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The Office of the Keys is the office of confession and absolution. This authority is located in Christ which He gives to His Church.  The proof texts of the Keys are these Bible verses:

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (St. Matthew 16)

“…He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (St. John 20)

18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (St. Matthew 18)

The Matthew 16 passage is in the narrative of Peter’s Confession of Christ.  Since Scripture interprets Scripture, the John 20 Resurrection narrative shows us that Jesus gave this authority in the Holy Spirit to all the apostles.  Peter is the representative of the Apostles but he is not superior to his brother apostles as the Lord made clear:

St. Matthew 20:  “…Jesus called them (the disciples)  to him and said,“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…

 St. Matthew 18 in its entirety is Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness, one of five such sermons in this Gospel.  The Matthew 18:18 passage is the culmination of the preceding verses 15-17 which are His teaching about brother forgiving repentant brother.  It is clear that the binding and loosing is for the whole Church, that is, all the baptized. It is clear from the Lord that His perfect will is to have His forgiveness permeate all of the Church.  The Keys are not a personal possession dangling from the cincture of a pope or a priest, and for that matter, a pastor in his parish.   If pastors and priests use the Keys to lord it over their brothers and sisters in Christ, then they are abusing them. They are the possession of the whole Church as the Church is the Lord’s own body.  The Church is the land of reconciliation in an unforgiving world.  

There are two aspects in the use of the Key and who uses them.  “…the use of the keys is twofold, public and private”, as Luther makes plain based upon Scriptures.  The Apostles used the keys publicly in the midst of the Church as there are public sinners known by the Church (St. Matthew 18 17).  The goal is always forgiveness but if the baptized sinner is not repentant, then his sin is bound or retained.  This does not mean the end though, since the goal is always forgiveness and reconciliation.

Probably, the most commented upon type of public transgression within a congregation is adultery, such as living together.  The authority to bind is part of the mark of the Church that demonstrates publicly this is the true Church as these Gospel passages form and inform the Church. Too many congregations might have more empty pew spaces if the Gospel was lived out this way.

 Luther called The Office of the Keys one of the seven marks of the Church. This means that retention/binding of sin is also a mark of the Church. When forgiveness is withheld because of the person’s unwillingness to repent, then we become afraid this won’t be good for public relations.  Yes, that’s right:  it won’t be good for p.r.  This could be a reason that so much of the Church is in such disease/dis-ease:  we are not faithfully obedient to the Lord in also when needed retain sin.  Now, the goal is not  to get rid of the unrepentant since the Lord desires all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9;  1 Timothy 2: 3-5).   The disease in the Church is we do not preach, teach  and practice repentance!  Without repentance, then forgiveness, God’s own Cross-formed forgiveness, is then denied.  We excuse a brother’s sin and we leave him in it.  Jonah had to go to Ninevah as Christ had to come to us all.  The Lord does not want to leave a sinner in his prison rotting. We are good at excusing sin, but we are remade good by sin forgiven. 

A key unlocks a door.  Sometimes the poor sinner, knowing his own most grievous fault, which is known only to him, needs to meet privately with the Pastor  for confession and absolution. The man needs to hear from God’s own mouth His Word of absolution from the Pastor.  This is the private use of the Keys by the public minister in Christ’s Church.  What binds the sinner is unlocked in the Word of Absolution, Christ’s own forgiveness flowing from His riven side.

 Psalm 107

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
    and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
    they fell down, with none to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
    and burst their bonds apart.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
    and cuts in two the bars of iron.

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At the beginning of Genesis chapter 37, when Joseph’s brothers were out in the fields pasturing the flocks, Jacob sends  Joseph out to see how they are doing.  As Joseph goes into the wide expanse of Palestine, a man comes and speaks with Joseph.

15 And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

Since in the Valley of Hebron there might not have been many people walking about, some of the rabbis thought the man was an angel.  Only an angel would have been out there.    In addition, no less than the angel Gabriel  in Daniel 8:16  is called a man. Nevertheless, the man does have an aura of mystery about him, because he comes out of nowhere.  He seems to read Joseph’s face and his posture: he just knows  Joseph is seeking something or someone. The stranger sent Joseph to his brothers which began the whole story of Joseph being sold into slavery.  This is part of God’s plan.  Being made a slave is a curse.  We have curses in our lives and we want to curse even the Lord for them, or out ‘bad luck’ or whatever. The Lord can use them and not just to be a blessing for the person who is suffering but for the good of many…as in Joseph.

“What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers…”  Then as it turns out, Joseph years later, in a wholly different fashion, in Egypt,  or as he was known by the Egyptian name,  Zaphenath-paneah, as Pharoah’s second in command, Joseph would still seek his brothers…and he found them.  They repented and in repentance, Joseph forgave them.  In repentance and forgiveness Joseph found his brothers whom he sought so many years before his journey into slavery and freedom.

Joseph, as a lord in Egypt, freed his brothers in forgiveness. Joseph knew it was right to do so. His brothers repented:

“And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (chapter 50)

Jesus came as God incarnate to be our brother. Greater evil  was done to Jesus than Joseph.  Jesus bore the evils of those who would not have them as their brother, all of His creatures made in His image and His image was cracked and shattered in man.  He came seeking His brothers so that He keeps a people alive to this day. God meant it for good when we meant evil:

We fled Thee, and in losing Thee
We lost our brother too;
Each singly sought and claimed his own;
Each man his brother slew.

But Thy strong love, it sought us still
And sent Thine only Son
That we might hear His Shepherd’s voice
And, hearing Him, be one.

(LSB #569, In Adam We Have All Been One)

The Lord still seeks His brothers and sisters. He calls us in Lent and in all times to seek His brothers and sisters. Seek His brothers and sisters for consolation, prayer, conversation and encouragement, sharing joys and sorrows,  not only for them but also from them.  In an age that has all the cyber-means of centering one’s self on one’s self in mighty significant ways, seeking someone beside your self is the beginning of salvation.  The Christ in my brother is stronger than the Christ that is within me (Pr. Bonhoeffer).  

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again,

“Behold, I and the children God has given me.” (Hebrews 2)

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Scripture Readings:
2 Samuel 7:4-16
Romans 4:13-18
Matthew 2:13-152:19-23

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, from the house of Your servant David You raised up Joseph to be the guardian of Your incarnate Son and the husband of His mother, Mary. Grant us grace to follow the example of this faithful workman in heeding Your counsel and obeying Your commands; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Reflection:  I think  March 19th, Joseph, Guardian of Jesus should be observed by the Church as Fathers’ Day, as the following reflection by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon in Touchstone magazine makes clear and as does the issue of Touchstone on St. Joseph also makes clear.  (BTW:  Touchstone is an excellent Christian and orthodox magazine).

There is something strongly impressive in the Bible’s final remark on the life of St. Joseph: “Then [Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. . . . And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:51–52). The Son of Godwas raised, that is to say, as any little boy should be raised, growing day by day in the practical and moral skills of life, the formation of character, even as he grew in height and build. While God’s Son assumed humanity in his mother’s womb, it was Joseph who taught him what it means to be a man. Thus, Joseph was to leave the forming mark (charakterin Greek) of his own manhood on the God-Man. Jesus, in his hometown, was known as “the carpenter’s son” (ho tou tektonos huios—Matt. 13:55).

Few if any writers have shown as much exegetical insight into St. Joseph, I think, as Bernard of Clairvaux, who preached a homily on this saint back in the twelfth century. Bernard spoke of Joseph as “the man of virtue,” who “deserved to be so honored by God that he was called, and was believed to be, the father of God” (meruit honorari a Deo ut pater Dei et dictus et creditus sit).

Detecting the subtle suggestions dropped in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Bernard compared St. Joseph to his Old Testament counterpart, Joseph the Patriarch. Both men, Bernard noted, were men of chastity, unwilling to touch women who did not belong to them. Each man, likewise, was driven into Egypt by the ill will of others, in the first case by the older sons of Jacob, and in the second by King Herod.

Both men were given divine messages in their dreams. The older Joseph “provided grain, not only for himself, but for all the people,” while the later Joseph “received for safekeeping the Living Bread from heaven, both for himself and for the whole world.”

In the biblical genealogies, Jesus’ lineage is traced back to David, not through his mother, but through Joseph, to whom Jesus had no biological relationship (Matt. 1:16; Luke 3:23–31). Thus, Jesus inherited the messianic title “Son of David,” not through Mary, but through the man who served him, literally,in loco parentis (in place of parents).

Bernard was impressed by Joseph’s Davidic lineage:

Truly of the house of David, this man  Joseph truly descended from the royal stem, noble in lineage, more noble in mind. . . . Indeed was he a son of David, not only in flesh, but also in faith, in holiness, in devotion. The Lord found him, as it were, another David, a man after his own heart, to whom he could safely commit the most secret and most sacred purpose of his heart—to whom, as to another David, he manifested the deep and concealed things of his wisdom, and whom he would not permit to be ignorant of the Mystery which none of the princes of this world have known. To him it was given to see what many kings and prophets had longed to see, but had not seen, and to hear, but had not heard. And he was given, not only to see and to hear, but also to carry, to lead, to embrace, to kiss, to nurture, and to guard. (Super Missus Est Homiliae2.16)

Every vocation is unique, surely, in the sense that the Good Shepherd calls each of his sheep by its own proper name. Still, there was something more particularly unique about the vocation of St. Joseph.

Just how does a man learn the proper form and method for being the foster-father of God’s Son and the spouse of that divine Son’s virgin mother? One suspects that there were no manuals on the subject. Joseph was obliged simply to follow God’s call wherever it led. Like Abraham, “he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). And if Abraham, in thus following God by faith, is called “our father” (Rom. 4:12), there must be some sense in which St. Joseph serves as our foster-father.

With so distinctive and demanding a vocation, we might excuse Joseph if, on occasion, he sometimes felt anxious and insecure. The available evidence, however, indicates that this was not the case. Joseph appears four times in the Gospel of Matthew, and every single time he is sound asleep. Whatever troubles Joseph endured, they did not includeinsomnia. Joseph’s vocation was not simply difficult; it was impossible. Consequently, he realized that all of it, in the end, depended on God, not himself.

(Taken from Christ in His Saints)

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Quote of the Day

He bows His head on the timber-trunk of the cross to kiss us in love. He stretches out His arms in order to embrace us in love. He prays for His crucifiers because He suffered out of love for them. His side is opened up with a spear so that the flame of heartfelt love might break forth from it, “so that we through the wound’s opening may behold the mystery of the heart.” In love He longs for us, and thus He said: I thirst [that is,] for your salvation.”By Your struggle-unto-death and Your bloody sweat, help us dear Lord God.” (Pr. and Prof. Johann Gerhard)

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St. Patrick was so clear in his preaching of the Holy Trinity and devotion to the Lord, One in Three, Three in One, many have undertaken to explain the Holy Trinity.  Here is a video clip by Pr. Hans Fiene, Lutheran Satire  and a quote from 17th Century Lutheran pastor and theologian, Johann Gerhard basically saying the same thing about the various sundry  explanations of the blessed Holy Trinity.  Blessed St. Patrick’s Day!


BTW:  I don’t think St. Patrick in his few extant writings ever explained the Holy Trinity in the ways portrayed in this video!  But the satire is using the similes which have been used over the centuries in the mouth of the saint. But given his writings,  I am only guessing but St. Patrick would have confessed the Creeds as the correct teaching of the Lord, Father, Son and Holy Ghost!

The Fathers employed a number of similes to explain (the Holy Trinity), such as the sun, in which there is light, heat, and radiance; or the human soul, in which there is intelligence, knowledge, and love; or an herb in which there is odor, taste, and effect; yet there is only one sun, one soul, and one herb. And there are other figures from nature which one can use. However, they do not provide a perfect understanding; for every figure is inferior to the actual thing it represents. It would no longer be a mystery if one could understand it. It would no longer be exceptional if there were an exact duplicate. If one could comprehend it, it would no longer by incomprehensible. As little as one can scoop up the entire ocean with a small spoon is as little as one can fathom this boundless mystery with human reason. God is exalted as high above all creation as our created intelligence is below the knowledge of God’s essence. If we do not even understand how we are born into this world, how can we expect to understand how God’s Son is begotten from all eternity? If we do not understand how the vital elements are processed in the chambers of our hearts and circulated through the arteries of our bodies, how can we at all understand how the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son?

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I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three,
Of whom all nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!

Hymn # 172 from Lutheran Worship

Let us pray… God of grace and might, we praise You for your servant Patrick, to whom You gave gifts to make the good news known to the people of Ireland. Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds and evangelists of Your kingdom, so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lessons: Isaiah 62: 1-7; Psalm 48; Romans 10: 11-17; St. Luke 24: 44-53

Bio:  Patrick is one of the best-known of the missionary saints. Born to a Christian family in Britain around the year 389, he was captured as a teenager by raiders, taken to Ireland, and forced to serve as a herdsman. After six years he escaped and found his way to a monastery community in France. Ordained a bishop in 432, he made his way back to Ireland, where he spent the rest of his long life spreading the Gospel and organizing Christian communities. He strongly defended the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in a time when it was not popular to do so. His literary legacy includes his autobiography, Confession, and several prayers and hymns still used in the church today. Patrick died around the year 466.  Read more about St. Patrick’s biography here, citing quotes from his Confession.

Reflection: The Church’s mission is Baptism.  St. Patrick, missionary Bishop, knew that. The Lord did not send Patrick to the land of Eire to establish Irish national identity, drink green beer (itself a heresy!), get drunk in a pub and have another reason for “hooking-up”.  He came to preach the Christ who sets us free from all of that and all sin and death.

He wrote a majestic poem that became a hymn on Holy Baptism (see above). Ireland had been evangelized prior to Patrick but it was through this servant of the Lord that the Faith was rooted.  Bishop Patrick’s preaching of Jesus Christ was to the baptized who had wandered down false paths and dead ends to return to the waters. Patrick’s preaching of Christ was for the baptized to walk in the newness of life in Christ as a baptized son or daughter. Bishop Patrick’s preaching of Jesus Christ was for the pagan to come to the waters, to bind unto themselves the strong Name of the Holy Trinity. Jesus Christ commanded His Church to baptize in the Name of the Holy Trinity, not in the Church’s name,nor Patrick’s nor Luther’s, for that matter.  The baptism mission of the Church is obviously not fads and fashions, techniques and clever tactics to “get people into Church”.  The Baptism is always into Jesus Christ and His Cross (see Romans 6: 1ff). 

Patrick did not water down Holy Baptism!  He did not water down the doctrine and practice of the Church to “reach people”.  His goal was not ‘outreach’ to people but preach the Word so that people call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved, and that means:  Holy Baptism.   Patrick knew that he was a “jar of clay” (see 2 Corinthians 4:7), as he knew that the surpassing power was the Lord’s, the One who baptized him:

Whence I, once rustic, exiled, unlearned, who does not know how to provide for the future, this at least I know most certainly that before I was humiliated I was like a stone Lying in the deep mire; and He that is mighty came and in His mercy lifted me up, and raised me aloft, and placed me on the top of the wall. And therefore I ought to cry out aloud and so also render something to the Lord for His great benefits here and in eternity—benefits which the mind of men is unable to appraise.

The Church wears the “green” day in and day out, in the bloom of summer, in the dead of winter:  greening in the watering of His forgiveness by His grace through faith (see Ephesians 2:8). When we forget our baptismal sojourn in the Holy Spirit and in His Word the Holy Scriptures, then we are lost. Patrick had a strong faith in the strong Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He was no debater of the age, but proclaimer of the age to come. Yes, wear the green today but do not forget to pray and make the sign of the Cross giving thanks to Lord our God, for the missionary bishop who baptized many. The Lord’s Cross points us home to the Holy Trinity.  From Patrick’s  Confession:

 In the light, therefore, of our faith in the Trinity I must make this choice, regardless of danger I must make known the gift of God and everlasting consolation, without fear and frankly I must spread everywhere the name of God so that after my decease I may leave a bequest to my brethren and sons whom I have baptised in the Lord—so many thousands of people

(More on St. Patrick here and here)

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The hand pointing to heaven was the sign in the 60s-70s for the “Jesus People”.  It signified Jesus is the one way to heaven.   If I stood on a busy street corner, with my index people pointing up, folks would start looking up to see what I was pointing to!  Is it a bird, is it a plane…Is someone jumping? Or asking what you are pointing to. “Jesus”  ”Ahh, I don’t see Him.”  Pointing to thin air.  Or doing such indoors pointing to  the ceiling. Stuck.

The one-way-to-Jesus sign went the way of the Dodo bird.  Jesus Christ is not thin air. The Christians who came up with it had pious intentions but for all of our inventions and ‘improvements’, especially in theology, the time-tested recipes are still the ones to be emulated for they have stood that test by being in accordance with the plain sense of the Bible, the Word of God, which lasts forever.  

The problem with the one-way sign is it’s ambiguity.  Making the sign of the cross is utterly unambiguous…it’s absolutely clear:  Jesus Christ died for me, a sinner and I’m a Christian. The sign of the cross signifies the cross alone while pointing up can mean many other things. The provenance of making the sign of the cross is ancient as  the early Church Fathers attested to the use of the sign of the cross. Tertullian (d. ca. 250) described the commonness of the sign of the cross:

“In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross” (De corona, 30).

And hidden in plain sight for decades was Fr. Luther’s instruction in The Small Catechism to make the Sign of the Cross getting up in the morning and at bed time. 

The Cross of Christ Jesus is definite. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…as definite, the Lord taught, as Moses lifting up the bronze serpent it the wilderness (John 3: 1-17).   As definite as your name by which He has called you (John 10:3).  God loved every one, every cell He created and came to redeem.  The world loves the easy talk about universal Armageddons.  Jesus taught the universality of the Cross, so that sinners  be saved by faith in Him.  Our cross means dying to sin and rising in  the newness of life everyday:

What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer:It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?–Answer: St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father,even so we also should walk in newness of life. (The Small Catechism, Holy Baptism)

Now that’s a definite plan! The sign of the Cross says by His grace we are part of His universal/catholic salvation, that the dying are held by His grace through faith in Him unto eternal life. 

The salvation is universal and objective…yet can be sadly ignored.  Jesus was pointing the way, foreshadowing to Nicodemus the signpost of salvation and even more Himself: the Savior.    The sign of the cross does not point to thin air, but the Holy One of Israel alone.  We are not stuck in our sins but freed from them in His Word to us, for us, in us, preach, taught and administered in the Sacraments. It points to the history of our salvation in the Lord as accurately recorded in the Bible.  The sign of the Cross is unmistakable.  No mistake that Jesus Christ died and rose for us all.  This was, “…according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:  23).  Definite.

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