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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.  

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.

Rev. Edward Shillito was an English minister who survived the horrors of artillery, machine guns, and trench warfare during World War I. I think his poem “Jesus of the Scars ” is a fine commentary on Thomas and his faith in these dark days:

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars we claim Thy grace.

If when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know today what wounds are; have no fear;
Show us Thy Scars; we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong, but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

In Medio Ecclesiae: Wounds of Christ

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Yes, Lord, You Know That I Love You”| National Catholic Register

COLLECT OF THE DAY

Almighty God, by the glorious resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ,  You destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light. Grant that we who have been raised with Him may abide in His presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS:   Acts 3:13-15, 17-19  Psalm 61   Colossians 3:1-7 or 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 St. John 21:1-14

Reflection on the Gospel LessonJohn 21: 1-14:  Here are  some of the many narratives involving Peter:  

  • After Jesus walked on the water, Peter almost commanded the Lord in Peter’s disbelief: But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14)
  • Peter denied Jesus three times (all four of the Gospels).
  • The risen Lord asked Peter 3 times, Do you love me more than these? 3 times the Lord said, “Feed My sheep”(John 21)
  • Peter does not want to go to the Gentile Centurion, Cornelius’ home because Peter would eat unclean animals.  3 times a sheet is lowered with unclean and clean animals.

I asked a Bible class: how would you characterize Peter?  “Impetuous” “Acts before thinking” “Trusts himself”   Not exactly the meaning of the name Jesus gave Simon:  Peter, meaning in Greek “rock”. There is this reflection from Johann Gerhard:

“We should also contemplate how Peter came to such a fall (i.e. his denial), in order that we avoid the same. He was entirely too daring (presumptuous)–meaning that it all depended upon a good heart and good intentions. When he noticed others who were not like him in this matter, he held them in disdain. Thus, he experienced how very little we are capable of if God does not sustain us. Therefore, we should indeed not rely on the strength of our own faith, or on our good intentions. God’s power does it, and it alone must do everything.”

I know I am more like Peter when he saw the waves and the Rock sank.  He was a good guy, but even our goodness, apart from God, also needs Christ’s redemption, His Body and Blood, His forgiveness every step of the Way. It is my good heart and good intentions that can wreak the greatest damage in congregations, families and nations because one does such on the goodness of “me”.  At the extreme, every tyrant, political or spiritual, want to do good.

I find it interesting the repetition of “three” to convict and convince Peter:  three times Jesus saying feed my sheep.  Three times the sheet of animals in the vision were let down to convince Peter to go to a Gentile’s home and dine there so Cornelius and his household could be saved by faith!  It took a lot to change his mind which means:  The Lord appropriately renamed Simon, “Rock”.  Peter was steadfast.  He was stalwart in his faith and actions, even when they were misguided, but even that wrong way can be changed by the Lord. We all by fallen nature tend to look inward and not outward to our Lord. As Peter we all have good qualities that the Lord through our living has formed in us and then comes to redeem those qualities for faith and love in Jesus Christ. Even our best qualities are not saving, if they were, we would not need a Savior.

After Peter denied Jesus three times, the arrested Jesus simply looked at Peter and he wept bitterly.  Peter finally knew his good heart was not enough, his decisions for Jesus did not bridge the gap between himself and the Lord, Peter the Rock could be not steadfast.  Only the Lord’s hand, His Word saved him…again and again and again!  You as well. The Lord is our salvation.

Back in Luke 5 and the miraculous catch of fish, when the boat begins to sink because of the haul of fish, Peter jumps into water and falls before the Lord, “Depart from me O Lord for I am a sinful man.” First, note that Jesus did not answer Peter’s prayer in the affirmative!  Peter would discover the depths of his sin and the greater depths of the forgiveness and mercy  in Jesus, the heart of His Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.  After the resurrection, Peter would forget this, but the Lord brought Him back to Himself in true repentance.  And in this scene from John 21, Peter once more throws himself into the depths, impetuously, impulsively, because he loved the Lord, for by His love  Peter, you, me and everyone we meet has been redeemed. Peter was a rock.  Now may His Word open their hearts to their Redeemer and  by faith be saved knowing the depths of His truth and grace for sinners and also for me and for thee as well day by day.  We pray…

