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Posts Tagged ‘Small Catechism’

St. Mark 8:  “And He began to teach them that the Son of  Man must suffer many things…” 

One of the words that has become used a whole lot more in the computer age is “template”. 

noun:  1..  pattern, mold, or the like, usually consisting of a thin plate of wood or metal, serving as a gauge or guide in mechanical work

 2. anything that determines or serves as a pattern; a model 

Jesus is pointing His disciples to His Cross looming in the future and in the distance.  The Gospel of His prophecy of His death and resurrection will be the template of salvation. His cross, His suffering many things is the things of God, God’s mind and His mind is made-up:  He saved you and will. 

His Word is the template for your salvation, the joyous word of your forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the way of the Cross is the baptismal path.  And in the way that is just and so justifies, makes us right by faith.  This Gospel, in fact all the  Gospel, written and taught and preached and administered in the Sacraments is the template of His Cross.  I know I have pointed out before the floor plans of the Gothic Cathedrals of Europe and America is cross-shaped.  The cross is the template of the Church, His Temple, His Body.  This is the template of each life within Christ’s Body.  In today’s Gospel is the precise moment in which the Lord began to teach His suffering:   rejected, killed, buried and risen. 

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Our Lord asked a rhetorical question which begs no answer because it is self-evident that the question itself is  the answer:  when a man wants the whole world, he will lose his own soul in forfeit to get it. Satan certainly knows the Faustian bargain which is no deal!   We all get it.  Even folks who are not “religious” or spiritual get it.  We see it played out, repeatedly, in the courts of public media and opinion. It is the Faustian bargain.  Losing one’s soul for gaining the whole world is Satan’s real deal and the soul lost is hell…or even a piece of that pie. This is piously lamented as the succession of sports figures, movie and television stars, politicians and the like rise and fall is played out, shaking heads in self-righteous indignation thinking Oh it’s not me.  Yet, we know it can be. 

 “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  John 16:  33.   Jesus triumphs over Satan and the world. He teaches them He must suffer many things…the must is a must, it is a divine necessity. Why?!  Sin must be accounted for and the judgment of it.  God is the just judge.  And the suffering begins almost in the next verse:  His own disciple, Peter, who had just confessed Him as the Christ, rebuked the Lord. Rejected, killed, shamed is no way for a Messiah to act!  You are thinking like men that a glorious escape, which leaves iniquity, unaccounted. Therefore, Jesus suffers the torment of temptation from a disciple, a friend. He must for He must save Peter, you, and me. He has, you can count on that more than anyone can count on the stock market or the weather forecast. 

What is the world?  Answer:  it is God’s good creation, pulsating with His life and love.  Nevertheless, the “world” in the hands of  man bent on being God as Satan promised, the world became something else:

“In this creation, life is received in faith as the sheer unmerited gift of God and then shared as freely as it is given in love for the neighbor. If you take creation, subtract faith, and love from it, the remainder is “the world.” Take away faith and love and the creation becomes clueless about God and itself and ends up looking to itself and when it “gets religion”, as the saying goes, the world makes itself into a god. “A god,” says Luther “is whatever you look to as the source of your good.” In addition, what creation, minus faith and love, looks to for its good is itself. And just so, creation becomes “the world”. The “world”, theologically is the creation bent on being its own god.” (Pr. Louis Smith). 

“I’ve given you everything, the best years of my life” “I’ve scrimped and saved and what thanks I do I get?”  “Oh, this is to die for” And each one of us will but that is not the final chapter. 

God entered fully into the world, the Greek word for world is cosmos.  As in “cosmetics”.  The world apart from God, its Creator, knows how to look good, enticing, well, tempting; it is said we are “self-made” men and women.  But it is death. We look for easier and less astounding ways, the easy way out, but that is not just.  A trade-off, If I do this, then you will HAVE it all, that is the template of the world, and that is bartering, dealing not saving grace. God’s law kills us with that truth concerning iniquity.  Thinking the things of man, like Peter, our minds are made up. We want it all and want it now. You can, says someone, for a price, a steep price that looks like a deal at the start. However, the price is the soul.  Then one is sold. What can a man do?   For what can a man give in return for his soul? Another question, which is its own answer, a man can do nothing.  However, God can and has.  Bought for a price, a steep price.  What’s teh price, as the Elizabethans would say, “God’s blood”.  He became sin and died, a must.  The template of His Cross and Resurrection is not only seen but also first heard, Scripture is summed up by the Catechism and for us today, look at the back of the bulletin please, the 2nd article of the Creed:

What does this mean?  Answer:  I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.  He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and delivered me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death; in order that I may be wholly His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

This template is our daily life in Jesus Christ and it is baptismal and related to the 4th Chief part of the Catechisms, especially this Q and A:

What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer.It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?–Answer.  St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6We are buried with Christ by Baptism into deaththatlike as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Another Elizabethan, Shakespeare wrote:

“Cowards die many times before their deaths,
The valiant never taste of death but once.”

The brave in Christ Jesus do die many deaths and will taste of life forever:  Jesus Christ.  Dying and rising is our wet walk in Baptism and not to be ashamed of it, but  proud of His love which has loved us to the end and will forever. His blood teaches us we are His.    St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York: unmistakably a cross, a cross in the midst of Vanity Fair, unashamed. Around it buildings tower over that church.  Cathedrals have spires:  and the cross points us to heaven. And as tall as the skyscrapers are in NYC round about finally only point to themselves.  Many of the cathedrals have at the entrance a baptismal font:  the way we enter and are His people.  Our cruciform lives pointing others to heaven:  Jesus died and rose for you.  Plainly.

 

 

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Text:  Exodus 20: 1-21

For our Wednesdays in Lent, the option in Evening Prayer is Sermon or Catechetical Instruction.  We will have catechetical instruction on the chief parts of Dr. Luther’s Small and Large Catetchisms.  We begin where Luther began:  the 10 Commandments. 

There are laws of nature and there is the moral law of God.  It is difficult to disobey, say, the law of gravity.  We can escape gravity only with a whole lot of help, as with the help of a jet or a helicopter.  We have to go out of the way to disobey the laws of nature.  Note: there really can not be disobedience of the laws of nature.   This would mean there are repercussions to such disobedience, that is, punishment and it is deserved. It would imply there is right and wrong gravity, but there is not.  In contrast to the Laws of Nature, it is quite easy to disobey the Law of God.  We tend to do that quite a bit.  For the Law of God is about right and wrong in this fallen world. There are repercussions, such as punishment, deserved, both temporal and eternal.  His Law is the only law that keeps society and culture from veering off a cliff.  His Law alone shows us our sin.  His Law alone shows us the good we can do. 

We live in an era that violently believes that man is the measure of all things and so believes in relativism. C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity in his first section on the Law of God: 

“Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.”

Well, until now. Putting our self first is a cottage industry in our day and time.  In fact, putting the self first is praised.  “I did it my way”.  Having any woman, or man that you liked?  See TV, see movies.   In our days, in our zeitgeist, literally “the spirit of an age”, we are taught there is no absolute moral law as the basis of right and wrong. Right and wrong are mere human constructs brought together by human agreement.  It’s all relative.  But is it right ever to rape a woman?  If there is no absolute moral law, then the difficulty of parenting becomes impossible, but it is not as there is right and wrong.  A child needs limits, his behavior in word and deed circumscribed and so do adults!  The Law of God is summed up by God’s only begotten Son: You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul and mind and the second is liken unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  We were made for God and each other, in relation to the Lord and in each other. This is clear as the nose on your face. We all do have the moral compass of the Law of God.  God’s law is even more concrete than a compass:  it was initially written on two stone tablets, hard as rock. 

Lewis’ Mere Christianity were originally radio talks on BBC during World War II, when the Nazis were trying to bomb Britain out of existence: 

“What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practiced? If they had had no notion of what we mean by right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed them for that than for the color of their hair.

 “Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining “It’s not fair” before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter, but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as Right and Wrong— in other words, if there is no “Law of God”—what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? 

            Now the first Table of the Law can not be legislated into civil laws of nations, when it has been, the result has been tyranny of the worse type:  see Sharia Law;  see ISIS.  The first table of the law is, though, the beating heart of the Law.   God’s first commandment is not that He is the Lord, but that you shall have no other gods before Him. The first three commandments are all about worship and what or who we worship.  Every atheist has a god he or she believes in:  reason, talent, fame, self, money.  So do Christians have those other gods, and those gods are at the whimsy of fallen flesh.  The Lord our God is not.  He is the only true God because He alone teaches honor and love, as embodied in the 10 commandments.  The second table of the Law flows from the first, and some of Second Table is the basis of civil law, such as not stealing, no murder.  The last commandment is about coveting, the inordinate loves of things, people and devils above the Lord.  No earthly government can legislate the mind nor the heart nor the soul.  It has been tried and the result is tyranny of the worse sort.  

With the last commandment we are back at the first.  As it is written, covetousness is idolatry. The Law shows us that sin is one vicious circle. We cannot get out of that vicious circle on our own by any stretch.  This is reason Luther begins the Catechisms with the Law:  so we know the absolute Law of God which we can not fulfill in a thousand life times. “It was a false, misleading dream that God his Law had given that sinners could themselves redeem and by their works gain heaven. The Law is but a mirror bright to bring the inbred sin to light that lurks within our nature”  It was for this world Christ died. Into this vicious circle, came the Christ.   In this zeitgeist, we tend to be soft in the head with hardness of heart. 

Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23: 29) It breaks the stony ground of the heart. His Hammer is the Law.  Into this hardhearted world came Jesus Christ.  Here is the beating heart of the Law, perfect love.  The only One who has perfectly kept the Law fulfilled the Law.  Harder than even the rock of the law is the rock of our salvation:  Jesus Christ.  When the Law shows you your sin, don’t look to the Law for help, it offers none.  When the Law shows you your sin, look to Jesus Christ, the beating heart of God and every word and deed of Christ, finally and fully Good Friday, who did for all the world atone.  He is our mediator.

 “Outside Jerusalem, there is a hill of yellow, naked stone, ugly and hard as a dead man’s skull. Long ago men bored a socket in this rocky hill and planted a cross there, and on that cross they hanged the only one of our race who was righteous and had perfectly fulfilled the law. God permitted this to happen because, although he had tolerated sin in former ages, he wanted once and for all to show that he was righteous and that sin is followed by condemnation and punishment, and that he will not countenance any tampering with his standards of holiness. But so wonderful is God that he let all the curse and penalty of sin fall upon the Innocent One, who freely gave of himself in death for us. He was made a curse for our sakes. Thus he redeemed us from the condemnation of the law. He was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. He bore our sins in his own body on the tree, and by his stripes we are healed.”(The Hammer of God, novel by Bp. Bo Giertz)

We have heard what is the Lord’s will and  next week, we look again at the second chief part of the Catechism, the Apostles’ Creed, by  which we confess the faith in the Lord so that we may gladly hear His Word and do it, as He has done all for us in creating, redeeming and sanctifying us.

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Today’s Old Testament reading is Exodus 31: 1-18.  I reflect on verses 12-13:

12 And the Lord said to Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.”

The Lord alone is holy and He alone sanctifies, makes us holy.  By keeping the Sabbath, I do not sanctify me.  By keeping His Sabbaths, the Lord sanctifies us  as through means, the means of grace, His Word and Sacraments. If I could make myself holy by my spiritual works and ways, I would stay home on a Sunday morning.  But by His grace, I know me, I would not so work to be holy!  

There is no ‘spiritual self-help’, as our help is in the Name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.  The Lord sanctifies us by His Word because the Lord knows, I need sanctifying. If I stay home on a Sunday, it is to evade His Word on His Sabbaths. His Law will show me that I am not holy and His Gospel will offer us the Holy One of God:  Jesus Christ in the work of the Holy Spirit so by faith we receive His grace, mercy and peace.  I think the reason people  stay away from His Word is the Old Adam and his lord, Satan, for he knows that the Lord will sanctify and lead in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. Such is the Lord’s almighty and gracious will. It’s a pretty simple encouragement:  go to Church.  Hear His Word rightly preached and taught.  Be fed (Matthew 4:4John 6:51).

“You shall observe the worship day   That Peace may fill your home and pray,  And put aside the work you do, So God may work in you.”   Have mercy, Lord! (‘These are the Holy Ten Commands #581, hymn by Martin Luther, Lutheran Service Book)

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The TV sitcom, The Office is about just that:  an office.  ‘Dunder-Mifflin’ is a company that sells paper for businesses.  That’s it.  What made this sitcom such a hit? What was the “com” in the “sit” (situation), i.e. comedy?  The boss, ‘Michael Scott’, was always desirous to be more than a boss of an office whose goal is simply better sales and service.   Michael wanted the office, that is, his co-workers, to be friends or even more: a family. He wanted to be their friend, counselor, cheerleader, big brother.  And so, Michael insinuated himself into the lives of the employees.  I found this sit-com to be at times very funny and at times painfully exasperating to watch Michael at “work”.  He went beyond the stated goal of the office:  selling paper and providing a friendly and efficient service.

I assume that the reason this caught on is that many who work in other offices in other companies and corporations find this as well:  the corporation/office going beyond its stated goals.  Please notice how many times the word “community” is invoked in the media, not about a town or a congregation but for corporations, people of similar likes, government, etc.  A community are people living in closer, well, communion, with each other.  Certainly, mother and son is a closer communion than employer/employee.  The sitcom “The Office” with it’s various crossovers of the limits of an office that sells paper could be humorous…but the crossovers of the God given limits of various offices can be downright tragic.

In the Book of Concord: The Lutheran Confessions (from here on, BoC), the Reformers teach the Biblical understanding of “office”.  Their first concern is the office of Pastor/priest.  In the time of the Reformation, Church and society both thought that the office of monk or nun, and with it, celibacy was a superior way to attain to heaven.   As in another sitcom when an Italian waitress’ son says he wants to be priest, she declares:  “I have a get-of-hell card!”  First, there is no office by which one simply doing it attains heaven, then Jesus Christ died for no reason.   Second:  The Reformers noticed that monk/nun is not found in Scripture but on the first pages of the Bible you read about marriage between man and woman, husband and wife and so father and mother.

Monk is a man-made office.  Parent is a God-given office.   Mother and Father are offices. This may sound funny in our ears.  When I think of “office”, I immediately think of a place…but it is more than a place.  I opine that the BoC put into our vocabulary a word as crucially important:  vocation.  Vocation is practically a synonym for office in the BoC..  Mothers, fathers, children, husbands and wives are God given vocations, offices.  In fact derived from them are teachers and governing authorities.  There are also vocations in work. God gives work as well.  All are true callings. These are offices in creation, in the created orders of this world.  In the Kingdom of God, through His Church, He established the office of pastor. These are all God pleasing vocations by which we serve God and neighbor.

In The Small Catechism by Dr. Martin Luther, he listed “The Table of Duties” for the various offices/vocations. The duties of each said office is described by the appropriate Scripture passages.   In the Catechism, the Scripture verses are printed out but for sake of space I only include the citation but each is worth reading.

For Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers. 1 Tim. 3:2ff ; Titus 1:6

What the Hearers Owe to Their Pastors. 1 Cor. 9:14;Gal. 6:61 Tim. 5:17-18; Heb. 13:17

Concerning Civil Government. Rom. 13:1-4

What Subjects Owe to the Magistrates. Matt. 22:21; 1 Pet. 2:13f; 1 Tim. 2:1f; Titus 3:1;Rom. 13:1,5ff

For Husbands. Col. 3:9 1 Pet. 3:7

For Wives. 1 Pet. 3:6Eph. 5:22

For Parents. Eph. 6:4

For Children. Eph. 6:1-3

For Male and Female Servants, Hired Men, and Laborers. Eph. 6:5ff ; Col. 3:22

For Masters and Mistresses. Eph. 6:9Col. 4:1.

For Young Persons in General. 1 Pet. 5:5-6

For Widows. 1 Tim. 5:5-6

For All in Common. 1 Tim. 2:1-2

Rom. 13:8ff

Notice the following aspects of the offices/vocations above:

  1. Overlap  I am a Father, Husband, Pastor, Son, Citizen.  I hold 4 offices and called to each one.  At various times, one office will take precedence over the others.  Your 9-5 job is not your only calling nor  even the most important!
  2. Service  Each office renders a service to our neighbors:  family, friends, co-citizens of both the kingdom of God and the kingdoms, nation wherein we dwell.  Within our vocations we serve and love our neighbor. Our vocations do not save us.  Only the absolutely unique of Messiah, as He fulfilled that vocation perfectly, has saved us.  Our vocations do not save us but they help and serve our neighbors.
  3. Limitations  Each office/vocation has limitations.  Just like a physical office has walls, there are boundaries to each office/vocation with each office’s respective duties.  For instance: A  civil authority does not preach the Gospel.  This is a confusion of offices.
  4. Trespasses of Office  A trespass is just that: a crossing over of a boundary, a limitation and this causes problems that are both humorous and tragic.

Part II

It is trespasses of offices/ vocations that cause sin.  For instance, when the offices  of say, Mother and  Son are crossed, and a mother lays with her son, this is gross violation of office.  Or when a teacher has intercourse with her student.  This is an egregious example but we know it happens, but a lot of the confusion of office sounds good initially but is a  gross denial of the office.

The holder of an office is to serve the office in behalf of others, according to the principles of that office, not for the office to serve the holder of it.  In Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer on “The Fuhrer Principle”, or Leader principle prevalent in Germany at the turn of the last century and imbibed fully by Adolph Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s critique of this principle is actually quite simple: “The Leader is completely divorced from any office, he is essentially and only the ‘the Leader’”. Bonhoeffer points out that “office” restricts any leader from acting on his own accord, or charisma because the man who fills the office is accountable before “penultimate authorities” such as “Reich or state” which are all accountable to God. The purpose of any office, in politics or church  is to be of service. But once, as in the Fuhrer Principle, the great divorce between man and office the following occurs:

“If he understands his function in any other way than as it is rooted in fact, if he does not continually tell his followers quite clearly of the limited nature of his task and of their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol—then the image of the Leader will pass over into the image of the mis-leader, and he will be acting in a criminal way not only towards those he leads, but also towards himself.”

This idolatry has become endemic in a media age. So-called ‘evangelists’ have so-called ‘ministries’ with their names before the word “ministry”. I have thought “Mark Schroeder Ministries” has a great alliterative ring to it and it does. The Old Adam wants others to be attached to the personality and so control others by the dark urges of unregenerated flesh. Now at first this all appears to be “good”. The congregation wants a pastor with a winsome personality, a charismatic presence in the pulpit (or walking up and down the aisles) who is a friend to all. The pastor buys into it. And so do presidential candidates: “We are the ones we have been waiting for” (Candidate Obama). For instance, previous Presidents in televised addresses to the nation speak from  the Oval Office, but our current President did so from the East Room of White House, with it’s hallway, complete with columns as backdrop. Then with these idolatries of varying degrees, the office is disregarded and this is “criminal”, breaking the Law of God and the laws of men, in our nation, The Constitution. An important Scripture verse in regards to the purpose of the pastoral office in our day, as in was in the charismatic milieu of the Roman Empire is 2 Corinthians 4:5.

In a previous congregation, a woman who was smart legal secretary, an accountant, wife and mother took on the responsibility of church treasurer.  We were talking on the phone and she lamented that she wished she could do more for the congregation but she was swamped.  I reminded her about her offices, not mentioning the word “office” and I said that is the way you serve the Lord.  After a pause, she said, Thanks Pastor, it’s like big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

Knowing our calling and the calling and offices of others can go along way to know who we are and what God expects of us.  We will violate our offices and so Luther in The Small Catechism, in the Order of Confession, instructs clearly and rightly, which is to say Biblically, about vocations and our not keeping them and so please note: most of the Order of Confession and Absolution is about our offices/vocations:

What sins should we confess?

Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess those sins alone which we know and feel in our hearts.

Which are these?

Here consider your station according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, a man-servant or maid-servant; whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, slothful; whether you have grieved any one by words or deeds; whether you have stolen, neglected, or wasted aught, or done other injury.

Pray, Propose to Me a Brief Form of Confession.

Answer.

You should speak to the confessor thus: Reverend and dear sir, I beseech you to hear my confession, and to pronounce forgiveness to me for God’s sake.

Proceed!

I, a poor sinner, confess myself before God guilty of all sins; especially I confess before you that I am a man-servant, a maidservant, etc. But, alas, I serve my master unfaithfully; for in this and in that I have not done what they commanded me; I have provoked them, and caused them to curse, have been negligent [in many things] and permitted damage to be done; have also been immodest in words and deeds, have quarreled with my equals, have grumbled and sworn at my mistress, etc. For all this I am sorry, and pray for grace; I want to do better.

A master or mistress may say thus:

In particular I confess before you that I have not faithfully trained my children, domestics, and wife [family] for God’s glory. I have cursed, set a bad example by rude words and deeds, have done my neighbor harm and spoken evil of him, have overcharged and given false ware and short measure.

And whatever else he has done against God’s command and his station, etc.

But if any one does not find himself burdened with such or greater sins, he should not trouble himself or search for or invent other sins, and thereby make confession a torture, but mention one or two that he knows. Thus: In particular I confess that I once cursed; again, I once used improper words, I have once neglected this or that, etc. Let this suffice.

But if you know of none at all (which, however is scarcely possible), then mention none in particular, but receive the forgiveness upon your general confession which you make before God to the confessor.

Then shall the confessor say:

God be merciful to thee and strengthen thy faith! Amen.

Furthermore:

Dost thou believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?

Answer.

Yes, dear sir.

Then let him say:

As thou believest, so be it done unto thee. And by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive thee thy sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Depart in peace.

But those who have great burdens upon their consciences, or are distressed and tempted, the confessor will know how to comfort and to encourage to faith with more passages of Scripture. This is to be merely a general form of confession for the unlearned.

Only in Jesus Christ’s absolution, which is absolute, can we proceed.  God grant it in our dark days!

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Appointed readingsRomans 6:1-5Mark 6:14-29

About this day:   In contrast to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (observed on June 24), this festival commemorates his beheading by the tetrarch, Herod Antipas. From the perspective of the world, it was an ignominious end to John the Baptist’s life. Yet it was in fact a noble participation in the cross of Christ, which was John’s greatest glory of all. Christ Himself said that there had arisen none greater than John the Baptist. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets and also the herald of the New Testament. As the forerunner of Christ, John fulfilled the prophecy that the great prophet Elijah would return before the great and terrible day of the Lord. By his preaching and Baptism of repentance, John turned “the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” And in the footsteps of the prophets who had gone before him—in anticipation of the Christ whose way he prepared—this servant of the Lord manifested the cross by the witness of his death. (From theTreasury of Daily Prayer, p. 670.

Reflection:  let us remember why John the Baptizer was killed:

St. Matthew14: 3For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”  

John taught the sanctity of marriage to the powers that be.  This is what cost John his life and his life is a martyria, a witness, to the Word in and out of season.

Marriage has been “out of season” (see2 Timothy 4:1-3).  As the years rolled on, I spend more and more time in confirmation classes, on the 6th Commandment, than on the other nine:  You shall not commit adultery.  From The Small Catechism by Dr. Martin Luther:

What does this mean?–Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may lead a chaste and decent life in words and deeds, and each love and honor his spouse.

In teaching this commandment,  I ask the class for the ways in which this commandment  is broken.  With more than a little bit of help by the teacher (!):  the dry-erase board fills up very quickly:  adultery, divorce,  “hooking-up”, living together, pornography, incest, masochism, sadism, masturbation, abortion, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, bestiality,  polygamy, etc.  Now our sexuality is not virtuous, never has been since Eden.  And then I point out that we are forgiven in Jesus Christ, upon His Cross, He bore our sin and is our Savior.  I take the eraser and swipe through the black ink a cross.  One year a confirmand exclaimed, “That’s heavy”.   Yes!  His Cross was heavy, as heavy as our sin.

John the Baptist bore the brunt  in preaching the sanctity of marriage in his day. We must also and in marriage be helpmates one to the other, modeled after Christ and His Church, His Bride and modeling to the world the marriage of two Baptized sinners in Christ.

This may be the first time in Western European history that the list above has been legally sanctioned and for a good part of society  and culture accepted. We are living in a neo-pagan, neo-Roman world, as did our forebears in the Church did from AD33 to Edict of Milan in AD313 (seeEdict_of_Milan). Ever more we need Luther’s counsel in the Large Catechism on the 6th commandment:

But because among us there is such a shameful mess and the very dregs of all vice and lewdness, this commandment is directed also against all manner of unchastity, whatever it may be called; and not only is the external act forbidden, but also every kind of cause, incitement, and means, so that the heart, the lips, and the whole body may be chaste and afford no opportunity, help, or persuasion to unchastity.

We need the lesson from John the Baptizer.  John was last of the prophets.  One of the verses that has haunted me is this one from Isaiah 52:11and it is cited by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:17:

Therefore go out from their midst,and be separate from them, says the Lord,and touch no unclean thing;then I will welcome you…

This verse may be the basis of the Amish way of life, at least in the movie ‘Witness'(!) Does this mean we need to be like the Amish? St. Augustine preached on the Prophet Jeremiah which speaks to the Lord’s prophet, John, the way the Church is and should be as in 2 Corinthians 6: 17:

How many and vehement rebukes did Jeremiah preach against the sinners and wicked ones of his people. Yet he lived among them, he entered into the same temple with them, celebrated the same mysteries; he lived in that congregation of wicked men, but by his preaching “he came out from among them.” This is what it means “to come out from among them”; this is what it means to not “touch the unclean thing.” It means not consenting to them in will and not sparing them in word. I say this of Jeremiah, of Isaiah, of Daniel, and Ezekiel, and the rest of the prophets, who did not retire from the wicked people, lest they should desert the good who were mingled with that people. (emphasis my own)

“It means not consenting to them in will and not sparing them in word.”  The Lord has called His Church as the communion of His Will and Word, both of which are one.  As in the days of the Roman Empire, the Church did not consent with much of the pagan culture and touched not the unclean things. Do Christians fail in the sanctity of marriage?  Yes, but this can not be an excuse to continue touching unclean things and so sin (see  Romans 6:1-3) When we do sin, we know the terrors of hell and turn in repentance to the Lord Who died and rose for us.

This is still our vocation in marriage, according to the Lord’s Word of Law and Promise, not to touch the unclean thing.  Possible? Not on our own but only in Him are all things possible.  As John was a prophet, he did not spare them in the Word of God.  The Church can not either. Why?  As St. Augustine preached so that His people will be spared and I would add, as John and the Lord calls us:  to true repentance that sinners might turn to the Lord and live.

This means that marriage is a true good work by which the Lord preserves life in the world and by it He gives forgiveness:  see the Holy Family.  Marriage is a central means to love our neighbor.  From Luther’s Large Catechism:

God has also most richly blessed this estate above all others, and, in addition, has bestowed on it and wrapped up in it everything in the world, to the end that this estate might be well and richly provided for. Married life is therefore no jest or presumption; but it is an excellent thing and a matter of divine seriousness. For it is of the highest importance to Him that persons be raised who may serve the world and promote the knowledge of God, godly living, and all virtues, to fight against wickedness and the devil.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, You gave Your servant John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in both his preaching of repentance and his innocent death. Grant that we, who have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, may daily repent of our sins, patiently suffer for the sake of the truth, and fearlessly bear witness to His victory over death; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were disciples with whom Jesus had a special bond of love and friendship. The Gospel According to Saint John records that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus (11:5).”

On one occasion, Martha welcomed Jesus into their home for a meal. While she did all the work, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his Word and was commended by Jesus for choosing the “good portion, which will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:38-42).”

When their brother Lazarus died, Jesus spoke to Martha this beautiful Gospel promise: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” We note that in this instance, it was Martha who made the wonderful confessions of faith in Christ (John 11:1-44).

Ironically, raising Lazarus from the dead made Jesus’ enemies among the Jewish leaders more determined than ever to kill Him (11:45-57).

Six days before Jesus was crucified, Mary anointed His feet with a very expensive fragrant oil and wiped them with her hair, not knowing at the time that she was doing it in preparation for her Lord’s burial (John 12:1-8). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House) 

Reflection:  The old theologians rightly commented that Mary and Martha represent two essential aspects of our life in Christ:  respectively, the via contemplativa and the via activa, the way of contemplation  and the way of action/service.  Martha was busy with much serving.  Mary was seated at the feet of the Lord listening to Him teach. Both are essential.  Contemplation without service leads to mere mysticism and the tendency to look inward and not outward to the Lord in His Word.  Service, action without the Word and the contemplation of it,  results in mere activism and busy-ness and as evidenced in Martha:  resentment.  And I think the order of contemplation and service is reflected in the 7 days of the week:  The Lords’ Day for His Word and then week of work.  See  Luther’s teaching of the 3rd Commandment.  In fact, every day should begin with prayer and contemplation  of His Scriptures for our daily bread.  First, contemplation/prayer then service, the first is the root of faith and faith  grows the fruit of love. 

The Lord chided Martha for her busy-ness and rightly so, but preachers have a tendency to overly chide Martha in their sermons and extol Mary’s faithfulness in listening to Jesus’ sermon.  When Martha and Mary’s brother died, Mary was so distraught she could not go with Martha to meet the Lord.  Martha did and the Lord said to her:   “Your brother will rise again.”   Martha responded:   “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  Martha knew her catechism!  Then the Lord said, “I am the Resurrection and the life”.  Martha was tough, pragmatic and knew her stuff!  And she loved her sister and brother. So it is not so easy for us to pigeon-hole a person.  Martha contemplated as well and learned as well from the Lord, while Mary in her hour of grief forgot.  Yes, we are all Mary and Martha and knew both the via contemplative  and via activa around the Lord in His Word and Sacraments to us, for us, in us and for the life of the world. Let us pray…

Heavenly Father, Your beloved Son befriended frail humans like us to make us Your own. Teach us to be like Jesus’ dear friends from Bethany, that we might serve Him faithfully like Martha, learn from Him earnestly like Mary, and ultimately be raised by Him like Lazarus. Through their Lord and ours, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever

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In the first centuries of the Church, after Ascension and Pentecost, when a person was reborn a Christian in the waters of Holy Baptism, she left the futile ways of her forefathers. She ceased being a pagan. She ceased being an idolater worshiping many gods and began to worship the true and living God who sent His Son into the world to save us in this world for the life of the world to come.  (1 Peter 1:17-191 Thessalonians 1:8-10;   1 Corinthians 6: 9-11) 

Worship was and is the line of demarcation between the world and the life of the world to come.  In the Orthodox Church, their liturgy begins

Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.

Crossing the border from the world as it is into world as is shall be, the Kingdom coming into the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The foretaste of the reign of God first accomplished by Him, when the People of Israel crossed the Jordan, after bondage in Egypt, and 40 years of the journey through the desert into the land of Promise:  crossing the Jordan.

At a border, there is a border check, customs.  In many countries, as our own, a visitor, or a returning citizen cannot bring in contraband, items considered dangerous to the welfare of the nation.    We have a border check in the Lutheran Church called Confession and Absolution, which begins the Divine Service. “Absolution” is from the word “absolve” and its synonym is “forgiveness”.  But I think it is important, even crucial,  to use “absolution” because His absolution is absolute, as real as the nails piercing His sinless hands and feet for your purification.

In the Old Testament, when Isaiah saw the Lord in glory, Isaiah cried out I am a man of unclean lips.  He knew he could not so stand in the Presence with such a dangerous tongue.  The Lord purified Isaiah.  (Isaiah 6: 4-8) As it was to Israel, sin is dangerous to the welfare of His Church, which is, “…a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  (1 Peter 2: 9) We lay aside the sin that so easily entangles our selves, our families, the various countries the Church dwells at the confessional border crossing.  (Hebrews 12:1-3He disentangled us not easily in His crucifixion. He frees us in His forgiveness to live as freed citizens of the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When I went in the ‘70s to Eastern Europe and the then Soviet Union, on a  trip from Concordia Senior College, as we crossed from Poland into the USSR in the dead of night, the train was stopped to change the undercarriage of the train because Poland had a different track gate.  It was a convenient time for the Soviet soldiers to come on board, with automatic weapons, to rifle through our baggage, lift up our compartments seats and look us over.

  • A pastor is no Soviet border guard!  The Lord already has found you out and does so to find you in His all-encompassing forgiveness. He found you out in His Law, from Him no secrets are hid, nothing we can hide.  We cannot bring the dearest souvenir of hell into heaven. This is why we begin with Confession and Absolution.
  • A pastor’s vocation is also to hear private confession, when the burden is great for the penitent.  A pastor’s vocation is to hear confession but not to talk at all about what he has heard.  He is not tell anyone about the confession’s content, even his wife, so that you may again live as the Lord’s freed citizen, His son or daughter.
  • When the Israelites crossed the Jordan the first thing they were commanded to do was celebrate the Passover, and we do in the once and for all Passover of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world: This is My Body, this is My Blood.  The Lord Jesus has so commanded the new Passover for the forgiveness of sins, in communion with Him and His people.

Confession and Absolution is crossing the boundary, the Jordan and it is a return to the forgiveness granted in Holy Baptism, the washing and regeneration in the Word, the Lord’s Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (St. Matthew 28:18-20).  This is why the sign of the cross is encouraged at the beginning of Confession and Absolution with the Invocation, In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, because it is in His Name we are baptized.  Further, it is encouraged that Confession and Absolution be led from the Baptismal Font.   We see this in Dr. Luther’s ordering in The Small and Large Catechisms:  his explanation of Holy Baptism is followed immediately by the doctrine of Confession and Absolution.  From The Large Catechism:

…here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance, (i.e. Confession and Absolution) as it is really nothing else than Baptism. For what else is repentance but an earnest attack upon the old man [that his lusts be restrained] and entering upon a new life? Therefore, if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism, which not only signifies such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. For therein are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong.

Almighty God, by our baptism into the death and resurrection
of your Son Jesus Christ, you turn us from the old life of sin:
Grant that we, being reborn to new life in him, may live in
righteousness and holiness all our days; through Jesus Christ
our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Addendum:

The sections from Luther’s Small Catechism are reproduced below from The Book of Concord website.

IV. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.

First.

What is Baptism?–Answer.

Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

Which is that word of God?–Answer.

Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nationsbaptizing them in the name of the Fatherand of the Sonand of the Holy Ghost.

Secondly.

What does Baptism give or profit?–Answer.

It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are such words and promises of God? Answer.

Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

 Thirdly.

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 afaithful saying.

Fourthly.

What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer.

It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?–Answer.

St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6We are buried with Christ by Baptism into deaththatlike as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father,even so we also should walk in newness of life.


V. Confession

How Christians should be taught to confess.

What is Confession?*

Confession embraces two parts: the one is, that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no wise doubt, but firmly believe, that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven.

What sins should we confess?

Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess those sins alone which we know and feel in our hearts.

Which are these?

Here consider your station according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, a man-servant or maid-servant; whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, slothful; whether you have grieved any one by words or deeds; whether you have stolen, neglected, or wasted aught, or done other injury.

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