Places of the Passion

Today we begin the Lenten journey to Jesus’ death on the cross and to His resurrection from the dead.

Our Lenten journey takes us to the Places of the Passion:

Feb. 21 The Upper room
Feb. 28 Gethsemane
Mar. 7 Court of the High Priest
Mar. 14 Court of Pontius Pilate
Mar. 21 Way of Sorrows

Tonight for Ash Wednesday we are introduced to our Guide: The Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).

While the observance of Ash Wednesday is not required, it has a long history in the Christian Church. But further back in history we can see two links in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament):

I set my face to the Lord God, to seek by prayer and petitions, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:3)

But even earlier, after Adam and Eve sinned, God spoke judgment upon them for their sin:

[God said to Adam:] “By the sweat of your face will you eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19)

Those words are often spoken by the pastor as he applies the ashes to the forehead.

So there is Biblical support for Ash Wednesday practice, but there is no requirement that is must be done. The marking of the forehead is not a “sign of spirituality” for the person receiving the ashes for others to see. Rather, it reflects the person’s acknowledgment of sin and its affect on the person. Ashes in the form of a cross also remind the person that Jesus fulfilled the demands of the Law for living and satisfies the demand of death for sinning. The cross of ashes then reminds us of the great debt of sin and the greater payment of that debt by Jesus.

Ash Wednesday observance
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Isaiah 40:21-31

This coming Sunday is the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, according to the Three year series. Here is the Old Testament reading.

Isaiah 40:21-31

These are just preliminary thoughts about how to approach the text. Isaiah speaks to a people who have become downcast, discouraged, and from their perspective all seems lost, no evidence that God is in control. Thus, we find the refrain: “Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?” (v. 21 and v. 28).

In both cases, Isaiah begins the answer with “God is…” and “The eternal God…” specifying first God’s strength/power and then His character. Then God provides the ultimate comfort in vv. 29-31

29 He gives strength to those who grow tired
and increases the strength of those who are weak.
30 Even young people grow tired and become weary,
and young men will stumble and fall.
31 Yet, the strength of those who wait with hope in the LORD
 will be renewed.
They will soar on wings like eagles.
They will run and won’t become weary.
They will walk and won’t grow tired.

When Jesus Christ fulfills all things, it includes these promises of God. If you are tired, then God strengthens you, sometimes in surprising ways, sometimes unseen. This who wait with hope in the Lord—they will be renewed. May this comfort, encourage, and strengthen as we live in this time.

Christmas Story Continues

22 When the days of her purification according to the Law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he came into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, 28 he received Him in his arms and blessed God and said:

29 “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace,
according to Your word;
30 for my eyes have seen Your salvation
31  which You have prepared in the sight of all people,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of Your people Israel.”

33 Joseph and His mother were amazed at those things which were spoken about Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Listen, this Child is destined to cause the fall and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign which will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”

(Luke 2:22-35 MEV)

Reading Luther

As we enter this 500th year celebration of the Reformation, the danger is that we might read about Martin Luther. However, how refreshing it might be to read what Luther actually wrote. Obviously Luther wrote more than most of us read even in a year. So let’s narrow down the list of writings that will expand our knowledge about Luther as a writer.

One invention, the printing press by Gutenberg, appeared ~70 years prior to Luther beginning to write for others. The printing press allowed the rapid spread of Luther’s writings, not just books but especially pamphlets. Thus, instead of what took weeks, months, or years for hand written copies of what he wrote, the speed of the printing press drastically shortened the time from writing to distribution, not just for one copy but many copies.

What should I read?

Confessional writings

As Lutherans we do not follow Martin Luther, rather we confess the same Christian faith that he did. Our public statements of faith are compiled in The Book of Concord, dated in 1580. Surprisingly, Luther only wrote three parts of the book: Small Catechism (1529) Large Catechism (1529) and Smalcald Articles (1537). However, his influence on the others confessional writings is evident. He reviewed and approved of the Augsburg Confession (1530) and the Apology [Defense] of the Augsburg Confession (1531). Further the next generation of theologians who wrote the Formula of Concord (1580) borrowed heavily from Luther, quoting some passages in length.

So a starting point for reading Luther is to read his three writings in the Book of Concord. If you have been raised in a Lutheran church, you are very familiar with the Small Catechism. Luther wrote it to help parents teach the Christian faith to their families. In addition, Luther wrote sermons for pastors to teach the congregations, published as the Large Catechism. Thus, the two catechisms complement each other. Reading both will enhance your understanding of the key topics of the Christian faith.

Early writings

The 500th celebration of the Reformation highlights one of his earliest writings (Oct. 31, 1517): “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” better known as the “Ninety-Five Theses.” You can search online for this document. Luther’s direct approach to false teaching emerges in this document and continues in his later writings. He also wrote “An Explanation of the 95 Theses” in 1518. Even in this early period, Luther focused on the Church and the individual Christian. Here is the first thesis:

Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said “Repent,” willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

Other early works worth reading: “Heidelberg Disputation” (1518) and “Two Kinds of Righteousness” (1519). In 1519 the Leipzig Debate presented a theological disputation originally between Andreas Karlstadt, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and Johann Eck [papal expert]. The topics were originally to be: free will and grace. However, Eck and Luther met and expanded the topics to purgatory, the sale of indulgences, the need for and methods of penance, and the legitimacy of papal authority. In the debate Luther claimed that sola scripture (Scripture alone) as the basis for Christian beliefs. In June 1520 Pope Leo X banned all Luther’s views from writing and preaching.

There are three significant writings from 1520: “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning The Reform of the Christian Estate,” “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” and “The Freedom of a Christian.” These three have significant influence on the public life of the 1500s and lead to the Peasants Rebellion and later to the nobility responding to control the masses.

Other Important Writings

Because Luther wrote doctrinal statements and discussed what is commonly called systematic or doctrinal theology, we have to realize that his other writings were more closely related to his specialty, namely exegetical theology, particularly the Old Testment. Thus, as you begin to search his exegetical writings you discover his series on Genesis (8 books in English translation), his commentaries on the Psalms, and his commentaries on the Minor Prophets (1524-1526). Perhaps the premier commentaries include his ones on Galatians (1535 ed.) [vol. 26 and 27 in English] and his commentaries on the Gospel of John (1537) [vol. 22, 24 in English].

This list is only a sampling of what Luther wrote. But your time will be well spent reading some of these books and articles. And there is no need to rush through them. Take time to understand the key points, to appreciate his writing style (even in Enlish), and to give thanks that God used Luther who dedicated his life to teaching the Christian faith.

For Further reading:

Here is a web site that provides a chronological list of Luther’s writings with the English volume references.
https://lutherantheology.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/luthers-work-chronological-website2.pdf

Sermon 09/24/2017

Isaiah 55:6-11 CSB

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; Seek the LORD while he may be found; call to him while he is near. 7  Let the wicked one abandon his way and the sinful one his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, so he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will freely forgive.

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.”  This is the LORD’s declaration. 9 “For as heaven is higher than earth,a so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, 11 so my word that comes from my mouth will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.”

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8XYDMInOhQETzBBa0h5NlBfWG8/view?ts=59c9594a