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Archive for June, 2014

 

Those who would remake the Church into what they want and desire, will eventually have Christ Jesus remade into their own image, that is, an idol.  Too many build the Church upon men’s opinions of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord’s question to the disciples, Who do men say that I am? was never intended by the Lord to be an eternal discussion question for so-called Bible studies in too many congregations. Every year, before Christmas and Easter, come the articles debunking some portion or portions of the Bible about Jesus, like clockwork.  Yet, the question,as asked by our Lord, did bring out the rumors about Him and they were just that rumors, conjecture, innuendo.

Jesus himself puts the decisive question, for which the disciples had been waiting: “Who do people say that the Son of man is?” Answer: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Opinions, nothing but opinions; one could extend this list of opinions as much as one wanted. . . some say you are a great man, some say you are an idealist, some say you are a religious genius, some say you are a great champion and hero, who will lead us to victory and greatness. Opinions, more or less serious opinions– but Jesus does not want to build his church on opinions. And so he addresses himself directly to his disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” In this inevitable confrontation with Christ there can be no “perhaps” or “some say,” no opinions but only silence or the answer which Peter gives now: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  

From Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s 1933 Sermon on today’s Gospel, preached in the Trinity  Church, Berlin, when Nazism was in the ascendancy and everyone thought this was a consummate good.

Yet, the question is still pointed, and points to us:  Who do you say that I am?   There is a correct answer, the confessional answer, which points us ever in faith to Jesus Christ:  You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Peter was declared blessed, not simply right in answering but the confessing answer.  The confession of Faith was not revealed by flesh and blood but “by My Father in Heaven” through every Word Jesus taught and preached and every Word which healed and created faith.  Flesh and blood love to reveal stuff and love to hear about ‘new revelations about the IRS, the NSA, the true confessions of celebrities, the stuff of gossip columns, tabloids  like the National Enquirer, the ‘skinny’ on someone in the news.  All of those revelations are the consequences of breaking God’s Law and appeal to man’s fallen pride, as simply, as “Oh, I’m not that bad.”    The daily news is the revelation of death.  The good news of Jesus Christ is the revelation of life in the midst of death. The revelation of the Lord’s forgiveness in an unforgiving world.  No one confesses Jesus is the Lord except by His Life lived on God’s terms, which means in His Son, Jesus Christ, by His grace and leave, by His Blood shed for them and for us all. 

Peter and Paul had differences between them and much in common.  Both Peter and Paul were Jews.  Peter was an uneducated fisherman, while Paul was a highly educated Pharisee who was taught at the feet of the great rabbi, Gamaliel. Peter was with Jesus from the beginning, the first of the Apostles.  Paul, as he said, was the last of the apostles.  Both were zealous for the Law. Yet, Peter denied Christ.  Paul persecuted the Church and consented to the murder of Stephen, the first martyr of “followers of the Way”.  Both knew they were sinners whom the Law could not save and that Christ alone does atone.  Peter, 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him,“Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”62 And he went out and wept bitterly.”  “Behold of a sudden the lover is a liar. (Peter) finds out what he is; he who had thought too highly of himself” (St. Augustine).  Peter’s tears were of godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  Paul wrote to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.   Paul was blinded by his sin in the glory of crucified Jesus on the road to Damascus.  Paul finds out what he is, he who had thought too highly of  himself. Paul’s confession of sin was also of the godly sorrow. Called by Christ Jesus, both knew by faith His forgiveness of them and each and everyone of us. Both confessed Jesus is Lord. Both were martyred, tradition says on this day, in Rome, remembering that Christian martyrs, unlike the Islamic variety, do not try to take people with them.

