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Archive for November 30th, 2014

The Word of God which is the Word of Christ endures forever.  We could not quote one sentence from Pharoah Ramses, but we do know the Lord’s Word to him:  Let My people go, through His servant Moses None of could quote one sentence from Caesar Augustus of the 1st Century, but the One born under the reign of Augustus, the Church prays the prayer Jesus taught us:  Our Father who art in heaven.  This holy season of Advent is about the pivotal event in the history of our world and each person’s personal history:  The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us full of grace and truth (John 1).

We process words, words flow forth in texts, e-mails, on television and radio, a veritable deluge of words.  Mark Twain said that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and the lightening bug. His Word is lightening.  First lightening the night sky above the shepherds.  Then as the lightening of His coming again, “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”(St. Matthew 27)

Ten years ago on this day, a friend and dear mentor died, Pastor Lou Smith, at a retreat we were on in North Carolina. Concerning the Word of God, Pr. Smith wrote:  

“The interpretive task is not so much to understand the Word of the Bible as it is to stand under the Word of the Bible. It is, after all, not the Bible that is the puzzle that we need to solve. It is we who are the puzzle and the Bible that will solve us.”

The Lord’s Word solves us, saves us and is our salve for healing of heart, soul and mind.  His Word first tells us His commands, His Law and wakes us up to our sin. From the Collect of the Day, 1st Sunday in Advent:

…Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come,  that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance…”

 Our sin  is like a flood rising higher and higher about to drown us and it has.   On our own, we can maybe tread water for a while, under our own power, and think we are pretty darn good swimmers.  Once the Law of God shows us the peril, we  give out and realize  can not save ourselves…we are like Peter trying to walk on the water and we see the waves and we sink.  On our own, we are sunk. We are like the violent world at the time of Noah.  We are like humankind afraid of the wind and wave, the weather, without faith knowing the Lord is God of wind and wave.   The Lord interceded for obedient Noah and his family and the lesser creatures to save them.  The Lord interceded for us by sending His Son.  Jesus Christ was baptized into the flood of our sins to save us.  Baptized, we “walk wet” in His grace, mercy and peace, so we can live His life, dead to sin and alive in Him, to promote and serve life temporal and eternal in good works for our neighbors.  The color blue for Advent reminds me of water, the Law, the Lord’s just condemnation of sinners and the Gospel, our Baptism into Christ, dying and risingin Him. He is the only reason we so live and will live again at His coming again.Advent is Gospel.  The Gospel is  the great intercession of the Incarnation and His incarnation fulfilled upon the Cross.

Today is also the feast of St. Andrew, one of Jesus’ apostles. Tradition says Andrew was martyred by crucifixion on a cross in the form of an X. Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland. St. Andrew’s Day determines the beginning of the Western Church Year, since the First Sunday in Advent is always the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day.Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and his X-shaped cross is on the Union Jack of the United Kingdom.   All those pirate tales of  buried treasure feature a  map which has an “X”, as in,   “X marks the spot”.  Our map is both the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions to show us where “X marks the spot”:  first, a manger then later the Cross. This where and when our salvation occurred.  The Bible is the true compass to show us the Way (see   John 5:39).   This is where true treasure is buried and worth digging up and selling all to have and hold as we have been held, that is the kingdom of God in Christ:   Matthew 13:44-46.  Other religions purport to have maps leading us to the divine.  The Biblical faith alone shows us where, when, why and how the Lord came down to us and for us and our salvation because without Him we are dead and lost  (see   Luke 15 and Ephesians 2:1). When we make the sign of the cross, we are saying over our bodies, X marks the spot. 

Scripture is the Map.    We read in Romans:    

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15: 4)      

The Apostle Paul wrote to his brother and fellow pastor:    

 “…continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2  Timothy 3: 14-17)   

We recognize saints like Andrew because they were faithful guides for the Lord in His Church.  Lou Smith was such a faithful guide for me.  And in your life, you have known such faithful and loving guides:  mothers, father, grandparents, friends, co-workers, classmates, brothers, sisters. Those who were faithful to the Word Incarnate, written and spoken, “equipped for every good work”,  to show us the Way to the new heavens and the new earth through the valley of the shadow.

A sister in Christ asked me, Pastor, what do the 4 candles of the Advent mean?  There is nothing in the Bible about it as there is nothing about Advent wreathes. Nothing wrong about them and some good.  The fellow member questioning me dogmatically stated they stand for…I forgot the answer.  The interpretations usually go along this route:  they signify Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, or something like that.  On a blog, a Roman Catholic priest, looking at the superficial slappy-happy, sentimental time that Advent/Christmas has become, suggested that the candles should stand for Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven!  The last things.  When we look at the lessons, the priest is on target. The Lord will come again in glory and power and gather His elect, the chaff to burn the grain to gather.  The other Gospel lesson always for the 1st Sunday in Advent is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, in lowly pomp to die for you and for me.  

