Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle

Today is the Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle, and—like all feasts and festivals (as well as commemorations)—is designed to turn our eyes to Christ Jesus our Lord. While commemorations serve to remember a broad range of the saints and events across history that help us proclaim Christ, feasts/festivals are a remembrance of those events and people whose earthly lives were intertwined with the earthly life and ministry of Christ. From the LCMS Worship Library on “Commemorations Questions and Answers”:

These days are really treated as ‘Feasts of Christ,’ that is to say, as days when we remember, celebrate, and give thanks for the life that our Lord Jesus Christ lived for us in the flesh. For these reasons, it is appropriate to observe these ‘Feasts’ with the Sacrament of the Altar, in which the Word-made-flesh draws close to us and gives himself to us in much the same way that he came and lived among the apostles and other disciples in the New Testament.

Matthias was the apostle chosen to replace Judas in the early days of the Christian Church. He is, in many ways, the forgotten apostle, showing up by name only in the first chapter of Acts. What little we know comes from Peter’s words in Acts 1:21-26:

“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.’ And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

From Rev. James Gier’s sermon during daily chapel this morning:

Well that’s about all we know about [Matthias], really. There is nothing else spiritually, other than perhaps he was one of the 72. There is little else historically. Some place him in Ethiopia, others have him bringing the faith to Armenia, known as the first nation to accept Christianity. It was said that he was martyred in Asia Minor, but that his final resting place is the great cathedral of Trier in Germany, making him, then, the only apostle buried north of the Alps… Believed martyred, he is not knowingly sawn in two, beheaded, crucified upside down, or had his skin handed to him, literally.

We do know that he was called by lot to take the place of Judas. We do know there were qualifications given for his nomination, if you will. He must be a man, one of male configuration, and one who was among them from the baptism of John to Christ’s ascension into heaven, as a legitimate witness to Jesus’ resurrection. So then where does that lead us to preach on him? A rather obscure fellow… St. Matthias, the apostle of the short end of the stick.

“Soon some of you will be called by lot and ordained into the same office, though as pastor and teacher, called not by the luck or bad luck of the draw, but by the Lord Himself to His Church. For Jesus says (and hear him carefully), “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16).

Therefore, this is not an office of your choosing anymore than it was for Matthias. Jesus does not appoint for obscure reasons. He chooses the foolish to confound the wise. That it is not by your choice is more important than you may first think, for anything that is by your choice ends up as a product of your will, and the ministry is anything but your will. And certainly you made decisions to get here, but those are secondary to the call that’s already happening. There is truth in this with God: you can run, but you cannot hide…

It ought be safely deduced that Matthias was all present with the other Eleven in the New Testament witness, beginning with Pentecost, where he also, then, was preaching in tongues to the Diaspora Jews and to the Jerusalem Jews. And where apostle Peter delivers a crushing and potentially fatally offensive punch line: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36)…

Other than a few who followed [Christ], Israel rejected Him and His ministry. Yet he says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Luke 10:21). This is hard for us to understand. Jesus praising the gracious will of the Father, that to some the salvation mystery is hidden, and that to others it is revealed.

Then the reasons come: to the wise and understanding who regard themselves as self-sufficient and so refuse, then, to acknowledge their complete need for God and His saving righteousness, to them it is hidden. But to those who acknowledge their utter dependence and need for divine grace, equated with infants—little children—the mystery of salvation in Christ is revealed. And so this is what makes for the days of a pastor. It is always by the Father’s gracious will and not your own, or you will martyr yourself in the office, and the short end of the stick in your hand is your doing.

The call is to sow and water with the Word. But only God gives the growth. And that growth is not your burden, it is by the will of God alone, the Father accomplishing the purpose for which He has sent His Word and will send you one day to preach it: the salvation mystery in Christ, hiding it from some and revealing it to others.

So then where does this lead us? I’m afraid, still, a little bit obscure. But that seems to be somewhat of the theme with Matthias. But it leaves me at a different place: at the bedside of my dying father, suffering from the same illness and treatments as I did just six weeks previous to him…

How do you minister to a man reduced again to the feeble helplessness of an infant, sedated, unable to accomplish anything for himself, even the slightest encouraging nod to the spoken Word? Questions arise: have I said enough? Have I prayed enough? Have I ministered enough? What sign is there to know? And with each question the office grew heavier, and the burden intensified.

The assurance of a blessed heavenly end was now as much for me as it was for him. I was in the same, utter dependence and need for divine grace in that office, as for the infant before me, to whom God reveals it. Same child-like faith, in the same Word, the Word that promises that the good work God had begun in him in Baptism, He will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ. Faith, now, not in my father’s faith, but in my heavenly Father’s divine grace for his faith and for mine…

When my father passed, there was incredible peace, and the burden of his sin was finally lifted. And mine too. The divine grace that allows me more time to minister on earth is the same that took my father to heaven, now numbered among the saints in heaven, including Matthias. And that is anything but obscure. It is just as true in the office as it is in faith. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light, and now that seemingly short stick in your hand reveals itself for what it really is: the yoke of Christ. And you will find rest for your souls.

Feast: Circumcision and Name of Jesus

Happy New Year! Though it is the very start of a secular new year, we are already a month into the new Church Year. Our celebration today is centered on the Circumcision and Name of Jesus. First, the history and significance of circumcision, according to Scripture:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

Genesis 17:1-14

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3:15-29

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:21

“The Circumcision of Christ” from the triptych’s central panel by Philippe Quantin, 1635.

So now second, regarding the name of Jesus:

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Numbers 6:22-27

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins…

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 1:21, 3:13-17

And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:7-12

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Revelation 22:1-5

“Baptism of the Crowds” by Andrea del Sarto, 1517.

Collegial Conversation: Imitators of Christ

A couple of weeks ago, Academic Dean Dr. Charles Gieschen held the Winter Quarter Collegial Conversation. The Collegial Conversations are mandatory quarterly convocations for all students, wherein either Dr. Rast or Dr. Gieschen speak on a topic that will affect these men and women when they enter the field. Afterwards, students meet with their faculty mentors over lunch for discussion questions.

This quarter’s topic was on being an example to imitate, a topic truly applicable for all Christians. As per Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” It’s also an excellent Advent theme, as this season is a time for preparation and self-reflection in light of sanctification. You can hear the theme in many of our Advent hymns, such as:

Before the dawning of the day
Let sin’s dark deeds be gone,
The sinful self be put away,
The new self now put on.
LSB 331:5, The Advent of Our King

Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple set apart
From earthly use for heav’n’s employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy.
So shall your Sov’reign enter in
And new and nobler life begin.
To eternal praise and fame
We offer to Thy name.
LSB 340:4, Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates

So what is Paul calling upon Christians to imitate? His cruciform baptismal life! From a CTQ article by Dr. Gieschen:

“It is this cruciform life [of sacrificial servanthood], which is Paul’s through his baptismal union with Christ, that he calls Christians to imitate because they, too, have been crucified with Christ in baptism and remain in him and he in them. An absolutely vital aspect of Paul’s focus on imitation of his example is the understanding that imitation of Paul is really not imitation of his own person but is imitation of the new baptismal reality: Christ as the one who speaks and lives in Paul.”
(“Christian Identity in Pagan Thessalonica: The Imitation of Paul’s Cruciform Life,” which can be found at https://www.ctsfw.edu/…/Gieschen-ChristianIdentityInPaganTh….)

So why not just skip the middleman? Why did Paul put himself forward as an example to be imitated? Because:

  1. Jesus had ascended. The Christians that Paul is addressing only heard about a few years of Jesus’ life and could not see it lived out now in the flesh.
  2. These Christians had neither many other Christians around them nor a long history of Christianity to draw on concerning what a Christian life truly looked like.

And why is it still important that we—meaning all Christians, but especially pastors and deaconesses—put ourselves forward as examples to be imitated? For the same reasons:

  1. Jesus is still ascended and has not yet returned in glory.
  2. Christians—especially new Christians—are still surrounded by pagans. They benefit from seeing strong examples in their pastor and deaconess of one who is living a dedicated Christian life.

We see Christ’s life through the Gospels and we in turn serve our brothers and sisters in Christ – especially those new to the fold – with a concrete example of the Christian life. Dr. Gieschen explained how this played out in his own parish. As an example of marriage and chastity, he was faithful to his wife and always spoke positively about her; as an example of raising up children in the Lord, he and his wife brought them to church every Sunday; concern for the unchurched, visitors, and the needy demonstrated what it is like to have zeal for the lost; giving an offering served as an example of stewardship; and he exhibited hope and joy even in the midst of suffering and trial.

That said, are pastors and deaconesses expected to be more of an example to the Church than other Christians? In the words of the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Grothe, former Professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia St. Louis:

“Yes and no. The same Christ is example to all, and the same paradigm of holiness and love is the goal for all. Nor is it really a matter of a ‘standard’ than one must ‘live up to,’ but rather a ‘pattern’ that one will ‘grow in to.’ Nevertheless, in human eyes the answer may have to be a ‘yes.’ For we must make, as well as we are able, evaluation of human conduct because, in God’s economy, the conduct of the pastor is paradigmatic of the life of Christ. Also, the consequences of the behavior of these men–whether they succeed or fail–are so far-reaching for the spiritual lives of others.”

Before dismissing students from the convocation for their lunchtime discussions on the topic, Dr. Gieschen finished on the following slide, before concluding with another hymn:

The Gospel is not only the power of God for salvation, but also the power of God for sanctification.
Sanctification is also the miraculous work of God. Christ’s role in our sanctification is not complete until our death or His return. He continues this work of sanctification daily as the one who is “the new man” living in us.

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled,
A quiet chamber set apart
For You to dwell within my heart.
LSB 358:13, From Heaven Above to Earth I Come

Dr. Gieschen on being an example to imitate and what that means–especially since we know ourselves to be sinners (“of whom I am the worst,” as Paul said to Timothy ), prone to failure and temptation.

Sermon Transcription: Opening Service for the 174th Academic Year

Preached by the Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr., President of CTSFW.

What is there not to like about a text like this? Luke 18:18-30. It is the perfect text for an opening service.  I know this because I preached on it at the Opening Service in 2016. That means you can go back into the archives and see if this is the same sermon.

It’s a great text. It’s straight forward. And in a sense it’s rather easy, isn’t it? You have something of a David and Nathan situation (2 Samuel 12), where Jesus takes the place of the prophet and the rich ruler becomes “that man.” Jesus sets the man up to be confronted by his own self claims. And yet the resolution is quite different in the two stories.

David’s anger is kindled against “the man” that Nathan is about to show him is himself. He is confronted, and he is crushed. And Psalm 51 shows his repentance. The rich ruler, on the other hand, fades out of the story without resolution. He is sad. But, nevertheless, it is clear that he is the bad guy and we do have a righteous and prophetic interpreter who unmasks his hypocrisy. Couldn’t be clearer!

But as I worked with the text, I began to wonder: where is the good guy in all of this? It seems to me that this story lacks an overt hero. Yes, obviously Jesus is good. Only God is good, as we hear. But where is the hero? Shouldn’t there be someone who jumps in and says “I have done all these things!” And yet we don’t find him. We don’t have a Lutheran in the crowd who would explain all the points of doctrine to all the hearers. “This is what this means.”

Well, in a sense I suppose, “This is impossible,” is the correct response. But the simple fact is that the story lacks a clean, human outcome. It isn’t tied up neatly. In fact, I think if St. Luke had submitted this to our faculty, they might’ve returned it and said, “Needs more work.”

Honestly, that’s unfair, and misses the point. For this narrative of the interaction of Jesus and the rich ruler, and the response of the crowd, and then the response of Peter, this narrative gives us a great summary of the human condition—all facets—in about 250 words. The rich ruler starts the whole thing out right, at least in a sense, by asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Not “earn” but rather “receive as a gift.” That’s a well-formed question, I would say. He doesn’t say, “It’s all about met.” Yet.

In fact, it is Jesus who turns the conversation to doing. “You know the commandments,” he says. “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and your mother.” Do, do, do, do. It sounds like the baby shark song. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just check on YouTube, join the other three million viewers who’ve watched that video.)

Now that I’ve distracted you, let’s get back to the heart of the matter. Jesus recognizes that the rich young ruler knows the commandment and therefore he should do them. It’s the moment of truth. And the rich young ruler fails. “All these I have kept from my youth.” There’s your hero! Right?

The thing is, I believe he truly means it. He believes it. “All these things I have kept from my youth.” So Jesus calls his bluff. Let me telling you what doing actually looks like. “One thing you still lack” (seems to me it’s more than one) “sell all that you have, distribute to the poor—you’ll have treasure in heaven—and come follow me.”

Sell. Distribute. Follow. Simple enough, right? And simple enough for the rich ruler to fold his hand; Jesus has trumped. At which point, to return to our earlier point, it seems to me that there should be someone who jumps in and says, “I have done that.” Rightly! But instead, the crowd has gotten Jesus’ point quite well. I suspect that initially all of them would have said, “I have done this.” But by this point in the narrative, they see where Jesus is going. When Jesus says, “Sell, distribute, follow,” they realize they cannot do it. And their cry is a new one: “Who then can be saved?”

And Jesus answers, “What is impossible with man, is possible with God.” And it is more than possible. It is finished.

What is impossible with man is possible with God, for Jesus not only knows the commandments, He has done them; for us. For Jesus, true man and true God—or (to put it a little differently) the true rich ruler—became poor and emptied himself, that we in turn might become rich. He gave it all away, everything that was his by rights. To you and to me. Distributed it to us, by His grace. That which He had earned by His perfect life and His suffering and death on the cross. The fruits of His resurrection, His life, suffering, death, are yours. Perfect. End the story here, and you have the hero.

But then there’s Peter. As, after Jesus has re-centered His hearers on His person and His work for them, Peter tramples all over the narrative by shouting, “See! We have left our homes and followed you.”

And then there’s us. We are the Peters of this text. If you haven’t said this already, you will. We all do. It is a way of making a claim upon God on our part. “God, I have done all this for you. I have left everything. I have sold all. I have gone to the Seminary. I am the hero.” And so we might expect Jesus to crush Peter and to crush us, just as he did the rich ruler. But then comes the wonderful twist of this narrative, where Jesus says to Peter (and to you and me and all those gathered), “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come, eternal life.”

You have left your homes to follow Jesus. But this act in and of itself won’t save you. There is only one who saves; our Lord Christ. Your actions in the classroom over the next 10 weeks will not save you. Nor will the ones in the years to follow. Grades do not save. Grace alone saves.

But, as those who have left home and family and familiar settings to follow Christ, His promise of blessing for you is sure and certain. The inheritance is yours, earned by Christ for you. The call to service in His service begins anew today, our 174th academic year. And the promise of blessing for each and every one of us at this Seminary is firm. You will receive many times more, in this time, and in the age to come, eternal life.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Congregation: Amen.

And finally, Dr. Rast’s words of greeting at the end of the service, which mentions the two installations that followed the sermon, for Rev. Adam Koontz (Assistant Professor of Exegetical Theology) and Deaconess Katherine Rittner (Director of the Food & Clothing Co-op):

Left to right: Dr. Rast, Deaconess Rittner, Prof. Koontz

It is a delight to welcome you here on this day we open our 174th academic year, and anticipate the manner in which our Lord will continue to bless and preserve His Church. We are particularly thankful for the gifts that he bestows on us in such a concrete way: the gift of Professor Koontz, Deaconess Rittner, and our incoming class. It is good to welcome all of you to this place, and to look forward to the way God will continue to shape you and through you shape all of us as we carry out our mission of forming servants in Jesus Christ who teach the faithful, reach the lost, and care for all.

First-year seminarians line up outside Kramer Chapel for the processional for Opening Service.
This year’s class of first-year, residential deaconess students.

St. Bartholomew, Apostle

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle. Also known as Nathanael in the Book of John, this disciple is mentioned more often as a part of the whole group rather than individually. Tradition claims that he was skinned alive, and thus the main symbol associated with him is a flaying knife. The Scripture readings for his feast day speak of the healing of bones and flesh, of affliction but not despair, of Christ who fulfills His promises from now unto eternity.

Stained glass window ca. 1900; photograph by Francis Helminski via Wikimedia commons.

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3:1-8

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

John 1:43-51

Commemoration: Samuel

In remembrance of today’s commemoration of Samuel, here is a hymn and a handful of chapters from the first book of Samuel. One of the words that sticks out in chapter 7 (copied and pasted below) is “Ebenezer,” which immediately brought to mind the hymn we’ve shared here: LSB 686 “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Verse 2 begins with “Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by Thy help I’ve come;” which is a reference to the stone of remembrance that Samuel raised to God’s glory. He called the stone Ebenezer, meaning: “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”


There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”

The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.” Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”

And he worshiped the Lord there.


Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.

Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.

And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”

And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.

1 SAMUEL 7:3-17

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.

Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah. Now when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines. And the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. And Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. The cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath, and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites.

Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. And he went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. And he judged Israel in all these places. Then he would return to Ramah, for his home was there, and there also he judged Israel. And he built there an altar to the Lord.

St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord

ISAIAH 7:10-14

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

ISAIAH 61:7-11

Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion;
instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot;
therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion;
they shall have everlasting joy.

For I the Lord love justice;
I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring shall be known among the nations,
and their descendants in the midst of the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge them,
that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.


But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

LUKE 1:26-38; 46-55

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her…

And Mary said,

Christ on the Cross with the Virgin, Mary Magdalene, and Saint John, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Spanish, c. 1670.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Commemoration: Joseph of Arimathea

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

John 19:30-42

“Burying Christ” by Pietro Perugino, 1495; Joseph of Arimathea is depicted as the well-dressed man about to wrap Christ’s feet in linen.

Commemoration: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

John 11:1-44

“Jésus pleura” or “Jesus Wept” by James Tissot, circa 1886-1894.

St. James the Elder

Today is the feast of St. James the Elder, Apostle. The readings for today paint a picture of a sinner, a martyr, and a saint and conqueror through Him who loved us.

“Saint James the Greater” by Jusepe de Ribera, circa 1615/16.

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

MARK 10:35-45

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

ACTS 12:1-5

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

ROMANS 8:31-39