HT to New Reformation Press for the article from last week’s New York Times. The author reminds Lutherans of the continued relevance of distictively Lutheran doctrine and practice drawn from the well of the Reformation. That well is fed by the spring of living waters, Christ Himself. OPINION German Austerity’s Lutheran Core By STEVEN OZMENT […]
The beginning of Advent marks the beginning of the Church Year for the vast majority of Christendom that follows the cycle and seasons of the Church Year centered on the lectionary. With the beginning of the Church Year, it is fitting that the first Feast day of the year belongs to St. Andrew the Apostle, brother of Simon Peter.
Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist before being called by Jesus. It is possible that he witnessed the baptism of our Lord in the River Jordan, and was there drawn to the presence of God in the flesh by the witness of the Father and the Spirit. It was he who brought Peter to see Jesus, and they were later called as the fishermen, to leave their nets, and everything behind to follow Jesus.
Andrew was named one of the twelve Apostles by Christ. In the lists of the Apostles, he is among the first four mentioned. Not much is known about his work and mission following Christ’s ascension. Andrew is generally thought to have died a martyr’s death on an X shaped cross. Hence, the symbol of St. Andrew is an X shaped cross on a field of blue. His death is said to have taken place during the reign of Nero on November 30, 60 A. D. in Patras, Geece.
There is some controversy over the remains of St. Andrew. In 357 A. D., Andrew’s remains were said to have been moved from Patras to the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople, where they remained until the thirteenth century when the French took Constantinople. Cardinal Capua moved the remains of Andrew to the cathedral of Amalfi in Italy. The Scots on the other hand claim that the bones of St. Andrew are bones are in Scotland. In any event, a Greek monk at Patras, St. Regulus, or Rule as he is commonly known, and keeper of the relics of St. Andrew at Patras, is said to have received a vision to move the relics including the bones of St. Andrew to Scotland c. 732. Another story has the Bishop of Hexham, a collector of relics, removing the bones from Greece to Scotland around the same time. The church of St. Rule, and eventually the cathedral of St. Andrew were built and were said to have housed the remains of the Apostle until the time of the Reformation when they were said to have been destroyed by Calvinists. Of course, St. Andrew, Scotland is now famous for its golf course.
All that aside — it makes for a interesting history lesson — what we do know for sure is that Andrew was the first Apostle called by Christ, and the entire Church, both East and West, celebrate the Feast of St. Andrew on November 30 each year. It is a small symbol of unity that binds the church together at the begining of the Church Year.
Hymn for St. Andrew’s Feast Day
JESUS CALLS US, Mrs. Cecil F. Alexander, 1818–1895
Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day His sweet voice soundeth, saying, “Christian, follow Me.”
Jesus calls us from the worship of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us, saying, “Christian, love Me more.”
In our joys and in our sorrows, days of toil and hours of ease,
still He calls, in cares and pleasures, “Christian, love Me more than these.”
Jesus calls us: by Thy mercies, Savior, may we hear Thy call,
give our hearts to Thy obedience, serve and love Thee best of all.
Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me. (John 12:26)
The story behind the hymn:
God’s call for discipleship comes to every believer, not just a special few. Whether or not we hear God’s call depends on our spiritual sensitivity.
The last Sunday in November is known as St. Andrew’s Day. It has traditionally been an important day in the liturgical worship of the Anglican church. It commemorates the calling of Andrew by Jesus as recorded in Matthew 4:18–20 and Mark 1:16–l8. “At once they [Simon and his brother Andrew] left their nets and followed Him.” Andrew has become the patron saint of Scotland, and the oblique cross on which tradition says he was crucified is part of the Union Jack of the British flag.
This is another of the quality hymn texts written by Cecil Frances Alexander, recognized as one of England’s finest women hymn writers. It is one of the few of Mrs. Alexander’s hymns not specifically written for children; nearly all of her more than 400 poems and hymn texts were intended for reaching and teaching children with the gospel.
Following her marriage in 1850 to the distinguished churchman, Dr. William Alexander, who later became archbishop for all of Ireland, Mrs. Alexander devoted her literary talents to helping her husband with his ministry, including writing appropriate poems that he could use with his sermons. One fall day, two years after their marriage, Dr. Alexander asked his wife if she could write a poem for a sermon he was planning to preach the following Sunday for his St. Andrew’s Day sermon. The pastor closed his sermon that day with the new poem written by his wife. These words have since been widely used in all churches to challenge God’s people to hear Christ’s call as Andrew did and then to follow, serve, and love Him “best of all.”
From Osbeck, K. W. (1990). Amazing grace : 366 inspiring hymn stories for daily devotions (356). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications.
The LCMS announced the candidates nominated for the office of President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod today. The three candidates are the current President, Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, current synod First Vice President, Rev. Dr. Herbert Mueller, and Michigan District President, Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier. The convention this summer should prove interesting.
This post was originally written June 7, 2011. In light of the LCMS debate taken public (intentionally or not) over unionism and syncretism, that well worn phrase “All You Need is Love” has cropped up again: “Share the Love of Christ,” “You’re not being very loving Confessionals!” “They will know we are Christian by our Love.” I think it is time again to pose the question — this time it is directed squarely at those throwing this phrase around so cavalierly and loosely on the issue of syncretistic worship — What is this “Love of Christ” of which you speak? Here is the rest of the post occasioned on the hearing of a sermon preached at the wedding of that famous royal couple across the pond:
Driving home from Louisville, Kentucky this past weekend, I was listening to a Sermon Review over at Issues, Etc. It was the sermon given by Bishop Chartres on the occasion of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton last month. As I was driving on I-65 south in Bowling Green Kentucky, a couple of things that struck me in the sermon. In particular they can be found in the following excerpts:
The spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this: the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.
As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive. We need mutual forgiveness in order to thrive.
As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. This leads on to a family life which offers the best conditions in which the next generation can receive and exchange those gifts which can overcome fear and division and incubate the coming world of the Spirit, whose fruits are love and joy and peace.
Reading between the lines, one can make out the shadow of the Trinity in this sermon — God so loving this world that He sent His only Son into it… to be our example…. the Holy Spirit being made alive by the power of the love in our relationships with one another, with marriage being the most powerful of these relationships — like two magnets being drawn together creating a magnetic field. Christ is mentioned in this sermon, but we do not need Him. Instead, we move into our relationships toward others in love — using as our template the love Christ modeled for us. Read the rest of this entry
Preached rightly, the Gospel does not change, but is timeless. 486 years later the Word preached should still apply to us today, otherwise it is not the Gospel of God. Below are some excerpts of a sermon preached by Martin Luther on Christmas Eve 1525. Luther addresses the Gospel hidden in the Christmas story, in the shepherds, the manger, the proclamation of Christ to the World from heaven itself. He notes that Christ must be preached in every proclamation of the Gospel — Christ for YOU and for ME, Christ for SINNERS. Christ must become ours and we His before we can take those steps forward in service to our neighbor to do any good work. And no work is good either if it does not benefit my neighbor. This is still the work of Christ, my work that is. For just as Christ serves me, so I serve my neighbor in the same way Christ does, giving everything in service to my neighbor.
May the peace, love, and joy of the Christmas season be yours, in Christ for YOU!
The Mysteries Hidden in the Gospel of Christmas Eve, Luke 2:1-14
Excerpts from the 1525 Christmas Eve Sermon of Martin Luther
Faith – What is to be Believed
Christ For YOU
The first matter is the faith which is truly to be perceived in all the words of God. This faith does not merely consist in believing that this story is true, as it is written. For that does not avail anything, because everyone, even the damned, believe that. Concerning faith, Scripture and God’s word do not teach that it is a natural work, without grace. Rather the faith that is the right one, rich in grace, demanded by God’s word and deed, is that you firmly believe Christ is born for you and that his birth is yours, and come to pass for your benefit. For the Gospel teaches that Christ was born for our sake and that he did everything and suffered all things for our sake, just as the angel says here: “I announce to you a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord” [Luke 2:10–11]. From these words you see clearly that he was born for us.
He does not simply say: “Christ is born,” but: “for you is he born.” Again, he does not say: “I announce a joy,” but: “to you do I announce a great joy.” Again, this joy will not remain in Christ, but is for all people. A damned or a wicked man does not have this faith, nor can he have it. For the right foundation of all salvation which unites Christ and the believing heart in this manner is that everything they have individually becomes something they hold in common. What is it that they have?
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina
sedentes in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.
There is a notion out there that we the people, citizens of the Kingdom of God, are in the business of kingdom building. Being Christian, it is said, means we have received a task, a purpose. We cannot pass this job on to someone else. And, the thought goes, Jesus is praying for us, that we would continue His mission by the power of the Holy Spirit, pleading that we would just get up and go. So get out there and do your job!
It is true that we do participate in the extension of the Kingdom of God, but not in the sense of building it and establishing it on this earth. It has already come in Christ and we find it on this earth in His church, where Word and Sacrament are delivered to us. But it is only a foretaste of the feast to come in His Kingdom. The Kingdom of God, however, is not of this world and will NOT be established on this earth which is passing away. Christ and Christ alone establishes this otherworldly Kingdom in the hearts of men. And He works through means — Word and Sacrament.
Think about it. Any thing that we do is tainted by sin, it is imperfect, corrupted and sinful. How then can we who are sinful and corrupt build a holy, perfect Kingdom? It would never be completed!! The thought that Jesus is just praying for us to be infused with the power of the Holy Spirit to take up the mantle of Kingdom Building is off target as well. He who pleads for us before the Father to spare our lives for the sake of His bloody sacrifice has to pray that God would give us power to build the Kingdom?!? Jesus has to rely on us to build His Kingdom? No!
Christ uses sinful men to proclaim the Gospel and to carry His Word to the lost in this world every day in the things we do in our lives. We do not have a super special extra job to do just because we are Christians. We are ordinary people doing ordinary things. It is Christ who does the extraordinary. It is He who builds the Kingdom, He who creates faith and gathers His flock together. We are citizens of this Kingdom of God, perfectly free princes and princesses, bound to no one. And we are also the most dutiful servants caring for our brothers and sisters in this Kingdom of God AND in the kingdom of the world because of His great love for us. There is no compulsion, no obligation. There is only the new creation we are made to be in Christ, living our lives when and where we are, just as He has called us to be.
Lest we think we are tasked with Kingdom building, we would do well to heed the warning of Dieterich Bonhoeffer:
It is not we who build. [Christ] builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess–he builds. We must proclaim–he builds. We must pray to him–that he may build.
We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.
It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don’t ask for judgments. Don’t always be calculating what will happen. Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Church, stay a church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reading for October 23, Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH, pages 840-841.
Mother’s day is usually celebrated the second Sunday in May. Today, however, the church commemorates the ultimate Mother, St. Mary, the Mother of Our Lord Christ. Mary has always had a special place in the hearts church members throughout the centuries. Whether she is venerated as remaining ever the virgin through an “Immaculate Conception,” or thought to have appeared at Lourdes or in various other times and places, or whether she is thought to be the “Queen of Heaven,” Mary remains Theotokos, the God-bearer. She was at the center of one of the greatest Christological crises in the history of the church. But no one can diminish the fact that she is the most blessed among women. And Mary never claimed anything more for herself, according to Scripture. She is mentioned just a handful of times in the Gospels in connection with the Birth of Christ, the Flight into Egypt, the Passover in the Temple, Jesus’ death, to name a few. Tradition holds that she followed John to Ephesus where she died. She is truly the things legends are made of for some say that she even was assumed bodily into heaven like Elijah, or Enoch. Yet Scripture does not bear witness to this speculation. And indeed, much of what we have about Mary in the traditions of the church are based on speculation and private revelation, like those matters noted above.
What we do have revealed in Holy Scripture, is the portrait of a true, earthly mother who brought her son, the God-man into this world, and watched Him leave it, hanging on a dreadful, bloody Cross. We are shown an example of true faith, faith that is bestowed upon us only by the Holy Spirit, in accepting the gift of bearing the salvation of the world inside of her, while secretly carrying in her heart her entire life with her Son the knowledge, the aching suspicion that, if the prophecies were true, if the sacrifices pointed to the Lamb of God, she held Him in her arms, and she would watch Him leave this world and this life. A blessing and a curse. Gospel and Law.
The Hail Mary
Many things have been written about Mary. The nicest come from Scripture. The Hail Mary, for example,as it is commonly known, is a prayer that developed over time in the church. It is taken from the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, as he announced to her the favor that God chose to bestow upon her to bear His Son into this world (Luke 1:28). The second part of the prayer is taken from the greeting Mary received from her cousin Elizabeth when her yet unborn child leapt in her womb in the presence of Mary and his God (Luke 1:42). These parts came into common use in the church by about 1050 AD according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. It was used as a salutation, greeting, or expression of honor to Mary, but not as a prayer. Read the rest of this entry
Statistics are fun. Numbers are interesting. They do not lie. They simply are. The best are sports statistics — batting averages, earned run averages, goals against averages, goals, assists, home runs, runs batted in, points per game, rebounds, touchdowns, completion percentage, etc. The list is endless.
I ran across some interesting statistics about the American religious scene from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. They have any interesting page entitled “Fast Facts about American Religion” which you can find here. The statistics do not include the Catholic church or the Orthodox church, only Protestant church bodies. Some of the statistical facts that I found interesting are listed below. They do have something to tell us about the church in America today. What do you think that is?
- 59% of all Protestant churchgoers worship in congregations that have an attendance of 7-99 people. That is 9,000,000 people and 177,000 congregations.
- 35% of congregations have an average attendance of 100-499 people. That is 25,000,000 people and 105,000 congregations.
- 4% of congregations have an average attendance of 500 to 999 people. That is 9,000,000 people and 12,000 congregations.
- 2.41% of congregations have an average attendance of 1,000 or more. That is 7,210 congregations worship 12,700,000 people.
- The median church in America has 75 regular participants in Sunday morning services. That means half the churches are larger and half are smaller.
- Of Churches making significant use of technology in the life of the church, 46% saw some growth in membership, while 32% saw some decline in membership. 16% of such congregations merely plateaued.
- 90% of congregations make use of internet technologies.
- Congregational use of websites is in decline, however, with 69% of congregations using websites in 2010, down from a peak of 77% in 2009.