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Posts Tagged ‘Cross’

71 years ago today the largest fleet ever assembled in world history landed on Normandy Beach, France to invade Hitler’s “Fortress Europe”.  Many brave and frightened men died this day for our freedoms, especially freedom from political tyranny. A tyranny that essentially outlawed the Christian faith as graphically portrayed in this American poster of the real enemy.    Fly your flag today but more pray and give thanks for our freedoms under assault in our day both at home and in the recent tyranny of the jihadists. The results  back then were not a foregone conclusion.

C.S. Lewis, writing at the time, gave us a poignant lesson from D-Day for the Church.  Before the quote below, Lewis is discussing the fact that Faith is not about God having one part of us but He claims the whole and then makes the comparison with D-Day:

In all of us God “still” holds only a part. D-Day is only a week ago. The bite so far taken out of Normandy shows small on the map of Europe. The resistance is strong, the casualties heavy, and the event uncertain. There is, we have to admit, a line of demarcation between God’s part in us and the enemy’s region. But it is, we hope, a fighting line; not a frontier fixed by agreement.

On Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, the  Lord, Holy Spirit began assembling the invasion force, the militia Christi, the army of Christ  to preach and teach His Word.  The resistance, the flesh, the world and the devil is strong, the martyrs many, and the event uncertain.   Yet, our hope we pray is fulfilled in the kingdom come. In The Large Catechism Luther taught that in this life we are only half-way pure. I think both Luther and Lewis are teaching that this is, “…a fighting line;  not a frontier fixed by agreement.”   C.S. Lewis uses this comparison as a man who fought in the front lines during the first World War.  This is the strife of the Spirit in our lives, for us and for our salvation and the salvation of many in Christ Jesus. It is bloody, as in the blood of Jesus Christ shed for us all.  It is bloody, as in the blood of the martyrs who witnessed to Jesus Christ in Fortress Adam in Operation Lord Over All.  Luther sang, “…He fights by our side with the weapons of the Spirit”. (See Ephesians 6)  The devil does not take his enemies alive.  The Lord does take His enemies alive and frees them (see Romans 5:9-11!)   From the Epistle  1 Peter:

 “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”

Let us pray…

 Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word;
Curb those who fain by craft and sword
Would wrest the Kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He hath done.

Lord Jesus Christ, Thy power make known,
For Thou art Lord of lords alone;
Defend Thy Christendom that we
May evermore sing praise to Thee.

O Comforter of priceless worth.
Send peace and unity on earth.
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.

(Martin Luther)

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Biography:  born at the beginning of the second century, Justin was raised in a pagan family. He was student of philosophy who converted to the Christian faith and became a teacher in Ephesus and Rome. After refusing to make pagan sacrifices, he was arrested, tried and executed, along with six other believers. They were beheaded.  The official Roman court proceedings of his trial before Rusticius, a Roman prelate, document his confession of faith. The account of his martyrdom became a source of great encouragement to the early Christian community. Much of what we know of early liturgical practice comes from Justin.

Timeline

30

Crucifixion of Jesus; Pentecost

65

Peter and Paul executed

70

Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus

100

Justin Martyr born

165

Justin Martyr dies

180

Irenaeus writesAgainst Heresies

For Christians, such as this Lutheran pastor, the order of service from the 2nd Century, as described by Justin Martyr is quite familiar:

On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.

When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president (or Presiding Minister, that is, Pastor/Bishop) in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the ‘Amen.’ A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.

Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.

In an excellent article by Pastor Mark Surburg, They worshipped when?!?, also quoted the Roman, and pagan, historian Pliny, who lived 50 years before Justin the Martyr, the following about Christians:

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when   called upon to do so.

Please note, as  Pastor Surburg commented that the early Church met “before dawn” and Justin says they met as long as time permits because Sunday was not a day off!  They seem to have lived in a 24/7 world. Our brothers and sisters in the Lord back 1,900 years ago woke up really early for the Divine Service on Sunday befodre they would go off to work.  As our culture and society becomes increasingly antogonistic to the Church, it will take faithfulness to receive His Word and Sacraments. Pr. Surburg:  

As the era of the post-Christian world continues to advance in our culture, we are encountering more and more situations that reflect the experience of our early Christian forefathers.  Sporting events, school activities and a growing list of other endeavors are scheduled for Sunday morning.  The faithful practice of the Christian faith will require an ever greater commitment.  It will require sacrifice in order put Jesus Christ first as the Lord of our life.  The saints who have gone before provide both a model and an encouragement.  They show us what Christians have done in order to be faithful, and they demonstrate how by his grace God enabled them to do this.

