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I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three,
Of whom all nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!

Hymn # 172 from Lutheran Worship

Let us pray… God of grace and might, we praise You for your servant Patrick, to whom You gave gifts to make the good news known to the people of Ireland. Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds and evangelists of Your kingdom, so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Bio:  Patrick is one of the best-known of the missionary saints. Born to a Christian family in Britain around the year 389, he was captured as a teenager by raiders, taken to Ireland, and forced to serve as a herdsman. After six years he escaped and found his way to a monastery community in France. Ordained a bishop in 432, he made his way back to Ireland, where he spent the rest of his long life spreading the Gospel and organizing Christian communities. He strongly defended the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in a time when it was not popular to do so. His literary legacy includes his autobiography, Confessio, and several prayers and hymns still used in the church today. Patrick died around the year 466.  Read more about St. Patrick’s biography here, citing quotes from his Confessio.

Reflection:  Two sayings associated with St. Patrick’s Day in our day: “The wearing of the green”  and“Everyone is Irish on St. Patty’s . 

One of my favorite legends about Pr. Patrick was he was witnessing to a  powerful, pagan tribal chieftain who was stymied over the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  They were standing outside and Patrick bent over and plucked a shamrock and said, “The Trinity is like this shamrock:  3 leaves, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet one stem, one plant, one life”.  The color green is very closely associated with Patrick.  “Wearing of the green” reminds us of the color of the paraments  (altar cloths) for most of the Church year, that is, green during the many Sundays after Pentecost, which is during summer in the northern hemisphere.   Along with Patrick, we only come to life in the Lord, in Holy Baptism, in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity.  Faith is the Lord’s utterly gracious gift.  It is evident in his Confessio, Patrick knew his high calling despite his lowly station.  We are green and growing in Christ alone in the unity of the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father (see Ephesians 4:12-14), baptized into His Name alone:   “…salvation is of Christ the Lord!” (St. Patrick’s Breastplate, “I Bind Unto Myself Today”, Lutheran Service Book, #604).   We are Irish in so far as a Christian is baptized into Christ Jesus along with our brother in the Lord, Pastor and Bishop Patrick.  Remember that Patrick was not even born in what we call Ireland!  We wear not the green of Ireland, but of our only Homeland coming into the world now by faith, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and when He comes again, then by sight.  Green is possible only because of the purple, the Lent of His sufferings and death, the Seed planted in the ground, see John 12:24 and Mark 4:8.

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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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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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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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Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553), a painter at the time of the Reformation and a friend of the Luthers’, illustrated this distinction of law and promise.

Introduction:  After the Lutheran (evangelical) Reformers presented their Confession in 1530 to the Emperor in Augsburg (from then the document has been known as The Augsburg Confession, first book in The Book of Concord), the Papal theologians responded with The Confutation.  Philip Melanchthon was charged with a rendering a response to it:  The Apology (defense) of the Augsburg Confession, which became the second book in The Book of Concord.  In the longest article (IV)  of the Apology, “Justification”, we confess this treasure of the Reformation which the Reformers simply found again, as a pearl of great price: 

All Scripture ought to be divided into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins justification, and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal.

So much has been rightly preached and taught on the distinction between Law and Promise, but simply put:  The Law kills the sinner (see the rich young man narrative in St. Mark 10: 17-22) and the Gospel makes alive (See St. Mark 10: 26-27).  By  His Law, we are found out(see Genesis 3:  9-10) and by the Gospel, Jesus Christ, the Lord finds us  to restore His lost sheep,  coin…son (see St. Luke 15).  

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553), a painter at the time of the Reformation and a friend of the Luthers, illustrated this distinction of law and promise. In terms of the arts, it is music that is most closely associated with the Reformation, but there was an outpouring of the visual arts as well.  

The idea behind this posting is from the blog, The World Wide Wolfmueller, blogger Pr. Wolfmueller, LCMS.  I asked him to use this and he gladly said yes.

Below is a black and white woodcut of Cranach the Elder entitled “Law and Grace”, full color above.    It’s a great lesson with children and adults to find  each of  numbered images.   There is  a profound difference and Christ Jesus alone by faith alone through grace alone puts us into the picture by His grace to all through faith.  

 Pr. Wolfmueller put numbers on the wood cut so we can identify each part of Cranach’s woodcut as  illustration of law and promise.  Use his woodcut for a class or for your family’s instruction to identify the various parts which are from the Bible.

We read left to right, likewise, it is always Law then Promise, so that the sinner may daily take hold of Jesus Christ Who has taken hold of us all.  

1. Adam and Eve, eating the forbidden fruit. Notice the snake wrapped around the tree.
2. Death and the devil, driving men to hell with the fear of death and the condemnation of the law.
3. That guy is you, goosed into hell because of your sin.
4. Here is Christ coming in judgment. Notice the flower (the Gospel) coming out of His mouth for those on His right, while the sword (the law) coming from His mouth for those on His left.
5. Moses, the lawgiver, holding the Ten Commandments. The Commandments are the verdict of our guilt and condemnation.
6. Hell, the desperate destruction of those who die apart from the blood of Jesus.
7. That’s you again, looking much happier on the Gospel side of the woodcut.
8. John the Baptist is preaching to you, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29), and point to Jesus, dying on the cross for you.
9. Here’s a picture of Moses again, this time with the tabernacle. There’s a cross out front with the bronze serpent out front to which the people look and are saved (see John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:7-9). I think there is manna scattered on the ground.
10. Here’s the angel preaching to the shepherds and announcing the birth of our Lord Jesus.
11. Baby Jesus, descending from heaven to the womb of Mary. Jesus is bringing His cross with Him!
12. Mary, blessed by the Lord, pregnant with Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
13. Jesus on the cross, satisfying the wrath of God for all sinners. The Lamb in front indicates that this is a sacrifice, in fact, the atoning sacrifice. The Lord’s cloth is being blowing by the wind, indicating that the Holy Spirit brings the preaching of Christ to us.
14. Jesus, risen from the dead, preaching peace to you, and stomping death and the devil under His feet (Hebrews 2:14; Psalm 110:1, etc.)
15. The spear with which the devil was driving us to hell has been stripped away, and used against them.
16. The Holy Spirit brings the atoning blood of Jesus to you, in the preaching of the Gospel, in Baptism and in the Lord’s Supper. Here, in the Gospel, we have life and salvation.

How wonderful that we are those covered by the blood of Jesus, friends of God, and by the death of Jesus destined for the blessedness of the resurrection. (Pr. Wolfmueller)

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 About Abraham:  Abraham (known early in his life as Abram) was called by God to become the father of a great nation (Genesis 12). At age seventy-five and in obedience to God’s command, he, his wife, Sarah, and his nephew Lot moved southwest from the town of Haran to the land of Canaan. There God established a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:18), promising the land of Canaan to his descendants. When Abraham was one hundred and Sarah was ninety, they were blessed with Isaac, the son long promised to them by God. Abraham demonstrated supreme obedience when God commanded him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. God spared the young man’s life only at the last moment and provided a ram as a substitute offering (Genesis 22:1-19). Abraham died at age 175 and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah, which he had purchased earlier as a burial site for Sarah. He is especially honored as the first of the three great Old Testament patriarchs—and for his righteousness before God through faith (Romans 4:1-12). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, cph.org)

Reflection:  Mountains are places of revelation in  the Bible, from Sinai to Golgotha.  In Genesis, in the narrative of Abraham, there is likewise a mountain of revelation, an unnamed mountain in the land of Moriah (Gen. 22: 2).  There the Lord commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to the Lord. Genesis 22:2

We must remember that the whole narrative up until chapter 22 has been God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a great people and so be a blessing to many in spite of the fact that Abraham and his wife Sarah were of great age.  Abraham thought it so absurd, flying in the face of reality, that when the Lord reissued the promise, Abraham fell down laughing. Genesis 17:17   In Genesis 18, at the Oaks of Mamre, when the Lord tells Abraham that soon Sarah would be pregnant, she laughed.    They named him Isaac, which means laughter!  And now the Lord tells him to offer up his son, his only son.

We must also remember that the Lord promised other blessings to Abraham, such as He would be Abraham’s “shield”.  Genesis 15:1  He saved Abraham’s kin from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He guided Abraham in his battle against the five kings.  He blessed Abraham and Sarah will great flocks.  The Lord was faithful to His promise.  In fact, it is the Lord’s promise alone that made Abraham righteous as Abraham believed and had faith in the Lord’s promises, not Abraham’s works of holiness and spirituality. His faith received the holiness of God’s righteousness.

