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Beyond Sunday Morning

Our Confession

Posted by on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 @ 8:25 PM

On January 21, 1530, Emperor Charles V summoned a meeting for the following April in the city of Augsburg, Germany. His intended purpose was to bring the various political entities within the empire into unity in the defense of the empire against “the Turks,” that is, the Moslems who were engaged in an offensive campaign against the empire.Augsburg confession

Part of this effort included bringing together the religious factions which had developed since Martin Luther’s posting of his “Ninety-five Theses” in 1517. What began with Luther’s propositions for academic discussion was coming to a head as his colleagues, including notably the laymen who had joined in confessing the faith according to Luther’s “rediscovery” of the Gospel, came to Augsburg to state publicly what the “Evangelical churches” (as they were called) “believe, teach, and confess.”

On June 25, 1530 (487 years ago this week!) the “Augsburg Confession” was read publicly before the emperor, representatives of the pope, and other assembled (including people gathered in the street outside). In accordance with the emperor’s summons, Luther’s colleagues and followers came

“for deliberation on what might be done about the dissension concerning our holy faith and the Christian religion, and to this end… to employ all diligence amicably and charitably to hear, understand, wand weigh the judgments, opinions, and beliefs of the several parties among us, to unite the same in agreement on one Christian truth, to put aside whatever may not have been rightly interpreted or treated by either side, to have all of us embrace and adhere to a single, true religion and live together in unity and in one fellowship and church, even as we are all enlisted under one Christ”(Preface to the Augsburg Confession in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert [Fortress Press: Philadelphia 1959], p. 25).

Sadly, what was intended as an honest effort to unify Christians in a true, pure confession of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude v. 3) did not resolve the difference, reconcile the parties, or return the erring to the truth of God’s Word.

It's Still About JesusSo here we are, some 500 years later, still divided by differing understandings and confessions of the doctrine (teaching) God has given in the Bible. While many in our day would like to downplay the differences and ignore the inconsistencies, the need remains to return to the one faith based upon the clear teaching of the Word of God, centered in the saving work of Jesus Christ for sinners.

What has become known as the “motto of the Reformation”:

T  Sola gratia—By grace alone,

T  Sola fide—through faith alone,

T  Solus Christus—in Christ alone,

T  Sola Scriptura—on the basis of Scripture alone

is what Lutherans (as we are now known) continue to confess publicly. Our confession still separates us from other Christians in denominations which hold to different public confession than our own. And yet, because of the faith in Christ Jesus as Lord which unites all believers (“the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” as the Nicene Creed puts it), we continue to assert with the confessors at Augsburg:

“…we on our part shall not omit doing anything, in so far as God and conscience allow, that may serve the cause of Christian unity”(Preface to the Augsburg Confession, Tappert edition, p. 26).Book of Concord

If you would like to learn more about what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess, a great place to start is by reading the Augsburg Confession, which is available online at www.bookofconcord.org. I would also be happy to talk with you and answer whatever questions you may have. So why not join us for the Divine Service any Sunday at 8:00 or 10:30 a.m.! You’re also invited to share a cup of coffee and a sweet roll at 9:15 a.m. and then stay for our Bible study… which just happens right now to be going through the Augsburg Confession!

PV

Ah, Summer

Posted by on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 @ 11:39 AM

Ah, summertime in Minnesota! That season when, “‘throughout all the cities and villages’”(Matthew 9:35 ESV) of the land, ten thousand lakes are beckoning: “Come to us, all who labor and are ready for vacation, and I will give you relaxation!” (see Matthew 11:28).

Meanwhile, in the churches of the land, the Word of God is no longer proclaiming the great “signs and boundary waters kayakwonders” (see John 4:48 & Matthew 24:24) of the Festival Season (Advent through Ascension). Jesus having now ascended to the right hand of God, the real presence of the Savior on earth is receding from the daily awareness of many until next Christmas.

Why, we didn’t even get to hear a good story from Jesus in this past Sunday’s Gospel reading (Matthew 9:35--10:8)—just a one-sentence parable with a directive to pray, followed by a list of names.

No wonder people vacate the pews during the summer months! We’ve already heard about the life and ministry, the suffering and death, the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, so what more is there to learn?

Plenty, actually. As we move into the non-festival half of the church year (a.k.a., “Ordinary Time” or the “Sundays after Pentecost” of “after Trinity”), the focus of the appointed readings in the lectionary can be summarized as “How the teaching (doctrine) of Jesus forms and furthers our lives as Christians.” Since disciples (from the Latin verb meaning “to teach”) are “learners,” the summer months are a great time for those of us who want to learn from Jesus (and His apostles) to do just that.

Itasca State ParkYou need to be “in class,” though! Since Jesus continues His teaching in our day through the public ministry of the Word as it is preached and taught, primarily in the Divine Service, but also in Bible studies, those who wish to learn from Jesus (that is, be disciples) need to participate in the worship life of the congregation.

Many churches reduce the number of church services and suspend Bible studies during the summer months, I know. That’s a shame. There is a true wealth of Christ’s teaching for the life of faith which is proclaimed during these months. In many places, the Epistle readings are continuous, that is, starting at the beginning of one these letters and reading through to the end of it over however many Sundays that takes.

This gives opportunities to think through how the doctrine articulated by St. Paul, for example, gives shape and substance to the common life of believers in a particular congregation. Though we don’t live in the city of Corinth in the first century, the issues Paul addresses and how the Word of God applies to life are still current. People are people—that is to say, sinners, so we still need the forgiving, nourishing, correcting, encouraging, comforting Word of God!

How about making a point to join us on these beautiful summer Sundays to receive God’s grace in Christ? Service times are the same as the rest of the year: 8:00 A.M. and 10:30 A.M. and we continue Bible study and Sunday school for children and youth right on through the summer!

If you are “on vacation” and unable to join us at Trinity, just ask and I’ll be happy to help you find a congregation near where you will be so you can worship there!

PV

Times and Seasons

Posted by on Tuesday, June 13, 2017 @ 2:10 PM

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” writes the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:1. He then catalogs fourteen pairs of opposites which, taken all together, portray life for us human beings, we “fearfully and wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139:14) but sinful from conception (Psalm 51:5) people that we are.Times and Seasons

The list begins with the most basic: a time to be born, and a time to die”(Ecclesiastes 3:2). We seem to be transitioning from one of these seasons to the other here at Trinity Lutheran Church and School. There are still babies being born and baptized, but today we conducted the seventh funeral since Feb. 27, the Monday before Ash Wednesday.

It’s been a busy season for the pastors, with funerals in addition to midweek services. It was a somber time during Lent as we focused on our need for continuing repentance and faith. Yes, the Easter season was joyous as always, though this year the shadow of the cross was still clearly in view even as we looked to the empty tomb.

“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” But we sinners still die.

“Yea, [weempty tomb still] walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), but—thanks be to God, we now by faith are assured of the certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life for all the saints who die in the Lord (Hebrews 11:1; Revelation 14:13)! By the grace of God, through repentant faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen to life for us, this vale we walk through is darkened only by the shadow—not the substance of the punishment for sin. In Christ, we are forgiven! In Christ we are “alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:18)!

But all this is a matter of faith (Hebrews 11:1). That means we must depend always and only on the Word of God which declares these new realities to us. By faith, we are part of the “new creation” already begun in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:7 & 17). As Jesus Himself tells us, “‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he dies, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’(John 11:25-26 ESV).

“Yes, Lord, we believe. Help Thou our unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

There is a tension in living the Christian life, the life of faith, which Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 so poetically expresses. There will always be times of weeping and times of laughing; seasons of mourning and seasons of dancing (v. 4). As long as the Lord allows this world to turn—these times, and days, and seasons to continue we cling by faith to the Lord’s enduring promise (Genesis 1:14; Genesis 8:21-22) that we are forgiven, that we have even now the gift of eternal life, that we can yearn eagerly for the resurrection and glorification of our bodies and the great reunion with all those we love who have died in the faith. All this has been guaranteed to us by means of Holy Baptism.rainbow

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him(1 Peter 3:18-22 ESV).

Because of God’s gracious promise to us and the working of the Holy Spirit within us, we will make it through every difficult time, every passing season, trusting in our Savior, Jesus Christ. Pastor Stephen Starke confesses this marvelously in his 2002 hymn “There Is a Time for Everything”:

“Eternal Lord, Your wisdom sees

            And fathoms all life’s tragedies;

You know our grief, You hear our sighs—

            In mercy, dry our tear-stained eyes.

From evil times, You bring great good;

            Beneath the cross, we’ve safely stood.

Though dimly now life’s path we trace,

            One day we shall see face to face.

 

Before all time had yet begun,

            You, Father, planned to give Your Son;

Lord Jesus Christ, with timeless grace,

            You have redeemed our time-bound race;

O Holy Spirit, Paraclete,

            Your timely work in us complete;

Blest Trinity, Your praise we sing—

            There is a time for everything!

(Lutheran Service Book #762, stanzas 3-4)

PV

He Parted From Them

Posted by on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 @ 10:51 AM

And [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God(Acts 1:50-53 ESV).

Sometimes a person has to leave for good things to happen. Fathers have to leave home in the morning to go to work so their families to be fed and clothed and sheltered. Usually, a wife goes to a hospital when it’s time for a baby to arrive in the home. Soldiers generally don’t fight wars in their own backyards (although, with the recent use of drones, some “combatants” apparently punch out at the end of their shift and commute home for dinner).

Ascension of ChristThen he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high”(Luke 24:44-49 ESV).

Yes, “Good-byes” can be sad occasions, but very often the reason for the parting has benefits that outweigh the sorrow. This is most certainly true with the Ascension of our Lord! In fact, I would contend that the “blessing” Jesus engaged in on the Mount of Olives, which His ascending seems to have interrupted, actually continues today and will until the Lord Jesus returns.

Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of God, that is, return to the position of supreme authority over the whole creation, resulted in the sending of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of “‘repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’”(Luke 24:47 ESV) and spreading “‘to the end of the earth’” (Acts 1:8 ESV). And all of this is part of God’s eternal plan!

Yes, I agree with people when they say, “Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus was physically present with us as He was with the first disciples?” That would be a wonderful experience for us. On the other hand, it was Jesus Himself who said, “‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:29 ESV). Then, of course, there is the fact that Jesus is physically present with us whenever the Lord’s Supper is celebrated (which should be “every Lord’s day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved” [Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV:1]).

Before the Ascension Jesus was present only locally (in one particular place) according to His human natureCourpus Christi, now He is present in all places according to both His divine and human natures, since these are forever united in the one Christ.

Because of this, Jesus can be and is present on altars everywhere when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated according to His instructions. To deny this is to reject the omnipresence of Jesus Christ, which in turn means taking something away from the divinity of Jesus.

And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven”(Acts 1:10-11 ESVGoodbye).

Given all the benefits we receive since and because of the Ascension of Christ, I’m good with saying “Good- bye” to Jesus. Besides, it does heighten the joyful expectation of living each day awaiting His return in glory!

PV

Tuesday's Child

Posted by on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 @ 10:25 AM

I recently clicked something on my Facebook feed to learn what the number one song was on the day I was born (Ray Charles, “Georgia on My Mind). From this, I also learned that I was born on a Tuesday, which reminded me of the nursery rhyme “Monday’s Child.”

This rhyme, first recorded in 1838 in A.E. Bray’s Traditions of Devonshire, was a way of teaching youngMondays Child children the days of the week. As with all nursery rhymes and many folk songs, there are many versions of it.

The modern version of the rhyme is the one that appears in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes with the wording as shown in the graphic on the right.

This rhyme eventually came to be thought of as a “fortune telling” rhyme, purporting to tell a child’s future based on the day of the week on which a child was born. Such is the way of sinful humans, that is, of every child born on a day that ends in “y.”

The Lord God has been very clear in Scripture regarding such superstitious practices, such as when He said to His people through Moses:

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this”(Deuteronomy 18:9-14 ESV).

Tragically, people continue to seek answers to spiritual questions and direction for life from many of the sources which God has explicitly forbidden. I doubt there is a newspaper in the country that doesn’t print horoscopes. Television shows portray people with the “gift” of being able to communicate with the dead in “whispers” that no one else can hear. Some of these shows are billed as “fictional dramas,” others as “reality TV,” when in fact they all present a fictional reality. According to the Bible, no one but God alone knows the future.

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him(Ecclesiastes 7:14 ESV).

Instead of chasing after the wind of superstitious, occult practices, we should do what the Lord goes on to say through Moses:

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken.’ 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him”(Deuteronomy 18:15-19 ESV).

That prophet like Moses whom the Lord raised up is none other than Jesus Christ. God the Father made this clear at the Transfiguration:

transfiguration stained glass windowAnd after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only(Matthew 17:1-8 ESV).

It is to Jesus alone that we are to listen for answers to all spiritual questions and for direction in life and—most importantly—for eternal salvation. Jesus is the One who has fully and finally revealed God to us, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews makes clear:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high(Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV).

If you want to know what your eternal future holds, then read and listen to what God has revealed in the Bible and know that by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, a glorious eternity in heaven is guaranteed for you! (See Ephesians 2:8-10, which also gives you some direction for your life!)

Speaking of God’s grace in Christ, I rejoice that I’ve been filled with it—not because I was born on a Tuesday,baptismal font but because in Holy Baptism God has bestowed God’s grace on me!

PV

Little Ones' Questions

Posted by on Tuesday, May 2, 2017 @ 9:49 AM

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2 And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them 3 and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

5 “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea’”(Matthew 18:1-6 ESV).

Little children sure ask a lot of questions! My grand-twins are three, so I’ve been hearing the barrage of questions in stereo.

That’s fine with me. (Rechild with questionsally!) That’s how we learn. In fact, back in my high school days, I had a T-shirt made that declared my “philosophy of education;” it said simply: “Question.”

Most people missed the period and asked me something.

Disciples of the Lord Jesus ask quite a few questions, too. We always have. But that’s better than OK. Scripture indicates that this is God’s appointed method of instruction. Consider Moses words in Deuteronomy:

“‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise’”(Deuteronomy 6:4-7 ESV).

Just try talking that much about anything with young children and see if you don’t hear a few questions! As a pastor, I’ve found the same to be true about “grown-up” disciples. Spend enough time talking theology with people and you will hear questions. That’s a good thing. It’s how we learn—presuming we are looking to God’s Word (the Bible) for the answers.

That’s the Lutheran way, you know: asking questions, looking to God’s Word for answers. We call it catechesis, the “method of instruction using questions and answers.” The word catechesis comes from Biblical Greek. Rev. Klemet I.Preus explains in his book The Fire and the Staff: Lutheran Theology in Practice:

“Did you ever wonder where we got the word catechism or what it means? It comes from the Greek word katacheo, which literally means “to sound from above.” We get our word echo from the Greek root, so it could also mean “to echo from above.” It is translated as either “inform” or “instruct.” Luke used the word when he wrote an account of Jesus to Theophilus so he may “have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4). Theophilus was catechized. Paul used the word to refer to the instruction the Jews received into the Law (Romans 2:18). … We have no idea what tools of instruction were used. The teachers probably asked questions and the students echoed back the answers. This much is certain: Catechesis was done and commanded in the Bible(p. 32).

In fact, following the Lord’s instructions through Moses to the “heads of households” among His people (Deuteronomy 6:20 ff.), Jesus was catechized (Luke 2:41-47), and later Jesus catechized His disciples—even after His Resurrection (Luke 24:13-27).

So Martin Luther was not inventing something new when he wrote his Small Catechism. Nor is Luther Small Catechismdeparting from the teaching of God’s Word when he teaches catechumens (students being taught by the question-and-answer method) to ask, “What does this mean?” (literally, “What is that?” in German). Either Luther was following in Moses’ footsteps, or the ancient Israelites were actually Lutherans:

“‘When your son asks you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?”’”(Deuteronomy 6:20 ESV).

The Lord Jesus never shied away from honest questions:

“And when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parables. 11 And He said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
    and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven’”
(Mark 4:10-12 ESV).

Come to think of it, Jesus didn’t shy away from disingenuous, challenging, wrongly-intentioned, or antagonistic questions throughout most of His earthly ministry either:

“And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked Him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’—so that they might accuse Him” (Matthew 12:10 ESV).

“And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Him they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven”(Matthew 17:10 ESV).

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to Him with her sons, and kneeling before Him she asked Him for something. 21 And He said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to Him, ‘Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in your kingdom’” (Matthew 20:20-21 ESV).

“And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him” (Matthew 22:35 ESV).

“Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’” (John 18:38 ESV).

It really wasn’t until the answers to all such questions were painfully obvious that Jesus declined to respond:

“And the chief priests accused Him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked Him, ‘Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.’ 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed”(Mark 15:3-5 ESV).

Thank God that He not only welcomes all our questions, but has given the answer to all the most important questions in the life and ministry, suffering and death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ! As St. Paul unquestionably proclaims:

“For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Yes and Amen in ChristAmen to God for His glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee”(2 Corinthians 1:20-22 ESV).

PV

Don't Doubt Alone

Posted by on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 @ 2:59 PM

There was a lot going on that “first day of the week” (John 20:1, 19).

At first light Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb intending to anoint Jesus’ body (Luke 24:1). Instead, they encountered an angel sent to say,

“‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’” (Luke 24:5-6).

The women ran to tell the other disciples. Simon Peter and “the other disciple,” that is, John, then raced to the tomb to verify what the women had told them (John 20:3-6). John tells us that when he entered the empty tomb for himself he then saw and believed”(John 20:9).

Then John records two interesting details:empty grave

“…for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He [Jesus] must rise from the dead.10 Then the disciples went back to their homes”(John 20:9-10 ESV).

Do you notice the pattern here?

The Marys did not believe what Jesus Himself had told them. Neither did Peter and John. Furthermore, they did not believe “the Scripture,” that is, the Old Testament which prophesied of all “these things” in convincing detail (see Luke 24:18; John 20:30-31). And these so-called “followers” of Jesus separate themselves from one another.

The other apostles fare no better on this count. John reports that even that evening, after what was surely much conversation about the empty tomb and the angelic announcement, when they finally gathered together again, “the doors [were] locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19 ESV). Not until after the risen Christ makes His appearance do they accept the testimony of the Scriptures and their fellow disciples (John 20:17-20).

“Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came,” John reports (Jn 20:24 ESV). Scripture records several different “titles” for this disciple of Jesus. He is named Didymus (literally: twin). He is one of the Twelve, those men upon whom Jesus bestowed the office of Apostle. But how is Thomas remembered?

The Incredulity of Saint ThomasThe moniker “Doubting” is based on the Easter evening event, which Thomas missed:

“So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe’”(John 20:25 ESV).

But was Thomas more doubtful and disbelieving than any of the other disciples mentioned in John 20?

I don’t think so.

Doubts can arise in the minds of any Christian—especially during tumultuous events and confusion, such as the disciples’ experience that first Easter. That’s our sinful human nature gasping for breath even after the Old Adam has been drowned in baptismal water (Roman 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12). The sinful nature all humans have in common will always doubt what reason cannot grasp and demand “a sign” as the basis of belief. But Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus”(1 Corinthians 1:1 ESV), says this:

“Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:21-24 ESV).

Martin Luther applies the same criticism as he writes about Confession and Absolution in the Smalcald Articles (one of the “Lutheran Confessions” contained in The Book of Concord):

“In these matters, which concern the spoken, external Word, it must be firmly maintained that God gives no one his Spirit or grace apart from the external Word which goes before. We say this to protect ourselves from the enthusiasts, that is, the ‘spirits’ who boast that they have the Spirit apart from and before contact with the Word. On this basis, they judge, interpret, and twist the Scripture or oral Word according to their pleasure. … This is all the old devil and old snake, who also turned Adam and Eve into enthusiasts and led them from the external Word of God to ‘spirituality’ and their own presumption.

In short: enthusiasm clings to Adam and his children from the beginning to the end of the world—fed and spread among them as poison by the old dragon. It is the source, power, and might of all the heresies…. Therefore we should and must insist that God does not want to deal with us human beings, except by means of his external Word and sacrament. Everything that boasts of being from the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the devil.”

(Smalcald Articles III:8:3-6, 9-10 in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, editors, pp. 322-323).

God works through His Word (Romans 10:17), including when that Word is included with a material elementbaptism in the sacraments (Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution). The Word and Sacraments have been given to the Church to administer at Christ’s command and according to the Lord’s instructions. This preaching and teaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments ordinarily happen when the church gathers for the Divine Service. This is where and how the Holy Spirit engenders, nourishes, and strengthens saving faith. Those who “neglect meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25) cut themselves off from the Source of faith and life.

That was a huge part of the problem for Jesus’ disciples on the first Easter: they separated themselves from one another, cut themselves off from the fellowship of believers. That was a major contributor to the increase of doubts and demands they made. Rather than simply believing the Word (of Scripture or Incarnate in Jesus), those who separated themselves from “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints” (Apostles’ Creed) fell prey to the hissing of the devil: “‘Did God really say?’” (Genesis 3:1).Holy Communion

How about you? Did you continue to “devote [yourself] to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”(Acts 2:42 ESV) for the Second Sunday of Easter last week? Or, after the holiday activity of Easter Sunday, did you separate yourself from your fellow disciples of Jesus?

Take heart! The church doors will be open again this coming Sunday as the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord continues, as the Word is preached and the disciples of Jesus continue to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26), receiving Christ’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the means of grace!

And you are invited!

PV

Do You Still Have Chocolate

Posted by on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 @ 6:51 PM

There are few things I don’t like about chocolate. For one, as its deliciousness melts away in your mouth, it Easter basket full of chocolatedoesn’t last forever.

O.K. So there’s only one thing I don’t like about chocolate.

But chocolate is just one of many things I like about Easter! Top of the list, of course, is that this is the season of the Resurrection of Our Lord. Notice I said season. While the world celebrates Easter as a single day—a once-a-year trip to church (for some), a family feast (for many), and one of very few occasions for children to gorge on candy with permission, for the Church the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord (commonly known as Easter) is only the start of a seven-week season.

The Easter season (or Eastertide) celebrates the greatest event in the history of the world and the highpoint of the Christian faith: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is what it’s all about, folks. Take away the rising to life again of Jesus after His crucifixion and you take the life out of the Christian faith.

Yes, I wrote what I meant: Jesus death and resurrection, which always go together, are the source of forgiveness, life, and salvation for all who believe. Consider a few Scriptures:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God,9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel(2 Timothy 1:8-10 ESV).

crosses seen from tombBut now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith(Romans 3:21-25a ESV).

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life(Titus 3:3-7 ESV).

The message in passages such as these (call it God’s Easter greeting to sinners) is what makes all the difference in the lives of those who believe. What Christ Jesus accomplished by His suffering and death on the cross—securing forgiveness of sins for every person (Hebrews 7:27); wrestling from the devil’s cold, limp hands the fearsome power of death (Hebrews 2:14-15); and restoring for all those who believe the true life that God intended from the beginning (John 10:10)—this is what Easter means. This is much more than we can fit into a single Sunday!

This season of the Resurrection lasts for seven weeks. The Church observes this length for the Easter season because of what St. Luke reports in Acts 1:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3 ESV, emphasis added).

So Easter, the season, lasts for 40 days, but the blessed effects of Easter last forever!Luke 24: 45-47

All of this means that we Christians—being the “people of the Resurrection” that God has made us by our Baptism into Christ (Romans 6:1-14)—should actively resist following the world’s path (however “well intentioned” it may seem) and continue celebrating Easter throughout its special season, but also each week as we gather for the Divine Service (each Sunday is a “little Easter”) “proclaiming the Lord’s death [and Resurrection!] until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26) and enjoying “a foretaste of the feast to come” (post-Communion canticle “Let the Vineyards Be Fruitful”)!

Think about this with every piece of Easter chocolate you enjoy and share it with others!

(It would be a polite act of Christian charity to share your chocolate as well).

PV

A Week Called Holy

Posted by on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 @ 10:06 AM

This is the week which, by the Christian church, is called “Holy Week” (or sometimes “Passion Week”). Though many people think first of Christmas when they think of Christianity, the events remembered during this week, particularly the events of this coming Friday through Sunday, are what give the Christian faith its unique and enduring quality.

Jesus handJesus, the Christ after whom we are named, in whom we believe, is the Son of God who came in the flesh to live and die for us sinners.                                                                       

By His life of perfect obedience to the Law of God in thought, desire, word, and deed Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements that the Lord God set out for those who would be His people.

By His suffering and death, Jesus bore the punishment that we deserve because of our sins, most notably: being forsaken by God the Father, which is t5he very essence of hell.

This is what the Church calls to remembrance during this week called “Holy.” This is the heart of the Christian Gospel: the death of Jesus Christ for sinners.

St. Paul wrote to the believers in the city of Corinth:

“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”(1 Corinthians 2:1-2 ESV).

It is the death of Jesus on the cross that secured the forgiveness of sins, redeemed sinners, and satisfied God’s righteous judgment. The events marked from Good Friday through Easter Sunday are the true highpoint of the Christian story, of the Christian faith.

In fact, the early Church marked these events, at the time called the Pascha (the Greek form of the Hebrew word for Passover [pesach]), before any other events on what would become the “church year” calendar. This is a significant historical detail for a couple of reasons, I think.

First, it very strongly connects the Christian faith and worship to that of God’s people under the Old Covenant. Remember, the highpoint of the Lord’s dealings with sinful humans in the Old Testament is God’s choosing and rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 3—12). These great divine acts of redemption under the human leadership of Moses are what the Lord commanded His people to remember (Ex 3:12; 6:7; 12:17; 13:3; 13:14; 20:2, etc., etc.).

Second, observing the Pascha (Good Friday through Easter Sunday) points up the fact that what the Lord did for the people of His choosing under Moses all prefigures what the Lord would do for all people in and through Jesus Christ. Compare the details of the Passover meal with the events of Holy Week and marvel at the fulfillment of prophecy.

Third, the worship (in both doctrine and practice) that the Lord commanded in connection with the Passover, particularly the seder (the Passover meal), is the basis of the worship (in both doctrine and practice) of the Church under the New Testament inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, particularly the Lord’s Supper. Again, compare the Lord’s instructions for the Passover meal (Exodus 12) with Jesus’ institution of the Holy Communion—which He established immediately following the final celebration of Passover (for example, Matthew 26:17, 26-30).

On the cross, by means of His suffering and death, the Lord fulfilled what He had promised already to Adam crushed serpentand Eve—and “promised” as a threat to the devil (Genesis 3:14-15)! The power of the devil is undone! Satan lies writhing in throes of defeated under the heel of the once-dead-but-now-living-forevermore Christ (Hebrews 10:12-25)!

Even now, in the midst of Hoy Week, with all its anguish and penitential mood, the eyes of faith look to Jesus, 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 12:2 ESV), with Satan, sin, and death beneath His footstool (Psalm 110:1; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 ; Revelation 12:7-12).

A blessed Holy Week to you and yours! And an even more blessed celebration of Easter, not only this Sunday, but every Sunday!

PV

Think Oranges, Not Apples

Posted by on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 @ 11:35 AM

You’re probably familiar with St. Paul listing of the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5. But I have a question for you: How many fruits of the Spirit are there?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law”(Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).

Did you notice the verb in verse 22?

That verb “is” is singular. So is the noun “fruit.” The fruit of the Spirit is….”

So when you think of the “fruit of the Spirit,” think orange, not apple. Just as an orange or other citrus fruit is aoranges whole interconnected collection of segments, yet we refer to an orange, not oranges. So it is with the “fruit of the Spirit.” “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, [and] self-control” are all interconnected facets of the new life and character of a Christian.

All of these qualities are “of the Spirit,” that is, the Holy Spirit is the origin of these qualities which He gives to the believer in Jesus Christ. These qualities then show themselves in the character and daily life of the believer. From what St. Paul writes in Galatians, it indicates that all of these qualities are given as a whole. The believer possesses all of these qualities by virtue of being a believer, that is to say, all of these qualities are given to us as we receive the gift of faith by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Ah, you’re thinking, “I’m not very patient and so-and-so in the pew next to me hasn’t been kind to me.” Still, believers have all these qualities because the Holy Spirit has given them. We just don’t always exhibit each of these qualities. That’s the terrible result of being a sinner.

Our sinful nature—which we will all have with us until death finally purges us and Christ resurrects and glorifies our bodies—will always fail to use and even abuse the good gifts of God. This is why daily contrition and repentance is necessary, is the pattern of life for the believer.

When we fail to be kind—or sinfully point a finger at so-and-so and judge them as being unkind! —when we grow impatient, would rather fight than “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14; 1 Peter 3:11), are unloving of our neighbors or ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 22:39), when we lack self-control, even when we despair instead of living in joy, we need to repent.

The forgiveness we then receive from the Holy Spirit by means of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament actually increases “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, [and] self-control” in us. The Spirit keeps on giving, nourishing our God-given faith so that we bear fruit.

grapesThat’s really what the Lord Jesus intends for us as His disciples, you know. He actually said so the evening before He was “hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13):

“‘Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing’”(John 15:4-5 ESV).

“‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you’”(John 15:16 ESV).

So, on second thought, when you think of the “fruit of the Spirit,” think grapes instead of apples!

PV

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