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Psalm

89:20-29

 

I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him, so that my hand shall be established with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not outwit him; the wicked shall not humble him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. He shall cry to me, 'You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.' And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens.

(ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Believe, Teach, and Confess

Holy Wednesday

16 April 2014

The early church instructed the inquirers into the faith during the Lenten season, bringing them into the church at the Vigil and Easter celebration. This year because of the lateness of the Feast of Easter, I have been enabled to complete the instruction of catechumens. They will be received by confirmation during the Vigil on Holy Saturday. I tell my catechumens that if the church would let me do only one thing, the thing I would choose to do would be to teach the catechumens. I enjoy this duty above all things. It is such a pleasure to watch an adult's face light up when they are confronted by the pure gospel and recognize it as such for the first time in their lives. Older adults are still living off the expressions of Christianity to which they had become familiar in their younger years. Younger converts to the faith often do not come in with those culturally Christian expressions of the faith that was once delivered in the churches of our nation. But for those older catechumens, there is a revelatory character to what they are hearing in catechetical instruction. They are surprised by the joy of knowing that their sins have been taken away by Christ. Previously, they had been bombarded by various forms of legalism including Pelagianism: "Yes, Jesus died for you. Now all YOU have to do is...." When you tell people who have been fed this line that all you have to do is nothing; and indeed you could do nothing to merit the righteousness of Christ, they are flabbergasted and overjoyed.

 

Some years ago, while teaching adult catechumens, a young woman in the class began to weep as a time of instruction drew to a close. When I noticed her tears, I asked if I had said something hurtful or offensive. She simply said, "Oh no! I am weeping out of grief for the years of my life in which I did not know the gospel and lived like it." Later she explained that she had been caught up in the constraints and burdens of legalism. How differently she would have lived if she had know this 15 years ago when she was a teen. The Lutheran faith with its clear gospel accents made all the difference on earth (and in heaven) for her. The gospel was truly and fully good news for this young woman. I get to see these kinds of Luther-like discoveries as I teach these classes. People feel that heaven itself has been opened to them when they know the gospel for the first time. What joy this is to see.

 

The catechumens are being instructed in the very basic teachings of the faith. Sometimes the teacher has the sense that he is saying the same thing again and again. Its familiarity might cause it to be distasteful or loathsome to him. Yet, there is something quite salutary about repeatedly returning to the basics. First principles must continue to be the foundation and animating center of what we believe, teach and confess. The degree to which we get beyond those first things, is the degree to which we are getting off the beam and straying. Thus I find teaching catechumens in the service of the church to be increasingly enlightening and centering for me as a preacher of the gospel. It also keeps me from getting blasé or stale, because I get to see the joy, the smiles, the tears of true repentance, and the overt enthusiasm for what we Lutheran Christians believe, teach, and confess.

 

Augustine of Hippo

 

"Brother Deogratias, you have requested that I send you something in writing that might be of service to you in the matter of catechizing the uninstructed. For you have informed me that in Carthage, where you are a deacon, those who have to be taught the Christian faith beginning with the basics, are frequently brought to you by reason of your enjoying the reputation of possessing a rich gift in catechizing. You have both an intimate acquaintance with the faith and attractive language in which to deliver it. However, you almost always find yourself in difficulty as to the manner in which a suitable declaration is to be made of the exact doctrine, the belief of which makes us Christians. You struggle to know how to begin and how long you should go on.  When our narration is concluded, you wonder if we ought to make use of any kind of exhortation, or simply specify those precepts in the observance of which the person to whom we are discoursing may know the Christian life and the confession to be maintained. At the same time, you complained to me that it has often happened that in the course of a long and unhurried address you have become unprofitable and distasteful even to yourself, not to speak of the learner whom you have been endeavoring to instruct by your words, and the other parties who have been present as hearers. You have been constrained by these concerns to put upon me the constraint of that love which I owe to you, so that I may not feel it a burden among all my responsibilities to write you something on this subject.

 

While carrying out the duties which through the bounty of our Lord I am enabled to accomplish, the same Lord requires me to offer any kind of aid to those whom He has made my brothers. Therefore I feel constrained not only by that love and service which is due from me to you on the terms of familiar friendship, but also by that which I owe universally to my mother the Church. I cannot refuse the task, but rather take it up with a prompt and devoted willingness. For the more extensively I desire to see the treasure of the Lord distributed, the more does it become my duty. If I determine that the stewards who are my fellow-servants find any difficulty in laying it out, I must do everything that lies in my power that they may be able to accomplish easily and expeditiously what they zealously and earnestly aim for.

 

Augustine, 
On Catechizing the Uninstructed, 1-2
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, author and perfecter of our faith, we thank and praise You for continuing among us the preaching of Your gospel for our instruction and edification. Send Your blessing upon the Word, which has been spoken to us, and by Your Holy Spirit increase our saving knowledge of You, that day by day we may be strengthened in the divine truth and remain steadfast in Your grace. Give us strength to fight the good fight and by faith to overcome all the temptations of Satan, the flesh, and the world so that we may finally receive the salvation of our souls; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 

For all pastors, who will lead their flocks through the Triduum, that they would experience the strength given by the Spirit

 

For Bud Obert, that the strength of Christ would be granted to him

 

For Pastor Victor A. Atsinger, Sr., who is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry, that the Word which he proclaimed might bear fruit unto eternal life in the lives of his hearers

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)

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