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The gunman, while reloading his handgun, ordered the students to stand up and asked if they were Christians, Boylan told her family.
“And they would stand up and he said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second,'” Boylan’s father, Stacy, told CNN, relaying her account.
“And then he shot and killed them.”

As shared on Facebook by Pastor Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of His saints.

Psalm 116: 15

“This is true faith, a living confidence in the goodness of God.”

 Martin Luther

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From Jerome’s Letter to Heliodorus:

“The day will come when this corrupt and mortal body shall put on incorruptibility and become immortal. Happy the servant whom the Lord then shall find on the watch. Then at the voice of the trumpet the earth with its peoples shall quake, and you will rejoice. When the Lord comes to give judgment the universe will utter a mournful groan; the tribes of men will beat their breasts; kings once most mighty will shiver with naked flanks; Jupiter with all his offspring will then be shown amid real fires; Plato with his disciples will be revealed as but a fool; Aristotle’s arguments will not help him. Then you the poor rustic will exult, and say with a smile:

“Behold my crucified God, behold the judge. This is he who once was wrapped in swaddling clothes and uttered baby cries in a manger. This is the son of a working man and a woman who served for wages. This is he who, carried in his mother’s arms, fled into Egypt, a God from a man. This is he who was clad in a scarlet robe and crowned with thorns. This is he who was called a magician, a man with a devil, a Samaritan. Behold the hands, ye Jews, that you nailed to the cross. Behold the side, ye Romans, that you pierced. See whether this is the same body that you said the disciples carried off secretly in the night.”

O my brother, that it may be yours to say these words and to be present on that day, what labor now can seem hard?

(From Festivals and Commemorations by Rev.Philip Pfatteicher:  Published 1980 by Augsburg Publishing House)

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Text:  Hebrews 11

Today’s Epistle reading is the Roll Call of the Heroes of Faith in Jesus Christ with the theme verse, the 11: 1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.

In the middle of the Roll Call, there are verses of hope in Christ, by faith, toward the Lord’s will in Christ for all:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.

The  hymn “I’m but a Stranger Here” (#748, Lutheran Service Book) expresses an Biblical truth we seem not to like as Christians, the first stanza:

I’m but a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home;
Danger and sorrow stand
Round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland,
Heaven is my home.

This reminds me of the country song lyric, “Everyone wanna go to heaven, but no one want to go now”.  We like it here.  We have a hard time with the understanding that, “earth is a desert drear”.  Never before in the history of the world have so many people enjoyed the life that just a century before was limited to the wealthy few:  single family dwellings, lawns, vast entertainment possibilities through, radio, TV, internet, even indoor plumbing.  Prosperity preachers make much ado about this that we can even more if we strike a deal with the Almighty. We are very much at home here and now and want to hold on for dear life…even Christians. Yet, if what I have written is true, we are being false to the faith and hope the saints of old lived in Christ:  the Lord has a better plan.  The Lord laid out this plan in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth:  an enduring city, who’s builder is none other than the Lord Himself.  Even our desire, even lust, for the “good life”, the “best life” now and forever demonstrates that eternity is part of our very thoughts, reflecting in a fleshly way, the Lord Himself. Ecclesiastes 3:

 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Eternity is in our will, that we know we were made forever with the Lord, yet on our own we can not find out “what God has done from the beginning to the end”.  Now with the Lord’s revelation finally and fully of the Incarnation, Ministry, life, death, resurrection and ascension of His Son our Lord, Jesus Christ, we know by what the Lord is doing.  For all our pagan attempts to hold onto life, grab all the gusto, we are looking to ourselves, inwardly, the despair of our times.  All the heroes of the faith, from A-Z, from Abraham to Zechariah were directed by the Lord to seek a “homeland”.  “Homeland Security” cannot give finally security and yet we seek homeland security for the here and now.  The hope of the homeland which is secure forever has been given:  the city of God.  We think our I-Phones/Pods and Pads are the “bomb”, giving us information and control at a finger swipe but all the while we want to be loved.  We live as if this were it, and fear and tremble that it is not. But,

“With all true Christians running
Our heavenly race and shunning
The devil’s wiles and cunning”,

we know by the Lord’s scarred hands that this world is not the final resting place.  Christ is.  I am, maybe like you, not too crazy about dying…but when we know sin is death, Christ is life eternal, seeking His homeland is sanity in this dark world for which Christ died.

