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Posts Tagged ‘Repentance’

Lent and Ash Wednesday

During the forty days of Lent, God’s baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting, and alms giving. Lent is a time in which God’s people prepare with joy for the Paschal Feast (Easter). It is a time in which God renews His people’s zeal in faith and life. It is a time in which we pray that we may be given the fullness of grace that belongs to the children of God.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15: 47-49

“Image is everything” was an ad slogan a few years back.  “Image” in Greek is “icon”. The Lord teaches us in His Scriptures that we bear two icons:  the icon of the man of dust and the icon of the man of heaven.   Those images are everything. We bear these images at the same time. 

The Lord formed man out of the dust, dust in the Hebrew  is“adam”, the man from the “adamah”, soil.  He breathed into the man the breath of life.  He still does.  “After God had so bountifully offered proof of His goodness, our first parents behaved as though the Devil intended only good and God intended only ill.” (Franz Delitzsch)  They bought that lie after the dialogue with the father of all lies.  And the Lord said to our first parents: 

“…for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return”

(Genesis 3; also Ecclesiastes 3: 20)

The very words this ancient practice of the Church cites on this day. A custom of tracing a cross of ashes on the forehead is not prescribed in the Bible, but it illustrates the reality of  fallen human nature.  The same words from Genesis are spoken at a graveside as the casket is lowered into the adamah.   This is our “natural body”, a “living being” that was meant to live days without end, but now in sin it now returns to an end: dusty death.  The natural is first, the icon of the man of dust.

We live by the Lord’s promise alone, His Word alone, His Word who became flesh, the last Adam, life-giving Spirit:  Jesus Christ.  He is from heaven.  He became entirely as the first man:  dust, a natural, fleshly body… and He became the now fallen and sinful and disgraced natural body.  We heard again on Transfiguration Sunday He shone like the light of heaven, un-borrowed, uncreated light of heaven so that it is unmistakable:  here is God in man made manifest.  The man and the woman were created by the Lord in His own image, in His own image He gave them, male and female, the stamp of His divinity.  The image is cracked beyond human repair. Jesus Christ was and is this perfect image before the Fall and now incarnate and on Golgotha He become utterly broken and debased image of the man of dusty sin and death. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He is risen.  He is the life-giver bearing in His hands the marks of the Cross breathing His grace, mercy and peace, His forgiveness into this image and man of dust.     

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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From a Sermon on New Year’s Eve by Pastor C. F. W. Walther:

For Baptism is a bath that washed me not only once when I received it—washed me pure with Christ’s blood—but it continuously washes me clean even daily for as long as I hold it in faith. For just as that same water of the flood drowned the sinners, but Noah with his relatives were brought to salvation and carried to Mount Ararat, so also did the water of my Baptism drown my sins, but my soul was brought to the eternal mountain of divine grace. And just as once those same waves of the Red Sea, which swallowed up Pharaoh and his army, were a protective wall for Israel, so also has my baptismal water swallowed up all of my damnation and is for me a sure wall before God’s wrath and punishment….

Now then, all of you who believe in God’s Word, let your watchword for entering the new year be this: “I am baptized!” Although the world may laugh at this comfort, the enthusiasts vex its confidence … nevertheless, abandon any other dearly held pledges and speak only throughout the entire year to come, in all terrors of conscience and necessity through sin and death: “I am baptized! I am baptized! Hallelujah!” And you shall prevail! In every time of need, you will find comfort in your Baptism; on account of it Satan will flee from your faith and confession; and in death you will see heaven opened and will finally come into the joy of your Lord to celebrate a great year of jubilee, a year of praise, with all the angels forever and ever. Amen!

 

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In articles on current cultural trends, this poem by Yeats is cited many times especially the verses I have boldfaced: 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.
 
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
 
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
I thought of this poem especially in regards to the current presidential election season and the second boldfaced verse:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.
The citation of this verse is used to describe what I am concerned about.  The best lack all conviction because the “wise”, the “wisdom of the world” and the “debater of this age” (1 Corinthians 1) states there is no truth which has existed before you and I came on the scene.  All truth is relative, even the conspiratorial assertion that truth is used by the powerful to oppress the weak. This is the stuff of academia.  All truth is about power as a tool, not as words that guide and enlighten and are, well, true.  Then the worst are filled with passionate intensity and  the passionate convictions are loudly espoused by most of the presidential candidates and the endless cycle of blogging, political radio call-in shows, Facebook posting, articles, TV shows. 
What is the reason for all the passion?
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
The falcon can not hear the falconer, people do not want to listen to any lord but themselves.  What is put into the center?  Our Selves, our feelings, our passions.  We listen only to ourselves. “What is your passion?” is  a typical question which gets out of hand in the public arena.  Note how many times in a discussion we begin with, “I feel…”  and then comes the passionate intensity, as if that is an argument. It is not, it is not a conviction, but only a self-induced assertion. No one wants to say, “I know…”.  Ian Anderson, lyricist and lead singer of “Jethro Tull”, in his song, “Thick as a Brick” nailed it:  “I may make you feel, but I can’t make  you think.”  All of television which one endless treadmill of sound bites, has only one power:  to make you feel…good, bad, angry or sad, and then bend you.  Every commercial creator knows that…and so does the demagogue. With the human self at the center, which can not hold, though man idolatrously thinks so, the result?
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
As a pastor, I think of “ceremony of innocence” as the Sacraments, rites and rituals of Christ’s Church, His Word to  us all.  Even the Word is packaged as a song to excite the emotions, the self, playing to the self, not singing to the Lord. Is mere anarchy loosed upon the world?  Yes.  Yeats wrote this poem after the end of the horrors of the first world war, “the war to end all wars”.  Then came the next “blood-dimmed tide” loosed:  the Second World War, then Korea, Vietnam, then the first and second Iraq wars and the terrorists’ war (we are against terrorists not a concept, “terror”) and in between too many genocides from Jim Jones to Pol Pot to Rwanda…and now the Islamic Jihadists’ War to unite all mankind under Islam.  They want to hold the “centre”.  Anarchy is loosed upon the earth.
Then comes finally comes the “rough beast” “slouching”to be born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Christ, is the anti-Christ, the lawless one, see 2 Thessalonians 2:  1-12.  Today’s Great O Antiphon is the one about God’s Law:
“O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”
Before he is the anti-Christ, he is anti-Law, fleeing the center to become a law unto himself, the center.  So many so-called churches despise God’s Law but His Law always points out our sin to point us to the Savior, the true and only Center. What stops anti-Christ?  The rulers of this age are always  “vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle”.  This is as Yeats wrote, the “Spiritus Mundi”, “Spirit of the world”. As King Herod was so he slaughtered all the male children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem.  The King who became a child will stop this once and for all in His last Advent, He came in weakness, He will come in power, when, “… the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.” 2 Thessalonians 2

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This mosaic of Ambrose might actually be a rendering of his likeness.

The Son of God, being about to bring together His Church, first works through his young servant: and so it is well said: the word of the Lord came unto John, etc., so that the Church has its beginning not from man, but from the Word. (emphasis added; Ambrose on Matthew 3: 1-11, the Season of Advent)

“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)

Born in Trier in A.D. 340, Ambrose was one of the four great Latin Doctors of the Church (with Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great). He was a prolific author of hymns, the most common of which is Veni, Redemptor gentium (“Savior of the Nations, Come”). His name is also associated with Ambrosian Chant, the style of chanting the ancient liturgy that took hold in the province of Milan. While serving as a civil governor, Ambrose sought to bring peace among Christians in Milan who were divided into quarreling factions. When a new bishop was to be elected in 374, Ambrose addressed the crowd, and someone cried out, “Ambrose, bishop!” The entire gathering gave their support. This acclaim of Ambrose, a 34-year-old catechumen, led to his baptism on December 7, after which he was consecrated bishop of Milan. A strong defender of the faith, Ambrose convinced the Roman emperor Gratian in 379 to forbid the Arian heresy in the West. At Ambrose’s urging, Gratian’s successor, Theodosius, also publicly opposed Arianism. Ambrose died on Good Friday, April 4, 397. As a courageous doctor and musician he upheld the truth of God’s Word.

Ambrose by his preaching and teaching of Christ brought Christ to many including Augustine.  Ambrose is quoted six times in The Book of Concord:  The Lutheran Confessions. In the longest Ambrose quote in the Lutheran Confessions, in the Apology, Article IV, Justification, the Bishop wrote:

Moreover, the world was subject to Him by the Law for the reason that, according to the command of the Law, all are indicted, and yet, by the works of the Law, no one is justified, i.e., because, by the Law, sin is perceived, but guilt is not discharged. The Law, which made all sinners, seemed to have done injury, but when the Lord Jesus Christ came, He forgave to all sin which no one could avoid, and, by the shedding of His own blood, blotted out the handwriting which was against us. This is what he says in Rom. 5:20: “The Law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Because after the whole world became subject, He took away the sin of the whole world, as he [John] testified, saying John 1:29: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” And on this account let no one boast of works, because no one is justified by his deeds. But he who is righteous has it given him because he was justified after the laver [of Baptism]. Faith, therefore, is that which frees through the blood of Christ, because he is blessed “whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” Ps. 32:1,104].

Ambrose set the true New Testament doctrine of Justification to a hymn, the well renowned hymn for  Advent:  Savior of the Nations Come

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.

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.

It is not that we come to Christ,but Christ has come to us. He chose such a birth! Our worth is not in our works but in the Word, the Word made flesh. This is the reason Ambrose is cited in the Confessions and the reason Augustine, an adulterer and pagan philosopher, could hear His Savior. He did not bring people to Christ, but Christ to people.  In Matthew, He is called: Emmanuel, God with us.  He chose us, not because we were so good for ‘his team’, but we needed choosing to be cleansed in the laver of Baptism. This is the Gospel in a nutshell and it as the word “Gospel”, good news. 

(Read more on St. Ambrose here)

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Justinian was emperor of the East from A.D. 527 to 565 when the Roman Empire was in decline. With his
beautiful and capable wife, Theodora, he restored splendor and majesty to the Byzantine court. During
his reign the Empire experienced a renaissance, due in large part to his ambition, intelligence, and
strong religious convictions. Justinian also attempted to bring unity to a divided church. He was a
champion of orthodox Christianity and sought agreement among the parties in the Christological
controversies of the day who were disputing the relation between the divine and human natures in the
Person of Christ. The Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in A.D. 533 was held during his reign
and addressed this dispute. Justinian died in his eighties, not accomplishing his desire for an empire that
was firmly Christian and orthodox.
Introduction:  We  pray that our government will protect our right of religion as strongly as Justinian did for the Christian faith in the Roman Empire.  We also pray that the government protect us from tyranny of itself and others, especially in our day Islamic terrorists.  Yesterday we saw and heard the reports of the coordinated terrorist attacks on the sovereign nation of France.  The quote below is the one chosen for this Commemoration of Justinian in the Treasury of Daily Prayer (LCMS).  It is quite apropos for the day after the terrorist atrocities in France and those continuing in Syria and Iraq.  The Lutheran Reformers taught that God’s Word points out to us that the Lord rules in two ways:  the kingdoms of His left hand, the nations, physically and temporally, and through the Kingdom of God in Christ, spiritually and physically.  Christians serve in both rules as the Lord is ruler of both.  This is our hope in the face of terror.  The quote is from Luther’s Commentary on Psalm 2.  I have bold-faced the portion regarding the Lord’s rule through the nations and italicized those comments in regards to the Kingdom of God.

The office of Christ is described most clearly, namely, that He will not bear the sword, that He will not found a new state, but will be a teacher to instruct men concerning a certain unheard but eternal decree of God.

Therefore, even if other kings must also make laws and govern through laws, nevertheless their chief function is not to teach or to pass laws, but to punish evil men with the sword and to defend good men. They are consequently like lictors or hangmen of God. For, as Paul says, “they bear the sword to terrify the wicked and for vengeance” (Rom. 13:4). Their own duty is, therefore, not to teach, because they do not rule over consciences or hearts, but only to restrain the hands….

Christ left these things to the kings of the world; to His own people He says: “It shall not be so among you” (Matt. 20:26). For His kingdom stands in the Word, and His office is to teach. He left the care of swine to the kings of the world, for they have been provided with a staff with which they can drive cattle. But His office is … to preach, to tell of God’s decree. This definition of the kingdom of Christ is clear enough and the proper distinction. But few truly comprehend it. That harmful mixture of both kingdoms continually clings to people’s hearts to such an extent that it is difficult even for spiritual-minded to distinguish this kingdom properly from the kingdom of the world.  Nevertheless those who believe in another life after this life see that the services of kings and governors are necessary for them in this life, but that they need Christ the King for another and eternal life. 

A tyranny that has been around since Mohammed is his religion.  It is the “harmful mixture” of religion and politics.  I do not want to suggest that Islam is about the Kingdom of God. It is not.  Islam bears the sword.  Luther saw the terrible danger of the Church bearing the sword as it has from time to time as a betrayal of Christ and the Word of God and this is evident in Islam.  Islam bears the sword in the name of it’s god and wants to establish a religious empire over the entire world.  It is written in Romans 13 that the ruler,

“… is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

It is wrong when the ruler does bear the sword in vain, that is, to let temporal evil have another day.  Pray for the government, police and armed forces of France and NATO, and for our own government and armed forces that Islamic terrorism be utterly stopped, as Nazism was crushed.  Still the anti-Christ of Islam and it’s ideology is strong and will probably reappear and will be with us till Christ’s return but as the Church we can do one more thing:  pray for the conversion of Muslims, men and women for whom Christ also died and bore their sins as well as our own.

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There was a Roman Catholic priest who did not believe in the Biblical doctrine of original sin, but wrote about “original goodness” (He was excommunicated, I believe, and rightly so).  Generally, I think the heretical notion of “original goodness” is the basic theological problem of the post-Enlightenment/post-60s world view.  If we just make society better we will have better people except that would mean upper income neighborhoods should be Eden revisited.  They are not.  If we go with this heresy, then what becomes of the rule of law, and with it police and armies? And before those authorities what becomes of the need for the original authorities, instituted by God:  mother and father? Father and mother are called not only to curb but to guide and direct their children to the Lord’s Way and in His Way.  We still need all these authorities  because of the tendency from the origin of man to do terrible things to man. When we look to our selves as pretty good, then pretty bad stuff happens. This is what Lutheran theology has called the political use of the Law as curb to humankind’s wayward lusts to steal, hurt and murder in original sin.

I thought of this recently because of a song from the 80s and this stunning lyric: 

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas,
Everybody’s looking for something.

Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused.

This describes original sin.  I do not know if Annie Lennox is a Christian but she sure describes this key doctrine better than the social romantics who believe in social engineering.  What she describes is not  sweet. The Lord knows that as He has  told us:  see Matthew 15: 18-20; Romans 3: 9-18. And so He did not come looking for Himself but for us He came down from heaven. Annie Lennox’s solution?

Hold your head up
Keep your head up, movin’ on
Hold your head up, movin’ on
Keep your head up, movin’ on
Hold your head up
Keep your head up, movin’ on
Hold your head up, movin’ on
Keep your head up, movin’ on

It is good, in this dog-eat-dog world, to “hold your head up” and keep “movin’ on” but to where and  to whom?  Into this abusive world came One who never abused but was abused beyond recognition, so we are forgiven.  Yes, He said, hold your head up and look to Me Who has seen your plight as He is our light in this dark world.  Yes, Keep on movin’, following Me.

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

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At this time the Daily Lectionary Old Testament readings are from the prophet Jeremiah.  Yesterday’s lesson is Jeremiah 3: 6-4:2 in which we read:

The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore?

False gods were worshiped on “…every high hill and under every green tree”.  Before the building of Temple in Jerusalem, Israel and Judah had some hundred shrines.  After the Temple was built, these worship sites became infused with Canaanite idolatry, combining the worship of the one true God with false gods.  This is called “syncretism”.  Since Canaanite idolatry was a fertility cult for the male and female deities to unite and so ‘insure’ the fertility of the land for a good harvest;  and so there were cult prostitutes to unite with the heretical priest to manipulate the deities for their favor.  Israel could well have been both spiritually and physically playing the whore, though the distinction between physical and spiritual is not as distinct as we tend to think.

What is a whore?  A woman who sells her body to men for sex.  Israel had sold out to false gods and it sure seems it is usually for sex as idolatry leads ever to fornication.  The prophetic pattern against sin is always in this order: idolatry, then immorality.  False gods demand exorbitant fees, and as they are demons (see 1 Corinthians 10:20) , we sell our soul to them,  the faustian ‘bargain‘, and so lose our soul.  Israel was losing her soul as were the Christians in Corinth.  The devil’s best stratagem is not necessarily and initially direct appeals to the flesh but appeals to spirituality and the so-called refinements of sophisticated spirituality.   This is great cover up  which eventually leads to lusts of the flesh, e.g. divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage,”hooking-up”, orgies and drugs, pornography. We have seen this with churches one by one falling like dominos. 

The Lord first warned about the high places.  Israel bought into a lie, but the one true God can not be bought. He is truth as He is love.  Here we can see the utter reality of the Lord:  He can not be bought or need we to sell our souls to Him!  The false gods always want us to sell out our bodies and souls like a whore for the price of our freedom in Christ. He found and saved Israel, not Israel by herself at all.  He bought them and brought them with cords of love, Hosea 11:

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim* to walk;
    I took them up by their arms,
    but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness,
    with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
    and I bent down to them and fed them.

 *Israel

And as the Lord spoke His Word through Jeremiah:

“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
    for I am merciful,
declares the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.
13 Only acknowledge your guilt,
    that you rebelled against the Lord your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
    and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the Lord.

Return, faithless ChurchThe Book of Life_No Words.  

 

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