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Monday, February 26, 2018

The First Petition

"Hallowed be Thy name" (First Petition).

The First Petition.  The word "petition" is itself a small devotion.

Of all the many books written about Luther and the Reformation, my favorite is the one written by his dog.  The Luthers had a dog and his name was Tolpel, the German word for "fool."  Dogs were used in that day to keep down the rodents.  To hear Tolpel tell it, his job was seeing to it that the mice did not destroy Martin's papers.

God used Tolpel to teach Luther a very important lesson.  Luther once said: "'Pray without ceasing' (1 Thess. 5:17).  My dog taught me the meaning of this Bible verse.  He believes that his good lord will give him what he needs, and therefore never stops begging.  If we humans only had such faith in our Lord!"

The Lord's Prayer has seven petitions.  "Petition" comes from a Latin word meaning "to beg."  And one of the prayers in the Communion liturgy even says, in part: "...we beg You, O Lord, to forgive, renew, and strengthen us with Your Word and Spirit."

Let us not take such a "holy" view of prayer.  The truth is, we would have nothing apart from God.  We are utterly dependent on Him.  We also love and trust in Him that He will do for, and give to us, all that we need.  So we should never stop praying, begging, and scratching at His door.  Even as He never gets tired of hearing, answering, and helping us in every need, body and soul.

Take it from Tolpel.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Introduction

"Our Father who art in heaven."

The Lord's Prayer is the third chief part of the Catechism.  It follows the Ten Commandments and the Creed.  This progression is logical, or theological.  The Second Commandment instructs us to pray ("pray, praise, and give thanks"), and now we are given the prayer.  And the Creed (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) helps us to understand the Lord's Prayer, a prayer that is addressed to the Father, taught to us by the Son, and prayed with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord's Prayer is not the most words, just the right ones - and the ones that are just right.  In English the Lord's Prayer has a perfect seventy words.  It's made up of seven parts called petitions (seven is the perfect number), together with an introduction and a conclusion.

The Introduction is "Our Father who art in heaven."

"What does this mean?  With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father."

So reads the Small Catechism.  What a wonderful, warm explanation!

But, if I may, what else does this mean?

Answer: With these words God also invites us to believe that, since He is our true Father, we are true brothers and sisters, so that with all humility and joy we may love one another as He has loved us.

And if you put it all together, you can see the shape of the cross.  Luther's "What does this mean?" expresses the vertical part of the cross, and my "What else does this mean?" expresses the horizontal.

And all of this is contained in the words "Our Father who art in heaven."

Pray them, and the whole prayer, slowly and from your heart!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Third Article

"...the forgiveness of sins" (Third Article).

The Gospel, in every way, is about the word give.  It shows up in the central teaching of Christianity: Forgiveness.  And the entire Gospel can be grasped by asking and answering five questions.

1. What (or whom) does the Father give?  Answer: the Son.

2. What does the Son give?  Answer: His life.

3. What (or whom) do the Father and the Son together give?  Answer: the Holy Spirit.

4. What then does the Holy Spirit give?  Answer: Faith, hope, and love into our hearts.  [Faith that sees the cross, hope that sees the resurrection, and love that sees one another and all people.]

5. And finally what does love give?  Answer: Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Now give these five questions a little bit of your time this week, remembering the seven words of the crucified-risen Jesus: "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven" (Matt. 9:2).

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Second Article

"And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord..." (Second Article).

By far, the best explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles' Creed is contained in the Small Catechism.  It is but one sentence long, but what a sentence!

If I had to add something, it would be this.  As the Creed is the center of the Catechism, so the Second Article is the center of the Creed.  The heart of the Faith.  Christ.

And the rest of the Catechism must be seen in the light of Christ.  It is Christ through whom we pray, "Our Father" (Lord's Prayer).  It is Christ into whom we are baptized (Sacrament of Holy Baptism).  It is Christ in whose stead and by whose command the pastor says, "I forgive you all your sins" (Confession).  It is Christ whose true body and blood we eat and drink (Sacrament of the Altar).  It is Christ who came and kept the law perfectly FOR US (Ten Commandments).

It is Christ whom the Father has given, and Christ in whom the Holy Spirit gives faith.

Christ is the One who has Won me "from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him...."

Serve Him today as a member of your congregation, as a husband or wife, as a father or mother, as a child, as a worker, as a supervisor, as a teenager, as a widow, as a pastor, as a neighbor to the person in need.

As a Christian, on whose heart are written the words of the Creed.