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Isaiah 54:1-10


"Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married," says the LORD. "Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities. 


"Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you," says the LORD, your Redeemer. "This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed," says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (ESV)


Thursday of Epiphany 2

22 January 2015

Christianity is full of impediments to faith; otherwise faith would not be faith. Faith is always in opposition to the powers of human wisdom. When I was in India, the faithful Lutherans there told me about their struggles with their culture. As we talked these things over, I often had to say that the Lutherans of North America struggle with very similar things; "the devil uses the same tactics everywhere." Our greatest battles are not against culture per se, but rather against the demonic abhorrence of the humiliation and weakness of God. There is much that is offensive to old Adam and His tempting master, Satan, in the Christian teaching. Old Adam does not want to be engaged by Christ and the cross. He does not want the suffering it implies nor the apparent weakness of God that it shows in the world. Old Adam cannot "see beyond" what is right in front of him and which he interprets as signs of God's love and God's attitude toward him. Only faith that is divinely-given by God the Holy Spirit can "see beyond," by not seeing its walk, but following the voice of the Word of God.


Sometimes the gurus of "church growth" encourage the church to get rid of her culturally objectionable practices as she goes about her business of proclaiming the Lord's Word in the world. The theory is that if we could just remove the stumbling blocks that keep people from joining the church they will come to faith in Christ more easily: "If we could just get rid of chanting in the church, more people would be attracted to join it." You could replace the word "chanting" with a thousand other examples, but the significance would be the same. This is something like suggesting that lipstick applied to a pig would make her more beautiful. The big deal issue of the cross still looms over the church, overshadowing every other "objectionable" thing the church says and does. "So you don't like chanting, because it sounds 'weird?' If you want weird; how about the fact that the church worships a dead guy as very God and Savior and the only way to heaven, who was crucified by the Romans a couple millennia ago and claims to have risen from the dead?" How do you put lipstick on that?


Maybe if we concentrated on proclaiming the gospel of the Crucified instead of focusing on removing the so-called impediments to faith, we might find ourselves doing the work of the church. The apostles and their successors, men who were hardly a highly recommended cadre, within a short span of years proclaimed the news of the crucified Savior to the whole world and found its faith embraced by people everywhere, in every culture, language, tribe, and nation. In Rome, where Augustus had been denominated "savior," the Roman Christians denied that the Emperor had ultimate control of faith and life, despite all the glory which clung to the Seven Hills like a golden mist, and cast all their crowns at the pierced feet of the man from Judea, crucified by a Roman governor in the name of the Roman Emperor, Tiberius. You don't get much more countercultural than that. What lipstick would have made this conversion more palatable to the Romans? Yet this proclamation was the backbone of the church's teaching and confession; a teaching and confession that was "proclaimed in the all the world" (Rm 1:8).


John Chrysostom


"Paul says, 'Your faith is proclaimed in all the world' (Rm 1:8), not your verbal disputations, nor your questioning, nor your syllogisms. There were many hindrances to the teaching. Having recently acquired their empire, the Romans were euphoric and lived in riches and luxury. But fishermen brought the preaching there. They were Jews and of the Jews; a nation hated and held in abomination among all men. The Romans were bidden to worship the Crucified, who was brought up in Judea. Along with this doctrine the teachers proclaimed also a sober life to people who were practiced in softness, and were immersed in the things of the present. Those who proclaimed this doctrine were poor and common men, of no account, and born of men of no account. But none of these things hindered the progress of the Word. So great was the power of the Crucified as to carry the Word everywhere.


"He says it 'is proclaimed in all the world' (Rm 1:8). He does not say, 'It is manifested,' but, 'is proclaimed,' as if all men had them in their mouths. Indeed when he bears witness of this in the Thessalonians, he adds another thing. For after saying, 'Your faith in God has gone forth everywhere,' he adds, 'so that we need not say anything' (1Thess 1:8). The disciples had come into the place of teachers, by their boldness of speech instructing all, and drawing them to themselves."


"The preaching never came to a standstill, but went over the whole world more rapidly than fire. About this Paul only says this much: 'is proclaimed.' He says rightly 'is proclaimed,' showing that there was no need to add anything to what was said, or to take anything away. For a messenger's business is this, to convey from one to another only what is told him. For this reason the priest is also called a 'messenger' (Mal 2:7), because he speaks not his own words, but the words of the One who sent him."

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 2.1



Lord Jesus, You were crucified for our offenses on the offensive tree. Grant us not to be ashamed of You and Your death in our day, that we confessing You might be confessed by You before Your Father in heaven. Amen.


For Gene Summers who is undergoing back surgery, that the Lord would grant him the healing he needs


For those who are estranged from the church, that they would hear again the message of the Crucified and be turned to faith and returned to the church


For those who will be traveling to the meeting of the Luther Academy next week, that they might be kept safe in their travels
Art: RENI, Guido Baptism of Christ (c. 1623)


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