Understanding the Historic (One-Year) Lectionary

The lectionary is a set of readings that establish the various seasons of the Christian Church Year. The Historic Lectionary follows a one-year cycle that retains the traditional order of Epistle and Gospel readings used by Lutherans before the adoption of the newer three-year lectionaries. This lectionary is “historic” in that it has been used by many Lutherans since the sixteenth century and that it reflects much of what was common in the medieval practice inherited by the Lutheran reformers. The Latin names are retained for many of the Sundays. This post is designed to be an aid in understanding the Sunday-names used in the Historic Lectionary. Continue reading


Is Lent Lutheran?

“During the forty days of Lent, God’s baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”…..

This is in no way Lutheran!!!!!!!!!!! We are saved by God’s GRACE not WORKS of discipline. We cannot cleanse our own hearts.

You are correct. Lent is not about our giving up something to somehow please God by our good work. Lent is about what Jesus Christ gave up to pay the penalty for the sins of the world — His holy and innocent life. This is the message of the Gospel.

If during Lent Christians choose to give up something or rededicate themselves to helping those in need as a way to proclaim the salvation Christ has won for all by His suffering and death, then such activities are sacrifices that glorify God. Yet as you say in your note, nothing we do through discipline, self-denial, or good works can ever earn the Lord’s forgiveness or repay Him for what He accomplished for us. We are saved by grace.

Though the Scriptures do not mention Lent, it has a longstanding tradition in the Church. Though we are not certain how it developed, by A.D. 350 the forty-day fast that we now have was already part of the Church’s practice in most places. Many identify the Second Festal letter of Athanasius in A.D. 330 as the earliest reference to a forty-day day fast leading up to Easter.

For Christians living in the Fourth Century Lent had two major emphases: First, it was seen as a time of repentance and denial of self. All Christians were to examine their lives according to the Ten Commandments and other Christian ethical precepts and repent where necessary. They were to remember what it cost their Savior to save them, The second emphasis of Lent was as a time of instruction and preparation for those who wanted to become members of the Christian Church, i.e., the catechumens. During Lent they learned the Christian doctrine by studying the Creed. They were led step by step through prayer and special rites toward baptism. The instruction of the catechumen led to baptism and receiving the Lord’s Supper in the service on Easter.

At the time of the Reformation, some Christians wanted to eliminate Lent since Scripture didn’t command it. Luther, however, urged that it be kept, for he saw Lent as an opportunity for the strengthening of faith. “Lent, Palm Sunday, and Holy Week shall be retained, not to force anyone to fast, but to preserve the Passion history and the Gospels appointed for that season” (Luther’s Works AE, 53:90). Here Luther instructs that Lent should be preserved, in part, because it reminded Christians of the Passion (suffering and death) of Jesus and encouraged them to meditate upon it. However, no one should be forced to participate. It should be voluntary.

Lutherans retain Lent to this day, because we see it as a salutary outward discipline that gives Christians a wonderful opportunity for spiritual renewal. As Lent begins, we are invited to struggle against everything that leads us away from love of God and love of neighbor by exercising the discipline of Lent: repentance, fasting, prayer and works of love (almsgiving). These may become specific occasions and opportunities for spiritual renewal during this season of renewal as we come face to face with the sin that hinders our walk with Christ. Living out a discipline takes our Lord’s words about self-denial seriously (Matthew 16:24). In the Lenten discipline, we come face to face with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we focus (or refocus) on His self-sacrificing passion, death and resurrection, which has brought us acceptance, forgiveness and redemption by God. Through that same discipline, we make a loving response to God who gives us the power to live anew.

Blessed Lent,

A Love Letter to My Wife

It seems that maybe more than most of the thirty-nine before it, I’m thinking about my upcoming fortieth wedding anniversary. This might be spurred by the heightened assault on marriage in our society. Or by a number of weddings seen lately-especially by work colleagues, and children of friends. It could also be because of the work that I am currently doing, especially on two manuscripts, one by Richard Warneck and the other by Jonathan Fisk. If I may then, let me share with you what is basically a love letter to my bride.

“Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” Genesis 2:18a. And so, God created for Adam his Eve. His wife was a gift from God, a wondrous merciful act from a loving Father so that man would not be alone. So, put together by God, Adam and Eve learned what love was.

[Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” Matthew 19:4–5

Almost forty years ago, God put my Eve in my life. When I met Judy, I certainly knew what attraction was. Those feelings ran hot. But I didn’t know what love was, not really. But, Judy was to be God’s gift to me. He used even my lust for her to bind me to her, to see that I could build a life with this woman. I can’t imagine where, in stupidity, evil, and vice, the old Adam in me could have taken the nineteen-year-old me had I ventured out alone. When the world of the 1970s around me was lauding being unattached and “free,” God called me—certainly by His Word, but also through this woman—to not listen to the world. We know that we are never really free. Either we are sons of God or sons of perdition. We are either bound by grace to life everlasting with God or we are bound in sin to life everlasting with the devil and those who chose to reject God’s grace. In a world that is discarding marriage, I thank God that he gave Judy to me to have and to hold all my days—from November 3, 1977 until death parts us.

