The One Ingredient
As fall approaches this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation Year, many of us are reflecting upon the readings assigned for Reformation Sunday. This Noted Chef Jacques Pepin was interviewed recently on an early morning radio program. A young, insightful interviewer asked him what one ingredient was essential to his cooking. Immediately he answered, “Butter.”
Pepin’s response got me thinking about the essentials of our Lutheran faith. What is the most important divine concept to us Lutherans? This is a good question for this article being published during the 500th Anniversary Month of the Reformation. For most of us, the answer comes: Grace. Sola Gratia comes first in the Lutheran By-grace-through-faith-for-Christ’s-sake formula.
Over the summer I preached upon the liturgical calendar readings from Paul’s epistles to the Roman Christians. This was the essential Scripture for Luther during the Reformation. One of the sections that led him best is from Romans chapter 3, verses 21-25:
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 presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,]through the shedding of his blood-to be received by faith.
It is interesting that verse 24 has that intended repetition: all are justified freely by his grace. Grace is a gift, God’s free gift of pardon and peace through Christ. It is Jesus that paid the redemption price. Redemption is a word that comes to us from the dark days of the slave markets. It was the price to be paid to free a slave, a much greater cost than to transfer ownership of a slave. Only Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, could and did pay the price to free us from sin, death and the devil. Is it with this in mind that the writers of our hymnal wrote the confession in Divine Service, Setting Four: … let us first consider our unworthiness and confess before God and one another that we have sinned in thought, word and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.
So two things. As the confession then guides us: Together as His people let us take refuge in the infinite mercy of God, our heavenly Father, seeking His grace for the sake of Christ, and saying God be merciful to me a sinner. Luther’s first thesis of the 95 called us to continual repentance, and he continued to direct us in faith to our Redeemer and Savior Jesus. God in his mercy has given his Son and for His sake forgives us, not partially, but fully! Let us live in that grace of God.
But also let us be careful of the attendant temptation. Yes, as with every good gift, the devil can and will seek to corrupt it. Read about that issue in the first part of Romans 6. While we Lutherans have been the faithful voice in the church in the proclamation of GRACE, I believe that we have also struggled with this issue. Dietrich Bonhoeffer raised the same caution as he talked of the tendency to make grace cheap. I know you have Google, so check out the wisdom of this faithful Lutheran pastor martyred by the Nazis. Grace is free to us, but so precious as it cost our Lord dearly. Luther wrote it this way:
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
As fall approaches this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation Year, many of us are reflecting upon the readings assigned for Reformation Sunday. This month for me these words of our Lord from the assigned Gospel in John 8 have resonated:
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
We are preparing to begin our new parish year and have been hard at work on Christian Education. CE includes Sunday School and Youth and Adult Classes. Sunday School Superintendent Karen is readying the Sunday School Teachers Meeting; Jeanette, Monica, George and I are preparing the Midweek Confirmation Classes; I am preparing for Women’s Scripture and Prayer Group and Book Club; Brian and Pete are working on Sunday Adult Class and Saturday Men’s Study, respectively; and Karen and Carol are preparing a great Mommy, Daddy and Me series in September. Summer was also full of CE as God richly blessed our VBS under the leadership of Nancy and her Committee.
All of this flows from that Gospel for Reformation. And it connects with Jesus’ later words which He shared just before His Ascension from Matthew 28, verses 18-20:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Baptism is a powerful Sacrament of grace and faith by the working of the Holy Spirit, but faith needs nourishment not only to survive but to thrive. Pastor Walt likes to say, nourishment through “Word and Sacrament.” (At this writing, Pastor is doing well, taking earthly and heavenly nourishment, working hard at therapy and trusting God’s grace and will.)
A couple of things:
We are privileged to share Baptism with many young families of our congregation and community. Praise God! But let’s continue to encourage and invite these families to grow in faith with us as we make time to serve in CE ministry.
Secondly, let’s listen to and take to heart ourselves God’s Word centered in Jesus through lives recommitted to Word and Sacrament in worship and in CE opportunities. In my pastoral experience, those who are regular congregants and active in a CE opportunity are strongest in the ups and downs of real Christian life and can truly lead others in the way of Christ.
Jesus’ promise of John 8 holds and calls to us….
I am writing to encourage vacations to be faithful pilgrimages. While trips to the Holy Land or Luther-land are “meet, right and salutary,” that’s not what I currently have in mind. Instead of making a vacation a vacation away from God’s house, trips can be a pilgrimage of faith as worship is intentionally planned into the itinerary.
This takes some forethought, but the worship schedule information that is available on the internet makes the process much more attainable. We have learned a few things in this regard. First, be sure to find the summer worship time information if you are traveling at this time of year. Second, don’t be afraid to broaden your ecumenical horizons and attend a non-Lutheran service. Finally, be ready for the prompting and moving of the Holy Spirit in some remarkable ways….
Like the time Jo Ann and I incorporated a Prime service (not Amazon but very early morning service) at Eli Cathedral near Cambridge, England. I was drawn to this World War II allied-flier landmark by the practice of Jo Ann’s father to attend the Easter-time exorcism service that was held there years ago. Jo Ann wanted to do a brass rubbing; she did and it adorns our living room. Anyway, we found our fellow early morning worshipers to be an especially reverent group of Eli villagers. After that service in the chapel, I spoke with the cantor. He asked if we intended to tour the cathedral. We said that we would return in 90 minutes when it opened. No need, he said, I’ll turn the lights on for you and invited us to walk through. But there is more. Sitting in the center worship area for prayer, we heard a door unlock and a man with a briefcase bid us “Good Day” as he walked by. The next sound we heard was that of the bellows of the great organ filling. The main organist had come to practice! Our walk through was heavenly and lengthy. Remember that Jo Ann wanted a brass rubbing? Finally the tourist area and book shop opened and we approached to complete our artistic task. I told the ticket taker that I wanted to pay admittance. She asked if we had worshiped that morning and when I told her we had, she refused to charge us entrance. After we completed the rubbing, I noticed the CDs picturing the acclaimed organist we’d shared a “Good Morning” with earlier.
One more… when we traveled to Ireland through the generosity of the faithful of Christ Lutheran and their ministry anniversary gift, Jo Ann wanted to attend the Evensong Service on Sunday afternoon at St. Patrick’s in Dublin. I have to admit that the walk from the Guinness Storehouse tour was longer than anticipated, so we arrived just 10 minutes before the start. The cathedral was full of tourists with a wait to get in, but when I told the attendant that we were there to worship, she smiled widely and ushered us, ushered us to our pew. As it turned out she was the liturgical marshal for the service itself and later told me that Bono loved to sing Evensong when he was there.
I have mentioned these stories to other pilgrim travelers and they have recounted similar worship experiences. As great as these cathedrals may be, they are simply places of worship to the Triune God who calls people to His grace and mercy and draws them together from the ends of the earth to worship Him as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Your fellow pilgrim,
God Wants Us to Enjoy Our “Vacay” Together
Vacay. A new word. Kind of fun-sounding. We all need time away from daily work. Amen to that. As Lutheran Christians we need to reflect upon that truth, because Martin Luther does not emphasize the importance of rest in his explanation to the Third Commandment:
Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
What does this mean?– We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.
Rightly, Luther centers our hearts on the need for and the gift of worship. The Sabbath is to be a day of “sacred assembly” according to Leviticus 23. Yes, weekly worship is the commandment. Amen to that. Check LCMS.org for a local church where you are vacationing. One more suggestion: be sure to phone in advance to check on the accuracy of summer worship times. Worship, preaching and God’s Word!
But rest is also an essential part of the original commandment as given in Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
In confirmation class I reference studies that have shown that Lutherans are by higher rates business owners and upper-level employees. It is part of our ethic to value education and to work hard. Of course this becomes a missional challenge for our church body as young Lutheran families often relocate to newer communities. But it creates another spiritual challenge: to rest… to pause with hands folded and still in worship and in moments of restful renewal. This is, after all, a matter of faithful coming to Jesus who invites: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Matthew 11. When we pause and rest, we trust God to work for our good. Appropriate rest becomes a witness to the God of grace and mercy.
So Vacay is time away from work, but it is also time with family and friends. It is time to be present with those whom we love most and who love us most and to be renewed in our relationships. I like that reference in Leviticus 23: “There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a holy day, a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly,” a time to be still and congregate in worship. But let me push that a bit: a time to rest and listen and be attentive and prayerful with our beloved. One of the more unusual references to this is in Deuteronomy 14. Evidently, the Old Testament tithe included a worship vacation feast. Check it out in verses 22- 28. I’m not sure how to interpret that, but I think God is saying that restful, worshipful and even fun Vacays are part of His will for us as faithful people.
Pastor Ray +
The Call to Faith in Transitions
A time of good transition. That is how one person describes the month of May. And we get the modifier.
It seems like too often in life transitions come upon us and we have to deal with the reality of this broken world. Our recent Lenten worship focus “At the Crossroads” caused us to reflect upon the negative side of transitions brought about by sin and loss. No question these are real.
In counterpoint are the transitions we celebrate this month: confirmation, promotion to the next grade or new job, graduation and, even, the anticipation of a more relaxed summer schedule. All good. Yes, but these also are transitions that also call us to faith.
On March 12, the 8th Grade confirmands gathered for their annual retreat. Our theme was Growing in Prayer and the last devotion was entitled Praying in God’s Will for You, for the unique, individual confirmand. Two of our high school Voyager youth led the devo (went really well; thanks Diana and Andrea!) and helped the 8th graders to reflect on their personal gifts and God’s potential leading in their eventual calling in life. Exciting? You bet. But also a little daunting. For every young person who said, I want to be a veterinarian, there was another who had no firm idea of calling. One youth aspired to photography and another had narrowed it down to three possibilities. So we talked about bringing God’s calling in life to God in prayer, about taking stock of God’s gifts in our personal lives and the importance of discovering personalities and our abilities and using them to God’s glory and for the good of one another. It was a time of reflection on good transitions that called for a growth in faith and prayer.
And I got thinking that finally all transitions are like that as we live with God. Good or negative transitions are worked or allowed by God to call us closer to Him. And we have the assurance that no matter the transition God is with us. In Jesus, God is there at the crossroad, calling us back in confession and reflection and giving grace to move us forward in a journey of grace and hope and faith. So the Easter season this year overarches the transitional month of May. As Jesus is risen from cross and grave, we are called to His side, transitioning from death to life in a growing life of faith. In our risen Savior the promise of God is a reality in the “whatever and wherever” life of faith:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (from Romans 8:28-30).
Faithfully transitioning with you,
Pastor Ray +