March 31, 2006

Lk 23-24 / Tidbits

(You can read about the seasonal canticle for March, Isaiah 64:1-9, from links here.)

Luke 23-24 narrate Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, ministry after the resurrection, and ascension. The Jews play to Pontius Pilate’s fears of reprisals from Rome as they try to get Pilate to execute Jesus, and Pilate does all he can to avoid the execution but gives in to the Jews’ demands (23:1-25). Pilate has innocent Jesus killed but releases guilty Barabbas, a murderer and insurrectionist, who was far more of a threat to Rome than Jesus was. The events of the crucifixion include Jesus warning the people in the crowd following Him, interceding for those present, and absolving the penitent thief (23:26-56). Jesus rose on the first day of the week and that same day revealed Himself to the Emmaus disciples in the breaking of the bread, as He reveals Himself to us in the breaking of the bread on the first day of the week (24:1-35). Later, He gives peace to His disciples, eating food to convince them He wasn’t a ghost, and He explains how He and His work were the center of the whole Old Testament (24:36-49). Finally, Jesus ascends to heaven, and the disciples, praising God, return to the Jerusalem Temple, where St. Luke’s Gospel account began (24:50-53).

Today's tidbits have a little bit of a legal theme. That Afghan man once facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity is now an Italian man, and his previously reported willingness to die was apparently overstated, and if this is true he clearly fled to avoid death. ... The wife of that murdered Tennessee minister waived a hearing Thursday that would have made public more details about the case. ... Massachusetts’ same-sex marriage law is ruled to apply only to residents of that state, and there’s a Texas connection to the matter that fundamentally confuses the difference between gender and race (see how God created them male and female, not black and white). For me the interesting point is that opponents of states legalizing same-sex marriage said the so-called “equal protection clause” of the U.S. Constitution would make one state’s law every state’s law, but apparently under the old Massachusetts law being used in this case that is not so, or at least not yet. ... The U.S. Supreme Court may hear a case where a school censored a child’s drawing a Jesus.
And don’t let this stop you from praying (see my comments about such prayer studies here).

If you are reading this post, we would like to know what you think about the Daily Lectionary pages. Please take 5-10 minutes to answer our Daily Lectionary survey if you have not yet already done so, and thank you, if you have. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:27 AM

March 30, 2006

Ps 113 / Lk 22 / Library collections

The first of six psalms used in the Jewish festival liturgy, Psalm 113 was sung before the festival meal. Psalm 113 calls for praise of the Lord, principally because of His mercy shown to the lowly. Lines calling for praise lead up to the psalm’s center (v.5), which is followed by the reasons given for praising the Lord. Verse 1 has a triple, and possibly Trinitarian, repetition of “Lord”. Verses 2 and 3 indicate how the praise that belongs to the Lord is eternal and takes place everywhere. Those the Lord favors (who praise Him as a result) are repentant—the dust and ashes of verse 7. Barren women (v.9) were disgraced because they had no one to care for them, but God puts those who do not have usual families into the family of the Church where He cares for them Himself.

Luke 22 narrates the Last Supper, Gethsemane, Jesus’ arrest, and the beginning of His trial. Satan, who had been waiting for an opportune time (4:15) brings about Judas’ agreement to betray Jesus (22:1-5). Though “homeless” (9:58), Jesus provides a place to celebrate the Passover meal with His disciples, where He fulfills it and therefore gives it its true meaning: bread that is His body and wine that is His blood given for us (22:7-23). At the Supper, Jesus teaches the disciples about true humility and prophesies that Peter will betray Him (22:24-34), which Peter later does, though he also repents (22:54-62). In the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, Jesus prays that He might not have to suffer but is strengthened for the mission ahead (22:39-46). Judas follows through on the betrayal, using a sign of the most intimate friendship to show just how untrue of a friend he is, and Jesus heals a victim of the disciples’ rash show of force contrary to Jesus’ wishes (22:47-53). Jesus is mocked and beaten (22:63-65) and then taken to the Sanhedrin, where He confesses His divinity and is understood as having blasphemed (22:66-71).

Reader discussion over gay and Christian content in library collections continues. After I wrote yesterday that Christians should get used to their content being excluded, a reader made the following comment.

Not without a complaint! Christians pay taxes to fund libraries, like everyone else. If the people of a community want Christian literature in their library, they will have to ask for it. And use it; use is a factor in collection development decisions.

Spoken as someone who knows whereof they speak! Good advice, and let’s not forget our own Grace library soon to be moving to an old parish hall near you!

We value your input, so please answer our Daily Lectionary survey if you have not yet already done so, and thank you, if you have. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:59 AM

March 29, 2006

Ps 112 / Lk 20-21 / Biblog folos / Tidbits

Thought to be a complementary psalm to 111, Psalm 112 starts with praise to God but primarily speaks well of the godly man who fears the Lord and delights in His commandments. Does that sound like anyone you know? I know the psalm doesn’t describe me. The only one of whom the psalm truly speaks is Jesus Christ. All is truly His and will be revealed to be His “in the end” (v.8).

Luke 20-21 give some of Jesus’ final teaching before His death. Both chapters are set during Holy Week: chapter 20 in Jerusalem interacting with the Jewish leaders and chapter 21 on the Mount of Olives with His disciples, generally speaking. First, Jesus answers the Jewish leaders’ challenge to His authority with a challenge of His own (20:1-8). Then, Jesus teaches the Parable of the Tenants, drawing on the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7, to indict the Jews of rejecting the prophets and to prophesy about their crucifying Him (20:9-19). Next, Jesus evades their trap regarding Roman taxes and teaches that our bodies made in God’s image should be given to Him (20:20-26). Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection and marriage in 20:27-39 was primarily intended to indict the Sadducees for denying the resurrection, but some have also understood Jesus to be teaching that the state of being married on earth continues in heaven. Then, Jesus stumps the Pharisees with interpretation of Psalm 110:1 and criticizes them for their showiness (20:41-47). Next, Jesus praises the sacrificial giving of a widow (21:1-4). The rest of the so-called Olivet Discourse (21:5-38) deals with teaching about the last things, what is called “eschatology”. The relatively clear teaching like that of this chapter in St. Luke’s account is to be used to interpret the more symbolic teaching of passages like those in Revelation. The signs Jesus describes were essentially fulfilled already within a generation of Jesus’ speaking; thus, the church remains ever watchful and prayerful for the full revelation of Jesus’ Kingdom.

Two Biblog folos follow! First, a reader emailed a comment in Luke 12:8-12 related to the Afghan man who before yesterday was facing the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity. The reader hoped he would find comfort in this passage. The man reportedly said previously that he was ready to die, but he is thought to have gone into hiding since his release Monday until he can flee the country, and I don’t think that’s the behavior of someone ready to die for their faith. On the same topic, reports suggest that man is not the only such convert to be facing the death penalty. We do pray that the Holy Spirit would comfort and preserve them all and use such martyrs to grow His Church.

Second, a reader emailed the following comment in response to yesterday’s tidbit link to a story about the controversy over gay newspapers in public libraries.

American Library Association librarians will plead "freedom of speech" and keep the paper. … Several years ago there was a cover headline on Library Journal "Should Christian fiction be allowed in the public library?" Substitute for "Christian" black, feminist, Jewish, or gay; would the question be asked on the cover of an ALA magazine? Resulting letters to the editor suggested that "Christian" literature be judged on the basis of quality writing like any other. I agree. Some of it is embarrassingly bad writing, but I bet I could find garbage in any of those other categories, too.

I would think so! I guess we would like to think that what is offensive to Christians would be kept out, but that is probably unrealistic. My second choice would be that everybody’s stuff gets included, but I suppose that in today’s increasingly anti-Christian society we should get used to the idea that Christian content will be excluded.

Hopefully you’ll find these tidbits interesting and thought provoking. What was called a “fascist pep rally” was held in San Francisco. ... Absolute pro-life positions like this one (no exceptions for rape and incest) are said to be becoming more prominent in the United States. ... Here’s an interesting anti-church growth position. ... Support for John Paul II’s sainthood is reportedly coming in from all over. ... Iran cracks down on bloggers. ... Major broadcast networks in this country refuse to air another controversial UCC ad. ... And, Oral Roberts broke his hip last week in a fall. Tele-evangelist heal thyself?

Yesterday’s electrical storm appears to have fried my main computer at home, so I am running on my old one. I hope yours is operating okay and that you will answer our Daily Lectionary survey if you have not yet done so (thank you, if you have). Remember you are invited to join us for mid-week Lenten Vespers at 7:00 tonight with supper preceding at 6:00. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:54 AM

March 28, 2006

Ps 111 / Lk 18-19 / Tidbits

Psalm 111 praises God and instructs the listener. This psalm and the next are a unique form called “alphabetic acrostics”, which means that the half-lines of the poems in Hebrew begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In verse 1 there are two groups named: “the assembly of the upright” (KJV; “council of the upright” ASV, NIV; “company of the upright” NASB) and “the congregation” (KJV, ASV; “assembly” NIV, NASB). Regardless of the translation, one suggestion is that the first is a smaller and truly righteous group in comparison to the second, although different words may have been used simply for variety. The reason given for praising God is His deeds (vv.2-9). The food of verse 5 has long been understood by the New Testament church as a reference to the Sacrament of the Altar, and Dr. Martin Luther went so far as to suggest the psalm may have been prophetically written for Easter. Faith in the Lord and all He has done leads to keeping His commandments and praising Him (vv.7, 10).

Reading Luke 18-19 today we wrap up Jesus’s teaching in and around Perea and begin the narration of His Passion. The so-called Parable of the Persistent Widow (18:1-8) does not mean that we can badger God into doing things we want but rather that we should persist in prayer and belief no matter how bleak things get, and, Jesus suggests, they will get so bleak few will have such persistence that Jesus will be able to give them justice when He comes. The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (18:9-14) teaches us that righteousness does not come from us but from God and that the highest worship is to see the forgiveness of sins from God. Child-like, but not childish, faith is what receives the Kingdom of God (18:15-17). Keeping the commandments perfectly is impossible for fallen human beings, but with God’s objective righteousness any believer can enter (18:18-30). In the passion prediction that follows (18:31-34), note how the resurrection is also included. The beggar who cries out to Jesus for mercy is healed and saved (18:35-43), and we use a similar prayer in the historic liturgy of the Divine Service: Lord, have mercy! Continuing towards Jerusalem, Jesus stays in the house of Zacchaeus and has more table fellowship with sinners (19:1-10) and teaches them the Parable of the Ten Minas that emphasizes the dangers of rejecting the King and faithfulness in the long-term while waiting for the full revelation of the Kingdom. Jesus enters Jerusalem and fulfills prophecies about the Messiah as He does it, and the crowds speak to Him psalm verses associated with Passover processions (19:28-38). When challenged by the Pharisees, Jesus prophesies about the destruction of Jerusalem (19:39-44). Finally, Jesus purifies the Temple, further provoking the Jews (19:45-48).

A few media-oriented tidbits are included today, but first, that Afghan man who had been facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity reportedly was ruled mentally unfit for trial and released. ... The murdered Tennessee minister’s wife was arraigned yesterday, but there's still no indication about her motive. ... A branch of the Presbyterian church (PCUSA) is appealing the acquittal of the woman who married two lesbians. ... There’s a battle brewing in Ohio over gay newspapers in libraries. ... An on-line dating service is being sued for not letting a man getting a divorce participate. ... A new DVD biography of C.S. Lewis is due out today. ... ABC will soon be broadcasting a new, two-part “Ten Commandments” movie. ... And some greeting card messages that didn’t make the cut may make you laugh anyway.

Have you answered the Daily Lectionary survey yet? Thank you, if you have, and, if you have not, you can read more about it and enter from here. We value your input! God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:02 AM

March 27, 2006

Ps 110 / Lk 16-17 / Survey / Tidbits

Psalm 110 is an especially significant Messianic psalm. Attributed to David, the psalm is thought to have been used in the ceremonies crowning a king, perhaps David’s son Solomon, though the psalm prophetically points beyond to the one greater than Solomon (Luke 11:31). Psalm 110 has two main prophecies, verses 1 and 4, each explained in the verses immediately following, 2-3 and 5-7, respectively. The imagery of verse 1 is quite vivid: the victorious king “rests” his foot on the neck of the defeated king and holds it down as he chops off his head! The original reference to Melchizedek—whose name is often said to mean “King of Righteousness” and who was King of “Salem” or “Jerusalem”—can be found in Genesis 14. Melchizedek was a king and priest, and, with no details given of his beginning or end, he is said to have held office “forever”. See the use of this psalm by Jesus (Matthew 23:43-45; Mark 12:36-37; Luke 20:42-44), by Peter (Acts 2:34-36); and by the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 1:13; 5:6-10; 7:11-28; Psalm 110 may have been the text for the sermon that is Hebrews). Paul also uses some of the same themes of this psalm in His epistles.

In Luke 16-17 we hear more of Jesus’ teaching while in and around Perea. To me, the so-called Parable of the Shrewd Manager and the comments following it in 16:1-15 are some of the harder to understand teachings of our Lord. Jesus seems to be saying that the people of the world are wise in the ways of the world (such as using dishonest means to acquire favor) and that the ways of the world do not apply to heavenly riches. Luke 16:16 appears to be a shorter version of the same essential teaching as Matthew 11:12-14, and we should not understand that people can successfully “force” their way into the kingdom but rather that they were enthusiastically responding to it, that opponents were attacking the kingdom, or that the kingdom itself is forcefully entering the world. Luke 16:17 speaks to how Jesus did not abolish but fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17); the verse is very rich in meaning when you know that in Hebrew a “tittle” or “the least stroke of a pen” can make a huge difference. As an example of the law’s unchanging authority, Luke 16:18 is a straightforward presentation of Jesus’ absolute teaching regarding divorce and remarriage. Luke 16:19-31 gives us the account of the rich man (usually called by name “Dives”, the Latin word for “riches”, though perhaps the name was omitted to intentionally impersonalize the character) and the beggar Lazarus (a different Lazarus than Jesus’ friend mentioned in John 11 and 12). The account is sometimes called a parable, though it is not introduced as such; we want to be careful not to draw too many dogmatic conclusions from this account alone. Yet, the theme of the great reversal comes through clearly, as does the importance of Holy Scripture (“Moses and the Prophets” in v.29 are the whole of the Old Testament). People who resist Scripture will not believe “even if someone rises from the dead” (v.31)—as did, among others, both Jesus and His friend named Lazarus (so some speculate the name Lazarus is used of the beggar to recall the miracle of Jesus’s raising His friend named Lazarus). Luke 17:1-10 contains various teachings about sin, faith, and duty. Luke 17:11-19 tells of the ten lepers Jesus healed and the one who returned to thank Jesus; note also how that one who returns to Jesus, having been sent to the Temple, the Presence of God, also in effect confesses Jesus as God in the temple of human flesh. Luke 17:20-37 tells how Jesus spoke of the suddenness and unexpectedness of the Kingdom of God’s coming, warning of those who make false claims about its arrival. In the last several years much as been made of those “left behind”, as in 17:34-35; while most of the content in the books by that name is wrong and misleading, one thing even those books make clear is that there will be judgment and that two people otherwise close can have different eternal detinations.

