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Archive for October 28th, 2012

The Reformers actually did not want to reform the Church. First, they thought the Lord by His Word would reform the Church, but not them.  In all of Luther’s 60 plus volumes of writings the words ‘reform’ and “reformation” are used  by him only a couple of times.  Many before Luther and the Reformation wanted to reform the Roman Catholic Church’s horrendous morals especially in the papacy. Luther and company knew moral reform would come about but not from reformation but restoration.  Their fingers never pointed at the papacy with a moralistic Tsk, tsk.  They knew the “tsk,tsk” of legalism trying to save one self and every spiritual self-help scam like indulgences. They pointed their fingers, their souls and bodies to the Cross of Jesus Christ and the Bible and that is what got them into trouble. The blessed Reformers and the Reformation was actually a restoration, a recovery, a rediscovery of the pearl of great price that was already there and had been:  the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the inerrant Word of God, the Bible, sola Scriptura, Scripture alone.

             Now the Roman Church believes that Scripture is authoritative and inerrant.  The radical nature of the Reformation was the word, “sola”.  Scripture alone.  Not the opinions and theologies of men, not the spiritualities and religiosities and life experiences of men and women, not works, not keeping the Law, form the saving doctrine.  The saving doctrine is formed in God’s Word in the Bible and Scripture points us unfailingly and inerrantly to Jesus Christ. The saving doctrine is formed by Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection and all of the Lord’s history:  from the beginning when God created the heavens and earth, and you and I, out of sheer grace to Israel’s being freed by no decision of their own.   This forms the saving and pure doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone.  Once the move is made, even in one jot or tittle of the Word, to change it, following our own ideas, then how do such people believe in Christ, I ask? (Luther’s question)  There is something else you have to do besides faith in Jesus Christ. So, you could pray to Mary and saints, say Masses for the dead, invent purgatory and a method to get people out of purgatory (indulgences), invent monasteries and convents so one could be a real Christian and the like.

              But what is a poor sinner to do? A poor student, a teacher, an accountant, a chemist, a pastor, retirees to supposedly attain to God?   Luther was a super-monk and tried to be, to be absolutely good before the awesome throne of God by his purpose driven life in the Augustinian monastery.  Luther wrote he tried this day and night.  He was an impeccable monk.  He wore himself out unto despair and dark night of the soul apart from God to placate God.  To Luther God was only the awesome Judge.  But then he read in the Bible, the just shall live by faith. Salvation is of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, not in Luther.  A man can keep externally some of the law but it’s like a monkey imitating a man but it does not make him a man.  Only God could do that, wrote Luther.  A parrot can speak but it does not make it a man.  Only God can change a man and he does so by Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit working in, through and with His Word spoken, preached, read, prayed, eaten and baptized in.  This past week I saw a very good movie on St. Augustine, Restless Heart and his mentor St. Ambrose, Luther loved to quote:  “I sin daily so I go to Holy Communion daily.” 

             Luther and the blessed Reformers found again the pearl of great price.  The Church has been likened to a ship.  Nave is the area in a church building where the people sit. Nave comes from the Latin word, navis whichmeans ship.  But barnacles were threatening her hull and her sailing.  It’s hard enough to sail through the rough waters of sin, death and the power of the devil throwing monster storms at the Lord’s people aboard by seeking a different captain and threatening mutiny all the time. In Bible study we looked at Hebrews 12: 1 where the preacher says Jesus is the “founder” or “pioneer” of our faith, but I think the King James version is right on target: He is the captain of our faith.    Thinking our tongue is rudder steering her is the navigation to shipwreck. More than one Lutheran took little counsel seeing the pictures of the shipwreck of  “Concordia”. The arrogant boast of the heretic, “With our tongue we will prevail,   our lips are with us; who is master over us?” (Psalm 12) The Reformers knew and we know it is the Lord’s Word which steers, His Holy Spirit that fills the sails, and the Cross the sure mast. Our tongues, our theologies will so easily steer the ship the wrong way. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. (The Epistle of James) When church leaders, pastors, ministers and bishops start following their own ideas about the faith, how can the people, how can we  believe in Jesus Christ?  (from Luther)  “For to believe in Christ is to reach out to Him with one’s whole heart and to order all things in accord with Him.” (Luther) Why?  He’s God!  He knows us better than we do ourselves. And so we may boast in Him and His love for us all and go the true way, as in I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to Father but by Me.

 The Reformers sold all they had to buy the land for the pearl of great price. The true icon of Jesus Christ and His Church had been there but forgotten.  Hymnody, as we know it, was also a gift from the Reformation and an outpouring of music, from Luther to Bach. But probably a lot of Lutherans do not know there was an outpouring of painting and engravings and woodcuts, of the visual arts: Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein the younger and Lucas Cranach, the elder and younger, father and son.  

The painting on the full cover on the bulletin (here reproduced)  and up here on whiteboard is by Lucas Cranach the Elder and it’s part of the Altar triptych at Marienskirche in Wittenberg. The original artwork is the predella (lower panel) of the altar that runs beneath a triptych that features baptism (in the left panel), the Lord’s Supper (in the large central panel), and absolution (in the right panel).

  • I call the predella, Luther preaching. “I preach Christ and Him crucified” is the center of preaching.  Baptism is into the death of Jesus so that as He lives we too might walk in the newness of life.  In 1 Corinthians 11, after Paul passes on the Words of Institution, it is written:  “For as oft as ye eat of this bread and drink of His blood you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  The crucifix, Jesus’ death and resurrection is front and center in the life of the Church.
  • There are several ways this painting proclaims the centrality of Christ in Lutheran preaching. First, note the crucified Christ is front and center in the painting, drawing the attention of most “In evangelical terms, he preaches the crucified Christ so clearly, obviously and directly, as if the listeners could look at him painted before their eyes” In fact, in Galatians St. Paul wrote them,  O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Galatians 3:1 One Biblical scholar wrote that the sense of the Greek in that verse is, I put Christ and Him crucified as on a billboard for you. Notice the wavy loin cloth, a victory flag, He is risen and this is not the end of the story.  He is the pioneer and perfector of our faith as it is written in Hebrews, our Captain.  His earthly ministry continues in his heavenly ministry of the Church so we can be made holy by His gifts of grace to us daily.
  • With one hand Luther points and with another it rests on the Bible.  We do not know which Bible passage is open but it says that the inerrant Word of God points us to Jesus.  Luther pointed out that every word of the Scripture points to Jesus Jesus Christ. While Scripture knows a thousand ways to proclaim Christ in direct speech, in imagery, and in metaphor, yet all of Scripture shares the same essential purpose that John identified as the heart of his gospel: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
  • Note the Congregation.  The man with the long beard is probably Cranach himself.  The woman with the young boy is probably Katherine von Bora, Luther’s wife and their son Hans.  Hans was a toddler at the time and at that time Luther wrote the Small Catechism and probably heard his son asking, Papa, vas ist das?  What is that?  In the Catechism the translation is What does this mean? but in German is Vas ist das?  
  • Note the girl looking write at us, as if she were posing for a photo, but her eyes are now not looking at  Jesus Christ.  This is not good, maybe Cranach is suggesting.

What happens when our eyes and hearts are no longer fixed on Jesus Christ? What happens when we rearrange the 3 sections of this painting?  Take Jesus from front and center and have this picture: 

The congregation is front and center. Christ is no longer important, crucial.  They are the reason for season, not Jesus Christ.  Notice then that Luther, any pastor is pointing directly at them and no longer to Jesus Christ.  Now the preacher points to them the law they can do to be ‘good Christians”. We are called to preach Christ and not the Christian.  I have to admit it, I like the sound of Mark Schroeder Ministries, this is the fare of all the Joel Osteens, Rick Warrens and the like.  It is Christ Jesus’ Ministry.  Eventually, the icon of the Crucified is dropped all together. IN fact, church growth teaches there should be no cross no crucifix and no mention of sin in confession and absolution: No Jesus, except as our helper but not our Lord. And so:  leading from behind?  No, a teacher is front of his class, the conductor in front of her choir or orchestra, the General in front of his troops:  Christ Jesus front and center, the captain of our ship, our lives, our salvation.

The Reformers restored the true icon of the Church.  It is catholic. The word catholic is from two Greek words, kata holos, according to the whole. According to the whole of our lives. Luther taught that the two most important words in the Lord’s Supper are FOR YOU.  

FOR YOU!

According to the whole of Christ Jesus for our lives do we look for our salvation.

On the bulletin cover so we can see the whole image I extended Luther preaching on the front and the back and by accident the Crucifix becomes a hinge on the bulletin, the hinge of the door by which the Kingdom of heaven is open to all believers.

Now the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 

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We meet in the community room of our county’s main library.  They already put up some Halloween decorations for their party for children and the decoration was 3 strings of professionally colored in paper cut-out skulls, kind of like this:

It made for an interesting decor for the Divine Service for the preaching of the Scripture  and Sacrament of the Altar.  The Bible tells us the wages of sin is death.  The Law shows us our sin.  Sin is death.  Trying to keep the Law is like coloring skulls:  the skulls  looks prettier but it is not life because  the Law does not give life. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 6: 23)  The Lord alone gives life to our souls and will give eternal life to our bones on the last day.  

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Almighty God, You chose Your servants Simon and Jude to be numbered among the glorious company of the apostles. As they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so may we with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Scripture Lessons:  Jeremiah 26: 1-16; Psalm 43;  1 Peter 1: 3-9;  John 15: 12-21

Memory Verse:  Alleluia.  You did not choose Me, But I chose you. Alleluia.

About Saints Simon and Jude:  In the lists of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6: 14—16); Acts1:13), the tenth and eleventh places are occupied by Simon the Zealot (or ‘Cannanaean”) and by Jude (or “Judas,” not Iscariot but “of James”), who was apparently known also as Thaddaeus. According to early Christian tradition, Simon and Jude journeyed together as missionaries to Persia, where they were martyred. It is likely for this reason, at least in part, that these two apostles are commemorated on same day. Simon is not mentioned in New Testament apart from the lists of twelve apostles. Thus he is remembered and honored for the sake of his office, and thereby stands before us—in eternity, as his life and ministry on earth—in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus, our Lord. We give thanks to God for calling and sending Simon, along with Jude and all the apostles, to preach and teach the Holy Gospel, to proclaim repentance and forgiveness, and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (John 4:1-2; Matthew 10: 28:16-20; Luke .24: 46-49).

Jude appears in John’s Gospel (14:22) on the night of our Lord’s betrayal and the beginning of His Passion, asking Jesus how it is that He will manifest Himself to the disciples but not to the world. The answer that Jesus gives to this question is a pertinent emphasis for this festival day: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). Surely both Jude and Simon exemplified, in life and death, their love for Jesus and their faith in His Word. Not only are we thus strengthened in our Christian faith and life by their example, but, above all, we are encouraged by the faithfulness of the Lord in keeping His promise to them to bring them home to Himself in heaven. There they live with Him forever, where we shall someday join them.

(From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Prayers:  

  • for the obscure and the forgotten and the unknown in the work of the Church
  • for the gift of holiness, which is the creation and gift of God
  • for faithful continuation of the apostles’ preaching of the Gospel to all the world
Reflection: The Prayer of the Day above speaks of the “glorious company of the apostles” but of course by any worldly standard they were not glorious.  As the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” (1 Corinthians 4: 13)  Not exactly a job recruitment pitch for the apostolic Church, unlike the ‘ministries’ we see wearily promoted on TV. Simon and Jude have no extant writings, scant mention in the Bible, no founders  of  ‘great’ ministries,  but the Lord called them to the one holy, catholic and evangelical Ministry.  Their glory, like ours, is a borrowed one, a given one, one given to sinners: the love and mercy of Jesus Christ which by the Lord, the Holy Spirit, in prayer,  we can make known as glory in clay jars (see 2 Corinthians 4:6-8)
It is Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who provides a good commentary on the Apostles Simon and Jude and the apostolic Church from his book, The Cost of Discipleship, in this reflection on the Beatitude from St. Matthew 5.  Remember and note:  everything Bonhoeffer wrote was in the time in Germany of the rise of Nazism and the descent into darkness, yet most in Germany thought this was ‘light’ and ‘goodness’, the Nazis put men back to work, Germans were feeling good about Germany again and the like.  I am patriotic but we do not worship our country.  I find Pr. Bonhoeffer’s  writings prescient in that they are so relevant and close to the bone in our day.   Simon and Jude did not follow the world, nor a Church in captivity to the world, but held captive to the Word of God, Jesus Christ and so also free.  Today is also Reformation Sunday, Luther and the Reformers and many who heard the Gospel clearly preached, also did not follow a worldly church and worldly doctrine:

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” With each beatitude the gulf is widened between the disciples and the people, their call to come forth from the people becomes increasingly manifest. By “mourning” Jesus, of course, means doing without what the world calls peace and prosperity: He means refusing to be in tune with the world or to accommodate  oneself to its standards. Such men mourn for the world, for its guilt, its fate and its fortune. While the world keeps holiday they stand aside, and while the world sings, “Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,” they mourn. They see that  for all jollity on board, the ship is beginning to sink. The world dreams of progress, of power and of the future, but the disciples meditate on the end, the last judgement, and the coming of the kingdom. To such heights the world cannot rise.

A blessed feast day to all in the Lord!

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