In the Hall of Heroes of the Faith, note that all the saints therein were looking forward in hope, in the hope of Christ to come.  They had no cathedrals, except the Temple not made with human hands:  Jesus Christ (John 2:21; 1 Corinthians 3:17 ).  We pray many will hear the Word and come to faith.  But if faith is only for this world, or even for our congregation alone, then we are of all people the most to be pitied:  but Christ is raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:18-20).  It is clear from Hebrews 11:  Faith not only clings to Christ for what He has done for us but what He will do:  Thy Kingdom Come, based upon the Rock of our salvation,what He has done from womb to tomb to the Resurrection. Our national pastime, baseball, has it right:  to go home, after all the strike outs, errors, missed catches, we can in Christ. The homeland is given even now:

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.-St. John 14: 23

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The oil was there for the taking by all ten virgins, the bridal party. The 10 virgins symbolize the Church. Someone amply supplied the oil for the virgins to meet the Bridegroom who came at an hour no one suspected. The oil was given for that purpose. In that time, oil was used for three purposes

  • for lamps, as in today’s Gospel
  • for medicine, as we read that the Samaritan took care of the man robbed and beaten on the Jericho road by pouring wine and oil upon his  wounds
  • for the face to make it shine, as it is written, Psalm 104: 15 , the Lord gives to us,

“…wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
    and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

For lamps, the oil filled the lamps , medicine and the face,that is,  for light, healing and joy.  And oil was used f or special and unique purpose:  the anointing with oil marked the investiture of the Kings of Israel, as Samuel anointed Saul and David as the Kings of Israel.Oil was administered by anointing. Remember that the title “Christ” means “anointed one”.  Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew, Messiah. Behold, One is here who greater than the prophets!  We read in Hebrews 1: 9:

But of the Son (Note:  capital “S”)  he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
    the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
    with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.

 The preacher in Hebrews is citing Psalm 45.  Psalm 45 is about the anointing of the King of Israel.  The kings of Israel were to be filled as lamps, with the oil of the Holy Spirit, so to heal the Lord’s people with His Word and to make the face shine with joy in the presence of the Lord.  But so many of the kings of Israel and Judah turned the hearts of Israel to false gods and immorality, personal and social and Israel went skipping into the utter and outer darkness. They did not serve the Lord but were dealers in falsehood.  Now, comes the King, “Of the Son”, who alone is the true King, who reigns “anointed” “with the oil of gladness beyond your companions”.  He was anointed beyond His companions, beyond the kings and prophets of Israel. As the prophets brought the Word of the Lord to Israel, so did Jesus Christ, but beyond, He is the Word made flesh.  He would be anointed by the spit of Roman soldiers, His sweat anointed His body as he was flogged and  as He bore the Cross, His tears were the anointing for the lost, His blood anointed His sacred head now wounded, with grief and shame bore down. He shed His blood not for His sins, for He had none, but ours and we are anointed in the Holy Spirit.  The bridegroom died for His bride, even when she spurned him: when no man heedeth, He interecedeth.

The wise virgins, when asked by the five foolish virgins, to give them some of there oil, could not. They would not have enough, the wise virgins responded. The noblest saint in Christ cannot believe for another person.  All the supposed saints’ merits, accrued in some sort of heavenly bank account, cannot substitute for your heart’s pain and sin to lay hold of Jesus Christ in faith in His grace toward you.  There is no substitute for the grace of God in Jesus, the anointed One.  He gives us faith to fill our lamps with the oil of His gladness, His salvation for sinners, His forgiveness, which all the saints carried with them, as the Lord bore them. When after the delay of the bridegroom coming at the hour no one could guess, at midnight, the wise virgins took extra oil with them.  They  were thinking in joy for the coming of the bridegroom.  He was delayed but they carried the oil that gave them light:  the Anointed One, Jesus Christ. He gives His grace amply for the taking.

 When the door is closed then, it is closed. As in the Great O Antiphon of Advent:

 O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;

you open and no one can shut;

you shut and no one can open:

Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,

those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death

 When He comes, when the author comes on stage the play is over. The door was closed on the foolish virgins. So harsh! We might say.  It is darkness for those who trust in themselves for salvation. When the 5 wise virgins said go into town to find oil, I have to ask where would they find oil merchants at midnight?  Of  course, none!  And that’s the point. There is no substitute for the Lord’s mercy toward us, for there is no mercy in the devil, in sin and wickedness.  There are dealers in the darkness and of the darkness who promise false gospels of prosperity, fame which is no more than idolatry.  Amos said that  the day of the Lord is darkness not light for those who follow false gods, thinking they do not need the oil of gladness in the Lord. Israel trusted in the mere doing of sacrifice and worship in the Temple to gain salvation in some sort of eternal barter system.  Those who “…having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” There is no second chances in some 1,000 years reign of Christ after a so-called rapture.  Here in this life unbelievers have a chance every minute of every day to look to the One who loved them and us all that He gave His life upon the Cross. Here in this life believers have a chance every minute of every day to look to the One who loved them and us all that He gave His life upon the Cross. So we can pray unceasingly.