Does the Lord build His Church on the rock called Peter or on the rock of the confession of faith,  You are the Christ, the Son of the living God?  This is a false choice. It is built upon Peter confessing Christ as the whole Church is called.  Once we veer away from the Lord’s certain call of the Cross to confess Him as Lord, then we are lost in men’s opinions. Yet,

…it does indeed seem very uncertain ground to build on, doesn’t it? And yet it is bedrock, for this Peter, this trembling reed, is called by God, caught by God, held by God.  “You are Peter,” we all are Peter; not the Pope, as the Roman Catholics would have it; not this person or that, but all of us, who simply live from our confession of faith in Christ, as the timid, faithless, fainthearted, and yet who live as people sustained by God. (Bonhoeffer, same sermon quotes throughout the sermon)

Yes, when a bishop is elected pope, they say to him:  You are Peter. No, y’all are Peter.  Not the rock from Peter, but Peter from the Rock and the Rock is Christ.  “…Paul from Saul, the lamb from the wolf”.  You are from Christ.   You are from the Rock. 

Simon and Garfunkle song from the 60s lyric:

I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries

Simon and Garfunkle’s song is about man alone, like a rock, like an island, avoiding all pain and sorrow.  We live in a “my music, my pictures, my documents” kind of world in which there is no morality, only what I want.  Christ is the rock who bore all pain and sorrow, the Rock from which blood flowed, tears flowed and water flowed.  “My God, My God Why have you forsaken Me?”  Jesus Christ became the utterly alone island bearing our sin, all immorality, which separates us from God and all, the rock, the cornerstone cast out by the builders.  He alone can give the keys of the kingdom to Peter and the whole Church.  The Keys of His reign is forgiveness.“God has always done His greatest deeds in the world through hopeless minorities as seen from human eyes.” Last line of Sasse’s last Letter to Lutheran Pastors.  Like Peter and Paul by whom His grace and peace shone forth into a dark world through the Word of the Lord.  Maybe we are beginning to understand some more of Bonhoeffer’s Sermon of 1933, preached in Berlin’s Trinity Church means:

In the midst of the creakings and groanings of a crumbling and tottering church structure, which has been shaken to its very foundations, we hear in this text the promise of the eternal church, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail; of the church founded on a rock, Christ has built and which he continues to build throughout all time.

The gates of hell have prevailed against denominations built on human ideas about Christ, how to implement the truth, as if it were a human tool. The sign of the Church is not the dollar sign, but the Sign of the CrossThe Lord builds His Church through Peter and Paul and all the saints, not through their flesh and blood but by the Confession of Christ, His Word, the Word made flesh and this is the very work of the Holy Spirit.  I will let Pr. Bonhoeffer have the last word of this sermon.

But it is not we who build. He builds the church. No human being builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever intends to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess-he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him-that he may build. We do not know his plan. ‘We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great timesof construction. It may be that from a human point of view great times for the church are actually times of demolition. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province.

Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions, don’t ask for judgments, don’t always be calculating what will happen, don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Let the church remain the church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.

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Meme of the Day

Meme Bonhoeffer

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“The glory of God is man fully alive.”

 Bio:  Irenaeus (ca. AD 130-200), believed to be a native of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey), studied in Rome and later became pastor in Lyons, France. Around 177, while Irenaeus was away from Lyons, a fierce persecution of Christians led to the martyrdom of his bishop. Upon Irenaeus’ return, he became Bishop of Lyons. Among his most famous writings is Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies). This work condemned several errors but focused especially on Gnosticism, which denied the goodness of creation. In opposition, Irenaeus confessed that God has redeemed his creation through the incarnation of the Son. Irenaeus also affirmed the teachings of the Scriptures handed down to and through him as being normative for the Church. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer/CPH)

Reflection:  In the reading selected for this commemoration in  The Treasury of Daily Prayer, St. Irenaeus wrote regarding the heresies of his day and the truth of Scripture:

For error is plausible and bears a resemblance to the truth but requires to be disguised;  while truth is without disguise and, therefore, has been entrusted to children.

