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Archive for October, 2013

The Weimar Altarpiece, 1555, by Lucas Cranach the Younger
Please note that Luther and the Reformers wanted to be “seen” in only place at the foot of the Cross in adoration of Jesus Christ as Luther points to the Bible which pointed them and points us to the Lord.

“Some two years ago I wrote a little book on indulgences, which I now deeply regret having published. For at the time I still clung to the Roman tyranny with great superstition and held that indulgences should not be altogether rejected, seeing they were approved by the common consent of men… I beg both booksellers and readers to burn what I have published on that subject.”—Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520

This is the way Martin Luther, a scant 3 years after he posted 95 Theses thought about them.  His 95 Theses were too ROMAN Catholic, not adhering and agreeing to the clear Word of Bible in regards to say, purgatory.  They were not truly catholic which means not Biblical.  “Catholic” literally means “according to whole”, the whole of God’s Holy Word.  It is historically incorrect to say that on October 31st, the Church was reformed.  It may have begun but the real reformation of the holy, catholic and apostolic Church began on June 30th, 1530 when the princes and electors presented to His Serene Majesty, Emperor Charles V, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession.  They, that is the princes and electors along with the confessors of the Faith, Luther, Melancthon, et. al., did not reform the Church:  The Word of God alone did that, does that and will.  Our calling is to preach and teaching His Word as clearly as possible.

On this day, we celebrate all together too much one man, Martin Luther. If you want a fuller article on my appraisal of this day, please read my article Ad Fontes!  Doctrine at Brothers of John the Steadfast.

What was all the fuss about back in the 16th Century that caused a schism?  Answer: Justification.  On this day, justification by grace had not been spelled out. The Lutheran Confessions is why I am a Lutheran and also a catholic.  The Confessions contain Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms which are to be prayed:  The Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, Holy Communion, prayed, meditated upon, taught, in response to Jesus Christ so we may be still and receive His Word for the strengthening of faith.

In my amateur historical understanding, the center of the fuss was over the following article in The Augsburg Confession presented on this day, these 2 sentences caused the furor:

Article IV: Justification.

Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God  by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received  into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rom. 3, 4).

 The papal theologians had been teaching and preaching for too long:  Christ, yes, faith in Him, yes, but Christ plus something else:  works. “We do our best and God does the rest.”  No, we have not done our best and the Law shows us this.  The Gospel, the Lord’s one work of universal (catholic)  salvation in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ means that the whole papal system of rosaries, pilgrimages, indulgences can not save one.   Christ alone has, by grace alone known by Scripture alone in the life of His Church.  Even the Law of God can not save (see Galatians 2:19 Galatians 2:21, Ephesians 2:6-8 ).

The papal church knew Article IV meant the undoing of the system.   When the papal theologians responded to the Augsburg Confession with their Confutation, then Melancthon wrote The Apology of the Augsburg Confession and Melancthon’s apologia (defense) of Article IV, Justification, was the longest. These two sentences summed up, not the faith of the Reformers, but the faith as taught, preached and written in the Bible.  These two sentences undermined the institutional church’s hegemony on the lives of catholics/Christians with a system of works, obligatory works to gain salvation.  

The Reformers presented on this day their Confession, based soundly  upon the Scripture and the 3 Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles, Nicene and Athansasian), that salvation in Jesus Christ is sheer gift for sinners who can not attain heaven by anything we can ever do.  The Fathers at Augsburg began this Confession of the catholic Church with the Creeds to demonstrate that Justification is the key of Scripture and had been taught and preached and administered since the Apostles through all the ensuing centuries, but lost and forgotten by the papal church.

 Further, the Reformers were as catholic as Augustine was in the teaching of justification in Christ alone.  The Confessors at Augsburg were not really trying to “change” the Church, or leave the Church, but change it back to the way it was according to the Gospel.  It was a conservative reformation. They did not want to start a new church, as did Calvin and Zwingli.  The orthodox confessional Church is catholic.  It was a reformation not a revolution, yet this conservative reformation had revolutionary aspects for a tradition that confused itself as the truth, both Roman Catholic and Protestantism:

The Lutheran Church has not the slightest theological interest in this antithesis between Catholicism and Protestantism. It does not know to which side it belongs. If only there were a clear-cut contradiction between true and false doctrine in the antithesis! But this does not happen to be the case. For there are heresies in Protestantism which are just as dangerous as those of Catholicism. Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Anthanasius and Irenaeus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation.For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. (Here We Stand (1932) by Rev. Hermann Sasse, Lutheran theologian and professor, at the time publication at the University of Erlangen)

This lively iconographic image shows Word and Sacraments, the Preaching of Christ and Him crucified, freely given rein by the Word for the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people for their faith and faith active in love.

Let us pray…

Lord God, heavenly Father, You preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg. Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

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This posting is a follow-up to the previous one regarding Lucas Cranach the Elder‘s painting, “The Allegory of Law and Grace“.

There is not one painting with the theme of Law and Grace by Lucas Cranach the Elder, but many paintings and in addition his drawings and woodcuts on the same theme.  This theme was so popular that another German artist, Hans Holbein the Younger painted the same allegory.

Lucas Cranach and his family were friends of the Luthers.  Their friendship in Christ is most likely responsible for the differences between two paintings of the theme Law and Grace by the artist.  Note the differences below.  The first one is the earlier Prague painting, the next one is the later Gotha painting.  What are the differences?  

“Prague”

“Gotha” Type

Let’s first look at the less obvious change.  In the “Prague” painting, on the Law side we see depicted a group of tents in the background illustrating the narrative of the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:8-10  ) which our Lord used to describe His Messianic role, see John 3:13-15 Note that in the second painting the “Gotha” panel it has been moved into the Gospel side.  John Dillenberger in his book, Images and Relics in the time of the Reformation and the Renaissance, notes the high probability, given the friendship between Cranach and Luther that Cranach  made this change of  depiction, because Cranach had bee more fully catechized by Dr. Luther.  But why the change?

 Luther did not distinguish between law and gospel in terms of Old Testament and New Testament, for there was law in the New Testament, and gospel in the Old. The other subjects fell easily into either the Old or New Testament divisions. But law and gospel did not easily fall into one or the other testament, thus requiring a decision. The scene of the serpents that devoured the people, who then were saved by their looking at the elevated serpent, is recorded in the Old Testament; but it is actually the symbol of grace. The church had interpreted the serpent being lifted up as a prefiguration of Christ having been lifted up. Luther, looking at the Cross, could…speak of the “brazen serpent Christ,” thereby showing his radical reading of the Old Testament from a Christological perspective.[1]

A correction on the quote above:  the Church did not interpret the bronze serpent being lifted up as a prefiguration of Christ’s crucifixion, no, Christ did! Again, Luther did not come up with “his radical reading of the Old Testament” from the perspective of the accomplishment of salvation in Jesus Christ  (“christological”) on his own.  St. Augustine centuries earlier said that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. This unity of Testaments in Jesus Christ is inherent in the texts of both Old and New Testaments,  Dillenberger is right on target, though, that the notion that the OT   equals Law and NT equals Gospel/Grace is incorrect.

Now to the obvious difference in the paintings:  the Man, that is Adam, in the earlier painting is smack dab in the middle.  In the later painting, he is on both sides. Dillenberger in the quote above correctly wrote that the earlier painting suggests a decision by Adam as to which side he wants to be in.  Indeed, Luther may just have corrected his friend!

“…the Gotha panel becomes the norm, perhaps because it was closer to what Luther meant. It provided a picture of the ramifications of law and gospel for each person, rather than a demand that either law or gospel be accepted.[2]

It sure looks like in the earlier panel Adam, that is all of us, needs to make our decision for Christ.  The panel of the Law shows the depth of sin, death and the power of the devil.  Only the spiritual use of the Law, showing us our sin, can we know the depths. First, given the graphic illustration of the Law, it’s a “no brainer” as to a decision!  But even so the Old Adam tenaciously will hold onto the “dearest souvenirs of hell”(C. S. Lewis). And the subtle serpent will not present himself so baldy, but in disguise as “light”. We can not make the move by our decision from the left panel to the right panel:  only the Lord can and has through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel does the Holy Spirit literally transfer us from Law to Grace:

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14/ emphasis my own)

So that, we are not under Law but under grace:

 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6: 13-14)

The Law is necessary in the second panel to show us our sin and point us ever to our Savior lifted up on the Cross, so we do not present our “members” as instruments for unrighteousness, but      “…to God as instruments for righteousness”, because as the Apostle plainly states, “SINCE,  you are not under law but under grace.” (emphasis my own).  Luther posted his 95 Theses on purpose on the eve of All Saints Day, November 1.  The second painting depicts more closely the Scripture and the verses cited.  It is a wonderful reminder not only of God’s grace in Jesus Christ but the power of His overwhelming  Sacrifice which alone, ALONE transfers us  in His rule and reign, saints by grace, not our works, so that by His grace we will produce fruit pleasing in His sight. So note, the tree in the middle is fruitless on the law side, but fruitful unto salvation in Jesus. 

By grace! None dare lay claim to merit;
Our works and conduct have no worth.
God in His love sent our Redeemer,
Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth;
His death did for our sins atone,
And we are saved by grace alone

Blessed Reformation Day and All Saints Day!


[1] Pages 98-100, Images and Relics by John Dillenberger (Oxford University Press, 1999)

[2] Page 100, ibid

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Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553), a painter at the time of the Reformation and a friend of the Luthers’, illustrated this distinction of law and promise.

Introduction:  After the Lutheran (evangelical) Reformers presented their Confession in 1530 to the Emperor in Augsburg (from then the document has been known as The Augsburg Confession, first book in The Book of Concord), the Papal theologians responded with The Confutation.  Philip Melanchthon was charged with a rendering a response to it:  The Apology (defense) of the Augsburg Confession, which became the second book in The Book of Concord.  In the longest article (IV)  of the Apology, “Justification”, we confess this treasure of the Reformation which the Reformers simply found again, as a pearl of great price: 

All Scripture ought to be divided into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins justification, and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal.

So much has been rightly preached and taught on the distinction between Law and Promise, but simply put:  The Law kills the sinner (see the rich young man narrative in St. Mark 10: 17-22) and the Gospel makes alive (See St. Mark 10: 26-27).  By  His Law, we are found out(see Genesis 3:  9-10) and by the Gospel, Jesus Christ, the Lord finds us  to restore His lost sheep,  coin…son (see St. Luke 15).  

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553), a painter at the time of the Reformation and a friend of the Luthers, illustrated this distinction of law and promise. In terms of the arts, it is music that is most closely associated with the Reformation, but there was an outpouring of the visual arts as well.  

The idea behind this posting is from the blog, The World Wide Wolfmueller, blogger Pr. Wolfmueller, LCMS.  I asked him to use this and he gladly said yes.

Below is a black and white woodcut of Cranach the Elder entitled “Law and Grace”, full color above.    It’s a great lesson with children and adults to find  each of  numbered images.   There is  a profound difference and Christ Jesus alone by faith alone through grace alone puts us into the picture by His grace to all through faith.  

 Pr. Wolfmueller put numbers on the wood cut so we can identify each part of Cranach’s woodcut as  illustration of law and promise.  Use his woodcut for a class or for your family’s instruction to identify the various parts which are from the Bible.

We read left to right, likewise, it is always Law then Promise, so that the sinner may daily take hold of Jesus Christ Who has taken hold of us all.  

1. Adam and Eve, eating the forbidden fruit. Notice the snake wrapped around the tree.
2. Death and the devil, driving men to hell with the fear of death and the condemnation of the law.
3. That guy is you, goosed into hell because of your sin.
4. Here is Christ coming in judgment. Notice the flower (the Gospel) coming out of His mouth for those on His right, while the sword (the law) coming from His mouth for those on His left.
5. Moses, the lawgiver, holding the Ten Commandments. The Commandments are the verdict of our guilt and condemnation.
6. Hell, the desperate destruction of those who die apart from the blood of Jesus.
7. That’s you again, looking much happier on the Gospel side of the woodcut.
8. John the Baptist is preaching to you, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29), and point to Jesus, dying on the cross for you.
9. Here’s a picture of Moses again, this time with the tabernacle. There’s a cross out front with the bronze serpent out front to which the people look and are saved (see John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:7-9). I think there is manna scattered on the ground.
10. Here’s the angel preaching to the shepherds and announcing the birth of our Lord Jesus.
11. Baby Jesus, descending from heaven to the womb of Mary. Jesus is bringing His cross with Him!
12. Mary, blessed by the Lord, pregnant with Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
13. Jesus on the cross, satisfying the wrath of God for all sinners. The Lamb in front indicates that this is a sacrifice, in fact, the atoning sacrifice. The Lord’s cloth is being blowing by the wind, indicating that the Holy Spirit brings the preaching of Christ to us.
14. Jesus, risen from the dead, preaching peace to you, and stomping death and the devil under His feet (Hebrews 2:14; Psalm 110:1, etc.)
15. The spear with which the devil was driving us to hell has been stripped away, and used against them.
16. The Holy Spirit brings the atoning blood of Jesus to you, in the preaching of the Gospel, in Baptism and in the Lord’s Supper. Here, in the Gospel, we have life and salvation.

How wonderful that we are those covered by the blood of Jesus, friends of God, and by the death of Jesus destined for the blessedness of the resurrection. (Pr. Wolfmueller)

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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 I do not worship our country,and neither are we to despise it.  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.  The actual Reformation Day is this Thursday (2013), Luther and the Reformers and many who heard the Gospel clearly preached, also did not follow a worldly church and worldly doctrine.  Upcoming is All Saints Sunday and Day, and the saints did not look to the world for their light but the light shining in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4: 6):

“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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Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. -Revelation 14: 6

                           A question I have put to Bible study groups is why are you a Christian or a Lutheran?  The answers vary from upbringing to my friends to my family to a pastor.  Very seldom has been the answer:  my baptism.  Baptism, Holy Communion, in fact all of the Bible, all of God’s Word gives us Jesus Christ.  Why am I a Christian? Answer: Jesus Christ.  Christian from the Christ, not Christ from the Christian.  Why am I Lutheran?  Answer: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church: The Book of Concord.   The Confessions of the Lutheran Church are the only ones yes on earth that by God’s grace alone, got it right:  God’s grace in Jesus Christ is His free gift that makes right sinners, not what we do, say or feel, however religious the actions, words or emotions, can save us.  Christ came to die for sinners of whom I am the foremost.

