The Calling of Matthew (Levi)

Why did Matthew (and others) immediately decide to follow Jesus?

Matthew: 9:9-12:   As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Luke 5:27: 27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

Caravaggio_calling_Matthew

The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio (1600)

The Calling of Saint Matthew is one of the first works of Michelangelo Caravaggio and is located in the chapel of the French congregation’s church in Rome, San Luigi dei Francesi. Matthew was a Jewish tax collector in Capernaum, and is also known as Levi. Matthew was considered greedy and rich and Jesus asked him to give up his worldly possessions and take to the straight and narrow path.

In this painting, Caravaggio depicts the very moment when Matthew first realizes he is being called. Although it is difficult to see, Jesus appears outside of the room through a window. This is the artist’s way of respecting the literal interpretation of what is written in the Bible that “Jesus saw Matthew sitting at his booth.”

Martin Luther interpreted the calling of the Matthew, Andrew and others as examples of ministers of God’s Word who are called to proclaim the message of forgiveness and salvation. Jesus called common and ordinary people (day laborers, fishermen, and sinful tax collectors) to preach that Jesus came to save and to announce the forgiveness of sins. He did this because forgiveness brings life and salvation and creates the environment for how the Holy Spirit leads people to trust God, grow in faith, and respond with praise, prayer, love, and service for others! (Robert Kolb. Luther and the Stories of God, 135)

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

When Sarah Doubted God

Have you ever doubted God’s hidden presence in your life or experienced an “impossible dream” because of God’s love for you?

Genesis 18:1-15 (Sarah’s laugh) 18 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,[a] do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. 10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

Rembrandt_Abraham_Serving_the_Three_Angels

Abraham and the Three Angels by Rembrandt (1646)

Rembrandt is bold in his illustration of this divine encounter when God speaks directly to Abraham and Sarah regarding His promise of a son and His plan for salvation. He uses light and presents God as an angel in a very personal way. We see an elderly Abraham and Sarah (at the door) with expressions of disbelief. Rembrandt thought deeply about God’s interactions with people as told in the book of Genesis.

Martin Luther wrote in his lecture on Genesis 18 in 1539, “Sarah was now eighty-nine years old, and during so many years she ha been hoping for the blessing of the Lord. When she sees that her hope is futile, she submits everything to God. Yet she does not utterly despair. For this reason the Lord puts up with her weakness and is not offended by her laughter, which has its origin in her thinking about something that is impossible. For what further hope could there be for a barren and exhausted woman? Therefore the Lord brings her to faith with a very friendly reproof.

Furthermore, I stated that not only Sarah but also Abraham himself supposed that these guests of his were foreigners and that he had no thought either of angels or of prophets. Therefore when they promise a child, Sarah thought: ‘Who would be telling them this? They are not speaking from the heart; they want to ingratiate themselves, because they suppose that women hear such things with pleasure.’

These were Sarah’s thoughts when she laughed. But after she heard Him who sees and has before Him all things, new thoughts arise n her; for she notices that these are not ordinary men, but they are men full of the Holy Spirit, who sees the secrets of the hearts and reveals them.

Therefore this is a cheerful and friendly reproof. From it Sarah concluded that these were men from God and prophets, because they are aware of her laughter and her thoughts even though she is not in their presence.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

The Lord’s Prayer

 

 The Lord’s Prayer

Does Martin Luther deserve full credit for the popularity of this prayer?

Matthew 6:9-15:   “This, then, is how you should pray:  “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

The_Lord's_Prayer-_James_TissotJames Tissot – The Lord’s Prayer (Le Pater Noster) – Brooklyn Museum

James Tissot illustrates Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray. The disciples are gathered around Jesus and ask Him the question about how to pray. The arms of Jesus are open wide as He acknowledges His Father in heaven with the introduction, “Our Father…” which has become the most famous invocation in history. The setting on the top of a hill and the colors of the sky enhance the significance of Jesus Christ as both human and divine. James Tissot is a French impressionist artist who traveled to the Holy Land to research the places where Jesus walked and taught.

Luther included The Lord’s Prayer in The Deutsche Mass for the first time (1526) as it was not part of the Latin Mass in the Roman Catholic Church before the Reformation. This was also a revolutionary change from the understanding of forgiveness in Judaism, which differentiates between sins against God, rules, and other persons. Jews also expect forgiveness first from the one who committed the act (i.e. gossip, stealing) first before they would forgive the other person. In The Lord’s Prayer, people have a new standard when they pray, ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’!

Luther: Here, now, learn how great need there is of such prayer. For because we see how full the world is of sects and false teachers, who all wear the holy name as a cover and sham for their doctrines of devils, we ought by all means to pray without ceasing, and to cry and call upon God against all such as preach and believe falsely and whatever opposes and persecutes our Gospel and pure doctrine, and would suppress it, as bishops, tyrants, enthusiasts, etc. Likewise also for ourselves who have the Word of God, but are not thankful for it, nor live as we ought according to the same. If now you pray for this with your heart, you can be sure that it pleases God; for He will not hear anything more dear to Him than that His honor and praise is exalted above everything else, and His Word is taught in its purity and is esteemed precious and dear.” (The Large Catechism by Martin Luther)

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Calling of Andrew and Peter

The Calling of the Disciples

How does one become filled with the Holy Spirit?

Matthew 4:18-21: 18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”[a] 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Calling of Simon and Andrew-2The Calling of Simon and Andrew by James Tissot (1886-1894)

James Tissot, a French artist sees Simon Peter and Andrew fishing in shallow water and close enough to the shore to hear the voice of Jesus. Tissot visited the Holy Land in 1880 and observed local fishermen wearing nets around their waste.

Calling of Simon and Andrew

The Calling of Saint Peter and Andrew by Bernardo Struzzo but more recently (2006) verified that this was painted by Caravaggio.

In this painting Caravaggio pictures a youthful Jesus without a beard leading two older brothers. Peter is holding a fish in his right hand and Andrew and Peter still appear confused about what they have just experienced regarding the large number of fish they caught after Jesus directed them to fish in the deeper water.

Martin Luther: In Luther’s sermon on Matthew in 1521, he marks the calling of the disciples as the time for grace to be preached throughout the world. The disciples will minister to people in need, preach to the heathen, forgive sinners, be witnesses that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

In his sermon on the Monday after Easter in 1525 (Luke 24:13-25), Martin Luther describes the disciples as ignorant fishermen who came to know Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

“‘The apostles likewise, being ignorant fishermen, learned to know the Scriptures, not in the schools of the great scribes, but through the revelation by which Christ led them into the Scriptures. Thus they were enabled to understand and to write on the basis of a single passage a book or a sermon the world cannot understand. And if I had the same Spirit Isaiah or Paul had, I could take this passage and develop from it a New Testament, if that were not already written.

 How did St. Peter know, or where is written in Moses that which he says in 1 Peter 10-11: “Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you, searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto?” Who told him that the Spirit of Christ existed and prophesied of Christ, before there were prophets and, above all, before Christ and the Holy Ghost were present? Are these the words of a fisherman, or of a learned, wise scribe? Nay, it is the revelation of the Holy Spirit who had also revealed it to the prophets before.’”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

The Parable of the Sower

The Parable of the Sower

How does this story from Jesus support anyone who is overwhelmed by the challenges of daily living and troubles of this world?

 Matthew 13:1-24  That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

 Sower-VanGogh

Sower with Setting Sun, Vincent Van Gogh (1888)

 Sower with Setting Sun is a personal and introspective work for Vincent Van Gogh. He saw in the painting, Sower, by another French artist, Jean Francois Millet, the story of Christ’s parable in Matthew 13. Van Gogh understood this parable as the presence of Jesus Christ in a troubled world. Van Gogh studied theology and regarded his art as a form of ministry for connecting people with Jesus Christ. He hoped that his paintings would give hope to the people who are living in spiritually and socially infertile soil. Instead of seeing things in the two dimensions of a painting, Van Gogh believed that God gives us the capacity to understand the infinite dimensions or perspective of living a spiritual world.

Although many who read this story are familiar with it, Van Gogh allows us to engage in his work of art with both our eyes (visual literacy) and heart (spiritual literacy). When we do this, the painting and the words of Christ’s parable have the capacity for changing our life! We see the humble sower on the left whose work is blessed by the sun and the growing tree on the right. The tree represents life, and Van Gogh gives us this tree as an image of Christ’s resurrection and the life changing power of faith! Note the Word of God in John 12: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Martin Luther preached a sermon on this parable in 1525 at the height of the violence in the Peasants War:  “The Savior himself explained this parable in the same chapter upon the request of his disciples and says: He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the children of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy that sowed them is the devil; and the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. These seven points of explanation comprehend and clearly set forth what Christ meant by this parable. But who could have discovered such an interpretation, seeing that in this parable He calls people the seed and the world the field; although in the parable preceding this one he defines the seed to be the Word of God and the field the people or the hearts of the people. If Christ Himself had not here interpreted this parable everyone would have imitated his explanation of the preceding parable and considered the seed to be the Word of God, and thus the Savior’s object and understanding of it would have been lost….  Today’s Gospel also teaches by this parable that our free will amounts to nothing, since the good seed is sowed only by Christ, and Satan can sow nothing but evil Seed; as we also see that the field of itself yields nothing but tares, which the cattle eat, although the field receives them and they make the field green as if they were wheat. In the same way the false Christians among the true Christians are of no use but to feed the world and be food for Satan, and they are so beautifully green and hypocritical, as if they alone were the saints, and hold the place in Christendom as if they were lords there, and the government and highest places belonged to them; and for no other reason than that they glory that they are Christians and are   among Christians in the church of Christ, although they see and confess that they live unchristian lives.      In that the Savior pictures here also Satan scattering his seed while the people sleep and no one sees who did it, he shows how Satan adorns and disguises himself so that he cannot be taken for Satan. As we experienced when Christianity was planted in the world Satan thrust into its midst false teachers. People securely think here God is enthroned without a rival and Satan is a thousand miles away, and no one sees anything except how they parade the Word, name and work of God. That course proves beautifully effective. But when the wheat springs up, then we see the tares, that is, if we are conscientious with God’s Word and teach faith, we see that it brings forth fruit, then they go about and antagonize it, and wish to be masters of the field and fear lest only wheat grows in the field, and their interests be overlooked.” 

Thanks to Dr. James Romaine, Associate Professor of Art History at Nyack College and cofounder of the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art, www.christianityhistoryart.org for his contribution to the research of this blog.

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Baptism of Jesus

The Baptism of Jesus

If baptism is important why is it not stated in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed?

 Mark 1:4-11: And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

The_Baptism_of_Christ_(Verrocchio_&_Leonardo)[1]

The Baptism of Christ by Andrea del Verrocchio (1472)

Andrea del Verrocchio was the master teacher of Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo, at the age of 23, painted the kneeling angels. Several students contributed to this famous work of art including Botticelli and Credi. Leonardo’s angels bring life and spirit to the kickoff of the ministry of Jesus Christ with his baptism. What a powerful confession of faith for everyone involved in creating this masterpiece!

Luther: Luther in his sermon on January 6, 1534 preached:At the Jordan, in his thirtieth year, Christ reveals himself fully for the first time. John is shocked by his desire to be baptized and says, “Shall I baptize you? I am not worthy.” But Jesus responds, “Be content; this is the way it should be.” The Son, who is without sin, allows himself to be baptized for our example and our comfort. He does something here that is not required of him, whereas we do nothing that is not required of us. More, we do what is evil. How will we ever get to the point of doing something not required? Christ is holier even than baptism, yet still allows Himself to be baptized. Thereby he institutes baptism. So those accursed people who despise or ridicule baptism are banished to the depths of hell. May God blight them and blind them, since they don’t have the ears and eyes to see what is going on here. Although they do not choose baptism, God’s Son does! Are we so arrogant that we should despise baptism? Even if it offered us nothing at all, we should honor baptism simply for Christ’s name’s sake, and be baptized to honor him. But [something is offered]: God in heaven poured himself out when Christ was baptized.

