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Archive for March, 2013

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Johann Sebastian Bach, the great confessional Lutheran musician composed for churches and for all four seasons…of the Church Year:  Advent/Christmas, Lent, Easter and the Sundays after Trinity (or what we call the Pentecost season).  It seems Lent dominated his compositions.  He would write Lenten themes for the Sundays after Pentecost for instance.  Why?  The cross of Jesus Christ, His suffering, crucifixion, death and burial is for the whole year, everyday of our lives. We are remembering this evening not only a one-time event in the distant past, but His crucifixion is ever near, as  present as He is risen, He gives us the fruits of His Cross, His grace and peace,  received by faith.   When we consider that the 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, that 50% of them is about this the Lord’s last week alone, it’s clearly all about the Cross, clearly what drove Him there, our sin and our separation from our Father, and clearly He seeks and finds us to draw us to Himself.

 It is not good to put ourselves in the center of church life.  On the top of this sermon is a painting of Luther preaching as depicted by Lucas Cranach. Here is my incorrect depiction of Cranach’s painting

Cranach not for you

with the congregation front and center, not Jesus Christ, for then the death of Jesus Christ is put behind us and there is no forgiveness.  Then the preacher is only pointing judgment’s finger at the congregation, telling you how to live or winning a congregations’ vote. We do not preach the Christian, but Christ for you. The preacher is then suppose to tell you how to live.  Now if you want to know the way the Lord wants us all to live, read the 10 commandments and especially Luther’s Small and Large Catechism and you will find out we fail.  Jesus Christ is not behind. It cannot be because God’s Word the Scripture will not allow it. His Cross is front and center, as John the Baptizer preached at the beginning of the Lord’s public ministry, Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  As Luther is depicted in the correct Lucas Cranach painting.  Cranach was friends with the Luthers.  Lucas portrays himself in the back row of the congregation. Luther’s wife and her children are in the front row.  We think we know our best interests by ourselves, but the Lord shows us His death of our sin, His life who is the life of all the living. Luther and all true Christian preachers point not to us but to the Lord in all His work and in all His Word.

  • It is written in 1 Corinthians that we preach Christ and Him crucified, not preached, past tense, but today and everyday for needy sinners to receive His mercy in the day to day sameness of things.  Paul said, I am the chief of sinners, not I was, as he wrote to Timothy.  Matthew makes clear as he lists the apostles, including himself, he alone identifies himself in the Gospel he wrote, “Matthew, tax collector”.  Even though Matthew never collected taxes again, yet like Paul, he knew he was a sinner for whom Christ Jesus died and rose. The Lord calls His Church to preach a present tense crucified and risen Savior for present tense sinners. 
  • It is written that our baptism, Romans 6 is into His death and resurrection. 
  • It is written of the Lord’s Supper that as oft we eat and drink we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.  In fact, the Atonement upon the Cross, the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of sinners, broken and hurting under the weight and burden  of the Law, is clearly connected by Jesus in His Words of Institution:  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (St. Matthew) Anyone who says the Lord’s Supper is not His Body and Blood does not know the Scripture and the Sacrament of the Altar but also Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  They want a different Jesus, a glorious Jesus but His glory is yet to come when He comes again, as He promised.  We want God the way we want Him, a sugar daddy, an empowerer of our plans…then we do not have the Lord but a divine double of ourselves, as idol and our idols keep us cozy in our sins.

On April 9, 1945, Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis.  He preached to the centrality of the Cross.

Either I determine the place in which I will find God, or I allow God to determine the place where He will be found. If it is I who say where God will be, I will always find there a God who in some way corresponds to me, is agreeable to me, fits in with my nature. But if it is God who says where he will be, then that will truly be a place which at first is not agreeable to me at all, which does not fit so well with me. That place is the cross of Christ.

Pr. Johann Gerhard taught the riches of His blood upon the Cross for you: 

He bows His head on the timber-trunk of the cross to kiss us in love. He stretches out His arms in order to embrace us in love. He prays for His crucifiers because He suffered out of love for them. His side is opened up with a spear so that the flame of heartfelt love might break forth from it, “so that we through the wound’s opening may behold the mystery of the heart.” In love He longs for us, and thus He said: I thirst [that is,] for your salvation.

  •  Some say I wish Christmas is every day.  It is.  Everyday Christ can be born us as He bore ours sins upon the tree. 
  • Everyday is Good Friday as His cross is the life giving green wood in the paradise of His saints: you. 
  • Everyday is Easter as He is risen from the dead to give us the all the benefits of His death, His blood, His life as He sees we can benefit. 
  • Everyday is Pentecost as the Holy Spirit teaches us Jesus in the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, written, spoken and Incarnate to walk in Him, daily dying and rising.  Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.

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He bows His head on the timber-trunk of the cross to kiss us in love. He stretches out His arms in order to embrace us in love. He prays for His crucifiers because He suffered out of love for them. His side is opened up with a spear so that the flame of heartfelt love might break forth from it, “so that we through the wound’s opening may behold the mystery of the heart.” In love He longs for us, and thus He said: I thirst [that is,] for your salvation. On the timber-trunk of the cross [as on an altar] He roasted in hot love as the innocent Lamb of God. Yes indeed, be the outward love ever so great, His inner love is yet even greater. Had [His suffering] not been sufficient, out of love He would have suffered even more for our sake. Such fiery flame of Christ’s love should now rightly also ignite our hearts.

 From An Explanation of the History of the Suffering and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Pr. and Prof. Johann Gerhard

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Matthew 26:47

Why all the swords and staves? Weren’t (the disciples and Jesus] a poor, unarmed band? But (these precautions) were brought about by Judas’ evil conscience, which feared where there was nothing to be feared. So it still is with the enemies of the Church; even though they have in hand swords and staves, i.e., external power, yet their heart is never still (at peace) and is constantly filled with fear, for they carry their accuser in their hearts. This is also shown by the fact that they carry out their undertaking, not in the clear light of day, but rather in the darkness of night: Whoever does evil, such a one hates the Light, John 3. Their hearts were darkened and widely separated from the true light of divine knowledge. Therefore, they also love the outward darkness, which they use to their advantage.

Finally, we see from Judas and his gang that the enemies of the Church employ hypocritical deception. Judas kisses Christ, and yet leads with him swords and staves. Thus it still happens. The enemies of the Church exude honey-sweet words from embittered hearts, Psa. 55: Their mouth is smoother than butter, andyet they have war on their mind. Their words are more soothing than olive oil and yet are naked swords. This they learn from their father, the Devil, who, while seeking to destroy mankind, nevertheless deceives by means of a loving, outward appearance…

Psalm 37 states: If he falls, he will not be thrown away, for the Lord supports him with His hand. Just as a mother, when she sees that her dear child is about to fall, spreads out her hands so that it does not come to harm, so also does the Lord when His dear children—the true Christians—somehow stumble into sin. He supports (upholds) them so that they do not suddenly sink into hell. Instead, He sets them straight once again, and speaks in a friendly manner to the heart. God grant this to us also through Christ. Amen.

O  Lord Jesus Christ, You who willingly gave Yourself up into the hands of Your enemies in order to atone for my disobedience, help, so that I give myself to You with my whole heart to live, suffer, and die according to Your will. Amen.

From An Explanation of the History of the Suffering and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Pr. and Prof. Johann Gerhard

 

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Text:  St. Luke 22:  7-20

Mr. William Falk, of The Week magazine, has this telling editorial right in time for Maundy Thursday:

“Food is the new religion. I am hardly the first to make this observation, but I heartily endorse it: Secular sophisticates have jettisoned traditional beliefs about sin and sanctity, so they fulfill their instinctual need for purity and redemption through what they eat. I see the proof whenever I visit the  local Whole Foods to hunt and gather weekend victuals. There, you cannot help but smirk at the organic, locavorish righteousness of it all—even as you succumb to the spell. “

Mr. Falk then goes on to show how Whole Foods is filling this need, among many competitors for this “new religion” and it’s various charmed eats.  He then concludes,

” … affluent shoppers who push their heaping carts around the store—many in workout tights that display their buns of steel—have such a confident, self-congratulatory air.Yes, they are paying double what groceries cost at Stop N’ Shop. But how much purer we all are, how oxidant-free! How much longer we’ll live than the wicked masses! We are The Chosen. Give us this day our artisanal, gluten-free bread and our goji berry juice, and may our carbon footprint be small. Amen.”

