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“…the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Introduction:  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s  “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”  dated April 16th, 1963, was written to clergymen who did not like the non-violent protests of civil rights movement. Like the Apostle Paul, Dr. King wrote from prison. His letter is an apologia, a defense of  non-violent protest against injustice.  It is a long letter. Below are citations from it.  You can read the entire letter here. The entire letter is worth the read.  He should be noted for the “I Have a Dream” speech and whole lot more.

Reflection:  One of the most important inventions of the 20th century is still television.  We saw in black and white on the nightly news non-violent civil rights protesters beaten, hosed and pursued, then jailed. I still remember my Father saying this is not America.  Dr. King wrote his letter from the Birmingham jail when I was nine years of age.  This letter is a measured response to the resistance to resistance to evil.  I have emphasized a couple of quotes below that I think are especially needed in our time in the Church within the public square.

First, note that Dr. King had no troubles with the “separation of Church and state”.  It was not about the 10 commandments in a court house but in the courts of public opinion and policy.  Still is.  It is not about manger scenes alone in public squares but His Incarnation for us in our public squares.  

Second, he had no trouble invoking the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as reflective of our “Judeo-Christian heritage”.  We must not be either as we witness the judicial and legislative branches of government usurping our founding documents to enforce health care and abortion, and abortion as health care;  mandating the denial of marriage between man and woman;  government setting policy for the  whole nation by the abnegation of the Congress and the people to the federal government’s agencies;  allowing a virulent religion (Islam) which marginalizes and women and executes homosexuals to have a pass.  Since the State can do all of this  as a supposed “moral good”, then what is stopping said State from even more curtailing of our Constitutional liberties?   As Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of blessed memory wrote, When the Church is excluded from the public square then the State will become the church.  No one could convince Dr. King that the Church did not belong in the public square.  Yet, many are still doing that these days in the name of immoralities and abortions of conscience. Some churches are actively pursuing immorality in regards to the family and Christian conscience. I think our “mores” have severely deteriorated since the ‘60s but others have improved, such as, racial equality: thank the Lord.We must take heed to Dr. King’s epistle. Here are some excerpts:

  • I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my a particular home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
  • We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words [sic]”Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
  • We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
  • You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”
  • Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes and “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.
  • We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws. I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
  • But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist — “Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice–or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
  • There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest. (emphases my own)
  • Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.
  • But the judgement of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.
  • One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, and thusly, carrying our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

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Let the earth now praise the Lord,
Who has truly kept His word
And at last to us did send
Christ, the sinner’s help and friend.

Lutheran Service Book #352

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Introduction:  I thought of this sermon as today, as I write, is the Festival of the Confession of St. Peter.  A week from today is the Conversion of St. Paul.  Someone decreed that this should be the week of Christian unity which many espouse and promote including the Roman Catholic Church. Considering so many Christians and whole denominations have parted company with “sound doctrine”(see  1 Timothy 6:2-4  and also 2 Timothy 3:1-4) and the faith delivered to the saints once and for all (see Jude 1:3), the call to repentance first needs to be heard,  before flaccid talk of ‘unity’ at the expense of saving Truth. Someone wants to take over the Church.

Pr. Bonhoeffer preached this sermon on the very day the Nazis had decreed national church elections.  The Nazis wanted their own in positions of leadership in the Church and so take it over. This was Pr. Bonhoeffer’s last sermon in Berlin, and it was a time of a crucial political and religions question put before the German electorate by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer’s Young Reformation students campaigned for the opposing candidates under the motto:  “Church must remain church.” Herr Hitler took to the airwaves in a radio speech that day and the Nazis’ measures won by two-thirds of the vote for the ‘German Christians’.   

I wonder how many Lutherans in Germany were wondering:  How did we get to this point?  I have heard this as a pastor from many members and it is in my thoughts.  An alien and totalitarian religious and political ideology has raised its serpentine head. So many churches have allowed for it, under the guise of the good, allowing for the devaluation first of sound doctrine and then logically following, marriage and life in the womb. The serpent’s head is shown, and the body can and will follow.  The question is raised: what do we do?  Pr. Bonhoeffer begins his sermon with way to live as the Church and so I have italicized the first two paragraphs.  But read on, as those paragraphs are based upon the Lord’s own Word to keep us steadfast in His Word. This is today, as it was in the ‘30s in Germany, a “church struggle”, not primarily, and especially,  a political struggle.

