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Archive for the ‘Festivals and Commemorations’ Category

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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“Ring around a rosy, a pocket full of posy, ashes, ashes we all fall down”.  I have heard the following interpretation of this nursery rhyme and children’s game before but I have not verified it and yet it sounds sadly plausible.  From the Yahoo website: 

“They say that it started in the Middle Ages when the Black Plague was rampant. The ‘ring around the rosy’ referred to the marks that showed up on people’s bodies, and the ‘pocket full of posies’ means the nosegays people would hold up to their noses to block out the stench of the dead. As we all know, the next line is ‘Ashes, ashes, we all fall down’, meaning that so many died, it seemed as if everyone would ‘fall down dead.’”  

And then the bodies would be burnt…ashes.  Pretty grim, isn’t it?   “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.   All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”—Jesus Christ recorded in St. Mark 7: 21-23.  Shrove Tuesday is the night of “carnival”. literally, farewell to the flesh, one more might of partying, then tomorrow we fast.  As if we could say farewell to the sin that clings so closely. We all fall down.  We are pretty good at blocking out the stench but only for awhile with the posies of “positive thinking”, “purpose-driven living”, etc. and ad nauseam. Those ‘posies’ are only a cover-up. Ashes, ashes we all fall down. Christ Jesus is the revelation of death and so He is revelation of life, the Life of all the living and the blessed hope of the dead in Him.

The Black Plague is with us still.  The black plague of sin that is.  The man and the woman, Adam and Eve, wanted to be like God, “knowing good and evil”.  They wanted to control good and evil.  Mortal man can not do so.   The LORD punished them and the LORD said to Adam:  In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Sin is fairly grim:  war, violence, STDs, AIDS, divorce, ‘hooking up’, anger, malice, evil thoughts, adultery, idolatry… it’s all the news supposedly fit to print, as The New York Times states.  “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes”:  those are the Biblical words spoken by a pastor at the grave.  On Ash Wednesday the pastor makes the sign of the ashes on your forehead with the reminder:  Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  The ashes are from the palms used the year before on Palm Sunday for remembrance of His triumphal entry. When the palms are burnt, the smoke is acrid.   All fall down.  But there is more news than the Times publishes:  the good news of Jesus Christ, the LORD Himself entering into the valley of the shadow of death.  Lent is the  sinners’ journey to His Cross, in the risen Lord!

“Beat down Satan lower and lower and lift up Christ higher and higher” That is part of a hymn sung by Lutherans in Papua, New Guinea.  We can sing it because Jesus Christ has done the heavy lifting:  our sins in His Body on the Tree of the Cross.  It is ashes on the forehead but it is the Sign of the Cross.  There is only One Who could literally cross the abyss from the Holy LORD to sinners in rebellion:  the One Who became our dust and ashes.  Jesus Christ is the second Adam, the man from Heaven.  (See 1 Corinthians 15:  45-49)  “In this Christian Church, He fully forgives my sins and sins of all believers.” (From Martin Luther’s explanation of the 3rd article of the Creed).  And when sin weighs you down, come to Jesus Christ where and when He said He will be:  This is My Body, This is My Blood.  If sins weighs you down, (and Satan wants to beat you lower and lower to drive you away from the Lord), pastors are called to hear confession in utter confidentiality  and offer the Lord’s own forgiveness to you personally in your ears and in your hearts (see St. John 20:  22-23;  1 John 1: 8-10). If death has undone you (T.S.Eliot), the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26), and enemies do not necessarily play fairly and death undid God,then flee to Him for refuge for His infinite mercy given in His Son. In the middle of the ashes, there is the Cross.  In the midst of death, there is Life.

Lent means literally ‘springtime’ This is the time for spring cleaning of the most important house you have:  your body and soul. Your body is temple of the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Corinthians 6: 19)  Repent and turn to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (see Joel 2: 13). Today, Shrove Tuesday is the eve of Ash Wednesday and Lent.  “Shrove” is the past tense of “shrive” which means “to  administer the sacrament of reconciliation to” and “to free from guilt”.  A national TV network talk show host said Shrove Tuesday is the last time to party before the “sacrifices of Lent”.  No, Lent is not about our sacrifices but His once and for all Sacrifice by which we have been redeemed.  Fasting, prayer and giving to the poor is to focus us on that Sacrifice, not on our rather petty sacrifices,.   The word “shrive” is from the Latin “scribere”, as in “scribe” or “script”, meaning “to write”.  The Lord has changed the script of our lives with His Word, the Word made flesh, every one of His steps to Golgotha, His mercy for sinners received by faith.   We need His absolution, His mercy which is His Life, the “life of all the living”  written daily into our body and souls.  