Is this righteous eating and drinking? No, sadly I think it is self-righteous eating and drinking. This is Pharisaic thinking without the excuse of religion…supposedly.    Our Lord said, take and eat, take and drink.  Now this night.  This is the pure righteousness of Jesus Christ poured out for us and for our salvation.  We come to His table as needy people, dying people, impure to purely  live on His Word, every Word proceeding from His mouth,  made present in bread and wine as He promised:  His Body and Blood. This is pure eats.  We are not the self-chosen.  We need to be chosen and directed away from the  world’s sin and death, and the old flesh clinging to sin.  The wages of sin is death and we work for such lousy wages and He worked this night, and still does through His Word.  God’s Law, which we can not keep, shows us this, that love of God and neighbor directs us away from the way of sin and death. Jesus worked Himself to death, as true man and as true God,  the blood, sweat and tears of God.

Mr. Falk perceptively points out that folks want to “…fulfill their instinctual need for purity and redemption…”.  Though the need for purity and redemption is more than instinct, it is  inscribed, the Law of God into our hearts to know Him and His will which is poured out these 3 days of the final redemption in Jesus Christ.  With every fiber of His being and the whole food of God dwelling in Him perfectly, for 33 years He came to this point so that your life and mine has a point:   His dying and rising. He is the Bread of Life as He promised.

We open our mouths, open our hearts to Him.  But it is not opening our mouths and by eating and drinking alone will make us pure and redeemed. It is faith which holds and clings to Jesus Christ.  This is for body and soul.  The Lord made us a unity of body and soul.  The Lord for our salvation demonstrates this till He comes again in power by His Presence in His Supper because bodies don’t believe and souls don’t eat.

The bread of this world is bought and sold.  We can not buy the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, He has bought us with His blood.  We can not buy eternal life in Christ, He gives it.  We can not buy this blessed Communion, we are baptized for it, for Him, in Him and through Him, the Passover Lamb.  The eastern Orthodox will refer to the priest as “serving the Liturgy”.  This is meet, right and salutary so to speak.  Jesus Christ is One Who serves and we are called by Him to do the same.  Serving His body and blood and serving our neighbors in His love, following His example.  When the Lord says, “This cup that poured out for you…”, the verb in Greek, translated as “poured” is actually present tense.  It  is hard to translate it into every day English:  This cup pours out for you…It does, beloved! Or this cup  pouring out for you.  For you!    As it poured out His veins upon the Cross, as His life, His ministry, His Supper, His Baptism, His creation of us, His re-creationof us, His crucifixion,His  resurrection and His ascension is preached and taught and so pouring out for us all. The pure eats of the new religion of food is only for them who can afford it. Not here. Dr.C. F. W. Walther preached it well:

As great as the distinction between communicants in civic life may be, in the Holy Supper all distinctions evaporate. We are all the same, in that we each eat the same earthly and heavenly bread and drink the same earthly and heavenly drink. In this Meal, the subject and his king, the slave and his master, the beggar and the rich, the child and the old man, the wife and the husband, the simple and the learned, truly all communicants stand as the same poor sinners and beggars, hungry and thirsty for grace. Although one may appear in a rough apron while another in velvet and satin, adorned with gold and pearls, when they depart, all take with them that for which they hunger and thirst: Christ’s blood and righteousness as their beauty and glorious dress. No one receives a better food and better drink than the other. All receive the same Jesus, and with Him, the same righteousness.

 
 

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Wednesday in Holy Week

COLLECT OF THE DAY:

Merciful and everlasting God, You did not spare Your only Son but delivered Him up for us all to bear our sins on the cross. Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him, that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS:

Isaiah 62:11-63:7

Psalm 70 (antiphon: v. 5)

Romans 5:6-11

Luke 22:1-23:56 or John 13:16-38

VERSE:   The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.       (John 12:23b)

Cross Reflections:  Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory is set in the 1920s Mexico when the Roman Catholic Church has been suppressed.  Priests are not allowed to say Mass.  The main character is an unnamed priest, given to whiskey, who goes about the country saying clandestine Masses.  In the scene quote below he is in a shed and mestizo is crawling in the shack and grabs the priest’s ankles.  He wants the priest to hear his confession about adultery and “boys”, as his confession comes forth between his yellowed teeth, the priest reflects:

“How often the priest had heard the same confession–Man was so limited: he hadn’t even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died: the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater the glory lay around the death; it was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or civilization–it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” 

Greene is illustrating the Scripture text appointed for Holy Wednesday from Romans:

6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

For God and country, a man will dare to die.  Even for a “good person”.  When I think of the petty larcenies and lusts lurking in the attic of my heart, it’s shameful. It is true we can not even invent a new vice.   I do not remember if the priest absolved the penitent in the novel.  Christ Jesus has for all who know they need fixing in their hearts. He will. No amount of fixing on our part will do it.

In the prayer of the day, we pray, ” Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him, that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil”.    In Advent there is a collect with the petition that “our hearts may be fixed where true joy is found.”  Fix:  eyes on the prize or corrected/ healed.  Which is it?  I suppose the former but the former makes for the latter.  Our eyes fixed upon Him, in the depths, height and breadth of His love stretching out from the Cross to us  and we are fixed, by steadfast faith, as sinners, in Him.  It seems to me that sin, death and devil dogs us when we are not so steadfast in faith.  Our true condition apart from Him is just as it is written in Romans 5:  weak, sinner, enemy.  His power and glory has been shown upon the Cross and on the third day and today.

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  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”-St.John 12: 32

INTROIT         Ps. 42:3, 9-10 (antiphon: Ps. 42:5-66)

Why are you cast down,O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?*

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation I and my God.

My tears have been my food I day and night,*while they say to me continually, “Where I is your God?”I say to God, my rock: “Why have you for- I gotten me?*Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the I enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries I taunt me,*while they say to me continually, “Where I is your God?”

 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?

*Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation I and my God.

COLLECT OF THE DAY:

Almighty and everlasting God,grant us by Your grace so to pass through this holy time of our Lord’s passion that we may obtain the forgiveness of our sins; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord,who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS:

Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14;  1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (26-31);   John12:23-50

GRADUAL:

     Heb. 9:120,  Ps. 111:9a:

[Christ] entered once for all into the holy places, by means of I his own blood,* thus securing an eternal redemption.  Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant,*  so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance. He sent redemption to his people;*  he has commanded his covenant forever.

   “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”-John 12: 32, for Holy Tuesday

Reflection:  Congregations, churches, pastors, priests fret over the question:  how do we attract new members?  What is our “draw”?  I  ask that question and that is more than a simple admission because it is  more like a confession.  Is it our choir? Our youth program?  Our peppy service?  Our warm and welcoming people?  Our meals on wheels? The pastor? (that’s me!) etc. etc. etc.  All those things can be fruit of the Gospel but they are not the Vine from whence comes the fruit.  There is only one “draw” in the Church, for the life of His world and you in His new creation:  Jesus Christ.   It is written that our preaching IS, not “was”, Christ and Him Crucified (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).  H0ly Baptism is into His Crucifixion and Resurrection (Romans 6:2-4 ; Colossians 2:10-12 ).  Holy Communion is the preaching of the Lord’s Death (1 Corinthians 11:26). In His Body given unto death is our life:  ALONE.    The Cross stands at the center, radiating out, Christ Jesus embracing us in His forgiveness.  And so the Christians from almost day one would trace the Sign of the Cross over their bodies.  And so the cathedrals in Europe were cross-shaped.  Crosses and crucifixes hang about our necks and adorn our walls.  He is the Draw.

“…ponder what sin is, and what kind of anguish will result for those who do not seek forgiveness for sin in Christ and protection from the wrath of God. Here stands God’s Son, who carries (upholds) everything by the power of His Word, Heb. 1, who is of the same essence with His heavenly Father. One might think that He will readily overcome and easily bear the burden of sins and divine wrath, and it will be for Him a light, little blade of straw. But look here, how this holy Soul agonizes; indeed, the more you reflect on Him, the better you will comprehend what a huge burden sin is. With the unrepentant, sin is regarded as an insignificant thing. Some intend to atone for it with their own deeds.  However, this sad spectacle (of the Cross) knocks down all these thoughts.  For, if (sins) were such insignificant matter, why was Christ Himself thus permitted to grieve (over them)?”   (from Lutheran Pastor and Professor Johann Gerhard’s An Explanation of the History of the Suffering and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ (published 1663)

“By Your struggle-unto-death and Your bloody sweat, help us dear Lord God.”

(from the Litany, as cited by Pr. Gerhard, ibid)

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