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Archive for August 28th, 2012

About Augustine of Hippo, Pastor and Theologian: Augustine was one of the greatest of the Latin Church Fathers and a significant influence in the formation of Western Christianity, including Lutheranism. Born in AD 354 in North Africa, Augustine’s early life was distinguished by exceptional advancement as a teacher of rhetoric. In his book Confessions he describes his life before his conversion to Christianity, when he was drawn into the moral laxity of the day and fathered an illegitimate son. Through the devotion of his sainted mother, Monica, and the preaching of Ambrose, bishop of Milan (AD 339-97), Augustine was converted to the Christian faith. During the great Pelagian controversies of the fifth century, Augustine emphasized the unilateral grace of God in the salvation of mankind. Bishop and theologian at Hippo in North Africa from AD 395 until his death in AD 430, Augustine was a man of great intelligence, a fierce defender of the orthodox faith, and aprolific writer. In addition to Confessions, Augustine’s book City of God had a great impact upon the Church throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  Today is also the  second anniversary of  Concordia Lutheran Mission here in Lexington, VA.  On the Page on the top, you can read the history. The first Divine Service was at Grace Presbyterian Church and August 28th two years ago was a Saturday.  We had left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation, of which I had been pastor.  Two years ago I had not yet been accepted as a pastor in The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.   Our sponsoring congregation’s pastor and vicar presided and preached at that first service and did so until I was recognized as a pastor in the Synod.

Below is the sermon I preached last year on August 28th which was a Sunday.  FYI:  one couple in attendance decided not to return, one reason being the sermon below.  The wife deemed  it “too negative”. The italicized portions are related directly to the mission’s history.

Pentecost 11, 2011,  1st Year Concordia Lutheran Mission Anniversary: 

Text:  St. Matthew 16: 21—28 

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

The things of God can be rough stuff on the things of man:  crucifixion.  Who wants crucifixion?  Jesus did not.  He was being tempted by Peter right then and there and it wasn’t Peter alone, but the Adversary, the Accuser:  Satan.  Just before this, remember, Peter had confessed Jesus:  You the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus pronounced the very blessing of heaven upon Peter for the Father had given him the answer: You are Peter and upon this your confession you and the apostles, the Church, are given the Keys of the Kingdom.  Peter had seen Jesus walk upon the sea.  The Apostles witnessed the feeding of the 5,000 and 7,000 men, not including women and children.  They had seen Him do great deeds of healing.  They saw the multitudes hanging on to Jesus’ every Word. And now with the identity of Jesus as not just ‘a christ’, but THE Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One this meant only one thing:  GLORY, ABSOLUTE GLORY.  Israel rules! Jesus and the 12 Apostles will be ensconced forever in Jerusalem, the Holy City.  Peter was sitting on top of the world. Now that would be the sign of the Lord, no there is only one sign this side of the new heavens and the new earth: the sign of the Cross.

When Jesus tells the apostles He goes to Jerusalem to be murdered, the disciples were thunderstruck by the news.  And Jesus tells them He will be murdered in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was not the land of Mordor with the dark lord. Jerusalem did not even have mean city streets like in many of our metropolises where murder is a threat. Jerusalem’s center was the Temple, the House of the Lord, with the Lord of Light. He said He would be murdered there?!   And this would be done by the religious leadership, if you will, by the church authorities.  The Church authorities thought they ran God’s Word and His Church, not the Lord ruling them. Could the church itself war against God’s Word?   We know the answer:  yes.  Over a year ago many of us so left a denomination purporting to be church.  We left because of it’s war against the Word of God.  Oh it looks nice on the outside but as the Lord said about the religious leadership of His time, they are whitened sepulchers filled with dead men’s bones full of decay and rot.  It is profoundly sad.  Am I overstating the case?  I do not think so. The gates of hell are doing their best, but they have not prevailed.  Many, including myself,have chronicled the central collapse of the authority of the Scriptures in so many areas of the Church. Now, one should not lightly and unadvisedly leave a church body.  By God’s grace alone,  I do not think we did. 