Let us pray…

1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. 
Selah

5I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Psalm 32

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Lord God, heavenly Father, You sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a brother in Christ, freeing him from his slavery to sin through the preaching of the Apostle St. Paul. Cleanse the depths of sin within our souls and bid resentment cease for past offenses, that, by Your mercy, we may be reconciled to our brothers and sisters and our lives will reflect Your peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Read an Entire Book of the Bible!  The Book of Philemon (English Standard Version). It’s shorter than many of my blog articles: 

1Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon’s Love and Faith

4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Paul’s Plea for Onesimus

8Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required,9yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I

became in my imprisonment. 11(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

Final Greetings

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24and so doMark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

 Reflection on verse 11:  Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.

“Oh, he’s useless…no good.”  “What a useless waste of time!”  “It’s useless.  I give up!”  At one time or another we have all said something like that and it is a word of judgment, of law: a judgment of others or of our selves. It appears that in the  house and home of Philemon, Onesimus was useless.  We are not told in what ways he was useless as a slave.  Not obedient?  Slothful?  He had talents and abilities he did not use?   Maybe he did alot of, well, “brown-nosing”?  We do not know.  But he was useless.  We do not know why Onesimus ran away.  A conjecture:  like Jonah, the Lord caught up to Jonah as Jonah ran away and Onesimus’ uselessness was catching up to him as he ran away and the Lord found him in a jail…with His Apostle!  Then what a conversation Onesimus and the Apostle had in jail!   The  Apostle Paul knew Luke’s Gospel full well…after all, in Acts, Luke has sections in which he reports  he was there with Paul.  And at the end of Philemon, notice who else is with Paul in Rome! (verse 24)  The Apostle knew the Lord’s command:   ”Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that  repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”  (Luke 24:  46-48)  “Yes, Onesimus, your uselessness is real!  You are not doing as you should and so you dig a hole deeper for yourself and you can not get your self out.  And now you are a runaway slave and so are a criminal and the hole is even deeper.  Philemon has his rights under Roman law.  But there is One Who went into the hole Himself, born under the law:  Jesus Christ, God Himself.  The Lord has shown you your sin but better: He has shown you your Savior!  And that hole was His Cross and grave.  Luke told us that Jesus forgave a repentant thief on the Cross.  He even forgave me, the chief of sinners.  You have heard my story. Onesimus, He is risen and by His blood, He makes you right with God.  The Lord became a slave, as we all were enslaved to sin and death and the power of the devil, in order to bear our sin in His own Body.  Onesimus, His commands are not burdensome: repent and believe in the Gospel.”  In Christ Jesus alone, and His decision for us and for our salvation, Onesimus became more than a slave, a brother, Paul’s child and heart.  Onesimus’ name literally means “useful”.  In Christ Jesus, Onesimus became his own name.  He was lost and was found.  Even now.

Post-script:  According to a letter from St.Ignatius to the Ephesians, as he was going to be executed by the Romans for the Faith, Ignatius mentions one “…Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love and…your bishop.” (that is, pastor)!  St. Ignatius wrote this around the year 100. So this means that Paul’s letter to Philemon  was written only 40 prior to Ignatius’ letter.  We do not know if the two men so named were one and same, never the less, it is in keeping with the working of the Lord Who creates out of nothing, from Abraham,an idolater,  to Moses, a murderer and a stutterer, to David, a lad, to Paul, a persecutor of Christians, to a runway slave named Useful.

 

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Aquila and his wife, Priscilla (Prisca), Jewish contemporaries of St. Paul, traveled widely. Because of persecution in Rome, they went to Corinth where they met the apostle Paul, who joined them in their trade of tent-making, as the Apostle was likewise trained in that trade:

Acts 18:  1After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tent makers by trade. 4And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

Please note that the Roman persecution and exile of the Jews was the historical cause by which Paul met this faithful couple in the Lord. The three of them met in Corinth where the Apostle evangelized.  The author of Acts, Luke, tells us that the three of them met because of their vocation, “tent makers by trade” (This means they were leather workers and as Paul was a trained Pharisee, it was customary for a Pharisee to have a trade).   Was it a historical accident that Paul met this Christian husband and wife?  We do not know in this concrete event in the Church’s history but we do know that the Lord is,

“…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1)

The Lord brings about His plan in ways that to the human eye are hidden but He is working to bring us His salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Later Luke tells us in his history of the early Church, Acts, that Silas and Timothy came to Corinth,  and so the Church was there in Corinth:  Apostle Paul,  Aquilla and Priscilla, Silas and Timothy.  There were not a “team”as this was not a sport’s game.  Our Lord promised where 2 or 3 are gathered in His Name, so He is there.  It was not 5 of them in Corinth but also the Lord, the Temple of His Body to be revealed in the preaching and teaching of His Word, as the Apostle evangelized first  in the Corinthian synagogue.   Our Lord sent out the disciples two by two to preach and heal. Further, the Apostle Paul mentions Apollos eight times in 1 Corinthians.  Paul wrote the Corinthians that their following of human leaders, however ‘charismatic’, is fleshly.  Paul and Apollos worked in concert in the ministry of the Gospel:  

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3)

Dr. Lockwood in his commentary on 1 Corinthians (Concordia Publishing House) points out:  “…Apollos and Paul did not work independently of each other;  they formed a harmonious unit, one in purpose, one in fellowship      (Gal. 2: 9).”   In the Scriptures, evangelism is not a solo activity, but the mission of the Church in concert under her Lord (see 1 Corinthians 12: 1-26).  

The Apostle supported himself by making tents so he would not be a burden on the congregations he was called to serve (cf. 1 Corinthians 9: 18), though, he was by no means against preachers receiving a salary so that their time could be fully devoted to freely preach and teach the word (cf. 1 Corinthians 9: 1-8). In turn, Aquila and Priscilla  joined Paul in his mission of proclaiming the Gospel. The couple later traveled with Paul from Corinth to Ephesus:

Acts 18: 18: After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila

Priscilla and Aquila established a home in Ephesus that served as hospitality headquarters for new converts to Christianity. Paul left them there as he went to  Caesarea, then Galatia and Phyrgia.  It was good that Priscilla and Aquila stayed in  Ephesus because of a visitor:

Acts 18: 24Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

This faithful couple taught the talented and highly educated Apollos regarding Baptism according to Christ’s command and promise.  The Christians in Corinth were so fleshly proud that many of them boasted they followed Apollos  and others(see 1 Corinthians 1:11-13), whereas   Apollos, with all his erudition, was obviously humble and had an ear as one being taught (see Isaiah 50:4). It is also important to note that the clear implication in the verses above that,  “the way of God”  to us all  is Baptism:  “…though he knew only the baptism of John”, which was  for repentance whereas Baptism commanded by Christ Jesus is for forgiveness, until He comes again (see St. Matthew 28:  18-20).  Priscilla and Aquila were in business.  Business is a vocation in this world for people to serve their neighbor, but this is also a clear narrative demonstrating that in your daily vocation you may so teach the “…way of God” to those who want to know.  Priscilla and Aquila knew their catechism.

Then later, Apollos:

…wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.(Acts 18)

Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos are all remembered and honored for their great missionary zeal in the unity, the concord, of the Church.  No matter the greatness nor humility of the talent, we all need to be catechized and preached Christ and Him crucified, “…  showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”  This day is especially good to remember to always pray for all businessmen, tradesmen, day-laborers and to  pray for the Church’s mission and her missionaries in daily life that the Lord’s salvation be brought to many a listening,“poor in spirit”, ear and heart.

Let us pray…

Triune God, whose very Name is holy, teach us to be faithful hearers and learners of Your Word , fervent in the Spirit as Apollos was, that we may teach it correctly against those who have been led astray into false and error and that we might follow the example of Aquila and Priscilla for the good the Church You established here and entrusted into our humble care;  for You, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

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Scripture Readings:

Ezk. 3:16-21
Rom. 10:8-18
John 1:35-42

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, by Your grace the apostle Andrew obeyed the call of Your Son to be a disciple. Grant us also to follow the same Lord Jesus Christ in heart and life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

“If I feared the punishment of the cross, I would never have preached the mystery of the cross.”

About St. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was born in the Galilean village of Bethsaida. Originally a disciple of St. John the Baptist, Andrew then became the first of Jesus’ disciples (John 1:35-40). His name regularly appears in the Gospels near the top of the lists of the Twelve. It was he who first introduced his brother Simon to Jesus (John 1:41-42). He was, in a real sense, the first home missionary, as well as the first foreign missionary (John 12:20-22). Tradition says Andrew was martyred by crucifixion on a cross in the form of an X. In AD 357, his body is said to have been taken to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople and later removed to the cathedral of Amalfi in Italy. Centuries later, Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland. St. Andrew’s Day determines the beginning of the Western Church Year, since the First Sunday in Advent is always the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day.

Reflection:

 Reverent hearts, we hold the feast of the apostle Andrew in Christendom as the first in the [Church] Year not only because it falls near the season of Advent but also because Andrew was called first, before the other apostles, by the Lord Jesus. Even Durandus the bishop of Mende (13th century liturgist) , says, “The saints are be honored by imitation, not adored, as honor them as gods. They are to be honored with love, not adored with servitude.”

Now history tells us how St. Andrew. together with his fellows conducted their new office. Right away they left their nets and followed the Lord Jesus. And again, right away they left the ship and their father and followed Him. To them, Jesus is now the most precious one on earth—according to His mind they learn, according to His words they teach, according to His will they live, according to His decree they suffer and die. When St. Andrew was threatened with the cross, he said joyfully, “If I feared the punishment of the cross, I would never have preached the mystery of the cross.” Then when he saw the cross, he spoke, “Hail, precious cross, you who were dedicated by the body of Christ; may He receive me through you, who redeemed me through you.” And when he was living after three days on the cross, his hearers wanted to take him down by force, but he said, “Ah, let God take care of it! Do not make the peace of the Gospel suspect by your unnecessary revolt  against the government.” That was apostolic constancy and long-suffering! This is what it means to “leave everything and follow Christ,” all the way to the last catch of fish.”

Valerius Herberger  (21 April 1562-18 May 1627,a German Lutheran preacher and theologian

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

A Second Reflection:  Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and his X-shaped cross is on the Union Jack of the United Kingdom.   When I look at the icon  above and the flags, I think of searching for buried treasure with the map which has an “X”, as in,   “X marks the spot”.  Our map is both the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions to show us where “X marks the spot”:  first, a manger then later the Cross. This where and when our salvation occurred.  The Bible is the true compass to show us the Way (see   John 5:39).   This is where true treasure is buried and worth digging up and selling all to have and hold as we have been held:   Matthew 13:44-46.  Other religions purport to have maps leading us to the divine.  The Biblical faith alone shows us where the Lord came down to us and for us and our salvation because without Him we are dead and lost  (see   Luke 15 and Ephesians 2:1):  again, X marks the spot.

Scripture is the Map.    We read in Romans:    “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15: 4)      The Apostle Paul wrote to his brother and fellow pastor:     “…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: 14-17)    We recognize saints like Andrew because they were good guides for the Lord’s Church, faithful to the Word Incarnate, written and spoken, “equipped for every good work”,  to show us the Way to the new heavens and the new earth through the valley of the shadow.

Introduction:  On this date in 2004, at a joint chapter retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity in Hickory, North Carolina,  a dear mentor and friend, Pastor Lou is A. Smith died.  One of his last published writings was an essay,“How My Mind Has Changed” in Women Pastors? published by Concordia Publishing House.    It is the last essay in the book and his last.   The following quotes are either from Pr. Smith’s sermons and articles or from my many conversations with him.  Talking with Lou epitomized Luther’s saying that the conversation and the consolation of the brethren is almost a sacrament.

  • Note:  the NT Greek, episcopos,means oversight, and which is translated “bishop”.  We were talking about bishops in the ELCA and Pastor Smith said:  “Episcopos” means oversight, not overlook.”
  • “Most bad theology begins with bad taste.”
  • Towards the end of her life, Pastor Smith’s mother lived with Lou and his wife Helen.  Mom was quite a handful for Pastor and Mrs. Smith because of her rather cantankerous personality.  Lou and I were talking about that and Lou said, “You know, it is really hard to keep the 4th Commandment”.
  • Me: “I’ve always had troubles with the “unity” or “Cana” candle ceremony in a wedding service and I can’t put my finger on why.”Lou:  “Note:  you don’t need two candles to light one candle, so yeah, something is going on here.  The physical element of the sacrament of marriage is the two become one flesh.  Since most couples have already done that and so the ‘unity candle’ has been introduced  and has  become  an ersatz ‘sacrament’”.
  • “I’ve told Church Councils at meetings about my salary, that when it comes to preaching, baptizing and presiding, I do this for nothing.  Church council meetings:  This is what I get paid for.”
  • Me:  “I usually am flummoxed when asked, When did the Lord call you into the Ministry?” Lou:  “When you were ordained, Mark.”
  • Me:  It is said that Lutheran Church is a “confessing movement” in the church catholic.  Lou:  “I was not baptized into a movement but the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”
  • “The interpretive task is not so much to understand the Word of the Bible as it is to stand under the Word of the Bible. It is, after all, not the Bible that is the puzzle that we need to solve. It is we who are the puzzle and the Bible that will solve us.” (from an address in my possession)
  • …both hunger and thirst make us aware of our mortality. Guess what? THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO! That is their theological meaning. Hunger and thirst are sacraments of our mortality. They are the felt reminders of the fact that we do not have life within us.” (from a  Lenten sermon)
  • “…I finally discovered the difference between a eulogy and a sermon.  Forgive me if I tell you what you already know. The difference is this:  In a eulogy, one person who purports to know another, stands up and says some nice things that are not necessarily true about a dead human being.  In a sermon, a person authorized by the Gospel of Jesus Christ says some true things that are not necessarily nice about a living God.”(from  a Lenten sermon)
  • “God does not justify ungodliness but the ungodly.”

When we seek relief
From a long-felt grief;
When temptations come alluring,
Make us patient and enduring;
Show us that bright shore
Where we weep no more.

(“Jesus, Lead Thou On, Lutheran Service Book #718, stanza 3)

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

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

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

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

 

Reflection: This coming Sunday, 1 December, 2,013 is the First Sunday in Advent and the collect of day’s main petition is,

…Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come,  that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance…”

The “threatening perils our sins” is like a flood rising higher and higher about to drown us and it has.  This is a fitting picture on the Commemoration of Noah and it fits together all together too well.  On our own, we can maybe tread water for awhile, under our own power, and think we are pretty good swimmers.  Once the Law of God shows us the peril, we  give out and realize  can not save ourselves.  The Lord interceded for obedient Noah and his family and the lesser creatures to save them.  The Lord interceded for us by sending His Son.  Jesus Christ was baptized into the flood our sins to save us.  The icons above and below are from the Baptistry of Kramer Chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN.  One is of Noah and the other of our Lord’s Baptism.  The sinless One Who did not need be baptized for His sin, nevertheless, immersed Himself into the sin of the world.  The immersion began when He was conceived in the Virgin Mary, in the amniotic fluid of His Mother, indeed:  

For You formed my inward parts;
    You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works;
    my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139 

The prayer after the icon is by Martin Luther and it is prayed at a Baptism and it is a good prayer for anytime, as we are baptized and we are His.

Icon of the Baptism of Christ, Kramer Chapel Baptistry

Almighty eternal God, who according to thy righteous judgment didst condemn the unbelieving world through the flood and in Thy great mercy didst preserve believing Noah and his family, and who didst drown hardhearted Pharaoh with all his host in the Red Sea and didst lead Thy people Israel through the same on dry ground, thereby prefiguring this bath of thy baptism, and who through the baptism of thy dear Child, our Lord Jesus Christ, hast consecrated and set apart the Jordan and all water as a salutary flood and rich and full washing away of sins: We pray through the same Thy groundless mercy that Thou wilt graciously behold this N. and bless him with true faith in the Spirit so that by means of this saving flood all that has been born in him from Adam and which he himself has added thereto may be drowned in him and engulfed, and that he may be sundered from the number of the unbelieving, preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom, serve Thy Name at all times fervent in spirit and joyful in hope, so that with all believers he may be made worthy to attain eternal life according to Thy promise; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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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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Lessons:

The Apocalypse of St. John the Divine 7: 2—17   Psalm 149 1 John 3: 1—3 St.Matthew 5: 1—12

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.

About All Saints’ Day: This feast is the most comprehensive of the days of commemoration, encompassing the entire scope of that great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Hebrews 12:1). It holds before the eyes of faith that great multitude which no man can number: all the saints of God in Christ—from every nation, race, culture, and language—who have come “out of the great tribulation … who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, 14). As such, it sets before us the full height and depth and breadth and length of our dear Lord’s gracious salvation (Ephesians 3:17-19). It shares with Easter a celebration of the resurrection, since all those who have died with Christ Jesus have also been raised with Him (Romans 6:3-8). It shares with Pentecost a celebration of the ingathering of the entire Church catholic—in heaven and on earth, in all times and places—in the one Body of Christ, in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Just as we have all been called to the one hope that belongs to our call, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). And the Feast of All Saints shares with the final Sundays of the Church Year an eschatological focus on the life everlasting and a confession that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). In all of these emphases, the purpose of this feast is to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, that we might not grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:2-3).

Reflection:

“Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door, and see all the people”

Some of you may remember the child’s rhyme about the Church above.  In The Large Catechism, Dr. Luther explains that when we think of “church”, we usually think of the church building, as “we are going to church”, but he points out that the only reason a sanctuary is called a “church”.  “But the house should not be called a church except for the single reason that the group of people assembles here.”  The people who assemble are the Church, the communion or the community, “the holy Christian Church” (Third Article of the Apostles Creed).  

The rhyme above could be redone:  “Here’s God’s House, here’s the steeple, open the door and see all God’s people.”  We have spent a lot of time of fussing over the church building, instead of concentrating on building up God’s people, His Church.  This is done by preaching, teaching, praying and administering Christ’s Word and Sacraments. As the Apostle Peter wrote:  “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” (1 Peter 2: 4-5). 

Further, this building up of Christ’s holy people, His baptized saints, is not according to our building specs, plans and blueprints. We are being built, passive tense. In my cynical moments, I have redone the rhyme above, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door and where’s all the people?”.  And sadly stats and surveys have been documenting the downward spiral of church attendance.  Well-meaning Christians cry out: “We’ve got to do something!”   Then come the ways to save the church.  We seen what happens when men and women build the church according to their best laid plans of mice and men: see the Mormons, see the feminist church, e.g. as “womanchurch”.  Those are the more obvious examples of not building according to God’s Word. Over the years, I have seen “models of ministry” paraded before pastors’ groups, and new programs like mega-church.  Remember harvest gold refrigerators, kulats, dickies, and the like?  We most likely want to forget them all! As I do all those programs that steered us away from God’s Word.

 Fads don’t build up His Church, only the labor of love of God’s Word in His saints by faith through His grace alone in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  Roman Catholic G. K. Chesterton wrote that the Church is the democracy of the dead, those saints before us have a vote.  This is what All Saints is also about.  When we gather for Holy Communion, the pastor will pray, “…with angels and archangels, AND ALL THE COMPANY OF HEAVEN…”, even with 2 or 3 gathered together, there are countless more!  The saints before us were built only by one way:  the Word of Law and Grace.  We are called to keep the faith with the dead, who live in Christ waiting together the day of the general resurrection.  

Yet, the saints labor and the saints who have died, “…from their labors rest” but who Thee by faith before the world, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blest, Alleluia!”(#677, For All the Saints, Lutheran Service Book). I think we are entering ever darkening days, in which the little flock will be persecuted…but that’s how it’s been in times past.  As in hymn lyrice, the saints confessed Jesus Christ.  This is our calling from the Lord to His Church this day and every day, for every day in Christ is All Saints Day.  I close with this quote from Pr. Bonhoeffer’s sermon from 1933 in Berlin after the Germans under the Nazis voted in “the whore of Babylon” the “German Church” totally compatible with National Socialism, that  is the Nazi ideology.  

it is not we who build. He builds the church. No human being builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever intends to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess-he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him-that he may build. We do not know his plan. ‘We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great timesof construction. It may be that from a human point of view great times for the church are actually times of demolition. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province.
Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions, don’t ask for judgments, don’t always be calculating what will happen, don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Let the church remain the church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.

And the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. Death, the greatest heir of everything that has existence, here meets its end. Close by the precipice of the valley of death, the church is founded, the church which confesses Christ as its life. The church possesses eternal life just where death seeks to take hold of it; and death seeks to take hold of it precisely because it possesses life. The Confessing Church is the eternal church because Christ protects it. Its eternity is not visible in this world. It is unhindered by the world. The waves pass right over it and sometimes it seems to be completely covered and lost. But the victory is its because Christ its Lord is by its side and he has overcome the world of death. Do not ask whether you can see the victory; believe in the victory and it is yours.

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

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