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“The Son of God, being about to bring together His Church, first works through his young servant: and so it is well said: the word of the Lord came unto John, etc., so that the Church has its beginning not from man, but from the Word.”(St. Ambrose on St. Matthew 3: 1-11, the Season of Advent)

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Psalm 86:11  (ESV)

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name.

The only time the disciples asked Jesus to teach them something, the topic was prayer (see Luke 11: 1).  Jesus sent the 12  out to preach the Gospel but He taught more on how to pray than how to preach!  The Psalmist prays that his heart, or will, be united to fear Your Name, in other words, to call upon the Lord in His steadfast love (see Ps. 86: 13, 15).  As Abraham Heschel pointed out that the purpose of prayer is not prayer but the LORD.  Jesus knew this in His earthly ministry. Preachers need prayer to preach God’s Word. God’s People need sermons to inspire their prayer life as prayer is the keeping of the first three commandments, especially the first one.  The first three commandments are summed up by the Lord, Love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart.

The Sermon is part of the Divine Service, it is not a stand alone.  The Sermon, as the entire Service is the Word of God and should be.  Prayer  is not an adjunct to the Sermon it is the reason of the Sermon. Rabbi Abraham Heschel pointed this out:

Sermons indistinguishable in spirit from editorials in the New York Times, urging us to have faith in the New Deal, the Big Three or the United Nations, or attempting to instruct us in the latest theories of psychoanalysis, will hardly inspire us to go on to… (the last part of the Sabbath service) and to vow,

“Through all generations we will declare Thy greatness; To all eternity we will proclaim Thy holiness; Thy praise, our God, shall never depart from our mouth.”

Preach in order to pray. Preach in order to inspire others to pray. The test of a true sermon is that it can be converted to prayer.

Please note that this quote is from Heschel’s Quest for God:  Studies in Prayer and Symbolism, copyright 1954!  The type of sermon above I have heard in too Lutheran pulpits, left and right.  Sermons about contemporary events, usually along partisan political lines, not the Word of God and prayer.  We need to be taught as the Psalmist prayed, Teach me your way, O Lord.  As Jesus’ disciples knew. Note: the Lord wants us to pray as He inspired 150 prayers to form one whole book of prayer in the Bible, the Psalms.

Advent is a special time of prayer.  This world does not need more political, sociological, and churchly programs, of which we are swamped, it needs men and women of prayer, their hearts united within and amongst us, to pray, speak and live God’s Word made flesh, perfectly united in the sinless heart of Jesus Christ. Human programs are cheap, but with the promises of God fulfilled in His Christ, all things are possible, such as, prayer.

True prayer and the Word of God are one. Note that after the Apostle Paul encourages Christians to take up the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, what does he exhort us to do?

and take… he sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6: 17-18)

We are to be as disciples those being taught by the Lord. Pray the Psalms. Pray the Lord’s Prayer daily.  Pray Luther’s prayers in the Small Catechism.  Pray to the Lord to open our mouths to pray.

Quote of the Day

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St. Ambrose, from a Sermon on Holy Baptism: “Why are you plunged into the water?  We read:  ‘May the waters bring forth living creatures (Gen 1:20).  And the living creatures were born.’  This happened at the beginning of creation.  But for you it was reserved that water should bring you forth to grace, as that other water brought forth creatures to natural life.  Imitate this fish, who has received less grace.”

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” H. Richard Niebuhr, Reformed theologian

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Psalm 17:

Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,
14 from men by your hand, O Lord,
    from men of the world whose portion is in this life.
You fill their womb with treasure;
    they are satisfied with children,
    and they leave their abundance to their infants.

This Psalm is a “ A Prayer of David” which he may have prayed for deliverance from the hands of King Saul who attempted many times to kill David.  King Saul alone did not attempt to kill him as he had the army at his disposal and many who were for Saul even though he had turned away from the Lord. David  and his faithful were surrounded by the wicked. 

It is bad enough to expect physical harm from the,  “wicked who do…violence” (vs. 9) but harder still are, “…men of the world whose portion is in this life” (vs. 14)as this speaks to a more blatant spiritual struggle. 

According to the Lutheran Study Bible, vs. 14 can be translated, “…from men whose portion in life is of the world”.  When our portion in life is of the world, then we are “men of the world”.  This is the beguiling and devilish wickedness which is spiritual.  “Men of the world” are self-satisfied, centered on the world.  The Lord fills the righteous and the wicked alike, with “treasure” of the womb: children. But even the gift of family becomes self-satisfied when centered on the abundance/wealth passed on in inheritance.  The spiritual wicked do not will as the Lord wills that the greatest treasure is the Lord Himself and so for our children to,  “… bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6: 4)  Such centering on “abundance’ speaks to idolatry and the number one idol is money. As it is written, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4: 4) And again: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God‘s law; indeed, it cannot.”  (Romans 8:7) There is more to life than the dollar sign:  the sign of the Child in the manger and the sign of His Cross for sinners.

