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Posts Tagged ‘Worship’

I have an article at Brothers of John the Steadfast blog for your edification and encouragement: “When I was a child…”  Check it out!

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Text:  Hebrews 11

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

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

Easter Sunday at Concordia Lutheran Mission, of which I am the pastor, was not good in terms of attendance, eight in all.  With my expectations of seeing guests and visitors, as in the past, I was very disappointed which led to a major depression on the Day of Resurrection. I asked myself the question:  What did I do wrong?  This is a question many a pastor asks again and again in a society that measures self-worth by success alone, certainly not by grace alone.  Pastors can forget by “grace alone”. I let a couple of people know about my disappointment which was wrong of me to do because they had celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, even if I had tripped myself up.

As I read on Facebook, Easter reports of great music, great cathedrals, looking at pictures of filled Sanctuaries, I only aggravated my disappointment.  In an earlier post, on prayer and feelings, using one of C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, I wrote on an important Biblical and Confessional topic:  prayer is based on God’s Word not on our feelings and emotions, as is faith, as we can see rereading Hebrews 11.  Easter Sunday was not for me about the risen Christ Jesus, but for me it was about me.  I was looking the wrong way.  I failed. I realized anew that I am a sinner.  

In a home bound call at a  congregation where I was new, I did what a pastor is suppose to do:  preach and administer the Sacrament of the Altar.  When I finished, the woman exclaimed, “This is just like Church!” No organ but the harmony of the Gospel.  No vestments, but our Christening robe of Baptism.  No Easter lilies, but the Easter message.  No crowds, just 3 of us, 2 or more is enough of the faithful for the Lord (Matthew 18:19).  Sometimes, I think all that other stuff is a crutch as I found out this past Sunday when it wasn’t there. Or it can be what it should be, a flowing forth from the Font of all blessings:  He is risen!  

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

“O Holy Trinity, You Self-sufficient Love, ignite also in our heart this fire of Your Love!”

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by Fr. George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633)

The following is by Rev. Prof. Johann Gerhard (October 17, 1582 – August 17, 1637), orthodox Lutheran Church Father and the quote is from The Treasury of Daily Prayer (CPH): 

If someone wants to describe adequately the usefulness of pious, earnest prayer, he will, in my opinion, surely find a beginning more easily than a conclusion. Pious prayer offered in faith is familiar conversation with God. It is a salutary remedy to all the difficulties of life. It is the key to heaven and the door to paradise. It shows us how much we depend on God, and it is a ladder of ascension to God. it is a shield for our defense and a faithful messenger of the ambassador. It is refreshment in the heat of misfortune; it is medicine during illness. It is a winch, drawing us to heaven, and a vessel that draws water from the font of divine kindness. It is a sword against the devil and a defense against misfortune. It is a wind that blows away evil and brings earthly benefits. It is a nurse that nurtures virtues and conquers faults. It is a great fortification for the soul and gives free access to God. It is a spiritual feast and a heavenly delicacy. It is a consolation for the dejected and a delight for the holy. It grants knowledge of the secret things of God and acquires His gifts. It upholds the world and rescues people. It is a joy for the heart and a jubilation for the mind. It follows God’s gift of grace, and it leads ahead into glory. It is a garden of happiness and a tree full of delights. It calms the conscience and increases our thankfulness. It sends demons running and draws angels close. It is a soothing remedy for the misfortunes of this life and the sweet smell of the sacrifice of thanksgiving. It is a foretaste of the life to come and sweetens the bitterness of death.

Whoever is truly a child of God through faith will, with childlike trust, address his or her heavenly Father every day in prayer. The one in whose heart the Holy Spirit has made His home will, as a spiritual priest, daily offer to God this incense of prayer. There are four immovable truths on which our confidence to pray rests. Because of these, we may be certain that our heavenly Father mercifully hears our prayers. The truths on which our certainty rests are:

(1) God’s omnipotent kindness;

(2) God’s unfailing truthfulness;

(3) Christ’s intercession as our mediator; and

(4) the Holy Spirit’s testimony.

—Johann Gerhard

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Prayer of the Day

O God, who alone knits all infants in the womb, You chose improbable servants—old and childless—to conceive and parent the forerunner of Christ and, in so doing, demonstrated again Your strength in weakness. Grant us, who are as unlikely and unworthy as Zechariah and Elizabeth, the opportunity to love and serve You according to Your good and gracious will; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.

About Zechariah and Elizabeth:  Zechariah and Elizabeth were “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). Zechariah, a priest in the Jerusalem temple, was greeted by the angel Gabriel, who announced that Zechariah and Elizabeth would become parents of a son. Initially, Zechariah did not believe Gabriel’s announcement because of their old age. For his disbelief, Zechariah became unable to speak. After their son was born, Elizabeth named their son John.  Zechariah conformed his wife’s choice, and his ability to speak was restored.  In response, he sang the Benedictus, a magnificent summary of God’s promises in the Old Testament and prediction of John’s work as forerunner to Jesus (Luke 1: 68-79). Zechariah and Elizabeth are remembered as examples of faithfulness and piety. (Modified from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  The Gospel according to Luke begins with the birth of John and Jesus.  As part of the warp and woof of the narrative is the praise of God in what could be called Psalms:

  1. The Magnificat, Mary’s Song of Praise:  St. Luke 1: 46-55
  2. The Benedictus, Zechariah’s Song of Prophecy, St. Luke 1: 67-69
  3. The Gloria in Excelsis Deo, the Song of the Angels, St. Luke 2: 14
  4. The Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, St. Luke 2: 29-32

The titles of these psalms is from the Latin Vulgate translation and reflect an old tradition of naming a psalm after the first word in the song:  1. Magnify;  2. Blessed; 3. Glory in God in the highest;  4. Now depart.  All of these songs have been included in either the Prayer offices of the Church and/or the Divine Service.

In their old age, like another “unworthy and unlikely” couple centuries before,  Abraham and Sarah, the priest and his wife would have a son:  the son to be the forerunner of the very Son of God, the Messiah.  What almost becomes overlooked by the faithful and diligent reader of the Word is that the Lord’s promises come through married couples and their families: Adam and Eve, Noah and his wife, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah and throughout all generations to Zechariah and Elizabeth and another unlikely couple:  Joseph and Mary.  Why does the Lord do so?  I do not think we know directly from Holy Writ but we do know the Lord created marriage and family,and it was good.  And given the state of the family, yes, even in the Bible, the contrast between His saving promise and our utter need for His salvation is clear!  Only He can breach the gap and has. He did not want His love of His good creation,  in bondage to sin, to end but be extended in His redeeming in the fullness of time: the gestation and birth of His only-begotten Son.  His promise of redemption could only find it’s home in a family for the generations of humankind.  Therefore,  Zechariah had much to sing about in the  praise and blessing of  the Name of the Lord in  his  marriage to Elizabeth!

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for He has visited and redeemed His people
69and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of His servant David,
70 as He spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies
   and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
   and to remember His holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
 74that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
   whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (St. Luke 1)

How do we know salvation and the Lord who is our Savior:  Answer: “by the forgiveness of our sins” The Benedictus is the song sung every day  in Matins. As John paved the way for the coming of Jesus the Christ, so by the Lord’s promise fulfilled to Zechariah, we each and every day in prayer, in the Benedictus, prepare our selves for the work of the Messiah in our vocations, and we too are “improbable servants”.   Matins is good way to begin the day.

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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:  

Martha invited Jesus into her and her sister’s Mary house.  She welcomed Him.  She was hospitable.  Then there was a division in the house.  Martha went about serving.  Mary sat learning.  Martha did not like it that she had all the dinner chores. Martha sounded resentful.  She said to Jesus, Tell my sister to help me.  She commanded Jesus.  She commanded the Lord for Mary to help.  But Jesus loves the welcoming Martha as well as Mary, as He did their brother Lazarus, and chides Martha and she can not hide.  Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things   Many things is as vast a territory as in Luther’s explanation of the 1st commandment, we are to fear, love and trust in God above all things.  We live in age of anxiety and trouble. We live in a Martha world.  We are all Martha some time or another.  Things come crashing in us.  We are overwhelmed by all the demands of the day.  We wonder will there be enough?  Can we pay the mortgage?  Or if things are everything okay, the “what if’s” attack, What if I lose my job, What if I don’t go the college I want, What if I don’t do FILL-IN-THE BLANK, I’ll just die. I’ve left so many things undone, and done so many things I should not have.  IN the media age of increasing amounts of information,  feeds the Old Adam in his anxiety and trouble from the health scare of the week to terrorists all over and what if someone were to break into your home. Anxiety and trouble has already killed you. Jesus came not to kill but give life in His Word to the anxious and troubled. He came not to kill but be killed by the trouble and anxiety of the world in His sinless body to forgive and renew us by His death and His indestructible life.

 When I see a picture of a great cathedral, the feeling is I could serve there.  But how cold and bare that house would be if Jesus Christ was not all in all there.  In the probably humble home of the 2 sisters and Lazarus, was the greatest Church building ever constructed because Jesus and His Word was there.  And before that?  A stable in Bethlehem and the magi were wise to worship there and receive more than all their gold, frankincense and myrrh could ever give.  And before that?  The womb of the Virgin Mary.  Before that?  A tent pitched outside of Mamre, in the portable home of Abraham and Sarah came the Lord. IN all those cathedrals, not the word and advice of men and women, no promotion of yet another self-help book with Scripture wrongly quoted to sanctify busy-ness to save oneself. 10 steps to a better you.  No, the Savior was there and Martha was missing out. As Mr. Spock might say, ‘It is illogical to do more things to right the many debilitating things’.  Many things and Jesus said there is the one thing needful: The many and the one: Sabbath rest in His Word. This lesson illustrates the 3rd commandment, remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  We are to fear and love God so that we do not despise His Word and the teaching of it. If the Sabbath rest in His Word is not there, then the heart cold and bare, frightened and scared runs to and fro for every wind of doctrine and spiritual ‘experience’.  Mary despised it not, she and Martha both needed the one thing needful, the good portion that will not be taken away. Martha welcomed Jesus.    The need for the one outweighs the needs of the many if the One is Jesus Christ.   If God’s Word of Law and Promise, the Law and the Prophets fulfilled in Jesus Christ and preached in all doctrinal purity and the Sacraments not administered according to Christ’s command, who cares?   All is darkness of busy-ness, shouting and screaming, look at all our good deeds, good feelings, good times. Not, look, behold:  the good Lord.

Many people think as Martha, It is what we offer to Jesus that matters.  Mary knew better:  it was what  Jesus offered her that mattered and changed her and Martha, and you and I.  For instance:  in the ELCA it was said many times, “The word liturgy means “work of the people”.  I heard this many times in 20 plus years, ad nauseam.  Then I reread The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the word liturgy is given it’s right meaning.  Yes, ourgia, as in ergonomics, work, and the first syllable public, the public works of God in His Sacraments for us all.

“Faith is that worship which receives God’s offered blessings; the righteousness of the law is that worship which offers God our own merits. It is by faith that God wants to worshiped, namely, that we receive from Him what He promises and offers.”

Our “ourgia” does not save us. Mary knew that.  Martha did not…just not at that time.  Martha would.  In John’s Gospel, Martha is the first person to confess Jesus is the Christ, chapter 11, after the death of her brother.   This is the good portion, one thing that is needed, they both heard.  Mary meets Jesus on the road and again falls at His feet and cries out that my brother would not have died if you had been here.  She knew whom to turn to as did Martha.  At the whole tangled mess of anxiety and trouble, the sisters  turned not to themselves but Him, His Word. Our spirituality is God’s Word, every Word in the Bible, every Word sung and prayed, every Word faithfully taught and preached, the one thing needful, daily repentance turning toward Him our Sabbath Lord.  Sabbath teaches we can not save ourselves.  So we are not to be pure and loving?  Yes.  The one thing needful is His Word of grace, mercy and peace to do the one thing needed:  help and serve our neighbor in our various vocation. We so serve not to be saved but because we are saved by grace, grace alone.

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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The hand pointing to heaven was the sign in the 60s-70s for the “Jesus People”.  It signified Jesus is the one way to heaven.   If I stood on a busy street corner, with my index people pointing up, folks would start looking up to see what I was pointing to!  Is it a bird, is it a plane…Is someone jumping? Or asking what you are pointing to. “Jesus”  “Ahh, I don’t see Him.”  Pointing to thin air.  Or doing such indoors pointing to  the ceiling. Stuck.  One way to Jesus sign went the way of the Dodo bird.  Jesus Christ is not thin air.  The problem with that sign is it’s ambiguity.  Making the sign of the cross is utterly unambiguous…it’s absolutely clear:  Jesus Christ died for me, a sinner and I’m a Christian.  I’m a catholic.  The sign of the cross does not point to thin air, but the Holy One of Israel alone.  We are not stuck in our sins but freed from them in His Word to us, for us, in us, preach, taught and administered in the Sacraments. It points to the history of our salvation in the Lord as accurately recorded in the Bible.  The sign of the Cross is unmistakable.  No mistake that Jesus Christ died and rose for us all.  This was, “…according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:  23).  Definite.

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