Sunday, August 29, 2021

Sermon for the Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

                                                                 Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

                                                            Mk 6:14-29



          The Gonzaga basketball team entered into the National Championship game of this past spring’s NCAA tournament with a record of 31 and 0.  It had been an incredible year, and they were on the verge of doing what no team had done since the 1976 Indiana team – complete an undefeated season.

          Winning leads you to expect that you will win, and in great teams it becomes part of their mentality that no matter what happens in a game, they are going to win.  Pair that confidence with a talented team and you have a recipe for tremendous success.

          As Gonzaga headed into the championship game, the experience of the semi-final game could only have confirmed their expectation of victory.  A Gonzaga player hit a thirty seven foot shot at the buzzer to beat UCLA in overtime.  But in the championship game, Baylor beat Gonzaga 86 to 70 – and the game didn’t even feel that close. Baylor destroyed Gonzaga, and the team and its fans were left with the feeling that it wasn’t supposed to end this way.

          As we listen to the Gospel lesson for the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, it is understandable if we are left with the same feeling. After all, this is John the Baptist. His conception and birth was the miraculous gift of God to the faithful and aged couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth. His birth was announced by the angel Gabriel who told Zechariah, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

          This is the one who bore witness to Jesus Christ before he was even born, as he leapt in the womb of Elizabeth for joy when the pregnant Mary and Elizabeth met. This is the one of whom Zechariah prophesied by the Holy Spirit, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.”

          John was the “prophesied prophet” the one of whom Isaiah wrote: “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”  After all those expectations created by his birth, John did not disappoint.  He showed up in the wilderness of Judea looking like the prophet Elijah as he was dressed in camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist.  Mark tells us, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

          John did something that no one had ever done before.  Ritual washings were common in first century Judaism.  However, these were all self-administered.  John was given the name “the baptizer” because he applied this washing to others. He announced, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  John said that God’s end time reign was about to arrive, and that people needed to repent in preparation for this. By submitting to John’s baptism, people demonstrated their repentance as they looked for God’s reign to arrive, and they received forgiveness.  And John was clear about how this reign would arrive.  He said, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

          John made a very great impression.  People flocked from all around to the Jordan river to hear him preach and to receive his baptism.  And it’s not just the New Testament that tells us about the impact John had.  Writing almost sixty years later, the Jewish historian Josephus considered John the Baptist to have been so significant that he included a report about John in the account of Jewish history that he wrote.

          At this time, King Herod Antipas ruled Galilee and Perea as a vassal king of the Roman Empire. Herod ruled these lands, but he answered to Rome and was under their control. Herod was married to the daughter of Aretas IV, the King of Nabatea, the kingdom that bordered his lands.  Herod’s brother Philip, who also ruled portions of Palestine, was married to a woman named Herodias.  However, Herod divorced his wife, Herodias divorced Philip, and then Herod and Herodias were married.

John called people to repentance.  John was a prophet, and just like the prophets of the Old Testament he wasn’t afraid to call all people to repentance – including those who were powerful. So John declared to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.” Herod’s action of marrying his brother’s wife was forbidden by the Book of Leviticus.

Yet Herod showed John who had the power, as he had John imprisoned.  We learn in our text that Herod was fascinated with John the Baptist.  He knew that he was a righteous and holy man.  Herod enjoyed listening to John, even though he didn’t know what to make of what John said.  On the other hand, Herodias was vindictive against John and wanted him dead. Herod’s fascination with John prevented this, but Herodias was clearly looking for an opportunity to have John killed.

That chance presented itself when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles, military commanders, and the leading men of Galilee.  Herodias’ daughter from her previous marriage, whom Josephus tells us was named Salome, came and danced for Herod and his entourage.  Our text says that “she pleased Herod and his guests.”  There is no real doubt that the dance was intended to sexually arouse the men, and she succeeded.  Undoubtedly feeling the wine and caught up in the moment, Herod promised the girl whatever she wanted.

Salome asked Herodias what she should request. Herodias finally had her opportunity and so she said: “The head of John the Baptist.” Salome dutifully returned immediately to the king and said, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”  Herod was truly grieved.  He didn’t want John dead, but he was trapped by his own words.  He had John beheaded, and then Mark tells us about the macabre scene, how he “brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.” The vengeful Herodias used her daughter and received her prize: the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

          We hear our text this morning, and we are left feeling: It wasn’t supposed to end this way.  John the Baptist, the mighty prophet is killed for speaking the truth.  And the end time prophet dies in this way – he ends up with his head on a platter as the result of a salacious dance and the vengeful will of an evil woman.

We don’t think it should end this way. And that’s because we don’t want to admit that God works in the way of the cross.  John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus Christ.  John came to prepare the way and to point to Jesus. He did this in his life and ministry. And he did this in his death.  John the Baptist’s death – his martyrdom – points forward to what Jesus will experience.

Matthew tells us that after the Transfiguration, as Jesus and the three disciples went down the mountain, the disciples asked Jesus about the prophecy that Elijah would come.  Next he reports: “Jesus said, ‘But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.”

Before the Transfiguration, Peter had confessed Jesus as the Christ.  Mark reports after this: “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Peter didn’t want to hear about Jesus’ suffering and death. He didn’t want to hear about the way of the cross.  Yet immediately after this, Jesus made it clear that the way of the cross is something that would be true of all who believe in him.  He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.” 

Jesus came to walk the way of the cross for us.  He said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  The incarnate Son of God entered into our world to suffer and die for us.  He came to offer himself as the ransom for us – as the One who received God’s punishment against our sins, so that we might be forgiven.

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we live as the forgiven people of God.  But this forgiveness does not mean that we escape the cross. After all, Jesus said that those who follow him must take up the cross. Our Lord has told us that following him will involve suffering.  In our day this means that our witness about Jesus Christ will be assaulted because it speaks of sin, and how Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.  It means that our witness about life lived according the Sixth Commandment will receive rejection and will be attacked. 

Yet the way of the cross is not simply the fact that we receive opposition and difficulty because we are Christians.  It is also the fact that we are God’s children and yet we experience suffering and hardship.  God says he loves us, yet we, our family, and friends are diagnosed with cancer and other diseases.  God says he loves us, yet we face struggles at school and at our job. God says he loves us, yet we face tension and challenges in the relationships of our family.

In our text, we see that the death of John the Baptist pointed forward to the death of Jesus Christ. Our Lord told the disciples that he must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed.  But he also said that after three days he would rise again.  It is in the resurrection of Jesus that we find the strength to take up the cross and follow Jesus.  It is in the resurrection of Jesus that we find the hope to trust in God in midst of the circumstances that seem to contradict his love.

Jesus Christ is the crucified and risen Lord.  God worked through the cross to give us forgiveness, and Jesus received the judgment for sin in our place.  But when he raised Jesus from the dead, he defeated death and showed us that the cross was not the absence of God.  Instead, the cross of Good Friday was God’s most powerful action to win forgiveness as he gave his own Son as the sacrifice in our place.  Because we have seen him do this in order give us salvation, we know that we can also trust that God still loves us and is at work in our lives even when circumstances seem to contradict this.  The resurrection of Jesus gives us this hope – it allows us to see these situations in a completely different way.  It enables us to trust and believe in God’s love and care for us no matter what things may look like.

Today is the Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.  John, the forerunner of Christ, died a death that pointed forward to what Christ would experience as he died on the cross for our sins. But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead.  And because he rose from the dead, there have been other martyrs – other witnesses, for that is what the word martyr means. Every man pictured on the east wall of the nave died as a martyr for Jesus Christ. Peter did. Paul did. James did. Stephen did. Peter, Paul, and James were willing to die because they had seen the risen Lord.  We don’t know how early Stephen became a disciple – whether he saw Jesus before his ascension.  But we know he believed because of the witness of the apostles, and as he died he saw the risen Lord standing at the right hand of God.  Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and by the work of the Spirit we believe in our risen Lord for the forgiveness of sins, and receive the comfort of God’s love and care in all situations.   







Friday, August 27, 2021

Commemoration of Monica, Mother of Augustine


Today we remember and give thanks for Monica, Mother of Augustine.  A native of North Africa, Monica (A.D. 333–387) was the devoted mother of Saint Augustine. Throughout her life she sought the spiritual welfare of her children, especially that of her brilliant son, Augustine. Widowed at a young age, she devoted herself to her family, praying many years for Augustine’s conversion. When Augustine left North Africa to go to Italy, she followed him to Rome and then to Milan. There she had the joy of witnessing her son’s conversion to the Christian faith. Weakened by her travels, Monica died at Ostia, Italy on the journey she had hoped would take her back to her native Africa.

Collect of the Day:

O Lord, You strengthened Your patient servant Monica through spiritual discipline to persevere in offering her love, her prayers, and her tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine, their son.  Deepen our devotion to bring others, even our own family, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Mark's thoughts: The Sanctus in the Service of the Sacrament - Why are we saying this?


In a previous post we considered the Preface and Proper Preface in the Service of the Sacrament.  We saw how these parts of the service fix our attention on what the Lord is about to do in the Sacrament, and introduce and express thanksgiving to God as the end of the Preface is followed by the Proper Preface. We noted that the Proper Preface gives thanks to God as it focuses on a particular part of God’s saving action that we meet in that season of the church year or particular feast day. 

 All of the Proper Prefaces end with the words, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying….”  These words introduce the Sanctus and remind us that in the liturgy of the Divine Service we are part of something that is far greater than just the church building and the congregation members whom we see.

 In Revelation chapter 4, the apostle John is given a glimpse of heaven where God is seated on the throne, surrounded by the four living creatures (cherubim) and the twenty four elders (4:1-7).  In chapter 5, John then sees Christ, the Lamb between the throne and the living creatures, and states, “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” (5:11).  We find that the risen and exalted Lord is surrounded by the angels.

 The book of Hebrews adds to this picture as it says:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-23)

 We find here a description of the saints, who are with Christ and the heavenly host.

 The Proper Preface, Preface, and Sanctus are preparation for Christ to be present in his true body and blood.  The risen Lord, who is true God and true man, uses the pastor in the Office of the Ministry to speak His Words of Institution over bread and wine.  Because of Lord’s action, it is his true body and blood, given and shed for us, which is on the altar and ready to be distributed to his people.

 The ending of the Proper Preface that introduces our praise in the Sanctus reminds us that as we gather around Christ to receive His body and blood in the Sacrament, we join the angels and saints who also gather around Him.  Because in the mystery of the Sacrament our Lord is enthroned at the right hand of the Father and present on every altar where the His Sacrament is celebrated, we gather together with the angels and saints around Christ. With good reason, the celebration of Sacrament of the Altar can be described as the experience of “heaven on earth.”

 The Sanctus is composed of two Bible passages.  In the first sentence of the Sanctus we sing, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might: Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”  This is taken from Isaiah 6:1-3 where we are told:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"

 The Latin word for “holy” is “sanctus.”  The Sanctus takes its name from the cry of the angels, “Holy, holy, holy,” that Isaiah heard in God’s presence.  We sing the words with which the angels praise God as they are in this presence (see also Revelation 4:8), and those words prepare us for the fact that we are about stand in the presence of the holy God who comes into our midst in His body and blood.

 In the rest of the Sanctus we sing, “Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest.”  These words are taken from Matthew 21:9 and occurred as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday:

Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:8-9)

The crowd was using words from Psalm 118:25-26.  In the Old Testament, the Hebrew “Hosanna” meant “save indeed” or “save now.” However, by the time of the New Testament it had become a shout of praise.  

The crowd used these words to praise and welcome Jesus as He entered Jerusalem. We now sing them in the Sanctus to greet Jesus Christ as He comes to us in His body and blood in the Sacrament. They prepare us for the miracle that is about to occur in the Sacrament.


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle


Today is the Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle.  Bartholomew was one of twelve apostles chosen by Christ (Matthew 10:1-4).  Most likely he is called Nathaniel in the Gospel of John (John 1:45-51).  If this identification is accurate, then his personal name was Nathaniel and Bartholomew is an Aramaic patronymic (i.e. identifying the person as the son of someone: “the son of Tholomaeus” or the like).  Nathaniel was from Cana and was present with six other disciples when the risen Lord appeared by the Sea of Galilee and hosted a breakfast for them (John 21:1-14).  According to some Early Church Fathers, Bartholomew brought the Gospel to Armenia, where he was martyred by being flayed alive.

 Scripture reading:

 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”   John 1:43-51 

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, your Son, Jesus Christ, chose Bartholomew to be an apostle to preach the blessed Gospel.  Grant that Your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



Sunday, August 22, 2021

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity - 2 Cor 3:4-11


Trinity 12

                                                                                       2 Cor 3:4-11



            Recently my dad, sons, nephews, and I were out in Altoona, PA watching trains.  While there, we always go to eat at a restaurant that has blast from the past.  As soon as you walk in the front door, on the right side you see an operating payphone.

            Now the boys all find this to be greatly amusing. Here you have a telephone attached to the wall, into which you have to place money in order to make a call. In a world of cell phones with which you can call from basically anywhere, while using the same device to use the internet, watch videos and play games – the whole idea of a pay phone seems rather absurd. And certainly, as a technology, the cell phone blows away the pay phone in every possible way.

            Yet we should not lose sight of what a glorious thing the telephone was for those who first experienced it. Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the U.S. patent for the first telephone in 1876.  Prior to that the telegraph was the fastest means of communication.  Yet now, you could actually talk directly to the other person and hear their voice.  And in the pay phone, you had locations where you could do that, even if you weren’t in your own home.  There were many times when I was glad to have a payphone available so that I could call for a ride home.

            The pay phone, in itself, was a great thing.  But the reality is that the cell phone is an even greater thing that surpasses it, and makes it pale in comparison.  In our epistle lesson this morning, the apostle Paul describes the same kind of relationship between the first covenant that God made with Israel, and the new covenant that we now experience in Jesus Christ. The first covenant had glory.  But in the new covenant something even more glorious has come as it gives salvation to all people.

            The background for our text is provided by the previous three verses of chapter three.  Other Christian teachers had come to Corinth.  Apparently, they brought with them letters of commendation which claimed they were authoritative teachers in the Church.  Letters of commendation were a common practice in the ancient world. Someone, who was known to the receiver of the letter, would vouch for the individual carrying the letter of commendation. 

The early Church used this practice too, and in this case these teachers had shown up in Corinth with letters of commendation, as they then set about in the work of opposing the apostle Paul.  Now we don’t know anything about the legitimacy of the letters of commendation they brought. And Paul’s point is that it doesn’t matter, because he had something even better.

Paul writes, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

The apostle says that he and Timothy don’t need a letter of commendation, because the Corinthians themselves are their letter of commendation. Paul and his companions’ work of ministry and their love for the Corinthians was known by all. It was as if the Corinthians were written on their hearts, ready to be seen by all.

And beyond that the Corinthians themselves were the letter from Christ that had been written through the ministry of Paul.  He was the first to share the Gospel with the Corinhians.  It was through his proclamation and teaching that the Corinthians had come to faith in Christ.  And so Paul can say, “you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Paul’s opponents often argued that Gentile Christians had to show some kind of adherence to the Torah – the Law that God gave to Moses at Mt Sinai – if they wanted to be part of God’s people.  That seems to be the case here as well because Paul’s reference to tablets of stone leads in our text to a comparison between the first covenant made with Israel, and the new covenant that has been established in Christ.  Paul says, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Paul declares that their sufficiency comes from God who had made them ministers of the new covenant – a covenant of the Spirit of God and not the letter of the law.  And this made all the difference in the world because while the letter kills, the Spirit gives life.

The letter – the letter of the law kills.  The law is about what we must do.  The letter of the law kills because it brings judgment upon all who fail to do it. Fundamental to Paul’s assessment of the law is the reality of what sin has done to us.  He told the Romans that “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.”  Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, all people have been conceived and born as those who are corrupted in every way by sin.  We simply do not have the spiritual ability to live according to God’s will.

            The law sets forth God’s will.  It describes how God has ordered his creation.  But it also declares judgment against all who break God’s will. And since because of our fallen nature we can never do God’s law perfectly, the letter of the law can only bring us death.  Paul told the Galatians, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

            We know this is true of us.  There is no end to the things that we place before God.  The reception of God’s Word takes second place during the week because there are so many other things we would rather do.  We disobey our parents.  We do not show love, care, and self-sacrifice for our spouse. We enjoy sharing gossip that hurts the reputation of others.

            Yet in our text Paul declares that God had made him and his co-workers “ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” God had made his covenant with Israel.  But this covenant was not his last word.  Instead, it was part of his plan to bring salvation to all people.  In the fulfillment of the first covenant, God had now established a new covenant.

            In our text, the apostle contrasts this new covenant with the first one.  He points out that the first covenant certainly had glory. He illustrates this with the way that when Moses had been in Yahweh’s presence his face shown with a glory so that the Israelites couldn’t look at it.  In fact he had to place veil over his face.  If this ministry of the law that in itself could only bring death had such glory, Paul asks, “will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?”

            Then the apostle adds, “For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.”  Paul describes the new covenant as a ministry of righteousness. Where the law could only bring condemnation, God has acted in the new covenant to put us right with him. And in chapter five the apostle describes exactly how he has done this.

There Paul writes that, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”  God has acted in Jesus Christ to reconcile us to himself.  He hasn’t counted our trespasses against us.  But the just and holy God didn’t just pretend like our sin doesn’t exist.  Instead, in the incarnation he sent his Son into the world to die on the cross for our sin. He sent him to receive the punishment against our sin. The apostle says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus Christ died for our sins in order to make us righteous before God – to make us holy in his eyes.  But remember, Paul has said in our text that God, “made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  The Spirit does give life.  The Spirit gave life when he raised Jesus from the dead on the third day.  This is the source of the life that we now experience.  It is the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead – the Spirit of Christ – who has now given us spiritual life.  He has made us a new creation in Christ.

You know that you have received the Spirit because you have been baptized.  Paul says in the first chapter of his letter, “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”  The presence of the life giving Spirit within us is the guarantee that we are God’s.  The Spirit is the seal that shows we belong to him.

Until we die or our Lord returns, we continue to face the struggle against sin. We are a new creation in Christ, but in ourselves the sinful nature continues to hang on.  And so we confess our sin. We confess it, and at the same time we embrace in faith the ministry of righteousness that God has given us in Christ. We believe and trust in our Lord Jesus who died on the cross for our sins, and then rose from the dead.  Because of him we are forgiven before God. We have salvation and eternal life.  We have the confidence that he will raise us up on the Last Day as we share in his resurrection.

And at the same time we know that the Spirit gives life.  The Spirit who gave us new spiritual life through the water and Word of Holy Baptism, continues to nourish and strengthen that life through the Means of Grace.  He is at work in us – leading and enabling us to live in ways that fulfill God’s will. As Paul says in chapter five, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” 




















Friday, August 20, 2021

Commemoration of Samuel

Today we remember and give thanks for Samuel.  Samuel, the last of the Old Testament judges and first of the prophets (after Moses), lived during the eleventh century B.C. The child of Elkanah, an Ephraimite, and his wife Hannah, Samuel was from early on consecrated by his parents for sacred service and trained in the house of the Lord at Shiloh by Eli the priest. Samuel’s authority as a prophet was established by God (1 Sam. 3:20). He anointed Saul to be Israel’s first king (10:1). Later, as a result of Saul’s disobedience to God, Samuel repudiated Saul’s leadership and then anointed David to be king in place of Saul (16:13). Samuel’s loyalty to God, his spiritual insight, and his ability to inspire others made him one of Israel’s great leaders.

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, in your mercy you gave Samuel courage to call Israel to repentance and you sent him to anoint David as king.  Call us to repentance, so that by the blood of Jesus, the Son of David, we may receive the forgiveness of all our sins; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Thursday, August 19, 2021

Commemoration of Bernard of Clairvaux, Hymnwriter and Theologian


Today we remember and give thanks for Bernard of Clairvaux, Hymnwriter and Theologian.  A leader in Christian Europe in the first half of the 11th century A.D., Bernard is honored in his native France and around the world. Born into a noble family in Burgundy in 1090, Bernard left the affluence of his heritage and entered the monastery of Citeaux at the age of 22. After two years he was sent to start a new monastic house at Clairvaux. His work there was blessed in many ways. The monastery at Clairvaux grew in mission and service, eventually establishing some 68 daughter houses. Bernard is remembered for his charity and political abilities, but especially for his preaching and hymn composition. The hymn texts “O Jesus, King Most Wonderful” and “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” are part of the heritage of the faith left by Saint Bernard.

Collect of the Day:

O God, enkindled with fire of your love, your servant Bernard of Clairvaux became a burning and shining light in your Church.  By your mercy, grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline and may ever walk in your presence as children of light; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Commemoration of Johann Gerhard, Theologian


Today we remember and give thanks for Johann Gerhard, Theologian.  Johann Gerhard (1582– 1637) was a great Lutheran theologian in the tradition of Martin Luther (1483–1546) and Martin Chemnitz (1522–86) and the most influential of the 17th-century dogmaticians. His monumental Loci Theologici (23 large volumes) is still considered by many to be a definitive statement of Lutheran orthodoxy. Gerhard was born in Quedlinburg, Germany. At the age of 15 he was stricken with a life-threatening illness. This experience, along with guidance from his pastor, Johann Arndt, marked a turning point in his life. He devoted the rest of his life to theology. He became a professor at the University of Jena and served many years as the Superintendent of Heldberg. Gerhard was a man of deep evangelical piety and love for Jesus. He wrote numerous books on exegesis, theology, devotional literature, history, and polemics. His sermons continue to be widely published and read.

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, you give the gift of teachers to your Church.  We praise you for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant Johann Gerhard, and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.




Sunday, August 15, 2021

Sermon for the Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord - Lk 1:46-55


St. Mary

                                                                                       Lk 1:46-55



             A few weeks ago, nobody had heard of Lydia Jacoby. She was just a seventeen year old girl from Alaska.  However, at the Tokyo Olympics she pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the games as she won the 100-meter breaststroke with an amazing surge at the end of the race.

            Nationally, nobody had heard of Lydia.  She wasn’t even expected to make the U.S. Olympic swim team.  However, at the Olympic trials she swam nearly three seconds faster than her previous best time to earn the trip to the Olympics.  And then in the 100-meter breaststroke finals she beat Lilly King, the reigning Olympic champion who had lost only once in the event since 2015.  When it was all done, there was young Lydia Jacoby – the unexpected unknown – receiving the gold medal and becoming a national celebrity.

            Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord.  Like Lydia Jacoby, nobody had heard of Mary. She was not someone from whom great things were expected.  But then, through a series of entirely unexpected events, she became the mother of our Lord Jesus.  She became the God-bearer who has been remembered by all of God’s people. In St. Mary we see that God’s grace works in unexpected ways.  And in Mary, we see the model for how we are to receive God’s Word.

            In our text today we hear the words that Mary spoke when she, pregnant with the Lord Jesus, met the aged Elizabeth who was herself pregnant with John the Baptist. The first thing we encounter is something that perhaps we have been conditioned to overlook.  It is a sad truth of the history of Christian theology that St. Mary has often been given a role and position that contradicts Scripture.  We are well aware that in the Roman Catholic church Mary has been set up as a focus in the life of faith.  Prayer is offered to her, and she is viewed as a mediator for believers.

            Because of these aberrations, modern Lutherans have often responed by ignoring St. Mary herself.  The offenses present elsewhere have often caused us to react in the opposite direction. We have not wanted to accord any special attention to Mary.  Yet our text today reveals that this too is wrong.

            We see this at the very beginning of our text as Mary says, “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” Indeed, just before this, as Mary and Elizabeth met we learn: “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’”

            Scripture is absolutely clear in describing Mary as one who is blessed among women.  She is the one all generations will call blessed.  We must say on the basis of God’s Word that Mary stands out uniquely among all women. There had never been, and there will never be anyone like her again.

            This fact was completely unexpected.  There was nothing about Mary that would have led those around her to expect Mary take up a status that is unique among all women of all time.  She was a nobody. She didn’t come from a ruling family of that day.  She was a young teenage girl from the unimportant town of Nazareth, and was betrothed to a man named Joseph who from the house of David.

Because of infant mortality and the short life expectancy, the ancient world had to seek to produce as many children as possible.  As soon as a girl was able to conceive, she married and began to have children.  Mary was a virgin who had just become a woman in the sense that now she could have children. Betrothed to Joseph, her wedding day was approaching.

In our text, Mary acknowledges her low status.  She says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.”  And in her next statement we learn that while Mary now holds the status of being unique among all women – the one all people call blessed - this is not because of anything that she did.  Mary says, “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Mary says that all generations will call her blessed because God the mighty One had done great things for her.  She was referring to the fact that at that moment, Mary the virgin … was pregnant. And it wasn’t just the fact that Mary had experienced this miracle.  More important still, was the nature of the baby she now carried in her womb.

The angel Gabriel had just appeared to Mary, and after calming her fears about being greeted by an angel, Gabriel had said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” In unmistakable words, the angel told Mary that she would conceive and give birth to the Messiah – the fulfillment of all of God’s promises about the line of David in the Old Testament.

This was amazing in itself.  But when Mary asked how this was going to happen since she was a virgin, the angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God.”  There would be no human father.  Instead, the Holy Spirit would cause the child to be conceived – and this child would be the Son of God.  Through the work of the Spirit, Mary would conceive and give birth to the One who was not just the Messiah, but also the Son of God. As Paul says in our epistle lesson, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman.”

As a woman, Mary conceived and gave birth to a human baby. Because the Holy Spirit caused that baby to be conceived, he was also the Son of God.  Mary carried and gave birth to Jesus Christ, the One who is true God and true man at the same time.  That is why Mary is blessed among women.  That is why she has a status that no other woman will ever have.  Mary was the instrument by which God brought the incarnate Son of God into the world.  She was, as the early Church called her – the God bearer.

Mary herself had nothing to do with this.  It was entirely a matter of God’s grace. This grace was God acting in an unexpected way – a humble virgin conceives and gives birth to a child who is the Son of God.  And this grace would accomplish salvation in an unexpected way.  Gabriel had told Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah – the fulfilment of God’s promises about David.  Yet when Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple, Simeon told her, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 

(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

            Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to receive rejection.  Though holy, he was sent to be numbered with the transgressors – with us.  He was sent to suffer and die for our sins.  Just before Holy Week Jesus told his disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

            Jesus the Christ died on the cross in order to redeem us – in order to free us from sin. Dead and buried in a tomb, it appeared that God had abandoned him.  But on the third day God the Father raised him from the dead.  He vindicated Jesus and demonstrated to all what he had been doing through the cross.  Through the resurrection God defeated death, and began what we will receive on the Last Day.

            In God’s use of Mary for the incarnation, we see that he works in unexpected ways – ways that often appear humble.  He continues to do so now through his Means of Grace.  At times, as we face the challenges and difficulties of life, we may think we need more than this.  We may think that God has not given us enough.  But as Mary speaks about what God is doing she says in our text, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” We must be on guard against thinking that we are in a position to criticize how God works.

            Instead of being haughty – of being proud in the thoughts of our hearts - we need to follow the humble example of St. Mary.  Gabriel announced news to Mary that was hard to believe.  She would give birth to the Christ.  Though a virgin, through the work of the Holy Spirit should conceive and give birth to the Son of God.  Gabriel announced news that would turn Mary’s life upside down.  And yet when she heard all this we learn that her response was to say: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

            In the same way, when Elizabeth spoke to Mary she said, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  Mary received God’s Word, and submitted herself to God’s will.  She trusted and believed in God’s Word that it would be fulfilled as he had said.  This attitude needs to guide our life. St. Mary is an example of what this looks like.

            On this Feast of St. Mary, we acknowledge and give thanks for the unique status that Mary will always possess. She was the woman through whom God brought the incarnate Son of God into the world.  She is the God bearer.  Yet this status is not tied to anything Mary did or earned.  Instead, it demonstrates God’s grace and how he works in unexpected ways to bring forgiveness and salvation to us. And in Mary’s faith and reception of God’s word and faith we see an example that we seek to follow each day of our lives.