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Archive for the ‘Word and Sacrament’ Category

 

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s (1794-1872) depiction of the Israelites cross the Jordan River on dry ground as priests hold the Ark of the Covenant in the center of the river. From the Pitt Theological Library, Digital Archives, Emory University. Scripture Reference: Joshua 3

Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Joshua 3: 11

About Joshua:  Today we remember and thank God for His faithful servant, Joshua. Joshua, the son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim, is first mentioned in Exodus 17 when he was chosen by Moses to fight the Amalakites, whom he defeated in a brilliant military victory. He was placed in charge of the Tent of Meeting (Ex. 33:11) and was a member of the tribal representatives sent to survey the land of Canaan (Num 13:8). Later, he was appointed by God to succeed Moses as Israel’s commander-in-chief. He eventually led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land and directed the Israelites’ capture of Jericho. He is remembered especially for his final address to the Israelites, in which he challenged them to serve God faithfully (Josh 24:1–27), concluding with the memorable words, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”(24:15). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  Some may know he was “Israel’s commander-in-chief”. Some may know that the 6th book of the Bible is named after him.  Most people might know that “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho.”  The Battle of Jericho is recorded in chapter 6 and then follow 18 chapters of the Conquest of the Land.   Joshua and the Israelites fought against the seven nations:

the Canaanites, Amorites, Jebusites, Hittites, Hivites, Girgashites and the Perizzites.

Joshua and the Israelites fought many a bloody battle. Modern/post-modern ‘sensibilities’ do not like the Book of Joshua because it is so ‘militaristic’ and violent.  The Promised Land was given by the LORD but the people fought for it.  We think enemies can be won over to be  ‘nice’ like us. Give me a break.  The seven nations had “detestable practices” , such as “child sacrifices, the practice of divination or sorcery, and occult activity.  In addition, Leviticus 18 and 20 detail the rampant sexual depravity among the Canaanites.” (“The Peoples of Canaan, The Lutheran Study Bible, page 345). 

What follows after the entrance into the Land, the Crossing of the Jordan, the first circumcisions and Passover therein, and then the Battle of Jericho, in the next 18 chapters is quite a slog.  They,  and only the Israelites, then were engaged in both physical and spiritual warfare, physically killing the enemies.  Spiritually we must kill enemies, 

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, againstthe spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6: 12, from the Epistle Reading for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (9/2/2012)

Yet they are enemies, the cosmic powers, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, even in the Church, giving their consent to sexual immorality   and covetousness.  This blind world does not see it but we can see the breaking of every commandment every day on our favorite television programs. We have seen it in ourselves by God’s Law and we cry out, Kyrie Eleison, Lord, have mercy.    By God’s grace alone in Jesus Christ, we see the Canaanite, Jebusite etc. occupation of our own souls.  The name “Joshua”, literally means “God Saves”.  Joshua in Hebrew is pronounced, Yeshua and transliterated into Greek it became Iesus, the very Name in the New Testament, then transliterated into Jesus.

Joshua of old led the Israelites through the waters of the Jordan into the promised land for the conquest.  Jesus Christ leads us through the waters of Holy Baptism into the promised land of eternal life and leads, “the pioneer and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12: 2) for our struggles, the crucified and risen Lord before us, beside us, within us, around us. He is the new and living covenant of the Lord of all the living who went through the waters for us and our salvation. Yes, it is a slog when we see politicians approving abortion and the abortions of their conscience.  It is a slog when we see church bodies emasculate even the mention of  spiritual warfare as “too militaristic” so that a man and a woman does not stand in the battle.  It is a slog when in our lives we see so many fighting and fears within and without.  But Joshua took a stand with his house:  we will serve the Lord.  Jesus Christ took His stand and served the Lord to us all, the LORD God of Sabaoth for our battles and struggles to defeat the Hittites, the Canaanites etc.and now by His grace alone won over to the Lord.  He made us His own, forgiven and drafted into His army. Joshua delcared as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. In Baptism we renounce the devil and all his empty and false promises.   More than ever, we need the conscientious desicision of every family to say as Joshua did, “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord”, and not the false gods and practices of those around us, not only for our salvation but others to come to faith in Jesus Christ. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Your servant Joshua led the children of Israel through the waters of the Jordan River into a land flowing with milk and honey. As our Joshua, lead us, we pray, through the waters of our Baptism into the promised land of our eternal home, where You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Collect of the Day
Almighty and ever-living God, You strengthened Your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in the resurrection of Your Son. Grant us such faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that we may never be found wanting in Your sight; through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  