John indeed saw that the heavens were opened. That was a sign that our Lord God holds baptism dear—baptism that was sanctified by the Son of God himself in his own body. The heavens, previously closed, are now opened, becoming a clear gateway and window for us to see into heaven itself. There is no longer a dividing line between God and us, for he has descended into the [baptismal] water. Isn’t this a great revelation? That is why we call [this festival] Epiphany, because God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has revealed himself with all his angels.The Holy Spirit comes like an innocent dove. Among all birds, the dove is known for its kind heart and lack of anger. Thus, the Holy Spirit presents itself in this friendly form. Here [too] there is no anger. The Son of God, who did not need [to be baptized], reveals himself to us not only as example but also as grace itself. The Father makes himself heard in the voice: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

It would not be surprising if the heavens and the earth shook before this voice, the speaking of our Lord God himself. If our Lord God spoke, I would fall on my face. But, for all that, the voice comes with nothing but kindness, grace, and mercy, saying, “There you have it: One who has been baptized!” So, do you want to know who [our God] is? He does not come with a sword, or with the noisy clamor of Sinai; he comes with nothing but the images and appearance of friendship. The Son is an innocent man who does more than is required of him; the Holy Spirit comes in a friendly form; the Father has a friendly voice: “I am not sending you prophets or apostles or angels; instead you have my Son, with whom I am completely pleased.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Hymn Parade – Awesome God

Awesome God – Rich Mullins and Michael W. Smith (1988)

How great is our God?

 Nehemiah 1:5-7: Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.”

Awesome God

When He rolls up His sleeves/He ain’t just putting on the ritz There’s thunder in His footsteps/And lightning in His fists The Lord wasn’t joking/When He kicked ’em out of Eden It wasn’t for no reason/That He shed His blood His return is very close/And so you better be believing that Our God is an awesome God/Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above/With wisdom, power, and love Our God is an awesome God/And when the sky was starless In the void of the night/(God is an awesome God) He spoke into the darkness/And created the light/(God is an awesome God) Judgment and wrath He poured out on Sodom/Mercy and grace He gave us at the cross

I hope that we have not/Too quickly forgotten that Our God is an awesome God

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38V8jnN1Kpw

Awesome God

Martin Luther said: “Pray as if everything depends on God, then work as if everything depends on you.” Nehemiah (445 B.C.E.) prayed both day and night for the sinful actions and complacency of the people of Israel. Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king and his main job was to taste the king’s wine first to make sure it was not poisoned. It was a dangerous job! It also gave him intimate access to royalty, political standing and a place to live in the palace. Based on the reports Nehemiah heard in the palace he was concerned about what was happening to his countrymen in Jerusalem.

The report was that the survivors were in great trouble and disgrace, that the wall of Jerusalem was in shambles and that its gates had been burned with fire.  They were living in ruins and they accepted it. Nehemiah understood that before you can ask God to rebuild, you must first become concerned about the problem. First, he admits admit his sin and then the sins of his people. Nehemiah boldly and persistently asks God to hear his prayer and confession of sin. He cries, fasts, and persists in prayer. Nehemiah knows that the captivity was due to the disobedience of the people but that God had promised He would bring them back to Jerusalem. Nehemiah is willing and ready to get involved! He asked God to use him at risk to his well-being and life.

Our God is an Awesome God because He loves us when we are in ruins, lost, anxious, helpless. Everyone experiences difficult times and unhappiness but the power of this praise hymn is that God is all-powerful, all-loving, and always ready to help us. As Nehemiah prayed to rebuild Jerusalem, we pray to rebuild our lives or the life of someone in need of help. Just turn to Jesus in prayer, pray boldly and pray consistently! ‘He gave us grace on the cross!”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

Hymn Parade – How Great Thou Art

How Great Thou Art – Carl Gustav Boberg (1885, Sweden)

Did Carl Boberg write the words to this hymn during a time when he felt blessed or during a time of trial and anxiety?

 O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder / Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made / I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder / Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2T1csHUgF4

1 Chronicles 29:10-13 (David’s Prayer)   10 David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, “Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. 11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.

12 Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.

13 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.

elvis-how-great-thou-art

Carl Boberg was a sailor and left his job to become a lay-minister in the Lutheran Church of Sweden. In 1885, after hearing the sound of church bells ringing during either a thunderstorm or funeral service, he wrote the words to “O Great God”.

At first, his nine-verse poem was not very popular. In 1890, someone published his poem in the paper with a Swedish melody. During the Great Depression decade of the 1930s, Stuart Hine, an English missionary, heard the song in Russian while in Poland and brought it back with him to England. In the 1950s the hymn became very popular through the Billy Graham crusades and has continued as one of the top five most popular hymns in the world.

“Martin Luther saw prayer as crucial to human life, a life created by the relationship to God. In this relationship God starts a conversation, communicating God’s words of law and promise. Prayer is a part of the human response to God’s speaking, a response itself shaped by the words of command and promise. Luther thought that God’s promise to hear prayer defines both the nature of God and the nature of the human relationship to God, as well as the human approach to life. Luther’s comments and instructions on prayer permeated his work. Luther sought to build an evangelical prayer practice that reflected the key insights of his theology: just as God redeems the unworthy human, so God promises to hear and respond to the one praying, despite his or her unworthiness. Humans respond to God’s actions in law and promise when they pray regularly, forthrightly, honestly, and frequently. Freedom in Christ sets humans free to use prayer practices that help them to do this.” (Mary Jane Haemig)

http://religion.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-358

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Hymn Parade – Great is Thy Faithfulness

Great is Thy Faithfulness by Thomas Chisholm (1923)

How many situations in life have challenged your faith in God?

Great is Thy faithfulness O God my Father / There is no shadow of turning with Thee / Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not / As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTKIqmdfHSk

Lamentations 3:22:23: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

great-thy-faithfulness-christian-worship-hymn-thomas-chisholm-classic-extolling-god-s-faithful-dealings-his-people-61146998

Thomas Chisholm was born in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. He was educated in a small country schoolhouse and at age 16 began teaching at the same school. He became a Christian at age 27, and with no college or seminary training was ordained a Methodist minister at age 36. Within a year of his ordination he became ill, left the ministry and moved to Vineland, NJ. Although he had many health issues and a limited income, his faith in God’s promises was strong throughout his life. He also lived until age 94 and died in Ocean Grove, NJ in 1960.

His friend, William Runyan wrote the tune for this popular hymn. The hymn became popular with the Billy Graham crusade and is one of the most popular hymns in England.

Martin Luther wrote the following about faith in his introduction to Romans in his translation of the New Testament in 1522: “Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.” They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this `faith,’ either.

Instead, faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words.

Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

The Wedding at Cana

How many times has God blessed you more than you expected?

John 2: 1-11: On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Marriage-at-Cana-Italian-Renaissance-Tintoretto

The Marriage at Cana by Jacopo Tintoretto (1561)

The wedding at Cana is one of the most popular Biblical stories for artists. This painting emphasizes the culture of a Renaissance wedding with the finest dinnerware and clothing. The use of light and perspective demonstrates Tintoretto’s skill as a master artist. The spiritual importance of the painting is lacking as Jesus just appears as one of the guests and He is not the central theme. The calling of the apostle John is omitted and the presence of Mary, Jesus’ family, and his disciples lacks emphasis.

Luther: Martin Luther analyzed the miracle at Cana in his sermon on the second Sunday in Epiphany in 1525. He took the opportunity to apply the importance of God’s Word, faith, and the responsibility of parents to nurture their children (God’s children) according to God’s command.

“For father and mother are in duty bound, yea, God made them father and mother for this very purpose, not to teach and lead their children to God according to their own notions and devotion, but according to God’s command; as St. Paul declares in Eph 6, 4: “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord;” (i. e. teach them God’s command and Word, as you were taught, and not notions of your own.) Thus in this Gospel lesson you see the mother of Christ directing the servants away from herself unto Christ, telling them not: Whatsoever I say unto you, do it; but: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” To this Word alone you must direct everyone, if You would direct aright; so that this word of Mary (whatsoever he saith, do it) is, and ought to be, a daily saying in Christendom, destroying all doctrines of men and everything not really Christ’s Word. And we ought firmly to believe that what is imposed upon us over and above God’s Word is not, as they boast and lie, the commandment of the church. For Mary says: ‘Whatsoever he saith that, that, that do, (sic) and that alone; for in it there will be enough to do.‘ Here also you see, how faith does not fail, God does not permit that, but gives more abundantly and gloriously than we ask. For here not merely wine is given, but excellent and good wine, and a great quantity of it. By this He again entices and allures us to believe confidently in him, though be a delay. For He is truthful and cannot deny himself; He is good and gracious, that He must of Himself confess and in addition prove it, unless we hinder Him and refuse Him time and place and the means to do so. At last He cannot forsake his work, as little as He can forsake himself–if only we can hold out until His hour comes.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org