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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

There are three prisons in today’s readings: 

  • The apostles imprisoned for preaching Christ Jesus in Jerusalem. Acts 5:12-32 
  • John was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching Christ Jesus.Revelation 1:4-18 
  • The apostles self-imprisoned because of the fear of Jews, in a locked room. John 20:19-31

In the Gospel reading, Jesus three times blesses saying, “Peace be with you.”

“…it is good to note that the Lord does not wait for His disciples to go after Him, but He goes after them, through locked doors, greets them in a friendly manner, comforts and strengthens them in the faith of His resurrection.  He could not have done it in a kindlier manner that to offer them peace and show them His hands and side, so that they would be sure of His resurrection and would be comforted against all sorrow, fear, and terror.”

We know our wounds, our prisons.  Jesus stands at the door and knocks.  He comes in.  They knew  it was Jesus because of His wounds.  

The apostles in self imprisonment on account of the fear of the Jews, Jesus stands in their midst:  Peace be with you.  John,  Peter and the apostles are imprisoned for preaching Christ and His “Peace be with you”. 

But there are only two types of prisons in today’s Scripture readings:  imprisoned on account of the Word of God and imprisoned by our own fear and unbelief, not taking Jesus at His Word. Jesus frees in all our prisons. 

The doors were locked and Jesus stood in their midst.  Jesus came into the locked hearts of His apostles by filling them with the Holy Ghost for faith.  How?  He did not need a key. Jesus Christ is the Key. 

Jesus sends the apostles into the world locked in sin and death with message of forgiveness and eternal life, preaching Christ Jesus and Him crucified, risen for our justification; because Jesus Christ is the Key. 

“…no door of any kind, no lock, no bar could keep out Jesus Christ.” (Johann Gerhard)

Jesus Christ shows His fleshly wounds from His Crucifixion for you and I and by His wounds we are healed.  And yet He came into a locked room.  He, the very Body of Christ came into that room.  No spirit, no ghost, no ethereal being of pure spirituality walked through those walls because John reports Thomas could put his hand into His side.  How? You can not place your hand into a ghost.  The Bible does not tell us but here is a reasonable answer: when we swim and the density of our bodies is greater than the water and so parting the water, so the utter density and reality of His risen Body could part the walls (insight from Jim Prothro).  After all: this is our Lord and our God.  Jesus Christ is greater than sin, death and the power of devil.  We think that unholy trinity constitutes reality but sin, death and the devil are finally unreal, even surreal.  The devil loves the saying better the devil you know.  Jesus says do not know him. As if the Lord were saying:    I have known you.  I have passed through your sin, your death and the power of the devil holding you in fear of death. I am more real, endurable than your sin and death itself. I have tasted death for you all and I am not ashamed to be your Lord and your Brother.  I am  the Passover Lamb of all time and for you.  I have passed through the flood.  “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. The Lord’s will is for others to know Him, the key. 

O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

He sent the apostles to the four corners of the world with this message, Christ is risen!  “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.” 

‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (The Book of Revelation)

His wounds are the faithful Word of God’s forgiveness for each and every one of us.  He opens our prisons. He comes into our hearts.  Confession and absolution is aptly titled, The Office of the Keys.  If one resists the Holy Spirit, the door is locked and shut, and sin is retained  It is the prospect of eternal sadness.  If he repents, the door is open and joy floods through His Wounds of grace for us all.  The message of the imparting of the forgiveness of sins, in Christ, is so needed in these dark days. 

Peter who knew Him in the flesh and loved Him was sent  by Jesus to people who had not seen Him and Peter preached Jesus Christ and so later Peter wrote to them: 

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

This is the very same Peter who heard the risen Christ say to Thomas His beatitude, “Blessed are are those who have not seen and have faith.

Believing in ourselves, believing in the gods of our technology, believing in our self help philosophies, atheism is on the rise.  Those gods only inspire knee knocking fear and the absence of peace.  They will do anything to debunk the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and so two points on His bodily resurrection: 

Thomas was told by His brother apostles Christ is risen.  Then Thomas made his famous statement, Unless I put my hands in his side, etc. I will not believe:  but Thomas did not believe the eyewitness of his brother apostles!  The brother apostles did not believe the eyewitness of their sisters in Christ!  Thomas did not believe the Word of God.  He then heard the Word of God, the Word of Christ, Thomas, put your hands in my side.  Different than the old song, put your hands in hand of the man of Galilee, is Put your hands in the side of the man of Galilee. Thomas heard and believed.  These are written that you believe.  Remember, the prowling lion the devil, seeking someone to devour, and the devouring sinful flesh, has tried to do a number on the Scriptures now for a century or more.  The result is we do what we want to do (Old Adam) and in the last century genocide, wars, and terror inside and out, has been unleashed upon the earth as never seen before in the history of mankind.  His wounds seek a wounded mankind. 

