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Archive for November, 2016

“…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)”

(Pr. Smith died on this date, after taking ill at a Society of the Holy Trinity chapter retreat in Hickory, NC)

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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;  cited in  The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by CPH; also bio above from same book)

St. Andrew, Apostle of Jesus Christ, lived and died, “…all the way to the last catch of fish”.  Andrew, alive in Christ, caught by Him, the great Fisherman, lived all the way to the end.  In Christ, Andrew knew by faith, the end was the beginning.  The cross was a door because of the One who died on it and off the cross, three days later, rose from the dead. 

There’s is a song refrain that has been making the rounds, “Every body wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.”   It is from a country song by Loretta Lynn.  The similar thought is expressed in a Kenny Chesney song and a rap by Ice Cube.  All three songs express another similar thought as to the reason why no one wants to die:  in spite of the sadness and sorrow here,

Lord I wanna go to heaven but I don’t wanna die/So I long for the day when I’ll have new birth still I love the livin’ here on earth (Loretta Lynn).

I think this may be true for us all, I still love the livin’ here on earth…but it leaves me thinking that this is not necessarily meet, right nor salutary.

The apostle Andrew knew of a different life that had taken hold of him. His brother Apostle, Paul, wrote it well:   “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1: 21).  Then the Apostle proceeds to write of his struggle, whether, “…to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” or stay here in the “flesh”(vs):

But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith. (vss. 24-25)

Andrew lived in, through and by Christ, till his last minutes on the Cross.  Is there something more precious than life itself?  Yes, Christ. But along with this song lyric is another self-centered thought abounding these days: “Grandma is looking down on us” etc., that is, everyone is going to heaven.  If that were true, then there should be no fear of death!  There is such fear because such a false hope belies what precedes grace, God’s just judgment.  My friend, mentor and colleague, Pr. Lou Smith, who died on this day, said it well:

“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.”

All those songs are really a testament to the Old Adam’s suffocating self-centeredness that only holiness can ventilate.  Ice Cube at least knew the reason for his desire not to go to Heaven:

Y’all thought I was soft as cotton
Everybody wants to go to Heaven
Messed around and forgot I was rotten
Everybody wants to go to Heaven
You know my resume

The Lord knows my “resume”. He knows Paul’s and Andew’s and Lou’s and mine and your resumes as well.  Christ came to rewrite our resumes in His blood for our repentance…our joyful repentance…to ventilate our lives with His holiness, by faith through grace.  He started to do this when He was conceived in the Virgin’s womb, amniotic fluid and blood to bear our sin and death and fear.  Life is not generic but has a Name: for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If my livin’ is only my name, then I am lost forever.  We die many times before our physical death, spiritual death, repeated because of Baptism in the sacrament of penitence. Contrary to Miss Lynn, we have the new birth.  Christ is specific, not generic spirituality:  His Body, His Blood, is life, eternal life (John 6).  In Advent, this is the actual message of the angels, not the gifts under the tree, but the Tree by which is given the gifts of heaven.

“Hail, precious cross, you who were dedicated by the body of Christ; may He receive me through you, who redeemed me through you.”

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Noah Icon, Baptistry, Kramer Chapel, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN

 

Psalm 29
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-12, 17-23
1 Peter 3:18-22 or Hebrews 11:1-3, 7; 12:1-2
St. Matthew 24:36-44

Almighty and eternal God,  according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all.  Grant that we may be kept safe and secure  in the holy ark of the Christian Church, so that with all believers in Your promise, we would be declared worthy of eternal life,through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

 Noah, the son of Lamech (Gen 5:30), was instructed by God to build an ark, in which his family would find security from the destructive waters of a devastating flood that God warned would come. Noah built the ark, and the rains descended. The entire earth was flooded destroying “every living thing that was on the face of the ground, both man and beast” (7:23). After the flood waters subsided, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. When Noah determined it was safe, and God confirmed it, he and his family and all the animals disembarked. Then Noah built an altar and offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for having saved his family from destruction. A rainbow in the sky was declared by God to be a sign of His promise that never again would a similar flood destroy the entire earth (8;20).  Noah is remembered and honored for his obedience, believing that God would do what He said He would. (From LCMS website)

 Reflection: 

In 1666, a group of Connecticut Puritans, after a religious and political dispute, moved to New Netherland (now Hudson County, NJ) and founded a city. They were governed by strict religious rules and eventually decided to call their city “New Ark”, as in the new ark of the Covenant.  This town is the city known as Newark, NJ.