For my parents, especially for my Mom, it was the wrong priority. Certainly, I was committing myself to path that wouldn’t take me to college, would condemn me to end up living less than middle class. Mom had not finished college, so her ambition for her oldest son is that he would. Nineteen was too young to saddle oneself with a wife, with a family. I was closing doors that I hadn’t even explored. But the Lord knew the plans he had for me. For surely it was that I would go to college and to seminary and succeed because, I truly believe, because I had at my side, my dear wife.

I have come to know what love is, thanks be to God. My love for Judy is eros. It has been and continues to stoke my passions, it is romantic. My love for her is the heart-piercing arrow of Cupid run deep. My love for Judy is philia, a goodness that is borne of mutual benefit, companionship, dependability, and trust which we have for each other. This is the love that still draws our hands together as we walk together, even if the short distance of a parking lot. This is the love that is comfortable in shared silences, and that draws us together, if even to each read a book or iPad together in the same room. It is the shared laugh, a common regard for this or that, a gentle ‘poke’, and a considered nudge to get it done. It is this love, I believe, which gives us a ‘oneness’ that transcends romance. It is in this love that we are like two pieces of a puzzle that once put together, cannot be separated.

But above these, and binding them together, is agape love. Agape love is certainly nothing that I, on my own possess, and yet it sustains, shields, and maintains our marriage from the assaults of the world. Our Lord Jesus Christ has modeled for us this love: love that sacrifices all, even life, for the benefit of another. A love that sacrifices all so that He can hold up His Bride blameless. And while I can give such love only imperfectly, it is this love that I have for Judy, and she for me. I dare say we didn’t have this love deeply in the beginning, but I rejoice wading in its depths now. It is the love that has given me the courage to strive and endeavor and work hard to accomplish. It is the love that forgives when we wrong each other. It is because of Judy’s love that I was ‘free’ to go to school for ten years to prepare for a call into ministry in the Church. It was only because I knew I was so loved, that I alone was her man, and she my girl, that I could confidently be a parish pastor—walking out the door in the morning, not returning home until after the evening meeting, knowing that she would be there, and that the household and children were in her care. It is our agape love for each other which spans opposing sides, keeps us together during disagreement, and gives us strength during sickness, injury, recovery, and growing older.

It is because of our love for each other that we have problems saying “no” to each other, but know that, knowing our willingness to sacrifice for each other, we also come together to make decisions for our mutual care and good. It is our love, first for each other, and then for our children, that has allowed us to be there when each has come back to live with us as they transitioned from one place or circumstance to another—each time knowing we would be impacting our life, taking time away from each other and resources, sacrificing our comfort now, and, with some likelihood, an impact in the future as a result. She is the one person I would do anything for, and the one whom I always consider before doing anything else. I treasure that Judy and I have eros and philia love for each other, but it is our agape love which sustains me. It is in our love in which I live and move and define my being in this life.

The world around us continues to devalue the joining of one man and one woman in marriage because it is considered weakness to give up yourself for another. What they are missing! They are missing that marriage is a gift from God. “It is not good that man be alone.” What joy that God has bound me to Judy and more than not being alone, I am loved! XOXO

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The ruminations of a Lutheran cleric on liturgy and the Divine Service, Lutheran culture, sermons, devotional writing, tidbits from some of the projects I am working on, pictures of the grandchildren, and bits of life lived out as a child of God praying “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Katherine von Bora Luther

The First Lady of the Reformation by Gaylin Schmeling. This originally appeared in Lutheran Synod Quarterly published by Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, however, the link to the archive was broken, so I no longer know which issue of LSQ .

Katherine von Bora is the best known woman of the Reformation because she was Luther’s wife. While Katherine has been eclipsed in history by the great fame of her husband, she was far from a wallflower. She was a rock of support at her husband’s side throughout their married life.Katherine was born in January of 1499, and at the age of ten she was placed in the nunnery at Nimschen near Grimma when her father remarried.

In the 1520s the writings of Luther began to infiltrate the nunnery. The message of salvation through faith alone in Christ brought comfort and peace to the sisters’ hearts. A number of them turned to Luther for advice and he counseled escape, which was shortly accomplished. On April 7, 1523, Katherine and the other sisters reached Wittenberg. Luther felt responsible for finding suitable mates for the former nuns and managed for the most part, but this was not the case in Katherine’s situation. This may be due to the fact that she had her eye on Luther. In any event Luther and Katie were married in June of 1525. Their relationship probably was not the most romantic at the start, yet years later Luther would declare, “I would not exchange Katie for France or Venice, because God has given her to me, and other women have worse faults.”