Second:  Easter is 50 days.  In forty days after the Resurrection Jesus bodily ascended into heaven.  Ten days later Pentecost.  On the day of Resurrection, Peter and the apostles locked themselves up for fear of the Jews..  Understandable:  if their leader was crucified, then…In fifty days, Peter faced imprisonment, and possible death,  for preaching publicly in the Temple (!), “We must obey God rather than men”.  The same Peter who denied Jesus three times, What happened?  Jesus happened. Peter denied Him thrice and thrice the risen Jesus charged Peter: Feed my sheep. Only one explanation is needed and it is written in the Bible and in the witness of Christ’s Church: Christ is risen. .Bodily and spiritually, the risen Lord sought Him after the resurrection to unlock him and the apostles.  If Jesus had not bodily risen, Peter and company would have eventually left that locked room scurrying away like rats a sinking ship.  But the ship had not sunk, for the captain was on board as He was that time on the Sea of Galilee in the storm, walking on the deep.  He is risen. 

They went out with the message of forgiveness, the Word of His Wounds, the crucified and risen Lord.  Jesus did not primarily give a new religion, but He ever gives new life.  We need His breath, the breath of the Holy Spirit day by day.  Joseph Smith, Mohammed, Buddha do not have wounds and are not risen. They are breathless and Spirit-less. The false gods of Joseph Smith and Mohammed will even assert Christ rose…but not in the wounds of our eternal forgiveness.   They just established man made religions with enough of the actual Law of God to make their religions seem real, hard and doable.  They do not bear the cross. Jesus is real and risen. We do not preach religion, we preach Christ and Him crucified.  Christ Jesus sends the Church with the actual Law of God, and the actual Gospel of God, the actual Word of God, in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,    for his wondrous works to the children of man! 16For he shatters the doors of bronze    and cuts in two the bars of iron. (Psalm 107)

The world is locked up dying to hear of Jesus Christ’s indestructible forgiveness, the key of the Kingdom, faith more precious than gold, than what is seen, for even diamonds are not forever, is forgiveness in Jesus Christ, and this is always key, by His wounds ye are healed,  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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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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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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Facebook friends posted a CBS article entitled, “Surprising facts about your favorite fast food chains” with this teaser line:

“As Chick-fil-A moves into Manhattan, some New Yorkers are surprised to learn it’s closed on Sundays; but it’s not the only fast-food chain with quirks.”

So it is quirky for a store to be closed on the Sabbath?  At one time, many states and towns had  “blue laws” preventing businesses from being open on a Sunday…some still do even in New Jersey!

Now we have come to a point that the secularized and even paganized media thinks that the Sabbath, for both Jew and Gentile, is “quirky”, peculiar, out of place in our 24/7 world.  In one sense this is sad that the culture is increasingly becoming neo-pagan, but in another sense it is understandable:  that the ways of the Lord are not the way of the world, the flesh and the devil.  It is most certainly true. The Lord’s Way is out of place, and pace (!), in our 24/7 world. Friends in Christ, let’s  be quirky Christians in Christ, through in faith in Him and love toward our neighbor!

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Appointed Scripture for this day:  Judge 6:  36-40 Psalm 139: 1-12 Ephesians 4: 7, 11-16 St. John 20:  24-29

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” (John20:24-29). 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.

The Great “O” Antiphon:  

O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of 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.  This feast day is just days before Christmas.  We come to the manger with many scars.  The angel told the shepherds the sign of the Christ, King of all:  lying in a feeding trough (manger) wrapped in swaddling cloths.  He would bear our scars of iniquity and darkness.  And Thomas was called to preach His wounds!  In His Wounds Tomas saw love’s pure light. 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.

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.  

 

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There was a Roman Catholic priest who did not believe in the Biblical doctrine of original sin, but wrote about “original goodness” (He was excommunicated, I believe, and rightly so).  Generally, I think the heretical notion of “original goodness” is the basic theological problem of the post-Enlightenment/post-60s world view.  If we just make society better we will have better people except that would mean upper income neighborhoods should be Eden revisited.  They are not.  If we go with this heresy, then what becomes of the rule of law, and with it police and armies? And before those authorities what becomes of the need for the original authorities, instituted by God:  mother and father? Father and mother are called not only to curb but to guide and direct their children to the Lord’s Way and in His Way.  We still need all these authorities  because of the tendency from the origin of man to do terrible things to man. When we look to our selves as pretty good, then pretty bad stuff happens. This is what Lutheran theology has called the political use of the Law as curb to humankind’s wayward lusts to steal, hurt and murder in original sin.

I thought of this recently because of a song from the 80s and this stunning lyric: 

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas,
Everybody’s looking for something.

Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused.

This describes original sin.  I do not know if Annie Lennox is a Christian but she sure describes this key doctrine better than the social romantics who believe in social engineering.  What she describes is not  sweet. The Lord knows that as He has  told us:  see Matthew 15: 18-20; Romans 3: 9-18. And so He did not come looking for Himself but for us He came down from heaven. Annie Lennox’s solution?

Hold your head up
Keep your head up, movin’ on
Hold your head up, movin’ on
Keep your head up, movin’ on
Hold your head up
Keep your head up, movin’ on
Hold your head up, movin’ on
Keep your head up, movin’ on

It is good, in this dog-eat-dog world, to “hold your head up” and keep “movin’ on” but to where and  to whom?  Into this abusive world came One who never abused but was abused beyond recognition, so we are forgiven.  Yes, He said, hold your head up and look to Me Who has seen your plight as He is our light in this dark world.  Yes, Keep on movin’, following Me.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12)

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This painting is by the English artist and poet, William Blake. It depicts the Lord’s Parable of the 5 wise and the 5 foolish virgins. This parable is the basis of Philip Nicolai’s hymn, Wake, Awake for Night is Flying.

Almighty God, the apostle Paul taught us to praise You in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We thank You this day for those who have given to Your Church great hymns, especially Your servants Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heermann, and Paul Gerhardt. May Your Church never lack hymnwriters who through their words and music give You praise. Fill us with the desire to praise and thank You for Your great goodness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Bio: 

  • Philipp Nicolai (1556–1608) was a pastor in Germany during the Great Plague, which took the lives of 1,300 of his parishioners during a sixth-month period. In addition to his heroic pastoral ministry during that time of stress and sorrow, he wrote the texts for “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” and “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright,” known, respectively, as the king and queen of the Lutheran chorales. 
  • Johann Heermann (1585–1647), also a German pastor, suffered from poor health as well as from the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). His hymn texts are noted for their tenderness and depth of feeling. 
  • Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676) was another Lutheran pastor who endured the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War. By 1668 he lost his pastoral position in Berlin (for refusing to compromise his Lutheran convictions), and endured the death of four of his five children and his wife. He nevertheless managed to write 133 hymns, all of which reflect his firm faith. Along with Martin Luther he is regarded as one of Lutheranism’s finest hymn writers.(From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  These pastors and hymn writers, with their congregations and families,  suffered plague, war and sickness.  What sustained these men through such turmoil, when the ground beneath them was shaking and then write some of the greatest hymns for the Church’s song?  They may have seen plague, war and sickness as God’s judgment and the Word of God makes us stop at His judgment so that we hear His grace in Christ who suffered our plagues, wars and sickness.  We have expectations of life being easy but not so long ago, man did not have such an expectation.  Expectation, though, is not hope. Such calamities remind us we can not fix the world so we can look again, not to our selves, but to where true joy is found: The rock of salvation, Jesus Christ.

Faith can only have something or someone to seize for salvation and this is the justification of the sinner by Christ’s Atonement, the Savior, once and for all from the Cross, preached and taught into our ears and hearts, by sermons, yes!  But also by hymnody.  

In the Service Book and Hymnal (1958), the former worship book of the ELCA’s predecessor Lutheran denominations,  the forward states that they wanted the hymns to be more “devotional” and have a less of  a “didactic” content.   Nowadays, the search for the mere “devotional” devolves into a music that makes me feel a certain way. The didactic or teaching content of Lutheran hymnody is so important because it is the objective Word of God written in Scripture sung in words and music so we can learn and learn to praise aright in heartfelt devotion. Consider “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”:  this hymn is the Parable of the Foolish and Wise Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13) set to music. It is usually sung in Advent, pointing to the time on earth when the Bridegroom arrived and the time to come when those who are eager for His appearing, He will come again.  It is didactic and  instructional.  Dispensationalist and millenialist false doctrine is shown for what it is in that magnificent hymn of Scripture by the true and correct doctrine of our Lord’s parousia, in Scripture, correctly taught. He comes not when we expect it as chiliast timetables lay out and get wrong.  He comes at the fulfilled time for those who long for His appearing (cf. 2 Timothy 4:8).

