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Archive for May, 2015

The Acts of the Apostles 1:  …they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers,(emphasis my own)

In the Roman Catholic Church, a “novena” is any designated 9 day period of prayers for “special intentions”. “Novena” is a Latin cognate of the number 9 from the number of the days of prayers  from the Ascension Day to Pentecost:  nine days.  The Apostles, the women, Jesus’ brothers and the Mother of Jesus “…with one accord devoting themselves to prayer”.  “Novena” describes this special period prayer before the 3rd great Feast Day of the Church, Pentecost, the first two being Christmas and Easter.  Christmas centers on God the Father sending His only-begotten Son to be born of Mary and fathered by Joseph.  Easter centers on God the Son.  Pentecost on the Holy Spirit poured out onto the Church in her mission to follow the Savior’s outstretched arm as His witnesses, “…  in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1: 8b)  In, with and under the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit the Church lives and points to Christ.

We are within the novena before Pentecost.  The world needs, “…light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).   We need to pray for Christ’s Bride the Church.  The Lord sent out the Apostles into the world. He full well knew what they would be against.  He sent them out into the world but not to be of the world nor “out of this world”, so that the world hear the saving Word. He sends the Church to pray, so let us say…

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds;  through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.

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The following homily was delivered by Fr. Neuhaus at the annual Memorial Mass of the Military Vicariate at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on the Feast of the Ascension, 2007.  I came across this sermon at First Things and it can be found here. I have taken the liberty of dividing the sermon into paragraphs. Fr. Neuhaus was a Lutheran Pastor before he joined the  Roman Catholic Church. This sermon is for military chaplains, and yet for all pastors and congregations.  Fr. Neuhaus was well read and you will find a wealth of quotes in it.  Ad Maiorum Dei Gloriam.  A blessed Ascension Day to all! 


The Scripture texts just read are for this day, the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. And they could hardly be more fitting also for this Memorial Mass of the Archdiocese for Military Services. The Ascension of God incarnate, the crucified and risen Lord, bears witness to the sovereignty that you serve as ministers of Christ, who minister Christ to those who serve in the military.

In the first lesson, Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Today, remembering the chaplains of the past, praying for the chaplains of the present, and anticipating the chaplains of the future, we gratefully acknowledge a ministry that has extended and today extends, just as Jesus said, “to the ends of the earth.” That ministry bears witness to the sovereignty of Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords.

As in the time of the apostles so also now, that sovereignty is disputed. His will be a disputed sovereignty until he returns in glory and, in the words of St. Paul, “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” We are servants of a disputed sovereignty. In the responsorial psalm we declared, “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy.” Christ has ascended his throne, but his rule is challenged by rival thrones. For us who believe, St. Paul says in today’s second lesson, it is the fact that Christ rules “far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion.” But the principalities and powers of the present age still rage against his rule. We are the servants of a disputed sovereignty.

In today’s gospel reading from Luke chapter 24, we hear the words of Jesus, “You are the witnesses of these things . . . . Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” The apostles stayed in the city and then, clothed with pentecostal power from on high, went out to the ends of the earth. And they continue to go, until the end of time. Christ goes with us, St. Paul says, in the form of the Church, “which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”

In the face of the principalities and powers, we bear witness to his disputed sovereignty. In the loneliness of military camps, in the terror of battle, in the emptiness of loss, you who are chaplains bear witness to the presence, the sacramentally Real Presence, of “the one who fills all things in every way.” As the sovereignty of Christ is disputed, so also is the ministry of the military chaplain disputed. How, it is asked, can those who serve the Prince of Peace also serve in the wars of the principalities and powers of the present age? It is an old question, but a question that continues to be asked, and understandably so. It is a question that addresses, as St. Augustine would put it, the right ordering of our loves and loyalties. The second century “Letter to Diognetus,” which is explaining the Christians to a pagan reader, says, “For the Christians, every foreign country is a homeland, and every homeland is a foreign country.” In the right ordering of our loves and loyalties, we are patriots of this foreign country called America, which is also our homeland; but we are patriots bound by a higher patriotism to the country that is our true home¯the country, the Kingdom, where the sovereignty of the ascended Lord is no longer disputed. Like St. Thomas More, we are “the king’s good servants, but God’s first.” And we are the king’s better servants because we are God’s first.