With this marriage the Black Cloister of Wittenberg became the first Lutheran parsonage. With marriage came also an entirely different lifestyle for Luther. Katherine brought order out of chaos at the Black Cloister. Not only did she provide a clean house and a made bed, which were an unknown luxury for the unmarried Luther, but she also brought about financial responsibility. She kept Luther from giving away everything they had and she put the household on a budget. Katherine helped support the household by managing a farm and a brewery. It was not long before Martin and Katherine had still more responsibility. Within eight years they became the parents of six children. Three sons and three daughters were born to this union. They also raised a number of orphaned relatives.

Katherine was a faithful wife to Luther. In times of sickness she was his compassionate nurse. In Lutherís dark periods burdened down by the struggles of life, Katie was able to comfort him with that same long hidden Gospel treasure that God through Luther had restored to the world. Katie was indeed Luther’s faithful rib. Katherine saw the death of her beloved husband in 1546 and outlived him by six years. In the summer of 1552 the plague broke out in Wittenberg. By fall Katie decided they had to leave. On the way the horses became frightened and bolted. Katie jumped from the wagon and was seriously injured. For months she lay suffering and finally died in the Lord on December 20, 1552.

One of the greatest legacies the church has received from the marriage of Martin and Katherine Luther is the Lutheran parsonage. The Luther home became the example for future Lutheran parsonages and Lutheran homes in general. The Luther house was given to hospitality. It was filled with children, students, and relatives. There was always a place for those in need. It was a place of culture and music and of joy and happiness.

This heritage continued even in the Lutheran Church in America. The early Lutheran parsonages were shelters for the needy, inns for travelers, and centers of culture. Frontier parsonages such as the home of Elisabeth and Ulrik Koren were a great blessing to the Lutheran Church. May the Lutheran home and parsonage always be a place of hospitality. This is the legacy of Katie Luther, the first lady of the Reformation.

Matthew 5:(17–19), 20–26 – Sixth Sunday after Trinity


Exceeding Righteousness

Matthew 5:(17-19) 20-26

Let us pray:

Lord God, heavenly Father, we confess that we are poor, wretched sinners, and that there is no good in us; our hearts, flesh and blood being so corrupted by sin that we are never in this life without sinful lusts and desires. Therefore we beseech You, dear Father, forgive us these sins, and let Your Holy Spirit so cleanse our hearts that we may desire and love Your Word, abide by it, and thus by Your grace be forever saved; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen. (Veit Dietrich: Trinity 6)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

If you go out on the street and ask someone to name one of the Ten Commandments, almost always the first one named is “You shall not murder.” It is the most basic rule and law for mankind. Don’t kill each other.

It seems pretty simple. Don’t shoot anyone, stab any one, starve anyone, don’t do anything that would end another person’s life. If we were to take our man on the street who knew the commandment “You shall not murder” and ask him, “Have you kept this commandment?” they would almost certainly say “Of course.” Most people have never taken another’s life, and if they have I’m sure they wouldn’t mention it.

This was the Pharisees’ idea of righteousness. It had to do only with the outward works. If you held your hands back from ringing someone’s neck, then you had kept this commandment. It didn’t matter if you hated the person in your heart, or were bitter about some sin committed against you, or if you spoke poorly about the person. All this you could do, and still be righteous, as long as you didn’t run your neighbor through with a sword.

This is why Jesus calls the Pharisees “white-washed tombs.” On the outside they looked clean, righteous, holy, but on the inside they were full of rot. The Pharisees loved a law that you could keep, that way they could have a checklist of their own goodness and everyone else’s sin. And we should know that at the time our Lord Jesus walked the earth, the Pharisees had a pretty good thing going. They had everyone convinced that they were righteous, holy, the ones with whom God was pleased. They might have even been convinced of that themselves. If you were to go to Jerusalem and ask, “Is there anyone holy around here?” the person would have pointed you to the closest Pharisee.

The Pharisees were convinced that they kept the law, and that because of that they would reach heaven.

This is why the words of Jesus would have dropped like a bomb,

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

What? The Pharisees were the height of righteousness, and now Jesus is saying that it has to exceed that!?

Jesus goes on to explain the issue.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

There it is: Jesus unfolds the preaching of Moses; He lets the Law loose to do it’s killing work. All illusions of man’s righteousness are crushed. It is not enough that we hold back  from taking someone’s life. This commandment requires us to care for every physical need of our neighbor, and more, it requires us to love our neighbor and be kindly disposed toward him, to think and speak kindly of our neighbor, even our enemies. Every thought or word or anger against your neighbor, says Jesus, is deserving of the wrath of God. Every time you have, in anger, called a person a fool, or even thought of them as a fool, you have committed a sin that deserves the judgment of the fires of hell – it is just as if you had murdered him.

