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New Testament Reading for Today:  Hebrews 13: 1-21

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Earlier on in the Gospels, Jesus sent forth the 12 disciples to preach and cast out demons.  Jesus also sent out the 72.  Jesus sent the disciples to teach all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Holy Trinity.  He promised He would be with always even unto the end of the age.  Jesus sent the 11 disciples on the first day of the week, breathing on them the Holy Spirit in His forgiveness:

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Christ’s message is forgiveness.  He sent them out, knowing fully well that they are frail clay vessels so that others may know that the glory is not from them but from the Lord.  

He stills sends out His pastors with the very same message, in the very same power of the Holy Spirit. Like Luther preached that if you found out that in such and such church God was speaking, everyone would flock to it.  Well, preached Luther, there are such Churches, where and when the Gospel is preached by a pastor.  We do not have a “Word-less” Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit preaches the Word through the words of a pastor. Jesus said to Peter three times: Feed My Sheep.  Don’t feed them the thin pasturage of the world and it’s vain philosophies.  The ministers come with the same message as during Bright Week:  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  Hear the message every Sunday with His People to be strengthen in faith toward God and in fervent love of others.  As Martin Chemnitz, the “Second Martin”,  taught from Scripture that the voice of the Christ is the Gospel preached by a faithful and faithfully called Pastor:

“He who hears you, hears Me; he who rejects you, rejects Me,” (Luke 10: 16)…This saying of Christ contains the sweet teaching and consolation that when the ministers of the Word prove from the Word of God what they teach, they are to be heard in no other way than as if the voice of God were speaking to us from heaven. For God is present with the ministry and speaks to us through that medium, and it is efficacious, as the Baptist says: “I am the voice of one calling.” For it is God who calls through the Baptist. In 2 Cor. 13:3 Paul says: “You desire proof that Christ is speaking in me.” Thus in 2 Cor. 5:20 he says: “God makes His appeal through us.” But how? By “entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” So we read in Is. 59:21: “My Spirit which is upon you and My words which I have put in your mouth, etc.” This teaching wins true reverence for the ministry and inclines the minds to obedience, according to the saying, Heb. 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” When the ministers bring and set forth the Word of God, the hearers accept it not as the word of men, but as it is indeed, the Word of God, as Paul says in 1 Thess. 2:13. And it is most comforting that we can truly conclude that when we hear the Word of God out of the mouth of the minister, the Son of God Himself is with us, speaks to us, and is efficacious through that Word. For upon this depends what Christ declares: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven,” “whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” But this dignity, reverence, obedience, and efficacy of the ministry depend on this, that it brings and sets forth the Word of God.

—Martin Chemnitz

 

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Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” St. John 12:  23-14

The seed of Jesus in the ground, risen from the dead, bore fruit both today, tomorrow and yesterday: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13: 8).  The Lord was bearing fruit through the hope of His coming, the promises of God fulfilled in Him, through out the time of the Old Testament, from the beginning, Genesis 1 and following. What is this fruit?  The saints in Christ. This is the roll call of faith in Hebrews 11.  So much of Hebrews is encouragement for discouraged brothers and sisters. The Epistle Reading for Today, from the Daily Lectionary:  Hebrews 12:  1-24. The writer calls it, “my letter of exhortation” (Hebrews 13:  22), and as it Scripture, for us as well:  

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12)

In the marathon of faith in Christ, Christ before us, Christ beside us, Emmanuel, God with us we are surrounded, “…so great a cloud of witnesses”, of the saints in the Old Testament.  In these last days (Hebrews 1:2), this cloud has more billows of the saints who have died in Christ.  We do not perfect our faith by our works but in His Word to do the good works He has prepared beforehand to be our way of life. The saints do not point to themselves but ever and forever to the Lord: Christ is risen!  This cloud is not a storm cloud, but a cloud filled with the dew of Baptism, a rain cloud, on this parched earth.  The saints are the Lord’s “Word cloud”. We do not have to go searching for extra-terrestrials to assert with faith and hope that is in Christ:  we are not alone.  The cloud of witnesses is praying us on, to lay aside “every weight, and sin which clings to closely”, confessing the weight and so praying to the Lord ahead of us and beside us.  

G. K. Chesterton, Roman Catholic convert, novelist, writer:

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

Reread the quote above and substitute “the Church”,  for “tradition”.  Even two or three are gathered together at the Lamb’s High Feast and there are more:  angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. We do not grow the Church, the Lord does.  No usher can count any congregation gathered by the Lord around His Altar.

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.

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Text:  Hebrews 11

Today’s Epistle reading is the Roll Call of the Heroes of Faith in Jesus Christ with the theme verse, the 11: 1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.

In the middle of the Roll Call, there are verses of hope in Christ, by faith, toward the Lord’s will in Christ for all:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.

From the hymn “I’m but a Stranger Here” (#748, Lutheran Service Book): 

I’m but a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home;
Danger and sorrow stand
Round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland,
Heaven is my home.

We like it here.  We have a hard time with the understanding that the, “earth is a desert drear”.  Never before in the history of the world have so many people enjoyed the life that just a century before was limited to the wealthy few:  single family dwellings, lawns, vast entertainment possibilities through, radio, TV, internet, even indoor plumbing.  Prosperity preachers make much ado about this that we can even have more if we strike a deal with the Almighty. We are very much at home here and now and want to hold on for dear life, even Christians. Our faith is not as strong as many purport it to be. 

Yet, if what I have written is true, we are being false to the faith and hope the saints of old lived in Christ:  the Lord has a better plan.  The Lord laid out this plan in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth:  an enduring city, who’s builder is none other than the Lord Himself and a foretaste of that hope is the Church Who’s Builder is likewise the Lord. Smart phones and computers deliver a constant barrage of sin, death and the power of the devil and on our own we are powerless to stop. We cannot delete the unholy trinity.  Even our desire, well,  lust for the “good life”, the “best life” now and forever demonstrates that eternity is part of our very thoughts, reflecting in a fleshly way, the Lord Himself. Ecclesiastes 3:

 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Eternity is in our will, that we know we were made forever with the Lord, yet on our own we can not find out “what God has done from the beginning to the end”.  Now with the Lord’s revelation finally and fully of the Incarnation, Ministry, life, death, resurrection and ascension of His Son our Lord, Jesus Christ, we know by what the Lord is doing.  For all our pagan attempts to hold onto life, grab all the gusto, we are looking to ourselves, inwardly, the despair of our times.  All the heroes of the faith, from A-Z, from Abraham to Zechariah were directed by the Lord to seek a “homeland”.  “Homeland Security” cannot give eternal  security and yet we seek eternal homeland security for the here and now.  The hope of the homeland which is secure forever has been given:  the city of God.  We think our I-Phones/Pods and Pads are the “bomb”, giving us information and control at a finger swipe but all the while we want to be loved.  We live as if this were it, and fear and tremble that it is not. But,

“With all true Christians running
Our heavenly race and shunning
The devil’s wiles and cunning”,

We know by the Lord’s scarred hands that this world is not the final resting place.  Christ is.  I am, maybe like you, not too crazy about dying…but when we know sin is death, Christ is life eternal, seeking His homeland is sanity in this dark world for which Christ died.

In the Hall of Heroes of the Faith, note that all the saints therein were looking forward in hope, in the hope of Christ to come.  They had no cathedrals, except the Temple not made with human hands:  Jesus Christ (John 2:21; 1 Corinthians 3:17 ).  We pray many will hear the Word and come to faith.  But if faith is only for this world, or even for our congregation alone, then we are of all people the most to be pitied:  but Christ is raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:18-20).  It is clear from Hebrews 11:  Faith not only clings to Christ for what He has done for us but what He will do:  Thy Kingdom Come, based upon the Rock of our salvation,what He has done from womb to tomb to the Resurrection. Our national pastime, baseball, has it right:  to go home, after all the strike outs, errors, missed catches, we can in Christ. The homeland is given even now:

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.-St. John 14: 23

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COLLECT OF THE DAY

Almighty God,by the glorious resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ,  You destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light.Grant that we who have been raised with Him may abide in His presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory;through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord,who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,one God, now and forever.

READINGS:

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19

Psalm 61

 Colossians 3:1-7 or 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

 St. John 21:1-14

Reflection on the Gospel LessonJohn 21: 1-14:  I led a Bible study on Easter, concluding our Lenten look at People of the Passion and we studied Peter for two Sundays. We looked at some of many narratives involving Peter:

  • After Jesus walked on the water, Peter almost commanded the Lord in Peter’s disbelief: But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14)

  • Peter denied Jesus three times.

  • The risen Lord asked Peter 3 times, Do you love me more than these? 3 times the Lord said, “Feed My sheep”.

  • Peter does not want to go to the Gentile Centurion, Cornelius’ home because Peter would eat unclean animals.  3 times a sheet is lowered with unclean and clean animals.

I asked that adult Bible class:  How would you characterize Peter’s personality? “Impetuous”“Acts before thinking” “Trusts himself” The class nailed it which is reflected in this insight from Johann Gerhard in which he reflected the same:

“We should also contemplate how Peter came to such a fall (i.e. his denial), in order that we avoid the same. He was entirely too daring (presumptuous)–meaning that it all depended upon a good heart and good intentions. When he noticed others who were not like him in this matter, he held them in disdain. Thus he experienced how very little we are capable of if God does not sustain us. Therefore we should indeed not rely on the strength of our own faith, or on our good intentions. God’s power does it, and it alone must do everything.”

“I have my faith”, I have heard that much over the years.  Those well-intentioned statements sound like faith in faith. Faith in faith even has a name:  fideism.  Now Lutherans believe we are saved by faith through grace in the overwhelming gift of Jesus Christ’s Incarnation, Sufferings, Crucifixion, Descent into Hell, Resurrection, Ascension and Presence in His Church.  Faith takes hold of the promise in the teaching of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.  Faith looks out to Christ and looks out for one another.  But faith in faith is once again being bent in upon one’s self. Even our “good heart and good intentions” won’t do it.  Peter said he was willing to die for Jesus. Peter’s good heart was like a rock and it sunk him.  He would one day die for Jesus but not that day because his faith was in his faith, in himself.  Americans are really good at fideism, good hearts and good intentions…but we always are hitting the brick wall of sin, death and the power of the devil:  that wall we can not breach. Christ has!  He fed the disciples fish in His resurrection.  He alone allows the full catch of fish for Peter and the Church.  The Church, this fishing boat  seldom rides in the seas of tranquility. So today, we need to remind ourselves the Lord alone has , “… brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (1 Timothy 1:10b).  We do not. We do not preach faith, we preach Christ Jesus.  

Peter had a whole lot more fishing to do.  So does the Lord’s Church!

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COLLECT OF THE DAY

Almighty God,through the resurrection of Your Son You have secured peace for our troubled consciences. Grant us this peace evermore that trusting in the merit of Your Son we may come at last to the perfect peace of heaven; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

READINGS

Daniel 3:8-28

Psalm 2

Acts 13:26-33

St. Luke 24:36-49

St. Luke 24:44-49:

44Then He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.

Comment:

      The pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection is the pattern of the apostolic message He gives to “all nations” for His Church to proclaim:  “repentance and forgiveness of sins”.  I hear too often in the media about the Church about “what the Church says” and it is usually on morality.  Morality is Biblical but so is the disciples not acting morally courageous:  me, too.   The Lord said that “the Law of Moses” is also “written about me”, that is He is the fulfillment of  the Law and the Prophets so that by faith in Him by the utter grace of His Sacrifice we are saved, who can not keep the Law.  The Decalogue in particular is also written about us  the way we should go and have not gone. Repent, turn around, make a u-turn and the sign of the u-turn in going down the dead end of iniquity is the Cross of Jesus.  By His death resurrection He effects our u-turn.

The pattern and form of our daily lives in Christ is summed up by Martin Luther:   

“(Baptism) 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.”

Our repentance is the acceptance of God’s just judgment of our sin and the Gospel is the just fulfillment of the Law in the Son of the Father. Baptism makes us alive in Christ on account of Christ.  

 We are living in a time in which the Lord’s message of “….repentence and forgiveness”  proclaimed in Jesus’ Name has fallen away in churches  serviced by progressive pastors to prosperity gospel preachers to pablum preachers. In a thoughtful article in The Federalist, How Well Will American Christians Wear Our Cross? by Leslie Loftis, wrote:

The coming days will show us that the Body of Christ in the United States isn’t as large as the guide books tell us. And it might not be as strong as assumed, either. I fear that some among the rest of us might counsel silence by reminding us that we don’t face violent persecution like Christians overseas. We don’t, and we should keep our own burdens in perspective. But we should not use that perspective as an excuse to hide and hope the hate goes away. As Christians overseas might tell us, it doesn’t.

Mrs. Lofts talks about wearing the cross as a Pakistani Bishop, who’s congregation was bombed and his friends in Christ were killed, he always wears his cross.  In Egypt, the ancient custom is to have a cross tattooed on the wrist in the predominately and now hostile Islamic majority.  We bear our cross, not in despair but in hope, as the Old Adam is crucified daily  in true repentance and in the hope of the world to come. Too much of Christianity is only about this world, and politics, and our vision is myopic and so:

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Indeed, the church in the United States is pitiful and only in the risen Lord can we take our stand here and with our persecuted brethren around the world.

Wearing and bearing our cross may be at the expense of social discomfort, others and ourselves, and even worse, but the risen Lord’s command to Apostles, and the holy, catholic and apostolic Church to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in His Name has not been rescinded and that we have been marked, tattooed with the Cross and Christ. 

The Father sends the Son and the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit so that beginning in Jerusalem, the Word of so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:2-4) is preached into which we are baptized. The Holy Trinity is the one God, if you will a “conspiracy”:  literally con, with, “spirare” to breathe, (same root word for breath or  for spirit), literally” to breath together,  breathing as one the Word of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father into a sin-soaked, dark world.  

Rev. Pastor Johann Gerhard:  

Whoever preaches forgiveness of sins without preaching repentance is not holding to Christ’s  command. For He sets both together: repentance and forgiveness of sins. Wherever there is a broken and shattered heart, there Christ wants to live, Isa. 57:15, and wants to impart His blessings which He won through His death and resurrection. He, indeed, calls sinners to Himself, but (He calls them) to repent, Matt. 9:13. True repentance is the pathway by which sinners come to grace.

We were widely separated from God by sin, Isa.5. Just as the Lord Christ promised His Apostles the Promise of the Father—that is, He wanted to send them the Holy Spirit and clothe them with Power from on high—so also He proffers to us the comforting promise that He does not want to leave us orphaned or comfortless; instead, He desires to send into our hearts the Holy Spirit, who makes us strong in the inner man and comforts us in every anxious doubt.

“O Holy Trinity, You Self-sufficient Love, ignite also in our heart this fire of Your Love!”

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Alleluia. Christ Jesus abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Alleluia. 2 Tim. 1:10

“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in tombs bestowing life.”-Orthodox Paschal Hymn

EASTER MONDAY:

COLLECT OF THE DAY

O God, in the paschal feast You restore all creation. Continue to send Your heavenly gifts upon Your people that they may walk in perfect freedom and receive eternal life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord,who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

READINGS

Exodus 15:1-18

or Daniel 12:1 c-3

Psalm 100 (antiphon: v. 5) Acts 10:34-43

or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8

Luke 24:13-49

Introduction: The Eastern Orthodox Churches have a great custom by calling the first week of the Paschal (Easter) Season “Bright Week”.  A great way to begin the 50 Days of Pascha leading to Pentecost, as we look at what our risen Lord taught His Church for her life and mission into the world.   Easter, like Christmas, is not only a day each, but  a season each.

It is hard to put the put the adjective “Bright” in front of Monday as it seems an oxymoron especially after all the celebrations of Easter Sunday. We can not keep the excitement going, as we should not  as we can not.  It is not our spiritual highs, the emotions that are the source of our life, but the risen Lord Jesus Christ!  During these 40 days when the risen Lord appeared to the 530, He, the Good Shepherd, was seeking His own and finding the lost. He was teaching them and comforting them. He came with no condemnation but His Body and Blood for their salvation. His Body and Blood, the Word made flesh, the Word crucified and risen alone keeps us going. Sometimes on a Monday morning, simply afloat!  We need His Word as daily bread every day.

Further, as Lent is time of preparation for seekers to be Baptized, then the Paschal Season is a time for the newly baptized, and the ‘oldly’ baptized as well, to be instructed in the Way of the Lord more fully.  St. Basil the Great wrote it well regarding Baptism in Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection:

“This is what it means to be born again of water and Spirit: the water accomplishes our death, while the Spirit raises us to life. This great sign of baptism is fulfilled in three immersions, with three invocations, so that the image of death might be completely formed, and the newly baptized might have their souls enlightened with divine knowledge. If there is any grace in the water, it does not come from the nature of the water, but from the Spirit’s Presence, since baptism is not a removal of dirt from the body, but an appeal to God for a clear conscience (1 Peter 3: 21)  The Lord describes in the Gospel the pattern of life we must be trained to follow after the (baptismal) resurrection: gentleness, endurance, freedom for the defiling love of pleasure, and from covetousness. We must be determined to, acquire in this life all the qualities of the life to come. To define the Gospel as a description of what resurrectional life should be like seems to be correct and appropriate, as far as I am concerned.”  (On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great; emphasis my own)

Almighty God,by the glorious resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ,  You destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light.Grant that we who have been raised with Him may abide in His presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory;through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord,who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,one God, now and forever.

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From an Easter (Pascha) Sermon by Pastor and Professor Johann Gerhard:: “…St. John sets forth the distinction between the resurrections of Christ and Lazarus. Lazarus, when he was awakened by Christ, brought with him the grave cloths on his hands and feet and the handkerchief around his face, John 11:44, [thus showing] that He rose up only to this earthly life and had to die again. However, in John 20:6, 7 it is especially recorded that He [Christ] left the linens and the handkerchief behind in the grave [to demonstrate] that He arose to a spiritual, ever-enduring life and would never again require the linens or grave cloths. Thus, in the power of this resurrection of Christ, we too shall one day arise to spiritual, ever-enduring life. Just as Christ awakened from the dead, henceforth never to die, Rom. 6:9, so also shall all who believe in Christ nevermore die, John 11:26. To that end, God help us all, Amen.”

A child listens to his parents, from whom he was conceived and born, speaking to him with heart-felt desire and love. If you are born of God, then you will gladly listen to God the Lord speaking to you in His Word-especially regarding the resurrection of Christ, by which He has brought such precious gifts along for us…

O Holy Trinity, You Self-sufficient Love, ignite also in our heart this fire of Your Love!” 

( Rev. Pastor and Professor Johann Gerhard, +1637)

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