SERMON TEXT: Matt. 16:13-18

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

If it were left to us, we would rather avoid the decisions which are now forced upon us; if it were left to us, we would rather not allow ourselves to be caught up in this church struggle; if it were left to us, we would rather not have to insist upon the rightness of our cause and we would so willingly avoid the terrible danger of exalting ourselves over others; if it were left to us, we would retire today rather  than tomorrow into private life and leave all the struggle and the pride to others. And yet-thank God-it has not been left to us.

Instead, in God’s wisdom, everything is going exactly as we would rather not have it go. We are called upon to make a decision from which we cannot escape. We must be content, wherever we are, to face the accusation of being self-righteous, to be suspected of acting and speaking as though we were proud and superior to others. Nothing shall be made easy for us. We are confronted by a decision, and a difference of opinion. For this reason, if we are honest with ourselves, we will not try to disguise the true meaning of the church election today. In the midst of the creakings and groanings of a crumbling and tottering church structure, which has been shaken to its very foundations, we hear in this text the promise of the eternal church, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail; of the church founded on a rock, Christ has built and which he continues to build throughout all time.

Where is this church? Where do we find it? Where do we hear its voice? Come all you who ask in seriousness, all you who are abandoned and left alone, we will go back to the Holy Scriptures, we will go and look for the church together. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Jesus went out into a deserted place with his disciples, close to the edge of the pagan lands, and there he was alone with them. This is the place where for the first time he promises them the legacy of his church. Not in the midst of the people, not at the visible peak of his popularity; but in a distant and unfrequented spot, far from the orthodox scribes and pharisees, far from the crowds who on Palm Sunday would cry out “Hosanna” and on Good Friday, “Crucify him,” he speaks to his disciples of the mystery and the future of his church.

He obviously believed that this church could not be built in the first place on the scribes, the priests, or the masses; but that only this tiny group of disciples, who followed him, was called to this work. And clearly he did not think that Jerusalem, the city of the Temple and the center of the life of the people, was the right place for this, but he goes out into the wilderness, where he could not hope that his preaching would achieve any eternal, visible effectiveness. And last of all he does not consider that any of the great feast days would have been suitable time to speak of his church, but rather he promises this church in the face of death, immediately before he tells of his coming passion for the first time. The church of the tiny flock, the church out in the wilderness, the church in the face of death–something like this must be meant.

Jesus himself puts the decisive question, for which the disciples had been waiting: “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, some say you are a great champion and hero, 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.”

Here in the midst of human opinions and views, something quite new suddenly becomes visible. Here God’s name is named, here the eternal is pronounced, here the mystery is recognized. Here is no longer human opinion, but precisely the opposite, here is divine revelation and confession of faith. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

What is the difference between Peter and the others? Is he of such heroic nature that he towers over the others? He is not. Is he endowed with such unheard-of strength of character?  He is not. Is he gifted with unshakable loyalty? He is not. Peter is nothing, nothing but a person confessing his faith, a person who has been confronted by Christ and who has recognized Christ, and who now confesses his faith in him, and this confessing Peter is called the rock on which Christ will build his church.  Peter’s church–that means the church of rock, the church of the confession of Christ. Peter’s church, that does not mean a church of opinions and views, but the church of the revelation; not a church in which what “people say” is talked about but the church in which Peter’s confession is made anew and passed on; the church which has no other purpose in song, prayer, preaching, and action than to pass on its confession of faith; the church which is always founded on rock as long as it remains within these limits, but which turns into a house built on sand, which is blown away by the wind, as soon as it is foolhardy enough to think that it may depart from or even for a moment neglect this purpose.

