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Archive for the ‘Confession and Absolution’ Category

Romans 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (emphasis added)

In the Apostle’s inspired teaching on the role of God’s Law in the Lord’s plan of salvation, Paul makes a keen observation. First, it is self-evident that the “work of the law is written in their hearts”, that is, the Gentiles, which means myself and probably most of you reading this. Second, God’s law is written into the “conscience”. Third, the conscience “bears witness” to the eternal and enduring validity of God’s Law, that is, everyone has a conscience. Fourth, the substance of the witness to God’s Law are the Gentiles’,“…conflicting thoughts that accuse or even excuse them.” It is on that part of the verse I will concentrate.

I remember cartoons which show a character with a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other, as the character’s moral conflict, “conflicting thoughts” to do right or wrong. The actual conflict is the “…conflicting thoughts that accuse or even excuse them”. Everyone thinks and knows what is right as the Law is written into our heart. We know what is right and good but the further conflict is we should do the good, but we do the very thing we hate: see Romans 7: 13-25. The Lord’s spiritual use of His law is to accuse us that we don’t do the good. As the blessed Lutheran Confessors correctly taught: Lex semper accusat, the Law always accuses.

It is also self-evident that the conscience is fallen and in sin from the get-go and cannot stand the accusatory, blazing and penetrating, piercing light of God’s Law, by itself. The conscience cannot tolerate long the spiritual accusation that I must do good but I don’t want to,and I have not and there is, “hell to pay”. So the fallen conscience makes for itself a placebo cure for our conflicting thoughts that we must do God’s Law, “even excuse them”, that is, us. We come up with all sorts of excuses for ourselves and we hear them everyday, from others and ourselves:

“Oh, no one is perfect.”

“Everyone is doing it”

“We all make mistakes.”

“God will understand after all He forgives.”

“It’s not a big thing.”

“No one will notice.”

The excusing may be as simple as the shrug of the shoulders, “Whatever” and equally deadly. Maybe you have your own rendition of excuses. Note that many of the excuses above should have an exclamation mark, so emphatic is the excuse because of the Law’s accusation and our “conflicting thoughts”. The point here is this: they are our excuses trying to soften the Law’s just accusation. The Lord does not excuse us. He is not a self-indulgent Father: “Oh, that’s okay, do better”. There is no wiggle room for the Old Adam under the perfect light of God’s Law. There is no excuse. The Lord does not excuse, He forgives. The Lord does not excuse from the cross. The Holy Spirit points us ever to Jesus Christ.

After excusing ourselves,the next move of the accusing and excusing conscience is pointed to someone else: “Look, look at what that guy did! I’m not that bad!” Pride is always comparison: not only that I am better than the other person, but I am not as bad as my neighbor. As it is written:

Romans 2: 1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

The inner Pharisee lurks and needs to be put to death. It revolves around the self. Every Gentile carries within “a secret miniature of the Last Judgment” (Rev. Prof. Martin Franzmann) and the Lord on “that day”, the day of judgment the Lord will expose the secrets of men. We can not hide from God as Adam and Eve tried to do. He did not shed His blood on the cross to excuse us. There is no escape no matter the fine tuning of the excusing machinations of the conscience, because He judges the sinner… and the only Way out is God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, from the accusing and excusing conscience to the conscience purified (see 1 Peter 3: 21):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

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COLLECT OF THE DAY

Heavenly Father, You revealed to the apostle Peter the blessed truth that Your Son Jesus is the Christ. Strengthen us by the proclamation of this truth that we too may joyfully confess that there is salvation in no one else; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

