tell the king that Yahweh was the true king.  This was all the more challenging for the prophets in the northern kingdom because the kings there did not believe in Yahweh, and instead promoted the worship of false gods.

When the king of Israel received the letter, he was aghast and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?”  To the king of Israel, the case of Namaan was simply the king of Syria looking for an excuse to attack.

When Elisha heard about the king’s reaction, he sent this message: “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.”  The king of Israel may not believe in Yahweh. But Elisha would show Naaman that he was the prophet of the true God.

So Naaman traveled to Elisha.  As a man of great power and importance, he showed up with quite an entourage of horses and chariots.  However, Elisha didn’t even come out to meet Naaman. Instead, he sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”

Naaman wasn’t used to be treated this way.  He was angry because Elisha had not done the kinds of things he expected.  He said, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.”  Instead, Elisha had told Naaman to go and wash in the Jordan River seven times. Now while the Jordan River holds a special place in our minds because of the role it has had in God’s actions, the river itself is nothing impressive. Elisha’s instructions seemed like an insult to Naaman and we learn that he went away in a rage.

Naaman reacted because Elisha, God’s prophet, didn’t do what he expected – what he wanted.  It’s not hard to find our own experiences reflected here. We know what it is like when God doesn’t do what we want. We see it when we or family and friends experience illness and health problems.  We see it when the situation in our family, or at our job, or at school is not going as we want. We see it when some other congregation extends a call and seeks to take our pastor away from us.

Our reaction to such circumstances is often run by the old Adam.  We get frustrated with God.  We may begin to doubt God. Perhaps, we get angry with God.  These may seem to us to be justified and natural. But they are instead a failure to trust in God.  They are all reactions that are run by sin.

          Naaman was powerful man who was not used to being treated this way. But his servants sought to be the voice of reason. They came near and said to him, "My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”

          Convinced by his servants Naaman, went and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, just as Elisha had directed.  We learn that when he had done this “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”  The end of our text reports how Naaman returned to Elisha. The experience of God’s healing work had demonstrated the truth to Naaman, and he told Elisha, “from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but Yahweh.”

          After Moses, Elijah and his successor Elisha stand out in the Old Testament as the greatest of the prophets in the miracles they performed.  But if their miracles were remarkable, what is narrated about them cannot even begin to compare to what Jesus Christ did during his ministry. As Matthew tells us about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.”

          Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the kingdom.  He announced that the saving reign of God was present in him. During Epiphany we are seeing how Christ’s saving glory was revealed in his ministry.  We see this in our Gospel lesson where, like Naaman, a leper comes to Jesus seeking healing. Jesus does the unthinkable.  He touches the leper. To do so brought ritual uncleanness according to the Law given to Moses.  But in Jesus something new had arrived that surpassed, and at the same time, fulfilled the Law. Rather than bringing uncleanness to Jesus, the touch of the Son of God brought healing to the leper.

          In Deuteronomy chapter 18, Moses had promised, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to him you shall listen.”  Jesus was that prophet like Moses.  But he was far more than a prophet. As we saw during Christmas, he is the Son of God in the flesh. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, Jesus is true God and true man.

          The prophets performed miracles for God.  But they also suffered as they spoke God’s word to kings. Jesus performed mightier miracles than any of the prophets as he revealed his glory.  And his suffering carried a significance beyond that of any of them. 

The Son of God entered into our world to bring God’s reign that defeats Satan, sin, and death.  Yet just as Naaman was offended by the idea of washing in the Jordan, the way in which Jesus did this did not look glorious.  Jesus came to win forgiveness by suffering and dying on the cross.  He offered himself as the ransom in our place.  Receiving the judgment we deserve Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But the greatest miracle – the most glorious action was yet to come.  On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. This was not merely a return to life as Elijah had done for the son of the widow at Zarapheth, or as Elisha had done for the son of the Shunammite woman.  It was not even like when Jesus raised the son of the widow at Nain.  All of these individuals would one day die again.

Instead, Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of the resurrection of the Last Day.  His resurrection was the vindication of the crucified Christ.  It showed that God had been working through Jesus’ death to give us salvation. And his resurrection was the defeat of death.  Jesus rose with a body that can never die again. He ascended into heaven, and when he returns in glory on the Last Day he will raise and transform our bodies to be immortal like his own.

Our Lord gives us forgiveness and the assurance of resurrection.  In fact, he has done so in a way that calls to mind Naaman’s washing in the Jordan by which he was cleansed.  In the water of Holy Baptism, your sins were washed away.  Though it was done just once, God has attached is promise to that washing.  It remains, always ready to be grasped in faith. For when you believe God’s promise that your sins have been forgiven through baptism … they are.  This is true not only of the sins you committed before your baptism, but of every sin, because Jesus Christ died and rose again to give you forgiveness for every sin.

And let us not forget that in baptism it was water that was poured on your body.  Jesus Christ died and rose again to bring salvation to your whole person – body and soul.  St. Paul tells us about baptism: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Your baptism is the guarantee that you will share in Christ’s resurrection on the Last Day.

Naaman was ready to leave angry because Elisha had not done what he expected.  When we feel like this about the way God is doing things, we need to confess our failure to trust in God.  Instead, we need to look at what God has done in the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. For in the cross God has revealed the depths of his love for us as he worked to give us salvation. And in the resurrection of Jesus Christ he has given us the hope of what awaits us – the day when all will be very good once again and we will never again know frustration, doubt, or anger.

In our baptism, we have forgiveness for our every failure to trust in God.  We have assurance that our body will receive the resurrection that Jesus Christ has already begun.  And as the source of the work of the Spirit in our life, we have the means by which God assists us to trust him each day as we look for Christ’ return on the Last Day.