Friday, November 25, 2022

Thoughts on Psalm 69

You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst. (Psalm 69:19-21)

Psalm 69 is a messianic psalm. It prophesies of Israel's King who was to come and rescue them. It is both a prophecy and prayer of Jesus, the true savior-king of which David was a foreshadowing. This Psalm of David is rivaled only by Psalm 22 in terms of its messianic character.

In the Psalm, the Messiah cries out to God that He is stuck in the miry depths. He laments that the deep waters are engulfing Him. The imagery of mire, mud, and deep waters is used elsewhere in scripture to describe the bond of sin. (Brug, Psalms 1, 1992) It is like quicksand. It is a peril from which the man in it cannot extract himself. The more one struggles to release himself, the deeper he sinks into it until he is finally destroyed. He needs someone to pull him out.

This is just what the Messiah was supposed to do. He was supposed to come and rescue God's people. Only He didn't do it the way everybody thought He should. He did it by taking our place in the mud. But why was that necessary? When one man rescues another from drowning in quicksand he doesn't have to crawl into it and die in his place. Quite right. But when you remember that sin is like debt, a better picture of our circumstance emerges. It isn't something we can be plucked out of. It requires something of the one who would save us. When you spend too much on your credit cards so that you can't pay it back, the friend or family member who bails you out must pay the debt for you. And doesn't owing all that money that you know you can't pay back cause you to have a constant anxious feeling? A feeling like you are drowning? That is the feeling the psalmist is trying to evoke in these verses. That is the feeling of Jesus under the weight of our sin.

If you continue on through verse 5 this becomes even more true:

“You know my folly, O, God; my guilt is not hidden from you.”
This talk of the psalmist being caught up in sin, and God knowing His folly and His guilt does not seem to fit into the messianic character of this Psalm. Isn't Christ sinless? How can He be foolish? Even more, how can He say that He is drowning, being deluged by sin?

Though some theologians see these verses as evidence that this Psalm primarily refers to David, they can rightly be applied to Jesus, who is their fulfillment, as well. (Brug, Psalms 1, 1992) St. Paul wrote that the message of the cross is foolishness (folly) to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18). Jesus' folly is indeed known to God the Father. It was His will that Jesus engage in it; it is Jesus will to obey the Father. It is the folly He who Himself is sinless, being made to become sin for us on the cross so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was cursed, for as it is written, “cursed is every man who is hung on a tree” (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13-14). It is, therefore, quite appropriate that these words be applied to Jesus. You see, where we could not overcome sin and death, He could because He is God.

Theologians also point to verse 21 as further evidence that Psalm 69 is foremost a messianic prophecy. There is no direct parallel in David's life for, “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” These specific things do, however, happen to Jesus and are recorded in the accounts of His crucifixion – when He was hung on the tree.

Some people also have a problem with the imprecatory prayer found in verses 22-28. An imprecatory prayer is a prayer to God against one's enemies. It is asking God to punish them, to literally call evil on them. There are entire psalms which we call imprecatory psalms. Most of the time we just ignore them because they make us feel uncomfortable. I suspect it is why they were left out of our Lutheran hymnals. The reason for the difficulty is understandable. It is hard to think that Jesus would pray for His enemies to be blotted out of the book of life (v. 28).

Jesus is indeed the one who lamented over the faithlessness of Jerusalem. He wants to gather us all like a hen gathers her chicks. He wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Most, like the religious leaders of Jesus' day, would not (Matthew 23:37). Those who will reject Jesus will be damned. They will be cast into hell, which was prepared for the devil and his angels, since it is their wish to push away God and flee from His presence. This is on them, not Jesus.

The last section of the Psalm (vv. 29ff.) is a prayer of deliverance and thanksgiving. Here Christ talks about how God will save Zion, His people. He prays also that God's salvation would protect Him in His pain and distress. God the Father does this by delivering Him from the grave and raising Him from the dead on the third day. By this work, Jesus saved His people, personified in the Psalm as Zion.

Zion will be saved. Her cities will be rebuilt. The land will be inhabited by the faithful, those who love the name of Jesus. The ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy will come on the Day of Judgment when Christ returns. On that day, every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 26:62-66; Philippians 2:10-11). ###

Works Cited

Brug, John C. People’s Bible Commentary: Psalms 1. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1992.

The Advent of Advent

I know that it won't officially be Advent until Sunday, but I didn't want to wait to change the colors. Perhaps we can think of this as a couple days of "pre-advent" (LOL).  

For those of you who wonder why we've gone purple instead of blue, read this:

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Thoughts on Psalm 44

Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love (Psalm 44:23-26).

Psalm 44 is a community lament. It is Israel recalling her past victories, and lamenting that she has been forsaken by God. Luther called it a “sighing of the spirit”.

The psalm's context is debated by theologians. It could have been written in response to some defeat of Judah during Hezekiah's time. It could be from an early period in David's life when Saul was still king. There isn't really any hard evidence for either hypothesis, though the psalmist does not specifically mention David or any of his accomplishments.

The defeats that the psalmist describes are not punishments for the faithful. They are punishments for the unfaithful; those who were idolaters; those who did not keep the covenant. For the faithful who had to endure those sufferings, they were sufferings for the sake of Yahweh. This is suffering which we are to learn patiently endure and "rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed," (1 Peter 4:13). It is the refiner's fire, so to speak. The faithful, suffering because of the name of Jesus, are the silver and gold being refined.

And no suffering or defeat can separate those faithful to Yahweh from Him. Paul writes this to the Romans, and he quotes this very Psalm:

"Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: 'For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.' Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:33-39)

The Psalm also applies to the true Israel, the Church. Idolatry is always present with us, as it was with ancient Israel. Victory over ancient Israel's enemies was not earned by wielding the sword, but rather it was given by the grace and power of Yahweh. Likewise, victory over the ultimate enemies of sin and death is not something we can earn. It is won for us, and given to us by Jesus, Yahweh in human flesh.

Psalm 44 gives us shadows of Jesus. He was rejected for us; made to become sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in Him (v. 9). Christ was sold for a pittance (v. 12), betrayed by Judas for 30 pieces of silver. Christ was made a reproach; He endured scorn while hanging on the cross (v. 13-16). All these things happened to Him because it was the Father's will to redeem mankind. It was Christ's will to obey the Father, in spite of the fact that Jesus had not been false or unfaithful (v. 17-19).

Psalm 44 is a prayer of the Church as long as she is in the fallen world. It is St. John's prayer in Revelation: Come, Lord Jesus. It is the voices of those suffering for the name of Jesus: do not reject us; do not forget us; rise up and help us; redeem us. God has answered this prayer already. He has redeemed us, and that redemption belongs to us right now. Christ has won that redemption from sin, death, and the devil by dying as our substitute on the cross. We will fully realize that redemption when Jesus raises us from the dead. ###

Works Cited

Brug, John F. People’s Bible Commentary: Psalms I. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1992.

Reading the Psalms with Luther. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2007.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Old Glory Lutheran Church: A Diatribe on Flags in the Sanctuary

A few weeks ago I noticed that the flags were missing from the sanctuary of my church.

I was happy about this. I don't think either the American flag, the so-called Christian flag, or any other political symbol has any business being displayed in the sanctuary. I think it is a bit like if the early Christians would have displayed a Roman standard in their worship spaces to witness to everyone how much they loved Rome and the emperor, so they could avoid being fed to the lions. That's not the witness they gave.

We pray for our country and our leaders. Scripture tells us to do so. God commands us to obey those authorities which are over us because He has established them, unless they tell us to do something contrary to God's word. But, we are supposed to know that this world and its kingdoms are passing away. We are supposed to understand that here, in this fallen creation, we have no continuing city. We are pilgrims, looking forward to when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of Our LORD, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.

Then the flags came back. Apparently, there was some outrage expressed. It was coming up on Veteran's Day, after all. This is not surprising.

Why is this issue a hill upon which so many people are willing to die? Why are people so adamantly in favor of having an American flag inside their church sanctuary?

This genuinely is confusing to me. Whenever I look forward toward the chancel, the American and Christian flags book-ending it seems to me awkward and out of place. Standing among the other artwork, architecture, and sacred furniture are these two oddities: a symbol of political power and authority, and a symbol of 19th Century American ecumenism of which the LCMS was not supportive.

There is no surer way to cause controversy in your LCMS congregation than to remove, or even suggest the removal of the flags from the sanctuary. A possible exception to this is perhaps the suggested removal of delinquent members from the church membership rolls. The difference, however, is that despite the grumbling of the odd distant relative, I have been a part of congregations that have successfully removed names from their rolls. I have never personally seen a congregation successfully remove an American flag from a sanctuary. I hear tell that such places exist, though.

The most common argument against removing the flags that I have encountered is that the flags are there to show our patriotism and love of country. They show that we want God to bless our country and its inhabitants. They express our belief in the idea of the Two Kingdoms: Just as God is at work governing the Church, He is also at work governing our nation, so it is appropriate to display the flag.
That last one's a stretch.

I suspect that the real reason has more to do with our genuine love and respect for our friends and neighbors who are veterans of the US armed forces, and the patriotism instilled in an older generation of Americans according to what I call the American Civil Religion (God and Country).

If you have the unmitigated gall to oppose the display of the American flag in church, however, people get angry. You are denying God's sovereignty. You are denying that America is a Christian nation (which I do, but that's a whole different story you can read here), and you are a filthy anti-American pinko-commie rat bastard.
But I'm not a commie rat bastard. I love the US Constitution, and the principles enshrined therein. The place for showing that love of country, however, isn't inside the sanctuary. It is at the ballot box. And those principles certainly aren't our ultimate hope for salvation. Jesus is.

The sanctuary is the place where we gather to hear God's word preached. It is where we receive God's gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life won for us by Jesus' death on the cross, particularly in the sacraments. It is our heavenly embassy. It should look, sound, smell, and feel different than the secular world. It should direct our focus to Christ and what He does for us. When we include secular politics in the sacred space, the best-case scenario is that we confuse and diminish this function of the sanctuary. The worst-case scenario is that we are actually setting up other objects of worship next to Jesus.

Saying this, however, apparently means that I do not love America.
How did the flag get in the sanctuary in the first place? The common myth is that the American flag came into the sanctuaries of LCMS churches during World War I. That's not entirely true. It was, rather, a process that happened over a long period of time stretching back to the 1890s.

In the 1890s the Grand Army of the Republic (the precursor to the modern American Legion) began promoting the patriotic display of the American Flag. The GAR, and other patriotic civic organizations, purchased and donated flags to private and public institutions alike, including public buildings, libraries, and even churches (immigrant and native congregations alike). By the time of the Great War, churches displaying the American flag - though not in their sanctuaries - was becoming a common practice. (Nickodemus, “The History of the American Flag in Missouri Synod Churches.”)

But the official story goes that, during the Great War, German-speaking Lutherans were suspected of not being loyal to America, but rather to their ancestral home. Being targeted for persecution, we filthy, backward, non-English-speaking immigrants nervously began displaying the flag to show that we were not subversive, and to better fit into American society and culture.

By the time we were getting ready to make the world safe for democracy by entering the Great War, churches displaying the American flag were becoming the norm. The magazine The Lutheran Witness documented the patriotism of German Lutherans in America during the war by showing how proudly they displayed their flags. But, it wasn't a reaction to wartime persecution as much as it was a positive response to community activism, and an effort to blend in. (Nickodemus, “The History of the American Flag in Missouri Synod Churches.”)

Most importantly, in the examples cited by The Lutheran Witness, the flags weren't inside the sanctuary. That didn't happen until after World War II.

When the LCMS was actually being persecuted during World War I because she was a German-speaking church, and her pastors preached in German, there was a huge fight over whether the Synod should abandon German for English. We seem to never have fought about the flags. (Nickodemus, “The History of the American Flag in Missouri Synod Churches.”)

In the end, demographics decided the language question in favor of English, but there doesn't seem to have been a similar debate over the flag. Everyone just seems to think displaying the flag was a good idea.

By the 1950s the LCMS was publishing guides to show congregations how to properly display the flag inside the sanctuary. To this day the Synod officially treats the issue of displaying the American flag in the sanctuary as an adiaphoron. (Nickodemus, “The History of the American Flag in Missouri Synod Churches.”)

To me, that is just a pious way to avoid making a decision that the important people know will upset the wrong group of laymen too much. The men in charge all know that the American flag, or any other political symbol, doesn't belong in the sanctuary. No one wants to bother with the argument.

Displaying the American flag in the sanctuary confuses our worship. It makes it look like we are worshiping the State. By the way many people react when one suggests moving the flags out of the sanctuary to a more suitable location, I'm beginning to think that maybe we do worship the State.

We did, after all, follow the edict of the governor (here in Illinois) and suspend worship at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, offering very little resistance. Between March 16 and May 31, I think we can be a little charitable. We were still trying to figure out just what we were dealing with; we didn't understand how deadly the virus was (or wasn't), or whom it affected the most; many of us (myself included) still believed that our government was acting in good faith during that time.

Then came the protests.

When politicians and news reporters began to encourage the “mostly peaceful protests” in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, their lie was exposed. They said people should protest because systemic racism was a bigger public health crisis than Covid-19, but they still worked to keep Christians from gathering together to worship. (Bernstein, “De Blasio: Black Lives Matter Protests Exempt from Large-Event Ban.”) Even after this blatant display of the government's agenda, many church members continued to shout “Romans 13! Romans 13!” and advocate for online worship. Many others were just too timid to say anything. (Klotz, “Civil Disobedience.”)

The point is this: most people were willing to trust the government when the government ordered us to wear masks, even after there was evidence that masks did little to stop infection. People were willing to trust the government when they forced us to stop going to church for our own safety but said it was safe to protest the police, or go to Walmart, Target, or other essential (read corporate) businesses.

Meanwhile, many of us Christians (myself included at the beginning) didn't trust Jesus enough to say that we must obey God rather than men and, willing to accept the temporal consequences, gather in spite of the government ban.

We didn't trust Jesus enough to obey Him, to gather around Word and Sacrament, and to eat His body and drink His blood as He told us to. We were afraid that Jesus would kill us, and we trusted the government to save us. It should be the other way around. In fact, we should trust Jesus so much that, even if He does kill us, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

Maybe it's more accurate to say that we were more afraid to disobey the Government than we were to disobey Jesus. If that's so, we would do well to remember what Jesus said about fear: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

That's Jesus, God in human flesh, not J.B. Pritzker.

So, perhaps we do worship the government. Perhaps it would be more appropriate, and cause less of a furor to remove the crucifix from above the altar and keep the flags. We could maybe replace it with a picture of an American Bald Eagle. We could worship our idol by eating apple pie instead of the Lord's Supper; the Scriptures could be replaced by readings from the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers; preaching by telling people to be good citizens.

Our transformation into adherents of the American Civil Religion of generic “god” and Country would be complete.

Or, we could confess our sins, and God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. For the part I played in our unfaithfulness, I repent.

And then, maybe also at least move the flags to the fellowship hall. ###

Works Cited

Bernstein, Brittany. “De Blasio: Black Lives Matter Protests Exempt from Large-Event Ban.” De Blasio: Black Lives Matter Protests Exempt from Large-Event Ban. Accessed November 15, 2022.

Concordia Historical Institute. “US Flag in Missouri Synod Churches - Concordia Historical Institute.” Accessed November 13, 2022.

Klotz, Joseph. “Civil Disobedience.” The Hodgkins Lutheran: Civil Disobedience, November 26, 2021.

Nickodemus, Ben. “The History of the American Flag in Missouri Synod Churches.” Historical Footnotes, 2017. chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/

Saturday, November 5, 2022


We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name (Hebrews 13:10-15).

We watched Thor: Ragnarok the other day, and it got me thinking about Western Civilization, which was in the not-so-distant past referred to as Christendom.

It would be hard to look at the violence and depravity present in much of the modern post-Christian West and believe that society isn't going to hell in a handbasket. But isn't that the story of human society? I mean, human societies are full of humans, and humans are sinful and imperfect. There are ebbs and flows. There have been times of moral decay and moral awakening. But generally speaking, things get worse, and not better. And Jesus said they would get worse.

Maybe we need to stop worrying about these things as though our life depended on them. Maybe we need to let it go.

Paul didn't try to save western civilization as he preached and taught in Athens. He didn't tell them how great their society used to be, and that they needed to do a lot of things to make it great again. He instead preached Christ. He called those pagans to repentance and faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. He didn't have a First Amendment to protect his freedom of speech or his free exercise of religion. Ultimately, he got his head chopped off for his preaching. He was, nevertheless, fearless because he had Christ. He knew that even if they killed him, Jesus would make him alive again.

In the movie, as Asgard is about to be destroyed, Odin explains to a dejected Thor that Asgard is a people, not a place. Thor wants to save Asgard from destruction, but Odin basically tells him to just let it go. It's the people that make the kingdom. Wherever they are, that's where Asgard is.

In the past, Christendom has generally been defined as the Christian world. Some people include the United States. Certainly, many American Christians believe the United States to be a Christian nation, even if they don't refer to it as a part of Christendom. More broadly speaking, the word Christendom can refer to Christianity in general, but it has most commonly been thought of as a political division or entity in distinction from, as my 1921 Webster's Dictionary puts it, "heathen or Mohammedan lands."

But, like the fictional Asgard, Christendom is, in reality, a people, not a place.

Christendom is not a physical community or kingdom. It is all the pious, believing Christians assembled by the Holy Spirit who, working through the Word, creates faith in the hearts of men (Pieper, 1953). But it isn't a human organization, political entity, or a specific geographical location.

This does not mean that Christ's kingdom will always remain spiritual, however.

Christendom will not always be without physical substance. Our Christian hope is not limited to disembodied existence in Heaven for eternity. Our hope is in Christ. By being baptized into Him, our sins have been washed away. We are connected to Him and His resurrection. We confess that when Christ comes in judgment on the Last Day, He will call all believers from their graves and raise them to everlasting life. We will live with Him in the new creation, free from sin, death, and the devil forever.

That ending is way better than what happened to the Asgardians in the movie.

We have the same hope as Paul. We can be fearless like him because we know that, even if they kill us on account of Christ, He will raise us up on the Last Day. Maybe we need to worry less about trying to save our so-called Christian civilization by voting for the right secular politicians. Maybe we should instead repent of our sins and believe the Gospel, and call others to repentance and faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Maybe we should embrace the fact that here on this earth, we are pilgrims and have no continuing city instead of becoming more and more comfortable in this fallen and sinful creation. In Christ, we are subjects of a kingdom that is not of this world.

Not yet, anyway.

Works Cited

Pieper, Francis. 1953. "Christian Dogmatics," vol. 3. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.