At Concordia Junior College, I took a one credit course on hymnody. Professor “Ollie” Rupprecht pointed out that J.S. Bach had some 80 volumes in his library (quite an expensive acquisition in that day) and 60 volumes were on Lutheran Doctrine. This doctrine has been derided as too “sterile”.  It is not.  Like Jack Webb in Dragnet said: “The facts, ma’am, just the facts.” The objective justification by the life, word and work of Jesus Christ is the reason to sing in the midst of the world when the “nations rage” and “kingdoms totter” (Ps. 46: 6).

We give thanks to the Lord, the Conductor of the  “choir immortal” (from “Wake, Awake”),   for all church organists (underpaid and being squeezed out by contemporary worship), church musicians, choirs and the Lord’s people who sing their praise of their Lord through hymns replete with the Scripture, that is, the Word of God and so the Holy Spirit.  Pray for your organist, choir director, choir members and church musicians in petition and  praise to the Lord and tell them all this  Sunday:  thanks!

“Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” (#516, Lutheran Service Book) by Philipp Nicolai

3. Now let all the heav’ns adore Thee,
Let men and angels sing before Thee,
With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone.
Of one pearl each shining portal,
Where, dwelling with the choir immortal,
We gather round Thy radiant throne.
No vision ever brought,
No ear hath ever caught,
Such great glory;
Therefore will we Eternally
Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee.

“O Christ, Our True and Only Light” (#839, Lutheran Service Book) by Johann Heerman

1. O Christ, our true and only Light,
Enlighten those who sit in night;
Let those afar now hear Thy voice
And in Thy fold with us rejoice.

“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (#450, Lutheran Service Book) by Paul Gerhardt

8. What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.

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COLLECT OF THE DAY: Lord Jesus Christ, whose grace always precedes and follows us, help us to forsake all trust in earthly gain and to find in You our heavenly treasure;  for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

What is the largest congregation  or church in the world?  Maybe you think of a mega-church.  The largest church is the Roman Catholic Church. Lutherans are the largest Protestant church in the world,  but none of them come close to encompassing almost all 6 billion people on earth.  This church calls for no conversion, no repentance. This god’s faith feels so natural. This church can do famously well and is quite powerful, influential and people die for it, or short of that, spending their whole lives in gaining this church’s god and this god’s altar is willingly erected in the heart.  Maybe each one of us has yearned for the god of this church. 

What is this church?  Answer:  The church of mammon, or money.  It does not love, care, die and rise for us and our salvation. This god does not make for love, but only loves what it makes. This god makes envy and jealously .  This god does not come from heaven, but comes from the lusts of the heart. There are no atheists in corporate boardrooms.  In fact, in this church, there are no atheists, no non-believers, as those who follow mammon are true believers and boast of their wealth and power.  In fact, there are no atheists, for, “…a god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need.  To have a god is nothing else that to trust and believe in him with our whole heart.”   Everyone has a god, as we were made for faith and love.  Faith and God go together.  False gods are dead ends, the true and living God and His Christ is eternal life.  No one ever on his death bed asked to hold his wallet one more time.  People save money but money cannot save. 

We can see that the rich young man was quite eager to talk with Jesus because the young man ran to Him and knelt before Him.  The young man ran and knelt before Jesus wanting to seal the deal on his goodness, cover all the bases, dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s”:  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  The rich young man certainly knew how to “do”, gain stuff.  All religions, excepted true Christian faith, are about doing to gain God. 

The young man must have heard about Jesus’ fame.  It had spread like wildfire through out the region.  People were saying He preached with authority unlike the scribes.  He had healed so many.  The young man came looking for Jesus for he was earnestly seeking something from the Lord.  His question shows us what it was: eternal life.  The bright young man knew this Jesus must have had some insight on eternal life. Maybe Jesus had the road map to eternal life that the young man could follow? Some new teaching that the young man could do, accomplish some extra commandments in order to obtain the biggest goal of all: eternal life.

