St. Herman of Alaska

 

Saint Herman lived from 1756 to Dec. 25, 1837.  He was born near Moscow, Russia and died on Spruce Island, Alaska.  He was one of 10 monks sent on a mission to Northwest America in 1793.

On one occasion Herman was invited aboard a frigate which came from Saint Petersburg.

Father Herman asked the men a question: ‘Gentlemen, What do you love above all, and what will each of you wish for your happiness?’ Various answers were offered … Some desired wealth, others glory, some a beautiful wife, and still others a beautiful ship he would captain; and so forth in the same vein. ‘It is not true,’ Father Herman said to them, “each of you desires that which in his own understanding he considers the best, and which is most worthy of his love?’ They all answered, ‘Yes, that is so!’ He then continued, “Is not that which is best, above all, and surpassing all, most worthy of love, the Very Lord, our Jesus Christ? Should we not then love God above every thing, desire Him more than anything, and search Him out?’

“All said, ‘Why, yes! That’s self-evident!’ Then Herman asked, ‘But do you love God?’ They all answered, ‘Certainly, we love God. How can we not love God?’  ‘If we love someone,’ Herman said, ‘we always remember them; we try to please them. Day and night our heart is concerned with the subject. Is that the way you gentlemen love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments?’ They had to admit that they had not! ‘For our own good, and for our own fortune,’ concluded the Elder, ‘let us at least promise ourselves that from this very minute we will try to love God more than anything and to fulfill His Holy Will!’  This conversation was imprinted on the heart of the sailors.

 

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Executive Orders

When I see the tablets held up containing executive orders, I think of Moses who carried tablets with God’s executive orders. God gave them to the one who would lead a bunch of homeless refugees to freedom and the promised land.
This morning we will hear from Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Jesus will tell his disciples, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” Those are the executive orders Jesus’ disciples are called to follow, even as we preach the foolishness of God’s power through Christ crucified.

God Calls the Mountains to Jury Duty

 

I served on couple of juries when I was in Wisconsin.  My fellow jurors were people just like me.  In Micah 6:1-8, the Old Testament lesson for Epiphany 4, the Lord calls the mountains to hear his testimony against his own people.

The Lord demands, “Rise, plead your case before the mountains.”  God continues, “Hear, you mountains…for the Lord has a controversy with his people.”

The Lord speaks, “O my people, what have I done to you?  In what have I wearied you?  Answer me.”  He then tells them what he has done for them, “brought you up from the land of Egypt, redeemed you from…slavery.”  He sent them leaders.  He was faithful throughout their journey, even up to the last, when he turned an intended curse against his people to a blessing.

But the people have misunderstood what it means to be saved.  They think that God wants their “stuff.”  Should they bring calves for burnt offerings?  Would you be happy with a 1,000 rams, or 10,000 rivers of oil?  What will it take?  How about the life of my firstborn son?  Would that pay for my sins?

The Lord doesn’t want their stuff.  He wants his people to live the life he has called them to live.  Act justly toward the poor, be honest in your dealings.  Act in steadfast kindness in your daily dealings.  And live your life recognizing that you are totally dependent on God for your life, your sustenance and your salvation.  Treat others the way God has treated you.

 

 

Titus

Titus, like Timothy was a close companion and associate of Paul.  Paul also made Titus a test case regarding circumcising Gentile Christians.  Whereas, Paul circumcised Timothy to accommodate the Jewish Christians.  In the case of Titus, he did not do so.  Timothy’s mother was a Jew.  Titus parents were Gentiles.  He cited his decision to not circumcise Titus as a precedent for not falling back under the slavery of the law. (Galatians 2:1-10)

On his third missionary journey Paul learned of problems in Corinth.  He sent Titus ahead to check out the reports.  Titus eventually brought Paul a report that the Corinthians were repentant and longed to see Paul.  Paul sent Titus back to Corinth to continue his pastoral work and to encourage the congregation to participate generously in the collection that Paul was coming to receive for the relief of the Christians in Jerusalem and Judea.

Later, in 2 Tim. 4:10 we learn that Titus is in Dalmatia, which is in present day Croatia on the east side of the Adriatic Sea across from Italy.

The letter Paul wrote to Titus contains qualifications for church leaders.  Christian life is based on the grace of God shown in Jesus Christ who is our Savior and has redeemed us.

According to tradition he died on the island of Crete in 96 AD having served the church there as bishop.

The Prayer of the Day for Titus petitions God on behalf of all those who preach the Word.

Almighty God, You called Titus to the work of pastor and teacher.  Make all shepherds of Your flock diligent in preaching Your holy Word so that the whole world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

 

Conversion of St. Paul

We first meet Saul at the stoning of Stephen.  Acts 8:1, “And Saul approved of his execution.”  Chapter 9 begins, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples…”  Stephen’s passionate witness to Christ had only inflamed Saul’s sense of urgency that this sect must be snuffed out.

With letters from authorities in Jerusalem in hand he was on his way to Damascus when Jesus met him with a blinding light that knocked him to the ground.  Now blinded by Jesus, Jesus opened his eyes of faith.  At Jesus direction he sought out a follower of the Way named Ananias to whom the Lord had also spoken directing him to seek Saul.  At first Ananias was reluctant.  But when he found Saul, he blessed him with the Holy Spirit.  Saul regained his sight.  With his new and renewed eyesight, he was baptized.

Our conversion may not have been so dramatic.  However, the same elements, as those in Saul’s case, were present.  Jesus confronted a sinner who was in open rebellion against him.  The eyes of our faith were still blind.  Yet, in our baptism the sinful person was drowned in baptism and also filled with the Holy Spirit.

Immediately following his baptism Saul began to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God.  “Jesus is the Christ,” was his message.  How long ago were we baptized?  What message do we proclaim?

Almighty God, grant us ever to rejoice in the saving light of Your Gospel and, following the example of the apostle Paul, to spread it to the end of the earth; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

St. Timothy

Timothy’s seminary training under St. Paul was painful because before leaving Lystra Paul circumcised Timothy.

His seminary training was thorough because their journey began in Lystra, in what is now south central Turkey, and ended in Greece.  In Acts 16-18, the action moves along quickly.  However, a map of Paul’s second missionary journey indicates they traveled at least 850 miles on foot, for the most part.  That’s like walking from St. Louis to Baltimore or Denver.

It must have been exciting for young Timothy to travel with Paul and Silas as they sought to discover just where the Holy Spirit would allow them to go.  Finally, they end up at the Aegean Sea where Paul has a vision of a man calling them to Macedonia.  That vision leads them to travel down the east coast of Greece to Athens and then Corinth.

Finally, his training was dramatic because he saw churches strengthened through Paul and Silas preaching and teaching.  He saw churches established at places like Philippi and Thessalonica.  He also witnessed Paul and Silas being beaten and thrown into jail, where the jailer underwent an overnight conversion.

Eventually, Paul sent him back to Thessalonica to pastor that beleaguered congregation.  Timothy learned how to “fight the good fight” and to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” (I Timothy 6:11-16)

Timothy was also in Rome with Paul.  According to tradition, after Paul’s death he became bishop of Ephesus where he was martyred around 97AD.

Lord Jesus Christ, You have always given to Your Church on earth faithful shepherds such as Timothy to guide and feed Your Flock.  Make all pastors diligent to preach Your holy Word and administer Your means of grace, and grant Your people wisdom to follow in the way that leads to life eternal; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

The Bomb Crater and the Cross

 

In July 1944, Pastor Helmut Thielicke preached a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, even as Stuttgart, Germany was being bombed.  During his sermon on “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” the sirens sounded and the church was totally destroyed.

The previous Sunday, he preached on “Thy Kingdom Come.”  I think his words speak to us in our day.

“So, God’s kingdom really does come in all secrecy and hiddenness.  Is there any more hidden setting than a bomb crater which is the grace of so many hopes and seems to be the grave of so many promises?  God builds his kingdom in secret.  It is like the building or a bridge that goes on beneath a covering of scaffolding, so that we cannot see the bridge itself, and we hear only drumming hammers.  But one day the scaffolding and planking is removed and the bridge is revealed to our wondering eyes.  God was not idle while we were looking in vain for the signs of his footsteps and his work.

Now God’s rule is hidden beneath the Cross, and only who accepts the Cross knows the secret. (What would you do with that bomb crater without the Cross?)  …The moment will come when God will be “all in all.” And that moment comes at the end of that hidden and seemingly tortuous road of the Cross where God seems to be nothing at all.  This is our comfort in all our confused journeying – that ends in glory.”

Gloom of Anguish Gone

 

Isaiah 9:1-4 is set in context of the Assyrian invasion of northern Israel over 700 years before Christ.  “It was a time of distress and darkness…gloom of anguish…thick darkness” (Is. 8:22).  However, Isaiah points to a time when God’s people can say, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  God will bring about a time of joy, like the celebration of the harvest.

The time of light, joy and freedom from the oppressor’s rod will come with the birth of a child (Isaiah 9:6) who will shoulder the responsibility of governing the people in peace, justice and righteousness “from this time forth and forevermore” (Is. 9:7).  This child who will sit on the throne of David was predicted in chapter 7 when a son born, to a virgin and will be called “Immanuel.”

The banishing of the gloom of anguish, is accomplished in the coming of Jesus.  Jesus son of Mary, God’s Immanuel, calls us to turn around because the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17).  He begins his government by calling disciples to leave their nets behind and become fishers of men.  That is Jesus plan to bring the light of his government throughout the whole world.  He now invades the very area Assyrian had invaded centuries before.  However, Jesus is after a different enemy, one that brings disease and death.  Ultimately, he will take on the cause of all affliction as he saves his people from sin by taking the burden of their sin upon himself.

Just as many came to John to be baptized, so now ever greater crowds heed the call of the good news of his rule. He is beginning a movement which will extend to the ends of the earth.  We are now part of that movement, as we promised in the entrance psalm. “I will tell of your name to my brothers; amid the congregation I will praise you” (Ps. 22:22).

Heal and Defend Us

 

Over the years, I’ve marveled how the Sunday readings, chosen decades ago, will speak to a current situation.  This week it’s the Prayer of The Day (Collect), assigned more than a decade ago, which speaks to us.

Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities and stretch forth the hand of Your majesty to heal and defend us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

We are asking God to look mercifully upon our personal infirmities.   We request that he stretch forth his hand to heal and defend us.  We pray this through Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our ruler now and forever.

In the light of the divided mood of the nation, which finds its way into our friendships and the lives of our fellow members of Christ’s community, our national infirmities need God’s merciful hand of healing and defense.  In fact, we may find ourselves divided within our own being; not sure what to think or do.

As Christians, we not only look to God’s almighty and everlasting majesty, but to the cross where God, had given up all his majesty.  There, in mercy, he stretched out his hand in suffering for our infirmities.  Following his resurrection, as he was about to ascend back to the Father he stretched out his hand in blessing.

Whatever, personal, community or national infirmities afflict us, we live within the reign of our Triune God who lives and reigns now and forever.  To that we say our Amen, it is so.

 

 

 

Luther on God’s Loving and Kind Gospel

 

In 1522 Luther preached on God’s loving and kind gospel as we find it stated in Titus 3:4, But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared.

His Gospel proclaims pure grace, with which he succors and surrounds us in the most benevolent way, so that no man is treated according to his merit and deserts.

God has revealed to us his kindness not only in that he will help men and allow them to be near him, but even more holds them, seeks to be with them, and offers them his never-ending grace and friendship.  He offers his grace to us and does not leave us.  He receives in a most loving way all who desire to draw near to him.  What more could he do?  Behold then, why his Gospel is called a comfortable and lovely message of God in Christ.  What sweeter word could be spoken to a wretched, sinful conscience?