God at Work Bringing Us to Faith

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This week we move to the Third and final Article of the Apostles’ Creed as we make our way through Luther’s Small Catechism. The familiar words we confess go, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”

We will take the Third Article in two stages. The first half of Luther’s explanation reads, “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort  believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith.” Next week we will consider the rest of the explanation.

Having first looked at the Ten Commandments and our failure to live up to his expectations, it is refreshing in the Creed to see God as the main actor. In the First Article God creates and sustains his creation. In the Second Article he redeems sinful humans and the damaged creation. And now in the Third Article we see God at work bringing us to faith and maintaining us in the same. And it is a good thing, because we never cease to muff things up, even in the receiving of the gift of salvation. But our Lord’s performance is different. We can depend on him!

The Person of the Holy Spirit takes an important role here. His voice speaks in the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, where he has also drawn us together in its hearing. He enlightens our understanding. He stirs our hearts and kindles faith in us. And then he creates and sustains new life in us, so much so that it is referred to as the new birth.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work in concert, with the Holy Spirit especially testifying to Christ Jesus and drawing us to him.

Since You Asked…

What is the purpose of the Psalm Reading? And why do we often sing (chant) the Psalm?

“The appointed psalm is sung as a meditation on the First Lesson, a response to it, and a bridge to the Second Lesson. … Hearers of the lessons need a chance to assimilate the First Lesson before the Second Lesson begins. The required use of a psalm between the lessons provides for the restoration of psalm singing to its traditional place in the life of the church and gives the worshiper the opportunity to participate in the singing (or reading) of a portion of Scripture…” (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

Jesus’ Promised Return - Part 3

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We will take a look at the final part of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed this week. It reads, “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”

As usual, we will also consider Luther’s corresponding explanation. He writes, “All this he has done that I may be his own, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.”

Admittedly, once you have considered our Lord’s death and resurrection you have touched on the core of the Christian Faith, the crucial work of our salvation. What follows is Jesus’ enthronement. He indeed rules and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and if for a time he laid aside the prerogatives of his rule (cf. Phil. 2:7) for his critical work in our redemption, it is once again clear that the Incarnate One is the King over all!

That he will come again to judge the living and the dead, or as it was put in older language, “the quick and the dead”, is often overlooked in our day. Yet Scripture teaches that we will all stand before the judgment seat at Christ’s return! And there are none of us that will be able to stand on our own merits. We all justly deserve condemnation. But for those who do not stand on their own merits, but instead have donned the robes of the Holy One’s righteousness given as a gift, they will be acquitted of the charge of rebellion to God’s rule.

Looking for Christ’s return at the end of the age is another way of speaking of having faith in Christ. For it is then that believers will receive the fullness of what has been promised them.

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of All Saints’ Day?

The significance is expressed in the hymn The Church’s One Foundation, the fifth stanza: “And mystic sweet communion / With those whose rest is won.” We certainly mourn in death the physical separation with our loved ones, but the Church affirms that the dead in Christ are very much alive and are present with our Lord. We further believe in the Resurrection of the dead on the last day, and our joyful reunion with the saints of all the ages in the eternal kingdom of our Lord. Therefore we can speak of our dearly departed as being a part of the Church Triumphant while we remain the Church Militant. On the festival of All Saints we direct our attention to the richness of Christian history, and the manifold workings of God’s grace through the lives of believers who have gone before us. It is also an appropriate time to honor the memory of those members of our congregation who have died.

Jesus’ Work of Salvation - Part 2

This week we are looking at the part of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed which reads, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.” Luther’s corresponding explanation is, “At great cost he has saved and redeemed me, a lost and condemned person. He has freed me from sin, death, and power of the devil – not with silver or gold, but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.”

This part of the Creed describes the work the God/Man accomplished on our behalf for our salvation. And Luther’s explanation gives a succinct summary of what is meant by “salvation”. It is being freed from sin, death, and the power of the devil. So when someone asks you, what have you been saved from? You can answer, from sin, death, and the devil!

And how have we been saved or rescued? A price had to be paid. This cost is much greater than what can be measured in silver and gold. It involved the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, suffering and dying on our behalf! That’s what is meant by paying with his blood.

Now there are a number of ways described in Scripture for how Jesus’ death accomplished our deliverance. They give rise to a number of “atonement” theories. Such notions involve Jesus being a substitute, a scapegoat, a ransom satisfaction, a surreptitious victor, among others. But they all involve that fact that Jesus was innocent, and that as God he could exercise decisive power over death and the devil.

Jesus’ third day resurrection is the ultimate demonstration that he indeed swallows up death and can free us and grant to us at his return a similar resurrection from the grave. This makes his death on the Cross the great victory and the ultimate expression of God’s love for us.

Since You Asked…

Why do we stand during the reading of the Gospel Lesson?

By standing we are giving expression of special respect and adoration. In the Gospel Accounts we meet our Lord Jesus Christ in a special way. In these writings we are presented with Jesus’ Judean and Galilean ministry. We also have a record of the very words of our Lord (his teachings, parables, dialog, etc.). We hear the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the work of our salvation.

Although the entire Bible is the Word of God, it is in the Gospels that our Lord is most directly presented to us. So you might say that Christ himself is being presented before us in the Gospel Lesson. It is therefore most appropriate that we stand at attention.

Jesus’ Unique Identity - Part 1

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In our trek through The Apostles’ Creed we will take three weeks in visiting the Second Article. The Article begins, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary.” And Luther’s explanation for this portion goes, “I believe that Jesus Christ – true God, Son of the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary – is my Lord.”

The Second Article starts with the all-important conversation on the identity of Jesus. Everyone who has heard of the first century Nazarene has some image in their mind of Jesus. The question is, do our cherished images conform with the way our Lord is presented in the Scriptures?

Many today claim that too much is made theologically about Jesus’ identity. The claim continues that we need to pay more attention to what Jesus taught and of the example of his life. The idea continues, we should ask what Jesus would do. And if we can’t find an example in the Bible, we imagine what Jesus would do. And usually we imagine him being very soft and affirming.

The problem with the aforementioned is that Jesus himself seemed to think his unique identity mattered, as is demonstrated in passages like Matthew 16:13f. Furthermore, the New Testament writers seemed as concerned with what Jesus’ life uniquely accomplished by his death, resurrection and ascension as they did with what he taught and how he lived.

The Second Article begins by affirming the Biblical witness that Jesus was uniquely both God and man! He was both by virtue of his divine conception and his virginal birth to Mary. As man he could identify with frail humans diseased by sin and needing salvation. And also as man he could taste death. As God he could provide the satisfaction required for sins, and he could defeat and then swallow up death forever. His identity as the God/man is key to our salvation!

Since You Asked…

Do Lutherans Promote Private Confession?

“Confession has not been abolished by the preachers on our side. … The people are carefully instructed concerning the consolation of the Word of absolution (forgiveness) so that they may esteem it as a great and precious thing. It is not the voice of the man who speaks it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command. …it is necessary for terrified consciences” (Augsburg Confession, XXV)

Confession has two parts: First that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the Pastor as from God himself.

 

Creator of Heaven and Earth

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Moving on from the Ten Commandments we next visit The Apostles’ Creed in our journey through Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. And it is appropriate to go from what is expected of us, as reflected in the commandments, and move to what God has done, is doing, and will do for us, as reflected in the Creed.

When we reflect on what God expects of us, as we must, we necessarily feel condemnation. For we fall so short of God’s will for us as perfectly reflected and summarized in the Ten Commandments. So it comes as a great relief to affirm things that don’t rely on our sorry effort and performance. When we contemplate on what God graciously accomplishes on our behalf, our hearts swell up with gratitude and hope. This is particularly the case when we consider God’s redemptive work to reclaim lost sinners!

For teaching purposes Dr. Luther divides the Creed into three parts or articles. The First Article is, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” And Luther’s explanation goes, “I believe that God has created me and all that exists. He has given me and still preserves my body and soul with all their powers. He provides me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all I need from day to day. God also protects me in time of danger and guards me from every evil. All this he does out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy, though I do not deserve it. Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”

Here we believe, teach and confess that we are utterly dependent creatures. Nothing exists apart from God. He spoke things into existence. And things continue to exist because God sustains them.

Pure existence is cause for rejoicing! We move, live and have our being in, by and through God alone. He creates freely out of pure goodness , wisdom and delight, and not out of any necessity. To him belongs the glory!

Since You Asked…

What is the meaning of the “KYRIE” (kir-E-A)?

KYRIE is a Latin term which is in turn is a transliteration of a Greek word meaning “Lord.” In the Latin Mass the term KYRIE was combined with the term ELESION meaning “have mercy.” In addition, the Mass included a three-fold response: KYRIE ELEISON, CHRISTE ELEISON, KYRIE ELEISON, which translated is “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” In our Lutheran Worship Service we utilize a prayer from the Latin Mass known as a Peace Litany. A Litany is a responsive prayer. This Litany is usually led by our Assisting Minister, and the congregation response is the KYRIE ELEISON. And so the Assisting Minister begins, “In peace let us pray to the Lord,” and the congregation responds to this and each succeeding petition with, “Lord, have mercy.” (with help from the Manual on the Liturgy a companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, publ. by Augsburg).

Deadly Coveting

This week we finally arrive at the Tenth Commandment in our grand tour of Luther’s Small Catechism. The second commandment dealing with coveting reads, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his cattle, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” And I also share with you Luther’s pithy explanation, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not tempt or coax away from our neighbor his wife or his workers, but encourage them to remain loyal.”

When arriving at this commandment I often think of King David and the trouble he got into in violating this directive. Remember, David was a man with a “heart after God” (cf. 1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). If this man could stumble and fall into temptation at this point, any of the rest of us could as well!

Perhaps you will remember the sorry incident as candidly chronicled in 2 Samuel 11. What it boiled down to was the fact that King David coveted another man’s wife. Bathsheba was a bathing beauty, literally, for David spied her bathing. By the time the whole peccadillo was over one sin piled up upon another. Coveting lead to adultery, adultery lead to bearing false witness, and to cover this the sin was compounded with murder and theft! One could make a good argument that the First and Second Commandments were violated. Sex became an idol, and God’s name was besmirched. David set a horrible example in parenting – there goes the Fourth Commandment!

When the dust settles, the only command that may have remained intact was the Third. I don’t know that the Sabbath Day was profaned, although I could be wrong on that one.

So you see how deadly the whole business of coveting is! There is a price to pay for our law breaking! But if you read on in 2 Samuel 12 you will also encounter God’s rich mercy that comes to repentant sinners. You will also want to read Psalm 51 to read David’s confession of sin, a true cry for mercy!

Since You Asked…

What is the purpose of the “Silence for reflection and self-examination” in the Brief Order For Confession and Forgiveness?

“The silence for self-examination and reflection should be an extended silence to enable personal application of the general phrases of the prayer that follows. Silence of one or two minutes is not too long” (Manual on the Liturgy – LBW). This is a helpful time to reflect back on our lives over the past week and ask ourselves whether we have been disobedient or unfaithful, bad-tempered or dishonest, or whether we have hurt anyone by word or deed. By allowing for this period of reflection we are able to personalize what would otherwise remain quite general.