I'm a Lutheran pastor, and publisher. We Lutherans like to remind Evangelicals that we were the ones first called Evangelicals. I serve as the Publisher and Executive Director of the Editorial Department at Concordia Publishing House, in Saint Louis, Missouri.
My interests in theology tend toward, unsurprisingly, all things Lutheran, but specifically Reformation history and Early Church History. I enjoy the fine arts, fine coffee, fine beer and fine baseball [defined as the St. Louis Cardinals winning]. I am married with three children.
I'm ecumenical in that I have both a cat and a dog, and they get along very well, no doubt, for one reason, because the cat is larger and heavier than the dog.
This day rightly should be known as the Incarnation of Our Lord, for on this day we remember and thank God for the fact that He sent His Son into this fallen world of ours, to redeem us and save us from our sins. This dramatic rescue-operation starts with a visit to the Most Blessed Virgin, Mary, who said, upon hearing the news that she had been chosen to be the Mother of God, “Let it be to me, according to Your Word” and then later, when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, she said, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Our souls magnify the Lord. Our souls rejoice, along with Mary’s, in God our Savior.
What a joyful/joyous festival the Annuciation is. We rejoice in the angel’s announcement to Mary that she will be the mother of God, and she, the dear and most highly favored Lady, responds in God-given humility, full of God’s grace: “Let it be done to me, even as you have said.” And with the angel’s announcement, the Holy Spirit conceived a son, the Son, within her womb and truly then the Second Adam looked at us and said, “I am flesh of your flesh and bone of your bones.” A great and awesome mystery here, before which finally words end and all we can do is bend our faces to the ground and adore the thrice-holy One who sends Himself to be with us, among us, and one of us us, in order, for us and for our salvation, to go to the cross and there purchase and win us from sin, death and the devil with His holy and innocent and precious blood.
The Old Testament Reading for the Day: Isaiah 7:10-14
The Gospel Reading for the Day: Luke 1:26-38
The Prayer of the Day:
O Lord, as we have known the incarnation of Your Son Jesus Christ by the message of the angel to the Virgin Mary, so by the message of His cross and passion bring us to the glory of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
In the extended entry, you’ll find J.S. Bach’s motet for this glorious festival, the Magnificat, the Latin text, with English translation, follows the videos. (more…)
“Now these three abide: anger, outrage, and fear—and the greatest of these is fear.”
That’s not in the Bible.
But sometimes I wonder if I think it is.
The United States House of Representatives just passed a health care reform bill that I and lots of other Christians opposed. Such legislation should concern us. There are some bad consequences for the weakest and most vulnerable among us, principally unborn children. But should it also concern us that so many of us are talking today about how afraid we are?
Is it a problem that some of us who are tranquil as still water about biblical doctrine and ecclesial mission are red-faced about Nancy Pelosi and the talking heads on MSNBC? Is it a problem that some who haven’t shared the gospel with their neighbors in months or years are motivated to vent to strangers on the street about how scary national health care will be?
It’s not that I think Christians should be disengaged from issues of justice (God forbid!). It’s just that I wonder if we wouldn’t represent Christ and his kingdom better if we did it with a certain tranquility of Spirit, a tranquility that signals we’re not afraid of the rise and fall of temporal kingdoms and their policies.
Our beloved fifth evangelist was born on this day in 1685. Since many male relatives in Bach time shared a common first name: fathers, grand-fathers, uncles, cousins it was common to use a man’s more unique middle name to address them personally, and so, if we were to sing “Happy Birthday” to Bach, we would probably sing it “dear Sebastian.”
What a precious treasure and gift J.S. Bach is to the world. His music is the most influential ever written. When scientists were discussing what should be beamed into outer space to reach potential alien cultures, biologist Lewis Thomas said, “I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space. We would be bragging, of course.” And so we did. When the Voyager space craft was launched, it carried with it recordings from earth, the first being the first movement of Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto No. 2 in F.
To celebrate let’s watch and listen as the incomparable Glenn Gould plays a piano version of Bach’s Cantata BWV 1058, followed by his interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, 1-7, concluding with a movement from one of the Brandenburg Concertos. By the way, you might wonder what Gould is doing while he is playing. He was famous for singing in a low voice along while playing, often vocally harmonizing with the music.
So, here’s my list. Of course, the Holy Scriptures remain the most important “book” in my life, but that’s a given, so, next, in order, and it is extremely difficult to name only a handful, since there are so many books that have had a profound influence on my life, these are the books that came to mind as I thought of the “top ten” if you are allowed to count series as a single title, and are allowed to add one more.
The Book of ConcordThe confessions of the Lutheran Church. This remains the most influential book in my life as it continues to offer a guide to confessing the truth of God’s Word. I have pledged my unreserved agreement with their contents and it remains the most important book in my life.
Commentary on Galatiansby Martin Luther. One of my favorite of Luther’s many writings. A brilliant presentation of the Gospel.
The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospelby C.F.W. Walther. The definitive explanation of the key to understanding the Holy Scriptures.
The Lord’s Supper by Martin Chemnitz. The most compelling and convincing presentation of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper I have ever encountered.
Here We Stand by Hermann Sasse. A powerful explanation of the “lonely way” that is the Lutheran Reformation. A pivotal text in my understanding of Christianity.
Ante and Post-Nicene Fathers.I know, this is a huge collection, but these volumes are what I cut my teeth on when I discovered the Church Fathers. They remain extremely influential as I became familiar with Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Ambrose, Athanasius, Augustine, Chrysostom, Jerome, to name only a few.
Christian Dogmatics (3 volumes) by Francis Pieper. A Lutheran presentation of classic systematic theology that remains the best presentation offering a good overview of the subject.
The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism by Robert Preus. A brilliant synthesis of Lutheran orthodox teachers and thinking.
Martin Luther (3 volumes)The definitive biography of Martin Luther.
The Hammer of Godby Bo Giertz. A Swedish bishop writes a series of short stories that powerfully present the Gospel and offer a solid antidote to the modern theological evils of Rationalism, on the one hand, and Pietism on the other. I read it regularly.
The Lord of the RingsI continue to read this book as the most compelling meta-narrative about good v. evil in fictional form.
The Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian. My favorite works of fiction. A constant delight and joy, with every reading, some new insight and new pleasure is to be found. O’Brian is a master of human character study.
2 Samuel 7:4-16
Matthew 2:13-15; 2:19-23
We pray: Almighty God, from the house of Your servant David You raised up Joseph to be the guardian of Your incarnate Son and the husband of His mother, Mary. Grant us grace to follow the example of this faithful workman in heeding Your counsel and obeying Your commands; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
What do we know about St. Joseph?
Everything we know about the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus comes from Scripture and that has seemed too little for those who made up legends about him. We know he was a carpenter, a working man, for the skeptical Nazarenes ask about Jesus, “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55). He wasn’t rich for when he took Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised and Mary to be purified he offered the sacrifice of two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons, allowed only for those who could not afford a lamb (Luke 2:24). Despite his humble work and means, Joseph came from a royal lineage. Luke and Matthew disagree some about the details of Joseph’s genealogy but they both mark his descent from David, the greatest king of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38). Indeed the angel who first tells Joseph about Jesus greets him as “son of David,” a royal title used also for Jesus. We know Joseph was a compassionate, caring man. When he discovered Mary was pregnant after they had been betrothed, he knew the child was not his but was as yet unaware that she was carrying the Son of God. He planned to divorce Mary according to the law but he was concerned for her suffering and safety. He knew that women accused to adultery could be stoned to death, so he decided to divorce her quietly and not expose her to shame or cruelty (Matthew 1:19-25). We know Joseph was man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him without knowing the outcome. When the angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him the truth about the child Mary was carrying, Joseph immediately and without question or concern for gossip, took Mary as his wife. When the angel came again to tell him that his family was in danger, he immediately left everything he owned, all his family and friends, and fled to a strange country with his young wife and the baby. He waited in Egypt without question until the angel told him it was safe to go back (Matthew 2:13-23). We know Joseph loved Jesus. His one concern was for the safety of this child entrusted to him. Not only did he leave his home to protect Jesus, but upon his return settled in the obscure town of Nazareth out of fear for his life. When Jesus stayed in the Temple we are told Joseph (along with Mary) searched with great anxiety for three days for him (Luke 2:48). We also know that Joseph treated Jesus as his own son for over and over the people of Nazareth say of Jesus, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” (Luke 4:22) We know Joseph respected God. He followed God’s commands in handling the situation with Mary and going to Jerusalem to have Jesus circumcised and Mary purified after Jesus’ birth. We are told that he took his family to Jerusalem every year for Passover, something that could not have been easy for a working man. Since Joseph does not appear in Jesus’ public life, at his death, or resurrection, many historians believe Joseph probably had died before Jesus entered public ministry. Source
As an Irishman, on my father’s side, I’m very pleased to celebrate Saint Patrick’s day as the day to honor the one who was instrumental in bringing the Gospel to my ancestoral people and home. Here from “Crosstalk.com” is the real story of Saint Patrick:
If you ask people who Saint Patrick was, you’re likely to hear that he was an Irishman who chased the snakes out of Ireland. It may surprise you to learn that the real Saint Patrick was not actually Irish-yet his robust faith changed the Emerald Isle forever. Patrick was born in Roman Britain to a middle-class family in about A.D. 390. When Patrick was a teenager, marauding Irish raiders attacked his home. Patrick was captured, taken to Ireland, and sold to an Irish king, who put him to work as a shepherd. In his excellent book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill describes the life Patrick lived. Cahill writes, “The work of such slave-shepherds was bitterly isolated, months at a time spent alone in the hills.” Patrick had been raised in a Christian home, but he didn’t really believe in God. But now-hungry, lonely, frightened, and bitterly cold-Patrick began seeking out a relationship with his heavenly Father. As he wrote in his Confessions, “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours” and “the love of God . . . surrounded me more and more.” Six years after his capture, God spoke to Patrick in a dream, saying, “Your hungers are rewarded. You are going home. Look-your ship is ready.”
Twenty-five years ago the first .com Internet domain name was registered. Read the story here. How has our world changed as a result of the Internet? The good, the bad and the ugly. It’s all there/here/out there/on our computers for us to read, interact with, react to, live with, struggle with, enjoy, reject, be delighted with, be repulsed by, harmed, helped, etc.
How has your life been changed as a result of the Internet? How has the Church been changed?
The study of how traditions developed surrounding the Church Year is fascinating. This Sunday in Lent is traditionally known as “Laetare” Sunday. Here’s an explanation of how this came to be called the Sunday of Joy, in the middle of Lent. The traditional/classic vestments worn by Lutheran pastors on this Sunday include a beautiful “rose” or “pink” colored chausable. It ain’t my cup of tea, but as my more liturgically attuned friends tell me, real men do wear pink on Laetare Sunday!
The fourth, or middle, Sunday of Lent, so called from the first words of the Introit at the Divine Service, “Laetare Jerusalem” — “Rejoice, O Jerusalem”. During the first six or seven centuries the season of Lent commenced on the Sunday following Quinquagesima, and thus comprised only thirty-six fasting days. To these were afterwards added the four days preceding the first Sunday, in order to make up the forty days’ fast, and one of the earliest liturgical notices of these extra days occurs in the special Gospels assigned to them in a Toulon manuscript of 714. Strictly speaking, the Thursday before Laetare Sunday is the middle day of Lent, and it was at one time observed as such, but afterwards the special signs of joy permitted on this day, intended to encourage the faithful in their course through the season of penance, were transferred to the Sunday following. They consist of (like those of Gaudete Sunday in Advent) in the use of flowers on the altar, and of the organ at the Divine Service and Vespers; rose-coloured vestments also allowed instead of purple, and the deacon and subdeacon wear dalmatics, instead of folded chasubles as on the other Sundays of Lent. The contrast between Laetare and the other Sundays is thus emphasized, and is emblematical of the joys of this life, restrained rejoicing mingled with a certain amount of sadness. The station at Rome was on this day made at the church of S. Croce in Gerusalemme, one of the seven chief basilicas.
Here’s an interesting factoid for you Reformation history buffs. On Laetare Sunday the Golden Rose, sent by the popes to Catholic sovereigns, used to be blessed at this time, and for this reason the day was sometimes called “Dominicade Rosa”. Recall, if you will, the Pope gave one to Elector Frederick the Wise as a way to curry favor with him and seek from him the extradition of Martin Luther to lands where he could be tried, and undoubtedly burned at the stake.
Other names applied to Laetare Sunday were Refreshment Sunday, or the Sunday of the Five Loaves, from a miracle recorded in the Gospel; Mid-Lent, mi-carême, or mediana; and Mothering Sunday, in allusion to the Epistle, which indicates our right to be called the sons of God as the source of all our joy, and also because formerly the faithful used to make their offerings in the cathedral or mother-church on this day. This latter name is still kept up in some remote parts of England, though the reason for it has ceased to exist.
The Appointed Scripture Readings for Laetare
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be | glad with her,*
all you who | love her;
that you may feed and be | satisfied*
with the consolation of her | bosom. (Isaiah 66:10-11)Psalm:
I was glad when they | said to me,*
“Let us go into the house | of the LORD.”
Our feet have been | standing*
within your gates, O Je- | rusalem!
Pray for the peace of Je- | rusalem:*
“May they prosper who | love you.”
For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will | now say,*
“Peace be with- | in you.” (Psalm 122:1-2, 6, 8)
Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 16:2–21
Epistle Lesson: Galatians 4:21–31
Gospel Lesson: John 6:1–15
The Lord Feeds His People
The Lord provided bread from heaven for His people in the wilderness (Ex. 16:2–21). Now He who is Himself the living bread from heaven miraculously provides bread for the five thousand (John 6:1–15). This takes place near the time of the Passover, after a great multitude had followed Jesus across the sea, and when He went up on a mountain. Seen in this way, Jesus is our new and greater Moses, who releases us from the bondage of Mount Sinai and makes us free children of the promise (Gal. 4:21–31). Five loaves become twelve baskets—that is, the five books of Moses find their goal and fulfillment in Christ, whose people continue steadfastly in the doctrine and fellowship of the twelve apostles, and in the breaking and receiving of the bread of life, which is the body of Christ together with His precious blood, and in the prayers (Acts 2:41–47). So it is that God’s people “shall not hunger or thirst” (Is. 49:8–13). For He abundantly provides for us in both body and soul.
Collect for Laetare
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Your mercies are new every morning; and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul. Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Ten years after it appeared, we still continue to hear that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was a “breakthrough” between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church. The media loves to perpetuate this myth. In fact, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is a fraud. It was a sell-out by revisionist Lutherans to Rome.
Rome is not to be faulted in any of this. The Papacy maintained the historic position of the Roman Church, and did not change it. Mainline liberal Lutherans, however, compromised the key doctrine of the Scriptures and the very heart of the Lutheran Confessions. When I served as Assistant to the President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, at the time this statement came out in 2000, we prepared an extensive set of documents illustrating precisely why the JDDJ is a fraud and a betrayal of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
From the Extreme Theology blog: I’ve been hosting my radio program for almost 2 years. One of the daily features of my program are the sermon reviews. Each week I review 3 to 4 sermons from seeker-driven / purpose-driven churches. I review them in their entirety and am generally mortified and disappointed at the shallow self-help / felt-needs seminars that have replaced true in depth Biblical preaching in so many of these church’s pulpits. After reflecting on the sermons I’ve reviewed from such churches as Saddleback, Willowcreek, Granger, NewSpring, Elevation, Fellowship Church, LCBC, South Hills, Fellowship of the Woodlands, Mosaic, The Orchard, and National Community, I set out to find one question that could tie all these sermons together so that I could identify the common theme in all of them. Here’s the question I came up with:
If I were an unbeliever and I attended these churches and listened to all their sermons week after week, how would I define the term “Christ Follower”?
Here’s the answer I came up with after reviewing the sermons preached at these seeker-driven / purpose-driven churches over the last 24 months:
Jeremiah was charged with speaking evil when he spoke the Word of the Lord (Jer. 26:1–15). So also, Jesus is accused of doing evil when in fact He is doing good. He casts out a demon from a mute man so that he is able to speak (Luke 11:14–28). But some said Jesus did this by the power of Beelzebub, Satan. Like Pharaoh of old, their hearts were hard (Ex. 8:16–24). They did not recognize the finger of God, the power of the Holy Spirit at work in and through Jesus. Jesus is the Stronger Man who overcomes the strong man. He takes the devil’s armor of sin and death and destroys it from the inside out by the holy cross. He exorcizes and frees us by water and the Word. We were once darkness, but now we are light in Christ the Lord (Eph. 5:1–9). As children of light, our tongues are loosed to give thanks to Him who saved us.
Luther on The Gospel Reading for Oculi
This is a beautiful Gospel from which we learn many different things, and in which nearly everything is set forth as to what Christ, his kingdom and his Gospel are: what they accomplish and how they fare in the world. In the first place, like all the Gospels this one teaches us faith and love; for it presents Christ to us as a most loving Savior and Helper in every need and tells us that he who believes this is saved. For we see here that Christ had nothing to do with people who were healthy, but with a poor man who was greatly afflicted with many ills. He was blind, as Matthew says; also dumb and possessed with a demon, as Luke tells us here. Now all mutes are also deaf, so that in the Greek language deaf and dumb are one word. By this act Christ draws us to himself, leads us to look to him for every blessing, and to go to him in every time of need. He does this that we also, according to the nature of love, should do unto others as he does unto us. This is the universal and the most precious doctrine of this Gospel and of all the Gospels throughout the church year. This poor man, however, did not come to Christ without the Word; for those who brought him to Christ must have heard his love preached and were moved thereby to trust in him. We learn therefore that faith comes through the Word Source
At the beginning of the third century, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity. Among those disobeying that edict were Perpetua, a young noblewoman, and her maidservant Felicitas. Both were jailed at Carthage in North Africa along with three fellow Christians. During their imprisonment, Perpetua and Felicitas witnessed to their faith with such conviction that the officer in charge became a follower of Jesus. After making arrangements for the well-being of their children, Perpetua and Felicitas were executed on March 7, 203. Tradition holds that Perpetua showed mercy to her captors by falling on a sword because they could not bear to put her to death. The story of this martyrdom has been told ever since as an encouragement to persecuted Christians.
Tertullian’s account of Perpetua and Felicitas’ martydom
And when the populace called for them into the midst, that as the sword penetrated into their body they might make their eyes partners in the murder, they rose up of their own accord, and transferred themselves whither the people wished; but they first kissed one another, that they might consummate their martyrdom with the kiss of peace. The rest indeed, immoveable and in silence, received the sword-thrust; much more Saturus, who also had first ascended the ladder, and first gave up his spirit, for he also was waiting for Perpetua. But Perpetua, that she might taste some pain, being pierced between the ribs, cried out loudly, and she herself placed the wavering right hand of the youthful gladiator to her throat. Possibly such a woman could not have been slain unless she herself had willed it, because she was feared by the impure spirit. O most brave and blessed martyrs! O truly called and chosen unto the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! whom whoever magnifies, and honours, and adores, assuredly ought to read these examples for the edification of the Church, not less than the ancient ones, so that[Page 706] new virtues also may testify that one and the same Holy Spirit is always operating even until now, and God the Father Omnipotent, and His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, whose is the glory and infinite power for ever and ever. Amen. Source: The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III : Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, Latin.
O God the King of saints, who strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Did you know that there is a free digital calendar for the Christian Church Year, along with the secular calendar, available here? There are a variety of formats: Microsoft Outlook, Entourage, iCal and Google Calendar. Courtesy of Concordia Publishing House. It includes every Sunday in the Church Year, along with all Feasts, Festivals and Commemorations. It is based on the three-year lectionary used in Lutheran Service Book.
Last year I was invited to give a lecture in the Wiseman Series at First Presbyterian in Tulsa. Oswald Hoffman was a regular presenter. Well, for whatever reason, they asked me to return this year. Here is what I offered today.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, greetings to you from the people of Grace Lutheran Church. Dr. Miller, thank you for the opportunity to participate in this series again. I must say I was surprised when you asked me to return. I rarely get a second invitation to be a guest preacher. My poor congregation is stuck with me, but you are under no such obligation. Jim, you were either desperate or you really are true friend. I do hope it is the latter. Please know that I deeply appreciate the ministry of First Church and your clear proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ here in Tulsa. As I looked at the selection of speakers for the series this year, I was struck by the diversity of traditions represented. I pray that what I share with you today will both give you insight into some of the emphases and peculiarities of Lutherans in general and Grace Lutheran in particular, and yet resonate with all those who bear the name of Jesus Christ.
At Grace, we are what I would call pre-Vatican II Lutherans, meaning, among many other things, we still follow the historic one-year lectionary, an annual cycle of readings that has been used by Western Christians for over 600 years, even though its development began much earlier. In this series of readings, the third Sunday in Lent (which is this coming Sunday) is known as Oculi Sunday. Oculi, the Latin for “My eyes” comes from Psalm 25, the appointed Introit, the Entrance Psalm of the day: “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn Yourself to me and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted.”
Approximately 1,500 years ago, on Oculi Sunday, if you found yourself in Rome, you would witness a large procession winding its way through the city. The procession would be led by catechumens, people who were preparing for Holy Baptism at the Easter Vigil. Before this day these candidates would have gone through instruction in the faith and been subject to a series of exorcisms. A late fifth-century letter from John the Deacon offers some insight into the faith of this community: “There is no doubt that, until born again in Christ, one is held bound by the power of the devil. Indeed, one thus bound should not approach the grace of the saving bath, unless, renouncing the devil as part of the early rudiments of faith, one is extricated from his snares.” So on Oculi Sunday, as they entered into the sanctuary after the procession, they would pray, “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn Yourself to me and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted.” The catechumens, along with all the faithful, were confessing that their hope and salvation was in Jesus Christ. They were turning their eyes to the Lord and seeking His mercy for they were desolate and afflicted by sin and death and the power of Satan. So they confessed the faith of the church and renounced Satan and all his works and all his ways. This then marked the beginning of a series of tests for the catechumens called scrutinies to determine their desire to remain faithful to Christ. John the Deacon continues, “For we thoroughly test their hearts concerning faith to determine whether, since the renunciation of the devil, the sacred words of the creed have become fixed in their minds.” The intensity of their preparation heightened in anticipation of entering the waters of Holy Baptism at the Easter Vigil, which was the transfer of their citizenship from the realm of Satan, with its sin and death, into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, where Christ rules with forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.
Now I imagine to our modern ears, this may sound just a tad elaborate, maybe even a bit superstitious. Yet I believe the ancients have something important to teach us. In fact, I believe it is what our Lord Jesus Christ would want us to learn as well, especially as we approach the Third Sunday in Lent. So Jesus instructs us today through the appointed Holy Gospel for Oculi Sunday, St. Luke 11, beginning with verse 14. By the way, Grace members, I am not preaching this on Sunday so please don’t think you can sleep in with a good conscience.
St. Luke 11:14-28: Now [Jesus] was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
A guest post by Rev. Dr. Holger Sonntag. Since Dr. Sonntag is from Germany and very familiar with the ecclesiastical situation, I asked if he would have any thoughts on the resignation of Dr. Margot Käßmann, who was the head of the EKiD and the bishop of the largest territorial Lutheran church in Germany recently. Here are his comments:
On February 24, 2010, Dr. Margot Käßmann, the chairperson of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany and the bishop of the largest Lutheran territorial church in Germany, resigned from all her offices. She had been a bishop for a bit more than ten years and at the helm of the ECG for about four months. Prior to becoming a bishop she had held a parish pastorate for only a few years; instead, she had spend much of her time holding various functions in the global ecumenical movement.
What caused her to resign? On February 20, at 11 p.m., the Saturday after Ash Wednesday, she had been caught running a red light while intoxicated. The police established her blood alcohol content as .154%. While her fellow council members assured her of their ongoing trust in her in a telephone conference on February 23, but left the final decision up to her, she resigned nonetheless on the following day. As she put it once, she wanted her “personal power to convince” to be “unhampered.” And this public moral failure was apparently seen by her as a major hindrance to such authenticity.
The reactions in Germany range from dismay (not so much about her drunk driving, but about her resignation) to respecting her integrity. Many saw her as a dynamic, honest leader who made the church credible again in the eyes of non-members. Others, however, saw her as a divisive figure who felt constrained to comment on any number of social and political issues, even without (or against) God’s clear Word, and who personalized her office as probably no one had done before in recent history.
What can be said about this major event? First of all, it was perhaps providential that she resigned from her offices on the day of St. Matthias, the man who was chosen to replace Judas. Important are these words in Acts 1: “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it; and Let another take his office [episkopee, same word use for bishopric]. So one of the men [andres, males] who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” All apostles, thus, ought to be males; accordingly, all pastors ought to be males as well. This is what God’s Word here and elsewhere teaches. Therefore, even though Dr. Käßmann had occupied her episcopal office for over ten years and women’s ordination is seen by many in the Protestant church as normal, it bears repeating that she should not have held this office in the first place. What is more, not only did she hold this office illegitimately, she also, during her tenure as bishop, ensured that those objecting to women’s ordination would not be allowed to enter into the ministry in the first place. The fact that this totally unscriptural practice did not cause an outcry in Germany and around the world speaks volumes about the level of indifference and ignorance regarding the deformation of an institution of the Lord of the church.
When we are feeling that our faith in Christ is weak, we should, as God’s Word itself teaches us, do the following things:
1. Recognize that faith is God’s work and his gift, 1 Thess. 3.; John 6.
2. Inquire and examine ourselves if we gladly want to believe, and if we wish that our faith would be stronger and better. If this desire is present, then God’s work and his power is present, as St. Paul bears witness, that God also works this desire in us. Therefore even a weak, poor desire is God’s work.
3. Pay attention to the foundation and the bedrock of our faith, which is not our feelings, our nature, our strength, worthiness, word and service, but rather solely the service, innocence, satisfaction, obedience, suffering, bleeding and death and the blood of JESUS Christ, which we grasp, hold and appropriate to ourselves by faith, as through an instrument, a means, a hand. Obviously, a little weak toddler grasps an expensive ring with his weak little fingers just as surely as a big, strong Sampson can grasp that ring with his big fist. Yet it is one and the same ring that is not made less through the child’s weakness nor made greater by the strength of mighty Sampson. It is and remains one ring, that is, the ring of the service, of the satisfaction of Christ for the weak and for the strong, yes, even more for the weak than for those who let themselves imagine they’re strong.
4. Realize that the dear prayer from out of a humble heart is heard above all after the example of that afflicted man who had a poor child who was possessed and to whom the LORD said: “If you could believe then you would be helped. For all things are possible for those who believe.” “Oh LORD, (said the beleaguered father, weeping fervent tears), I believe, help my unbelief.”
5. Know that the Holy Ghost himself works and supports, heats up and gives courage to our prayer, sighing and tears, that it proceeds effectively and presses through the clouds and fills God’s ears. As Paul bears witness in Romans 8 that the Holy Ghost aids us in our weakness and advocates for us with unutterable groans and we cry out through him, “Abba, Father.” Therefore he is called the Spirit of prayer and of grace, Prov. 12, who bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.
6. Receive the comforting promise that God the LORD will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoldering flax. Mt. 12.
If we would take to our hearts these six little points, we will be able to endure and overcome by God’s grace the trial that comes to us by our weakness of faith or, at last, after all, we will arrive at our salvation through the greater adversities yet to come. For as we live, so shall we die and so shall we be saved.
Instruction for Those Who are Afflicted because of their Weakness in Faith. (Taken from Nicol. Selnecker’s Conc. Funeb. I. P. 130.) Reprinted in Der Lutheraner, April 1845; translated by Pastor Joel Basely
Introit: Ps. 91:1–2, 9–10, 13; antiphon 15-16
Psalm of the Day: Ps. 32; antiphon v. 7
Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 32:22–32
Gradual: Ps. 91:11–12
Epistle Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 4:1–7
Verse: Ps. 91:1, 4a, 15a, 16
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 15:21–28
Jacob wrestled with God; he would not let Him go until he received a blessing from Him (Gen. 32:22–32). So it was with the Canaanite woman. Though Jesus seemed to ignore and reject her, she continued to call upon His name and look to Him for help (Mt. 15:21–28). Even when the Lord called her a little dog, she held on to Him in faith and would not let Him wriggle out of His words: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” This Gentile woman shows herself to be a true Israelite, who struggles with God and man in Christ and prevails. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Mt. 15:27–28). This is the sanctifying will of God (1 Thess. 4:1–7)–to test your faith in order that it may be refined and strengthened. For tribulation produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope in Christ does not disappoint (Rom. 5:1–5).
Collect for the day: O God, You see that of ourselves we have no strength. By Your mighty power defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
From Luther’s Sermon Notes on the Gospel
This is written for our comfort and instruction, that we may know how deeply God conceals his grace before our face, and that we may not estimate him according to our feelings and thinking, but strictly according to his Word. For here you see, though Christ appears to be even hardhearted, yet he gives no final decision by saying “No.” All his answers indeed sound like no, but they are not no, they remain undecided and pending. For he does not say: I will not hear thee; but is silent and passive, and says neither yes nor no. In like manner he does not say she is not of the house of Israel; but he is sent only to the house of Israel; he leaves it undecided and pending between yes and no. So he does not say, Thou art a dog, one should not give thee of the children’s bread; but it is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs; leaving it undecided whether she is a dog or not. Yet all those trials of her faith sounded more like no than yes; but there was more yea in them than nay; aye, there is only yes in them, but it is very deep and very concealed, while there appears to be nothing but no.
By this is set forth the condition of our heart in times of temptation; Christ here represents how it feels. It thinks there is nothing but no and yet that is not true. Therefore it must turn from this feeling and lay hold of and retain the deep spiritual yes under and above the no with a firm faith in God’s Word, as this poor woman does, and say God is right in his judgment which he visits upon us; then we have triumphed and caught Christ in his own words. As for example when we feel in our conscience that God rebukes us as sinners and judges us unworthy of the kingdom of heaven, then we experience hell, and we think we are lost forever. Now whoever understands here the actions of this poor woman and catches God in his own judgment, and says: Lord, it is true, I am a sinner and not worthy of thy grace; but still thou hast promised sinners forgiveness, and thou art come not to call the righteous, but, as St. Paul says in I Tim 1, 15, “to save sinners.” Behold, then must God according to his own judgment have mercy upon us.
A sermon by my colleague, Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, on this day of St. Matthias, Apostle and Martyr.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Dearly Beloved:
Matthias is unremarkable. We have his feast on our Evangelical-Lutheran church year calendar simply because of this passage from Acts 1. From church history we know next to nothing of where he preached or what he did later. In Christian art he is often pictured with an axe, which means that Christians in ancient times believed that he was put to death by beheading, no doubt as a result of his bold confession of Jesus Christ as the Son of the one, true God, and his refusal to acknowledge and worship false gods. But our text tells us very little. We don’t learn anything about Matthias beyond his name. We even know more about the guy who wasn’t elected, since he has three names—Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus—while Matthias has only one name. Of course, we also know that Matthias accompanied the Lord Jesus and the Twelve and was a witness to the Lord’s resurrection. Matthias’ only claim to fame is that God chose him to be an apostle and sent him out to preach and administer sacraments and shepherd the flock of God. What can we learn from this? Not all of the men whom God chooses to preach, administer sacraments, and shepherd the church are remarkable. Most are pretty ordinary. Don’t be disappointed if your pastor is not the most dynamic or charismatic leader. Don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t have the business sense to manage a small corporation. Hold him to the qualifications set forth by Scripture. For the call of Matthias, what was important was that he have been a companion of Jesus and the Twelve from beginning to end, and that he be a witness of the resurrected Lord Jesus. For pastors today, their qualifications and duties are set forth in sufficient detail in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. For that matter, we should learn from this to measure anyone in any God-given office by God’s standards in Scripture, not by whatever our emotions, eyes, or reason would require. Hold all church workers to the standards set forth in Scripture. Be satisfied with governmental leaders who are doing their duty. Fathers and mothers don’t have to be perfect, as long as they are doing what God sets forth in His Word. (more…)
The governor wants Polycarp to deny Christ, and promises if he will, his life will be spared. But the faithful bishop answers, “For 86 years I have served Him, and He has never done me wrong; how then can I now blaspheme my King and Savior?”
Born around AD 69, Saint Polycarp was a central figure in the early church. Said to be disciple of the holy evangelist and apostle Saint John, he provides a link between the first generation of believers and later Christians, including Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, who later wrote of him. Saint Ignatius of Antioch also knew and wrote to him. His home town of Smryna (modern Izmir, Turkey) was one of the seven churches addressed in Revelation (see 2:8-11 for the details).
After serving for many years as bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp was caught up in a local persecution of Christians. While willing to be martyred, others encouraged him to flee. However, he was later arrested, tried, and executed for his faith on 23 February c. AD 156. An eyewitness narrative of his death, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, continues to encourage believers in times of persecution.
According to the ancient records, he was tried solely on the charge of being a Christian. When the proconsul urged him to save his life by cursing Christ, he replied: “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” According the the customary reckoning of his birth and death, this means that he must have been baptized as an infant, raised as a Christian, and lived his entire life as in the Faith. His fidelity follows the encouragement given by the Lord to the church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (ESV)”
The following prayer is recorded as his immediately prior to the fire being kindled for his martyrdom:
Lord God Almighty, Father of Your blessed and beloved Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of You, God of angels and hosts and all creation, and of the whole race of the upright who live in Your presence: I bless You that You have thought me worthy of this day and hour, to be numbered among the martyrs and share in the cup of Christ, for resurrection to eternal life, for soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. Among them may I be accepted before You today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, just as You, the faithful and true God, have prepared and foreshown and brought about. For this reason and for all things I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, through the eternal heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, through whom be glory to You, with Him and the Holy Spirit, now and for the ages to come. Amen.
O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to Your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior, and steadfastness to die for the Faith, give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
In the extended entry is a translation of the document The Martyrdom of Polycarp
I was checking one of the trackbacks to this blog site from a web site called “Thoughts of Francis Turretin” which describes Evangel as a “mixed religion blog.” Really? Mixed religions? Is this how you would understand this blog site, to be a mixing of religions? Is one of you, my fellow blog contributors, a Hindu, or Buddhist, or Muslim, or Sikh, or Wiccan?