Can you imagine a son coming up to his father and asking that question? What must I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do to be put into your last will and testament?  Either Dad puts you into his will or not.  Jesus loved the young man.  The young man saw something in Jesus as his question indicated. His question was definitely sincere and it was sincerely wrong.  

The young man wanted to talk Torah, the Law of God, what must I do?  Jesus knew the routine.  Jesus answered with the Torah; He begins with the 2nd Table of the Law, runs through those commandments, which the Lord summed up on another occasion:   “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These I have done since I was a youth.  As if the second table of the law is a snap.  It is when it is only external actions. I am sure the young man had not murdered, stolen, committed adultery, and he did what Father and Mother told him to do.  However, internally, in heart, soul, and mind, I can barely make it through an hour without sinning.  Anger, covetousness, lust come to mind very easy.  You joyously do as Mother and Father command?  No wandering eye?  No anger?

When the Evangelist tells us the sterling fact that Jesus loved the young man, that’s when Jesus responded to the young man with the 1st Table of the Law:  Leave behind everything, sell all that you have which is all that has you, come follow Me. The rich young man went away disheartened, sorrowful, grieving. A man usually is sorrowful when someone one loves dies. Money is most common idol, Luther observed.  It is not money which is the root of all evil, but the love of money which is a root of all kinds of evil as it is written in the Scripture.. You cannot serve God and mammon.  He went away sorrowful because he finally knew he could not keep the Law of God to gain eternal life. None of us can.  The only way is Jesus Christ.  Jesus loved the young man so that he might die and live by faith alone in His grace alone. The young man would know Jesus’ love eventually…for sinners, like him, like me, like thee, like Paul, like Peter, like Moses, like David, like James. Ayn Rand, a Russian immigrant who came  to these blessed shores was for capitalism and against the totalitarian state and wrote novels about capitalism.  When she died her floral tributes were in the shape of dollar signs. Too many Christians these days are more concerned with dollar signs rather than the sign of the cross.  Dollars are for saving but they are not saving.  I have never seen a woman wearing a dollar sign necklace around her neck given by her husband. There is no love portrayed by a dollar sign, but upon the Cross…The young man and us all would know Jesus said tough things and did the toughest thing of all: crucified.  He died for sinners including the nice young man. The sign of His cross is traced upon our bodies and was sunk deep into the soil of His earth, like a treasure hidden in a field.

 Jesus put the full spiritual weight of God’s Law on the kneeling rich young man and the crush of the debt overwhelmed him. Jesus responded with the 1st Table of the Law. He loved him to do that. He did not choose the easy part, the part that won Him a popularity contest and votes. We are told He looked at the man, all the focus of heaven upon the young man. He loved him to do that.  Jesus knew the burden the young man had on his heart with his wealth.  For all our wealth as a nation or as individuals, we become quite disheartened when even a bit of it is lost. Martin Luther: “He who has money and property feels secure, happy, fearless, as if he were sitting in the midst of paradise.  On the other hand, he who has nothing doubts and despairs as if he never heard of God.” The Lord killed the young man so that the young man might live, so he leave behind the desire of his heart, his possessions, and cling to the One who loved him, who left  behind everything and took upon Himself everyone and everyone’s sin, and the sin of the entire world.  Jesus loved him and would love him and you to death, His death upon the cross.  Jesus had no pockets on the Cross.  He loved the rich young man to do that for him, for us all. 

“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. This is the sharp retort by Jesus to the rich young man. At first it can take the Christian aback: I thought Jesus is God.  He is 100% God and 100% man.  When Jesus asks him if he has kept the law, in the young man next response, he began, “Teacher…” He learned quickly but probably did not understand.  Jesus gave it all up. … he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  (Philippians 2) As it is written in Scripture.  And in a few more verses, at 10: 34, Jesus will prophesy for a third time:  And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.  Only by bearing the full weight of the Law and our sin, He has reconciled the crushing debt of the sin of the world, stamped it forgiven, all of us so that by faith we daily die and rise in Him, in His love by which He has loved us even when we have loved Him not.

The only way to inherit anything is for the testator to put you into the will and then die.  Beloved in the Lord!  He has written you into His will and testament, His last will and testament, not because we deserved, but we need it, no, more:  Him. Eventually all earthly inheritances run out.  Not the Lord’s:   He is risen, so, “…that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Eternal life is not a good, a thing be had, eternal life is a Person, as in “I am the resurrection and life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11: 25)   Eternal life has a Name:  Jesus Christ, as He is risen, we too shall rise.

