Witness, Mercy, and Life Together in Advent 2011: A Midweek Preaching Series

Advent Preaching Workshop

November 8 & 9, 2011

Presenters: Professor John T. Pless and Seminarian Weslie Odom

Theme: Mercy, Witness, Life Together

This year’s Advent preaching workshop will focus on the Synod’s emphasis of “Mercy, Witness, and Life Together” for the three Midweek Services. Drawing on the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament Canticles, the sermon series will probe the Advent character of God’s mercy in Emmanuel, the witness of John the Baptist in his preaching of repentance and faith, and life together that we are given in God’s new Zion. We will also examine how Bo Giertz treated these themes in his preaching and devotional writings.

Registration fee is $30.00. (Register online)

The workshop will meet from 4:00-5:30 p.m. and 7:00-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and 8:00-10:00 a.m. on Wednesday.

Location: Concordia Theological Seminary Loehe Hall, Room 2

For additional information on this seminar, contact the office of the Good Shepherd Institute at 260-452-2224.

The Schedule for the Advent Preaching Seminar is as follows:

Advent Preaching Workshop 2011: Witness, Mercy, Life Together

Midweek Service in Advent I: Witness

Readings: Isaiah 40:9-11; John 1:6-8, 14-17, 29-34
Psalm: 44
Hymns: “Prepare the Royal Highway”- 343 LSB
“On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” -344 LSB
“When All the World Was Cursed”- 346 LSB
“Creator of the Stars of Night”- 351 LSB
“Jesus Came, the Heavens Adoring”- 353 LSB
“O Savior of Our Fallen Race”- 403 LSB
“The Only Son from Heaven”- 402 LSB

Midweek Service in Advent II: Mercy

Readings: I Peter 1:3-12; Luke 1:39-56
Psalm: 25
Hymns: “Once He Came in Blessing”- 333 LSB
“O Lord, How Shall I Meet You”- 334 LSB
“The Night Will Soon Be Ending”- 337 LSB
“What Hope! An Eden Prophesied”- 342 LSB
“Comfort, Comfort Ye My People”- 347 LSB
“The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns”- 348 LSB
“Hark the Glad Sound”-349 LSB

Midweek Service in Advent III: Life Together

Readings: Isaiah 62:1-12; Revelation 21:1-8, 22-27
Psalm: 48 or 24
Hymns: “The Advent of Our King”- 331 LSB
“Savior of the Nations Come”- 332 LSB
“O Bride of Christ, Rejoice”- 335 LSB
“Lift Up Your Heads, You Everlasting Doors” -339 LSB
“Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates”- 340 LSB
“Arise, O Christian People”- 354 LSB
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” -357 LSB
“Wide Open Stand the Gates” – 639 LSB

Witness, Mercy, and Life Together in Advent: A Midweek Preaching Series

Witness

“Bearing witness” says Luther “is nothing but God’s Word spoken by angels or men, and it calls for faith.”# In Acts 1:8 the risen Lord says of His apostles that they will be His witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and beyond those borders to the end of the earth. It is the apostles who with their own eyes have seen the Lord, touched Him with their own hands, and heard His voice with their ears (see I John 1:1-4) who are designated witnesses. We are witnesses only in the derived sense that our words echo the reliable testimony of the apostles. To bear witness is to speak not of ourselves but of another-Christ Jesus.

The great witness of Advent is John the Baptist. “The prologue [of the Fourth Gospel] says that God sent John to be a witness (1:6-8). A witness speaks in contexts where the truth is disputed. If everything is clear, there is no need for testimony.”# The witness of John the Baptist is twofold. He bears witness to human sinfulness which separates man from God. In no uncertain terms he names sin for what it is, showing his hearers their inability to recognize the One who stands among them is their Messiah (John 1:26-27). John is not sent to bear witness to himself; he is the voice crying in the wilderness (John 1:19-23). John is neither the light of the world (John 1:6-8) nor the Christ (John 1:20) but the one sent to bear witness. Thus he proclaims Jesus Christ as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Our witness is always this confession of Jesus Christ.

