Monday, November 13, 2017

Devotion for Monday, November 13


Do not remember the former things,
   or consider the things of old. 

I am about to do a new thing;

   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

   and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43: 18-19)

Yesterday, our congregation met for one Worship Service, followed by our Fall congregational meeting as part of our Stewardship Sunday.  It was a blessed day.  We welcomed guests from our ministry in India, Bethania Kids.  We baptized a newborn from one of our new young couples. We celebrated with music and a full house in worship as well as giving thanks for the many ways we continue to serve others at Bethel.

The day also included asking some difficult, but necessary questions about our ministry together.  At our congregational meeting, we discussed some of our frustrations with declining Sunday worship attendance and continued struggles with our finances. 

Our worship attendance has been declining for several years - from a high of 272 about 5 years ago to our current level, in the 230's.  There are apparent reasons for this -- i.e. changing worship patterns for families, some people who were active have moved away, and others who have left our fellowship for other reasons.  The sense that the sanctuary is less full and the additional concern about meeting our financial realities has caused anxiety and concern within our congregation.  In fact, it has caused some anxiety and concern with me too!  

I have attempted to remain faithful to the promise that God is with us always, even to the end of the age.  And I don't believe we are at the "end of the age" quite yet.  And because "God is with us" we can dare to seek new paths and new ways that God can lead our congregation forward, albeit perhaps looking differently than before.  

My first sermon at Bethel included the above text from Isaiah.  I believe that what God does is bring new life, new hope, and new possibilities amidst dying, desperate, and uncertain moments.  This is the work of God, the purpose of Christ.

I believe yesterday, at Bethel, we took some new steps down a God-breathed path.  I am heartened by the people of God at Bethel who are willing to covenant together to be community together, even when it is hard.  As we do so, entering into our Bethel Re-Forming visioning process at the beginning of 2018, I am confident God will satisfy and nourish our parched places, and renew our life together in surprising and creative ways.  

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

95 Days with the 95 Theses (Days 90-95)

The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated this year, 2017.  Why? Because historians acknowledge and date the beginning of the Reformation to October 31, 1517, the day Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

90.  To suppress these very pointed arguments of the laity by force alone and not to resolve them by providing reasons is to expose the church and the pope to ridicule by their enemies and to make Christians miserable.

91.  Therefore, if indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all of these [objections] would be easily resolved -- indeed, they would not exist.

92.  And thus, away with all those prophets who say to Christ's people, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace!

93.  May it go well for all of those prophets who say to Christ's people, "Cross, cross" and there is no cross!"

94.  Christians must be encouraged diligently to follow Christ, their head, through penalties, death, and hell,

95.  ... and in this way they may be confident of "entering heaven through many tribulations" rather than through the [false] security of peace.



A Prayer of Martin Luther

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it.
   I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.
   I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor.

I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether.
   O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you.
   In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have.
   I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.
   I am a sinner; you are upright.

With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give.  Amen

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

95 Days with the 95 Theses (Days 82-89)



The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated this year, 2017.  Why? Because historians acknowledge and date the beginning of the Reformation to October 31, 1517, the day Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

81.  This unbridled preaching makes it difficult even for learned men to defend the reverence due the pope from slander or from the truly sharp questions of the laity:

82.  Namely, "Why does the pope not empty purgatory for the sake of the holiest love and the direst need of souls as a matter of the highest justice, given that he redeems countless souls for filthy lucre to build the Basilica [of St. Peter] as a completely trivial matter?"

83.  Again, "Why continue funeral and anniversary masses for the dead instead of returning or permitting the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is against the law to pray for those already redeemed?"

84.  Again, "Why is this new piety of God and the pope that, for the sake of money, they permit someone who is impious and an enemy to redeem [from purgatory] a pious, God-pleasing soul and yet do not, for the sake of the need of that very pious and beloved soul, redeem it purely out of love?"

85.  Again, "Why are the penitential canons -- long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse -- nevertheless now bought off with money through granting indulgences, as if they were very much alive?"

86.  Again, "Why does the pope, whose riches today are more substantial than the richest Crassus, not simply construct the Basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of the poor faithful?"

87.  Again, "What exactly does the pope 'remit' or 'allow participation in' when it comes to those who through perfect contrition have a right to full remission and a share [in the church's benefits]?"

88.  Again, Could any greater good come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and participation to each of the faithful a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?" 

89.  "Since, rather than money, the pope seeks the salvation of souls through indulgences, why does he now suspend the documents and indulgences previously granted, although they have equal efficacy?"


A Prayer of Martin Luther

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it.
   I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.
   I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor.

I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether.
   O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you.
   In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have.
   I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.
   I am a sinner; you are upright.

With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give.  Amen

Monday, October 9, 2017

95 Days with the 95 Theses (Days 75-81)



The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated this year, 2017.  Why? Because historians acknowledge and date the beginning of the Reformation to October 31, 1517, the day Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

75.  To imagine that papal indulgences are so great that they could absolve a person even for doing the impossible by violating the mother of God is insanity. (Luther accused Johann Tetzel, the Dominican Indulgence preacher, of making this claim. Tetzel denied it.) 

76.  On the contrary, we have said that papal indulgences cannot take way the very least of venial sins, as far as guilt is concerned.

77.  That it is said that even St. Peter, if he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope. (Another charge Luther accused Tetzel of saying. Again, Tetzel denied it.)

78.  On the contrary, we say that even the present pope, or any pope whatsoever, possesses greater graces -- namely the gospel, "deeds of power, gifts of healing ..." -- as in 1 Corinthians 12: 28.

79.  To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal coat-of-arms and erected [in the church where indulgences are preached], is of equal worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy. (A final charge leveled at Tetzel by Luther. And yes, Tetzel denied this too.)

80.  The bishops, parish priests, and theologians who allow such sermons free course among the people will have to answer for this.

81.  This unbridled preaching makes it difficult even for learned men to defend the reverence due the pope from slander or from the truly sharp questions of the laity: 


A Prayer of Martin Luther

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it.
   I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.
   I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor.

I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether.
   O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you.
   In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have.
   I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.
   I am a sinner; you are upright.

With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give.  Amen

Monday, October 2, 2017

95 Days with the 95 Theses (Days 68-74)



The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated this year, 2017.  Why? Because historians acknowledge and date the beginning of the Reformation to October 31, 1517, the day Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

68.  Yet they are in truth the least of all when compared to the grace of God and the goodness of the cross.

69.  Bishops and parish priests are bound to admit agents of the Apostolic indulgences with all reverence.

70.  But all of them are much more bound to strain eyes and ears intently, so that these [agents] do not preach their own daydreams in place of the pope's commission.

71.  Let the one who speaks against the truth of the Apostolic indulgences be anathema and accursed.

72.  ... but let the one who guards against the arbitrary and unbridled words used by declaimers of indulgences be blessed.

73.  Just as the pope justly thunders against those who, in whatever way they can, contrive to harm the sale of indulgences,

74.  ... much more so does he intend to thunder against those who, under the pretext of indulgences, contrive to harm holy love and the truth.



A Prayer of Martin Luther

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it.
   I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.
   I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor.

I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether.
   O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you.
   In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have.
   I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.
   I am a sinner; you are upright.

With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give.  Amen

Monday, September 25, 2017

95 Days with the 95 Theses (Days 61-67)



The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated this year, 2017.  Why? Because historians acknowledge and date the beginning of the Reformation to October 31, 1517, the day Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.


61. For it is clear that the pope's power only suffices for the remission of [ecclesiastical] penalties and for [legal] actions.

62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of 
God.

63. But this treasure is deservedly the most hated, because it makes "the first last."

64. In contrast, the treasure of indulgences is deservedly the most acceptable, because it makes "the last first."

65. Therefore, the treasures of the gospel are nets with which they formerly fished for men of wealth.

66. The treasures of of indulgences are nets with which they now fish for men of wealth.

67. Indulgences, which the declaimers should about as the greatest "graces", are indeed understood as such -- insofar as they promise profits.

A Prayer of Martin Luther

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it.
   I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.
   I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor.

I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether.
   O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you.
   In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have.
   I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.
   I am a sinner; you are upright.

With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give.  Amen


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

95 Days with the 95 Theses (Days 54-60)



The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated this year, 2017.  Why? Because historians acknowledge and date the beginning of the Reformation to October 31, 1517, the day Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

(Since I will be in Europe for a Reformation 500 trip with others from Bethel, I will be sharing Theses 24- 40 here in one space. For the previous theses, see this same blog. As previously mentioned, I am using Martin Luther's 95 Theses with Introduction, Commentary, and Study Guide by Timothy Wengert.)

54.  An injustice is done to the Word of God when, in the very same sermon, equal or more time is spent on indulgences than on the Word.

55.  It is necessarily the pope's intent that if indulgences, which are a completely insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the greatest thing of all, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, and a hundred ceremonies.

56.  The treasures of the church, from which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among Christ's people.

57.  That [these treasures] are not transient worldly riches is certainly clear, because many of the indulgence declaimers do not so much freely distribute such riches as only collect them.

58.  Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, because, even without the pope, these merits always work grace for the inner person and cross, death, and hell for the outer person.

59.  St. Laurence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word "treasure" in his own time.

60.  Not without cause, we say that the keys of the church (given by the merits of Christ) are the treasure.

A Prayer of Martin Luther

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it.
   I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.
   I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor.

I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether.
   O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you.
   In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have.
   I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.
   I am a sinner; you are upright.

With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give.  Amen