Des Lammes

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Matthew

5:1-12

 

Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (ESV)

 

Burning Embers

Friday of Pentecost 25

15 November 2013

What is our holy cross? When the Japanese were trying to stamp out the Christian Church after the Jesuit order was banished from Japan in the seventeenth century, the shogun required Japanese converts to renounce their faith. That renunciation was certified by a simple method: former Christians were required to step on a crucifix laid on the ground. Japanese Christians who refused to do so suffered persecution.

 

But what is a crucifix? It is an image of the suffering Christ upon the cross, but only an image after all. Yet, these faithful Christians as a sign of their faith in the God who suffered and died in Christ steadfastly refused to desecrate this "mere image." An image is the sign of a greater thing standing behind what is signified by the image. The crucifix signified the Christ who gave His life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28).

 

When the Japanese Christians refused to desecrate the crucifix, then the holy cross was laid upon their backs. What they could not step on they bore. They experienced the promise of Christ that those who believe in the crucified God would themselves experience the crucifixion of persecution. That is why Christians, while not seeking persecution, do not flee it when it comes, but embrace it as a sign of God's grace and as an opportunity to grow in faith. That is how the holy cross is manifested among the people of God. This is how the Christian church is identified in the world. The church's sign is not property or buildings, bureaucracy, miters, headquarters, no matter how gloriously gilt these things may be. A church building dripping with gold and plastered with crucifixes, might still only be a pagan temple dedicated to its own glory as a beautiful artifact.

 

As always, our heavenly Father is overturning our fleshly human expectations, in which the true glory of his church is the weakness and suffering exhibited by her Lord and shared by her children. Those who worship in either plain churches or glorious ones may hold the cross of Christ in contempt. The holy cross is among us not because we worship in this building or that, but because of the faith that embraces the cross laid on the back of Christians. The climax of the Beatitudes express the ultimate blessedness of the church's children in these unexpected words: "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mt 5:11-12). While the world thinks it is stamping out the blazing faith of Christ by persecuting it, in reality it is spreading its burning embers upon the four winds, that many more might know the faith of Christ kindled by the embers spread by persecution. The holy cross is the suffering that gives birth to the church.

 

Martin Luther

 

"The holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh (as the Lord's Prayer indicates) by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. And the only reason they must suffer is that they steadfastly cling to Christ and God's Word, enduring this for the sake of Christ, 'Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account' (Mt 5:11). They must be pious, quiet, obedient, and prepared to serve the government and everybody with life and goods, doing no one any harm. No people on earth have to endure such bitter hate. They must be accounted worse than Jews, heathen, and Turks. In summary, they must be called heretics, deceitful, and devils, the most pernicious people on earth, to the point where those who hang, drown, murder, torture, banish, and plague them to death are rendering God a service. No one has compassion on them; they are given myrrh and gall to drink when they thirst. And all of this is done not because they are adulterers, murderers, thieves, or rogues, but because they want to have none but Christ and no other God. Wherever you see or hear this, you may know that the holy Christian church is there, as Christ says, 'Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven' (Mt 5:11-12). This too is a holy possession by which the Holy Spirit not only sanctifies His people, but also blesses them.

 

"Meanwhile, pay no heed to the papists' holy possessions from dead saints, from the wood of the holy cross. For these are just as often bones taken from a carrion pit as bones of saints, and just as often wood taken from gallows as wood from the holy cross. There is nothing but fraud in this. The pope thus tricks people out of their money and alienates them from Christ. Even if it were a legitimate holy possession, it would nonetheless not sanctify anyone. But when you are condemned, cursed, reviled, slandered, and plagued because of Christ, you are sanctified. It mortifies the old Adam and teaches him patience, humility, gentleness, praise and thanks, and good cheer in suffering. That is what it means to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit and to be renewed to a new life in Christ. In that way we learn to believe in God, to trust him, to love him, and to place our hope in him, as Rm 5:1-5 says, 'Suffering produces hope,' etc."

 

Martin Luther, 
On the Councils and the Church
 
 
Prayer

Your cross I place before me; its saving pow'r restore me, sustain me in the test. It will, when life is ending, be guiding and attending my way to Your eternal rest. Amen. (LSB 453:7)

 

For Memorial Lutheran School, its faculty, staff, and students, that the Lord Jesus would bless them with learning, growth, and the confession of His name

 

For those who are involved in politics, that they would recognize the permanence of God and the impermanence of all political arrangements, so that politics might never become their god

 

For those who travel, that their ways would be safe and their homecomings joyful
Art: Eyck, Jan van  The Adoration of the Lamb (1425-1429) 

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