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29 August 2011
  + The Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist +
29 August, New Testament

Beheading of JohnAccording to the structure of the Christian calendar, the feast commemorating the death of St. John the Baptist comes only two months after the celebration of his nativity. His birth is observed by the liturgical color of white, standard for the principal Christological feasts since, as the Forerunner, John prepared the way for the coming Messiah. This day, however, is colored red, emblematic of the blood of the martyrs.

While all four Gospels mention John, only the three Synoptics tell of his beheading at the command of Herod Antipas. These accounts tell us that Herod imprisoned John because he strongly rebuked the king for divorcing his wife Phasaelis and then entering into an unlawful marriage with Herodias, who had been married to Herod Antipas's brother Philip I.

Mark makes it clear that Herodias held a stronger grudge than her new husband: "Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. (6:20)" However, when Herodias's daughter (traditionally named Salome*) danced for the king on his birthday, Herod was so pleased that he foolishly promised to give her anything she wanted, up to half of his kingdom. Her mother told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Although Herod was "exceedingly sorry" at her request, he reluctantly agreed "because of his oaths and his guests. (6:27)"

Herod had John beheaded in the prison. The executioner then placed the head on a platter and delivered it to the girl, who passed it on to her mother. John's followers then came and asked for his body, which they buried before going to tell Jesus. It was at least in part Jesus' sorrow over the death of John that led him to leave the crowds in Galilee: "He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. (Matthew 14:13)" However, the crowds followed Him, leading him to show compassion by healing the sick and then feeding the crowd of "five thousand men, besides women and children. (14:21)"

While Scripture is silent, some ancient traditions say that Herodius had John's head buried in a dung heap. These accounts claim that Joanna, wife of Herod's steward and a follower of Jesus, later retrieved the head and reburied it on the Mount of Olives. Later stories tell of three separate findings of his severed head. The first two later led to it being lost again for extended periods of time after being hidden. The third purported finding came in AD 850 and led to the head being transferred to a court church in Constantinople.

Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also tells of Herod's beheading of John the Baptist in his Jewish Antiquities. However, the reason he gives is different. Josephus wrote that the king killed John "lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into [John's] power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise), [so Herod] thought it best [to put] him to death." Josephus also said that many Jews believed that Aretas (Herod's father-in-law) dealt Herod a severe military defeat as divine punishment for his wickedness.

While not the first regularly observed Christian feast honoring a saint, the commemoration of the Martyrdom of John the Baptist is one of the earliest. It has been observed in both the Eastern and Western Church nearly as long as the celebration of his Nativity. Because of the differences in calendars, much of the East celebrates on the same date, but a different day. Also, many devout Eastern Christians remember keep John's feast by refusing to use a knife, eat from a flat plate, or eat any food that is round.

*Josephus wrote extensively on the entire Herodian family. It is from the Antiquities that we are fairly sure that Salome was, indeed, the girl who danced and who asked for the Baptist's head. Ironically, the root of her name in Hebrew is "shalom" (שלם), that is, "peace."

Lection

Revelation 6:9-11
Psalm 71:1-8
Romans 6:1-5
Mark 6:14-29

Collect

Almighty God, You gave Your servant John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in both his preaching of repentance and his innocent death. Grant that we, who have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, may daily repent of our sins, patiently suffer for the sake of the truth, and fearlessly bear witness to His victory over death; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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28 August 2011
  + Augustine of Hippo, Doctor of the Church +
28 August AD 430

Saint Augustine was one of the greatest of the Latin church fathers and was among the most significant influences in the formation of Western Christianity, including Lutheranism. He was born to Monica and Patricius, a Christian mother and a pagan father, in AD 354 in Tagaste, Numidia (now Souk Ahras in Algeria).

Augustine's early life was distinguished by exceptional advancement as a teacher of rhetoric. He described his life before his conversion to Christianity in his book Confessions. He was drawn into the moral laxity of the day, plagued by lust, and fathered an illegitimate son. He also joined himself to the Manichaeian religion.

Baptism of AugustineAlthough he wandered (and sometimes wallowed) through a sinful, unchristian life for many years, Monica continued faithfully praying for Augustine's conversion. During his times of spiritual unrest, he moved first to Rome and later to Milan in order to find and hold teaching positions.

Monica's prayers were answered as her son responded to God's Word and the work of the Holy Spirit through the the preaching of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. Certainly Monica must have rejoiced to see her son baptized by Ambrose during the Easter Vigil of 387. However, her earthly joy was short-lived; she died at Ostia Antica, just outside Rome, as she was beginning a journey back to Africa with her sons Augustine and Navigius.

