Praising the Incarnate Christ through Lessons and Carols

31427286975_da3ce9e1dc_k“Tell us, art Thou He that should come to reign over Thy people Israel?” With these words the congregation of over eighty friends of the seminary began the traditional service of Advent Lessons and Carols in the Martin Luther chapel on Sunday, 4 December.

Through readings, hymn-singing, and choral pieces, they were led into the wondrous mystery of God’s incarnation—beginning with the promises of the coming Messiah in the book of Isaiah, then the birth of John the Baptist and the annunciation of Christ given to Mary, finally concluding in the familiar but ever-fresh words of St Luke: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”

The service saw two choirs proclaiming the joyous message of Christ’s birth through the gift of music: the choir of Resurrection Lutheran Church, led by Dianne Humann, and the seminary’s own choir, led by MTS students Elisabeth Rehr and Laurin Fenn. (The service folder is available here and an audio recording here.)

31312387251_c08aae51be_kThe service was followed by coffee fellowship during which the seminary celebrated the
80th birthday of her founding father, Dr Roger Humann, and the 75th birthday of the longest-serving president, Dr Jonathan Grothe, as well as the 80th birthday of Rev. Erwin Brese, who served as an adjunct member of the faculty. Dr John Stephenson recollected his own entry into the seminary faculty, and pointed out how the emeriti, the current professors, and the contemporary student body represent the past, the present, and the future in the chain of servants of the church.

The evening concluded with a dinner the student body hosted for the seminary community and area pastors.

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Led by Fräulein Rehr, the students performed German Christmas songs prima vista. Slight weaknesses in pronunciation were easily overcome by the … cheerful atmosphere.

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Rev. Bishop St Nicholas of Smyrna also visited the dinner, giving gifts to the youngest members. Careful observers might notice an uncanny similarity with the fourth-year student Andrew Cottrill.

 

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RSVP Revisited: Recruiting church workers for a new generation

Feed: Canadian Lutheran Online
Posted on: Tuesday, 06 December 2016 3.17pm
rsvp-revisited

CANADA – Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) is re-launching the RSVP initiative, a church worker recruitment program that successfully identified a number of prospective pastors and deacons throughout the 1990s and 2000s, with hopes that LCC congregations will observe a Recruitment Sunday on January 22, 2017.

Resources from the earlier RSVP initiative have been revised in anticipation of the new recruitment effort, and LCC congregations are encouraged to make use of the new material. “Church workers are still needed,” an introduction to the new RSVP material explains. “The potential harvest is greater than ever. It is our prayer that congregations will make use of the revised Recruitment Initiative materials and forward the names of prospective students to Lutheran Church–Canada for follow-up.”

The RSVP material includes bulletin inserts, a Bible study, worship materials, a sermon, nomination forms, and more. You can download the full package here.

Churches are encouraged to read a letter from LCC President Robert Bugbee on January 15 to announce the initiative locally. “As long as there are people who don’t confess Christ… and churches needing faithful shepherds… and unreached communities, there will always be a need for pastors to bring the Good News,” President Bugbee writes. “Pastoral recruitment needs to be on the minds and in the prayers of every person in our church. For Jesus’ sake, please let it be on your mind, and take it into your prayers also!”

RSVP began in 1998, and provided resources to congregations for use on a Recruitment Sunday (preferably in January), in order to encourage members to identify prospective church workers. Those individuals were referred to their pastor, who interviewed them and then, if appropriate, forwarded their names to Synod for follow up by LCC’s seminaries and—at the time—college. The original RSVP program was discontinued after about eight years, ending around a decade ago.

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Sermon: St Andrew’s Day

St Andrew iconThe following sermon was preached by Dr Wilhelm Torgerson in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for the divine service on the Commemoration of St. Andrew the First-Called. The text is St. John 1:35-42.

(Just a few remarks at the outset: St. Andrew is considered to have done mission work in south Russia, where the Christians consider him their patron saint; and he finished his work and life on the Peloponnesos peninsula in Greece. His head, and the X-shaped cross on which he was crucified, are revered in the cathedral in the city of Patras.)

But let’s consider today’s Gospel lesson as our text.

I’ll begin with the question: “When did you come to faith?”

Perhaps you have been asked just that: When were you converted? When did you accept Jesus? When did you make a decision to accept him as your Saviour?

There are certain Christian groups where it is of some importance to be able to give a precise answer to that question, to describe your conversion experience, even in some detail, pointing out the calendar day when that all happened.

On the Day of the Commemoration of St. Andrew the First-Called, if we listen to the story of our text in a somewhat superficial manner, we might suppose that we were just told such a conversion story; about how Andrew the Fisherman and his companion came to faith in Christ.

But listening more closely, our wish to find out about just how Andrew came to faith is not fulfilled. St. John the Evangelist deliberately does not talk about what happened in the heart, soul and spirit of Andrew that day. In fact, looking at the details of the event we learn that Andrew didn’t come to faith that day, rather the faith came to him.

And this not only applies to Andrew back then, it applies to us today. We did not come to, decide on, choose the faith; it was the other way around: the faith came to us. And the way that happened is still the same today as in Palestine back then. How does it happen?

Let’s look at the threefold truth: Faith comes to us

  • through the word of messengers
  • through being connected with Christ
  • through him who knows us before we knew ourselves.

I.

Alone and by himself Andrew would surely not have gotten the idea to believe in Jesus. After all, Christ didn’t run around with a halo so that everyone could have immediately recognized that Jesus is something special, indeed, that he might be

the Saviour of the world, the Lamb of God that bears the sin of the whole world. Nothing in Jesus’ appearance pointed to the fact that he was sent by God, that he was God-become-flesh.

It was only the message proclaimed by John the Baptizer which opened Andrew’s eyes for the fact that it is necessary to stick with this Jesus, to get to know him more closely, and to follow him. And it’s not different with us. When our hymnal invites and enjoins us to commemorate the holy apostles on certain dates, like on this day, then we are reminded that we have access to and connection with Christ through the apostolic proclamation and witness. Christ did not write a single word of the New Testament with his own hand. He reaches out to us solely through the word of his messengers; that’s the way he comes to us. And this word of his messengers is as powerful as if Christ himself were standing in this pulpit today. His word, proclaimed by messengers in his name and by his authority, leads people to saving faith.

And normally we did not come to faith because we sat in a quiet corner of the house and read the word of the apostles in the Bible. Rather there were people in our lives who brought this apostolic message to us, people, who like John the Baptizer, pointed us to Christ and often enough brought us to him. I’m thinking in particular of pious parents and God-parents who taught us how important it is for us to be in fellowship with Jesus. Perhaps there were faithful grandparents, even a pastor, who brought Jesus into our life.

What St. John the Evangelist describes in our text certainly applies to us: the faith came into our lives through the word of messengers, people that Christ used in his service to call into the fellowship of his holy Church.

II.

Faith comes to us through the word of messengers, true enough. But a statement like that, taken by itself, can be completely misunderstood, as if believing is merely a matter of understanding. Someone tells me something; I understand what he is saying, I assent to what I heard, I express my agreement. Accordingly faith is considered an intellectual process by which I decide to connect with Jesus.

John the Evangelist tells us a different story.

Jesus’ cousin, the Baptizer John, had sent Andrew and the other disciple to see what Jesus is up to. Jesus notices them and asks them what they’re looking for. And their answer is rather significant: “Rabbi, where are you staying?”

Did you notice? No request for clarification. No “who are you really?”, no “what’s your mission?”, and no “what do we have to do to join up with you?” These two men do not enter into a discussion with him about the meaning of life; they do not debate future plans; they just want to be with him, be where Jesus is. And Jesus

invites them to do just that: “Come and you will see!” And the two disciples don’t have to be asked twice. “So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day” (v. 39).

I have no idea what happened later that day, how long these two men stayed with him, how much they talked with Jesus or about what. St. John doesn’t say a word about it. Just that were at his home, in his presence, that they had fellowship with him, most likely fellowship with Jesus at his table; nothing more. And that’s enough.

So much so that afterward Andrew joyfully tells his brother Peter: “We have found the Messiah!” (v. 41)

So how does the Christian faith come to man? Yes, certainly as we heard, through the word spoken by messengers. “So faith comes from hearing” we read in Romans 10 —by the way, Luther translates that sentence: faith comes from preaching, from proclamation; and that is, of course, exactly what Paul meant. But faith also comes from being where Jesus is, where you are in his presence, where he bestows all those spiritual benefits that he so richly dispenses, not only in proclamation of the word, but also in the sacraments. The connection given there is more than any of our brain cells can fathom.

Do you realize now how important Gottesdienst is, being at worship, at church when and where Christ is present to shower on you all the benefits that can change your life and lead it to fulfillment? Again, do we always realize that? Being at the church’s worship service is not some onerous and irksome duty—I have to do something, get up early, be on my way. Rather in church you’re at the receiving end of God’s greatest gifts, where He in a very concrete and real way bestows on you all his love through the means of grace.

I realize, of course, sometimes the sermon is too long, seeks our full concentration, or is preached in a style that shoots right over our heads. It can either be too

demanding intellectually—or be so flat and shallow, that staying at home would seem to have given more food for thought. But then there also is the table to which Christ invites us. And all you do is follow that invitation: “Come and see!”

That is the way faith is nourished, given spiritual food for growth. Just being where Jesus is, where he dispenses that miraculous food, his body and blood. You can come and see! Not many words are necessary, merely “take eat, this is…”, and receiving and accepting. Faith comes to us because Christ comes to us, in what his messengers say and in what he has his ministers dispense.

III.

And thirdly: our text from St. John’s Gospel leads us to a deep insight. Twice our text speaks of Jesus “seeing” us. In v. 38 he sees Andrew, and in v. 42 he looks at Peter. The text is not talking about the fact that Jesus has 20/20 vision to take in the scenery or to look at the people around him. When Christ Jesus looks at us, it goes much deeper, for he looks at us as someone who knew us before we knew ourselves.

Andrew doesn’t even have the opportunity to introduce his brother Simon Peter to the Lord. Jesus looks at him—and knows him, knows his name, what kind of person he is, what to make of him. And makes him new, showing that by giving him a new name and taking him into his service.

Again, not we come to faith, as St. John makes abundantly clear with this story.

Long before we had the idea to say yes to Christ Jesus, long before then he saw us

and chose us. St. Paul says: “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4).

So indeed our faith in Christ is not based on our decision and free will; it is the gift bestowed on us by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. Father Luther taught us: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe” (Small Catechism III). It is Christ’s will that we believe. He saw us, he called us by name in holy baptism, he called us to faith.

And having been called—like St. Andrew and the many others then and now—we join the fellowship of those who went before, who are now with us on the way of discipleship, and with those who will come after us, ever listening to his call and invitation, always receiving the means by which Christ keeps in the one true faith to everlasting life. Amen.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ, the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see, to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.

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Rev. Dr Harold Ristau Accepts Faculty Call

CLTS Guild Day 2015Rev. Dr Harold Ristau has announced today that he has decided to accept the call to serve as Assistant Professor of Theology at CLTS. He will officially take up the new post in August 2017. Plans for his installation have not yet been determined.

Rev. Harold Ristau, PhD, is a native of Kitchener, Ontario. He served as pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church, Montreal (2001-06). Since 2006 he has been a chaplain in the Canadian Forces and now holds the rank of major. He holds a PhD in Religious Studies from McGill University. He is married to Elise, and has five children (Katelyn, Simon, Marcus, Luke, & Matthias).

We give thanks to God and pray for the blessing of His Spirit on Dr Ristau’s new ministry among us.

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Honouring Humann and Grothe at Advent Lessons and Carols 2016

At the reception following this year’s Advent Lessons and Carols service we will recognise Founding Professor Roger Humann’s 80th birthday (18 May) and Emeritus Professor Jon Grothe’s 75th birthday (30 Nov.). Please join us as we host these special guests. In their honour, consider making a donation to the Humann Family Fund or the Grothe Fund in the Concordia Seminary Foundation.

annunciation-unknown-artist-c-1420-museu-nacional-dart-de-catalunya-barcelonaThe seminary community warmly invites you to our service of Advent Lessons and Carols. This treasured annual event takes place this year on the Second Sunday in Advent, 4 December 2016, at 3.00pmNote the earlier time.

The seminary faculty, staff, and students will be joined by Resurrection Lutheran Choir, under the direction of Dianne Humann. As members of the seminary community read lessons from the prophets that prepare for Christ’s coming, the congregation and choirs sing beloved Advent hymns and carols. The service culminates with the announcement of the Christmas Gospel, by which the students anticipate Christmas just before leaving for the holidays. Please join us for this service of Word, music, prayer, and praise.

(The service, unfortunately, will not be live streamed this year.)

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Rev. Esko Murto Accepts Faculty Call

Esko MurtoRev. Esko Murto announced to the seminary community today that he has decided to accept the call to serve as Assistant Professor of Theology at CLTS. Since he is already serving as a visiting professor, the transition will be smooth. He will officially take up the new post on 1 July 2017. Plans for his installation have not yet been determined.

Rev. Esko Murto, STM, is a native of Orivesi, Finland, and served as pastor of two congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (2009-15). Since 2015 Rev. Murto has been a visiting professor at Concordia, St. Catharines. He holds an MTh from the University of Helsinki and an STM from Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne. He will be married to Elisabeth Rehr on 30 December 2016, in Sottrum, Germany.

We give thanks to God and pray for the blessing of His Spirit on Rev. Murto’s ongoing ministry.

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Concordia Seminary Professor Featured in Prestigious Oxford Handbooks

stephenson-with-oxford-handbookThe newly-published book, The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, 1600-1800, has arrived in Concordia Seminary’s Martin Chemnitz library. It includes a contribution authored by our own Professor of Historical Theology, Dr John R. Stephenson.

Dr Stephenson’s article, “Sacraments in Lutheranism, 1600–1800”, is also featured in the electronic version, Oxford Handbooks Online: Scholarly Research Reviews.

Oxford Handbooks is a collection of the best handbooks in 14 subject areas, including religion.  Known as one of the most prestigious and successful branches of Oxford’s scholarly publishing, the Handbook series contains in-depth, high-level articles, with the latest research and writing from top scholars in their fields.

Dr Stephenson holds degrees from the universities of oxfordOxford and Cambridge, and earned his PhD from the University of Durham, writing on the Eucharistic theology of Martin Luther.  Widely published, he is a Reformation scholar and an expert in the history of the Lutheran Church.  His research interests include the history of Christian doctrine, Sacramental theology, and ecumenism. He has been a professor at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary since January 1989.

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Advent Lessons and Carols 2016

annunciation-unknown-artist-c-1420-museu-nacional-dart-de-catalunya-barcelonaThe seminary community warmly invites you to our service of Advent Lessons and Carols. This treasured annual event takes place this year on the Second Sunday in Advent, 4 December 2016, at 3.00pmNote the earlier time.

The seminary faculty, staff, and students will be joined by Resurrection Lutheran Choir, under the direction of Dianne Humann. As members of the seminary community read lessons from the prophets that prepare for Christ’s coming, the congregation and choirs sing beloved Advent hymns and carols. The service culminates with the announcement of the Christmas Gospel, by which the students anticipate Christmas just before leaving for the holidays. Please join us for this service of Word, music, prayer, and praise.

(The service, unfortunately, will not be live streamed this year.)

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Lutherans for Life: more than an anti-abortion group

tmw161115-02-2048pxConcordia Lutheran Theological Seminary was privileged to host, together with the Niagara Circuit of LCC, Pastor Michael Salemink, the executive director of Lutherans for Life since January 2016. During his visit in the Niagara area, Rev. Salemink preached in Trinity Lutheran Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, gave a convocation to the pastors and laity of the circuit (hosted by the Resurrection Lutheran Church), spoke at the Brock University’s Lutheran Student Fellowship, and finally gave a presentation to the students, staff, and faculty of CLTS.

Rev. Salemink began by pointing out the common misconception of Lutherans for Life being merely an anti-abortion group of the Lutheran Chruch–Missouri Synod. His organisation is not limited to just the LCMS, pastor Salemink reminded us, nor are they focusing just on abortion: “Life issues” include much more than just that one question. Finally, Lutherans for Life are not a mere “anti” group, focusing on simply opposing things.

“Whenever God says no, He says so because He has something better to give to us”, Pastor Salemink stressed. Lutherans for Life want to present the Gospel of Christ, the value of God’s creation and God’s continual care as their main message. Their ultimate goal is not a change in legislation, but preaching of Christ to the world that needs to hear the good news of God’s love.

Rev. Salemink encouraged future pastors to introduce practices in their congregations that celebrate the gift of life, such as returning thanks when God provides healing to the sick or keeping the old and infirm connected to the life of the church through regular visitations not only by the pastor but other members of the congregation.  He reminded the students of the task pastors have as messengers of Gospel. “You cannot be the saviour to your people. Your task is not to solve their life issues.” What the pastors need to do is to listen, comfort, pray, and preach Christ’s love, Pastor Salemink stressed.

Video recordings of Rev. Michael Salemink’s presentations are available on the seminary’s YouTube channel:

Compassionate Conversation about Assisted Suicide

Implementing a Pro-Life Theology in Our Congregations

Audio recordings can be downloaded here:

Compassionate Conversation about Assisted Suicide

Implementing a Pro-Life Theology in Our Congregations

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Sermon: Commemoration of St Martin of Tours

The following sermon was preaching by Dr Thomas Winger in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for a divine service with the Commemoration of St Martin of Tours (11 November 2016). The readings were Exodus 3:13-20 and Luke 20:1-8.

Dear brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ:

If the eldest surviving son of Hans and Margarete Luther had been baptised on a different day, I wonder whether Martin of Tours would have made the calendar of commemorations in LSB. Had little Luther been born a day earlier and baptised on the 10th, he might have been “Leo Luther”—but I doubt Pope Leo the Great would have thereby got onto our Lutheran list. A day later and he might have been christened after the early bishop of Avignon: “Rufus Luther” (how unfortunate). But “Martin” it was when he was carried to the font at St Peter’s Church in Eisleben on the 11th of November 1483—or was it 1482 or 1484, his mother wasn’t quite sure. In biblical thinking, one’s name was more than just a label, but described or even determined who you were—as we learn from Jacob/Israel who “strove with God”, or Abram/Abraham, the “father of many”, or Jesus, who would “save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). Even God Himself discloses a name that says who He is and what He can be depended on to do:

“Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you. … YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name for ever” (Ex. 3:14-15).

God is what He does and has done, and you can count on Him doing it also for you. So what gift did God give Luther when He gave him his Christian name?

Martin, later to be known as bishop of Tours in central France, was born most likely in AD 316 (thus 1700 years ago) to pagan parents in present-day Hungary. At the age of 10 he became a Christian catechumen. Perhaps thinking it would distract him from his religious rebellion, his father pressed him into the Roman cavalry at the age of 15. A few years later, while serving in southern France, Martin carried out the simple compassionate act that would make him the most famous saint in France. Encountering a near-naked beggar in Amiens in a fearsome cold wind, Martin stopped, drew his sword, and cut his cape in two, giving one half to the beggar to keep him warm. That night he had a dream in which the Lord Jesus appeared to him wearing the half cloak and saying to the angels, “Martin, a mere catechumen, has clothed Me with this robe.” In some accounts, when he awoke he found his cape restored to wholeness. It later became a precious treasure of the Frankish kings, a holy relic that was put on display in little buildings called “chapels” and watched over by “chaplains”—both named for his “cape”. Martin the Roman soldier later determined that, as a Christian, he couldn’t shed blood. Just before battle near Worms, Germany, he declared, “I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight.” (Perhaps he added, “Here I stand.”)

