Archive for May, 2019

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The quote is from the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article VIII, The Person of Christ, para. 27-30, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church.

But now He does, 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 in the Holy Scriptures, but nothing else than the almighty power of God, which fills heaven and earth, in [possession of] which Christ is installed according to His humanity, realiter, that is, in deed and truth, sine confusione et exaequatione naturarum, that is, without confusion and equalizing of the two natures in their essence and essential properties; 29] by this communicated [divine] power, according to the words of His testament, He can be and truly is present with His body and blood in the Holy Supper, to which He has directed us by His Word; this is possible to no other man, because no man is in such a way united with the divine nature, and installed in such divine almighty majesty and power through and in the personal union of the two natures in Christ, as Jesus, the Son of Mary. 30] For in Him the divine and the human nature are personally united with one another, so that in Christ dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, Col. 2:9, and in this personal union have such a sublime, intimate, ineffable communion that even the angels are astonished at it, and, as St. Peter testifies, have their delight and joy in looking into it [ 1 Pet. 1:12 ]; all of which will shortly be explained in order and somewhat more fully.

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Image result for Mary and elizabeth by Da Vinci

Lessons: Isaiah 11: 1-5 Psalm 138 Romans 12: 9-16 St. Luke 1: 39-56

Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your Son and made known through her Your gracious regard for the poor and lowly and despised. Grant that we may receive Your Word in humility and faith, and so be made one with Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About the Festival Day:  John the Baptizer and Jesus, the two great figures of salvation history, now come together in the visit to Elizabeth by the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:39-45), both of whom conceived their children under miraculous circumstances. Thus John is brought into the presence of Jesus while they are still in their mothers’ wombs. This presence of the Lord causes a response by the child John as he leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. John’s response to the presence of Jesus, the Messiah, foreshadows John’s own role as forerunner. Already now, a new creation is beginning, and a baby still in the womb hails the new creation’s inception. Foreshadowed in John’s leap are the miracles of Jesus, who will cause all creation to leap at His presence: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22). The incarnate presence of the Messiah also evokes a response from Elizabeth, who proclaims Mary’s blessedness. Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) provides the theological significance of this meeting as Mary sums up her place in salvation history. Mary’s song is a hymn to God for His gracious gifts to the least in this world, whom He has lifted up out of lowliness solely because of His grace and mercy.

“… it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.”—St. Irenaeus of Lyons (died AD 202)

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

Reflection:  St. Irenaeus’ understanding of the contrast between Mary and Eve has obviously been around for some time.  It has become a liturgical and theological centerpiece of Eastern Orthodox churches.  This dovetails well into Martin Luther’s understanding that the greatest miracle is not that Mary conceived but she believed.

 Many years ago, everyone was all agog about WWJD bracelets:  What Would Jesus Do.  A friend and colleague said those bracelets should have on them, WWMD: What Would Mary Do.  What did she do? Nothing!  She believed as the Word of the angel came into ear and into her heart (John 6: 28-29; Romans 10:17).  She received with the meekness the implanted Word (James 1:21).  Because of the Christ in her womb, her body was the Church.  Mary bore the Word made flesh, as does the Church if she is faithful  to the Lord, as was Mary, even at times not understanding because of the common weakness of the flesh (Luke 1:34)As Luther taught in the Large Catechism that the Church is a mother who begets every child through the Word of God.  Luther’s insight is from the Scriptures:

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Galatians 4:3-5

The Word of God made the virgin’s womb as He made all wombs and so:

Every child is gift. The Lord is sheer gift times two: God and man for all the diverse manner of women and men. And so when Mary greeted Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s child, John, leaped in her womb when Elizabeth heard the greeting, the Word. She was filled with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word alone.  The Church was there in the hill country of Judea.  The temple of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Mary the Ark of the New Covenant. We are made His through His Word alone in Holy Baptism and in faith.  In the most humble of homes, the beauty of holiness shone within and without.  St. Luke 1: 45: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Indeed!  And so are you! The Church is made by His Word so that the Word be heard and sinners can hold fast to the Lord by His grace. As Elizabeth visited Mary and their Lord, so visit Him this day and every day in Word, in Holy Communion, in Prayer. As the Lord directs, visit others with the Gospel of the Lord’s visitation.  The visitation is the Lord’s invitation to the same faith with Mary and Elizabeth.  He visits you with His Word, with His Baptism, with His Body and Blood in His Body, His Church!  Blessed Festival Day