During the Pelagian Controversies of the Fifth Century, Augustine fought the notion of salvation by works and emphasized the unilateral grace of God in the salvation of mankind. The great theologian served as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa from AD 395 until his death in 430. Augustine was a man of immense intellect and deep love, a fierce defender of the orthodox faith, and a prolific writer. In addition to his Confessions, Augustine's book City of God (De Civitate Dei) had great impact upon the Church throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

His monastic rule was used and emulated in much of the Western Church. The Order of Saint Augustine adhered closely to his teachings. Through the Order, Augustine's theology had a profound impact upon the thinking of the young German monk, Martin Luther. Luther espoused and refined Augustine's understanding of divine grace and of original sin, becoming part of the theology that forged the Reformation.

The barbarian invasions of the 5th Century form the backdrop for his death. Saint Augustine died during the Vandal siege of Hippo. He urged resistance, at least in part because the Vandals held to the Arian heresy. He is listed with Saint Ambrose as two of the Western (or Latin) fathers among the eight great Doctors of the undivided Church. Jerome and Gregory the Great are the West's other representatives; Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazianzus represent Eastern (Greek) Christendom.

The picture above represents Augustine's baptism at the hands of Ambrose. The text behind his head is the opening of the medieval hymn, Te Deum Laudamus. Some legends tell that Augustine and Ambrose jointly improvised it at this moment.

Lection

Psalm 87 or 84:7-12
Hebrews 12:22-24,28-29
John 14:6-15

Collect

Lord God, the Light of minds who know You, the Life of souls who love You, and the Strength of hearts who serve You, help us to follow the example of Your servant Augustine of Hippo, knowing You that we may truly love You, and loving You that we may fully serve You, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Hymn: Holy God, We Praise Your Name

   Holy God, we praise your name;
   Lord of all, we bow before you.
   All on earth your scepter claim,
   All in heaven above adore you.
   Infinite your vast domain,
   Everlasting is your reign.

   Hark! The glad celestial hymn
   Angel choirs above are raising;
   Cherubim and seraphim,
   In unceasing chorus praising,
   Fill the heavens with sweet accord:
   "Holy, holy, holy Lord!"

   Lo, the apostolic train
   Join your sacred name to hallow;
   Prophets swell the glad refrain,
   And the white robed martyrs follow;
   And from morn to set of sun
   Through the Church the song goes on.

   You are King of Glory, Christ;
   Son of God, yet born of Mary.
   For us sinners sacrificed,
   As to death a Tributary,
   First to break the bars of death,
   You have opened heaven to faith.

   Holy Father, holy Son,
   Holy Spirit, three we name you,
   Though in essence only one;
   Undivided God we claim you
   And, adoring, bend the knee
   While we own the mystery.

Canticle: Te Deum Laudamus

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27 August 2011
  + Monica, Faithful Mother +
27 August — Translated from 4 May AD 387

Saint MonicaA native of North Africa of Berber descent, Monica was the devoted mother of one of the great theologians of early Christianity. She was born to a Christian family in Tagaste, Numidia (now Souk Ahras in Algeria) but her parents married her to a pagan named Patricius. Throughout her life she sought the spiritual welfare of her children, especially that of her brilliant son, Augustine, who provides us with the details of his mother's life.

Patricius was prone to both adultery and violent rages. Still, Augustine reported that his father never beat Monica, likely because she remained obedient and faithful to her husband. She also faced ongoing interference and resentment from her mother-in-law. After she was widowed at a fairly young age, Monica devoted herself to her family. She prayed especially for many years for Augustine's conversion from Manichaeism, a dualistic religious philosophy, and for his release from an immoral lifestyle that included a concubine and a son born out of wedlock.

When Augustine left North Africa to go to Italy, she followed him to Rome and then Milan. There she had the joy of witnessing her son's conversion to the Christian faith and his baptism by the Bishop of Milan, Saint Ambrose.

Following her son's conversion and baptism, Saint Monica hoped to travel back to Africa with her sons Augustine and Navigius. However, her travels weakened her and she died at Ostia Antica, Italy, the Roman seaport. On some ecclesial calendars, Monica is remembered on 4 May. Following changes during Vatican II, many churches have moved her commemoration to the day before Christendom celebrates the life and work of her famous son.

The customary spelling of this saint's name has been with one "n." However, her original tomb in Ostia was discovered after World War II bearing the name "Monnica." Was it for many years misspelled (even by her son) or did an artisan make a mistake when carving her inscription? Whichever the spelling, her remains no longer rest in the tomb in Ostia; they were transferred in 1430 to the Church of St. Augustine in Rome.

That she remains in Italy is, in part, testimony to her own thoughts and beliefs. Just before she died, she told her sons, "It does not matter where you bury my body. Do not let that worry you. All I ask of you is that, wherever you may be, you should remember me at the altar of the Lord." When asked of her fears at the thought of leaving her body in an strange land, she replied, "Nothing is far from God, and I need have no fear that he will not know where to find me, when he comes to raise me to life at the end of the world."

Because the region was visited by missionaries on her feast day, the city of Santa Monica, California was named in her honor.

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24 August 2011
  + Bartholomew, Apostle +
24 August, New Testament

Saint BartholomewThe name "Bartholomew" appears in the New Testament only on lists of the names of the twelve apostles. John gives no list of the Twelve, but refers to more of them individually than do any of the Synoptic writers. He doesn't name Bartholomew, but early in his account (John 1:43-50) he tells of the call to discipleship of one Nathaniel who is supposed to be the same person.

The reasoning is as follows: John's Nathanael is introduced as one of the earliest followers of Jesus, in terms suggesting that he became one of the Twelve. He is clearly not Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Thomas, Judas Iscariot, or Judas (not Iscariot), all of whom John names separately.

Symbol of Saint BartholomewHe isn't Matthew, whose call is described differently. This leaves Bartholomew, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon the Zealot. Of these, Bartholomew is the leading candidate for two reasons: (1) "Bar-tholomew" is a patronymic (a father-based name), meaning "son of Tolmai (or Talmai)." Thus, it's quite likely that he had another name. (2) Nathanael is introduced in John's narrative as a friend of Philip. Since Bartholomew is paired with Philip on three of our four lists of Apostles, it seems likely that they were associated.

We have no certain information about his later life. Some writers, including the historian Eusebius of Caesarea, say that he preached in India. The majority tradition, with varying details, is that Saint Bartholomew preached in Armenia, and was finally skinned alive and beheaded in Albanus or Albanopolis on the Caspian Sea, as shown above. His emblem in art is, therefore, a flaying knife or knives. Michelangelo also followed this tradition but imposed his own face on Bartholomew in his "Last Judgment" fresco, as shown in a previous commemoration.

Lection

Psalm 121
Proverbs 3:1-8
2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Luke 22:24-30 or John 1:43-51

Collect

Almighty God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, chose Bartholomew to be an apostle to preach the blessed Gospel. Grant that Your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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22 August 2011
  The BBOV: Late Summer Blooms
The Big Blogroll O' Vark®™©

BBOVOnly two weeks ago, I added four new people to the BBOV. And now I have seven more blogs, including two I've been watching to see if the content would grow and stay fresh. So far, so good.

Today's additions bear a strong western United States bias. Three come from California and two from Montana. The other two are part of the ever expanding Pirate Christian Radio empire. They're a nice mix of writing, audio, and video, so give 'em a visit and see what you think. And if you like what you find, please tell 'em that the Aardvark sent you.

I promise to keep my nose close to the ground on Facebook and Networked Blogs and welcome suggestions from others in order to discover, catalog, and add more listings to the confessional Lutheran blogosphere.

If you're not sure what to make of the BBOV or wonder about the benefits of being listed and of listing others' blogs, please read the first three links under Aurous Effluence in the sidebar. Those who'd like the Big Blogroll O' Vark®™© can either email me or copy the list from the Alley's source code (click View | Page Source or Control+U in Firefox or View | Source in Internet Explorer).

If you enjoy this blog, especially if you're listed or would like to be added to the Aardvark family, you can let me know via blog comment or through my Facebook page. If you friend me, please attach a note telling me if you are a current or prospective member of the BBOV. And when you find things you like through the Alley, please leave a comment to that effect with the blog owners.

CONFESSIONAL LUTHERAN BLOGS

The Lucky Se7en Additions

 †  Faith, Family, Life
 †  Faith Lutheran, Capistrano: Pr. Hodel
 †  Faith Lutheran, Capistrano: Pr. Rhodes
 †  Fighting for the Faith
 †  The Great Exchange
 †  The Museum of Idolatry
 †  Vocation in the Valley

FINALLY ...

For all those enrolled in the BBOV, links back are certainly appreciated. And don't forget that all of those listed benefit when you use the entire blogroll. Also, if you'd like to graphically point to the Alley and the Big Blogroll O' Vark®™©, you may use the above design from St. Charles the Illuminous or one of these blog buttons:
Each of these buttons measures 80x15 pixels. Should you choose to use one, please link back to either the main Aardvark Alley URL or else to the post What Is the BBOV.

Finally, if you own or know of a Lutheran blog demonstrating a quia confessional subscription and would like me to consider it for inclusion, please leave a comment. And again, for more information about why this stuff benefits confessional Lutheran blogging, morality, and other worthwhile endeavors, please check out the first three links under Aurous Effluence in the sidebar.

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20 August 2011
  + Samuel, Judge and Prophet +
20 August, Old Testament

Samuel and EliSamuel was the final Old Testament judge. Besides Deborah and an anonymous man in Judges 6:7-10, he is the first prophet mentioned after Moses, although we could consider some of the other judges among the prophets. He lived during the 11th century B.C. Samuel's mother Hannah was unable to have children and she prayed desperately before the tabernacle that the Lord would grant her to bear children to her husband Elkanah, an Ephraimite. Because the Lord heard and answered, Hannah called her son "Samuel," which can be translated "heard by God." This account is in the first chapter of 1 Samuel.

In response to His love for them, Samuel's parents dedicated him to the Lord's service: "And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli [the priest in the Lord's house]. And she said, 'Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.' (1:24-28)" He entered sacred service and trained in the house of the Lord at Shiloh under Eli.

Samuel Anoints DavidGod called Samuel to speak for Him in a series of night messages and established him as His prophet. One of Samuel's most difficult assignments came immediately after his call. Eli was allowing his sons to abuse their priestly offices and through the young man, the Lord condemned their behavior and pronounced God's judgment upon them (see chapter 3).

Samuel's own life didn't always go smoothly. Just as Eli's sons had betrayed their sacred trust as priests, so also Joel and Abijah, the sons of Samuel, became unrighteous judges who "took bribes and perverted justice. (8:1-2)" Perceiving this as a problem in God's leadership as well as that of Samuel, Israel demanded that they be given a king such as the surrounding nations had. Samuel warned them that this would lead to even more problems and woes, but when they kept insisting, the Lord told him to do as the people requested.

Samuel anointed Saul to be Israel's first king (10:1). Because of Saul's continuing, flagrant disregard for God's Word, Samuel repudiated Saul's leadership and traveled to the house of Jesse, where he anointed David to be king in place of Saul (16:13).

Samuel's loyalty to God, his spiritual insight, and his ability to inspire others made him one of Israel's great leaders. When he died, "all Israel assembled and mourned for him, and they buried him in his house at Ramah. (25:1a)"

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19 August 2011
  + Bernard of Clairvaux +
Died 20 August AD 1153

Bernard of Clairvauxernard of Clairvaux, a leader in Christian Europe in the first half of the 11th century A.D., is honored in his native France and around the world. Born into a noble Burgundian (Fontaines, near Dijon) family in 1090, he was drawn toward the Church by his own nature and encouraged by his mother's desire. His family opposed His desire to enter a monastery and sent him to study at Châlons in order to qualify him for higher ecclesiastical office. However, Bernard left his affluent heritage, entering the monastery of Citeaux at age 22. He persuaded four of his brothers, an uncle, and 26 other men, mainly the sons of nobles, to join him.

After two years he and several others were sent to a new monastic house at Clairvaux, where Bernard soon became its abbot. His work there was blessed in many ways. The monastery at Clairvaux grew in mission and service, eventually establishing some 68 daughter houses.

During the disputed papal elections between Anacletus II and Innocent II, he took the side of Innocent. From 1130-38, Bernard worked to solidify the papal claim through ecclesiastical and secular politics. He battled against the "New Teaching" espoused by Pierre Abélard at the University of Paris, resisting a broad-based liberal arts education using the philosophy of Aristotle. Instead, Bernard insisted that such an education was only to be used in preparation for the priesthood.

At the command of Pope Eugenius III in 1146, Bernard preached in favor of a new effort to free the Holy Land from the Mohammedans. This gave life to the previously moribund Second Crusade. While the results of the campaign were certainly mixed, events during it served to enhance Bernard's perception among non-Christians: When a monk named Radulf (or Raoul) incited the populace of Mainz against the Jews, Bernard vigorously opposed him, calling the monk arrogant, without authority, a preacher of mad and heretical doctrines, a liar, and a murderer. Radulf slipped away, the riots ended, and Bernard became known as a "righteous gentile." His reputation among Rhine valley Jews remained so good that his name is still given to some of their descendants. The most famous of these would probably be American businessman and presidential advisor Bernard Baruch.

Certainly, we remember St. Bernard for his charity and political abilities. Even more, we honor his preaching ability and, especially, his poetry and hymn writing (cf. NetHymnal and Hymnuts): The texts of O Jesus, King Most Wonderful (MIDI audio) and O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (MIDI audio), as well as others, remain vital parts of our Christian heritage.

