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 Text:  Hebrews 11

Today’s New Testament reading is the Roll Call of the Heroes of Faith  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 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:  indoor plumbing, single family dwellings, lawns, automobiles, flying, vast entertainment and education possibilities through, radio, TV, internet. We like it here. We are very much at home here.  We hold on for dear life. Our faith is not bound in hope, but for this world alone.

Yet, if what I have written is true, we are being false to the faith and hope of the saints  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 can deliver a constant barrage of the unholy trinity 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 inwardly looking to ourselves. Then we wonder why are things still just wrong.  Selfitis is the despair of our times.  All the heroes of the faith, from A-Z, from Abraham to Zechariah were directed by the Lord, outward bound, to seek a “homeland”.  “Homeland Security” cannot give eternal  security and yet we seek eternal homeland security for the here and now.  The results are idolatrous.  The hope of the homeland which is secure forever has been given:  the city of God.  We walk by faith, not by sight.  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. Our inventions are not the final chapter. But,

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

“God the Father, be our Stay” (TLH, #247)

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 and Christ is life eternal, seeking His homeland is sanity in this dark world for which Christ died.

In Hebrews chapter eleven’s Hall of Heroes of the Faith,  all the saints  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 and join the journey. 

If faith is only for this world, even the Church alone, then we are of all people the most to be pitied:  but Christ is raised from the dead for all (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 as His forgiven people, in faith, hope and love. 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

Saints, See the Cloud of Witnesses – LSB 667

2 These saints of old received God’s commendation;
They lived as pilgrim-heirs of His salvation.
Through faith they conquered flame and sword and gallows,
God’s name to hallow.

Let us pray…

Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

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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

When the risen Lord visits the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, just as He said He would, Simon Peter and four fellow disciples are fishing, doing what they knew how to do.  When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord from the beloved disciple, he put on his outer garment, for he was “stripped for work”, and out of the boat, he threw himself into the sea.

The literal Greek translation is: Peter was gymnos. Our word “gymnasium” is from the Greek word, gymnos which means naked.  Peter was naked. Yes, in ancient times, one competed in athletics naked. Peter was gymnos because he was working hard.  He was probably hot and sweaty. Once again, Jesus caused a miraculous catch of fish and because Peter is naked, he puts on “his outer garment”,  jumps into “the sea” to go to the Lord. He must have been quite soggy. 

At an earlier time, Peter wanted to walk on the water to Jesus, till he saw the wind and sank in  the sea. Like Adam, Peter clothed himself because of his nakedness before the living God.  Peter had denied Him three times. Baptism is the reverse of this:  water is poured, or the catechumen is immersed into the water three times to wash away our sin.  When immersed, in the first centuries of the Church,  one went naked into the Baptismal waters  and then  a white garment was put on, signifying coming out clothed in Christ.  Peter putting on his outer garment to come to the Lord can remind us of the  many places Scripture we are to put on our Baptism, the new self in Christ:  

  1. Romans 13:12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
  2. Romans 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
  3. 1 Corinthians 15:53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
  4. 2 Corinthians 5:2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,
  5. Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
  6. Ephesians 4:24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
  7. Ephesians 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
  8. Ephesians 6:14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
  9. Colossians 3:1 [Put On the New Self ] If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
  10. Colossians 3:10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
  11. Colossians 3:12  Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
  12. Colossians 3:14  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

IN  the verses above we are variously told also to put on the armor of light, put on love, compassionate hearts, etc,  and in the Day of Resurrection we will be clothed in our “heavenly dwelling”.  I will go out on  limb here and say that the armor of light, the whole armor of God, putting on “love”, are all references to Baptism, and putting on Christ.  We are encouraged to put on what we have been given:  our Baptism into Christ. 

Peter and the disciples, sit on the sea shore and Jesus feeds them.  In the next scene, He charges Peter to feed His sheep.  The Lord feeds us Himself, His flesh and blood for the life of the world.  Baptism is followed by Holy Communion.  We can not go naked to the Lord and He clothed us in Himself as He clothed Adam and Eve in the Garden. We are not dressed for success, but for faithfulness. 

The verb “revealed” is used in the first and last verse of this Gospel lesson. The disciples are awed that Jesus arrives in Galilee.  Revelation, or manifestation, epiphany is the mark of the end of world  that has come upon us.  When we put on our daily Baptism, the new self, we are dressed for and in the end of the world who is Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  Reread the texts above for a description of our Christening robe and how different it is from the styles of the world.   We do not go out naked into the world. The Church will be different from the world as she is clothed in Christ and His armor of  light and love.  

O Lord Jesus Christ, look upon me, a poor sinner, with Your eyes of mercy, the same eyes of mercy with which You looked upon Peter in the assembly-room, upon Mary Magdalene at the banquet, and upon the malefactor on the cross. Grant to me also, almighty God, that with Peter I bemoan my sin from the heart, with Mary Magdalene sincerely love You, and with the malefactor on the cross may live eternally with You in Your kingdom. Amen. (Johann Gerhard)

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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

From Today’s Appointed Gospel Reading:

Then 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. (emphasis added)

Whatever happened to repentance? The call to repentance is hardly heard in churches these days, while “fulfillment”, “your best life now” and feel good preaching fills too many pulpits, air waves and cyberspace.  While wickedness, a veritable Sodom and Gomorrah of false teaching and practice runs unabated in church and society. The crucified and risen Lord is clear: The pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection is the pattern of the apostolic message He gives to “all nations” for the apostles to proclaim:  “repentance and forgiveness of sins”.   The Law not only and merely contains our carnal instincts but the Law is spiritual as it shows us our sin and the Gospel proclaims our Savior that we can turn toward Him daily.

 The first attack by false preachers is the Law, a question as old as the devil, “Did God say?” (Genesis 3).  The devil misuses Scripture to his own purpose when he tempted the Lord in the wilderness.  Jesus’ recourse was clear: “It is written”. He knew the Bible while we live in a time of Bible-denying ‘scholars’ and ‘scholarship’.  Once the Law is denied, so is the necessity of Christ Jesus and the call to repentance go hand in His wounded hand.  The word still stands, “… repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name (Christ’s)…” to us all. Rev. Professor Johann Gerhard (+17 August 1637) wrote:

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.

There is also daily living in Baptism.   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.”

We can so die and rise because He has. We must hold fast to Christ’s command.  This is for our encouragement. The “and” in “repentance and forgiveness of sins” is important as that conjunction is not an additive but connective.  Repentance without Christ’s forgiveness is tyrannical. Forgiveness without repentance is license and fantastical.  Repentance and forgiveness of sins go together in the preaching of Christ for the balm and healing our lives through faith by grace.  Repentance and forgiveness harvests in the Lord His resurrectional life.

“CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD, TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS: BESTOWING LIFE!”

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 and still does.   Easter, like Christmas, is not only a day each, but  a season each.

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)

St. Basil’s definition of the Gospel, “…as description of what resurrectional life should be”, is a good one as is his encouragement to acquire those qualities of the Lord’s life in our lives.  The encouragement from the Scripture, and based upon the Word, from the fathers, is to eat and drink His Word and inwardly digest it, so our hearts are warmed and enlivened to do and obey His Word, so He sanctifies us day by day.  The encouragement of the resurrectional life will be a theme of these Paschal postings.  

Hebrews 3:  13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

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

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

 Reflection:  The way the Baptismal life is engendered is by repentance and forgiveness as the Lord made plain on the road to Emmaus with His disicples who did not recognize Him.  The Lord taught them and then in the fullness of time, they saw it was the  Lord in the breaking of the bread as He gives us His bread for our journey as His Body, His Church.  In His Word, the Lord Jesus gave them a heart to be taught and to burn with the fire of His life and love.  In the disciples’ despair the Lord Jesus lifted them up. His Word, Incarnate, Written, Taught and Preached  is always central, foremost in our life together for His formation of His resurrectional life in us as His baptized children.

 “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 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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COLLECTOF THE DAY:  O God, creator of heaven and earth, grant that as the crucified body of Your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with Him the coming of the third day, and rise with Him to newness of life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

READINGS: Daniel 6: 1-24  Psalm 16  1 Peter 4: 1-8 St. Matthew 27: 57-66

I was visiting a friend in Albuquerque, New Mexico and we went to the old town of the city.  We visited the historic church in the old town.  I was looking at sizable side altar, especially all the statuary above the Altar. Then I saw light below the Altar and I was shocked to see a life size, full color statue of Christ Jesus in the tomb, complete with casket silk, in the length of the Altar.  My friend had been a Dominican monk and I expressed my surprise and shock at this.  He responded that many poor people would have come to this church and here is Christ who is with them in death.  You can not get poorer than dead. Christ was dead, actually dead.  The author of life breathed His last upon the Cross.  

At the risk of sounding flippant, when Dorothy’s house fell on the wicked witch, the coroner comes with the death certificate and sings: “As Coroner I must aver, I thoroughly examined her/And she’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.”  Our Lord was most sincerely dead. He died physically and on the Cross sin, yours and mine was crucified and  there in the tomb He brought our sins and they were shown for what they are:  dead. This day is also called The Great Sabbath. The living death of sin was crucified and laid to rest in His tomb.  Maybe the crosses in a cemetery should be marked:  “Greed”, “Lust”, “Anger”, “Hatred”, “Envy” and the like.  He bore them all.  On the Third Day, at the rise of the sun, He left our sin there, as He did His grave clothes.

Tables

Tables are very important to the Church.  There are three kinds of needed tables in a Church sanctuary and building:

  1. Tables for Bible class and Christian education so that the Word of God, the Scriptures are taught and learned, so that Lutherans can ask question and learn the answers from the Bible, and we grow in faith and love.

  2. Dining tables for church dinners, as a reminder here of the Lord’s prayer petition, “Give us this day our daily bread”, as we do in our homes daily. We are reminded that all creatures look to You O Lord for their food in due season and You open Your  hands and satisfy the desires of all living.  As the Lord washed His disciples’ feet as loving service, so our home tables are loving service to feed our families our daily bread from His loving hand to us and to share our bread to the guest and to those who have none.  

  3. And the most important table, the Lord’s Table, so that He gives us His Body and Blood, for the confession of the faith and the feeding of our faith in Him, in the communion of His very Presence. He touches us with Himself, in His Word He opens, “…the soul of man to faith through the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Gregory the Great).

All these tables point, not to our works, but His work. They are the Lord’s work tables:  His Word for us, His creation for us, His Body and Blood for us and our salvation.

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From Dr. Martin Luther’s Commentary  on Psalm 23, the 5th verse:

ML 23

 

COLLECT OF THE DAY:

Merciful and everlasting God, You did not spare Your only Son but delivered Him up for us all to bear our sins on the cross. Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him, that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS:  Isaiah 62:11-63:7  Psalm 70   Romans 5:6-11  Luke 22:1-23:56 or John 13:16-38

VERSE:   The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  John 12:23b)

Cross Reflections:  Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory is set in the 1920s Mexico when the Roman Catholic Church has been suppressed.  Priests were not allowed to say Mass.  The main character is an unnamed priest, given to whiskey, who goes about the country saying clandestine Masses.  In the quote below the priest is in a shed and a mestizo (half-breed) is crawling in the shack and grabs the priest’s ankles.  He wants the priest to hear his confession about adultery and “boys”, as his confession comes forth between his yellowed teeth, the priest reflects:

“How often the priest had heard the same confession–Man was so limited: he hadn’t even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died: the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater the glory lay around the death; it was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or civilization–it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” 

Greene is illustrating the Scripture text appointed for Holy Wednesday from Romans:

6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

For God and country, a man will dare to die.  Even for a “good person”. When I think of the petty larcenies and lusts lurking in the attic of my heart, it’s shameful. It is true we can not even invent a new vice.  Sin is as old as Adam. The Lord makes in  us virtues that are ever new.

In the prayer of the day, we prayed, ” Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him, that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil”.    In Advent there is a collect with the petition that “our hearts may be fixed where true joy is found.” 

Christ Jesus is for all who know they need fixing in their hearts. He will. No amount of fixing on our part will do it and when we try to fix our fallen nature, that is make ourselves right, we just need even more fixing, kind of like government trying to make ‘good’ people, and that can lead to tyranny:  one is spiritual tyranny, the other political.

Sin, death and devil dogs us when we are not  steadfast in faith.  Our true condition apart from Him is just as it is written in Romans 5: weak, sinner, enemy.   Our eyes fixed upon Him, in the depths, height and breadth of His love stretching out from the Cross to us  and we are fixed, by steadfast faith by His grace, in Him.  His power and glory has been shown upon the Cross and on the third day and today.

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