Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

Monthly Archives: February 2017

Ash Wednesday 2017

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Why place ashes on our foreheads?  It’s an old, old Church tradition that carries with it an important symbolism.  By placing ashes on our foreheads, we enter a visible state of repentance, knowing what God said after the Fall into sin: “for your are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).  The ashes signify our complete inability to save ourselves, and our faith that the death of one man, the Lord Jesus Christ, brought us the life we had lost.  Join us Wednesday, March 1st at 2 PM for the imposition of ashes.

The evening of March 1st, our regular schedule of Wednesday night Lenten Vespers begins with our service at 6:30.  We begin by looking back at that Garden where mankind fell, but always in light of the promise of One who would restore life in the fruit of his blood.

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Love and St. Valentine

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Cupid on a Vintage Valentine

For a little more than 1500 years, February 14th has been known as St. Valentine’s Day.  Pope St. Gelasius I (Pope from 492-496) is the likely founder of this day as the commemoration of St. Valentine, understanding February 14th as the day on which St. Valentine died.  However, there are possibly three different Ss. Valentine who died on this date in different years: St. Valentine of Terni, St. Valentine of Africa, and St. Valentine of Rome.  However, none of these three men have any reliable legends regarding love or marriage.  Somewhere between the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. there was an expansion made to the life of St. Valentine of Rome, assigning to him the miracle of healing the daughter of his jailer of her blindness.  However, this is not presented as a love story.

A number of other legends were recorded between A.D. 1260 and 1493, adding new ideas of one of the Ss. Valentine performing miracles or standing up against unjust rulers, all in the name of love or marriage.  Besides this, in the 1750s many secular critics began to have the idea that the choice of day for St. Valentine’s commemoration was due to the fact that the Romans had a number of festivals for their pagan gods around the same time, especially festivals for the dead or other obscure ideas.

The point is, there are a lot of ideas about what Valentine’s Day means, all invented and added sometime after A.D. 500.  Pope St. Gelasius I may be the only one remembered in history for having pure motives to observe St. Valentine’s Day.  Even today, the motives are hardly pure.  Valentine’s Day conjures in the mind every possible shade of pink and red, boxes of chocolate, flowers, and romantic exploits.  To put it bluntly, Valentine’s Day is, to the secular world at large, a festival to the Greek god Eros (Roman: Cupid).

Eros is one of three Greek words for “Love.”  Eros is romantic or sexual love, the sort of love that is embodied exclusively in desire and want.  Compare this with the two other Greek words for “Love”: Philos, which is brotherly love or affection and care and friendship.  It is the sort of love that is motivated by the enjoyment one feels in another’s company.  And the last love is Agape, which we may briefly define as undeserved love.  Agape is the kind of love mentioned in John 3:16, love that is not motivated by anything someone feels or wants to gain.  Agape love is love offered because one simply wishes to give.

Keeping in mind the nature of one who is truly a Saint, that is, one who has been clothed in the robes of Christ, which of these three loves should be the focus of St. Valentine’s Day?  Evangelical Lutheran Synod  pastor Rev. Joseph Abrahamson notices, looking at the three Ss. Valentine: “As far as we have records these Sts. Valentine are examples of men who did not love their life unto death, but considered everything in this world, including their own lives as nothing compared to the gift of the resurrection in Jesus Christ.”

Ask yourself this question on Valentine’s Day: should we focus on romantic love, the love we feel for people we find attractive for one reason or another, or should the focus be selfless love, Agape love, undeserved love, which we have received from God, who loved us even though we were his bitterest enemies, loved us even so that he would die for us to save us, love which he asks us to embody and perpetuate to others?

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-7)

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another….  We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:7-11, 19)

Thou sacred Love, grace on us bestow,
Set our hearts with heav’nly fire aglow
That with hearts united we love each other,
Of one mind, in peace with ev’ry brother.
Lord, have mercy! (ELH #33:3)

-Rev. Michael G. Lilienthal

What on Earth Is a “Gesima”?

The Season of the “Gesimas”

You’ll notice, looking ahead at the church calendar, that two strangely named Sundays are coming up in 2017: on February 12th, “Septuagesima,” and on February 19th, “Sexagesima.” The next Sunday, February 26th, although it is called “Baptism of Jesus,” is also known as “Quinquagesima.” What we affectionately call the “Gesimas” is actually the season of Pre-Lent, the bridge between Epiphany and Lent.

The names of the days refer to about how far away the Sunday is from the celebration of Easter; thus, Septuagesima, Latin for “seventy,” is about 70 days before Easter, Sexagesima (“sixty”) is about 60 days before, and Quinquagesima (“fifty”) is about 50 days before Easter. Lent, as you may know, spans the 40 days leading up to Easter.

Nils Jakob Laache describes this season in his devotional Book of Family Prayer: “This period of the Church Year is our ‘narthex,’ our entrance, into the season of Lent, a time for us to pause before we begin our pilgrimage to Calvary and the empty tomb…. Each of the three Sundays focuses on one of the three Sola’s of Lutheranism. The first week we will hear how we are saved by Grace Alone (Sola Gratia), the next week of Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura), and finally we consider the importance of Baptism and how we are saved by Faith Alone (Sola Fide). With our eyes focused on how God works to save us, we are prepared to enter the penitential season of Lent” (Laache, Book of Family Prayer, 162).

So now you know what to look for. On February 12th, Jesus tells the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), while in the Old Testament we hear of Jeremiah’s call, as one whom the Lord knew while he was still in the womb (Jer. 1:4-10), and St. Paul encourages his readers to run the race faithfully to receive the promised prize (1 Cor. 9:24-10:5). What does all this have to do with Sola Gratia?

On February 19th, Jesus tells the parable of the Sower and the Seed (Luke 8:4-15), as Isaiah compares God’s Word to rain and snow (Is. 55:10-13), and St. Paul boasts of his weaknesses and the revelations and grace of God (2 Cor. 11:19-12:9). Additionally, this year, the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, we will commemorate on this day the death of Martin Luther (February 18th, 1546), remembering him as a great preacher of the Word. What does all this have to do with Sola Scriptura?

Lastly, on February 26th, we will hear the account of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17), while St. Peter tells of the great benefits of Baptism and the picture of the faithful of God in the Flood (1 Pet. 3:18-22), and Isaiah prophesies of the Chosen Servant of the Lord (Is. 42:1-9). What does all this have to do with Sola Fide?

Continue looking ahead to this season, and to all the upcoming seasons and Sundays of the Church Year. This year, a year in which we look back on our history and our heritage, we follow the readings of the Historic Lectionary. Look ahead each week in the Hymnary on pages 202-203 to see what lessons are coming up. May
your devotions be enriched by God’s grace for you in his Word, inspiring faith in the Savior from sin.

-Pastor Michael G. Lilienthal

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Luther’s Rose