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"THE PEOPLE OF THE CROSS" - Take up your cross and follow ...

Text: the Gospel Reading, St. Mark 8:27-38, and the Epistle Reading, Romans 5:1-11

On February 21, 2015, 21 Coptic Christians, in Libya were killed by ISIS on the shores of the Mediterranean. The ISIS terrorists demanded they renounced the Christian faith. They did not and ISIS they cut off their heads and  derided them as, “People of the cross”. May we be so accused. We can not blaspheme our King who has saved us but ever preach, teach and proclaim Him as Lord. We too are people of the Cross.  And so many times, it’s not on the worldly “right side of history”.

Standing on the supposed “right side of history” supposedly makes us right even inside us.  This is yet another man-made work. If it did then we could become right by an act of congress. “On the right side of history” is only according to who is currently in control and power, None of that makes us right, it only means we are partisans in a current fight. Only standing in God’s grace makes us right with the Lord, who only makes us right in the persistent wrong side of human history. What does the Apostle call us: weak,  ungodly,  sinners,  enemies  and unrighteous.  Not flattering, but the Bible does not flatter but speaks God’s own truth. Note that the Apostle Paul says “we”, we were weak, ungodly, sinful, God’s enemies, unrighteous, including the Pharisee Paul from Tarsus.  Things change and God changes us. And the Lord entered in the flesh into the history of the weak,  ungodly,  sinners,  enemies  and unrighteous. And that’s the supposed right side of history! He entered into  history’s main side, wrong side to fully atone for our sin from the wrong side of human history, He died, even upon a cross to bear our sin and be our Savior. As John Newton called it: amazing grace.

On our own we cannot escape our history! We live in it.  The Bible is the record of historical revelation of God Who enters history, from the son of promise Isaac, born his aged parents Abraham and Sarah the Word of the Cross  to Jesus Christ.  He  has broken through in the depths of nothingness of evil and sin…encapsulated in one phrase in the Creed:  “suffered under Pontius Pilate”. We are people of Christ’s  Cross by His blood. 

Peter confessed the Christ and upon the confession the Lord builds His Church.This is His precious promise.Jesus himself puts the decisive question: “Who do people say that the Son of man is?” Answer: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “Opinions, nothing but opinions; one could extend this list of opinions as much as one wanted. . . some say you are a great man, some say you are an idealist, some say you are a religious genius, a revolutionary, an avatar, some say you are a great champion and hero, a social justice warrior, wrapped in our nation’s flag who will lead us to victory and greatness. Opinions, more or less serious opinions– but Jesus does not want to build his church on opinions. And so he addresses himself directly to his disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” In this inevitable confrontation with Christ there can be no “perhaps” or “some say,” no opinions but only silence or the answer which Peter gives now: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Pay no heed to views and opinions, don’t ask for judgments, don’t always be calculating what will happen, don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Let the church remain the church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds. (Sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1933,Berlin as the Nazis were taking over)  The people of the Cross confess Christ.

The people of the Cross confess Christ and their sin.     We do not confess the sins of Christopher Columbus, but our own wrong. We do not confess we are white, as if that is sin or for that matter black, as if that is a sin or any other skin color, as sins.  Skin color is not a sin. Skin is not sin. Yet, the people of the cross are white and black and every skin color on earth.  All have the same color of blood:  red. And for us all, the red blood of God in man was shed for man. we sing ‘For he alone, whose blood was shed, can cure the fever in our blood.’  ‘Each and every one of us suffers from fever.’-St. Jerome.   Isn’t it true for us today?  The fever of pride, the fever of anger, the fever of self-righteousness, the fever of acquiring and possessing stuff. The fever list could go on and on. “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.” (LSB Hymn of Praise, the Divine Service)

Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory is set in the 1920s Mexico when the Roman Catholic Church has been suppressed.  Priests are not allowed to say Mass.  The main character is an unnamed priest, given to whiskey, who goes about the country saying clandestine Masses.  The priest is in  a shack and mestizo is crawling in the shack and grabs the priest’s ankles.  He wants the priest to hear his confession about adultery and “boys”, as his confession comes forth between his yellowed teeth, the priest reflects:

“How often the priest had heard the same confession–Man was so limited: he hadn’t even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died: the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater the glory lay around the death; it was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or civilization–it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” 

This illustrates this week’s Epistle Reading:

6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The people of the Cross carry their cross and walk in the Way of Christ.  It is easy to have faith in one’s own faith, but now the Object and Subject of faith breaks their innocence:  The Son of man will be crucified, yes, come follow Me by taking up your cross and denying the world and it’s hold on you which I will overcome.  I will form you in the grace in which you stand and walk, every step of the way and all discipline is not pleasant at the time, but painful, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 

The Apostle Paul describes the contours of our journey following the Christ. The righteousness of Christ is not an abstract quality, it is the Lord’s presence, it means that our, “…whole life is in the hands of God, to be shaped, formed, molded, even twisted into the image of God” (Bushur). And there is no doubt about it, without the Lord, we will be formed, molded and just twisted into someone else, or even something else, at times unrecognizable to the Lord, but known to the world.  Who do you want to form you, guide you?  Yourself?  The world?  The flesh? And if it’s not the Lord, it’s probably the devil.  The devil, would not, has not,  indeed cannot pour love into our heart.  Only the Lord has done this is doing this and the proof of His love is the Cross.  Even our suffering is in the Lord’s hands. Like it is written in today’s Epistle:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

“…we justified men are not wafted to the skies on flowery beds of ease; we pass through a difficult and dangerous present to that future and assured glory. What of our sufferings? Do they not put a question mark before this “peace”? “We rejoice in our sufferings,” Paul says. That is a hard saying, but the experience of millions who have taken Paul and Paul’s Lord at their word attests its truth. We rejoice in our sufferings because we know. We know that the God who has delivered up His Son up for us is in charge of all human history and is in charge of our sufferings too (Rom. 8:28) and works for our good in them too; yes, in them particularly.”

Not only did the Lord make us and redeem us, but He also well knows how He made us: He made us to learn and grow and from the beginning of life, want to learn. We are being tempered and it is by and through God’s love that He teaches and forms us as people of the Cross. IN this fear choking and desperate time, we need His perfect love which casts out fear.  “Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him, that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil.” This is from a prayer for the Lenten Season.  A similar Advent prayer also has the phrase, “Grant that our hearts may be so fixed…”.  That is, our hearts fixed, set upon Jesus Christ in true faith.  But it also means that when they are so fixed on Jesus, the Holy Spirit fixes our hearts, that is, kills the sin and brings the sinner to His life again by His atonement on the Cross.

We are people of His Cross.  The people of the Cross confess Christ Who has saved us by His Blood. The people of the Cross confess their sin and confess Christ.  The people of the Cross carry their cross and walk in the Way of Christ and we do not earn Christ,  but we ever learn Christ. In the Name of the Father…

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Proverbs 18:2 - Bible verse of the day - DailyVerses.net

In our Bible class on Sundays we have been studying Proverbs.  We came across this verse and it prompted a good discussion:

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
    but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18: 2, English Standard Version, ESV}

One of the students read it from the King James Version (KJV):

A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.

The KJV translation then took the conversation to this age’s ill-advised fondness for the quote, “Follow your heart”, or “The heart wants what the heart wants” or similarly, “Follow your passion”.  We discussed the fallenness, that is the sinfulness of the heart/will of man:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”-Jeremiah 17: 9

“And (Jesus)said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”-St. Mark 7: 17-23

I could go on with quotes about original sin which precisely dovetail with the previous two quotes.

“Follow your heart” almost has a Biblical ring but it’s a hollow gong.  Too many Christians quote and follow this advice.  Following our hearts, which are so set upon the self, means following sin. Just look what comes of our hearts and wants to!  Jesus said instead, “Follow Me”. He alone can cure the fever of selfism rampant these days. The Lord knows our hearts better than we do and he alone can hear our hearts to heal them.

The first translation is right on target for the internet age.  Everyone is spilling the beans and giving their opinions in a fusillade of invective, self-righteousness and anger that seems to never end.  Such will end: in hell. Repent. Now some threads are instructive if following the Word of God, but I find it’s rare, including when I post.

The second translation about the “heart discovering itself”, also fits too neatly in the Old Adam on the internet.  The fallen human heart/will always in look for itself and it gets obviously lost.  After a cursory look at the Hebrew, this phrase could be rendered, The fool…only wants to reveal his heart, even strip bare his heart.  How many times has someone, done the tell all interview?

What ever the translation, the Word points us to the fact we are living in a very foolish age, even the Era of the Fool.

What can be done?

Proverbs again, 17: 28:    “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” (ESV)  “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.” (KJV)

Like my Grandma was wont to say to me when at 7, I was rambunctious, “Keep still, Mark!”  Based upon Proverbs 17: 28, this saying has been variously attributed to Lincoln and Twain: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt” or this version, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”

What to do?

  • Keep still.
  • Listen as in, “Speak, Lord, your servant hears”.
  • Fast from posting at the drop of keystroke.
  • Read the Bible. Read confessional Lutheran sources.
  • Keep still and know that the Lord is our God.
  • And pray, pray at all times.

Psalm 141:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
    keep watch over the door of my lips!
Do not let my heart incline to any evil,
    to busy myself with wicked deeds
in company with men who work iniquity,
    and let me not eat of their delicacies!

As St. Bernard of Clairvaux in one of his sermons on the Song of Songs gently reminds us:

The man who is wise will see his life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself… Today there are many in the Church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare… You, too, must learn to await this fullness before pouring out your gifts, do not try to be more generous than God.

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Lenten Reminders

On Ash Wednesday and the 1st Sunday in Lent, Concordia Lutheran gave these objects above to our members as Lenten reminders to help further mark Lent. We also gave the explanations for these objects. I hope you find some edification in these explanations.–Pr. Schroeder

About Your Lenten Reminders:

First:  a pocket cross.  This is a style of cross called, Christus Victor, Christ the Victor. It is a picture of the risen Christ on the cross: He is crucified and risen for our justification.  It is not a talisman or a charm but a physical reminder of bearing our own cross, dying to sin and rising in His risen Body, repentant by His sacrificial blood shed for us in His undying love. When you reach into your pocket or pocketbook, and feel the cross, among the clang of change, lint, and keys, the clamor of this world so close, you can return to the Lord, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Second:  a wristband.  On the outside a representation of the Lord’s crown of thorns. On the inside of the wristband is a prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. This is called the “Jesus Prayer”, much favored by the Eastern Orthodox who use it for contemplative prayer by repeating using a prayer rope.  It dates to the Egyptian desert monks of the 4th and 5th centuries.  Unlike a rosary, this prayer is 100% Biblical. St. Luke 18: 9-14 is the Lord’s The Pharisee and the Tax Collector, and the repentant tax collector prays: God, be merciful to me, a sinner (vs. 13).  This prayer is the basis of the Jesus Prayer…and all of Scripture.  Like the pocket cross,  this wristband is not a talisman or a charm, but a reminder that we can pray at all times, be moderate in our eating and drinking, and giving and serving our neighbors in need. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar (Psalm 138: 6).

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Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, You chose Your servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve. Grant that Your Church, ever preserved from false teachers, may be taught and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

St. Matthias is one of the lesser-known apostles. According to the Early Church Fathers, Matthias was one of the seventy-two sent out by Jesus in Luke 10:1-20. After the ascension, Matthias was chosen by lot to fill the vacancy in the Twelve resulting from the death of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:16-25). Early Church tradition places Matthias in a number of locations. Some historians suggest that he went to Ethiopia; others place him in Armenia, the first nation to adopt Christianity as a national religion. Martyred for his faith, Matthias may well have met his death at Colchis in Asia Minor, around AD 50. The Church of St. Matthias at Trier, Germany, claims the honor of being the fina burial site for Matthias, the only one of the Twelve to be buried in Europe north of the Alps.

Sermon

Text: For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate,     and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.’ 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

The first requirement to replace Judas Iscariot was someone who accompanied the 12 Disciples “during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us”, from the Lord’s Baptism by John till the Ascension. This was based upon Scripture. Matthias was there with Jesus and the 12 for three years. He saw the Lord’s mighty deeds and even mightier preaching and teaching. He would witness to His crucifixion. He saw the Lord ascend and the Holy Spirit descend on Pentecost. When Jesus was crucified, all the 12 deserted Him. Maybe Matthias stayed.  But even more important:  If chosen he would “become” a witness of the resurrection and an Apostle’s witness was public.  Matthias could say with Thomas that I saw the wounds of the Cross in His risen Body.

The second requirement was a no-brainer necessity: the Apostles prayed, along with the whole company and sought the Scriptures.  The prayer of the disciples is a model of its kind. “The petitioners had a single object for which they bowed before the Lord, and to the proper presentation of this they confine their words. They do not repeat a thought, nor do they elaborate one beyond the point of clarity…. So brief a prayer on so important an occasion would in this talkative age, scarcely be  regarded as a prayer at all.” (Dr. Paul Kretzmann)

Their prayer is in keeping with Jesus’ teaching that prayer should be simple for we will not be heard for our many words” (cf. St. Matthew 6: 7).  They also followed Jesus as He prayed before selecting the 12 Disciples and Jesus exhorted them to pray the  Lord of the harvest to send out harvesters into His field (St. Matthew 9: 37-38;  St. Luke 6:  12-16).  After the selection of Matthias, lots were never used again.  It is prayer that is absolutely essential.  Also, preceding the selection of the unique and unrepeatable Office of Apostle, as in all offices, there were qualifications:  an apostle saw the risen Jesus Christ (Acts 1: 22) and more importantly, to replace Judas, this selection was to be done as it was according to Scripture (Acts 1: 24).   Scripture and prayer go hand in Hand.

This is good Lenten encouragements as we listen to Jesus: prayerfully witness to Him. Beyond these verses from Acts, the Bible does not say anything else about Matthias…and along with 9 of the 12. There are traditions about the apostles  which have some fact. This does not matter as Matthias, with his 11 brothers in the Lord, spread the Gospel and were the first to do so.  Fame was not the apostle’s game, their purpose was to proclaim the Name, the Name of the Lord, teach, confess and preach His Resurrection for us all, our hope of eternal life, according to the Scriptures.

We do not know much about Matthias.  On The Tomb to the Unknown Soldier is engraved:  “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier known but to God”.  “Here rests in honored glory a saint known but to God”.  We hear people say of a star: “We’ll remember him always”…as long as the “always” is our life spans.  We cannot remember “always”, that is forever.  The Lord remembers always His saints, by name, as He baptized us in His Name.  We won’t be remembered always on this earth and in this world. .  We will all probably be unknown saints and yet fully known by the Lord (1 Corinthians 13: 12). We are built into the Lord’s Church, which He promised the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, as He builds us up and into the Church, with His Word, and not by human decrees building the church in man’s image. 

When parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, pastors, ministers, beginning with the apostles, taught us right and wrong and  told us about Jesus, who forgives, you were being built up and into His Church, His temple, His Body and still are. Our ancestors in the faith of the Church, like Matthias were called by the Lord in His death and resurrection, by the Holy Spirit in the Word of God, are awaiting with us our Easter day.  His Temple is the template of our lives today to be aware when we,  like Matthias, can tell of Jesus and proclaim Him. For to us all He says, as it is written in the appointed Gospel of this day which Matthias heard:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.

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Let us pray:  O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to Your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior, and steadfastness to die for the Faith, give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Image result for Polycarp
Image result for Polycarp

Born c. 69, Polycarp was a central figure in the early church. A disciple of the evangelist John, he linked the first generation of believers to later Christians. After serving for many years as bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp was arrested, tried, and executed for his faith on February 23, c. 156. An eyewitness narrative of his death, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, continues to encourage believers in times of persecution. You can find out more about the Saint here (Issues, etc.) and here.

To our ears, the crowd’s cry, “Away with the atheists”, as a denial of Christianity may sound strange.  The understanding in those days was the gods and goddesses of the many city states and of the Roman Empire were considered to be integral and essential to the welfare of city and Empire.  If they were not worshiped, then it was thought city and Empire would be adversely affected.  The Christians were denying the existence of all the mythologies of the gods and goddesses, so they were considered atheists and unpatriotic.  Even worse they were considered to be trouble-makers, disturbers of order and against the very fiber of the culture, and so, “away with the atheists”. 

Christians in our days are considered to be a type of atheist in the religions of sex and self.  For instance,  many consider it ‘hate speech’ to publicly state marriage is between man and woman only.  If Christians do not buckle under to the new regime and it’s fanatical dogmatism of sex and self, then we are the disrupters of the order and ‘goodness’. If Christians do not give obeisance to the dictates of lust and narcissism, efforts have been made to curtail this nation’s first amendment rights.  We do deny the enslavement of the bodies and souls of our fellow citizens to the false gods of slave and sex, and for us first; but with Polycarp, we are called to confess Christ as Lord and we are His people for freedom of friends and family from those gods and goddesses. (Here is a link to very good sermon by Dr. Peter Scaer on this enslavement, from the daily chapel service, 2/21/20 at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN.  The Reading of the Sermon Text begins at marker 14.00 and the Sermon at 17.00, followed by the singing of the Te Deum Laudamus. In it he refers to the 2nd century of the Church when the Roman Empire required citizens to burn a little incense to the “genius of Caesar”.  If they did not, execution loomed.  This is what happened to St. Polycarp)

Unlike Polycarp at that time, no one in our beloved nation has been burned at the stake or beheaded. So many, in society, and many churches want behead the head of the Church, His Body. We have seen in the Middle East another anti-Christian Islamic movement, ISIS, putting to death in horrible ways many of our brothers and sisters.  On February 21, 2015, 21 Coptic Christians, in Libya were beheaded by ISIS on the shores of the Mediterranean. The ISIS terrorists demanded they renounce the Christian faith. They did not and ISIS derided them as, “People of the cross”. May we be so accused and with Polcarp, we cannot blaspheme our King who has saved us but ever preach, teach and proclaim Him.

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Icon of the 21 Coptic Martyrs
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The 21 Coptic Martyrs

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Lessons:  Isaiah 55:6-11  Psalm 46  Romans 10:5-17  John 15:1-11

Martin Luther, born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany, initially began studies leading toward a degree in law. However, after a close encounter with death, he switched to the study of theology, entered an Augustinian monastery, was ordained a priest in 1505, and received a doctorate in theology in 1512. As a professor at the newly established University of Wittenberg, Luther’s scriptural studies led him to question many of the Church’s teachings and practices, especially the selling of indulgences. His refusal to back down from his convictions resulted in his excommunication in 1521. Following a period of seclusion at the Wart­burg castle, Luther returned to Wittenberg, where he spent the rest of his life preaching and teaching, translating the Scriptures, and writing hymns and numerous theological treatises. He is remembered and honored for his lifelong emphasis on the biblical truth that for Christ’s sake God declares us righteous by grace through faith alone. Luther died on February 18, 1546, while visiting the town of his birth. (from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by Concordia Publishing House)

In Martin Luther’s Commentary on, on St. Matthew 5:8, the 6th Beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”, he asks, what does it mean to be “pure in heart”.  How does one become pure in heart?  He cites our Lord in St. Matthew 23: 27 speaking to the Pharisees that they are “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and al uncleanness” and compared them to the monks of his day. You can change the outside and everyone thinks you are pure but inside, even you (!) but it’s in the heart, that is, the will, is where we are made pure.  Still, how does that occur? Only the Lord can do that.

Then Luther, cites the goal:

“…this is the way it is with our clergy today. Outwardly they lead a decent life, and in the churches, everything is conducted with such excellent taste and formality that it is beautiful to behold. But He does not ask for such purity. He wants to have the heart pure, though outwardly the person may be a drudge in the kitchen, black, sooty, and grimy, doing all sorts of dirty work.”

We look around and can say that as well as false doctrine is taught and sexual and societal immorality abounds and is extolled in our idolatrous and adulterous generation and in churches, and outwardly beautiful people and churches are inwardly filled with real filth.

Luther:

“But He does not ask for such (outward) purity. He wants to have the heart pure, though outwardly the person may be a drudge in the kitchen, black, sooty, and grimy, doing all sorts of dirty work.”

As a hospice chaplain, I visited many very poor, dirty homes.  One such home, in early spring and in the first room had pens with baby ducks in it.  The yard was thoroughly full of junk with more than one Confederate flag flying.  The house was dirty and ramshackle.  The granddaughter guided me through the maze of dark rooms to the patient’s room, her Grandfather’s. His room was done in Nascar memorabilia galore. In the corner was the gun safe.  He had lived here for most of his life and raised a family in this house…home. His home was grimy, with barnyard animals, aesthetically tacky and so politically incorrect, i.e. ‘racist’. After introductions,  the granddaughter left the room, and I asked this typical, clinical question to a new patient: How would you describe your spirituality? Without a hesitation, he said, “Jesus”.  He knew where his purity, and his faith and hope and love lay and came to life.

Luther:

Then what is a pure heart? In what does it consist? The answer can be given quickly, and you do not have to climb up to heaven or run to a monastery for it and establish it with your own ideas. You should be on your guard against any ideas that you call your own, as if they were just so much mud and filth. And you should realize that when in the monastery is sitting in deepest contemplation, excluding the world from his heart altogether, and thinking about the Lord God the way he himself paints and imagines Him, he is actually sitting — if you will pardon the expression — in the dung, not up to his knees but up to his ears. For he is proceeding on his own ideas without the Word of God; and that is sheer deception and delusion, as Scripture testifies everywhere.

What is meant by “pure heart” is this: one that is watching and pondering what God says and replacing its own ideas with the Word of God. This alone is pure before God, yes, purity itself, which purifies everything that it includes and touches. Therefore, though a common laborer, a shoemaker, or a blacksmith may be dirty and sooty or may smell because he is covered with dirt and pitch, still he may sit at home and think: “My God has made me a man. He has given me my house, wife, and child and has commanded me to love them and to support them with my work.” Note that he is pondering the Word of Cod in his heart; and though he stinks outwardly, inwardly he is pure incense before God. But if he attains the highest purity so that he also takes hold of the Gospel and believes in Christ — without this, that purity is impossible — then he is pure completely, inwardly in his heart toward God and outwardly toward everything under him on earth. Then everything he is and does, his walking, standing, eating, and drinking, is pure for him; and nothing can make him impure.

So it is when he looks at his own wife or fondles her, as the patriarch Isaac did (Gen. 26:8), which a monk regards as disgusting and defiling. For here he has the Word of God, and he knows that God has given her to him. But if he were to desert his wife and take up another, or neglect his job or duty to harm or bother other people, he would no longer be pure; for that would be contrary to Cod’s commandment. But so long as he sticks to these two — namely, the Word of faith toward God, which purifies the heart, and the Word of understanding, which teaches him what he is to do toward his neighbor in his station everything is pure for him, even if with his hands and the rest of his body he handles nothing but dirt.

Therefore be on guard against all your own ideas if you want to be pure before God. See to it that your heart is founded and fastened on the Word of God.

What was the joy of Martin Luther’s discovery, actually rediscovery of the pearl of great price, in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in creation, redemption and sanctification? Answer: the Word of God and the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, our very Holy Spirit-uality. A hospice patient knew where his spirituality was found. Luther so preached and taught till this day in 1546 when he died that salvation is found in only one Name:  Jesus.

Let us pray: O God, our refuge and our strength, You raised up Your servant Martin Luther to reform and renew Your Church in the light of Your living Word, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Defend and purify the Church in our own day, and grant that we may boldly proclaim Christ’s faithfulness unto death and His vindicating resurrection, which You made known to Your servant Martin through Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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The following quotes are from a section of Pr. Johann Gerhard’s sermon, Invocavit Sunday on fasting, the text is: St. Matthew 4: 1-11.  Our Lord said, “When you fast…”, not “if you fast”,  but He nor the Scriptures give times and days for fasting.  When churches have done so, then it tends to be legalistic and a religious work that people consider as saving.  Further, considering that when you fast, as in individual prayer and giving to the poor, it is to be done in private, because the aim of fasting is the Lord (see St. Matthew 6: 4, 6, 18).   Fasting is a good discipline for Christ’s disciples and I think Pr. Gerhard’s preaching and teaching teaches the evangelical way of fasting:

Fasting from the lusts of the flesh:

Christ wanted to teach true fasting with His example: It does not consist of a person refraining from certain foods at certain times and regarding that as being meritorious and as a satisfaction for sin. Instead, the following is a true, God-pleasing fast, namely, “The primary, great universal fast,” as Augustine calls it, is a person abstains from the lusts of the flesh which strive against the soul, I Pet. 2:11, where a person then does not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, Gal. 5:16. Also, all members can fast in this manner if they do not give in to the servitude of impurity, but instead to the weapons of righteousness, Rom. 6:13 and 19.

Daily fasting:

Following this there is a daily fast: moderation. With it is observed an appropriate restraint in eating and drinking in order that one becomes adept at praying, skillful at his calling, and in the exercise of godliness. Also, this is of such a vital, essential necessity that Christ speaks with words worthy of reflection and contemplation: However, you be on guard so that your hearts do not become burdened with gobbling food and boozing, lest this final Day comes upon you like an ensnaring trap, Luke 21:34-35. If it were not of the utmost importance, Christ never would have used such stern words.

Fasting for Prayer and Reception of the Holy Communion:

Finally, there is a mourning and prayer fast, especially for when a person amidst general or specific misfortunes—or also when confronted with imminent common need—initiates a fast so that he may all the more be humbly devoted to prayer in acknowledgment of his sin. So also it was a fine practice with the ancient fathers that prior to the high Festivals and prior to the observance of the most worthy Lord’s Supper they would abstain from food and drink on the day before, or only ate one meal. They did this in order to become all the more adroit at prayer, at repenting and pondering the divine Word. Yet, here one dare never prescribe any specific, general rule, nor designate any specific times. Each person has to examine himself and thereby see to it that he also attend to the body so that he does not become lascivious, cf. Rom. 13 and 14.

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A physician and priest living in Rome during the rule of the Emperor Claudius, Valentine become one of the noted martyrs of the third century. The commemoration of his death, which occurred in the year 270, became part of the calendar of remembrance in the early church of the West. Tradition suggests that on the day of his execution for his Christian faith, he left a note of encouragement for a child of his jailer written on an irregularly-shaped piece of paper. This greeting became a pattern for millions of written expressions of love and caring that now are the highlight of Valentine’s Day in many nations. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection on St. Valentine’s Day:  Many people decry Valentine’s Day sentimentality in cards, candy hearts etc.  Nowadays I find such sentimentality almost refreshing compared to what St. Valentine’s Day has devolved.

I am at the age that I begin to say too often, Now when I was kid…oh, here it goes:  when I was kid St. Valentine’s day was actually all  about sentimentality.  Now it has become a MAJOR holiday as has Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day and please note that all three of those holidays are actually Christian holy days.

Why has this day become major holiday?  One reason is the public denial of the Christian faith and its influence on the culture. This has created  a vacuum, and so the secularization of certain Christian feast days.   But why Valentine’s Day?    As I watch television shows, this day  is not primarily a warm celebration of boyfriends and girlfriends and sweethearts but “hooking-up”.  It has devolved into a pagan celebration of the sacrament of erotic love  totally divorced from marriage.  Boyfriend and girlfriends and dating used to be for the purpose of marriage.  Not any longer.  It’s about the “relationship” which might be a one night stand and eventually many night stands.  It might mean “living together” and THEN marriage.  Like Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s day is about inebriation leading to the ‘hook-up”.   It does not entail “love” and what used to be called ‘love-making’ .  Please note: couples do not make love any longer: they seek fulfillment through sexual intercourse.  Valentine’s Day is the feast day of this secular ‘sacrament’ and the sentimentality still surrounding the day becomes a patina and a shell for lust.  There is nothing holy about Valentine’s Day in post-Christendom American culture and according to the National Retail Federation, spending today is down to only $21 billion…but the cost of our immoral/amoral society costs a whole lot more. The reason Christianity has been so cast aside as witnessed on this day, named after a Christian martyr no less (!), is simple:  marriage and morality. 

 In searching on line about St. Valentine’s Day I came across this at the Lutheran Hour Ministries and according to it:

In 270 A.D., marriage had been outlawed by the emperor of Rome, Claudius II. Claudius issued this decree because he thought that married men made bad soldiers since they were reluctant to be torn away from their families in the case of war. Claudius had also outlawed Christianity in this time period because he wished to be praised as the one supreme god, the Emperor of Rome.

On St. Valentine’s Day in our time, we also are seeing the outlawing of marriage in the United States as the basis of family and culture and society by serial monogamy in divorce, ‘hooking-up’, living together, pseudogamy (false marriage, that is,  homosexual ‘marriage’), pornography, etc.   Certain rulers in our own land, both  political and cultural, are considered as supreme, idols, in their opinions and pronouncements by many of our fellow citizens.   Even orthodox Christians become afraid of being labeled “fundamentalist”.   Back to the Lutheran Hour Ministries posting:

Valentine was the bishop of Interamna during this period of oppression. Valentine thought that the decrees of Rome were wrong. He believed that people should be free to love God and to marry. Valentine invited the young couples of the area to come to him. When they came, Valentine secretly performed services of matrimony and united the couples. Valentine was eventually caught and was brought before the emperor. The emperor saw that Valentine had conviction and drive that was unsurpassed among his men. Claudius tried and tried to persuade Valentine to leave Christianity, serve the Roman empire and the Roman gods. In exchange, Claudius would pardon him and make him one of his allies. St. Valentine held to his faith and did not renounce Christ. Because of this, the emperor sentenced him to a three-part execution. First, Valentine would be beaten, then stoned, and then finally, decapitated. Valentine died on February 14th, 270 A.D.

I hate to say that the above I just cited might not be historical, nevertheless, it reads like a tale of our time. Now we can say, Though maybe not true, it sure sounds like it could be.

The color red is still apropos this day:  for the love of Jesus Christ and the martyrdom of Valentine.  Maybe in our churches we should remember not only married love but also St. Valentine who was martyred possibly for the sanctity of married love and Christian families in Jesus Christ and so give our witness to a society careening in a very dark night. Every marriage in Christ, and every wedding anniversary should be celebrated in every congregation.

Let us pray:  Almighty and everlasting God, You kindled the flame of Your love in the heart of Your holy martyr Valentine. Grant to us, Your humble servants, a faith like Valentine’s and the power of love, that we who rejoice in Christ’s triumph may embody his love in our lives; 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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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.

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 tentmaking (Acts 18:1-3). They, in turn, joined him in his mission of proclaiming the Christian Gospel. The couple later traveled with Paul from Corinth to Ephesus (Acts 18:18), where the two of them established a home that served as hospitality headquarters for new converts to Christianity. Apollos was one of their numerous Jewish pupils in the faith. An eloquent man, Apollos “spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus” (Acts 18:25). He later traveled from Corinth to the province of Achaia, where he “showed by the Scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus” (Acts 18:28). Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos are all remembered and honored for their great missionary zeal. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

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: And 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. Acts 18:2

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).  It seems this godly couple were with Paul in Corinth in the crucial time Paul the Apostle preached and taught in Corinth for a year and a half. It just so happened that by Claudius’ edict this godly couple met Paul and they were all tentmakers and Christians? Then later in Acts 18, that by chance, “..Priscilla and Aquila heard (Apollos), they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” to Apollos? Was it a historical accident that Paul met this Christian husband and wife and Apollos? No. We do not know in this concrete event in the Church’s history from the Bible per se that the Lord was working, 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) and “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

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 the Lord Jesus Christ.  As C. S. Lewis pointed out about friendship:

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Priscilla, Aquila, Apollos and Paul were brought together not to reveal merely the beauties of others, but  to reveal the beauty of the Lord and His salvation and His way for faith to everlasting life in His Name for others in the dark. He has brought you together with husbands and wives, family, friends and congregations what He knows you need to hear His Word and grow in faith and love that are in Christ 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 those with ears to hear: “the poor in spirit” and to marvel at the plan of salvation the Lord has for us all.

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)

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Intro: Today in The Federalist is an excellent article ( Decades Before The Civil War, Lincoln Saw An Approaching Storm. Every American Should Read His Warning) about a speech Abraham Lincoln gave in 1838: The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions: Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, January 27, 1838. It is one of the earliest speeches in print by Lincoln and it was prescient then and for today.

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday and it is appropriate and necessary that every American should read Lincoln’s speech and/or the article in The Federalist (Note: Lincoln’s speech is written in the good English of 19th century America which makes it difficult for us these days!).

I said to my wife over a year ago that eventually the twitter mobs will become actual mobs and left and right this has occurred. We are in a present danger to our constitutional republic as great as what led to the Civil War. People are even speaking and writing now about a second Civil War. Christians, in particular, must also be again active and good and moral citizens of the United States, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) with our neighbors helping him in every need and yet exposing the works of darkness in the highest and lowest places in our fair and good land the Lord has given us (Ephesians 5:11; Romans 13:12).

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From The Lyceum Address by Abraham Lincoln:

When men take it in their heads to day, to hang gamblers, or burn murderers, they should recollect, that, in the confusion usually attending such transactions, they will be as likely to hang or burn some one who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is; and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of to-morrow, may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them by the very same mistake. And not only so; the innocent, those who have ever set their faces against violations of law in every shape, alike with the guilty, fall victims to the ravages of mob law; and thus it goes on, step by step, till all the walls erected for the defense of the persons and property of individuals, are trodden down, and disregarded. But all this even, is not the full extent of the evil.–By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit, are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint, but dread of punishment, they thus become, absolutely unrestrained.–Having ever regarded Government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations; and pray for nothing so much, as its total annihilation.

Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would inspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon?–Never! Towering genius distains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.–It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.

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