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

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

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

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

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

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

Article IV: Justification.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us pray…

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

 

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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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Almighty God, You chose Your servants Simon and Jude to be numbered among the glorious company of the apostles. As they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so may we with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Scripture Lessons:  Jeremiah 26: 1-16; Psalm 43;  1 Peter 1: 3-9;  John 15: 12-21

Memory Verse:  Alleluia.  You did not choose Me, But I chose you. Alleluia.

About Saints Simon and Jude:  In the lists of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6: 14—16); Acts1:13), the tenth and eleventh places are occupied by Simon the Zealot (or ‘Cannanaean”) and by Jude (or “Judas,” not Iscariot but “of James”), who was apparently known also as Thaddaeus. According to early Christian tradition, Simon and Jude journeyed together as missionaries to Persia, where they were martyred. It is likely for this reason, at least in part, that these two apostles are commemorated on same day. Simon is not mentioned in New Testament apart from the lists of twelve apostles. Thus he is remembered and honored for the sake of his office, and thereby stands before us—in eternity, as his life and ministry on earth—in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus, our Lord. We give thanks to God for calling and sending Simon, along with Jude and all the apostles, to preach and teach the Holy Gospel, to proclaim repentance and forgiveness, and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (John 4:1-2; Matthew 10: 28:16-20; Luke .24: 46-49).

Jude appears in John’s Gospel (14:22) on the night of our Lord’s betrayal and the beginning of His Passion, asking Jesus how it is that He will manifest Himself to the disciples but not to the world. The answer that Jesus gives to this question is a pertinent emphasis for this festival day: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). Surely both Jude and Simon exemplified, in life and death, their love for Jesus and their faith in His Word. Not only are we thus strengthened in our Christian faith and life by their example, but, above all, we are encouraged by the faithfulness of the Lord in keeping His promise to them to bring them home to Himself in heaven. There they live with Him forever, where we shall someday join them.

(From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Prayers:  

  • for the obscure and the forgotten and the unknown in the work of the Church
  • for the gift of holiness, which is the creation and gift of God
  • for faithful continuation of the apostles’ preaching of the Gospel to all the world
Reflection: The Prayer of the Day above speaks of the “glorious company of the apostles” but of course by any worldly standard they were not glorious.  As the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” (1 Corinthians 4: 13)  Not exactly a job recruitment pitch for the apostolic Church, unlike the ‘ministries’ we see wearily promoted on TV. Simon and Jude have no extant writings, scant mention in the Bible, no founders  of  ‘great’ ministries,  but the Lord called them to the one holy, catholic and evangelical Ministry.  Their glory, like ours, is a borrowed one, a given one, one given to sinners: the love and mercy of Jesus Christ which by the Lord, the Holy Spirit, in prayer,  we can make known as glory in clay jars (see 2 Corinthians 4:6-8)
  
It is Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who provides a good commentary on the Apostles Simon and Jude and the apostolic Church from his book, The Cost of Discipleship, in this reflection on the Beatitude from St. Matthew 5.  Remember and note:  everything Bonhoeffer wrote was in the time in Germany of the rise of Nazism and the descent into darkness, yet most in Germany thought this was ‘light’ and ‘goodness’, the Nazis put men back to work, Germans were feeling good about Germany again and the like.  I am patriotic but I do not worship our country,and neither are we to despise it.  I find Pr. Bonhoeffer’s  writings prescient in that they are so relevant and close to the bone in our day.   Simon and Jude did not follow the world, nor a Church in captivity to the world, but held captive to the Word of God, Jesus Christ and so also free.  The actual Reformation Day is this Thursday (2013), Luther and the Reformers and many who heard the Gospel clearly preached, also did not follow a worldly church and worldly doctrine.  Upcoming is All Saints Sunday and Day, and the saints did not look to the world for their light but the light shining in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4: 6):

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” With each beatitude the gulf is widened between the disciples and the people, their call to come forth from the people becomes increasingly manifest. By “mourning” Jesus, of course, means doing without what the world calls peace and prosperity: He means refusing to be in tune with the world or to accommodate  oneself to its standards. Such men mourn for the world, for its guilt, its fate and its fortune. While the world keeps holiday they stand aside, and while the world sings, “Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,” they mourn. They see that  for all jollity on board, the ship is beginning to sink. The world dreams of progress, of power and of the future, but the disciples meditate on the end, the last judgement, and the coming of the kingdom. To such heights the world cannot rise.

