Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, You bestowed upon Your servant Nicholas of Myra the perpetual gift of charity. Grant Your Church the grace to deal in generosity and love with children and with all who are poor and distressed and to plead the cause of those who have no helper, especially those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief. We ask this for the sake of Him who gave His life for us, Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
About St. Nicholas: Of the many saints commemorated by the Christian Church, Nicholas (d. AD 342) is one of the best known. Very little is known historically of him, though there was a church of Saint Nicholas in Constantinople as early as the sixth century. Research has affirmed that there was a bishop by the name of Nicholas in the city of Myra in Lycia (part of modern Turkey) in the fourth century. From that coastal location, legends about Nicholas have traveled throughout time and space. He is associated with charitable giving in many countries around the world and is portrayed as the rescuer of sailors, the protector of children, and the friend of people in distress or need. In commemoration of Sinte Klaas (Dutch for “Saint Nicholas,”in English “Santa Claus”), December 6 is a day for giving and receiving gifts in many parts of Europe.
(from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)
This reflection on St. Nicholas is by Orthodox priest and professor, Rev. Thomas Hopko from his book, The Winter Pascha (St. Vladmir’s Seminary Press) on “good St. Nicholas”. I think it is “spot-on”:
We use that term “goodness” so lightly in our time. How easily we say of someone, “He is a good man” or “She is a good woman.” How lightly we say, “They are good people.” A teen-age girl takes an overdose of drugs, and the neighbors tell the reporters, “But she was always such a good girl, and her parents are such nice people!” A young man commits some terrible crime, and the same rhetoric flows: “But he was always such a good boy, and his family is so nice.”‘ A man dies on the golf course after a life distinguished by many years of profit-taking and martini-drinking, and the reaction is the same: “He was a good man, yeah, a real nice guy.” What do “good” and “nice” really mean in such cases? What do they describe? What do they express?
In Saint Luke’s gospel it tells us that one day a “ruler” came up to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus answered him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone” (Lk18:18; see also Mk10:18). In Saint Matthew’s version it says that Jesus answered the man by saying, “Why do you ask Me about what is good? One there is who is good” (Mt19:17). However we choose to interpret Christ’s words, at least one point is clear. Jesus reacts to the facile, perhaps even sarcastic, use of the term “good” by referring it to its proper source. There is only One who is good, and that is God Himself. If you want to speak of goodness, then you must realize what—and Whom—you are talking about!
Like God, and like Jesus, Saint Nicholas was genuinely good. Real goodness is possible. For, to quote the Lord again, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt19:26). A human being, even a rich human being who believes in God, can be genuinely good with God’s own goodness. “For truly I say to you,” says the Lord, “if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed … nothing will be impossible to you” (Mt17:20-21).The Messiah has come so that human beings can live lives which are, strictly speaking, humanly impossible. He has come so that people can really be good. One of the greatest and most beloved examples among believers that this is true is the holy bishop of Myra about whom almost nothing else is known, or needs to be known, except that he was good. For this reason alone he remains, even in his secularized form, the very spirit of Christmas.
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Isaiah 8: 11 For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
This Scripture from Isaiah is part of the Old Testament Reading for December 2nd in the daily lectionary. The following comments are from Dr. R. Reed Lessing’s commentary on Isaiah when it was still in the works:
Vv. 11-15 – “With a strong hand” (cf. Ezek. 1:3; 3:14) the LORD warns Isaiah to see the situation from God’s perspective instead of that of man (cf. 5:20). Right thinking involves a fear of the LORD (v 13; cf. Prov. 1:7). Such faith finds safety, while rejection finds stumbling (vv 14-15). The function of the “stone” and “rock” are described in further detail in Isa. 28:16, Ps. 118:22; 1 Pet. 2:6.
The Lord tells His prophet not to call a conspiracy what “this people” does nor fear what they fear. ”This people” are Isaiah’s own people. We live in an age with so many conspiracies and conspiracy theories. For instance: after the 50th commemoration of the assassination of JFK, we were awash in those conspiracy theories once again…and the conspiracies about global warming, creeping socialism, wars and rumors of wars. Our conspiracies cause us fear and dread because we look at them from our supposedly omnicompetent way of controlling them and we know we can not, though we deceive ourselves that we are so able. Instead in His Word we look at them from the Lord’s perspective. The Lord’s guidance to Isaiah is not to fear them and this Word is also for us as Lutherans and Christians living in the United States. Our only fear and dread is of the Lord! He has things in hand and His hand, His Word of Law shows us what will happen pursuing the dead ends of idolatries. The Lord will be cause of many to fall and the good news: many to rise.
Isaiah was living in a time of rampant idolatry and wealth, sexual immorality and decadence and false prophets preaching “peace” and prosperity but it was not the Word of the Lord. Isaiah and the prophets were set apart from their own people and yet by God’s Word, they were for their own people. Isaiah said the Lord’s strong hand was upon him as He spoke His Word. The Church, if she is true to her Lord, will also be Isaiah: set apart from this people because His strong hand, with the mark of the nails, is upon us as He speaks His Word. We are called not to pursue what the world pursues yet called to serve this people. We are called to honor the Lord as holy, certainly not ourselves as holy! As He draws near in His final Advent, but even now He draws near to us in His Word and His Sacraments, as the angels sang in front of Isaiah, we also say:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
Posted in Bible, Church year, Uncategorized | Tagged Advent, Book of Isaiah, Isaiah, Old Testament, Reed Lessing | Leave a Comment »
A church member asked me once, “Pastor, what do the 4 Advent candles mean?” I might have said that there is nothing in the Bible about it as there is nothing about Advent wreathes. Nothing wrong about them and some good as a wreath is without beginning and end and so is the Lord, the four candles signify time, God entering time, the right time for us all. I told the fellow member I don’t know and she rather dogmatically stated what they stand for… well, I forgot the answer. The answer usually go along this route: the Advent Candles stand for Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, or something like that. Hope, peace, joy and love are the first things we all want. But on a blog, a Roman Catholic priest, looking at the superficial slappy-happy, sentimental time that Advent/Christmas has become, suggested that the candles should stand for Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven! The last things. We want the first things first…without pain or struggle, without the Cross, without judgment, without His hard birth. As Reformed theologian H. Richard Niebuhr wrote,
“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”
But we are not without sin and that’s the point. The Lord must reckon with that and He has. The last things do come first, then in joyful repentance we accept our death sentence as true and see the true Lord born in a feeding trough (manger) through His death on the Cross. Only then do we receive the gifts of Peace, Joy, Hope and Love. The Lord went through the last things and will in the end of all things. The Lord’s last things make the first things last, otherwise it’s all tinsel, and Santa and sleighs and chimneys. A fantasy Santa comes the chimney but the real Lord came down from heaven and went up on the Cross. Feed on His Word in His feeding trough, manger, this week in the Church.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged Advent, Advent Candles, Advent wreath, Advent wreathes, Bible, Christ, Christmas, H. Richard Niebuhr, judgment and grace | Leave a Comment »
Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, by Your grace the apostle Andrew obeyed the call of Your Son to be a disciple. Grant us also to follow the same Lord Jesus Christ in heart and life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
“If I feared the punishment of the cross, I would never have preached the mystery of the cross.”
About St. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was born in the Galilean village of Bethsaida. Originally a disciple of St. John the Baptist, Andrew then became the first of Jesus’ disciples (John 1:35-40). His name regularly appears in the Gospels near the top of the lists of the Twelve. It was he who first introduced his brother Simon to Jesus (John 1:41-42). He was, in a real sense, the first home missionary, as well as the first foreign missionary (John 12:20-22). Tradition says Andrew was martyred by crucifixion on a cross in the form of an X. In AD 357, his body is said to have been taken to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople and later removed to the cathedral of Amalfi in Italy. Centuries later, Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland. St. Andrew’s Day determines the beginning of the Western Church Year, since the First Sunday in Advent is always the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day.
Reverent hearts, we hold the feast of the apostle Andrew in Christendom as the first in the [Church] Year not only because it falls near the season of Advent but also because Andrew was called first, before the other apostles, by the Lord Jesus. Even Durandus the bishop of Mende (13th century liturgist) , says, “The saints are be honored by imitation, not adored, as honor them as gods. They are to be honored with love, not adored with servitude.”
Now history tells us how St. Andrew. together with his fellows conducted their new office. Right away they left their nets and followed the Lord Jesus. And again, right away they left the ship and their father and followed Him. To them, Jesus is now the most precious one on earth—according to His mind they learn, according to His words they teach, according to His will they live, according to His decree they suffer and die. When St. Andrew was threatened with the cross, he said joyfully, “If I feared the punishment of the cross, I would never have preached the mystery of the cross.” Then when he saw the cross, he spoke, “Hail, precious cross, you who were dedicated by the body of Christ; may He receive me through you, who redeemed me through you.” And when he was living after three days on the cross, his hearers wanted to take him down by force, but he said, “Ah, let God take care of it! Do not make the peace of the Gospel suspect by your unnecessary revolt against the government.” That was apostolic constancy and long-suffering! This is what it means to “leave everything and follow Christ,” all the way to the last catch of fish.”
—Valerius Herberger (21 April 1562-18 May 1627,a German Lutheran preacher and theologian
(The above from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by CPH)
A Second Reflection: Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and his X-shaped cross is on the Union Jack of the United Kingdom. When I look at the icon above and the flags, I think of searching for buried treasure with the map which has an “X”, as in, “X marks the spot”. Our map is both the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions to show us where “X marks the spot”: first, a manger then later the Cross. This where and when our salvation occurred. The Bible is the true compass to show us the Way (see John 5:39). This is where true treasure is buried and worth digging up and selling all to have and hold as we have been held: Matthew 13:44-46. Other religions purport to have maps leading us to the divine. The Biblical faith alone shows us where the Lord came down to us and for us and our salvation because without Him we are dead and lost (see Luke 15 and Ephesians 2:1): again, X marks the spot.
Scripture is the Map. We read in Romans: ”For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15: 4) The Apostle Paul wrote to his brother and fellow pastor: “…continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3: 14-17) We recognize saints like Andrew because they were good guides for the Lord’s Church, faithful to the Word Incarnate, written and spoken, “equipped for every good work”, to show us the Way to the new heavens and the new earth through the valley of the shadow.
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 Lou is A. Smith died. One of his last published writings was an essay,“How My Mind Has Changed” in Women Pastors? published by Concordia Publishing House. It is the last essay in the book and his last. The following quotes are either from Pr. Smith’s sermons and articles or from my 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”. 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)
- …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)
- “…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)
Posted in Apostles, Bible, Church year, Festivals and Commemorations, Gospel, Incarnation, Liturgical year, Ten Commandments, The Book of Concord, Uncategorized | Tagged Andrew, apostle, Gospel, Lou Smith, Pastor Louis A. Smith, Saint Andrew, Saint Peter | 3 Comments »
Icon of Noah, Kramer Chapel, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN
Almighty and eternal God, according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. Grant that we may be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, so that with all believers in Your promise, we would be declared worthy of eternal life,through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Noah, the son of Lamech (Gen 5:30), was instructed by God to build an ark, in which his family would find security from the destructive waters of a devastating flood that God warned would come. Noah built the ark, and the rains descended. The entire earth was flooded destroying “every living thing that was on the face of the ground, both man and beast” (7:23). After the flood waters subsided, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. When Noah determined it was safe, and God confirmed it, he and his family and all the animals disembarked. Then Noah built an altar and offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for having saved his family from destruction. A rainbow in the sky was declared by God to be a sign of His promise that never again would a similar flood destroy the entire earth (8;20). Noah is remembered and honored for his obedience, believing that God would do what He said He would. (From LCMS website)
Reflection: This coming Sunday, 1 December, 2,013 is the First Sunday in Advent and the collect of day’s main petition is,
“…Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance…”
The “threatening perils our sins” is like a flood rising higher and higher about to drown us and it has. This is a fitting picture on the Commemoration of Noah and it fits together all together too well. On our own, we can maybe tread water for awhile, under our own power, and think we are pretty good swimmers. Once the Law of God shows us the peril, we give out and realize can not save ourselves. The Lord interceded for obedient Noah and his family and the lesser creatures to save them. The Lord interceded for us by sending His Son. Jesus Christ was baptized into the flood our sins to save us. The icons above and below are from the Baptistry of Kramer Chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN. One is of Noah and the other of our Lord’s Baptism. The sinless One Who did not need be baptized for His sin, nevertheless, immersed Himself into the sin of the world. The immersion began when He was conceived in the Virgin Mary, in the amniotic fluid of His Mother, indeed:
For You formed my inward parts;
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works;
my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139
The prayer after the icon is by Martin Luther and it is prayed at a Baptism and it is a good prayer for anytime, as we are baptized and we are His.
Icon of the Baptism of Christ, Kramer Chapel Baptistry
Almighty eternal God, who according to thy righteous judgment didst condemn the unbelieving world through the flood and in Thy great mercy didst preserve believing Noah and his family, and who didst drown hardhearted Pharaoh with all his host in the Red Sea and didst lead Thy people Israel through the same on dry ground, thereby prefiguring this bath of thy baptism, and who through the baptism of thy dear Child, our Lord Jesus Christ, hast consecrated and set apart the Jordan and all water as a salutary flood and rich and full washing away of sins: We pray through the same Thy groundless mercy that Thou wilt graciously behold this N. and bless him with true faith in the Spirit so that by means of this saving flood all that has been born in him from Adam and which he himself has added thereto may be drowned in him and engulfed, and that he may be sundered from the number of the unbelieving, preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom, serve Thy Name at all times fervent in spirit and joyful in hope, so that with all believers he may be made worthy to attain eternal life according to Thy promise; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Posted in Festivals and Commemorations, forgiveness, Gospel, Holy Trinity, Incarnation, Uncategorized | Tagged Baptism, Book of Genesis, Jesus Christ, Peter | 2 Comments »
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, Your servant Clement of Rome called the Church in Corinth to repentance and faith to unite them in Christian love. Grant that Your Church may be anchored in Your truth by the presence of the Holy Spirit and kept blameless in Your service until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Clement (ca. A.D. 35–100) is remembered for having established the pattern of apostolic authority that governed the Christian Church during the first and second centuries. He also insisted on keeping Christ at the center of the Church’s worship and outreach. In a letter to the Christians at Corinth, he emphasized the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Let us fix our eyes on the blood of Christ, realizing how precious it is to His Father, since it was poured out for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to the whole world” (1 Clement 6:31). Prior to suffering a martyr’s death by drowning, he displayed a steadfast, Christ-like love for God’s redeemed people, serving as an inspiration to future generations to continue to build the Church on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Christ as the one and only cornerstone. (from The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod website, see Blogroll on sidebar)
Reflection: In the bio above and in the quote below the word “fix” is employed. In the Prayer of the Day for the 5th Sunday after Easter, the Church prays, “Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where trues are found, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord…”. I like to play off that word “fix”. Our hearts, that is, our wills are fixed, that is, guided, repented, repaired in the fruit of the joys of His crucifixion and resurrection: His forgiveness for us, in us, with us, His life in our lives. We can not repair our hearts, our wills on our own. No one did heart surgery on himself, one needs a physician. We are fixed by fixing our hearts and eyes on Jesus Christ and that “fix” is prayer, the prayer of faith in the Lord, in Whom we are made one in Christian love.
From Pastor and Bishop Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians:
This is the way, beloved, in which we found our salvation, Jesus Christ, the high priest of our offerings, teh protecotor and helper of our weakness (cf. Heb. 2: 17, 3:1, 4: 15)
Through him we fix our eyes on the heights of heaven, Through him we see mirrored the flawless and sublime countenance of God (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18),
Through him the eyes of our heart have been opened, Through him our foolish and darkened understanding springs up to the light,
Through him the Master has willed that we should taste immortal knowledge;
For “since he is the express image of his greatness, he is as much superior to angels as his title is superior” to theirs (cf. Heb. 1:3-4)
Let us then, men and brethren, engage in our service with complete earnestness under his faultless order. Let us consider those who serve under our military commanders, with what good discipline, subordination, and obedience they carry out orders. Not all are prefects or tribunes or centurions or captains of fifty and so on, but “each in his own rank”(I Cor. 15:23)carries out orders under the emperor and the commanding officers.The great cannot exist without the small; neither can the small exist without the great: there is a certain mutuality in the whole, and this is beneficial to it.
Posted in Bible, Church, Church year, Confession and Absolution, Devotional, Festivals and Commemorations, forgiveness, Gospel, Uncategorized | Tagged Clement, Corinth, First Epistle of Clement, Holy Spirit | Leave a Comment »