O Lord Jesus Christ, look upon me, a poor sinner, with Your eyes of mercy, the same eyes of mercy with which You looked upon Peter in the assembly-room, upon Mary Magdalene at the banquet, and upon the malefactor on the cross. Grant to me also, O You, almighty God, that with Peter I bemoan my sin from the heart, with Mary Magdalene sincerely love You, and with the malefactor on the cross may live eternally with You in Your kingdom. Amen. (Johann Gerhard)

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This past Sunday, the Second Lesson in the Three-Year Lectionary, in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was Revelation 21:  1—7.  This is a glorious passage of hope in Christ Jesus, the risen and ascended Lord and the, “… new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”  It is not about earth ascending to heaven, just as the Word became flesh, the new creation.  The hope is clear in Christ, the Lamb of God,

 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

The nourishing of our hope in Christ is crystalline: 

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.”

The spring of water is Baptism. It is His Word. As it is written in John’s Gospel as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well,

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

 The “water of life without payment” sustains us in our struggle in this world, “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” And that is the last verse appointed to be read.

The next verse was not included which is obviously integral to John in the paragraph:

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

I do not know why the framers of the Three-Year Lectionary did not include verse 8.  When I was in The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I always thought that that liberal denomination did not want to hear it, so I was a little bit surprised it was not included for this past Sunday in our more confessional Lutheran church body. 

One thing that can be said about verse 8’s omission: no, it does not fit in.  It does not fit it with the sin denying culture we live in and move and don’t have our being. The people listed have been given over to the lusts of their unrepentant hearts.  They did not want God’s forgiveness and so their sins were retained (St. John 20: 22-23).  Like Judas, they turned their backs on the Lord. Those listed do not fit into the new Jerusalem as they are just too big for it in their overweening pride.  The second death is spiritual death, eternal death. They did not want the fire of God’s love in Christ and the Holy Ghost, as they wanted the fire of their sin.   The Lord did not choose that for them, nor for us, but He chose for us in Christ eternal life. His eternal decision in Christ is eternal life. 

By the way, I read the entire paragraph this past Sunday. I need to hear it as a warning and others need to hear it as warning as well, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” (St. Matthew 6)

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21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

(Jesus) sent (the apostles) forth to preach the Gospel. For that is the summary and content of the Gospel, peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And having named them thus as His messengers, as His ambassadors, the Lord formally inducts them into this office. He breathed on them, thus symbolizing the transmission of, and actually conveying to them, the Spirit who lived in Him, and whom He had the authority to bestow. The power of the Spirit was to be with them in the Word: If you remit the sins of any, they are remitted to them; if you retain those of any, they are retained. Thus they received the power to pronounce forgiveness of sins; thus was the Office of the Keys instituted. The forgiveness of sins which Jesus earned by His suffering and death should be imparted and given to men through the announcement of the Gospel, publicly and privately, to single persons and to large congregations. This is the absolution of sins. That is Christ’s will and commission: His disciples should pronounce forgiveness, should take away sins, and then everyone should know and believe that by such absolution his sins are actually forgiven and taken away. The Gospel is not only a report of the salvation earned by Jesus, but it is the application of this message, the imparting of the forgiveness of sins. Only he that will not accept this forgiveness, this mercy, this salvation, thereby excludes himself from the grace of God. If such a one is told this fact, his sins are thereby retained. This power and authority was not the sole prerogative of the apostles, nor is it now in the hands of any hierarchy, but it accompanies the Gospel, it is contained in the commission of Christ to all His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations. To the believers in general, to the Christian congregation that proclaims the message of the Gospel, the keys are given. The pastors that exercise this authority do so in the name of the congregation.

Comment on the Commentary:  The emphasis above is my own.  In the 1960s one of the clichés used against the Vietnam War was the protesters encouraging to “wage peace”.  This works only in Christ Jesus. Three times in the Gospel Reading for the Second Sunday of Easter our Lord says, “Peace be with you”.  He sends them out, not only with “a report of the salvation earned by Jesus” but with the very means of grace, in repentance and forgiveness giving the fruit of His Cross in the preaching and teaching of the Word. This runs contrary with much Christian religion that does not use the Office of the Keys, of forgiveness to those hungering and thirsting for righteousness. His forgiveness is our peace.  Further, the Lord sends the Church out not to wield the sword of government to kill people, but the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, for our salvation in His forgiveness (cf. Ephesians 4: 17;  Hebrews 4: 12).

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I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three,
Of whom all nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!

Hymn # 172 from Lutheran Worship

Let us pray… God of grace and might, we praise You for your servant Patrick, to whom You gave gifts to make the good news known to the people of Ireland. Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds and evangelists of Your kingdom, so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lessons: Isaiah 62: 1-7; Psalm 48; Romans 10: 11-17; St. Luke 24: 44-53

Bio:  Patrick is one of the best-known of the missionary saints. Born to a Christian family in Britain around the year 389, he was captured as a teenager by raiders, taken to Ireland, and forced to serve as a herdsman. After six years he escaped and found his way to a monastery community in France. Ordained a bishop in 432, he made his way back to Ireland, where he spent the rest of his long life spreading the Gospel and organizing Christian communities. He strongly defended the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in a time when it was not popular to do so. His literary legacy includes his autobiography, Confessio, and several prayers and hymns still used in the church today. Patrick died around the year 466.  Read more about St. Patrick’s biography here, citing quotes from his Confessio.

 

Reflection: The Church’s mission is Baptism.  St. Patrick, missionary Bishop, knew that. He wrote a majestic poem that became a hymn on Holy Baptism (see above). Ireland had been evangelized prior to Patrick but it was through this servant of the Lord that the Faith was rooted.  Bishop Patrick’s preaching of Jesus Christ was to the baptized who had wandered down false paths and dead ends to return to the waters. Patrick’s preaching of Christ was for the baptized to walk in the newness of life in Christ as a baptized son or daughter. Bishop Patrick’s preaching of Jesus Christ was for the pagan to come to the waters, to bind unto themselves the strong Name of the Holy Trinity. Jesus Christ commanded His Church to baptize in the Name of the Holy Trinity, not in the Church’s name,nor Patrick’s nor Luther’s, for that matter.  The baptism mission of the Church is obviously not fads and fashions, techniques and clever tactics to “get people into Church”.  The Baptism is always Jesus Christ.  Patrick did not water down Holy Baptism!  He did not water down the doctrine and practice of the Church to “reach people”.  His goal was not ‘outreach’ to people but preach the Word so that people call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved, and that means:  Holy Baptism.   Patrick knew that he was a jar of clay” (see 2 Corinthians 4:7), as he knew that the surpassing power was the Lord’s, the One who baptized him:

Whence I, once rustic, exiled, unlearned, who does not know how to provide for the future, this at least I know most certainly that before I was humiliated I was like a stone Lying in the deep mire; and He that is mighty came and in His mercy lifted me up, and raised me aloft, and placed me on the top of the wall. And therefore I ought to cry out aloud and so also render something to the Lord for His great benefits here and in eternity—benefits which the mind of men is unable to appraise.

The Church wears the “green” day in and day out, in the bloom of summer, in the dead of winter:  greening in the watering of His forgiveness by His grace through faith (see Ephesians 2:8). When we forget our baptismal sojourn in the Holy Spirit and His Word the Scriptures, then we are lost. Yes, wear the green today but do not forget to pray and make the sign of the Cross giving thanks to Lord our God, for the missionary bishop who baptized many. The Lord’s Cross points us home to the Holy Trinity.  From Patrick’s  Confession:

 In the light, therefore, of our faith in the Trinity I must make this choice, regardless of danger I must make known the gift of God and everlasting consolation, without fear and frankly I must spread everywhere the name of God so that after my decease I may leave a bequest to my brethren and sons whom I have baptised in the Lord—so many thousands of people
(More on St. Patrick here and here)

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At the beginning of the third century, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity. Among those disobeying that edict were Perpetua, a young noblewoman, and her maidservant Felicitas. Both were jailed at Carthage in North Africa along with three fellow Christians. During their imprisonment, Perpetua and Felicitas witnessed to their faith with such conviction that the officer in charge became a follower of Jesus. After making arrangements for the well-being of their children, Perpetua and Felicitas were executed on March 7, 203. Tradition holds that Perpetua showed mercy to her captors by falling on a sword because they could not bear to put her to death. The story of this martyrdom has been told ever since as an encouragement to persecuted Christians. Read more on these blessed martyrs and the actual account of their martyrdom here.