A blessed feast day to all in the Lord!

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 The following is from Dr. Luther’s Sermon on Christ the  Good Shepherd, St. John 10:  1-18: 

      This is fundamental: Christ knows his sheep and, in turn, the sheep know Christ. It, therefore, follows that for the sake of faith, Christ alone should be preached to his little sheep, that he has given his life for the sheep and they are to emulate his example with works of love. A faithful preacher, therefore, should present nothing other to his people than Christ only, so that people learn to know him, who he is, and what he gives, and do not wander away from his word of promise, “I am the good shepherd, and give my life for the sheep,” but believe that he alone is to be esteemed as the true Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. That is what should be preached to the people, so that they may learn to know their Shepherd. Thereafter, then, we must emphasize the example of how Christ for our sake did all and suffered all, so that we, in turn, for the sake of the Word might willingly do and suffer all. Even as he carried his cross, we, too, should carry our cross. These two topics need to be preached in Christ’s kingdom. Whoever hears, understands, believes, and embraces it is a sheep in Christ’s fold and affirms: I hear and know the voice of my Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who declares: I died for you and rescued you from the wolf with my blood and death. Thus Christ speaks, and this I believe, and I know of no other shepherd. Moreover, and as a result, I do for my neighbor as Christ has done, and, if necessary, I will suffer for his sake, and if I am beaten for this, I remember that he also was beaten. His is the voice I hear, and I follow it.

             But if a wolf, the devil or a false teacher, comes and alleges that it isn’t enough that you believe in Christ and faithfully perform the routine, your vocation and station, but must run to St. James, become a monk, and so on, this is the ongoing pitch of the pope[1], that Christ’s words, “I am the good shepherd, I lay down my life for the sheep” are not sufficient; but people must be taught to perform their own good works like indulgences, alms, pilgrimages, the monastic life, and be careful to become their own shepherds and thus protect themselves. The little sheep replies: I do not know that voice; I hear a wolf, a devil, and a false teacher, each of whom wants to tear me from my Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and devour me; from them I flee away and refuse to listen to them.

 


[1] Luther’s examples here are in some ways dated. Yet, the pope has gained new prominence in the media age that trumps personality over character as quasi-divine. Pope is a man-made office. It has no divine institution behind it. His pitch is still works-righteousness to the point that the current pope has said about non-believers, “If they just do good, then they will go to heaven”. If that is so, then the Lord Jesus was crucified for no good reason.   And there are other “popes”:  televangelists,  mega-church pastors and the like who all have an “ongoing pitch”: if you just buy into my  theology, buy my book, do what it says, then God will be with you.  Never trust “If, then” statements when it comes salvation. Beloved in the Lord, don’t run to your rosary, your spirituality“your best life now”, “your purpose driven life” and all the false prophets:  they will not cover your sin with the blood of Jesus.  Run to your Good Shepherd. As Luther preached above:  you do not have to become your own shepherd.  As Jesus preached and His preacher Luther reiterated, The Good Shepherd has called you.

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Lessons:  Acts 15: 12-22a, Psalm 133, James 1: 1-12, St. Matthew 13: 54-58

Prayer of the Day:

Heavenly Father, shepherd of Your people, You raised up James the Just, brother of our Lord, to lead and guide Your Church. Grant that we may follow his example of prayer and reconciliation and be strengthened by the witness of his death; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Biography: St. James of Jerusalem (or “James the Just”) is referred to by St. Paul as “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). Some modern theologians believe that James was a son of Joseph and Mary and, therefore, a biological brother of Jesus. But throughout most of the Church (historically, and even today), Paul’s term “brother” is understood as “cousin” or “kinsman,” and James is thought to be the son of a sister of Joseph or Mary who was widowed and had come to live with them. Along with other relatives of our Lord (except His mother), James did not believe in Jesus until after His resurrection (John 7:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:7). After becoming a Christian, James was elevated to a position of leadership within the earliest Christian community. Especially following St. Peter’s departure from Jerusalem, James was recognized as the bishop of the Church in that holy city (Acts 12:17; 15:12ff.). According to the historian Josephus, James was martyred in AD 62 by being stoned to death by the Sadducees. James authored the Epistle in the New Testament that bears his name. In it, he exhorts his readers to remain steadfast in the one true faith, even in the face of suffering and temptation, and to live by faith the life that is in Christ Jesus. Such a faith, he makes clear, is a busy and active thing, which never ceases to do good, to confess the Gospel by words and actions, and to stake its life, both now and forever, in the cross. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:

James repeatedly addresses in his epistle “my brothers”.  In 2: 15, he speaks about ‘a brother or sister” being poorly clad.  If “brothers”  refers to the entire congregation, sisters included, regardless of sex, then why would he add “sister” at 2: 15?  Wouldn’t “brothers” be enough at 2: 15?  Yes, it would have but the case has been made that “my brothers” refers to James’ brother pastors (1), therefore like Paul’s letters to Timothy, James is also a pastoral epistle, that is, addressed to a pastor or pastors. This is further corroborated in 3: 1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  James wants to impress fellow pastors to be strict about the doctrine they teach.  In this chapter, he uses many analogies, one being the human “tongue” (verses 4-5):  

 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

A week from tomorrow  is October 31st, the Feast of the Reformation.  The blessed Reformers were very much concerned with the preaching and teaching Office of Pastor.   Priests at the time were beating congregations down with the Law, both God’s and man made churchly rules and regs that by them we can attain heaven.  It was a curse.  Pastors are called as  ordained Servants of the Word so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His single-Handed salvation of us all be preached for the increase of saving faith.  James further writes  that with the tongue we bless the Lord and curse our neighbors.  James was encouraging his brother pastors to be clear in preaching the Word, rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel so that a “harvest of righteousness” come to fruition in the making of “peace” (verse 18), God’s peace which surpasses all understanding.

 Many pastors/ministers/ priests,  at the time of the Reformation,  and now  concentrate the people’s attention on themselves and not Jesus Christ.  Has the Lord’s salvation come from the heart of Joel Osteen or your pastor or the Pope? By no means! Pastors are called to preach Christ, not the Christian.  The place of salvation is not the creature, but  the Creator who sent His only-begotten Son.  Preaching the Christian will set the ship of the Church (Latin: navis, ship and from it, nave, where a congregation sits), the wrong way, not Jesus Christ’s way.  Bitter jealousy and rivalry, over “ministries” will result (see verses 14-16) and will result in “every vile practice”, like a mega-church pastor building a million dollar home.  Many such pastors sell their books and preach their books, but not The Book, the Scriptures. Such bitter jealousy for more is not of the Lord, and as James wrote, saving wisdom, the Word made flesh comes from another source,

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. verse 17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 1: 17

Almighty God, grant to Your church Your Holy Spirit and the wisdom which comes down from heaven, that Your Word may not be bound, but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people. In steadfast faith, we may serve You and in the confession of Your name, abide to the end through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

(1)  From James:  The Apostle of Faith commentary by Dr. David Scaer

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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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Cyprian (A.D. ca. 200–258), was acclaimed bishop of the north African city in Carthage around 248.During the persecution of the roman Emperor Decius, Cyprian fled Carthage but returned two years later. He was then forced to deal with the problem of Christians who had lapsed from their faith under persecution and now wanted to return to the Church. It was decided that these lapsed Christians could be restored but that their restoration could take place only after a period of penance that demonstrated their faithfulness. During the persecution under Emperor Valerian, Cyprian at first went into hiding but later gave himself up to the authorities. He was beheaded for the faith in Carthage in the year 258. (From the LCMS website)

Regarding his martyrdom, from The Penguin Dictionary of Saints:  “When persecution began again in 258, under Emperor Valerian, St Cyprian was one of the first victims. There is an account of what happened compiled directly from contemporary documents. Cyprian was first examined by the proconsul, and on affirming his adherence to the one true God, and refusing to divulge the names of his priests, he was exiled to Curubis. When a new proconsul came into office, Cyprian was brought up for trial in Carthage. He again refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, and was sentenced to death. Accompanied by a tumultuous crowd, he was led to the field of Sextus; there he knelt in prayer. He gave a generous gift to the executioner, blindfolded himself, and his head was struck off.”

Reflection:  The time frame of St. Cyprian is that he lived before the Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 312 which made Christianity a legal religion of the Empire.  From the time of our Lord’s Ascension to that time the Church went through persecution from social ridicule to martyrdom.  In 250, under Emperor Decius, with the threat of death, many Christians denied the faith, gave-up fellow Christians to the authorities or when told to burn incense to Caesar bought letters called,  libelli, or certificates, that they had done so. Based upon 1 Timothy 2: 1-4, the Church prayed for Caesar, but did not pray to Caesar (see the 1st Commandment).  Cyprian was martyred for true worship.

