Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thirsting for the Word

We must earnestly and diligently study the Word of God and pray not simply that we may learn to know the Will of God, but that we may be filled with it and always walk in His way and continue in it, and so seek strength and comfort.

For it is the nature of the riches of this knowledge that whoever has it has never enough and never tires of it, rather, the more and the longer he drinks of it, the more is his heart filled with joy and the more he thirsts for it, as the Scriptures say, 'whosoever drinketh of me will thirst after me all the more' (Ecclesiasticus xxiv. 21).

For, as St. Peter says, the dear angels in heaven also never tire of it but have everlasting joy in it and desire to look into what is revealed and preached to us (I Peter i. 12).

Therefore, unless we too hunger and thirst (as we ought much more than the angels) to know and to understand God's Will more perfectly until we also attain to an everlasting vision in the life hereafter, there is nothing more of it in us than a mere froth which can neither quench our thirst nor satisfy us and can neither comfort us nor make us better.

-- Martin Luther, Day by Day We Magnify Thee: Daily Readings for the Entire Year (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985) p. 290.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 12)
July 25, 2010
Text: Luke 11:1-13

“Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1; ESV). This morning our Lord Jesus does precisely that. And we desperately need this teaching, because prayer does not come naturally to us, on account of our fallen flesh. We are reluctant to pray. Many of us believe we simply don’t know how to do it. We develop bad habits when it comes to prayer, such as laziness and lack of attentiveness, or worse, we develop no habit of prayer at all. We misunderstand prayer. We often feel that prayer is worthless, that God either does not hear or does not care, and that it won’t change things anyway. Or we go to the opposite extreme, and regard our prayers as works-righteousness, acts that gain favor before God, that make us more righteous than our neighbor who struggles with prayer, or we believe that God should hear and heed our prayers because we are such great and faithful Christians, or some such snobbery. Many, if not most of us, fall into both categories at some time or another, one moment despairing of prayer, the next boasting of our prayer life, even if only in our hearts. Whichever category you fall into at the moment, beloved, repent. Repent and hear the gracious teaching of our Lord Jesus about prayer, heed His command, His invitation, His promise, and so lift up your hearts in communion and conversation with God your heavenly Father, through His Son, and in His Spirit.

Prayer is precisely that: communion and conversation with God. Prayer is the language of faith. Taught by God, we receive prayer as a gift of His grace. The conversation begins with God’s Word to us in Scripture and preaching and Sacrament. Yes, it is vital that God has the first Word, that He gets the conversation going, because otherwise the conversation is left with our own worthless words. We too often think of prayer as simply us talking and God listening. No, first we listen to God. And we don’t listen to Him in our hearts, or in some mysterious still, small voice, but in His revealed Word. For there alone, in His revealed Word, can we be sure that what we are hearing is from God, and not from the devil, or the world, or our own sinful flesh. God speaks first in the conversation, in His Word. And in His speaking to us, God teaches us to speak His language. He teaches us to pray.

This morning our Lord Jesus actually puts the words in our mouths, gives us the very prayer we are to pray: The Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect prayer in all the world, being composed by the Son of God Himself. Beloved, pray the Lord’s Prayer daily, several times a day, when you get up, throughout the day, and when you go to bed. When you don’t know what else to pray, pray the Lord’s Prayer, for this prayer includes everything you need for this earthly life and for eternal life. Here we pray for the things that God has promised us and wants to give us; that His Name be kept holy among us so that we believe and speak right doctrine and lead holy lives; that His Kingdom come, that we believe in Him and in His Son Jesus Christ and that more and more people come into the fold of the holy Church; that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, that He break and hinder every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, so that we be preserved in the one true faith unto life everlasting. And we pray for the concerns of this life, that God give us our daily bread, which includes not only food for our bellies, but all the needs of the body, including a dwelling place and a family and friends and good government and employment, all that belongs to this earthly life. So also we pray for forgiveness, for we daily sin much and deserve nothing for which we pray. We pray nonetheless that God would grant us all these things by grace, for Christ’s sake, and so we examine our own relationships and gladly forgive all who have sinned against us. We pray that not only would God forgive us our sins, but that He would preserve us in times of temptation, defending us against the crafts and assaults of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, so that we do not despair or become entangled in great shame and vice. We pray that God would grant us to overcome them and win the victory. And so our Lord adds, when He teaches this prayer in Matthew (6:13), “deliver us from evil,” or more properly, “deliver us from the evil one,” the devil. Deliver us and rescue us from every evil of body and soul, and finally, when our last hour comes, grant us a blessed death.

“Lord, teach us to pray.” He teaches us by giving us the very words. And He gives us more words, the Psalms, which we should also pray each day. Again, God’s Word, perfect words, so much better than our worthless words, words Jesus Himself prayed, words that are fulfilled in Jesus. We pray the Psalms in light of Jesus and our Baptism into Him. This is what it means to pray in Jesus Name. We pray as those who have been united to Jesus Christ in Baptism and covered by His sin-atoning blood. This alone gives us the confidence to come before the throne of God and present our petitions.

So you see, the very Words of Scripture, the Word of God shapes and molds our prayer. Even the prayers we make up ourselves take their shape in light of the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms and the rest of Holy Scripture. The liturgy of the Church is essentially Scripture set to music. Many well-meaning Christians say that prayer should come from the heart, and that the only prayers that come from the heart are the prayers we make up ourselves. The theological term for this assertion is hogwash. First of all, Jesus is very clear about what comes from your heart: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). Do you really believe these make your prayers purer? We pray the words God gives us precisely so that we don’t pray from our own evil hearts, but from God’s heart, and the Word of God’s heart creates in us clean hearts so that we can pray in Jesus’ Name, according to His Word and will.

Of course this is not to say, either, that you can’t make up your own prayers. But now you know that the prayers you make up start with God’s heart, with the Word of God and what He says to you, and are molded and shaped by that Word. Jesus teaches us to imitate Him in prayer, to pray His Words, and so enter into communion and communication with our heavenly Father. While we are to pray at all times, everywhere, notice that Jesus sets aside certain times for formal prayer, in certain places. Don’t use praying at all times and places as an excuse for not setting aside a time and a place for formal prayer. Mimic Jesus. Learn from Him. He is teaching you how to pray. Use the prayer books of the Church, the hymnal, the Catechism, and most especially the Holy Scriptures. Pray the set prayers that others have written. Jesus prayed the Psalms. He tells you to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Mimic Jesus. He is teaching you how to pray.

And He tells you to pray persistently. Ask, seek, knock (Luke 11:9). If you knock on your neighbor’s door at midnight to ask for a loaf of bread, he will give you the bread out of sheer irritation. In contrast, God loves it when you ask, seek, and knock, even at midnight. He bids you, “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). Ask Him for bread. Ask Him for help in any time of need. Call upon His Name at all hours to pray, praise, and give thanks. He longs to hear from you. He has commanded you to pray, and He tenderly invites you to make your requests known to Him, as Paul says, “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” (Phil. 4:6). Pray as a little child to your loving Father in heaven. Pray for yourself. Pray for others. Pray for the Church. Pray for the government. Pray for your family and your friends and your acquaintances. Pray alone in a quiet place. Pray with your family. Teach your children to pray. Help them form that habit. Pray with those who need prayers. Pray in all circumstances. St. Paul again writes, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). And Paul, too, reminds us of the importance of praying the Holy Scriptures and remembering to give thanks when he writes, “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” your newly created clean heart, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18-20).

Most of all, pray because God promises to hear and answer. Even evil earthly fathers give their children good gifts. How much more God, our heavenly Father, who is holy, especially when we pray for that which He has promised? He will always grant His Spirit to those who ask Him. He will always forgive your sins. He will always hear you on account of the suffering and death of Christ, who is now risen and intercedes for you before the throne of the Father, along with the Spirit, who makes your prayers holy. You can pray boldly and with all confidence, because when the Father looks at you, He sees all the righteousness of His Son Jesus. Because you are baptized into Him. You bear His Name and you pray in His Name. And He Himself has taught you to pray.

So pray. It is your unique privilege as children of God. You name God as your Father (“God’s own child, I gladly say it!”) because He has first given you the family Name at your Baptism. And that Name is this: the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 9)
July 4, 2010
Text: Luke 10:1-20

Jesus says: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16; ESV). The Father sends the Son who in and with the Spirit sends His messengers. To hear the called and ordained servant of the Word speak that Word is the same as to hear Jesus, the Word made flesh, speak that Word. And to hear Jesus speak that Word is to hear the Father. Likewise, to reject the preacher when he preaches God’s Word, is to reject Jesus, and so to reject the Father. To reject the messenger is to reject the Word he proclaims. This is a very important point. On the basis of this we confess in the Small Catechism: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sin and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”[1] From this we learn why we have pastors. A pastor, in a very real way, stands “in the stead and by the command of” our Lord Jesus Christ. A pastor is Christ’s man in a particular place, His messenger, given to speak a very specific Word, a Word of life, the Word of Christ that forgives sins.

In addition to the Twelve Apostles, our Lord appointed seventy-two others from His wider circle of disciples. Like the Twelve, the seventy-two were to go before Him with a Word to speak. They were Jesus’ messengers, and they were to speak His Word, as His men. The Word they were to speak was very specific, a life giving Word, the Word of Christ that forgives sins. When they entered a house, they were to say, “Peace be to this house!” (v. 5). It is a Word of forgiveness, the same peace that is imparted to you from the altar when the called and ordained servant of the Word says to you, “The Peace of the Lord be with you always.” This is a Holy Absolution. When the seventy-two entered a town, they were to heal the sick and say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (v. 9). It is a Word of forgiveness. The Kingdom comes in the person of Jesus, who is here to forgive sins. When the people receive this Word with joy and in faith, the peace of the Lord rests upon them. Their sins are forgiven. The Kingdom of God comes. Jesus comes among them and dwells with them. But when that Word is rejected, the peace of the Lord does not rest on the people, but returns to the minister called to give it. The seventy-two were told that if they were rejected by a town, they were wipe of the dust of that town that clings to their feet, as a witness against those who rejected the Lord and His peace. But they were to solemnly warn the people: “Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near” (v. 11). “Jesus has come, and you rejected Him. Woe to you! It will be better for infamous Sodom than for you!” Whenever the word “woe” is used in Scripture, it indicates death and damnation. To reject a faithful pastor and his ministry is to reject Christ, and so to reject His Father.

How thankful we should be as the people of God that God has not left us without His Word. He sends His servants. Now, this is not a personal admonition where I’m telling you that you need to appreciate me more, or something like that. After all, who am I? A poor miserable sinner. I fail and I disappoint and in general make a mess of things at every turn. Thank God the ministry in this place does not depend upon me as a man, or on my personality, or charisma, or even my talents and abilities. God has clothed me with an office, the preaching office, and He does all the work through His Word. But I, too, as a sinful man, am and should be ever so thankful for the office of the ministry which our Lord has given to His Church. By this office, I, too, am forgiven all my sins, especially when I attend pastors’ meetings where we enjoy the Divine Service together, and when I visit my father-confessor and hear from him, standing in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all my sins are forgiven. And I’ll tell you that one of the best things about vacation is that I get to sit in the pew for two weeks and simply receive the gifts from Christ by means of the hand of a brother pastor. But even here, today, though I’m clothed in this office and Christ is using me as His instrument (a great privilege, by the way!), I’m receiving, with you, my brothers and sisters, the gifts of Christ in His Word and Sacrament. So that we may obtain saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, He instituted the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. Through the Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel (AC V). And we are included in that number. Thanks be to God!

But the devil would not allow any ministry. He would thwart every minister of Christ. The Christian pastor is sent out, as were the seventy-two, as a lamb in the midst of wolves. Satan is always on the prowl, like a roaring lion, seeking to devour the pastor and seeking to devour the Christians to whom the pastor ministers. The unbelieving world cannot tolerate the pastor or the Christian, and always seeks to entice the Christian away from the faith, to reject the Word. And of course, to reject the minister and the Word he speaks, is to reject Christ Himself. And we are immersed in our own sinful flesh, which is all too willing to reject the minister and the Word and Christ. We have to be on our guard. We must pray God for His Spirit, for true faith, and for strength, because the peace of the Lord, His Holy Absolution, departs from the one who rejects the Word. But know this, the Kingdom of God has come near. This is a great comfort to those who are in Christ, but terrifying to those who reject Him.

So we need this ministry. We need the Word and the Sacrament continually so that we be sustained in this faith. For by the Word and the Sacrament we receive all the benefits of our Lord Christ’s suffering and death and resurrection. We receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. We receive the Spirit, who creates and strengthens faith in Christ. We should therefore, as the Lord says, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest field, to send pastors who will minister to us and to our children and to our children’s children, who will tend the sheep and seek the lost, speak the Word of the Lord faithfully, and rightly administer the sacraments. This is why our seminary scholarships and our prayers for those studying for the ministry are so important. Think of the men you have supported in preparation for this office just since I’ve been here: Rodney, Daniel, Sean, Alex, Eli, all men who are, or God-willing, will be, laborers for the harvest, Christ’s men in the field. That we support these men demonstrates our thankfulness to God for the ministry of the Gospel, and our fervent prayer that He would continue to provide us with faithful pastors. After all, the people of God are called to support their ministers physically and spiritually, regarding them as the Lord’s gift, as Paul says, “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Gal. 6:6), and our Lord Jesus says, “the laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). Yet understand, you don’t pay the pastor for services rendered. You pay the pastor and support his family, so that he can render service, ministry, faithfully speaking the Word of the Lord.

And as the ministry goes forward, Satan continues to fall like lightening. Serpents and scorpions, the devil and his demons, and all the power of the enemy are stomped underfoot. This is not by the power of the minister, or of the Church, but by the power of the Word, which is the power of Christ. For when the minister speaks, Christ speaks. And when Christ speaks, it is the very Word of the Father. All the power of Almighty God is in the Word, and Satan is cast out. Yet we do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to us, but that our names are written in heaven, in the Book of Life. Our names are written in Jesus’ blood. We know this because of the ministry of the Word.

So, dear brothers and sisters, though I will be gone from you for two weeks, I will meet you at the altar each Lord’s Day. There the same Lord Christ will feed us with His body and His blood. He will speak the same Word of life to us. Receive the pastors who come to you in my absence as you would receive Christ Himself. Hear them, for in hearing them, you hear Jesus, and the One who sent Jesus, our Father in heaven. Share all good things with them. And rejoice, as they proclaim the Gospel to you. Rejoice, for your names are written in heaven. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).