 

An early Christian writer, Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220)  penned that , “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”  This was literally so in the building of the first church structures:  they were erected over the sites of martyrdom, as was the case of Perpetua and Felicita after Christianity became a legal religion after AD312.  We erect church buildings in our day after a church building committee has taken in consideration all sorts of factors but this one is major:  visibility, with good parking.  Now parking is important and convenient.  But it is a sobering reminder that the first basilicas, etc. were not built for convenience but for remembrance and rejoicing for the life of those martyred.  Though  I will hazard a guess that the sites of church buildings on the locales of martyrdoms met the visibility requirements:  coliseums, courts, arenas, after all,the martyrs were publicly executed in a “high traffic area”, a crossroads of civilization. Today the martyrs are executed on the new crossroads of the internet and television for all to see.

Martyrdom is not convenient.  The persecutors think they will stop not only the Christians and the faith, but they can not. The martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas encouraged a young Church.    The martyrs’ light so shines before others, even in death, that others might see their good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (see Matthew 5:15-17). The word “martyr” in New Testament Greek is literally “witness”.  We are to be prepared to give our witness at any time (see   1 Peter 3:14-16) even when not convenient.  I am no expert at witnessing, but the faith to so witness  comes  not from within but from with out:  in the Lord,  in the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 10:19-21).

When I have read the many narratives of the martyrs of the first centuries of Christ’s Church, I always thought the reports of bulls, burning at the stake, flaying alive, had to be exaggerations.  After what we have seen in our time, in the Middle East, I no longer have any doubt to the historicity of those reports. The martyrs who witnessed by their blood give us good courage for our witness so that others might call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved.  

The Christian martyrs, contrary to Islamic ‘martyrs’, do not destroy themselves to kill others.  Many of them so verbally witnessed to Jesus Christ in the Coliseum and other places so that the hearers could repent and be saved and live eternally in Christ.   The martyrs in Christ died so that others may call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved. Perpetua and Felicitas would know the truth of this statement by a Lutheran Pastor:“When the devil is mocked, he sheds the blood of the mockers. When God was mocked, He shed His blood on the mockers.”   The icon above has the shape of heart, the heart of Christ in His love even for the persecutors.  The Church’s prayer is as Christ upon the Cross:  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  The Lord’s salvation is also for the oppressor that they be freed from their oppressing, as was the Apostle Paul.

May the blood of Perpetua and Felicitas remind us of the precious, holy and innocent blood of Christ who has washed us in Baptism.  May the blood and the water of the 21 Coptic Christians remind us ever of our Baptism into Christ and encourage us when called to give a defense of the hope that is in us. They died so that the we might live in Christ Jesus, in His Church, indeed:  “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Let us pray:

O God the King of saints, who strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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Intro:   Polycarp’s martyrdom on this date around AD 156 deeply impressed the nascent Church and can not be glossed over.   Polycarp was a link between the time of the Apostles and post-apostolic era.  He was martyred when he was 86 years of age by being burned,and when the flames did not hurt him, he was stabbed in the heart.  Eyewitness accounts said the smell was of baking bread.  His name means, “much fruit”.  Below is a short bio from The Apostolic Fathers edited by Jack Sparks of the Eastern Orthodox Church:

“Take the oath and I will let you go,” said the proconsul. “Revile Christ.”

“I have served Him eighty-six years,” replied Polycarp, “and in no way has He dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

Thus the aged and much revered bishop spoke, in full knowl­edge of the outcome. His martyrdom was sealed. His life had stretched from the days of the apostles till the middle of the second century, and on a February day in about 156 he moved on with honor to the church enrolled in heaven.

We first meet Polycarp as the relatively young bishop of Smyrna when the aging Ignatius of Antioch was on his way to mar­tyrdom. It was in Smyrna that Ignatius made that famous rest stop on his final journey, and Polycarp was the only individual on record to whom the great martyr ever addressed a personal letter. In the years that followed, Polycarp gathered Ignatius’ letters and passed them on to others.