The confession of St. Peter did not arise in the imagination of Peter’s heart but was revealed to him by the Father. The reason this confession is important is seen in Jesus’ response: “You are Peter [Greek Petros], and on this rock [Greek petra] I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). As the people of God in the Old Testament began with the person of Abraham, the rock from which God’s people were hewn (Isaiah 51:1-2), so the people of God in the New Testament would begin with the person of Peter, whose confession is the rock on which Christ would build His Church. But Peter was not alone (the “keys” given to him in Matthew 16:19 were given to all the disciples in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:21-23). As St. Paul tells us, Peter and the other apostles take their place with the prophets as the foundation of the Church, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The confession of Peter, therefore, is the witness of the entire apostolic band and is foundational in the building of Christ’s Church. Thus the Church gives thanks to God for St. Peter and the other apostles who have instructed Christ’s Holy Church in His divine and saving truth. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Readings:

Acts 4:8-13

Psalm 118:19-29 

2 Peter 1:1-15

St. Mark 8:27-9:1

Jesus called Simon “Peter”, or “Rock”.  A rock by itself is generally not of much use, maybe as ballast or a weapon.  Upon the rock of Peter’s Confession, Jesus said He would build His Church.  For a rock to be used in building it needs to be chiseled.  Jesus spend three years on earth chiseling Simon Peter.   Peter, like all Christians, are chiseled and hewn by the Lord to be built into His spiritual temple built upon the only cornerstone, Christ Himself:

1 Peter 2:As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Peter had a lot of rough edges as we all do.  His particular rough edge is well described by Pr. Johann Gerhard in describing Peter’s fall, after he said he would never forsake Jesus, speaks about Peter’s rough edge which is mine as well:

We should also contemplate how Peter came to such a fall, in order that we should avoid the same.  he was entirely too daring (presumptuous)-meaning that it al depended upon a good heart and good intentions. When he notice others who were not like him in this matter, he held them in disdain (see Matthew 26: 33)  Thus he experienced how very little we are capable of if God does not sustain us. Therefore we should indeed not rely on the strength of our faith, or on our good intentions.  God’s power does it, and it alone must do everything.  Indeed we should always keep in our heart the admonition which Christ gave to Peter and the other disciples: Watch and pray, so that you do not fall into temptation.

As when Peter start sinking into the deep when he walked on the water to Jesus, but he saw the storm, and began to sank, Peter was looking to himself for faith. “Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone.” (“Salvation Unto Us Has Come”)  The Lord continued chiseling Peter’s rough edges after His Ascension, see Acts 11: 1-12b. Faith is finally not look what I can do, but true faith is look at what Jesus has done!  And the Apostle Peter did so preach and he fed Christ’s Sheep the Gospel.

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Here is an interesting idea by Pastor William Cwirla:

“Rather than Friendship Sunday, we should consider Enemy Sunday. Invite an enemy to church. Pray for them. Give them a free lunch.”

After all, it is written as the Lord said:

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (St. Matthew 5)

When we get right down to it, isn’t this what the Great Week, Holy Week is all about, that is the Crucifixion and the Lord praying, forgive them for they know not what they do?

10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Invite your enemies. Invite your mother-in-law.  Invite the guy who said the church is filled with hypocrites.  Invite the atheist professor whom you could not best in class.  Invite the guy who ran into your car and told you to go to hell. Invite the friend who blabbed your deepest secret all over facebook.  After all, His death reconciled you and I as well, that is, God’s enemies.  “Oh, oh, but…I am…”  What’s the end of that sentence?  No “buts” at His Cross, only His enemies. God is plain in His Word. He is plain in His judgment…and His mercy through His bloody love at the cross. He invited you and it’s not your good sense that accepted the invitation but your need for His forgiveness.  

So, I think Pastor Cwirla is on to something:   Enemy Sunday.

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Collect of the Day
Almighty and ever-living God, You strengthened Your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in the resurrection of Your Son. Grant us such faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that we may never be found wanting in Your sight; through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  

Appointed Scripture for this day:  

Judge 6:  36-40

Psalm 139: 1-12

Romans 10: 8b-15

St. John 1:  35-42a

All four Gospels mention St. Thomas as one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. John’s Gospel, which names him “the Twin,” uses Thomas’s questions to reveal truths about Jesus. It is Thomas who says, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” To this question Jesus replies, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:5-6). John’s Gospel also tells how Thomas, on the evening of the day of Jesus’ resurrection, doubts the report of the disciples that they had seen Jesus. Later, “doubting Thomas” becomes “believing Thomas” when he confesses Jesus as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:24-29). According to tradition, Thomas traveled eastward after Pentecost, eventually reaching India, where still today a group of people call themselves “Christians of St. Thomas.” Thomas was martyred for the faith by being speared to death.

