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Posts Tagged ‘justification’

Most of the symbols of the 12 Apostles include a depiction of the instrument of their martyrdom. For Matthias it may have been an ax.

Lessons:  Isaiah 66: 1-2  Psalm 134  Acts of the Apostles 1: 15-26   St. Matthew 11:  25-30

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, You chose Your servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve. Grant that Your Church, ever preserved from false teachers, may be taught and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

St. Matthias, Apostle

St. Matthias is one of the lesser-known apostles. According to the Early Church Fathers, Matthias was one of the seventy-two sent out by Jesus in Luke 10:1-20. After the ascension, Matthias was chosen by lot to fill the vacancy in the Twelve resulting from the death of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:16-25). Early Church tradition places Matthias in a number of locations. Some historians suggest that he went to Ethiopia; others place him in Armenia, the first nation to adopt Christianity as a national religion. Martyred for his faith, Matthias may well have met his death at Colchis in Asia Minor, around AD 50. The Church of St. Matthias at Trier, Germany, claims the honor of being the final burial site for Matthias, the only one of the Twelve to be buried in Europe north of the Alps.

Reflection: From Luther’s Lectures on Galatians (see Galatians 1:  11-12), volume 27,Luther’s Works:

. . . Christ wanted no one to be made an apostle by men or the will of men but as the result of a call from Him alone. For this reason the apostles did not dare elect Matthias; they gained his appointment from heaven in answer to their prayer. And it was from heaven that God called Paul himself and made him an apostle, in particular through the voice of the Holy Spirit. “Set apart for Me,” He says, “Paul and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them.” Thus Paul boasts in Rom. 1: , that he was set apart for the Gospel of God,  inasmuch as he himself, together with Barnabas, was set apart for the uncircumcised and the Gentiles, while the rest of the apostles were sent to those who were circumcised.

Note also that Paul makes the name “apostle” so emphatically expressive of an office and of dignity that he uses it as a participle and says “an apostle, not from men,” which means “sent, not from men”. . . . All these facts aim to make you see with what care Christ has established and fortified His church, lest anyone rashly presume to teach without being sent by Him or by those whom He has sent. For just as the Word of Cod is the church’s first and greatest benefit, so, on the other hand, there is no greater harm by which the church is destroyed than the word of man and the traditions of this world. God alone is true, and every man a liar. Finally, just as David once left behind all the means by which Solomon was to build the temple, so Christ has left behind the Gospel and other writings, in order that the church might be built by means of them, not by human decrees.(emphasis my own)

The building materials chosen will show for themselves on the Day if they were the Lord’s building materials or not (1 Corinthians 3:11-13.  The Gospel and other writings, that is the entirety of the Scripture, along with the Sacraments and from Word and Sacraments, preaching, teaching, praying, doing good works builds up the Church.  Through it all, it is finally and fully the Lord Who builds His Church (“I will build My Church”, see  St. Matthew 16:18).  

The apostle Matthias was a key building block in the Lord’s Church  (see 1 Peter 2:5, Ephesians 2:19-21). We do not know much about him.  This reminds me of The Tomb to the Unknown Soldier and the saying on it:  “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier known but to God”.  “Here rests in honored glory a saint known but to God”.  I hear on TV someone saying of someone who died, “I’ll remember him always”…as long as the “always” is that person’s life span. We can not remember “always”, that is forever.  The Lord remembers His saints, by name as He baptized them in His Name.  You and I won’t be remembered always on this earth and in this world.  We will all be unknown saints, yet built into the Lord’s Church, which He promised the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, when built with God’s Word, and not by human decrees building the church in their own image.  When parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends told you about Jesus, said as God said there is right and wrong, who forgave you in Christ as they were forgiven, you were being built up in the template of His Church, His temple, His Body. Except his name,we only know the name of Matthias and that he was chosen to replace Judas amongst the apostles.  For Matthias, your ancestors in the faith of the Church, like Matthias were called by the Lord in His death and resurrection, awaiting our Easter day.  Come, Lord Jesus. 

