Our Advent Greeting
Again, seasonal greetings are in the news. Many “Merry Christmas” greetings will be forthcoming. Arlette Zimmerman would edit it to: “Blessed Christmas!” London-born Jo Ann might say, “Happy Christmas.” And most of us would try to be aware and bid a “Happy Hanukkah” to our Jewish neighbors. Let’s do so with meaning this year: The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the Apocryphal books of the First and Second Maccabees, which describe in detail the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the lighting of the menorah
. Making that greeting-with-meaning connection can start a blessed conversation about the Nativity of our Lord.
But that is not my point. The greeting of Advent has become a year-round church greeting, but its roots in Christian tradition are especially timely. The words of the angel at the annunciation to Mary, “The Lord is with you,” have become part of the Christian liturgy. In the Greek original, there is no verb. “The Lord with you” (Luke 1). For Mary it was declaratory: God was bringing His own Son into the world through her divine pregnancy. Indeed, Mary, the Lord is with you! Mary would sing later about this gracious presence of God in her life: “The Mighty One has done great things for me…” (Luke 1, later). In our mutual greeting, the verb becomes a prayerful wish: “The Lord be with you.”
Let us share this Advent greeting with renewed prayerful connection this year. Because the Son of God was born of Mary and took on flesh to give himself for us and the world and now lives and reigns, the Lord is with us. Truth. But Luther might say, “We pray in this greeting that we would realize God’s presence by faith.”
The Lord be with you,
Pastor Ray, and “Happy Christmas” from Jo Ann
Installation of Associate Pastor!
We are rejoicing these days at the acceptance of the Call to serve as Associate Pastor by Charles Johnson. Pastor Chuck and Lauren, Russell and Ellie are excited to begin ministry here.
God has blessed the consecrated and patient efforts of our Call Committee, and we thank the Lord for them and their prayerful work. Please plan to attend the special Installation Service with Holy Communion on November 3 at 3:00 p.m. and stay for the reception supper to follow if you can. We are privileged to have our District President, Rev. Dr. Allan Buss, to serve as preacher and to preside the Installation.
My article is more about the biblical process that we followed to extend Pastor Johnson’s Call and the life that we share as the people of God in this place. Over the past few weeks several people who are not familiar with our process have asked me how the bishop or Church hierarchy placed Pr. Chuck with us. Many churches are more bishop-oriented, but not ours. Our governance is congregational, so the District, under the leadership of President Gilbert and, then President Buss, provided potential candidates for consideration to become our Associate Pastor. But the Call Committee made the recommendations to the Council and Voters Assembly for the extension of the Call. Ours is a congregational process.
This connects well with our Absolution proclamations in worship: the Pastor announces forgiveness “as a called and ordained servant of Christ.” This is not a statement of some kind of elite status for pastors, but a statement of connection with God’s working through the congregation. We believe that the Office of the Keys is “the special authority which Christ has given to His church….” (Small Catechism, What is the Office of the Keys?) Our belief is based squarely upon God’s word in John 20:21-23
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
So we rejoice that God gives pastors to publicly and faithfully preach and administer the Sacraments , but they (Pastor Chuck and I) serve (minister) with all of us. So thank you, Lord: We are rejoicing and will come into Your house on the afternoon of the 3rd to pray for and support the public ministry of Pastor Johnson and to join in Gospel ministry together.
Martin Luther an Angel?
In the early 80s, with the development of our former, blue LW hymnal, the readings for Reformation Day (observed) were reviewed. In the earlier TLH hymnal, the Revelation 14 text for Reformation was listed as the Epistle Lesson. Some wondered if it should be retained or replaced with a different reading. The editors decided to include it as the Old Testament reading for Reformation.
Rev. 14: 6 and 7
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth-to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Luther’s Pastor Bugenhagen at St. Mary’s, chose this text for the Reformer’s funeral service in 1546, and it identified Luther with the heralding angel of Rev. 14. But was Luther a perfect angel? No. Luther was so aware of his failings and reliant on the Gospel that he did not want the church named after him. Instead, he wanted it called the Gospel or Evangelical Church. His honest confessional life led to a seeking after the fullness of God’s grace in Christ and raised up the reality of God’s promise in Romans 3:19 for him and for the whole Church:
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
God revealed to Luther his gift of righteousness and redemptive freedom and peace through faith in Christ alone. Trust in Jesus alone opened the fullness of grace to him-and to others. Luther realized that he was no angel, confirmed in holiness, but a sinner in need of God’s grace.
But in another way Luther was an angel – if we think of an angel as a messenger. This was Pastor Bugenhagen’s original emphasis. With all his imperfections covered by Christ’s righteousness, Luther became God’s messenger of the Gospel, the good news of God’s grace for individuals and for the Church.
We Lutherans do not have a perfect church, but we are called to lift the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the perfecter of our faith. Let us proclaim that Gospel like angel messengers – and like Martin Luther.
Have a blessedly loud Reformation,
Back to It with the Lord!
This morning I made my way to church on 151st Street going west and needed to be thoughtful along the way. For a couple of months, my speed stayed a constant 35 mph, but as an early bird I now needed to fly a little slower: School Zone (Jerling) with children present – and vigilant OPPD, also! (Aren’t we blessed with a great police department?) The kids are back to it, in this case their “work” of school.
Adults are back to it, also. Vacations and weekends away are now memorialized in phone photo. We are back to it at work (home or away) or school or church or volunteer work.
As I write, I am preparing the sermon for Labor Day weekend. Specifically, Labor Day commemorates the American trade union and labor movements, but the holiday has broadened in its scope to include reflection on work as a whole. Let’s reflect along this broader line.
Work is intended to be a blessing from the Lord. We were created to work, so our physical bodies deteriorate without movement and work. Labor was given by God as an effort of stewardship in creation. That pre-Fall passage reminds us of God’s gift and purpose in work, Genesis 2:15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” So the original “physical therapy” began.
Our daily work should be connected with the Lord. Virginia McCaskey (nee, Halas, age 96) reminded me of that recently. Perhaps you saw the article in the Daily Southtown detailing the upcoming ESPN program on prominent women in pro football. Columnist Phil Rosenthal reported:
It’s important that how tough, dedicated and shrewd these women have been doesn’t get lost in the flood of nostalgia. They have achievements in their own right. Still, it’s so rare to get a glimpse of McCaskey’s private life, we’ll take anything we can get. McCaskey says she wakes up daily at 5:30 a.m. so her driver can take her to 6:15 Mass. “It’s the best way to start my day,” she says. “Get God involved in what I hope to be doing that day and ask for his help.”
Some of our devout Catholic friends attend Daily Mass (Communion service). Work that is blessed seeks God’s blessing and follows the Lord’s will particularly in the Ten Commandments. Daily, morning devotions send us off right to work.
Finally, it is important to stop working to raise hands in praise or fold them in prayer. We can work only because God has blessed us with the reason and strength to do so. We are blessed to be a blessing. (Who often said that?) Ultimately, the greatest things in life are not things we can achieve, but are gifts from God and culminate in the gift of life in Christ. Ephesians 2: 8-10: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Let’s get to it with the Lord,
The Place of Prayer
As July drew to a close, the assigned Gospel in church was Luke 11: 1-4, St. Luke’s record of THE Prayer given to us by our Lord in its shorter, essential form.
In the Lord’s Prayer, our Lord puts everything in its right place. This past week I listened on the radio to the author of the book The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon talk about Dr. John C. Houbolt. JJC folk know that name. Dr. Houbolt was raised in Joliet with little in earthly terms, but God gave him a sharp mind for math and physics and practical stuff that enabled him to develop the important LOR or Lunar Orbit Rendezvous plan which enabled the moon landing of Apollo 11. Few people could see what Houbolt saw, but he persisted as “a voice in the wilderness,” and President Kennedy’s hope was fulfilled as the Eagle set down on the moon. Nurtured in the Dutch community, Houbolt worked with the wonder of God’s order in creation, Hebrews 3: 4. The orderly heavens declare the glory of God; the sky speaks of his work, Psalm 19. Scientists like Dr. Houbolt reflect and create formulae that are derived from this order and possible only by it. Even after the fall, Romans 8, things are mostly in their place by God’s design.
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus puts all things in their place.
He puts prayer into the place of our lives by giving this simple, repeated prayer. When you pray, say…. The Savior then puts us into our right place at outset: Our Father. It is the place with him. Our Father. This introduction can trip too easily off the tongue. I picture Jesus pausing. “Our Father,” … says the Son of God and Son of Man. Jesus is drawing us into a faithful connection with the Trinity. Our Father. Pater, Abba. Papa or Daddy, this is the Father who loves to give what is the best for his children. The Son of God is opening the way to being children of God. St. Paul writes of it this way in Romans 8:16,32:
“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children…. If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?… Christ Jesus who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
The cross is yet to be borne, the risen Savior is yet to stand confirmed as mediator, but the promise is sure on his lips as he introduces this prayer. With Luther we proclaim: “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children….” He calls us to begin rightly: before we ask anything for ourselves, the Father is acknowledged, more, given the glory and reverence due God. Reverence. Several weeks ago I was invited to join John, Brian and Zack for their Eagle Scout Honor Court. I listened to Scout Law:
A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful,Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent. That last one: reverent. We need more of that in the church. I agree with NWU Coach Fitz’s observation recently, we have become too casual in our relationships, often on the phone even when we are having dinner with our supposed beloved. So, I like coffee too, but not in church. No phone screens, unless Bible apps in church. Reverent. Our Father, our attention is drawn to God with a sense of reverence.
Called to the Father, God calls us to His place in our lives: Providing what we need in daily bread. We are precious, and God will provide for our present needs. He calls us to the place of grace for past sin, our own and others. And he calls us to his presence in future temptation/trials. Testing includes many challenges to faith in this broken world. Until heaven we are not fully delivered, but we can meet every time of testing with the presence of God, secure in the risen and ascended Savior.
We get it: The Lord’s Prayer for us and through us with everything in its place, put there by our Savior and Lord.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer with you,