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Lutheran Pastor and Professor Hermann Sasse observed that in the first two centuries of the Church, the pagan world had great and mighty religious rites, but compared to the Church, her rites were and are so simple:   bread, wine, water and through it all the Word of God and the crucified and Risen Christ.  Truly, what we  actually are, that is,  who we are is Who’s we are. It’s not scary and we don’t have to be scary.  Maybe it shows from Whom comes great a grace, so great a salvation.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  (2 Corinthians 4:6-8 English Standard Version)

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My brother-in-law had this ale and was a little vexed by the name of the ale…but the problem is the use of the name in conjunction with the graphic:

The graphic shows what looks like  a drop of blood, with the word “ale”, going into a chalice.  Needless to say, no “brewer’s art” can do this.  I wonder what were the brewers thinking about?!  Ale is good, but it’s not the Word of God!  This borders on bad taste, at least. 

Yet it could be corrected:  change the word “ale” to “Christ” or a picture of a cross, showing that from the crucified and risen Lord Jesus comes the “Blood of the New Testament”, the Holy Communion.  Johnny Hart pictured this Biblical truth another way  in his comic “B.C.”:B.C. Empty Tomb CommunionAttend the Divine Service tomorrow,”… in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered”! (From Article VII, The Augsburg Confession)  His hands blessed the bread and gave the Cup of the new testament in His blood, as the Word is preached, FOR YOU!

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The Epistle Reading for Today:  Hebrews 12:  1-24

Our Lord said in Holy Week,

“And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” St. John 12:  23-14

The seed of Jesus in the ground, risen from the dead, bore fruit both today, tomorrow and yesterday: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13: 8).  The Lord was bearing fruit through the hope of His coming, the promises of God fulfilled in Him, through out the time of the Old Testament, from the beginning, Genesis 1 and following.  This is the roll call of faith in Hebrews 11.  So much of Hebrews is encouragement for discouraged brothers and sisters.  The writer calls it, “my letter of exhortation” (Hebrews 13:  22), and as it Scripture, for us as well:  

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12)

In the marathon of faith in Christ, Christ before us, Christ beside us, Emmanuel, God with us we are surrounded, “…so great a cloud of witnesses”, of the saints in the Old Testament.  In these last days (Hebrews 1:2), this cloud has more billows of the saints who have died in Christ.  This cloud is not a storm cloud, but a cloud filled with the dew of Baptism, a rain cloud, on this parched earth.  We do not have to searching for extra-terrestrials to assert with faith and hope that is in Christ:  we are not alone.  The cloud of witnesses is praying us on, to lay aside “every weight, and sin which clings to closely”, confessing the weight, praying to the Lord ahead of us and beside us.  G. K. Chesterton, Roman Catholic convert, novelist, writer:

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

I substitute “Church” for “tradition”.  Even two or three are gathered together at the Lamb’s High Feast, there are more:  angels, archangels and all the company of heaven.  

Almighty and everlasting God,  You knit together Your faithful people of all times and places into one holy communion, the mystical body of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that, together with them, we may come to the unspeakable joys You have prepared for those who love You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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The Prayer of the Day

O  Lord, as we have known the incarnation of Your Son Jesus Christ by the message of the angel to the Virgin Mary, so by the message of His cross and passion bring us to the glory of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

The Old Testament Reading for the Day: Isaiah 7:10-14

Psalm 45: 7-17

The Epistle Reading:  Hebrews 10: 4-10

The Gospel Reading for the DayLuke 1:26-38

The Annunciation of Our Lord:  The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and announces that God has shown her favor and will use her as the means for the Messiah’s birth. So Mary conceives Jesus when the angel says: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). This same Spirit who hovered over the waters and brought forth creation (Genesis 1:2) will now “hover over” the waters of Mary’s womb to conceive the creation’s Redeemer. As the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary, she conceives Jesus “through her ear” (as Martin Luther says). The one who is conceived is called Holy, the Son of God. This is the moment of the incarnation of our Lord. The date of the Annunciation falls on March 25, because the Ancient Church believed the crucifixion occurred on that date. In antiquity, people linked the day of a person’s conception with the day of his or her death. Thus, in the Annunciation, the Church joined together both the incarnation of Jesus and the atonement He accomplished. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Luther preached that the greatest miracle this day was not that the Virgin conceived, but she believed.  The conception was an oral one, through the ear.  “Let it be according to Thy Word” and this Word is the Word of the Lord, the Promise, the Gospel, the Good News.  The Annunciation, or the Announcement, was without fanfare, no media crowding about, no Tweets, no TV cameras in the hick town of Nazareth. This announcement was quiet as a silent night yet spoke and would speak volumes. This announcement is for the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary and this announcement is for the beloved Son’s tomb one day for us to hear another angel’s announcement: He is not here. He is risen!  These annunciations of the Word is for us to hear so that the Lord is conceived in us in the same faith as the Virgin Mary:  “Let it be according to Thy Word”:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10)

This announcement of the free and freeing forgiveness of sinners from the One. 