Irenaeus, who was bishop of Lyons in the latter half of the second century, tells us that Polycarp was a disciple of the apos­tle John and indeed knew others who had seen the Lord in the flesh. The witness of Irenaeus is important because he appar­ently grew up in Smyrna. What he says of Polycarp indicates that the bishop of Smyrna was most concerned about the pres­ervation of the orthodox faith. One incident he reports demon­strates the severity of Polycarp’s attitude toward heresies and heretics. Polycarp, says Irenaeus, once met the heretic Marcion on the streets. “Do you recognize me?” asked Marcion. “In­deed,” replied Polycarp, “I recognize you as the firstborn of Satan!” (Adv. haer 3:3,4).

Though Irenaeus hints at several letters by Polycarp, only  one has come down to us. That letter is to the church at Philippi and reflects the same concern for truth and orthodoxy we have already mentioned. His letter is filled with, indeed almost made up of, quotes from the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles of the New Testament, as well as the letters of Clement and Ignatius. Some critics have sneered at Polycarp because he is so uncreative and offers no new theological insight. We can be glad he was the way he was. Through Polycarp we have not only a link with the ear­liest days of Christianity, but a faithful transmission of apostolic doctrine as well. No, he was not creative. He was a loyal disci­ple of Christ and the apostles.

Near the end of his life Polycarp made a visit to Rome to dis­cuss with Bishop Anicetus a number of church matters, appar­ently including the date of Easter. The Eastern churches were still celebrating Easter on the exact date of Jewish Passover, while Rome was using a specified Sunday each year. Neither agreed to change, but their fellowship was not disturbed. Before he left Rome, Polycarp, at the invitation of Anicetus, led in the celebration of the Eucharist. The two men parted in full agree­ment to leave their respective traditions as they were.

Last of all we have an eyewitness account of the martyrdom of Polycarp. Perhaps by request, the church at Smyrna pre­pared a full account, to be sent to the church at Philomelium and other places. This clear and simple testimony of the martyrdom of an aged saint should bring tears to the eyes of any believer. Some have questioned the record because of the miraculous ac­count of the means of his death. But there is great danger in rejecting a miracle on the grounds that “such things just don’t happen.” Some have done so and thus have rejected the mira­cles of the Scriptures.

Polycarp’s last prayer is characteristic of the man and a clear testimony of his faith. He concluded with, “I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ your beloved Son through whom to you with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory now and forever. Amen.”

Below is a selection from The Martyrdom of Polycarp.  Please note that the first Christians were accused of “atheism” because they would not sacrifice to the false god of Caesar, and so they were considered as not believing and thus imperiling the ‘divine’ order of the Empire and the Emperor.

“…the police captain, Herod, and his father, Nicetes, met (Polycarp); they transferred him to their carriage and sitting down beside him tried to persuade him, saying: “Why, what is wrong with saying, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and sacrificing, and so forth, and thus being saved?” At first he did not answer them, but when they persisted, he said: “I am not going to do what you advise me.”  Since they had failed to persuade him, they uttered threats and hurriedly pulled him off so that as he was descending from the carriage he scraped his shin. And without turning around, he walked along briskly as though he had suffered no injury. As he was led into the stadium with the uproar so great that it [the announcement of Polycarp’s apprehension] was not heard by many….

 Now a voice from heaven came to Polycarp as he was entering the stadium: “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man!” (Josh. 1:6,7,9.) No one saw the speaker, but many of ours heard the voice. And then as he was brought forward, there was a great uproar now that they heard that Polycarp had been apprehended. So when he was brought forward the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp; and when he admitted it, he tried to persuade him to deny, saying: “Respect your age” and all the other things they usually say: “Swear by the Genius of Caesar, change your mind, say, ‘Away with the atheists.’ ” Polycarp looked sternly at the whole crowd of lawless heathen in the stadium, indicating them with a wave of the hand, groaned and looked up to heaven, and said: “Away with the atheists!” When the proconsul persevered and said: “Take the oath and I will let you go; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied: “I have served him eighty-six years and in no way has he dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”

 Since he persisted and said: “Swear by Caesar’s Genius,” he answered: “If you vainly expect that I will swear by Caesar’s Genius, as you suggest, and pretend to be ignorant who I am, listen (to what I say) openly: I am a Christian. If you want to learn the teaching of Christianity, name the day and hear (about it).”  The proconsul said: “Persuade the people.” Polycarp replied: “To you indeed I have considered myself accountable; for we have been taught to render fit honor to rulers and authorities appointed by God in so far as it is not injurious to us [cf. Rom. 13:1,7;1 Pet. 2:13ff]; as for these, I do not consider myself bound to make my defense before them.”

