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Archive for October, 2016

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Text:  St. Matthew 11: 12-19

Location, Location, Location is a much quoted motto of real estate agencies.  The location of a house and home, business and work is key as the right place can make all the difference for our living and working.  This could be the motto of the blessed reformers asked that question.  Location, Location, Location is key.   Where is salvation located?  They realized the Church was looking for God in all the wrong places.

 Finding the right place is like all those stories of pirates finding buried treasure with the treasure map.  Where is the treasure found according to those maps?  X marks the spot.  Where the X is, that is the cross, the cross marks the spot.  There is the beginning of all the unsearchable riches of the Gospel, of God’s Word, of salvation.  The people with the treasure map will go and do everything to find the treasure, sell all they have to obtain it. 

 And the treasure in those stories is always in the most unexpected of locations.  Jesus points this out about what people were saying and thinking:  the treasure can’t be found in John!  The fullness of God’s treasure can’t be found in Jesus!  As Jesus taught in today’s Gospel:  You didn’t do what you wanted us to do.  You didn’t dance to our tune. John and Jesus did not dance and sing the world’s tune, which is the siren of eternal death.  This is the way the evil world wants Christians to dance and sing.  The devil’s siren song, beautiful at first, is to lull us away from Jesus.  We thank the Lord that John did not so dance and sing and Jesus is the power to sing the Lord’s song in foreign lands. Yet  wisdom is proved by her children.  Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians  We are His workmanship.  Like a clay pot is not made by a clay pot, but by the potter, so we are formed and molded by the Lord’s loving hands, His Word. We want to be so formed because we know we need it! His treasure maps shows when we’ve made a wrong turn, gone down paths we should not have, when we were lost.  Bad locations?  Yes. Psalm 1, verse 1:

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

Walking and standing and sitting  with the wicked, the way of sinners, scoffing are bad locations.  The Bible shows what happens when people do just that:  see Israel for 40 years in the wilderness, they did everything they could at times NOT to be found and go to the promised land.  See the churches in our own land who follow the desires of their own hearts, sinful and where too many have sadly gone.  See where our nation is going.

 This treasure of the Gospel is not just a one time find, but a daily find.  We still need the treasure map, the only map we ever need:  the Bible, the Scripture alone, daily are we informed and more, formed by His grace alone.  On the bulletin cover, the painting by Lucas Cranach, Luther is pointing to the Bible and the verses John 1: 7, about John, as witness to the light, pointing us in the right direction preparing the way of the Lord.   And Hebrews  4: 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   The Reformers found the spot!  Or did the Treasure of purest pleasure find them?  The treasure map, the Bible, led the way, always does.  For the Scripture is inspired, God-breathed. 

There are false treasure maps. Looking for God or some good in all the wrong places:  politics,  philosophies, spiritualities, human reason,  false religions like Islam.  When such maps are thought to lead to treasure, but always to terror.  Yes, terror, the terror of boasting I am so spiritual or the terror of despair.  They are all have this in common:  Every generation reproduces heretics with false maps and they ever lead not to Christ Jesus but to themselves, back to us, me, myself and I, as at the time of the Reformation.  Rosaries, pilgrimages, indulgences were all man made exercises to offer grace, but man’s spiritual tactics and techniques always  put salvation back on to us and not where and when it was: on the back of Jesus, bearing the sin of the world. Putting salvation back on ourselves is clearly condemned by the Reformers and has to be:  “Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that Holy Spirit comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works.”  Their own maps.  The external Word is God’s treasure map.  God offers grace only where God said He would:  Word and Sacraments. 

The right location is key to living and working.  The wrong location is sin and death.  The right location was the spot no man would ever look:  Golgotha.  It was the place of sin and death and there Christ must be.  There He said, It is finished, that is, accomplished fulfilled.  He bore the wrath of God for God put His Son forward, “…as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3).  Now some well-meaning Christians will say as encouragement to a brother, Take it to the Cross.  But the cross of Jesus is not there! I’ve been to Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the spot, the place, where the Cross was and Golgotha.  The cross is not there!  His Cross is in the preaching and teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments according to the Gospel.  In the most unexpected of all locations, like here at this small mission in water, bread, wine and words.  As the Reformers taught from the Bible, Article V of the Augsburg Confession, the Ministry of the Church:

In order that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching  the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, and the Holy Spirit produces faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel. That is to say, it is not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ that God justifies those who believe that they are received into favor for Christ’s sake. Gal. 3:14, “That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

From faith in Christ comes the fruit of faith, also from the Augsburg Confession, Article VI. The New Obedience:       

Our churches also teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits and that it is necessary to do the good works commanded by God. We must do so because it is God’s will and not because we not place our trust in them as if thereby to merit favor before God. For we receive forgiveness of sin and righteousness through faith in Christ, as Christ himself says, “So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants’ ” (Luke 17:10). The Fathers also teach thus, for Ambrose says, “It is ordained of God that whoever believes in Christ shall be saved, and he shall have forgiveness of sins, not through works but through faith alone, without merit.”