“…who was
 conceived
 by
 the 
Holy 
Spirit,
born
 of
 the
 virgin
 Mary,
suffered
 under 
Pontius
Pilate,
was
 crucified,
died
 and 
was 
buried.
He
 descended
 into
 hell.
The
 third 
day
 He 
rose
 again
 from 
the
 dead.
”(From the 2nd Article of the Apostles Creed)

This Annunciation has gone forth and still is  into the world: through the ear and into the heart, knowing the heart is a rusty tin can of sin,  and  made new in Jesus Christ by His grace alone, faith saving through the Word, taught, preached, administered in the Sacraments.  In the world of grand announcements and annunciation of sin and death, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Virgin Mary and Son of the Father, is for our  renunciation of the world, the flesh and the devil in the Annunciation to the Virgin. As Mary, we with the Virgin Mary,as His Church, share in the same faith as Mary in her Son, our Son as well, that prays: “Let it be according to Your Word”.  

 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9)

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The Lessons:

1 Samuel 1: 21-28    Psalm 84   Hebrews 2: 14-18     St. Luke 2: 22-32

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and ever-living God, as Your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, grant that we may be presented to You with pure and clean hearts; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About the Feast Day:  

Thirty-two days  after Jesus’ circumcision and seventy weeks after teh announcement of John’s birth to Zechariah by the angel Gabriel, the Lord comes to His temple to fulfill the Torah (Luke 2: 22-38).  The days are fulfilled with the presentation. Jesus’ parents keep the Torah and fulfill it by bringing Jesus to His true home. Also, Jesus’ parents offer the alternative sacrifice of two turtledoves or two pigeons. Leviticus 12:8 allows this instead of a lamb, since not everyone could afford a lamb (showing the poverty and humility of Joseph and Mary). Yet no lamb was necessary because already here at forty days old, Jesus is the Lamb brought to His temple for sacrifice. Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis is a beautiful example of the immediate response to this inauguration of God’s consolation and redemption in the Christ Child. Speaking to Mary, Simeon also prophesies about the destiny of the child. (from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Reflection:  

St. Luke 2, the Nunc Dimittis, or the Song of Simeon:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.

 Here  was a 40 day old infant, not potty trained, born in poverty, with his poor parents  and this crying Child is being sung about as, “…a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel“?  A child has achieved nothing and yet has received everything with no choice in the matter. The Child had not demonstrated wisdom nor talent nor anything to earn an accolade, not even the praise of being born for that praise of labor belongs to the mother. Later Jesus’ disciples would say of the Temple in marvel at it and say to the Lord, “…Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” (St. Mark 13: 1). What did this Child compare with the magnificent Temple in which the Presentation occurred?   How did a poor child compare with one of the wonders of the ancient world?  What did Simeon see in the Child that he sang that the Child is “…a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel”?  He did.  How did Simeon see this in the Child presented this day in the Temple?  We are told earlier in Luke chapter 2 about Simeon that  “…the Holy Spirit was upon him.” (vs. 25.)  The Holy Spirit taught Simeon, Behold, Simeon you have seen the Christ!  The light and revelation of Jew and Gentile! “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (St. John 14: 26).  The Holy Spirit witnesses and teaches through the Word alone, written, spoken and incarnate. This is the way Simeon knew the Child was and is the One.   “…for my eyes have seen your salvation”.
The magnificent Temple and its wonderful stones did not save.  It is  the Lord, whose house the Temple was, alone saves, presented in His Father’s House for us and for our salvation.  Our church buildings, our church polities, our denominational stratagems, our good works, our self-chosen spiritualities do not, can not and will not save.  Here is God deep within human flesh, born under the Law to redeem us, presented that day in the Temple for us and for our salvation. “The deeper we plunge Christ into the flesh of mankind, the better for us.” (From Luther’s House Sermon on the Presentation, 1537) He who needed no sacrifices to be made pure became the Sacrifice to make us pure. Outside of the Christ is only darkness.  In Him, love’s pure light shines.

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Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s (1794-1872) depiction of the Israelites cross the Jordan River on dry ground as priests hold the Ark of the Covenant in the center of the river. From the Pitt Theological Library, Digital Archives, Emory University. Scripture Reference: Joshua 3

Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Joshua 3: 11

About Joshua:  Today we remember and thank God for His faithful servant, Joshua. Joshua, the son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim, is first mentioned in Exodus 17 when he was chosen by Moses to fight the Amalakites, whom he defeated in a brilliant military victory. He was placed in charge of the Tent of Meeting (Ex. 33:11) and was a member of the tribal representatives sent to survey the land of Canaan (Num 13:8). Later, he was appointed by God to succeed Moses as Israel’s commander-in-chief. He eventually led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land and directed the Israelites’ capture of Jericho. He is remembered especially for his final address to the Israelites, in which he challenged them to serve God faithfully (Josh 24:1–27), concluding with the memorable words, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”(24:15). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  Some may know he was “Israel’s commander-in-chief”. Some may know that the 6th book of the Bible is named after him.  Most people might know that “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho.”  The Battle of Jericho is recorded in chapter 6 and then follow 18 chapters of the Conquest of the Land.   Joshua and the Israelites fought against the seven nations:

the Canaanites, Amorites, Jebusites, Hittites, Hivites, Girgashites and the Perizzites.

Joshua and the Israelites fought many a bloody battle. Modern/post-modern ‘sensibilities’ do not like the Book of Joshua because it is so ‘militaristic’ and violent.  The Promised Land was given by the LORD but the people fought for it.  We think enemies can be won over to be  ‘nice’ like us. Give me a break.  The seven nations had “detestable practices” , such as “child sacrifices, the practice of divination or sorcery, and occult activity.  In addition, Leviticus 18 and 20 detail the rampant sexual depravity among the Canaanites.” (“The Peoples of Canaan, The Lutheran Study Bible, page 345). 

What follows after the entrance into the Land, the Crossing of the Jordan, the first circumcisions and Passover therein, and then the Battle of Jericho, in the next 18 chapters is quite a slog.  They,  and only the Israelites, then were engaged in both physical and spiritual warfare, physically killing the enemies.  Spiritually we must kill enemies, 

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, againstthe spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6: 12, from the Epistle Reading for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (9/2/2012)

Yet they are enemies, the cosmic powers, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, even in the Church, giving their consent to sexual immorality   and covetousness.  This blind world does not see it but we can see the breaking of every commandment every day on our favorite television programs. We have seen it in ourselves by God’s Law and we cry out, Kyrie Eleison, Lord, have mercy.    By God’s grace alone in Jesus Christ, we see the Canaanite, Jebusite etc. occupation of our own souls.  The name “Joshua”, literally means “God Saves”.  Joshua in Hebrew is pronounced, Yeshua and transliterated into Greek it became Iesus, the very Name in the New Testament, then transliterated into Jesus.

Joshua of old led the Israelites through the waters of the Jordan into the promised land for the conquest.  Jesus Christ leads us through the waters of Holy Baptism into the promised land of eternal life and leads, “the pioneer and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12: 2) for our struggles, the crucified and risen Lord before us, beside us, within us, around us. He is the new and living covenant of the Lord of all the living who went through the waters for us and our salvation. Yes, it is a slog when we see politicians approving abortion and the abortions of their conscience.  It is a slog when we see church bodies emasculate even the mention of  spiritual warfare as “too militaristic” so that a man and a woman does not stand in the battle.  It is a slog when in our lives we see so many fighting and fears within and without.  But Joshua took a stand with his house:  we will serve the Lord.  Jesus Christ took His stand and served the Lord to us all, the LORD God of Sabaoth for our battles and struggles to defeat the Hittites, the Canaanites etc.and now by His grace alone won over to the Lord.  He made us His own, forgiven and drafted into His army. Joshua delcared as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. In Baptism we renounce the devil and all his empty and false promises.   More than ever, we need the conscientious desicision of every family to say as Joshua did, “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord”, and not the false gods and practices of those around us, not only for our salvation but others to come to faith in Jesus Christ. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Your servant Joshua led the children of Israel through the waters of the Jordan River into a land flowing with milk and honey. As our Joshua, lead us, we pray, through the waters of our Baptism into the promised land of our eternal home, where You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

The Word made flesh prays the Word to His Father as only His only begotten Son could.  John 17 is the Lord’s prayer based upon His last sermon in His earthly ministry. :

 In the Transfiguration hymn, “How Good Lord to be here”, we sing

How good, Lord, to be here!
Your glory fills the night;
Your face and garments, like the sun,
Shine with unborrowed light.

The Lord Jesus’ glory is unborrowed glory.  It is not on loan. It is not mortal. His glory is not reflected glory. He is not like the moon.  The Son is like the sun. He is the glory of the only-begotten Son in the love of His Father by whom He has so loved the world. He had this glory as He prayed, “…before the world existed”.   

 Many do not believe the Lord’s prayer that He was before the world existed.  These religions are:

Islam

Mormonism

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Strains of Liberal Protestantism

A heretic of the early Church, Bishop Arius, announced there was a time when Christ was not.  The upshot of all these heresies is that Jesus Christ did not accomplish our salvation once and for all, contrary to today’s Gospel and the entire witness of the Bible, God’s Word.  Note that Islam, Mormonism, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses then conveniently add new ‘scripture’.  The 10 Commandments show us exactly what is needed to do good and before that to be good.  It’s hard to get past the 1st Commandment most days:  No other gods before Me, when my heart is set on everything but the Lord. As St. Augustine forthrightly confessed:  “What am I to myself but a guide to my own self-destruction?”  Look at liberal Protestantism I do not mean numbers of congregants dwindling alone but the dwindling and even the destruction of the sound doctrine of justification by grace through faith..  I use to buy into the liberal lie that the Bible in it’s every Word  is not the Word of God, but it contains the Word of God.  Sounds so pious.  I can dismiss God’s Law as caution and warning, and so it finally means that the reason for our lives  to glory in the blood of Jesus is dismissed. Reformed theologian H. Richard Niebuhr, in the 50s, said it well:  “A God without wratch brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross”.  Liberal Protestantism talk and preach much about the grace of God, but as foretold in the Bible, in the book of Jude:  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality andd eny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Grace becomes license and yet you have to do something so the programs of social activism, consciousness raising and the like.  A lot of this is what goes for government.   So the Old Adam cuts down God’s Law to fit its self, write new scriptures so that say, the 5 pillars of Islam, I just do it and I’m good to go.  Tailor made law. Even civil law is not tailor made!  But as we attempt to tailor civil law to fit immorality, then confusion reigns as does division.

Yes, this is legalism and as one pastor, Matt Richards,  put it well:   “Legalists do not dismiss Christ, they trust Him a lot; however, they don’t trust Him alone. They want a comma after Jesus, not a period.”  There is always a comma, an ellipse:  dot dot dot. True prayer ends with a period.  Jesus is putting a period in His prayer to the Father of His work in the lives of the disciples and Israel and the entire world.  The period will be His Cross and the period to sin in His Forgiveness continuing in His resurrection and ascension. The Cross is the Lord’s Amen for us and for our salvation.

 The disciples kept His Word as He kept them safe from the world, the flesh and the devil.  Jesus prayed for His disciples. He interceded, prayed for them all.  He still does. Romans 8: “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”   Christ is ascended. He is ascended, indeed, allelulia!  The Lord sent His disciples into the world, but to be of the world. “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”  verses 16-17, as Jesus prays for His apostolic Church and the disciples.  The Lord assured the full witness of the Resurrection in the 12 Apostles as the beachhead of the Word of the Gospel into the world.  Jesus is now glorified in the presence of His Father.  It is the glory of love’s pure light.  He shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome nor understood it.  The world seeks it’s own glory to be powerful, Christ’s glory seeks us to find us and others.  Jesus began the prayer of John 17 today after He finished His farewell sermon, the last verse of chapter 16: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  We will have tribulation but take heart in the absolutely pure heart who overcame the world. 

 The Apostle Peter’s encouragement is needed today as it was then:

 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

From the Ascension to Pentecost, the Apostles, Mary and women joined together in prayer, not a marathon church council meeting nor a Synod or district assembly.Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  It is not that in Christ Jesus we are NOT going have anxiety.  We will. It is what it is done with it:  according to God’s Word.  Note:  The Word first says we can cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares FOR YOU.  Luther wrote that the words FOR YOU are the Gospel, the good news of Jesus. Casting is praying.   He can take it.  He has on the Cross.  All our anxieties take us away from the Lord and each other.  And the devil uses them as such .  The devil knows that anxieties are his segue way into something worse, that is temptation and sin. The devil wants you to always be looking inside and not outside for help, that is, to the Lord.  Anxieties are not the last word:  Jesus Christ and His forgiveness and grace in His Church is the first Word and the last Word.

Be sober-minded; be watchful.

Sober-minded in regards to what is happening in the world. As I read religion articles in the secular news, they are mostly anti-religion articles, especially, anti-Christian, even antichrist articles.  Watchful yes and sober-minded about it all because no one can respond to it all.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

The devil in false doctrine, remembers, does not want you to know that Jesus died and rose for you and your salvation:  period.  He will always be trying to turn that period into a comma and all the while sounding mighty pious and religious and spiritual about the whole thing, again see Islam and Mormonism.

 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

Temptation is common to the brotherhood through the world.  In the  wealthy city, of Wenzhou in China,  which has many Christians, the State has ordered all the crosses to be removed from church buildings because of “building codes”, all of a sudden.  In Sudan, a Muslim woman, Meriam Ibrahim,  married to a Christian, Daniel,  herself became a Christian.  She was condemned to death for conversion, accused of “apostasy”.  She was pregnant when arrested and recently she gave birth in prison while her legs were shackled. Even so, she gave birth to her daughter.   In our country too many want to remove all mention of the Cross of Christ from the public square or churches lifting up the cross and the preaching of the Crucified, right out of churches.  The devil devours, he does not take little bites. Steadfast in the faith is steadfast in the doctrine, the sound doctrine as Jesus intercedes, prays,  for us all.

 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

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