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Easter Sunday, on Mark 16: 1—8, addressed also to the newly Baptized:

The Baptism of Augustine

“For this divine condescension cannot be truly understood, and human thought and language fails us, that without previous merit on your part this free gift has come to you.  And for this do we call it a grace:  because it is given gratis.  And what grace is this? That you are now members of Christ, Children of God; that you are brothers of the Only-Begotten!”

St. Ambrose preaching:  St. Ambrose was the bishop who preached the Gospel and it was heard by a wayward Manichean philosopher:  Augustine

“Riches can indeed perish; and would that they perished before they caused you to perish.”

Sermon on The Feast of All Saints, on Matthew 5: 1—12

About St. Bartholomew, Apostle:  St. Bartholomew (or Nathanael, as he is called in St. John’s Gospel) was one of the first of Jesus’ twelve disciples. His home was in the town of Cana, in Galilee (John 21:2), where Jesus’ performed His first miracle. He was invited to become one of the Twelve by Philip, who told him that they had found the Messiah in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. (John 1:45). Bartholomew’s initial hesitation to believe, because of Jesus’ Nazareth background, was quickly replaced by a clear, unequivocal declaration of faith, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). He was present with the other disciples (John 21:1-13) when they were privileged to see and converse and eat with their risen Lord and Savior. According to some Early Church Fathers, Bartholomew brought the Gospel to Armenia, where he was martyred by being flayed alive.

Reflection:  In 2013, in an Italian town a 83 year old widow ‘restored’  a beloved painting of Christ (see above)  in an Italian church.  The painting  depicts the moment when Pontius Pilate said to the crowds in the mood for a crucifixion, Behold the Man!  See John 19:5  Or as it is the Latin Vulgate: Ecce Homo. She  obviously botched the restoration!   The Italian press said the painting should  be called, Ecce mono, Behold the monkey! People were saying she should be sued.  The elderly woman who did this, had the permission of the parish priest and she said she had the best of intentions. A year later the town was elated over the botched restoration because of publicity it caused bringing in many tourists into the town of Borja, a rather unremarkable town.  The mayor of Borja said it put the town on the map!

Many people have the best of intentions in redoing the image of Christ to burnish His meaning for us, but it becomes a botched job and yes, done with the best of intentions. As C. S. Lewis famously and correctly wrote:  

“There have been too many historical Jesuses – a liberal Jesus, a pneumatic Jesus, a Barthian Jesus, a Marxist Jesus. They are the cheap crop of each publisher’s list, like the new Napoleons and new Queen Victorias. It is not to such phantoms that I look for my faith and my salvation.” 

These new “Jesuses” do put their authors and artists on the map of publicity for awhile, like in the town of Borja, or back in the ’60s when a theologian declared God is dead, or the artist putting a crucifix in a vial of urine, or various Christian despising atheists, or supposed Christian theologians declaring heir views on the Christ.  Like a monkey, people have trained Jesus to do their bidding for what they think are the solutions to our problems.  In one congregation that I served the Word, we wanted a booth at local festival but the leadership balked at the possible brochures I had regarding the Lord: “Too strong” “Might be offensive”.  In other words, a Thomas Kincaide version of the Light of the World.  But they had the best of intentions!  Remember the saying that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. The botched restoration filled the village coffers of Borja…for a time.   But a solution is not the same as salvation. Solutions are temporal and if according to the world, not truthful:  to say the least! Then we end up with a distorted version of the Lord, as distorted as the erstwhile restoration above and we can only say, Ecce Mono.

There is an ancient tradition that The Apostles’ Creed was written by the Apostles and each wrote 1/12 of the Creed.  This has no basis in historical fact, but on this Apostle’s day, it shows there is only one authorized version of the Lord Jesus Christ:  His chosen apostolic witnesses, like Bartholomew (or Nathanael), accurately recorded the work and Word of Jesus, the Son of the Father, the Word made flesh, in the  inspired Four Gospels and the entire corpus of the New Testament. The Creeds are the accurate summaries of the Holy Scripture.  

Look at Nathanael: When Nathanael was told by Philip that he had found the Messiah, Nathanael famously quipped:  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  (John 1: 46).  He did not know what he was saying.  After Jesus meets Nathanael, He comments that he is an Israelite in whom there is no guile.  Nathanael seems to have been dumbstruck, How do you know me?  Jesus said before I called Philip, I saw you under the fig tree.  This really gets him!  Nathanael answered him:  

 “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Ecce homo!  Nathanael began to give his confession, his apostolic witness: He is the Son of God, King of Israel.  Yet, Jesus deepens Nathanael’s confession  with the prophecy of Golgotha and the Resurrection:  Heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.  This refers to Jacob’s dream of a ladder with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. See:  Genesis 28:11-13.  Jacob called the spot Bethel, literally House of God.  Jesus is the House of God (see John 2: 21).  The Apostolic Witness is to the Incarnation and His Crucifixion and Resurrection.  This witness, this Good News, for sinners was preached by the 12, clearly.   When the Savior and His work is clearly taught and preached, according to the Bible, received and yes, eaten and drunk, by hungry and thirsty sinners (see Matthew 5:6then the Holy Spirit is working faith in you.  This is the clear picture of Ecce Homo and needs no restoration by the likes of me or  a theologian with a 100 doctorates.  Do not trust any theology that deviates by invention and innovation the clear apostolic witness in the Bible.  

Please pray…

Almighty God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, chose Bartholomew to be an Apostle to preach the blessed Gospel.  Grant that Your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

Strive to enter through the narrow door

READINGS: Isaiah 66:18–23  Psalm  50: 1—15 Hebrews 12:4–24  St. Luke 13:22–30

Someone asked Jesus a casual, religious question, a “half-idle, half-serious” (Kretzmann) question:  will the saved be few?  Nowadays such a question on a blog or Facebook might prompt an endless thread. Notice that someone’s question was in the third person, talking about “them”.  More importantly, no one serious and full-hearted about salvation, would ask such a causal question.  One the day of judgment there won’t be any more religious discussions.  Jesus does not allow for  religious discussion but as He did more than once, He turned His divine gaze upon Someone, us all, the questioner and casual observer:  strive to enter through the narrow door and the Lord’s teaching opens up into a frequent word icon in His teaching:  a wedding banquet, a feast.  And His gaze is pure mercy to those who know they don’t have a chance in hell to get in and that means those who shouldn’t be on the Lord’s guest list. Luther preached it well as usual:

“Why, for what reason, can they not enter? For that reason that they do not know what the narrow gate is; for that is faith, which makes a person small, yea, altogether nothing, that he must despair of his own works and cling only to God’s grace, forgetting all other things because of that. But the saints of Cain’s kind think that good works are the narrow gate; therefore they do not become humble, do not despair of their works, yea, they gather them with great sacks, hang them around themselves, and thus endeavor to get through.”

‘O Lord of heaven and earth, look at me I am really good and so open up!’   Even those invited to a State Dinner in the White House, that is the rich and famous, are still thrilled and honored by an invite! 

Many people say there are many doors into salvation: Buddhism, Islam (well not so much them!), Hinduism…etc. all under the rubric of good works…then even atheism works if they are moral but even such thinking shows the reality of God’s Law:  we better do good. In other words:   We have the key to get in and it is those good works. There was a song years back with the refrain, Jesus you’re all right by me.  Even Mohammed thought Jesus was swell, but Mohammed had all his man made works to get in but he really didn’t need Jesus and had no time for true God and true Man as His Savior, but say, going to Mecca, that’ll do it. Not even God’s Law but Mohammed’s self-invented law.  No wonder Mecca is  so crowded once a year to the point people die by being trampled to death.  Such wide open religious heresies trample down souls to eternal death.  Jesus’ invitation is to the dead, those dead in sin, and then the Door is flung open, laying down our sin at His feet by His Word of grace, invite:

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

And yes there are righteous deeds, fine linen, we can do in Christ, again, “granted (His Bride,the Church) to clothe herself” the righteous deeds we get to do for the Lamb has died for us all.  We give thanks to the Lord for the good we were permitted to give and to receive.

Strive, Jesus said and the word there in Greek is “agon”, as in agonize, we need discipline as it says in the Epistle from Hebrew today, God is training us: he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness (Hebrews).  A human father does not care for his illegitimate children and does not discipline them. We are legitimate children of God, baptized and He is disciplining us in our trials.  Today is the end of the Olympics and it is amazing the single narrow minded focus those athletes have in accomplishing there goal, the discipline, and not even to medal,  but just to finish. We can see the agony at times on their faces.  A runner can carry no baggage to run  the race.  When we confess our sins and are contrite about the wrong we have done, shown us by God’s Law, there is the Word of the Cross bespeaking us righteous, and the Cross is the narrow door by which we come through by God’s mercy in Jesus alone, as the bulletin cover illustrates (see above).  The man is portrayed as coming through the Cross buck naked. “Nothing in my hand I bring, but only to Thy Cross I Cling”.  The Lord brings the fruit of His Cross in the Word spoken, written and sacramental. We really do not come to the Cross, the Lord in His Word brings the Cross, His forgiveness, to us. As it is written in Hebrews 12, we heard recently,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross

The preacher uses the image of a stadium and foot race.  We are being cheered on by none other than the saints in Christ, with the Lord, awaiting with us, the Day of Judgment, the Day of Resurrection, “so great a cloud of witnesses”.  Our faith is perfect not in what we do, but in Jesus and what He has done:  the founder and perfecter of our faith.  Please note and know that  Jesus is the perfecter of our faith, not you, not me, Christ alone perfects our faith. I would guess that many a gymnast does what they do because of their coach who should be both tough and caring.  Even more so is the Lord who endured the cross and its shame! 

Back to the Olympic athletes:  their focus in their particular sport is so narrow, but no one says about them, they are so damn narrow-minded.  But the true Christian faith has leveled against us  the charge, Christianity and you Christians are so narrow minded, rigid and the like.  Yes!  The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod bears that charge of narrow-mindedness.  Yesterday, one of the ELCA families I met, and directed them to their table, explained to his son about the synod:  “They are VMI of Lutherans”.  But only insofar as, we teach and preach the Bible, taught purely by the Lutheran Confessions, the Lord’s written and enfleshed invitation to us all, all sinners:  Jesus is the door and faith is the key and the key is given by His grace alone.  And many Christians invent easier ways but they are just excuses for sin, not the forgiveness of sin. I am the way, the truth and life, no comes to the Father, but by Me, the Lord Jesus clearly taught. In fact, Jesus, I am the door. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.   “Let me show you the door”, can be a scary thing someone says to us, especially the Lord!  That is, get out.  Jesus is clear that will happen as if faith and salvation is so casual, or a game, or we make up the rules as we go along.  And  that same phrase, “let me show you the door”,  is sheer joy,  when we are pointed ever to the Lord in opening to the sinner the Kingdom of heaven for all believers.   He is the ever open door, so that we are saved in the pastures of His Word, the Word made flesh, and can go in and out and ever find pasture. In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Concordia and Koinonia

Collect of the Day: 

O God, enkindled with the fire of Your love, Your servant Bernard of Clairvaux became a burning and a shining light in Your Church. By Your mercy, grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline and may ever walk in Your presence as children of light; through Jesus Christ. our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About Bernard: A leader in Christian Europe in the first half of the twelfth century AD, Bernard is honored in his native France and around the world. Born into a noble family in Burgundy in 1090, Bernard left the affluence of his heritage and entered the monastery of Citeaux at the age of twenty-two. After two years, he was sent to start a new monastic house at Clairvaux. His work there was blessed in many…

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DEATH OF GOD | US GOD'S DEATH | image tagged in jesus | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

One of the controversial points of Christian and Biblical doctrine is that God died in Christ.  Some say this can not be so because God can not suffer and die.  If He did not die and suffer in Christ, then salvation in Christ is for naught, indeed, eternal life was not in the balance. It is: In Christ, God was reconciling the world in Christ and only the death of God in Christ could accomplish so great salvation, against the weight of sin and death, as it is taught in The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord:  Article XIII, quoting Dr. Luther,  from The Book of Concord:  The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (emphasis my own below):

Dr. Luther says also in his book Of the Councils and the Church: We Christians must know that if God is not also in the balance, and gives the weight, we sink to the bottom with our scale. By this I mean: If it were not to be said [if these things were not true], God has died for us, but only a man, we would be lost. But if “God’s death” and “God died” lie in the scale of the balance, then He sinks down, and we rise up as a light, empty scale. But indeed He can also rise again or leap out of the scale; yet He could not sit in the scale unless He became a man like us, so that it could be said: “God died,” “God’s passion,” “God’s blood,” “God’s death.” For in His nature God cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is correctly called God’s death, when the man dies who is one thing or one person with God…

Hence it is manifest that it is incorrect to say or write that the above-mentioned expressions (God suffered, God died) are only …mere words, and that it is not so in fact. For our simple Christian faith proves that the Son of God, who became man, suffered for us, died for us and redeemed us with His blood.

On John the Baptist and Steadfastness:

 “…John’s (the Baptist) steadfastness is held up as an example to be followed by all faithful teachers—indeed also by all true Christians. John was not a reed. He did not allow himself to be deterred from the pathway of truth and from his calling by the world’s cunning and temptation.  So also Christians are not to be fickle and erratic like a reed.  Rather, they are to be grounded like pillars and columns in the house of God.   1 Tim. 3: 15, Rev. 3: 12ff

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