Martin Luther cited Saint Bernard in a number of his writings. When Bernard spoke of justification by grace through faith, Luther commended the teaching. For example, in his commentary on Psalm 110, the reformer wrote, "This is the kind of joy and comfort St. Bernard had in his heart, so that he could say, on the basis of this article: 'How can I ever become sad and mournful or discouraged? After all, my flesh and blood sits in heaven above. I expect He will not be my enemy.' For St. Bernard to apply this to himself and to boast this way is certainly a genuinely spiritual, heavenly, and divine thought, derived from his faith. For he had also amounted to something in the world. He had been rich enough, noble, learned, and holy. But before God St. Bernard knows no other boast or comfort than this Lord. (LW 13:245)"

Where Bernard lapsed into exalting the office of the papacy or waxed eloquent on the merits of the saints — particularly Mary — Luther condemned these works as false and misleading. Yet the reformer appreciated and held close the monk's death-bed confession of personal unworthiness and total reliance on Christ's merits: "That is how St. Bernard was saved. He was an exemplary monk; he observed the rules of his order scrupulously, and he fasted so assiduously that his breath stank and no one could abide his presence. But on the threshold of death he exclaimed: 'Oh, I have lived damnably! But heavenly Father, Thou hast given me Thy Son, who has a twofold claim to heaven: first, from eternity, by reason of the fact that He is Thy Son; secondly, He earned heaven as the Son of man with His suffering, death, and resurrection. And thus He has also given and bestowed heaven on me. [Sermones in cantica, Sermon XX, Patrologia, Series Latina, CLXXXIII, 867]' Thereby St. Bernard dropped out of the monastic role, forsook cowl and tonsure and rules, and turned to Christ; for he knew that Christ conquered death, not for Himself but for us men that all who believe in the Son should not perish but have eternal life. And so St. Bernard was saved. (LW 22:360)"

In case you're wondering, the Saint Bernard dog is not named for Bernard of Clairvaux but indirectly for Bernard of Montjoux (or Menthon), an earlier monk who founded a travelers' hospice and monastery in the Pennine Alps and another hospice in the Graian Alps. Both of these passes were later named for him and and the large rescue dogs for these places where they were stationed.

NB: I followed the LCMS Calendar of Commemorations and listed Bernard on 19 August, even though his death date is normally listed as 20 August and occasionally as the 21st. Roman Catholicism celebrates his feast on the 20th.

Suggested Lection

Psalm 139:1-12 or 19:7-11
Sirach 39:1-10
John 15:7-11

Collect

O God, by whose grace Your servant Bernard of Clairvaux, kindled with the flame of Your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church, grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, walking before You as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Be Thou my Consolation, My Shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy Passion When my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, Upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfold Thee. Who dieth thus dies well!

(P. Gerhardt; from Bernard's Salve caput cruentatum)

Hymn texts and MIDI audio linked from the Lutheran Hymnal Project.

Martin Luther quotes from Volume 13: Luther's Works, Selected Psalms II, © 1956 by Concordia Publishing House and Volume 22: Luther's Works, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, © 1957 by Concordia Publishing House.

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17 August 2011
  + Johann Gerhard, Theologian +
17 August AD 1637

Johann GerhardBorn 17 October 1582, Johann Gerhard, a Lutheran theologian in the tradition of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Martin Chemnitz (1522-86), was the most influential 17th Century dogmatician. Many still consider his Loci Theologici in 23 large volumes to be the most definitive statement of Lutheran orthodoxy. Born in Quedlinburg, Germany, Gerhard was stricken with a life-threatening illness at age 15.

Following this experience, coupled with with guidance from his pastor, Johann Arndt, Gerhard experienced a turning point: He devoted the rest of his life to theology, serving many years as the Superintendent of Heldberg and, later, of the Duchy of Coburg. Eventually he become a professor at the University of Jena. With a sharp, critically trained mind, Gerhard also possessed deep evangelical piety and love for Jesus.

He wrote exegetical and theological works, devotional literature, history, and polemics. Many of his sermons remain in publication, still exercising wide influence upon confessional Lutheran thought. Since its writing and subsequent translation, his Sacred Meditations probably outsold every book in the Western world except the Bible and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.

His son Johann Ernst Gerhardt was also a Lutheran theologian and professor. An even more noted relative was his nephew, Johannes Andreas Quenstedt.

For more detailed information, see the Studium Excitare, Wikipedia, and the Christian Cyclopedia.

Partial List of Works

† Exegesis: Commentarius in harmoniam historiae evangelicae de passione Christi (A comentary harmonizing the Gospel accounts of Christ's Passion, 1617)
† Exegesis: Comment, super priorem D. Petri epistotam (1641)
† Exegesis: Commentaries on Genesis (1637) and Deuteronomy (1658)
† Theology: Confessio Catholice (Universal Confession, 1633-1637), a defense of the evangelical and catholic nature of the Augsburg Confession
† Theology: Loci communes theologici (1610-1622)
† Devotional: Meditationes sacrae (Sacred Meditations, 1606)

Suggested Lection

Psalm 46
Isaiah 55:6-11
Romans 10:5-17
John 15:1-11

Collect

O Lord God, heavenly Father, pour out Your Holy Spirit upon Your faithful people, keep them steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and comfort them in all temptation, defend them against all enemies of Your Word, and bestow on Christ's Church Militant Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word!