Mercy

Oswald Bayer writes “Mercy is not self-evident. It cannot become an existential or epistemological principle. On the contrary mercy is actually something that is won and something that, emerging, happens unpredictably. And as this justifying God is not simply and in principle merciful, so also is sinful man not simply and in principle on the receiving end of God’s mercy.”#Mercy was not self-evident to Mary. She was “greatly troubled” (Luke 1:29) until the angel comforted her with the good news that the son she would conceive and bear is the Son of God. Only then was Mary’s lips unlocked to magnify the Lord, declaring the scope of His mercy for all who “fear him from generation to generation’ (Luke 1:50). Having received mercy, Mary was enabled to confess her God and Savior who helps “his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever” (Luke 1:54-55).  It is this Lord who has “According to his great mercy…caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3). Mercy is not self-evident for sinners; it is not something that the guilty expect. Mercy comes only by God’s doing in the crib and on Calvary.

Hermann Sasse draws a contrast between Thomas Aquinas’ assertion that “Christ cannot enter into living communion with a sinner” and Luther’s statement of the opposite: “Christ dwells only among sinners” demonstrating how Luther understands divine mercy: “Every page of the NT is indeed testimony of the Christ whose proper office it is ‘to save sinners’ (I Tim. 1:15), ‘to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10). And the entire saving work of Jesus – from the days  he was in Galilee and, to the amazement and alarm of the Pharisees, ate with tax collectors and sinners, to the moment when he, in contradiction with the principles of every rational morality, promised paradise, to the thief on the cross – yes, his entire life on earth, from the cradle to the cross, is one unique, grand demonstration of a wonder beyond all reason: the miracle of divine forgiveness, of the justification of the sinner. ‘Christ dwells only among sinners.’”#  Advent announces the arrival of this Christ who makes divine mercy certain for sinners.

Life Together

Advent is about God drawing near to humanity to save and rescue, to reconcile the world to Himself by the blood of the cross. He gathers into one family, those who were left alone in their sins-suffering alienation from God and estranged from one another. The imagery for life together in Advent is Jerusalem, God’s holy Zion where the redeemed are safely gathered around their Lord. Not forsaken and left desolate in their sin, they are brought to rejoice in the marriage feast of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem. This is not a community that we create by our will to fight loneliness but a communion established by the Triune God who has called us to fellowship with Himself and therefore with one
another in the Gospel.

The Bavarian Pastor Wilhelm Löhe (1808-1872) wrote: “The church of the New Testament is no longer a territorial church but a church of all people, a church which has its children in all lands and gathers them from every nation. It is the one flock of the one shepherd, called out of many folds (John 10:16), the universal – the truly catholic – church which flows through all time and into which all people pour.”#  We share a life together which is thicker and deeper than nationality, ethnicity, or language. Bound together in Christ by a common redemption mediated by the one Baptism instituted by our Lord we have life together. We hear and confess the same apostolic Gospel and we eat and drink of the same body and blood in the sacrament of our Lord’s new and eternal testament.

Along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, Löhe’s Three Books About the Church is a lucid exposition of what it means for Christians to live together in that holy community, the church of Jesus Christ. Pastor Löhe published this classic volume in 1845, the year after his wife’s early death. Certainly his writing is reflective of a heavenly homesickness, no doubt intensified by his young wife’s death which left him in an abiding grief. Yet Löhe knew that this life together we have in Christ Jesus is not broken by geography or even by death. There is one church that spans heaven and earth: “There is therefore one eternal church, part to be found here and part to be found in eternity. Here it becomes smaller and smaller; but there it becomes ever larger, for the yearning, struggling band is always being gathered to its people….From it death shall not separate me, but death will for the first time bring me to complete enjoyment of love and fellowship. To it all things draw me and nothing hinders me, whatever it may be. Praise be to God!”#

By God’s grace we are part of this church that Löhe paints with numerous images. One of his images for the church is a long river that constantly moves from its headwaters to the ocean: “Springing up on Pentecost and Calvary, the church flows through the ages like a river, and that same river and no other will flow unchangingly on through the ages until that great day when it will empty completely into the famed sea of eternal blessedness.”#   Our life together is not based on human preferences or attractions of particular personalities but in Christ Jesus who has redeemed us by His blood, called us by His Spirit working through the Gospel, and incorporated us into His body with the washing of the water with the Word. Jesus Christ is both the source and end of our life together.

Hidden under the cross, we live trusting in the forgiveness of sins purchased and won at Calvary and distributed in preaching and the Sacrament. It is this absolution that binds us to Christ, the friend of sinners and glues us sinners to one another in that holy community which is the church. We cannot create or engineer our life together – it is a gift, unmerited and undeserved – of God’s merciful donation so that sinners are not left utterly alone in their sin. Life together is jeopardized when it is grounded in anything other than the forgiveness of sins given by Christ Jesus. This is why we confess in the Catechism that the Holy Spirit in this Christian Church “daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” Advent teaches us how to live in this church by repentance and faith even as we cry out “Come, Lord Jesus” in anticipation of the resurrection of our bodies to eternal life together in God’s eternal Zion.

Prof. John T. Pless

Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations




C. F. W. Walther Festive Convocation: Watch Live!

(From Concordia Saint Catherine’s Blog)

In honour of the 200th anniversary of the birth of C. F. W. Walther, first president of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, the seminary is holding a festive convocation:

C. F. W. WALTHER as Hymn-Writer, Hymnal Editor, Pastor, and Musician

The convocation opens with a narrated hymn festival on Sunday evening, 23 October, 7:00pm, featuring Resurrection Lutheran Choir. All are welcome to attend at no charge. On Monday, 24 October, the convocation continues with presentations by Rev. Jon Vieker, Senior Assistant to the LCMS President. If you have not already done so, please register your intention to attend by contacting Linda Lantz at the seminary. The registration fee of $25 includes a hot lunch.

Rev. Jon Vieker

If you are unable to attend in person, you may wish to watch live (or watch the recordings later) at:

www.lutheranchurch.ca/video.php

Tune in according to the following agenda (all times are Eastern Daylight Time):

Sunday, 23 October 2011

7:00pm “A Walther Hymn Festival”

Monday, 24 October 2011

9:00am Matins

9:30am “Walther as Pastor, Musician, and Editor: the First LCMS German Hymnal” (Vieker)

10:45am Break

11:15am “Walther’s Hymns (and Agenda)” (Winger)

12:15pm Lunch, provided by seminary staff

1:30pm “From German into English: the German Hymn-writers of the First LCMS English Hymnal” (Vieker)

— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations

Liberia — The Lord Builds When It Appears All Is Torn Down

PICTURE OF THE FALLING STEEPLE, PHOTOGRAPHED JUST AFTER THE DYNAMITE EXPLODED. THE FALLING SECTION WAS 35 FEET IN LENGTH AND WEIGHED 35 TONS.

The “writing” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer for 23 October — Saint James, Brother of Our Lord —  from the Treasury of Daily Prayer reminds us that Christ alone builds His Church, even when it appears the Church is being destroyed. Bonhoeffer writes:

It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess – he builds. We must proclaim – he builds. We must pray to him – that he may build.

We do not know his plans. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.

It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don’t ask for judgments. Don’t always be calculating what will happen. Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Church, stay a church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.

– Treasury of Daily Prayer, pg. 840-841.

Reading this passage about how Christ builds His Church even when it appears it is being torn down, reminded me of the story told by Bishop Bolay of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia.

Bishop Amos Bolay and Dr. Collver in President Harrison's Office

Bishop Bolay recently requested that fellowship discussions begin between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of LIberia and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. As part of the preliminary discussions, Bishop Bolay told of the founding of Liberia in 1820 by former slaves from the United States. He mentioned that the people of Liberia think of themselves as being a part of the United States. He also mentioned that the Lutherans of Liberia consider themselves to be a part of the MIssouri Synod.

Bishop Bolay told how LCMS missionaries came to Liberia in the late 1970s and through their work a Lutheran church was established. Then in 1989 a civil war, known as one of the bloodiest in African history,  broke out in Liberia. The LCMS missionaries had to leave the country. By external appearances the 15 or so Lutheran congregations looked to be lost to the civil war. However, the Liberian civil war, which brought much harm and evil, was used by the Lord for good. The dispersion of Lutherans during the civil war actually spread the church by putting people in contact with others. Now 20 years or so later, the Lutheran church in Liberia is around 140 congregations. What from a human standpoint appeared to be a time of tearing down was used by the Lord for the construction of His Church.

May the Lord continue to build his Church!

— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations

* The picture of the falling steeple came from a book published in 1903 called Careers of Danger and Daring. The photo is from the chapter about “steeple climbers.”

Kazakhstan and Brazil — News From Around The Church

In order to help us know what our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are dealing with around the world, and to assist us in our prayers for them, we bring you news from around the church.

News From Kazakhstan

On October 13, 2011, Kazakhstan adopted a new religious law titled, “The Law on Religious Activity and Religious Associations.” The law de-registers all existing religious organizations and requires them to re-register under new guidelines.  Any religious organization that does not re-register could be “liquidated” under the new law. The law also bans all unregistered religious activity, imposes compulsory religious censorship, and requires both local and central government approval for the building or opening of houses of worship.  In order to register, each congregation must have 50 adult members, 500 adult members in at least two regions, and 5,000 adult  members in all regions. This requirement will eliminate the legal existence of any emerging Christian group (including Lutherans). In effect, Kazakhstan, which is official a secular Muslim country, will have two legal religions: Islam and Russian Orthodox. A second law signed, titled, “The Law on introducing Amendments and Additions to several legal acts questions of Religious Activity and Religious Associations,” amends the existing law and provides further restrictions particularly on the rights of children and religion. This law forbids religious organizations from attracting children, which makes illegal activities such as Sunday school, VBS, and religious sports camps, et al. With the passage of these two restrictive religious laws, it remains to be seen how they will be enforced. For more on these laws click here.

(From the Anglican Journal)

Brazilians Prepare for Reformation Celebration

Porto Alegre, Brazil – Leaders of two Brazilian Lutheran churches on Oct.18 said that local events in 2017 commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation would include creation of a space called “Luther Square” in Porto Alegre.

This city is the location of the national headquarters of theEvangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil(IECLB) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB). The IECLB is a member of the Lutheran World Federation(LWF) and the IELB is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (USA).

At a launch event here, the churches also presented a commemorative stamp and shared their plans for common publications leading up to the anniversary. In 1517, German monk Martin Luther published his “95 Theses” in Wittenberg, Germany  – criticisms of Catholic Church practices that inspired the growth of Protestantism, including establishment of the Lutheran Church.

IELB president, the Rev. Egon Kopereck, noted that the commemoration is a unique opportunity to emphasize the centrality of the word of God as the greatest legacy of Luther’s movement.

The president of IECLB, the Rev. Nestor Friedrich, stressed that anniversary should be relevant to the life of churches today. “[It] allows an analysis of theological heritage and of our own history. We have the possibility to reaffirm, to rediscover and to contextualize Lutheran theology and its contribution, especially in Brazil,” said Friedrich.

The event was attended by the mayor of Porto Alegre, Jose Fortunati, Roman Catholic Archbishop Dom Dadeus Grings and the moderator of the Central Committee of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, the Rev. Walter Altmann, among other authorities.

(Marcelo Schneider is communications liaison for Latin America with the World Council of Churches)

Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations

International Disaster Response Conference for Lutherans

Rev. Glenn Merritt talks with delegates from Japan

The first ever International Disaster Response Conference for Lutherans was held in Saint Louis at the International Center on October 17 – 21, 2011. The conference has participants from 20 LCMS Districts and 15 countries including: Japan, South Korea, Haiti, Australia, New Zeeland, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Kenya, Liberia, Chile, South Africa, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and the United States.

The many recent, large natural disasters that either involved or were responded to by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, her Districts, and her international partners, created the need for this conference. Rev. Glenn Merritt, Director of Disaster Response for the LCMS Office of International Mission, remarked, “The overwhelming emphasis at the first ever International Disaster Response Conference for Lutherans is one of cooperation and a sense of a global community of Lutherans joining hands to meet the needs of those affected by disasters worldwide.”

President Samuel of the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC) Addresses the Conference

Agenda for International Disaster Response Conference (3)

— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations