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Archive for the ‘Liturgical year’ Category

 

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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You will find a hundred thousand people who regard silver mined from the earth as a real treasure. They will not shrink from laboring night and day to acquire such a perishable treasure. Would to God that we could gradually train our hearts to believe that the preacher’s words are God’s Word and that the man addressing us is a scholar and a king. As a matter of fact, it is not an angel or a hundred thousand angels but the Divine Majesty Himself that is preaching there. To be sure, I do not hear this with my ears or see it with my eyes; all I hear is the voice of the preacher, or of my brother or father, and I behold only a man before me. But I view the picture correctly if I add that the voice and words of father or pastor are not his own words and doctrine but those of our Lord and God. It is not a prince, a king, or an archangel whom I hear; it is He who declares that He is able to dispense the water of eternal life.

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In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21: 25, the last verse of Judges)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53: 6)

In an article,  In Martin Luther’s Church the Pastor Asks: Where Have All the Protestants Gone?”, a German Lutheran pastor, Pr. Block,  states that during the time of Communism the churches were fuller then in Germany than today and he offers this explanation:

“Belonging to the church meant taking a stand, to say, ‘This is what I believe in and I take the consequences.’ Today people think, I’m lord of my own life, why do I need the church? 

The hymn “Lord to Thee I make confession” , the first verse is above in the clip-art, (Lutheran Service Book, #608) is from the 17th Century. The penitent’s sin is choosing for himself his way, disregarding the way of the Lord for him and to him.  Looking at the hymn verse and the Bible passages above, the only incorrect portion of Pastor Block’s quote is the implication that somehow this is new…and to say in times of temporal peace, I believe in the Lord, is still to take the consequences.

 Just read an article today that people have a hard time saying, “no” nowadays.  Again, we always have but maybe there is something to the fact it’s harder these days:  we all want to be liked and the moral compass of God’s Law is denied.  Pastors are not to say “no” any longer but be “affirming”…which ends up affirming wrong and that is not serving the neighbor in love.  

We all have gone the wrong way or tend to, go “my way”.  Reading novels, bios of famous people, people I have known, looking into the mirror of the Law of God and when the way is my own choosing, it is a dead end.   The Lord puts up the sign of His terrors to stop us in His Law:

Then He shows us the sign of our forgiveness that we repent in Him, as He has borne each and every wrong of each and every one us, as He calls us  by name, John 10:3:

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Joel 2: 12—19  Psalm 51: 1—13   2 Corinthians 5: 20b—6: 10       Sermon Text:  St. Matthew 6: 1—6,   16—21

Carly Simon’s 1972 hit song, “You’re So Vain” and this is the refrain:

You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you 
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this song is about you 
Don’t you? Don’t You? 

Changed for Lent:

You’re so vain, you probably  think that Lent is about you

You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think that Lent is about you

Don’t you?  Don’t you?

I’m of sufficient age (60) that growing up Lutheran we never ‘did ashes’ or “give some thing up for Lent”.  It was deemed too “Catholic”, but of course Lutherans are catholics, reformed catholics or evangelical catholics.  But now when I hear a bunch of Lutherans stand around jibber jabbering about  what they “gave up the Lent”, as if they’re talking about the weather or sports, and then say, Oh, no I can’t have chocolate for Lent, first I want to scream, Yes, you can!  The Lord God has not inspired any Scripture passage,  ‘Ye shall give up chocolate for Lent, lest ye get spiritual pimples.’  The way “giving up something for Lent” has devolved, yes, churches and Christians seem to be teaching just this:  Lent is about us.  About our vows, our spiritual discipline, maybe even with the intention of giving up something so I will make me better, or I can make me more spiritual,  and it’s like spraying Bactine on a melanoma, it’s like putting a spiritualized band aid on the wounds of sin, death and the power of the devil,

Yet, let’s get straight, though,  what the Lord teaches, when you give alms, when you pray, when you fast, and He did not teach, if you give to the poor, if you fast, if you pray.  When not if.  If my purpose is to be seen by people, teaches Jesus, with giving to the poor, literally blowing my own horn, seen by others with my long verbal prayers or how somber and noble I am in fasting, then Jesus said:  you have your reward.  The Lord is clear He is our reward. The Lord is our reward.  Prayer, fasting and alms-giving are about three things very dear to us all:  words, food and money, all of which we get pretty passionate about and with.  The fasting, praying and almsgiving redirects their use toward the Lord our reward.    Lent is not about what we are passionate about, and if that’s the case, then Facebook is Lent 24/7.  Lent is all about the Lord’s Passion.