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Lessons: Acts 1: 1-11 Ephesians 1: 15-23 St. Luke 24: 44-53

Almighty God, as Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens, so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
    He was manifested in the flesh,
   vindicated by the Spirit,
       seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
       taken up in glory. 1 Timothy 3: 16

  • Jesus was born of the house and lineage of David,  descended, according to the flesh, from King David.
  • His Mother was a devout Jew.  His step-Father also a faithful son of Israel. They observed all the required sacrifices in the Temple.
  • Jesus was born in the city of David, Bethlehem.
  • On His 8th day of life, according to the Covenant the LORD God established with Abraham and his descendants, Jesus was circumcised.
  • Jesus taught in the synagogue of Nazareth.
  • Jesus observed the great Festivals of Israel, in particular, The Pesach, the Passover.His last meal was Passover.
  • Jesus kept the Sabbath.
  • By His Word through His touch He healed the sick, the blind, the deaf, the mute, the dead.
  • By His Word He multiplied wine and bread.
  • His hands blessed and broke the bread.
  • His hands were bound as a common criminal.
  • His head was crowned with thorns shedding His blood.
  • He was a carpenter and bore the work of another carpenter:  the cross.
  • His hands and feet were nailed to the cross.
  • His side was pierced by a Roman spear and blood and water flowed out.
  • He was laid in a tomb.
  • And as He said, on the third day He rose again.
  • For for 40 days,  in His resurrected body He ate and drank and showed the Apostles, His brother, 500 at one time His hands and His side.
  • On the 40th Day, He ascended into heaven: with the scars of the cross, the mark of the circumcision, the hands that healed and broke the bread blessed His apostles one last time…a true man, a Jewish man, was taken up into heaven and sits upon the right hand of God the Father.  Jesus is true God before all worlds were created.
  • The Lord’s history since His Ascension is the calling together His Church, “…a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7: 9)

His ascension is man’s exaltation.  As much as we exalt ourselves, at the expense of others, we do so to distance ourselves from others. He is exalted to be close to us all to lift us up by His Word and Sacraments. He is exalted to be near to us, Emmanuel, God with us, “This is My Body” “This is My Blood”, His Word in our ears then our hearts. His exaltation is His humiliation and in that humiliation His love and mercy for Israel and the whole human race is poured out through His life and crucifixion and resurrection.  He humiliated Himself to bring us close to His bosom and He ascended and is exalted to be close to us all. How high is heaven?  Very far away for the proud and self-exalted. But near for the lowly, for those who pray by looking up to Him Who came down for all.

7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
   you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
   and your right hand delivers me. (Psalm 138)

Where He is, there is His people.  His right hand has delivered us:  Thanks be to Jesus Christ!

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Mission | “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word:..." St. John 17: 20 | image tagged in church | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

The entirety of John 17 is the Lord’s Prayer to the Father in the Holy Spirit for His apostles.  He prays, 

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” 

Jesus prays they be kept from the evil one, because the world is God’s good creation but  without faith, hope and love,it became the “world” and has as it’s ruler  the devil.  Jesus sends them into a world that has hated them.  Too long too many churches have wanted to be loved by world, accepted by the world, adopting their morals, life styles of the rich and famous…it is the stuff of the news and the world pats those churches on the back and says that’s nice, go sit over there.  Too long have churches wanted to hate the world and worldly people.  Jesus did not send the Apostles into the world to hate the people in it, but even to love your enemies and pray for those who persecuted you.  Jesus died for His enemies, us.  “When the devil is mocked, he sheds the blood of the mockers. When God was mocked, He shed His blood on the mockers.” (Pr. Hans Fiene).  

All of John chapter 17 is literally the Lord’s Prayer.  He prayed this in the night in which He was betrayed.  The prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer is actually the disciples’ prayer, the Church’s prayer to her ascended Lord, the head of the Church, as He taught us.  Jesus knew He was sending His apostles into the world and He knew exactly the kind of world He was sending them. He knew the stratagems of the evil one, from along time ago in a garden to a desert fasting to a garden called Gethsemane. Here in John 17, He prayed they be kept from the evil one. He taught us to pray, Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil one. 

The evil one desires to blur the border between the Church and the world with our complicity.  He first did so at the border around a tree, of the knowledge of good and evil, as if the knowledge of the Lord were not enough.  He blurred it by asking, Did God say?  Eve and Adam were complicit and said, Yes to the devil’s lie as he misrepresent the truth of God’s Word. The line was blurred and sin entered the world and made the world worldly. 

Jesus sent the apostles into this dark world for the life of the world, with the light of His Word of His death and resurrection, if you forgive the sins of any they are forgive, if you retain the sins of any they are retain.  He sent them out with message of repentance and forgiveness, of washing in Holy Baptism in the Name of the Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all He has commanded and Lo, He says, I am with you always even unto the end of the age. And the devil like those Russian soldiers will rifle through your heart, telling you do not believe enough, have not done enough, and as Luther, say, I know that devil but I have a mighty Lord who died and rose and ascended for me and He is with me, even to the end. 

When a church begins to look, act and feel like the age we live in, like the world, then it is lost all over again.  When a church walks the counsel of  the wicked from the counsel of so many TV shows, blogs and magazines, such as, “follow your heart”, “you are your own best friend”, “look out for number 1”, “be all that you can be”, then its bound to fall.  When a church stands in the way of the sinners, then its way is the dead end of hell. When a church seats in the seat of the scornful denying Scriptural truth with worldly theologians then it will become fat and indolent in its conceits. When a church walks the wide and easy path, it will lead to destruction. Walking, sitting and standing then that church is on a road to nowhere.  Our delight is in His Law, in His Word, every Word of the Bible. When crossing the threshold of a church building, however religious it may look, into a building where the Word is not preached in all it’s saving purity and soundness, that church will only extend worldly darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great the darkness will be, warned our Lord. And you have beheld the light of His Word, clearly Law and Promise and the light of  the knowledge of God shining in the face of Christ.

The Lord clearly sends out the apostles with the understanding that you are going into the world, the cosmos, which is against God, in the world, but not of the world, into slave lands.    No one will say explicitly, Let me see your papers, but the world will do so implicitly:  “Are you trying to impose your morality?”  “Who do you think you are?  God almighty?!”  “Hey, I do good!”  No, we are not angels but neither are we beasts, as we are the Lord’s own in Baptism. 

We have no papers to show, no certificate from Synodical headquarters that we have attained a certain level of holiness, and we are reluctant to show our good works because they are not even our own…we can only show the Cross, Jesus. Christ is our freedom to be His servants. Thomas More was King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor.  More did not go along with his King’s lust for a divorce.  As More said,  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 (Fr. Neuhaus). 

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Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (St. John 16: 24)

You would think that joy is a dirty little secret that churches keep well hidden.  The only place where and when joy is mentioned is in the Scriptures and then in the hymns of the Church.  “Joyful, Joyful, we adore Thee”  “Joy to the world the Lord is born”  There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than 99 sinners who need no repenting. Rejoice in the Lord, I say again Rejoice.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you judge the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations upon earth. 

How many times on a Monday morning at work, when the rerun question is asked, “How was your weekend?”,  and the response is, Joyful? Joy seems out of place in the world.  There seems to be a related word to joy: Happiness.  Are they synonyms?  Happiness is not out of place in the world. Happiness is even in the founding document of our free nation:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The word, “happiness” is related to “happens”, “happenstance”. All those words, including happiness, comes from the old Norse root word, “happ” which means fortune or luck, which is either good or bad. “Oh, what bad luck”. “You’re so lucky”, said with a tinge of envy.  We have established luck as a deity in the state lotteries.  Happiness is very much at home in world.

Then there is the lament of bad luck, bad happenings:  “Oh, it’s just one damn thing after another”. And so the advice:  “Cheer up, things could get worse. So I cheered up and sure enough things got worse.” The old joke catches the problem. In fact change is not always for the better. Not by a long shot. But the ideology of progress has no way to deal with that.” The Lord has dealt with it:  

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me…Truly, truly I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (Jn 16:16, 20)

 Jesus not only foretold the disciples’ sorrow, but He also prophesied and promised them joy.  Their sorrow would be turned to joy, in Christ’s resurrection.  And not just any joy, but a joy that would never be taken from them (Jn 16:22). His joy is the risen Christ Jesus Himself.

In fact, in the Bible the translation of “happiness” or “happy” only occurs about 10 times.  The words related to “joy” and rejoice almost 500 times. I asked the Bible class at the Mayflower what makes joy different than happiness?  A woman said joy has power.  1 Peter 1.3: “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” The constant changes of life can bring us to tears.  We can feel lost and adrift in an ever changing world, uncertain what tomorrow will bring.  The world promises happiness and we seem to be like a dog chasing it’s own tail. We can be filled with sorrow; and yet, at the same time, we have a joy that is unchanging, a joy that’s certain and true.  This joy is based on Christ and His death and resurrection. The dear sister at the Mayflower is right:  this joy is power and it is and like our salvation given by sheer grace alone. As the Gospel is the power of God for all those who believe.
    This joy is a constant joy.  This joy is an unchanging joy.  This joy is a result of Christ’s death and resurrection.  On the cross Jesus defeated all sin.  He overcome the disciples’ sin, the world’s sin, your sin.  He shed His blood to cleanse you.  And with His resurrection He won you everlasting life.  Jesus’ death and resurrection, this is a constant that never changes.  Jesus death and resurrection is a fact of the past, never changing.  He died once for all, and the life He lives He lives to God (Rom 6:10).  This redemptive fact affects your life: your past, your present, and your future.  Because of what Christ has done for you, God gives you the promise of life.  
    The joy of everlasting life that God has given you, that joy is yours right now, at this very moment, even in this world filled with change and sorrow.  This joy isn’t a forced happy joy that never feels sorrow or pain.  This joy doesn’t super-glues an artificial smile on your face.  No, this joy recognizes the pain and sorrow in our world.  But this joy also knows the certainty of salvation.  This joy recognizes with confident hope Christ’s promises fulfilled.  And this joy rejoices knowing that the forgiveness of Christ and His promised everlasting life can’t be taken from you.  These are certain realities based on Christ’s death and resurrection, and no matter what you’re going through, nothing can change that!  
     It’s founded on His promised salvation.  No matter what twists and turns life throws your way, you belong to your Savior.  And the unchanging joy of everlasting life in Him, that is a gift that belongs to you.

The disciples’ joy is the joy of the Lord that He has made them His own. As He said, they did not choose Him, but He chose them.  They needed choosing, forgiving, redeeming.  Ask and you receive that your joy may not simply be but be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  The joy of the Lord is that one sinner repents is found and forgiven like the one lost sheep of 99 found again.  The joy of the Lord is His grace, hidden from the wise and learned, is revealed to children and they understand. The joy of the Lord is He commands, teaches and inspires us to pray. Next to preaching the Word of God, the greatest service is praying which all Christians can do as they are baptized and believe.  He overcame the world which does not pray to the Lord but preys upon each other ironically and tragically to get the good stuff of life and be happy.

Please note, in 400 plus references to joy and rejoicing, this following Scripture is key for this sermon to understand the stability and  power of the Lord’s joy.  In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul lists the fruit of the Holy Spirit. He first lists love, then…joy.  Joy, the Lord’s power to salvation is the stability of being loved. 

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
    he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
and he will be the stability of your times,
    abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
    the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.

Wounds against the love are many that is  sin. With His wounds we are healed.   A baby not being touched…dies.  Sometimes it may be that the love has been so controlled and controlling, then it is not love.  But if some cares for you, adopts you as his or her own, don’t let go.  The Lord has adopted us in Baptism. Our joy is filled in His love of us that as He first loved us, we love.  “Everyone loves a winner”, and “Everyone wants to be around a winner” has some truth but if it was completely true everyone should be around Jesus Christ and loving Him.  Now some preach be a winner or a conqueror. We will have tribulation in this world, but take heart, I have overcome the world. He invites us to stay close to Him as He is Victor. In hoc signo vincet. In this sign conquer. In this sign of the Cross we are conquered and in Him,

“…we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8)

Our life of prayer and Scripture is daily being taught to love by the Holy Spirit,  as we have been loved, seeking His kingdom and the joy that surpasses all understanding. Love, joy and what is next Galatians? Peace…and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Image result for the venerable bede
Image result for the venerable bede

Heavenly Father, when he was still a child You called Your servant Bede to devote his life to serve You in the venerable disciplines of religion and scholarship.  As he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of Your truth to his generation, grant that we may also strive to make You known in all the world in our various vocations;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Bede (673-735) was the last of the early church fathers and the first to compile the history of the English church. Born in Northumbria, Bede was given by his parents to a monastery in Northern England at the age of seven. The most learned man of his time, he was a prolific writer of history, whose careful use of sources provided a model for historians in the Middle Ages. Known best for his book, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, he was also a profound interpreter of Scripture; his commentaries are still fresh today. His most famous disciple, Cuthbert, reported that Bede was working on a translation of John’s Gospel into English when death came, and that he died with the words of the Gloria Patri on his lips. He received the title “Venerable” within two generations of his death and is buried in Durham Cathedral as one of England’s greatest saints.

In Bede’s most known work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People he writes of the period, “The Persecution Ceasing, The Church In Britain Enjoys Peace Till The Time Of The Arian Heresy. [A.D. 307­-337.]” The Arian Heresy was the false teaching that there was “a time when Christ was not”, in other words, denying the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity.  Of that period he wrote:

“WHEN the storm of persecution ceased, the faithful Christians, who, during the time of danger, had hidden themselves in woods and deserts, and secret caves, appearing in public, rebuilt the churches which had been leveled with the ground; founded, erected, and finished the temples of the holy martyrs, and, as it were, displayed their conquering ensigns in all places; they celebrated festivals, and performed their sacred rites with clean hearts and mouths. This peace continued in the churches of Britain until whole world, infected this island also, so far removed (from) the Arian madness, which, having corrupted the rest of the globe, with the poison of its arrows; when the plague was thus conveyed across the sea, all the venom of every heresy immediately rushed into the island, ever fond of something new, and never holding firm to anything.”

This is an ancient record of the ebb and flow of the Church and Her saving Gospel living in the world, but not of the world.  I pray these witnesses encourage us in the good fight of faith these days. At that time, there was violent persecution then a time of peace and growth of the Good Seed of the Word, then a devilish heresy comes to snatch the seed out of the ground.  The price of freedom in Christ is vigilant teaching, preaching and prayer.  We can learn this from a Venerable Bede with all the saints in Christ. We must be alert and awake as the Lord tells us in the Bible. This is the way we stay awake and alert:

“Whenever we enter the church and draw near to the heavenly mysteries, we ought to approach with all humility and fear, both because of the presence of the angelic powers and out of the reverence due to the sacred oblation; for as the Angels are said to have stood by the Lord’s body when it lay in the tomb, so we must believe that they are present in the celebration of the Mysteries of His most sacred Body at the time of consecration.” + St.  Bede the Venerable

And through the patience and perseverance of the Scripture:

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Truth and Fact | “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”    George Santayana | image tagged in anti-semitism | made w/ Imgflip meme maker
On the left: For a Mardi Gras, parade in Aalst a Belgian town, featured two grotesque caricatures of Hasidic Jews, hooked noses, hands reaching out for money, and a rat sitting on money bags. That’s 2019. A second float, pictured above on the right—in Marburg, Germany, in 1936—featured celebrants dressed as Orthodox Jews. 

Esther is the heroine of the biblical book that bears her name. Her Jewish name was Hadassah, which means “myrtle.” Her beauty, charm, and courage served her well as queen to King Ahasuerus. In that role she was able to save her people from the mass extermination that Haman, the king’s chief advisor, had planned (2:19–4:17). Esther’s efforts to uncover the plot resulted in the hanging of Haman on the very same gallows that he had built for Mordecai, her uncle and guardian. Then the king named Mordecai minister of state in Haman’s place. This story is an example of how God intervenes on behalf of his people to deliver them from evil, as here through Esther he preserved the Old Testament people through whom the Messiah would come. 

The Name of God is not mentioned once in The Book of Esther, nevertheless His providence is throughout  the narrative. In  the narrative of Joseph, Genesis 37-50, the Lord is spoken of yet does not speak much or seems to be directly involved, yet His providential hand has left His fingerprints all over the narrative forming Joseph. The Lord is Emmanuel, God with us.   In the end of the narrative Joseph tells his 11 brothers, who did great evil against Joseph,

““Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen. 50)

In Esther, Mordecai says to Esther, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 14)  The Lord is working deeply in and for His people. We wonder why the Lord is silent, yet by faith we are assured by His Word in Esther and Genesis, and many other places in Scripture, the Lord is working His salvation for His faithful people.