Appointed Scripture for this day:  

Judge 6:  36-40

Psalm 139: 1-12

Romans 10: 8b-15

St. John 1:  35-42a

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

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

 Reflection on St. Thomas and this Verse:

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

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

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

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

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

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Revelation 7

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

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

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Lessons:

The Apocalypse of St. John the Divine 7: 2—17   Psalm 149 1 John 3: 1—3 St.Matthew 5: 1—12

Almighty and everlasting God,  You knit together Your faithful people of all times and places into one holy communion, the mystical body of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that, together with them, we may come to the unspeakable joys You have prepared for those who love You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About All Saints’ Day: This feast is the most comprehensive of the days of commemoration, encompassing the entire scope of that great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Hebrews 12:1). It holds before the eyes of faith that great multitude which no man can number: all the saints of God in Christ—from every nation, race, culture, and language—who have come “out of the great tribulation … who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, 14). As such, it sets before us the full height and depth and breadth and length of our dear Lord’s gracious salvation (Ephesians 3:17-19). It shares with Easter a celebration of the resurrection, since all those who have died with Christ Jesus have also been raised with Him (Romans 6:3-8). It shares with Pentecost a celebration of the ingathering of the entire Church catholic—in heaven and on earth, in all times and places—in the one Body of Christ, in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Just as we have all been called to the one hope that belongs to our call, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). And the Feast of All Saints shares with the final Sundays of the Church Year an eschatological focus on the life everlasting and a confession that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). In all of these emphases, the purpose of this feast is to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, that we might not grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:2-3).

Reflection:

“Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door, and see all the people”

Some of you may remember the child’s rhyme about the Church above.  In The Large Catechism, Dr. Luther explains that when we think of “church”, we usually think of the church building, as “we are going to church”, but he points out that the only reason a sanctuary is called a “church”.  “But the house should not be called a church except for the single reason that the group of people assembles here.”  The people who assemble are the Church, the communion or the community, “the holy Christian Church” (Third Article of the Apostles Creed).  

The rhyme above could be redone:  “Here’s God’s House, here’s the steeple, open the door and see all God’s people.”  We have spent a lot of time of fussing over the church building, instead of concentrating on building up God’s people, His Church.  This is done by preaching, teaching, praying and administering Christ’s Word and Sacraments. As the Apostle Peter wrote:  “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,  you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2: 4-5). 

Further, this building up of Christ’s holy people, His baptized saints, is not according to our building specs, plans and blueprints. We are being built, passive tense. In my cynical moments, I have redone the rhyme above, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door and where’s all the people?”.  And sadly stats and surveys have been documenting the downward spiral of church attendance.  Well-meaning Christians cry out: “We’ve got to do something!”   Then come the ways to save the church.  We seen what happens when men and women build the church according to their best laid plans of mice and men: see the Mormons, see the feminist church, e.g. as “womanchurch”.  Those are the more obvious examples of not building according to God’s Word. Over the years, I have seen “models of ministry” paraded before pastors’ groups, and new programs like mega-church.  Remember harvest gold refrigerators, kulats, dickies, and the like?  We most likely want to forget them all! As I do all those programs that steered us away from God’s Word.