 He taught this parable that we may  watch for His coming. He taught this parable that we be the wise Church, not the foolish church.  The foolish church puts human opinions, theologies and the like center.  The wise Church knows Who is the Center of the Church:  Jesus Christ.   He taught this parable for hope.   For in this hope we were saved (Romans 8: 24).  Hope is for us individually and together as His Body the Church.  Our Lord’s parable is not for some eternal stat that 50% will be saved, 50% damned, in some sort of non-Biblical double  predestination. He taught the parable of the virgins for us, His teaching is the Word of God, the Scriptures, “…which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.’ (2 Timothy 3: 15).  He taught the parable that we be wise for salvation in Him, carrying the oil of faith in His Word of promise to us all.  He taught this for hope in Him who soon after He taught this parable in the Temple would be cast out of Jerusalem to bear the hopelessness of death, yours and mine upon the Cross.  Paul wrote we Christians grieve but as those who have hope.  The hope is His salvation is for the soul and the body, that when He comes all the living and the dead, judged and saved in Him, will be caught up with Him as He leads us home, the new heavens and the new earth.

 God’s law will wake us up with its terror over sin and God’s Gospel made us alive in Christ.  Watchfulness for Christ Jesus  and the Gospel of  His death and resurrection is fourfold.  As the fourfold Gospel is confessed in the Smalcald articles of the Lutheran Confessions:

 We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in His grace [and goodness].

First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached [He commands to be preached] in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel.

Secondly, through Baptism.

Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together, etc

The mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren is for us to encourage each other in the oil of His forgiveness.  We do mourn those who die but as those who have hope.  We need to hear this word of forgiveness from each other in conversation and consolation.  The fourfold means of the Gospel gives us the three fold gifts of the Gospel as signified by oil:  light, healing and joy. 

  1. God’s Word is light:  His Law a light unto our path that may know His way and as Jesus is the Way, the only  Way, we are led by Jesus the Anointed, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. 
  2. His Word is healing and the balm of healing for broken and contrite hearts, which O Lord, you will not despise. 
  3. His Word is the joy, of not only knowing the truth, but knowing He who knows us better than we do ourselves.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  Ephesians 3:  20-21

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But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3: 13, NIV)

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ
Philippians 2: 20

In preparation for this coming Sunday (2nd Sunday in Lent), as I read the Philippians verse above, I thought of the quote below. It is from The Letter to Diognetus, 2nd Century, from an unknown Christian to a high Roman official.  

For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do.  Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land.  They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.”They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.

Lord God Almighty, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your is leading us and Your love supporting us;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

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Simeon by Rembrandt van Rijn

Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna were all part of the faithful remnant of Israel. They did not look to themselves for their salvation, by their keeping of the Law (though they did).  They did not look to themselves for their salvation by their own spirituality (though they were spiritual), their own faithfulness (though they could be faithless), they looked towards the Coming One, strong in grace and in truth victorious.     They faithfully waited for the coming of the Lord.  They kept the Law of God not to be saved but because in the promises of the Lord received through faith they were saved and loved the Lord.  Their attention was on the Lord as they served and loved their neighbors.  They knew who they were because they knew  Whose they were.  The Lord’s Word came to them and they knew they were undeserving.  They were sanctified but not sanctimonious for God’s favor rested upon them which made them holy by faith

 We are told that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel and Anna was waiting…for the redemption of Jerusalem.  In Luke 24, when Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, was about to ask for Jesus’ Body, the evangelist tells us he was, “…waiting for the Kingdom of God.”  They were all waiting  for  the consolation, redemption, kingdom of the Lord and it came in wrapped in swaddling clothes, an infant which would make His Mother cry.

 It is apropos to ask for an apology after “keeping someone waiting” but Simeon, Anna  and Joseph of Arimathea were waiting for the One who keeps them in His grace and favor. They were not the ones they had been waiting for.  Their waiting, experiences, suffering was not their life nor the confirmation and conformation of it. They looked outside themselves as God’s Word drew them to Himself in His Temple. The Lord was, would be and is ever more the confirmation and conformation of our lives in His life.   Anna probably was waiting for 77 years for the Messiah.  Israel even longer. Simeon came often to the Temple in order for prayer, praise and thanksgiving. Elizabeth and Zechariah, Joseph and Mary each couple waited nine months through the holy women’s pregnancy.  Expectant mothers…expectation.  Nine months can surely be a long time.  then as the time draws nigh, any time now and it can such a surprise though expected.  Hope and waiting and it is quite a filled time!   

