Archive for March, 2018


COLLECTOF THE DAY:  O God, creator of heaven and earth, grant that as the crucified body of Your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with Him the coming of the third day, and rise with Him to newness of life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

READINGS: Daniel 6: 1-24  Psalm 16  1 Peter 4: 1-8 St. Matthew 27: 57-66

I was visiting a friend in Albuquerque, New Mexico and we went to the old town of the city.  We visited the historic church in the old town.  I was looking at sizable side altar, especially all the statuary above the Altar. Then I saw light below the Altar and I was shocked to see a life size, full color statue of Christ Jesus in the tomb, complete with casket silk, in the length of the Altar.  My friend had been a Dominican monk and I expressed my surprise and shock at this.  He responded that many poor people would have come to this church and here is Christ who is with them in death.  You can not get poorer than dead. Christ was dead, actually dead.  The author of life breathed His last upon the Cross.  

At the risk of sounding flippant, when Dorothy’s house fell on the wicked witch, the coroner comes with the death certificate and sings: “As Coroner I must aver, I thoroughly examined her/And she’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.”  Our Lord was most sincerely dead. He died physically and on the Cross sin, yours and mine was crucified and  there in the tomb He brought our sins and they were shown for what they are:  dead. This day is also called The Great Sabbath. The living death of sin was crucified and laid to rest in His tomb.  Maybe the crosses in a cemetery should be marked:  “Greed”, “Lust”, “Anger”, “Hatred”, “Envy” and the like.  He bore them all.  On the Third Day, at the rise of the sun, He left our sin there, as He did His grave clothes.

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Tables are very important to the Church.  There are three kinds of needed tables in a Church sanctuary and building:

  1. Tables for Bible class and Christian education so that the Word of God, the Scriptures are taught and learned, so that Lutherans can ask question and learn the answers from the Bible, and we grow in faith and love.

  2. Dining tables for church dinners, as a reminder here of the Lord’s prayer petition, “Give us this day our daily bread”, as we do in our homes daily. We are reminded that all creatures look to You O Lord for their food in due season and You open Your  hands and satisfy the desires of all living.  As the Lord washed His disciples’ feet as loving service, so our home tables are loving service to feed our families our daily bread from His loving hand to us and to share our bread to the guest and to those who have none.  

  3. And the most important table, the Lord’s Table, so that He gives us His Body and Blood, for the confession of the faith and the feeding of our faith in Him, in the communion of His very Presence. He touches us with Himself, in His Word He opens, “…the soul of man to faith through the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Gregory the Great).

All these tables point, not to our works, but His work. They are the Lord’s work tables:  His Word for us, His creation for us, His Body and Blood for us and our salvation.

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From Dr. Martin Luther’s Commentary  on Psalm 23, the 5th verse:

ML 23


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Merciful and everlasting God, You did not spare Your only Son but delivered Him up for us all to bear our sins on the cross. Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him, that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS:  Isaiah 62:11-63:7  Psalm 70   Romans 5:6-11  Luke 22:1-23:56 or John 13:16-38

VERSE:   The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  John 12:23b)

Cross Reflections:  Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory is set in the 1920s Mexico when the Roman Catholic Church has been suppressed.  Priests were not allowed to say Mass.  The main character is an unnamed priest, given to whiskey, who goes about the country saying clandestine Masses.  In the quote below the priest is in a shed and a mestizo (half-breed) is crawling in the shack and grabs the priest’s ankles.  He wants the priest to hear his confession about adultery and “boys”, as his confession comes forth between his yellowed teeth, the priest reflects:

“How often the priest had heard the same confession–Man was so limited: he hadn’t even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died: the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater the glory lay around the death; it was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or civilization–it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” 

Greene is illustrating the Scripture text appointed for Holy Wednesday from Romans:

6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

For God and country, a man will dare to die.  Even for a “good person”. When I think of the petty larcenies and lusts lurking in the attic of my heart, it’s shameful. It is true we can not even invent a new vice.  Sin is as old as Adam. The Lord makes in  us virtues that are ever new.

In the prayer of the day, we prayed, ” Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him, that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil”.    In Advent there is a collect with the petition that “our hearts may be fixed where true joy is found.” 

Christ Jesus is for all who know they need fixing in their hearts. He will. No amount of fixing on our part will do it and when we try to fix our fallen nature, that is make ourselves right, we just need even more fixing, kind of like government trying to make ‘good’ people, and that can lead to tyranny:  one is spiritual tyranny, the other political.

Sin, death and devil dogs us when we are not  steadfast in faith.  Our true condition apart from Him is just as it is written in Romans 5: weak, sinner, enemy.   Our eyes fixed upon Him, in the depths, height and breadth of His love stretching out from the Cross to us  and we are fixed, by steadfast faith by His grace, in Him.  His power and glory has been shown upon the Cross and on the third day and today.