When Esther is brought before the King, though she is offered to wear beautiful clothes, she does not.  She is a virtuous woman.  “…commendable friendship which maintains virtue is to be preferred most certainly to wealth or honors or power.”–(St. Ambrose of Milan, on The Book of Esther)  Mordecai does not pay homage to a man, Haman.  Esther and Mordecai have a commendable friendship for they both maintained virtue as they were formed and informed by God’s Word.  Such strength of virtue from the Lord sustained them through trial and temptation, as it did for Joseph falsely accused and then imprisoned. 

We need more than ever to be so formed for the times we are in,, but not by the times themselves. The Jews were a target for the malice of the world.  Esther was called to help stop, “the destruction of the Jews.”(Esther 4: 7)  Their destruction was stopped then.  Centuries later, the destruction of the Jews would be tried once more and it was horrific:  the 6 million and that time it was not the gallows but the gas chambers of the Nazis.  Yet, the Jews were  not destroyed.  And as their younger brothers, Christians, have not been destroyed.  Esther and Mordecai stepped into the breach.  Yet, today, the resurgence of anti-Semitism is being accepted again by the liberal elites of the West and with it the persecution of Christians around the world. We must also  say No to tyranny and Yes to freedom in Jesus Christ, Son of Israel. Though the world bends the knee before wealth, honors and power, we know they are its unholy idols and by which we are tried and tempted to leave the Lord we love and who so loved us.  We, with Esther and Mordecai, must assert: The Lord our God, the Lord alone is God (Deuteronomy 6: 4; St. Mark 12: 28-29).  Thus He forms us in commendable friendships to maintain virtue in a time gone awry and upside down.

 Let us pray,   

O God, You graced your servant Queen Esther not only with beauty and elegance but also with faith and wisdom. Grant that we, too, might us the qualities that Your have generously bestowed on us for the glory of Your mighty name and for the good of Your people, that through Your work in us, we may be advocates of the oppressed and defenders of the weak, preserving our faith in the great High Priest who intercedes on our behalf, Jesus Christ , who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Translation: “In this Sign, You Will Conquer”

Introduction: Constantine I served as Roman Emperor from A.D. 306 to 337. During his reign the persecution of Christians was forbidden by the Edict of Milan in 312, and ultimately the faith gained full imperial support. Constantine took an active interest in the life and teachings of the church and  called the Council of Nicaea in 325 at which orthodox Christianity was defined and defended. His mother, Helena(ca. 255-329), strongly influenced Constantine. Her great interest in locating the holy sites of the Christian faith led her to become one of the first Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Her research led to the identification of Biblical locations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and beyond, which are still maintained as places of worship today.

From The Ecclesiastical History of Christianity by Sozomen (Salminius Hermias Sozomenus[a] (Greek: Σωζομενός; c. 400 – c. 450 AD), also known as Sozomen was a historian of the Christian Church.)

Chapter 3. By the Vision of the Cross, and by the Appearance of Christ, Constantine is led to embrace Christianity.— He receives Religious Instruction from our Brethren.

“We have been informed that Constantine was led to honor the Christian religion by the concurrence of several different events, particularly by the appearance of a sign from heaven.

“When he first formed the resolution of entering into a war against Maxentius, he was beset with doubts as to the means of carrying on his military operations, and as to the quarter whence he could look for assistance. In the midst of his perplexity, he saw, in a vision, the sight of the cross shining in heaven. He was amazed at the spectacle, but some holy angels who were standing by, exclaimed, Oh, Constantine! By this symbol, conquer! And it is said that Christ himself appeared to him, and showed him the symbol of the cross, and commanded him to construct one like it, and to retain it as his help in battle, as it would insure the victory.

“Eusebius, surnamed Pamphilus, affirms that he heard the emperor declare with an oath, as the sun was on the point of inclining about the middle of the day, he and the soldiers who were with him saw in heaven the trophy of the cross composed of light, and encircled by the following words: By this sign, conquer.

“This vision met him by the way, when he was perplexed as to whither he should lead his army. While he was reflecting on what this could mean, night came; and when he fell asleep, Christ appeared with the sign which he had seen in heaven, and commanded him to construct a representation of the symbol, and to use it as his help in hostile encounters. There was nothing further to be elucidated; for the emperor clearly apprehended the necessity of serving God.

“At daybreak, he called together the priests of Christ, and questioned them concerning their doctrines. They opened the sacred Scriptures, and expounded the truths relative to Christ, and showed him from the prophets, how the signs which had been predicted, had been fulfilled. The sign which had appeared to him was the symbol, they said, of the victory over hell; for Christ came among men, was stretched upon the cross, died, and returned to life the third day. On this account, they said, there was hope that at the close of the present dispensation, there would be a general resurrection of the dead, and entrance upon immortality, when those who had led a good life would receive accordingly, and those who had done evil would be punished. Yet, continued they, the means of salvation and of purification from sin are provided; namely, for the uninitiated, initiation according to the canons of the church; and for the initiated, abstinence from renewed sin. But as few, even among holy men, are capable of complying with this latter condition, another method of purification is set forth, namely, repentance; for God, in his love towards man, bestows forgiveness on those who have fallen into sin, on their repentance, and the confirmation of their repentance by good works.

Reflection:  I do not know the historical accuracy of the account above. We do know that the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity by the 4th Century. This was after over 2 centuries of persecution, sometimes wicked and bloody as the Lord taught the Apostolic Church before His Ascension in AD 33 which would occur (e.g. Matthew 5: 9-12; Matthew 10: 16-23). The Lord had not left His Church orphans but was with His Church,then as of now  At the eve of the Battle of Milvian Bridge, it is estimated that up to half the Roman Empire was Christian. The growth of the Church was a miracle bar none. For over 2 centuries, the Church lived in a world that thrived on conquering and living off the conquests of gold and human flesh.  Christians already knew what Constantine saw about the Cross of Christ, “By this Sign You Will Conquer”, but even more:  

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8: 37

Let us pray and sing:

1. O little flock, fear not the Foe
Who madly seeks your overthrow;
Dread not his rage and power.
What though your courage sometimes faints,
His seeming triumph o’er God’s saints
Lasts but a little hour.

2. Be of good cheer; your cause belongs
To Him who can avenge your wrongs;
Leave it to Him, our Lord.
Though hidden yet from mortal eyes,
His Gideon shall for you arise,
Uphold you and His Word.

3. As true as God’s own Word is true.
Not earth nor hell with all their crew
Against us shall prevail.
A jest and byword are they grown;
God is with us, we are His own;
Our victory cannot fail.

4. Amen, Lord Jesus, grant our prayer;
Great Captain, now Thine arm make bare,
Fight for us once again!
So shall Thy saints and martyrs raise
A mighty chorus to Thy praise,
World without end. Amen.

Hymn #263 The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Luke 12:32

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The Work of the Holy Spirit:  The Apostle Peter Baptized Cornelius | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

Text:  St. John 16:  When the Spirit of truth comes,  he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you

 I’ve been an unofficial tour guide here and when my parents lived in Vienna, Virginia outside of Washington, D.C. for our guests, family and friends.  As a tour guide, I want to show our guests all the highlights of an area. Here, Lee Chapel, the W and L, VMI, the VMI museum, the art stores in downtown and the like. The Lord uses the word “guide” to describe the work of the Holy Spirit.  The word guide in New Testament Greek is: ὁδηγήσει, literally to guide along the road, way, kind of a tour guide. To guide along the road, odos, as in  I am the Odos, The Road, The Way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me”.

 A tour guide, by showing the best of town, city or nation gives the assertion that this is the entire truth of the area.   No tour guide is going to show you the low lights of a town or city or nation. Oh, here are the slums where all the poor people live.  I could take you out in Rockbridge County for a tour of rural poverty. In many cities, Oh, over there is the abortion clinic.  Over there is where prostitution is rampant.  Here in this house there was a gruesome murder.  The old Adam does not like the whole truth, in fact, he cannot take the truth of where he lives…especially how he lives and has lived.  The Lord then comes quickly with the message of forgiveness and eternal life in the Lord Jesus Christ. For the Lord came to His house and our homes.

The tour guide, the Holy Spirit, unlike a human tour guide, will show you all the sights, high and low. The Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets from Moses to Malachi preaching the Word of God to a wayward Israel in its depths, so that we too may be guided by the Lord.  He filled Saul and David to rule according to the Word of God, but when David committed adultery and was ruled damned by  his sin, the Holy Spirit showed him his sin through Nathan the prophet so David repented.

Thus David is rebuked by Nathan, and in his terror he says 56 (Il Sam. 12:13), “I have sinned against the Lord.” This is contrition. Then he hears the absolution (Il Sam. 12: 14), “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.” This voice encourages David and by faith it sustains; justifies, and quickens him.

His Law shows that the Lord goes not forget sin and through Jesus Christ, His Gospel forgives sinners. 

A human tour guide does not like to show the bad sights.  He wants to cast a blind eye toward such.  The Holy Spirit, who leads into all the truth, points out the bad sights. The Lord has no blind eye. The Holy Spirit tour-guides you into all the truth. The truth is both  Law and Gospel, the Word of God. The principle is the 10 Commandments, the guide of right and wrong which shows us when we have strayed off the right path and what the right path is. 

“Isa. 28: 21, “The Lord will be wroth, to do his deed—strange is his deed! and to work his work—alien is his work!” He calls it God’s alien work to terrify because God’s own proper work is to make alive and console. But he terrifies, he says, to make room for consolation and quickening because hearts that do not feel God’s wrath in their smugness spurn consolation.”

The Holy Spirit, the Guide, the very will of the Lord is to show us all the highlights, all the light and glory of Jesus Christ.  Through the hard and narrow gate of the Law showing us the terror of God’s wrath towards sin, the Lord teaches us His proper work, what He wants to do:  show us Jesus and His wounds which are the immeasurable riches of His grace. He leads us to the day when the kingdom of this world becomes the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ. 

The Lord, the Holy Spirit, has a guidebook with which He is intimately known and shows us the way: The Bible.  Your word is a lamp to my feet/and a light to my path. (Psalm 119: 105)

St. Paul wrote to Timothy regarding this guidebook:

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

The Lord guided Timothy by His Word growing up with the goal always of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. He taught Timothy out of His guide Book from the time he was born.  The Lord’s guide Book is replete with the journeys and travels of the narratives of the frailties and fears, faith and hope, repentance and forgiveness of people like you and me.  The Holy Spirit warns:  “Bridge out!”  “Detour”, “Dead-end”, “Wrong Way”.  He exhorts, This way, the one Way.   Through it all and now in the fullness of Jesus Christ, the Lord the Holy Spirit declares all that Jesus taught and did, and shows us the things to come, the new heavens and the new earth. A tour guide is particularly important in a foreign country: he can speak the language.  The Holy Spirit is well versed in the language of the Kingdom of God that we hear in “…our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2).  Through His Word, the Holy Spirit who inspired this Book will equip us for freedom in Jesus Christ in faith, not to go my way, which is death, but His way, which is eternal life, trained in Christ’s righteousness alone, equipped for every good work to help and serve our neighbor.   

The Holy Spirit guides, teaches, glories in the Word made flesh Jesus Christ who fulfilled the Law by which we know we were lost, afraid, and dead in our sin, at our wit’s end, a dead end.  He became lost for our sake, crucified, dead and buried and risen to find us, as He found the disciples. He cried out in dereliction, My God, my God why have you forsaken me?   Sin is death and no tour guide in this world will ever show you this sight and teach you this.  The Holy Spirit does as He points the crucifixion of the Author of Life. Jesus said I am the Way, the Road, the path. His crucifixion is where and when the Holy Spirit will always guide us where in His perfect freedom Jesus Christ went to die, to lay down His life, to take it up again.  The lowest of the low lights in all history is where the depths of God’s love was poured out for us all.  

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! 

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light.

Along His way we meet people groping in the darkness, they too need the guidance of His Word, His forgiveness. How can you tell who the tour guide is in a city in the midst of his fellow travelers?  Easy:  the tour guide is holding up an umbrella, a sign, a flag for the group to see and follow.  For the way is always marked by the Cross, the signpost of freed travelers. The Holy Spirit lifts high the Cross of Christ for all to see and so follow our Lord!  No thanks to foes who hate and hide the Cross. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  The Apostle Paul  portrayed the Crucifixion of Christ as if he, in effect  put it in on a billboard for all to see, so we know the Way (Galatians 3:1). We cannot find our way without a guide and we have one, and the Holy Spirit is all truth, a compass, lodestar, a non-failing GPS.   His Word in His words are “trustworthy and true” and His Word is solid and certain, as solid and certain as the nails in His hands which finally could not hold Him:  Jesus Christ.   

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Presiding over the death of a church. . .

I know it is heresy today but the Church will not die because we have always done it that way before. ” -Pr. Peters

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