Posts Tagged ‘edification’

Sermon Text:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.

Psalm 127: 1

We receive periodically the “Liberty Journal”  from Liberty University in Lynchburg (for those not familiar a university founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, founder also of the “Moral Majority”:  Liberty is undergoing tremendous growth).  They have architectural plans to build the tallest building in Lynchburg:  “Independence Tower” in which to house their divinity school which  is a school to educate church workers, including pastors.  In the article about Independence Tower, “Standing Tall”, is a statement of Liberty University’s “…commitment to the uniquely American values of individual liberty, limited government, and Judeo-Christian principles.”  I agree that individual liberty and limited government are uniquely American values but not Judeo-Christian principles.  Moses and St. Paul were not Americans.  The Bible does not espouse “uniquely American values”, for this means our great nation lives by the 10 Commandments, and especially the first Table of the Law which all about the love of God and right worship, except the United States does not do so. It is not suppose to by governmental action and that is the uniquely American value. We the people do not want the government to build the Church nor interfere in the free exercise of the Church as it is the law of the land in the 1st Amendment.   I guess such a statement from Liberty, regarding our nation goes with the building of Independence Tower, as in America’s founding but a divinity school is not about independence, but dependence on Him who builds us up from the ground floor, the Cross.  

Adam and Eve bought into the serpent’s lie to “be like God”, which they already were, knowing good and evil, to build Independence Tower and eventually their ancestors would build the first independence tower in the plains of Shinar:  the people of Shinar built Babel to “make a name for ourselves”.  Now I do not want to equate Liberty University with Babel, but even our most sincere efforts for God and country are tainted by our own innate tendency toward idolatry. We must be careful on who does the building of the Church and the nation. Churches and nations still do want to make a name for themselves to secure the good. It is confusing to merge the two towers:  national and churchly.  When the churches do so, the idolatry is self-evident, but as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about life here and the life of the world to come, “”building from heaven,” “building from God, not made with hands.” 

“The verse” in the Liturgy is what we sing before the reading of the Gospel which is “Alleluia”, but there are verses appointed for each Sunday, usually a Scripture passage, which can be sung by the congregation or a choir.  The appointed verse for today is Psalm 127: 1a. Psalm 127 is one of the 14 Psalms of Ascent.  Families and extended families sung these Psalms as they went up, ascended to Zion, city on a hill, Jerusalem for the great feast days such as Passover.  Solomon wrote Psalm 127.  Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem so he knew about building, yet he knew, unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it build it in vain.  There are three types of building in this short Psalm:  our homes, the House of the Lord and the city, society and culture.  Church, home and nation are three interconnecting orders of creation.  

In today’s Gospel lesson we are told that the multitude is gathered around Jesus in a circle.  What or who is at the center? The Lord is whether confessed or not but here was the multitude gathered around Him and if the Son is there, so is the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is joy as Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”  What was the multitude doing to do the will of God?  First, foremost and central: hearing Jesus, hearing the Word of God.  He was building them up by His grace and healing for His people. They were not independent but dependent hanging on His every Word proceeding from His mouth, and being freed, dependent yet  independent at the same time from the tyranny of the world, the flesh and the devil. 

What is at the center of the orders of creation, Church, home and nation?  The Lord is…whether acknowledged or not. What does it sound like when the Lord is acknowledged?  We hear it in today’s Gospel.  Jesus’ relatives thought He was crazy and accusations fly like that or Jesus is Satan. Satan does not build but destroys and Jesus was binding that strong man to plunder his stolen house. He calls out Satan from men’s hearts to call us out to Himself.  What does it look like when the Lord is not acknowledged?  Adam thinks he is in the driver’s seat and as we heard in today’s Gospel, it is a curse. Adam thinks he can build a world apart from God. It is our kind of salvation without the Lord.  Life self-contained, as in humanism, and “…it provides for man no resources outside himself.”  Adam thinks he can progress and evolve on his own resources but if the weather turns bad, the sky is falling because there is no trust in the Lord who made Adam  and nature in the first place.  

Who is at the center?  It gets down to the basic crisis of our day:  creed or chaos. We do not want the government to build the Church, by any means, but when government and nation are hostile to the Church, we see the results around us.  We look at the waste of the wrath of our time and see life lived without the Lord in the center, without hope and God in the world (Ephesians). among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind .  The English poet W. B Yeats described our time, and for him it was after the wreckage of the first World War.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity 

It is darkness.  If I want to watch life without the Lord, see Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Walking Dead. “For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the cup of violence” (Proverbs 4: 17).   It is not that the center cannot hold, it is so many do not want to hold to the center, or even acknowledge the Lord. 

Insisting on doing evil and claiming Jesus does evil is the sin against the Holy Spirit.  “We are waging a war of religion.  Not a civil war between adherents of the same religions, but a life and death struggle between Christian and pagan.”  So wrote Dorothy L.Sayers in 1940 in England, in her essay, “Creed or Chaos?”  Chaos is all around us and has eaten into the very basis of creation, the order of the family.  The center is formed by the Creeds, the Center hearing His Word, praying His Word, teaching and preaching and eating and drinking and washed in His Word. We are baptized, secured by the Lord to eat His Body and drink the Cup of the New Testament in His Blood.  Allt hat’s not crazy, just read the news for crazy.  

The family going up to Jerusalem prayed,

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.

This is our prayer as well as we ascend the steps here to this upper room.[i]The Lord builds the family, city and Church.  At every step prayer, every step His grace and mercy.   And here’s the truth if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  On our own, it is chaos. Beloved in the Lord, He has made His own so we labor at our work, in our households and in His House. The Lord builds. Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached it well in Berlin in 1933, in building the Church, and confessing Christ,  as the armies of darkness were again mustering their siren song of human salvation:

 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 others will be built into His House.  We are not called to stand tall but to stand fast.  One of the hymn verses I go back to again and again is:

 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.

(Martin Luther)

He  was always and ever will be build by His Word, for His Word, in His Name as by His Name He called us out of darkness into His own most marvelous light and does so day by day, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

[i] Concordia Lutheran Missions meets in the second floor of the two story rehabbed old Buena Vista fire station.

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Intro:  The First Part is from the bio in Festivals and Commemorations by Rev. Philip H. Pfatteicher.  The Second Part is a citation from the Passion of Perpetua and Felicity as quoted by Rev. Pfatteicher in the same book.  

First Part:

No saints are more uniformly honored in all the early calendars and martyrologies than these African martyrs. In 202 the emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity and harsh per­secution ensued. Arrested in Carthage were Vibia Perpetua, a noble­woman from Thuburbo, twenty-two years old; her infant child; Felic­ity, a pregnant slave; Revocatus, a slave; Saturninus; Secundulus­all catechumens. Later their catechist, Saturus, was arrested also. While under house arrest they were baptized.

Perpetua’s father urged her to renounce the faith, but she refused, and was imprisoned. In prison, she had a vision of a golden ladder guarded by a dragon and sharp weapons that prevented ascent, but nonetheless she walked over the dragon and reached a beautiful place. Her father repeated his plea in vain and repeated it again before the people in the arena.

The steadfast Christians were condemned to be given to wild beasts at a celebration in honor of Caesar Geta. Perpetua had another vision, this time of her seven year old brother Dinocrates, who had died of cancer, in heaven. Felicity was not to have been executed with the others since it was illegal to execute a pregnant woman, but three days before the spectacle Felicity gave birth prematurely to a girl, who was adopted by a Christian family, and gladly joined the others in martyrdom. After scourging, they were led to the amphitheater, and according to the apparently contemporary account of the mar­tyrdom, were mangled by the beasts, but survived to be beheaded with a sword.

The record of the Passion of Perpetua and Felicity is one of the most ancient reliable histories of the martyrs extant. Part of the Pas­sion is said to have been written by Perpetua herself as a kind of diary record of her visions, and part by Saturus. The introduction and the conclusion are by an apparent eyewitness, said by some to have been the church father Tertullian. The Passion, which recalls the bib­lical book of Revelation, is an important document in understanding early Christian ideas of martyrdom, providing a vivid insight into the beliefs of the young and vigorous African church. It was enormously popular, and St. Augustine, who quotes it often, had to warn against it being put on the same level as Holy Scripture. Perpetua and her companions were very popular in Carthage, and a basilica was erected over their tomb.

Second Part:  From the Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas

The day of their victory dawned, and they marched from the prison to the amphitheatre joyfully as though they were going to heaven, with calm faces, trembling, if at all, with joy rather than fear. Per­petua went along with shining countenance and calm step, as the beloved of God, as a wife of Christ, putting down everyone’s stare by her own intense gaze. With them also was Felicitas, glad that she had safely given birth so that now she could fight the beasts, going from one blood bath to another, from the midwife to the gladiator, ready to wash after the childbirth in a second baptism.

They were then led up to the gates and the men were forced to put on the robes of priests of Saturn, the women the dress of the priestesses of Ceres. But the noble Perpetua strenuously resisted this to the end. “We came to this of our own free will, that our freedom should not be violated. We agreed to pledge our lives provided that we would do no such thing. You agreed with us to do this.

Even injustice recognized injustice. The military tribune agreed. They were to be brought into the arena just as they were. Perpetua then began to sing a Psalm: she was already treading on the head of the Egyptian. Revocatus, Saturninus, and Saturus began to warn the onlooking mob. Then when they came within sight of Hilarianus, they suggested by their motions and gestures; “You have condemned us, but God will condemn you” was what they were saying. At this the crowds became enraged and demanded that they be scourged before a line of gladiators. And they rejoiced at this that they had obtained a share in the Lord’s sufferings.

First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sit­ting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side.. . . but the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord as the people wanted them to go, and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway, was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetua. Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.

Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honors, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less signifi­cant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendour and immeasurable power for all the ages.


The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, ed. and tr. Herbert Musurillo, 129-131. © Oxford University Press 1972. Used by permission of Oxford University Press.


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Let us pray...Almighty God, as Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens, so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Acts 1: 1-11;  Psalm 47;  Ephesians 1: 15-23;  St. Luke 24: 44-53

Ephesians 1:  22-23:

22And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Reflection:  43 days ago the Church met on another Thursday:  Maundy or Holy Thursday.  Maundy Thursday begins the 3 Days of Our Lord’s suffering, crucifixion and death.  On that Thursday He gave us the sacrament of His Body and Blood.  That Thursday ties into today, this Thursday:  the crucified and risen Lord, bodily and spiritually gives us His Body and Blood in the Sacrament.  It was only by His Ascension that the Word went forth from Jerusalem:  the Word made flesh, bearing our sins to be our Savior.  His Body and Blood is the Rock of our salvation.

A couple of days ago I posted the introduction to a book by Fr. Peter Toon and from that intro:

For God’s salvation to be a universal and everlasting salvation, the incarnate Son, Jesus the Messiah, returned to heaven where he could be the source of salvation everywhere to all who believe.  From heaven, through the agency of the Holy Spirit (whom the Father sends to the world in the name and for the sake of the exalted Jesus), the incarnate Son preaches the Word of God, builds up God’s church, and continues universally the divine work that began in the restricted area of Palestine.  

Notice that Fr. Toon has the “incarnate Son” as the subject/actor for the verbs in the quote above:  preach, builds up and continues.  After all the Lord said to Peter after his confession, “And upon this rock (confession of faith), I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (St. Matthew 16:  ; emphasis my own) Not I, not you:  He will build His Church.  As proclaimed in the creedal hymn in  1 Timothy 3:

16Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

    He was manifested in the flesh,
   vindicated by the Spirit,
       seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
       taken up in glory. 

 He fills His Church with His Body and Blood by the Holy Ghost.  So if He preaches we do not need pastors and ministers to do so?  No.  He calls pastors to so preach and teach but when the Gospel is preached from the pulpit and administered in the Sacraments, the ascended Lord, bodily and spiritually (the ‘and’ here is not an additive but a connective) is preaching and administering for us and for our salvation. As the Head so goes His Body, the Church.   In likewise, be not doubting, but believing:  hold fast to His Word preached, taught and administered by your pastor (if he be faithful to the Scriptures).  Holy Communion, Ascension and the edifiction/building up of His Church are His promise to us for evangelization, or  if you  will, our program by which He gets His Word out.  Like Lutheran pastor, Helmut Thielicke pointed out:  Our job is not to master the public with public relations and the like, but to make public the Master.

I write this  in part counteract the pernicious works righteousness read in the motto of one denom (ELCA):  God’s Work, Our Hands.  Or in the face of dwindling numbers, now everyone is suppose to be an evanglist/missionary: YOU BETTER SPREAD THE WORD OR WE WILL DIE.  Not much faith in the Lord and His Word of promise:  the gates of hell shall not prevail against His building program!  The kingdom will come of it’s own without our help but in the petition, Thy Kingdom Come, we pray that it also comes among us (Luther).  As one pastor said that motto should read:  God’s Work, Christ’s Hands! This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous our eyes.

For the true Church who correctly teaches salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, utterly the Lord’s work, we sure do not act too terribly graceful.  Why?  We too will say and do that it is our works, our plans, our programs, our models of ministry and the like that will save the Church.  Yikes!  But as I look at all the things tried, none seem to have worked!

The Lord, His Church and His Word come together in the Holy Communion.  Without the Holy Communion, His Body and Blood, we become another religious organization.  And what fruther connects the Lord to us in Holy Communion and day by day is prayer and His people in prayer from the Scripture: the Psalter.  So for your congregation in His Church, a good prayer start is the prayer He taught us and the great petition for us all and so for evangelization, literally ‘good newsing’:  Thy Kingdom Come.

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