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The Benefits of Persecution–Luther

January 30, 2014 1 comment

barnes14. Hence, people have here an example where they are to seek their comfort and help, not in the world; they are not to guard the wisdom and power of men, but Christ himself and him alone; they are to cleave to him and depend on him in every need with all faithfulness and confidence as the disciples do in our text. For had they not believed that he would help them, they would not have awakened him and called upon him. True their faith was weak and was mingled with much unbelief, so that they did not perfectly and freely surrender themselves to Christ and risk their life with him, nor did they believe he could rescue them in the midst of the sea and save them from death. Thus it is ordained that the Word of God has no master nor judge, no protector or patron can be given it besides God himself. It is his Word. Therefore, as he left it go forth without any merit or counsel of men, so will he himself without any human help and strength administer and defend it. And whoever seeks protection and comfort in these things among men, will both fall and fail, and be forsaken by both God and man.

 

15. That Jesus slept indicates the condition of their hearts, namely, that they had a weak, sleepy faith, but especially that at the time of persecution Christ withdraws and acts as though he were asleep, and gives neither strength nor power, neither peace nor rest, but lets us worry and labor in our weakness, and permits us to experience that we are nothing at all and that all depends upon his grace and power, as Paul confesses in 2 Cor 1, 9, that he had to suffer great affliction, so as to learn to trust not in himself but in God, who raised the dead. Such a sleeping on the part of God David often experienced and refers to it in many places, as when he says in Ps 44,23: ”Awake, why sleepest thou, 0 Lord? Arise, cast us not off forever.”

 

16. The summary of this Gospel is this, it gives us two comforting, defying proverbs, that when persecution for the sake of God’s Word arises, we may say: I indeed thought Christ was in the ship, therefore the sea and wind rage, and the waves dash over us and threaten to sink us; but let them rage, it is ordained that the wind and sea obey his will. The persecutions will not continue longer than is his pleasure; and although they overwhelm us, yet they must be subject to him; he is Lord over all, therefore nothing will harm us. May he only give us his help that we may not despair in unbelief. Amen.

 

17. That the people marveled and praised the Lord that the wind and sea were subject to him, signifies that the Gospel, God’s Word, spreads farther through persecution, it thus becomes stronger and faith increases; and this is also a paradoxical characteristic of the Gospel compared with all worldly things which decrease through every misfortune and opposition, and increase through prosperity and peace. Christ’s kingdom grows through tribulations and declines in times of peace, ease and luxury, as St. Paul says in 2 Cor 12, 9: ”My power is made perfect in weakness, etc.” To this end help us God! Amen.

from the Church Postil (Sermon on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)

Consolation in Persecution–Luther

January 30, 2014 Leave a comment

martin-luther-152613. Now it is the consolation of Christians, and especially of preachers, to be sure and ponder well that when they present and preach Christ, that they must suffer persecution, and nothing can prevent it; and that it is a very good sign of the preaching being truly Christian, when they are thus persecuted, especially by the great, the saintly, the learned and the wise. And on the other hand that their preaching is not right, when it is praised and honored, as Christ says in Lk 6,22-26: ”Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you; for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake; in the same manner did their fathers to the prophets.” Behold our preachers, how their teachings are esteemed; the wealth, honor and power of the world have them fully under their control, and still they wish to be Christian teachers, and whosoever praises and preaches their ideas, lives in honor and luxury.

From the Church Postil (Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany)

Distress Because of Christ: Luther’s Sermon on Epiphany 4

January 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Christ_in_the_StormFourth Sunday after Epiphany;

Matthew 8:23-27

And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!

 

III. THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THIS NARRATIVE.

10. Christ pictured to us in this narrative the Christian life, especially the office of the ministry. The ship, signifies Christendom; the sea, the world; the wind, Satan; his disciples are the preachers and pious Christians; Christ is the truth, the Gospel, and faith.

 

11. Now, before Christ entered the ship with his disciples the sea and the wind were calm; but when Christ with his disciples entered, then the storm began, as he himself says, Mt 10, 34: ”Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace but a sword.” So, if Christ had left the world in peace and never punished its works, then it would indeed have been quiet. But since he preaches that the wise are fools, the saints are sinners and the rich are lost, they become wild and raging; just as at present some critics think it would be fine if we merely preached the Gospel and allowed the office of the ministry to continue in its old way. This they would indeed tolerate; but that all their doings should be rebuked and avail nothing, that they call preaching discontent and revolution, and is not Christian teaching.

 

12. But what does this Gospel say? There was a violent tempest on the lake when Christ and his disciples were in the ship. The sea and the wind allowed the other ships to sail in calm weather; but this ship had to suffer distress because of Christ being in it. The world can indeed tolerate all kinds of preaching except the preaching of Christ. Hence whenever he comes and wherever he is, there he preaches that he only is right and reproves all others; as he says in Mt 12,30: ”He that is not with me is against me”, and again, Jn 16,8: ”The spirit will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment;” he says that he will not only preach, but that he will convict the whole world and what is in the world. But it is this convicting that causes such tempests and dangers to this ship. Should he preach that he would allow the world to go unpunished and to continue in its old ways, he would have kept quiet before and never have entered the world; for if the world is good and is not to be convicted then there would never have been any need of him coming into the world.

from Luther’s Church Postil

“Quran ‘forbids’ violence to spread Islam” ?

January 15, 2014 Leave a comment
9/11 mastermind says Qur’an “forbids” violence to spread Islam

KSM2012.jpg

AFP says: “In a major departure from his previous position, Mohammed said that ‘the Holy Quran forbids us to use force as a means of converting!'” This will no doubt be trumpeted everywhere as evidence that if “extremists” only read the Qur’an that they brandish in the air alongside rifles, they would become “moderates.”

In reality, it is nothing of the kind, and doesn’t represent a “major departure” from anything KSM has said before. Islamic law forbids forced conversion, in line with the Qur’anic dictum, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256). Jihad is waged not to force non-Muslims to convert to Islam, but to bring them under the rule of Islamic law, in which they must “pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (Qur’an 9:29), denied basic rights that Muslims enjoy and forced to live in a state of subservience to the Muslims.

In line with that, KSM and the other 9/11 plotters didn’t commit mass murder on September 11, 2001 in order to force Americans to convert to Islam, but to weaken and ultimately destroy American society and government, so that eventually Islamic law can be imposed.

AFP doesn’t know any of this, for it partakes of the same willful ignorance that blankets the mainstream media: to examine how Islamic jihadists use the texts and teachings of Islam to incite and justify violence would be “Islamophobic.”

“Quran ‘forbids’ violence to spread Islam: 9/11 mastermind,” from AFP, January 15 (thanks to Block Ness):

WASHINGTON: The self-proclaimed mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has released a manifesto claiming that the Quran forbids the use of violence to spread Islam. 

The document, published Tuesday by The Huffington Post and Britain’s Channel 4 News, marks Mohammed’s first public communication since 2009, when the US government officially accused him of terrorism.

Mohammed, the most high-profile of the five men accused over the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on US soil, has been held at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since 2006.

In a major departure from his previous position, Mohammed said that “the Holy Quran forbids us to use force as a means of converting!”

He also tried in the 36-page document to convince his American captors, prosecutors, lawyers and members of his military tribunal to convert to Islam.

“It is my religious duty in dealing with any non-Muslims such as the people in the court (the judge, the prosecution, attorneys, etc.) to invite them to embrace Islam,” Mohammed wrote.

“I realize very well that you have heard about Islam and know much about it. But it is my own belief that Allah will ask me on the Day of Judgment why I did not invite these people to Islam?”

He is doing this in accord with Islamic teaching, but the “people in the court” should take note that if the “invitation” is refused, then comes jihad. According to a hadith, Muhammad said: “Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war…When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them….If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them.” (Sahih Muslim 4294)

Mohammed said he was “very happy” in his cell, adding: “My spirit is free even while my body is being held captive.” 

Mohammed said he has been “neither sad nor distressed” in his confinement “because I have been with the Only One True God.”…

Funeral Sermon. “You Know the Way to the Place I am going.”

January 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Jan_van_Eyck_-_Diptych_-_WGA07587In Memoriam + B L F (1923-2014)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

John 14:1-6 (Job 19:21-27, Romans 8:31-39)

January 15, 2014

INI

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

God’s Word for our comfort this morning comes from the Gospel of John:

Jesus said: And you know the way to where I am going.  (John 14:4)

 

Beloved in Christ:

B knew a lot of things that I don’t know.  She knew many things I’ll never know.  She knew things it was not common for women in her day to know too.  She knew how to work the earth, how to plant, how and when to harvest.  No doubt how to milk a cow and put a harness on a horse.  How to plow in a straight line.  A whole lot of things that I don’t even know how to describe.  I remember talking with her at Salem about the way—I think—corn was bundled and stacked in the field so that it would cure.  This was and is something I know so little about that I don’t even have words for it.  These are not things she learned in school or from a book, yet quite important things to know.  Things that life or death hangs upon for many people.

And of course that wasn’t all she knew.  She knew how to take care of aging relatives when she was young.  She knew how to sew and crochet; that was what she was working on when I came to see her.  She knew how to take care of herself and manage the finances long before feminism and without even thinking about it.

This knowledge didn’t earn her a degree.  But knowledge that matters, really matters, is not given as easily as degrees are.

Jesus speaks about a knowledge that His disciples had which is greater than all the knowledge that the wisest of men can attain.  His disciples had not had a lot of school.  But they knew something immeasurably great.

Many of them were fishermen before they became disciples of Jesus.  And that was true, worthy knowledge, unlike the education of the scribes and Pharisees.  That learning did no one any good, because as well-read as they were, they could only lead people away from God, to death, to damnation.  Nevertheless they were well-respected and much praised.  By contrast the disciples’ knowledge as fishermen was useful.  It put food on the table.

But Jesus gave them even greater knowledge.  You know the way to the place I am going, He told them.

They didn’t think they did, of course.  “We don’t know where you’re going,” Thomas said.  We feel like Thomas in our lives as Christians quite often.  “What is God doing,” we think.  Why am I suffering like this?

Today I want to remind you of what you do know because of Jesus.  It is not learned in school.  It is not knowledge that is regarded as being useful at all.  Yet it is eternal life, and you know it.

You know the way to the place where Jesus is going.

 

  1.  He is going to the Father, to prepare a place for us.

He did this by His suffering and His resurrection.

  1. He is the way, the truth, and the life;

He is our Redeemer who intercedes for us before the Father.

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has justified?

  1.  So you can see what the world cannot see—that in all our sufferings, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us—that in those very sufferings, we conquer.
  1.  So you know the place where B and all who are baptized and believe in Christ are going;

To the Father with Jesus.

To the cross,  (so I’ll cherish the old rugged cross)

To the resurrection,

To the many dwellings in the Father’s house.

Let not your hearts be troubled, but believe in Jesus, and hold fast this knowledge that Your Redeemer, Your advocate, lives.  And you will see Him.

Amen.

SDG

Peter’s Triolet

January 15, 2014 Leave a comment

HD-petersdenial   Peter’s Triolet

O Lord, You know that I love You
Though I was sleeping when You cried
And drank the water that I drew.
O Lord, You know that I love You,
As surely as the rooster crew,
As truly as You were denied.
O Lord, You know that I love You
Though I was sleeping when You cried.

Hell’s dam-gates burst

January 14, 2014 2 comments

baptismHoly Baptism (Psalm 29:10)

 Der Herr sitzet, eine Sündfluth anzurichten.*  Und der Herr bleibt ein König in Ewigkeit.

Hell’s dam-gates burst: a man, the LORD

Ascends to rule the nations,

And to the flood He gives His Word

To pour out in salvation

O’er ev’ry nation, ev’ry tongue

Which for hell’s bath were numbered;

That those who in these depths are flung

With millstone sins encumbered

This very death will rescue.

Categories: Baptism, Hymns Tags: , , , ,

Christmas Day 2013–The Life: Not taken, but given

image_Mary_And_Baby_Jesus023The Nativity of our Lord—Christmas Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 1:1-14

December 25, 2013

The Life—Not Taken, but Given

 

In Nomine Jesu

 

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. [ St. John 1: 4-5]  The darkness hasn’t even understood it, as the bible of King James puts it: The darkness comprehended it not.

 

There is wisdom in the church, but it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.  But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  [1 Corinthians 2:6-8]

 

The devil and the fallen angels who rule this darkness don’t understand the wisdom imparted in the church.  If they can’t understand it, certainly human rulers, celebrities, intellectuals won’t.  Nor will our own minds.

 

But God reveals it to little children (Matt. 11:25), to the saints (Col. 1:26), this mystery hidden for ages and generations.  God’s mystery (Col 2:2), the mystery of the Word made flesh, Christ.

 

Thy mind so weak/ Will seldom seek

Its comfort in the midst of sin and danger.

So turn thine eyes/ down from the skies

And find thy comfort in a lowly manger.  (Gerhardt # 39 st. 10 Walther’s Hymnal)

 

What the vast intelligence of the devil can’t comprehend is revealed to little children in the Church. It is the light which enlightens every man, the life which is in the Word.  To these little ones God is pleased to reveal His mystery.  Through these little ones He is pleased to make known His wisdom and to make fools of the lordly angels who rule this darkness.  In these children of Adam who were enslaved to death He is pleased to reveal His life.  And His life erupts in triumph over death and its lord—in us.

 

The Life can’t be overcome or comprehended, seized by the will, or the emotions.

 

The Life is not taken, but given.

  1. 1.       The Life is Not Taken

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.  [John 1:1-3]

 

The Word is not an idea that can be grasped.  He is a He, a person, eternal with God, yet a distinct person.  Through Him all things were made, angels, archangels, thrones, men.

 

The Word is a person of the Godhead, so He and His life can’t be comprehended by His creatures.  We need Him and the light He gives even  to stage a rebellion and fight Him.

But the light always seems weak and contemptible to the darkness.

 

Today the Church appears to be marked for death, with no future, except to the extent that we are willing to make concessions to the darkness and to appeal to the darkness’ lust for glory.

 

This is not new.  When the Word entered the world, He seemed utterly feeble, without a hope and a future.  He came in a form despised by both demons and men—weakness.  He became an embryo in the womb of a young virgin.

 

What could be more fragile and helpless?  Embryos are easy to kill.  Desperate mothers do it.  Brutal soldiers and bandits do it.  Well-trained, intellectually superior doctors do it.  It is easy to erase the life of a baby in the womb—to end it and pretend it never existed.

 

And if God is a human baby, what easy prey He is for the lord of this world!  He didn’t put Himself in the hands of reckless human beings only, but made Himself helpless before the one who hated Him most—Satan.

 

Why did the Word become so weak—an embryo that could be cupped in your palm, a baby nursed by a woman?

 

He knew that if Satan saw that He was really one of us—not only flesh and blood, but one with us under our sin, able to be tempted and suffer and die—Satan would murder Him.  He would not be able to pass up this chance to erase Him.

Read more…

Categories: Christmas Tags: , , ,

Luther: Epiphany Teaches “Faith Alone”

epiphany3From Luther’s Sermon on Epiphany in the Church Postil:

…Christ says, John 6, 44: ”No man can come to me, except the Father that hath sent me draw him.” By this all boasting of human reason is condemned, since it cannot guide aright and all who follow it must go astray. So strongly does God everywhere resist our natural haughtiness and will, that we may know we are blind, despair of our own light, put ourselves into his hands and be led by him into the ways which reason cannot know nor follow.

 

Of The Faith Of The Wise Men.

93. The wise men here teach us the true faith. After they heard the sermon and the word of the prophet they were not slow to believe, in spite of obstacles and difficulties. First they came to Jerusalem, the capital, and did not find him, the star also disappearing. Do you not think they would have said within themselves, if they had followed human reason alone: Alas, we have traveled so far in vain, the star has misled us, it was a phantom. If a king were born he should of course be found in the capital and lie in the royal chamber. But when we arrived the star disappeared and no one knew anything about him. We strangers are the first to speak of him in his own country and royal city! Indeed, it must be all, false!

 

94. Besides, his own people are troubled and do not care to hear of him, and direct us from the royal city to a little village. Who knows what we shall find? The people act so coldly and strangely, no one accompanies us to show us the child; they do not believe themselves that a king is born to them, and we come from afar and expect to find him. 0 how odd and unusual everything appears at the birth of a king! If a young pup were born, there would be a little noise. A king is born here, and there is no stir. Should not the people sing and dance, light candles and torches and pave the streets with branches and roses? 0 the poor king whom we seek! Fools we are to permit ourselves to be deceived so shamefully.

 

95. Having been flesh and blood, doubtless they were not free from such thoughts and views, and they had to battle for their faith…

 

96. Reason and nature never proceed any farther than they can see and feel. When they cease to feel they at once deny God’s existence and say as Ps. 14, 1 says. ”There is no God,” therefore the devil must be here. This is the light of the universities which is to lead men to God, but rather leads to the abyss of hell. The light of nature and the light of grace cannot be friends. Nature wants to feel and be certain before she believes, grace believes before she perceives. For this reason, nature does not go further than her own light. Grace joyfully steps out into the darkness, follows the mere word of Scripture, no matter how it appears. Whether nature holds it true or false, she clings to the Word.

 

97. For the sake of this very strife and struggle, by which the wise men accepted the word of the prophet and followed it into such wild, unnatural appearance of a royal birth, God comforted and strengthened them by this star which went before them more friendly than before. Now they see it near, it is their guide, and they have an assurance which needs no further question. Before it was far from them, and they were not certain where they would find the king.

 

98. So it is always with the Christian, after affliction has been endured God becomes more dear to him and is so near and so distinctly seen that man not only forgets anxiety and affliction, but has a desire for greater affliction. He gradually becomes so strong that he does not take offense at the insignificant, unattractive life of Christ. For now he experiences and realizes that to find Christ it must appear as though he found nothing but disgrace…

100. When the wise men had overcome their temptation and were born again by the great joy they were strong and took no offense at Christ, they had overcome in the trial. For although they enter a lowly hut and find a poor young wife with a poor little child, and find less of royal appearance than the homes of their own servants presented, they are not led astray. But in a great, strong, living faith they remove from their eyes and their minds whatever might attract and influence human nature with its pretense, follow the word of the prophet and the sign of the star in all simplicity, treat the child as a king, fall down before him, worship him, and offer gifts. This was a strong faith indeed, for it casts aside many things which impress human nature. Perhaps there were some people present who thought: What great fools are these men to worship such a poor child. They must indeed be in a trance to make of him a king.

 

101. This is the kernel of the Gospel, in which the nature and character of faith is explained as an assurance of things not seen. It clings alone to the words of God and follows the things that are not seen, as alone conveyed in the word of God, and looks askance at many things which urge it to disbelieve the Word. What nature calls playing the fool faith calls the true way. Nature may be wise and clever, faith remains nature’s fool and idiot, and thus comes to Christ and finds him. St. Paul’s words, I Cor. 1, 25 apply here: ”The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” For feeling and believing do not get together.

That’s Too Catholic, Part 2–Church Services During the Week (and genuflecting)

The Wise Men may have been wise, but they obviously weren't Lutheran.  Note (1)the overly ceremonial kneeling before the incarnate Lord, (2) the popish gifts (incense!), 3. travelling all the way to Bethlehem when they could have just found Jesus in their bibles at home, and (4) coming to worship Jesus on a weekday.

Some Lutherans really think it’s not Lutheran to come to church more than once a week–except for Lent.  I’m not sure why this is exactly.  What I know is that when as a young round-collar-wearing puppy I came hurtling out of obedience school and wanted to teach the older dogs some new tricks like prayer offices during the week and midweek festival services like Epiphany and Ascension–some of the older dogs weren’t thrilled.

Not a very new story–in fact, completely un-unique.  Which is why the professors tell you to teach, teach, teach, and why one older pastor told me, “Well, you’ll just have to learn the same way all the rest of us did.”  They were right. Nonetheless, if I could do it over again, I would still try to introduce prayer offices and midweek festival services.  I think the main difference would be that I would explain why they’re important and instead of getting frustrated and demoralized after telling people why about 10 or 100 times I would just keep on explaining it. Why does it matter whether we have services during the week?  Prayer offices like matins, vespers, etc. are a topic for another day.  But as for festivals that don’t fall on a Sunday: Epiphany, Ascension…and even some of the more obscure ones (at least for many Lutherans they are obscure) like St. Michael and All Angels, or the Annunciation (March 25), or Candlemas (the Purification of Mary, this year falling on a Sunday)?  Why is it worth the effort?  Isn’t it roman catholic to observe man-made holy days like this, especially ones commemorating the Virgin Mary? Well, it can be, if we observe them just because the ancient church did.  Or if we act as though we get more points with God if we go to church more frequently.  But the reasons I would still struggle to introduce them are entirely Lutheran.  That means they are worth bringing back not because they have to be, or because you’re a lousy Christian if you don’t, but because they can be very, very helpful to teach “people what they need to know about Christ”, as the Augsburg Confession puts it.

Of Usages in the Church [our churches] teach that those ought to be observed which may be observed without sin, and which are profitable unto tranquility and good order in the Church, as particular holy-days, festivals and the like.  Nevertheless, concerning such things men are admonished that consciences are not to be burdened, as though such observance was necessary to salvation.Augsburg Confession Article XV

What holy-days are “profitable unto tranquility and good order in the Church”? We’d have to answer that question differently today than in 1530.  The Lutheran Reformers didn’t want to abolish holidays that were already observed in such a way that they would offend the Church at large, and it was common practice to observe festival days during the week quite frequently.  Today in Lutheran churches the situation is quite different; you’re likely to disturb “tranquility” in the Church as much by starting to observe a midweek Epiphany service as you are by having a guitar and drums in worship–maybe even more. Yet there are at least two good reasons why it’s worth having a service on Epiphany and trying to get people to go, for Lutherans. 1.  It’s a good thing to hear God’s Word preached, receive the sacrament, hear the Scriptures read and sing hymns more than once a week, even though it doesn’t merit you anything or contribute to your salvation.  Everyone would agree, I think, that church attendance among Lutherans is not where we would like it to be.  I think everyone would agree that the average Lutheran’s knowledge of Scripture is not where we would like it to be.  In addition, the families in our churches are not strong.  Morality is weak.  Giving is weak.  Commitment is weak.  You know why?  Because faith in Christ is weak–or not there.  Why do kids wait years now before they get their kids baptized, and then fail to bring them to Sunday School or Divine Service on a regular basis before they are confirmed? Because faith in Christ is weak or non-existent.  Fruits of faith follow faith itself.  And where does faith in Christ come from?  As the Small Catechism says: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts…”  And where does the Holy Spirit call me by the Gospel and enlighten me with His gifts?  Again the Augsburg Confession:

That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.  For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.  Augsburg Confession 5 Of the use of the Sacraments they teach that the Sacraments were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but rather to be signs and testimonies of the will of God toward us, instituted to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them.Augsburg Confession 13

The Holy Spirit works faith through the office of preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments.  So if the fruits of faith are missing or weak, we want first of all to pray that God strengthen faith in the faithful, but we also know that the instruments through which He has promised to do this is the Gospel and sacraments.  Now you can get the first one of those at home if you read the Bible there.  But most Lutherans who do read the Bible tell me that it’s not so easy always to understand the Scripture on their own.  And most people I know in spiritual difficulty always find it easier to hear the Gospel proclaimed to them from someone else. Anyway, the point is: If we have weak faith in our churches, what we want to do is not tell people, “Yeah, you don’t really need to go to church on Sunday AND during the week.  That’s too much.  You risk being a holy roller.”  We know very well that most people don’t want to go to church more than once a week.  We know very well that most members of our churches don’t even want to go once a week.  But if you do go more than once a week, is that a bad thing?  Are you sucking up?  Are you wasting time?  Not at all.  It’s never a waste of time to hear the Word preached–unless it’s false preaching!  What we have instead is the promise that through the Gospel and Sacraments the Holy Spirit works faith, when and where it pleases God. There’s another reason why the midweek festivals are worth reclaiming: 2.  Besides the benefit of hearing the Gospel preached in general, the festivals each have gifts of Christ to give us that are unique.  The catechism says that the Holy Spirit “enlightens us with His gifts.”  How?  He shows us the treasures of the mystery of Christ, as Paul puts it in Colossians 1 and Ephesians 3.  The Holy Spirit is always showing us what is ours in Christ.  And He shows us different things in the different events of the life of Christ, which are commemorated on different festivals.  For instance–Ascension.  What’s so great about the fact that Christ ascended into heaven?  Because in the Ascension He exalted our flesh and blood to reign at the right hand of God; now our flesh and blood rules the universe on behalf of us, the members of His body, so that we come where He is.  And our Lord intercedes for us even now at the Father’s right hand.  That’s something different from “Jesus died for our sins.”  It’s a different gift that the Holy Spirit unfolds for us in the preaching of the ascension. So why can’t you just preach that on the following Sunday?  Well, we can, of course.  But then something else gets bumped.  You could ask the same thing about Christmas.  Why can’t we just bump the Sunday before or after Christmas?  Well, for all practical purposes we do.  A lot of people show up Christmas Eve who don’t show up the Sunday before or the Sunday after. Of course, that doesn’t make them any less saved, so long as they remain in faith in Christ.  What it does make them is self-impoverished.  The gifts the Holy Spirit would have enlightened them with the Sunday before and the Sunday after–well, they missed them. And Epiphany?  Epiphany is one of the most “Lutheran” of non-Sunday festivals.  Even though the wise men knelt and gave Jesus incense, which seems way too Catholic, they have a lot to teach Lutherans about “faith alone” that most Lutherans don’t know.  At least according to Luther.  For that, see the following post.

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