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It is quite congenial to the wisdom of God, that he bestows his blessings by simple means. If he employed great means the blessings might be ascribed to their greatness; but when they are simple, the blessings can be ascribed to him only. St. Paul saith, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” 2 Cor 4:7. The feebler the instrument seems by which mighty works are wrought, the plainer the omnipotent hand of God is to be seen.”

 The quote is from  Rev. Pr. David Henkel[1] (born 1791, Staunton, Virginia, died 1831 in Lincoln, NC), ” Flood of Heavenly Regeneration”, in which he teaches the Biblical doctrine of Baptism.  The means of grace, Word and Sacrament are words, and water, bread, wine.  Just think: when the Church moved out into the Roman Empire, the great cities had pagan temples with magnificent services and ceremonies and they were mega-services.  The Christians had words, water, bread and wine, ordinary…in one’s home, in the catacombs.  By them the Lord built His Church in a pagan world against all odds. By them the Lord gives us His Word to fill us, wash us, cleanse us, feed us.  Pr. Henkel points out that if one does great spiritual works, like fasting, long prayers and giving to others everyone praises those works (see Matthew 6:  1-18).  We ascribe greatness to the means not to the Savior.  We live in a time when people applaud mega-churches, mega-worship, mega-pastor personalities, that is praising the means as great.  This is so far away from the truth of the Scriptures. I love the liturgy of the Church but when a liturgy becomes simply “smells and bells”, and very grand,  folks may say, Oh, what a wonderful service!  “‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god”, as quoted by C. S. Lewis on ‘creative worship’[2].


[1] David Henkel, one of the founders of the Tennessee Synod was one of the most important theologians of nineteenth century confessional Lutheranism in North America. The Tennessee Synod had the distinction of being the first Lutheran church body to publish the entire Book of Concord in English, and its pastors were zealous missionaries, contending against false doctrine and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. One of  Henkel’s contributions was a book contending against the errors of Unitarianism, and is still a valuable resource for responding to those who deny the scriptural teaching of the doctrine of the Trinity.

[2]There is no subject in the world (always excepting sport) on which I have less to say than liturgiology. And the almost nothing which I have to say may as well be disposed of in this letter.

I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.

To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain—many give up churchgoing altogether—merely endure.

Is this simply because the majority are hide-bound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was “for what does it serve?” “‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.”

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats,  or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.”

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. You give me no chance to acquire the trained habit—habito dell’arte.”

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By Rembrandt von Rijn

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.  

Appointed Scripture for this day:  

Judge 6:  36-40

Psalm 139: 1-12

Romans 10: 8b-15

St. John 1:  35-42a

All four Gospels mention St. Thomas as one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. John’s Gospel, which names him “the Twin,” uses Thomas’s questions to reveal truths about Jesus. It is Thomas who says, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” To this question Jesus replies, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:5-6). John’s Gospel also tells how Thomas, on the evening of the day of Jesus’ resurrection, doubts the report of the disciples that they had seen Jesus. Later, “doubting Thomas” becomes “believing Thomas” when he confesses Jesus as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:24-29). According to tradition, Thomas traveled eastward after Pentecost, eventually reaching India, where still today a group of people call themselves “Christians of St. Thomas.” Thomas was martyred for the faith by being speared to death.

 (Collect and Intro from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

 Reflection on St. Thomas and this Verse:

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.            St.John 20: 29

 We may think that our Lord’s only Beatitudes are those recorded in St. Matthew 5 at the  beginning of His Sermon on the Mount.  No, they are throughout the Gospels including this one to Thomas and us all.  In a sense, Thomas was privileged in his doubt to be an example of the maxim “seeing is believing”.  But our Lord’s beatitude directs us to the more Biblical understanding of the centrality of the Word of God:  hearing is believing.

14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  (Romans 10)

The Lord was preparing Thomas and his brethren for the apostolic Ministry of preaching and teaching the Word of God, the Word of His Gospel to repentant sinners for many to hear and so believe.  Even what Thomas and the apostles saw that first evening of the new creation were wounds of a crucifixion.  Not glorious by any stretch of worldly imaginations  but glorious in love’s pure light who died for sinners…as Thomas, as you, making faith.  His wounds are preached scars of our forgiveness in the One Who alone is the way, the truth and life, no one else, as Thomas also heard.  Pastors are called to preach the blood, preach the manger, preach the cross: preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  And Thomas was called to preach His wounds! From His side flowed water and blood (John 19:34), Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  Pastors are called to administer the Sacraments.  Thomas’ eyes were blessed in seeing but his feet were beautiful in the sermon he preached: Jesus Christ.

Crown him the Lord of love.
Behold his hands and side,
Rich wounds, yet visible above, 
In beauty glorified.
No angels in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bend their burning eyes
At mysteries so bright.

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

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

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

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

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

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On Baptism

The following quote is from a solid article in the current edition of Touchstone magazine.  It is by Pr. Paul Gregory Alms (LCMS) and you can find the article here.-Pr. Schroeder

In one of the great baptismal scenes of the New Testament, we see the contrast between an entry into the Christian life that appears painless and miraculous and an entry that involves death with Christ in the waves. It is the story of Peter walking on the water. Peter sees Christ striding over the deep and gets the idea to do it himself. Calling on Jesus to enable him to follow, he steps out of the boat.

And he does walk on the waves. Peter is walking on the water, upright, proud, connected to Jesus. But the stormy deep claims her own. Peter must be swallowed by the water before he can truly follow Christ. He begins to sink. His baptism has begun. His false pride is drowned. Peter cries out, “Save me, Lord.”

Here is baptism. Man’sfoolish pride is extinguished in the water; the inexorable pull of death grabs at and claims its own; and the pitiful confession is forced out of lungs now filling with the waters of judgment: “Lord, save me.”


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About Elisha: Elisha, son of Shaphat of the tribe of Issachar, was the prophet of God to the Northern Kingdom of Israel around 849-786 BC. Upon seeing his mentor, Elijah, taken up into heaven, Elisha assumed the prophetic office and took up the mantle of his predecessor. Like Elijah, Elisha played an active role in political affairs. He also performed many miracles, such as curing the Syrian army commander Naaman of his leprosy (2 Kings 5) and restoring life to the son of a Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8-7). A vocal opponent of Baal worship, Elisha lived up to his name, which means “my God is salvation.”  

Reflection:  Elisha was the Lord’s prophet who by His Word many great deeds (miracles) were accomplished.  I think the greatest “miracle” was the healing of Naaman the Syria

n:  2 Kings 5. Naaman was a VIP and significantly, a Gentile and a leper.  Being a Gentile and a leper meant Naaman was unclean twice.  (And it be must be noted at this time in the news:  a Syrian).

People will do amazing things to be healed. Naaman the Syrian went afar to find relief and he received even more.  Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army, like  a 4 star general.   It just so happens he has a young Israelite girl that he had taken captive as a servant.   He hears from her that there is a “man of God” who might heal him in her country:  Elisha.  General Naaman goes to Israel with his entourage and eventually comes to Elisha’s home:  it would be like a limousine pulling up to a bungalow. “If you will, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1: 40) Elisha tells Naaman to Go wash 7 times in the Jordan and you will be clean;  but Naaman responds to the prophet, “Can’t you just wave your hand and make me clean? Are not the rivers Pharpar and Abana in Syria better than the Jordan?” (fwiw:  I have seen the Jordan River and the Syrian rivers are probably better!)  Then we are told:

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” (NIV;   this verse is not in all translations)

If the prophet had told you to do the 40 days of the purpose-driven life, wouldn’t you have done? If the prophet had told you to join a monastery and fast and pray, would you not have done it?  If the prophet told you to witness to a 100 Syrians about the God of Israel, would you not have done it? But just washing in a river?  Everyone does that!

After Naaman’s servants speak so boldly to their master and Naaman does as the Word of God spoken by Elisha tells him.  Naaman made his decision for God? Hardly, he was at his wit’s end.  The General did as he was told. And he was cleansed…but this great deed is the more remarkable for what followed:

15 And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.” 
16 But he said, “As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused.  
17 So Naaman said, “Then, if not, please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD. 18 Yet in this thing may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD please pardon your servant in this thing.” 
19 Then he said to him, “Go in peace.” So he departed from him a short distance.

Naaman comes to faith by the Word of God in the water.  Naaman confesses to Elisha his faith: I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.  Naaman wants to respond in the only way he probably knew how:  monetarily.  He wants to pay for his baptism.  Naaman urged Elisha to accept the gift.  No, says Elisha.  Why?   The Lord’s grace is free and frees.  The greatest miracle for Naaman was faith.  But the story continues with Elisha’s servant Gehazi shaking down Naaman for money.  And Elisha’s response, the judgement of God, drives home the point:  you can not buy God’s grace and favor.  It is free. Gehazi becomes a leper. 

Faith can not be bought or brokered, the Lord creates the faith by His Word which alone heals.  There was greater healing that day in the Jordan:  Naaman’s soul.  Just think:  From an arrogant General to a humble believer saying to a foreigner, “your servant“!  From a non-believer to a worshiper of the true and only LORD in the midst of temple of Rimmon.  

“If you will, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1: 40) What a simple, clean faith.  You can make me whole, You alone.  The leper (Mark 1)  knew he could not make himself clean.  Naaman did not make himself clean.  Only cats clean themselves.  We are not spiritual cats!  We can not clean our souls by our actions or words.  We must turn to water and soap, outside of us, to clean our bodies and so our souls.  I speak of the Word of God.  His Word is in the water, the water of Baptism as it was for that time-conditioned sacrament for Naaman.  “If you will, you can make me clean” “I will;  be clean” (Mark 1:40) This is the I will of His sovereign grace to sinners and His  Word is His will:  Baptism.  This Baptism’s authority comes from the Name of God (Matthew 28:18 ) and the great and powerful deed, central to all human history and each and every individual’s history:  His death and Resurrection (Romans 6: 1-11)

From Martin Luther’s Small Catechism:

How can water do such great things?–Answer.

It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghostwhich He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christour Saviorthatbeing justified by His gracewe should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

“He was made clean”

Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Elisha, You continued the prophetic pattern of leaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

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We have this small icon in our kitchen and dining room. I appreciate the literal

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. St. John 15: 5

teaching that goes on in an icon.  This is obviously teaching us, “I am the Vine and you are the branches.”  The branches are growing directly out of the side of Jesus.   Jesus is seated on the grave where He laid His head in death.  The reason the branches are growing is He is risen, indeed!  He is risen and gives us the fruit of His death upon the Cross and so the branches are entwined around it:  the dead wood of the cross is now the Tree of Life in the paradise of His saints.

Further,the branches are portrayed growing from His side reminded me of another verse, unique in it’s reportage in John’s Gospel:  “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” St. John 19:  34  The Water and the Blood signify the two Sacraments, Baptism and Communion.  The only way we grow from His side  is abiding in Him. The water of Baptism, and His Word in the water, cleanses and washes us to be His own.  We are fed the drink of His holy Blood in His love out-poured and so we grow to love as He first loved us.  It is hard to love as He first loved us.  Without Him, we can do nothing, even love aright.  Unregenerate man, stuck on himself, incurvatus, curved in upon oneself, will only love selfishly.    In the icon, note that it seems as if Jesus is squeezing the grapes over a chalice! The grapes become juice which is then fermented into wine is fermented in the Word to be the blood of Christ.  He draws us forth to be His own, as the steward of the wedding feast in Cana drew forth the water now become wine by His Word  (St. John 2: 1-11)  “…He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” St. John 11:  43  He drew us forth from death to life and will in the resurrection unto eternal life. He alone changes us.   “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” St.John 12: 32  His Church has only one draw: Himself, His Word and Sacraments, for sinners.

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Check it out: Lutheran Satire

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