Mar 8, 2013

The baptism of Jhoan Andrés Leal Santana

DSC06639Jhoan Andrés Leal Santana was baptized Sunday, March 3, 2013. He is Luz Maria's tenth grandchild, the firstborn son of her daughter, Charli, and the 15th person to be baptized here in Epiphany Lutheran Mission of La Caramuca.

It was Oculi, the third Sunday in Lent. The name.”Oculi”, is derived from the first line of the introit, which is taken from Psalm 25:15. In the Vulgate (Latin) Bible, this reads:

“Oculi mei semper ad Dominum quia ipse educet de rete pedes meos.”

The introit is an excerpt from verses 15-20, a declaration of confidence in the Lord, the God of Israel, and a prayer for protection from all danger and for the forgiveness of sins.

“Mine eyes are ever toward the LORD; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my distresses. Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins. Consider mine enemies; for they are many; and they hate me with cruel hatred. O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee.”

This was an appropriate verse to read on a day of baptism, for in baptism the Lord answers this prayer for protection and pardon by declaring us His beloved children, redeemed by the blood of our Savior, Jesus. The Gospel reading, Luke 11:14-28, also was quite appropriate, for two reasons.

First, because in the two weeks prior I had had conversations with various people on the subject of the influence of evil spirits. The passage from Luke is one of many New Testament stories about demonic possession and exorcism, Next to end-of-the-world prophecies, these are the passages that provide the most fuel for idle speculation.

However, in Venezuela there is cause for more than idle speculation because of the prevalence of brujeria (witchcraft) and espiritismo (necromancy). 
I tell people that based on the testimony of the Holy Scriptures and certain personal experiences, I do believe in the possibility of demonic possession, or the complete domination of the human personality by an unclean spirit.

I also believe the influence of evil spirits more often is of a more subtle and less obvious type. All who have not received the gift of faith and the new life in Christ are slaves to sin, and thus to the suggestive power of the devil and his angels.

Which brings up the second reason why I thought the Gospel reading was most appropriate, because the most common form of exorcism, which occurs every day, is holy baptism according to the Lord's command. In baptism we are set free from sin and the power of the devil, and are promised the protection of the Lord and His angels.

But what then? Is one who has been baptized totally immune from the influence of evil spirits? We find a clue in Luke 11:24-26:

“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”

In Venezuela, if you leave a house or parcel of land stand empty, after a time you usually will find that squatters have taken up residence there. Evicting them is very difficult, and a violent confrontation may ensue. And if you do not continue to guard the property, they will return with more of their friends and family.

Likewise, in Jesus' illustration, if you leave “the house” (soul and body) empty, the unclean spirits will return with friends. Empty of what? The preaching and study of God's Word (the Bible) and the sacrament of the altar, which nourish and strengthen the faith created by the Holy Spirit in baptism. So we must remain constant in these and avoid all forms of occultism and anything else that invites the influence of evil spirits into our lives. May God grant this for Jhoan Andrés. Amen.

Pray for Venezuela 

On March 5, 2913, the government of Venezuela announced the death of President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias. Shortly after winning reelection to another term last year, he was taken to Cuba for cancer treatment. He was never seen in public again, even after returning to a military hospital in Venezuela. A constitutional crisis occurred as he was not able to take the required oath of office on January 10. Now another presidential election must be held within 30 days.

One time of uncertainty (about whether the nation's president would live or die) has ended for Venezuela. Now we have entered a time of uncertainty about the nation's future.

On the day that Chavez was reelected, our power went down around midnight. Nevertheless, the sky was lit with fireworks and a stream of cars passed through our neighborhood, with honking horns and shouts of victory. On the day that his death was announced, our power also went down around midnight. There were no fireworks or motorcade. There were not even the sounds of a normal evening, when even after midnight, dogs bark at passers-by in the street, and the occasional car or motorcycle cruises by. There was only darkness, without the light of moon or stars, and deep silence.

As the Scriptures advise (1 Timothy 2:1-2), we offered a common prayer every Sunday for the health and recovery of Hugo Chavez, and now we will pray for the security of the country and for whatever new government emerges.
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