Sin is not just committed with our hands, but also with our mouths, our minds, our eyes, and our hearts. And Jesus shows that the law of Moses requires absolutely everything. It is not enough to be righteous on the outside, we have to be pure and holy in our hearts. If our hearts do not overflow with love for our neighbor, we are murderers.

Now you might say, “Pastor, don’t get carried away here. Surely killing someone is worse than calling them a fool.” True enough from an earthly perspective. I would much rather you have angry thoughts toward me than to come up and punch me in the face; I would much rather you call me a fool and not hit me on the head with a baseball bat. Among men there are differences and degrees of sin. Some sins are more destructive on earth than others. But before God all sins are equally detestable, equally unholy, equally damning.

To curse is to kill, to look with lust is to commit adultery, to covet is to steal, and all of it, each and every sin is to commit idolatry, to worship a false god. What happens now is that Jesus, in teaching us what exceeding righteousness is, ends up showing us our exceeding sinfulness. When we try to measure up to the standard of the law that He teaches in the sermon on the mount, we fall short, desperately short, of the mark. This preaching condemns us. We don’t keep God’s law and we can’t keep God’s law.

And now we come to a dangerous crossroads. If we believe this word of Jesus (and we are Christians, that means that we do believe this word) that we cannot keep God’s law, we are presented with a number of temptations.

If we don’t like the Law, we may—like a child who has been told “no,” ask again.  And again.  And again.  The hope is that somehow the answer will be different the next time. If we don’t like the Law we look for a different interpretation, the acceptable exception for the rule.  We hunt and peck and search and whine and dig and do anything we can to try and find a loophole. Certainly the Law will bend to our ingenuity, and we will be able to get what we want.  It is the American way. If you don’t like the rules, change the rules or throw out the rule-book.  It is the human way since Adam and Eve, asking with the serpent if God really said what He said.  It is your way, every time you try to wiggle out of what you know is right and true and good, and seek the easy way, the less painful way, the way that gets you what you want.

There are some who don’t like the Law who claim God is unfair—there really in no way to keep the Law, so they resign themselves to their own judgment. We think, “If I’m a sinner and there’s nothing else for me but to sin, then I’ll try to go out in a blaze of glory.” This is the way of our flesh: to live without the law, to do whatever we want because it doesn’t matter anyway. “If all I can do is sin, then I won’t even try to stop, to quit, to keep the law. If we cannot keep God’s law, then we don’t have to keep it; we don’t even have to try. This is also our sinful flesh squeezing out from under God’s law. But, in the end, there is no escaping it. We truly ought to love our neighbor, but we don’t.

Our righteousness, even if it exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, still falls short of the mark. God’s law always accuses us; it condemns us; it kills us. If we want a righteousness that will prevail before the throne of God, and grant us passage through the judgment to the kingdom of heaven, then we need a righteousness outside of ourselves, a righteousness apart from the law.

Righteousness is precisely what Jesus came to give. That’s what forgiveness of sins is all about. God mercy is known chiefly not in healing, prosperity, clothing, or family. God’s mercy is placing the entire penalty for our unrighteousness upon the righteous One, Jesus Christ. His shoulders carried the whole burden of the sin of Adam He bore it in the beatings, the spitting, the whipping, the mocking, the thorns. He dragged it through Jerusalem and suffered it at about the third hour. Finally, Jesus drew His last breath, declared, declared “It is finished!” and suffered our death in our place.

By Christ’s death and shed blood, our unrighteousness, our iniquity, our sin, was pardoned, forgiven, and removed. This pardon was washed over us in Holy Baptism, pronounced in Holy Absolution, and is given us to eat and drink in Holy Communion. Our righteousness is nothing but “filthy rags.” Christ’s righteousness given to us exceeds the demands of the Law—the Law is fulfilled in Christ. Only by Christ’s righteousness can we enter into the kingdom of heaven. Only by Christ, is there forgiveness unto righteousness and thus eternal life.

Listen to these beautiful words of St. Paul, who spent his life preaching this righteousness, the righteousness that comes by faith.

 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:19-25)

Jesus instructs us “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

There is a righteousness that truly exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, the very righteousness of God Himself, the perfection of Jesus applied to you in the declaration of all your sins. You are forgiven, that is, you are completely righteous, perfect in the sight of God, holy to stand in the presence of God. The law that we could not keep has been kept on our behalf, and this perfect keeping of the Law has been given to you.

And now, you know the will of God for you. In faith you delight that He has revealed to you how you are to love your neighbor. The Holy Spirit strengthens you continually in that faith so that you can begin to keep these words of Jesus. And as you make a beginning of loving your neighbors and caring for their bodily needs, you have the confidence that you are forgiven, that you are loved by God, that He smiles upon you, and gives you His peace.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Based on a sermon by Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller