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Archive for November, 2017

Introduction:  On this date in 2004, at a joint chapter retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity in HickoryNorth Carolina,  a dear mentor and friend, Pastor Louis A. Smith died.   He was born in New Jersey and married to Helen.  They have four daughters.  Lou could preach in German, sight translate Greek and Hebrew and knew other languages. He was a campus minister, parish pastor, writer and spent three years teaching the Confessions in Namibia.  He loved British football.  He was also the funniest person I ever knew.  He knew the Lutheran Confessions as he knew the stats for his beloved N. Y. Yankees…even better! He was faithful pastor and theologian of the Church. He is a major reason why I stayed in the Lutheran Church.

The following quotes are either from Pr. Smith’s sermons and articles or from my memory of 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” or “overseer”.  We were talking about bishops in the ELCA and Pastor Smith said:  “Episcopos” means oversight, not overlook.”

  • “Most bad theology begins with bad taste.”

  • “In this creation, life is received in faith as the sheer unmerited gift of God and then shared as freely as it is given in love for the neighbor. If you take creation, subtract faith, and love from it, the remainder is “the world.” Take away faith and love and the creation becomes clueless about God and itself and ends up looking to itself and when it “gets religion”, as the saying goes, the world makes itself into a god. “A god,” says Luther “is whatever you look to as the source of your good.” In addition, what creation, minus faith and love, looks to for its good is itself. And just so, creation becomes “the world”. The “world”, theologically is the creation bent on being its own god.” 

  • 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’”.

  • First, the law (of God) functions civilly; to civilize, if you will, the Old Adamic beast that strives against God. While normatively expressed in the Bible’s Decalogue, this Law is active in the world whether or not we accept the Bible’s authority. If anyone does not want to believe that, just have them check the death rate. It remains at a constant one per person. The way in which the Law civilizes us is by confronting us with our own mortality. Where sexual license, for example, replaces marital fidelity, the risk of disease and most horrid death rises. Where property is not honored all our lives are in jeopardy. Where parents are not honored, the aged are in danger. And the problem with a youth culture is that nobody remains a youth. The result of this confrontation with God’s law, is the great variety of human law. This human law is natural law, not in the sense that the discreet detail corresponds to some natural underlying law code, but in the sense that every law, even the most perverse, is rooted in the effort to deal with our sense of mortality.

  • “Cheer up, things could get worse. So I cheered up and sure enough things got worse.” The old joke catches the problem. In fact change is not always for the better. Not by a long shot. But the ideology of progress has no way to deal with that.”

  • “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)

  • “…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)

  • “…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)

  • “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.”

  • “…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)

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

Concordia and Koinonia

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…

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Noah Icon

Icon of Noah in the 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
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)

Genesis 6:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 

The first mortal sin was murder when Cain killed his brother Abel. This image is of a sculpture at the Chrysler Art Museum, Norfolk, VA, entitled The First Funeral. The murder was not the result of gun violence but the violence in the heart, that is, the will.  Anger and violence unleashed upon the earth by Adam and Eve wanting to control good and evil, but it is evil that controls.   When the Lord sees the violence upon the earth, the violence is not some statistic for analysis , but the flesh and blood of sin and the mourning that results from violence. The act of violence is preceded by the thought and the word, as when the Lord says to Cain,

“Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

Anger precedes the murder and as the Lord Jesus clearly taught anger at one’s brother is murder.  “We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed.”  Cain did not seek the Lord to help him rule over his anger and quell it in the Lord’s mercy.  Cain was set on being merciless as he sought to quench his anger but killing it’s supposed cause:  his brother. Murder never solves and stops anger. This only starts the downward spiral of vengeance (see Genesis 4: 22-24).  So when the Lord looked upon His own beloved and good creation, he saw the scene of Cain multiplied by the thousands desiring to kill in anger and then murdering. 

We are living in an angry world that has institutionalize anger as the raison d’etre, the reason of the existence of the subject matter of so much in the media, radio, conversation, internet, especially blogs and Facebook:  anger.  Why so much violence that we look upon?  The Old Adam desires it. 