So!  Are we in the promised land?  The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod?  When I had my last interview for acceptance as a pastor into The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod at the Synod’s InternationalCenter outside of St. Louis, Missouri, one of my three interviewers was a district president who warned me, “You know the Missouri Synod has problems and it’s not perfect.” I smiled and said, “If it were perfect, that would mean the Lord has come with His kingdom and I don’t think He has and there would be no interview”  They all smiled or chuckled.  The district president’s caution was a good one.  In Christ, he could admit sin because of our Savior. He knows our church body is not perfect.  but I do not think I could ever hear that from some other liberal protestant church bodies and their ecclesiacrats.  I can  not imagine the Pharisees saying that but just the opposite, God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  The district president, this pastor,  is obviously no Pharisee. Thank our Lord for His grace for us all!

Paul wrote to Timothy that Jesus came to save sinners of whom I am the foremost. Paul also wrote, we preach Christ and Him crucified.  None of those verses are in past tense, I was a sinner or we preached Christ and him crucified.  It is all about present-tense Savior for present tense sinners.  No one wants to bear a cross.  No one wants to be crucified.  The cross stands for one thing:  costly grace, His blood for your sin.  When the Lord says bear the cross if you would come after Him, means to take hold of your forgiveness that He freely gives like water to the thirsty, like bread to the hungry, like sight to the blind, like legs to those can not walk.  We want to be simply translated into glory here and now, no.  By His life alone we cannot translated into glory yet because we are not ready but we are transformed by the mercies of God.

The things of God are His grace, mercy and peace.  The things of man are me, myself and I.  The Lord’s grace, mercy and peace come at a price, the price of His own beloved Son. But the things of man–me, myself and I– comes too with a price:  temporal and eternal punishment, sorrow in this world and the next. After all even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.  The Lord does not want that for you, for Peter, for me.  When Peter rebuked him, tried to deter Him from the only Way for us and for our salvation, Peter was Satan, tempting Him.  It was a sharp temptation. It was a sharp temptation to use the best of His own creation for Himself alone.  All temptation is not to use evil things primarily, but good things, the good creation, for evil purposes.  Love, money, house, home etc. all for me.  I’ll save my life. But fool!  says the Lord, your soul is required of you this night.  The Kingdom, the power and the glory are used as MINE. then even Jersualem becomes the city of darkness and Mordor. But the THINE is the kingdom, the power and the glory and with Lord it is heaven even now on earth, coming into the world through the death, resurrection and life of Jesus the Christ. 

But at the time temptations look good, we may say:  Oh what the hell?  Indeed,  what the hell.  Here was the Man who knew the sharpest temptation imaginable:  not to justly die for people who lord it over others, want many rings of power and build their towers into the skies.  He was tempted in every way we are, yet was without sin.  Temptation is not sin, the succumbing to it is.  So He taught us, Lead us not into temptation.  Stop me from going there.  So Jesus’ rebuke of Peter.  So when He was tempted thrice by Satan in the wilderness, thrice did He say, It is written.  Only the God’s Word of grace, mercy and peace can fell the tempter’s power. Because Jesus was tempted, He can help those are who are tempted.  If we try to do it on our own, then we are looking the wrong way.  “There is no help or comfort except to run here and to take hold of the Lord’s Prayer, and thus speak to God from the heart: Dear Father, Thou hast bidden me pray; let me not relapse because of temptations. Then you will see that they must desist, and finally acknowledge themselves conquered.  Else if you venture to help yourself by your own thoughts and counsel, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil more space. For he has a serpent’s head, which if it gain an opening into which he can slip, the whole body will follow without check. But prayer can prevent him and drive him back. (Luther:  The Large Catechism)

 It is as if in today’s Gospel, there are two columns entitled:

Things of Man: 

having it all                            

eternal death

glory                                                   

my way

hell to pay

self-love

self-fulfillment

Things of God:

having the Lord

eternal life

suffering

His way

heaven given

love which serves

cross-bearing

love of the other

self-denial

But to get from column A to column B can not be traversed by us or any good decision, will or merit. Truly, we can not do that on our own steam.  “Nothing in my hand I bring, but only to Thy Cross I cling” It has been done so by He who went to Jerusalem to be murdered by our murders of soul and body.  And the cross-like life in the Lord is described well by St. Paul in the lesson from Romans 12: 9-21.  Here we see the fruit of love in the root of faith in the Lord in taking hold of our forgiveness.  “Do you desire to escape from an angry God?  Then fly to an appeased One:  fly nowhere from Him, only to Him.”(St. Augustine) He forms us into His life. And a Christian congregation will look like today’s second lesson. And truly, but by the grace of God go I.

 IN the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy  Spirit. Amen.

For further prayer and reflection:

The following quotes are Augustine’s sermons, from the four volume series, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers:  A Manual of Preaching, Spiritual Reading and Meditation, translated and edited by M. F. Toal, D.D., 1996, Preservation Press:

Christmas Day:  Third Mass, John 1:   1—14, also addressed to the newly Baptized:

“For from the Gentiles we have come, and in our forefathers we worshiped idols of stone.  So we also have been called dogs (Mt. 25: 26)…But to you grace, has come.  As many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God.  See!  You have come here newly-born (by baptism):  he gave them power to be made the sons of God.  To whom did he give it? To them that believe in His Name.  And how do they become the children of God?  Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, now of the will of man, but of God. They are born of God, when they have received the power to become sons of God…The first birth is from a male and a female;  the second from God and from the Church.  Behold they are born of God…How has this come to be?  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.  Wondrous exchange!…Lift up your heart to the possession and enjoyment of higher things.  Do not stick fast in earthly cravings. You have been purchased at a price:  for your sake the Word was made flesh.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, on John 6:  1—15:

“For the daily ordering of this whole world is a greater miracle than the feeding of five thousand men from five loaves.”

“We must also ask the miracles what is it they tell us of Christ:  for they have, if we understand it, their own manner of speech.  For as Christ is the Word of God, any deed of the Word is a sermon to us.”

Easter Sunday, on Mark 16: 1—8, addressed also to the newly Baptized:

“For this divine condescension cannot be truly understood, and human thought and language fails us, that without previous merit on your part this free gift has come to you.  And for this do we call it a grace:  because it is given gratis.  And what grace is this? That you are now members of Christ, Children of God; that you are brothers of the Only-Begotten!”

Second Sunday after Easter, on John 10:   11—16

“To you it is not said:  be something less than you are;  but rather, learn what you are. Know that you are weak, know that you a man, know that you are a sinner; know that it is He Who sanctifies you;  know that you are stained by sin.  Let the blemish in your soul be made manifest in your confession, and you shall belong to the flock of Christ.  For the confession of your sins invites the Physician to heal  you; just as when he who is sick say, ‘a am well’, he desires no help from the physician.  Did not the Pharisee and the Publican go up into the Temple?  The one boasted of how strong his soul was; the other shown his wounds to the Physician.”

Pentecost, on John 14:  23—31

But whom do you say that I am? And Peter as the leader of the others, one speaking for all of them, said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God (Mt. xvi).

This he said perfectly; most truly. Rightly did such an answer deserve to hear: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood has not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is inheaven. And I say to thee, because thou hast said this to me; thou hast spoken: now listen; thou hast confessed: receive in turn a blessing. Therefore: And I say to thee: Thou art Peter: because I am the Rock, thou art Peter; for the Rock is not from Peter, but Peter is from the Rock; because Christ is not from Christian, but Christian is from Christ. Arid upon this rock I will build My Church: not upon Peter (non supra Petruin) who thou art, but upon the Rock (sed supra petrain) Whom thou hast confessed. I will build My church: I will build thee, who in this answer are in your­self the figure of the Church.

16th Sunday after Pentecost, on Luke 14:  1—11

“Do you desire to escape from an angry God?  Then fly to an appeased One:  fly nowhere from Him, only to Him.”

The Feast of All Saints, on Matthew 5: 1—12

 “Riches can indeed perish; and would that they perished before they caused you to perish.”

 A Prayer Adapted from a Benediction by which St. Augustine ended at least two of his sermons:

 We turn to You, the Lord our God and as best as we can give we give You thanks.  We beseech You that in Your goodness You will hear our prayers and by Your power:  drive evil from our thoughts and actions, increase our faith, guide our minds, grant us Your holy inspirations, and bring us to joy without end through Your Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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