 (Collect and Intro from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

 Reflection on St. Thomas and this Verse:

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.            St.John 20: 29

 We may think that our Lord’s only Beatitudes are those recorded in St. Matthew 5 at the  beginning of His Sermon on the Mount.  No, they are throughout the Gospels including this one to Thomas and us all.  In a sense, Thomas was privileged in his doubt to be an example of the maxim “seeing is believing”.  But our Lord’s beatitude directs us to the more Biblical understanding of the centrality of the Word of God:  hearing is believing.

14How 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? 15And 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)

The Lord was preparing Thomas and his brethren for the apostolic Ministry of preaching and teaching the Word of God, the Word of His Gospel to repentant sinners for many to hear and so believe.  Even what Thomas and the apostles saw that first evening of the new creation were wounds of a crucifixion.  Not glorious by any stretch of worldly imaginations  but glorious in love’s pure light who died for sinners…as Thomas, as you, making faith.  His wounds are preached scars of our forgiveness in the One Who alone is the way, the truth and life, no one else, as Thomas also heard.  Pastors are called to preach the blood, preach the manger, preach the cross: preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  And Thomas was called to preach His wounds! From His side flowed water and blood (John 19:34), Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  Pastors are called to administer the Sacraments.  Thomas’ eyes were blessed in seeing but his feet were beautiful in the sermon he preached: Jesus Christ.

Crown him the Lord of love.
Behold his hands and side,
Rich wounds, yet visible above, 
In beauty glorified.
No angels in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bend their burning eyes
At mysteries so bright.

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Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, Your servant Clement of Rome called the Church in Corinth to repentance and faith to unite them in Christian love. Grant that Your Church may be anchored in Your truth by the presence of the Holy Spirit and kept blameless in Your service until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Clement (ca. A.D. 35–100) is remembered for having established the pattern of apostolic authority that governed the Christian Church during the first and second centuries. He also insisted on keeping Christ at the center of the Church’s worship and outreach. In a letter to the Christians at Corinth, he emphasized the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Let us fix our eyes on the blood of Christ, realizing how precious it is to His Father, since it was poured out for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to the whole world” (1 Clement 6:31). Prior to suffering a martyr’s death by drowning, he displayed a steadfast, Christ-like love for God’s redeemed people, serving as an inspiration to future generations to continue to build the Church on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Christ as the one and only cornerstone. (from The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod website, see Blogroll on sidebar)

Reflection:  In the bio above and in the quote below the word “fix” is employed.  In the Prayer of the Day for the 5th Sunday after Easter, the Church prays, “Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where trues are found, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord…”.  I like to play off that word “fix”.  Our hearts, that is,  our wills are fixed, that is, guided, repented, repaired in the fruit of the joys of His crucifixion and resurrection:  His forgiveness for us, in us, with us, His life in our lives.  We can not repair our hearts, our wills on our own.  No one did heart surgery on himself, one needs a physician.  We are fixed by fixing our hearts and eyes on Jesus Christ and that “fix” is prayer, the prayer of faith in the Lord, in Whom we are made one in Christian love.

From Pastor and Bishop Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians:

This is the way, beloved, in which we found our salvation, Jesus Christ, the high priest of our offerings, teh protecotor and helper of our weakness (cf. Heb. 2: 17, 3:1, 4: 15)

Through him we fix our eyes on the heights of heaven, Through him we see mirrored the flawless and sublime countenance of God (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18),

Through him the eyes of our heart have been opened, Through him our foolish and darkened understanding springs up to the light,

Through him the Master has willed that we should taste immortal knowledge;

For “since he is the express image of his greatness, he is as much superior to angels as his title is superior” to theirs (cf. Heb. 1:3-4)

Let us then, men and brethren, engage in our service with complete earnestness under his faultless order. Let us consider those who serve under our military commanders, with what good discipline, subordination, and obedience they carry out orders.  Not all are prefects or tribunes or centurions or captains of fifty and so on, but “each in his own rank”(I Cor. 15:23)carries out orders under the emperor and the commanding officers.The great cannot exist without the small; neither can the small exist without the great: there is a certain mutuality in the whole, and this is beneficial to it. 

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Johann von Staupitz (ca. 1469–1524), was vicar-general of the Augustinian Order in Germany and friend of Martin Luther, was born in Saxony. He studied at the universities in Leipzig and Cologne and served on the faculty at Cologne. In 1503 he was called by Frederick the Wise to serve as dean of the theological faculty at the newly founded University of Wittenberg. There he encouraged Luther to attain a doctorate in theology and appointed Luther as his successor to professor of Bible. During Luther’s early struggles to understand God’s grace, it was Staupitz who counseled Luther to focus on Christ and not on himself. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Reflection:  When the publication of the 95 Theses spread throughout Europe, then Luther was in middle of a raging storm.  He corresponded with his father confessor.

On the twenty-fifth of November he sent word to Spalatin:

I am expecting the curses of Rome any day. I have everything in readiness. When they come, I am girded like Abraham to go I know not where, but sure of this, that God is everywhere.

Staupitz wrote Luther from Salzburg in Austria:

The world hates the truth. By such hate Christ was crucified, and what there is in store for you today if not the cross I do not know. You have few friends, and would that they were not hidden for fear of the adversary. Leave Wittenberg and come to me that we may live and die together. The prince [Frederick] is in accord. Deserted let us follow the deserted Christ. (From Here I Stand by Roland Bainton)

Up until his death, Fr. von Staupitz, wrote to Luther and he to him.  We do not know if Luther’s dear father superior ever accepted the evangelical doctrine but he sure seems to have known them and lived them.  

It is written in Proverbs 17: 17:

A friend loves at all times,
   and a brother is born for adversity.

And from Proverbs, 18: 24:

A man of many companions may come to ruin,
   but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Fr. Staupitz epitomized those Scripture passages.  Staupitz was obviously Luther’s mentor and with that Luther’s  friend and brother in Christ.  This is a good commemoration to thank and remember mentors in our lives, who have been closer than a brother and a brother born for adversity and hung in there with you.  All the Facebook friends in the world do not one dear brother in Christ Jesus make.  Between Martin and Johannes stood Jesus Christ and the dear Father Johannes showed Martin Jesus Christ so that Martin could see Him in the clear Word of Scripture.  “Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word”, penned and sang Luther.  He probably knew he was kept steadfast by his dear father confessor as a mentor has so done for you.  Fr. Staupitz knew the Word as he had been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Almighty, everlasting God, for our many sins we justly deserve eternal condemnation.  In Your mercy, You sent Your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who won for us forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation.  Grant us a true confession so that dead to sin we may hear  the sweet  words of Absolution from our confessor as Luther heard them from his pastor, Johannes von Staupitz, and be released from all our sin;  through Jesus Christ, our lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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The Weimar Altarpiece, 1555, by Lucas Cranach the Younger
Please note that Luther and the Reformers wanted to be “seen” in only place at the foot of the Cross in adoration of Jesus Christ as Luther points to the Bible which pointed them and points us to the Lord.

“Some two years ago I wrote a little book on indulgences, which I now deeply regret having published. For at the time I still clung to the Roman tyranny with great superstition and held that indulgences should not be altogether rejected, seeing they were approved by the common consent of men… I beg both booksellers and readers to burn what I have published on that subject.”—Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520

This is the way Martin Luther, a scant 3 years after he posted 95 Theses thought about them.  His 95 Theses were too ROMAN Catholic, not adhering and agreeing to the clear Word of Bible in regards to say, purgatory.  They were not truly catholic which means not Biblical.  “Catholic” literally means “according to whole”, the whole of God’s Holy Word.  It is historically incorrect to say that on October 31st, the Church was reformed.  It may have begun but the real reformation of the holy, catholic and apostolic Church began on June 30th, 1530 when the princes and electors presented to His Serene Majesty, Emperor Charles V, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession.  They, that is the princes and electors along with the confessors of the Faith, Luther, Melancthon, et. al., did not reform the Church:  The Word of God alone did that, does that and will.  Our calling is to preach and teaching His Word as clearly as possible.

On this day, we celebrate all together too much one man, Martin Luther. If you want a fuller article on my appraisal of this day, please read my article Ad Fontes!  Doctrine at Brothers of John the Steadfast.

What was all the fuss about back in the 16th Century that caused a schism?  Answer: Justification.  On this day, justification by grace had not been spelled out. The Lutheran Confessions is why I am a Lutheran and also a catholic.  The Confessions contain Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms which are to be prayed:  The Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, Holy Communion, prayed, meditated upon, taught, in response to Jesus Christ so we may be still and receive His Word for the strengthening of faith.

In my amateur historical understanding, the center of the fuss was over the following article in The Augsburg Confession presented on this day, these 2 sentences caused the furor:

Article IV: Justification.

Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God  by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received  into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rom. 3, 4).

 The papal theologians had been teaching and preaching for too long:  Christ, yes, faith in Him, yes, but Christ plus something else:  works. “We do our best and God does the rest.”  No, we have not done our best and the Law shows us this.  The Gospel, the Lord’s one work of universal (catholic)  salvation in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ means that the whole papal system of rosaries, pilgrimages, indulgences can not save one.   Christ alone has, by grace alone known by Scripture alone in the life of His Church.  Even the Law of God can not save (see Galatians 2:19 Galatians 2:21, Ephesians 2:6-8 ).

The papal church knew Article IV meant the undoing of the system.   When the papal theologians responded to the Augsburg Confession with their Confutation, then Melancthon wrote The Apology of the Augsburg Confession and Melancthon’s apologia (defense) of Article IV, Justification, was the longest. These two sentences summed up, not the faith of the Reformers, but the faith as taught, preached and written in the Bible.  These two sentences undermined the institutional church’s hegemony on the lives of catholics/Christians with a system of works, obligatory works to gain salvation.  

The Reformers presented on this day their Confession, based soundly  upon the Scripture and the 3 Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles, Nicene and Athansasian), that salvation in Jesus Christ is sheer gift for sinners who can not attain heaven by anything we can ever do.  The Fathers at Augsburg began this Confession of the catholic Church with the Creeds to demonstrate that Justification is the key of Scripture and had been taught and preached and administered since the Apostles through all the ensuing centuries, but lost and forgotten by the papal church.

 Further, the Reformers were as catholic as Augustine was in the teaching of justification in Christ alone.  The Confessors at Augsburg were not really trying to “change” the Church, or leave the Church, but change it back to the way it was according to the Gospel.  It was a conservative reformation. They did not want to start a new church, as did Calvin and Zwingli.  The orthodox confessional Church is catholic.  It was a reformation not a revolution, yet this conservative reformation had revolutionary aspects for a tradition that confused itself as the truth, both Roman Catholic and Protestantism:

The Lutheran Church has not the slightest theological interest in this antithesis between Catholicism and Protestantism. It does not know to which side it belongs. If only there were a clear-cut contradiction between true and false doctrine in the antithesis! But this does not happen to be the case. For there are heresies in Protestantism which are just as dangerous as those of Catholicism. Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Anthanasius and Irenaeus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation.For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. (Here We Stand (1932) by Rev. Hermann Sasse, Lutheran theologian and professor, at the time publication at the University of Erlangen)

This lively iconographic image shows Word and Sacraments, the Preaching of Christ and Him crucified, freely given rein by the Word for the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people for their faith and faith active in love.

Let us pray…

Lord God, heavenly Father, You preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg. Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

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