The shocking part of that quote is that the truth has “…has been entrusted to children”!  Not to the adults, not to the learned, not to theologians.  This is keeping with our Lord Jesus Christ who said,

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.    St.Matthew 11

and

2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.   St. Matthew 18

One of my favorite theologians is my wife.  She once commented that adults like to think in terms of “moral grays”, a child does not:  it is either right or wrong.  It is that way with the Gospel:   a child gets it. I have done wrong, God is great, He loved us upon the cross.    Creation is good.  I have done wrong.   We are forgiven. This is truth without disguise.  The Father reveals His love to children not the “learned and the wise”. Jesus Himself entrusts it to children:  even if the child is 100! It is in keeping with Irenaeus and his love of Scripture is the lyrics of the old Sunday School song:

Jesus loves me! This I know,  For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong, They are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! He who died, Heaven’s gate to open wide; He will wash away my sin, Let His little child come in. Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

 Yet, the undisguised truth of God’s Word has so much that even the most able minds can not understand it all.  In Irenaeus’ day there were the Gnostics who said creation is evil, spirituality is good. Plausible…except it is not the Scripture:  see Genesis 1! See Jesus Christ:  God became FLESH, His own creation!  It is the heretics, who have a enough of God’s own truth, to disguise and then complicate the truth of God’s own Word, now looking themselves and a ‘superior’ spirituality.  It looks good but it is a wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing (see Matthew 7:15).  Beware,  said faithful pastors like Irenaeus.  Irenaeus also famously said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”  How?  Answer:  Jesus loves me.  Upon Him, the solid rock, we can grow and be edified, built-up by the Holy Spirit.  A child can get it and it is entrusted to His children of all ages and for all the ages until He comes again.

Almighty God, You upheld your servant Irenaeus, giving him strength to confess the truth against every blast of vain doctrine.   By Your mercy, keep us steadfast in the true faith, that in constancy we may walk in peace on the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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Note:  Yesterday was the Commemoration of Jeremiah, but due to time constraints, I  did not finish this post then.-Pr. Schroeder

Biography:  

The prophet Jeremiah was active as God’s prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah ca. 627 to 582 B.C. As a prophet he predicted, witnessed, and lived through the Babylonian siege and eventual destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. In his preaching he often used symbols, such as an almond rod (Jer. 1:11-14), wine jars (13:12-14), and a potter at work (18:1-17). His entire prophetic ministry was a sermon, communicating through word and deed God’s anger toward his rebellious people. He suffered repeated rejection and persecution by his countrymen. As far as can be known, he died in Egypt, having been taken there forcibly. He is remembered and honored for fearlessly calling God’s people to repentance. (LCMS Commemoration Biographies)

Selected Verses from Jeremiah:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
    be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
13 for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
    the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
    broken cisterns that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2: 12-13

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord‘s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known,10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Jeremiah 7:  1-10

 For whenever I speak, I cry out,
    I shout, “Violence and destruction!” Jeremiah 20:  8

“…they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.

When Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch who was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern—the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate— Ebed-melech went from the king’s house and said to the king, “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern, and he will die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.” 10 Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, “Take thirty men with you from here, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.” 11 So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to the house of the king, to a wardrobe in the storehouse, and took from there old rags and worn-out clothes, which he let down to Jeremiah in the cistern by ropes.12 Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Put the rags and clothes between your armpits and the ropes.” Jeremiah did so. 13 Then they drew Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. Jeremiah 38

Jeremiah was considered unpatriotic because in the midst of a battle against Judah he preached Judah’s destruction.  Jeremiah said to Judah you can not put your trust in the Temple and then commit immorality.  Jeremiah, among the written prophets (there were other prophets whose sermons were not written down by them, e. g. Nathan),  is unique in the sense that he lamented to the Lord of being maligned, mocked and derided (Jer 11:18-20; 12:1-6; 15:10-21, 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-13). Jeremiah is so noted for his cries  of “violence and destruction” that we have an English word, “jeremiad”:  “a prolonged lamentation or complaint; also :  a cautionary or angry harangue”.  In fact, Jeremiah has been called “the prophet of wrath” but as Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel wrote, Jeremiah lived in “an age of wrath“.

We too live in an age of wrath:  the slaughter of the generations in the womb, murder as play in video games, acceptance of sexual immorality, adoring the televised/internet image which all points to lawlessness, actually Lawlessness?

The LORD called Jeremiah to preach His Word and it was directed against the corruption of government and religion.  After the death of King Solomon, the LORD prophesied that Israel would be divided because of the sins of Rehoboam.  It was divided in 933BC.   It was in this time period the LORD called the prophets whose messages were written down becoming a major section in the Holy Bible.  In 722BC, the Assyrians captured the Northern Kingdom thus ending it.  The Southern Kingdom, Judah, centered in Jerusalem continued till the exile into Babylon in 587BC.  It seems that Judah thought they would not be destroyed because of God’s own promise to David that a royal Davidide would be on the throne forever in Jerusalem.  But Judah, as did the northern Kingdom, forgot God’s Word and specifically government and religion forgot the Word of the Lord and thought mechanically that just because they were Judeans, then the LORD would continually bless them…mechanically without faith and love. They went their own way. 

The Judeans thought their problems were political and especially in the threat of other countries.  This was not the root problem.  Their problem was God which Jeremiah abundantly made clear to them.  I would suspect that Americans think that our own country is forever.  It is not.  Again Abraham Heschel: “The problem is not the separation of church and state, but church and God.”  Christian church body after church body has sold out to the world, explicitly or implicitly.  The only jeremiads we hear are the ones we hurl at each other, we need to hear the LORD’s jeremiads toward us.  The LORD is against us and our sin, that is, His Law before He is for us, the Gospel. The true King is on the throne of David:  Jesus Christ.  He bore the Cross and it is His scepter.  He calls not to acceptance of sin but repentance.  He calls not to acceptance of the way things are, He calls to repentance to the way things will be and are in Him:

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. St. Matthew 4: 17

Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. St. Luke 15: 10

(He ) said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. St. Luke 24  

 Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Jeremiah, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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Intro: The Augsburg Confession, the principal doctrinal statement of…Martin Luther and the Lutheran reformers, was written largely by Phillip Melanchthon. At its heart it confesses the justification of sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone. Signed by leaders of many German cities and regions, the confession was formally presented to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Augsburg, Germany, on June 25, 1530. A few weeks later Roman Catholic authorities rejected the Confession, which Melanchthon defended in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531). In 1580 the Unaltered Augsburg Confession was included in the Book of Concord. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

This was the scene as described by a Reformation historian (The Book of Concord Historical Introduction) :

“The place where they assembled on Saturday, June 25, at 3 P.M., was not the courtroom, where the meetings of the Diet were ordinarily conducted, but, as the Imperial Herald, Caspar Sturm, reports, the ‘Pfalz,’ the large front room, i. e., the Chapter-room of the Bishop’s palace, where the Emperor lived. The two Saxon chancellors, Dr. Greg. Brueek and Dr. Chr. Beyer, the one with the Latin and the other with the German copy of the Confession, stepped into the middle of the hall, while as many of the Evangelically minded estates as had the courage publicly to espouse the Evangelical cause arose from their seats…The Emperor desired to hear the Latin text. But when Elector John had called attention to the fact that the meeting was held on German soil, and expressed the hope that the Emperor would permit the reading to proceed in German, it was granted. Hereupon Dr. Beyer read the Confession. The reading lasted about two hours; but he read with a voice so clear and plain that the multitude, which could not gain access to the hall, understood every word in the courtyard.” 

This painting by Lucas Cranach, a contemporary and friend Luther and his family, shows clearly our calling to preach Christ and Him crucified, pointing to the Lord,not to ourselves.

Reflection:  What was all the fuss about? 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, both God’s Law and man-made religious rules.  God’s Law show us our sin so He can show us our Savior. 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, they can not atone for Jesus Christ for all the world did atone: He is our Mediator (from “Salvation Unto Us has Come”, TLH, #377).   Christ alone has, by grace alone known by Scripture alone in the life of His Church.  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.  We celebrate October 31, 1517, when then monk Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg as the beginning of the Reformation, but it is actually today is the beginning of the Reformation when Melancthon and the blessed Reformers set forth the restoration of the true Doctrine of Justification in plain words in the Augsburg Confession.  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 and the Church Fathers who also taught  justification in Christ alone.  The Fathers at Augsburg were not really trying to “change” or update 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, literally, “according to the whole”, of the Bible. 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. 20th Century Confessional Lutheran Professor and Pastor Hermann Sasse correctly wrote about the conservative Reformation:

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 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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COLLECT OF THE DAY

Almighty God,through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation.Now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS

Isaiah 40:1-5

Psalm 85:(1-6) 7-13

Acts 13:13-26

Luke 1:57-80

Bio:  St. John the Baptizer, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, was born into a priestly family.  His birth was miraculously announced to his father by an angel of the Lord (Luke 1: 5-23), and on the occasion of his birth, his aged father proclaimed a hymn of praise (Luke 1:67-79). This hymn is entitled the Benedictus and serves as the traditional Gospel Canticle in the Church’s Service of Morning Prayer. Events of John’s life and his teaching are known from accounts in all four of the Gospels. In the wilderness of Judea, near the Jordan River, John began to preach a call to repentance and a baptismal washing, and he told the crowds, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John denounced the immoral life of the Herodian rulers, with the result that Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, had him arrested and imprisoned in the huge fortress of Machaerus near the Dead Sea. There Herod had him beheaded (Mark 6:17-29). John is remembered and honored as the one who with his preaching pointed to “the Lamb of God” and “prepared the way” for the coming of the Messiah. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Reflection:

This is the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald (circa 1515).  The Lord’s vocation to John is amply shown in the detail of John the Baptist:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” St. John 1: 29b

The long bony finger says it all:  it is John’s sermon visualized pointing us to Jesus Christ and in particular upon the Cross.  There is our salvation, not in my heart and mind but in Jesus Christ so that the Holy Spirit bears witness to us all of so great a salvation, we must not neglect the preaching (Hebrews 2:3).  The Baptizer’s sermon recorded in John 1: 29 is only one sentence!  Reading carefully the entire text,  John 1: 29-34, and not that the Evangelist reports no other people listening to John in this paragraph.  We are the hearers of the Word and  doers of the Word (Luke 8:21). In fact, the whole world (in Greek, “world” is cosmos), is under the Cross, objectively, existentially and really (John 3:16).  We are all sinners.  John the Baptizer points not to himself, not to man nor woman, not to His blessed Mother, not to our spiritualities but ever and only to Jesus Christ, and by faith in Him, we are His baptized saints, with John, Paul, Mary and the whole company of heaven.  The Lord’s finger pointing at us is His Law and judgment.  The finger pointing to Jesus Christ and Him crucified is His finger pointing us  ever to the  pure Gospel for our lives day by day.

Christ is our steadfastness in these times of immorality and unrest, even near  those who bear the name of brother (see 1 Corinthians 5:11) . John was steadfast in his preaching, especially regarding marriage.  Remember that John  was decapitated by Herod Antipas because John preached the immorality of the ruler’s marriage: See Mark 6:16-18.  The saints are encouragement to the Church to hold the course steady.  Pastor and Professor Johann Gerhard, in his commentary on  Matthew 11:7, well wrote:  

 “…John’s (the Baptist) steadfastness is held up as an example to be followed by all faithful teachers—indeed also by all true Christians. John was not a reed. He did not allow himself to be deterred from the pathway of truth and from his calling by the world’s cunning and temptation.  So also Christians are not to be fickle and erratic like a reed.  Rather, they are to be grounded like pillars and columns in the house of God.   1 Tim. 3: 15, Rev. 3: 12—Johann Gerhard

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word!

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