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This past Sunday, the 6th Sunday of Easter (year C), the First Reading is Acts 16: 6-15 (English Standard Version) which I have reproduced below.  This is a crucial narrative in Acts as the report of the first convert  and the first Baptism in Europe.  Please note that in the first paragraph the Lord prevents the apostles from going to certain regions and then He directed them into Macedonia, that is, Europe.  Further, in their travels to Philippi the apostles had a quick trip given the circumstances at the time.  After the lesson, I have commentary.

The Macedonian Call

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

The Conversion of Lydia

11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Yesterday, I met with a retired colleague and friend, Art in his new residence at a assisted living facility.  We went out for lunch.  Art was for years a missionary in the Caribbean. He pointed out that with my new job as hospice chaplain in our area that I would have greater exposure to the community in that role.  This might be good for the mission, he said.  Then he said that the Lord opens opportunities for us and we don’t have to force the door open. This observation is spot-on!  So much so-called missionary work, not only abroad but also here,  is forcing the Lord to open doors by various stratagems, techniques and gimmicks.  Door to door salesmen, when the homeowner (usually a woman) was about to close the door would stick his foot in the door;  and so the expression, “get a foot in the door”.  This must have been frightening. This is not the way of the Lord as the Acts passage makes clear.  He opens the door for His faithful apostles and in the apostolic ministry.  The Lord is Lord of the harvest. We pray to Him for His harvest (Luke 10:2).  We don’t tell the Lord when the time is right.  He and His field does!  

John 4:35Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.

Art was reflecting the reality of the Lord’s time.  In a harvest, the right time is the ripe time and we can do nothing to ripen the harvest but be prayerfully ready to harvest.

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

Hymn # 172 from Lutheran Worship

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

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

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

 

Reflection: The Church’s mission is Baptism.  St. Patrick, missionary Bishop, knew that. He wrote a majestic poem that became a hymn on Holy Baptism (see above). Ireland had been evangelized prior to Patrick but it was through this servant of the Lord that the Faith was rooted.  Bishop Patrick’s preaching of Jesus Christ was to the baptized who had wandered down false paths and dead ends to return to the waters. Patrick’s preaching of Christ was for the baptized to walk in the newness of life in Christ as a baptized son or daughter. Bishop Patrick’s preaching of Jesus Christ was for the pagan to come to the waters, to bind unto themselves the strong Name of the Holy Trinity. Jesus Christ commanded His Church to baptize in the Name of the Holy Trinity, not in the Church’s name,nor Patrick’s nor Luther’s, for that matter.  The baptism mission of the Church is obviously not fads and fashions, techniques and clever tactics to “get people into Church”.  The Baptism is always Jesus Christ.  Patrick did not water down Holy Baptism!  He did not water down the doctrine and practice of the Church to “reach people”.  His goal was not ‘outreach’ to people but preach the Word so that people call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved, and that means:  Holy Baptism.   Patrick knew that he was a jar of clay” (see 2 Corinthians 4:7), as he knew that the surpassing power was the Lord’s, the One who baptized him:

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

The Church wears the “green” day in and day out, in the bloom of summer, in the dead of winter:  greening in the watering of His forgiveness by His grace through faith (see Ephesians 2:8). When we forget our baptismal sojourn in the Holy Spirit and His Word the Scriptures, then we are lost. Yes, wear the green today but do not forget to pray and make the sign of the Cross giving thanks to Lord our God, for the missionary bishop who baptized many. The Lord’s Cross points us home to the Holy Trinity.  From Patrick’s  Confession:

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

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As Patrick was a missionary bishop to Irish people, sent from the Catholic Church in England by the Bishop of Rome (the pope), so was the English Boniface sent by the Bishop of Rome to the German peoples.  Boniface was martyred June 5th, Pentecost, anno Domini 754. He had returned to Frisia (present-day Holland), one of his previous mission fields.     At sunrise, while reading the Gospel to a group of the newly Baptized, a band of pagan Frisians attacked Boniface and the neophytes.  Boniface and the neophytes were massacred.  In Fulda, Germany, are the remains of Boniface along with the purported Gospel book he was holding with slash marks. Boniface died while catechizing.

Boniface, Missionary Bishop to the Germans and Martyr is one of my favorite saints.  I was initially dumbstruck by the phrase “missionary bishop” for the reason that I think of “bishop” only in terms of Roman hierarchical images, that is, crosiers, mitres, etc.,  as many of you probably do.  Then reading about Boniface (and Patrick) and reading in particular his letters I learned the way  Boniface and  the Church understood mission work:

  • I learned that this missionary bishop established churches, schools, liturgy, monasteries and the like.
  •  I learned that Boniface did not act as a lone pastoral agent out in the field, but he had with him many other priests.
  •  I learned that he consulted the Church:  three times he went to Rome for conversation about mission in the German lands and the Frankish Empire, with the Bishop of Rome and  considering the 8th Century, this was quite a trip!  Boniface surely needed “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.”
  • I have read a volume of Boniface’s letters, letters he wrote and received, as he kept in contact with the Church for her mission work, for advice, correction, reproof so that the man of God be equipped for every good work.
  • I learned that the Bishop of Rome, Gregory II, did not want the Germans to be “Roman” but, as he wrote to Boniface: “You are to teach them the service of the kingdom ofGod by the persuasion of  the truth in the name of Christ, the Lord our God. You will pour into their untaught minds the preaching of the Old and New Testaments in the spirit of virtue and love and sobriety and with reasoning suited to their understanding.” The Church noted Boniface’s love of Scripture.
  •  I learned that in letter sent to Abbess  Eadburga in England,  “…I beg you further to add to what you have done already by making a copy written in gold of the Epistles of my master, St. Peter, the Apostle, to impress honor and reverence for the Sacred Scriptures visibly upon the carnally minded to whom I preach.  I desire to have ever present before me the words of him who is my guide upon this road…here your works may shine further in golden letters  for the glory of our heavenly Father.”  The Liturgy is for the Word as the Liturgy is the Scriptural Word.
  • I learned again that in the 8th century the Church was international: Rome, England, Germany, Frisia (Holland) were all part of the Boniface’s bio and mission.   The Word created the uncommon common culture of the Church.  The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord.  The Church edified in the Scriptures, the Word of God, preaching, teaching, sacraments, Holy Ministry.   “…..a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, ”Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
  • I learned that the German speaking lands had been evangelized before Boniface but the clergy and people fell into moral and doctrinal laxity of an extreme nature.  This meant that the mission work took time and Boniface had his hands full in dealing with heretical clergy.  Pope Zacharias wrote to Boniface, dated  May 1, 748, that the “sacrilegious priests”,“…gather about them a like-minded following and carry on their false ministry, not in a catholic church, but in the open country in the huts of farm laborers, where their ignorance and stupid folly can be hidden from the bishops.  They neither preach the catholic faith to pagans, nor have they themselves the true faith.  They do not even know the sacred words which any catechumen old enough to use his reason can learn and understand, nor do they expect them to be uttered by those whom they are to baptize, as, for instance, the renunciation of Satan, and so forth.  Neither do they fortify them with the sign of the cross, which should precede baptism, nor do they teach belief in one God and the Holy Trinity;  nor do they require them to believe with the heart for righteousness or to make confession with the lips for salvation.  Wherever, beloved, you find these ministers, nor of Christ but of Satan, you will a meeting of the clergy of the province and utterly reject them.”
  • And so I learned that Bishop Boniface convened five councils of the Church in his German territories for the sake of reformation, especially for clergy who were justifying literally murder and adultery. Bp. Boniface to Bp. Daniel of Winchester, “…we have fightings within as well as fears, caused especially by false priests and hypocrites, enemies of God, ruining themselves, misleading the people with scandals and false doctrines, and crying to them, as the prophet says, “Peace! Peace! when there is no peace.”  They strive to cover and choke with weeds or to turn into poisonous grain the seed of the Word which we have received from the bosom of the Catholic and Apostolic Church and have tried to sow.  What we plant they do not water that it may increase but try to uproot that it may wither away, offering to the people and teaching them new divisions and errors of divers sorts…that murderers and adulterers who persist in their crimes may nevertheless be priests of God.”

The Church established churches for the evangelization of the neo-pagan, the fallen Baptized, and the pagan a Church culture, complete with catechesis, preaching, teaching and the Divine Liturgy.  This runs contrary to all what goes for mission in the latter half of the debauched 20thCentury and the beginning of the 21st Century.  This was no 8th century “program” or “process” with “guaranteed results”, denying the essential evangelical and catholic essence of the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But it did work!  Those Christians built from the perspective of the eternity which the Lord put into us, not from the zeitgeist.  And here we are evangelical, catholic and orthodox Christians in the Lutheran Church, in the LCMS, with many German surnames and give thanks to the Lord for the Englishman Boniface.

The greatest, most noted and spectacular event in Boniface’s mission work occurred in 723, when he returned to the mission fields in Hesse, “…was to fell the sacred oak tree of Thor (a Norse god), at Geisman in the region of Hesse.  When Boniface was not struck down by the ‘god’, many people were converted and Boniface built a chapel in honor of St. Peter with wood from the tree.” (Festivals and Commemorations by Rev. Phillip Pfatteicher)

  • What would a Liberal Protestant have done at the ‘sacred’ tree?  Certainly not cut it down!  Instead, begin an inter-faith dialogue to understand other religions as being essentially the same as the Christian religion, incorporating their ‘liturgy’ into the Church’s, reconciled diversity, “Christians for Thor”.
  • What would a mission-minded LCMS Lutheran do with the ‘sacred’ tree?  Yes, cut it down, build the chapel…but after 60 or so years, tear it down and use the wood to construct an ox-drawn large wagon to go from hut to hut to build “relationships” with the villagers with a rocking Norse band, singing NoWo (Norse worship).

Boniface built a Chapel, complete with Altar, Pulpit and Nave for the preaching and teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There has been a reluctance to get to involved in building churches.  The move in the ’60s in urban areas was to use limited financial resources for “ministry” and let the church building fall apart, until some folks realized that in quickly changing neighborhoods, the church was the only constant.  Indeed!   All of what Boniface, et. al. did in building was based upon the Bible:

  • At least a quarter of the 40 chapters of Exodus deals with one specific project, The Building of the Tabernacle, and the Tabernacle was certainly no wooden cart complete with “Smile!  Yahweh Loves You” bumper stickers.  The Tabernacle had a destination.
  • One of the most joyous events in the life of King David was when he finally was able to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem.
  • One of the greatest events of the United Kingdom was Solomon building the Temple as the Lord said that His Name would dwell on earth.
  • Jesus and His apostle Paul went to synagogues, places of the Word, to preach the Word, the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Our Lord said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4)  The Lord disestablished Jerusalem, there would be no ‘Mecca’ for the Church spread throughout time and space.  Instead, wherever and whenever His people,  called and sanctified by the Word, that place and time is Jerusalem, because His Body is there.  “…the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” (Galatians 4: 26).  We wait for that city to descend, “…the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21: 9) Even the new heavens and the new earth will be a place.

It is so clear from the Bible, Church history, as in Boniface, the mission work of our forebears to this land who built churches, hospitals, orphanages, schools, colleges, seminaries, that this is the clear work of His Church:  to build, to edify in both mortals and mortar.

In conclusion, Dr. Luther taught of the 3rd Commandment, can be applied to church buildings, replacing the word “time”, and time-related words  with “place” or sanctuary:

“… most especially, that on such day of rest (since we can get no other opportunity) freedom and time be taken to attend divine service, so that we come together to hear and treat of God’s Word, and then to praise God, to sing and pray.

However, this, I say, is not so restricted to any time, as with the Jews, that it must be just on this or that day; for in itself no one day is better than another; but this should indeed be done daily; however, since the masses cannot give such attendance, there must be at least one day in the week set apart. But since from of old Sunday [the Lord’s Day] has been appointed for this purpose, we also should continue the same, in order that everything be done in harmonious order, and no one create disorder by unnecessary innovation.”

Almighty God, who called Your faithful servant Boniface to be a witness and martyr in the lands of Germany and Friesland, and by his labor and suffering raised up a people for Your own possession, pour forth Your Holy Spirit upon your Church in every land, that by the service and sacrifice of many Your holy Name may be glorified and Your kingdom enlarged; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 (Source of Boniface quotes:  The Letters of St. Boniface, translated by Ephraim Emerton)

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