We are between one-quarter and one-third of the way through our Daily Lectionary reading plan, and we decided it was a good time to see what everyone thinks about it. We have set up a survey where your responses will be completely anonymous, and we ask that you would please give us your feedback. The survey should only take about 5-10 minutes; the questions you are asked and how long it takes you will depend on your answers. We will let you know what we find out and use your input to improve these pages. You can enter the survey from this page.

A few of today's tidbits follow-up on some familiar stories. The case of the Afghan man facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity from Islam apparently is being sent back to the prosecutors for further investigation. This report says its because there isn’t enough evidence (to convict him of being a Christian?), and this report says its because of alleged mental problems (that’s better how?). And, an Afghan judge is making his own attacks against the U.S. court system, and I can’t say I completely disagree with his position. ... The wife accused of murdering that Tennessee pastor last week reportedly says she’s sorry, and the congregation talks about forgiving her, but there’s still no motive for the shooting. ... There’s been another suspicious fire at an Alabama church. ... Mark Twain is being invoked by both sides of a Nevada church demolition dispute. ... And, this one is almost too weird to be true!

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 26, 2006

Ps 109 / Lk 14-15 / Prayer studies / Tidbits

Another psalm of David, Psalm 109 prays God to deliver the psalmist from enemies who are making false accusations against him. The psalmist begins with the specific petition to the Lord for deliverance (vv.1-5). Then, in the first major half of the psalm, he calls the Lord essentially to put on trial the person who appears to be the chief enemy, with everything described in the sentence he should get being the opposite of what could be described as blessings from God (vv.6-15). In the second major half of the psalm, the psalmist details what the chief enemy has done (vv.16-20) and what the psalmist would like God to do for him as he suffers (vv.21-25). Verses 26-29 reiterate the main petition of the psalm, and verses 30-31 conclude the psalm with a confident confession and promise of praise, somewhat tying back in with verse 1. Verse 4 can be taken to suggest the psalmist has been praying for his enemies (as we are to do, see Matthew 5:44), but the verse that follow seem to be a sort of praying against his enemies! The prayer, however, is essentially for God to carry out His righteous judgment, not for the enemies to be eternally condemned without reason. David’s betrayer may have been in his court, and verse 8 is applied to Judas and the need to replace him (see Acts 1:20). Verses 9-15 are better understood when we remember how back then multiple generations of the same family lived together in the same household. Parents not only lived on in their children, but the sins of parents were frequently also sins of their children, and thus children through multiple generations could justly be punished for their parents’ (that is, their own) sins. Blessings are similarly transmitted (Psalm 103:7), as parents help pass the faith along to their children.

More teaching of Jesus in and around Perea is in Luke 14-15. Chapter 14 begins with Jesus healing someone at the home of a Pharisee and teaching about the great reversal, how humble repentance now has eternal rewards (14:1-14) and about the wide-reaching invitation to the great Messianic banquet extended to the Gentiles after the invited Jewish guests refuse to come (14:15-24). Yet, coming to the banquet, following the way of the cross, has its prices, but paying that price extends the message of the kingdom to those willing to hear (14:25-35). “Hating” in 14:26 essentially means to love less. Chapter 15 contains three parables all centering on Jesus’ mission to seek sinners and the Pharisees’ repulsion at His table fellowship with the sinners instead of rejoicing that the sinners repented. In 15:7 the Pharisees are not without sin but think they do not need to repent. The death of repentance and new life of forgiveness is especially well expressed in 15:32.

Some prayer studies are underway, and I don’t mean studies of what the Bible says about prayer but rather studies of how prayer affects healing. Of course I believe prayer is beneficial, but I do not think the benefits of prayer are the kind that such studies can measure. Nor do I think the results of such studies can increase healing, for if one is praying not because of faith but because someone says it might do some good, it won’t. I might also take issue with how this report describes prayer, for example as “looking towards one’s source of authority”. (If that link doesn't work, try this report.) Prayer has no power in and of itself, but the power lies in the God Who hears prayers and mercifully answers them. These studies and those who are so fixated on prayer and healing put too much emphasis on healing here and now; even the people Jesus healed—and even raised—later died. What was most important about Jesus’ healing and resurrecting miracles was that they testified to Jesus’ authority to forgive sins and thus provide spiritual healing for eternity.

I have a trio of tidbits for your first day of the week. The Vatican ventures further into China’s foreign affairs, calls for clemency in the case of the Afghan Christian facing death for converting to Islam, and is speaking out of both sides of its mouth regarding the Crusades. ... The children of that murdered Tennessee minister are now with his parents, and police are not yet saying what they think prompted his wife to kill him. ... And the author of a report supporting adoption by gay couples reportedly is herself a gay advocate.

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 25, 2006

Ps 108 / Lk 12-13 / Comments / Tidbits

Psalm 108 is attributed to David but is thought to be someone else’s editing together parts of two other psalms of David. Regardless of its origin, this psalm in its first part praises—thereby expressing trust in—God’s love and faithfulness (vv.1-5, confer Psalm 57:7-11), and the psalm in its second part prays for His help against enemies (vv.6-13, confer Psalm 60:5-12). Note how instruments join the sung praise at the dawn of the day of salvation (vv.1-3). God’s right hand is not only the position of honor where Jesus dwells but also the figure of speech for God’s power (v.6). With that power God wins land from enemies and distributes it to His people: land west and east of the Jordan is referenced by its former occupants and its God-given ones (vv.7-8). Next, enemies to the east, south, and west are mentioned with ways that indicate their defeat (v.9). Rhetorical questions in verses 9-10 lead to the petition of verse 11 and the confident confession in verse 12. In our case we know that Jesus has already won the war, even if we are still engaged in some skirmishes.

Luke 12-13 narrates, respectively, Jesus's teaching in Judea and the beginning of His ministry in and around Perea. First, Jesus warns the crowd about the Pharisees who might be able to kill them but have no power over heaven and hell; the people are to fearlessly confess Jesus, the Son of Man (12:1-12). Next, Jesus declines to judge or arbitrate between two brothers fighting over an inheritance, teaching instead that the more important than riches is to be right with God (12:13-21). Then, somewhat continuing that theme, Jesus tells His followers not to worry but to trust in God to provide all they need, especially eternally (12:22-34). Next, Jesus teaches both all of His followers and His apostles to be watchful and about His business while they wait for the end of the age (12:35-48). Then, Jesus makes clear that His coming to the world makes the harshest of divisions, as between close family members, some of whom will confess Him and others who will not (12:49-53). (The juxtaposition is interesting: some fights are not necessary, and other fights are necessary.) Next, Jesus makes it clear that the time of that division is right now, that judgment for any individual could come at any time (12:54-59). Chapter 13 beings with Jesus teaching that catastrophic events should not be interpreted as indications of the degree of the victims’ sinfulness but as calls to immediate repentance (13:1-9). Then, Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath, making clear that His opponents inconsistently applied the law to themselves and Jesus (13:10-17). In the following two parables about the Kingdom, Jesus teaches that things that start small can grow to have large influence (13:18-21). Next, Jesus, on the road to Jerusalem, teaches that not all who think they will enter the Kingdom will but that the kingdom will nevertheless be full (13:22-30). Today’s reading concludes with Jesus weeping over Jerusalem as He anticipates its destruction for years of resisting the Holy Spirit working through the prophets to call its people to repent (13:31-35). The end of chapter 13 is a somewhat reflective place to stop reading for the day, but we do well to consider how we might resist Jesus’ attempts to gather us. We can at the same time be comforted, for we know that when He was greeted with the cries of “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord” (as we sing in the Sanctus) He came to die and rise again to save us from our sins.

Two comments received recently via email indicate some of you are enjoying the reading from Luke and the posts about it. One comment reads:

I especially liked your last sentence in the Luke 6-7 Biblog paragraph: the anointing of Jesus by the woman, "this account teaches the Lutheran confessors that true worship is seeking the forgiveness of sins and that acts of love follow from faith and are first motivated by God's act of love for us." Amen!

And another comment indicated appreciation for Luke 8:11-15: “I love this parable. Very clear and easy to understand!” Keep those comments coming!

I have some wide-ranging tidbits for your last day of the week. A folo in the clergy crime file is a not-so-typical pastor's wife! ... Pro-abortion forces in South Dakota want voters there to have their say on the state’s ban. ... The Afghan government is expected to set free the man on trial for converting to Christianity, but he’s reportedly ready to accept the death sentence; I guess time will tell whether, as one reader emailed, the mullahs or the man’s family will take their religious law into their own hands. ... Roman Catholics have fifteen new “princes”. ... What the latest poll shows Americans think about gay marriage apparently depends on whom you ask. ... Looks like “Brokeback Mountain” will be going to court over one of its actors that wants more money, and Wal-Mart draws fire for promoting the movie’s soon-to-be-released DVD. ... And, remember the flap over Christmas? Well, the Easter Bunny has been evicted from the city hall in St. Paul, Minnesota.

There’s new Q&A here. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life, and so believing may you tomorrow receive the forgiveness of sins He so graciously offers in Word and Sacrament!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:37 AM

March 24, 2006

Ps 107 / Lk 10-11 / Martyrdom / Tidbits

Psalm 107 begins Book V of the Psalms but is nevertheless thought to be closely related to the three psalms that precede it. This psalm calls those the Lord has redeemed to praise Him for His deliverance, especially from the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. The security of the city the psalm describes reminds me of the anticipation of the New Jerusalem in Revelation (Revelation 21), and the quenching of thirst and satisfying of hunger remind me of Mary’s song (Luke 1:53). The psalmist describes how the people got themselves into this trouble by rebelling but repented and were delivered. The Lord can reverse fortunes to discipline His people and bless them anew, but we should not expect full blessedness until heaven.

Reading Luke 10-11 today we finish hearing of Jesus’ withdrawal to the regions around Galilee and of His ministry in Judea. First we hear of Jesus’ sending out seventy-two disciples to preach repentance and the Gospel by word and deed (10:1-24). (Some translations read "seventy" by giving greater weight to different ancient manuscripts of the Gospel.) Then, Jesus teaches about Himself as the Good Samaritan (10:25-36). Next, at the home of Mary and Martha, Jesus reminds His friends about what is really important (10:38-42). Then, St. Luke gives some of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, including the model prayer and a parable encouraging us to be persistent in prayer, especially when it comes to spiritual blessings such as the Holy Spirit (11:1-13). Next, Jesus responds to the accusation that He is in league with Satan, and He gives a wonderful metaphor of His victory over the devil, the strong man (11:14-28). Then, Jesus speaks to His death and resurrection as a sign pointed to by Jonah (11:29-32). Next, Jesus tells how some were unwilling to see Jesus (11:33-36), and, finally, Jesus warns the Pharisees and all teachers that concentrate on external observances of the law without first seeking the righteousness that comes from God.

What’s happened to martyrdom? Tuesday I linked to news of the trial of an Afghanistan man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity, and yesterday President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice both finally said they were “deeply troubled” by the matter. In between I read a story of how some U.S. Islamic scholars said the Koran does not really call for the death penalty for converts, and yesterday even moderate Islamic leaders in Afghanistan repeated the claim that the Koran does call for the man’s death. There are three important things to say about all of these things. First, we have more in common with the Islamic hardliners who take their sacred writings seriously. The moderates or liberals apply their own reason to what the writings say and try to make them sound nicer to the world, which falsely thinks of itself as more-enlightened. Do not believe those who try to explain away the plain teaching of the Koran. Second, I heard a sermon recently where it was suggested that the church benefits from our freedom of religion. I am not so sure! Christ’s Church has always benefited from persecution and times of oppression. Somehow being oppressed has a way of making the things that are really important stand out, and the Holy Spirit uses such times to draw people to the Church. Third and finally, while I think the United States should stand up for freedom of religion and for respect of every human life, this man who converted to Christianity and each and every one of us who claim to be Christian should be prepared to die on account of the faith. (Some of you may remember my comments about a Christian woman in Canada who was facing deportation to certain death on account of her faith.) There was a time when Christians prayed for the opportunity to make a confession of faith in Christ sealed with the shedding of their own blood. Nowadays we are quite quick to complain of persecution instead and to speak of martyrdom as if it were a bad thing—the way the world does, as in “Don’t make a martyr out of Moussaoui.” What’s happened to martyrdom? The devil has dulled our spiritual insight! In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus says: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Look how they treated Jesus, and, as He says in Luke 23:31, “if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” Friends, following our Savior down the way of the cross in this world is the path to eternal glory. God grant we never lose sight of that!

Friday's tidbits follow. First, an item in the clergy crime file! ... A Massachusetts commission finds the state and healthcare providers let down a 12-year-old comatose girl. ... A lawsuit is threatened as the flap over U.S. Navy chaplains praying in Jesus’ Name continues. ... A Wisconsin high school cancels Diversity Day because it was too diverse! ... San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors calls Roman Catholics some not so nice names. ... There's only one Roman Catholic diocese left that restricts altar servers to boys. ... A Southern Baptist agency moves to prohibit future dissent. ... And a reader sent this link to a little quiz you might enjoy.