             For what its worth, I have looked into other church bodies and much is commendable about them. I worked 4 years as a youth pastor in a Presbyterian congregation.  I worked for three years as a receptionist at Jesuit Hall at St. Louis University and knew many find Jesuit priests and brothers, and monks and nuns.  I have seriously looked into the Eastern Orthodox theology and practice.  For instance, their purely Scriptural  prayer for meditation, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or the Jesus prayer  Biblically beats out the rosary, the “hail Mary”, except of course in football…and that kind of prayer directed to saint, never gets to the Receiver, the one Mediator, Jesus Christ who alone makes us His saints.  He invites His saints to pray to Him, our Father, not his saints to pray to others.  Several years ago Natalie and I thought seriously of leaving the ELCA and becoming Orthodox.   What stopped me?    Answer: Synergy and hymnody and the two are related.  Synergy, cooperation, having to work together with God for my salvation. Jesus kind of sort of saved us, sort of kind of by faith. So I got to meet halfway…then I am unforgiven and Jesus is no Rock of salvation, more like a pebble,  but that’s not the case for me or for you or your family or your friends.The Lord came to us all the way: to the Cross.  And it was colleague and mentor, Pr. Lou Smith who re-taught me the Lutheran Confessions with every retreat and practically every conversation and the beating heart of the Church, Christ’s body is the justification of the sinner by grace, as a gift, through Faith..  God’s law shows us the depth of sin and the Gospel the greater depths of His love for us all.  And my wife could not leave hymnody as that Lutheran hymnody proclaims the eternal Gospel of God’s grace.     I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:21  Beloved in the Lord, you His purpose.  He pleased to give you His Son.We sing the praises of Him Who died and rose.

  We only know God’s good work in Jesus Christ. “We do not claim that our Confessors were infallible. We do not say they could not fail. We only claim that they did not fail.” (Charles Porterfield Krauth, Lutheran theologian 1823-1883)   They got it right because they knew by Whom they were made right, justified, not by the Law, but by God’s own Son fulfilling every jot and title of the Law, forgiving us upon the Cross.  We know this by the Bible.

              Yes, Lutherans believe in Scripture but so do other Christians.  In this we rejoice. However, the Reformation was not about reforming a few bad morals and a proper cleanup of the papacy, or a new kind of church government and a polishing up of a few doctrines according to the Bible.  All of that had been done prior to Luther and for quite a time and after 1517.  They all look at the Bible as laws to be followed for a reformation.   In fact, in many ways, the Lutheran Confessors did not want to reform the Church, it was the Lord by His Word and Sacraments reforms the Church, us, you, making us His own in Holy Baptism.  Everyone wants to see something great, but the Word of God is best thing anyone can hear. 

              Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, read  the New Testament and  thought Jesus’ word,” turn the other cheek” as a way to reform society…and he went along way with it and India was better for him.  All sorts of people have seen the Bible as source of good advice, and there has been no end of advice, but good advice does not forgive, good advice will not bring us into the Kingdom.  The Bible is something else than a rule book of reforming zeal. What Jesus Christ said is apropos here: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me.”John 5:39   The Key to understanding the Bible is not reforming according to the law but being reformed, renewed by the forgiveness and reconciliation of sinners by Jesus Christ. Jesus said the Scriptures bear witness to Him. The Key is Jesus Christ who unlocks the door to paradise is His crucifixion and resurrection, justification by grace through faith, freely given, no if, ands or buts, who alone frees.  Yes, Jesus but if you make your decision for him.  Jesus and your good works will get you in.  Jesus but you have to be good.  If it is “if, ands and buts”, more Law, then Christ died for nothing.   By faith through grace He made us good, makes us good as His son,as His daughter. 

 We have Bibles in which Jesus’ words are printed in red. A great and humble Lutheran pastor and professor, Johann Gerhard (1582-1537) said the Bible is read as if it were printed with ink that is the very blood of Jesus.  The key to the Bible is not only Scripture alone but from the Lord’s Word and the Word made flesh grace alone received by faith alone.  All add another condition to grace and then it’s not grace, which is free and frees, You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. John 8:32 It has. I am a Lutheran because of the Confessions as true exposition of the Word of God. Now don’t get me wrong, we don’t have to join the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in order to be saved, that would be adding a condition!  I think,…I know that the LCMS is one of the few church bodies in North America  which adheres to the public doctrine of the Scripture and the Confessions faithfully.  But it is not the alone saving church. All who know by grace they are saved are my brother and sister.  There is only one Church, Christ’s bride and He is no bigamist.  “For, thank God, [to-day] a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray thus: I believe in one holy[catholic or] Christian Church.” As Luther wrote in the Lutheran Confessions, the Smalcald Article.   

 In a favorite episode of sitcom “Everyone Loves Raymond”, the entire family goes to church except for Ray who doesn’t go at all.   Ray’s wife, Debra asks Ray why don’t you go to Mass?  After being embarrassed Ray tells some story about a repairman who comes over to fix something, and he had a lazy eye, and how Ray was so good not to be seen to notice it…Ray concludes, I’m good…that’s why I really don’t need to go.  So, says his wife, on a Sunday morning, Ray, we should just all come over and gather around you?  A pastor in the LCMS, Daniel Preus wrote a little book, Why I am Lutheran:  Jesus in the center. Not Ray, not you, not me.  “For the Church does not live by morals, by the knowledge and observance of God’s law. Nor does it live by religion, by lofty experiences of the divine and an awareness of the mysteries of God. It lives solely by the forgiveness of sins.” (Hermann Sasse, Lutheran Professor, Pastor and theologian,  1895-1976).  We don’t gather around ourselves and our fine Christian principles, then that’s club.  The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps her united in Jesus Christ, Luther taught on the 3rd article. The Church is Christ’ body. 

             The angel had the eternal Gospel, good news to proclaim…not temporal time conditioned good news, like TV commercials.  Commercials which tell you your outsides aren’t too good and if you just had fill-in-the-blank, there product is good news.  Or the time-conditioned temporal gospels of denominations and their programs. We can do an extreme makeover but our souls remained untouched and the Lord is clear, it’s there, in your, heart soul and mind I have come to be your Lord with every Word from My Book, My Sacraments, My people, My pastors to make alive your Faith holding on to Me as I hold on to you.  We are gathered in the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:7

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Almighty God, the apostle Paul taught us to praise You in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We thank You this day for those who have given to Your Church great hymns, especially Your servants Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heermann, and Paul Gerhardt. May Your Church never lack hymnwriters who through their words and music give You praise. Fill us with the desire to praise and thank You for Your great goodness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Bio: Philipp Nicolai (1556–1608) was a pastor in Germany during the Great Plague, which took the lives of 1,300 of his parishioners during a sixth-month period. In addition to his heroic pastoral ministry during that time of stress and sorrow, he wrote the texts for “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” and “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright,” known, respectively, as the king and queen of the Lutheran chorales. Johann Heermann (1585–1647), also a German pastor, suffered from poor health as well as from the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). His hymn texts are noted for their tenderness and depth of feeling. Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676) was another Lutheran pastor who endured the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War. By 1668 he lost his pastoral position in Berlin (for refusing to compromise his Lutheran convictions), and endured the death of four of his five children and his wife. He nevertheless managed to write 133 hymns, all of which reflect his firm faith. Along with Martin Luther he is regarded as one of Lutheranism’s finest hymn writers.

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

Reflection:  The last fad in congregational music was “Christian music”.  My response was, Yes, I love Christian music,written and composed by Heerman, Nicolai and Gerhardt!  On this day we sing to the Lord in the words and music by the three great Lutheran hymn writers commemorated  and it is all thoroughgoing Christian and Biblical music.

Now the latest buzz phrase has been: “praise songs”.  Both my wife and a colleague  responded to “praise songs” in the same way:   ‘We sing praise music every Sunday!”  Listen to the hymns below!  As friend and colleague once said:  “Lutheran hymnody is my glossasalia.” Just think: these hymn writers and pastors were probably not paid a cent for their hymns, fought false doctrine  and disease and the devil, and in the midst of all that, in the Lord they had joy to sing and pray and write hymns.

The other criticism is that Lutheran hymnody is not personal enough and expressive of ‘my’ feelings.  Can anyone, if you will, top, the sheer intimacy, poetry and passion of Paul Gerhardt in O Sacred Head, Now Wounded?

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.

What sustained these men through such turmoil?  Answer: The rock of salvation, Jesus Christ, not a religious feeling.  Faith can only have something or someone to seize for salvation and this is the justification of the sinner by Christ’s Atonement, once and for all from the Cross, preached and taught into our ears and hearts, by sermons, yes!  But also by hymnody.

In the Service Book and Hymnal (1958), the former worship book of the ELCA’s predecessor Lutheran denominations,  the forward states that they wanted the hymns to be more “devotional” and have a less of  a “didactic” content.  They were so wrong!  Such an idea sent a whole bunch of Lutherans on the wrong course. The didactic or teaching content of Lutheran hymnody is so important because it is the objective Word of God written in Scripture sung in words and music, according to the true exposition of the Scriptures, the Lutheran Confession. Consider “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”:  this hymn is the Parable of the Foolish and Wise Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13) set to music. It is usually sung in Advent, pointing to the time on earth when the Bridegroom arrived and the time to come when those who are eager for His appearing, He will come again.  It is didactic and so instructional.  Dispensationalist and millenialist false doctrine is shown for what it is in that magnificent hymn of Scripture by the true and correct doctrine of our Lord’s parousia, in Scripture, correctly taught.

At Concordia Junior College/ Milwaukee,  I took a one credit course on hymnody.  Professor “Ollie” Rupprecht pointed out that J.S. Bach had some 80 volumes in his library (quite an expensive acquisition in that day) and 60 volumes were on Lutheran Doctrine. This doctrine has been derided as too “sterile”.  It is not.  Like Jack Webb in Dragnet said: “The facts, ma’am, just the facts.”  “Ollie” liked to say that Lutheran hymnody is our “meat and taters”.  No thin vegan gruel here. The objective justification by the life, word and work of Jesus Christ is the reason to sing. So let us keep our lamps filled with the oil of the Gospel, the Word of God, and tend carefully to the lamp of Lutheran hymnody, keep the wick trim,  exacting in doctrine proclaiming Christ, and not ourselves.

We give thanks to the Lord, the Conductor of the  “choir immortal” (from “Wake, Awake”),   for all church organists (underpaid and being squeezed out by contemporary worship), church musicians, choirs and the Lord’s people who sing their praise of their Lord through hymns replete with the Scripture, that is, the Word of God and so the Holy Spirit.  Pray for your organist, choir director, choir members and church musicians in petition and  praise to the Lord and tell them all this  Sunday:  thanks!

Philip Nicolai:

Johann Heerman:

Paul Gerhardt:

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Lessons:  Acts 16: 11-40;  Acts 9: 36-43;  Romans 16: 1-2

Prayer 

 Filled with thy Holy Spirit, gracious God, thine earliest disciples served Thee with the gifts each had been given: Lydia in business and stewardship, Dorcas in a life of charity and Phoebe as a deaconess who served many. Inspire us today to build up Thy Church with our gifts in hospitality, charity and bold witness to the Gospel of Christ;  who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

These women were exemplary Christians who demonstrated their faith by their material support of the Church. Dorcas (also known as Tabitha) was well-known and much loved for her acts of charity in the city of Joppa, especially for her making clothes for the poor. When Dorcas died suddenly, the members of her congregation sent to the neighboring city of Lydda for the Apostle Peter, who came and raised her from the dead (Acts 9:36–41). Lydia was a woman of Thyatira, who worked at Philippi selling a famous purple dye that was so much in demand in the ancient world. She was also a “worshiper of God” at the local synagogue. When the Apostle Paul encountered her in prayer among other proselyte women, his preaching of the Word brought Lydia to faith in Christ. She and her friends thus became the nucleus of the Christian community in Philippi (16:13–15, 40). Phoebe was another faithful woman associated with the Apostle Paul. She was a deaconess from Cenchrae (the port of Corinth) whom Paul sent to the church in Rome with his Epistle to the Romans. In it he writes of her support for the work of the early Church (Rom 16:1).

One can say that in Christianity the extraordinary has become ordinary, but also the ordinary has become extraordinary, usual unusual, the common uncommon,that what all do has been transformed into priestly work and to a sacrifice that is offered to the most high God…. [T]he Lord Jesus was followed by a number of women whose names have come down to us. Kings are forgotten, emperors have fallen into the dust and there is no one to remember them; the names of these women, however, are still being mentioned. There are only a few things we know about them, and what is said seems insignificant to us. They made offerings  to the Son of Man from what they had …provided such little services, as he deserved before all others.  But because the common uncommon, thus these names are written in the Book of books.

…I said that because of Christianity uncommon has become common and the common uncommon the Spirit and the purpose and way it was done…. I point to Matthew 25. What does he say there by separating the sheep from the goats? Whom does he praise? Whom does He reproach? Whom does he call to inherit the kingdom of his Father? Does he call the heroes, who accomplished great things, the kings with their crowns and those who struck with their great swords and brought about great changes upon earth? What does He do? He names and praises the same common things that I have said Christianity has made uncommon. He says: “I was hungry” and so forth—”come, you blessed of my Father” (Mt 25:34)…. Thus, he asks for the food, for the drink, for the gift of oil and wine. He asks for all these common things, which I have said have become uncommon through his Spirit.—J. K. Wilhelm Loehe  (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

One More Reflection:  Do great things.  America will be number one again.  Be a winner.  This is the way the world thinks and we do as well.  Serving is not natural, that is, according to fallen human nature which is self-centered and ego driven, damaged in the Fall, damaged beyond all human repair. When I re-read Pr. Loehe’s reflection above, this is not the Christianity I want. I want successful and powerful Christianity especially in our mission here.  I think all the lamentation, “America is no longer a Christian nation”,  is the lament over lost power.  The Church had no political power and authority when Dorcas, Lydia and Phoebe lived upon this old earth. When it does boast political power, then the dangers abound.  As our Lord said to Pilate, “My Kingdom is not from this world.”  The Church did have power, though:  the Word and Deed of Jesus Christ in the lives of His faithful people.  Kings and the mighty change the world according to their will and things get worse. They make news but it is really as “old as Adam”.  The faithful women did good things in Christ Jesus and Faith, and things were better, you know, salt of the earth, and people believed in the Lord.  We think our smartphones are just wonderful and adorable, the gadgets of power and we listen to them.  We need to listen to our Lord in His Word Who alone can change our souls day by day  to love as He first loved us.  

These holy women, who were made holy by Faith in Jesus, are acknowledged in the prayer above in their various vocations:  business woman and steward, charitable worker and deacon or deaconess, that is one who serves. Lydia was the first convert to the Faith in Europe.  And as a business woman who sold the dye of Royalty purple (BTW:  that’s why purple is the color used in Advent and Lent), she might have been quite well-to-do.   I am struck by the non-judgmental listing of “business’  alongside with a “churchy”  sounding word, “deaconess”.  These are all vocations from the Lord, yes, even business!   If it weren’t for business, there would be no jobs.  There is no occupation that is displeasing to the Lord, except those occupied with evil…or vocations used for ignoble ends with sinful means.  Even a ‘churchy’ vocation can be used to serve self and not the Lord.  And business men and women can serve the Lord and His people, and not the self,  as can being a deacon or deaconess.  Daily repentance is turning toward the Lord our whole lives to serve Him and His people.  It is in our daily vocations that we can serve and love our neighbors as to Christ Himself, not to save ourselves, Jesus has already done that, but that our neighbor be served and be pointed to the Savior.  Dorcas, Lydia and Phoebe did so by charity, hospitality and serving, not waiting for suspect government to help the poor, the stranger, the widow, but actual acts of of corporate mercy.  

Almighty God, You stirred to compassion the hearts of Your dear servants Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe to uphold and sustain Your Church by their devoted and charitable deeds. Give us the same will to love You, open our eyes to see You in the least ones, and strengthen our hands to serve You in others, for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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