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St. John the Decreaser

 

The Isenheim Altarpiece, detail, St. John the Baptist is on the right.  The text behind him is, Ilum oportet crescere me autem minui, Vulgate Translation, John 3:30:  “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

“Be as upright and holy as you want, you can never be as holy as John; fast and pray as long and as much as you want, we do not forbid you this. However, do this too: cast all your holiness at the feet of Christ, confessing that with it you will not gain heaven; and say, with all my holiness I would gladly be the least; all my good works and honorable living are as worn-out shoes compared to the sublime, pure, perfect, and great righteousness which our dear Lord Christ has merited for us by His suffering and death.”

From Pr. Martin Luther’s Sermon on John the Baptist, St. Matthew 11:2—15

“The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need.”  G. K. Chesterton

Repent

Below is the link to an article about the Mayor of New York City dedicating an AIDS memorial to the 100,000 who died of the AIDS ‘epidemic’, most of whom broke the commandments and did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord and in plain sight for all to see as an inherent ‘right’.  This is a memorial giving approval to sexual promiscuity.  The only memorial suitable would be the Tablets of the Law broken in pieces, as in Exodus 32. Yes, it is really  THE world’s AIDS day. And as the article points out that so many babies died of AIDS and this compounds the tragedy of fornication.  If a baby died because of the parent’s drug use or fornication, we pray they heard a preacher say, Repent to make way for Christ and true forgiveness. We do not need “just a little Christmas”, we need a whole lot of John of Baptist to prepare our way before the LORD.

 

City unveils AIDS memorial in the West Village at World AIDS Day ceremony

Quote of the Day

“…the Bible is clear…the Biblical writers say what they mean and mean what they say. This, of course, does not mean that we immediately grasp what they say and mean. But the fault for that does not lie with the Biblical text. It lies with us; and that for any number of reasons. We might not yet have learned the grammar. We might not yet have learned the vocabulary or the particular idiom of an author. Luther’s struggle with the “righteousness” of God might be an example. He had imported a foreign notion of righteousness into the Biblical text and so misunderstood the text; to his own great pain. And it took a goodly amount of reading before the Bible could straighten him out. But in the end, the Bible’s clarity won the day”(from an address in my possession)”

(Pr. Smith died on this date, after taking ill at a Society of the Holy Trinity chapter retreat in Hickory, NC)

Scripture Readings:

Ezk. 3:16-21
Rom. 10:8-18
John 1:35-42

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.

Reflection:

“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;  cited in  The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by CPH; also bio above from same book)

St. Andrew, Apostle of Jesus Christ, lived and died, “…all the way to the last catch of fish”.  Andrew, alive in Christ, caught by Him, the great Fisherman, lived all the way to the end.  In Christ, Andrew knew by faith, the end was the beginning.  The cross was a door because of the One who died on it and off the cross, three days later, rose from the dead. 

There’s is a song refrain that has been making the rounds, “Every body wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.”   It is from a country song by Loretta Lynn.  The similar thought is expressed in a Kenny Chesney song and a rap by Ice Cube.  All three songs express another similar thought as to the reason why no one wants to die:  in spite of the sadness and sorrow here,

Lord I wanna go to heaven but I don’t wanna die/So I long for the day when I’ll have new birth still I love the livin’ here on earth (Loretta Lynn).

I think this may be true for us all, I still love the livin’ here on earth…but it leaves me thinking that this is not necessarily meet, right nor salutary.

The apostle Andrew knew of a different life that had taken hold of him. His brother Apostle, Paul, wrote it well:   “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1: 21).  Then the Apostle proceeds to write of his struggle, whether, “…to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” or stay here in the “flesh”(vs):

But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith. (vss. 24-25)

Andrew lived in, through and by Christ, till his last minutes on the Cross.  Is there something more precious than life itself?  Yes, Christ. But along with this song lyric is another self-centered thought abounding these days: “Grandma is looking down on us” etc., that is, everyone is going to heaven.  If that were true, then there should be no fear of death!  There is such fear because such a false hope belies what precedes grace, God’s just judgment.  My friend, mentor and colleague, Pr. Lou Smith, who died on this day, said it well:

“Proper (Godly)  repentance is not a sorrow or a terror or a vow to change, so that we can escape the divine death sentence. Proper (Godly)  repentance is to accept the rightness of the death sentence and to submit to it; to submit to being put to death under the law. And without the real Gospel that is never done.”

All those songs are really a testament to the Old Adam’s suffocating self-centeredness that only holiness can ventilate.  Ice Cube at least knew the reason for his desire not to go to Heaven:

Y’all thought I was soft as cotton
Everybody wants to go to Heaven
Messed around and forgot I was rotten
Everybody wants to go to Heaven
You know my resume

The Lord knows my “resume”. He knows Paul’s and Andew’s and Lou’s and mine and your resumes as well.  Christ came to rewrite our resumes in His blood for our repentance…our joyful repentance…to ventilate our lives with His holiness, by faith through grace.  He started to do this when He was conceived in the Virgin’s womb, amniotic fluid and blood to bear our sin and death and fear.  Life is not generic but has a Name: for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If my livin’ is only my name, then I am lost forever.  We die many times before our physical death, spiritual death, repeated because of Baptism in the sacrament of penitence. Contrary to Miss Lynn, we have the new birth.  Christ is specific, not generic spirituality:  His Body, His Blood, is life, eternal life (John 6).  In Advent, this is the actual message of the angels, not the gifts under the tree, but the Tree by which is given the gifts of heaven.

“Hail, precious cross, you who were dedicated by the body of Christ; may He receive me through you, who redeemed me through you.”

 

Noah Icon, Baptistry, Kramer Chapel, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN

 

Psalm 29
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-12, 17-23
1 Peter 3:18-22 or Hebrews 11:1-3, 7; 12:1-2
St. Matthew 24:36-44

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: 

In 1666, a group of Connecticut Puritans, after a religious and political dispute, moved to New Netherland (now Hudson County, NJ) and founded a city. They were governed by strict religious rules and eventually decided to call their city “New Ark”, as in the new ark of the Covenant.  This town is the city known as Newark, NJ.

Newark, NJ does not enjoy a stellar reputation as the largest city in New Jersey.  Let’s look at this symbolically:  a city founded as a kind of a ‘theocracy’ eventually fell apart as such.  In fact it did, from the Wikipedia article on Newark:

The total control of the community by the Church continued until 1733 when Josiah Ogden harvested wheat on a Sunday following a lengthy rainstorm and was disciplined by the Church for Sabbath breaking.[9] He left the church and corresponded with Episcopalian missionaries, who arrived to build a church in 1746 and broke up the Puritan theocracy.

I put ‘theocracy’ in single quotation marks because it does not compute that man can found a ‘theocracy’ that is, a rule by God!  The only theocracy ever founded by the Lord was Israel, and I do not mean the present day State of Israel, but the one founded by the Lord after the Exodus and the entrance into the promised land. Man founding a state ruled by God only tends to be a religious dictatorship.  

In spite of the enthusiastic use of the name New Ark, it is not true to Scripture.  When Noah built the Ark, it was according to the Lord’s own architectural plans (Genesis 6: 15-16).  When the Lord called Moses to build the Tabernacle, it was according the Lord’s specs. Exodus 25: 10 and following. We do not design the Church as Noah did not design the Ark, nor Moses the Tabernacle. When we think we are building a church according to our own designs, it will always be legalistic and oppressive, as many cults, sects, communes and communities designed by Christian enthusiasts from the Puritans in New Netherland to Joseph Smith in Palmyra, New York have demonstrated.  These ‘new arks’ are not salvation from the judgment of God but become themselves God’s judgment on them. They do not save. Only one ark does: “…the holy ark of the Christian Church” and the Church is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians  12:10ff).  Christ Jesus responded to Peter’s Confession: “I will build My Church” (St. Matthew 16: 18) and the rock is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:3) and the confession that He is the Son of the living God.  The Church builds using the precious stones, as was physical Temple in Jerusalem, and these are the precious stones of prayer, righteousness, faith, hope, love, Sacraments, Scripture, God’s Word.  These the Lord the Holy Spirit uses to build according to His specs:  the body of His Temple, the Lord Jesus (St. John 2: 21).  Here we offer spiritual sacrifices to the Lord (1 Peter 2: 4-10).    No plan, no matter how clever, can save from God’s strict and just judgment of the violence and lusts of the world, the flesh and the devil.   Only in Him do we flee for refuge to His infinite mercy, seeking and imploring His grace,  on account of Jesus Christ.

The old ark was in one locale upon the face of the deep upon the world.  The new ark of the Church is throughout and in the world and like the first ark, not of the world.  May we draw near, “advent” with His Gospel so that others will be baptized into His Church in true and joyous repentance.

 

 

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