  Now some waits are aggravating and annoying, like, waiting in line, waiting in the doctor’s waiting room reading well thumbed past issues of People, waiting for your flight.  IN those waits one is passing time, twiddling thumbs, empty waiting.  It is utterly passive. Americans do not like to wait. Waiting for consolation, redemption and the reign of God is not empty waiting but filled waiting.  Anna never left the Temple, but her time which was God’s time was filled with, “… worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”  Simeon probably  lived out his daily vocation in life and came to the Temple for worshiping with fasting and prayer.  Joseph of Arimathea gave oversight to the life of Israel as an elder and probably had a daily vocation.  Their lives were marked by prayer.  Such waiting is waiting on the Word of God so as to be filled, and waiting on each other in service in our vocations, such is to wait for the Lord.  Some 20 times, the Psalms sing of this theme of waiting for the Lord. We wait for the Lord.

 Psalm 130:5  I wait for the LORD, my soul waits ,and in his word I hope;

Psalm 25:5  Lead me in your truth and teach me,for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

Psalm 27:14  Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

Psalm 62:5  For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,for my hope is from him.

This is filled waiting, active and strong waiting.  This waiting for the Lord is hope.  Hope for the things unseen.  It is faith because it takes God at His Word for our salvation.  One Psalmist prayed,

I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God. 
Waiting for the Lord will be like this, but a broken and contrite heart O Lord, you do not despise. Through it all, it was still the prayer of faith.   Waiting for the Lord is courage, consolation and strength in Him.  Americans do not like to wait.  We want it yesterday. We can no longer wait for Christmas but must have it without Advent.  Anna and Simeon did not wait on themselves. They did not hope for themselves but hoped in the Lord and His Word.   Waiting for the Lord they loved their neighbors. Americans do not like to wait but Americans did not use to be that way.  They worked and waited.  Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. Waiting for the Lord is prayer and He prays with, for us, in us.  St. Paul wrote that we do not pray as we ought but the Holy Spirit intercedes, prays in sighs too deep words.

 There is a passive, empty waiting, an active filled waiting, it also clear from Scripture there is evil waiting as in “lying in wait” to get someone.  Lying in wait and a person desires to remain unseen, in the dark.  Such is the work of the devil prowling around like a lion,  lying in wait, seeking someone to devour. Remain steadfast in the faith.  This is so done by prayer in His Name.  Over Advent my youngest and I have been re-watching the “Harry Potter” movies.  As the movies progress, it becomes clear that evil is lying in wait, the dark lord who is called in the movies, “He Who Must Not Be Named”.  But evil must be named and even more: There is the Name that Must Be Named, Jesus Christ.  In His Name we pray and hope and wait.

 The word “revelation” is employed three times in today’s lesson.  Again, from the Greek we have our word apocalyptic.  They were promised in  God’s Word an apocalypse.  Simeon and Anna were not disappointed. It was well worth the wait. Still is.  It was an apocalyptic meeting in which much is revealed, would be revealed, and will be revealed.   The Child born of Mary is the apocalypse of God. A child is an apocalypse. Every birth is hope. When we deny it, then life dies.  Much is shown in the birth of the Son of Mary, Son of God.  When I pick up my nephew Mason who is year and a half, it’s like picking up a future linebacker.   Simeon held in his arms a rock, the rock of our salvation who probably weighed all of 10-20 pounds but weighted with the Word and the promise of heaven for us all. Simeon blessed God.  This is the Rock of our salvation, in whom we are able to establish ourselves when we have slipped into the sewage of sin upon the slippery road of this life. He is the cornerstone of His Church and it was chiseled and hewn by every Word and Work He taught and did for us all and finally upon the Cross.  Simeon saw the Lord’s salvation. This Child will cause some to fall because they did not believe and were waiting on themselves.  This Child, prophesied Simeon, will cause many to rise because they knew their salvation, their hope, faith and love were wrapped up in Him, Jesus Christ.  Wait on the Lord, wrapped and clothed in your baptismal promises.  Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…Simeon knew it:  Christ was born for this.

 

 

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[We do] well to note what class of people takes comfort in the thought of God. Surely not that perverse and crooked generation to whom it was said, “Woe unto you that are rich; for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24). Rather, those who can say with truth, “My soul refuses comfort” (Ps. 77:2). For it is meet that those who are not satisfied by the present should be sustained by the thought of the future, and that the Contemplation of eternal happiness should solace those who scorn to drink from the river of transitory joys….

The people that in darkness sat
A glorious light have seen;
The light has shined on them who long
In shades of death have been.

From The Lutheran Hymnal                                                                                 

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