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:42 AM

March 23, 2006

Ps 106 / Lk 8-9 / Hoopoe / Tidbits

Like yesterday’s psalm, Psalm 106 recounts part of Israel’s history as a motivation for the people to praise God. This psalm, however, has a quite a different view of history! Psalm 105 recalled God’s miraculous deeds, whereas Psalm 106 recalls the people’s disobedience and rebellion and God’s mercy and forgiveness that followed their disobedience and rebellion. Also, where Psalm 105 started with Abraham and moved forward to the Exodus from Egypt, Psalm 106 starts with Egypt and moves forward to the people’s Babylonian captivity many generations later. Thus, where some of the events referred to in the psalm likely will be familiar to you if you have been reading the Daily Lectionary all along, others will likely not be familiar. As with Psalm 105, some poetic license is taken with the actual historical sequence of events, and I have a few other particular comments to make. Note how the Just and Righteous One of verse 3 is the answer to the question in verse 2. The psalm seems to have both individual and community features, but more striking is how the psalmist (and thus also a reader today) includes himself in the long history of sinning (v.6). The psalmist somewhat curiously switches back and forth between third-person reference to God (as in verses 1-3, 8-46, and 48) and second-person address to God (as in verses 4-7 and 47). The second part of verse 13 may especially indict us in our impatience with God while His plan plays itself out. Verse 33 is variously translated, but the Holy Spirit working at the time of the wilderness wandering seems to be in view. Verse 48 seems to be the close of Book IV of the Psalms, and you can see one of the places from where I draw my frequent encouragement for the people to take their part in the liturgy by affirming all that is said to them and for them with a strong “Amen!” Despite the people of old’s and our manifold sins God forgives them all for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ. There's no better way to affirm and to receive such forgiveness than with "Amen", meaning "truly", or, as Dr. Luther puts it, "Yes, yes, it shall be so."

Luke 8-9 narrates events at the conclusion of Jesus’ first ministry tour in Galilee and some of those from when He withdrew to regions around Galilee. Chapter 8 begins with the parable of the sower or soils (8:1-15), and we want to try to be the soil where the seed of God’s Word produces a hundred-fold crop. Next Jesus tells how the teaching the disciples heard was important not just for themselves but for others (8:16-18). When Jesus’ mother and step-siblings or extended family come to see Him, He teaches how the family formed by participation in His blood is in some ways more important than family related by human blood lines (8:19-21). Several miracles and healings conclude chapter 8 (vv.22-56), and I might point out how the account of St. Luke, the physician, differs from that of one of the other evangelists (compare Luke 8:43 to Mark 5:26). Chapter 9 begins with an initial mission for the Twelve that has some striking results (vv.1-9). On the heels of their trip comes a feeding miracle (9:10-17), which has special importance in Luke’s account where table fellowship is a recurring theme. The account of Peter’s confession of Christ is followed by Jesus’ teaching the daily cost of making—or not making—such a confession (9:18-27). Eight days later Jesus is transfigured (9:28-36), and St. Luke’s account uniquely reports the topic of the discussion between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah: in the Greek, Jesus’s “exodus”, which we can understand in the full sense of delivering us from sin, which, in a sense, was the fulfillment of all of their work. Next, St. Luke tells how Jesus healed a boy with an unclean or evil spirit (9:37-45). In the argument about who was the greatest (9:46-50), Jesus in v.50 makes quite a different statement than that we heard in the Oculi Gospel reading this past Sunday (11:23)—one key to the difference is in 9:51, but for a more scholarly explanation of how to reconcile those verses see here. Finally, St. Luke tells of opposition to Jesus’ work from sources external (9:51-56) and internal (9:57-62).

A reader emailed in a comment on the Q&A posted yesterday regarding the hoopoe, a bird listed as unclean in Deuteronomy 14, saying that the hoopoe is almost a character in James A. Michener’s 1965 novel The Source.

Sorry about no tidbits yesterday, but I have some today. The City of San Antonio may be sued for starting city council meetings with prayer. ... In Minnesota a state marriage amendment is one-third of some weird political maneuvering. ... Different state’s differing laws regarding same-sex unions are beginning to conflict, which could ultimately send the whole matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. ... Another PCUSA “pastorette” accused of “marrying” two lesbians may face a church trial, but this woman is notable for her descent from Jonathan Edwards. ... Jewish leaders try to ease Muslim fears over alleged plans for the site of the Jerusalem Temple. ... And a Roman Catholic rectory in New Orleans is occupied to prevent the closure of the parish but in a uniquely New Orleans sort of way.

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 22, 2006

Ps 105 / Lk 6-7

When you remember the things God has done for you, isn’t it easier to believe in Him and to praise Him from the heart? Those appear to be the ideas behind Psalm 105; the psalm encourages Israel to trust in and praise God Who has fulfilled the covenant He made already with Abraham and with all his descendants. The psalm may have been used first in connection with the liturgy for the Feast of Weeks. The author of the psalm takes a little poetic license with some of the historical sequence of Old Testament events, but the central facts are unchanged. A couple of quick particular comments are in order. Verses 14-15 have background in Genesis 20:2-7; I had forgotten Abraham was called a prophet. Genesis 39:20-23 does not mention shackles, as does verse 18, but they are an image of slavery that the psalmist's audience would recognize. Verse 25 does not mean God directly and actively made the Egyptians hate the Israelites and conspire against Moses and Aaron, but it does mean that in God’s omnipotent control everything worked to the benefit of His people—as everything now works for the benefit of His Church. Verse 40 seems to be a charitable interpretation of the people’s complaining about the lack of meat, though see how Psalm 78:18 puts it. Many of this psalm’s descriptions of Exodus events are used in Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” that I previously mentioned here. Overall, remember that even though these particular acts of salvation do not directly impact you and me, they do point forward to greater acts of salvation that do directly impact us—Jesus birth, death, and resurrection to save us from our sins.

Luke 6-7 continues the narration of Jesus’ ministry’s first tour of Galilee. Jesus shows He’s Lord of the Sabbath and that they misunderstood what the Sabbath was all about (6:1-10); notice how His opponents already begin to plot against Him. Jesus sets apart the Twelve and designates them “apostles” or “sent-ones”, though with a hint at what is coming with Judas (6:12-16). The so-called “Sermon on the Plain” (6:20-49) covers many of the same themes as the “Sermon on the Mount” that Matthew records (Matthew 5-7), but this isn’t a problem since Jesus no doubt preached some of the same things more than one time and in different places. The Beatitudes in Luke contrast the state of things right now with how things will be when the Kingdom is fully realized (6:20-26). Love for enemies is to reflect God’s mercy for us (6:27-36), who are by nature enemies of God. Luke 6:37-42 does not rule out the judging that takes place by faithful proclamation of God’s Word. Luke 6:43-45 indicate how our words and deeds reflect whether or not we believe, and the parable of the wise and foolish builders reiterates that fact (Luke 6:46-49). Speaking of faith, Luke 7:1-10 tells how the centurion had compassion on his servant and, despite his prominent military position and regard among the people, knew where he stood with God. Jesus’ raising the son of the widow of Nain (7:11-17) points to His own resurrection, to me, in more ways than one. Jesus teaches about John the Baptizer in 7:18-35 and shows how they were both Godly, despite their external differences. Finally in today’s reading, Jesus, while at a Pharisees’ banquet, is anointed by a woman; the anointing is appropriate for Him as Prophet, Priest, and King, but more importantly this account teaches the Lutheran confessors that true worship is seeking the forgiveness of sins and that acts of love follow from faith and are first motivated by God’s act of love for us.

There's a new Q&A here. Remember you are invited to join us for mid-week Lenten Vespers at 7:00 tonight with supper preceding at 6:00. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:26 AM

March 21, 2006

Ps 104 / Lk 4-5 / Tidbits

After the heavy rain Sunday night we can relate to Psalm 104’s emphasis on water! The psalm is a hymn of sorts to the creator; it is not a narration of creation, for its order and emphasis are different from that of Genesis 1. The psalm does not describe any of the Lord’s work of salvation for His human creatures, though among the Flood, the Red Sea, the water from the rock, the Jordan River, and Holy Baptism there are plenty of ways of keeping to the water theme and our remembering those salvific acts.

Luke 4-5 narrates Jesus’ temptation, the beginning of His public ministry, and its first tour in Galilee. The timing of the devil’s assault on Jesus (4:1-13)—after His Baptism—is much as it is for us: taking Jesus’ side in Baptism puts us at war with the devil. (Note well the repeated emphasis on the Holy Spirit, as in 4:1 and 14.) Luke’s account of the temptation noticeably brings Jesus from the wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem; Luke’s whole Gospel account begins and ends in the Jerusalem Temple. When Jesus goes to Nazareth (4:16-30) He participates in the usual liturgical synagogue service, reading the appointed reading for the day and sitting down to teach. What happened next was different, however, and the people’s rejection of Him prompts Him to warn them and them to almost kill Him. He escapes them, however, apparently passing through the crowd by means of some supernatural mode of existence. Outside of Nazareth, Jesus performs miracles and amazes those who witness them (4:31-37). The woman healed in 4:38-39 is thought to be Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and Luke, the beloved physician, gives the medical detail of the fever, which the other evangelists do not give. The miraculous catch of fish connected with the call of the first disciples in 5:4-10 is nearly repeated at the end of Jesus’ ministry (John 21:1-9). Jesus continues to perform miracles and call disciples in 5:12-31; verses 31 and 32 are significant in how they speak of Jesus’ mission. In answering the Pharisees’ question about fasting, Jesus makes a difficult to understand statement about how people are set in their incorrect ways and unwilling to receive the correct religious teaching.

Tidbits today number a perfect seven. A convert to Christianity is on trial in Afghanistan where he faces the death penalty for leaving Islam. ... President Bush says he doesn’t think of the war in Iraq as a sign of the end. ... Giving women the option to see an ultrasound image of their own child before aborting it is called an erosion of women’s rights. (How’s that? Sounds to me like giving them more rights.) ... The creators of “South Park” are not letting the flap with Scientology keep the “Chef” character off the show. ... The biggest movie of the weekend is called anti-Christian propaganda. ... “The Ten Commandments” movie with Charlton Heston as Moses is celebrating 50 years. ... And, on this vernal equinox, I can say I never let cold temperatures up north stop me from going without socks in my deck shoes.

You will find two new Q&A here. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 20, 2006

Ps 103 / Lk 2-3

Attributed to David, though his authorship is sometimes challenged, Psalm 103 praises the Lord for all of His many and various benefits, especially the forgiveness of sins or redemption (vv.3-4, 10-12). The psalm starts with a call for our whole beings to join the hymn (vv.1-2), and it ends with a call for the rest of creation, heavenly and earthly, to join the hymn, too (vv.20-22). In between we find the psalmist celebrating benefits received as an individual (vv.3-5) and as a community (vv.6-19). There are a number of important truths in this psalm. The Lord reveals His saving ways to His people (v.7, not His law in the sense of commandments, though compare v.18) so that they can know Him and believe. The last attribute listed in verse 8, “mercy” (KJV; “lovingkindess” ASV, NASB; “love” NIV; “steadfast love” ESV), controls the Lord’s accusing and being angry with us (vv.9-10). Verses 11-12 and 13-14 are great expressions of God’s forgiveness and compassion (NIV, NASB; “pity” KJV, ASV; related to the first attribute in v.8, “merciful” [KJV, ASV; “compassionate” NIV, NASB]). Human existence that begins to fade at its fullest bloom is contrasted to God’s eternal existence (vv.15-18). One note about translation, the same Hebrew word barak can mean either “bless” or “praise”, with a regular rule of thumb that the greater one blesses and the lesser one praises—so, in this case, “praise” would seem to be the better translation (NIV, vv.1, 2, 20, 21, 22). The eagle of v.5, incidentally, replaces its feathers once a year by grace and appears to be younger than it is. One final note, parts of this psalm excerpted as #293 in the Episcopal hymnal were set to music in “Godspell” and, at least according to the lyrics at this website, were put in the mouth of Martin Luther! You can find the tune here.

Luke 2-3 tell of Jesus’ birth, childhood, forerunner, Baptism, and genealogy. Note how the Divinely-inspired St. Luke connects Jesus’ birth to a secular dating scheme (2:1-2; 3:1-2). The birth announcement to shepherds (2:8-20) recalls the occupation of Jesus’ ancestors and the frequently used image of our God and King as a shepherd and us as His flock. We see the third canticle in Luke’s account, the “Gloria” sung by the angels (2:14), and the fourth, the “Nunc Dimittis” sung by Simeon (2:29-32; you can find more this unmetered liturgical song here). Already with His circumcision in 2:21 Jesus sheds His first blood for us, and remember that the Name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves” (2:21; Matthew 1:21). Jesus in the Temple is one of His first epiphanies, or showing forths of His Divine nature from His human nature; Luke 2:49 is variously translated, but best is probably along the lines of the reading in the NASB margin, “about the affairs of My Father”. John the Baptizer’s work fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah (3:3-6; Isaiah 40:3-5), and note the fruits of repentance and how John applies the concept of a Christian vocation or calling (3:7-14). Jesus’ baptism (3:21-22) was not because He needed the forgiveness of sins but to identify Himself with us and to make Holy Baptism as the new circumcision, the way of coming under the new covenant and its blessings. The genealogy St. Luke gives (3:23-38) identifies Jesus with the entire human race and, where it differs from Matthew’s, may follow Mary’s (His actual) line of descent. All is for us and for our salvation.

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 19, 2006

Ps 102 / Lk 1 / Tidbits

Any one of us suffering any form of distress could pray Psalm 102, which likely was first the prayer of someone suffering on account of the nation’s Babylonian exile. We find a call for God to hear the prayer (vv.1-2), a description of the psalmist’s distress (vv.3-11), confidence that the Lord will hear and relieve the distress (vv.12-17), an appeal for a record of the Lord’s deliverance (vv.18-22), and finally a concluding summary (vv.23-28). As with many of the psalms, the psalmist confesses that his body and soul are suffering at the Lord’s hand (v.10). The psalmist’s ridiculed reputation (v.8) is contrasted with the Lord’s enduring renown (v.12). The Lord’s position on His throne is one from which He can answer prayers. As with the Exodus from Egypt, note that the Lord’s returning the people from Babylon is for them to again praise and worship God. Likewise, we who are delivered from sin, death, and the power of the devil join in worship and praise brought forth by and in the context of our receiving God’s gift of forgiveness through Word and Sacrament in the Divine Service.

With today’s reading of Luke 1 we head into the New Testament until June 8th, when we will resume the historical narrative of the Old Testament right where the end of Deuteronomy left off. Since we are beginning a new book, you may want to read the background information available on here or to download here. Luke 1 includes the evangelist’s preface to the book (vv.1-4) and begins the account of the coming of Jesus, detailing the announcements of John’s and Jesus’ births and John’s actual birth. In contrast to some of our recent Old Testament reading, I expect you will find the narrative probably much more familiar and easier to follow. I want to comment on a few things, and you are welcome to ask about others (use the "Submit Questions" link in the left margin near the top of the page). Faith in Jesus is the goal of Luke’s divinely-inspired writing (v.4). Zechariah’s question to the angel’s announcement (v.18) is dramatically different from that of Mary (v.34). We should strive for our response to all God says to be that of Mary (v.38), for in hearing the Word and so treasuring it we are, like Mary, truly blessed (Luke 11:27-28). Incidentally, the occasion of the virgin's conception and birth is one of two places in St. Luke’s Gospel account where we find statements about what is possible with God; the other is Luke 18:27. The leaping of John in Elizabeth’s womb is an example of Holy Spirit produced infant faith (vv.39-45). Mary’s song, the Magnificat (vv.46-55) is the first of the four canticles (unmetered liturgical songs) St. Luke records, and it gives evidence to her having been steeped in the Old Testament (images of the Annunciation to Mary usually show her reading or surrounded by scrolls of Old Testament books). Zechariah’s song, the Benedictus (vv.68-79) is the second canticle in Luke. The Lord’s faithfulness in delivering His people with the forgiveness of sins is prominent in both. (You can find more on these canticles here and here, respectively.) Verse 80 is a summary statement of sorts on John’s childhood; similar ones for Jesus will be found later (2:40, 52).

A perfect number of tidbits is here to start your week. The Bush administration allows “sexual orientation” to be used as a basis for denying security clearances. ... There’s an unusal alliance between conservatives and the porn industry against an internet red-light district. ... Faith-based groups are supposed to help the nation deal with an avian flu pandemic, but apparently no one is sure what that means. ... One of those organizations, PCUSA, is facing huge budget cuts as unrestricted giving declines. ... The leader of the Russian Orthodox church reportedly wants to rapidly resolve problems with the Roman Catholic church. ... His Roman Catholic counterpart, Pope Benedict XVI, is calling for the mass media to provide pro-family portrayals. ... And, in a somewhat related story, Tom Cruise allegedly heats up Scientology’s battle with “South Park” and reinforced my decision not to see “Mission Impossible III” this summer. (If you missed it, last week I linked to news of the first round between “South Park” and Scientology.)

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 18, 2006

Ps 101 / Dt 31-34 / Tidbits

Ascribed to David, Psalm 101 may have been written for his son Solomon’s coronation as king. The words express a king’s commitment to a righteous reign, but only Christ perfectly keeps the commitment. Of course, we, too, can be blameless as we heed the Lord’s call to faith (Genesis 17:1) and are declared and made righteous in Christ. Praise is a part of this psalm, though admittedly far less so than of others we have read recently; a greater emphasis is placed herein on other fruits of faith. We can learn from the psalmist’s admission that we are subject to temptations to sin by the heart (inner things) and eye (outer things). We do well to do as the psalmist pledges and surround ourselves with faithful people, though for us to have opportunity to witness by deed and word to the faithless in the world we cannot cut ourselves off from them completely.

We finish the book and the Pentateuch with today’s reading of Deuteronomy 31-34. These final four chapters can be grouped as dealing with the succession of covenant leaders, from Moses to Joshua. Permit me to comment on a few things of interest. As Moses exhorts Joshua and the people to “be strong and courageous” (31:6, 7), so God and the people will later exhort Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:23; Joshua 1:6, 9, 18). Physical strength does not seem to be in view, since the opposite of being strong and courageous seems to be “fearing and being dismayed” (or “discouraged”; 31:8). Part of what is to encourage the people is the annual hearing of the Lord’s instruction (torah) from the priests, just as the king would need to read it daily (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Deuteronomy 31:24 would seem to be a reference to the book of Deuteronomy itself. I was struck by the Lord’s mercy and grace evident in His willingness to proceed with the people despite knowing they will be unfaithful (31:21), and He warns them with a divinely-inspired hymn! (Who says the liturgy is a human invention?) What is said in verse 47 goes for all orthodox hymns: “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.” The hymn has familiar imagery, such as that of God’s Word descending like morning dew. We saw verse 32:10’s “apple of His eye” here. Verse 13’s “honey from the rock” may refer to bee hives built in rock clefts, and its “oil from the flinty crag” may refer to olive trees on hillsides. “Jeshurun” means “upright one” and by describing her ideal character is another name for Israel (32:5 and 33:5, 26). The Lord’s interest in His own reputation helps preserve the people (32:27). Vineyard imagery is used in verses 32-33, where the enemies are described as a vine different from that in the Lord’s vineyard. The sequence in verse 39 is important: dying spiritually in sorrow and contrition is necessary before the bringing to life of absolution. Moses’ blessings of the tribes in chapter 33 are in a sense parallel to Jacob’s blessings of his sons (Genesis 49). Thinking of Joshua or some other as author of chapter 34, especially its closing verses, does not take away from Mosaic authorship of the book as a whole.

Tidbits for your last day of the week follow. Two more women have reportedly died from the RU-486 abortion pill. ... Roman Catholic officials in the United States support a Constitutional amendment defining marriage but not debate of the real issues. ... There was related controversy over yesterday's New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, though I think the comment in context is not as inflammatory as it first seems. ... The defense wraps up in “The Da Vinci Code” copyright infringement trial. ... A new book about Christ makes Him out to be quite a contrarian. ... You can pray with your iPod in London. ... And, a Lutheran website conversion clicker is not the only one a long ways from its goal.

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 17, 2006

Ps 100 / Dt 28-30 / St. Patrick’s hymn / Tidbits

Psalm 100 calls us and everyone to praise the Lord, and the title of the psalm suggests it is especially useful for giving thanks. If you have been reading the first 99 psalms with us, you will probably find that Psalm 100 has themes that are quite familiar, such as the Lord’s work of creation and our description as sheep (v.3). The location for the praise is the Temple (note its gates and courts in v.4). The Lord’s goodness and faithfulness are especially to be praised, along with his “mercy” (KJV; “love” NIV; “lovingkindness” ASV, NASB).

Deuteronomy 28-30 today finishes the section we began yesterday that deals with curses and blessings. Though we do not have the blessings that correspond with the curses of chapter 27, they presumably were spoken and affirmed by the people with their “Amen”. Chapter 28 gives blessings and curses in a different form; in some cases the given blessings and curses are direct opposites. Chapter 29 briefly recalls the salvation history and gives more terms of the renewed covenant, and chapter 30 lays out precisely what is at stake for the people. Be careful not to understand God as suggesting the people in any way earn the blessings; rather, God gives them out of love and faithfulness. God’s deeds are always at the beginning of the covenant. On the other hand, the people bring the curses upon themselves by their own disobedience. (Similarly, we believe, teach, and confess that God is responsible for our salvation and the lost are responsible for their destruction.) As we continue to read the historical books of the Old Testament in months ahead we will see the fulfillment of many of the curses result from the people’s disobedience. Do verses like 29:25-28 come to our minds when we ask questions such as that in verse 24 about the land of Israel today? The prosperity and blessings promised for when the people repent (30:1-10) are not necessarily prosperity here and now but are fully realized in the world to come. Divinely inspired, Moses is careful in 30:11-20 to rule out the people taking credit for their obedience or having an excuse for not obeying, but he makes it clear their hearts can turn away and will thereby bring about their own destruction. There is no decision theology here; the people do not “decide” to follow God.

All green-beer drunkenness aside, today is St. Patrick’s Day, which underneath the celebration of Irish culture was originally a Roman Catholic church holy day. Lutherans do not generally observe this feast day, but I do want to direct your attention to St. Patrick's hymn, “I bind unto Myself Today” (Lutheran Worship #172). The text, sometimes called the “Lorica of St. Patrick” or “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, dates back at least to the 11th century but is thought to date back much earlier, as it is ascribed to St. Patrick. Tradition says that St. Patrick defied King Loegaire by refusing to celebrate a heathen festival and that Patrick and his men sang this hymn as they fled the king. (Whether St. Patrick actually drove all the snakes out of Ireland is another matter.) The original Irish of the hymn text may have been in the shape of a breastplate, though there are other reasons for describing a confession of faith as a “breastplate” (see Isaiah 59:17; Ephesians 6:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:8). Historically the hymn and this tune have been used in connection with Baptisms in the Easter Vigil, sung at weddings, and used for a processional. In Lutheran Worship, the hymn was appropriately put in the Trinity section, and the hymn is to be included in the forthcoming Lutheran Service Book, though with the following stanza replacing the current third stanza.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile foes that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me those holy powers.

I can definitely say this “new” stanza is an improvement over the “present” third stanza, though both seem to come from the original text as reproduced here.

I have a few tidbits for your Friday. A Canadian university newspaper apparently has a double standard on editorial cartoons slamming religion (you may find offensive the content at this link). ... “The Da Vinci Code” author’s wife may be the key to the copyright trial. ... After the “Hallelujah Diet” yesterday, here’s another chapter in the “I don’t think that’s what the Bible is about” book. ... There’s an effort underway to make the day of Terri Schaivo’s death a national holiday. ... And, March Madness is underway, with a Big XII upset already, but apparently being a sports fanatic can be hazardous to your health!

There's a new Q&A here. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 16, 2006

Ps 99 / Dt 25-27 / Biblog folos / Tidbits

Psalm 99 celebrates the Lord as a holy King ruling Zion but exalted over the entire world. One commentator points out several seven-fold repetitions in the Hebrew of the psalm and structural characteristics that are hard to see in the English. One important thing we can see in the English is the three-fold repetition of statements declaring God to be holy (vv.3, 5, 9), just as we in the Sanctus of the Divine Service sing with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isaiah 6:3). Likewise, the cherubim (v.1) are associated with the throne and presence of God on top of the Ark of the Covenant, in the Tabernacle and Temple, in visions of heavenly worship, and in our church building. In verse 5, the footstool is a figure of speech for the Earthly throne of God linked to His heavenly throne. Regarding verse 6, Moses technically was not a priest as Aaron was (nor was Samuel), though all three made intercessions for the people, which intercessions God answered by forgiving His people (v.8). God’s forgiveness especially highlights God’s justice, equity, and righteousness (v.4). Fear and trembling (v.1) lead to praise (v.3) and forgiveness (v.8).

Deuteronomy 25-27 ends the section dealing with covenant stipulations by finishing discussion of the holiness of God’s kingdom (chapter 25) and covering the confession of Him as Redeemer-King (chapter 26), and today’s reading begins the re-ratification of the covenant and the details of its curses and blessings (chapter 27). A few verses prompt my comments. The law prohibited more than 40 lashes (25:3), so the Jewish practice was to give 39 for fear of breaking the letter of the law (see 2 Corinthians 11:24). A literal interpretation of 25:4 was no doubt meant, but later writers also applied it figuratively to servants of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:7-12; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). The additional detail on Levirate marriages (25:5-10) will be important as we later read Ruth. Notice the two liturgical confessions of a sort (26:3-10 and 13-15) to be made with offerings of firstfruits and tithes. Also note well the liturgical response from the people to the Levite’s proclamation of the curses in chapter 27: “Amen!”

I have two Biblog folos today. First, despite the fact that we don’t read Joshua until June and 1 Kings until July, yesterday’s post, in connection with the trouble in Jericho on Tuesday, mentioned that Joshua pronounced God’s curse on the city in Joshua 6:26 and that the Bible recorded it being fulfilled in 1 Kings 16:34. About 1 Kings 16:34, a reader emailed the good Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” Simply put, the verse says when Hiel of Bethel rebuilt the walls and gates of Jericho, according to God’s curse, not only his first-born and last-born sons but, if he had others, all his sons died. We don’t know whether or not they died in the construction process, but that certainly would be one possibility. In the context of 1 Kings, the rebuilding of the walls and gates is a sign of how far Israel’s unfaithfulness had gone and of the increasing division between Israel and Judah.

The second Biblog folo comes after, in yesterday’s post, I wished you a happy “Ides of March”, which is just the Latin way of referring to the middle of the month. If you know it at all, you most likely know it from William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”. The Rev. Dr. Scott Murray used the Ides of March as the opening of yesterday’s Memorial Moment, which I commend to you.

Today I also have a potpourri of tidbits. There’s a new dimension to the abortion controversy as a pro-abortionist reportedly posts on-line step-by-step directions for an abortion. ... Texas may have its own string of church arsons forming. ... A “moment of silence” in Texas schools is called “unconstitutional”. ... A Roman Catholic cardinal decries the “exodus of Christians” from the Holy Land, and another observer says a divided Europe may be the only solution to the problem with Muslims. ... One of the famous voices of the TV show “South Park” has quit after his “religion”, Scientology, is ridiculed by the show, and bloggers are having a field day over his hypocrisy. ... “The Da Vinci Code” author admits to “reworking” parts of an earlier book. ... And The Hallelujah Diet is said to be the #1 book on Amazon.com. Sight unseen I’d at least say part of the title isn’t appropriate during Lent!

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 15, 2006

Ps 98 / Dt 22-24 / Biblog folos / Three Mideast tidbits

I’ve been waiting for Psalm 98, which is probably one of my top ten favorite psalms! Psalm 98 calls the Temple congregation, the people of the earth, and all of creation to praise the Lord on account of the marvelous things the Lord has done. How much greater are those marvelous things that the Lord has done since the time of the psalmist! Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ has not been kept a secret but has been made known to us and to the ends of the earth. The ends of the earth sing as the Lord comes to judge, which judgment was mentioned in Psalms 96 and 97. Music is prominent in the praise of the Lord, and we have a beautiful setting of this psalm in The Lutheran Hymnal, #667, “Cantate Domino”, which we have sung at least a few times at Grace and which the Fort Wayne Seminary Kantorei sings and has recorded (track #23 on this CD).

Reading Deuteronomy 22-24 we continue to read of the stipulations of the covenant, today reading about the holiness of God’s kingdom. I want to comment briefly on a few things. Deuteronomy 22:5 has something to say at least to cross-dressers if not also to the transgendered; the notes in my study Bible say the stipulation targeted transvestism (originally just crossdressers but now also transgendereds) and also homosexuality. Verse 9 can be taken to prohibit some forms of cross-breeding of plants and genetic engineering. God’s created order is to govern all things, especially human nature and procreation (23:1-2). As God was merciful to the people, they were to be merciful to one another (for example, 24:17-22). Above all, the holiness of the people and the land is to be preserved.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 merits a little more comment here, though not as much comment as the 23 of 350 pages in my Master’s Treatise give it. These four verses are a specific piece of case law that, for the sake of the purity of the land, forbids a divorced and remarried woman from returning to her first husband. Nevertheless, the passage was frequently misunderstood as establishing divorce instead of restricting remarriage (see, for examples, Matthew 5:31; 19:7). The extent to which remarriage after divorce was allowed may be limited, as by St. Augustine and Martin Luther, to those inside the civil “left-hand” nation of Israel but outside the religious “right-hand” assembly (see, for example, Jesus’ comment in Matthew 19:8, where “hard heart” refers to impenitence that would make one an unbeliever). Even in such a narrow piece of case law, the Gospel is still evident, however—note the emphasis on God’s gracious gift of the land.

Today I have two Bible-log follow-ups, or “Biblog folos” as I call them. First, a reader emailed an answer to my question in Monday’s post about whose vengeance is. The reader answered “God’s” but also asked if civil governments were not to execute it. Romans 13 does say that the civil government is established by God to execute His wrath, but ultimate vengeance is His. My concern with the comments lamenting Milosovic’s death is that the people making the comments don’t seem to recognize that God gets the final say. One report Tuesday says his death “deprived not only him, but indeed all interested parties of a judgment”. Really? Earthly justice serves Divine justice, not the other way around. I am confident a verdict has been given and that one day it will be revealed to all of us.

The second Biblog folo has to do with the update linked in yesterday's post about the cartoon contest that is sponsored by Iran to make fun of Israel. A reader emailed the observation that American Mike Flugennock's cartoon asks: "What has Ariel Sharon learned from the Holocaust?" and answers "Humiliation, tyranny, brutality and murder", showing bulldozers leveling Palestinians’ homes and soldiers threatening Palestinian protesters. The reader pointed out Israel’s brutality affects not only Muslims but that also being destroyed are the homes, vineyards, and olive groves of Arabs who are Christian.

Sticking to the Mideast theme, I have three quick tidbits. You may have heard about trouble in Jericho yesterday, but did you remember Joshua’s curse (Joshua 6:26) and the Biblical example of how it was carried out (1 Kings 16:34)? … Pat Robertson made yet another controversial comment on the news. ... And I missed it in time to mention it earlier, but yesterday was the Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates the events of the book of Esther that we haven't read yet. (And today, happy Ides of March!)

Remember you are invited to join us for mid-week Lenten Vespers at 7:00 tonight with supper preceding at 6:00. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 14, 2006

Ps 97 / Dt 19-21 / Tidbits

There apparently are different ways of understanding Psalm 97. After reading the psalm, I found that the notes in my generally-reliable study Bible did not agree with what I understood as I read the psalm. I checked a commentary on my shelf, and its understanding of the psalm agreed with what I think is the more obvious interpretation (one of the first translators of the Bible into Latin also took the psalm this way). Verse 1 is an invitation to be glad and rejoice right now, whereas in verses 2-8 the Lord’s future coming is described, but note how His coming is described with certainty and in somewhat vivid detail. (With verse 6 you might take also Revelation 1:7.) The different results of the Lord’s coming in judgment are described next: verse 7 for those who did not believe, and verse 8 for those who do believe. Verses 11-12 are encouragement for those in the days of the psalmist—encouragement based on the future coming of the Lord and its results. The post-exilic days of the psalmist are described as a time of longing after the ways of the world, and the same is definitely true today. The ways of the world may be great for a time, but the eternal outlook for those who practice them is quite different.

Deuteronomy 19-21 continues the stipulations of the covenant, today primarily concentrating on the leaders and the righteous nation. Again, some of the details will be familiar, such as those of the cities of refuge and the witnesses in chapter 19. Despite such provisions about witnesses, Jesus was still wrongly sentenced to death (see Matthew 26:59-66; Mark 14:55-64). Chapter 20’s provisions about going to war emphasize the Lord as the real fighter in future battles. Note that the people can make a peace offer to nearby cities before destroying them but not to the cities in the land (20:10-18). In chapter 21, the washing of hands as a declaration of innocence (6-7) and the connection of a curse with the body on the tree and related stipulations all are important background for the events of Jesus’ passion (see, for example, Matthew 27:24-25; Luke 23:50-54; Galatians 3:13).

Weekdays are always better news days, so there are more tidbits today. The author of “The Da Vinci Code” takes the stand in his copyright trial. ... Tunnels found in Israel suggest the Jews were preparing for Roman attacks in connection with the revolt that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., while an Egyptian find last month is thought to be a mummy workroom. ... The University of Minnesota is said to be censoring a professor displaying those controversial cartoons of Mohammed, while six American cartoons are among those entered in a related Iranian contest critical of Israel. ... A major abortion battle is brewing in Tennessee, while Americans’ views about abortion are said to be conflicted, and a lawsuit in Michigan is being billed as “Roe v. Wade for Men”. ... And, a reader emailed this "romantic" link.

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 13, 2006

Ps 96 / Dt 16-18 / Vengeance is whose? / Tidbits

Psalm 96 calls not only all the nations but also all of creation to join in singing praise to the Lord. A few things are worthy of comment. In verse 1, the song is “new” because of the Lord’s latest saving act; we should not take the word to suggest that there is anything wrong with the form or style of the “old” songs. In verse 2, note that praising God is not to be limited to the once-weekly or twice-weekly worship, but singing to the Lord should be a daily occurrence. In verse 4, do not think only of the kind of fear that arises when you are terrified, but think also of the type of reverence you have for someone you love and respect. In verse 5, note that any other god is an idol or false god and that only the Lord is the Creator worthy of praise. In verses 7-8 note how the three-fold repetition of “give” (KJV; “ascribe” ASV, NIV, NASB) is paired with the three-fold repetition of “sing” in verses 1-2, and the implication is that our songs are to be confessions of faith with meaningful content about Who God is and what He has done. In verse 9 the verb translated “worship” has to do with bowing down or reverencing the Lord. Also in verse 9, note that as unholy people we can only come into His holy Presence by virtue of His washing us in Holy Baptism, which is why the font is positioned where it is in our sanctuary, just before the communion rail where we receive Him in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine.

Deuteronomy 16-18 continues the stipulations of the covenant, today finishing the subsection dealing with ceremonial consecration and beginning the section dealing with the leaders and the righteous nation. If you have been reading the Pentateuch with us according to the Daily Lectionary, the details of the feasts in chapter 16 will probably be pretty old hat by now. In chapter 17, note, if you did not back at Numbers 35:30, that two or three witnesses are needed for capital crimes; the certainty that is to be provided by this procedure is important later in the New Testament, too (Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; and see John 5:31-47; 10:17-18). Also noteworthy in chapter 17 are verses 14-18 where Moses prophesies that the people will demand a king like the surrounding nations have and warns about things the king should not do, which ultimately the kings do anyway. Similarly in chapter 18 verses 14-22 the prophecy about the Prophet is important, as the prophecy is finally fulfilled in Jesus (see how the people applied this passage to Jesus in John 7:40).

Former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosovic apparently died of a heart attack Saturday in the cell where he was being held while on trial for 66 counts of war crimes. I did not think the story would have any aspects on which I would want to comment, but this morning I heard a report on the BBC Newshour that convinced me otherwise (sorry, but I can’t seem to find an on-line version of the specific story I heard). Despite some newspapers printing headlines that put Milosovic in hell, others complained about being denied the opportunity for a verdict and suggested the trial should continue regardless of his death. (Here’s a U.S. view of Milosovic as a spoiler.) To me the latters’ comments indicated an ignorance of who the ultimate judge is. Vengeance is whose? (See Isaiah 63:4; Romans 12:19.)

Only three tidbits again today. Here’s one example of the latest international controversy over--in this case religious--art and national property. ... A new HBO “reality show” is drawing more attention to polygamy. ... And I saw a somewhat entertaining Dateline piece about blogging.

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 12, 2006

Ps 95 / Dt 13-15 / Trio of Tidbits

At least the first part of Psalm 95 may be familiar to you, as the Venite, the first canticle, or unmetered liturgical song, that we sing in the Order of Matins (see page 33 in the front of The Lutheran Hymnal). The psalm as a whole calls us to praise the Lord and to submit our bodies and hearts to Him. Again music is prominent in connection with our praise of the God Who is greater than any other false god. The whole world is His, unlike the pagan gods who were said to have different areas of dominion. Note the shepherd-king and flock-people imagery in verse 7, and that the latter part of verse 7 refers primarily to the call of the Gospel in the liturgy itself. Verses 8-11 rehash the highlights of Israel’s rebellious history in the desert and their consequences; wilderness events are frequently used as examples to encourage our right regard for the Lord and His teaching (see also 1 Corinthians 10:5-11).

Today with Deuteronomy 13-15 we continue reading the section of Moses’ final sermon begun yesterday that speaks of ceremonial consecration (12:1-16:17). Chapter 13 addresses worshipping other gods. Chapter 14 mostly takes up clean and unclean foods, and chapter 15 reiterates the Sabbath Year. I want to comment on just a few things. Note that even a false prophet can work signs and wonders (13:1-3); what truly distinguishes the prophet as true or false is the content of his teaching. Families will be divided over matters of faith, Moses says (13:6-11), and Jesus says He Himself will divide families (for example, Matthew 10:34-37)—the thickest ties are those of Baptismal water and Christ’s holy blood. As you read the Old Testament directives on tithing (14:22-29), don’t be confused like today’s Protestants (which I say does not include Lutherans): we as New Testament believers are not under a command to tithe but nevertheless are motivated to give back to the Lord cheerfully, on the first day of the week, a proportion of the first fruits of what God has given us (see passages such as 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7). Note that both then and now what we give to the Lord is also used to support the Lord’s servants and those in need. With the Lord’s blessing and the people’s obedience there should not be any poor among the people, though perhaps, in light of 15:11, 15:5 means no permanent poor people. Finally, I used to think 15:17 could be used to warrant pastors piercing one of their ears with a cross, but I was convinced too many people in the typical parish would have a hard time accepting a pastor with a pierced ear.

I have a trio of tidbits for your first day of the week. Chinese leaders apparently are concerned that Pope Benedict is trying to do to communism in their country what John Paul II did to communism in Poland. ... Roman Catholic leaders take Roman Catholic politicians to task over abortion. ... And Billy Graham talks about “God, Satan, and Katrina” but watchout for a false understanding of Jesus’ return.

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 11, 2006

Ps 94 / Dt 10-12 / Sanctification / Tidbits

Psalm 94 gives voice to the oppressed under apparently wicked people in power within the kingdom of Israel. After an introductory call for help (vv.1-3), the psalmist lays out the charges against the wicked (vv.4-7). Then, the psalmist warns the wicked that God does know what is going on (vv.8-11) and describes the state of the blessed (vv.12-15). The psalmist next speaks of the Lord as the only hope (vv.16-19), and finally he speaks confidently that the Lord ultimately will answer his prayer (vv.20-23). As we experience suffering in our own lives, verses 12-13 are especially pertinent and remind us that the Lord’s plans for us are all good (Jeremiah 29:11).

Again today with Deuteronomy 10-12 we complete the section of Moses’s final sermon that deals with the commandments (4:44-11:32) and begin the next section dealing with other requirements, such as ceremonial consecration (12:1-16:17). Chapter 10 recalls the giving of the second set of stone tablets and how that is relevant to all Israelites. Chapter 11 continues to recall what God has done for the people and how they should respond, and chapter 12 emphasizes that there is to be one place of worship for the people. (The blessings and curses to which Moses refers in 11:26-28 will be detailed at length in chapters 27-28.) Though the generation to whom Moses spoke originally did not necessarily see the exodus from Egypt first-hand, they had seen other acts of God’s graciousness. Even those of us believers who are not descendants of Abraham and Israel by race are descendants of Abraham and Israel by faith, and so we are spiritual Israelites to whom Moses’s words about fearing, loving, and trusting in the Lord above all things still apply. In many ways, God’s act of saving us from our sins through Jesus Christ is greater than His act of delivering the people from slavery in Egypt through the miraculous deeds, and so we have a greater motivation to respond. The one place of worshipping the One Lord especially contrasted against the many places the Canaanites worshipped their many gods; we do not make sacrifices any longer and have no command to only worship God in one physical location. However, true worship of God is to receive His gift of forgiveness through the means He has chosen to deliver that gift: Word and Sacrament in the context of the Divine Service. So, we do not give up meeting together, as do some, but do so all the more as we see the last, great day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).

Sanctification was a topic in yesterday’s Biblog and, coincidentally, the topic of yesterday’s Memorial Moment, which you can find here.

Some tidbits for your Saturday follow. A new poll says Americans want evolution and its problems taught in schools, and two usual adversaries met to discuss how to handle sexual orientation in schools. Elsewhere, gay activists were arrested Friday at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, while the American Psychological Association is accused of becoming a front for gay activists. And, as suggested in yesterday's tidbits, the Boston Roman Catholic archdiocese will stop placing children for adoption without an exemption from a new state law. ... A report about Oregon’s assisted suicide law is said to not tell the whole story. ... Finally, in the name of free speech, a U.S. Federal Court is standing behind a controversial banner displayed in Alaska that connected Jesus and drugs. There's a joke we were told when visiting Alaska about the goods being odd, but I'd hate to offend any Alaskans.

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 10, 2006

Ps 93 / Dt 7-9 / Holiness / Tidbits

Psalm 93 celebrates the Lord’s reign as majestic, powerful, and eternal. The Lord is king not only over Israel but also over the entire world. He created order out of chaos, and that order carries over to His subjects.

Deuteronomy 7-9 continues the section of Moses’ final sermon to the Israelites that deals with the commandments. Chapter 7 describes how the people should drive out the existing nations from the land. Chapter 8 reminds them to remember the Lord, and chapter 9 reminds them that on account of the Lord’s righteousness, not their own, they are receiving the Land. The kind of destruction/devotion we discussed recently (for example, in this Q&A) continues to be prominent in chapter 7. Remembering the Lord is easy during hard times, the wilderness of suffering and afflictions, but remembering the Lord during good times is harder, as Moses warns the Israelites and us in chapter 8. The people were frequently unfaithful to God and did not deserve the Promised Land, Moses tells them in chapter 9, and we are reminded that not account of anything we have done but only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ are our sins forgiven.

Holiness is a theme in both of today’s readings, as in the Bible as a whole. A recent survey conducted by The Barna Group suggests most adults are confused about holiness. Barely more than one-third of those surveyed said God expects people to be holy, despite the fact that God clearly says, “Ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (see passages such as Leviticus 11:44-45). Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they think someone can become holy, but only half of the respondents said they knew someone holy, and only one in five regarded themselves as holy. The Barna research found that those responses depended on how the respondent defined holiness, and one in five said they did not even know what it meant to be holy. Of those who said they did know what it meant to be holy, remarkably most focused on things people do, not on something God does. We believe, teach, and confess quite differently. The Third Article of the Apostolic Creed deals with sanctification, the technical term for being made holy. There we say the Holy Spirit first brings us to faith in Jesus Christ so that our sins are forgiven and we are thereby saved—strictly speaking that’s justification. Then, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, or makes us holy, or sets us apart, by renewing our hearts so that we struggle against sin and do good works. When we do not resist the Holy Spirit’s call to faith and His working through Word and Sacrament to make us holy, we truly can be holy as the Lord calls us to be (see, for example, 1 Peter 1:13-23). In this life we will continue at the same time to be holy and unholy: holy according to the new creature created in Baptism, unholy according to the old sinful flesh still clinging to us. Sometimes we do worse, sometimes we do better. We daily by repentance put the old flesh to death so the new creature can arise and, when the time comes, live before God forever in righteousness and purity—fully sanctified. God sees us robed in Christ’s righteousness and thus as fully sanctified now in view of how we will eventually be. Thus, the Bible can speak of us believers both as already completely sanctified and as being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). Do you think you now would know the “right” answers if you were surveyed?

Today's tidbits are as follows. Abortion around the world is on the rise, and in this country a group that calls itself religious wants more of our tax dollars to go to international abortions. ... A California bill could remove all references to gender in schools. ... Roman Catholic bishops in Massachusetts do not want to have to place children for adoption in same-sex homes. ... V. Gene Robinson is back at work after treatment for alcoholism, but the controversy over gay sex in the Anglican (US: Episcopalean) Church is anything but settled. ... Conservative Jews put off until December a decision on that denomination’s ordaining and marrying gays. ... PCUSA is criticized for clearing a lesbian priestess’ performing two lesbian weddings. At this rate, churches are going to “legalize” same-sex marriage before the governments do. And, one sociologist says how the government defines marriage can have significant effects.

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 09, 2006

Ps 92 / Dt 4-6 / Biblog folos / “The way gays are” / Tidbits

Psalm 92 praises the Lord for His love and faithfulness shown in His righteous rule. The psalm was apparently used after the people’s return from exile as part of the morning sacrifice in the Temple’s Sabbath Day liturgy. The king may have been the Divinely-inspired author (vv.10-11), but anyone could certainly refer to the king as “my horn”, just as we can think of our own adversaries and foes, including death and the devil. Note how the “brutish man” (KJV, ASV; “senseless man” NIV, NASB) is like short-lived grass but how those righteous by faith are like palms by water or the cedars of Lebanon. As I read the psalm, I can easily hear the psalm being sung, and I wonder why so many people are reluctant to sing in church when we have such a wonderful God Who has done so much for us and Whose saving deeds should bring forth our joyous songs of praise. We never want to let our own insecurities about our voices keep us from singing praise to God in His House!

Reading Deuteronomy 4-6 today we finish the historical prologue and begin the stipulations of the covenant, which section itself begins with about seven chapters on the commandments (we only read a little more than two chapters of that section today). Notice the evangelism aspect to the people’s obedience (4:6); I know I do not remember enough that we are witnesses for Christ every day—sometimes bad witnesses rather than good ones! Teaching about the Lord is also expected to go from generation to generation within the people of Israel, of course (4:9). Our images of Jesus are not idolatrous (4:1-19) because God revealed Himself in the form of the God-man Jesus, as opposed to His not revealing a form at Horeb. Notice how 4:20 relates to our Sunday morning discussion of suffering’s purpose of refining our faith. Moses prophetically promises the people that when their descendants repent in exile God will hear and forgive them (4:29-31). Even though most of those to whom Moses is speaking were not actually present at Sinai, the covenant is still "with them" as successive generations of those present at the time (5:2-3). As with Exodus 20:1-17 (see here), don’t let your Bible’s formatting mislead you in how we number and divide the commandments (5:7-21). Deuteronomy 6:4 is known as the “Shema”, the Hebrew word for “Hear”, and this verse is a Jewish confession of faith used prominently in worship. The unity and singularity of God was in contrast to the multiple gods of the people around Israel, but today this verse is sometimes wrongly used against the three Persons of God. The command of 6:5 is a summary of the first table of the law (commandments 1-3) used in the New Testament (Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). Though there is reason to understand verses 8-9 figuratively, Jews often take them literally; just this week I saw one of my neighbors has a mezuzah (a small container with a Scripture verse in it) on the doorframe of his apartment. Deuteronomy 6:16 is one of the verses we in the Invocavit Gospel reading heard Jesus quote as He resisted the devil’s temptations (Matthew 4:10; see also Luke 4:8). Finally, notice throughout how God’s work in saving the people of Israel and us motivates the keeping of His commands.

Emails from readers prompt two Biblog folos. The first in connection with a tidbit in Wednesday’s Biblog post that told of a British vicarette resigning because she could not forgive the bombers who killed her daughter. About half of those in a live poll symphathized with the woman; another third agreed that some acts were, in the vicarette’s words, “unforgivable by the human spirit”. The emailer took issue with another option in the poll: “Clergy should strive even harder to serve as an example and that requires forgiveness.” The emailer said, “I would not put the burden of ‘a good example’ on the clergy in that instance.” Yet, clergy are to be an example for the believers in all things (see, for “example”, 1 Timothy 4:12), and we all are to forgive as we want to be forgiven (Matthew 18:21-35)—after all, that’s what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4). The human spirit alone, of course, cannot forgive every act, but the spirit of the redeemed person born in Holy Baptism and enabled by the Holy Spirit can forgive every act.

The second folo is in connection with Wednesday’s Biblog discussion of Psalm 91. The emailer recognized the psalm as the origin of a familiar song and sent this link. I’ve heard that song, too, but I know better one that has a similar tune and is more based on Isaiah 40.

Oscar-winning director Ang Lee in commenting on the controversy over his movie “Brokeback Mountain” said, “This is the way gays are.” Really? They live secret lives and lie to their spouses? Aside from the explicit scenes, the secrecy and duplicity of the main characters bothered me about “Brokeback”. “Brokeback” was not the first mainstream gay movie, but in some ways it was quite unlike one of its predecessor, the 1982 film “Making Love”, where at least the gay spouse had the integrity to leave his wife and move in with his lover. (“Making Love” has grossed nearly $12 million, roughly equivalent to $21 million in today’s dollars, in comparison to “Brokeback’s” $79 million.) I think there’s more to Lee’s comments, however; I think he’s suggesting gays are born the way they are and cannot help themselves. We all struggle to live our lives chaste and decent, and, in a sense, temptations to homosexuality are like other temptations. By virtue of original sin we all are subject to temptations and expected with the Holy Spirit’s help to resist them. People with homosexual tendencies are not born so different from the rest of us that God’s law does not apply to them. For any and all of our succumbing to temptations, there is forgiveness through faith in Christ. Living the gay lifestyle, however, is a kind of mortal sin with which faith cannot exist.

But wait, there's more: tidbits! The Roman Catholic sex scandal expands in Ireland and in this country. ... Three are arrested in connection with the Alabama church fires, but a White House spokesman offers no explanation for the President's silence regarding the fires. ... A majority of Americans polled are said to think abortion is “morally wrong”, while Texas reportedly has seen a decline in abortions. ... The distinction between macro and mico-evolution is crucial here. ... If you doubt Christians are persecuted around the world read this, but persecution always grows the church, as evidenced here. ... A Notre Dame theology professor apparently has been cleared of plagiarism allegations. ... CBS is reportedly planning a new prime-time TV reality show featuring financial-guru Dave Ramsey, an evangelical Christian who gives advice in a daily radio show and seminars like the ones mentioned here and here. What’s not clear is how Biblically-based he claims his financial advice is. ... And, before the Oscars I gave a link to a poll about movies and the Oscars; you can find the results here.

Finally, there's a new Q&A here. Thanks for all the comments and questions. Remember all are invited to submit them via email (see the link on the left of this page near the top); your comments and questions will be kept anonymous.

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 08, 2006

Ps 91 / Dt 1-3 / Tidbits

Psalm 91 is a great psalm in how well it speaks of our security as we trust in God. The shelter of the Lord is found in His Temple, likened unto a shadow that provides protection from the hot sun of the desert (v.1). When we are threatened, we believe and therefore know we will find refuge in the Lord, Who is our fortress (v.2). A baby bird may be more likely to be caught by a fowler, but the Lord is like an adult bird Who spreads His protective wings and feathers over us to keep us safe (vv.3-4). Terror or arrow, pestilence or plague—none of these will get to us, regardless of what time they come (vv.5-6). Others will fall—many others—but we who trust in the Lord will only see (not experience) the wicked’s “reward” (KJV, ASV; “punishment” NIV; “recompense” NASB; maybe “requital” or “retribution”—the word is used only here in the Old Testament); the harm or disaster will not reach us (vv.7-10). As we heard on Invocavit Sunday (the First Sunday in Lent), the devil misuses verses 11-12, as if they invited us to put the Lord to the test instead of speaking of His gracious protection (see Matthew 4:5-7 and Luke 4:9-12). Lion or great lion, cobra or serpent—it shall not be as in Amos 5:19 where a person escapes the one but gets done in by the other (v.13). The love for the Lord and confession of His Name in verse 14 are evidence of faith in God’s mercy, not the reason for the Lord’s rescue or protection. A great and final answer to prayer is promised in verses 15-16: the Lord will be with us in trouble and ultimately deliver us by giving us the salvation of our souls, eternal life with Him.

I remember the first time I heard Amy Grant’s “Angels watching over me” (which is at least a little influenced by Psalm 91, I think) there was something about the lyrics I didn’t quite like. The more I listened to the song, however, the more I realized in some ways the problem was my own pride that did not want to think I was that reliant on God’s protection. The idea of the angels’ protection can go too far, however. For example, people might look so much to the angels that they forget Who sent the angels to protect us in the first place. In addition, people can become scandalized when something “bad” does happen to someone, wondering where the angels were and forgetting that departure from this world is the very final deliverance God promises us in this psalm.

With Deuteronomy 1-3 today we begin the last of the five books of the Pentateuch. You can find some background information on the book on-line here and available to download as a PDF here. You will find much in Deuteronomy that recaps things we have read elsewhere in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Though we think of the book as a repetition or copy of the law (Greek deutero-nomos, second-law), the “law” in this case is the law in the broad sense, God’s teaching, which also includes the Gospel in the narrow sense (and thus is the same as the Gospel in the broad sense). For, as Moses’ final sermon to the people of Israel, he surely would rightly distinguish and apply the narrow sense of the law that shows us we are sinners and the narrow sense of the Gospel that tells us what God has done about our sins. Today’s reading includes the preamble and a good chunk of the historical prologue. The surviving people of Israel were less than 20-years-old at the time of the rebellion, if they were even born at that time, but they nevertheless are at times addressed as the people of Israel who rebelled against God in the desert (for example, 1:26). In 2:30, Sihon is like Pharaoh who resisted God to the point where God further hardened his heart to make a point (for more on Pharaoh see this Q&A). You will want to watch the “utter destruction” (for example, 2:34), for in some cases God orders partial destruction of people and cities but devotion of livestock and other plunder, but in other cases God orders complete destruction and the people do not do it. God’s allowing the people to keep parts of the plunder is but one sign of His grace that we have seen and will continue to see as we read salvation history.

Tidbits for today are as follows. Religius differences may be behind explosions in India. ... Inability to forgive the bombers who killed her daughter prompts a British priestess to resign. (I was shocked by the third of those responding to the poll who said some things are unforgivable--at least when I voted.) ... Closer to home, a Democrat reportedly running for U.S. Senate in Ohio has an interesting agenda. ... The Pope changes one of his titles, but Vatican observers aren’t sure what it means. ... And, in addition to yesterday’s developments, here is some insight into the copyright lawsuit over “The Da Vinci Code”.