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16 August 2011
  + Isaac, Patriarch +
16 August, Old Testament

Sacrifice of IsaacIf any part of Scripture besides the Resurrection clearly indicates that God gets the last laugh, it's got to be the story of Isaac.

After giving new names to Abraham and Sarah, the Lord promised a them a son. At the time, Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 90 (see Genesis 17). When Abraham heard the news, he "fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, 'Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?' (v. 17)"

In response to the laughter and doubting, the Lord said, "Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. (v. 19)" Isaac means "He Laughs."

To reiterate His point, the Lord allowed Sarah to overhear Him repeat His promise to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre (see Genesis 18). "So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, 'After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?' The Lord said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh and say, "Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?" Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.' But Sarah denied it, saying, 'I did not laugh,' for she was afraid. He said, 'No, but you did laugh.' (vv. 12-15)"

Sure enough, things happened not as Abraham and Sarah may have expected, but as the Lord had planned and promised. When Abraham was 100 years old, Sarah gave birth and "Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. (21:3)" Sarah likewise reveled in the irony: "God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me. (v. 6)"

Rebekah and IsaacWhen Isaac was a young man, Abraham took him to Mount Moriah. There, Abraham, obeying God's command, prepared to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering. But God intervened, sparing Isaac's life and providing a ram as a substitute offering (22:1-14).

In so doing, God also pointed to the substitutionary sacrifice of His own Son Jesus Christ for the sins of the world. When the author of Hebrews expounded on the faith of Abraham (11:8-19), he made special note of Abraham's belief that, in order to accomplish His purposes, "God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (v. 19)"

Abraham sent a faithful servant back among their kinfolk in order to find a bride for Isaac. There, the servant found Rebekah, who gladly traveled with this stranger to a new land, where she was given in marriage to Isaac (Genesis 24). They had twin sons, Esau and Jacob (25:19-26).

In his old age, Isaac became weak and blind. Before he died, he desired to give his blessing and the chief inheritance to Esau, his elder and favorite son, even though the Lord had promised Rebekah that their birth order would be reversed in the blessing and Jacob would be the favored son (25:23). However, Rebekah showed her favorite, Jacob, how to deceive his father and gain the blessing for himself (27:1-40). Of course, this resulted in years of bitter family strife, although Jacob and Esau later reconciled (Genesis 33).

Isaac lived to the age of 180 and was buried by his sons in the family burial cave of Machpelah (35:28-29).

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15 August 2011
  + Saint Mary, Mother of God +
15 August, New Testament

The Virgin MaryThe honor paid to Saint Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ our Lord, God, and Savior goes back to the earliest days of the Church. Indeed, it goes back farther: Even before the birth of her Son, Mary prophesied, "From now on all generations will call me blessed. (Luke 1:48 ESV)" Confessing her as "Mother of God" also confesses that the One whom she bore was and is, indeed, true God.

The New Testament records several incidents from the life of the Virgin: her betrothal to Joseph, the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel that she was to bear the Messiah, her Visitation to Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the Nativity of our Lord, the visits of the shepherds and the magi, her Purification and the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple at the age of forty days, the flight into Egypt, the Passover visit to the Temple when Jesus was twelve, (Matthew 1:16,18-25; Matthew 2; Luke 1:26-56; Luke 2); the wedding at Cana in Galilee and the performance of her Son's first miracle (at Mary's intercession, see John 2:1-11), the occasions when observers basically said of Jesus, "How can this man be special? We know his family!" (Matthew 13:54-56; Mark 6:1-3; Luke 4:22; see also John 6:42); an instance when she came with others to see Him while he was preaching (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21); and her presence at His crucifixion, where Jesus commended her to the care of His Beloved Disciple (John 19:25-27). Mary was also present with the apostles in Jerusalem following the Ascension, waiting for the promised Spirit (Acts 1:14). Thus, we see her present at many of the chief events of her Son's life.

Besides Jesus, only two people are mentioned by name in the Creeds. One is Pontius Pilate, Roman procurator of Judea from 26 to 36 AD. Knowing that Jesus was crucified by Pilate's order pins down the date of His death within a few years, certifying that we are not talking "once upon a time," like worshipers of some mythical god. His death is an historical event, something that really happened.