There are ample reasons, then, why we might connect Martin’s story not just to his famous namesake but also to Remembrance Day: the soldier who chose peace over war, who gave us the word “chaplain”, who defied his Roman military superiors at the risk of his own life. He embodied the Christian opposition to violence, and though he once stood up to Emperor Julian the Apostate, he died a natural death, perhaps the first post-biblical non-martyr to be honoured as a saint. But he wasn’t a pacifist. His battle was simply with a different enemy; he fought “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of evil in the heavenly [places]” (Eph. 6:12). He laid down his arms and took up the sword of the spirit, the Word of God, just as Luther would later do battle by pen and preaching.

But before he became a preacher and a bishop, Martin’s act of compassion towards a poor freezing beggar expressed the more elemental and universal Christian virtue of love. His unpremeditated gesture declared the liveliness of his faith more clearly than this young catechumen could likely have done it with words. James put it this way:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-16).

For as the later Martin would write:

Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. (Preface to Romans, AE 35:370)

This is the faith that Jesus seeks when He comes in judgement on the Last Day. For even more than James, this story with Martin’s vision of Christ puts us in mind of Jesus’ word to the sheep:

34 “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, 36 I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me. … Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.” (Mt. 25:34-40)

But Jesus wasn’t done with Martin that day. The vision of Christ drove him to something more sure and certain. He sought and received Holy Baptism. And in that act of compassion the roles were reversed. It wasn’t he who gave the hidden Christ a robe to cover Him against the cold, but the Christ hidden in water and Word who clothed Him with His own robe of righteousness. And going far beyond what partial mercy any man like Martin dared muster, Christ didn’t divide and share His robe, but gave it wholly. For He had set aside His divine glory to take on the form of a poor beggar. He laid aside His kingly robe, was stripped naked and nailed to a tree. He held nothing back for Himself, but gave His very life for us poor beggars. He chose not the way of glorious battle, but apparent defeat. He stood helpless before the Enemy, as Martin was once willing to do at Worms; but where Martin (both Martins, in fact) was given a gracious reprieve from seemingly inevitable death, Jesus took the blows of the Enemy on hands and feet and side and gave up His Spirit and life for us. That’s what He gave Martin and us in Baptism—death without suffering death, and life without deserving it. He wrapped us in His cape and keeps us safe in the unseen but impenetrable armour of truth and righteousness and the Gospel of peace and faith and salvation and the Word of God (Eph. 6:14-17).

I wonder if the second Martin (not Chemnitz but Luther) ever pondered the significance of his patron saint. Did he regret that the mediaeval church had exalted Martin’s act of charity for the poor over God’s mercy to Martin? Did he perhaps think that Martin’s compassionate care of the hidden Christ was far less significant than what Christ had done for Martin? Perhaps he did. But at the very least, each time Martin Luther penned his defiant cry against the devil’s attacks—“I am baptised!”—he spoke for the saint of old and for us, the saints who would follow. For we poor beggars have been Martined. And the robe that has been given to us, that protects us from an ill wind more biting and chilling than anything blowing in from the frozen north, the robe of baptismal righteousness that quenches and deflects the flaming darts of the devil’s sneering accusations, the shining white robe that makes us ready for the eternal wedding banquet of God’s kingdom, that robe is a holy relic more precious to us than a thousand capes of Martin. For the name it brings us is His, Christ’s, God’s Son, the name that does what it says and makes us God’s precious children and opens to us a seat at His table. Amen

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