Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sacred Meditations Passage

This Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent. Gerhard writes about Christ's coming:

“I announce great joy to you,” said the angel at the nativity of our Savior (Luke 2:10). It is truly great and greater than human intelligence understands. Great was the evil. We were held captive under the wrath of God, the power of the devil, and eternal damnation. Greater still was the evil since man was either ignorant of or denied that greatest evil. Now truly great joy is announced to us because he who would liberate us from all those evils was coming into the world. The Physician comes to the sick, the Redeemer to the captives, the Way to the lost, the Life to the dead, salvation to the damned. Just as Moses was sent by the Lord to free the Israelite people from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 3:10), so also Christ was sent from the Father to deliver the entire human race from the captivity of the devil. Just as the dove returned to the ark with an olive leaf after the deluge of the world had dried up (Genesis 8:11), so also Christ came into the world to preach peace and reconciliation between God and man. Let us therefore sing joyfully concerning his merits and comprehend the great mercy of God who loved us so much, even when we were still enemies (Romans 5:8). He did not disdain to assume our nature in a most strict union with his divinity. Why then would he reject those with whom he has been joined through participation in the flesh? Who has ever hated his own flesh (Ephesians 5:29)? How then would he who has made us participants in his own nature by that highest and infinite mercy now be able to turn us away?

Even Death Passage

The last few months before the trip had been the worst. He was unhappy—profoundly and seemingly inescapably unhappy. It had been a long winter. “I resign,” he would inexplicably mutter under his breath as he drove or showered or sat in his office. Each day was another tug on the rope around his neck—when would his toes leave the ground? He was convinced he was losing his mind. His members seemed cold and unappreciative. Attendance sagged. Distractions and dissensions and time -consuming though unrewarding tasks with nothing to do with the ministry loomed unrelentingly and unceasingly. Even the most trifling matters seemed to take on an insurmountable immensity. Depressed and burned out, he didn’t talk to her, and when he did, it was only to rant. Come home, mix a drink, retreat to his office and his books: that was the evening ritual. And what did she do? She gave him time to work through his funk.

It came to a head not long before he left. She knocked on the door to his office and mentioned something that needed to be done—not nagging, just reminding. He exploded, vehemently took to task everyone and everything that had knocked the wind out of him, turned his bed into a hideout, stripped his church life of what made the church the church. He was relentless, rabid, someone he’d never been before. And while he was swinging at the world, she took all the verbal punches; mad at God and the devil and everything in between, she was the one he berated. And why? Because she would sit there and take it. Because she would forgive him. Because her commitment to him didn’t depend on how much he did, or how far he bent backwards, or how careful he was not to offend. Because she loved him, loved him as the church loves Christ precisely and even as he treated her as the old evil foe does Christ’s bride. And she took it. She sat there. She looked at him with eyes that said that she knew him and this wasn’t him and that if this might bring him back she’d happily bear with it all. And he hated himself all the more. Would he ever be able to tell her he loved her again and not have it seem a joke? What untold damage had he done that he would never be able to repair? What would she harbor for the rest of her life because of him? How would she remember him? Would she remember him?

Sacred Meditations Passage

In the spirit of thanksgiving, Gerhard reminds where our true treasure rests and warns against false security:

What are the afflictions of the pious? They are bitter arrows sent from the sweet hand of God. God esteems those unworthy of chastisement in this world whom he will nevertheless reject in eternity. Often the happiness of human success is evidence of eternal damnation to come. Nothing is unhappier than sinful happiness. Nothing is more miserable than one who is ignorant of his misery. Wherever you turn your eyes, there you find a reason for sorrow and gaze upon the remedy for security. Lift up your thoughts to the God whom we have offended. Look down to the hell that we have earned, back to the sins that we have committed, forward to the judgment that we fear, inward to the conscience that we have soiled, outward to the world that we have loved. See where you have come from and be ashamed, where you are and sigh, where you are heading and tremble. Narrow is the gate of salvation, but still narrower is the way (Matthew 7:14).

God gives you the treasure of faith, but you carry this treasure in a jar of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). God gives you angels for protection (Psalm, 91:11), but the devil is not far away to seduce you. God has renewed you in the spirit of your mind (Ephesians 4:23), but you still have much of the old flesh. You have been established in the grace of God, but you have not yet been established in eternal glory. He has prepared a mansion for you in heaven, but he yet chastises you with the challenges of the world. God promises forgiveness for the penitent, but he has not promised to give a penitent will to the delinquent. The consolations of eternal life await you, but it is nevertheless necessary for you to enter into it through many tribulations (Acts 14:22). The crown of eternal reward has been promised, but first a serious battle remains to be surmounted. God does not change his promises, but neither ought you change your zeal for eternal life. If the servant is not doing what is commanded, God does what is threatened. One therefore ought to continually be ashamed and mourn, putting aside security, lest by the righteous and secret judgment of God we are deserted and relinquished into the power of the devil for destruction.
For that reason delight in divine grace for as long as it is present, although you must never nonetheless presume that you possess this gift of God as an inherited right so that you actually become secure concerning it as if you could never lose it, lest God should suddenly take the gift away and retract his hand and you become disheartened and sorrow more than you ought. You are indeed in every way blessed if you take diligent care to avoid indifference toward the appearance of every evil. God will not desert you, but beware lest God is deserted by you. God has given grace. Pray that he may also give perseverance. God grants certainty about salvation, yet he does not grant security. You must fight bravely so you may also triumph sweetly (2 Timothy 4:7).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sacred Meditations Passage

This coming is Christ the King Sunday in some of our churches. Gerhard shares some relevant words about the fruits of our King's suffering (upon which the Holy Gospel sets our meditation):

There are three things that always must be observed in this mystery: the mercy of the loving God, the merit of the suffering Christ, and the grace of the Holy Spirit calling us through the Gospel. The mercy of God is universal because he loved all the world (John 3:16). “The world is full of the mercy of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5). For this reason God’s mercy is indeed greater than heaven and earth—it is just as great as God is (Sirach 2:23), for God is love (1 John 4:16). He has testified in his own Word that he wants no one to die (Ezekiel 33:11). If this were insufficient, he also confirmed it with an oath. If you cannot believe God when he promises, at least believe on account of the fact that he took an oath concerning your salvation. He is called the Father of Mercies (2 Corinthians 1:3) because he by his very nature has mercy and pardons. The cause and origin of the demonstration of mercy is in God’s own nature. Judging and avenging are foreign to him. Thus mercy more than punishment is seen to proceed from his heart.
The merits of Christ are also universal because he suffered for the sins of all the world (1 John 2:2). What then can demonstrate the mercy of God more plainly than the fact that he loved us when we did not yet exist, for it is out of God’s love that we have been created. He furthermore loved us when we were enemies. It was out of love that he gave the Son for our redemption (Romans 5:8). To the sinner sentenced to eternal torment and unable to redeem himself from that sentence, God the Father says, “Take my one and only Son and give him for yourself.” The Son himself says, “Take me and redeem yourself.” Christ is the flower of the field (Song of Solomon 2:1), not of the garden, because the fragrance of his grace is not restricted to a select few but is open to all. And lest you doubt the universality of his merits, Christ was praying for the ones crucifying him as he suffered and was shedding his blood, for the very ones who were shedding his blood (Luke 23:34). The promises of the Gospel are also universal because Christ says to all, “Come to me all who labor” (Matthew 11:28). What has been obtained for all is also offered to all. As many good things as he has extended to the pilgrim through faith, that many you will obtain. God denies his grace to no one except the one who deems himself unworthy of it.

Even Death Passage

AT 6:07PM, SHE CAME HOME. She’d been living with him for a few weeks now. They’d dated for a month or so before that. She was beautiful—thin, blonde, blue eyes, an athletic build. She was up each morning crisply at 6AM for a run, back at 6PM in the evening to make his dinner. She was just the kind of girl you’d pick if you wanted the world to know you were a fully assimilated and red-blooded German patriot, and, knowing he’d struck gold, he always left the shades open to prove just that. Nothing to hide here, his every action was scripted to assure the world.

She loved him. He despised her. He didn’t show it, but Schmidt was convinced of it beyond a doubt. They always despise her. He’d spit on her pretty little carcass when he was done with her. That’s what men like him did to girls like her. Rose-colored glasses are bad for the heart. Schmidt had learned that while she was probably still in diapers.

“Who do you think you’re fooling, Ishmael?” Schmidt mumbled into his glass. “Not me, that’s for sure. You can’t stand the sight of her. You buy her the latest fashions and then burn with indignation when she wears them. You complement her for the very things you want to destroy.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Even Death Passage

The cathedral itself was quite large, but not as large as those in Augsburg and Worms. It was very medieval. Paintings of the saints wrapped the massive pillars. The chancel was ornate and deep, with a meticulously carved oak choir. They walked to the front pew and took a seat. This was the place where Luther was ordained. If only the bishop knew what he was doing!

They sat a while and listened to the soprano. She was singing Psalm 16. When she finished, they walked across to the Severikirche. You could hardly walk without stepping on markers for the dead. In a little side chapel a marvelous crucifix hung at eye level. Isaac stood and took it in for a while. The baptismal font was fantastically unique, reaching a few stories into the air. '

“You guys ready to head down? I want to get a sausage at the stand we passed. I’m starving,” Mike said.

“Sure,” Phil said. “I’m kind of hungry too. Don’t want to miss too much in Leipzig either. We’d better keep moving.”

When the others started down the steps, Isaac took a picture of the view from the top. The entire city knelt before these churches, genuflecting to the God in whose honor they’d been built in a piety long since lost by most of the population.

Isaac met up with the guys in the little market at the foot of the steps. Mike came back, looking baffled, gazing in consternated contemplation at his lunch. A foot of Thuringian sausage rested in a dinner roll almost too small for his hands—not quite the bratwurst you’d get at a Brewer’s game.

“What’s wrong, Mike? Don’t like sausage?” Isaac joked.

“Shut up or I’ll whack you with it.”

“But then what would you do with all that bun?”

Sacred Meditations Passage

This Sunday is Saints Triumphant Sunday in some of our churches. Here is a passage from one of Gerhard's devotions on that topic:

O pined after life! O exceeding blessedness, in which the Most Holy Trinity is present, who will be gazed upon without end, who will be loved without wearying, who will be praised without monotony, who will bring our desires to completion! Seeing God will surpass all joy. Seeing Christ, living with Christ, and hearing Christ will surpass all the desires of our heart. O Jesus Christ, the sweetest Bridegroom of my soul, when will you lead your bride into your royal palace? What could she possibly lack there? What more could she desire or expect in that place “where God will be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28)? The sight will be beautiful, the taste as honey, the sound as a harp, the smell as incense, the touch as a flower. God will be everything and he will distribute good to each according to the desire of his heart. If you desire life, if health, if peace, if honor, there God will be all in all. What is here shrouded in mystery, even to the doctors of the church, there will be obvious, even to small children. Christ will be present with us in his blessed humanity, and with the sweetest voice he will preach on all of the once-hidden mysteries of our salvation. His voice is sweet and his face is lovely (Song of Solomon 2:14). Grace pours from his lips and he is crowned with honor and glory (Psalm 45:3; Psalm 8:61).
1 Psalm 8:5 in English.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Thank You

Thanks to all who have already ordered Magdeburg Press books. The response we have had so soon after announcing the publication of Sacred Meditations and Even Death has been wonderful. If you have any problems with your orders, please be sure to contact us.

Even Death Passage

SHEW ME THY WAYS, O LORD; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

Movie time again. Greatest hits. Crescents and swords and masks and battle cries and screams and “Allahu Akbar” and pleas and splayed arteries and shooting blood and trophy heads and the like. Real heartwarming stuff.

Matthias laughed. “Reruns again?”

Phil sat and watched with resignation. His stomach growled. He was hungry. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast the day before.

Isaac sat, elbows on knees, head in hands, staring at the floor, imagining his captors, contemplating the grim prospects he faced. Occasionally, he read the words on the wall again. Didn’t they know someone could very well say them without meaning them, with no intention of following through on them, of putting them into practice once they let him go? Or were they not really planning on letting anyone go to begin with? Or could they care less what happened once they had what they wanted, after their captives were another scene in their footage, propaganda for a future victim’s eyes, wayward role models for next season’s prey as they too pondered professing another faith—however so disingenuously—to save their lives.

Sacred Meditations Passage

This coming Sunday is Last Judgment Sunday in some of our churches. Here are some thoughts from Gerhard's devotion on the last judgment:

Lord Jesus, to whom may I flee in this anguish of mine? “I fear all my works” (Job 9:28), knowing that you do not spare any delinquent. I will be placed between time and eternity, where time passes by and eternity still remains infinite in its span. The evil spirits will demand credit for all their works. All the evil that they persuaded here they will produce in that most severe judgment, so that they may drag the soul with them into their fellowship in torment. “All the heavenly host shall be slowly consumed and the heavens will be folded together like a book; all the host of them will vanish as a leaf that falls from the vine and a fig from a tree” (Isaiah 34:4). “The sun will blush and the moon will be put to shame” (Isaiah 24:23). And if these works of your hands, which have never committed any evil, will flee from your face, how should I, a miserable sinner, be able to appear before your face? The heavens are not pure before you (Job 15:15). How will I, a wretched man, who drinks iniquity like water, be clean (Job 15:16)? And if the righteous man will scarcely be saved, where will the sinner stack up in comparison (1 Peter 4:18)? To whom, then, may I flee; to whom may I turn, except to you, O Lord? You will be the Judge of my sins—you who died for my sins.