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There are three prisons in today’s readings: 

  • The apostles imprisoned for preaching Christ Jesus in Jerusalem. Acts 5:12-32 
  • John was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching Christ Jesus.Revelation 1:4-18 
  • The apostles self-imprisoned because of the fear of Jews, in a locked room. John 20:19-31

In the Gospel reading, Jesus three times blesses saying, “Peace be with you.”

“…it is good to note that the Lord does not wait for His disciples to go after Him, but He goes after them, through locked doors, greets them in a friendly manner, comforts and strengthens them in the faith of His resurrection.  He could not have done it in a kindlier manner that to offer them peace and show them His hands and side, so that they would be sure of His resurrection and would be comforted against all sorrow, fear, and terror.”

We know our wounds, our prisons.  Jesus stands at the door and knocks.  He comes in.  They knew  it was Jesus because of His wounds.  

The apostles in self imprisonment on account of the fear of the Jews, Jesus stands in their midst:  Peace be with you.  John,  Peter and the apostles are imprisoned for preaching Christ and His “Peace be with you”. 

But there are only two types of prisons in today’s Scripture readings:  imprisoned on account of the Word of God and imprisoned by our own fear and unbelief, not taking Jesus at His Word. Jesus frees in all our prisons. 

The doors were locked and Jesus stood in their midst.  Jesus came into the locked hearts of His apostles by filling them with the Holy Ghost for faith.  How?  He did not need a key. Jesus Christ is the Key. 

Jesus sends the apostles into the world locked in sin and death with message of forgiveness and eternal life, preaching Christ Jesus and Him crucified, risen for our justification; because Jesus Christ is the Key. 

“…no door of any kind, no lock, no bar could keep out Jesus Christ.” (Johann Gerhard)

Jesus Christ shows His fleshly wounds from His Crucifixion for you and I and by His wounds we are healed.  And yet He came into a locked room.  He, the very Body of Christ came into that room.  No spirit, no ghost, no ethereal being of pure spirituality walked through those walls because John reports Thomas could put his hand into His side.  How? You can not place your hand into a ghost.  The Bible does not tell us but here is a reasonable answer: when we swim and the density of our bodies is greater than the water and so parting the water, so the utter density and reality of His risen Body could part the walls (insight from Jim Prothro).  After all: this is our Lord and our God.  Jesus Christ is greater than sin, death and the power of devil.  We think that unholy trinity constitutes reality but sin, death and the devil are finally unreal, even surreal.  The devil loves the saying better the devil you know.  Jesus says do not know him. As if the Lord were saying:    I have known you.  I have passed through your sin, your death and the power of the devil holding you in fear of death. I am more real, endurable than your sin and death itself. I have tasted death for you all and I am not ashamed to be your Lord and your Brother.  I am  the Passover Lamb of all time and for you.  I have passed through the flood.  “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. The Lord’s will is for others to know Him, the key. 

O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

He sent the apostles to the four corners of the world with this message, Christ is risen!  “The Gospel is not only a report of the salvation earned by Jesus, but it is the application of this message, the imparting of the forgiveness of sins.” 

‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (The Book of Revelation)

His wounds are the faithful Word of God’s forgiveness for each and every one of us.  He opens our prisons. He comes into our hearts.  Confession and absolution is aptly titled, The Office of the Keys.  If one resists the Holy Spirit, the door is locked and shut, and sin is retained  It is the prospect of eternal sadness.  If he repents, the door is open and joy floods through His Wounds of grace for us all.  The message of the imparting of the forgiveness of sins, in Christ, is so needed in these dark days. 

Peter who knew Him in the flesh and loved Him was sent  by Jesus to people who had not seen Him and Peter preached Jesus Christ and so later Peter wrote to them: 

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

This is the very same Peter who heard the risen Christ say to Thomas His beatitude, “Blessed are are those who have not seen and have faith.

Believing in ourselves, believing in the gods of our technology, believing in our self help philosophies, atheism is on the rise.  Those gods only inspire knee knocking fear and the absence of peace.  They will do anything to debunk the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and so two points on His bodily resurrection: 

Thomas was told by His brother apostles Christ is risen.  Then Thomas made his famous statement, Unless I put my hands in his side, etc. I will not believe:  but Thomas did not believe the eyewitness of his brother apostles!  The brother apostles did not believe the eyewitness of their sisters in Christ!  Thomas did not believe the Word of God.  He then heard the Word of God, the Word of Christ, Thomas, put your hands in my side.  Different than the old song, put your hands in hand of the man of Galilee, is Put your hands in the side of the man of Galilee. Thomas heard and believed.  These are written that you believe.  Remember, the prowling lion the devil, seeking someone to devour, and the devouring sinful flesh, has tried to do a number on the Scriptures now for a century or more.  The result is we do what we want to do (Old Adam) and in the last century genocide, wars, and terror inside and out, has been unleashed upon the earth as never seen before in the history of mankind.  His wounds seek a wounded mankind. 

Second:  Easter is 50 days.  In forty days after the Resurrection Jesus bodily ascended into heaven.  Ten days later Pentecost.  On the day of Resurrection, Peter and the apostles locked themselves up for fear of the Jews..  Understandable:  if their leader was crucified, then…In fifty days, Peter faced imprisonment, and possible death,  for preaching publicly in the Temple (!), “We must obey God rather than men”.  The same Peter who denied Jesus three times, What happened?  Jesus happened. Peter denied Him thrice and thrice the risen Jesus charged Peter: Feed my sheep. Only one explanation is needed and it is written in the Bible and in the witness of Christ’s Church: Christ is risen. .Bodily and spiritually, the risen Lord sought Him after the resurrection to unlock him and the apostles.  If Jesus had not bodily risen, Peter and company would have eventually left that locked room scurrying away like rats a sinking ship.  But the ship had not sunk, for the captain was on board as He was that time on the Sea of Galilee in the storm, walking on the deep.  He is risen. 

They went out with the message of forgiveness, the Word of His Wounds, the crucified and risen Lord.  Jesus did not primarily give a new religion, but He ever gives new life.  We need His breath, the breath of the Holy Spirit day by day.  Joseph Smith, Mohammed, Buddha do not have wounds and are not risen. They are breathless and Spirit-less. The false gods of Joseph Smith and Mohammed will even assert Christ rose…but not in the wounds of our eternal forgiveness.   They just established man made religions with enough of the actual Law of God to make their religions seem real, hard and doable.  They do not bear the cross. Jesus is real and risen. We do not preach religion, we preach Christ and Him crucified.  Christ Jesus sends the Church with the actual Law of God, and the actual Gospel of God, the actual Word of God, in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,    for his wondrous works to the children of man! 16For he shatters the doors of bronze    and cuts in two the bars of iron. (Psalm 107)

The world is locked up dying to hear of Jesus Christ’s indestructible forgiveness, the key of the Kingdom, faith more precious than gold, than what is seen, for even diamonds are not forever, is forgiveness in Jesus Christ, and this is always key, by His wounds ye are healed,  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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The 11 sons of Jacob hated their younger brother Joseph.  One day, Jacob sends Joseph to his brothers who are out in the fields shepherding the flocks.  Joseph is wandering out in the desert.  He is lost.  An unnamed man comes to Joseph, “And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said.”  The man tells him where they are and a long story made too short:  Joseph’s 11 brothers sold him into slavery and lied to their father Jacob that a wild animal killed Joseph.  One of the rabbis centuries ago said that the word “man” in Genesis 37 is repeated three times, that this man must have been, like the three angels at the Oaks of Mamre, an angel of the Lord.  Maybe it was Christ Himself.  We don’t know because the Lord does not tell us.  Yet, Christ is looking for His brothers. The Father looks and seeks for his sons, both of them.  Jesus’ parables is also about brothers who do not seek each other and who should be.  When Jacob is told that Joseph is dead, Jacob tore his clothes exposing himself in his father’s undying love for his son who was dead and lost to him.  The Father goes running to his son while still far off when his dead son was coming home.     

The father…what was he thinking about?  His younger son asks for his inheritance.  When does a person receive an inheritance from, say, a parent?    His younger son is telling Dad in effect:  you are dead to me, give me what I deserve.  The shame.  In a town, the word of this would get out quickly.  What happened to your younger son?  Probably a question attended by rumors:  did you hear…? Then the father, without batting an eye, divides up his whole living between his two sons. He does not say No here at all. No, “talking to”.   But gives it all to them.  Just like that. What was he thinking about?  Like the rabbi and a synagogue member were walking and they came upon a man begging, and the rabbi gave him some money.  Down the street, the man asked his rabbi, Don’t you know what kind of man that is you gave him money?  The rabbi answered, The Lord gave it me didn’t He?  The Lord gives to us all just like that. Their extended family and the town would be talking about this and asking as well, What’s this Father thinking about?  He gives to me, to all knowing our character. The Father had every right in that time to exact even corporal punishment on his younger son for bringing such shame to their Father.  This is unlike any father I know about to give all to his sons, probably knowing their character already.  This is unlike any father…on earth?  He risks his love publicly on his sons. 

In a far country, the prodigal son met with pigs, pods and punishment.  After awhile he spent his inheritance, his Father’s living, in a reckless, luxurious ‘life’.   He thought he would have life apart from his Father.  A famine came upon that land and famines do not happen overnight.  Night after night, the Father might have prayed for his youngest son. Then with no money, and no food, he hired himself out to a local pig farmer.  By the fact this land had pig herds, this was not Israel, nor was it a Jewish region.  After awhile, he longed to eat the pig’s food, probably, carob pods, even the pods, but no one gave him anything and his Father all the son’s live gave him everything he needed to live.  Pigs and pods were punishment for him until he realized he could eat at home. It was utter and abject necessity that drove him home, not a sense of sin, after all, no one was there to preach and teach God’s Word, of Law, to show him his sin. 

So he decided a course of action.  He prepared a speech in his head.I sinned against heaven and against you, I don’t deserve to be your son, just hire me so I can eat”.  And the effrontery to think his Father would not welcome him back!  What’s missing in that so-called confession?  No, I’m sorry.  It was a deal so he could eat. The son’s confession lacks even an ounce of remorse.  No, I’m sorry. No,

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away     through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;     my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.I acknowledged my sin to you,     and I did not cover my iniquity (Ps. 32) 

He has no contrition or sorrow over sin. His speech did not acknowledge his sin.His stomach laid heavy on him not his sin, he did not acknowledged it, Father, I sinned,  I should never have asked for my inheritance the way I did. None of that.   His He wants a job at home, at least. so he can eat.  He prepares mentally his speech as someone who has been caught deeply in his own wrong. He was dealing not repenting.  

In the 23rd Psalm, the 3rd verse  He restores my soul.  We are told the younger son comes to himself.  The prodigal acts to return to himself.  David knows by faith, and prays God acts to return David to God. He leads me… The son’s confession lacks even an ounce of remorse.  No I’m sorry.  He has no  contrition or sorrow over sin.  He wants a job at home, at least. so he can eat.  He prepares mentally his speech as someone who has been caught deeply in his own wrong. He was going the wrong way. He got his body going the right way but his soul  was going the wrong way. 

And in spite of himself, the Lord was leading him home.  “Oh, wondrous thought!  You found me when I sought You not!” So when still far off, the Father comes running to him.  Hiking up his robes…and the younger son doesn’t have a chance for his well-rehearsed speech for before… The son is still in the far country and the father comes running to him, quite publicly through the streets for all to see a man of honor, fame and wealth, acting so without dignity.  His mercy on display for all see.  The Father’s love and mercy for all to see in the indignity of His Son dying on the cross for sinners.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  Then the younger son begins his speech and before he can finish it, the father tells his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  The son while “still a long way off”, did the servants come with him?  Yes!  The Father and his house comes to him to cloth the younger son in a way he did not deserve at all!  Clothed in a righteousness not his own! 

Now the Father was probably not an old man and had many years ahead. Also  note, the older son does not protest at the beginning: Oh, Father, I will be so sad when you lay with your fathers, I don’t want my inheritance, you are not dead to me. When the younger son comes home, once again the Father leaves the party because the elder son refuses to go in.  What a snot.  A fattened calf would have been enough to feed at least 200 people!  The master of the house goes out, as host, of his own party of joy, to his elder son.  The shame!  The elder son says he always obeyed his Father, I never disobeyed you, I slaved for you all these years, yet here’s the rub:  he has the inheritance, he’s in his Father’s house and anything he has done has only improved his own financial status!  The Father would give his inheritance to a slave?! It is clear the Father never wanted the service of a slave, but only of his son. Son, you are always with me, the elder son was also clothed in the love and mercy of his Father, righteousness not his own, an alien righteousness of sheer grace, gift.  And the Father says, but we had to DEI, as DEI as Jesus must suffer and die, the Father wanted to rejoice, he did not give that party for the son, but for the joy of his return. The elder son is lost while at home.  Can a person actually be lost while at home, in his father’s house?  Joseph’s brothers were in slavery as well,to their envy and jealousy, their greed and lust while in their Father Jacob’s house.   Unlike Joseph, the elder son does not seek his brother. Both brothers were lost in their Father’s house and the Father went out to them as lost as the one sheep in the wilderness, as lost as the woman’s silver coin in her own house, far off and near by.  The elder son said, “this son of yours” and the Father gently yet powerfully says to him, “this brother of yours”.  The Father was seeking his sons, the brothers.

All of Luke 15, a long chapter is Jesus answering the one accusation, He eats with sinners and tax collectors:  He wants joy, finding the lost, the dead alive in Him.  He comes from a long way off to this far country and under His own nose to find the lost. He has to celebrate, more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than 99 who don’t.  They think they have kept all the commandments perfectly!  See the elder son!  He wants reconciliation and His Church is the only land of reconciliation in a world of irreconciliable differences.  He has publicly made known His mercy to sinners for all to see the salvation of our God:  the Christ upon the Cross.

We do not deserve the Lord’s inheritance, but the Lord alone knows fully we need His inheritance.  According to the promise, that is what Christ Jesus has done baptizing you, making you own, forgiving you, finding you when lost, sealing you with the Holy Spirit by, through, with, and under His death and resurrection.

A Church Father preached it well,

“Christ chooses those who stand. Rise and run to the church. Here is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He who hears you pondering in the secret places of the mind runs to you. When you are still far away, he sees you and runs to you. He sees in your heart. He runs…and he embraces you. His foreknowledge is in the running, his mercy in the embrace and the disposition of fatherly love. He falls on your neck to raise one prostrate and burdened with sins and bring back one turned aside to the earthly toward heaven. Christ falls on your neck to free your neck from the yoke of slavery and hang his sweet yoke upon your shoulders.”

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Lessons:

The Apocalypse of St. John the Divine 7: 2—17   Psalm 149 1 John 3: 1—3 St.Matthew 5: 1—12

Almighty and everlasting God,  You knit together Your faithful people of all times and places into one holy communion, the mystical body of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that, together with them, we may come to the unspeakable joys You have prepared for those who love You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About All Saints’ Day: This feast is the most comprehensive of the days of commemoration, encompassing the entire scope of that great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Hebrews 12:1). It holds before the eyes of faith that great multitude which no man can number: all the saints of God in Christ—from every nation, race, culture, and language—who have come “out of the great tribulation … who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, 14). As such, it sets before us the full height and depth and breadth and length of our dear Lord’s gracious salvation (Ephesians 3:17-19). It shares with Easter a celebration of the resurrection, since all those who have died with Christ Jesus have also been raised with Him (Romans 6:3-8). It shares with Pentecost a celebration of the ingathering of the entire Church catholic—in heaven and on earth, in all times and places—in the one Body of Christ, in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Just as we have all been called to the one hope that belongs to our call, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). And the Feast of All Saints shares with the final Sundays of the Church Year an eschatological focus on the life everlasting and a confession that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). In all of these emphases, the purpose of this feast is to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, that we might not grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:2-3).

Reflection:

“Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door, and see all the people”

Some of you may remember the child’s rhyme about the Church above.  In The Large Catechism, Dr. Luther explains that when we think of “church”, we usually think of the church building, as “we are going to church”, but he points out that the only reason a sanctuary is called a “church”.  “But the house should not be called a church except for the single reason that the group of people assembles here.”  The people who assemble are the Church, the communion or the community, “the holy Christian Church” (Third Article of the Apostles Creed).  

The rhyme above could be redone:  “Here’s God’s House, here’s the steeple, open the door and see all God’s people.”  We have spent a lot of time of fussing over the church building, instead of concentrating on building up God’s people, His Church.  This is done by preaching, teaching, praying and administering Christ’s Word and Sacraments. As the Apostle Peter wrote:  “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,  you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2: 4-5). 

Further, this building up of Christ’s holy people, His baptized saints, is not according to our building specs, plans and blueprints. We are being built, passive tense. In my cynical moments, I have redone the rhyme above, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door and where’s all the people?”.  And sadly stats and surveys have been documenting the downward spiral of church attendance.  Well-meaning Christians cry out: “We’ve got to do something!”   Then come the ways to save the church.  We seen what happens when men and women build the church according to their best laid plans of mice and men: see the Mormons, see the feminist church, e.g. as “womanchurch”.  Those are the more obvious examples of not building according to God’s Word. Over the years, I have seen “models of ministry” paraded before pastors’ groups, and new programs like mega-church.  Remember harvest gold refrigerators, kulats, dickies, and the like?  We most likely want to forget them all! As I do all those programs that steered us away from God’s Word.

 Fads don’t build up His Church, only the labor of love of God’s Word in His saints by faith through His grace alone in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  Roman Catholic G. K. Chesterton wrote that the Church is the democracy of the dead, those saints before us have a vote.  This is what All Saints is also about.  When we gather for Holy Communion, the pastor will pray, “…with angels and archangels, AND ALL THE COMPANY OF HEAVEN…”, even with 2 or 3 gathered together, there are countless more!  The saints before us were built only by one way:  the Word of Law and Grace.  We are called to keep the faith with the dead, who live in Christ waiting together the day of the general resurrection.  

Yet, the saints labor and the saints who have died, “…from their labors rest” but who Thee by faith before the world, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blest, Alleluia!”(#677, For All the Saints, Lutheran Service Book). I think we are entering ever darkening days, in which the little flock will be persecuted…but that’s how it’s been in times past.  As in hymn lyrice, the saints confessed Jesus Christ.  This is our calling from the Lord to His Church this day and every day, for every day in Christ is All Saints Day.  I close with this quote from Pr. Bonhoeffer’s sermon from 1933 in Berlin after the Germans under the Nazis voted in “the whore of Babylon” the “German Church” totally compatible with National Socialism, that  is the Nazi ideology.  

it is not we who build. He builds the church. No human being builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever intends to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess-he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him-that he may build. We do not know his plan. ‘We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great timesof construction. It may be that from a human point of view great times for the church are actually times of demolition. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province.
Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions, don’t ask for judgments, don’t always be calculating what will happen, don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Let the church remain the church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.

And the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. Death, the greatest heir of everything that has existence, here meets its end. Close by the precipice of the valley of death, the church is founded, the church which confesses Christ as its life. The church possesses eternal life just where death seeks to take hold of it; and death seeks to take hold of it precisely because it possesses life. The Confessing Church is the eternal church because Christ protects it. Its eternity is not visible in this world. It is unhindered by the world. The waves pass right over it and sometimes it seems to be completely covered and lost. But the victory is its because Christ its Lord is by its side and he has overcome the world of death. Do not ask whether you can see the victory; believe in the victory and it is yours.

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

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Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. -Revelation 14: 6

                           A question I have put to Bible study groups is why are you a Christian or a Lutheran?  The answers vary from upbringing to my friends to my family to a pastor.  Very seldom has been the answer:  my baptism.  Baptism, Holy Communion, in fact all of the Bible, all of God’s Word gives us Jesus Christ.  Why am I a Christian? Answer: Jesus Christ.  Christian from the Christ, not Christ from the Christian.  Why am I Lutheran?  Answer: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church: The Book of Concord.   The Confessions of the Lutheran Church are the only ones yes on earth that by God’s grace alone, got it right:  God’s grace in Jesus Christ is His free gift that makes right sinners, not what we do, say or feel, however religious the actions, words or emotions, can save us.  Christ came to die for sinners of whom I am the foremost.

             For what its worth, I have looked into other church bodies and much is commendable about them. I worked 4 years as a youth pastor in a Presbyterian congregation.  I worked for three years as a receptionist at Jesuit Hall at St. Louis University and knew many find Jesuit priests and brothers, and monks and nuns.  I have seriously looked into the Eastern Orthodox theology and practice.  For instance, their purely Scriptural  prayer for meditation, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or the Jesus prayer  Biblically beats out the rosary, the “hail Mary”, except of course in football…and that kind of prayer directed to saint, never gets to the Receiver, the one Mediator, Jesus Christ who alone makes us His saints.  He invites His saints to pray to Him, our Father, not his saints to pray to others.  Several years ago Natalie and I thought seriously of leaving the ELCA and becoming Orthodox.   What stopped me?    Answer: Synergy and hymnody and the two are related.  Synergy, cooperation, having to work together with God for my salvation. Jesus kind of sort of saved us, sort of kind of by faith. So I got to meet halfway…then I am unforgiven and Jesus is no Rock of salvation, more like a pebble,  but that’s not the case for me or for you or your family or your friends.The Lord came to us all the way: to the Cross.  And it was colleague and mentor, Pr. Lou Smith who re-taught me the Lutheran Confessions with every retreat and practically every conversation and the beating heart of the Church, Christ’s body is the justification of the sinner by grace, as a gift, through Faith..  God’s law shows us the depth of sin and the Gospel the greater depths of His love for us all.  And my wife could not leave hymnody as that Lutheran hymnody proclaims the eternal Gospel of God’s grace.     I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:21  Beloved in the Lord, you His purpose.  He pleased to give you His Son.We sing the praises of Him Who died and rose.

  We only know God’s good work in Jesus Christ. “We do not claim that our Confessors were infallible. We do not say they could not fail. We only claim that they did not fail.” (Charles Porterfield Krauth, Lutheran theologian 1823-1883)   They got it right because they knew by Whom they were made right, justified, not by the Law, but by God’s own Son fulfilling every jot and title of the Law, forgiving us upon the Cross.  We know this by the Bible.

              Yes, Lutherans believe in Scripture but so do other Christians.  In this we rejoice. However, the Reformation was not about reforming a few bad morals and a proper cleanup of the papacy, or a new kind of church government and a polishing up of a few doctrines according to the Bible.  All of that had been done prior to Luther and for quite a time and after 1517.  They all look at the Bible as laws to be followed for a reformation.   In fact, in many ways, the Lutheran Confessors did not want to reform the Church, it was the Lord by His Word and Sacraments reforms the Church, us, you, making us His own in Holy Baptism.  Everyone wants to see something great, but the Word of God is best thing anyone can hear. 

              Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, read  the New Testament and  thought Jesus’ word,” turn the other cheek” as a way to reform society…and he went along way with it and India was better for him.  All sorts of people have seen the Bible as source of good advice, and there has been no end of advice, but good advice does not forgive, good advice will not bring us into the Kingdom.  The Bible is something else than a rule book of reforming zeal. What Jesus Christ said is apropos here: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me.”John 5:39   The Key to understanding the Bible is not reforming according to the law but being reformed, renewed by the forgiveness and reconciliation of sinners by Jesus Christ. Jesus said the Scriptures bear witness to Him. The Key is Jesus Christ who unlocks the door to paradise is His crucifixion and resurrection, justification by grace through faith, freely given, no if, ands or buts, who alone frees.  Yes, Jesus but if you make your decision for him.  Jesus and your good works will get you in.  Jesus but you have to be good.  If it is “if, ands and buts”, more Law, then Christ died for nothing.   By faith through grace He made us good, makes us good as His son,as His daughter. 

 We have Bibles in which Jesus’ words are printed in red. A great and humble Lutheran pastor and professor, Johann Gerhard (1582-1537) said the Bible is read as if it were printed with ink that is the very blood of Jesus.  The key to the Bible is not only Scripture alone but from the Lord’s Word and the Word made flesh grace alone received by faith alone.  All add another condition to grace and then it’s not grace, which is free and frees, You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. John 8:32 It has. I am a Lutheran because of the Confessions as true exposition of the Word of God. Now don’t get me wrong, we don’t have to join the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in order to be saved, that would be adding a condition!  I think,…I know that the LCMS is one of the few church bodies in North America  which adheres to the public doctrine of the Scripture and the Confessions faithfully.  But it is not the alone saving church. All who know by grace they are saved are my brother and sister.  There is only one Church, Christ’s bride and He is no bigamist.  “For, thank God, [to-day] a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray thus: I believe in one holy[catholic or] Christian Church.” As Luther wrote in the Lutheran Confessions, the Smalcald Article.   

 In a favorite episode of sitcom “Everyone Loves Raymond”, the entire family goes to church except for Ray who doesn’t go at all.   Ray’s wife, Debra asks Ray why don’t you go to Mass?  After being embarrassed Ray tells some story about a repairman who comes over to fix something, and he had a lazy eye, and how Ray was so good not to be seen to notice it…Ray concludes, I’m good…that’s why I really don’t need to go.  So, says his wife, on a Sunday morning, Ray, we should just all come over and gather around you?  A pastor in the LCMS, Daniel Preus wrote a little book, Why I am Lutheran:  Jesus in the center. Not Ray, not you, not me.  “For the Church does not live by morals, by the knowledge and observance of God’s law. Nor does it live by religion, by lofty experiences of the divine and an awareness of the mysteries of God. It lives solely by the forgiveness of sins.” (Hermann Sasse, Lutheran Professor, Pastor and theologian,  1895-1976).  We don’t gather around ourselves and our fine Christian principles, then that’s club.  The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps her united in Jesus Christ, Luther taught on the 3rd article. The Church is Christ’ body. 

             The angel had the eternal Gospel, good news to proclaim…not temporal time conditioned good news, like TV commercials.  Commercials which tell you your outsides aren’t too good and if you just had fill-in-the-blank, there product is good news.  Or the time-conditioned temporal gospels of denominations and their programs. We can do an extreme makeover but our souls remained untouched and the Lord is clear, it’s there, in your, heart soul and mind I have come to be your Lord with every Word from My Book, My Sacraments, My people, My pastors to make alive your Faith holding on to Me as I hold on to you.  We are gathered in the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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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 The following is from Dr. Luther’s Sermon on Christ the  Good Shepherd, St. John 10:  1-18: 

      This is fundamental: Christ knows his sheep and, in turn, the sheep know Christ. It, therefore, follows that for the sake of faith, Christ alone should be preached to his little sheep, that he has given his life for the sheep and they are to emulate his example with works of love. A faithful preacher, therefore, should present nothing other to his people than Christ only, so that people learn to know him, who he is, and what he gives, and do not wander away from his word of promise, “I am the good shepherd, and give my life for the sheep,” but believe that he alone is to be esteemed as the true Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. That is what should be preached to the people, so that they may learn to know their Shepherd. Thereafter, then, we must emphasize the example of how Christ for our sake did all and suffered all, so that we, in turn, for the sake of the Word might willingly do and suffer all. Even as he carried his cross, we, too, should carry our cross. These two topics need to be preached in Christ’s kingdom. Whoever hears, understands, believes, and embraces it is a sheep in Christ’s fold and affirms: I hear and know the voice of my Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who declares: I died for you and rescued you from the wolf with my blood and death. Thus Christ speaks, and this I believe, and I know of no other shepherd. Moreover, and as a result, I do for my neighbor as Christ has done, and, if necessary, I will suffer for his sake, and if I am beaten for this, I remember that he also was beaten. His is the voice I hear, and I follow it.

             But if a wolf, the devil or a false teacher, comes and alleges that it isn’t enough that you believe in Christ and faithfully perform the routine, your vocation and station, but must run to St. James, become a monk, and so on, this is the ongoing pitch of the pope[1], that Christ’s words, “I am the good shepherd, I lay down my life for the sheep” are not sufficient; but people must be taught to perform their own good works like indulgences, alms, pilgrimages, the monastic life, and be careful to become their own shepherds and thus protect themselves. The little sheep replies: I do not know that voice; I hear a wolf, a devil, and a false teacher, each of whom wants to tear me from my Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and devour me; from them I flee away and refuse to listen to them.

 


[1] Luther’s examples here are in some ways dated. Yet, the pope has gained new prominence in the media age that trumps personality over character as quasi-divine. Pope is a man-made office. It has no divine institution behind it. His pitch is still works-righteousness to the point that the current pope has said about non-believers, “If they just do good, then they will go to heaven”. If that is so, then the Lord Jesus was crucified for no good reason.   And there are other “popes”:  televangelists,  mega-church pastors and the like who all have an “ongoing pitch”: if you just buy into my  theology, buy my book, do what it says, then God will be with you.  Never trust “If, then” statements when it comes salvation. Beloved in the Lord, don’t run to your rosary, your spirituality“your best life now”, “your purpose driven life” and all the false prophets:  they will not cover your sin with the blood of Jesus.  Run to your Good Shepherd. As Luther preached above:  you do not have to become your own shepherd.  As Jesus preached and His preacher Luther reiterated, The Good Shepherd has called you.

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“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” St. Luke 8: 39a

The Collect of the Day:

O God, You have prepared for those who love You such good things as surpass our understanding.  Cast out all sins and evil desires from us, and pour into our hearts your Holy Spirit to guide us into all blessedness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 65: 1-9                                                                                                   

Psalm 3

The Epistle Reading: Galatians 3: 23-4:7

The Holy Gospel: St. Luke 8: 26-39

Grace, mercy and peace be to your from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.  The text for the sermon is the Gospel.

“It was pandemonium.  “All hell broke loose.” “There’s hell to pay.”  We cannot pay the price.  Jesus Christ has bought us, redeemed us.  He did not owe the devil anything, but we owed everything according to the Law.  He redeemed us, forgave us with His own blood.  The man with a Legion of demons in his brain, heart, soul and mind and body could not pay the price to be set free.  None of us can, Jesus Christ has.  We cannot do what the Law commands to be right with the Lord. Jesus Christ has.   Jesus Christ did by His Word. His blood backs up His Word.  His body broken is for those whose hearts are broken.  God’s Word is backed up by the faith and good credit of no nation, but of God Himself for you. Right away, as soon as He lands on the other side of GalileanSea, He is met by Legion, screaming and falling prostrate before Him.  The man fell down before Him, not in adoration and devotion, faith and love, but the demons in abject fear of the miserable foulness of the demons. They brought the man to his knees.

 Pandemonium and hell and the abyss are not a good time. Always in chaos and turmoil is bad, downright evil.  The demoniac was naked, living in a graveyard, and so probably communicating with the dead, eating swine, chained by the townspeople to spare them, breaking the bonds with supernatural strength. Naked and  unclean sounds like many a TV show, so much internet content, foul rancorous profane conversations in the best of places, life in a many a church and families. Pandemonium and hell is not the condition that the Lord wills us to live in. “Go to hell?”  No the Lord has a better plan, also for the man in the Gerasenes.

 The literal meaning of “pandemonium” is “all demons”.  The man in region of Gerasene had a legion, as in a Roman legion of thousands, an occupying force in the man’s body and soul, in the constant turmoil of pandemonium. The abyss or chaos is the opposite of peace.  It is like the Nazis occupying all of Europe and on June 6th the huge invasion of D-Day, Operation Overlord, stabbing the dark empire with the light of freedom. C. S. Lewis in Letters to Malcolm wrote regarding D-Day,

“The bite so far taken out of Normandy shows small on the map of Europe.  The resistance is strong, the casualties heavy, and the outcome uncertain.  There is, we have to admit, a line of demarcation between God’s part in us and the enemy’s region.  But it is, we hope, a fighting line;  not a frontier fixed by agreement.”

Jesus Christ fought for the man in the Gerasenes. He has fought for our eternal freedom, fights for you and will fight, contends for you with His salvation He has won for  you.  He is yours and we fear no powers, not of earth nor sin nor death, He sees and blesses in worst distresses, He can change them with His breath.

I think J. K. Rowlings, the author of the Harry Potter movies, just may know a bit about the Bible. When “he who shall not be named”, Voldemort, the dark lord, an unclean spirit if ever there was one in fiction, finally occupies a body again, turns up to fight Harry with his enslaved minions, to rule all things. This initial fight in the series is in a cemetery, among the tombs, it is dark and filthy.  Isaiah tells of Israel among the tombs, eating the unclean and worshipping the unclean gods and goddesses who are really demons, communicating with the dead.  Such is evil. Evil spirits, and the devil, think they are spiritual, devoid of a body, but they need a body to function and torment and torture.  This is proof that we were created spiritually as bodies.    The Gerasene demoniac lived among the tombs, chained by the people there, but the demons broke his chains to go roaming about.  The folks were in terror.  The devil is a terrorist. We are so concerned about terrorists and terrorism, the greater threat are the terrorists of the body and soul, and the greatest terrorist is the devil and darkness.  I have no stat but I maintain that more people die from the terrorist attacks on body and soul than all the political terrorists, left or right, combined. This lesson is a lesson in stark contrasts: dark and light, naked or clothed.  Clothed and in his right mind…he was without clothes, naked.  We live in a naked society.  Our culture revels in nakedness, stripped of reason, void of holy love,  lusting for more and more. At one time it could be said, they live like pigs. But we are baptized to live as men and women freed in Christ Jesus.

 How did Israel and this man come to such a time and place and life which is not living free in Christ Jesus? Concerning the demoniac, we are not told.  The Old Testament, the reading from Isaiah, though, gives us a big clue:  they followed their own devices.  The devil never comes a’knocking, “Hi we are the powers of darkness come to enslave you.” “Oh, sure come on, slap on the cuffs.”  The fruit was a delight as sold by the serpent, we told, to Eve’s eyes.  As it is written, Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.    What harm could it do?  You know better than all those oppressive ways of mom and dad, Church, Bible and God.  You will really be free.  They come disguised as workers of righteousness and goodness, false apostles of Christ. Hey, this sounds good, it even sounds, well, spiritual. As John Milton has Satan say in Paradise Lost: “The mind is it’s own place and it can make a heaven out of hell, and a hell out of heaven.” We all know that is true, and again, left to our own devices.  As Isaiah tells us that Israel thought it was so holy in it’s evil, Oh don’t come near me, I am too holy for you.  So ‘spiritual’.

 Recently the President said that if we want to 100% safe from terrorists, we must balance this with a forfeiture of some political liberties.  The problem is not only the forfeiture but the goal:  100% security.  It sounds good. It sounds right. Beloved in the Lord:  We cannot be a 100% safe in this world.  Ask any parent watching over and caring for their children know that.  We can do a lot for their safety but 100% will not be achieved.  But once that goal is accepted, then I will do anything to get there.  Darkness has toehold. Beloved in the Lord! We can be 100% safe in Jesus Christ from that terrorist the devil who accuses the brothers and sisters, “You can be freeing this world by having everything you ever wanted” and it is never enough. Or the devil says,  “You are no good, you are not a good Christian.”  “Tell me something, I don’t know, foul devil, but I have a Lord, His Name is Jesus Christ, He fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit, for the right hand and for the left.  To Him I confess, to Him I lay down my sin, Who has come to me a lost and condemned creature.”

 It is not incidental to the narrative that the man without clothes is clothed at the end of the narrative. We heard from Galatians:  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. It can also be rendered as “clothed in Christ”. I cannot prove it but that passage gave someone the idea of the Christening garb.  Baptized and clothed in Christ, sins covered by His soul-renewing flood.  I was not merely baptized, I am baptized.  A husband or wife will say, I am married, not I was married.  If they say  I was married, it means the marriage is over.  The Lord does not leave us to our own devices.  You are baptized and  this is our life in Christ Jesus and it is utter gift.  Now don’t get me wrong: the Lord can be terror, see Mt. Sinai.  In Romans 13, it is written that the ruling authorities are a terror to bad conduct to those who break the civil law.  The Ruler of all can be terror by His Law showing us our iniquity and He does so to show us His Son, Christ Jesus and His Cross, His blood, His righteousness. 

 At the beginning the demons had the man prostrated in front of Jesus in terror, at the end by God’s Word, the man sat at the feet of Jesus in peace. The man did nothing, could do nothing to be saved and this shows that the power comes from the Lord Himself for us all and has and will.  I have long outgrown my Christening garb, but I have not and cannot outgrow Jesus Christ.  We mature and grow into Christ and He began our lives in the Lord, not us, He made the sure beginning and He is  the sure continuing.  The man wanted to follow Jesus.  The demons begged Jesus to depart.  The man begged to abide with Him. He would by Jesus’ command, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Telling of Christ, praying, occupied with His Word, confessing the burden of sin, receiving His Body and Blood is the safe haven from the devil, where we flee for refuge to in His infinite mercy, a refuge someone else you know might need and the refuge is Jesus Christ, His blood and righteousness, every Word of God.  Tell of Christ, tell of your baptism, tell of your life in His.  “Nothing in my hand I bring, but simply to Thy Cross I cling.

  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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COLLECT OF THE DAY

Almighty God,through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation.Now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

READINGS

Isaiah 40:1-5

Psalm 85:(1-6) 7-13 

Acts 13:13-26

Luke 1:57-80

Bio:  St. John the Baptizer, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, was born into a priestly family.  His birth was miraculsouly announced to his father by an angel of the Lord (Luke 1: 5-23), and on the occasion of his birth, his aged father proclaimed a hymn of praise (Luke 1:67-79). This hymn is entitled the Benedictus and serves as the traditional Gospel Canticle in the Church’s Service of Morning Prayer. Events of John’s life and his teaching are known from accounts in all four of the Gospels. In the wilderness of Judea, near the Jordan River, John began to preach a call to repentance and a baptismal washing, and he told the crowds, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John denounced the immoral life of the Herodian rulers, with the result that Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, had him arrested and imprisoned in the huge fortress of Machaerus near the Dead Sea. There Herod had him beheaded (Mark 6:17-29). John is remembered and honored as the one who with his preaching pointed to “the Lamb of God” and “prepared the way” for the coming of the Messiah. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Reflection:

This is the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald (circa 1515).  The Lord’s vocation to John is amply shown in the detail of John the Baptist:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” St. John 1: 29b

The long bony finger says it all:  it is John’s sermon visualized pointing us to Jesus Christ and in particular upon the Cross.  There is our salvation, not in my heart and mind but in Jesus Christ so that the Holy Spirit bears witness to us all of so great a salvation, we must neglect the preaching (Hebrews 2:3).  The Baptizer’s sermon recorded in John 1: 29 is only one sentence!  Reading carefully the entire text,  John 1: 29-34, the Evangelist reports no other people listening to John in this paragraph.  We are the hearers of the Word.  In fact, the whole world (in Greek, “world” is cosmos), is under the Cross, objectively, existentially and really.  We are all sinners.  John the Baptizer points not to himself, not to man nor woman, not to His blessed Mother, not to our spiritualities but ever and only to Jesus Christ, and by faith in Him, we are His saints, with John, Paul, Mary and the whole company of heaven.  The Lord’s finger pointing at us is His Law and judgment.  The finger pointing to Jesus Christ and Him crucified is His finger pointing us  ever to the  pure Gospel for our lives day by day. 

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