Newark, NJ does not enjoy a stellar reputation as the largest city in New Jersey.  Let’s look at this symbolically:  a city founded as a kind of a ‘theocracy’ eventually fell apart as such.  In fact it did, from the Wikipedia article on Newark:

The total control of the community by the Church continued until 1733 when Josiah Ogden harvested wheat on a Sunday following a lengthy rainstorm and was disciplined by the Church for Sabbath breaking.[9] He left the church and corresponded with Episcopalian missionaries, who arrived to build a church in 1746 and broke up the Puritan theocracy.

I put ‘theocracy’ in single quotation marks because it does not compute that man can found a ‘theocracy’ that is, a rule by God!  The only theocracy ever founded by the Lord was Israel, and I do not mean the present day State of Israel, but the one founded by the Lord after the Exodus and the entrance into the promised land. Man founding a state ruled by God only tends to be a religious dictatorship.  

In spite of the enthusiastic use of the name New Ark, it is not true to Scripture.  When Noah built the Ark, it was according to the Lord’s own architectural plans (Genesis 6: 15-16).  When the Lord called Moses to build the Tabernacle, it was according the Lord’s specs. Exodus 25: 10 and following. We do not design the Church as Noah did not design the Ark, nor Moses the Tabernacle. When we think we are building a church according to our own designs, it will always be legalistic and oppressive, as many cults, sects, communes and communities designed by Christian enthusiasts from the Puritans in New Netherland to Joseph Smith in Palmyra, New York have demonstrated.  These ‘new arks’ are not salvation from the judgment of God but become themselves God’s judgment on them. They do not save. Only one ark does: “…the holy ark of the Christian Church” and the Church is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians  12:10ff).  Christ Jesus responded to Peter’s Confession: “I will build My Church” (St. Matthew 16: 18) and the rock is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:3) and the confession that He is the Son of the living God.  The Church builds using the precious stones, as was physical Temple in Jerusalem, and these are the precious stones of prayer, righteousness, faith, hope, love, Sacraments, Scripture, God’s Word.  These the Lord the Holy Spirit uses to build according to His specs:  the body of His Temple, the Lord Jesus (St. John 2: 21).  Here we offer spiritual sacrifices to the Lord (1 Peter 2: 4-10).    No plan, no matter how clever, can save from God’s strict and just judgment of the violence and lusts of the world, the flesh and the devil.   Only in Him do we flee for refuge to His infinite mercy, seeking and imploring His grace,  on account of Jesus Christ.

The old ark was in one locale upon the face of the deep upon the world.  The new ark of the Church is throughout and in the world and like the first ark, not of the world.  May we draw near, “advent” with His Gospel so that others will be baptized into His Church in true and joyous repentance.

 

 

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A couple of years ago, Natalie was coming back from the UK and I went to pick her up at Dulles.  I decided to go early and see the Udvar-Hazy Museum at Dulles.  It is one of the Smithsonian museums, specifically the Air and Space Museum:  NASA space capsules, World War I airplanes…in a huge place.  I experienced a problem at the museum:  with every turn there were was another amazing aircraft but I had no one to share in the enjoyment.  “Look at this Natalie…Isn’t that great” “Mark, take a look at this”.  Praise and thanksgiving is communal.  Not having my wife or a friend, or a family member to be there to share the enjoyment was a different kind of loneliness…it was frustrating and the enjoyment was banging about in my heart and mind wanting to get out. C. S. Lewis:

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with. . . . The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

“In commanding us to glorify HIm, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”  Amen.  Further, this shows that the Lord certainly does not need our praise and thanks for the Lord to feel good about Himself (!) but it does show that He made us to praise and give thanks…so we are not alone in enjoyment of all His gifts nor of the joy of knowing the Lord and serving and loving one another. As He is absolutely, He is absolutely humble:  He can be praised.  He alone can complete the enjoyment and with each other in the communion of saints.  As He said of Adam, it is not good for the man to be alone. He made us for the communion of praise, indeed with all creation.  The last verse of the last Psalm, 150: 

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Everything that has breath, the Creation will when it is recreated in the last harvest home in Christ’s coming.

Only God, who is the humblest of all, can be praised with full heart and throat for all His benefits to us.  One leper returned to Jesus to give Him thanks and praise at His feet.  Only this Man, Jesus, could handle the praise and in the healed leper’s praise was the consummation of the healing of his soul. So many, like the other 9 healed men, want the benefits from the Lord, but not to return to give Him thanks. None of us is entitled for all has been given.  Once we think we are entitled, we have lost the title of believer as we look only to ourselves. The one healed man returned and gave thanks to the Giver of all. The Word of Christ, as it drew forth the disease from the man’s body, drew forth his soul to the one who forgives for us to live.   Our faith, by God’s gift in Christ is a minority movement in the world, away from the world, to serve in the world.  “Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where trues are found, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord…”. May Your Word shine forth undimmed into the night of these last days of great distress. And on this day Clement of Rome was martyred by drowning, wrote: “Let us fix our eyes on the blood of Christ, realizing how precious it is to His Father, since it was poured out for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to the whole world” (1 Clement 6:31).

 

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C.S. LewisI recommend a good yet all together too brief a biography of C. S. Lewis at Biography online:   C.S. Lewis Biography.

His literary output was large and has encouraged many a Christian, and probably led many a person, to, or back to Jesus Christ. In an especially lyrical passage in his Sermon, “The Weight of Glory”, he preached:

“These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.”

This evil enchantment of worldliness is with us still.  Mr. Lewis in his writings has helped many to break that enchantment that all of our life is in and for this world alone as God has given His Son alone to those alone. 

“Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies of Progress or Creative Evolution themselves bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere.”

As we approach Advent and the Christ Mass (Christmas), our true home has come amongst us full of grace and truth.

When they want to convince you that earth is your home, notice how they set about it. They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is.

When this is “it”, then idolatry abounds and it is abounding as ne’er before. The rage of our time bears witness to our idolatry.  We are in a moonless night and it makes no sense not to be used by the Christ.  He has placed into our hands the flashlights to shine the light of  His Word, to help each other home.  Come home for Christmas.

We give thanks to the Lord for calling Clive Staples Lewis into His Kingdom for teaching us again mere Christians the wealth of Jesus Christ.  

Almighty and everlasting God, You would have all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. By Your almighty power and unsearchable wisdom break and hinder all the counsels of those who hate Your Word and who, by corrupt teaching, would destroy it. Enlighten them with the knowledge of Your glory that they may know the riches of Your heavenly grace and, in peace and righteousness, serve You, the only true God; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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Quote of the Day

The following quote is from Pastor and Professor Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) and his reflection on Last Sunday after Pentecost, St. Luke 23:27–43, the Penitent Criminal.  Pr. Gerhard points out something about this criminal (literally, “evil doer”), when he talks with the other evil-doer that can easily be glossed over:

Along with this confession also came love, as he admonishes the other unrepentant criminal and would gladly bring him to the fear of God, so that while there still was time, he would desist [from his slander), confess his transgression, and turn to Christ. This was a great work of love, for one can show no greater love to the next person than when one with teaching, comfort, admonition, and warning shows him the true Way to salvation.

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Elizabeth  of Hungary, born in Pressburg, Hungary, in 1207, was the daughter of King Andrew II and his wife Gertrude. Given in an arranged political marriage, she became wife of Louis of Thuringia (Germany) at age 14.

Her spirit of Christian generosity and charity pervaded the home she established for her husband and three children in the Wartburg Castle at Eisenach. Their abode was known for hospitality and family love.

Elizabeth often supervised the care of the sick and needy, even giving up her bed to a leper at one time. Widowed at age 20, she arranged for her children’s well-being and entered into life as a nun in the Order of Saint Francis. Her self-denial led to failing health and an early death in 1231 at the age of 24. Remembered for her self-sacrificing ways, Elizabeth is commemorated through the many hospitals named for her around the world.

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

I have been working the last several months as the local chaplain for a hospice.  Note that the words hospice, hospital and hospitality all are related.  Their root word is “hospes”, that is host.  All three of these related words have to do with being a host.  As a chaplain, I am a guest in many homes of dying family member and the family member is my host.  A hospital, the host,  welcomes guests…quite a different understanding than patients!  Many a hospital guest will note the care of especially the nursing staff, as do hospice patients,because they are welcomed and taken care of.   Hospitality is a requirement of a pastor and a bishop:  to welcome friends and strangers to his home as guests.  It is hard work to be a host: food,linen and beds, wounds of body and soul.  It is easy to say that government should take care of this refugee, immigrant or the foreigner and pat one self on the back that I am caring!  It’s another thing to actually love your neighbor as Christ has served us and serves us daily.  Elizabeth of Hungary knew that.  She was royal as a faithful wife and mother and as one who served the poor.  

Elizabeth of Hungary, and Martin Luther in the quote below teach us in word and deed the Biblical understanding of hospitality and it is hands on, not hands off letting someone else doing it, especially government! After all, our salvation was and is “hands on”, nail-imprinted Hands.  Luther and his wife and family were quite hospitable in opening their home to all sorts of people. The Luthers would have at a given moment, 30 -40 guests at table:  seminarians, refugees from religious persecution, visiting professors and pastors.    “Therefore a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable…” (1 Timothy 3:2)  It is not first for the next guy’s home, but our own. 

Reflection by Dr. Martin Luther:  

This is … an outstanding praise of hospitality, in order that we may be sure that God Himself is in our home, is being fed at our house, is lying down and resting as often as some pious brother in exile because of the Gospel comes to us and is received hospitably by us. This is called brotherly love or Christian charity; it is greater than that general kindness which is extended even to strangers and enemies when they are in need of our aid…. For the accounts of the friendships of the Gentiles, like those of Theseus and Hercules, of Pylades and Orestes, are nothing in comparison with the brotherhood in the church; its bond is an association with God so close that the Son of God says that whatever is done to the least of His is done to Himself. Therefore their hearts go out without hypocrisy to the needs of their neighbor, and nothing is either so costly or so difficult that a Christian does not undertake it for the sake of the brethren, … But if anyone earnestly believed that he is receiving the Lord Himself when he receives a poor brother, there would be no need for such anxious, zealous, and solicitous exhortations to do works of love. Our coffers, storeroom, and compassion would be open at once for the benefit of the brethren. There would be no ill will, and together with godly Abraham we would run to meet the wretched people, invite them into our homes, and seize upon this honor and distinction ahead of others and say: “O Lord Jesus, come to me; enjoy my bread, wine, silver, and gold. How well it has been invested by me when I invest it in You!”

For our Daily Prayers:  

for the poor

for the sick and suffering

for the unemployed

Mighty King, whose inheritance is not of this world, inspire in us the humility and benevolent charity of Elizabeth of Hungary.  She scorned her bejeweled crown with thoughts of the thorned one her Savior donned for her sake and ours, that we too, might live a live of sacrifice, pleasing in Your sight and worthy of the Name of Your Son, Christ Jesus, who with the Holy Spirit reigns with You forever in the everlasting kingdom. Amen.

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