Sanctuary at Midnight
The last candle burned gently on the altar... Beyond the dark windows the midnight was already alive with bells and whistles, but here they seemed now like sounds from a lost world... In a sudden wind from the sacristy door the candle flickered forward and threw into bold relief the face on the crucifix... Shadows played over the red wounds, and in the eyes in which pain had been a prisoner these nineteen hundred years there was darkness... At the foot of the sanctuary steps stood the tree and the manger... The place of His birth was in the gloom, the place of His death was in the light... All the years of His way from the Manger to the Cross were in the brief steps up the sanctuary, up to the Everlasting Altar... Here were beginning and end... Not by the years could His Life and Power be measured, nor by the dust of centuries, but only by the wounds still red against the white dominion of His throne...
Was it the darkness or the hour which seemed to move His patient face in pity?... Surely no sculptor had caught the moment of "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do"... That was so very long ago... The bells and whistles beyond me in the dark were marking the end of another year between His heaven and my world... There had been many of them now - almost twice as many as the number of His days before the eyes of men... Strange that all our years should be measured by His days and all the time of man by one day when, in darkness and pain, God was making eternity ready and history was preparing for B.C. and A.D.... Strange, too, with the wonder of heaven and hope, that I can repeat His prayer tonight... "Father, forgive."... Forgive me - for the lost but unforgotten hours of the dying year, for the erring way and barren heart... The pivot of the year is too brief to say more than the one word which makes the years an altar stair and the time of life the lifting of the angelic trumpets... Midnight is lonely now with lonely bells, and my candle of prayer burns low... There is only one cross on the altar tonight... On the hill there were three, but the children of the man on the cross to the left are blowing whistles tonight, and the children of the man on the right are in sanctuaries the world over... His time was short, perhaps shorter than mine, but his prayer was good, much better than mine... Remember me... Make my failures Thy victories and the years of my sins the eternity of Thy grace... Remember me... Thy footsteps grow brighter as the years grow dim, and no calendar can limit Thy power... Remember me... This moment, not of yesterday nor of tomorrow, is Thine just as the years are Thine...
There are other voices in the sanctuary now, the waiting saints made perfect at last and the great multitude past human numbering who have been remembered at altars in heaven and on earth... In a little while we shall be wise as they whose wisdom is a song: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing."...
The Pilgrim, pp. 23, 24
30 December 2016
and I were chatting the other day and he was telling me about his Christmas. I challenged him to write his experience up and he did. Read it; it will warm your heart!
Ghosts of Christmas Past
As many of you know I maintain a home upstate, though I don't spend as much time there as I might like. This year was only the second time in more than forty-five years that a Thanksgiving dinner was not eaten there. Last Christmas was the only time in my entire life that I did not spend any part of the Twelve Days in the house.
My mother was the last full time resident of the house (apart from the dog). She had lived there for five years following my sister's death. After Mom had died I used to call it "Schoko's house," my dog being the survivor. Now, of course, he is gone too. In the first few years that the house was mine, spending time there was very melancholy. Most everything was (and much still is) exactly where my mother had left it. Usually my stays are brief and with little time to get much done. Time has stopped there in a way.
Many of her clothes are still there. The living room is still pretty much the way it was in December 2009 when my mother said, "Good-bye house." We had spent Christmas with the family before we coming down to Long Island where mom intended to stay through the rest of the winter. But that was her final "good-bye" to the house where with her husband of 44 years she had her children and lived for fifty-seven years. Recalling her voice, I say "Hello house" and "Good-bye house" each time I arrive and leave. Silly, of course! What does a house know about my comings and goings? I suppose it is in some ways a greeting not to the house but to the memory of mother, sister and father who lived there are whose memory is enshrined there for me every bit as much as it is in the cemetery.
That was indeed a part of the melancholy of going there. It was a haunted house. Not in the things-that-go-bump-in-the-night sense since I don't believe in that kind of ghosts. It isn't the haunting of a presence at all; it is the haunting absence that plays on the emotions. It was true even when my mother and sister were there after dad's passing; when my mother was there after Jane's passing, and when I was there after mom's passing. "A house is not a home." How many of us have heard that? A home is a living place where people live. When I would go there most often it didn't feel like home but very much like a tomb. A place of the dead.
Then, in two consecutive years, hurricanes came to Long Island and I headed north to ride out the storms there. The first time some effects of the storm were felt there, but little of "Superstorm Sandy" reached that far north. Each time I spent four or five days there alone; no holidays or houseguests. And a funny thing happened. An element of home began to return to the house. It was once again a place of refuge, not merely a place to visit. In those few days, I was sheltered not only by the walls and roof, but by the memories of what that house had seen, but also by the sense of safety and security it had been for me for so much of my life. It was the place where I had been brought home to from the hospital after I was born, where the bus picked me up for my first day of school, where my confirmation party was held and where I celebrated my graduation from high school and college. The day of my ordination began and ended there. Memories of these and so many other occasions both singular and recurring are for me embedded in that place. Because of these it is not really a place of the dead, because I yet live in possession of them; it is a place of living memory. Even if sometimes these are frozen in time. Or…just frozen.
My parents born in the 1920's never fully made peace with technology. My father never really knew the personal computer (he was barely comfortable on the telephone…for years my mother dialed long-distance calls for him!) My mother loved computer games, made much use of email and did some computer shopping, she never quite comprehended facebook. Neither of them ever was comfortable with ATM's. So to ensure access to ready cash they always kept some at hand…hidden away. Dad had squirreled some $3000 away in a secret hiding place which he revealed to my incredulous sister and mother a month or so before his death. To my surprise, about three years ago, hidden in the kitchen freezer, when after a malfunction of the ice maker I had to empty and defrost it, I found in a packet labeled "flat bacon" nearly $1000 dollars. Coincidentally, that amount covered most of the cost of a new furnace unit a few weeks later. A bit of treasure frozen in time had come to the rescue. This year another treasure, once again frozen, was revealed. I finally completed the emptying of the big basement freezer. Most of the stuff there was long past shelf life, mom being six years in her grave. But a single box contained a couple dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies: a plastic time capsule of love!
Mom was a pretty good baker, but really only made cookies at Christmastime; usually of several kinds. Some would become holiday gifts; others shared and enjoyed by the family. She had brought some with her to Long Island that last Christmas; these must have been stored away for her return. I ate some when I found them in September (I had to see if they were salvageable after all!). They were still good, so I resolved to save the rest for my Christmas sojourn. Though I wasn't there for Thanksgiving, on the first Sunday in Advent I headed north to put up some decorations and the tree in the living room. I hadn't last year because I wasn't to be there over Christmas, but I always felt I'd let the "ghosts" down. Once again the tree would come to life each night of Advent to say "this is a living home." It was there waiting when I arrived the day after Christmas and as if to say "welcome" the lights switched on just moments after I walked through the door. I removed the plastic "treasure chest" from where I had stowed it in the kitchen freezer and when I returned from a Christmas dinner and sharing with my first cousins, I settled down in front of that tree with a cup of tea and a plate full of these ghosts of Christmas past. I doubt I will ever receive such an unexpected, welcome, and memorable Christmas gift again. But who knows, Ebenezer Scrooge reminds us that the Ghosts of Christmas can do whatever they like.
Merry Christmas, Mamma! Merry Christmas, Jane! Merry Christmas, Papa! Merry Christmas, house!
A happy New Year to you all.
28 December 2016
that my dorm mom, Kathy Weidmann, has died. She was such a remarkable woman. I'll never forget her kindness to a kid who had just lost his dad, wasn't sure about so very much in life, and above all wasn't sure about himself. She showed the path of unfailing gentleness and hospitality as THE path to follow. Thank you, Kathy, and may you ever rest in peace!
26 December 2016
Homily upon St. Stephen's Day
[2 Chronicles 24:17-22; Acts 6:8-7:2a, 51-60; Matthew 23:34-39]
One cannot help but notice the contrast. At the end of the first reading, Zechariah's dying words: "The Lord look on it and avenge!" and at the end of the second reading, St. Stephen's dying words: "Lord, do not charge them with this sin."
Zechariah's words we understand, for do not all the horrid crimes of injustice cry out to heaven for redress? We remember the words of the Lord to Cain: "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground." And the blood of how many of his brothers and sisters has mingled with Abel's blood to stain the earth since then, all pleading to God for justice!
But then what on earth are we to make of St. Stephen's final words? Here was a man who simply spoke the truth that his hearers did not want to listen to. As a result, he was judged worthy of death by stoning. Under the rain of rock, tearing his flesh and crushing his bones, he prayed and commended his spirit to the Lord Jesus and with his final words begged absolution for those who were murdering him.
How does one get from Zechariah's "go get them, God!" to St. Stephen's "pardon them, God!" What intervenes? Well, we should of course ask it differently: Who intervenes?
The One who speaks in today's Gospel reading, that's who. The Lord Jesus Himself. He made no bones about the fact that those He sends to speak His words will not be welcomed and honored. They will be ridiculed and some will be killed and even crucified, some they will beat, and some will be chased from one town to another. So it happens, said Jesus, that all the blood of the ages from Abel down to Zechariah "comes on you."
Given such a prediction, one would have expected His next words to be words of woe and warning. Instead, they are words that break open the deep recesses of God's heart for all to see the mercy that beats there: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. See, your house is left to you desolate."
This is the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The God who does not like to take the sinner's "Go away and leave me alone" as the sinner's final word. Who always hopes for repentance and so in mercy keeps on trying to speak to his people the Word that will shake them up and turn them from their sins and bring them home to Him. This is the God who when the holy City of Jersualem got hold of Him, handed Him over to the Romans, and took Him outside the city gate, and nailed His arms and legs to the wood of the cross. And it was as He was being nailed to the cross that He prayed it. The words that change everything: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Father, forgive. He could pray that. He who knew what it was to suffer unjustly, betrayed by a friend, abandoned in his pain, ridiculed and mocked, scourged, and pummeled. And it was as his blood - which is truly the blood of God, for He is the Word Made Flesh as we celebrated yesterday - as his blood touched the earth that everything changed. For here was blood that did not cry out for vengeance and retribution. Here was blood that cried out for mercy and for pardon. Unconquered by the hatred it received, it conquered hatred with love. With each drop running down the cross, staining the earth, smearing across the face of His beloved Mother as she kissed his feet, and pouring from his side with the water as the spear ran him through – with each drop, I say, the cry was heard in heaven louder and louder: "Father, forgive! Father, forgive! Father, forgive!"
And so all the blood of the righteous dead in all the world met together upon that generation: for all their cries for vengeance were heard and answered, but in a way that none could expect or anticipate.
The blood of Jesus winning pardon did more achieve forgiveness of sins. It positively destroyed the power of death itself. Christ's own resurrection was the sign from God that death has been destroyed for all who trust in the blood of Jesus to wipe away their sins. And if we remember that, we can perhaps see why Zechariah, who did not know of the power of Jesus' blood to forgive sins and to overcome death, could only pray as he lay dying: "Lord, don't forget me and the injustice I have suffered." The blood of Jesus was God's answer to Zechariah's prayer: "I have not forgotten you, but I have come to share your fate and to raise you from the dead!" But Stephen, who knew the power of Jesus' blood and who knew precisely what that blood meant, could meet his death without any desire for revenge and without fear. He knew that his sins were covered by the blood of God in the flesh and he knew that His Lord and Master lived again on the other side of death and would call him out of death into eternal life. He saw his Lord stand up to bid him come home and to welcome him into His embrace? So why cry for vengeance? Rather, joining his martyr's blood to the Lord's, he cries for pardon. And who knows if it was not precisely that prayer that saved Saul, who was there consenting to Stephen's death and who became Paul, the great Apostle?
Rather a bloody homily and subject matter for Christmas some might be thinking. Banish the thought! We still live in a world where atrocities of injustice happen with alarming regularity and where the innocent are still slain. In fact, our government is preparing to tax us and use the money to pay for the slaughter of unborn children. Lord, have mercy! How good to remember that it was to win forgiveness for all the sins that bring sadness into this world that our Lord was born! How beautiful it is to remember that the Eternal Word became a fetus and was born of Mary so that He might become also the first-born from the dead, that He might destroy the might of the devil himself and fling wide open the doors to the Kingdom! In the blood of St. Stephen's Day the Church remembers why we so desperately need this Child and the life that is found in His blood – blood He still bids us to receive at His altar, crying for our pardon and promising us His unending life; blood that enable us to join St. Stephen in praying that God would bless and forgive our enemies. Amen.
25 December 2016
I was blessed to hold grandson Henry for the whole of the Christmas Divine Service today. He was good as gold, I was even able to sing all the choir pieces with him in arm, and then he fell alseep during the homily and remained so to the very last note of the postlude, at which he awoke. All the time I held him, beauty swirled around us. The visual beauty of that lovely sanctuary, made even more glorious for the Christmas feast. The audible beauty of Gospel preaching, ancient chant, harmonious hymns, and the triumphant sound of trumpet and timpani alternating with the sweet sound of strings and human voices. And I looked at the baby in my arm. Amazing and wow. Our God becoming such a one and THAT was the beauty to end all beauties: for what is more beautiful than such unfathomable love? And who cannot love a baby? Beauty begets beauty, and so the blessed sounds and space in which we gathered and approached the holy altar to meet Him who came born of the Virgin with the praises and harmonies ringing all around. I'm glad they will grow up in such beauty, and I pray they will always love and rejoice in His beauty, the beauty that provoked it all.
24 December 2016
In the year 2015 from the birth of Abraham, in the year 1510 from the exodus of the people of Israel out of Egypt, in the year 1032 from the enthronement of David the Prophet and King, in the sixtieth "week" of the prophecy of Daniel, in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Augustus, in the thirty-third year of the reign of Herod, when the staff had gone from Judah has had been prophesied by Jacob the Patriarch, at a time when the whole world was at peace, it pleased God to send His only-begotten Son and Eternal Word to the world to become Man and to teach us God's love, to suffer, die, and rise from the dead for our salvation.
At that time, the Lord Jesus was born in a humble cave in Bethlehem of Judah, and no one knew of it but the immaculate Virgin Mary his Mother and Joseph her spouse. No one heard of this miracle surpassing all miracles but a few humble shepherds who had been told by angels in the sky that sang this hymn: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men." Then the Magi came from the East, led by a star in the heaven: they found their way to where the Divine Infant rested, and they adored Him, and opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.
To God Incarnate, to the suckling Infant who humbled Himself and took our form, becoming one of us to make us divine; to the One who later walked among us to teach us the way of salvation and who loved us so much as to give His life for it: to Him be glory, honor, and adoration forever and ever. Oh, come, let us adore Him!
(From the Roman Martyrology)
We do not believe that the virgin mother bore a son and that he is the Lord and Savior unless, added to this, I believe the second thing, namely, that he is my Savior and Lord. When I can say: This I accept as my own, because the angel meant it for me, then, if I believe it in my heart, I shall not fail to love the mother Mary, and even more then child, and especially the Father. For, if it is true that the child was born of the virgin and is mine, then I have no angry God and I must know the feel that there is nothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father and no sadness in my heart.—Martin Luther, Sermon upon Christmas Day, 1530
Nothing in theosis is the product of human nature, for nature cannot comprehend God. It is only the mercy of God that has the capacity to endow theosis unto the existing... In theosis, man (the image of God) becomes likened to God, he rejoices in all the plenitude that does not belong to him by nature, because the grace of the Spirit triumphs within him, and because God acts in him.—St. Maximus the Confessor, Letter 22
18 December 2016
Such joys today in the liturgy. We began with that awesome Basque carol: "The Angel Gabriel." The solemnity of the Advent season continued with the absence of Gloria, which has a peculiar way of making the Kyrie all the weightier. The awesome collect asking for relief from the weight of our sins (and is it not a fact that they just seem to weigh heavier on us as we grow in the faith?). The readings: Moses' promise of the prophet like himself; my all time favorite epistle from Philippians 4; the Visitation Gospel with the blessedness (and blessing) of Mary. The Nicene Creed that also seems to grow in weight and freight as we approach nearer to the Christmas feast. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The lovely homily provided just below this post. Violin, viola and organ on O Come during offering. At St. Paul's from Advent through Pentecost, the Our Father is chanted by the pastor, with the congregation joining in the joyful doxology. The genuflection during the Creed mirrors the genuflection at the Verba, both confessing His real presence in our flesh and blood. Then the distribution hymns as the Sacrament is administered: O Savior, Rend... Creator of the Stars of Night... Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord. The second post-communion collect, with its "who in lovingkindness sent Your only-begotten Son into the flesh." And then after the benediction, the singing of the first hymn of Christmas: "A Great and Mighty Wonder"—St. Germanus' amazing song, though LSB definitely lost the meaning of the last verse: "And idol forms shall perish, and error shall decay, and Christ shall weild His scepter, our Lord and God for aye," reflecting the retreat of idolatry before the proclamation of the Gospel that astounded the ancient world (and should astound us). So the Divine Service ended with a hint of the Gloria about to return come Christmas Midnight: "To God on high be glory and peace to all the earth!"
...this morning from Pr. Gleason.
Luke 1:39-45 (46-56)
Last Sunday, the Apostle Paul invited us to rejoice in the Lord with his words from Philippians 4, which were part of the introit. Today that invitation became instruction as we heard, again, that passage from his epistle. But, today also tells us why we ought to rejoice. The Blessed Virgin Mary tells us in her hymn of praise to God: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. 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. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation." The cause of this joyful song is because she carries in her womb the very Lord and Savior whom she praises, the holy One who has done great things for her and whose mercy shall be upon all those who call her "blessed."
The occasion for this song highlights one of the most amazing themes in the Scriptures: that God unites His promise of salvation to child bearing. In Genesis, God promised a Savior from the seed of the woman. That promise runs through the whole Old Testament with names like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David; as well as through a line of Israelite mothers such as Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, and Gentiles like Rahab and Ruth. The promise is found in the prophets. Isaiah: "A Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son." Micah: "Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth." The Old Testament Word is clear. God would save the world from sin and death through the birth of a Child from God.
So, our Gospel for this fourth Sunday of Advent tells of the meeting of two pregnant women. They are cousins, and both are miraculously with child. Elizabeth was an elderly woman well past child-bearing age. She was six months along with John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. Mary was a very young woman, certainly no older than eighteen. She had conceived a child in her virginity by the Holy Spirit. Both of them were pregnant by the power of God's Word. They were living testimony that "with God nothing is impossible."
Mary had heard from the angel that "she who was barren is in her sixth month," so she hurried off to the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin and share her joy. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, John jumped for joy in her womb.
Consider the wonder of that moment. The sound of Mary's voice caused John to leap for joy. There he was, a fetus barely six months old in his mother's womb, and already he was exalting Christ! Who says that babies can't believe? And who would argue that even unborn children cannot benefit by being in church and hearing the Word? Being in the Liturgy, hearing God's Word, eating and drinking the Sacrament are vital parts of every Christian woman's pre-natal care. Can anyone say that an unborn child does not benefit from God's Word?
The same is true for all our little ones. They need to hear God's Word even before they know what those words mean. Our children need to rejoice in the sound of the forgiveness of sins, of salvation and eternal life. They need to be filled with the sound of God's Word, with the historic hymns of the faith, with the ancient creeds and confessions that have been handed down to us. They need to grow into the vocabulary of eternal life. They will have all eternity to master it, but the earlier they start, the better.
Now, though older than Mary, Elizabeth considered it an honor that Mary should come and visit her. She honored her younger cousin as "the mother of my Lord." And so she is. That's why the church calls Mary "the Theotokos—the bearer of God" or "the mother of God." She was the bearer of the eternal Word, the mother of the Christ, God's Son. She was the chosen and honored instrument of the Lord's Incarnation, through whom God's Son received a body to offer for the life of the world. Mary is rightly to be blessed among women and blessed by all generations to come.
I know some people have difficulty in blessing Mary. I wonder if it's because we have difficulty with holy things in general. We've almost lost the idea of the sacred—sacred time, sacred space, sacred people and sacred things. Everything tends to be ordinary for our culture, the same, generic, interchangeable…ordinary. Our age wants churches to be comfortably unadorned. Pastors to be "just plain guys." Worship to be indistinguishable from the latest entertainment. The world would be thrilled to treat the Lord's Supper as just another fast food Happy Meal, Baptism as a religious bath, and Mary as just another pregnant teenager.
But, we treat a church building as a holy space. We don't just stomp in here as though we were entering a stadium or an auditorium. It's not because the flooring is holy, or the plaster or the upholstery. It's because the holy Word of God is preached and heard here. The Word makes this space holy and blessed. And we regard the pastor as a holy man, not because he is holy (to which I may personally attest), but because the Word he is ordered to preach is holy.
And so it is with Mary. She is blessed and holy not because of her own holiness or purity. She is holy because of the holy Child that was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit. She was the instrument of our Lord's incarnation, and for that reason she is holy and to be blessed by all who believe in her Son for their salvation.
Mary's song teaches us not to take our place with the proud and the powerful, the ruling and the rich of this world, for the Lord is a toppler of thrones. There is nothing in this world that can withstand the strength of God's arm. And, He destroys everything that competes for our trust in Him.
And yet God is merciful. His arm is mighty to save us from sin. His arm lifts up those who are humbled and bowed down with guilt. His arm reaches out to fill the hungry with good things—those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. His arm extended from the heights of heaven to embrace the world, to join Himself with us. He extended His arms on a cross to save us. He extends His arm to us now, as we hear His Word and receive His gifts.
Mary and Elizabeth teach us to receive those gifts in the way of faith. They reminds us that God is One who keeps His Word. He remembers "to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He spoke to our fathers." God keeps His promises. The promise He made to Adam and Eve. The promise He made to the patriarchs and prophets of Israel. The promise He made to you when you were baptized. The promise He renews whenever you hear His Word of forgiveness.
So, then, let us rejoice today, and every day. Our Lord and Savior has looked on the humble estate of His servants; and the Mighty One has done great things for us. Holy is His Name, indeed. Amen.
17 December 2016
Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has deigned to style the universal Church of God His body, and has made us individually members one of another, has moreover granted to all of us to live in intimate association with one another, as befits the agreement of the members. Wherefore, although we dwell far away from one another, yet, as regards our close conjunction, we are very near.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 243
16 December 2016
To sum up, the Lord is saying here that fasting is not done for Him, that all these things are worthless because He has not commanded them, but that He approves of those things which stem from a good source—from a faithful heart. You see, once the heart is sanctified and pure, whatever comes afterwards is also pure and holy, whether one fasts or eats, whether one keeps watch or falls asleep.—Martin Luther, on Zechariah 7
We know how, for the sake of the name of the Lord, trials have beset alike individuals and cities that have put their trust in Him. Nevertheless, one and all have passed away, and the distress caused by the days of darkness has not been everlasting. For just as when hail-storm and flood, and all natural calamities, at once injure and destroy things that have no strength, while they are only themselves affected by falling on the strong, so the terrible trials set in action against the Church have been proved feebler than the firm foundation of our faith in Christ.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 240
15 December 2016
It is as if Zechariah were saying: "These things which I have foretold will happen. You, however, see to it that you do not regard the Word of God with contempt. The voice of the Lord will build that structure. He will use that voice only for so glorious and magnificent an undertaking. With the ministry of the Word He will accomplish all things."—Martin Luther on Zechariah 6.
Revelation 1 & 3:
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying: Fear not. I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the Keys of Death and Hades... The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shuts; who shuts and no one opens. Behold, I have set before you an open door which no one is able to shut.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
An open door and a closed one. And he holds the keys to both. We sing a bit of it at Christmas tide: He is the key and He the door to blessed paradise, the angel bars the way no more, to God our praises rise, to God our praises rise!
He's the key to paradise and its door. But what is paradise? Too often we're thinking of what follows after we die. We die and then because of Jesus we go to "heaven." But that's to miss the astonishing joy of what He brings. For paradise isn't just where you go when you die. Paradise is where you live when you step through the door that He has opened and that cannot be shut. You know what that door leads? To the Father's heart. Jesus is the key that opens the door of the Father's heart and you then discover that you have been loved with a love eternal, divine, unutterable, unimaginable. You. Through Jesus you find that the Father has loved you and loves you still and will not ever cease to love you. It's a door that no one can shut. And when you know and taste that, then you see that paradise isn't merely what comes after death, paradise is living even in this world as a child who has a heavenly Father who loves him. What a difference it makes. It's the difference between how folk normally live in this world and how Jesus lived. He IS the beloved Son. He doesn't create a space in the Father for that love to reach out and adopt other children. He eternally IS that space. It's the Father's love that sends Him into the flesh and to the cross.
The cross because there's also another door. A door that is shut and no one can open. You know what he's stuffed behind that door? Take a gander! All your sins and mine and all the sins of this whole world, with all their consequences. Stuffed into that closet and then shut and no one can open. This is His cross, this the huge manifestation of His divine love for you. That His blood locks them away. Shut and sealed and locked. Stop trying to pick the lock and get back to them. They are gone. And this is a gift of His grace.
So heaven that Jesus opens to us by revealing His Father's love and locking away our sins, it's not just future. It's here and now, you can taste it already. We get this when we think of the Sacraments. But we leave it in the third article and miss the great joy of seeing it in the first.
She reached out her hand and touched the hem of His garment. Not Jesus. The hem of the garment Jesus was wearing. And He who is the open door and key to the heart of the Father, who came to lock away sin, hell, and death, Love incarnate flowed right to her and that bleeding stopped and she knew she was healed. But it was only the garment she touched. God comes in the flesh to touch His creation and His creation becomes what it could never have been apart from Him, from Emmanuel, from God with us.
Heaven not far away, paradise not just when you die, the Kingdom here and now, present for you because God's open heart became present for you in this world through Your Jesus. This creation already now is the front porch of your Father's house, and the door inside to the feast is already open and you're just waiting for the dinner bell and the family to gather and the Father's feast to begin.
14 December 2016
13 December 2016
Obviously, then, Christ is at the same time both our King and our Priest. He is our King as He rules over us and guards and protects us against every might and power of physical as well as spiritual foes, so that no creature can harm us without His permission. He is our Priest—and this is by far the sweetest and greatest comfort for consciences—as He intercedes for us before His Father and bears the iniquities of us all as if they were His own to make us coheirs with Him of all the good things of His Father and to reconcile us to His Father.—Martin Luther, on Zechariah 6
The good man, however, neither turns his heart to wealth when he has it, nor seeks after it if he has it not. He treats what is given him as given him not for his selfish enjoyment, but for wise administration. —St. Basil the Great, Letter 236
12 December 2016
09 December 2016
The operations are various, and the essence simple, but we say that we know our God from His operations, but do not undertake to approach near to His essence. His operations come down to us, but His essence remains beyond our reach.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 234
...I have indeed replaced the laptop entirely with my iPad Pro. I love how this has simplified my working environment (which I carry with me most anywhere). It's also been a lot of fun figuring out the odd thing that I didn't know how to do on the iPad. For example: one thing was image manipulation: I had an image at a certain resolution but needed it to be at a lesser resolution. For the life of me, I couldn't figure this out. The solution of course was to ask google (isn't that the solution to everything these days?), and lo and behold: there are websites that do this for free. Just upload the image and choose the desired resolution and save the resulting image. Voila! Painless and free. I've found this actually to be a bit of a pattern—not just the google thing, of course THAT is a pattern—but the stuff that you can do on the web with three or four clicks to remedy problems. Working with PDFs also is like that.
08 December 2016
Those people who intend to interpret Moses have here an opportunity to reflect, from which they should learn that in the entire building and construction of the Mosaic tabernacle the Lord meant nothing else than what happens in the world through the ministry of the Word.—Martin Luther on Zechariah 4
Let them dismiss, therefore, these questions of dialectics and examine the truth, not with mischievous exactness but with reverence. The judgment of our mind is given us for the understanding of the truth.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 233
07 December 2016
On the day of His suffering He bore all our sins, as Isaiah writes (cf. Is. 53:4): “He Himself carried our sins.” You see, through and in the crucified Christ, God took away the sin of the whole world. In this way the prophet indicates that true Priest finally will come to take away the sin of His people and to free them from their sins. This finally will be the true sacrifice, of which the priesthood of Joshua, the high priest of the Law, was incapable. He further declares that this will happen in a single day.—Martin Luther on Zechariah 3
I am sure that a work done by one or two pious men is not done without the cooperation of the Holy Spirit. For when nothing merely human is put before us, when holy men are moved to action with no thought of their own personal gratification, and with the sole object of pleasing God, it is plain that it is the Lord Who is directing their hearts.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 229
06 December 2016
I confess what I have received, that the Paraclete is ranked with Father and Son, and not numbered with created beings. We have made profession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and we are baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Wherefore we never separate the Spirit from conjunction with the Father and the Son. For our mind, enlightened by the Spirit, looks at the Son, and in Him, as in an image, beholds the Father.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 226
03 December 2016
The faith of the Church now is identical with what it was in the Apostolic time, but the relation of identity does not preclude growth - it only excludes changes of identity. That faith must always be its essential self - whether as a babe receiving milk, or as a man enjoying strong meat. In a word, the advances are wrought, not by change in the Church's faith, but by the perpetual activity of that faith, a faith which because it is incapable of change itself, assimilates more and more to it the consciousness of the Church, her system of doctrine, her language, and her life.—Charles P. Krauth, Conservative Reformation, p. 270 [Had he been reading his Basil???]
The teaching about God which I had received as a boy from my blessed mother and my grandmother Macrina, I have ever held with increased conviction. On my coming to ripe years of reason I did not shift my opinions from one to another, but carried out the principles delivered to me by my parents. Just as the seed when it grows is first tiny and then gets bigger but always preserves its identity, not changed in kind though gradually perfected in growth, so I reckon the same doctrine to have grown in my case through gradually advancing stages. What I hold now has not replaced what I held at the beginning.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 223
02 December 2016
Because these are ministers of the Word, they fight not with their own strength but with the Word. Their fighting capability appears insignificant, their weapons very weak. Yet with that very Word, which the world sees as some ridiculous fiction, they cause the greatest and most powerful kingdoms to flee from us. They cause us to pity them rather than to fear them and to grieve because they are so vainly wasting their wrath and indignation.—Martin Luther, On Zechariah 2
I beseech you, then, to cling to one another, as you are doing and as you will do. I beseech you who are entrusted with the care of souls to keep each and all together, and to cherish them like beloved children. I beseech the people to continue to show you the respect and honour due to fathers, that in the goodly order of your Church you may keep your strength and the foundation of your faith in Christ; that God's name may be glorified and the good gift of love increase and abound.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 222.
30 November 2016
Check out this:
The King Shall Come
or listen here:
The King Shall Come
or listen here:
In fact, when the heart understands the Father, this mitigates all the pain we indeed feel as we are being punished. Hence this statement can be a source of comfort in finally any adversity at all. When God throws us into poverty or disgrace, when He nails us to a cross, when He allows our property to be taken from us, let us always say: “Let it go. God intends nothing bad.” He does everything out of a fatherly love.—Martin Luther, On Zechariah 1
In the same manner, in the matter in question, the term ousia is common, like goodness, or Godhead, or any similar attribute; while hypostasis is contemplated in the special property of Fatherhood, Sonship, or the power to sanctify.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 214
29 November 2016
28 November 2016
For when a man's heart has adopted such confidence that he believes God cares for him, that God is kindly disposed to him, that God will be a very faithful Guardian and Companion in every need, then he no longer is a man who believes this but already a divine creature, since he now has a divine zeal and power in his heart. This fires his heart and makes it grow against every fear, against all the foes he faces, in short, against all creatures. Therefore, because this is a situation of such great dimensions, we need an abundant and rich supply of the Word so that we may finally be strengthened by it.—Martin Luther on Zechariah 1
25 November 2016
this posting from nearly 10 years ago on the blog, on Dec. 15, 2006. It's a letter I wrote to my father. Only thing I'd change is to add that I wish he could know my grandkids too.
Happy birthday, Daddy!
Wow! I can't believe you'd be 86 today. I was thinking about you the other day when I was shaving - I realized that you were the age I am today when I was all of six years old. I tried to picture myself having a six year old right now, and it was not computing.
There are so many things that I want to write and tell you about. How I wish you could spend time with your grandchildren. I think they'd crack you up with their antics! Sometimes I just imagine about what it would be like for you and mom to pull up and spend the Christmas holidays with us. You'd love Lucy - of course I had to get a beagle. Beagles were your favorites, so they've always been mine too. And as for Cindi's cooking - hey, I know you guys thought Bonnie was an unbelievable cook, and she is, but I think Cindi gives her a run for the money. I picture you guys bustling into the house and sitting down (slightly uncomfortable, I know, at first, but then settling in). I picture you guys smiling as we join around the clavinova and sing carols and hymns. I remember how much you loved to hear Cindi sing. Of all the gifts you guys gave me over the years, there is none that I appreciate so much as the weekend I talked you into the piano and you went out and bought it for me. Remember how shocked mom was! But what a gift. It has been something that has brought me blessing for so many years. I always remember it was your kindness in giving into a teenager's whim that started me off on that path.
Speaking of Christmas, I know you would not approve of the tree. First, it's not a cedar. Second, it's not real. Third, there's not an icicle on it. I remember the care with which you always lifted off each icicle and hung it, branch by branch, and how stunning the tree looked when you were done. I never have had the patience, I confess. But we still have lots of the ornaments we used in our house on Munson Street. I think we even have some of those cheapo ones that mom picked up at Grand Union one year - they were green. Who do you think THAT was for, eh? And you'll never guess who usually sits under our tree! Giddyup. Yes, that old red horse is still around. It comes out for a visit every year. I think you gave it to me on that Christmas that I was three and you were 43.
Well, I just wanted to write you on your birthday and let you know how much you are in my thoughts. You've been gone for so long, but I think I miss you more with each passing year. May God grant rest to your soul, daddy!
I love you.
24 November 2016
As we gathered to eat the feast today, my thoughts went to this piece of artwork that hangs in our dining room. Charles gave it to me after Leola's death. He had heard me admire it in her home. It's Emmaus. The presence of Christ revealed at the table as the bread was broken. It reminds me always of there being something holy about gathering together around the table as we feast on the bounty of our heavenly Father's loving provision. Always we feast in the presence of an unseen Guest, or rather, Host, the Son who came among us to make us His bride and promises to bring us to the feast of which all our feasts are only teasing foretaste: the feast where we're gathered home at last, to the only home we will never lose and where the joys are eternal. Leola always loved to entertain. She had the true gift of hospitality. And I wonder if so much of that for her were not her recognition of the unseen Guest who is really our Host, of which this artwork is a reminder. Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest...our Host.
22 November 2016
Mom always said they came from her mom's mom's side of the family (last name of Sparks and from Scotland) and were quite old. I'm not sure exactly HOW old. The one is a bit bent, almost like it's been through a fire at some point. When I was a lad, I remember that they graced the parlor organ in the front room of the old house (which also sported a lovely grand piano). My mom's side was the musical branch of the family, and I was always drawn to that room for the joys of playing around on the instruments. Mom surprised me with them as a gift one year. I polish them up each Thanksgiving or Christmas time and I'm always amazed at how the brass shines.
There is, you see, a twofold conversion—that of the Gospel and that of the Law. The Law merely gives the command, but nothing is accomplished; something is accomplished, however, through the Gospel, when the Spirit is added. He renews hearts, and then God turns toward us. This is the conversion of peace, that is, that we are not merely righteous but also filled with joy and find delight in God’s goodness.—Martin Luther on Zechariah 1
21 November 2016
In fact, the prophet removes all things from before their eyes and sends the people back to God’s Word, saying that God will fulfill His Word, even though all creatures resist. For it is He who makes life out of death, righteousness out of sin, the greatest wealth out of abject poverty. Briefly, it is He who makes all things out of nothing and calls the things which are not as if they were, etc. (Rom. 4:17). This is something vitally necessary for us to note in every temptation—that we may have faith in God and learn to commit ourselves to Him, that He will free us beyond every judgment of our reason as we would not have dared to hope.—Luther on Zechariah 1
Thus they [the ancients] used the names of heresies, of schisms, and of unlawful congregations. By heresies they meant men who were altogether broken off and alienated in matters relating to the actual faith; by schisms men who had separated for some ecclesiastical reasons and questions capable of mutual solution; by unlawful congregations gatherings held by disorderly presbyters or bishops or by uninstructed laymen. As, for instance, if a man be convicted of crime, and prohibited from discharging ministerial functions, and then refuses to submit to the canons, but arrogates to himself episcopal and ministerial rights, and persons leave the Catholic Church and join him, this is unlawful assembly. To disagree with members of the Church about repentance, is schism. Instances of heresy are those of the Manichæans, of the Valentinians, of the Marcionites, and of these Pepuzenes; for with them there comes in at once their disagreement concerning the actual faith in God. So it seemed good to the ancient authorities to reject the baptism of heretics altogether, but to admit that of schismatics, on the ground that they still belonged to the Church.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 188
20 November 2016
my fellow foodie and neighboUr to the north (WAY north), who always wants to know what's the menu for thanksgiving.
So, this year:
Appetizers, by special demand, will be my sausage stuffed mushrooms and a brie. Can't give you a recipe on the mushrooms because I never know what's ending up in it till I start throwing it together. I fry up the sausage and mushroom stems with garlic and some wine and then add other stuff and top with a bit of pastured cheese (we use Dubliner). Maybe some smoked oysters or smoked red sockeye salmon to go along with the Brie too.
Main course will, of course, feature turkey (Cindi) and a ham (Dave). There will be mashed taters with gravy, Mildred Weedon's cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce (left over from St. Paul's sausage supper, where they make it from scratch!), sweet tater soufflé, and green beans. David's baking up some bread of some sort, but so are we. We're making paleo cheddar biscuits. Major yum. And they work great cold to hold mayo and leftover turkey for sandwiches. Of course lots of good Kerry Gold butter to slather on the breads.
Desserts will be a chocolate cake (Dave), a pecan pie (David), and Cindi and I are making a pumpkin pie (Abel James' recipe - just google Fatburningman pumpkin pie!). Also a dish of spiced sweet pecans.
We're HOPING to serve a great organic wine we discovered a week ago, but the place was sold out of it this week. Maybe it will be back before the weekend? It was called Our Daily Red. Cindi and I both loved it. Only 12% alcohol and though not sweet, it was the grapiest wine I've ever tasted. It was fabulous. If we can't get that, we'll offer a couple other organic wine choices. We've lately discovered how ridiculously processed commercial wine is (and here in the States they don't even have to tell you what they put in it; did you know they put DYE in commercial wine??? Ugh.). Of course, there will also be plenty of freshly ground brewed coffee (we favor 8 O'clock whole bean).
Sitting down to the feast this year will be a rather smaller than usual crowd: Aunt Sandy and her son, Russ, Dave (Opa), David and Meaghan, Lydia and Henry (well, he has to sit off to the side in his high chair), and Cindi and I. Granddaughter Lydia makes something like the seventh generation that has feasted together at that table and sampled pies from the "breakfront" (which both came from Cindi's grandmother's grandmother). Cool, eh? Oh, and we'll be using this for our table prayer again:
Thanksgiving Table Prayer
And that's about a wrap. So, now you know, Jamie!
Thanksgiving Table Prayer
And that's about a wrap. So, now you know, Jamie!
19 November 2016
saying of Luther: "If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I'd plant an apple tree today." It came to mind, because my cousin posted some stunning pics of my mom's home place. And right outside the dining room there grows a majestic holly tree. You see, it was planted by Cousin Ann Field. She, as so many have done over the years, came home to die. In those days they called it Consumption. Today, it's TB. She had a disease that would take her life and in a horrible way. And what did she do? She planted a holly tree. And to this day, it gives its green leaves and red berries to decorate the old place in joyful anticipation of Christ's birth. She's been gone for over a century, but her gift endures. I hope that if my world were ending tomorrow, I'd plant a tree today too.
Karen had a great idea: she thought she and John would surprise Clara (celebrating her 29th birthday...or something like that) with a trip to Cracker Barrell at which Cindi and I would also show up. We had gotten there early to get a table and alerted the wait staff that we had a very special lady coming in to celebrate her birthday. One lady wished Clara a happy birthday as she came in and Clara was clearly puzzled. When she saw Cindi and me, we both got huge Clara hugs! We sat down and proceeded to enjoy our meal together and to catch up. But unbenknownst to us, folks were watching our little party unfold. Some college aged young ladies were sitting at the table across from us and they were smiling. They got up and left to pay their bill, but then they showed back up with birthday presents for Clara: a bracelet and a snuggly scarf. She was flabergasted and we were all delighted as such a kind and generous and random act of kindness. I think the whole episode wore Clara out in a good way; she was pleased as punch. One of our kind waitresses took a pic of us at the end of the evening:
18 November 2016
You will feel joy. You will feel in your conscience that the Lord is kindly disposed toward you, that He surely is a kind Father to you in all things. You see, the Lord is said to rejoice over us when He causes us to sense His favor, την αὐτοῦ χρηστότητα (“His kindness”). He has expressed the nature of the kingdom of Christ very aptly and emphatically.—Martin Luther on Zephaniah 3:17
I, however, call on all who trust in Christ not to busy themselves in opposition to the ancient faith, but, as we believe, so to be baptized, and, as we are baptized, so to offer the doxology. It is enough for us to confess those names which we have received from Holy Scripture, and to shun all innovation about them. Our salvation does not lie in the invention of modes of address, but in the sound confession of the Godhead in which we have professed our faith.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 175
16 November 2016
15 November 2016
Certe sacramenta, quae sumimus, corporis et sanquinis Christi, divina res est, propter quod et per eadem Divinae efficimur consortes naturae, et tamen esse non desinit substantia vel natura panis et vini.—Pope St. Gelasius, De duabus natur in Chr. adv. Eutych. et Nestor.
For it is not the mark of a Christian mind to take no delight in assertions; on the contrary, a man must delight in assertions or he will be no Christian. And by assertion—in order that we may not be misled by words—I mean a constant adhering, affirming, confessing, maintaining, and an invincible persevering; nor, I think, does the word mean anything else either as used by the Latins or by us in our time.—Martin Luther, On the Bondage of the Will
And what is our condition? Love is grown cold; the teaching of the Fathers is being laid waste; everywhere is shipwreck of the Faith; the mouths of the Faithful are silent; the people, driven from the houses of prayer, lift up their hands in the open air to their Lord which is in heaven. Our afflictions are heavy, martyrdom is nowhere to be seen, because those who evilly entreat us are called by the same name as ourselves. Wherefore pray to the Lord yourself, and join all Christ's noble athletes with you in prayer for the Churches, to the end that, if any further time remains for this world, and all things are not being driven to destruction, God may be reconciled to his own Churches and restore them to their ancient peace.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 164
14 November 2016
Therefore it is impossible for any self-righteous people to know what freedom from sin, etc., really is. By contrast, our freedom has as its foundation Christ, who is the eternal High Priest, who is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Therefore the freedom, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and life that we have through Him are sure, firm, and eternal, provided that we believe this. If we cling firmly to Christ by faith and stand firm in the freedom with which He has made us free, we shall have those inestimable gifts.—Martin Luther, Great Galatians 5
13 November 2016
Nevertheless, under the form of bread, the true body of Christ, given for us on the cross, under the form of wine, the true blood of Christ, shed for us, are present; furthermore, it is not a spiritual or imagined body and blood but the genuine natural body and blood derived from the holy, virginal, true, human body of Mary, conceived without a human body by the Holy Spirit alone. This body and blood of Christ are even now sitting at the right hand of God in majesty, in the divine person called Jesus Christ, who is a genuine, true, eternal God with the Father of whom he was born from eternity, etc. This body and this blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, not only the holy and worthy but also sinners and the unworthy truly administer and receive bodily, although invisibly, with their hands, their mouths, the chalice, paten, corporal, and whatever they use for this purpose when it is administered and received in the mass.—Martin Luther, Letter of Martin Luther Concerning His Book on the Private Mass
I need use no argument to prove to those who are even slightly trained in Scripture, that the creature is separated from the Godhead. The creature is a slave; but the Spirit sets free. The creature needs life; the Spirit is the Giver of life. John 6:63 The creature requires teaching. It is the Spirit that teaches. John 14:26 The creature is sanctified; it is the Spirit that sanctifies. Romans 15:16 Whether you name angels, archangels, or all the heavenly powers, they receive their sanctification through the Spirit, but the Spirit Himself has His holiness by nature, not received by favour, but essentially His; whence He has received the distinctive name of Holy.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 159
12 November 2016
But when you are condemned, cursed, reviled, slandered, and plagued because of Christ, you are sanctified. It mortifies the old Adam and teaches him patience, humility, gentleness, praise and thanks, and good cheer in suffering. That is what it means to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit and to be renewed to a new life in Christ; in that way we learn to believe in God, to trust him, to love him, and to place our hope in him, as Romans 5 [:1–5] says, “Suffering produces hope,” etc.—Martin Luther, On the Councils and the Church
I will add a statement on this subject in conformity with the sense of Scripture. As we were baptized, so we profess our belief. As we profess our belief, so also we offer praise. As then baptism has been given us by the Saviour, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, so, in accordance with our baptism, we make the confession of the creed, and our doxology in accordance with our creed.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 159
11 November 2016
When night falls upon the earth, the stillness of sleep reigns and sounds of the past day become silent; I see the splendor of Thy heavenly mansions. Flame and purple, gold and azure presage the indescribable beauty of Thy home and solemnly call forth: Let us go to the Father! - Akathist of Thanksgiving
For the holy church sins and stumbles or can even err, as the Lord’s Prayer teaches. However, it does not defend or excuse itself, but humbly asks for forgiveness and improves itself as it is able. Thus it is forgiven so that henceforth its sin is no longer reckoned as sin.—Martin Luther, A Letter Concerning His Book on the Private Mass
Our bodies may be separated by distance, but God’s eye still doubtless looks upon us both; if indeed a life like mine is fit to be beheld by the divine eyes; for I have read somewhere in the Psalms that the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous. I do indeed pray that with you and with all that are like minded with you, I may be associated, even in body, and that night and day with you and with any other true worshipper of God I may bow my knees to our Father which is in heaven; for I know that communion in prayer brings great gain.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 150
10 November 2016
In return I salute you, and beg you earnestly to give heed to the salvation of your soul, disciplining all the lusts of the flesh by reason, and ever keeping the thought of God built up in your soul, as in a very holy temple. In every deed and every word hold before your eyes the judgment of Christ, so that every individual action, being referred to that exact and awful examination may bring you glory in the day of retribution, when you win praise from all creation.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 146
08 November 2016
If God had not been on our side
And had not come to aid us,
The foes with all their pow'r and pride
Would surely have dismayed us.
For we, His flock, would have to fear
The threat of men both far and near
Who rise in might against us.
Their furious wrath, did God permit,
Would surely have consumed us
And as a deep and yawning pit
With life and limb entombed us.
Like men o'er whom dark waters roll
Their wrath would have engulfed our soul
And, like a flood, o'erwhelmed us.
Blest be the Lord, who foiled their threat
That they could not devour us;
Our souls, like birds, escaped their net,
They could not overpow'r us.
The snare is broken—we are free!
Our help is ever, Lord, in Thee,
Who madest earth and heaven.
—Martin Luther, paraphrase of Psalm 124 (and another shameful miss in our current hymnal)
Only let our spirit be kept unbroken, the firmness of our faith in Christ be maintained unshaken, and ere long our Champion will appear; He will come and will not tarry. Expect tribulation after tribulation, hope upon hope; yet a little while; yet a little while. Thus the Holy Ghost knows how to comfort His nurslings by a promise of the future. After tribulations comes hope, and what we are hoping for is not far off, for let a man name the whole of human life, it is but a tiny interval compared with the endless age which is laid up in our hopes.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 140
07 November 2016
by Pr. Steven Schave. Feast and enjoy! I told him I wanted to interrupt at the end and announce: "We will now sing The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns."
The Word Became Flesh
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life,[a] and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own,[b] and his own people[c] did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son[d] from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.[e] 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God,[f] who is at the Father's side,[g] he has made him known.
In the beginning, darkness was upon the face of the deep, and into that dark void of a raging abyss, God called out "Let there be light." And by the power of His creating Word there was light; God speaks and so it is done. The first radiation of life was breathed into our world by the Spirit of God to give us light and warmth where there was once only darkness and bitter cold. The "Word of God was there at the beginning and all things where made through Him." "In him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
But oh how quickly mankind plunges themselves into the darkness… trying to hide from the light after we have eaten of the forbidden fruit. God is the pillar of cloud and fire that separates us from the darkened world, but we continually dive into the shadows again and again. When the light of God's Word exposes us, we run to the farthest corner to look for a dark place. But there is nowhere we can hide, for God knows even the deepest, darkest, places in our hearts.
And so we wander in the shadows, aimlessly looking for the peace, hope, comfort, warmth and love that only the Light can give. We stub our toes on the dangerous corners hidden in the darkness and curse God as if it were His fault. And our search for anything good in the darkness is hopeless and leads only to an eternal chasm, so deep it is, that we no longer recognize the light… the darkness unable to bear its presence. And so for all of us who dwell in the darkness of our sins, the coffin door closes, and the light is no more.
But like a blinding shaft of light, this announcement comes beaming down this very morning "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Did you feel the awesome impact of that? More powerful than a supernova, when the Word that was there at the Beginning of the World takes on our flesh, it is a cosmic collision of Heaven and Earth! With that God says, Let there Be Light! The shepherds and the wise men were guided by the Star of Bethlehem on a dark winter's night to look into the eyes of the One who would lighten up our darkened universe again… brighter than any star. The presence of God tabernacling among us again… not in tents or temples of stone… but in our own flesh and blood. God and sinner reconciled, the Light of the World shines forth.
We live in such dark days, but know this; the darkness will not overcome, because Christ will take all of the world's darkness upon Himself. "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him." And because this world did not recognize Him they crucified Him. Jesus Christ, the Word that became our flesh to redeem it, must walk through the darkness to bring us into the light: through the darkness of temptation, mourning and grief, pain and suffering, and even the valley of the shadow of death in the world's darkest hour. And to be sure, when the eyes that once lit up the Heavens went dim on the cross, this world only saw the darkness of death… the light was hidden to them. But there was something more, much more.
God once sent a small band of men led by Gideon to conquer what seemed like an invincible army in a battle of the light against the darkness. Gideon's men were armed with nothing more than a trumpet in one hand and a torch covered by a jar in the other. But with the blast of the trumpet, when they shattered the earthen vessels that held their flames upon a post, their enemies scattered in fear of the light and were destroyed. So when Christ was dying on the cross, like the blast of a trumpet, He cried out "It is finished". And when the earthen vessel of the Word made flesh was shattered upon the post of a cross, the Light of the World beamed into the evil realms of darkness… and your enemies of sin, death and the devil went running, because they were completely defeated by the Light. The darkness no longer had any hold on you: the light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it. Because on the third day, God the Father looked upon the cold, lifeless body of His Son and He said, "Let there be Light!" by raising Him up through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Light shone again for the world to see.
And that is the same Light that shines in you and me even in our darkest moments. God sustains the Light of our faith through His Word which enlightens. He strengthens our faith by giving us the Word made flesh as we come to His table to be in communion with the Light of the World which tabernacles in bread and wine. And in our baptisms God poured out the light upon us with a light that no darkness shall overcome. Where there was once only darkness and bitter cold, life was breathed into us by the Spirit of God to give us light and warmth: enveloped in the love of God, robed in His righteousness, born of God as His children. So by grace through faith, God says, "Let there be light!" And it is that light which sends us out to help others who cower in the darkness... like John the Baptist our life in the light is our testimony that others might believe.
We are witnesses to God's grace, in that we have been led out of darkness and into the Light. And there is no greater witness than when we are shadowed by our darkest moments and yet others still see the Light shining through. Others will see in those times that we are not looking down into the dark abyss of this world, but instead are looking into the manger and outside an empty tomb where the Morning Star has turned the night into day for us. Christ who knows our suffering, cares for us at all times and He shines in us. Because even when we take our last breath in this dark world, and the candle of our life is snuffed out, others will see a peace and joy that can only come from the Light of the World. We have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ and when we depart from this world we will look into the glowing eyes of our Savior. And in the blink of an eye when the Light of the World returns to this world of shadows again, He will raise up our earthly vessels even buried in the deepest, darkest tomb. And with the blast of a trumpet He will proclaim "Let there be light!"
I know it's said that it is darkest before the dawn, and based on what all is being said lately it sounds like the sky is falling, and maybe it is, maybe it is… but in these dark and latter days, know this: the dawn is coming soon, very soon… bringing light and life… soon, very soon, God will dwell among His people in all His glory… Father, Son and Holy Spirit… and there will be no need for the sun, neither the moon… because the light of Christ will be the light of the World… and the darkness, the darkness will be no more. In Jesus name, Amen.
That Thou wouldst deign to rule and govern thy holy catholic church: We beseech Thee to hear us.
That Thou wouldst deign to preserve all bishops, pastors, and ministers of the church in sound word and holy life: We beseech Thee to hear us.
That Thou wouldst deign to remove all sects and all offenses: We beseech Thee to ehar us.
That Thou wouldst deign to lead back the erring and deceived into the way of truth: We beseech Thee to hear us.
That Thou wouldst deign to trample Satan under our feet: We beseech Thee to hear us.
That Thou wouldst deign to send faithful laborers into Thy harvest: We beseech Thee to hear us.
That Thou wouldst deign to grant all hearers increase in the word and in the fruit of the Spirit: We beseech Thee to hear us.
That Thou wouldst deight to lift up the lapsed and to strengthen those who stand: We beseech Thee to hear us.
That Thou wouldst deign to encourage and assist the timid and the tempted: We beseech Thee to hear us.
—Martin Luther, from The Latin Litany Corrected
I have observed the ingenuity of the devil’s mode of warfare. When he saw that the Church increased under the persecution of enemies and flourished all the more, he changed his plan. He no longer carries on an open warfare, but lays secret snares against us, hiding his hostility under the name which they bear, in order that we may both suffer like our fathers, and, at the same time, seem not to suffer for Christ's sake, because our persecutors too bear the name of Christians.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 139
06 November 2016
We started out this morning early with a quick rehearsal before the two Divine Services at St. Paul's. The Choir sang Introit and Gradual, but also "E'en So, Lord Jesus," "Blessing and Honor," and the Wolfe "For All the Saints" (stanzas 4 and 6). A truly joyous feast day. Then back to the house for Sunday brunch. Nine of us sat at table together (and Henry sat in his high chair) and enjoyed bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, peppers and carrots. Quick clean up, and then off to the seminary for the kick off service for the Anniversary Celebration. Wow and wow. The musicians absolutely outdid themselves. Kudos to Mark Bender for leading the mass choir, Jim Marriott for the organ, and the kids from Lutheran South's wind symphony. President Harrison delivered (or rather, let Luther deliver) a stunning homily: Rage on! We grabbed a brat after the Vespers, passed on the beer, and headed home. All Saints Mass and then Vespers. What more can a man ask for the perfect Sunday? I mean, think about it. We got to sing today:
Sing with All the Saints in Glory
For All the Saints
Behold, A Host
Jesus Sat with His Disciples
The Church's One Foundation
Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
Thy Strong Word
A Mighty Fortress
Though all Our Life
Church of God, Elect and Glorious
Yup, that's a feast for the day. Our voices are shot! Think it will be an early bed time.
...while it lasted. For the past seven years we've feasted on the very best of Lutheran organ music (Bach, Buxdehute, Pachelbel to only name some of my very favorites); our choir has been immeasurably enriched by absolutely stunning conducting, taking us from your run of the mill church choir, to a choir that could pull off pieces and do them well, way beyond anything we'd ever dared dream. Mozart Mass in C? No problem! Faure's Cantique de Jean Racine. Got it! Manz' E'en So. Nailed it! We've sung in Latin (Panis Angelicus, for instance) and German (Luther's Herr Gott, Dich Loben Wir), and probably the most challenging stuff has been some John Rutter pieces for Christmas. Anywho...the man who accomplished this improbably feat? Mr. Carlo Van Ulft. Sadly, today's bulletin announced that he's submitted his letter of resignation and that his time at St. Paul's draws rapidly to a close. His final Sunday will be on November 20th. My sadness is beyond words that this wonderful experience with him is almost over, but I will always, always be thankful for the way he enriched and transformed our congregation's music. We have been remarkably graced. God bless you, Carlo, and may your music continue to bring joy to the hearts of those who will be blessed to hear you play and sing under your leadership in the future.
04 November 2016
And for this reason also has government been ordained by God, that it may uphold general peace, which thing alone cannot be paid for by all the money in the world. We just noticed a few things in the uprising of the peasant, what damage, misery and woe are caused by rebellion and the breaking of peace. God grant that things do not go further and that we experience no more.—Martin Luther, Homily on Trinity XXIII, Church Postil
at how GREAT it feels to workout in a fasted state. Cindi and I usually skip Wednesday and Friday meals during the day, and just eat at night. So lunchtime is free time. I spent it today walking (already got my 10K steps +), doing pushups (I've settled in a pattern of 200 daily, but none of Sundays; my daughter-in-law the PT Dr. told me to stop doing as many as I had been), and then running sprints (which I try to run these days three times a week). The sprints still amaze me. I start out with an easy jog and until I reach a spot I've set, and then I sprint. How? By lifting high the knees and still running on my toes, staying perfectly upright and not leaning in. If anything leaning slightly back. First, you feel like you're going slowly and then WAM! Like the cartoons show, suddenly you're flying and without almost any conscious effort except keeping knees high and just pressing your internal throttle to go always a bit faster. I don't know how long these last. I just run between predetermined spots, and always try to run faster. I do eight sets of them. And when I need to replenish my water bottle at work, I walk down the stairs from the fourth to the first floor and fill it up in the fitness center and throw in a quick set of pullups. Today I've already hit 20 of those. And all this feeling absolutely fabulous because my body's not having to process new food; I'm still fine from what we ate last night because it was wholesome and nutritious and not filled with the usual toxic chemical stew that is modern processed food. Anyway, long time readers of this blog know I've been a big fan of following the Church's historic fasts. I still am. But these days I have to confess that I don't fast as an act of penitence or anything close to it. Gulp. I fast twice a week because it feels GREAT. And what goes for the workouts goes a thousand percent more for the mental work for the day. Fasting day is always productive day for work. If you've not tried intermittent fasting, it is really just an ancient piece of human wisdom that seems to work. Give it a whirl, but FIRST make sure you've nourished your body with REAL food, giving it the nutrition it needs.
03 November 2016
Chapel for 11/3
P&P, p. 260.
Reading: from John 6
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."
Catechism (p. 327, top left)
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?
These words, "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins," show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?
Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: "forgiveness of sins."
In the name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
She snuck up behind Him in the crowd. She was afraid. She was desperate. She'd tried everything else and everything else had failed her. Her blood still hemorrhaged and nothing staunched the flow. But that made her unclean. And all she touched unclean. So she tried to hide as she did faith's deed. She reached out a trembling hand to touch the fringe, the hem of Jesus in the crowd.
And He stopped. Stopped just as soon as she touched. She felt it in herself. She knew her bleeding had stopped. But He felt it too. It's the only passage in the Gospels that gives even the least kind of hint about what went on in the God-Man when He worked His miracles. He stops dead in the midst of the crowd and turns and searches the faces, asking: "Who touched me?"
His disciples are quite convinced that it's an unreasonable question. He's in the middle of a crowd, for Pete's sake, and their bumping against him at every turn. How can he ask? But He explains: "Someone touched Me, for I perceive that power has gone from me."
What a curious and enigmatic statement. There is touch and there is touch. There is the careless brush up against that doesn't tap into what's hidden there in Jesus. Then there is the trembling hand that reaches out to receive, to be given to, and that hand withdraws the elixer of life from the touch even of His clothes. Jesus gives a name to that touch when He tells the woman, "Daughter, your faith has saved you, made you well, healed you. Go in peace." Faith is the hand that reaches out to receive from Jesus. Even to steal from Him, but He makes the stolen a gift. Luther said: "He likes to be stolen from."
Now take it all to the Eucharist. In the supper how many Sunday after Sunday bump up against the body and blood? They come forward and receive the Eucharist, but never expect it to do anything, to change anything. They don't come forward in faith that in this Sacrament you are coming into contact with the greatest power and force in all the world. He clothes Himself for you to touch. Power goes forth from Jesus to the person who touches His body and blood in faith and it transforms them. And as the touch has the name "faith" so the power has a name: Love. That love changes you, From the inside out, saves you, heals you. And to touch it in faith is to touch it in the sense of "for me." He meant and included me when He said: "for you, for the forgiveness of sins." Me. My sins. This body given for me. This blood shed for me. This is love.
These words ARE the main thing in the Sacrament because to have the body and blood of some man, even to have the body and blood of the Eternal Son of God who created all things, that's not yet good news. You could just be in the crowd bumping up against Him. But to have Him reach His body and blood to you because He loves you, because He forgives you all your sin, because He wants to plant inside of you a resurrection life that death will never rob you of: THAT is some good news.
And that's why John 6 alludes to the Eucharist but can't be applied directly. Because just touching or eating the Body and Blood does NOT guarantee receiving all the blessings in that body and blood. St. Paul makes it clear you can receive them in a way that instead of bringing blessing, brings judgment. That is, you can receive them without faith. Touch them, without touching them.
Said most simply: the Eucharist is not magic; it is a miracle. And the heart of the miracle is that YOU are loved, and He plants himself among us to let us touch in faith that body and blood so that the power of love can flow from Him into you all that is His is made yours and all yours His, and He holds you tight and says: "You touched me. You touched me and I'm glad you did. I love you. You are mine forever. Go in peace."
Hymn: 621 Let All Mortal Flesh
Allen, Jan, Kyle, Deaconess Gail (serving in Dominican).
01 November 2016
For certain it is, if you trust any man, you are already deceived, for human nature, in itself, cannot but lie and deceive. Everything is uncertain among men, their deeds and words are unstable; that you may well believe.—Martin Luther, Homily for Trinity XXIII, Church Postils