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And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”-John 12: 32


Almighty and everlasting God,grant us by Your grace so to pass through this holy time of our Lord’s passion that we may obtain the forgiveness of our sins; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord,who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS:  Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14;  1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (26-31);   John 12:23-50

  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”-John 12: 32, for Holy Tuesday

Reflection:  Congregations, churches, pastors, priests fret over the question:  how do we attract new members?  What is our “draw”?  I  have asked that question and that is more than a simple admission and more like a confession.  Is it our choir? Our youth program?  Our peppy service?  Our warm and welcoming people?  Our meals on wheels?  etc. etc. etc.  All those things can be fruit of the Gospel but they are not the Vine from whence comes the fruit.  

There is only one “draw” in the Church, for the life of His world and you in His new creation:  Jesus Christ.   It is written that our preaching IS, not “was”, Christ and Him Crucified (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).  Holy Baptism is into His Crucifixion and Resurrection (Romans 6:2-4 ; Colossians 2:10-12 ).  Holy Communion is the preaching of the Lord’s Death (1 Corinthians 11:26). In His Body given unto death is our life.    The Cross stands at the center, radiating out, Christ Jesus embracing us in His forgiveness. No Cross, no Savior.  No Cross, no resurrection. No Savior, no salvation.  If there is no preaching of Christ and Him crucified, then the preaching of human religious works follows.  Evangelism is not only for those who have not heard of Christ, or those who have but have forgotten:  it is for every Christian as we tend to forget and need His forgiveness and life day by day.

Christians from almost day one would trace the Sign of the Cross over their bodies.  And so the cathedrals in Europe were cross-shaped. Crosses and crucifixes hang about our necks and adorn our walls.  The Cross is the sign of the love stronger than death and in Him, “…we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  (Romans 8: 37) He is the Draw.

“…ponder what sin is, and what kind of anguish will result for those who do not seek forgiveness for sin in Christ and protection from the wrath of God. Here stands God’s Son, who carries (upholds) everything by the power of His Word, Heb. 1, who is of the same essence with His heavenly Father. One might think that He will readily overcome and easily bear the burden of sins and divine wrath, and it will be for Him a light, little blade of straw. But look here, how this holy Soul agonizes; indeed, the more you reflect on Him, the better you will comprehend what a huge burden sin is. With the unrepentant, sin is regarded as an insignificant thing. Some intend to atone for it with their own deeds.  However, this sad spectacle (of the Cross) knocks down all these thoughts.  For, if (sins) were such insignificant matter, why was Christ Himself thus permitted to grieve (over them)?”   (from Lutheran Pastor and Professor Johann Gerhard’s An Explanation of the History of the Suffering and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ (published 1663)

“By Your struggle-unto-death and Your bloody sweat, help us dear Lord God.”

(from the Litany, as cited by Pr. Gerhard, ibid)

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“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”  St. John 12: 23b

Almighty God, grant that in the midst of our failures and weaknesses we may be restored through the passion and intercession of Your only-begotten Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings:  Isaiah 50:  5-10  Psalm 36: 5-10  Hebrews 9:  11-15  St. John 12: 1-23

There was a famous televangelist, Robert Schuller, who’s TV show was entitled, “The Hour of Power”.  He was more a proponent for positive thinking than he was of the Gospel.  His hour of power was all about positive thinking.  He even gave away the “Positive Thinker’s Bible” in which all the positive passages were in the color blue. I wondered if the 10 commandments and the cross were in blue.

Jesus also spoke quite a few times of the coming “hour”:  John 2:4John 7:30John 12:27John 16:32,John 17:1.   The hour would be suffering and death, humiliation and shame, then on the third day rise from the dead. Rev. Schuller said that the passages about Jesus’ crucifixion just showed that He had positive thoughts by which He would get through this.  It was not positive thoughts that led Jesus through it.  It was the love of mankind, for me and for you  and our redemption in His blood that Jesus led us the way through the valley of the shadow of death and sin.  He came to do the Father’s will.  

There is more to life in this world than this life lived on our terms and that, even positive thinking, is the sin of Adam:  thinking apart from the Lord.  That fruit always looks good but it is cursed.  And in the faith and life in Christ we can admit we have failures and weaknesses, as we did in the prayer above.  The Lord knows as He cares for you and He bears you up.  The second Adam, the man from heaven came to this hour to bear our sin and be our Savior.  

The hour was the  Triduum,  or The Three Days:  the period of three days that begins with the liturgy on the evening of Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday) and ends with evening prayer on Easter Sunday. The Triduum is the culmination of the Lenten journey.  All of our positive thoughts, as nice and good as they can be, won’t lead us through.  Christ is the good Seed planted into the earth, His death and now risen to bear much fruit:  faith in Him, love of Him, hope in Him to bear fruit as He is the vine and we are the branches (cf. St. John 15).  He leads us through as He is the pioneer and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12: 1-2 ), not us!

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Pieta | FOR YOU | image tagged in virgin | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

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As a hospice chaplain, I have learned to be more adept at bi-translationally praying the Lord’s Prayer.  With so many Presbyterians in Rockbridge County, when it comes to praying tonight’s sermon text,  when I meet a Presbyterian, it is:  Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  The Reformed  have the correct translation of the Greek. Debt:  what someone owes me and what I owe someone else. “You owe me one” “I am in your debt”  “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine”  “What can I ever do to repay you?”  Jesus knew about business and in fact many of his parables are about business. In Matthew’s Gospel the next time the word “debt” occurs is in Jesus’ Parable of the Unforgiving  Servant which we heard tonight in Matthew 18.   Matthew 18 is the Lord’s Sermon on Forgiveness.

A talent was a weight of silver, and one talent was 20 years worth of wages.  Owing his king 10,000 talents, the servant  would take some 200,000 years to pay it off! Then the servant/slave goes to his fellowslave who owes the first servant 100 denarii.  A denarri was worth 1 day’s wage and so the fellowslave owed the first servant about 3 months wages:  nothing to sneeze at!  No, any debt of wrong is nothing to sneeze at!  Debt is a burden.  The fellowslave fell on his knees and plead for mercy after the 1st servant, forgiven monstrous debt was choking him, PAY WHAT YOU OWE. The second part of forgiveness is to forgive our fellow servants when asked.  Asking for forgiveness is humbling. As Luther wrote in the Large Catechism on tonight’s petition:

“…(the Christian) will find that he is no better than others, and that in the presence of God all must lower their plumes, and be glad that they can attain forgiveness. And let no one think that as long as we live here he can reach such a position that he will not need such forgiveness. In short, if God does not forgive without ceasing, we are lost.

“…must lower their plumes”.  I think that refers to the fashion style of having a feather in one’s cap as sign of pride, so lower your plumes.  My Grandmother would say to me, Do you want a feather in your cap?  As a saying that I was wanting reward for my pride.  No, pride bends in asking the Lord, and each other, for forgivness. Not having the willingness to so forgive others, as we have been forgiven is, well, unforgivable. 

When we owe someone something, when we do wrong, the first impulse is to hide. When Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thus falling into sin…they hid.  The Lord called out in Eden, Where are you? I was afraid and so I hid, came from Adam cowering in the bushes.  The Lord in His Law finds us out and in the Gospel.  He finds us so we are not lost, but found.

Now you can forgive another in another way, a false way.  “If I die, I forgive you;  if I recover, we’ll see.” (Spanish proverb) In other words, to forgive and release someone else so that if I die, I have accrued a favorable balance on the Lord’s scales. It doesn’t work that way as it does not work because it is self-serving disguised as religious/spiritual and don’t you think God knows that?  So the king throws into prison the forgiven unforgiving servant. Jesus is clear:  “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” 

Once forgiven, the devil puts rationales into our heads:  oh, it wasn’t THAT bad, or, what I’ve done wrong isn’t as bad as…fill in the blank.  That one is just spiritual pride comparing myself. “A man isn’t honest simply because he’s never had a chance to steal.” (Jewish proverb). He’s dishonest and that tendency is there. Even when I say, oh it wasn’t that bad, but the guy who owes ME, done me wrong,  is REALLY BAD!

Then there is fear of punishment that prompts confession, or just being caught. “The thief is sorry that he going to be hanged, not that he was a thief.” Roman Catholics and Lutheran agree that contrition, sorrow over sin leads to confession and forgiveness, but they also say, attrition, that is fear of hell, fear of punishment.  All those sexual predators become mighty sorrowful that they are  going to lose their positions, money and power, i.e., there’s hell to pay, when caught…but not because they hurt many women…and men. A blanket apology is not the same as forgive me.  (And even though someone who has hurt me has not asked for forgivess, the willingness in the Lord is there to forgive when asked.) True contrition and forgiveness does not seem to happen because they still don’t think they’ve done anything wrong, just like the thief on the cross on Jesus’ left hand;  but the thief on his right, knew they had done wrong and he said we are under the same condemnation, but this Man has done nothing wrong.  The thief on His right hand  prayed, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (The only time anyone calls Jesus by His first Name alone!) Truly, I say to you: today you will be with me in paradise.

In blazing light your cross reveals/The truth we dimly knew:/what trivial debts are owed to us,/how great our debt to you!

There is no karma, only forgiveness from the Lord. Karma depends on works righteousness that we can pay off our debt load of sin, even in 200,000 years of reincarnations or purgatory.  If there was karma or purgatory, the Father would not need to send us Son to buy us back. He has.   We can’t  pay the debt off, or pay it forward, as God’s Word shows us the reality of sin and forgiveness, our sin and His forgiveness, and the immensity of both sin and His forgiveness.  He forgives and it’s a bloody and cleansing and soul renewing.  The parable of the unforgiving servant should really be called, the parable of the forgiving King.

“For the Church does not live by morals, by the knowledge and observance of God’s law. Nor does it live by religion, by lofty experiences of the divine and an awareness of the mysteries of God. It lives solely by the forgiveness of sins.” (Rev. Professor Hermann Sasse)

It is by His cross the Lord baptized us and called us into His kingdom gathered around the crucified and risen Lord. The church is the assembly of forgiven forgiving servants, sons and brothers of Jesus, the fellowship of the king. In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is blessed now and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.


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