Isaiah said, the Lord is the potter and we are the clay.  IN the hand of God we are clay and He is the potter but so many times, we do not like what the Lord is making.  We do not like what He has made and our remaking.  We want a hand in our saving and we just can not.  He has done it all. Israel would not take hold of their Father and this is faithlessness and sin.  The result is judgment and the hope is His mercy.  The last things are first and this is our hope.  

On our repentance and salvation, Pr. Lou Smith said it well:

 “Godly repentance is not a sorrow or a terror or a vow to change, so that we can escape the divine death sentence. Godly  repentance is to accept the rightness of the death sentence and to submit to it; to submit to being put to death under the law. And without the real Gospel that is never done.

 The Law kills us.  The real Gospel makes us alive through the working of the Holy Spirit.  The One Who’s advent we celebrate, His first in Bethlehem and His last Advent in glory and power means we are in His hands. We must contemplate Death, Judgment, Hell and then, and only then is heaven, the Kingdom come utterly good in the hands of the Lord born of Mary, without sentimentality, but in truth:  The Lord loves you.  The Incarnation means His Crucifixion.  A Lutheran pastor on a blog observed we are so willing to put sweet baby Jesus on a display in a crèche but recoil at the thought of using a Crucifex. Why?  We think we are in control.  We’re not.  The point is the manger and the Cross are the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.  He is the first and the last.  He is the beginning of the end of the world as we know it, it’s fame, power and it’s glory which are versions of eternal life which are all eternal death. They have been judged and found wanting.  The Lord’s  last things make the first things last.  The last things of His coming make the first things of peace, joy, love and hope last and endure as He does. You are the potter, we the clay, the word of Thy hand, form us O Lord as these fragile earthen vessels to hold the wonders of Your forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

So keep this Advent as Advent, don’t succumb to the empty promises of the all-Christmas radio station, shop till you drop as preparation for Christmas and for His coming again. Hearing, praying, eating and drinking His Word, we  prepare for the coming, not of the one who comes down the chimney, but of the One who went up on the cross, the One who lived and died, so that as die, we live in the newness of life awaiting His coming.  The last things will be the first: the new heavens and the new earth.

 

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Scripture Readings:

Ezk. 3:16-21
Rom. 10:8-18
John 1:35-42

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, by Your grace the apostle Andrew obeyed the call of Your Son to be a disciple. Grant us also to follow the same Lord Jesus Christ in heart and life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

“If I feared the punishment of the cross, I would never have preached the mystery of the cross.”

About St. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was born in the Galilean village of Bethsaida. Originally a disciple of St. John the Baptist, Andrew then became the first of Jesus’ disciples (John 1:35-40). His name regularly appears in the Gospels near the top of the lists of the Twelve. It was he who first introduced his brother Simon to Jesus (John 1:41-42). He was, in a real sense, the first home missionary, as well as the first foreign missionary (John 12:20-22). Tradition says Andrew was martyred by crucifixion on a cross in the form of an X. In AD 357, his body is said to have been taken to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople and later removed to the cathedral of Amalfi in Italy. Centuries later, Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland. St. Andrew’s Day determines the beginning of the Western Church Year, since the First Sunday in Advent is always the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day.

Reflection:

 Reverent hearts, we hold the feast of the apostle Andrew in Christendom as the first in the [Church] Year not only because it falls near the season of Advent but also because Andrew was called first, before the other apostles, by the Lord Jesus. Even Durandus the bishop of Mende (13th century liturgist) , says, “The saints are be honored by imitation, not adored, as honor them as gods. They are to be honored with love, not adored with servitude.”

Now history tells us how St. Andrew. together with his fellows conducted their new office. Right away they left their nets and followed the Lord Jesus. And again, right away they left the ship and their father and followed Him. To them, Jesus is now the most precious one on earth—according to His mind they learn, according to His words they teach, according to His will they live, according to His decree they suffer and die. When St. Andrew was threatened with the cross, he said joyfully, “If I feared the punishment of the cross, I would never have preached the mystery of the cross.” Then when he saw the cross, he spoke, “Hail, precious cross, you who were dedicated by the body of Christ; may He receive me through you, who redeemed me through you.” And when he was living after three days on the cross, his hearers wanted to take him down by force, but he said, “Ah, let God take care of it! Do not make the peace of the Gospel suspect by your unnecessary revolt  against the government.” That was apostolic constancy and long-suffering! This is what it means to “leave everything and follow Christ,” all the way to the last catch of fish.”