I have a series of black and white photos that I purchased from a well-known artist in East Northport, Long Island.  In 1952, the artist was in France.  France has many roadside shrines and one life size depiction of the Crucifix needed repair work. When the workers took down the “corpus”, that is the metal statue of the crucified Lord, they discovered a beehive inside and fled the site and so the artist came along and took the series of photos of the dead Christ on the ground.  One of those photos can be seen on the top of this post.  In the Lutheran Confessions, those who are hyper-spiritual are called in German the “schwarmer”, translated as “enthusiasts”, those who teach that by their vibrant spirituality they can give the Lord God Almighty a helping hand to save them.  He doesn’t need it.  He has in His nail-imprinted hands.  And schwarmer literally means “swarming”, as in bees.  Those bees that day in France drove the workers away and so does all of our spiritual enthusiasms.  Or the despair that I am not that schwarmer, enthused and the word “enthuse” literally means in God and so because I am not that spiritual, then there is despair. Those enthusiasms can drive people away. And so, You think that Lent is about you, don’t you?  It’s not about our passion but His Passion, His Word to you and I.   We can be very passionate about a great deal.  Some of it’s good as in love of a job well done, taking care of those we love, but our passions go overboard as in those three aspects of life most dear to us:  words, food and money.  Words used to damn someone, to trivialize life and a friend’s reputation in gossip.  Can you imagine a Christian of old seeing TV shows which have one purpose:  to watch people eat?  But of course, by God’s grace knowing sin and the Savior, they wouldn’t be too surprised.  Money is the number 1 idol on earth.  People watch the Oscars because it’s a parade of pretty  rich people we want to be.  A pastor noted that the Oscars are, “The idolatry of Americans watching their idols win actual idols.”. 

Words are also the Word of God in our prayer to the Lord. It is by food, bread and wine, He gives us His body and blood for famished souls in His forgiveness, in His Passion.  With money, even if we gain the whole world, we lose our souls and so He has bought us, not with silver or gold but His precious blood.  The Lord redirects our use of words, food and money, to Him and our souls and our neighbors in need.  On our own, our use of them is ashes and death. 

The only reason we can return, repent is “…He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. (Joel 2:13) When you know you are alarmed over your sin and terrified by the thought of your sins, when you know you justly deserve the Lord’s temporal and eternal punishment, that the Lord is angry with you:  this is godly sorrow.  When you realize that anything that you can do on your own, in your spirituality, will not cover the sin of your soul. When I  realize that giving up, say, chocolate or  whatever for Lent and again it’s like putting a band-aid a corpse, there is nothing I can do, save say, Lord, have mercy. When you despair over your misdeeds, not because civil law has caught you, but God’s Law has, this is godly sorrow.  The only reason for the reality of our return is the Lord, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  The sign of the cross on your foreheads remind us of sin, dust we are and dust we shall return, the Lord’s just judgment.  And it is the sign of the One who died and rose for you, who lives to intercede for us all, who so loved the world that He gave Himself, and He is the Beloved of the Father before all worlds.   Fasting, praying, giving to the poor is to focus our communion with the Only One Who ever was crucified, died and rose for you and Who could and has.  The discipline of Lent is not to look into your soul to save yourself, but to look to the Lord who is your salvation and this is  the Faith,  and so to serve your neighbor in love.   Godly grief, good grief leading to repentance as is the repentance  which, “…leads to salvation without regret”.  (2 Corinthians 7:10) Just think:  Salvation without regret, without sorrow and the positive of that negative is one thing only:  joy.  No “I should haves”, “I could of”…that’s regret.  The Law of God shows us what we have done and not done, and the Gospel gives what He has done:  this is what Lent is all about.  He did in His costly sorrow, His good grief, the sinless One becoming sin that we become His righteousness (from tonight’s Epistle reading), His Life. In this sense Lent is about us because we are so vain and His paschal song is about us and our salvation.   “Get used to believe that Christ is a REAL Savior and that you are a REAL sinner…He was deadly serious when He sent His own Son into the world and sacrificed Him for our sake” (Luther)  The devil wants you to look inside, the Lord turns out to Himself in true repentance, it is a daily joyful repentance. This is Lent.    For in this Christian Church He fully forgives your sin and the sins of all believers.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 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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Collect of the Day
Almighty and ever-living God, You strengthened Your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in the resurrection of Your Son. Grant us such faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that we may never be found wanting in Your sight; through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  

Appointed Scripture for this day:  

Judge 6:  36-40

Psalm 139: 1-12

Romans 10: 8b-15

St. John 1:  35-42a

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

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

 Reflection on St. Thomas and this Verse:

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

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

14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  (Romans 10)

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

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

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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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Revelation 7

6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

The photo is of the pulpit above the Altar (!)  in the city of  Erlangen‘s Neustaedter-Kirche.  The first time I saw a similar pulpit suspended above an Altar was in a mid 20th century Lutheran sanctuary in Berlin.  I worshiped in a late 20th Century Lutheran sanctuary in the USA in which  the pulpit, altar and font are all connected,  As the pastor in Berlin commented:  They wanted to emphasize the centrality of the Word of God!  Yes, Amen!  Orthodox priest and professor, Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote the Word is sacramental as the sacraments are of the Word.  I think that is a very orthodox Lutheran understanding of Word and Sacrament.  Tomorrow is All Saints Sunday and the Gospel is the beginning of  the Lord’s  Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes.  Where Christ is proclaimed for the blessing of the poor  in spirit, and His Sacraments for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. There is Mount Zion and the angels support the Word for us, for faith to take hold of again, for our salvation.  Give thanks for all His saints in your lives tomorrow,  in joyful remembrance of those who have died who shared the pilgrimage.

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