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Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged,for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.(ESV)



A Great Friend

Friday after the Epiphany of our Lord

9 January 2015

The writings of the Apostle Paul are often difficult to understand. But perhaps they seem opaque only because we don't read them enough or with sufficient attention. Even the Apostle Peter carped about the difficulty of understanding the writings of the Apostle Paul. "And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand" (2Pt 3:15-16). Paul's letters were not written for a quick read through, but were written for careful contemplation, because they are divine speech in human words. In our day, we are inundated by a torrent of words in books, newspapers, broadcasts, podcasts, blogs, and commentary. We swallow so many words that we gulp them down without properly savoring or digesting them.


The situation in the first century was far different. There were none of the media that we take for granted. This was true through the fifteenth century when the printing press was invented by that enterprising German, Gutenberg. Before that, texts were lovingly enjoyed, like a fine wine; carefully decanted, nosed, swirled, left to caress the mental palate, carefully tasted for every nuance of meaning, and only then swallowed by memory. Very few texts were available for study, so they were treated with care, like a long-cellared Burgundy. We ourselves did the same thing with a love letter in the days before texting and email. Our beloved's words were read for every subtle color of meaning. What if we had gotten a letter from our beloved and someone asked us what it said, and we replied, "Oh, I don't know. I haven't read it yet." They would think us mad or hard hearted. The only way to know the heart of the beloved who writes to us is to read what is written.


So it is for God's Word in human letters, especially those of the Apostle Paul. We need to open his letters, read and study them, savoring them as they were intended to be savored and considered. Paul had not the capacity to write a novel or a huge theological tome for his readers; he was sending them letters. Therefore, he sought to pack much substance into few words. This is why we ought to read them carefully; Paul wrote them carefully. This is especially true of the Letter to the Romans. I am envious of the world in which John Chrysostom lived and studied the letters of Paul. Chrysostom lived when written texts were relatively few and when Greek, the language of the Apostle, was still the language of the church and her preachers. Paul spoke the language still used by Chrysostom. No wonder Chrysostom considered Paul such a good friend, right there with him as he heard the letter read. We have greater opportunity to make the Apostle to the Gentiles our friend, simply because we can hold a copy of Paul's letter in our hands. If you do, you will find Paul a great friend.


John Chrysostom


"Since I keep hearing the letters of the blessed Paul read; sometimes twice a week, and often three or four times, when we celebrate the memorials of the holy martyrs, I enjoy the spiritual trumpet. I am stirred and warmed with desire at recognizing the voice so dear to me. I picture him all but present to my sight, and behold him conversing with me. But I grieve and am troubled that all people do not know this man, as well as they ought to know him. Some are so ignorant of him, as not even to know for certain the number of his letters. It is not as though they are unable, but they do not wish to be continually conversing with this blessed man. For it is not through any natural readiness and sharpness of wit that even I am acquainted with as much as I know (if I know anything), but because of a continual attachment to the man, and an earnest affection toward him. For, those who love people know better than any what pertains to them; because they are interested in them. The blessed Apostle shows this in what he said to the Philippians; 'It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel' (Phil 1:7). And so if you are willing to apply yourself to read him with a ready mind, you will need no other aid. For the word of Christ is true which says, 'Seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you' (Mt 7:7)."

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, Introduction 



Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that, by patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


For Ted Nelson, that he would regain his strength


For those who have returned to work and school after some days of leisure and recreation, that they might find joy in their vocations


For the clergy and lay leaders of Memorial Lutheran Church as they shoulder the burden of duties this month, that they would be strengthened and given joy in their service

Art: AERTSEN, Pieter  Adoration of the Magi (c. 1560)


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