It is written Hebrews says that we are to encourage one another…so that we are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Sin’s deceits are our flesh’s conceits to look to man-made gods, like Mammon or money to save, and so retreat from Him who alone has saved us.  And hardening here means absolutely every thing that makes it difficult to believe (Martin Luther).  The church of mammon is unrelenting in it’s pursuit of money to lure the Christian with its siren song to the rocky shoals of shipwreck. When the dollar sign lures and the signs of these dark times attract, only the sign of His Cross reminds us of His unconquerable love, we are more than conquerors in Him who loved us. So encourage:

From today’s Epistle Reading:

“…exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 1 4 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 

  • Exhort and Encourage each other to serve our neighbor in live and we soon discover in serving our neighbor that it is not a snap!  And I find out that I am not eminently lovable!  We will learn the truth of Jesus’ Word:  “I am the Vine, ye are the branches, without Me you can do nothing.”
  • Encourage each other in our prayers and to pray, as in Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  Hold on to Him who has taken hold of you.
  • Encourage each other and others to come and hear the Word of God and receive His body and blood.
  • Encourage each other so our hearts are not hardened, sclerosis of the heart, turned into you self in desires that are never satisfied by the goods of this world, but opened up by His Word to us all.
  • Encourage each other to true repentance. We are to encourage each other daily every time we pray at table together.

Good encouragement is read in the prophet Amos. Seek good, not evil. The rich young man knew Jesus was actually good, so good Jesus did not hold onto it for our sake.  Seek the immeasurable good of God and His will for you always in Jesus Christ.  Seek good, do not seek goods…seek the Kingdom of God and as Jesus said regarding food, shelter and clothing, all these things will be yours as well.  But they perish but the Word of God endures for ever. He is risen.

The Word says:  Love good, hate evil… not love goods and so court with evil, and love and desire it.   We need a full-hearted and full throated love of the Gospel  in these dark days by the only sign by which we are all saved and will be, In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

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I recently received an e-mail from our TV provider with this subject line: “Don’t let your Sundays go to waste!  Every game, every Sunday.  GET NFL SUNDAY TICKET”

If we don’t receive every game, every Sunday then the Lord’s day goes to waste? I don’t think so.  I like football but football is not the main attraction on a Sunday.  When Bill Clinton was president, The New York Times had an ad for their rag showing  Bill Clinton holding up a copy of the Times’ Sunday edition with the caption:  “Sunday was made for The New York Times”.  I don’t think so.  We go to waste without His forgiveness, His Body and Blood, His every Word in preaching and praise:  go to waste as in starving to death.  No wonder our nation is going to waste.  There are no tickets to buy in the Church, Christ’s own Body but His Cross the sign of our admission, His price, in repentance and His peace.  Indeed, don’t let the Lord’s Sunday go waste!

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Today’s New Testament Reading, in the Daily Lectionary is Ephesians 3: 1-21.  The comment is on verse 6:

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

I was talking years ago with my friend and colleague, Pr. Lou Smith, about evangelism.  He said that when the discussion comes up in a church council meeting, how do we get more people to come to church, I say that I am amazed that anyone is here at all (!)  Yes, it is a mystery.  There is no program or tactic to bring people to Church, and more specifically bringing them to Christ.  Here is a good article about true evangelism, “How to Make Your Church Irresistible”.  The Apostle Paul uses the word “mystery” six times in Ephesians, more than any book in the New Testament.  “…mystery…cannot be unravelled or understood by human ingenuity or study. It is not something that is mysterious but rather a revealed secret to be understood by all believing people and not just a few elite” (Ephesians:  An Exegetical Commentary, by Harold W Hoehner).  Maybe Lou was amazed because people in Church was not the result of his nor the Church Council’s doing, but the Lord’s work.  (Lou knew that! ) Yet we can participate in the divine joy of salvation by witnessing to Christ when asked (see 1 Peter 3:15).  As Pr. Treptow wrote in his article cited above:

The ascended Lord commissioned us, not as his salespeople charged with “getting people to say yes,” but as his witnesses. We simply speak the good news Jesus has given us to proclaim. The results of that preaching belong to the Lord. The Spirit creates faith when and where it pleases him.

And as Gregory the Great wrote millennia ago:

“You…who live in the Tabernacle of the Lord, that is, in the Holy Church, if you cannot fill up the goblets with the teachings of holy wisdom, as well then as you can, as far as the divine bounty has endowed you, give to your neighbors spoonfuls of the good word!” 

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