 Fads don’t build up His Church, only the labor of love of God’s Word in His saints by faith through His grace alone in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  Roman Catholic G. K. Chesterton wrote that the Church is the democracy of the dead, those saints before us have a vote.  This is what All Saints is also about.  When we gather for Holy Communion, the pastor will pray, “…with angels and archangels, AND ALL THE COMPANY OF HEAVEN…”, even with 2 or 3 gathered together, there are countless more!  The saints before us were built only by one way:  the Word of Law and Grace.  We are called to keep the faith with the dead, who live in Christ waiting together the day of the general resurrection.  

Yet, the saints labor and the saints who have died, “…from their labors rest” but who Thee by faith before the world, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blest, Alleluia!”(#677, For All the Saints, Lutheran Service Book). I think we are entering ever darkening days, in which the little flock will be persecuted…but that’s how it’s been in times past.  As in hymn lyrice, the saints confessed Jesus Christ.  This is our calling from the Lord to His Church this day and every day, for every day in Christ is All Saints Day.  I close with this quote from Pr. Bonhoeffer’s sermon from 1933 in Berlin after the Germans under the Nazis voted in “the whore of Babylon” the “German Church” totally compatible with National Socialism, that  is the Nazi ideology.  

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.

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayers:  

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

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

A blessed feast day to all in the Lord!

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Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. -Revelation 14: 6

                           A question I have put to Bible study groups is why are you a Christian or a Lutheran?  The answers vary from upbringing to my friends to my family to a pastor.  Very seldom has been the answer:  my baptism.  Baptism, Holy Communion, in fact all of the Bible, all of God’s Word gives us Jesus Christ.  Why am I a Christian? Answer: Jesus Christ.  Christian from the Christ, not Christ from the Christian.  Why am I Lutheran?  Answer: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church: The Book of Concord.   The Confessions of the Lutheran Church are the only ones yes on earth that by God’s grace alone, got it right:  God’s grace in Jesus Christ is His free gift that makes right sinners, not what we do, say or feel, however religious the actions, words or emotions, can save us.  Christ came to die for sinners of whom I am the foremost.

             For what its worth, I have looked into other church bodies and much is commendable about them. I worked 4 years as a youth pastor in a Presbyterian congregation.  I worked for three years as a receptionist at Jesuit Hall at St. Louis University and knew many find Jesuit priests and brothers, and monks and nuns.  I have seriously looked into the Eastern Orthodox theology and practice.  For instance, their purely Scriptural  prayer for meditation, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or the Jesus prayer  Biblically beats out the rosary, the “hail Mary”, except of course in football…and that kind of prayer directed to saint, never gets to the Receiver, the one Mediator, Jesus Christ who alone makes us His saints.  He invites His saints to pray to Him, our Father, not his saints to pray to others.  Several years ago Natalie and I thought seriously of leaving the ELCA and becoming Orthodox.   What stopped me?    Answer: Synergy and hymnody and the two are related.  Synergy, cooperation, having to work together with God for my salvation. Jesus kind of sort of saved us, sort of kind of by faith. So I got to meet halfway…then I am unforgiven and Jesus is no Rock of salvation, more like a pebble,  but that’s not the case for me or for you or your family or your friends.The Lord came to us all the way: to the Cross.  And it was colleague and mentor, Pr. Lou Smith who re-taught me the Lutheran Confessions with every retreat and practically every conversation and the beating heart of the Church, Christ’s body is the justification of the sinner by grace, as a gift, through Faith..  God’s law shows us the depth of sin and the Gospel the greater depths of His love for us all.  And my wife could not leave hymnody as that Lutheran hymnody proclaims the eternal Gospel of God’s grace.     I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:21  Beloved in the Lord, you His purpose.  He pleased to give you His Son.We sing the praises of Him Who died and rose.

  We only know God’s good work in Jesus Christ. “We do not claim that our Confessors were infallible. We do not say they could not fail. We only claim that they did not fail.” (Charles Porterfield Krauth, Lutheran theologian 1823-1883)   They got it right because they knew by Whom they were made right, justified, not by the Law, but by God’s own Son fulfilling every jot and title of the Law, forgiving us upon the Cross.  We know this by the Bible.

              Yes, Lutherans believe in Scripture but so do other Christians.  In this we rejoice. However, the Reformation was not about reforming a few bad morals and a proper cleanup of the papacy, or a new kind of church government and a polishing up of a few doctrines according to the Bible.  All of that had been done prior to Luther and for quite a time and after 1517.  They all look at the Bible as laws to be followed for a reformation.   In fact, in many ways, the Lutheran Confessors did not want to reform the Church, it was the Lord by His Word and Sacraments reforms the Church, us, you, making us His own in Holy Baptism.  Everyone wants to see something great, but the Word of God is best thing anyone can hear. 

              Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, read  the New Testament and  thought Jesus’ word,” turn the other cheek” as a way to reform society…and he went along way with it and India was better for him.  All sorts of people have seen the Bible as source of good advice, and there has been no end of advice, but good advice does not forgive, good advice will not bring us into the Kingdom.  The Bible is something else than a rule book of reforming zeal. What Jesus Christ said is apropos here: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me.”John 5:39   The Key to understanding the Bible is not reforming according to the law but being reformed, renewed by the forgiveness and reconciliation of sinners by Jesus Christ. Jesus said the Scriptures bear witness to Him. The Key is Jesus Christ who unlocks the door to paradise is His crucifixion and resurrection, justification by grace through faith, freely given, no if, ands or buts, who alone frees.  Yes, Jesus but if you make your decision for him.  Jesus and your good works will get you in.  Jesus but you have to be good.  If it is “if, ands and buts”, more Law, then Christ died for nothing.   By faith through grace He made us good, makes us good as His son,as His daughter. 

 We have Bibles in which Jesus’ words are printed in red. A great and humble Lutheran pastor and professor, Johann Gerhard (1582-1537) said the Bible is read as if it were printed with ink that is the very blood of Jesus.  The key to the Bible is not only Scripture alone but from the Lord’s Word and the Word made flesh grace alone received by faith alone.  All add another condition to grace and then it’s not grace, which is free and frees, You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. John 8:32 It has. I am a Lutheran because of the Confessions as true exposition of the Word of God. Now don’t get me wrong, we don’t have to join the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in order to be saved, that would be adding a condition!  I think,…I know that the LCMS is one of the few church bodies in North America  which adheres to the public doctrine of the Scripture and the Confessions faithfully.  But it is not the alone saving church. All who know by grace they are saved are my brother and sister.  There is only one Church, Christ’s bride and He is no bigamist.  “For, thank God, [to-day] a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray thus: I believe in one holy[catholic or] Christian Church.” As Luther wrote in the Lutheran Confessions, the Smalcald Article.   

 In a favorite episode of sitcom “Everyone Loves Raymond”, the entire family goes to church except for Ray who doesn’t go at all.   Ray’s wife, Debra asks Ray why don’t you go to Mass?  After being embarrassed Ray tells some story about a repairman who comes over to fix something, and he had a lazy eye, and how Ray was so good not to be seen to notice it…Ray concludes, I’m good…that’s why I really don’t need to go.  So, says his wife, on a Sunday morning, Ray, we should just all come over and gather around you?  A pastor in the LCMS, Daniel Preus wrote a little book, Why I am Lutheran:  Jesus in the center. Not Ray, not you, not me.  “For the Church does not live by morals, by the knowledge and observance of God’s law. Nor does it live by religion, by lofty experiences of the divine and an awareness of the mysteries of God. It lives solely by the forgiveness of sins.” (Hermann Sasse, Lutheran Professor, Pastor and theologian,  1895-1976).  We don’t gather around ourselves and our fine Christian principles, then that’s club.  The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps her united in Jesus Christ, Luther taught on the 3rd article. The Church is Christ’ body. 