The other name in the Creeds is that of Mary. They say that Christ was "born of the virgin Mary." That is, they assert that he was truly and fully human, born of a woman and not descended from the skies like an angel. Jesus was not a spirit temporarily cloaked in a robe of human-seeming flesh.

Telling us that His mother was a virgin excludes the theory that Jesus was an ordinary man who was so virtuous that he eventually, at His baptism, became filled with a "Christ Spirit" by God. His virgin birth attests that He was always more than merely human, always one whose presence among us was in itself a miracle, from the first moment of His earthly existence. In Mary, Virgin and Mother, God gives us a sign that Jesus is both truly God and truly man. Emphasizing this point, the Council of Ephesis in AD 431 officially titled her Theotokos (God-bearer) and rejected and condemned the title Christotokos (Christ-bearer). Ask the Pastor comments on the distinction in Blessed Virgin Mary: Mother of God.

We know Little of Mary's life except as it intersects with the life of her Son; this is appropriate. The Scriptures record her words to the angel Gabriel, to her kinswoman Elizabeth, and to her Son on two occasions. The only recorded saying of hers to "ordinary" hearers is her instruction to the servants at the wedding feast: "Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you. (John 2:5 ESV)" Perhaps this should be the summation of her message to the world. To this day, she reminds us, "Listen to Jesus. Pay attention to my Son. Do as He says."

She didn't seek the regard of others on her own behalf. If our honor for the Blessed Virgin doesn't turn our attention from her to the One whom she bore and suckled, to the Word made flesh, then we may be certain that it is not the blessing that she seeks. A right regard for Mary always directs us to Him who made her womb His first earthly dwelling-place.

In different parts of the Church, the date is remembered in various ways. Roman Catholicism celebrates the Assumption of Mary and claims that she was taken, body and soul, to heaven. However, I've found contradictory teachings in the Roman Church, arguing whether she was translated in the manner of Enoch or Elijah, if she died and was resurrected on earth and then taken to heaven, or if her dead body was taken and then rejoined with her soul in heaven.

Meanwhile, Eastern Orthodoxy celebrates the Dormition of the Theotokos. It claims that Mary certainly died but that when Thomas visited three days later, her body was gone from the tomb. As to whether the body will be kept in heaven until the general resurrection on the Last Day or already rejoined with her spirit, Orthodoxy will not make a final dogmatic pronouncement.

In the rest of Christendom that follows a sanctorial calendar, the general belief seems to be that she likely died and awaits the resurrection with all others who departed in the Faith.

Lection

Psalm 45:10-17
Isaiah 61:7-11
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 1:(39-45) 46-55

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your only Son. Grant that we, who are redeemed by His blood, may share with her in the glory of Your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

or

Grant, we humbly pray, O Lord, to Your servants the gift of Your heavenly blessing that, as the Son of the Virgin Mary has granted us salvation, we may daily grow in Your favor; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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10 August 2011
  + Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr +
10 August AD 258

Saint LaurenceA river, a gulf, and a seaway are named in his honor. A number of Christian congregations and almost anyone known as "Larry" likewise owe their names to this martyr of the ancient Christian Church.

Early in the third century A.D., Lawrence (also often "Lorenz," "Laurence," or "Lorenzo"), who was most likely born in Spain, made his way to Rome. There he was appointed chief of the seven deacons and was given the responsibility to manage church property and finances.

The emperor at the time, thinking that the church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lorenz to produce the "treasures of the church." Saint Lorenz brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity. He was then jailed and eventually executed in the year 258. Most accounts tell of his being roasted on a gridiron until dead.

His martyrdom left a deep impression on the young church. Almost immediately, the date of His death, 10 August, became a permanent fixture on the early commemorative calendar of the Church.

Lection

Psalm 65:1-8 or 34:1-10
Deuteronomy 33:1-3 or Isaiah 26:1-4, 8-9, 12-13, 19-21
Revelation 7: 2-17 or 21:9-11, 22-27; 22:1-5
Matthew 5:1-12

Collect

Stir up, O merciful Father, Your people to true brotherly affection that we may gladly do good and serve our neighbor, as did Your servant Saint Lawrence, when he emptied the treasure of the Church to help the poor; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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09 August 2011
  + Hermann Sasse +
9 August AD 1976

Sasse AutographLutheran pastor and theologian Hermann Otto Erich Sasse was born on 17 July 1895 at Sonnewalde, Lower Lusatia (Lausitz), Germany. He was the eldest of five children born to pharmacist Hermann Sasse and his wife Maria, née Berger. In 1913,he began reading theology and ancient philology at the University of Berlin. In later years, he claimed that his tutor in practical theology was war, as he was one of only six survivors of trench warfare in Flanders from his battalion.

After the war, he continued his studies and was ordained in 1920 in St Matthew's Church, Berlin. He served in several Brandenburg parishes took the licentiate in theology in Berlin in 1923. Sasse came to Hartford Seminary, Connecticut in 1926, where he earned a master's degree.

Hermann Sasse married Charlotte Margarete Naumann (d. 1964) on 11 September 1928 in St. Nicolai's Church, Oranienburg, Germany. Their union was blessed with three children.

During the tough economic times of the Great Depression, During the Depression, Sasse was made a Sozialpfarrer (pastor with social duties). As such, he reached out to those in need in the community, particularly to factory workers in Berlin.

Although remembered as one who resisted the watered-down theology of unionism, Sasse participated in the Ecumenical Movement and was a delegate and interpreter during the first world conference of the Faith and Order Movement in Lausanne, Switzerland (1927). He also attended the 1932 disarmament conference in Geneva.

Among German theologians, he ranks as one of the the earliest to speak out against Nazism. While criticizing some of its theology, he participated actively in the Confessing Church Movement that had emerged under Martin Niemöller and others. Sasse and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were among the small but growing church opposition to Hitler. In 1933, they were the primary authors of the Bethel Confession. This strongly trinitarian document also clearly condemned discrimination against the Jews. Rejecting an all-Aryan German Church, the Confession stated, "Instead of giving up, either willingly or unwillingly, in one area the ecclesial fraternity with the Jewish Christian that is created by word and sacrament, the Gentile Christians should rather expose themselves to persecution."

A Man for Our TimesAlthough he'd been working hand-in-hand with its members, Sasse left the synod that produced the Barmen Declaration. He objected to Karl Barth and others leading the Confessing Movement to wrongly arrogate church authority for itself. During this time, he continued as professor in church history at the University of Erlangen, Bavaria, a position he received in 1933. The German government withdrew his passport in 1935 but his popularity as a lecturer and protection from the dean of the faculty helped him to retain his university post through the Nazi era.

Uncomfortable with its theological compromises, Sasse protested at the 1948 formation of the Evangelical Church in Germany. His opposed its policy of restoration rather than renewal and expressed disquiet over state-supported university faculties of theology. This led him to join the Lutheran Free Church.

After receiving a call to teach at Immanuel Seminary, North Adelaide, South Australia, he migrated in 1949. There, he worked mightily to unite Australia's divided Lutheran churches, devoting much energy to this cause. Exercising his considerable teaching and writing skills, he helped to formulate and forge new doctrinal bases of agreement and was rewarded by seeing the 1966 church union occurred in 1966.

Sasse stayed active in the German Lutheran communities of Adelaide and Melbourne. Through his many contacts, he assisted immigrants with pastoral advice and care.

Sasse also retained his global Lutheran connections — many in the United States knew him as "Mr. Lutheran." He maintained world-wide correspondence through regular doctrinal and pastoral "Letters to Lutheran Pastors." He continued to encourage ongoing theological research, particularly in the areas of Scripture as Word of God and the Eucharist. While maintaining his justly deserved reputation for strongly defending confessional and conservative positions, Sasse also kept active personal contacts across denominational boundaries.

Hermann SasseFrom its inception, Sasse involved himself in Australian Roman Catholic-Lutheran dialog. He finally retired from the seminary in 1969 but stayed active in the affairs of the Church. The Federal Republic of German honored him with the Order of Merit in 1972.

Sasse saw over 450 of his works published. Included among them are Here We Stand (Minneapolis, 1946) and This is My Body (1959). A fire in his North Adelaide home claimed his life on 9 August 1976. Survived by two sons, he was buried in Centennial Park cemetery. One obituary declared Sasse "Australia's most distinguished acquisition from the Continental theological scene."

Hermann Sasse was one of many who stood steadfast in confession of the Evangelical, Orthodox, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. For a sampling of some of the others in Lutheranism, please see The Meanies of Grace. For more on and by Sasse, I recommend What Sasse Said, Hermann Sasse and the Liturgical Movement, and Hermann Sasse: If You Don't Know Him, You Should as possible starters. You can also find plenty of Sasse to read through this CPH search.

Suggested Lection

Psalm 46
Isaiah 55:6-11
Romans 10:5-17
John 15:1-11

Collect

O Lord God, heavenly Father, we pray that, as You raised up Hermann Sasse to resist the evils of Nazi philosophy and through him led Lutherans in Germany, Australia, and around the world into renewed appreciation of their confessional heritage and trust in the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, so You would continue to provide Your Church with faithful pastors and leaders, keeping them steadfast in Your grace and truth, defending them against all enemies of Your Word, and bestowing on Christ's Church Militant Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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