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Judica Midweek

Judica Midweek

April 1, 2020 AD

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and orders of the governor of the State of Maryland, services at Our Saviour have been temporarily suspended. You are invited to meditate on the following for your mid-week devotions.

Psalm 31
Luke 23:26-49 (Meditation from Bo Giertz, To Live with Christ)
LSB 425 When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (TLH 175)
LSB 434 Lamb of God, Pure and Holy (TLH 146)
LSB 437 Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed (TLH 154)
LSB 428 Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow

Our Saviour Parish News, December, 2019

OUR SAVIOUR LUTHERAN CHURCH

3301 The Alameda
Baltimore, MD 21218
410.235.9553
DECEMBER 2019

CHRISTMAS AT OUR SAVIOUR

CHRISTMAS EVE – FESTIVAL DIVINE SERVICE, 7:30 P.M.
CHRISTMAS DAY – FESTIVAL DIVINE SERVICE, 10:00 A.M.
First Sunday after Christmas Day – Divine Service, 11:00 A.M.
New Year’s Eve – Divine Service, 7:30 P.M.
Second Sunday after Christmas Day – Divine Service, 11:00 A.M.
THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD (Monday, January 6) -FESTIVAL DIVINE SERVICE, 7:30 P.M.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the Divine Service of Christmas Eve we always hear the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great Light.” That great Light is Mary’s Child whose name is “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” That is the wonder of Christmas: that out of love for you and for me and for every human being God’s eternal Son took upon Himself our flesh in the womb of the lowly virgin Mary and was born in Bethlehem to save us. I love these words of Martin Luther’s Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”:

These are the tokens ye shall mark:
The swaddling clothes and manger dark;
There ye shall find the Infant laid
By whom the heavens and earth were made.

It is easy to sympathize with some words of that learned and devout 17th century Christian, Blaise Pascal -mathematician, physicist, inventor and theologian – who, contemplating the unimaginable vastness of the universe, once said, “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.” But that silence was broken when God appeared in the flesh to be our Savior. He is the bright Light which dispels all the darkness.

The first of December is the First Sunday in Advent, the beginning of the new Church Year, and the beginning of the season in which we prepare for the Christmas celebration. Advent is a time of quiet reflection and anticipation as we contemplate the three-fold Coming of Christ: His coming in humility as Mary’s Child, His constant coming to us in His holy Word and Sacraments, His coming again in glory at the Last Day as Judge of the living and the dead. Advent is not so much a season of celebration as it is a season of expectation. It is a season for self-examination in the light of God’s Word. Examine yourself in the light the Ten Commandments or our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) or Saint Paul’s words about “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit”(Galatians 5:19-23). Although the Lutheran Church does not require the use of private confession and absolution, the fifth chief part of the Catechism – The Office of the Keys and Confession -makes plain that we are encouraged to use this means of grace. If you wish to come to confession, you need only make an appointment to do so.

It is time to order the poinsettias for Christmas for the people you wish to honor or remember. They are still $10 per plant (no increase in price). Please get your order to Judy Volkman by December 22, or earlier if possible. Envelopes for your order are in the rear of the church. Make checks out to Our Saviour Lutheran.

On Sunday, December 8th, there will be a potluck lunch after Divine Service. Merton Masterson will be deep-frying a turkey and the rest of us are asked to bring side dishes. There is a sign-up sheet on the piano. I have been asked to show pictures of my recent trip to Germany and I will do so after lunch.

On Sunday, December 15th, the Rev. Lucas Witt will be installed at 4:00 P.M. as associate/missionary pastor of Immanuel Church at Loch Raven and Belvedere. It is expected that his missionary work will aid not only Immanuel Church but also the other Baltimore congregations of our Synod.

On Sunday, December 22nd, the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the church will be decorated for Christmas following Divine Service. “Many hands make light work!”

In addition to Divine Service on Christmas Eve we will also have Divine Service on Christmas morning at 10 o’clock. It is hoped that this will meet a real need for those who do not drive after dark. This is of course another opportunity to join in celebrating the Day of Christ’s birth.

Judy Volkman recently received an award for Lifetime Achievement from the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities. She has been a member of the Commission for forty-two years, has served as chair of various committees, and one term as Chair of the full Commission. Judy is amazed at the progress that has been made in the disability community but says there is still more to be done. She believes that “the Lord has made sure I was in the right place at the right time.” And so congratulations are in order!

Our former Vicar, Trent Demarest and his wife Maritza, are now the proud parents of Robert Martin who was born last Friday evening. He has three older brothers: John, Thomas, and Charles. Trent is now Headmaster of Trinity Lutheran School in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Congratulations and God bless the whole Demarest family.

Included in this newsletter is an article about the bells of Our Saviour. The author, Pastor Carl Kruelle,, grew up at Our Saviour and was ordained here. The article is yet more evidence of what a treasure we have in these bells. Our task now is to raise the funds to restore the mechanism which plays them.

If you need a ride to church, do not hesitate to call me at 410.554.9994 or email me at charlesmcclean42@gmail.com. I will make every effort to see that you have a ride.

Let us continue to hold one another in prayer. I wish you a blessed Advent, a genuine preparation for the birthday of the Savior.

Affectionately in our Lord,

Pastor McClean

Works of Mercy

This Thanksgiving, we have continued to honor our commitment to some of our neighbors at Waverly Elementary/Middle School. As usual, our church family responded to our call for help by making monetary donations which enabled us to purchase 10 Gift Cards from Aldi’s Supermarket totaling $250. The families picked up their cards from the school’s social worker on Monday, November 25. The time frame gave the families sufficient time to shop for a few extra holiday items for their Thanksgiving feast. Now that Thanksgiving deliveries are done, we will be collecting donations for our Christmas food gift cards. Monetary donations will be collected from Sunday, November 24, through Sunday, December 22; a separate check may be placed in the collection plate with the designate “Christmas Gift Cards” in the memo line. If cash is given, an extra envelope with your name and donation number might be placed in the donation plate. Many thanks to our church family for the outpouring of generosity and caring for the needs of our brothers and sisters in our community.
– Quilla Downs

The Message of the Bells

It was a nice spring day in Govans, 1943. The forsythia were in full bloom. It was Wartime—we had no car or phone. | was having cramps in my stomach. Mom, being a nurse, took, my temperature. It was high. She rushed me down the block to the streetcar on York Rd. I continued having cramps all the way to the transfer point at Greenmont and Preston. Getting off the streetcar at the center doors was easy. It looked a long way to the ground and I was half-dizzy. I vomited all over the steps getting down to street level (wondering how people on the streetcar were going to survive the smell of my mess; | could leave, but they couldn’t) to catch the trackless trolley to St. Joseph Hospital on Caroline St. Once in the operating room, the anesthetist told me “Breathe into this balloon and count to 10.” I remember the scent of the ether but never made it to 10 — maybe 5 or 6, and I was out.

After waking up in the ward, I was told I had an emergency appendectomy (appendicitis). The next night my Pastor came to visit, the Rev. A. J. Stiemke. He placed his calming hand on my forehead, prayed, spoke the Lord’s Prayer and Benediction.

The next morning was Palm Sunday and time for discharge. Uncle Fred arrived along with my parents to drive me home in his Hudson Terraplane. The route we traveled took me right past The Church of Our Saviour along the Alameda Boulevard. It was just before the 11:00a.m. Service. And | was thankful we had to stop for the red light, because I got to hear the bells resounding with “O Savior, Precious Savior’, “Crown Him with Many Crowns”, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, “Beautiful Savior’. As the light changed to green and we headed for home, I could still hear the bells trailing off in the distance. One of the high points of my life!

At the various churches where I have served, I always scheduled one or more of these hymns for Palm Sunday congregational signing.

Over years I have often wondered how many people were healed, helped, or redirected by the message of the bells.

Carl H. Kruelle. Jr.

October 27, 2019

 

Our Saviour Parish News, October, 2019

OUR SAVIOUR LUTHERAN CHURCH
in the City of Baltimore

October,  2019

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This coming Sunday, October 6, is Family Day. Following Divine Service there will be lunch in the undercroft. Sandwiches will be provided; you are encouraged to bring a side dish to share. Come and bring your friends!

From October 7 through October 21 I will be away on my trip to Germany. If you need a pastor while I am gone, you may call our good friend Pastor Coats at 443.745.9200. Pastor Noah Rogness will be here on the two Sundays I am away. You may remember that he preached on Family Day last year.

Voters Meeting will be held following Divine Service on Sunday, October 20. All members of Our Saviour, eighteen years and older, are invited to participate.

On the last Sunday in this month, October 27, Our Saviour will be the host for the Joint Reformation Service of all the Baltimore area congregations of our Synod. The service begins at 4:00 P.M. The Rev. Dr. Gregory N. Todd, Rear Admiral United States Navy, Chaplain of the Marine Corps, will be the preacher. A reception will follow. Plan now on attending this festival celebration.

Reformation Day always comes as an invitation to remember what it means to be Lutheran. None of the Lutheran reformers imagined that they were somehow “founding” a new Church. Rather they saw their work as reforming the one Church of Christ which will be and remain forever. As someone has said, the difference between the Church before and after the Reformation is the difference between a garden before and after it has been weeded: it is in fact the same garden, only the noxious weeds have been removed. The Lutheran Reformation removed only those teachings and practices which contradict the teaching of Holy Scripture, which obscure the Gospel of God’s free pardon through the life, death and resurrection of His only and eternal Son. And so as Lutherans we are heirs to the whole heritage of the Church through the centuries. We confess the three ancient Creeds: the Apostles, the Nicene, and the Athanasian. Our Divine Service is not something made up in the sixteenth century; it is essentially the same liturgy which has been in use from the most ancient times. Reformation Day always comes as an invitation to remember and give thanks, to repent of our sins of indifference and ingratitude and also as an invitation to fervent prayer that God would guard and keep His Church in all its struggles until the risen Lord appears in glory to make all things new.

Do remember to pray for those whose names appear each Sunday in the bulletin especially for our members who are shut in: Dorothy Bell, Charles Dowdy, Joyce Gillespie, Ethelyn Gosnell. Yolanda Ford has recently been hospitalized and Paul Techau is recovering from surgery.

I believe it cannot be said too often: Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every Sunday the Church gathers to hear His word of judgment and mercy. Every Sunday the Church gathers to meet Him as He truly comes in the blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood. Every Sunday is therefore a day of great joy.

Remember me in your prayers as you are in mine.

Affectionately in our Lord,

Pastor McClean

Works of Mercy

Our quarterly delivery of grooming items will be delivered to the Helping up Mission this week. Thankfully, this will be a larger than usual delivery of grooming products and wearing apparels due to the donation of a satchel full of coins. The coins were turned over to the Financial Secretary, Mrs. Judy Volkman, who undertook the herculean task of sorting and counting the stash which totaled some $60.00. The converted dollars were turned over to me; I in turn purchased multiple grooming products as well as socks, shorts, tee shirts, etc. Many thanks to Mrs. Bertha Buchanan for her generous donation which she made in memory of her late husband, Mr. Peter Buchanan. Another monetary donation was made from a donor friend outside of our church, thanks to Judy Volkman. The monetary donations, combined with the change collected from the Poor Boxes, and the usual church family grooming gifts, enables us to better bless the men and women who are in spiritual recovery. Jesus said, “When I was naked you clothed me, in prison you visited me, hungry you fed me… whatever you do for the lease of these you do for me.” (Matthew 25:3, 35-36). Many thanks to our church family and friends who consistently support the Helping up Mission. Your can read about the many stories of recovery on line and through the Mission’s Newsletter which we post on Our Saviour’s bulletin board.

– Qullia Downs

Special Announcement – Divine Service Cancelled Jan 13, 2019

We will unfortunately not be having Divine Service, January 13th (Baptism of our Lord), due to the snow storm. Stay home, read the Word, sing a hymn, and look forward to next Sunday when— Lord willing— we will gather around Christ’s gifts once more!

The Scripture readings for this Sunday are as follows:

  • Old Testament: Isaiah 42:1-7
  • Epistle: I Corinthians 1:26-31
  • Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

The hymn of the day is “From God the Father, Virgin Born,” which is #401 in Lutheran Service Book and #74 in Lutheran Worship.

May God— the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— give His holy angels charge over us and keep us all safe and warm during this time of inclement weather.

Oculi (2016)

Oculi

February 28, 2016 AD

Old Testament: Exodus 8:16-24

Epistle: Ephesians 5:1-9

Gospel: Luke 11:14-28

 

Click here to listen and subscribe to Pastor McClean’s sermons on iTunes.


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

From the Gospel for this Sunday:

“Jesus said, ‘But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.'” – Luke 11:20

When you were baptized, and again when you were confirmed, you were asked, “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” And you answered— either through your godparents at your baptism, or you yourself answered the question at your confirmation— with the single word “Yes.” “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” “Yes.” A simple answer to a simple question. But what follows is not simple at all, for by answering that question with a “Yes”, you in fact enlisted as a soldier in the battle against Satan and his legions, a battle which never ends until we leave this present world and, like poor Lazarus, are carried by the holy angels into the paradise of God. “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” “Yes.”

You may have noticed that Satan appears in the Gospel read here in church on each of these first three Sundays in Lent: on the first Sunday we heard of our Lord’s struggle against Satan in the wilderness; last Sunday we heard of the Canaanite woman whose daughter was “tormented by a demon”; and today we see our Lord’s enemies accusing Him of being in league with Beelzebul, i.e., the Devil. You might well wonder why there is all this emphasis on the Devil during Lent. The reason is that in the ancient Church Lent was the time when adult converts to the faith received their final preparation for baptism during the vigil of the night before Easter, when they would be asked this question, “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” “Yes.”

Now in our day it isn’t easy to talk about Satan and his legions. Many Christians are reluctant to talk about the subject too much for fear of being laughed at. When demons do get mentioned, we often tend to slide over the matter as if it doesn’t mean much to us or as if it embarrasses us— after all, who still believes in devils in this enlightened age? So many people assume that this is just another outworn superstition for which there is no place in this so-called “modern” world. Today the Devil is much discredited and treated as something of a joke. Just think of the popular picture of the Devil in red tights with horns and a tail and waving a pitchfork! He’s comical, laughable— and the word “devil” has gone all the way from being a word of dread to being in fact a term of endearment, as when a fond father says of his little son, “He’s a little devil, isn’t he?” A devil? No, there’s no such thing.

The irony of all this is that this disbelief in Satan and his legions prevails in an age in which, as much as and perhaps more than any other, there is mountainous evidence of his work!

As some of you know, one of my obsessions is the First World War. The last day of that war was November 11th, which, when I was growing up, we called “Armistice Day” , because it was the day when there was an end to the fighting. For four days before November 11th, representatives of Germany and representatives of the Allied nations were trying to work out the terms of the Armistice. Now you might have thought that they would have then and there, on November 7th, called a halt to the fighting, but no! The fighting and the killing went right on until 10:59 AM on the 11th. (It was in fact an American soldier from Baltimore, Henry Gunther, whose parents lived in Highlandtown, who was the last Allied casualty.) Well in those four days of negotiations six thousand more soldiers were killed; and even after the Armistice was signed at 5 o’clock in the morning on the 11th, the generals ordered their troops to continue killing each other until exactly 11 o’clock! I find it hard to imagine the mindset of generals who would order continued slaughter, even though they knew it was less than six hours till the cease-fire would go into effect.

Well, Satan’s efforts and works are hard to detect. But when I look at something like that, and indeed at what, in my opinion, was a completely tragic and unnecessary war, how can one not see a more-than-human power of evil at work? Or look at our own day, when thousands of people are perfectly willing to blow themselves up to destroy their enemies and in so doing imagine that they are somehow pleasing God!

But it’s not just those poor deluded people in other lands who are Satan’s prey. For if people in our part of the world are convinced that Satan is nothing more than an outmoded superstition— a myth, a fairy-tale— then he can go about his destructive work undetected and unhindered. Then our resistance is down and we are easy prey to all his seductive wiles. I’ll never forget how one my dearest teachers, Dr. Martin Franzmann, put this many years ago. He said: “The trouble with the modern world is that we’ve been the Devil’s funeral— and then we’ve stayed for the refreshments served by his grieving relatives.”

But all of Holy Scripture, together with the faithful and constant teaching of the Church, and also everyday experience, unite in proclaiming the reality of the ancient enemy of God and Man. Of course Holy Scripture tells us not so much what Satan and his legions are as what they do. They are of course by nature fallen angels, invisible spirits, bodiless powers, and their purpose is always to destroy everything good that a truly good and gracious Creator has made. And Christ’s Church and we Christians are especially the target of their evil purpose. It has been often and truly said that “Wherever Christ builds his Church, there the Devil builds a chapel,” and I’ve known some churches in which the Devil had a very fine and large chapel indeed! Two of his favorite tricks are to sow seeds of dissension, and to keep our eyes so focused on problems that we lose sight of all God’s goodness!

And so we are called to prayer, as we pray in the daily morning and evening prayers in the Catechism: “Let your holy angel be with me that the evil foe may have no power over me.” And we are called to watchfulness. This Sunday’s Gospel is in fact a call to watchfulness against all the snares and delusions of Satan.

Now all of this can sound rather gloomy and defeating unless we remember that Holy Scripture never calls our attention to the sad reality of Satan without also drawing our attention to our Lord’s victory over Him! So when in the Holy Gospel for this day Jesus is accused of casting out devils with the help of the devils, He replies: “If I by the finger of God cast out devils, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” Satan has met his match and more in the incarnate Son of God, God made man, Our Lord Jesus Christ. In His great struggle with Satan in the wilderness, in His life of perfect obedience to the Father’s will— always resisting every Satanic suggestion— and finally in His death of pouring out His life-blood to cleanse us from the stain of all our sins, our Savior has defeated the Devil, the decisive battle has been won. And now we but await the manifestation, the unveiling, of His victory on that Last and Great Day when the world as we now know it will come to its end and the risen Lord of love will make all things new. That new world dawned from the open tomb when the Lord Jesus rose victorious from the dead, the triumph we celebrate every Sunday and which we’ll again celebrate with great joy at Easter.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. +Amen.

Invocavit (2016)

Invocavit

February 14, 2016 AD

Old Testament: 1 Samuel 17:40-51

Epistle: Hebrews 4:14-16

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
 
 
 
Click here to listen and subscribe to Pastor McClean’s sermons on iTunes.


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text for this day is from the third and fourth chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel:

And when Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water, and, behold, the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him; and, lo, a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

It was of course C. S. Lewis who said that Satan’s greatest success in modern times is his success in persuading countless souls that he is a harmless myth— despite the fact that the last century saw evil perhaps unparalleled in human history. And what shall we say of this new century, now halfway through its second decade? Well, C. S. Lewis was right! Satan’s greatest success is his success in persuading countless souls that he is a harmless myth, a joke.

Not so St. Paul who wrote of Satan, “We are not ignorant of his devices.”

The gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that immediately after Jesus’ baptism He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.

Now there is a great deal which can be said about this deeply mysterious story of God-Incarnate’s battle with the Prince of Darkness, but for today let’s focus on just one aspect of that battle. At Jesus’ baptism, just before His fasting and temptation, Jesus hears the voice of God the Father proclaim: “This is My Beloved Son.” But what then does Satan do? He tries to sow seeds of doubt in our Lord’s mind and heart. God the Father says, “This is My beloved Son!” Satan whispers, “If you are the Son of God…”— if you are the Son of God— “command that these stones be made bread… if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple…,” as if to say, “God the Father’s word is not enough. ‘This is My beloved Son’? Let’s have some proof here.” Satan says, “If you are the Son of God,” echoing his words to Eve at the very beginning of the human story: “Did God say? Did God really say?” No wonder we call Satan “The Old Evil Foe”— up to the same old tricks he’s been up to since the beginning.

Now at your baptism, you didn’t literally hear God the Father say, “This is my beloved Child,” but you were through the waters of that heavenly washing truly made “the child of God, a member of Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” But just as Satan tried to sow seeds of doubt in the mind and heart of our Lord, just so he tries the very same thing with us. He tries to bring about doubt as to what and who by God’s tender mercies we truly are.

Sinners, yes! But sinners forgiven and cleansed through Jesus’ precious blood: as our baptism assures us, as the word of absolution assures us, and as Christ’s truly present-in-the-Sacrament Body and Blood assure us. More than anything else Satan wants you to forget, to forget all that. He wants to sow seeds of doubt in your mind and heart: “You? You as you are!— a child of God?” Satan whispers, “How can that be? Just look at all your troubles and difficulties. Yes, look at your sins!” And Satan is past master at bringing to life the memory of sins long ago repented of, forgiven, but which still come back to trouble our conscience. “You, you as you are, a child of God?”

Our Lord held fast to the word His Father spoke at His baptism: “This is My Beloved Son”; just so we cling to God’s word of tender mercy put upon us with the water of our baptism whose power is the Blood of Jesus. Just listen to some wonderful words of that splendid preacher John Donne. Donne says:

Against this [accusation of the devil] there is no other medicine but the blood of Christ. And therefore, whensoever this apprehension of God’s future judgment bites on you, be sure to present to it the blood of your Savior. Never consider God’s judgement for sin alone but rather in company with the blood of Christ. It is but the hissing of the Serpent, the whispering of Satan when he surprises you in a melancholy midnight of dejection of spirit and lays your sins before you. Look not on your sins so inseparably that you cannot see Christ, too! Come not to Confession to God without consideration of the promises of the Gospel.

In the words of John Newton:

How sweet the name of JESUS sounds
In a believer’s car!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

By Him my prayers acceptance gain,
Although with sin defiled;—
Satan accuses me in vain
And I am owned a child.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus to life everlasting. +Amen.

Ash Wednesday (2016)

Ash Wednesday

February 10, 2016 AD

Old Testament: Joel 2:12-19
 
 
Gospel: Matthew 6:16-21
 
 
 
 
Click here to listen and subscribe to Pastor McClean’s sermons on iTunes.


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Gospel which was read just a few minutes ago is a portion from Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount where he talks about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. He doesn’t command His followers to pray, to fast, to give alms; He assumes that His followers will pray, and fast, and give alms— the three traditional disciplines of the holy season of Lent, which we begin this night.

After a long and difficult winter, the kind of winter we’ve been having this year, just about everybody welcomes the coming of spring: the long winter nights give way to days of increasing light, winter’s cold and ice and snow are banished by the warm spring days; the crocuses and daffodils begin to lift their heads above the soil, and wherever we look we see signs of new and radiant life. Yes, after a long and difficult winter we welcome the coming of spring!

Well, spring in that sense is still some weeks away; but today, Ash Wednesday, we begin that season of the Church year which has often and rightly been called “the springtime of the soul.” In fact the word “Lent” is derived from an Old English word, lencten, which simply means “spring.”—”lencten” probably because of the lengthening days. And just as we welcome the coming of spring, just so we Christians welcome this “springtime of the soul.” For during this holy season, the seed of new and eternal life which was planted in us in Baptism is nourished and grows:

All the winter of our sins,
Long and dark, is flying
From His light, to whom we give
Laud and praise undying.

The “winter of our sins” is banished by the light and love of God’s crucified and risen Son. And those traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are aids in reaching out for that love and light.

In prayer we consciously reach out for love and light for others and for ourselves. Through alms-giving, which includes every act of kindness and generosity toward others, we try to reflect in some small way God’s kindness and generosity toward us poor sinners. In fasting we experience hunger and thereby learn that we are needy, radically dependent beings whose life is not our own: “It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves,” and by foregoing for a season perfectly good and legitimate pleasures we get rid of some of life’s distractions so that we can more clearly see ourselves as we are, God as He is, and also what God is asking of us through all the seemingly  insignificant instances of life as we experience it day by day. As the nineteenth century Christian poet John Keble put it:

The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves— a road
To bring us daily nearer God.

And so the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving can be compared to weeding your garden— not an end in itself, but a means to an end. You weed your garden so that the flowers you’ve planted won’t be choked by weeds nor their beauty hidden. Weeding is not an end in itself and the traditional Lenten disciplines are not an end in themselves, still less are they a means of somehow gaining God’s favor! For God does not need our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; you and I do! Because through them we weed the garden of our souls so we can then bloom with the fruit of the Spirit: the “fruit” that is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

So how is it with you, with me, as we again begin our Lenten journey to Calvary’s cross and on to the Lord’s resurrection? Is it still winter— our hearts cold and hardened with apathy and indifference, resentment and bitterness, perhaps even a dose of despair? Is our practice of religion cold and formal, or is it the expression of a grateful heart warmed by love beyond understanding— the love of God who came down into our terror and torment and death to raise us up into His life and freedom and joy?

If it is still winter in our hearts, then the Lenten spring is here to bring us back to life: to warm our hearts with the fire of Christ’s love and to revive our flagging spirits through the gentle dew of His mercy toward us sinners— sinners, who by our misuse of God’s gifts have made of God’s good world a veritable wasteland of sorrow and want; and who, by sinning against one another, in fact sin against the One who has called each one of us out of nothingness into being: God who is Love. It was Saint Isaac the Syrian, a fourth century Bishop of Nineveh, who wrote:

Those who understand that they have sinned against love undergo greater sufferings than those produced by the most fearful tortures. The sorrow which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love is more piercing than any other pain.

Well those are not just words of a Christian bishop who lived more than fifteen hundred years ago. I can truthfully say that they ring true to my own experience. And what a terrible thing it is to realize that I have sinned against someone who loves me very much. And that is true of every last one of us because each one of us has sinned against Love: the eternal Love who called us into being and then saved us from sin and death by His bitter passion and death. Yes, “the sorrow which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love is more piercing than any other pain.”

Healing for that pain can only be found through the “tree” which Saint John, exiled on Patmos, saw in mystic vision: that “tree” which is the cross of Jesus, “the tree of life whose leaves were for the healing of the nations.” There alone do we find healing for the wounds of sin, balm for our troubled consciences, and peace through the precious blood of Jesus which cleanses and refreshes every sad and broken heart.

After a long and difficult winter, we welcome the coming of spring. Let us then welcome the coming of Lent, the “springtime of the soul.” In the words of the ancient liturgy:

The Lenten spring shines forth,
The flower of repentance…
Let us cast off the works of darkness,
Let us put on the armor of light,
     that passing through Lent as through a great sea,
     we may reach the third day resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus to life everlasting. +Amen.

 

Quinquagesima (2016)

Quinquagesima

February 7, 2016 AD

Old Testament: Isaiah 35:3-7

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Gospel: Luke 18:31-43

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Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Jesus stood still and commanded [the blind beggar] to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, that I may receive my sight.'” – St. Luke 18:40, 41

Although many of us have difficulty with our eyesight from time to time, I doubt that any of us can have any real sense of what it’s like to be blind. But we can perhaps at least imagine the desperation of the blind beggar in today’s Gospel, no doubt reduced to begging by his blindness. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he cries out and keeps on crying out despite all the efforts of the crowd to silence him. Jesus commands the people to bring him to Him and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?. . .Lord, let me receive my sight!” And Jesus then says, “Receive your sight, your faith has made you well!” In His compassion our Lord restores his sight and he follows Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.

Now that blind beggar’s prayer; “Lord, let me receive my sight” must be your prayer and mine as well. For although we’re not literally blind, we’re blind in a far deeper sense: blind to the love and the will of our Maker. For if we really saw God clearly, our hearts would be continually overflowing with peace and joy. But since they are not, we too need to pray with that blind beggar, “Lord, let me receive my sight!”

The trouble is that, instead of clearly seeing the love and the will of God, we’re distracted: we see all kinds of other things instead. And you have to be careful about what you see!

Now I happen to have a dear friend in another part of the country who’s struggled with depression all his life. But his depression isn’t helped by what he chooses daily to see. Not content with looking at one or two news reports, he tends to keep watching the news all day long! And that, I submit, is enough to depress even the most cheerfully disposed person! And then there are those of us who are tempted to spend our time constantly following the latest scandals and tragedies in the Church and in the world— or even worse, materials not fit for human consumption, let alone for any Christian trying to follow the holy Jesus who said, “Blessed are the pure in heart…” You have to be careful about what you see!

Now we are naïve if we think this is a small matter of no consequence, if we fail to realize that Satan uses all of this to blind and confuse and alienate us from the life of God. For the more careless we are about what we choose to see, the greater the danger of being plunged ever deeper into spiritual confusion and darkness. You have to be careful about what you see!

Lent begins this Wednesday. And what is Lent for if not that time of year when, more than at any other time, we in fact gaze on Jesus? Lent in fact is all about seeing: about seeing ourselves as we are and our Maker as He is.

It’s a time for seeing ourselves as we in fact are: not as we’d like to be, nor yet as we fancy ourselves to be, but as we in painful fact are. Honest and thorough self-examination in the light of God’s Word written should quickly dispel any illusions we might have. For example, just how well do you and I measure up in the light of Saint Paul’s great hymn to love as we heard it in the Epistle for this Sunday?

“Love is patient; love is kind, and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish; not quick to take offense. Love keeps no score of wrongs, does not gloat over other people’s sins, but delights in the truth.”

Yes, in self-examination and in confession we see ourselves as we truly are.

But then in the word of pardon spoken by the pastor, whom God has put there to do just that, we see God as He truly is, who knows us better than we know ourselves yet loves us still; we see Jesus the crucified and risen Friend of sinners. And what else is the Sacrament we receive this day but the means whereby we see: see the love which brought the eternal Son of God to the shameful cross to cleanse us through His precious blood and make us His?

You have to be careful about what you see! “Lord, let me receive my sight.” In the wonderful Epistle for this Last Sunday before Lent, Saint Paul says, “Now”— in this life— “we see through a glass darkly, but then”— in heaven— “face to face.” And Saint John says of the redeemed in heaven: “His servants shall worship Him for they shall see His face.” But for now,

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind—
Yea all I need in Thee to find,
     O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. +Amen.