I revised an answer posted yesterday to one of your questions. You are invited to join us for mid-week Lenten Vespers at 7:00 tonight with supper preceding at 6:00. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 07, 2006

Ps 90 / Nu 34-36 / Oscar Aftermath / Tidbits

Psalm 90 begins Book IV of the Psalms. This psalm of Moses gives a realistic assessment of human beings in the presence of our holy and all-powerful God, where we can only confess our sins that warrant God’s wrath (for example, v.8) and plead faith in God’s mercy for Jesus’s sake (for example, v.14). You may recognize some of the verses of this psalm from their use in the prayer we use in the liturgy at the death of a Christian, and verse 3 is reflected in the statement that accompanies the imposition of ashes (dust) on Ash Wednesday. St. Peter refers to verse 4 in 2 Peter 3:8. Of verses 4-5, my study Bible’s notes refer to “new grass that shows itself at dawn’s light but is withered away by the hot Canaanite sun before evening falls.” Verse 8 reminds us that the sins we think we keep so private that no one knows nevertheless are known to God; how we can fool ourselves into thinking otherwise! The “score” in verse 10 (KJV, ASV) apparently comes from the practice of counting herds aloud until reaching 20 and then making a “score” or mark on a stick before counting the next 20; you may also recall Abraham Lincoln’s beginning of the Gettysburg Address: “Fourscore and seven years ago”, that is, 87 years ago. Verses 13-17 are the prayer in the psalm after reflecting on the Lord our dwelling place’s wrath and on His eternity as contrasted to our temporality. In verse 15 I reflected on how we are to be glad and rejoice for the all the days and years God gives us, even if He afflicts us every single one! Verse 16 prays for the passing of the faith to this generation and the next, and verse 17 recognizes that only by God’s action do our deeds have any lasting value. Even if darker than some, what a rich psalm this is!

We finish the book today as we read Numbers 34-36. Chapter 34 details the boundaries of Canaan and how the land is to be divided, and chapter 35 describes the distribution of cities throughout the land to the Levites and six of them being designated as cities of refuge. Chapter 36 revisits the matter of inheritance for women and makes provisions to keep the land of the inheriting daughters in their tribes. Again, we want to read these appendices to the Numbers narrative as showing God’s gracious provision to His people, foreshowing His graciousness to us in Christ and our heavenly inheritance.

Lots of talk yesterday about the Oscar aftermath. The Academy managed to share the wealth, but the few moments I tuned in first-time host Jon Stewart was not that funny (as least this commentator agrees). I hope you joined many others who did not tune in; buried in this NPR piece is the suggestion that Sunday night’s Oscar telecast will be the second-lowest rated Oscar broadcast ever. You'll find some preliminary ratings numbers and more here, including host Jon Stewart’s sarcastic suggestion that movies with messages resolve social problems. Best Supporting Actor winner George Clooney in his acceptance speech addressed the notions that Hollywood is out of touch and that it can make a difference.

I would say that we're a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. It's probably a good thing. We're the ones who talked about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. This academy, this group of people, gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar (best supporting actress, Gone With the Wind) in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I'm proud to be a part of this academy. I'm proud to be a part of this community. I'm proud to be out of touch.

I don’t think anyone is denying that Hollywood can make a difference, the question is whether such movies as “Brokeback Mountain”, “Transamerica”, and “Capote” are making a positive difference, the way giving Hattie McDaniel an Oscar made a positive difference. Hollywood may answer “yes”, but Christians answer “no”.

The following are your tidbits for today. South Dakota’s governor yesterday signed that state’s abortion ban intended to force a reversal of Roe v. Wade. ... Wal-Mart is going nationwide with its stocking of the “emergency contraceptive” Plan-B, while there’s an effort in Connecticut to make even the Roman Catholic hospitals do the same. ... The PCUSA priestess who admitted to performing two lesbian “weddings” was cleared Friday by her denomination. ... Conservative Judaism is said to be backing away from its ban on gay unions and rabbis. ... Domino’s founder is backing away from goals he set for his Florida town. ... And, if you ever are in Israel and need a kosher McDonalds, you are all set!

There's new prayer for your reading during Lent belatedly posted here, and there are new Q&A here. God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 06, 2006

Ps 89 / Nu 31-33

Book III of the Psalms comes to a close with Psalm 89. Psalm 89 itself is a prayer mourning the seeming end of Davidic kings and pleading for their restoration. The psalm may come from the time when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and took King Jehoiachin into exile (2 Kings 24:8-17). The psalmist, likely a Levite praying on behalf of the nation, begins the prayer introducing and then developing two themes: first, God’s love and faithfulness (vv.1-2, 5-18), and second, God’s covenant with David (vv.3-4, 19-37). Then, the psalmist laments God’s rejection of David’s line, almost accusing God of being unfaithful (vv.38-45), and, finally, the psalmist makes his petition that God remember His covenant and, presumably, return a descendant of David to an effective throne (vv.46-51). God’s covenant with David (see 2 Samuel 7:8-16) promised that not only would a descendant of David rule forever but also that if any one of his ruling descendants were unfaithful then he would be “chastened” (KJV, ASV; “punished” NIV; “corrected” ASV). Much like Psalm 88, this psalm is somewhat dark, but, even as the psalmist borders on accusing God, he, like the author of Psalm 88, remains hopeful, in this case that God will be faithful and restore a king over Israel. This psalmist is almost unjust, for God was not unfaithful; the unfaithful descendants of David were justly chastened, and a Son of David does rule forever—Jesus Christ.

There are a few other things I want to write by way of answering questions you might have about the psalm. In verse 10, “Rahab” is another name for a “mythical monster of the deep”, which is also sometimes called “Leviathan”. In verse 27, David is called the firstborn in a figurative way as the highest of earthly kings, but literally he was the youngest of Jesse’s sons, just as Solomon was not the firstborn of David. (I am constantly reminded how the theme of the great reversal runs through Holy Scripture.) Finally, note that verse 52 is a conclusion not to this psalm but to this section of the Psalter.

Numbers 31-33 brings us through the end of the narrative section of Numbers and into one of the narrative’s “appendices”. Chapter 31 tells of the war with Midian. Chapter 32 tells of the settling of the tribes across the Jordan, and chapter 33 gives the stages of Israel’s journey. In chapter 31 note how the war is a holy war and thus has special procedures, if you will. The Lord executed vengeance on the Midianites leading Israel into sin. There is a sacred aspect to the battle, as demonstrated by Phinehas’ role in it, and because the Lord really fought the battle the spoils are equally divided among the people with a share going to the Lord. In chapter 32 note that the people have come up the east side of the Salt Sea and are prepared to go west across the Jordan River. The tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh, however, settled on that east side of the Jordan (trans-Jordan=across the Jordan). These tribes were faithful in their pledge to help conquer the lands on the west side of the Jordan, but there was a close call over a spiritual matter after they returned home (see Joshua 22). In chapter 33 note that significantly there are 40 places listed between Ramses and Moab. There no doubt were other places where Israel camped, and the people may have camped in the same place more than once, but these are the sites the Lord had Moses record (v.2) as a record of His blessings on His people during their 40 years of wandering in the desert despite their unfaithfulness that caused those wanderings.

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 05, 2006

Ps 88 / Nu 28-30 / Tidbits

Psalm 88 has to be one of the darkest psalms we have read so far! The psalmist prays morning and night every day (vv.1, 9, 13) for the Lord to help, though the petition for help is not specific. The psalmist may be near death (v.3), and seemingly all his friends have either abandoned him or themselves died (vv.8, 18). The psalmist’s life has been so troubled that it seems he has only known God’s wrath (vv.7, 15-18; note the waves and flood imagery), and he recognizes that his affliction is coming from God (vv.6-9). Yet, his prayer, like all prayers, are offered in faith to the “God of my salvation” (KJV, ASV, NASB; “the God who saves me” NIV). With the closer readings of the psalms that we are doing, I am repeatedly struck by the psalmists’ ready admissions that God is responsible for their suffering and their unwavering prayers to Him for help nevertheless. They apparently do not try to resolve what might be said to be two different sides of God, nor should we.

Numbers 28-30 finishes the subsection begun yesterday of additional instructions for the people as they enter the Promised Land. Numbers 28:1-15 has to do with offerings, Numbers 28:16-29:40 with festivals, and Numbers 30 with vows. The daily offerings have been detailed before (Exodus 29:38-41 and Leviticus 1-7), but as I read them today I reflected on Psalm 88’s mention of morning and evening prayers and our use even today of the ancient Orders of Matins and Vespers. The details on the feasts have also been read before in Exodus and Leviticus, and we will read them one more time in Deuteronomy. Here I think we get a good sense of how busy the seventh month of the Jewish year was: first day, Feast of Trumpets; tenth day, Day of Atonement; and fifteenth day through twenty-second day, Feast of Tabernacles (note also the importance of the eighth day of that feast). Numbers 30 is said to be the principal place in the Old Testament where vows are discussed. Fathers or husbands, when present, could nullify the vows of a woman, who might have been under strong pressure from society to make the vows. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he appears to be commenting somewhat on Numbers 30 (see Matthew 5:33-37).

A few tidbits for today follow. Pope Benedict says women should have a greater role in the Roman Catholic church but cannot be ordained priests. ... Roman Catholics and others are trying to make it clear “The Da Vinci Code” is fiction via a website. The book’s author, meanwhile, is defending himself from a lawsuit’s claim that he stole the idea for the book; Dan Brown says he would never raise doubts about the resurrection the way the book he allegedly plagiarized did. ... And, it sounds like Hollywood’s worried about whether people will watch tonight’s Oscars; let’s make it so they didn’t worry without reason—don’t watch.

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 04, 2006

Ps 87 / Nu 25-27 / End of Faith / Tidbits

Though there have been at least a couple of different "readings" of Psalm 87 (for example, compare the KJV to others), one thing for certain is that the psalm celebrates Zion (Jerusalem) as the “city of God” (v.3). God through King David conquered the city and took it from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:6-12); thus, the psalmist can say in verse 1 that God laid the foundation and in verse 2 that God favored the city over all others as the place of His dwelling. The question of translation and meaning comes in verse 4, whether the Gentile nations are being addressed or included in the register of the city’s inhabitants. Either reading can be reconciled with the rest of Holy Scripture, and no point of doctrine depends on this text or is contradicted by any reading of it. God’s enemies are warned elsewhere of harming His people, and those same nations are elsewhere said to be invited and drawn to the city to be part of the people of God. For us, the literal city of Jerusalem no longer is of any importance other than as the historical place where certain events took place. The Jerusalem that matters to us is the New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12 and 21:2) and its present existence in the Church.

Psalm 87, incidentally, is one of the Scripture texts behind a hymn about the Church (along with Isaiah 33:20-21): “Glorious things of thee are spoken”, which has been paired with a couple of different tunes over the years. The hymn’s original tune, “Austria” by Franz Joseph Haydn, was not used in The Lutheran Hymnal, since it was the tune for the song “Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles” misused by the Nazis during World War II. Instead, TLH used the tune “Galilean” by Joseph Barnby for #469. Lutheran Worship (#294) returned the hymn to its original tune, but a lot had changed between 1941 and 1982. Incidentally, the hymn is to be included in the forthcoming Lutheran Service Book essentially as it is found in Lutheran Worship. (Illinois State University, where I did my undergraduate studies, used the same tune for its Alma Mater song, which begins "Glory hast thou, might and power", and I was shocked as an undergraduate to hear the Nazis use the tune when watching the television mini-series “Winds of War”.)

As we today read Numbers 25-27, we hear of Israel’s apostasy (chapter 25), the second census (chapter 26), and of additional instructions for the people as they enter the Promised Land (chapters 27-30, though we only read chapter 27 today). Chapter 25 tells how some of the men of Israel were seduced by Moabite women and worshipped the Baal (deity or god) of Peor and thus were unfaithful to Israel’s God. Numbers 31:8 and 16 tell us that Balaam, who yesterday we read prophesied so well of Israel, was behind the seduction. Sexual intercourse and false worship often go hand in hand, so much so that God speaks of idolatry as adultery. Chapter 26 narrates the counting of the new generation of Israelites done by Moses and Eleazar, the son and successor of Aaron who is now high priest (remember Thursday’s reading of Numbers 20:22-29). As with the first census near the beginning of numbers, this second one nearer its end has a military focus (v.2), though it also will have a bearing on the tribes’ inheritances (vv.53-56). For an unknown reason, one daughter is listed in verse 46; women were to get an inheritance (27:1-11, chapter 36), but this particular daughter is not mentioned again. (None of the commentaries I checked offered any explanation for her mention in this verse.) The Levites also had a mini-census (vv.57-62), but theirs was not for military or inheritance purposes but for the service of the Lord. Moses’ concern for his flock is striking (27:16-17), and the Lord has Moses install Joshua into his post as Moses’ successor (vv.18-23). Similarly today God cares for His flock by ordaining and installing successors to His undershepherds through those already in that office.

Thursday after I got out of the pool I met a man in the locker room who was reading a book titled The End of Faith by Sam Harris. The man and I talked a little bit about the book, and he found himself in agreement with its major theme as he saw it, that religious belief is irrational and ought to be done away with. I said the book obviously must assume that reason is to reign supreme, and he said the book did make that assumption and that we should not believe anything we could not prove. Unfortunately the conversation broke off before we could pursue the topic much further. For example, I would have pressed him on whether he believed the sun was going to come up the next morning, which belief he would not have been able to prove by his standards. Though sanctified human reason has a servant’s role to play, the reign of fallen human reason leaves very little room for God, His revelation in the Bible, and ultimately for forgiveness of sins (which is the real “end” or “goal” of faith). Harris’ book has been out for a while and apparently made the New York Times’ Bestsellers List, but there is little to commend it, as at least one Christian writer has noted.

I have a number of tidbits for you today. There was violence Friday at a holy site in Nazareth. … A commission in Italy has concluded the Soviet Union was behind a 1981 failed assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II. … The Canadian Supreme Court Thursday reversed a lower court ruling and will let a Sikh boy wear a dagger to school. … Arab-Americans express outrage over a democratic senator’s demonization of Dubai. … Best picture Oscar nominees are said to display Hollywood’s agenda but together grossed the lowest amount in 20 years (less than “Chronicles of Narnia” alone). … Children’s television is called a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. … The World Council of Churches got a blast from a Southern Baptist leader. … And, just in time for Lent, there is some scholarly hoopla over Judas.

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

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 03, 2006

Ps 86 / Nu 22-24 / Five folos

The only psalm “of David” in Book III, Psalm 86 is similar to other prayers of David in the Psalter. The psalmist prays for the Lord’s help while facing enemies, either opponents inside or outside the kingdom. Verses 1-4 pray for God’s mercy and protection. Verses 5-7 more or less give the reason why the psalmist prays to God: because God answers prayer (note especially the mention of forgiveness in v.5). Verses 8-10 declare David’s God to be the only true God, and so one day all the nations will worship their Creator (v.9 is the center verse of the psalm and the highpoint of its confession of faith and basis for prayer). Verses 11-13 pray God to also change the psalmist so that he can be more godly and rightly praise God as he ought. Finally, verses 14-17 renew the prayer for deliverance. In reading Psalm 86 this time, I was struck by the close connection between the prayers for deliverance and change in life. Being rescued from sin (what might usually be termed “justification”) will shortly be of no benefit if not accompanied by changes in the life that made us need deliverance in the first place (what might be termed “sanctification”). Even as we pray for that change of life, we remember, of course, that it will not be complete in this life, and we count on the wonderful graciousness of God (v.15) to continue to daily forgive our sins.

Numbers 22-24 begins what is the last major section of the book, narrating the events as Israel prepares to enter the Promised Land from the Plains of Moab. Today we read how Balak tries to get a prophet-for-hire to say what Balak wants the prophet to say (chapter 22) and how that prophet, Balaam, blesses Israel instead of cursing the people (chapters 23-24). Balak was forming an alliance with Midian but still thought he needed supernatural help to defeat Israel. Balaam apparently had an “international” reputation, some records of which archaeologists have uncovered. Balaam is sometimes taken as a believer in God, but Scripture so soundly condemns him that we do better to think otherwise. First the Lord tells Balaam not to go, then He tells him to go but to only do what He says, and then, apparently knowing that Balaam is planning to do otherwise, the Lord makes the stipulation a little more soundly and in a dramatic fashion. (I once denied to a relative even the possibility that there was a talking donkey in the Bible, as there is in Numbers 22:22-35, but that denial was before seminary and my reading the Bible from cover to cover.) Balak four times pleads with Balaam to curse the people of Israel, and each time Balak ends up hearing them blessed instead of cursed, and each blessing seemingly gives a grander view of Israel’s future and bleaker view of Balak’s. Numbers 24:17 may be familiar to you as a prophecy of the Messiah. As I read these chapters I reflected on the timelessness of St. Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 and on how so many congregations today would rather “hire” a pastor to say what they want to hear and do what they want him to do than “call” a pastor who will preach and practice according to God’s Word (as Balaam did in the case of his four oracles).

Today’s first of five Biblog folos comes after yesterday’s post regarding Numbers 20 and its snake on the pole. I linked to a Wikipedia article that talked about the caduceus, and a reader emailed to say that the Rod of Asclepius seemed more to the point. The descriptions of the symbols certainly support that, though I think I have seen both used for medicine in this country, and, though I don’t completely trust Wikipedia, it says the two are “used interchangeably” in the United States.

The second Biblog folo is in response to my including in yesterday’s post an excerpt from an Ash Wednesday sermon that connected ashes to the water of Baptism via Numbers 19. A reader commented, “This is the most I have ever read/heard on this subject. Thanks!” You are welcome! There’s more where that came from, especially if one ever wants to receive the imposition of ashes.

The third Biblog folo has to with labels in the abortion controversy. Also in yesterday’s post (as corrected mid-day) I noted how being “anti-choice” is the same as being “pro-life” and being “pro-choice” is the same as being “pro-abortion”. Such terminology was a very live issue in the TV newsrooms where I used to work, as we wrestled to identify the people in the story in meaningful terms that framed the debate. The question came up in connection with the story’s narration and its on-screen graphics that identified the people speaking. Those on the abortion side call themselves “pro-choice” or “abortion rights advocates”, while those on the other side call them “pro-abortion” or “anti-life”. Those against abortion call themselves “pro-life”, while those on the other side call them “anti-choice” or “anti-abortion rights”. I understand that no one wants to be in favor of anything negative or against anything positive, especially life, rights (call it liberty), and the pursuit of happiness. But, how ridiculous is it to pit “pro-choice” people against “pro-life” people? That’s sort of like contrasting “pro-apples” with “pro-oranges”. To a great extent, the issue is about abortion, whether or not you add the word “rights” or “choice” (though, as an emailer pointed out, the “pro-choice” people seldom say they are talking about “choosing abortion”, and, I suggest, the pro-life people have not succeeded as much as we would have hoped with their “choose life” campaign). I wanted the newsrooms to say people were “pro-abortion” or “anti-abortion”. The argument against that was that not everyone who is “pro-choice” is actually “pro-abortion”, though to some extent they have to be. “My side” ended up “anti” in both cases: I think one newsroom settled on “abortion rights advocate” and “against abortion rights” (which still isn’t quite parallel) and another settled on “pro-choice” and “anti-choice”, as if anyone other than the unborn child is "forced" to have an abortion. The countless unborn children are the ones who all too often are overlooked in all of this; they don’t get to pursue happiness at all. When a woman’s “choice” interferes with an unborn child’s “life” or “rights”, then her freedom has gone too far. Maybe we should leave abortion out of it; maybe the best labels yet are “pro unborn-children’s choices, lives, and rights” and “anti unborn-children’s choices, lives, and rights”. But, I bet those would take too long to say and wouldn’t fit on the television graphics machines.

Fourth, in yesterday’s tidbits I included a link to the Religion News Services page that at the time I linked it had a brief mention about the resumed prosecution of those behind a Swedish website that made death threats against gays. Well, a reader emailed to say the story wasn’t there any longer but that another interesting story was: Quebec priests breaking ranks with the Vatican over same-sex marriage and gay priests (I found more on that here).

Fifth and finally, in yesterday’s tidbits I mentioned the trial of a female Presbyterian minister on trial before her church for “marrying” two women. Apparently that trial is continuing today.

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

March 02, 2006

Ps 85 / Nu 19-21 / Ashes, Water, & Cleansing / Tidbits

In contrast to other psalms, Psalm 85 at first appears to be just a psalm of thanksgiving, but first appearances can be deceiving. Verses 1-3 recount God’s grace and mercy to His people, perhaps in returning them from exile. Verses 4-7 appeal to God for a similar demonstration of restoration and mercy, perhaps during the chastening by drought described by Haggai 1:5-11 or when Nehemiah and Malachi were experiencing problems (see v.12, if it is to be taken as literal fruit of the land). Whatever the present affliction, the people understand it to be coming from God. In liturgical use, verses 8-13 may have been spoken by a different person, giving voice to assurances that God will answer the prayer. God’s mercy (or "love" or "loving-kindness"), truth (or "faithfulness"), righteousness, and peace are personified and vividly pictured as meeting and embracing (vv.9-10). God reaches out to Israel from heaven, and His blessings produce the people’s response on earth (vv.11-13).

Numbers 19-21 wraps up details of Israel at Kadesh and begins to tell of the nation’s journey to the Plains of Moab. Chapter 19 tells of the water of cleansing made from the ashes of a red heifer, cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet wool (see the water that is used in Leviticus 14:4). Hyssop was also used to sprinkle the water on the people (referred to in places such as Psalm 51:7). Ashes in water were a primitive form of soap, but this water is much more than that. The water was especially needed by those who came in contact with death, as we do by virtue of our sin. (See more on ashes and water below.) Chapter 20 begins the narration of the Israelites’ 40th year in the desert (this chronology is based on the date of the death of Aaron, Numbers 20:22-29 and 33:38). After some relatively unreported 38 years of wandering around and most of the people over 20 years of age dying off, the people have returned to where they rebelled against God. Chapter 20 tells how Miriam also died and how the Israelites faced off with Edom, but the chapter’s central event is Moses’s and Aaron’s sin. Moses and Aaron were to call water out of the rock by word alone, but instead Moses twice struck the rock, as he had been instructed to do some 40 years earlier (Exodus 17:1-7). Moses’s and Aaron’s actions are said to show a lack of trust in God and an improper regard for the Lord’s presence; regardless of what they meant, they resulted in God keeping Moses and Aaron from entering the Promised Land. Chapter 21 begins with a bit of a turning point, as the Lord gives a victory over Arad, but the people immediately sin by impatiently speaking against Moses and God. God sends poisonous snakes to strike them, and, after they repent, God delivers them with an Old Testament means of grace: a bronze snake on a pole that, when it was lifted up, people could look at in faith and be saved. (The snake on the pole is related to the caduceus used as a symbol for medicine.) The bronze snake was saved for a while and later named Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4), but it more importantly points to Christ (see John 3:14-15; 8:28; 12:32). Next the Lord gives the people victories over Sihon and Og, two victories that frequently are recalled as examples in the salvation history (see, for example, Psalm 135:11).

Reading Numbers 19 the day after Ash Wednesday reminded me of an Ash Wednesday sermon I preached on February 17, 1999, on Numbers 19:9 titled “Ashes, Water, & Cleansing”. The following excerpt helps make the connection between ashes and Baptism.

The people of Israel could use ordinary water for some cleaning, but cleaning off the contamination of death necessitated the special water of purity: the ashes in the fresh water. For us, ashes of repentance give way to the living water of Holy Baptism. The congregation, pastor and people together, use Holy Baptism to move one outside the community to inside the community. There is the fountain open to all “to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” That’s why we position the font before the rail. At the rail, we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who were ceremonially unclean sanctified them so that they were outwardly clean. All the more, he says, the blood of Christ, who offered himself unblemished to God through the eternal Spirit, will cleanse us from our sinful acts, so that we may worship the living God and serve our neighbors.

The Hebrews passage to which I referred is Hebrews 9:13-14.

I have a few tidbits for you today. The abortion war has a new battleground in Mississippi, and this report reminds me of the use of rhetoric in the war: anti-choice = pro-life, just as pro-choice = pro-abortion. ... A court ruling in Michigan may let indecency laws impact nudity on cable. ... Here's the latest research on marital happiness. ... That University of California, Irvine, panel that I mentioned in yesterday's post was accused of promoting “Islamophobia” last night “descended into chaos”. ... Elsewhere in California, a self-proclaimed “lesbian evangelist” today goes before a Presbyterian church court in Santa Rosa to face charges that she broke church law last May by officiating at a wedding of two California women; "The Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr" could be defrocked. ... After previously being cleared (see link here), those behind a Swedish website making death threats against gays reportedly are again facing prosecution (I can’t confirm it anywhere else, but there’s a mention here). ... A federal judge says students in Kentucky cannot get out of a pro-homosexuality diversity seminar. ... In Ohio, a bill to ban gays from adopting is prompting another bill, which would ban Republicans from adopting. ... With the Oscars only three days away, "Brokeback Mountain" apparently didn’t get the expected Oscars bump, and there's another reason not to watch the telecast, as a curse word will make its television debut at the Oscars. Along with not watching the Oscars because of the movies nominated, here’s another way you can let Hollywood know how you feel about the movies the establishment is choosing to honor.

God lead you each day to be sorry for your sins and to believe in Jesus unto eternal life!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:10 AM

March 01, 2006

Is 64:1-9 / Nu 16-18 / Islamophobia / Abortion / Evolution / Ash Wednesday

March’s seasonal canticle is Isaiah 64:1-9. You can find some information about this reading in the background information for March’s readings and in the December 30th Biblog post.

Today we read Numbers 16-18, and, though we are continuing the book, the first of the month means you can find more background information on the book here. Chapter 16 narrates the rebellion of Korah and other leaders. Chapter 17 narrates the budding of Aaron’s staff, and chapter 18 gives details on the duties and support of the priests. Korah’s rebellion is put down by both a trial by fire and a miraculous opening of the earth to swallow the rebels up. Notice how Moses says the people were not rebelling against Aaron, the priest, but against God, Whom Aaron represented. I was amazed at how the rebels used the usual reference to the promised land—“land flowing with milk and honey”—to refer to Egypt! When God wants to smite the whole people, Moses again intercedes and God relents. Despite the execution of Divine wrath, the people rebel even further, and only after Aaron makes atonement by burning incense among the people does the wrath of God over the subsequent rebellion subside. If there were still doubts about which tribe was to serve God in the priesthood, the “budding” of Aaron’s staff in chapter 17 is intended to quell those doubts. The people then fear anyone going near the Tabernacle, so chapter 18 (and 19, which we will read tomorrow) tells how people can safely approach the Tabernacle and the presence of the Lord. Since the Levites approached the Lord on behalf of the people, they were entitled to an appropriate share of the offerings the people made. Likewise today, pastors and their families are to be supported by the offerings of the people (see also 1 Corinthians 9:3-10). The examples of what happened to those rebelling against the Lord’s chosen servants also speak to us today, as God’s servants are increasingly treated as if they were employees.

A terrorism conference at the University of California, Irvine, is sparking protest as those controversial cartoons about Mohammed are displayed. In a radio report I heard about the protest, an Islamic representative said the conference and cartoons promote “Islamophobia”—that term is new to me, though it reportedly goes back to the 1970s. I am sure such controversies about the cartoons are happening on campuses closer to home, too.

Abortion developments today are protests getting a bit of a nod from the U.S. Supreme Court and new evidence that abortion is more hazardous than childbirth to the mother’s health.

Apparently Evolution can’t stand up to public scrutiny in Utah, but it may have to in Nevada. Meanwhile, here’s a theory that may have more scientific proof!

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40-day penitential season of Lent. In Biblical times, part of people’s mourning over their sin included covering their heads and faces with ashes, crying aloud in pain, and wearing rough robes called or made of sackcloth. Reading the following exhortation from an Ash Wednesday Liturgy may be edifying:

Dear People of God, on this day the Church begins a holy season of prayerful and penitential reflection. Our attention is especially directed to the holy sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. From ancient times the season of Lent has been kept as a time of special devotion, self-denial, and humble repentance born of a faithful heart that dwells confidently on his Word and draws from it life and hope. Let us pray that our dear Father in heaven, for the sake of his beloved Son and in the power of his Holy Spirit, might richly bless this Lententide for us that we may come to the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord with glad hearts and keep that feast in sincerity and truth.

Whether or not you receive the imposition of ashes today, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM