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Privileges and Responsibilities

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Luke 12:48b 

Since God has freely given and continues to give so much to us as members of His Church – forgiveness, life, salvation, sonship, citizenship in heaven, peace, hope, love, joy…, we are wise to consider what is required of us in return per Jesus’ words from Luke above. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (CPH, 2017) offers a partial answer along with related scripture passages under the question, “What are some of the privileges and responsibilities of members of the Church?” (pg 216) I encourage you to review the answer, but here is the first listed:

“We should regularly receive the Word and Sacraments within the community of believers.” “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32) Jesus gives the privilege of being His disciple, knowledge of the truth and freedom. The responsibility required in return is to simply abide in His Word. 

In John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” The privilege of being chosen to bear fruit comes with the responsibility of abiding in Jesus and allowing Jesus to abide in you. This happens when we receive Holy Communion and when we hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Holy Scripture.

Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Having been given the word of Christ, we are required to let it dwell in us richly. We can do this by teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom (from His Word), singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (based on His Word). And we are “required” to do this with thankfulness in our hearts. 

Rather than burden us with overwhelming, unrealistic requirements for what He has given, our gracious Lord keeps it simple and even provides the means to fulfill them. When we gather for the Divine Service, we are allowing Christ to fulfill our “requirements” as we abide in Him and His Word and let His Word dwell in us richly with thankfulness in our hearts. 

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required…” Why should we “regularly receive the Word and Sacraments within the community of believers”? So, the Lord can fulfill what He requires of us

“And from his fullness, we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16) 

The Creative, Living, Purifying Treasure

“For these are not lazy or dead, but are creative, living words.” Luther’s Large Catechism 

Luther has much to say about God’s Word in his Large Catechism explanation of the Third Commandment. Here are some excerpts.

“Whenever God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or meditated upon, then the person, day, and work are sanctified…Therefore, I constantly say that all our life and work must be guided by God’s Word, if it is to be God-pleasing or holy.” (LC 92)

The Word is so important that set times are appointed for preaching and teaching it (Sundays and Wednesdays at Zion). Unwillingness to hear and learn God’s Word is a sin, especially at the time appointed for this. “So much depends upon God’s Word. Without it, no holy day can be sanctified. Therefore, we must know that God insists upon a strict observance of this commandment and will punish all who despise His Word and are not willing to hear and learn it, especially at the time appointed for the purpose.” (LC 95)

“Know, therefore, that you must be concerned not only about hearing but also learning and retaining God’s Word in memory. Do not think that this is optional for you or of no great importance. Think that it is God’s commandment, who will require and account from you about how you have heard, learned, and honored His Word.” (LC 98) More than simply hearing it, we must learn and honor the Word.

“Likewise, those fussy spirits are to be rebuked who, after they have heard a sermon or two, find hearing more sermons to be tedious and dull. They think that they know all that well enough and need no more instruction. That is exactly the sin that was previously counted among mortal sins and is called akadia (i.e. apathy or satisfaction). This is a malignant, dangerous plague with which the devil bewitches and deceives the hearts of many so that he may surprise us and secretly take God’s Word from us.” (LC 99) 

“Let me tell you this, even though you know God’s Word perfectly and are already a master in all things; you are daily in the devil’s kingdom. He ceases neither day or night to sneak up on you and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against these three commandments and all the commandments. Therefore you must always have God’s Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears. But where the heart is idle and the Word does not make a sound, the devil breaks in and has done the damage before we are aware. On the other hand, the Word is so effective that whenever it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used, it is bound never to be without fruit.It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness and produces a pure heart and pure thoughts. For these are not lazy or dead, but are creative, living words. And even though no other interest or necessity moves us, this truth ought to urge everyone to the Word, thereby the devil is put to flight and driven away.” (LC 100-102. Emphasis mine) I pray these truths urge you to God’s Word.

For You are All One in Christ Jesus

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:27,28b

You and as many as were baptized into Christ are all one in Christ Jesus because He made us all one by design. This was not your idea nor mine. This is the will of God. Gathering His people together around His Word and Sacraments is also God’s will and design, not a mere human idea. We do this now and we will do this in eternity. Our Lord wants us to experience this oneness reality regularly and tangibly in the Divine Service where He calls us together to hear His Word, receive His Sacraments, pray, sing, and give thanks (cf. Romans 10:14; Luke 22:19-20; Acts 2:38; Romans 15:30; Psalm 30:4). 

You are one with the baptized in Christ. You are not independent or separated from Jesus or His Church. The Devil and the world would like you to believe that you do not need to gather with other believers, let alone to hear Christ’s Word, receive His Sacraments, pray, sing, or give thanks. This is an old lie to lead some of the baptized into isolation, away from Christ and the church, to suffer a slow spiritual death alone. 

Satan’s desire to draw the baptized away from Christ is obvious, but so is Christ’s victory over Satan obvious in His Resurrection. You are one in Christ who is seated far above all rule and authority and dominion. Satan has no power over you. However, Satan and the dark forces of the world are working to convince you that you are not one in Christ with the baptized, that you chose to be a part of His Church, that you do not need His Word and Sacraments, and that you can do whatever you want, even leave Jesus. While Satan cannot take you from Jesus, he can try to convince you to leave. 

Jesus wants you to remain in Him. Though the forces at work to draw us away are great, Jesus is greater. So, He calls you to gather where He will serve you together with the baptized through His Word and Sacraments, to keep you united with Him, and to increase your love for others. 

May your love for others impel you to invite them to Zion, especially those who have been drawn away, to tangibly experience oneness in Christ together with the baptized.

Why Private Confession and Absolution?

“I would not give up confession for all the riches of the world.” Luther

Sometimes referred to as “the Third Sacrament”, Luther and the reformers extoled private confession and absolution. The practice had been abused and the human work of contrition had taken precedence over the promise of Absolution. In his Large Catechism, Luther says, “We urge you…to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The word absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.” Absolution is a gift for the baptized that should not be despised but embraced. Luther said, “Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian.”

Christ brings His salvation to the lost sinner by the word of Holy Absolution. The Law of God crushes the sinner. It leaves him no way to escape his sin by his own works. But the Gospel raises him up from the judgement of the Law by proclaiming to him all that God has done for him in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The baptized Christian “Daily sins much and deserves nothing but God’s wrath and punishment.” Holy Absolution is spoken that the Christian’s faith in Christ might be restored and that his conscience might be comforted and strengthened against the attacks of the devil, the world, and the Christian’s own sinful nature. The Small Catechism instructs, “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, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it (absolution) our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” Private absolution is the sweetest Gospel for the sinner applied to the sinner’s specific need.

In life, the baptized may lose his way and fall into unrepentant sin, including self-righteousness and pride. So, God pleads with us, through His absolution, not to despise His mercy or deny His forgiveness to any baptized sinner who may have lost his way. The Lord has sent out His ministers to seek the lost and bring the dead in sin back to life by the ministry of Holy Absolution. As the Lord says, “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)

The rite of “Individual Confession and Absolution” is on pages 292-293 in the hymnal. Please let me know if you would like to know more.

Disciples Abide in His Word

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31b-32

St Paul tells the baptized in Christ, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) Jesus has set you free from sin and death in order that you may live your new life in Him as His disciple, learning to observe all that He commanded (Matthew 28:16). To keep you free and to instruct you as His disciple, Jesus comes to you through His Word. So, it is in His Word where His disciples abide (remain, continue). Others may reject, avoid, neglect, or may not even know Christ’s Word. Disciples of Jesus gladly receive it, embrace it, consider it, learn it, speak it, trust it, obey it, and submit to it. 

Disciples of Jesus are called to sacrifice and submit to the will of God. As Paul states, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2) 

Disciples of Jesus are at odds with the world. As John said, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” (1 John 3:13) The Word of Christ is the Word of the cross, which is “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe… Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21, 23-24)  

Rather than return to slavery by following the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, disciples of Jesus abide in His Word. As Paul warns, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?... For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 4:8-9, 5:1)

Abiding in the Word of God is not a casual or painless endeavor, But if you abide in His Word, you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.

The Lord Instructs the One He Loves

“‘My son, do not belittle the instruction of the Lord

Or become slack when rebuked by him;

For the Lord instructs the one he loves

And chastises every son whom he receive.’

Endure for the sake of instruction.”[1] Hebrews 12:5b-7a

The author of Hebrews cites Proverbs 3:11-12 in the quote above, reminding us of the love God has for us – as the love of a father for his son. Our heavenly Father instructs us because He loves us and wants the best for us. Like the congregation addressed in Hebrews, we are students instructed by God and trained by Him with His Word, so that we can run the race of faith with endurance. “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Heb 10:36). He teaches us so that we have eternal life with Him. 

The word used for “instruction” in the Hebrews 12 quote above is often translated “discipline”. The two go hand in hand. Instruction involves discipline, such as practice and receiving correction. The Lord instructs and disciplines us, His children, so that we gain divine wisdom to run the race of faith with endurance and so that we may share in His holiness. 

Essential to this is regular participation in the Divine Service through which God makes and keeps us holy. And we have His Holy Scriptures to instruct and discipline us throughout the week. We pray, as in The Collect of the Word, “Grant that we may so hear them (all Holy Scriptures), mark, learn, inwardly digest them that, by patience and comfort of Your Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life”.

To coincide with the new church year, we are beginning a monthly challenge to encourage congregational discipline and instruction. For December, you are challenged to pray Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayers every day. For your convenience, these are both included in the “Guide for Prayer and Meditation” bulletin insert (They are the last prayers listed in bold type under the “Morning” and “Close of the Day” columns).


 


[1] Translation by John W. Kleinig, Hebrews, Concordia Commentary, Concordia Publishing House, 2017

New Every Morning

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

No matter how badly you have messed up in your life, you always get to start over with God! Every morning you wake up, the steadfast love of the Lord is there waiting for you. It was there yesterday, and it will be there every morning that you wake up. It does not grow old or stale. The mercies of God that never end are new every morning. Every day, God gives you the opportunity for a fresh start. 

If you are wondering why you would want to start over, consider the sins of your life and the cumulative effects of your rebellious, selfish, and foolish tendencies. Like the cumulative effects that aging, a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle have on a body, our lazy, selfish, and hard-hearted habits over time can cause us to grow cold and hard-hearted to God and to others. This can lead to spiritual death – the inability to believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

But how can you start over after so many years of neglecting God and the life He has called you to? Jesus, of course. That’s what He does. It is the powerful force of His Word that kills and makes alive. The eternal gospel of Jesus Christ crucifies your sinful flesh and resurrects the new you, the eternal “you” He has made you to be. God the Creator is also the Re-Creator! This is what He does every day through His Word and Sacrament!

Look how creation itself testifies to death and resurrection cycles observable in nature. As winter approaches, leaves fall, flowers wither, and grass stops growing. Through the cold, dark season, trees and flowering plants will appear dead. But next year, like every year, Spring will come and new life will burst out all over again. Like the sleeper rising from their unconscious nighttime rest when the sun appears, we observe death and renewal cycles in God’s creation. These point to the Resurrection. But for certain assurance of the Resurrection, we have God’s Word. 

Jesus has promised that He will return, and when he does, we will rise in our new resurrected bodies to meet Him in the flesh! Because He has covered us with His righteousness and declared us innocent by His blood, we look forward to that day when He will welcome His holy bride, the Church, into His presence to celebrate the wedding feast. Until then, He invites you to a foretaste of this feast in His divine service. He invites to hear life giving words of forgiveness. And He invites you to start fresh in His steadfast love and never-ending mercies which are new every morning. 

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