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Today’s New Testament reading is from the Apostle Paul’s letter to Pastor Timothy,  2 Timothy 4: 1-5 (emphasis my own):

1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.3 For the time is coming when people will not endure soundteaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

In the first picture is a false love that merely loves what I want, but the second picture is of the Love who loves even those who don’t want Him.  False love makes us curved in.  His true and holy love makes us sound as He teaches sound doctrine in His Church and calls us out the darkness into His own most marvelous light Take your pic as He has picked you.

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Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd  of Your people, we give You thanks for Your servant Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, who was faithful in the care and nurture of the flock entrusted to his care. So they may follow his example and the teaching of his holy life, give strength to pastors today who shepherd Your flock so that, by Your grace,Your people may grow into the fullness of life intended for them in paradise; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Bio:  Pastor Muhlenberg was born in Einbeck, Germany in 1711, the seventh of nine children.  He graduated from Gottingen University and studied also at Halle, serving as schoolmaster.  Halle was the center for Pietism under August Hermann Francke who sent Muhlenberg to the new world. First he went to London for study and there had a gown made which became the pattern for English Lutheran clergy in America.

Pastor Muhlenberg came to the colonies  in 1742.  A tireless traveler, Muhlenberg helped to found many Lutheran congregations and was the guiding force behind the first American Lutheran synod, the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, founded Sunday, August 14, 1748 in Philadelphia.  At this synod Muhlenberg submitted a liturgy which was ratified and remained the only authorized American Lutheran liturgy for 40 years(1). He valued the role of music in Lutheran worship (often serving as his own organist)  The transition from the state church of Germany to the free churches of America brought challenges and Pastor Muhlenberg wrote a model congregational constitution in 1762 which became the basis for local church government.  He preached in German, Dutch and English and it was reported with a powerful voice.  And during his pastoral ministry, Muhlenberg kept a journal of his travels and service, remembering that Pennsylvania was practically the frontier in those days.  From his journal:

1748. November 5.I am worn out from much reading; I am incapacitated for study; I cannot even manage my own household because I must be away most of the time. The Reverend Fathers called me for only three years on trial, but the dear God has doubled the three years and upheld me all this time with forbearance. I write this not out of any discontent of slothfulness, but out of the feeling of spiritual and physical incapacity and a yearning desire to achieve a little more quietude where I could gather my thoughts better, spend more time with my wife and children, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Muhlenberg and his sons were also leaders in American public life. His son John Peter Gabriel left his pastorate in Woodstock, Virginia and became a general under Washington and later in life served as congressman and senator from Pennsylvania.  He announced his intention to serve in the Continental Army and the cause of political freedom from the pulpit when he took off his preaching robe to reveal his uniform saying there is a time to pray and a time to fight.  One of Pennsylvania’s statues in Statuary Hall in the U. S. Capitol depicts this moment .  It might be legend but it illustrates that we are called to serve as citizens in the two kingdoms, the temporal, that is, our nation and the eternal, the reign of God in Jesus Christ. John’s brother, Frederick Augustus Conrad,  also a Lutheran pastor became a member of the Continental Congress and became the first speaker of the House of Representatives in the new nation under the new Constitution.

Muhlenberg established the shape of Lutheran parishes for America during a 45-year ministry in Pennsylvania. Muhlenberg is remembered as a church leader, a journalist, a liturgist, and—above all—a pastor to the congregation in his charge.  He and has family also reflect the beginnings of our nation and service to the Constitution.  If your high school son or daughter needs to do a paper on the beginnings of our nation, the Muhlenbergs would make fine subject matter!   Pastor Muhlenberg died in 1787, in Trappe, Pennsylvania, leaving behind a large extended family and a lasting heritage: American Lutheranism. (Sources:  Festivals and Commemorations by Rev. Philip Pfatteicher and The Treasury of Daily Prayer)

Reflection:  October is pastor appreciation month.  Pr. Muhlenberg had a hard go of it in the new world.  In a reflection today by Pr. Scott Murray (Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, TX), he writes about melancholy.  We call this emotion depression.   His reflection is not about pastors per se but the melancholy we can all feel as did the pastor we commemorate today.  Pr. Murray then quotes Martin Luther:

God tests us not to determine if we will be faithful to Him, because He knows the answer to that question. He tests us so that we learn faith and confidence in Him. He is the hidden God who rescues under signs of weakness and humility. He Himself has worked that way in Christ, who though God of God also died a humiliating death with no sign of God’s promise apart from the Word of God to Him, “You are my Son, today have I begotten You” (Ps 2:7). There is nothing about His earthly life and death that would prove this promise either to Christ or to us. He had nothing upon which to depend but the promise of God. Should we expect more for we who are sons by adoption? What would be more than what God worked for His Son? Just when we are brought down into the Sheol of despair are we truly able to trust the promise of God. Our trust is in nothing but the promise itself.

Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 22.1-2

“Nearly all people are tempted by despair, and the godlier they are, the more frequently they are attacked with this weapon of Satan. What else should you do in this situation than say: ‘I know that I am baptized and that God, for the sake of His Son, has promised me grace. This promise will not lie, even if I should be cast into utter darkness. Therefore what Satan suggests to me is not God’s will; but God is testing me in this manner, that it may become manifest what is hidden in my heart. It is not that God does not know this, but that I do not know it. He Himself wants to make use of this occasion to crush the head of the serpent in me (Gn 3:15). For the heart of man is unsearchable; and the mind of the flesh, is enmity against God’ (Rm 8:7). Nor does man perceive this except through the word of the law, through which the head of the serpent is killed, in order that we may be made alive, as Scripture says (1 Sa 2:6): ‘The Lord brings down to Sheol and raises up.'”

Lord God, heavenly Father, You have revealed Yourself in the promises of Your divine Word. As you send me trouble, send also your life-giving Spirit to me that I might trust Your promises and in the midst of my darkness see Your light. Amen.

Pray today for your pastor and all pastors, for missionaries in dangerous and lonely posts, for  those who are suffering in the darkness, that they might have confidence in the divine promise

If thou but trust in God to guide thee/And hope in Him through all thy ways,

He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee/And bear thee through the evil days.

Who trusts in God’s unchanging love/Builds on the rock that naught can move.

—If Thou But Trust in God to Guide, #750, stanza 1,  Lutheran Service Book

(1) One of the great hopes and goals for American Lutheranism has been a unified liturgy and this was almost realized in the 1970s with the publication of the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW), a project initiated by The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod  (LCMS).  But major doctrinal differences caused the then 3 Lutheran Church bodies to part ways, especially over the authority of Scripture.  The LCMS, champion of Biblical authority, did not authorize the LBW.  Two of  the more liberal Lutheran Church denominations who participated in the LBW, and another breakaway denomination from the LCMS, merged in 1988 to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  The ELCA is noted for its implicit and explicit denial of Biblical authority.  Yet in both the LCMS and the ELCA there has been a fragmentation of the liturgy to the point each congregation can, or has its own ‘style’ of worship which can vary widely and even wildly.   Pr. Muhlenberg’s work of a unified Lutheran liturgy has been undone by our own narcissism in the age of the “selfie”. Lord, have mercy. 

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Collect of the Day:

Heavenly Father, in the mist of our sufferings for the sake of Christ grant us grace to follow the example of the first martyr, Stephen, that we also may look to the One who suffered and was crucified on our behalf and pray for those who do us wrong; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lessons:

2 Chronicles 24: 17-22

Psalm 119: 137-144

Acts 6: 8–7: 2a, 51-60

St. Matthew 23: 34-39

We are now  in the Twelve  Days of Christ Mass which concludes on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th (this year it is a Sunday).  The first 3 days after Christ Mass are today’s feast, then tomorrow St. John, Apostle and Evangelist and then The Holy Innocents, Martyrs.  The contrast between this day, along with The Holy Innocents and the common sentimental understandings of Christmas are sharp but should not be.  Pr. Kaj Munk, a Danish Lutheran Pastor (13 January 1898 – 4 January 1944), who was  executed by the Nazis for his resistance to their tyranny, caught this contrast in the sermon cited after the biography on St. Stephen.  Stephen was the first martyr. “Martyr” is from the Greek word for witness.  Pr. Munk also so witnessed and many do to this day.  We thank the Lord for their faith and hope and love in service to Jesus Christ and their neighbors.–Pr. Schroeder

About   St. Stephen, Martyr, from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House:

St. Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), was one of the Church’s first seven deacons. He was appointed by the leaders of the Church to distribute food and other necessities to the poor in the growing Christian community in Jerusalem, thereby giving the apostles more time for their public ministry of proclamation (Acts 6:2-5). He and the other deacons apparently were expected not only to wait on tables but also to teach and preach. When some of his colleagues became jealous of him, they brought Stephen to the Sanhedrin and falsely charged him with blaspheming against Moses (Acts 6:9-14). Stephen’s confession of faith, along with his rebuke of the members of the Sanhedrin for rejecting their Messiah and being responsible for His death, so infuriated them that they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Stephen is honored as the Church’s first martyr and for his words of commendation and forgiveness as he lay dying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).

“The Christ Child is the world’s Savior and Prince of Peace because He is the world’s greatest war Lord. Apparently there is the most glaring contrast between the Christmas gospel and that for St. Stephen’s Day–between the Christ Child and the first Christian martyr. But in reality there is the closest connection.

The pagan Christmas with eating and drinking and parties and family joy may well be contained in the Christian celebration, but it can never take the place of it. Jesus Himself took an interest in family life, and He attended parties; but He was, nevertheless, ever on the way to the cross. Let us sing Ingemann songs and eat goose and play with our children about the glittering Christmas tree; but we must never forget that the coming of Christ to earth means dauntless struggle against evil. And if we kneel by the manger in other than sentimental moods, we shall become aware that one hand of the little Child is open and kindly, the other clenched in blood.

We wish one another Merry Christmas. And we mean; may your Christmas goose be delicious–or your meatballs, if that is the best you can afford this year; may you have fuel to keep your house warm; may you have friends and loved one about you; may your tree glitter in its wonted beauty and the hymns sound with their old power. And may there, through it all, be one song in your heart: ‘My Jesus, I want to be where Thou alone wilt have me.’ Yes, but there are so many doubts and questions that spoil my Christmas joy.

Well, but who promised you joy? It may be better that you have a poor Christmas. Don’t be like a spoiled child and think of God as a great Santa Claus who has in His bag some sort of electromagnet with which to give your brain cells such a shot that everything becomes gloriously clear to you, and that you can be happy, in harmony with yourself and the world. My friend, perhaps your doctor can do that for you with a stimulant that will send the blood to the brain and clarify your mind so you see things in bright perspective. This has nothing to do with real joy. True Christmas joy, no matter how much or how little of it you may comprehend, means that you have Christ, and that you go where He wants you to go.”

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