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Posts Tagged ‘Augustine’

in the age of the Enlightenment, Bach was considered a ‘has-been’ and not well-received. Bach Bio:  Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is acknowledged as one of the most famous and gifted composers in the Western world. Orphaned at age ten, Bach was mostly self-taught in music. His professional life as conductor, performer, composer, teacher, and organ consultant began at age nineteen in the town of Arnstadt and ended in Leipzig, where for the last twenty-seven years of his life he was responsible for all the music in the city’s four Lutheran churches. In addition to being a superb keyboard artist, the genius and bulk of Bach’s vocal and instrumental compositions remain overwhelming. A devout and devoted Lutheran, he is especially honored in Christendom for his lifelong insistence that his music was written primarily for the liturgical life of the Church to glorify God and edify His people. (from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, You have taught us in Holy Scripture to sing Your praises and have given to Your servant Johann Sebastian Bach grace to show forth Your glory in his music. Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all Your servants who write and make music for Your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of Your  creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives,and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

On this day in 1750, Johann Sebastian Bach died, thus it is for the saints in Christ, a “heavenly birthday”. 

When I was at  Concordia Junior College, Milwaukee (now Concordia University, Mequon Wisconsin), I took the one credit course on Lutheran Hymnody.   Professor “Ollie” Ruprecht pointed out that Bach’s library had around 80 volumes in it. Prof. Rupprecht pointed out that books were quite expensive and about 60  of those volumes were books of orthodox Lutheran theology.  

Orthodox Lutheran theology is all about proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God.  And so did Bach through music.  One of Bach’s most marked set of volumes was Abraham Calov’s 3 book set of Luther’s Bible, with Calov’s commentary.  Bach, spending a large part of a year’s salary, purchased a 7 volume edition of Luther’s writings which Calov has based his commentary.  Calov wrote regarding Luther:

“It hinders a preacher greatly if he wants to look around and concern himself with what people want to hear and not hear.”

Bach double-marked that sentence for emphasis (Evening in the Palace of  Reason by James R. Gaines). That sentence sums up Bach’s understanding of music.  He would mark on his scores AMG, ad mairorem Dei, to the greater glory of God. He has been called, after Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the 5th evangelist.  In his day, he was not known beyond Germany. After his death,  his music was rediscovered.  His output for 27 years in Leipzig for 4 churches was massive.  Bach’s music still preaches.

Bach’s texts usually were the Bible and he put the Scripture to music. In his day, the Enlightenment, ‘modern’ music was suppose to reflect how the composer felt and what the people wanted to hear.  Sound familiar?  On NPR, they will have a segment that I call OMS, the obscure musical segment when the artist intros his/her work and tells us what “he is trying to do”, or what he was feeling at the time of composition.  Not for J. S. Bach:  it was to proclaim the Gospel. Bach did not listen to what people wanted, but what he heard was the Lord’s commands and promise fulfilled in Christ Jesus, and he knew the Lord’s second best gift, music.  “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise” (Luther).   Bach’s talent at the organ and as a composer was wanted by the Church and he was not popular in the courts of public taste, but being popular in the world is never the goal, Christ is.

Only two of Bach’s works were ever published in his life time. In the age of the Enlightenment, Bach was considered a ‘has-been’ and not well-received. The Word of the Lord endures forever and the Lord gave Johann a gift that he did use to His greater glory  and the joy of the Church, which is always,  “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring”.

In an episode of M*A*S*H, Radar falls for a nurse who is quite cultured and loves classical music.  He goes to Hawkeye and Trapper for lessons in classical music.  Hawkeye gives Radar the names of some composers and then says, “…then if she mentions Bach, just say, ‘Ahhh, Bach’”. We also can say, Ahhh, Bach! 

Thank-you Lord for Bach and all church organists, choir directors, choirs and musicians who also through music, especially Bach’s, proclaim the eternal Gospel.

Listen to Bach’s popular chorale Cantata 147,  Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

 

 

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Augustine

 We turn to You, the Lord our God and as best as we can give we give You thanks.  We beseech You that in Your goodness You will hear our prayers and by Your power:  drive evil from our thoughts and actions, increase our faith, guide our minds, grant us Your holy inspirations, and bring us to joy without end through Your Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.              (A prayer adapted from a benediction by which St. Augustine ended at least two of his sermons)

About Augustine of Hippo, Pastor and Theologian: Augustine was one of the greatest of the Latin Church Fathers and a significant influence in the formation of Western Christianity, including Lutheranism. Born in AD 354 in North Africa, Augustine’s early life was distinguished by exceptional advancement as a teacher of rhetoric. In his book Confessions he describes his life before his conversion to Christianity, when he was drawn into the moral laxity of the day and fathered an illegitimate son. Through the devotion of his sainted mother, Monica, and the preaching of Ambrose, bishop of Milan (AD 339-97), Augustine was converted to the Christian faith. During the great Pelagian controversies of the fifth century, Augustine emphasized the unilateral grace of God in the salvation of mankind. Bishop and theologian at Hippo in North Africa from AD 395 until his death in AD 430, Augustine was a man of great intelligence, a fierce defender of the orthodox faith, and aprolific writer. In addition to Confessions, Augustine’s book City of God had a great impact upon the Church throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  St. Augustine was contemporary to the fall of Rome.  This is from a summary of Augustine’s magnum opus, The City of God (Sparknotes: “St. Augustine: The City of God”) and what prompted the Bishop to write this book: 