But Peter’s church-this is not something which one can say with untroubled pride. Peter, the confessing, believing disciple, Peter denied his Lord on the same night as Judas betrayed him; in that night he stood at the fire and felt ashamed when Jesus stood before the high priest; he is the man of little faith, the timid man who sinks into the sea; Peter is the disciple whom Jesus threatened: “Get thee behind me Satan”; it is he who later was again and again overcome by weakness, who again and again denied and fell, a weak, vacillating man, given over to the whim of the moment. Peter’s church, that is the church which shares these weaknesses, the church which itself again and again denies and falls, the unfaithful, fainthearted, timid church which again neglects its charge and looks to the world and its opinions. Peter’s church, that is the church of all those who are ashamed of theirLord when they should stand firm confessing him.

But Peter is also the man of whom we read: “He went- out and wept bitterly.” Of Judas, who also denied the Lord, we read: “He went out and hanged himself.” That is the difference. Peter went out and wept bitterly. Peter’s church is not only the church which confesses its faith, nor only the church which denies its Lord; it is the church which can still weep. “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion” (Ps.137:1). This is the church; for what does this weeping mean other than that one has found the way back, than that one is on the way home, than that onehas become the prodigal son who falls to his knees weeping before his father?  Peter’s church is the church with that godly sadness which leads to joy.

It does indeed seem very uncertain ground to build on, doesn’t it? And yet it is bedrock, for this Peter, this trembling reed, is called by God, caught by God, held by God.  “You are Peter,” we all are Peter; not the Pope, as the ‘Roman Catholics would have it; not this person or that, but all of us, who simply live from our confession of faith in Christ, as the timid,faithless, fainthearted, and yet who live as people sustained by God.

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

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

In huge capital letters our text is etched into the dome of the great church of St. Peter’s, the papal church in Rome. Proudly this church points to its eternity, to its visible victory over the world, across the centuries. Such splendor, which even our Lord did not desire or bear, is denied to us. And yet a splendor which is immeasurably greater than this splendor in the world, is assured to us. Whether the band of believers is great or small, low or high, weak or strong, if it confesses Christ the victory is assured
to them, in eternity.

Fear not, little flock, for it is my Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom. Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. The city ofGod is built on a sure foundation. Amen.

From:  No Rusty Swords, Fontana, 1977
pg.  213-217

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Heavenly Father,You revealed to the apostle Peter the blessed truth that Your Son Jesus is the Christ. Strengthen us by the proclamation of this truth that we too may joyfully confess that there is salvation in no one else; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Readings: Acts 4:8-13 Psalm 118:19-29  2 Peter 1:1-15 St. Mark 8:27-9:1

The confession of St. Peter did not arise in the imagination of Peter’s heart but was revealed to him by the Father. The reason this confession is important is seen in Jesus’ response: “You are Peter [Greek Petros], and on this rock [Greek petra] I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). As the people of God in the Old Testament began with the person of Abraham, the rock from which God’s people were hewn (Isaiah 51:1-2), so the people of God in the New Testament would begin with the person of Peter, whose confession is the rock on which Christ would build His Church. But Peter was not alone (the “keys” given to him in Matthew 16:19 were given to all the disciples in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:21-23). As St. Paul tells us, Peter and the other apostles take their place with the prophets as the foundation of the Church, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The confession of Peter, therefore, is the witness of the entire apostolic band and is foundational in the building of Christ’s Church. Thus the Church gives thanks to God for St. Peter and the other apostles who have instructed Christ’s Holy Church in His divine and saving truth. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  All of the Church is to confess Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God,the sweet sound of salvation for sinners.  “…it is certain that the Church is not built on the authority of a man but on the ministry of the confession which Peter made, when he declare Jesus to the Christ, the Son of God” (The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of Pope, The Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions)

The Lord has called His apostolic Church to be faithful in confessing Jesus is the Christ, that He is the Lord.  Peter eventually led the way of the holy Apostles in preaching and teaching Christ.  Peter who had denied Christ, was faithful to Christ’s command to him, “Feed My Sheep”. Pastors are called  to be faithful in confessing Christ, to feed and lead His people so that others may hear of the Savior.  If pastors, ministers and priests trust their own thinking about Christ, and not the Word, they,  “…will lose Christ” (Luther).

