Praying with the Elect

The Lord Jesus prays for all those who believe and will believe through the words of the apostles.  They are the elect.  Jesus prays for the elect.  He shortened this miserable tribulation for the sake of the elect.  He died for everyone.  This way all are without an excuse before the judgment throne of God.  “Here, here you have the propitiation for your sins, here you have your righteousness, yet you denied Him!  Now I deny you.  Depart from me you accursed and go into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (much paraphrasing)

But God has chosen a remnant to be saved.  And when the number of the Gentiles is full, then all Israel will be saved since those who have faith are the Israel of God, the descendants of Abraham.  This is the Bride, the Church, the elect.  She is the apple of His eye.  His beloved.  And she is complete.  The fulness of time has come upon us, the kingdom is here.  We don’t live in the same world as Noah and Moses and Joshua, son of Nun.  Something has changed: the Son of Mary has ascended and the resurrection is upon us.  But then, the resurrection has been since the foundation of the world since He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.  The elect have always been the elect.  The kingdom has always been.

So when we pray the Our Father, when the elect pray, when Christ prays (He Himself also being elected by God) as our brother and High Priest, we pray for the elect.  Regardless of whether they have yet to come to faith and be baptized.  Regardless of whether they are yet born, even as our Lord prayed for us long before we were born or were baptized or had faith.  When we pray to our Father in heaven we pray with all the saints, past, present, and future because Jesus is I AM.

I thought when I began this little post that I was on to something earth shattering and fantastic – and it is, to be sure – but now I see that it is also rather obvious and – dare I say – commonplace.  Not that it is not fantastic and beyond understanding, it is that and more.  But it belongs to the kingdom and so is ours already.

Vacation

Yup, the family is going on vacation.  Thank God we’re not the Griswalds.

We’re going to Disney World, presumably the happiest place on earth. But I doubt it.  The happiest place on earth is wherever all the rich people are using all the money I and everyone else has poured into this park – and I haven’t left yet!  After all, the adage maybe that money can’t buy happiness, but to paraphrase a comic I recently heard: have you ever seen someone on a wave runner frowning?

Anyway…we’re going on vacation and that got me thinking about the Church (much to my wife’s frustration).  It got me thinking about what congregations do when their pastor leaves.  I’m not talking about the mice that come out to play when the cat is away, those who boycott the Divine Service when the called and ordained servant of the Word is there, and somehow are there when he’s gone.  It amazes me that Christians think that this is pleasing or even acceptable to God.  But that’s not what I was thinking about, or at least that’s not what this blog is about.

Rather, I got to thinking about ritual and ceremony.  Everyone knows that ministers do things differently.  This is largely due to one pastor – one parish church structure. Throw in some anonymity and voters-take-all, and you’ve got a recipe for constant liturgical change. It’s no wonder the people get frustrated and confused!  When I leave my parish – whether by death, call, or on vacation – it can be a pretty sure thing that the services I am absent for will be noticeably different than when I’m present.  This is not good or bad in itself, but where’s the continuity?  It’s on vacation.

But there is a solution to all this liturgical variants: clergy.  If every parish had a deacon or two that were always involved in the conduct of the service from a serving position (ie, in the chancel), then when the pastor, the chief clergy and celebrant, is gone the service will go much smoother according to local custom.  Not to mention transitioning pastors.  This will largely end the “hey, we got a new pastor: I wonder how he’ll do the service” problem, or at least ease it quite a bit.

Duty and Sacrifice

“When you have done all that you  were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'” (Lk. 17:10).  Duty is doing that which is demanded of you by those who have authority over you or by the station you occupy.  So a father does his duty when he teaches and plays with his children.  A sailor does his duty when he obeys an order from his ranking officer.

Sacrifice is generally understood as giving up something of value so that a greater good is achieved.  Inherent in this idea of sacrifice is that the thing given up didn’t have to be given up. But doing our duty is not sacrificing.  A man does not sacrifice freedom to raise a family.  Raising a family is his duty.  A woman does not sacrifice her career when she becomes a mother.  Becoming a mother is her duty.  A parishioner does not sacrifice what his money could have given him when he puts it in the offering plate.  Giving is his duty.  The fact that these things – becoming a father, mother, husband, or wife, or giving money to the Church – causes other things to be unachievable is accidental not and not essential to duty.  The idea that doing our duty is our sacrifice is not sacrifice at all but vainglory.

When a Christian is martyred he is to say, “We are but unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”  When you given your tithes and offerings off the top of your income you are to say, “We are but unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”  When you preach and teach and are drug through congregational muck and mire, enduring sleepless nights and pain-filled days, you are to say, “We are but unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”  When you have to miss golf to take your family to church you are to say, “We are but unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”  When you have done your duty you are to say, “We are but unworthy servants.”  You may like or dislike your duty, you may love or hate your duty, but in the end, your duty is, well, your duty.  You do it.  Any glory in doing your duty is the glory of receiving the commendation, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  To know your duty, read the Table of Duties in the Small Catechism.

Claiming that we have sacrificed our lives for the gospel, our lifestyle for the Church, our dignity for the pulpit, our hobbies for our children is a lie and self-serving.  You do not belong to yourself. You belong to another.  (By the by, the Christian is not the only one who belongs to another.  So too, the unbeliever.  He belongs to the evil one and is his servant doing his master’s bidding.)  We often call doing our duty sacrifice.  But it’s not.  We are incapable of sacrificing ourselves.  We are not, however, incapable of being sacrificed for others.

When the Christian’s blood is spilled in martyrdom so that I may worship, he has been sacrificed for me.  When the woman gives two pennies – all she has – so that I may eat, she has been sacrificed for me.  The pastor who is abused and yet continues to do his duty and so brings me Christ, has been sacrificed for me.  My father who did his duty and raised me and taught me, was sacrificed for me.  So, too, my mother.  They did not sacrifice themselves, they did their duty.  But my heavenly Father who gave them to me sacrificed them for me.  “All day long we are a sheep before the shearer.”  Not for our sakes, but for our neighbor’s (Ro. 8:34-36).

All the sacrifices of the Old Testament (a broad statement, I know) where not the sacrifices of the people to God, but were God’s gift to the people.  The people did not appease God’s wrath by their sacrifices – a pagan notion – but God vented His wrath on the sacrifice and so spared the people.  So, too, the Christ.  Jesus came to do His Father’s will.  The Father’s will was for Jesus to be a sacrifice. The Father sacrificed the Son for us.  He provided the Lamb.  Jesus did His duty.  This doesn’t take away from Jesus’ honor or glory.  He is seated at the right hand of God.  His is dominion, power, and authority.  He is made Lord of all because He was obedient; because He did His duty.  We are saved because He did His duty.

And because we are saved we bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.  We offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.  But even here we are not sacrificing anything to please God or to make God happy with us.  We are not giving God something He does not have without us.  Here we are doing our duty to God, calling on the name of the Lord, giving honor where honor is due; singing His praise and His glory; confessing His holy name.  This becomes our sacrifice because the Father accepts it.  Why does He accept it? Because of Jesus.  Our praise is Jesus’ praise of His Father. Our worship of the Father is Jesus’ worship of the Father.  Our worship is acceptable to God because it is sanctified by the blood of Jesus.

In the economy of the Blessed Trinity we worship the Father with the Son by the indwelling of the Spirit.  We worship the Blessed Trinity by giving glory and honor to God who orchestrated and accomplished our salvation, the Father sending the Son and the Son giving His Spirit and the Spirit uniting us with the Son who brings us before His Father. Not spiritually, that is, contra to the material world.  And not in the future where now we only partake of a foreshadow.  But now.

The Spirit is poured out on all flesh, creating faith when and where He please in those elected of the Father, and gathers them to the Son who offers them to the Father as His holy bride.