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Archive for November, 2012

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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, Lou 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 was controversial in certain circles.  It is the last essay in the book and his last.  But as usual, Lou was pointed and to the point.  I remember many of his statements from conversations, to the best of my memory.  Here are what I remembered today along with some other quotes.  Enjoy!

  • “Episcopos” means oversight, not overlook.”
  •  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.  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.” 

 

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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

 (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. 

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)

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Scripture Readings:

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

Collect:

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.

Intro:  Noah, the son of Lamech (Genesis 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, man and animals” (Genesis 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, Noah, 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 (Genesis 8:20-22; 9:8-17). Noah is remembered and honored for his obedience, believing that God would do what He said He would. (Collect and Intro from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection: 

When I served as Pastor at a congregation with a pre-school, a teacher impressed on me this about Noah:   we tell it like it’s a cute kiddie  story complete with Disney-like animals, a big boat and a flood but it’s about God’s judgment on all flesh.  It really isn’t “nice”:

13And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh,for the earth is filled with violence through them. (Genesis 6)

And in the narrative the word “violence” is central reason for God’s judgment.  But violence is not “nice”:  war, tyranny, murder, suicide, abortion, bloody fights, seemingly endless video games,  are not the picture of man made in the image of God.  There is no sin in a Disney world…and no forgiveness eitherThis violence and the violent must die and God’s righteousness live.  So Noah becomes the image of Baptism: drowning and living, dying and rising.

The icons above are at the entrance of Kramer Chapel, Concordia Theological Seminary (The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) at which is located the large Baptismal font.  (I took the photos above so that explains  the lack of crisp quality and it’s not your vision!)  I think these icons are perfect for a baptistery. A baptistery is an the entrance of a sanctuary to signify that Baptism is the way we enter into the Church, the Body of Christ.  It is the narrow gate through which we enter into the promise of the Kingdom.  This is why Roman Catholic sanctuaries have ‘holy’ water fonts at the entrance and one dips her fingers into the water and traces the cross on the body.  It is a  good reminder of Baptism.  These icons speak to the narrative of Noah and our Lord’s Baptism by John, our Baptism:

“…God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities,  and powers having been subjected to him.”                                                                                                                                                    1 Peter 3: 20-22

When Jesus came to be Baptized by John, the Baptizer said that I need to be baptized by You.  How true for us all!  Jesus did not need to repent and be baptized because He is without sin.  But Jesus said I do this fulfill all righteousness.  See Matthew 3:14-16 Why?  So in Baptism and faith Christians, like Noah, come  safely through the water on account of Jesus Christ, the form of our life in God:  sin drowned and the new man  transformed in His Word of the Gospel.   Jesus was immersed into our muddied waters of sin and then the Lord’s judgment was thoroughly upon Him and  He became sin  so that we become the righteousness of God.    See 2 Corinthians 5:21   We can walk wet in the dew of His Holy Spirit through the means of His Word and Sacraments. “His blood can make the foulest clean.” (“Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, Lutheran Service Book #528)  This cleansing is the daily cleansing of His Word through forgiveness and the peace He gives you. 

Luther in his flood prayer, which has been adapted as  part of the Rite of Baptism in the Lutheran Church is well worth praying at other times beside a Baptism!

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 whichhe 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.

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Whoever has the truth is a majority of one.  When Jesus stood before Pilate, the Lord spoke of His kingship.  We can say the following to understand His reign: 

  1. His reign, His kingdom is not of this world.  This clearly dispenses with dispensationalism:  the erroneous views that Jesus before the last last day will set up a 1,000-year reign on earth. Clearly, He taught that His kingdom is not from the world. Christ’s Kingdom is a heavenly Kingdom, coming into the world through the Door, Jesus Christ. The Door’s two hinges are His death and resurrection. They are opened by His grace to walk through by faith until that day when He comes again and we see Him who was pierced.
  2. His is the kingdom of truth.  Truth is His treasure and His treasure is the Word of God, the Word made flesh.  The material blessings we so urgently seek are temporal at best. We should not seek after that which the world regards as a high priority. Instead, we should strive for heavenly blessings. The Lord knows what we need but the world pursues what it does not need but lusts after what it wants which is more and more. This treasure rots.  His treasure, His grace, mercy and peace lasts and is eternal. The truth is apart from the Lord, we are lost and lone.  He has sought us, seeks us, and has found us. The truth is that in our sin, His law has found us out and in Jesus Christ, He has found us.  Seek ye first His kingdom, Jesus taught. 
  3.   His is the kingdom of confessing the truth.  Paul encouraged his fellow pastor Timothy to make his good confession.  Paul’s example is ours: Jesus Christ.  The word “confess” means to “say together”.  The Greek word is similar, to say the same thing.  Many say the same thing, There is one God after all.  But even the demons believe there is one God and tremble.  We confess His thoughts, Word and deed toward us. He is the lover of mankind.  We know His attitude towards us:  He hates the sin but ever loveth the sinner, men and women whom He created.  We know this by His Manger and Cross, by His blood through which “…He loves us has freed us from our sins” ( Revelation 1:5 )  This is our good confession.  We need to hear it.  Others need this witness and His Word is a light in dark places for family members, friends, colleagues, co-workers, fellow citizens.
  4.      His kingdom confessed is the contested reign.  Pilate dismissed Jesus with his question, What is truth.  “The Church that would give only a moral tone to secular movements can die of its own starvation”, preached Roman Catholic Bishiop, Fulton J. Sheen, the first televangelist (!)  With the rise of fascism, materialism and communism in the 1920s in Europe, the Bishop of Rome, Pope Pius XI declared that the last Sunday after Pentecost be the Feast of Christ the King to counter-act this strident rule of secularism.  Many Lutherans follow a feast day instituted by a pope!  The Bishop wrote tellingly:  “…if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his rights.” The Church is the colony of heaven, of His Kingdom.  The world does not trust the Church’s diplomatic credentials, which is the Cross.  The Lord promised that those of the truth will hear His voice.
  5. His kingdom is the Kingdom of His Cross. “Since it is not a kingdom of this world, it is, then a kingdom of the cross. Instead, (His Christians) lie hidden under the cross and are secretly hidden from the the spite of the enemy, as David says in Ps. 31…” “(The Church) should not seek worldy goods, temporal benefits and external fortune”, so preached Rev. Prof. Johann Gerhard.  We preach Christ and Him crucified ( 1 Corinthians 1:23 ).  The preaching and teaching is of Jesus Christ.  The Sacrament of Baptism is centered on His death and resurrection:    “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6: 1ff)       As is the Sacrament of Holy Communion:  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11: 26) All so that men and women may know of there forgiveness, full and free. 

His reign, His kingdom is not of this world. 

His is the kingdom of truth.

His is the kingdom of confessing the truth

His kingdom confessed is the contested reign

His kingdom is the Kingdom of His Cross. 

Finally, we are baptized, from the very youngest to the very oldest, into His Kingdom to serve Him, the King who became a peasant. He served us by His Incarnation and serves us still at His Royal Table His Body and Blood. Beginning with Thanksgiving through Christmas, we are in the “comfort food” season.  Just think of how certain foods connect us to our past, the way say, cranberries were done, like my grandmother in-laws cranberry chutney.  His Body and His Blood, in bread and wine, we taste and see that the Lord is good.  This is comfort food so that the journey will not overwhelm us until we see Him face to face.

 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7

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In the 1920s, with the rise of fascism and materialism, the Bishop of Rome, Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King through his encyclical, Quas Primas  in 1925.  Sadly, given the lapse of time till now, this is a timely teaching. This Sunday, the last Sunday  after Pentecost is the Feast of  Christ the King.   It could surprise many Lutherans that Christ the King Sunday was established by a Pope!  The Bishop did say many good things in this encyclical.  Below is one quote from his teaching.  In the cusp of ‘Black Friday’ and Advent, this is a more than timely teaching: 

The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God’s religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God. The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences. …we lament them today: the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin. We firmly hope, however, that the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Savior…

But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his rights….

 

While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm his rights.

 

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