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Almighty God, we praise You for the service of Philipp Melanchthon to the one, holy catholic, and apostolic Church, in the renewal of its life in fidelity to Your Word and promise. Raise up in these gray and latter days faithful teachers and pastors, inspired by Your Spirit, whose voices will give strength to Your Church and proclaim the ongoing reality of Your kingdom; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Bio:  Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) was a brilliant student of the classics and a humanist scholar. In 1518 he was appointed to teach along with Martin Luther at the University of Wittenberg. At Luther’s urging, Melanchthon began teaching theology and Scripture in addition to his courses in classical studies. In April of 1530, Emperor Charles V called an official meeting between the representative of Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism, hoping to effect a meeting of minds between two opposing groups. Since Luther was at that time under papal excommunication and an imperial ban, Melanchthon was assigned the duty of being the chief Lutheran representative at this meeting. He is especially remembered and honored as the author of the Augsburg Confession, which was officially presented by the German princes to the emperor on June 25, 1530, as the defining document of Lutheranism within Christendom.  After the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, the papal church wrote a response to it, the Confutation.  Once again, Melanchthon was called upon to write a defense of the Augsburg Confession. The Augsburg Confession and The Apology of the Augsburg Confession are the first two confessions in The Book of Concord (1580). Melanchthon died on April 19, 1560.

Reflection:   He was Greek and Hebrew scholar.  Philip Melanchthon is an unlikely saint. He taught Luther the Greek of the New Testament (Koine or common Greek).  Like Luther,  Melanchthon was a professor and at the risk of profiling the man, he looks like an egghead professor.  The Lord’s saints are certainly not uniform but they are united in the one true Faith to confess Jesus is Lord.  Melanchthon was clear in the Augsburg Confession regarding the article by which the Church stands or falls:

Article I, Of God:  Our Churches, with common consent, do teach that the decree of the Council of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning the Three Persons, is true and to be believed without any doubting that is to say, there is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God: eternal, without body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible; and yet there are three Persons, of the same essence and power, who also are coeternal, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And the term “person” they use as the Fathers have used it, to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself…

Article IV, Of Justification:  Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins.  This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.

Professor Melanchthon demonstrates that the Faith confessed in the Nicene Creed is the justifying faith in what Christ has done for us in His death.  The faith is Biblical, confessional, evangelical and catholic.  If we could be justified, made right by our own “strength, merits, or works”, there would be no need for Jesus Christ.  Justifying our selves is the daily grind of news, op-ed pieces, talk show ‘confessions’, and the like and it is pitiful. It is as pitiful as Adam covering his shame with the sham clothes of fig leaves.  A saying that made the rounds a few years back was, “You can run but you can’t hide”,is truthful.  The Old Adam knows that.  Here is Jesus, true God and true man, searching as a father for his lost son, as a shepherd for the one lost sheep, as woman looking for her lost coin,  loving us to our death and raising us up by His indestructible life (Hebrews 7: 15-17).  His Passion is our passion as we approach Lent this week.  

“O Spirit, who did once restore The church that it might yet recall The bringer of good news to all: Breathe on your cloven church once more That in these gray and latter days There may be those whose life is praise, Each life a high doxology Unto the holy Trinity.”

(O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth, hymn by Martin Franzmann)

 

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O God, by the leading of a star You made known Your only-begotten Son to the Gentiles. Lead us, who know You by faith, to enjoy in heaven the fullness of Your divine presence; through the same  Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Old Testament: Isaiah 60:1–6
The Psalm: Psalm 24
The Epistle: Ephesians 3:1–12
The Gospel: St. Matthew. 2:1–12

Intro:  The feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord commemorates not only an event but presents an idea that assumes concrete form only through the facts of our Lord’s life, that is the Incarnation. The idea of Epiphany is that the Christ who was born in Bethlehem is recognized by the world as God.  Epiphany means “manifestation”:  “God in man made manifest” (see hymn, “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”, #394, Lutheran Service Book). At Christmas, God appears as man, and at Epiphany, this man appears before the world as God. Christ is true God and true Man:  “…one altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person” (The Athansasian Creed).  The manifestations of the Trinity, the signs and wonders performed by this man, and all His miracles have the purpose of proving to men that Jesus is God.  On the Western Church, the story of the Magi has been associated with this feast day but in the Orthodox Churches, this day is called Theophany:  again, God manifest, literal translation.  They remember and rejoice in His Baptism in the Jordan River. Back to the Hymn “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”, stanzas 1-3, indicates that in our western churches that this was not forgotten.  The 1st Sunday after The Epiphany is The Baptism of Our Lord when the first revelation of the Holy Trinity occurs at the Jordan .  Then one more epiphany:  Jesus changes water into wine.  All three are public epiphanys of God in the man made manifest for Jew and Gentile. As Gentiles who were brought to faith in Jesus Christ, the Magi represent all believers from the Gentile world. 

This day has also been called Christmas of the Gentiles and Gentiles are most of us reading this blog. And the Magi were most likely, well, notorious Gentiles.  Just think: the Magi, foreign astrolagers followed God’s Word to the Child (Mt. 2:  5-6) to worship the Jewish King, circumcised on the 8th Day according to covenant with Abraham (St. Luke 2: 21), presented in the Temple 40 days after His birth (St. Luke 2: 22-38) ,  is their king as well!  Many Christians do not so follow God’s Word, His inerrant Word in these dark days, as did the Magi! And the Word is the only way they could find the Way, as the Way, the Word made flesh, found us. I think T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Journey of the Magi”, (one of my favorites) is a great and creative take on the Biblical narrative today:

Poem: The Journey of the Magi

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Introduction:  On this date in 2004, at a joint chapter retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity in Hickory, North Carolina,  a dear mentor and friend, Pastor Louis A. Smith died.   He was born in New Jersey and married to Helen.  They have four daughters.  Lou could preach in German, sight translate Greek and Hebrew and knew other languages. He was a campus minister, parish pastor, writer and spent three years teaching the Confessions in Namibia.  He loved British football.  He was also the funniest person I ever knew.  He knew the Lutheran Confessions as he knew the stats for his beloved N. Y. Yankees…even better! He was faithful pastor and theologian of the Church. He is a major reason why I stayed in the Lutheran Church. The following quotes are either from Pr. Smith’s sermons and articles or from my memory of many conversations with him.  Talking with Lou epitomized Luther’s saying that the conversation and the consolation of the brethren is almost a sacrament.

  • Note:  the NT Greek, episcopos, means “oversight” and which is translated “bishop” or “overseer”.  We were talking about bishops in the ELCA and Pastor Smith said:  “Episcopos” means oversight, not overlook.”
  • “Most bad theology begins with bad taste.”
  • Towards the end of her life, Pastor Smith’s mother lived with Lou and his wife Helen.  Mom was quite a handful for Pastor and Mrs. Smith because of her rather cantankerous personality.  Lou and I were talking about that and Lou said, “You know, it is really hard to keep the 4th Commandment”.
  • Me: “I’ve always had troubles with the “unity” or “Cana” candle ceremony in a wedding service and I can’t put my finger on why.”Lou:  “Note:  you don’t need two candles to light one candle, so yeah, something is going on here.  The physical element of the sacrament of marriage is the two become one flesh.  Since most couples have already done that and so the ‘unity candle’ has been introduced  and has  become  an ersatz ‘sacrament’”.
  • “I’ve told Church Councils at meetings about my salary, that when it comes to preaching, baptizing and presiding, I do this for nothing.  Church council meetings:  This is what I get paid for.”
  • Me:  “I usually am flummoxed when asked, When did the Lord call you into the Ministry?” Lou:  “When you were ordained, Mark.”
  • Me:  It is said that Lutheran Church is a “confessing movement” in the church catholic.  Lou:  “I was not baptized into a movement but the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”
  • “The interpretive task is not so much to understand the Word of the Bible as it is to stand under the Word of the Bible. It is, after all, not the Bible that is the puzzle that we need to solve. It is we who are the puzzle and the Bible that will solve us.” (from an address in my possession)
  • “…the Bible is clear…the Biblical writers say what they mean and mean what they say. This, of course, does not mean that we immediately grasp what they say and mean. But the fault for that does not lie with the Biblical text. It lies with us; and that for any number of reasons. We might not yet have learned the grammar. We might not yet have learned the vocabulary or the particular idiom of an author. Luther’s struggle with the “righteousness” of God might be an example. He had imported a foreign notion of righteousness into the Biblical text and so misunderstood the text; to his own great pain. And it took a goodly amount of reading before the Bible could straighten him out. But in the end, the Bible’s clarity won the day”(from an address in my possession)
  • “…both hunger and thirst make us aware of our mortality. Guess what? THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO! That is their theological meaning. Hunger and thirst are sacraments of our mortality. They are the felt reminders of the fact that we do not have life within us.” (from a  Lenten sermon)
  • “Proper (Godly)  repentance is not a sorrow or a terror or a vow to change, so that we can escape the divine death sentence. Proper (Godly)  repentance is to accept the rightness of the death sentence and to submit to it; to submit to being put to death under the law. And without the real Gospel that is never done.”
  • “…I finally discovered the difference between a eulogy and a sermon.  Forgive me if I tell you what you already know. The difference is this:  In a eulogy, one person who purports to know another, stands up and says some nice things that are not necessarily true about a dead human being.  In a sermon, a person authorized by the Gospel of Jesus Christ says some true things that are not necessarily nice about a living God.”(from  a Lenten sermon)
  • “God does not justify ungodliness but the ungodly.”

When we seek relief
From a long-felt grief;
When temptations come alluring,
Make us patient and enduring;
Show us that bright shore
Where we weep no more.

(“Jesus, Lead Thou On, Lutheran Service Book #718, stanza 3)

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From Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs’ Commentary, Matthew 1: 1-11: 1, specifically 7:13-23:

…the first question to be asked is always, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (16:13). False prophets will be appealing, loving, engaging, and nurturing, but they will describe a different Jesus—different from the Son conceived and born of the Virgin Mary by the Spirit’s power, different from the Jesus whom the Father anointed and uniquely chose to be his Servant to save the world through that Servant’s vicarious suffering, atoning death, and bodily resurrection. No human effort can be added to this work of the Servant; the sheep are lost and must be found by him to be saved (9:36; 10:6; 12:11; 15:24; 18:10-14). With men these things of salvation are impossible, but with God in Christ, all things are possible (19:26). Only Jesus drinks that cup (26:39), carries that cross (27:40-42), and offers his life as the ransom for the many (20:20-28). And only those who have nothing to offer to him, who are poor in spirit and lowly (5:3-5), will receive everything from him both now and at the end of this old aching world. Beware of false prophets, who offer any Jesus other than this one!

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If you look at this clip art upside, see what it reads!

About the Saints:  The Biblical writers use the word “saints” 82 times, as Paul does when he addresses an epistle, “…to the saints that are in…”  It is clear from Paul’s epistolary introductions that the saints are those who have been baptized into Christ, and thus brought over into kingdom of God, by faith through grace:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.(1 Corinthians 6; emphasis added)

 

The Word of  God is clear: washed (that is Baptism), sanctified and justified are all one action per Christ Jesus’ command and promise (see St. Matthew 28): “…in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” These are the ones made holy, that is saints.  It is equally clear we needed washing, “…and such were some of you”, but the list of sins in 1 Corinthians 6 is by no means exhaustive.  Indeed, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3: 23).  To what purpose?  “…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans  3: 24)  Saints do not achieve by good works to be saved, but receive “His grace as a gift” through Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection and are saved. Saints confess their sin, daily. Out of His salvation come the good works to help and serve our neighbor. Indeed,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2)

 This doctrine of the saints devolved into a treasury of merits of the saints as Christians began to invoke them in prayer for their spirituality.  There is not one  instance in the Bible of anyone living invoking a saint.  This is still part of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, and maybe even the Mormons, but the Evangelical Lutheran Church did not throw out the saints.  It is clear that there are saints who were remembered for their faith and their stance in the faith for the life of the world. The Lutheran Confessions, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, taught and restored the Biblical and clear understanding of the saints:

Our Confession approves honors to the saints. For here a threefold honor is to be approved. 

The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God because He has shown examples of mercy; because He has shown that He wishes to save men; because He has given teachers or other gifts to the Church. And these gifts, as they are the greatest, should be amplified, and the saints themselves should be praised, who have faithfully used these gifts, just as Christ praises faithful business-men,  Matt. 25:2123.

The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace  truly super abounds over sin, Rom. 5:20.

The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues, which every one should imitate according to his calling. 

The first listing of all the saints is recorded in Hebrews 11.  This is the great crescendo of The Letter to the Hebrews in which the preacher puts before us for our encouragement those in the Old Testament  who lived by faith in the One Who was to come.  “By faith” is the refrain throughout the chapter. Out of faith in the Lord they could accomplish the impossible which they could never have done on their own.  As it says above in the Apology, this is for our encouragement.  In fact, “encouragement” is the preacher’s goal in Hebrews because his fellow Christians were losing heart.  Everyone listed in Hebrews 11 was a sinner and by faith, a saint.  “Sinner and saint” and the line between the two was not a fixed line: this part of me saint, this part sinner, but ever being sanctified, make holy by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  One of the  Marines recruiting  mottos is: “Never given always earned.”  For the saints, it is: Never earned, ever given.  And another motto:  Ever given, always  learned.

Martin Luther, in his commentary on Romans, described the paradoxical nature of the saints.

“For inasmuch as the saints are always aware of their sin and seek righteousness from God in accord with His mercy, for this very reason they are always also regarded as righteous by God.  Thus in their own sight and in truth they are unrighteous, but before God they are righteous because He reckons them so because of their confession of sin.  They are actually sinners, but they are righteous by the imputation of a merciful God.  They are unknowingly righteous and knowingly unrighteous; they are sinners in fact but righteous in hope.  And this is what he is saying here: ‘Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.’ (Ps. 32:1)” Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, in Luther’s Works, vol. 25, p. 258. (Emphasis added)

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Collect of the Day: 

O God, enkindled with the fire of Your love, Your servant Bernard of Clairvaux became a burning and a shining light in Your Church. By Your mercy, grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline and may ever walk in Your presence as children of light; through Jesus Christ. our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About Bernard: A leader in Christian Europe in the first half of the twelfth century AD, Bernard is honored in his native France and around the world. Born into a noble family in Burgundy in 1090, Bernard left the affluence of his heritage and entered the monastery of Citeaux at the age of twenty-two. After two years, he was sent to start a new monastic house at Clairvaux. His work there was blessed in many ways. The monastery at Clairvaux grew in mission and service, eventually establishing some sixty-eight daughter houses. Bernard is remembered not only for his charity and political abilities but especially for his preaching and hymn composition. The hymn texts “O Jesus, King Most Wonderful” and “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” are part of the heritage of the faith left by St. Bernard. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Addendum:   His zeal for the truth of the Gospel and the faith quelled many heresies.  But, “…in 1146-1147 Bernard led the preaching of the second Crusade and was sharply disappointed by its failure.” In historical retrospection, his eloquent preaching of the Crusade was misplaced.  Yet, “In his zeal he attacked the luxury of the clergy, the persecution of the Jews, and the abuses of Roman Curia.  Renowned as a great preacher, he brought to an end the pre-scholastic era, and he is sometimes called ‘the Last of the Fathers.'” (quotes from Festivals and Commemorations by Rev. Philip Pfatteicher)

Bernard most importantly and clearly preached and taught salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Many years ago, I picked up in a used book store volume 2 of Bernard’s sermons on The Song of Songs.  He applied the love poetry to the Church and Jesus, her Head and Husband.  It was one of the volumes that led me back to the orthodox Lutheran faith.  This first quote is cited in  the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, The Book of Concord:  The Lutheran Confessions:  

For it is necessary first of all to believe that you cannot have remission of sins except by the indulgence of God, but add yet that you believe also this, namely, that through Him sins are forgiven thee. This is the testimony which the Holy Ghost asserts in your heart, saying: “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” For thus the apostle judges that man is justified freely through faith.

The Confessors in the Book of Concord point out that many of the crowd want to imitate the saints’ works, but not their faith and so falsely thinking  a man can be saved by works.  Bernard knew by faith that he and the whole Church are are saved  alone by grace alone through Christ alone and works flow forth. Faith is the root, love is the fruit.  

Out of Christ’s love, one with the Father in the Holy Spirit, comes the stillness in Him, listening to the Word, learning the Word, loving the Word, so living the Word.  In the following quote is an antidote for our much loquacious world, when everyone now blogs and posts every notion that comes into one’s head:

The man who is wise, therefore, will see his life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself. He knows that a curse is on the man who allows his own property to degenerate. And if you think my opinion worthless, then listen to one who is wiser than I: “The fool,” said Solomon, “comes out with all his feelings at once, but the wise man subdues and restrains them.” Today there are many in the Church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare. So urgent is the charity of those through whom the streams of heavenly doctrine flow to us, that they want to pour it forth before they have been filled; they are more ready to speak than to listen, impatient to teach what they have not grasped, and full of presumption to govern others while they know not how to govern themselves.—St. Bernard of Clairvaux

In a similar vein, in the 17th Century, Johann Gerhard reflected: “Silence of the mouth is an excellent thing for peace of heart.”  We think that somehow that all our words, quick opinions, and shallow analyses will make for a better world, when it is the Word made flesh, the Word of Scripture, Who can alone change the heart, give life to body and soul, and hope to a dark sin-sick world. Indeed:  

The words of the Lord are pure words,
    like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.
Psalm 12: 6

Finally and most importantly, Bernard knew the exact source of all faith, hope and love:  the  work of the Word made flesh alone upon the Cross Who saved as  this great hymn based upon a poem by Bernard proclaims.  As you read the lyric or listen to it, think of  the body of Christ and Christ our Head, our Sacred Head in the midst of the martyrdom of Middle Eastern Christianity taking place at this time and not forget to pray and speak out for the persecuted Church.  As the Lord said to Saul on the road to Damascus:  And (Saul) said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9: 5):

“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”
by Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676  Text: Is. 50: 6
Author: Paul Gerhardt
Based on the Latin poem “Salve caput cruentatum”
By Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153, asc.

1. O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown.
O sacred Head, what glory,
What bliss, till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.

2. Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee,
Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee
And flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish
That once was bright as morn!

3. Now from Thy cheeks has vanished
Their color, once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished
The splendor that was there.
Grim Death, with cruel rigor,
Hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou has lost Thy vigor,
Thy strength, in this sad strife.

4. My burden in Thy Passion,
Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression
Which brought this woe on thee.
I cast me down before Thee,
Wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee;
Redeemer, spurn me not!

5. My Shepherd, now receive me;
My Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me,
O Source of gifts divine!
Thy lips have often fed me
With words of truth and love,
Thy Spirit oft hath led me
To heavenly joys above.

6. Here I will stand beside Thee,
From Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me!
When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish
In death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish,
Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

7. The joy can ne’er be spoken,
Above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken
I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of life, desiring
Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring,
I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

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.

9. My Savior, be Thou near me
When death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me,
Forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish,
Oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish
By virtue of Thine own!

10. Be Thou my Consolation,
My Shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy Passion
When my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee,
Upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfold Thee.
Who dieth thus dies well!

The Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn #172 

 

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Collect of the Day

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

About Johann Gerhard:  Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) was a great Lutheran theologian in the tradition of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Martin Chemnitz (1522-86) and the most influential of the seventeenth-century dogmaticians. His monumental Loci Theologici (twenty-three large volumes) is still considered by many to be a definitive statement of Lutheran orthodoxy. Gerhard was born in Quedlinburg, Germany. At the age of fifteen he was stricken with a life-threatening illness. This experience, along with guidance from his pastor, Johann Arndt, marked a turning point in his life. He devoted the rest of his life to theology. He became a professor at the University of Jena and served many years as the superintendent of Heldburg. Gerhard was a man of deep evangelical piety and love for Jesus. He wrote numerous books on exegesis, theology, devotional literature, history, and polemics. His sermons continue to be widely published and read. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  Pr. Gerhard is one of my favorite theologians. He prayed with the Church, he preached and taught the Scriptures with the Church and desired to give praise to God alone through His mercies in Jesus Christ for him and us all.His sermons are wellsprings of Scripture.  It used to be said as complement that a preacher preaches from the Bible.  Pr. Gerhard surely did!  As one pastor in an introduction to a volume of Gerhard’s sermons wrote:  “He saw the New Testament through Old Testament eyes.”  As the blessed Lutheran Reformers knew that Jesus Christ is the key to the Bible and the Bible, all of it, points to Him, Pr. Gerhard so preached and lived.  Pr. Gerhardt  lived and breathed the Scriptures as they are the very words of the Holy Spirit writ into His creation for our redemption in Jesus Christ.

The following quotes are from Pr. Gerhard’s Sacred Meditaitons:

On Holy Communion:

What can be more intimately united to the Lord than His own human nature, which He hath taken, in His incarnation, into fellowship with the adorable Trinity, and thus made the treasury of all the blessings that heaven has to bestow? What is so intimately joined to Him as His own body and blood? With this truly heavenly food He refreshes our souls, who are as miserable worms of the dust before Him, and makes us partakers of His own nature; why then shall we not enjoy His gracious favor? Who ever yet hated his own flesh (Ephesians 5:29)? How then can the Lord hate us, to whom He giveth His body to eat and His blood to drink? How can He possibly forget those to whom He bath given the pledge of His own body? How can Satan gain the victory over us when we are strengthened and made meet for our spiritual conflicts with this bread of heaven ?

On Christ’s Crucifixion and the Church:

Jacob served fourteen years to win Rachel for his wife ; but Christ for nearly thirty years endured hunger, thirst, cold, poverty, ignominy, reproaches, bonds, the scourge, the vinegar and gall, and the awful death of the cross, that He might prepare for Himself and will as His bride the believing soul. Samson went down and sought a wife from among the Philistines, a people devoted to destruction (Judges xiv. 3), but the Son of God came down from heaven to choose His bride from among men condemned and devoted to eternal death. The whole race to which the bride belonged was hostile to the heavenly Father, but He reconciled it to His Father by His most bitter passion. The bride was polluted in her own blood (Ez. xvi. 22), and was cast out upon the face of the earth ; but He washed her in the water of baptism, and cleansed her in the most holy laver of regeneration (Eph. V. 26).

On John the Baptist and Steadfastness:

 “…John’s (the Baptist) steadfastness is held up as an example to be followed by all faithful teachers—indeed also by all true Christians. John was not a reed. He did not allow himself to be deterred from the pathway of truth and from his calling by the world’s cunning and temptation.  So also Christians are not to be fickle and erratic like a reed.  Rather, they are to be grounded like pillars and columns in the house of God.   1 Tim. 3: 15, Rev. 3: 12ff

On Peter’s Denial and God’s Power:

 “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.”

On Meditation: 

“Let holy meditation produce in thee a knowledge of thy true condition, and this lead thee to conviction of sin, and convicyion beget in thee a spirit of devotion, and this indite thy prayer. Silence of the mouth is an excellent thing for peace of heart.  

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Readings for the day:  Isaiah 61:7-11Galatians 4:4-7Luke 1:39-55

St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned repeatedly in the Gospels and the Book of Acts, with nearly a dozen specific incidents in her life being recorded: her betrothal to Joseph; the annunciation by the angel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of the Messiah; her visitation to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer; the nativity of our Lord; the visits of the shepherds and the Wise Men; the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple; the flight into Egypt; the Passover visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve; the wedding at Cana in Galilee; her presence at the crucifixion, when her Son commended her to the care of His disciple John; and her gathering with the apostles in the Upper Room after the ascension, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. Thus she is present at most of the important events in her Son’s life. She is especially remembered and honored for her unconditional obedience to the will of God (“Let it be to me according to Your word” [Luke 1:38]); for her loyalty to her Son even when she did not understand Him (“Do whatever He tells you” [John 2:1-11]); and above all for the highest honor that heaven bestowed on her of being the mother of our Lord (“Blessed are you among women” [Luke 1:42]). According to tradition, Mary went with the apostle John to Ephesus, where she died. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

A Reflection:  I think the Roman Catholic problem with Mary is that they make much too much of her which has no Scriptural warrant.  I think the Lutheran problem with Mary has been we make much too little of her importance which likewise has no Scriptural warrant.  We should not pray to her and neither should we think we have prayed her away.

The Scripture records what she prayed:  “My soul doth magnifies the Lord.”  What or who do we magnify in our lives?    Think of what the world magnifies:  fame, wealth, power and the temple of the  self:  my feelings, my goodness, my friends, etc. and ad nauseam, and I  have wanted it all. Not Mary.  For instance: Mary did not “shop till she dropped”. Her Son was not a choice but her Child. She loved her Son.  She magnified the Lord.  She magnified, made big in her life God’s grace to her in bearing the Only-Begotten Son of God.  She bore her Savior and yours.

The other feast days, featuring the Mother of Our Lord, The Annunciation (St. Luke 1: 26-38), The Presentation (Luke 2: 22-38, and The Visitation (Luke 1: 39-56, are actually festivals of Jesus Christ.   And that’s the point! Mary is associated with them and she did magnify the Lord.  She never sought  attention for herself.   She knew she would be blessed (Luke 1: 48) but she did not seek adoration but adored Him born of her virgin womb. He was her Son and her Lord!  She knew humility.  This is not the stance of the neo-feminist woman of our day…or any man.   Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Orthodox professor (1921-1983) pointedly reflected, “In (Mary’s) humility and silence, she can hardly serve as patron for the noisy and arrogant feminism of our time.”

 A colleague of mine once said during the fad of “WWJD” bracelets (What Would Jesus Do) that it actually should be “WWMD”:  what would Mary do?  Good question.  The answer?  She heard the Word of God, the Word of grace.  She obeyed.  She was a faithful wife. She believed.  She prayed.  She suffered.  She served her Lord and her neighbor. She pointed to her Son at the wedding at Cana:  Do whatever He tells you (John 2:1-11}. It was all the Lord’s good work toward her and the fruit of His good work, likewise the Lord’s and the greatest still is the fruit of her womb, Jesus. And because of her Son, as Luther said, the greatest miracle was not the Virgin conceived, but she believed.  She is the model of the faithful believer, even the whole Church. “…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”--Galatians 4: 19

Let us pray:  

Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your only Son. Grant that we, who are redeemed by His blood, may share with her in the glory of Your eternal kingdom; 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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What can be more intimately united to the Lord than His own human nature, which He hath taken, in His incarnation, into fellowship with the adorable Trinity, and thus made the treasury of all the blessings that heaven has to bestow? What is so intimately joined to Him as His own body and blood? With this truly heavenly food He refreshes our souls, who are as miserable worms of the dust before Him, and makes us partakers of His own nature; why then shall we not enjoy His gracious favor? Who ever yet hated his own flesh (Ephesians 5:29)? How then can the Lord hate us, to whom He giveth His body to eat and His blood to drink? How can He possibly forget those to whom He bath given the pledge of His own body? How can Satan gain the victory over us when we are strengthened and made meet for our spiritual conflicts with this bread of heaven ?

Christ holds us dear because He bath bought us at so dear a price; He holds us dear because He feeds our souls with so dear and precious food ; He holds us dear because we are members of His body, of His flesh (Ephesians 5:30). This is the only sovereign remedy for all the diseases of our souls;  here is the only efficacious remedy for mortality; for what sin is so heinous but the sacred flesh of God may expiate it? What sin is so great but it may be healed by the life-giving flesh of the Christ? What sin so deadly in its effects but it may be atoned for by the death of the Son of God? What darts of the devil so fiery but they may be quenched in this fountain of divine grace? What conscience is so stained with sin but it may be cleansed by the blood of Jesus? The Lord journeyed with the Israelites of old in a pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21); but here we have present with us not a cloud, but the Sun of Righteousness Himself (Malachi 4:2), the blessed Light of our souls. Here we are sensible not of the fire of the divine wrath, but of the glowing flame of divine love, which does not withdraw afar off from us, but comes and makes its abode with us (John 14:23).

(Sacred Meditations by Johann Gerhard, Translated by the Reverend C. W. Heisler, published by Repristination Press, Malone, Texas, third printing, June, 2006)

 

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