Obstinately Devoted

Last night my family used our congregation’s Evening Prayer Holy Week service for our family prayers. One of the common terms for these times of hearing God’s Word, meditation, catechesis, and prayer is devotions. What do we mean by devotions?

The word has a cultic, religious connotation. To be devoted is to be given over to or dedicated. It implies actions that demonstrate or prove one’s adherence to their god(s). Family devotions may suggest this time as an act of obedience or duty. To be a devoted Christian is to set aside a time for the Word and prayer. If you are regular in devotions then faith is not in question or jeopardy.

This connotation is carried by the Jewish practices of the Old Testament. There was the mandatory recitation twice a day of the Shema Israel (Deut 6:4). This is followed by commands to teach them to children, to pray them regularly, and the command (taken literally) to bind them to the head and arm (phylacteries.) Other devotion includes the prayers at meals and times of blessing and thanks. This devotion was assumed into Christian practice and modeled by Luther in the Small Catechism with its Morning, Evening, and meal prayers.

Why devotions? The particular struggle is of the simul justus et peccator, the life of the justified sinner. The old sinner wants nothing to do with God in His Word. The new saint loves God and is bound to Him in Jesus Christ.  The old man takes these devotions and responds in two ways. Either he hates them and is constantly seeking to undermine your attentiveness to God’s Word. Or the old man loves them and uses the act of doing them to convey a sense of self-justification. “Look at how good you are doing at your devotions this week! Surely, God loves you because you’re so devoted!”

However the new man, the saint of God, needs no compulsion or obligation to hear God’s voice. The saint knows and believes that he is justified exclusively for the sake of Christ Jesus, and even his failed attempts at devotion are redeemed for in the blood of Christ.

So what then are these devotions? I’d like to suggest the term may carry with it unhelpful suggestions of merit or worth. It may carry with it a faulty view of the Christian faith, i.e., we devote ourselves to God. On the contrary, God is obstinately devoted to us, to a most glorious fault. Devotion is not known in our little weak prayers, the whine of spoiled children. Devotion is known by Christ’s passion. He devotes himself to suffering and death perfectly and completely.

If true devotion is known in Christ Jesus only, then our devotion is also known in our receiving of Him. To be devoted is to be bound to Christ, continuing in the gifts He gives. No one can serve to masters (Luke 16:13). The church is devoted to God insofar as they continue in their baptisms, the apostle’s doctrine, the fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers (Acts 2:41-43). These are the gifts that Christians persist in obstinately. God in Christ is completely devoted to us. He has ordained means of the Spirit to give us the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

SELC Newsletter #229

Peace to you, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

May we bring to your attention the story written by Rev. Daniel Johnson who (together with Rev. Matthew Rueger) accompanied our Bishop Vsevolod during his last travel to the Eastern Siberia.

When I first visited Chita and Buryatia (I first visited Siberia in 2000 and Buryatia in 2004), I was immediately overwhelmed by the experience. The contrast between economic poverty and the richness of faith was stark. Those who live on a meager pension of $50 per month may appear to live a very simple life, but their constant liturgical prayer and sacramental worship places everything into a proper perspective. In purely economical terms, it is true that Americans living in poverty, experience a higher standard of living than the average Buryatian. Russia may be considered a “nuclear power,” but outside the cities, the majority of the country lives in an impoverished third world economic setting. I do not think that Americans understand this about Russia and the people of Russia. Two excellent documentary videos describing the standard of living for the Siberian people are “The Mission — Siberia” and “The Other Half of the Truth.” Both of these documentaries are available on the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society (SLMS) website (see, www.siberianlutheranmissions.com).

Ultimately, most satisfying of all, is the level of pastoral care given by the SELC pastors. These are men who have left behind, in most cases, a lucrative job for the life of a parish pastor. The task of pastoral care is never a part-time job. In every case it is a 24/7/365 vocation. However, due to low salaries (or in some cases, no salary) the Siberian pastor is forced to work a secular job to feed his family and support the work of the ministry. Yes, the people do what they can, by providing some financial support. In the villages, most of the people have no money to give, so they deliver food grown in their gardens and other staples, to support the pastor and his family.

Except for the language difference and the socio-economic setting, the corporate liturgy and shut-in care provided by the local pastor is no different than the care provided by faithful Lutherans anywhere else in the world. When providing shut-in care, the SELC pastor walks into the home, greets the people, empties his portable communion set of bread, wine, chalice, paten, altar cover, veil, candles and crucifix. He prepares a “makeshift altar” on the top of a washing machine or small kitchen table, or wherever he has room. He then vests in alb and stole. When he enters the room vested for liturgy, the people stand, out of reverence toward the Holy Office. The candles are lit and the pastor begins the holy liturgy, as the people make the sign of the Holy Cross: “In the name of the…”

The similarity in pastoral care exists because we all exercise a common confession. We are Lutheran. We do not see liturgy as adiaphora (as a matter of opinion, preference or indifference). Holy Liturgy is seen as a faithful delivery of pastoral care, both publicly and privately, to those baptized in Christ. The heart and soul of pastoral care is the proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection for the sinner’s life and salvation through the delivery of His Word and Holy Sacraments.

Faithful pastoral care makes its focus, the delivery of this Salvation. Faithful pastoral care is expressed in both recognition of Holy Space and the “holy things” of God. This is revealed by recognizing Jesus, as He locates Himself, in Holy Baptism, the Office of Holy Absolution and in the distribution of the Supper, of the holy precious Body and Blood of the crucified Savior. Faithful pastoral care is a confession of Jesus, delivered as He has promised to reveal Himself. When Jesus said, ”Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” He speaks of the ongoing liturgy of the baptismal life. It means that He locates Himself, for the sinner – for you! He locates Himself in the Holy Office of the Pastor as the holy liturgy delivers the Holy Things. This is what it means to be liturgical. This is why confessing Lutherans are recognized — regardless of language or cultural setting. The socio-economic cultural setting is not a factor. This is because the Church has its own culture. The liturgy reveals this united culture of faith and confession.

No longer am I so overwhelmed by the poverty in the homes and congregations I visit. (I have been regularly visiting Siberia for over fourteen years.) I accept it and respect it. What overwhelms me each visit, is the incredible faith and witness the Siberian people express through their faithful liturgical practice of Word and Sacrament.

The SELC pastor, as well as the faithful Lutheran pastor, elsewhere, exercises his office in such a manner, because the historic liturgy expresses the common confession of the Church. Whether one may worship in a LCMS congregation in Marshalltown or Hubbard, Iowa, in a SELK congregation in Oberursel, Germany, a LELC congregation in Palanga, Lithuania, or a SELC congregation in Novosibirsk or Chita, Russia, in the heart of Siberia, the language may be different, but the confession and practice is the same. Christ and Him crucified, is preached, sins are confessed and absolved, the Our Father and Creed is prayed, the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Agnus Dei is proclaimed, and sinners are rescued and saved into eternal life with the eternal Savior.

I ask you to continue to pray for our faithful brothers and sisters in the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC).

In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death; and in the day of judgment… Help us, good Lord!

Have a blessed Lententide!

Daniel S. Johnson

LCMS OIM Catechist in Eurasia

Gelnhausen, Germany

“Faith and hope”

Please see attached photos.

The musings and linkage of a Lutheran pastor