Jesus says, “And you will be my witnesses.” As chaplains, you are the witnesses of Christ and his Church to a new order of undivided love and allegiance. That kingdom is now present by faith’s anticipation of what is to be. There are many important things a chaplain does: he teaches, he counsels, he encourages, he consoles. But, above all, the chaplain is a witness to the sovereignty of Christ and his kingdom. He is a witness to what is to be; he is a witness to what, for those who believe, already is. Through him, Christ makes sacramentally present a new heaven and a new earth. A new heaven and a new earth where the conflicts of the principalities and powers are no more. A new heaven and a new earth that is now, by the gift of faith, peace in the midst of battl …Pope Benedict declared: “The Church is missionary by nature and her principal task is evangelization, which aims to proclaim and witness to Christ, and to promote his gospel of peace and love in every environment and every culture.” In situations of mortal conflict, in a world too often marked by the absence of peace and love, your task is to bear witness to a promised new world order. In doing so, you are the nation’s good servants, but God’s first. You are witnesses to the sovereignty of Christ, a sovereignty now disputed but one day to be acknowledged by all.

Whatever your military rank or distinction, your defining commission was received on the day of your ordination as a priest of Christ and his Church. On that day, you were, in the words of today’s gospel, “clothed with power from on high.” Our only power is the power of witness. We should want no other, we need no other. The Church is the people ahead of time¯the community that bears witness now to what one day will be recognized by all when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

The principalities and powers still strut across the stage of history, trailing behind them the bloody carnage of their vain ambitions. So it has been through the centuries, and so it will be until Our Lord returns in glory. We read in the first lesson: “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” Between now and that happy day, we have no utopian delusions about the principalities and powers of the present time. The dream of a permanent peace, of a world without conflict, awaits the day when the sovereignty of love incarnate is no longer disputed. Until that day, the history of the world is marked by what St. Augustine calls libido dominandi:  the lust for glory and power. We describe wars as just and wars as unjust, and it is necessary that we make such distinctions for clarity of mind and security of conscience. But, short of the coming Kingdom, all is provisional and approximate; all is riddled through with ambiguity, contradiction, and tragedy. That is how things are, and that is how things will be along the way of history’s long journey toward the perfect justice of Christ’s undisputed sovereignty. Meanwhile, we bear witness to what is to be, and, for those who believe, already is. The Church¯her ministers and her members¯is the people ahead of time. Again, St. Augustine: “Peace must be your aim; war should be a matter of necessity . . . . One does not pursue peace in order to wage war; one wages war to achieve peace.” And then he adds, “If peace is such a desirable dimension of our temporal happiness, how much sweeter is the divine peace that belongs to the eternal happiness of the angels.” We are not angels. But neither are we beasts, forever consigned to the confusions and conflicts of libido dominandi . We are the people ahead of time.

To you, the chaplains of the armed forces¯past, present, and future¯is owed an immeasurable debt of gratitude. You are the nation’s good servants but God’s first; and you are the nation’s better servants because you are God’s first. In the midst of the clashes of the principalities and powers of the present age, you have been “clothed with power from on high” to bear witness to the One who was and is and is to be. To those in battle, to those preparing for battle, to those bearing the wounds of battle, and to those who love them, you bear witness. Your only power, our only power, is the power of witness. We should want no other. We need no other. “Amen, come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.

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God has given us Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, and absolution to bring Christ very close to us, so that we can have Him not only in our heart but also on our tongue, so that we can feel Him, grasp Him, and touch Him. God did all this for the sake of those shameful spirits who seek God according to their own pleasure, with their reason and their own ideas and dreams. To make it posibble for us to recognize Him, God presents Himself to us perceptively and clearly in signs. But we do not accept these; nor are we concerned about the divine Word, although Christ the Lord Himself says:

  • “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works” (John 14:10);
  • again: “He who hears you hears Me” (Luke 10:16);
  • and again: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation; he who believes the Word of God and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:15-16).

But we utterly disregard such words of the Gospel as well as absolution. Thus we perceive God not only with our hearts but also with our eyes and our hands, for He gives us a tangible and visible sign of Himself. At all times God has so governed His people that He could also be recognized visibly by them, lest they say: “If it were possible to find God, we would roam to the ends of the earth in search of Him.” If you had ears to hear, it would be needless to wander far in search of God. For He wants to come to you, plant Himself before your very eyes, press Himself into your hands, and say: “Just listen to Me and take hold of Me, give Me eye and ear; there youhave Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar. Open your mouth, let Me place My hand on your head. I give you this water which I sprinkle over your head.”

Increase my faith, dear Savior,

For Satan seeks by night and day

To rob me of this treasure

And take my hope of bliss away.

But, Lord, with You beside me,

I shall be undismayed;

And led by Your good Spirit, I shall be unafraid.

Abide with me, 0 Savior, A firmer faith bestow;

Then I shall bid defiance To ev’ry evil foe.

-I Know My Faith Is Founded, Lutheran Service Book, #587, stanza 2

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Concordia and Koinonia

From The Book of Concord:  The Lutheran Confessions, The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article VII, 27-30:

“… since He has ascended, not merely as any other saint, to heaven, but, as the apostle testifies [ Eph. 4:10 ], above all heavens, and also truly fills all things, and being everywhere present, not only as God, but also as man [has dominion and] rules from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth; as the prophets predict, Ps. 8:1,693:1f ; Zech. 9:10, and the apostles testify, Mark 16:20, that He everywhere wrought with them and confirmed their word with signs following. 28] Yet this occurred not in an earthly way, but, as Dr. Luther explains, according to the manner of the right hand of God, which is no fixed place in heaven, as the Sacramentarians assert without any ground…

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“Repentence does not originate in the sacrifice of the Mass;  rather, the first part of repentance (namely, genuine contrition) originates in the preaching of the Law, through which, as with a hammer, the heart is shattered. The other element of repentance, namely true faith in Christ, originates in the preaching of the Gospel, through which the broken and shattered heart once again is lifted up [comforted] in true confession and contrition over sin; then also, out of true faith arises the serious intention to better one’s life.”

(From A Comprehensive Explanation of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, published in 1610, Chapter 26, “Whether the Holy Supper is a Kind of Sacrifice through which Spiritual and Physical Merits, indeed, even Deliverance from Affliction, might be Acquired”, Repristination Press, Malone, Texas)

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Cyril (826-69) and Methodius (c. 815-85) were brothers who came from a Greek family in Thessalonica. The younger brother took the name “Cyril” when he became a monk in 868. After ordination, Cyril became librarian at the church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople. In 862 the brothers were sent by the emperor as missionaries to what is now the Czech republic, where they taught in the native Slavic tongue. Cyril invented the alphabet today know today as “Cyrillic,” which provided a written language for the liturgy and Scriptures for the Slavic peoples. This use of the vernacular established an important principle for evangelical missions.

In an article in the May/June 2013 edition of Touchstone, “The Thessalonian Brothers:  The Legacy of the Mission of Cyril and Methodius 1,150 Years Later”, on the way to Rome in 867, the brothers stopped in Venice,

“…to debate Western clerics who insisted on the tradition of using only Hebrew, Greek, and Latin for worship, which the Slavonic sources deride as the “trilingual heresy” or “Pilatian heresy” (after Pilate’s use of those three languages for the sign on Christ’s cross (John 19:20) ).  (Cyril) is said to have responded with St. Paul’s words:  “that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord” (Phil. 2: 11)  

Further, it is written in Revelation 14: 6,

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. 

There are 5 other references in Revelation to “languages” or “tongues”.  Cyril and Methodius translated the Bible for the Slavic people to read it.  Constantine (“Cyril”) was quited talented.  He became a libarian, then a professor of philosophy, then a monk and  eventually a missionary.  Methodius was a ruler of a Slavic province, then a contemplative monk and then with his brother Cyril a missionary.  The two missionary brothers were sent to Moravia where they began to translate invented the alphabet that bears Cyril’s name to this day:  Cyrillic and in the map below you can see how extenstive their alphabet was used.

Many worry that when the Bible is translated something is “lost in translation”, but that is not necessarily trueas we see in history the “eternal Gosple” proclaimed to “those who dwell on earth”.  The “eternal Gospel” has been translated into most of the languages on all the continents of earth.  The Word of God is translated so  we are “translated”, changed by the Gospel of grace for sinners through Jesus Christ our Lord.  We thank the Lord for ministry of Cyril and Methodius and for all missionaries and Bible translators.

The countries that use the Cyrillic alphabet officially and those who use it as a secondary language.

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Bio:  Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811-87), the father of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, served as its first president from 1847 to 1850 and then again from 1864 to 1878. In 1839 he emigrated from Saxony, Germany, with other Lutherans, who settled in Missouri. He served as pastor of several congregations in St. Louis, founded Concordia Seminary, and in 1847 was instrumental in the formation of the LCMS (then called the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States). Walther worked tirelessly to promote confessional Lutheran teaching and doctrinal agreement among all Lutherans in the United States. He was a prolific writer and speaker. Among his most influential works are Church and Ministry and The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel.

Reflection:  Walther’s most influential book is The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel , the series of 39 evening lectures of his 25 Theses regarding this crucial Biblical understanding to his  seminarians between Friday, September 12, 1884 and Friday, November 6, 1885 and it was published posthumously .   The lectures were based upon great Reformation insight confessed in The Apology of the Augsburg Confession:

“All Scriptures should be divided into these two chief doctrines, 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.  Moreover, in this discussion, by Law we designate the Ten Commandments, wherever they are read in the Scriptures.  ” (Article IV. Justification)

Law and Promise (Gospel) do two different things:  the Law shows us our sin and the Gospel points us to our Savior.  If we mix up Law and Promise we have what goes for much of Christian religion summed up by the ditty, “Do your best, and God will do the rest”.  This does not square with the Lord’s just judgment that since sin is death, then it would be like telling Lazarus: do your best, you’re so lazy being dead, and I’ll do the rest! No!  Jesus Christ called him out of the tomb by His Word…and you and I! He calls us by His Word and Holy Baptism from the tomb of our sins and on the Day, out of our tombs, as He is risen. Luther called distinguishing Law and Promise a great, difficult and high art.  Walther contributed to this art mightily. The kind of “Reader’s Digest” paraphrase of Proper Distinction is entitled:  God’s No and God’s Yes.  No and Yes can not be confused:  ask a parent, a teacher, a pastor, an elected official. God’s No is His Law, His Yes is Jesus Christ  and the joyous repentance turns to our Savior…day by day. His lectures have been called “uncreative”.  I thank God for Walther’s uncreativity.  He was no hero but he was faithful to the Scripture and their true exposition in The Book of Concord which was immensely unpopular in 19th Century Protestant America.  

I think the quote below is a masterpiece of the proper distinction as Pastor Walther applied the balm of the Gospel for the sorrowful:

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

The Christian must spend many days of his life fighting this battle. Often, there are long periods when he feels almost nothing other than his unbelief and sinfulness; and this is so painful to him that his heart is almost always full of sighing. The remembrance of his past, the present condition of his heart and life, and his bleak thoughts of the future fill him with sorrow.

Whoever does not experience this on a daily basis can see evidence that his faith is only an empty, powerless delusion. As sad as this is for lukewarm Christians who do not engage in the battle, those who confess that they are almost never entirely free from the trial, care, and sorrow of the heart are in a happy condition. For if they squarely recognize their incurable corruption and regard any good they think, speak, or do as being entirely from God, it is well with them. Without misery about sin and sorrow of their heart, they would never remain in Christ. Instead, they would soon become secure, proud, and self-righteous. The sorrow with which they are continually visited is the means God employs to keep them with Christ.

Oh, blessed is he who is kept with Christ. By this he remains on the certain path to eternal joy. As Christ says: “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of Me.” Let us, then, gladly follow the way of godly sorrow on which the Lord leads us. His goal for us is peace in both time and eternity. While we reside on earth, our weak heart and the distress of our soul sometimes prompt us to ask,”O Lord, why?” But on that day when we behold God and the harvest of joy is gathered from our sowing of tears, we will ask nothing more.  Then we will have nothing bu praise for the One who has guidedus throughsorrow to eternal glory, through trouble and toil to eternal rest.”  (God Grant It: Daily Devotions  by Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther)

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Frederick III, the Wise (1463-1525)

Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony from 1486 to 1525, was Martin Luther’s sovereign in the early years of the Reformation. Were it not for Frederick, there might not have been a Lutheran Reformation. Born in Torgau in 1463, he became so well known for his skill in political diplomacy and his sense of justice and fairness that he was called “the Wise” by his subjects. Though he never met Luther, Frederick repeatedly protected and provided for him. In all likelihood he saved the reformer from a martyr’s fate. Frederick refused the pope’s demand to extradite Luther to Rome for a heresy trial in 1518. When Emperor Charles V declared Luther an outlaw in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, Frederick provided sanctuary for Luther at the Wartburg castle. On his deathbed, Frederick received the Lord’s Supper in both kinds–a clear confession of the evangelical faith. (LCMS Commemoration Biographies)

Reflection:

After the dramatic confrontation at the Diet of  Wurms, Luther, a declared heretic and under the Imperial Ban, could have been killed on sight, so,

Frederick the Wise had decided to hide him, and gave instructions to court officials to make the arrangements without divulging the details, even to himself, that he might truthfully feign innocence. Spalatin, however, might know. Luther and one companion were apprised of the plan. Luther was not very happy over it. He had set his face to return to Wittenberg, come what might. With a few companions in a wagon he was entering the woods on the out skirts of the village of Eisenach when armed horsemen fell upon the party and with much cursing and show of violence dragged Luther to the ground. The one companion, privy to the ruse, played his part and roundly berated the abductors. They placed Luther upon a horse and led him for a whole day by circuitous roads through the woods until at dusk, loomed up against the sky, the massive contours of Wartburg Castle. At eleven o’clock in the night the party reined up before the gates.” (From Here I Stand by Roland Bainton)

Luther was so imprisoned for nine months and he called this castle, “My Patmos” but while there he began another momentous event in the history of the Reformation and indeed, the whole Church:  he began translating the Bible into German.

Frederick the Wise may have been Luther’s model of the God-given vocation of the Christian prince, or as we would understand it:  the vocation (calling) by God of those who serve in government.  Frederick the Wise protected his subjects and notably, Fr. Martin Luther.  Prince Frederick eventually stopped meddling in spiritual matters.  His collection of relics was immense but eventually he abolished it (1).  Luther and the blessed Reformers saw the inherent tyranny when there is a confusion of the two vocations, spiritual and temporal, the kingdom of God and the kingdoms, or nations, of this world.  They saw a clear distinction between the two in their respective vocations.  From The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXVIII: 

There has been great controversy concerning the Power of Bishops, in which some have awkwardly confounded the power of the Church 2] and the power of the sword. And from this confusion very great wars and tumults have resulted, while the Pontiffs, emboldened by the power of the Keys, not only have instituted new services and burdened consciences with reservation of cases and ruthless excommunications, but have also undertaken to transfer the kingdoms of this world, 3] and to take the Empire from the Emperor. These wrongs have long since been rebuked in the Church 4] by learned and godly men. Therefore our teachers, for the comforting of men’s consciences, were constrained to show the difference between the power of the Church and the power of the sword, and taught that both of them, because of God’s commandment, are to be held in reverence and honor, as the chief blessings of God on earth.

Look what happens when the Church wants to wield the sword!  Look what happens when government meddles in the life of the Church!  Luther saw in Frederick the right vocation of the government:  to preserve and protect life in this world. This falls under the rubric of the 1st Article of The Apostles Creed and the second table of the 10 Commandments.  The two vocations/kingdoms are united by two realities:  the Lord is God of both and Christians are citizens of both.  I think that the  basis of our first amendments rights in regards to religion is a distillation of this keen insight from the Scriptures, in the Lutheran Confessions:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Frederick the Wise, if you will, protected Luther’s free exercise of religion.  Frederick also protected Luther’s printing of his many pamphlets and books.  Again the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the next phrase after the religion clause, “or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”.  

Now Frederick was thoroughly a man of his times, as we are of ours.  He was no Jeffersonian enlightenment man.  Yet, I think he was a precursor of the proper role of government: to protect freedom of religion (yes, even freedom from religion) and free speech.  In our day and time, this is again under acute attack by those who would deny both freedom of religion and speech by the forces of political correctness denying the Christians’ right to speak for the marriage between a man and a woman because of the howling of the gay activist movement.  Government, according to the Constitution, has the vocation, as did Frederick, to protect those rights.  Even the right of someone to make fun of both Christianity and Islam, but also to stop those who are offended to the point of killing those who so satirize.  Frederick the Wise protected his subject, Luther.  And for Frederick’s fulfilling of his vocation as a Christian prince, we give thanks to the Lord. I pray we can give thanks to the Lord for our elected government officials fulfilling their high calling.

(1)  “The collection included one tooth of St. Jerome, of St. Chrysostom four pieces, of St. Bernard six, and of St. Augustine four; of Our Lady four hairs, three pieces of her cloak, four from her girdle, and seven from the veil sprinkled with the blood of Christ. The relics of Christ included one piece from his swaddling clothes, thirteen from his crib, one wisp of straw, one piece of the gold brought by the Wise Men and three of the myrrh, one strand of Jesus’ beard, one of the nails driven into his hands, one piece of bread eaten at the Last Supper, one piece of the stone on which Jesus stood to ascend into heaven, and one twig of Moses’ burning bush. By 1520 the collection had mounted to 19,013 holy bones. Those who viewed these relics on the designated day and made the stipulated contributions might receive from the pope indulgences for the reduction of purgatory, either for themselves or others, to the extent of 1,902,202 years and 270 days. These were the treasures made available on the day of All Saints.” Frederick never became a Lutheran by public confesssion but maybe by faith: in 1523 Frederick the Wise abolished his relic collection.    (Quote: From Here I Stand by Roland Bainton)

 

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I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 

St. John 15: 5

A church had this sermon theme on its outside sign:  “A Fruitful Life Requires Jesus”. Love, the fruit and so proceed to the vine, the root, the source. No, it is the opposite in the Bible “Jesus requires the fruitful life.” From the vine comes the branches and the fruit.  From Christ comes the Christian. This is plain from the Gospel lesson for today. He uses the word abide some 8 times so that we have the fruitful life in Him.  It’s not, so you want to be a branch, find the vine. The inherent nature and purpose of  the Lord’s creation is to make fruit.  The gardener plants seed for one purpose:  produce, fruits and vegetable, as the Lord requires fruitfulness.  It is His doing and our tending, abiding in Him to plant, water and wait.   Notice the main difference in the two statements:  “A fruitful life requires Jesus”, the subject of “a fruitful life” is you and I, not the Lord.  We’re in charge.  “Do you really want the fruitful life?” “Here are the 5 steps to the fruitful life”, or others might preach that the fruitful life is a certain attainment of material prosperity, the “prosperity Gospel”, your best life now, etc. And so you need to accept Jesus to have the fruitful life,  then Jesus is our branch. Jesus does not grow out of us.  We grow out of Him! If we don’t, we will be unfruitful and cut off. 

Like I said, it’s just the opposite. We are the branches.   “The Lord Jesus requires the fruitful life”,   who is the subject?  Yes, the Lord.  “I am the Vine”, not you or I:  we are the branches, the Lord is Vine, and so the life of the grapevine.  His will, His word is that we are clean in His forgiveness.  His will, His word is that we know His peace.   His will, His word in a world bent in upon itself, fills  us with His love to so love others as He first loved us. His will, His word is  we are found in Him and to so find others as a Shepherd searching today for  His lost sheep.  His will, His Word is fruitfulness unto eternal life as we abide in Him, if we do not then we are cast aside.   His will is His Word in His words which are  His life for you, not your best life, but His life for you, knowing His love, His grace, mercy and peace. 

How do we know this? Answer: I heard it through the grapevine!  Jesus is faithful in all the words of the Bible.  Every word from the mouth of God is bread.  I heard it through the grape Vine:  This is my body, This is my blood.  

The saying,  “I heard it through the grapevine.” actually refers to gossip.  When someone passes on gossip it’s usually to help, I just thought you should know what they’re saying about you.  Or you should know about Sally so we can help Sally.  The false prophets and spirits are gossips about God in all their fine theories about the Lord who loves us.  They will say Jesus is not from God and He came in our flesh.  Test the spirits.  Hear them but do not listen to them that is obey them. The false spirits lead us from our Lord who so loves us. All those who deny Jesus came in the flesh are spreading gossip and rumors under the pretense to help  you.  The false spirits primarily say Jesus is not the incarnate God, come in the flesh. Gossips distort the truth.  They do not state it correctly.  Heretics are gossips. They speak as if they know but they do not, they trim the message to their own flesh and to acceptance in the world.  Jesus was a good teacher, a social revolutionary, a way to God and the like.  When the grapevine is the Lord Jesus we can hear and know that the Lord is good, His mercy endures forever.   His Word of forgiveness and grace cleanses us.  Abide in His Words He taught, His Words are true as is the entirety of the Word of God.

How does the Lord nourish our life as we abide in Him?  Answer: I hear it through the grapevine.   If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  Abide in Him and His words abiding in us and so it is logical to hear Him is to pray to Him and for Him and it is done.  This is child-like faith. We are heard as we hear Him,  the grapevine.  

“…everything has been heard, even though one does not know what has been heard. Even when Christ asked for His life, He was heard.  But the flesh does not recognize how the hearing takes place. Therefore every prayer is heard, and whatever we ask for happens, even though we do not recognize in what ways it happens… God sometimes hurls us into greater evils in order that He may put an end to the evils. And thus He has heard our prayer.” (Luther)

The Father will prune us.  He will cut off the suckers that take away from fructification.  The wild shoots.  Sin is a  sucker.  Sin sucks. It takes life away and deters the true Vine.  His pruning is confession and absolution. 

How are we made clean by His Word?  Answer:  Baptism and Faith. We heard today another witness in the Bible of a man made clean by Jesus:  the Baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch.  He heard the Word and the Word was poured over him in the waters of rebirth in Jesus Christ the true vine.  He heard it through the grapevine and Philip was no gossip, but he taught the Good News of Jesus who suffered and died and rose, as Isaiah prophesied 5 centuries before the Incarnation. And according to a reliable tradition, the Ethiopian eunuch did bear much fruit, even though there could never be fruit from his body.  He went home and may have told of the Gospel of Jesus as Philip told him. From early on,  Ethiopia became a Christian nation and today Ethiopia has one of the largest Lutheran church bodies on earth, a  whole lot bigger than all the Lutherans in the United States. I dare say, if we could ask the Ethiopian eunuch so how did you bear much fruit, tell us your secrets for the fruitful life?  His answer:  it was not me.  It was the Lord Jesus.  “This fruit is not mine; it is the Vine’s” (Luther, page 226 LW vol. 24).  He spread the truth, not gossip He was in charge of all the treasure of the Queen of Ethiopia and on that day, in the arranged meeting with Philip, the eunuch heard of the treasure beyond measure:  the unsearchable riches of Christ. 

How do we know this? Answer: I heard it through the grapevine!  Jesus is faithful in all the words of the Bible.   How does the Lord nourish our life as we abide in Him?  Answer: I hear it through the grapevine. He came in the flesh.

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 

The Lord uses the word abide as an imperative, a command.  We are to keep His commandments, wrote the evangelist John.  And he wrote, “And His commandments are not burdensome”.  His commandments relieve our burdens. As His command,Come to all who are burden and heavy lade and I will give you rest…”  As His command, Take eat, take drink, this is My Body, this is My blood.  Forgive one another as I have forgiven you. Forgive your brother even 70 times 7 as I have forgiven you a humanly speaking unforgivable debt.  Love one another as I have first loved you.  Go ye therefore and teach all a nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I hear it through the Vine we are to love as He first loved us.  The devil hates the Holy Spirit’s fruit, especially the first one: love. We do not love to be saved but we have been so loved so we are saved to love. “We derive the greatest joy from the fact that we have people to love, either a wife or children, and we thank God, who gives us people to love.”-Martin Luther, commentary on 1 John 4: 11 And in all His freeing commands, it is the true Vine, Our Lord Jesus, we can do nothing without Him. 

I hear it through the grapevine. Look again at the picture of  the icon for this sermon. The icon with the depiction of the branch coming from the Lord’s side reminded me of the creation of Eve. It also shows Jesus squeezing grapes into a Chalice to be for His blood. Remember the Lord took a rib from Adam’s side to make a helpmate suitable for him, his wife to whom he would be married.  The Church is the bride of Christ.  We come from the Lord’s side by His grace and favor, His love just as when the Roman soldier pierced the Savior’s side, blood and water flowed out, so we are nourished in the Word of God, Baptism and Holy Communion.

 

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Concordia and Koinonia

Biography:

Friedrich Wyneken is one of the founding fathers of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, along with C. F. W. Walther and Wilhelm Sihler. Born in 1810 in Germany, Wyneken came to Baltimore, Maryland, in 1838 and shortly thereafter accepted a call to be the pastor of congregations in Friedheim and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Supported by Wilhelm Loehe’s mission society, Wyneken served as an itinerant missionary in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, particularly among Native Americans. Together with Loehe and Sihler, he founded Concordia Theological Seminary in 1846 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Wyneken later served as the second president of the LCMS during a period of significant growth (1850-64). His leadership strongly influenced the confessional character of the LCMS and its commitment to an authentic Lutheran witness. (bio and quote below from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Is His love like a burden or has His yoke become too heavy?  Do…

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