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Romans 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (emphasis added)

In the Apostle’s inspired teaching on the role of God’s Law in the Lord’s plan of salvation, Paul makes a keen observation. First, it is self-evident that the “work of the law is written in their hearts”, that is, the Gentiles, which means myself and probably most of you reading this. Second, God’s law is written into the “conscience”. Third, the conscience “bears witness” to the eternal and enduring validity of God’s Law, that is, everyone has a conscience. Fourth, the substance of the witness to God’s Law are the Gentiles’,“…conflicting thoughts that accuse or even excuse them.” It is on that part of the verse I will concentrate.

I remember cartoons which show a character with a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other, as the character’s moral conflict, “conflicting thoughts” to do right or wrong. The actual conflict is the “…conflicting thoughts that accuse or even excuse them”. Everyone thinks and knows what is right as the Law is written into our heart. We know what is right and good but the further conflict is we should do the good, but we do the very thing we hate: see Romans 7: 13-25. The Lord’s spiritual use of His law is to accuse us that we don’t do the good. As the blessed Lutheran Confessors correctly taught: Lex semper accusat, the Law always accuses.

It is also self-evident that the conscience is fallen and in sin from the get-go and cannot stand the accusatory, blazing and penetrating, piercing light of God’s Law, by itself. The conscience cannot tolerate long the spiritual accusation that I must do good but I don’t want to,and I have not and there is, “hell to pay”. So the fallen conscience makes for itself a placebo cure for our conflicting thoughts that we must do God’s Law, “even excuse them”, that is, us. We come up with all sorts of excuses for ourselves and we hear them everyday, from others and ourselves:

“Oh, no one is perfect.”

“Everyone is doing it”

“We all make mistakes.”

“God will understand after all He forgives.”

“It’s not a big thing.”

“No one will notice.”

The excusing may be as simple as the shrug of the shoulders, “Whatever” and equally deadly. Maybe you have your own rendition of excuses. Note that many of the excuses above should have an exclamation mark, so emphatic is the excuse because of the Law’s accusation and our “conflicting thoughts”. The point here is this: they are our excuses trying to soften the Law’s just accusation. The Lord does not excuse us. He is not a self-indulgent Father: “Oh, that’s okay, do better”. There is no wiggle room for the Old Adam under the perfect light of God’s Law. There is no excuse. The Lord does not excuse, He forgives. The Lord does not excuse from the cross. The Holy Spirit points us ever to Jesus Christ.

After excusing ourselves,the next move of the accusing and excusing conscience is pointed to someone else: “Look, look at what that guy did! I’m not that bad!” Pride is always comparison: not only that I am better than the other person, but I am not as bad as my neighbor. As it is written:

Romans 2: 1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

The inner Pharisee lurks and needs to be put to death. It revolves around the self. Every Gentile carries within “a secret miniature of the Last Judgment” (Rev. Prof. Martin Franzmann) and the Lord on “that day”, the day of judgment the Lord will expose the secrets of men. We can not hide from God as Adam and Eve tried to do. He did not shed His blood on the cross to excuse us. There is no escape no matter the fine tuning of the excusing machinations of the conscience, because He judges the sinner… and the only Way out is God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, from the accusing and excusing conscience to the conscience purified (see 1 Peter 3: 21):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

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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.

Introduction:  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, Pastor Lou is A. 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 is the last essay in the book and his last.   The following quotes are either from Pr. Smith’s sermons and articles or from my 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”.  We were talking about bishops in the ELCA and Pastor Smith said:  “Episcopos” means oversight, not overlook.”
  • “Most bad theology begins with bad taste.”
  • 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’”.
  • “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)
  • …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.”

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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The Weimar Altarpiece, 1555, by Lucas Cranach the Younger
Please note that Luther and the Reformers wanted to be “seen” in only place at the foot of the Cross in adoration of Jesus Christ as Luther points to the Bible which pointed them and points us to the Lord.

“Some two years ago I wrote a little book on indulgences, which I now deeply regret having published. For at the time I still clung to the Roman tyranny with great superstition and held that indulgences should not be altogether rejected, seeing they were approved by the common consent of men… I beg both booksellers and readers to burn what I have published on that subject.”—Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520

This is the way Martin Luther, a scant 3 years after he posted 95 Theses thought about them.  His 95 Theses were too ROMAN Catholic, not adhering and agreeing to the clear Word of Bible in regards to say, purgatory.  They were not truly catholic which means not Biblical.  “Catholic” literally means “according to whole”, the whole of God’s Holy Word.  It is historically incorrect to say that on October 31st, the Church was reformed.  It may have begun but the real reformation of the holy, catholic and apostolic Church began on June 30th, 1530 when the princes and electors presented to His Serene Majesty, Emperor Charles V, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession.  They, that is the princes and electors along with the confessors of the Faith, Luther, Melancthon, et. al., did not reform the Church:  The Word of God alone did that, does that and will.  Our calling is to preach and teaching His Word as clearly as possible.

On this day, we celebrate all together too much one man, Martin Luther. If you want a fuller article on my appraisal of this day, please read my article Ad Fontes!  Doctrine at Brothers of John the Steadfast.

What was all the fuss about back in the 16th Century that caused a schism?  Answer: Justification.  On this day, justification by grace had not been spelled out. The Lutheran Confessions is why I am a Lutheran and also a catholic.  The Confessions contain Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms which are to be prayed:  The Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, Holy Communion, prayed, meditated upon, taught, in response to Jesus Christ so we may be still and receive His Word for the strengthening of faith.

In my amateur historical understanding, the center of the fuss was over the following article in The Augsburg Confession presented on this day, these 2 sentences caused the furor:

Article IV: Justification.

Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God  by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received  into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rom. 3, 4).

 The papal theologians had been teaching and preaching for too long:  Christ, yes, faith in Him, yes, but Christ plus something else:  works. “We do our best and God does the rest.”  No, we have not done our best and the Law shows us this.  The Gospel, the Lord’s one work of universal (catholic)  salvation in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ means that the whole papal system of rosaries, pilgrimages, indulgences can not save one.   Christ alone has, by grace alone known by Scripture alone in the life of His Church.  Even the Law of God can not save (see Galatians 2:19 Galatians 2:21, Ephesians 2:6-8 ).

The papal church knew Article IV meant the undoing of the system.   When the papal theologians responded to the Augsburg Confession with their Confutation, then Melancthon wrote The Apology of the Augsburg Confession and Melancthon’s apologia (defense) of Article IV, Justification, was the longest. These two sentences summed up, not the faith of the Reformers, but the faith as taught, preached and written in the Bible.  These two sentences undermined the institutional church’s hegemony on the lives of catholics/Christians with a system of works, obligatory works to gain salvation.  

The Reformers presented on this day their Confession, based soundly  upon the Scripture and the 3 Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles, Nicene and Athansasian), that salvation in Jesus Christ is sheer gift for sinners who can not attain heaven by anything we can ever do.  The Fathers at Augsburg began this Confession of the catholic Church with the Creeds to demonstrate that Justification is the key of Scripture and had been taught and preached and administered since the Apostles through all the ensuing centuries, but lost and forgotten by the papal church.

 Further, the Reformers were as catholic as Augustine was in the teaching of justification in Christ alone.  The Confessors at Augsburg were not really trying to “change” the Church, or leave the Church, but change it back to the way it was according to the Gospel.  It was a conservative reformation. They did not want to start a new church, as did Calvin and Zwingli.  The orthodox confessional Church is catholic.  It was a reformation not a revolution, yet this conservative reformation had revolutionary aspects for a tradition that confused itself as the truth, both Roman Catholic and Protestantism:

The Lutheran Church has not the slightest theological interest in this antithesis between Catholicism and Protestantism. It does not know to which side it belongs. If only there were a clear-cut contradiction between true and false doctrine in the antithesis! But this does not happen to be the case. For there are heresies in Protestantism which are just as dangerous as those of Catholicism. Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Anthanasius and Irenaeus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation.For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. (Here We Stand (1932) by Rev. Hermann Sasse, Lutheran theologian and professor, at the time publication at the University of Erlangen)

This lively iconographic image shows Word and Sacraments, the Preaching of Christ and Him crucified, freely given rein by the Word for the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people for their faith and faith active in love.

Let us pray…

Lord God, heavenly Father, You preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg. Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

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Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553), a painter at the time of the Reformation and a friend of the Luthers’, illustrated this distinction of law and promise.

Introduction:  After the Lutheran (evangelical) Reformers presented their Confession in 1530 to the Emperor in Augsburg (from then the document has been known as The Augsburg Confession, first book in The Book of Concord), the Papal theologians responded with The Confutation.  Philip Melanchthon was charged with a rendering a response to it:  The Apology (defense) of the Augsburg Confession, which became the second book in The Book of Concord.  In the longest article (IV)  of the Apology, “Justification”, we confess this treasure of the Reformation which the Reformers simply found again, as a pearl of great price: 

All Scripture ought to be divided into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins justification, and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal.

So much has been rightly preached and taught on the distinction between Law and Promise, but simply put:  The Law kills the sinner (see the rich young man narrative in St. Mark 10: 17-22) and the Gospel makes alive (See St. Mark 10: 26-27).  By  His Law, we are found out(see Genesis 3:  9-10) and by the Gospel, Jesus Christ, the Lord finds us  to restore His lost sheep,  coin…son (see St. Luke 15).  

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553), a painter at the time of the Reformation and a friend of the Luthers, illustrated this distinction of law and promise. In terms of the arts, it is music that is most closely associated with the Reformation, but there was an outpouring of the visual arts as well.  

The idea behind this posting is from the blog, The World Wide Wolfmueller, blogger Pr. Wolfmueller, LCMS.  I asked him to use this and he gladly said yes.

Below is a black and white woodcut of Cranach the Elder entitled “Law and Grace”, full color above.    It’s a great lesson with children and adults to find  each of  numbered images.   There is  a profound difference and Christ Jesus alone by faith alone through grace alone puts us into the picture by His grace to all through faith.  

 Pr. Wolfmueller put numbers on the wood cut so we can identify each part of Cranach’s woodcut as  illustration of law and promise.  Use his woodcut for a class or for your family’s instruction to identify the various parts which are from the Bible.

We read left to right, likewise, it is always Law then Promise, so that the sinner may daily take hold of Jesus Christ Who has taken hold of us all.  

1. Adam and Eve, eating the forbidden fruit. Notice the snake wrapped around the tree.
2. Death and the devil, driving men to hell with the fear of death and the condemnation of the law.
3. That guy is you, goosed into hell because of your sin.
4. Here is Christ coming in judgment. Notice the flower (the Gospel) coming out of His mouth for those on His right, while the sword (the law) coming from His mouth for those on His left.
5. Moses, the lawgiver, holding the Ten Commandments. The Commandments are the verdict of our guilt and condemnation.
6. Hell, the desperate destruction of those who die apart from the blood of Jesus.
7. That’s you again, looking much happier on the Gospel side of the woodcut.
8. John the Baptist is preaching to you, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29), and point to Jesus, dying on the cross for you.
9. Here’s a picture of Moses again, this time with the tabernacle. There’s a cross out front with the bronze serpent out front to which the people look and are saved (see John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:7-9). I think there is manna scattered on the ground.
10. Here’s the angel preaching to the shepherds and announcing the birth of our Lord Jesus.
11. Baby Jesus, descending from heaven to the womb of Mary. Jesus is bringing His cross with Him!
12. Mary, blessed by the Lord, pregnant with Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
13. Jesus on the cross, satisfying the wrath of God for all sinners. The Lamb in front indicates that this is a sacrifice, in fact, the atoning sacrifice. The Lord’s cloth is being blowing by the wind, indicating that the Holy Spirit brings the preaching of Christ to us.
14. Jesus, risen from the dead, preaching peace to you, and stomping death and the devil under His feet (Hebrews 2:14; Psalm 110:1, etc.)
15. The spear with which the devil was driving us to hell has been stripped away, and used against them.
16. The Holy Spirit brings the atoning blood of Jesus to you, in the preaching of the Gospel, in Baptism and in the Lord’s Supper. Here, in the Gospel, we have life and salvation.

How wonderful that we are those covered by the blood of Jesus, friends of God, and by the death of Jesus destined for the blessedness of the resurrection. (Pr. Wolfmueller)

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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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“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” St. Matthew 18: 10

Introduction:  The following quote is from Luther’s House Postil  (“House Sermon”: he preached daily in his home) on St. Matthew 18: 1-10.  This is one of the two appointed Gospel lessons for St. Michael and All Angels, see “Read Before You Hear” above.   He is preaching on the Word in which the Lord says that children have guardian angels. He takes up the topic that the Lord highly values children, even to send His “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1: 14) to guard them. After reading this sermon, the take away can be “things don’t change”.  In negative, sadly yes but also in the positive, in the Godly:  The Lord commands and helps us to raise our children, something no government, nor school can finally do.  Government and school are to protect and defend families, not replace them.

“Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” In other words, Whoever is responsible for a child, physically and spiritually, trains him properly so that he learns to know God, learns not to curse, swear, or steal; to him I say that he is receiving me personally, is loving me as if he were carrying me, Mary’s child, in his arms and taking care of me just as my mother Mary has taken care of me. That is preaching ever so sweetly and tugging at us ever so winsomely.

 But why does the Lord do it? Solely for the reason that he understands very well how eager young people are to listen to obscene things and how easily they are misled. Moreover, evil mouths are only too happy to lend assistance here and—may plaintive cries rise to God in heaven!—we now find boys and girls, ten and twelve years old, who can curse and swear a blue streak about hurts, physical disorders, pustules, and the like, and are otherwise devoid of shame and are vulgar in speech. From whom do they learn this? From no one else but from those who should be restraining them, from father and, mother, and from shameful, wicked servants (see footnote below). Young people come to know such things more quickly and pay more heed to them than to the Lord’s Prayer. This has its roots in that old, evil firebrand, our sinful nature, that sticks within us. That is why Christ preaches here so compellingly and admonishes so tenderly to take care of young people, saying, When you train one of these little ones, when they are brought up in the fear and knowledge of God, in godliness and modesty, you then have done me the greatest service. I have assigned my noble servants, the beloved angels, to serve and attend them. Remember this and do likewise, do not offend them, let them hear no evil, and minister to them willingly.

Footnote:  Most of us do not have servants in our homes, but we do have electronic servants:  television, radio, CDs, DVDs and especially the internet.  They are our servants not our masters, yet young people in particular can mastered by them with a false, heretical and devilish view of the world. (And so can adults!) Young people can know a wicked song lyric quicker than the Lord’s Prayer, as Luther points out.  These servants can be wicked and want to master.  Fathers and Mothers, and Grandparents must be, with the angels, on guard for such, restricting at times the abuse the devil heaps on us through them.

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I came across this chart of “repentance” today.  This is a Bibically  false understanding of repentance.  Why?  If you do not know the answer read below.

Notice that this view of repentance is all man-centered, “climbing Jacob’s ladder”, I would surmise to reach God and  the “Gift of forgiveness and peace”.  One could make the chart above a board game, “Spiritual Careers”.

The  chart above is from a Mormon web-site, but it is the view of too many.  Note that in the first step, “Realize: Know you’ve made a mistake” begs the question:  How?  When I watch celebrities caught in a misdeed,notice it’s when they have been found out!  Then one has a moral epiphany!  We all do when we’re caught. There is only one way to realize I’ve made a mistake…that is sinned against God and done that which is evil in His sight (read again David’s Psalm 51):  God’s Law.  

Lutheran Theologian Gerhard Forde’s most influential book was Where God Meets Man and he employed the metaphor of “going up the down staircase”.    In days past, high schools use to have “up staircases” and “down staircases” with a sign:  “Don’t go up the down staircase”.  The old Adam thinks he can achieve salvation, by going up the down staircase but that is pure works righteousness.  If I or you do the chart above, what’s missing?  Actually:  Who’s missing?  No Lord: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Not a lick about God’s Word.  “Word” is Latin is “verbum” from which we have our word, “verb”:  His Word of Law is a verb causing true sorrow over sin.  His Word of Gospel shows us our Savior so we can repent. In the chart above, salvation is  on us, not Christ. Without Christ, I think I’m standing on the top like the cartoon character: Look at me! Or there could be a cartoon character on the bottom in utter dejection: despair.(see Luke 18:  9-14). Where God meets man is in His Son Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. He came down the up staircase of our self-righteousness.  He meets us where we are, have been and will be. His Word alone.  People dead in their trespasses can’t walk up stairs. He opens the door as He is the door.  His forgiveness causes true contrition and sorrow over sin:  look at Him, sacred head now wounded, with grief and shame  weighed down. He has met man on His Cross. He bore our burden so we can lay ours down, repented in His redemption.  The Three R’s of forgiveness are Redeemed, Reconciled, Repented, right here, right now in the preaching and teaching of the Word.  He has come down the down staircase in His Body and Blood for us all.  

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