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Archive for March, 2013

He Called Them Brothers…..

open tombI am always amazed at how Luther could cut to the heart of a matter and see divine mercy in simple words.  He meditates on how the disciples felt as they huddled in locked rooms knowing that Christ was dead, that the Jews still hated them and that they all had forsaken Christ.  He says that the first post resurrection sermon was about forgiveness when he says to Mary, “Go and tell my brothers”.

Luther says, “I know very well that I am an unworthy being, worthy to be the brother of the devil, not of Christ and his saints; but now Christ has said that I, for whom he died and rose again, as well as for St. Peter, who like myself was a sinner, am his brother; and he earnestly would have me to believe him, without doubt and wavering, and would not have me consider that I am unworthy and full of sin, because he himself will not so consider nor remember it, as indeed he well might do, having abundant cause to repay his followers and visit upon them what they committed against him. But it is all forgotten and blotted out of his heart; yea, he has slain, covered and buried it; and he knows nothing to say of them now but that which is kind and good, and he greets them and addresses them affectionately as his faithful, dearest friends and pious children, as though they had not done any wrong, nor grieved him, but had done only good to him; so that their hearts may not be uneasy or worried with the thought that he would remember it and charge it against or visit it upon them. Since then he does not want it remembered, but wants it slain and buried, why ,should not I leave it at that, and thank, praise and love my dear Lord with my whole heart, for being so gracious and merciful? Even though I am laden with sin, why should I go on and brand as a falsehood this gracious Word, which I hear himself speak; and willfully reject the proffered brotherhood? If I do not believe it, I will not receive its benefits; but that neither renders it false nor proves that anything is lacking in Christ.  

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Quiet Saturday ………

jesus laid in tomb

I found this on something called Easter Icons – “It is hard to imagine the Easter story without thinking of the resurrection, and  often we teach the Good Friday message as if it was Easter Day. The Disciples  and followers of Jesus, and his family, did not have the luxury of being able to  skip to the end of the book. Good Friday is the day where all hope is lost.  While Jesus remained alive on the cross, there was still some hope of a miracle.  But, by the end of Good Friday, Jesus is dead. All hope is lost, and it becomes clear that Jesus is not the Messiah. The Disciples look and feel like fools. The  strange and horrific events they had just experienced would still have been  fresh and vivid. Saturday would have felt decidedly unholy for the Disciples, whilst the majority of people around them, including perhaps their family, were celebrating the festivities of Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread.  They were alone and abandoned, and all hope was gone… This is the Christian  story, this is the Christian faith: Jesus dies. This is no pretence. Jesus is  laid in a tomb. This is no fairytale. Death comes and death is faced … and death  is defeated … but not on Good Friday or on the Saturday. Today we wait and contemplate the death of Jesus.”

So we have quiet Saturday.  Also known as the Easter Vigil (a name more properly applied to the Mass on Holy Saturday night), Holy Saturday has had a long and varied history. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “in the early Church this was the only Saturday on which fasting was permitted.” Fasting is a sign of penance, but on Good Friday, Christ paid with His own Blood the debt of our sins. Thus, for many centuries, Christians regarded both Saturday and Sunday, the day of Christ’s Resurrection, as days on which fasting was forbidden.

I like it because it is a chance to catch a breath before Easter Sunday Worship

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Good Friday and mercy.

Good-Friday-Jesus-on-Cross

1 Timothy 1:15-1615 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Maybe it was the equivalent of “twitter” back in the day or maybe Paul had put it on the his face book page but he calls it a “saying”. This means that it was something that was repeated and stated over and over again. It was the life blood of the church.  Our primary task is to witness to Christ in word and deed.  Why?  Because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  We shouldn’t abandon assembling for worship.  Why.  Because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

This was not just an offhand comment. Paul repeated a statement that captured the reason the early church existed. Christ came to save sinners!  They understood that this was the driving force of Jesus’ life and ministry. He came into the world to save sinners, and He never stopped living for this reason until He was dying for this reason.  “For this cause I came into the world,” Jesus said. He came to do one thing–to save sinners.

The church exists because of one fact.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Everything that we should be about is comforting and equipping forgiven sinners to repeat the saying that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Our worship should be about receiving the gifts that have been given to us because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

Good Friday has one theme – Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

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Mercy and Maundy Thursday and Luther.

Maundy ThursdayChristians should be instructed to approach it (The Lord’s Supper) with joy, confident and comforted, saying, I am a poor sinner, I need help and comfort, I wish to attend the Lord’s Supper, and take nourishment from the Body and Blood of my dear Lord Jesus Christ. For he instituted this Sacrament so that all hungry and thirsty souls might be nourished and refreshed. He will not reproach me, much less hold me back, if I but come in his name to receive his help and comfort.

But should we Christians trouble ourselves continually to repeat the remembrance of the deliverance Christ wrought for us from sin, death, devil, and hell? Are you among those who say, I have heard it all before; why must I heart it again? If so, your heart has become dull, satiated, and shameless, and this food does not taste good to you. This is the same thing that happened to the Jews in the wilderness when they grew tired of eating manna. But if you are a Christian, you will never grow weary, but will long to hear this message often and to speak about it forever.

If you abandon God’s Word and prayer, and yet feel that you will continue to pray, your soul will lose power and ardor. For this reason we should not look at God’s Word in this light, that, once we have heard it, we don’t need it anymore. Even apart from that, it can easily happen that one gets himself involved in some other activity that causes him to forget all about the Word. Therefore, we should daily take recourse to the word. If you do not do this, the danger is there that you will become so cold and laid back that ultimately you feel nothing anymore and you do not partake of the Sacrament for several years.

Martin Luther

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Mercy and those pesky Pharisees.

formula

Matthew 23 takes us into the heart of Holy Week and in the center of the conflict is the Pharisee.  The stunning words of Matthew 23:23 sum up the mercy issues.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

We have talked on these pages before about Pharisaism and the modern examples we have even in our churches.  Read the blogs of some in the church and you hear and read the vestiges of a modern Pharisee.  It is a great system.  You have God on your side so you are always right and you know that others are wrong by a simple measure – if they disagree with you!  I read a blog not to long ago where the author actually said the best way to know if the people that are arguing with you are wrong, is if they call you a “pharisee”.   These modern pharisee’s are very much into justification by faith and the “sola’s” of the Reformation.  They talk a lot about grace and the fact that we can do nothing to merit salvation and yet there is behind their words a kind of “work righteousness” that rears up in the language of liturgy and worship.  There is a subtext to the great Gospel call – Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (but you better do what we say)!  There is a kind of formula to salvation for them which of course they will deny, but here it is – FAITH, (trust in justification of the sinner for the sake of Christ ) + WORKS (do what the Pastor says, don’t sing praise songs, give your offerings, do what the Pastor says, never ask questions, don’t read the Bible without Pastoral imput, move the baptismal font, change the constitution, and did I mention? – do what the Pastor says, = SALVATION.  If you think I am going over board here look at every conflicted congregation that you know or ask a few questions about every conflicted Pastor.  Ask those that have been “excommunicated” why they were and then read my formula and tell me I am wrong.  The most exuberant proclamation of the free grace of God outside the Bible is the Augsburg Confession and yet the word “confessional” is being given a black eye by some of these folks.

In the midst of Holy Week we realize that Jesus conflict with  the Pharisees is huge.  As Franzmann says in “Follow Me”,  “It is the embodiment of a religious ethical objection to  God’s act in Christ. Pharisaism is the incarnation of the offense taken by man as ethical man, at an absolutely free and sovereign act of love on God’s part.   Man would fit even God’s grace into a pattern of requital and recompense which man  can calculate and predict. The idea of a love which is absolutely limitless and  incalculable indicts man and his self-seeking calculating human meanness and  destroys the last vestiges of his autonomy. If God’s grace is absolute man’s  last defenses as ethical man are down; he is at God’s mercy. And man would  rather, as the example of the Pharisee tragically shows, not be at God’s mercy, at least not absolutely. He wants to hold onto some fragment of himelf.”

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Mercy and the cleansing of the Temple.

Christ_Cleansing_The_Temple_sm

I am going back and reacquainting myself with one of my favorite writers. His  name is Martin Franzmann and he was born in Lake City Minnesota in 1907.  He is one of the old guard and many of you may not know who he is. He wrote the hymn
“Thy  strong Word did cleave the darkness”. He is one of those men that makes his mark quietly and with dignity and then fades away. I’m going back and  reading his marvelous book on discipleship called “Follow Me” Published by CPH  way back in 1961.  I have always been fascinated by the events that took place in Jerusalem from the entry we call Palm Sunday, to the events of Maundy Thursday and of course the crucifixion. All of the sayings and doings of Jesus  lead up to a great climax which is definitely the cross. But there are so many subtle signs of judgment throughout that week.   It is interesting to get a scholarly look at just a few of them. Here us what Franzmann says about the cleansing of the temple in Matthew 21…….

The cleansing of the temple is a messianic call to repentance. Jesus accompanied that call with the messianic proclamation of the grace of the kingdom; he healed the blind and the lame while the children kept up the cry which meanwhile died out upon the lips of their elders: “Hosanna to the Son of David”. Thus he declared the will of the God who desires mercy and not sacrifice.  The cleansing of the temple had no effect on the guardians of the temple, the chief priests and the scribes; their will was impervious to this grace of the Messiah too. They could not undo the deeds of mercy which we which he had done in the temple, but they asked Jesus to silence the acclamation of the children (Matthew 21:16).  They could see no royal Messianic splendor in what Jesus was doing; and they could probably make nothing of a Messiah who interpreted the cries of the children as a doxology created by God himself, in terms of the eighth psalm, and who welcomed their song of praise with the same glad heart that made him thank God for revealing Him to the babes” .

What does Psalm 8 say?

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory in the heavens.2 Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. 3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars,     which you have set in place, 4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?  5 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned themwith glory and honor. 6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under theirfeet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, 8 the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.9 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

 

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Seminary dedication in the Dominican Republic Barbs’ view

I was happy to see this from Barb Below yesterday on the Witness, Mercy, and Life Together blog.  She helps me piece together the names of all the towns and villages that got together for this dedication.  She also had a differenct perspective from the top of the hill that I climbed.  I was good until the last twenty feet and thought I was going to roll back down.  Barb is serving as assistant to Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).  Below is the first woman to serve on the executive-level staff for an LCMS president.  Prior to joining the president’s staff in September 2010, Below, a licensed clinical social worker, served for six years as director of social ministry organizations for LCMS World Relief and Human Care, the disaster relief and mercy ministry of the Synod.  She is my friend and here is her view……………………

“Two weeks ago today, on Sunday, March 10, 2013, on the top of a steep hill with overcast skies (a blessing so it wasn’t too hot) and strong winds blowing, excitement built as members from several mission sites in the Dominican Republic and others gathered to dedicate The Reformer Lutheran Seminary in Palmar Arriba. It was a bit surreal to see that after eight years of intentional mission development, a Lutheran seminary in the Dominican Republic was finally established.

Early that morning, members from the church in Las Americas and Los Minas, communities on the south end of the island and a three-hour bus ride away, loaded up a large passenger bus and headed to the hillside, rural town of Palmar Arriba. Another bus loaded up members from Licey, a small town outside of Santiago. About 30 minutes prior to the anticipated start, residents and church members from Palmar Arriba began to gather at the top of the hill outside the seminary and waited for the service to begin. P1000576While more townspeople gathered at the seminary, we waited for the buses. As we stood at the top of the steep driveway looking down the road, we finally could see the buses arrive. Everyone was here and we could begin . . . almost.P1000585

As the buses stopped at the bottom of the hill, we began to see people unload and begin the climb up the steep driveway to the seminary. The transmission on the bus was slipping, and the driver was hesitant to take the bus up the hill. All passengers were able to climb the hill, despite being winded when they arrived up top.”

We did arrive up top and then we walked back down for the dedication service.  It was a great day

The pictures above are Barb’s view – this was mine….

up hill in the doimincan

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Life Together

A quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer , “LifeTogether”:“When we received forgiveness, instead of judgment, we, too, were made ready to forgive our brethren. What God did to us, we then owed to others. The more we received, the more we were able to give; and the more meager our brotherly love, the less were we living by God’s mercy and love. “

When Jesus told his disciples to forgive 70 x 7 he was taking the limits of of forgiveness just like when he said that they were to love one another the way he loved them he was taking the limits off of love.  We are entering the week of the church year where we see what love is – we will see it on a cross.cross and nails

 

 

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Those pesky “metrics” and the Cross.

christ_crucifiedAny one who has served on a board of any kind, hospital, school, church; anyone who has dealt with financial matters and feels any kind of responsibility; anyone who is part of an institutional organization has to deal with metrics.  These are the measurements that tell us how we are doing.  What is the “bottom line”, are we in the black, what the cost to benefit ratio?  We look for the constant betterment of these measurements and if we don’t find them we look for a program to fix them.  There is always something else that we can “do”.  Now these kinds of things are good “first article” gifts and they need to be studied and understood even in the church.  We should keep records and ask questions about who we are and where we are going and what the cost is to keep doing the things that we have been doing.  At the same time in these days of declining memberships and church attendance there is a tendency to look to metrics and programs rather than to Christ.  We fall into that trap that if we aren’t growing and expanding – bad; more numbers – good.  I remember back in the day when we had young people in our churches one of the metrics was “how many youth attended the youth group meetings”.  I had to write “0” because we had no meetings.  The church in the big town had 30-40 youth attending theirs so I felt bad.  I know that they were usually ski trips and pizza parties so it wasn’t too hard to jack up the attendance.  When we dug deeper though and asked the question, “of the youth in your church how many attend worship and receive the sacrament?” I could say about 98% while the bigger church said about 10%.  So which is the bigger measure of success?  Is measuring “success” even appropriate?  At the same time those who don’t want to measure anything and simply say that God wants them to be faithful have always made me nervous too.  That covers a multitude of sins.

The problem is again the perception of the thing.  We use our metrics in the church to “stand above the church”, to command the church, to try and fix the church or to order the church for success, and in so doing we forget that it is Christ’s Church.  The church which is the dispenser of the means of grace, the body of Christ, becomes in our eyes a franchise using a brand name that needs to grow and function by market forces.  And so we treat this “holy thing” as a commodity and we look at numbers and costs and “funding”.

What we forget is that behind this seemingly humble and sometimes pathetic thing we call the church is the body of Christ.  He “disguises” himself there and can only be perceived by faith.  The Divine nature of God always disquises itself or we would be destroyed.  As Sasse says, ”

Nowhere does this disguise, the veil behind which the divine nature hides itself, become so evident as in the passion. Gethsemane and the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” are the end of all attempts to misinterpret the gospel as the message of the triumphant epiphany of a savior-god after the manner of the ancient mystery religions, or as the epic of a religious hero. How often has such a theology of glory tried to take hold of the gospel. The miracles of Jesus have been understood again and again in this way. Certainly Jesus by a miracle like that of Cana, as the text itself declares, manifested his glory. But explicitly it is said: “And his disciples believed on him.” Not the people of Cana, not the five-thousand whom he fed, not the sick whom he healed, not even the dead whom he raised from death believed in him. For also these deeds were at the same time a revelation and a disguise of his divine majesty. In faith, only his disciples saw his glory. Even his resurrection was not a demonstration for the world. Faith always deals with hidden realities. Also for the apostles and the apostolic church, faith in Jesus Christ the LORD was faith in his secret glory, in God hidden in the flesh, in the true divinity within the true humanity.

This secrecy finds its deepest expression in the cross. “Hidden under the cross”, that is Luther’s formula for this character of the divine revelation. Hidden under the cross is his royal office, his kingdom, the church (“What he quickens by his Spirit is always the same kingdom of Christ, whether it be revealed or hidden under the cross” – CA Apol. 7/8,10). “Hidden is the church, concealed are the saints” (WA 18, 652, 23). It cannot be otherwise, for “all objects of faith are necessarily hidden” (WA 18, 653). Hidden is the word of God in the letters and words of the Bible, in the human word of the preacher. Hidden are the true body and blood of Christ in the earthly elements of the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper. Faith and the cross belong together. The cross demands faith against the evidence.

Maybe in our “metrics” we should ask one question and look for one number – “how many times have you truly preached the cross?”  Sasse again –

How many secular illusions have entered our thinking about the church and the world! Among all the illusions which have taken the place of religion in the souls of modern men, there is also the contemporary theology of glory. It is not only nationalism and pacifism, liberalism and socialism, fascism and communism, militarism and antimilitarism which are deprived of the glory they used to have in the eyes of their adherents. Also deprived of such glory is that Christianity which prevailed in all denominations over the last centuries. It is a Christianity which dreamed of a Christian nation or a Christian world, a Christian faith which has been secularized by the theology of glory. Now the time has come to hear the theology of the cross. When the church today asks “What shall I preach?” the only answer can be: “Preach one thing, the wisdom of the cross!”

 

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“Not Being but Becoming…….”

women and broom
I met this women outside her modest home where she lives with two older children one of whom is handicapped.  She had come from the hiils where she had collected all of these branches and was going to make a broom to sweep her house.  The simple dignity that she exhibited and the way she tried to fix her hair when I asked to take her picture was touching.
I was reminded of Luther’s discussions about labor and work and vocation in this life.  The work that are  meant to do and the vocation we are given is how God works his plan for us.  We are to work so that we ahve something to give to others.  We are to give to others so that there are no impediments for them to hear and believe the Gospel.
“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”
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