 James 1: “19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

If anger produced the righteousness of God, then we would be living in the most pious age of mankind, but we are not.  (For a full treatment on the Biblical understanding of anger, a must read: The Myth of “Righteous Anger”: What the Bible Says About Human Anger by Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs, Professor of NT at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO)

God’s judgment came upon mankind through the Lord’s Word of Law to the earth: the flood.  The Lord’s grace came to mankind in the One the Lord sent for  the earth:  His Son Jesus who as our brother would be killed by our sin.  He alone produces the righteousness of God in our hearts and souls and quenches the fire of anger in our hearts. We can not control our anger as we ought.  As Noah and his family came through the flood, so we have come through the flood of Holy Baptism to rest in the holy ark of Christ’s Church to go forward in the new covenant, Christ’s testament of His body and blood for sinners.  Cling in faith in the Lord and his promise fulfilled in your baptism: “Baptism, which corresponds to this (Noah and the flood), now saves you”(1 Peter 3: 20-22). Pray and we are encouraged by the Lord to pray.

O God,
because without you we are not able to please you,
mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

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 I.      From The Mayflower Compact, November 11th, 1620:

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN.

We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc., having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

II.      In May of 1787, some of the greatest minds in American history convened in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention, chaired by his Excellency, the General, George Washington.  The oldest delegate at 81 was Mr. Benjamin Franklin, Printer of Philadelphia.  He was twice the average age of the delegates and it must be noted that Mr. Franklin was a deist, not an orthodox Christian.   These greatest minds fell into rancorous and acrimonious disagreement during the ensuing hot summer months.  From a biography of Franklin by Mr. Walter Isaacson:

“Once again it was time for Franklin to try to restore equanimity, and this time he did so in an unexpected way. Ina speech on June 28, he suggested that they open each session with a prayer. With the convention “groping as it were in the dark to find political truth,” he said, “how has it happened that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings?” Then he added, in a passage destined to become famous, 

 “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”

Post Script:  What happened to the resolution by Franklin?  It was tabled.Hamilton thought it would give the wrong signal by the necessity of prayer that things were not going well. But finally, there was not enough money for a chaplain. Mr. Franklin noted on the bottom of his speech” “The convention, except 3 or 4 persons, thought prayers unnecessary!”

III.      The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, 1787

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance

IV. Quotes from James Madison’s 51st Federalist Paper, 1788:

 “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Then Madison wrote,  “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”  

V.       On his journey to Washington for his inauguration in 1861 President-elect Abraham Lincoln, spoke separately to each branch of the New Jersey legislature in the state capital of Trenton,. This is an excerpt from his speech to the state Senate of New Jersey: 

May I be pardoned if, upon this occasion, I mention that away back in my childhood, the earliest days of my being able to read, I got hold of a small book, such a one as few of the younger members have ever seen, “Weem’s Life of Washington.” I remember all the accounts there given of the battle fields and struggles for the liberties of the country, and none fixed themselves upon my imagination so deeply as the struggle here at Trenton, New-Jersey. The crossing of the river; the contest with the Hessians; the great hardships endured at that time, all fixed themselves on my memory more than any single revolutionary event; and you all know, for you have all been boys, how these early impressions last longer than any others. I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for; that something even more than National Independence; that something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come; I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.

 

VI.      Excerpt  from President George W.  Bush’s Remarks at National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, after the World Trade Centers were destroyed, at the National Cathedral, September 14th,  2001

Our purpose as a nation is firm. Yet our wounds as a people are recent and unhealed, and lead us to pray. In many of our prayers this week, there is a searching, and an honesty. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on Tuesday, a woman said, “I prayed to God to give us a sign that He is still here.” Others have prayed for the same, searching hospital to hospital, carrying pictures of those still missing.

God’s signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that his purposes are not always our own. Yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral, are known and heard, and understood.

There are prayers that help us last through the day, or endure the night. There are prayers of friends and strangers, that give us strength for the journey. And there are prayers that yield our will to a will greater than our own.

This world He created is of moral design. Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance, and love have no end. And the Lord of life holds all who die, and all who mourn.

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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 true joys are found, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord…”

Our hearts, that is,  our wills are fixed, that is, guided and repaired in true repentance for the fruit of the joys of His crucifixion and resurrection by our hearts fixed on Him,  His forgiveness for us, in us, with us. His life is in our lives. His gift of life is His blood.  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 and Pastor Clement made this clear. “Let us fix our eyes on the blood Christ…” In our land, and in all lands, the Lord needs His fixed people to live as Christians:

Image result for St. Clement of Rome Quotes

Walking in the Holy Spirit, this is done because as another Clement  said:

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.

 

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The rage of our time bears witness to our idolatry.

Concordia and Koinonia

C.S. LewisI recommend a good yet all together too brief a biography of C. S. Lewis at Biography online:   C.S. Lewis Biography.

His literary output was large and has encouraged many a Christian, and probably led many a person, to, or back to Jesus Christ. In an especially lyrical passage in his Sermon, “The Weight of Glory”, he preached:

“These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your…

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Luther Tract GottesdienstThe blog’s header is the cover of Luther’s 1523 tract about worship which I am holding here at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA  (the artwork has been verified as designed by Lucas Cranach).  This tract is the first selection in Volume 53, Liturgy and Hymns in Luther’s Works.   In another post, I told about my excitement in looking at this tract, and three other Luther tracts in the possession of Washington and Lee University.  I comment on the 1523 tract’s content.

Luther was asked to provide evangelical guidance on the way the reformed worship services should be conducted.  Karlstadt,  the pastor in Wittenberg while Luther was protected for his own safety at the Wartburg Castle, proceeded with a violent reformation of the order of worship.  Karlstadt had done away with daily masses. Luther promised to respond and this tract was the first. 

Luther is responding to “three serious abuses which have crept into the service:

First, the Word of God has been silenced so that there is only reading and singing in the services without preaching.

Secondly, this void of the lack of God’s Word,  resulted in,”…such  a host of un-Christian fables and lies, in legends, hymns and sermons were introduced that it is horrible to see”.

Thirdly, the divine service became merely an external work to be performed that “salvation might be won” without faith.

When the Word of God is silenced because the Scripture is no longer considered solely authoritative and inerrant for the Lord to guide His Church, then Luther’s insight is keen in that something replaces the void.  Churches teach heretical theologies and made up stories of golden tablets or  the blessed Mother of God ascending into heaven.  Churches become religious social clubs.  Social action and social justice, i.e. our own self-chosen works, become the means of ‘saving the world’.  The criteria of a worship service becomes our “uplift” and “good feelings” instead of being filled with the Lord’s Word and gifts to live day by day in actual service for our neighbors in faith toward God and in fervent love for one another. “…such  a host of un-Christian fables and lies, in legends, hymns and sermons were introduced that it is horrible to see”. We can see and hear the silencing of God’s Word in the very Protestant Churches that boast as being “churches of the Reformation”! 

In this tract, Luther’s encouragement to address these grievances, was the replacement of daily Mass with Matins and Vespers.  Five hundred years later, these daily prayer offices have been retained in Lutheran worship books.  The guiding Scriptural principle for the daily prayer and all worship services was simple and over-arching:  the preaching of the Word of God.

“Now in order to correct these abuses, know first of all that a Christian congregation should never gather together without the preaching of God’s Word and prayer, no matter how briefly, as Psalm 102 says, “When the kings and the people assemble to serve the Lord, they shall declare the name and the praise of God.”  And Paul in 1 Corinthians 14: 26-31 says that when they come together, their should be prophesying, teaching and admonition.  Therefore, when God’s Word is not preached, one had better neither sing nor read, or even come together.” (emphasis added)

Luther was so centered on God’s Word preached and taught for the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people, then why bother getting together if the Word is not at the center? At the end of the tract:

And this is the sum of the matter: Let everything be done so that the Word may have free course instead of the prattling and rattling that has been the rule up to now.  We can spare everything except the Word.  Again, we profit by nothing as much as by the Word.  For the whole Scripture shows that the Word should have free course among Christians.  And in Luke 10: 42, Christ himself says, “One thing is needful,”, i.e., that Mary sit at the feet Christ and hear His word daily.  This is the best part to choose and it shall not be taken away forever.  It is an eternal word. Everything else must pass away, no matter how much care and trouble it may give Martha.  God help us achieve this.  Amen.”

The literal translation of the tract’s title is:  “An Order of God’s Service for the Community”.  Gottesdienst, God’s Service, is primarily God’s service to us not what we offer to the Lord and preaching is the way the Lord gets hold of us.  As a northerner in the south, a pastor is regularly called, “the preacher” and this is meet, right and salutary so the congregation hear the Word.  Luther’s sole goal in this tract is the restoration of the Service of God’s Word, and the preaching of the same,  in the services of the Lord’s holy Church.  This goes for us as well in the 21st Century.

 

 

 

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