In A.D. 410, a pivotal moment in Western history, the Vandals, under the command of their king, Alaric, captured the city of Rome. Rome was known as the Eternal City because the Romans thought that it would literally never fall, and the year 410 shook this belief to its foundations and ultimately led to the collapse of the Roman Empire. The world itself seemed to have been destroyed, and everyone sought answers about what to do and what to believe in. Those who adhered to the waning pagan faith were quick to blame the Christians, claiming that the gods had abandoned Rome because many Romans had forsaken them and taken the new faith. These Romans claimed that Christians were not patriotic enough because they asked people to serve God rather than the state, and they advocated forgiveness toward enemies.(emphasis my own)

One of the accusations that pagan Romans leveled at Christians was they were ‘atheists’.   The Christians were not worshipers of the gods, that, is non-believers or atheists.  As the quote above indicates, Romans considered the gods and goddesses as instrumental for Rome’s success, and so the further charge of not being patriotic, or  traitorous atheism.  God and the state were considered one, even to the point that the State was god in the form of the Caesars who proclaimed themselves deities.  Christians did not serve the State as god.  The revolution in Christ then and now is Christians prayed for Caesar but not to Caesar (Pr. Lou Smith).  The accusation that the Christians served God rather than the state is one we hope will be heard in our day as well.

We are living in Roman times.  When God is removed from the public square then the State will become god, or the church (Fr. Richard John Neuhaus).  We might be there and while the world burns, churches fiddle as Nero did when Rome burned.  Churches fiddling around with changing worship services, dumbing down doctrine to no doctrine at all, accepting immorality as ‘alternative lifestyles’ or identifying the Christian faith as an American value. If we were a Christian nation, then we would be persecuted.  St. Augustine, with the Church, out thought, out prayed and so by God’s grace alone, out lived the fall of an empire.  We see the shaking of the foundations in our day and time. We serve in the city of man as good citizens and as citizens in the Kingdom of God, the Reign of Christ through His Word coming into the world and finally when He comes in glory. The Lord’s Church can not be fooling around any longer, we do not have the luxury to do so.  St. Augustine, as Pastor and theologian, meant he cared for God’s people through the Word and cared for the Word as a theologian. We do not need mega-congregation super star pastors who write shallow best selling books of works righteousness, but those who loved the Lord in His love serve and care for that Word for all people in our earthly cities, who think things through, by God’s grace in Jesus Christ for us sinners.  We are much afraid these days as I would guess the Romans were in their day.  I have only read selections from  Augustine’s City of God, but I am reminded of these Scripture verses that seems appropos on the feast of St. Augustine and The City of God:

Hebrews 11:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations,whose designer and builder is God.

Hebrews 13:

14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus come.

For further and better reflection:

Christmas Day:  Third Mass, John 1:   1—14, also addressed to the newly Baptized:

“For from the Gentiles we have come, and in our forefathers we worshiped idols of stone.  So we also have been called dogs (Mt. 25: 26)…But to you grace, has come.  As many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God.  See!  You have come here newly-born (by baptism):  he gave them power to be made the sons of God.  To whom did he give it? To them that believe in His Name.  And how do they become the children of God?  Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. They are born of God, when they have received the power to become sons of God…The first birth is from a male and a female;  the second from God and from the Church.  Behold they are born of God…How has this come to be?  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.  Wondrous exchange!…Lift up your heart to the possession and enjoyment of higher things.  Do not stick fast in earthly cravings. You have been purchased at a price:  for your sake the Word was made flesh.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, on John 6:  1—15:

“For the daily ordering of this whole world is a greater miracle than the feeding of five thousand men from five loaves.”

“We must also ask the miracles what is it they tell us of Christ:  for they have, if we understand it, their own manner of speech.  For as Christ is the Word of God, any deed of the Word is a sermon to us.”

Easter Sunday, on Mark 16: 1—8, addressed also to the newly Baptized:

“For this divine condescension cannot be truly understood, and human thought and language fails us, that without previous merit on your part this free gift has come to you.  And for this do we call it a grace:  because it is given gratis.  And what grace is this? That you are now members of Christ, Children of God; that you are brothers of the Only-Begotten!”

Second Sunday after Easter, on John 10:   11—16

“To you it is not said:  be something less than you are;  but rather, learn what you are. Know that you are weak, know that you a man, know that you are a sinner; know that it is He Who sanctifies you;  know that you are stained by sin.  Let the blemish in your soul be made manifest in your confession, and you shall belong to the flock of Christ.  For the confession of your sins invites the Physician to heal  you; just as when he who is sick says, ‘a am well’, he desires no help from the physician.  Did not the Pharisee and the Publican go up into the Temple?  The one boasted of how strong his soul was; the other showed his wounds to the Physician.”

Pentecost, on John 14:  23—31

But whom do you say that I am? And Peter as the leader of the others, one speaking for all of them, said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God (Mt. xvi).

This he said perfectly; most truly. Rightly did such an answer deserve to hear: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood has not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee, because thou hast said this to me; thou hast spoken: now listen; thou hast confessed: receive in turn a blessing. Therefore: And I say to thee: Thou art Peter: because I am the Rock, thou art Peter; for the Rock is not from Peter, but Peter is from the Rock; because Christ is not from Christian, but Christian is from Christ. Arid upon this rock I will build My Church: not upon Peter (non supra Petruin) who thou art, but upon the Rock (sed supra petrain) Whom thou hast confessed. I will build My church: I will build thee, who in this answer are in your­self the figure of the Church.

16th Sunday after Pentecost, on Luke 14:  1—11

“Do you desire to escape from an angry God?  Then fly to an appeased One:  fly nowhere from Him, only to Him.”

The Feast of All Saints, on Matthew 5: 1—12

 “Riches can indeed perish; and would that they perished before they caused you to perish.”

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Collect of the Day:

O Lord, You strengthened Your patient servant Monica through spiritual discipline to persevere in offering her love, her prayers, and her tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine, their son. Deepen our devotion to bring others, even our own family, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.

About Monica, Mother of Augustine: 

St. Monica was the mother of St Augustine of Hippo, and it is from his writings that she is known. Her husband, Patricius, was a man of modest rank at Thagaste in North Africa; they had three children, of whom Augustine was the eldest, and when he was eighteen his mother was left a widow. Monica had tried to bring him up as a Christian, but she was over-ambitious for his worldly success, and he regarded her religion with scorn. Augustine was converted to Manichaesim, a dualistic religion of Persian origin that was popular at the time.   His earlier vacillations and his liaison with a woman of unknown name caused Monica the deepest distress.  They had a son,  Monica’s grandson.  Augustine named him Adeodatus, “Gift of God”. During this time a bishop whom she had consulted gave her the famous reassurance, ‘It is not possible that the son of so many tears should be lost.’

When in 383 Augustine slipped away to Italy, Monica followed him, first to Rome and then to Milan, where she became an obedient disciple of  St Ambrose. Three years later her devoted pertinacity was rewarded, when Augustine decided to receive baptism: she ‘rejoiced triumphantly’, and retired with him and his friends to Cassiciacum, a happy woman. After the baptism they set out to return to Africa. St Augustine records that at the port of Ostia on the Tiber he and his mother were joined in a most moving conversation on the everlasting life of the blessed; five days later she fell ill, and died there. St Monica had at times been a trying mother, and Augustine had not always been a considerate son; but he had come to recognize her as his true mother in the spirit as well as in the flesh: his own experience taught him to speak of parenthood as a sort of bishopric. (Adapted from The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, by David Attwater)

 

Proverbs 31: 10 An excellent wife who can find?
   She is far more precious than jewels.
11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
   and he will have no lack of gain.
12She does him good, and not harm,
   all the days of her life.

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1: 5

 Reflection:  Monica’s husband was an adulterer.   She stayed with him.  She was faithful. She reflected in her life God’s Word, the Epistle reading:  Ephesians 5:21-23.   She knew her husband to be her head…but in Christ Jesus .    The Ephesians passage is not the model in our day of the liberated woman…or man for that matter. As husbands in Christ means a whole different way than the world’s way of parenting:  a husband is to be like Christ.  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”  (Ephesians 5: 25).  In fact, in the Ephesians text,  there are more verses on husbands than wives, and probably needs to be.  

A neo-feminist wag could harumph and say, Noted for being a mother!  As if that is no accomplishment!  “Being a king, an emperor or a president is mighty small potatoes compared to being a mother…” (see rest of Billy Sunday’s  quote here). Monica’s  strength was her Lord and she prayed for the conversion of both her husband and their son, yet like us she was a sinner.  She also wanted worldly success for Augustine.  Mother and son did not see eye-to-eye.  Yet, Monica persisted in prayer for them and in Christ they knew by faith through His grace, they were reconciled.  Monica is encouragement for us  persist in prayer and not give up (cf.  Luke 18:1ff). Patricus and his son Augustine were baptized.  Her son became one of the most important theologians and pastors whose writings influenced one young monk, centuries later,  in the Order of St. Augustine:  Martin Luther. As you read in the bio, Augustine thought of the family as a kind of bishopric.  Dr. Luther wrote about fathers and mothers being bishops and bishopesses for their children!    Monica’s son’s  feast day is tomorrow. Freedom in Christ is praying for someone who may not even want your prayers. 

From The Confessions of Augustine of Hippo,Pastor and Hippo, feast day, August 28th:

(Monica) was brought up in modesty and sobriety. She was made by You obedient to her parents rather than by them to You. When she reached marriageable age, she was given to a man and served him as lord. She tried to win him for You, speaking to him of You by her virtues through which You made her beautiful, so that her husband loved, respected and admired her. She bore with his infidelities and never had a quarrel with her husband on this account. For she looked forward to Your mercy coming upon him, in hope that, as he came to believe in You, he might become chaste….Another gift with which You endowed at good servant of Yours, in whose womb ou created me, my God, my mercy (Ps. 58:18), was that whenever she could, she reconciled dissident and quarrelling people. She showed herself so great a peacemaker that when she heard from both sides many bitter things, Monica would never reveal to one anything about the other unless it might help to reconcile them….At the end, when her husband had reached the end of his life in time, she succeeded in gaining him for You. After he was a baptized believer, she had no cause to complain of his behavior, which she had tolerated in one not yet a believer. She was also a servant of Your servants: any of them who knew her found much to praise in her, held her in honor, and loved her, for they felt Your presence in her heart, witnessed by the fruits of her holy way of life. She had “testimony to her good works” (1 Timothy 5:10). She had brought up her children, enduring travail as often as she saw them wandering away from You. Lastly, Lord—by Your gift You allow me to speak for Your servants, for before her falling asleep we were bound together in community in You after receiving the grace of Baptism—she exercised care for everybody as if they were all her own children. She served all as if she was a daughter to all of us. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing  House)

 

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About Augustine of Hippo, Pastor and Theologian: Augustine was one of the greatest of the Latin Church Fathers and a significant influence in the formation of Western Christianity, including Lutheranism. Born in AD 354 in North Africa, Augustine’s early life was distinguished by exceptional advancement as a teacher of rhetoric. In his book Confessions he describes his life before his conversion to Christianity, when he was drawn into the moral laxity of the day and fathered an illegitimate son. Through the devotion of his sainted mother, Monica, and the preaching of Ambrose, bishop of Milan (AD 339-97), Augustine was converted to the Christian faith. During the great Pelagian controversies of the fifth century, Augustine emphasized the unilateral grace of God in the salvation of mankind. Bishop and theologian at Hippo in North Africa from AD 395 until his death in AD 430, Augustine was a man of great intelligence, a fierce defender of the orthodox faith, and aprolific writer. In addition to Confessions, Augustine’s book City of God had a great impact upon the Church throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  Today is also the  second anniversary of  Concordia Lutheran Mission here in Lexington, VA.  On the Page on the top, you can read the history. The first Divine Service was at Grace Presbyterian Church and August 28th two years ago was a Saturday.  We had left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation, of which I had been pastor.  Two years ago I had not yet been accepted as a pastor in The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.   Our sponsoring congregation’s pastor and vicar presided and preached at that first service and did so until I was recognized as a pastor in the Synod.

Below is the sermon I preached last year on August 28th which was a Sunday.  FYI:  one couple in attendance decided not to return, one reason being the sermon below.  The wife deemed  it “too negative”. The italicized portions are related directly to the mission’s history.

Pentecost 11, 2011,  1st Year Concordia Lutheran Mission Anniversary: 

Text:  St. Matthew 16: 21—28 

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

The things of God can be rough stuff on the things of man:  crucifixion.  Who wants crucifixion?  Jesus did not.  He was being tempted by Peter right then and there and it wasn’t Peter alone, but the Adversary, the Accuser:  Satan.  Just before this, remember, Peter had confessed Jesus:  You the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus pronounced the very blessing of heaven upon Peter for the Father had given him the answer: You are Peter and upon this your confession you and the apostles, the Church, are given the Keys of the Kingdom.  Peter had seen Jesus walk upon the sea.  The Apostles witnessed the feeding of the 5,000 and 7,000 men, not including women and children.  They had seen Him do great deeds of healing.  They saw the multitudes hanging on to Jesus’ every Word. And now with the identity of Jesus as not just ‘a christ’, but THE Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One this meant only one thing:  GLORY, ABSOLUTE GLORY.  Israel rules! Jesus and the 12 Apostles will be ensconced forever in Jerusalem, the Holy City.  Peter was sitting on top of the world. Now that would be the sign of the Lord, no there is only one sign this side of the new heavens and the new earth: the sign of the Cross.

When Jesus tells the apostles He goes to Jerusalem to be murdered, the disciples were thunderstruck by the news.  And Jesus tells them He will be murdered in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was not the land of Mordor with the dark lord. Jerusalem did not even have mean city streets like in many of our metropolises where murder is a threat. Jerusalem’s center was the Temple, the House of the Lord, with the Lord of Light. He said He would be murdered there?!   And this would be done by the religious leadership, if you will, by the church authorities.  The Church authorities thought they ran God’s Word and His Church, not the Lord ruling them. Could the church itself war against God’s Word?   We know the answer:  yes.  Over a year ago many of us so left a denomination purporting to be church.  We left because of it’s war against the Word of God.  Oh it looks nice on the outside but as the Lord said about the religious leadership of His time, they are whitened sepulchers filled with dead men’s bones full of decay and rot.  It is profoundly sad.  Am I overstating the case?  I do not think so. The gates of hell are doing their best, but they have not prevailed.  Many, including myself,have chronicled the central collapse of the authority of the Scriptures in so many areas of the Church. Now, one should not lightly and unadvisedly leave a church body.  By God’s grace alone,  I do not think we did. 

So!  Are we in the promised land?  The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod?  When I had my last interview for acceptance as a pastor into The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod at the Synod’s InternationalCenter outside of St. Louis, Missouri, one of my three interviewers was a district president who warned me, “You know the Missouri Synod has problems and it’s not perfect.” I smiled and said, “If it were perfect, that would mean the Lord has come with His kingdom and I don’t think He has and there would be no interview”  They all smiled or chuckled.  The district president’s caution was a good one.  In Christ, he could admit sin because of our Savior. He knows our church body is not perfect.  but I do not think I could ever hear that from some other liberal protestant church bodies and their ecclesiacrats.  I can  not imagine the Pharisees saying that but just the opposite, God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  The district president, this pastor,  is obviously no Pharisee. Thank our Lord for His grace for us all!

Paul wrote to Timothy that Jesus came to save sinners of whom I am the foremost. Paul also wrote, we preach Christ and Him crucified.  None of those verses are in past tense, I was a sinner or we preached Christ and him crucified.  It is all about present-tense Savior for present tense sinners.  No one wants to bear a cross.  No one wants to be crucified.  The cross stands for one thing:  costly grace, His blood for your sin.  When the Lord says bear the cross if you would come after Him, means to take hold of your forgiveness that He freely gives like water to the thirsty, like bread to the hungry, like sight to the blind, like legs to those can not walk.  We want to be simply translated into glory here and now, no.  By His life alone we cannot translated into glory yet because we are not ready but we are transformed by the mercies of God.

The things of God are His grace, mercy and peace.  The things of man are me, myself and I.  The Lord’s grace, mercy and peace come at a price, the price of His own beloved Son. But the things of man–me, myself and I– comes too with a price:  temporal and eternal punishment, sorrow in this world and the next. After all even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.  The Lord does not want that for you, for Peter, for me.  When Peter rebuked him, tried to deter Him from the only Way for us and for our salvation, Peter was Satan, tempting Him.  It was a sharp temptation. It was a sharp temptation to use the best of His own creation for Himself alone.  All temptation is not to use evil things primarily, but good things, the good creation, for evil purposes.  Love, money, house, home etc. all for me.  I’ll save my life. But fool!  says the Lord, your soul is required of you this night.  The Kingdom, the power and the glory are used as MINE. then even Jersualem becomes the city of darkness and Mordor. But the THINE is the kingdom, the power and the glory and with Lord it is heaven even now on earth, coming into the world through the death, resurrection and life of Jesus the Christ. 

But at the time temptations look good, we may say:  Oh what the hell?  Indeed,  what the hell.  Here was the Man who knew the sharpest temptation imaginable:  not to justly die for people who lord it over others, want many rings of power and build their towers into the skies.  He was tempted in every way we are, yet was without sin.  Temptation is not sin, the succumbing to it is.  So He taught us, Lead us not into temptation.  Stop me from going there.  So Jesus’ rebuke of Peter.  So when He was tempted thrice by Satan in the wilderness, thrice did He say, It is written.  Only the God’s Word of grace, mercy and peace can fell the tempter’s power. Because Jesus was tempted, He can help those are who are tempted.  If we try to do it on our own, then we are looking the wrong way.  “There is no help or comfort except to run here and to take hold of the Lord’s Prayer, and thus speak to God from the heart: Dear Father, Thou hast bidden me pray; let me not relapse because of temptations. Then you will see that they must desist, and finally acknowledge themselves conquered.  Else if you venture to help yourself by your own thoughts and counsel, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil more space. For he has a serpent’s head, which if it gain an opening into which he can slip, the whole body will follow without check. But prayer can prevent him and drive him back. (Luther:  The Large Catechism)

 It is as if in today’s Gospel, there are two columns entitled:

Things of Man: 

having it all                            

eternal death

glory                                                   

my way

hell to pay

self-love

self-fulfillment

Things of God:

having the Lord

eternal life

suffering

His way

heaven given

love which serves

cross-bearing

love of the other

self-denial

But to get from column A to column B can not be traversed by us or any good decision, will or merit. Truly, we can not do that on our own steam.  “Nothing in my hand I bring, but only to Thy Cross I cling” It has been done so by He who went to Jerusalem to be murdered by our murders of soul and body.  And the cross-like life in the Lord is described well by St. Paul in the lesson from Romans 12: 9-21.  Here we see the fruit of love in the root of faith in the Lord in taking hold of our forgiveness.  “Do you desire to escape from an angry God?  Then fly to an appeased One:  fly nowhere from Him, only to Him.”(St. Augustine) He forms us into His life. And a Christian congregation will look like today’s second lesson. And truly, but by the grace of God go I.

 IN the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy  Spirit. Amen.

For further prayer and reflection:

The following quotes are Augustine’s sermons, from the four volume series, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers:  A Manual of Preaching, Spiritual Reading and Meditation, translated and edited by M. F. Toal, D.D., 1996, Preservation Press:

Christmas Day:  Third Mass, John 1:   1—14, also addressed to the newly Baptized:

“For from the Gentiles we have come, and in our forefathers we worshiped idols of stone.  So we also have been called dogs (Mt. 25: 26)…But to you grace, has come.  As many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God.  See!  You have come here newly-born (by baptism):  he gave them power to be made the sons of God.  To whom did he give it? To them that believe in His Name.  And how do they become the children of God?  Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, now of the will of man, but of God. They are born of God, when they have received the power to become sons of God…The first birth is from a male and a female;  the second from God and from the Church.  Behold they are born of God…How has this come to be?  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.  Wondrous exchange!…Lift up your heart to the possession and enjoyment of higher things.  Do not stick fast in earthly cravings. You have been purchased at a price:  for your sake the Word was made flesh.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, on John 6:  1—15:

“For the daily ordering of this whole world is a greater miracle than the feeding of five thousand men from five loaves.”

“We must also ask the miracles what is it they tell us of Christ:  for they have, if we understand it, their own manner of speech.  For as Christ is the Word of God, any deed of the Word is a sermon to us.”

Easter Sunday, on Mark 16: 1—8, addressed also to the newly Baptized:

“For this divine condescension cannot be truly understood, and human thought and language fails us, that without previous merit on your part this free gift has come to you.  And for this do we call it a grace:  because it is given gratis.  And what grace is this? That you are now members of Christ, Children of God; that you are brothers of the Only-Begotten!”

Second Sunday after Easter, on John 10:   11—16

“To you it is not said:  be something less than you are;  but rather, learn what you are. Know that you are weak, know that you a man, know that you are a sinner; know that it is He Who sanctifies you;  know that you are stained by sin.  Let the blemish in your soul be made manifest in your confession, and you shall belong to the flock of Christ.  For the confession of your sins invites the Physician to heal  you; just as when he who is sick say, ‘a am well’, he desires no help from the physician.  Did not the Pharisee and the Publican go up into the Temple?  The one boasted of how strong his soul was; the other shown his wounds to the Physician.”

Pentecost, on John 14:  23—31

But whom do you say that I am? And Peter as the leader of the others, one speaking for all of them, said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God (Mt. xvi).

This he said perfectly; most truly. Rightly did such an answer deserve to hear: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood has not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is inheaven. And I say to thee, because thou hast said this to me; thou hast spoken: now listen; thou hast confessed: receive in turn a blessing. Therefore: And I say to thee: Thou art Peter: because I am the Rock, thou art Peter; for the Rock is not from Peter, but Peter is from the Rock; because Christ is not from Christian, but Christian is from Christ. Arid upon this rock I will build My Church: not upon Peter (non supra Petruin) who thou art, but upon the Rock (sed supra petrain) Whom thou hast confessed. I will build My church: I will build thee, who in this answer are in your­self the figure of the Church.

16th Sunday after Pentecost, on Luke 14:  1—11

“Do you desire to escape from an angry God?  Then fly to an appeased One:  fly nowhere from Him, only to Him.”

The Feast of All Saints, on Matthew 5: 1—12

 “Riches can indeed perish; and would that they perished before they caused you to perish.”

 A Prayer Adapted from a Benediction by which St. Augustine ended at least two of his sermons:

 We turn to You, the Lord our God and as best as we can give we give You thanks.  We beseech You that in Your goodness You will hear our prayers and by Your power:  drive evil from our thoughts and actions, increase our faith, guide our minds, grant us Your holy inspirations, and bring us to joy without end through Your Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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About Monica, Mother of Augustine: A  native of North Africa, Monica (AD 333-387) was the devoted mother of St. Augustine. Throughout her life, she sought the spiritual welfare of her children, especially that of her brilliant son Augustine. Widowed at a young age, she devoted herself to her family, praying many years for Augustine’s conversion. When Augustine left North Africa to go to Italy, she followed him to Rome and then to Milan. There she had the joy of witnessing her son’s conversion to the Christian faith. Weakened by her travels, Monica died at Ostia, Italy, on the journey she had hoped would take her back to her native Africa. On some Church Year calendars, Monica is remembered on May 4. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing  House)

From The Confessions of Augustine of Hippo,Pastor and Hippo, feast day, August 28th:

(Monica) was brought up in modesty and sobriety. She was made by You obedient to her parents rather than by them to You. When she reached marriageable age, she was given to a man and served him as lord. She tried to win him for You, speaking to him of You by her virtues through which You made her beautiful, so that her husband loved, respected and admired her. She bore with his infidelities and never had a quarrel with her husband on this account. For she looked forward to Your mercy coming upon him, in hope that, as he came to believe in You, he might become chaste….

Another gift with which You endowed at good servant of Yours, in whose womb ou created me, my God, my mercy (Ps. 58:18), was that whenever she could, she reconciled dissident and quarrelling people. She showed herself so great a peacemaker that when she heard from both sides many bitter things, Monica would never reveal to one anything about the other unless it might help to reconcile them….

At the end, when her husband had reached the end of his life in time, she succeeded in gaining him for You. After he was a baptized believer, she had no cause

to complain of his behavior, which she had tolerated in one not yet a believer. She was also a servant of Your servants: any of them who knew her found much to praise in her, held her in honor, and loved her, for they felt Your presence in her heart, witnessed by the fruits of her holy way of life. She had “testimony to her good works” (1 Timothy 5:10). She had brought up her children, enduring travail as often as she saw them wandering away from You. Lastly, Lord—by Your gift You allow me to speak for Your servants, for before her falling asleep we were bound together in community in You after receiving the grace of Baptism—she exercised care for everybody as if they were all her own children. She served all as if she was a daughter to all of us.

Reflection:

Proverbs 31: 10 An excellent wife who can find?
   She is far more precious than jewels.
11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
   and he will have no lack of gain.
12She does him good, and not harm,
   all the days of her life.

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1: 5

St. Augustine’s prayer reflects autobiographical information I did not know  about the Bishop of Hippo and an autobiography that challenges  our  post-modern ‘sensibilities’.  Monica’s husband seem to be a “two-timer”.   She stayed with him.  She was faithful. She probably took literally yesterday’s Epistle reading:   Ephesians 5:21-23  She wanted her husband to be her head…but in Christ Jesus.  She is not the model in our day of the liberated woman!  Thank, God.  Her strength was her Lord and she prayed for the conversion of both her husband and their son.  I am not saying that a wife in an abusive marriage should stay.  It does not sound like Monica was physically abused.  She was, though, spiritually hurt by her feckless husband and faithless son.  She persisted in prayer for them and they may have known it! The Lord certainly did.  Both were baptized.  Her son became one of the most important theologians and pastors whose writings influenced one young monk in the Order of St. Augustine:  Martin Luther.   Freedom in Christ is praying for someone who may not even want your prayers.  

P.S. Sometimes I think a day like this one should be for the Church, Mother’s Day.

Collect of the Day:

O Lord, You strengthened Your patient servant Monica through spiritual discipline to persevere in offering her love, her prayers, and her tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine, their son. Deepen our devotion to bring others, even our own family, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.

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These two photos are of one wooden statue depicting our Lord riding the donkey…complete with wheels! It is on display at The Cloisters in Manhattan which is a museum of nothing but Christian Medieval Art. This particular statue was used in churches on Palm Sunday.

Psalmody:  Psalm 118:19-25

Additional Psalm:  Psalm 9

Old Testament Reading: Numbers16:23-40

New Testament Reading: Luke 19:29-48

In the daily Lectionary, today’s New Testament reading is the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and the meditation below reflects this Gospel.  The meditation below is by Pr. Scott Murray in his excellent devotional A Year with the Church Fathers:  Meditations for Each Day of the Church Year. The emphasis is my own for a post-script reflection.

Meditation:  When John Goodman’s character in the movie King Ralph is suddenly catapulted from utter obscurity to become the King of England, he initially exults in the power it gives him. He has a bowling alley installed in Buckingham Palace. However, it isn’t long until he realizes that power’s crown weighs heavily on the brow that bears it. 

Jesus comes from Galilean obscurity to Jerusalem, receiving the accolades of majesty from the frenzied crowd. Although they did not surprise Him, the burdens His kingly crown brings with it weigh upon His sacred head, wounding it for our transgressions. His coronation day is not an elevation to office, as we humans might think, but a condescension to our need. Like the unfortunate baseball manager who inherits a last-place team, Jesus has nothing but woe ahead of Him. King Jesus is acclaimed to humiliation and ignominious death. He comes not to subjugate, master, and overpower, but to suffer and die. His throne is nothing other than the cross. The crowd thought their hosannas would acclaim His power, and they were right in that He came to save. However, He came to save not by employing His power but by hiding it. He came to save not by menacing His enemies but by forgiving them. He came not to drive His subjects, but to make them His sons. Such is the one whom we hail as King.

 “What mental suffering the Jewish rulers must have endured when they heard so great a multitude proclaiming Christ as their King (Luke19:38)! But what honor was it for the Lord to be King of Israel? What great thing was it to the King of eternity to become the King of men? For Christ’s kingship overIsraelwas not for exacting tribute, putting swords into His soldiers’ hands, or subduing His enemies by open warfare. He was King of Israel in exercising kingly authority over their inward natures, in consulting for their eternal interests, in bringing into His heavenly kingdom those whose faith, hope, and love were centered in Himself. Accordingly, for the Son of God, the Father’s equal, the Word by whom all things were made, in His good pleasure to be King of Israel, was an act of condescension and not of promotion; a token of compassion, and not any increase of power. For He who was called on earth the King of the Jews is in the heavens the Lord of angels” (Augustine, Tractates on John, 51).

Post-Script:  “His coronation day is not an elevation to office, as we humans might think, but a condescension to our need.”  This reflection works well for Ascension. Ascension is the Lord’s enthronement in heaven when He sits at the right hand of God the Father.  The versicle  and response for Ascensiontide’s daily prayer makes this explicit:

The King ascends to heaven. Alleluia!/O come, let us worship Him.

He ascends to heaven still to descend in “humble water, humble words, humble food”, for His Body, the Church, that is, in Holy Baptism, Preaching and Teaching of the Pure Word of God, Law and Promise and the Holy Communion.

And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1)

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
   and he gave gifts to men.”

 9( In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended intothe lower regions, the earth? 10He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4)

For 1,979 earth years He has been at the right hand of God the Father,  to be with us all and by  His scarred hand to preach and administer Word and Sacrament for His Church, for the life of the world through those whom He has called.

 Let us pray…

O King who comes in the name of the Lord, through Your birth and death, earth and heaven were joined together in peace. May Your coming as King into Jerusalem in humility on the donkey help us to see that You continue to come to us as our King hidden in humble water, humble words, humble food; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  (Prayer of the Day)


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Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan from today’s date, December 7, beginning in 374 till his death in 397.  He was the first of great Church fathers to be born, raised and educated as a Christian (the others were pagans who converted) and in the western part of the Roman Empire in what is now Trier, France.   He studied the classics and the law at Rome and before he was thirty-three was named governor of Ligoria and Aemilia, with headquarters at Milan.  Milan at the time was the seat of the imperial court.  The bishop was an Arian.  Arianism is a Christian heresy.  Bishop Arius taught, “There was a time when Christ was not”, thus denying the plain teaching of Scripture, for instance, see John 1:1-3, and thus denying the divinity of Jesus Christ, His equality in the Godhead  and salvation in Him. (This is not far to the doctrine  that Jesus was a good teacher, for instance, see the book “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth“, by Thomas Jefferson who took the Gospels and cut out all the miracles and the resurrection).  This resulted in violent clashes between the Arians and the Catholics in Milan.  Ambrose, as Governor, settled the conflict.  Both sides unanimously insisted that Ambrose become their Bishop, or pastor.  At this time, though a believer, Ambrose had not been baptized.  The human tradition and custom at the time  was to delay baptism till the time of death, so as not to sin after baptism.  Ambrose finally bowed to pressure from church and state, and on this date, December 7th, he was baptized, ordained a priest and consecrated Bishop: all in one day!  Usually, a known saint’s day is the day the saint died, thus in Christ awaiting the resurrection unto eternal life. Today we remember Ambrose’s re-birth into the Kingdom, see John 3:5.

      Ambrose is noted for the following:

  1. a powerful preacher of the Gospel
  2. a hymn writer
  3. a peacemaker
  4. and through it all, defender of the true Faith:  when Arians were sentenced to death, Ambrose saved their lives and yet  he did not compromise the  saving and sound doctrine of the Scriptures with their heresy.

One of the many people who ‘attended church’ and the Liturgy in Milan was a young Manichean philospher,  who had had  a child out of wedlock and who was searching:  Augustine.  Augustine became one of the great teachers and preachers of Jesus Christ. 

“In Milan I found Your devoted servant the bishop Ambrose, who was known throughout the world as a man whom there was few to equal in goodness.  At that time his gifted tongue never tired of dispensing the richness of Your corn, the joy of Your oil, and the sober intoxication of Your wine.  Unknown to me, it was You who led me to him,so that I might knowingly be led by him to You.”  ( From the Confessions of St. Augustine)  On Easter, 387, Ambrose administered the Sacrament of  Holy Baptism for Augustine).

His most reknowned hymn is the Advent hymn we sung for the 1st Sunday of Advent:  ‘Savior of the Nations, Come’:

 “Savior of the Nations, Come”
1. Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here Thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

2. Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh–
Woman’s Offspring, pure and fresh.

3. Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the Virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.

4. From the Father forth He came
And returneth to the same,
Captive leading death and hell–
High the song of triumph swell!

5. Thou, the Father’s only Son,
Hast o’er sin the victory won.
Boundless shall Thy kingdom be;
When shall we its glories see?

6. Brightly doth Thy manger shine,
Glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o’ercloud this light;
Ever be our faith thus bright.

7. Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.

(The Lutheran Hymnal Hymn # 95  Text: John 1: 14 Author: St. Ambrose, +397 German version translated by Martin Luther, 1524)

Let us pray…O God, You gave Your servant Ambrose grace to proclaim the Gospel with eloquence and power.  As bishop of the great congregation of Milan, he fearlessly bore reproach for the honor of Your name.  Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching fidelity in ministering Your Word that Your people shall be partakers of the divine nature;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

(Source for this piece from Festivals and Commemorations by Philip H. Pfatteicher;  to read more about Ambrose:  Cyberbrethren: Ambrose)

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