Valerius Herberger  (21 April 1562-18 May 1627,a German Lutheran preacher and theologian

 (The above from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by CPH)

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Introduction:  On this date in 2004, at a joint chapter retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity in Hickory, North Carolina,  a dear mentor and friend, Pastor Louis A. Smith died.   He was born in New Jersey and married to Helen.  They have four daughters.  Lou could preach in German, sight translate Greek and Hebrew and knew other languages. He was a campus minister, parish pastor, writer and spent three years teaching the Confessions in Namibia.  He loved British football.  He was also the funniest person I ever knew.  He knew the Lutheran Confessions as he knew the stats for his beloved N. Y. Yankees…even better! He was faithful pastor and theologian of the Church. He is a major reason why I stayed in the Lutheran Church. The following quotes are either from Pr. Smith’s sermons and articles or from my memory of many conversations with him.  Talking with Lou epitomized Luther’s saying that the conversation and the consolation of the brethren is almost a sacrament.

  • Note:  the NT Greek, episcopos, means “oversight” and which is translated “bishop” or “overseer”.  We were talking about bishops in the ELCA and Pastor Smith said:  “Episcopos” means oversight, not overlook.”
  • “Most bad theology begins with bad taste.”
  • Towards the end of her life, Pastor Smith’s mother lived with Lou and his wife Helen.  Mom was quite a handful for Pastor and Mrs. Smith because of her rather cantankerous personality.  Lou and I were talking about that and Lou said, “You know, it is really hard to keep the 4th Commandment”.
  • Me: “I’ve always had troubles with the “unity” or “Cana” candle ceremony in a wedding service and I can’t put my finger on why.”Lou:  “Note:  you don’t need two candles to light one candle, so yeah, something is going on here.  The physical element of the sacrament of marriage is the two become one flesh.  Since most couples have already done that and so the ‘unity candle’ has been introduced  and has  become  an ersatz ‘sacrament’”.
  • “I’ve told Church Councils at meetings about my salary, that when it comes to preaching, baptizing and presiding, I do this for nothing.  Church council meetings:  This is what I get paid for.”
  • Me:  “I usually am flummoxed when asked, When did the Lord call you into the Ministry?” Lou:  “When you were ordained, Mark.”
  • Me:  It is said that Lutheran Church is a “confessing movement” in the church catholic.  Lou:  “I was not baptized into a movement but the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”
  • “The interpretive task is not so much to understand the Word of the Bible as it is to stand under the Word of the Bible. It is, after all, not the Bible that is the puzzle that we need to solve. It is we who are the puzzle and the Bible that will solve us.” (from an address in my possession)
  • “…the Bible is clear…the Biblical writers say what they mean and mean what they say. This, of course, does not mean that we immediately grasp what they say and mean. But the fault for that does not lie with the Biblical text. It lies with us; and that for any number of reasons. We might not yet have learned the grammar. We might not yet have learned the vocabulary or the particular idiom of an author. Luther’s struggle with the “righteousness” of God might be an example. He had imported a foreign notion of righteousness into the Biblical text and so misunderstood the text; to his own great pain. And it took a goodly amount of reading before the Bible could straighten him out. But in the end, the Bible’s clarity won the day”(from an address in my possession)
  • “…both hunger and thirst make us aware of our mortality. Guess what? THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO! That is their theological meaning. Hunger and thirst are sacraments of our mortality. They are the felt reminders of the fact that we do not have life within us.” (from a  Lenten sermon)
  • “Proper (Godly)  repentance is not a sorrow or a terror or a vow to change, so that we can escape the divine death sentence. Proper (Godly)  repentance is to accept the rightness of the death sentence and to submit to it; to submit to being put to death under the law. And without the real Gospel that is never done.”
  • “…I finally discovered the difference between a eulogy and a sermon.  Forgive me if I tell you what you already know. The difference is this:  In a eulogy, one person who purports to know another, stands up and says some nice things that are not necessarily true about a dead human being.  In a sermon, a person authorized by the Gospel of Jesus Christ says some true things that are not necessarily nice about a living God.”(from  a Lenten sermon)
  • “God does not justify ungodliness but the ungodly.”

When we seek relief
From a long-felt grief;
When temptations come alluring,
Make us patient and enduring;
Show us that bright shore
Where we weep no more.

(“Jesus, Lead Thou On, Lutheran Service Book #718, stanza 3)

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