             The angel had the eternal Gospel, good news to proclaim…not temporal time conditioned good news, like TV commercials.  Commercials which tell you your outsides aren’t too good and if you just had fill-in-the-blank, there product is good news.  Or the time-conditioned temporal gospels of denominations and their programs. We can do an extreme makeover but our souls remained untouched and the Lord is clear, it’s there, in your, heart soul and mind I have come to be your Lord with every Word from My Book, My Sacraments, My people, My pastors to make alive your Faith holding on to Me as I hold on to you.  We are gathered in the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:7

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Lessons:  Acts 16: 11-40;  Acts 9: 36-43;  Romans 16: 1-2

Prayer 

 Filled with thy Holy Spirit, gracious God, thine earliest disciples served Thee with the gifts each had been given: Lydia in business and stewardship, Dorcas in a life of charity and Phoebe as a deaconess who served many. Inspire us today to build up Thy Church with our gifts in hospitality, charity and bold witness to the Gospel of Christ;  who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

These women were exemplary Christians who demonstrated their faith by their material support of the Church. Dorcas (also known as Tabitha) was well-known and much loved for her acts of charity in the city of Joppa, especially for her making clothes for the poor. When Dorcas died suddenly, the members of her congregation sent to the neighboring city of Lydda for the Apostle Peter, who came and raised her from the dead (Acts 9:36–41). Lydia was a woman of Thyatira, who worked at Philippi selling a famous purple dye that was so much in demand in the ancient world. She was also a “worshiper of God” at the local synagogue. When the Apostle Paul encountered her in prayer among other proselyte women, his preaching of the Word brought Lydia to faith in Christ. She and her friends thus became the nucleus of the Christian community in Philippi (16:13–15, 40). Phoebe was another faithful woman associated with the Apostle Paul. She was a deaconess from Cenchrae (the port of Corinth) whom Paul sent to the church in Rome with his Epistle to the Romans. In it he writes of her support for the work of the early Church (Rom 16:1).

One can say that in Christianity the extraordinary has become ordinary, but also the ordinary has become extraordinary, usual unusual, the common uncommon,that what all do has been transformed into priestly work and to a sacrifice that is offered to the most high God…. [T]he Lord Jesus was followed by a number of women whose names have come down to us. Kings are forgotten, emperors have fallen into the dust and there is no one to remember them; the names of these women, however, are still being mentioned. There are only a few things we know about them, and what is said seems insignificant to us. They made offerings  to the Son of Man from what they had …provided such little services, as he deserved before all others.  But because the common uncommon, thus these names are written in the Book of books.

…I said that because of Christianity uncommon has become common and the common uncommon the Spirit and the purpose and way it was done…. I point to Matthew 25. What does he say there by separating the sheep from the goats? Whom does he praise? Whom does He reproach? Whom does he call to inherit the kingdom of his Father? Does he call the heroes, who accomplished great things, the kings with their crowns and those who struck with their great swords and brought about great changes upon earth? What does He do? He names and praises the same common things that I have said Christianity has made uncommon. He says: “I was hungry” and so forth—”come, you blessed of my Father” (Mt 25:34)…. Thus, he asks for the food, for the drink, for the gift of oil and wine. He asks for all these common things, which I have said have become uncommon through his Spirit.—J. K. Wilhelm Loehe  (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

One More Reflection:  Do great things.  America will be number one again.  Be a winner.  This is the way the world thinks and we do as well.  Serving is not natural, that is, according to fallen human nature which is self-centered and ego driven, damaged in the Fall, damaged beyond all human repair. When I re-read Pr. Loehe’s reflection above, this is not the Christianity I want. I want successful and powerful Christianity especially in our mission here.  I think all the lamentation, “America is no longer a Christian nation”,  is the lament over lost power.  The Church had no political power and authority when Dorcas, Lydia and Phoebe lived upon this old earth. When it does boast political power, then the dangers abound.  As our Lord said to Pilate, “My Kingdom is not from this world.”  The Church did have power, though:  the Word and Deed of Jesus Christ in the lives of His faithful people.  Kings and the mighty change the world according to their will and things get worse. They make news but it is really as “old as Adam”.  The faithful women did good things in Christ Jesus and Faith, and things were better, you know, salt of the earth, and people believed in the Lord.  We think our smartphones are just wonderful and adorable, the gadgets of power and we listen to them.  We need to listen to our Lord in His Word Who alone can change our souls day by day  to love as He first loved us.  

These holy women, who were made holy by Faith in Jesus, are acknowledged in the prayer above in their various vocations:  business woman and steward, charitable worker and deacon or deaconess, that is one who serves. Lydia was the first convert to the Faith in Europe.  And as a business woman who sold the dye of Royalty purple (BTW:  that’s why purple is the color used in Advent and Lent), she might have been quite well-to-do.   I am struck by the non-judgmental listing of “business’  alongside with a “churchy”  sounding word, “deaconess”.  These are all vocations from the Lord, yes, even business!   If it weren’t for business, there would be no jobs.  There is no occupation that is displeasing to the Lord, except those occupied with evil…or vocations used for ignoble ends with sinful means.  Even a ‘churchy’ vocation can be used to serve self and not the Lord.  And business men and women can serve the Lord and His people, and not the self,  as can being a deacon or deaconess.  Daily repentance is turning toward the Lord our whole lives to serve Him and His people.  It is in our daily vocations that we can serve and love our neighbors as to Christ Himself, not to save ourselves, Jesus has already done that, but that our neighbor be served and be pointed to the Savior.  Dorcas, Lydia and Phoebe did so by charity, hospitality and serving, not waiting for suspect government to help the poor, the stranger, the widow, but actual acts of of corporate mercy.  

Almighty God, You stirred to compassion the hearts of Your dear servants Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe to uphold and sustain Your Church by their devoted and charitable deeds. Give us the same will to love You, open our eyes to see You in the least ones, and strengthen our hands to serve You in others, for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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

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

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

 


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

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“Glorious is God with His saints and angels: Oh, come let us worship Him.”

Almighty God, we praise Your Name for Ignatius of Antioch, pastor and martyr.  He offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts so that he might present to You the pure bread of sacrifice.  Accept the willing tribute of all that we are and all that we have, and give us a portion in the pure and unspotted offering of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About Ignatius: He was the bishop of Antioch in Syria at the beginning of the second century A.D. and an early Christian martyr. Near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98–117), Ignatius was arrested, taken in chains to Rome, and eventually thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. On the way to Rome, he wrote letters to the Christians at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna, and also to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In the letters, which are beautifully pastoral in tone, Ignatius warned against certain heresies (false teachings). He also repeatedly stressed the full humanity and deity of Christ, the reality of Christ’s bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper, the supreme authority of the bishop, and the unity of the Church found in her bishops. Ignatius was the first to use the word catholic to describe the universality of the Church. His Christ-centeredness, his courage in the face of martyrdom, and his zeal for the truth over against false doctrine are a lasting legacy to the Church.  (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

 The Apostle Paul was probably martyred between A.D. 64-67.  Ignatius became the 2nd Bishop of Antioch in A.D. 69.   Antioch was the city from which Paul and Barnabas began their great missionary journey as recorded in Acts 13-14.  Ignatius is a direct link to the apostles and the apostolic doctrine.  (information from The Apostolic Fathers, edited by Jack Sparks)

Reflection:

One of first great crises of the earlier Church was when the last of the 12 Apostles died.  Who could ever replace them?  Already the Lord provided the answer: bishops.   When I hear the word “bishop”, visions of churchly finery come to mind:  croziers, mitres, elaborate vestments and the like.  Not in the 1st  century nor for next 2-3 centuries!  Bishop is the word used  to translate  the New Testament Greek:  episcopos which means “overseer”, one who provides oversight to the doctrine and faith of the congregation.  An “episcopos” preached and administered the Sacraments which means a bishop is  a pastor.  He presided at the Table of the Lord.   

In the Roman Empire, there were many gods and goddesses and their temples and shrines were massive and impressive and they held elaborate and overwhelming services in them.  A Christian episcopos presided over a simple meal of  bread and wine, announcing this is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  He preached the Word of Law and Gospel to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.  Nothing outwardly impressive, yet by such the Lord spread His Word as He had promised He would “to the ends of the earth”.   The Word of Jesus Christ was so spread against overwhelming odds without gimmicks, strategies, mission models, massive denomination budgets, etc.  (insight courtesy of Rev. Prof. Hermann Sasse)

For Ignatius the central  aspect of the Church was unity with the bishop, the pastor in the preaching and teaching of the Scripture and administration of the Sacraments, according to the Apostolic Doctrine set forth in the Holy Scriptures.:

“…it is fitting for you t run your race together with the bishop’s purpose–as you do.  For your presbytery–worthy of fame, worthy of God–is attuned to the bishop  like strings to a lyre.  Therefore by your unity and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung.”

The episcopos was to give oversight but not to overlook false doctrine.  Case in point:   Ignatius warns the Church in Smyrna about  the docetists. ‘Docetist’  means ‘appearance’ and they said that Jesus only appeared to be a man but was only God  and so they changed the clear meaning of Scripture and they denied the Body and the Blood.   And so Ignatius warns the Smyrnaens about them and their teaching on Holy Communion:

“They abstain from Eucharist and prayer because they do not acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, which the Father raised by his goodness. Those who deny God’s gift are dying in their squabbles; it would be better for them to love so that they may rise. It is fitting to keep away from such men and not to speak about them either privately or publicly, but to pay attention to the prophets and especially to the Gospel, in which the passion has been explained to us and the resurrection has been accomplished. Flee from divisions as the beginning of evils.”

What is the Biblical and evangelical understanding of the Lord’s Supper in relation to our lives and souls in His Church?

“Be eager, therefore, to use one Eucharist–for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup for union with the blood (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 16), one sanctuary, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow slaves–so that whatever you, you do in relation to God (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 31;  Col. 3: 17)

Some have written that Christian doctrine evolved from the original sayings of Jesus  into the Christianity we have today. But given the chronological proximity of Ignatius to the Apostolic era, this can not be so and especially when we read his letters.  In them,  it is clear he and the earlier Church were continuing the apostolic doctrine as taught verbatim by Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and were already combating heretics and their heresies.

Furthermore, the docetists believed Jesus was purely “spiritual” and He could not give us His Body and Blood.  Using an oft-used phrase in our day, they were not religious but ‘spiritual’ Sound familiar? Maybe Ignatius was too negative?  Maybe he should have ‘dialogued’ with them and formed a Bishop’s Study Task Force of Ecumenical Dialogue with Docetism?  Of course not.  Ignatius did a pastor’s work.   The heretics are actually the ones who want Christian doctrine to ‘evolve’, actually devolve into something totally different and more to their liking and their flesh and so it is no longer saving doctrine.   This is the devil’s work.   The only conversation is to warn and  the call to repentance and the true Faith clinging to Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father in His Church. As Ignatius wrote to the  Magnesians:

As, then, the Lord did nothing apart from the Father [cf. John 5:19; 8:28], either by himself or through the apostles, since he was united with him [cf. John 10:30; 17:11,21,22], so you must do nothing apart from the bishop and the presbyters. Do not try to make anything appear praiseworthy by yourselves, but let there be in common one prayer, one petition, one mind, one hope in love, in blameless joy—which is Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is better [cf. John 10:16; Eph. 4:3-6]. 2. All of you must run together as to one temple of God, as to one sanctuary, to one Jesus Christ, who proceeded from the one Father and is with the one and departed to the one [cf. John 8:42;14:12,28; 16:10,17].

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