In a school, principals are worthless without the authority and care of a principled principal to educate with students.  Principles are words.  So likewise  a principal without sound principles, a standard, is anarchy.  Principals who do not promote teaching sound principles is useless. The Lord’s pastorate is principled in the Word of Law and Promise to teach His people.  If we follow their own lesson plans, then there is anarchy.  What makes Christianity Christian is Christ so we can be Christians, taught and fed by faithful Christian pastors, as we are  built on the Rock of our salvation, Jesus the Christ, even when steeples are falling. As Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached on St. Matthew 16:  

What is the difference between Peter and the others? Is he of such heroic nature that he towers over the others? He is not. Is he endowed with such unheard-of strength of character?  He is not. Is he gifted with unshakable loyalty? He is not. Peter is nothing, nothing but a person confessing his faith, a person who has been confronted by Christ and who has recognized Christ, and who now confesses his faith in him, and this confessing Peter is called the rock on which Christ will build his church.  Peter’s church–that means the church of rock, the church of the confession of Christ.

Peter’s church, that does not mean a church of opinions and views, but the church of the revelation; not a church in which what “people say” is talked about but the church in which Peter’s confession is made anew and passed on; the church which has no other purpose in song, prayer, preaching, and action than to pass on its confession of faith; the church which is always founded on rock as long as it remains within these limits, but which turns into a house built on sand, which is blown away by the wind, as soon as it is foolhardy enough to think that it may depart from or even for a moment to neglect this purpose.

From a sermon by St. Augustine, delivered on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, from The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, a Roman Catholic publisher:

“Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

For thou art Peter.

Peter from the rock (petra); not the rock from Peter. So, Peter, because of the Rock; as Christian, because of Christ.  Would you know after what rock (petra) Peter is called? Listen to Paul answering: “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, the Apostle of Christ says, “I would not have you ignorant, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And all in Moses were baptized, in the cloud, and in the sea. And all did eat the same spiritual food. And all drank the same spiritual drink; and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (I Cor. x.)”. From this rock Peter came. (emphasis my own)

The Lord gives to His catholic and apostolic Church the keys of the Kingdom. Immediately following Peter’s Confession, Jesus tells them He must suffer, die and rise again.  This is key.  His all-availing Sacrifice means the forgiveness of sins and the justification of sinners. This is key.  In Him, He builds us into His Church and the key is His blood shed in forgiveness for us all.  He gives us the Holy Spirit to teach and preach Christ Jesus. This is key. 

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If God Himself be for me,
I may a host defy;
For when I pray, before me
My foes, confounded, fly.
If Christ, the head and master,
Befriend me from above,
What foe or what disaster
Can drive me from His love?

Lutheran Service Book #724

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One of the clichés of counseling back 20-30 years ago was, he’s carrying some baggage. It meant the negative aspects of the past that the person has not left behind – so a person with “baggage” makes life more difficult for him  by carrying around the burden of the ‘unfinished business’ of their life. It was an overused metaphor and a shallow diagnoses. So much of the negative aspects of the past are not unresolved emotional problems per se, but those bad feelings arising from wrong unforgiven:  baggage, that is, weight, burden, burden of sin.  All those folks coming to be baptized by John for repentance was not on account of unresolved Oedipal complexes, but the complex of sin, death and the power of the devil.  And the sinless One who had no need whatsoever to repent came to the Baptism of John’s for full immersion into our sin. John the Baptist was overwhelmed by Jesus coming to the Jordan.  John’s question from the Greek was more like, “I, I myself need to by baptized by YOU, and do you, yourself come to me?”

“This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them.”-Luther

He was baptized so I may be baptized into Christ. 2 Corinthians 5 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Who’s the greatest sinner who ever lived, most likely in hell, and the usual answer is Adolf Hitler.  I do have an answer that may surprise you:  the worse sinner who ever lived was Jesus Christ.  He became a thief, a murderer, an adulterer, an idolater and the like as He bore the sin of world in His sinless body.  He was absolutely pure yet bore our sins in Himself thus becoming, in a sense, the worse sinner who ever, ever lived. Passively carrying our sin, never actively committing sin. John the Baptizer was incredulous that Jesus came to him to be baptized in a baptism of repentance.  John knew he needed Jesus to baptize him.  No says, Jesus this is to fulfill all righteousness, the righteousness of God by which He justifies, makes right those who cannot in a million lifetimes self-justify themselves. As foretold by Isaiah centuries before:

11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Isaiah 53:11 English Standard Version (ESV)

 I like the discussion of who is the worse sinner because it makes me feel good, I’m not so bad…not as bad as Hitler!  In response to the question, who is the worse sinner, no one ever says, Oh, yeah, that would be me.  St. Paul jumped in with the right answer, I am the chief of sinners.  Paul knew that he could not make himself right.  He knew that on account of Jesus Christ because He was made right. Further note that when one discovers the  wrong by what was thought, said or did, there is no escaping, like deer caught in the headlights of God’s Law.  The overwhelming flood of feeling is, yes,  I am the worse. It’s like the weight of the world is on you. I can’t believe what I did.  Believe it, says the Lord, this is the beginning of contrition, sorrow over sin and believe My Son, My Christ. The light then shines on Christ and His Cross for you.  He  was immersed into a baptism of repentance He did not need, baptized into a baptism of repentance He did not need so the need of forgiveness is fulfilled, all righteousness, so that you can repent and be saved, washed, as if all over again. The wages of sin is death…Jesus did not receive the minimum wage, but all the wages of our sins, once and for all.  The free gift is eternal life.

When the voice of the Father sounds forth, there is no thunder, no lightening, only grace and peace, This is my Beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased.  The Son comes out of  Jordan River waters, the Holy Ghost descends and the Father speaks. -Luther

The Holy Spirit appears in the lovely form of an innocent dove. Among all birds, a dove is known for its gentle nature, peaceful and not aggressive. (And when Noah wanted to know if there was dry ground after the rains had ceased, he finally sent out a dove who returned with an olive branch in it’s beak.  The sign of shalom, peace once more with God was made through His  grace) So the Holy Spirit reveals himself in the friendliest of forms to show that he is not wrathful toward us, but wants to help us become holy and rescue us through Christ.”(Luther)

St. Ambrose, preaching on the Baptism of our Lord: “Why are you plunged into the water?  We read:  ‘May the waters bring forth living creatures (Gen 1:20).  And the living creatures were born.’  This happened at the beginning of creation.  But for you it was reserved that water should bring you forth to grace, as that other water brought forth creatures to natural life.  Imitate this fish, who has received less grace.”

Many of the icons depict Jesus up to His neck in the waters, which one day would overwhelm Him to fish us out of the deep by Baptism into Christ, Romans 6.  The icon above cover shows Jesus with fish in the water.  Jesus said to the Apostles, I will make you fishers of men. Imitate the fish, who has received less grace. Jesus would sleep with the fishes, drowned by the sin of the world, to rescue us from the depths.   I like that: imitate the fish for we have received the greatest grace:  life in Jesus.

And so, we are enjoined by the Lord in His Word to pray unceasingly.  What but by Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power? This means we need to pray at all times, walking wet in our Baptism.  

“…every time we bend our knees for prayer and then rise again, we show by this action that through sin we fell down to earth, but our Creator, the Lover of Mankind, has called us back to heaven.” (St. Basil) 

Jesus was baptized and He still is baptized.  Falling in prayer is not failing, but acknowledging our failing. We can confess our failings, and called back to heaven by the Lord is the renewing flood of Baptism.  Falling in prayer is adoring Him who created and redeemed us and all mankind in Christ Jesus. He calls us back and we need His call back every day.  Luther wrote in the catechisms that living our baptism is daily dying and rising in Christ Jesus.  He is baptized and so we are. We can lay down our baggage, don’t look to yourself, look to Christ, He lifted that weight of sin in the weight of His glory for you.

The One God in three persons was revealed when the Lord was baptized.  The Son comes out of  Jordan River waters, the Holy Ghost descends, and the Father speaks. Clasp onto your heart day by day the Name of the Lord in prayer, praise and thanksgiving. The Lord does not love us the way we are, but on account of the way we are He was baptized to set us free from the way we are and have been to be His. He is baptized so others may be, dying and rising, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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Creator Spirit, by whose aid
The world’s foundations first were laid,
Come, visit every humble mind;
Come, pour Your joys on humankind;
From sin and sorrow set us free
May we Your living temples be.

Lutheran Service Book #500

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