No wonder that the “memoirs of the Apostles” that were read would have included this Scripture from the Apostle Peter, 1 Peter 2:  111-12:

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 

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My father, when he was in the FBI, went to the shooting range monthly and I loved it when he brought back a target, like the one  on right, with holes in head and heart.  An officer of the court must learn to shoot to kill. The heart has the most points. This clip art  is to show how to make the sign of the cross.  I also thought it looks like the target, a bull’s eye. Well, it  sort of is. You are the Lord’s target.  You were His target on the Cross. The Word made flesh spoken and administered in the Sacraments takes aim at us, heart and mind and soul and flesh.  To kill?  Yes, He aims to kill the old Adam and put more and more of His life in us. The Lord alone can so take that aim. Your heart and your will count the most and He has given us His most: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  When we make the sign of the Cross it is mostly with the words of Invocation, prayer:  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.  Please take aim O Lord, forgive, renew and lift up Your servant, Your son, Your daughter whom You baptized.  When sin is killed, it can’t be held in trust,  but I am held in His nail printed hands in faith. We have wounds. He alone heals the holes in heart, soul and mind and fills them by His grace to heal our wounds.

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I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 

St. John 15: 5

A church had this sermon theme on its outside sign:  “A Fruitful Life Requires Jesus”. Love, the fruit and so proceed to the vine, the root, the source. No, it is the opposite in the Bible “Jesus requires the fruitful life.” From the vine comes the branches and the fruit.  From Christ comes the Christian. This is plain from the Gospel lesson for today. He uses the word abide some 8 times so that we have the fruitful life in Him.  It’s not, so you want to be a branch, find the vine. The inherent nature and purpose of  the Lord’s creation is to make fruit.  The gardener plants seed for one purpose:  produce, fruits and vegetable, as the Lord requires fruitfulness.  It is His doing and our tending, abiding in Him to plant, water and wait.   Notice the main difference in the two statements:  “A fruitful life requires Jesus”, the subject of “a fruitful life” is you and I, not the Lord.  We’re in charge.  “Do you really want the fruitful life?” “Here are the 5 steps to the fruitful life”, or others might preach that the fruitful life is a certain attainment of material prosperity, the “prosperity Gospel”, your best life now, etc. And so you need to accept Jesus to have the fruitful life,  then Jesus is our branch. Jesus does not grow out of us.  We grow out of Him! If we don’t, we will be unfruitful and cut off. 

Like I said, it’s just the opposite. We are the branches.   “The Lord Jesus requires the fruitful life”,   who is the subject?  Yes, the Lord.  “I am the Vine”, not you or I:  we are the branches, the Lord is Vine, and so the life of the grapevine.  His will, His word is that we are clean in His forgiveness.  His will, His word is that we know His peace.   His will, His word in a world bent in upon itself, fills  us with His love to so love others as He first loved us. His will, His word is  we are found in Him and to so find others as a Shepherd searching today for  His lost sheep.  His will, His Word is fruitfulness unto eternal life as we abide in Him, if we do not then we are cast aside.   His will is His Word in His words which are  His life for you, not your best life, but His life for you, knowing His love, His grace, mercy and peace. 

How do we know this? Answer: I heard it through the grapevine!  Jesus is faithful in all the words of the Bible.  Every word from the mouth of God is bread.  I heard it through the grape Vine:  This is my body, This is my blood.  

The saying,  “I heard it through the grapevine.” actually refers to gossip.  When someone passes on gossip it’s usually to help, I just thought you should know what they’re saying about you.  Or you should know about Sally so we can help Sally.  The false prophets and spirits are gossips about God in all their fine theories about the Lord who loves us.  They will say Jesus is not from God and He came in our flesh.  Test the spirits.  Hear them but do not listen to them that is obey them. The false spirits lead us from our Lord who so loves us. All those who deny Jesus came in the flesh are spreading gossip and rumors under the pretense to help  you.  The false spirits primarily say Jesus is not the incarnate God, come in the flesh. Gossips distort the truth.  They do not state it correctly.  Heretics are gossips. They speak as if they know but they do not, they trim the message to their own flesh and to acceptance in the world.  Jesus was a good teacher, a social revolutionary, a way to God and the like.  When the grapevine is the Lord Jesus we can hear and know that the Lord is good, His mercy endures forever.   His Word of forgiveness and grace cleanses us.  Abide in His Words He taught, His Words are true as is the entirety of the Word of God.

How does the Lord nourish our life as we abide in Him?  Answer: I hear it through the grapevine.   If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  Abide in Him and His words abiding in us and so it is logical to hear Him is to pray to Him and for Him and it is done.  This is child-like faith. We are heard as we hear Him,  the grapevine.  

“…everything has been heard, even though one does not know what has been heard. Even when Christ asked for His life, He was heard.  But the flesh does not recognize how the hearing takes place. Therefore every prayer is heard, and whatever we ask for happens, even though we do not recognize in what ways it happens… God sometimes hurls us into greater evils in order that He may put an end to the evils. And thus He has heard our prayer.” (Luther)

The Father will prune us.  He will cut off the suckers that take away from fructification.  The wild shoots.  Sin is a  sucker.  Sin sucks. It takes life away and deters the true Vine.  His pruning is confession and absolution. 

How are we made clean by His Word?  Answer:  Baptism and Faith. We heard today another witness in the Bible of a man made clean by Jesus:  the Baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch.  He heard the Word and the Word was poured over him in the waters of rebirth in Jesus Christ the true vine.  He heard it through the grapevine and Philip was no gossip, but he taught the Good News of Jesus who suffered and died and rose, as Isaiah prophesied 5 centuries before the Incarnation. And according to a reliable tradition, the Ethiopian eunuch did bear much fruit, even though there could never be fruit from his body.  He went home and may have told of the Gospel of Jesus as Philip told him. From early on,  Ethiopia became a Christian nation and today Ethiopia has one of the largest Lutheran church bodies on earth, a  whole lot bigger than all the Lutherans in the United States. I dare say, if we could ask the Ethiopian eunuch so how did you bear much fruit, tell us your secrets for the fruitful life?  His answer:  it was not me.  It was the Lord Jesus.  “This fruit is not mine; it is the Vine’s” (Luther, page 226 LW vol. 24).  He spread the truth, not gossip He was in charge of all the treasure of the Queen of Ethiopia and on that day, in the arranged meeting with Philip, the eunuch heard of the treasure beyond measure:  the unsearchable riches of Christ. 

How do we know this? Answer: I heard it through the grapevine!  Jesus is faithful in all the words of the Bible.   How does the Lord nourish our life as we abide in Him?  Answer: I hear it through the grapevine. He came in the flesh.

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 

The Lord uses the word abide as an imperative, a command.  We are to keep His commandments, wrote the evangelist John.  And he wrote, “And His commandments are not burdensome”.  His commandments relieve our burdens. As His command,Come to all who are burden and heavy lade and I will give you rest…”  As His command, Take eat, take drink, this is My Body, this is My blood.  Forgive one another as I have forgiven you. Forgive your brother even 70 times 7 as I have forgiven you a humanly speaking unforgivable debt.  Love one another as I have first loved you.  Go ye therefore and teach all a nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I hear it through the Vine we are to love as He first loved us.  The devil hates the Holy Spirit’s fruit, especially the first one: love. We do not love to be saved but we have been so loved so we are saved to love. “We derive the greatest joy from the fact that we have people to love, either a wife or children, and we thank God, who gives us people to love.”-Martin Luther, commentary on 1 John 4: 11 And in all His freeing commands, it is the true Vine, Our Lord Jesus, we can do nothing without Him. 

I hear it through the grapevine. Look again at the picture of  the icon for this sermon. The icon with the depiction of the branch coming from the Lord’s side reminded me of the creation of Eve. It also shows Jesus squeezing grapes into a Chalice to be for His blood. Remember the Lord took a rib from Adam’s side to make a helpmate suitable for him, his wife to whom he would be married.  The Church is the bride of Christ.  We come from the Lord’s side by His grace and favor, His love just as when the Roman soldier pierced the Savior’s side, blood and water flowed out, so we are nourished in the Word of God, Baptism and Holy Communion.

 

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Collect of the Day

Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, and to another the word of faith. We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servant Athanasius, and we pray that by his teaching we may be led to a fuller knowledge of the truth which we have seen in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Acts 20:19-35

Psalm 71:1-8

2 Corinthians 4:5-14

St. Matthew 10:23-32

Athanasius was born in Alexandria in Egypt in A.D. 295. He served as a church leader in a time of great controversy and ecclesiastical disagreements. At the Council of Nicaea in 325, he defended Christian
orthodoxy against the proponents of the Arian heresy, which denied the full divinity of Jesus Christ. During his 45-year tenure as bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius wrote numerous works that defended the orthodox teaching. His enemies had him exiled five times; on two occasions he was almost murdered. Yet Athanasius remained steadfast and ended his days restored fully to his church responsibilities. The
Athanasian Creed, though not composed by Athanasius, is named in his honor because it confesses the doctrinal orthodoxy he championed throughout his life.

Athanasius was exiled 5 times by his enemies!  I was told to leave one congregation once and that was enough for me!  Athanasius stood steadfast in the truth of Christ.  The meaning of  Athanasius standing firm is important for us today as C. S. Lewis makes clear, from his introduction to On the Incarnation by the saint: 

His epitaph is Athanasius contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world.” We are proud that our own country has more than once stood against the world. Athanasius did the same. He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, “whole and undefiled,” when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius—into one of those “sensible” synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.

As another saint would say: All the saving doctrine comes from t the Scripture alone!  It could also be said of this saint, Luther Contra Mundum!  He sang:

Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from your Son
And bring to nought all he has done.

Regarding Holy Scripture Athanasius wrote in his 39th Paschal Letter:

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The text for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel Reading, St. Luke 24: 36-49, especially these verses:

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

When a man appears out of nowhere, who was dead, the first thing that comes to the Old Adam’s way of thinking: It’s a ghost!  So right away the Lord questions, does a spirit, a phantasm have flesh and bones? Yet He again appeared among the 12, flesh and bones.  He who needs no food eats and most importantly, no ghost has wounds. In the movie “Ghost”, the ghost, played by Patrick Swayze comes back to his wife. He was brutally killed, this ghost had no wounds. He came back to get his murderer.   The Lord has the wounds of the Cross and is risen for the repentance of even murderers.  The Lord cares for His flesh and blood, that is our flesh and blood, and our spirits and minds.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself (Jesus) likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”(Hebrews 2: 14-15)

Body and soul in the forgiveness He has won for all.  He did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, He came that they might be fulfilled, all the promises of God fulfilled, which we cannot fulfill in a thousand lifetimes or reincarnations.  Now the Lord speaks of the entire Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets AND the Psalms, the Writings are fulfilled.  The  Scripture does not give eternal life, but they clearly, unmistakably, and without error point to Christ Jesus who does give eternal life, raising us up out of the mire and death of transgressions. 

 At the beginning of the written Gospels, Jesus tells Peter, James and John that from now on they would fish for men.  Now the risen Lord has given them the net:

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” 

The Lord’s net is repentance and forgiveness of sins proclaimed in the Name of Jesus.  The chaotic far and wide sea and ocean is in deep turmoil, “all nations”, all the Gentiles.  Jesus sent the Apostles in the  huge Ninevah of this world.  The Lord’s will is all to be saved, to be fished out of the depths of the world, the flesh and the devil in His mercy  won for us all in His death and resurrection.  Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah as the Lord called him to preach.  The Lord went into Ninevah willingly.  Jonah was not executed.  The Author of life who carried all sin and death, was killed and was raised. 

Jesus taught that the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms are fulfilled in Him and are written about Him.  God is just.  He hates the sin but ever loves the sinner.  The Lord’s will is the just must of Christ Jesus bearing the sin of the  world upon the Cross. The three fold division of the Old Testament is the very pattern of Christ: 

In the Law of Moses, it is clear:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mightDeuteronomy 6:5 and equally clear is the text, “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself”, Leviticus 19: 18.  Jesus put those two passages together to sum up the 10 commandments, the vertical and the horizontal of the commandments and more:  In His Spirit and flesh they are put together perfectly, as He is true God and true man, perfect love that casts out all fear, for you. 

In the prophets, Isaiah saw the day of the One who would be the Suffering Servant.  The prophets of Israel were not treated well at all by Israelites.  They were thrown into cisterns, marked for death, killed, mocked and despised.  The false prophets who taught false doctrine were warmly  welcomed into the courts of the cultured despisers of the faith.  In Isaiah 52 and 53 is the depths of the prophecy of the Suffering Servant.  Luke 22: 3737 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”  He cited Isaiah 53: 12.

In the Psalms:   When Jesus was upon the Cross, dying for your life here and to eternal life, He prayed Psalm 22: 1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Psalm 22 is clear: IN the depths of the rout of the world, the flesh and the devil, Jesus triumphed.  The Psalms foresaw the royal Davidide, the King descended from David would come forth and yet this King would be David’s King, and our as well, yet more than King:  Savior. 

Law of Moses, Prophets and Psalms are all the Word God fulfilled in Jesus Christ.   I do not need to have a Phd in theology to understand the Bible.  The usual lament about the Bible is that it is so difficult to understand.  The Bible is so plain. From today’s Epistle reading (1 John 3), Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. I get it. This practice does not make perfect, quite the opposite. Equally clear is godly repentance and sorrow over sin leads us ever to the Lord. Johann Gerhard preached this well:

Whoever preaches forgiveness of sins without preaching repentance is not holding to Christ’s command. For He sets both together: repentance and forgiveness of sins. Wherever there is a broken and shattered heart, there Christ wants to live, Isa. 57:15,wants to impart His blessings which He won through His death and resurrection. He, indeed, calls sinners to Himself, but [He calls them) to repent, Matt. 9:13. True repentance is the pathway by which sinners come to grace.

Isaiah 57: 15 is this Word:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
    who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
    and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.

In Psalm 51, after David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and his sin was shown to him by the preaching of the Law by Nathan the prophet, David prayed:  “…a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (verse 17).  Out of the depths, the Lord can reach those who have been humbled by their wrong, when we repent.

In these earthen vessels the Lord pours out His mercy to us as His blood covers our sin and comes into these earthen vessels.  We are made His own to act as His own.  The Bible is clear:  You know the Lord is righteous, from today’s Epistle reading, “…you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him.” We are born of Him. We are God’s children now.  His Word in our ears and hearts that we may share the vessel of His Word with others, our families, our co-workers, our friends, our colleagues…Abide in Him is the continual encouragement of the Word. Christ, and His unilateral redemption and salvation opens our hearts and minds to understand the Scripture and love and serve our neighbor. He opened their minds to understand Scripture, that all of the Bible points to Christ and undeserved grace, God’s grace in creating, redeeming and sanctifying us. Grace is sheer gift poured into our hearts, as the grace of God is key to the Bible.  Paul called us earthen vessels,not cracked pots, or crack pots (!). We hold stuff and we can hold the wrong stuff, but in repentance the turmoil of sin is gone, He filled us with the Holy Spirit.

Yes, there are Scripture passages that are hard to understand.  Luther wrote about not understanding Scripture passages:

To many people a great deal remains obscure; but that is due, not to any lack of clarity in Scripture, but to their own blindness and dullness, in that they make no effort to see truth which, in itself, could not be plainer.

A musician does not know and understand every piece of music, an artist every work of art, a chemist every equation, etc. but they can still all do their vocation well, as their understanding and love of their vocation increases. So can we as Christ’s communion and brethren.  We need to read the Bible daily because daily we need to be so fed by what we have read.  “I don’t have the time.”  If I can watch Big Bang theory for a half an hour, I have time for the Scripture.

The great orator of ancient Rome, Cicero said: “Read at every wait; read at all hours; read within leisure; read in times of labor; read as one goes in; read as one goest out. The task of the educated mind is simply put: read to lead.”  This also is true regarding the Lord’s written word in the Bible. The Lord reads us like a book, and by His grace alone, He has written us into the Book of life, as we believe. In Jesus Christ, His Word in the Bible becomes the times of refreshing. Read to lead.  Read to lead and so serve someone who might be lost.  Read to lead to stay true to the way who is Jesus.  The task of the saved mind is simply put:  read to lead.
  

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COLLECT OF THE DAY:

Almighty and everlasting God,grant us by Your grace so to pass through this holy time of our Lord’s passion that we may obtain the forgiveness of our sins; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord,who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS:

Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14;  1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (26-31);   John 12:23-50


  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”-John 12: 32

Reflection:  Congregations, churches, pastors, priests fret over the question:  how do we attract new members?  What is our “draw”?  I have  asked that question and that is more than a simple admission, it is more like a confession.  Is it our choir? Our youth program?  Our peppy service?  Our warm and welcoming people?  Our meals on wheels?  etc. etc. etc.  All those things can be fruit of the Gospel but they are not the Vine from whence comes the fruit, see John 15:5.  There is only one “draw” in the Church, for the life of His world and you in His new creation:  Jesus Christ. The Greek word for “draw” is figurative of the pull on a man’s inner life, usually called the soul, the heart, the mind, that is, body and soul.    The Greek word in it’s more pedestrian sense means to haul, drag, draw something, such as a sword.   The crucified true man and true God compels, draw forth men and women to Himself.  Sadly, many will simply walk away from the crucified Lord, thinking they can get by.  But to those who confess they are dead, Christ gives life to those in the tombs .  Jesus had said to Nicodemus that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so will the Son of Man be lifted up,John 3:14. The Israelites were biting and devouring in each other and complaining against God and His anointed, Moses.  God appointed poisonous snakes to bite and devour them, as an outward sign of their inward, soul sin.  Moses prayed.  The Lord said take a bronze serpent and lift it up in the middle of the camp and whoever looks upon will be healed.  If you were dying this would be compelling and draw you forth.  The bronze serpent was not magic but God attached His Word of promise to that snake.  Upon the Cross it was the Word made flesh, nailed to the Cross, Incarnate and the beginning of the fulfillment of the Incarnation to draw off the poison of the dying.  Compelling.

“When I study God’s Word, I find that Christ not only has the form of a serpent without venom;  but I also feel a power in Him which will cure me of venom…Even a cow could stare at the serpent—but how could that help her?…It was not an angel, a principality, or any of the world’s mighty who became incarnate and died for us—no, both the angelic and the human nature would have been too weak—but it was the divine nature that assumed humanity. It was Christ who adopted our flesh and blood that we might be saved through Him.”(Luther)

In the verse John 3:14 and in this one for Holy Monday, Jesus used the word “lifted up”.   People manufacture “worship experiences” to give an emotional “lift” in order to “draw” people to church.  From what I have seen, read and heard, the centrality of the Crucified is diminished and can disappear. Christ Jesus can no longer draw people to Himself.  This is not Biblical.  It is written that our preaching IS, not “was”, Christ and Him Crucified (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).  H0ly Baptism is into His Crucifixion and Resurrection (Romans 6:2-4 ; Colossians 2:10-12 ).  Holy Communion is the preaching of the Lord’s Death (1 Corinthians 11:26). In His Body given unto death is our life:  ALONE.    The Cross stands at the center, radiating out, Christ Jesus embracing us in His forgiveness.  And so the Christians from almost day one would trace the Sign of the Cross over their bodies.  And so the cathedrals in Europe were cross-shaped.  Crosses and crucifixes hang about our necks and adorn our walls. He draws us with our heavy hearts, hearts burden with cares and worries, with iniquity.  Lift up your hearts. We lift them up unto the Lord. He who was lifted up can lift us up in, by and with  the utter grace of His forgiveness.   He is the Draw Who alone saves.

He bows His head on the timber-trunk of the cross to kiss us in love. He stretches out His arms in order to embrace us in love. He prays for His crucifiers because He suffered out of love for them. His side is opened up with a spear so that the flame of heartfelt love might break forth from it, “so that we through the wound’s opening may behold the mystery of the heart.” In love He longs for us, and thus He said: I thirst [that is,] for your salvation.”By Your struggle-unto-death and Your bloody sweat, help us dear Lord God.” (Pr. and Prof. Johann Gerhard)

O Lord Jesus Christ, You are the One who became a curse on the timber-trunk of the cross for us. Make us partakers of this divine blessing. Let Your holy blood flow over us so that we thereby are washed of our sins and are given to drink of eternal life. O You eternal High Priest, let Your intercession redound to our good, so that in the power of the same we may benefit from Your holy suffering and may obtain forgiveness of sins. Amen.

(Prayer by Johann Gerhard)

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