It is difficult to separate physical and spiritual wickedness and resist it and fight it, yea, on our own we cannot resist and so the Lord taught us to pray:  Lead us not into temptation, as recorded in the Bible.   David knew by faith in the Lord the means to do so, “Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword…” (vs. 13).  David speaks of the spiritual sword and this is supported in Ephesians 6:

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (vss. 16-7).

David’s sword, as the Apostle Paul’s sword is the Word of God and ours as well.  The Lord’s spiritual means is the only way to combat spiritual temptations. The self-satisfied are a terror to the Christian because we want that kind of world as well and well we know that the world is under the judgment of God. We are under the Lord’s just judgment as well when we are set on the flesh and world….so the devil.  The Lord has provided  the way out:  His Word and the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.  This is a good reminder in Advent as the Lord sent the basis of all the weapons of the Spirit: His  own Son. So, take up daily the Lord’s Sword of the Word in the Scriptures.  Let us pray,

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

(Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent in the Church of England)

He is the only Church father for which we have a portrait, this mosaic

Let us pray…O God, You gave Your servant Ambrose grace to proclaim the Gospel with eloquence and power.  As bishop of the great congregation of Milan, he fearlessly bore reproach for the honor of Your name.  Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching fidelity in ministering Your Word that Your people shall be partakers of the divine nature;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

“The Son of God, being about to bring together His Church, first works through his young servant: and so it is well said: the word of the Lord came unto John, etc., so that the Church has its beginning not from man, but from the Word.”(Ambrose on Matthew 3: 1-11, the Season of Advent)

“The Magi come by one way, and return by another. For they who had seen Christ, had come to know Christ; and they returned more truly believing than they came. The way is twofold: one that leads to destruction, and the other that leads to the Kingdom…For here we have no lasting dwelling, as it is written: My soul hath long been a sojourner (Ps. cxix. 6). Let us turn away from Herod- ruler for a while of an earthly power, that we may come to the everlasting dwelling of our heavenly country.   (From an Epiphany Sermon by St. Ambrose)

About St. Ambrose:

Most saint’s days are the day they died and entered into the Presence awaiting our final Easter day, but Bp. Ambrose did not die on this date.  On this day in AD 374, he was baptized, ordained priest and consecrated bishop! How did those 3 events all take place on one day?

Ambrose is the first western Church father to be born, raised and educated not as a pagan but as a Christian. Born in 339 in what is now Trier,France.  His father was Prefect of Gaul, the governor of a large part of Europe.  Ambrose studied the classics and the law at Rome and before he was 33 was named governor of Liguria and Aemilia, with headquarters at Milan, which was that time of the imperial court.  When the  heretical Arian bishop of that city died, Ambrose settled the violence between the Arians and the Catholics.  Both sides insisted that Ambrose become their bishop. The faithful cried out about Amrose, He is worthy! He had not been baptized because the custom at the time was to wait for baptism till late in life so that one might cleansed close to the time of death.  But on this date baptism, ordination and consecration all took place.

He gave away a portion of his family wealth to the poor and was a strict ascetic.

The Empress Justina was jealous of Ambrose’s growing importance.  She demanded that the Bishop give her one of “his” basilicas.   When Ambrose declined a riot broke out and Justina demanded the bishop’s cathedral. This occured during Lent and when Ambrose refused the Empress’ second request fights broke out between the Catholics and the imperial troops.  An edict against the Catholics was promulgated in June 386 and Ambrose was summoned to appear before the Emperor.  he refused to obey the edict. He took refuge in the cathedral with his congregation.  The basilica was surrounded by imperial troops.  Ambrose and the Lord’s people spent the time singing Psalms and the hymns that Ambrose had written.  At length, the imperial court rescinded the edict.

A brilliant young Manichean philosopher, who had a child out of wedlock and who’s Christian mother prayed for his conversion daily, attended Mass  at Milan because of the Ambrose’s preaching.  The man was St. Augustine.   Bp. Ambrose baptized Augustine at Milan at Easter, 397.

In The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church, Ambrose is cited nine time, of which six are quotes in order to demonstrate that salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by works, is Catholic  (yes, capital ‘C’!) doctrine, as in this quote from  Ambrose  in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:  “…let no one glory in his works since no one is justified by his deeds.  But he who is righteous has it as a gift because he was justified after being washed.  It is faith therefore  that frees men through the blood of Christ;  for ‘blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.’ (Ps. 32: 1).”