Wisdom is justified by her deeds, the deed of the Cross. The new obedience is not by law but by grace, grace alone. The fruit comes from the Wisdom, as it is written in brother James Epistle:

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

So others can be found. As we sang this morning,

To hope grown dim, to hearts turned cold/Speak tongues of fire and make us bold/      To shine Your Word of saving grace/ Into each dark and loveless place. (#585, Lutheran Service Book, “Lord Jesus Christ, with us Abide”)

Fellow Christians helping us with the map of His Word on the right way, the Way and the truth and the life, Jesus Christ, there is no other way.  The right location is the Lord’s Church that He is building through His Word in His called and faithful people.  Location where the Gospel is purely preached and the Sacraments administered according to the Gospel.  Jesus taught that he knew the accusation against Him, “a friend of tax collectors and sinners”.  You’ve found the spot as He has found you in the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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This painting is by the English artist and poet, William Blake. It depicts the Lord’s Parable of the 5 wise and the 5 foolish virgins. This parable is the basis of Philip Nicolai’s hymn, Wake, Awake for Night is Flying.

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)

“Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” (#516, Lutheran Service Book) by Philipp Nicolai

3. Now let all the heav’ns adore Thee,
Let men and angels sing before Thee,
With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone.
Of one pearl each shining portal,
Where, dwelling with the choir immortal,
We gather round Thy radiant throne.
No vision ever brought,
No ear hath ever caught,
Such great glory;
Therefore will we Eternally
Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee.

Reflection:  These pastors and hymn writers, with their congregations and families,  suffered plague, war and sickness.  What sustained these men through such turmoil, when the ground beneath them was shaking and then write some of the greatest hymns for the Church’s song?  They may have seen plague, war and sickness as God’s judgment and the Word of God makes us stop at His judgment so that we hear His grace in Christ who suffered our plagues, wars and sickness.  We have expectations of life being easy but not so long ago, man did not have such an expectation.  Expectation, though, is not hope. Such calamities remind us we can not fix the world so we can look again, not to our selves, but to where true joy is found: The rock of salvation, Jesus Christ.

1. O Christ, our true and only Light,
Enlighten those who sit in night;
Let those afar now hear Thy voice
And in Thy fold with us rejoice. (Johann Heerman

Faith can only have something or someone to seize for salvation and this is the justification of the sinner by Christ’s Atonement, the Savior, 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.   Nowadays, the search for the mere “devotional” devolves into a music that makes me feel a certain way. 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 so we can learn and learn to praise aright in heartfelt devotion. 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  instructional. Those who teach the 1000 year reign of Christ on earth, the 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. He comes not when we expect it as 1000 year reign timetables lay out and get wrong.  He comes at the fulfilled time for those who long for His appearing (cf. 2 Timothy 4:8).

At Concordia Junior College, 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.” The objective justification by the life, word and work of Jesus Christ is the reason to sing in the midst of the world when the “nations rage” and “kingdoms totter” (Ps. 46: 6). Through His grace alone, faith grabs hold of the promises by the work of the Holy Spirit alone.  Some say Lutheran Hymnody is so devoid of emotion:  it’s not.  These hymn writers did not write these hymns to “reach people” but to teach and sing the Gospel:

8. 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. (Paul Gerhardt)

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!

“Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” (#516, Lutheran Service Book) by Philipp Nicolai

“O Christ, Our True and Only Light” (#839, Lutheran Service Book) by Johann Heerman

“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (#450, Lutheran Service Book) by 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. Make America great again.  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, and so self-serving, 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 that the lamentation, “America is no longer a Christian nation”,  is the lament over lost power and influence.  Christianity had the moral high ground for some time, but immorality was still committed.  

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 and still does:  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, according to the Lord’s gracious will and they were 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, charitable worker and  deaconess. For instance:  Lydia was the first convert to the Faith in Europe.  And as a business woman who sold the dye of royal and costly purple, 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” in the prayer above.  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:  as in too many presidential campaigns.  Even a ‘churchy’ vocation can be used to serve self and not the Lord and can become evil as witnessed by clergy sexual sins.  And business men and women can serve the Lord and His people, and not the self.  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, as 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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Quote of the Day

“The church that marries the spirit of the age will find herself a widow in the Age to come.”

 William Inge, 1860-1954, Anglican Priest and author

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Intro:  The Screwtape Letters is a fiction by C. S. Lewis of letters between a main tempter in hell to his nephew, a newer tempter.  This letter is the ending of number XXIII.  (You can find a PDF of Screwtape here.) Lewis wrote these fictional letters during World War II.  Screwtape writes about “social justice” but the emphasis is on the means and ends of politics…and the truth of the Faith.  Apply that to our own day! Pr. Schroeder

About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s* shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations”. You see the little rift? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game,

Your affectionate uncle,  Screwtape

*In the USA:   pharmacist

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