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Psalm 116


I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: "O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!" Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful. The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living. I believed, even when I spoke, "I am greatly afflicted"; I said in my alarm, "All mankind are liars." What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD! (ESV)

Words Mean Something

Wednesday after Pentecost 13

10 September 2014

Today there is a battle going on over words. Especially in the modern political arena establishing the meaning of words is crucial to winning hearts and minds. Right now there is an insidious effort to suck the life out of the words used to order our lives together as human beings. Take for example the terms pro-choice and anti-abortion. These are the standard monikers used in the modern media to denominate those who support unlimited infanticide (increasingly applying to children in and out of the womb), and those who stand for the sanctity of human life, respectively. By using the term "anti-" the media have painted pro-life people as "a-giners;" crabby people who want to spoil the fun of others and disrupt their freedom to do as they please, even up to and including limiting their ability to kill other persons. "Shame on you crabby people. All you can do is say, 'No.'" The Republican Party has been excoriated as the party of "no." "There go those a-giners again, always being against things. Can't you people get with it and really help people by doing something positive for them?"


I don't know about you, but for me the word "no" comes in handy sometimes. For example, what if you find yourself being held up at gun point by a criminal, intent on robbing and murdering you? You would prefer a nearby policeman to be quite clear on "no" or it might just cost you your life. What less than "no" would actually be an acceptable response to the threat of murder or mayhem? What kind of compromise between the criminal and the policeman would be acceptable to you when the gun is put to your sweating temple? So, when bad things are happening, the little word "no" comes in quite handy. A world that won't use the word "no" is in quite a lot of trouble. A person who cannot say "no" is actually a person in an arrested state of development, stuck in the adolescent phase; and who can only ask, "Hey, why not?" For such people the 1960s never ended. They are dangerous in both church and state. Kyrie eleison! This "anti-no" campaign stakes out the terms of political debate so that those who want to put the brakes on are seen in an uncomplimentary light.


Those who want to reframe the terms of political discourse are quick to "spin" or reinterpret the opinion of those who oppose them in the most unkindly way. Take for example the concern that the Affordable Care Act (which is not about affordability, health, or care!). Those who declined to vote for it were characterized as desiring to leave the suffering uninsured in the streets to die or that they were opposed to civil rights. Those who declined to vote for an expansion of social programs administered by an already bloated government bureaucracy are accused of wanting to "starve the children" to death. If you are painted into a corner by this kind of speech, it is difficult to get out of the corner without tracking the paint of unkindness with you. The most invidious motives are attributed to those who merely want to ask good questions.


This is not new. Paul faced this when he defended the gospel of Christ against legalism. He knew his teaching and motives were being terribly mischaracterized by his opponents. His words and teaching were being twisted into the most uncomplimentary specters and boogey men. But that did not keep Paul from proclaiming the eternal truth of the gospel. We must remain faithful, even when we are being intentionally misunderstood by the spin-meisters. Paul did. Words meant something him. They should to us too.


Martin Luther


"The words 'What then has become of the blessing you felt?' (Gal 4:15) are emphatic, as though he were to say: 'You were not only blessed but altogether blessed and most praised.' It was as if Paul said: 'How blessed you were forecast to be! How praised and blessed you were then!' There is a similar expression in the canticle of Mary (Lk 1:48): 'All generations will call me blessed,' which means, will bless me.


"In this way Paul tries to soften and sweeten the bitter drink, that is, the sharp rebuke. He is afraid that the Galatians might be offended by it, chiefly because he knows that the false apostles will slander it and put the worst construction on it. For it is the virtue and the nature of those vipers to treat as downright criminal words that proceed from a holy and open heart, and shrewdly and deceitfully to contort them into the opposite sense from what was actually spoken. They are marvelous masters at this art, surpassing the genius and skill of all the orators. For they are driven by an evil spirit which so dements them that they are inflamed against pious people with a satanic poison and they are unable to interpret their words and writings in any other than a malicious way.


"They act just like spiders, which suck poison out of the finest and most beautiful flowers through no fault of the flowers but only of their own. Therefore with his honeyed and soothing words he wants to prevent the false apostles from having an opportunity to slander him and twist his words in a captious way, as follows: 'Paul is treating you inhumanly, calling you mindless, bewitched, and disobedient to the truth. This is a definite sign that he is not interested in your salvation but regards you as damned and rejected by Christ.'"

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.15

Lord Jesus Christ, help us to proclaim Your Word as positively and helpfully as we can in a world lost in uncertainty. Give us the courage to say "no" when we must and the wisdom to know when that is. Rescue us from our fearfulness and protect us when we are reviled for speaking Your Word. Amen.


For Seminarian Chad Smith, who returned to classes at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, that the Lord would bless his studies and grant him growth in faith and knowledge


For Molly Ziegler Hemingway, that she might be encouraged and strengthened in her work of defending the truth of Your Word


For the witness of the LCMS to the two kingdoms doctrine, that we would be clear that God reigns in both kingdoms; in the world with law and in the church with the gospel 
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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