Ambose died at Milan on Easter Eve, April 4, 397.  One comment:  many in our day want to put a wedge between creed and deed, truth and love, faith and service.  It is not true!  St. Ambrose’s life in Christ Jesus is proof that the fruit of faith (truth, pure doctrine, strictness) is serving the neighbor in love both our daily bread and the Bread of Life.

The Roman Empire was in decline and in that cultural transition Ambrose was noted for his preaching, writing, organizing, administering and hymn writing. Three hymns are attributed to him  in the Lutheran Service Book including the great Advent hymn, Savior of the Nations, Come:

“Savior of the Nations, Come”
1. Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here Thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

2. Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh–
Woman’s Offspring, pure and fresh.

3. Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the Virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.

4. From the Father forth He came
And returneth to the same,
Captive leading death and hell–
High the song of triumph swell!

5. Thou, the Father’s only Son,
Hast o’er sin the victory won.
Boundless shall Thy kingdom be;
When shall we its glories see?

6. Brightly doth Thy manger shine,
Glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o’ercloud this light;
Ever be our faith thus bright.

7. Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.

(The Lutheran Hymnal Hymn # 95  Text: John 1: 14 Author: St. Ambrose, +397 German version translated by Martin Luther, 1524)

Nicholas Meme

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, You bestowed upon Your servant Nicholas of Myra the perpetual gift of charity. Grant Your Church the grace to deal in generosity and love with children and with all who are poor and distressed and to plead the cause of those who have no helper, especially those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief. We ask this for the sake of Him who gave His life for us, Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

About St. Nicholas:  Of the many saints commemorated by the Christian Church, Nicholas (d. AD 342) is one of the best known. Very little is known historically of him, though there was a church of Saint Nicholas in Constantinople as early as the sixth century. Research has affirmed that there was a bishop by the name of Nicholas in the city of Myra in Lycia (part of modern Turkey) in the fourth century. From that coastal location, legends about Nicholas have traveled throughout time and space. He is associated with charitable giving in many countries around the world and is portrayed as the rescuer of sailors, the protector of children, and the friend of people in distress or need. In commemoration of Sinte Klaas (Dutch for “Saint Nicholas,”in English “Santa Claus”), December 6 is a day for giving and receiving gifts in many parts of Europe.(from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Further reflection:  

It used to be in the Roman Catholic Rite of Confirmation the bishop would administer a light slap on the cheek of the confirmand to remind him that he is a soldier of Christ to spread the faith. I think that the Roman Church has stopped that. I guess that people found the slap was offensive…but so is Christ Jesus to the devil and his angels. I think the confirmand slap means  a wake-up call. According to tradition, Nicholas slapped the heretic Arius, who taught there was a time when Christ was not, at the Council of Nicea. Maybe it is Christians who need the slap more than heretics these days! The Church has a backbone, pure doctrine, so that with a strong back we can bend and serve our dying neighbors Jesus Christ. Nicholas knew that. It’s about the true doctrine of The Nicene Creed. 

Nicholas is called “good St. Nick”!  He was not exactly good and that’s the point.  He knew he was not good on his own steam.  He slapped Arius for his false doctrine, otherwise Arius was probably  a good guy.. Nicholas  knew the Scripture, “The good that I want to do I don’t do but I do the very thing I hate…” (Romans 7: 7-25).  His goodness and love were purified by Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit through the gift of faith by His grace. The good is possible in Christ, in the one God because with the Lord all things are possible.  We bandy about the word good all too easily.  “Oh, I’m sorry she had an abortion at such a young age but she was good girl.”  “John cheated on his taxes to get ahead, but he has a really good handicap, he’s a good guy.”  This is the cheapening of the gold of true goodness into fool’s gold and the only one being fooled is us when we say such. We can’t fool God.  Nicholas was actually good.

Nicholas was good in Christ, but not nice.  We encourage children to “be nice”.  It used to be “be good”.  E.T. got that right with Elliot. If a young woman was “good”, it meant, for instance, she was a virgin.  As a friend and colleague had as his screen saver, “Nice is the enemy of the good”.  Even Woody Allen got some things right:  “Have a nice day”  “No, thanks I have better plans”.  So does the Lord.

Nice is attainable as a kind of a law of nice deeds and feelings.  Nice Christians won’t stand up to false doctrine.  Nice Christians go along with the crowd, that is, the world and we have seen the result in many a Christian denomination. Good is related to God, as God is good, which also means He is Holy.  Nicholas knew that his goodness was predicated on the utter goodness of God in Christ in His Nativity for children, the fallen children of Adam and Eve.  It also meant that Nicholas stood for something.  The martyrs died for the good of the Gospel. No one was ever martyred for being nice.

Jesus is the reason of the season or more precisely:  Jesus is the reason. Jesus is the reason for us and our salvation and all things. It’s not only about a “happy  Christmas” but more and more a “slappy Christmas”:  we need to wake up as we see His Day approaching. 

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