 When the persecution ended, many wanted to return to the Church. Needless to say and to say the least, there were hard feelings.  One party wanted them to be re-baptized or one Novatus said they committed apostasy and were not saved.  He denied absolution to the repentant.  Novatus’ heresy, Novationism, was also condemned in The Augsburg Confession because he denied absolution/forgiveness.   The Bishop of Rome , Pope Stephen I said that once baptized, still baptized.  Others in North Africa disagreed but what was agreed upon that a time of penitence, that is, repentance would return one to the flock.  The Biblical understanding is  absolution for the penitent restores one to the Church.   This crucial understanding of repentance and absolution seems to be the basis of the true Reformation understanding: “Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to Baptism, that we repeat and practice what we began before, but abandoned.” (The Large Catechism).

“…having received the Holy Spirit, we are living holy and spiritually; if we have raised our eyes from earth to heaven; if we have lifted our hearts, filled with God and Christ, to things above and divine, let us do nothing but what is worthy of God and Christ, even as the apostle arouses and exhorts us, saying: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” [Colossians 3:1-4]. Let us, then, who in Baptism have both died and been buried in respect to the carnal sins of the old man, who have risen again with Christ in the heavenly regeneration, both think upon and do the things that are Christ’s.”  –Cyprian of Carthage

Remove the pow’r of sin from me/And cleanse all my impurity/That I may have the strength and will/ Temptations of the flesh to still.

—Renew Me, 0 Eternal Light (LSB 704:2)

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, You gave Your servant Cyprian boldness to confess the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, before the rulers of this world and courage to die for the faith he proclaimed. Give us strength always to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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About Samuel:  Samuel, last of the Old Testament judges and first of the prophets (after Moses), lived during the eleventh century BC. The child of Elkanah, an Ephraimite, and his wife Hannah, Samuel was from early on consecrated by his parents for sacred service and trained in the house of the Lord at Shiloh by Eli the priest. Samuel’s authority as a prophet was established by God (1 Samuel 3:20). He anointed Saul to be Israel’s first king (1 Samuel 10:1). Later, as a result of Saul’s disobedience to God, Samuel repudiated Saul’s leadership and then anointed David to be king in place of Saul (1 Samuel 16:13). Samuel’s loyalty to God, his spiritual insight, and his ability to inspire others made him one of Israel’s great leaders. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House.)

Reflection: 1 Samuel tells us that  Saul sparing the life of King Agag though the Lord told Saul not to spare his life.   Saul did so because of compassion though he had no direct command from God to do so. The Lord told Saul that his life was then forfeit. 

In  seemingly less strenuous circumstances we think it’s all right to do something because we think, God will understand, He is compassionate.  Like the businessman on a long trip away from family, a few drinks in the hotel bar, a nice woman with a sad story…God will understand.  The husband’s  wife nor his children will understand.  The Lord understands all together too well and He is judge of the living and the dead. The businessman in question builds his own theology to cover his sin but only repentance on account of the blood shed by Jesus can heal.  

We can build a whole false ethos around under the cloak of  ‘theology’. Pr. Murray (Pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, TX)  points out that we are pretty good at “creating our own righteousness”.  The Law shows us if our moral behavior  is God pleasing   in way of our commitments and relationships in life:  mother, father, brother, sister, citizen, etc. The way to find out quite easily if what we are doing is actually holy is to ask: Is it conformity to God’s Law?  If not, then pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.”

Samuel’s very name means literally “God hears”.  He was named so because Samuel’s Mother, Hannah was childless and God heard her distress.  “Surely to obey the voice of the Lord is better than sacrifice.”  Samuel heard for the Lord heard him…and us as well to the depths of our sinful being. 

For further reflection, Meditation by Pr. Murray, from his A Year with the Church Fathers (CPH) in which he addresses do-it yourself theology…false theology: 

There can be no freeform holiness that comes from our own hearts. We often define and act on our own set of pious principles in seeking our own righteousness. This is purely a rebellion against the clear and unchanging will of God in the Law. There can be no holiness apart from the specific commands of a holy God. Our revision of the divine Law arises from seemingly righteous principles. Perhaps Saul spared Agag (1 Samuel 15) out of a desire to be compassionate and gracious, which God Himself claims to be (Psalm 86:15). Why shouldn’t Saul be able to get in on the compassion act? Simply because he had a direct command from God to do otherwise.

A veteran pastor was confronted by two married couples whom he considered pious members of his parish. They announced to him that they were swapping spouses and wondered if he might unite them in a double wedding. They argued that their spouse swap was loving and that, after all, the Holy Spirit had let them know that this was a good thing. He strongly suggested to them that they could not ignore the Sixth Commandment, and that maybe their spouse swap was merely self-serving. Our impieties are often perpetrated for pious reasons; love and compassion being common among those pious reasons. We even argue that God agrees with us. Like Saul, who as a worldly ruler considered it his prerogative to spare Agag, our pieties tend to benefit ourselves. We must flee from creating our own righteousness and remain tied down to the clear Word of God.

“Saul saw fit to use compassion when he spared the king whom God commanded to be slain (1 Samuel 15:9-11). However, he deserved to have his disobedient compassion, or, if you prefer it, his compassionate disobedience, rejected and condemned, that man may be on his guard against extending mercy to his fellow man in opposition to the sentence of Him by whom man was made. Truth, by the mouth of the Incarnate Himself, proclaims as if in a thundering voice, ‘Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’ (John 3:5). And in order to except martyrs from this sentence, to whose lot it has fallen to be slain for the name of Christ before being washed in the Baptism of Christ, He says in another passage, ‘Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it’ (Matthew 10:39)” (Augustine, On the Soul and its Origin, 2.17).

Almighty God, in Your mercy You gave Samuel to courage to call Israel to repentance and to renew their dedication to the Lord.  Call us to repentance as Nathan called David to repentance, so by the blood of Jesus, the Son of David,  we may receive the forgiveness of all our sins;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

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Magníficat ánima mea Dóminum

My soul magnifies the Lord

by Johann Sebastian Bach

Readings for the day:  Isaiah 61:7-11Galatians 4:4-7Luke 1:39-55

Let us pray:  

Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your only Son. Grant that we, who are redeemed by His blood, may share with her in the glory of Your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

The Mother of Our Lord: St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned repeatedly in the Gospels and the Book of Acts, with nearly a dozen specific incidents in her life being recorded: her betrothal to Joseph; the annunciation by the angel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of the Messiah; her visitation to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer; the nativity of our Lord; the visits of the shepherds and the Wise Men; the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple; the flight into Egypt; the Passover visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve; the wedding at Cana in Galilee; her presence at the crucifixion, when her Son commended her to the care of His disciple John; and her gathering with the apostles in the Upper Room after the ascension, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. Thus she is present at most of the important events in her Son’s life. She is especially remembered and honored for her unconditional obedience to the will of God (“Let it be to me according to Your word” [Luke 1:38]); for her loyalty to her Son even when she did not understand Him (“Do whatever He tells you” [John 2:1-11]); and above all for the highest honor that heaven bestowed on her of being the mother of our Lord (“Blessed are you among women” [Luke 1:42]). According to tradition, Mary went with the apostle John to Ephesus, where she died. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  

I think the Roman Catholic problem with Mary is that they make much too much of her which has no Scriptural warrant.  I think the Lutheran problem with Mary has been we make much too little of her importance which likewise has no Scriptural warrant.  We should not pray to her and neither should we think we have prayed her away.

The Scripture records what she prayed:  “My soul doth magnifies the Lord.”  What or who do we magnify in our lives?  I find my own question embarrassing to answer.  Think of what the world magnifies:  fame, wealth, power and in our day and time, the temple of the  self, that is , my feelings, my goodness, my friends,  ad nauseam, and I  have wanted it all.  Not Mary.  For instance: Mary did not “shop till she dropped”.  Her Son was not a choice but her Child. She loved her Son.  She magnified the Lord.  She magnified, made big in her life God’s grace to her in bearing the Only-Begotten Son of God.  She bore her Savior and yours.

A colleague of mine once said during the fad of “WWJD” bracelets (What Would Jesus Do) that it actually should be “WWMD”:  what would Mary do?  Good question.  The answer?  She heard the Word of God, the Word of grace.  She obeyed.  She was a faithful wife. She believed.  She prayed.  She suffered.  She served her Lord and her neighbor.  It was all the Lord’s work toward her and the fruit of her good work, likewise the Lord’s and the greatest still is the fruit of her womb, Jesus. She is the model of the faithful believer, even the whole Church. “…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”--Galatians 4: 19

The other feast days, featuring the Mother of Our Lord, The Annunciation (St. Luke 1: 26-38), The Presentation (Luke 2: 22-38, and The Visitation (Luke 1: 39-56, are actually festivals of Jesus Christ.”  And that’s the point! Mary is associated with them and she did magnify the Lord.  She never sought  attention for herself.   She knew she would be blessed (Luke 1: 48) but she did not seek adoration but adored Him born of her virgin womb. He was her Son and her Lord!  She knew humility.  This is not the stance of the neo-feminist woman of our day…or any man.   Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Orthodox professor (1921-1983) pointedly reflected, “In (Mary’s) humility and silence, she can hardly serve as patron for the noisy and arrogant feminism of our time.”

The sundry revolutions of the ’60s brought new vocabulary  and one of the vocables was counterculture, and from it, counter-cultural.  The ’60s counter-culture was an excuse of condoning immorality. Mary, Mother of our Lord, stands today as a true counter-cultural icon. Fr. Schmemann points out that Mary is understood in her instrumentality  (“Let it be according to Your Word…”) in the Lord’s plan of salvation that the Word became flesh for her, you and I. She was obedient in true faith.  But Fr. Schmemann tellingly points out that her obedience as a woman, 

“…is one of the main reasons for Mary’s “rejection” by many “modern” Christians:  she can hardly be construed as the symbol of that ‘liberation’ which stresses the absolute ‘right’ of man to dispose of his life and of his body in a manner which he himself chooses, to a ‘self-fulfillment’ which he himself determines.”  

This self-determination has culminated in licit  abortion on demand as deadly self-fulfillment.  And Mary brought the Life of the world into the world.  Truly, she is counter-cultural.  Mary is the model of the godly life in Christ Jesus for women…and men!  Just as she told the servants at the Cana wedding, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2: 5), goes for us servants as well.  Lord, still our hearts and minds in the Sabbath of Your forgiveness by which You have redeemed us from the old way of death to live and breath in Your life, Your life which You first gave to Your Mother, so that this dark world may know You have come into our world for us and for our salvation and believing be saved.  As Mary. Amen.

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About Lawrence:  Early in the third century AD, Lawrence, most likely from Spain, made his way to Rome. There he was appointed chief of the seven deacons and was given the responsibility to manage Church property and finances. The emperor at the time, who thought that the Church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lawrence to produce the ‘treasures of the Church.’ According to tradition,  Lawrence brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity. He  jailed and eventually executed in the year AD 258 by being roasted on a gridiron. His martyrdom left a deep impression on the young Church because he was a Roman citizen tortured and executed by Roman authorities.  Almost immediately, the date of this death, August 10, became a permanent fixture on the early commemorative calendar of the Church.  (adapted from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH). 

Reflection: I would think Lawrence knew the location of the Church’s treasure! He knew exactly where it was as in the old pirate maps: when X marks the spot, that is the Cross of Jesus Christ.  He knew that the treasures of Christ’s grace is for the  poor, the lame, the orphans and the widows, for all who hunger and thirst for righteousness,that is, the poor in spirit.   In the midst of Watergate in the 70s, Bob Woodward was told by his informant, “to follow the money”.  All of the world follows the money.  Lawrence did not “follow the money”: he followed His Lord and yours.  As a steward of Jesus Christ, His deacon, Lawrence maintained earthly treasure probably well but gold does not make the Church, only the blood of Christ.

When the Church and her Christians think the true treasures of the church are in the offering plates/big budgets  or our “creative ministries” or our programs, and not the Cross and Sacraments, Scripture and Service in His love, then, “…we are in danger of losing the things that make the Church in favor of those who claim to make the Church.  Church leaders only gain legitimacy when they are the delivery point of the divine gifts.” (Pr. Murray, A Year with the Church Fathers, CPH)  Lawrence and many others so delivered the divine gifts and were delivered up as martyrs and their witness heartens us.

We pray…Gracious Lord, in every age You have sent men and women who have given their lives for the message of  Your Gospel and all the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.  Inspire us with the memory of those martyrs for the Gospel, like Your servant Lawrence, whose faithfulness led them to the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to Your Son’s victory over sin and death, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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