“But when God commands that Abraham’s son should be taken away, He leaves no hope but simply confronts Abraham with a contradiction.  And God, who formerly seemed to be his best friend, now appears to have become an enemy and a tyrant.” (Luther’s Commentary on Genesis, chapter 22). Now the Lord appeared to be unholy. When everything in sight runs contrary to our expectations for and of God in sickness, poverty, war and famine, He appears to be a tyrant and we are tempted with despair. Most of the time, it does not take much to be tempted to look away from His promises.  A pastor looks at himself and his congregation, falling asleep, sneezing, contentious, small, and the like.  He then thinks of a Bible verse,  such as, “…but you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”,  (1 Peter 2: 9), I think, ‘This is a holy nation, a royal priesthood?! Doesn’t look that way to me!’  But men look on appearances but God upon the heart.  Abraham also looked on the appearance of things, such as his aged body, but he clung in faith and love to God’s promises and His commands and maybe that’s why, against all appearances, Abraham did what he did when the Lord commanded him to take his son, his only son and offer him up on a mountain in Moriah. He trusted the Lord at His Word that he knew by faith, against all appearances, He would be true to His promise, that Isaac would live. And though His only-begotten Son, He did not spare, but was killed for our atonement, like that ram in substitution for Isaac, His Son rose again from the dead. As the Apostle Paul wrote centuries later about the faithfulness of the Lord:

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering,bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

 (2 Timothy 2: 8-13)

Lord God, heavenly Father, You promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, You led him to the land of Canaan, and You sealed Your covenant with him by the shedding of blood. May we see in Jesus, the Seed of Abraham, the promise of the new covenant of Your Holy Church, sealed with Jesus’ blood on the cross and given to us now in the cup of the new testament; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

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The Parable of the Dishonest Manager

Luke 16 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

The manager of the rich man’s estate knew he was up to his eyeballs in debt especially when the manager was found out and reported to the owner.  The man squandered possessions not belonging to him.  “Squander” is the exact same verb in Greek used by the Lord to describe the prodigal son’s stewardship of his father’s inheritance that the son demanded before his father died:  the son wasted, squandered it, in a far country. He blew it.  The manager or the steward, like the runaway son, blew away what wasn’t theirs to begin with.  The steward quickly realizes he’s not in shape to dig and has too much pride to beg.  He comes up with clever scheme with the master’s debtors. Yes, his master has demanded the books, the ledger, but he is still acting in the name of his boss.  He summons the first debtor who owed the master 100 measures of olive oil.  100 measures is approximately 875 gallons.   Walmart brand extra virgin olive oil:  101 ounces, not even a gallon, $19.28.  Even by today’s prices that’s one heck of debt: about $17,500.  The second debt owes at least 1000 bushels of wheat and that can make a lot of bread, and costs allot of bread.  He reduced both debts.  The manager is about to become homeless and wants to ingratiate himself into the master’s debtors lives so they show him hospitality, welcome him.  Interesting word, “ingratiate”:   there are many words with the same Latin root, gratia, that is grace.  The steward smartly, in his own enlightened self-interest, and wrongly, cooked the books, so to ingratiate, put himself in their good graces  and so save his can.  He knew he did wrong and he is feeling really sorry about it.  He wants to save himself.

 And eventually, if one of those debtors accepts the fired manager into their ‘good graces’, eventually the guest will be told when push comes to shove:  Hey, I know you wiped clean half my debt and I took you when you were down and out and now you owe me you, you owe me big time. Now if I can ingratiate myself to someone, and he accepts my ingratiation, all along it is not grace. It is only more legal problems and debt.  This is not grace.   Grace is gift, unearned, free.  No if, ands or buts.  Jesus knew a lot about debt and He taught us to pray, forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us and ever more grace toward repentant debtors.

 We live in a time of staggering debt. For instance:   the national student loan debt is now greater than the national credit card debt.  This should come as no news to anyone here today.  We are more concerned about building up bigger houses than building up solid homes. We want to drive in fancier cars than to walk in the shoes of another. The federal government wants to raise the debt ceiling again.  I can get my head around a debt of $17,500 but trillions?  In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the parable of another servant who owes his master ten thousand talents.  A talent was a weight of silver worth 20 years wages, in another words a debt worth about 1,600 lifetimes.  I can’t get my head around that but it scares me and well it should.

 The enormity of debt becomes real when it affects those around us quite personally. It is only by God’s Law we begin to realize the enormity of going in over our heads.  At first it sounds good, after all don’t you deserve it, the sly voice of the devil whispers.    Then the Law shows us who have been obeying and serving:  mammon, money.  The Pharisees were lovers of money. Jesus said they exalt it.   This is the number 1 idol on earth. One of the qualifications in 1 Timothy of a bishop or a pastor is not being a lover of money.  But as for the steward, we have all been called to give an account.  People talk about  their personal sexual lives on “Dr. Phil” or “The Tonight Show”, brag about it on Facebook, but reveal our incomes?  Now that’s personal…and perverse in every way. It’s personal because where our love is there is our heart.  Our love is in our wallets and banks.  It’s like the story of the man in church who went into full panic when the offering plate came around and he only  had a hundred dollar bill in his wallet.  We know what we hold on to tenaciously.  Modesty?  No way.  People want money to be profiled as tough, sexy, smart, rich. Again, perverse.  Mammon can not save.  We want and we don’t have because we spend it on our passions.  Look at our society today.  See how the world worships work, plays at its worship and works at its play.  Is it any wonder that our world is confused, disordered, tired, stressed out, anxious, lonely and lost?  The world is ever knocking at our doors and our hearts. No one on his deathbed ever said, Pastor, I confess that I should have spent more time on my business.  The day of accounting is today.  And the day of salvation. All have squandered  and frittered away so much.  We can’t repay. 

 Like the steward and the prodigal son, all has been given, gratis.  And squandering away even a fortune, Jesus knows the debt. Unlike the shrewd steward, He came to pay the debt, not just pay it down.    The steward only wiped part of the debt of the other vendors. The sons of this world know how to deal with their own.  The sons of light cannot so deal, in fact none of us can in the sight of God.  I owe a king’s ransom. The King has paid the ransom: all of it. Debt forgiven.  We write debt into our lives with our own handwriting.  He paid the debt not on paper with  but on wood with nails with  His own blood. 

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

He paid the debt 100%. The record of debt has been stamped, paid in full, gratis.

 The Lord’s goal for us all is clear and concise, better than any corporate or congregational mission statement:  The Lord, “…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”.   We come to faith by the preaching of Jesus Christ and we know His will:  “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…” FOR ALL. He paid what no man or woman could ever pay:  the bankruptcy of the human heart. You are forgiven. Don’t restructure your debt with the false promises of gurus and pundits and bad advice.  Don’t repair  the debt the Lord has already forgiven you. Don’t raise the debt ceiling of sin, saying it’s not so bad when you know it is. But when we go in debt again, turn to Him and the grace He offered in your Baptism by His death and resurrection settles the account again. He paid it not with silver or gold, but by His blood. 

 He calls us to Himself single-minded and heartened in Him.  He is single-minded in finding the lost and making the dead alive. If that steward was single-minded in self-preservation, let us be single-minded in the Lord’s salvation. So, let us use what we have that others may have what we have been given and together we be received into our eternal home. Let us build better homes and help each other to do so.  Not to raise the debt ceiling but raise our voices in witness to His grace and mercy for us all. Let us be single-minded and of one mind in the Holy Spirit to receive His gifts every Sunday without which we are poor indeed. Let us pray for all authorities and those in power that we have peace, so that many come to the Lord.  Let us actually help those down and out and not wait for the government to do so who will pay with one hand and take with both hands. Jesus Christ paid the debt and gave us an eternal inheritance. He paid it with both hands nailed to the wood.  Mammon only leads to death.  Christ Jesus has led us to eternal life. A famous atheist novelist when she died, people brought the floral bouquets in the shape of dollar signs at her funeral.  That sign can’t go far. It’s a dead-end sign.  But the sign of His Cross points us to our eternal inheritance and to our debt forgiven once and for all, ever returning to His grace given in Baptism, forgiven, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.  

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

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