Comment:  Note that what the Christians were asked to do, burn a little incense to Caesar and swear by him is really a ‘small thing’, as it was pitched toward the Church.  As the proconsul said, what is wrong with saying, Caesar is Lord?  Indeed!  It might seem such a small thing to “go with the flow”, do what others are doing which seems so much fun and the like.  But it’s not a ‘small thing’ and Polycarp knew what it meant:  denying Jesus Christ who saved him.  

I like Fr. Sparks’ comment that Polycarp’s one letter shows he was not creative.  He quoted the Bible. No, he was not creative. He was a loyal disci­ple of Christ and the apostles.”   I took a course in seminary, “Creative Ministry”.   We make ministry ‘creative’?  No, the Lord does.  He re-creates us through His Ministry of Word and Sacraments through His called pastors and bishops.  Polycarp was not creative:   he was faithful.  He was a faithful servant of Jesus.  Satis est.  That is enough and Christ will fill us by His grace for us sinners.

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

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Lent and Ash Wednesday

During the forty days of Lent, God’s baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting, and alms giving. Lent is a time in which God’s people prepare with joy for the Paschal Feast (Easter). It is a time in which God renews His people’s zeal in faith and life. It is a time in which we pray that we may be given the fullness of grace that belongs to the children of God.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15: 47-49

“Image is everything” was an ad slogan a few years back.  “Image” in Greek is “icon”. The Lord teaches us in His Scriptures that we bear two icons:  the icon of the man of dust and the icon of the man of heaven.   Those images are everything. We bear these images at the same time. 

The Lord formed man out of the dust, dust in the Hebrew  is“adam”, the man from the “adamah”, soil.  He breathed into the man the breath of life.  He still does.  “After God had so bountifully offered proof of His goodness, our first parents behaved as though the Devil intended only good and God intended only ill.” (Franz Delitzsch)  They bought that lie after the dialogue with the father of all lies.  And the Lord said to our first parents: 

“…for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return”

(Genesis 3; also Ecclesiastes 3: 20)

The very words this ancient practice of the Church cites on this day. A custom of tracing a cross of ashes on the forehead is not prescribed in the Bible, but it illustrates the reality of  fallen human nature.  The same words from Genesis are spoken at a graveside as the casket is lowered into the adamah.   This is our “natural body”, a “living being” that was meant to live days without end, but now in sin it now returns to an end: dusty death.  The natural is first, the icon of the man of dust.

We live by the Lord’s promise alone, His Word alone, His Word who became flesh, the last Adam, life-giving Spirit:  Jesus Christ.  He is from heaven.  He became entirely as the first man:  dust, a natural, fleshly body… and He became the now fallen and sinful and disgraced natural body.  We heard again on Transfiguration Sunday He shone like the light of heaven, un-borrowed, uncreated light of heaven so that it is unmistakable:  here is God in man made manifest.  The man and the woman were created by the Lord in His own image, in His own image He gave them, male and female, the stamp of His divinity.  The image is cracked beyond human repair. Jesus Christ was and is this perfect image before the Fall and now incarnate and on Golgotha He become utterly broken and debased image of the man of dusty sin and death. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He is risen.  He is the life-giver bearing in His hands the marks of the Cross breathing His grace, mercy and peace, His forgiveness into this image and man of dust.     

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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Bio:  Jacob, the third of the three Hebrew patriarchs, was the younger of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. After wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, Jacob, whose name means “deceiver,” was renamed “Israel,” which means “he strives with God” (Gen. 25:26; 32:28). His family life was filled with trouble, caused by his acts of deception toward his father and his brother Esau and his parental favoritism toward his son Joseph (March 31). Much of his adult life was spent grieving over the death of his beloved wife Rachel and the presumed death of Joseph, who had been appointed by the Egyptian Pharaoh to be in charge of food distribution during a time of famine in the land. Prior to Jacob’s death during the blessing of his sons, God gave the promise that the Messiah would come through the

“The great Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, was once approached by a woman distressed from her recent reading of Romans 9:13. “I cannot understand,” she said, “why God should say that He hated Esau.” “That is not my problem, madam,” Spurgeon replied, “My difficulty is to understand how God could love Jacob.”–Fr. Reardon, Touchstone.

The Lord’s favor is on those who are repentant. Esau was not repentant.  Jacob knew he was a “deceiver”!  Esau sold his birthright and was only sorry for losing it, not for the sin of doing so.  As Luther commented that Esau was contrite because of punishment not because of the sin against God.  God could wrestle with Jacob because Jacob knew his sin…Esau was on the sidelines waiting his due.  The Lord can work with sinners as they know their sin, He changes them by His grace and providence…and with Jacob it took time…with us as well.  Sin is a tangled web, as we see in Jacob’s family of origin and in his own family with his two wives, Rachel and Leah and his two concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah.  Eleven of his 12 sons sold their brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt and then told their Father, Jacob, Joseph had been killed by a lion.  Families have problems, many times grievous and perplexing beyond therapeutic help, yet God’s promise is for sinners and the Lord works through what we have called in our day, “dysfunctional families”. Jacob spent most of his life grieving for the death of his favorite wife Rachel and thinking his son Joseph dead.  Eventually, the 11 brothers repented.  As someone has commented:  it took the Lord only 6 days to create the heavens and the earth but 33 years to redeem us…and when we factor in the great history of Israel:  a lot longer, but He did so at the right time and He would do so again through Jacob’s son Joseph. And in the Son of Joseph, centuries, later, the Christ, the Son of God redeemed the world.

Let us pray:  Lord Jesus, scepter that rises out of Jacob, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, rule our hearts through Your suffering cross and forgive us our sins, that we may become partakers of Your divine life;  for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

 

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“So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, and took food and was strengthened.” – Acts 9:17-19. This is one of the scenes from the window of St Paul’s life in Melton Mowbray.

Acts 9:1-22  Galatians 1:11-24 Matthew 19:27-30

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, You turned the heart of him who persecuted the Church and by his preaching caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world. Grant us ever to rejoice in the saving light of Your Gospel and, following the example of the apostle Paul, to spread it to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About the Day:  St. Paul’s life-changing experience on the road to Damascusis related three times in the Book of Acts (9:1-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18). As an archenemy of Christians, Saul of Tarsus set out for Damascus to arrest and bring believers to Jerusalem for trial. While on the way, he saw a blinding light and heard the words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” In Damascus, where Saul was brought after being blinded, a disciple named Ananias was directed by the Lord in a vision to go to Saul to restore his sight: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts9:15). After receiving his sight, Saul was baptized and went on to become known as Paul, the great apostle.

Suggested Reading from the Book of Concord: Large Catechism IV 56-67

(Source for the above: The Treasury of Daily Prayer)

 I would guess that if you asked a knowledgeable fellow Lutheran and Christian when was Paul converted, the answer would be, ‘On the road to Damascus”  But based upon the Text and from it, Luther’s sermonic insight,  Saul’s conversion does not take place on  the road to Damascus but in the Word and the Font, prayed and administered by the pastor, Ananias.  What happened to Saul on the road was not his conversion but the apocalypse by the Lord to Saul, noting that  our word “apocalypse” is from the New Testament Greek, “reveal”, and “reveal” is the word the Apostle Paul used in his letter to the Galatians: Galatians 1:16.  

 Saul is blinded for 3 days (vs. 9) as in the Lord in the tomb for 3 days.  Saul was blinded by his own sin and the Lord’s judgment of his sin in consenting to the arrest and murder of Christians, such as the first martyr, Stephen, see Acts 7: 60-8:1.  Only by the Word of the Gospel that Ananias administered in prayer was Paul able to see and in Baptism be saved, receiving Christ Jesus’ forgiveness in His death and resurrection (see Romans 6: 1-11!!!).

Note:  there is no “decision of Christ” at all!  As Paul well knew this when he wrote:  “The letter (of the Law) kills, and the Spirit gives life.” (see 2 Corinthians 3:6) There is no intervention of the choosing self, the Old Adam.   It is all the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes! Receive the Holy Ghost, says the Pastor on the street called straight.  We look for God in all the wrong places.  We think it should be glorious, but it is not, it is the Cross. Jesus does not give Saul any instruction but to go the means He Himself has appointed for Saul to be washed and saved:  Water and the Word (cf. St. Matthew 28: 18) (1)

Recently I re-watched Woody Allen’s  movie, Love and Death, which is  his funny take on 19th century Russian novels and his character continually asks for ‘vision’, a revelation, for the proof of the existence of God. Luther compared the “enthusiasts” to the way the Lord Himself has appointed the means of His salvation, His Word and Sacraments. (2)   Those so  wanting a revelation will be disappointed, deluded and demonized. We have all sorts of people who consider themselves “spiritual” and even think the Lord has revealed Himself to them apart from His Word and Sacrament and then go on to  deny His means of grace.  But the Lord directed Saul to the Font, as Paul would also direct the Lord’s people, as did the Lord,  and as a  saint in your life also pointed the way to the Lord in His forgiveness for you:  not in the sky, but in the laver of regeneration. (3)  Thank Him for His grace which causes the blind to see His love in the washing unto eternal life! (see 1 Corinthians 6:11)  Saul knew his washing quite well!

FOOTNOTES:

(1)  From Luther’s Sermon on, Acts 9,  The Conversion of St. Paul

Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. (vs. 6)

Although he speaks with Paul directly from heaven above, God does not intend to put away the pastoral office or establish something extraordinary for him. Indeed, he might have spoken to him directly and revealed what he wanted him to do, but instead he directs him to go to the parish pastor in the city where he would hear and learn what he was supposed to do. Our Lord God does not purpose some special thing for each individual person, but gives to the whole world—one person like the next—his baptism and gospel. Through these means we are to learn how to be saved, and have no need to wait for God to reveal some new thing from heaven, or send angel.  For it is his will that we go to hear the Gospel preached by the pastor;  there we will find him, and in no other way.

(2)  From Luther’s Sermon on, Acts 9,  The Conversion of St. Paul

Those who seek for some special revelation get what they deserve, namely, the devil. The enthusiasts—Carlstadt, Muentzer, and others like them—gather in a corner waiting there for the Lord God and the Holy Spirit. The devil dupes them into thinking that they can importune our Lord God to give them a special direct revelation. Our Lord God, thereupon, purposely sends them a delusion, according to which the devil comes to them in the form of an angel to punish them. Our Lord God did not mandate anything extraordinary for Paul to do, for he, after all, had heard the physical voice of Christ, the Lord, and he was to become a foremost preacher. Instead he is told to go into the city and to hear Ananias. So, get up and go! he says. Nothing special beyond this is done, no further instruction there along the road, no baptism, just the directive to go where his Word and baptism are to be had. And Paul willingly complies with the Lord’s directive, although he does not yet know where and by whom this will all happen. (emphasis my own)

(3) From Luther’s Sermon on, Acts 9,  The Conversion of St. Paul

After the Lord Jesus Christ reveals Himself to Saul of Tarsus, Saul could no longer see and this is where we read Luther’s  House Postil (Sermon) for this Feast Day.  Then I will comment on it, especially the bold-faced sections,  and the day:

“(Saul) was now ready to be taught. The man, who is called Jesus of Nazareth, is able to speak with such earnestness that it goes deeply to the heart. Paul would have despaired and died, had not Christ again pulled him to his feet and comforted him, as he now says:

At this juncture, then, our Lord God sends Ananias to meet Paul, to preach the Word to him and baptize him; he lays his hands upon him and says:  Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way as thou tamest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. (vs. 17)

Thus Paul came into the light of the Word, to baptism, to the Holy Spirit, through Ananias who was no more than a finger compared with Paul, like a little candle in comparison with the sun. From him, this little wooden match, Paul was to take his light; from this little doctor the famous Doctor Paul was to hear what he was to do!

That is something we must really note well, so that we esteem the preaching office as we ought.  Paul receives his sight, his insight and the Holy Spirit, through the ministry of Ananias, so that he knows who Christ is, understands the power of baptism, and forthwith emerges as a changed man.

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