Oct 1, 2019

Their angels always see the Father's face

Thank you, St. Michael's Lutheran Church.

The Day of St. Michael and All Angels is a minor festival on our church calendar. That means when the date falls on a Sunday which is not the date of a major festival (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and a long list of others, including all the Sundays of Advent and Lent), the lessons and hymns may reflect its theme, rather than those usually appointed for that day.

So, on Sept. 29, 2019, we remembered the holy angels. In western Christendom, Sept. 29 has been the traditional date since the fifth century AD, when a basilica near Rome was dedicated to Michael, one of the two archangels named in the canonical Scriptures (the other is Gabriel and we do not count Satan). The basilica no longer exists, but there are plenty of Lutheran churches named for the archangel. One of them is St. Michael’sLutheran Church of Bloomington, Minnesota, a congregation that has supported our mission in La Caramuca from the beginning. As a member of St. Michael’s, I first traveled to Venezuela with other members on a short-term mission trip in 2002.
Opening service of morning prayer.

But let me back up. On Monday, Sept. 23, we opened a new school year in our preschool with a service of morning prayer in the chapel. The Scripture reading was Luke 18:15-17, in which Jesus blesses children, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” This, I explained, means that whether we are baptized as infants or adults, we receive do not receive the new life in Christ by our own understanding, will or merit, but as a gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit continues its work of sanctification in us, His instruments include, particularly for small children, is the Christian family and the Christian school. What a blessing for a child to have the Spirit’s direction his or her entire life!

The preschool is up and running now with an enrollment of 32 students, most of them new to the program. Luz Maria has resumed afterschool tutoring with 20 to 22 older students and a waiting list of those who would like to receive her tutoring. Thanks be to God, this is despite that the fact that many surrounding preschools and elementary schools are closed for lack of teachers and students. The high school in La Caramuca will not open until October 14!
In the preschool.

Of course, the appointed Gospel reading for St. Michael’s Day is the parallel text, Matthew 18:1-11. Jesus also says, ““Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” But, then, at the end, there is this bit about guardian angels. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

Because I had expounded on the subject of little children on Monday, for Sunday’s sermon I focused on the Old Testament lesson, 2 Kings 6:8-17 (our Spanish hymnal, Culto Cristiano, uses a different selection of Old Testament texts than the English-language hymnals). This is the account of how the king of Syria sent troops to encircle the city of Dothan where the prophet Elisha was staying. The Syrian king had heard that Elisha knew of all his best-laid plans for war against Israel, through supernatural means, and was telling them to the king of Israel. So, early in the morning Elisha’s servant sees the Syrians surrounding the city and cried, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” And Elisha replied, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

Touched by an angel.
The point being that, even though he knew there was a mighty host of angels all around, Elisha did not invoke the name of Michael or any of these created beings, but the name of the Lord God. I read this from the Smalcald Articles, Part Two, Of the Invocation of the Saints:

“And although the angels in heaven pray for us (as Christ Himself also does), as also do the saints on earth, and perhaps also in heaven, yet it does not follow thence that we should invoke and adore the angels and saints, and fast, hold festivals, celebrate Mass in their honor, make offerings, and establish churches, altars, divine worship, and in still other ways serve them, and regard them as helpers in need (as patrons and intercessors), and divide among them all kinds of help, and ascribe to each one a particular form of assistance, as the Papists teach and do. For this is idolatry, and such honor belongs alone to God.”

Archangel Michael figurine.
The invocation of angels, as well as saints, is widely practiced in Venezuela, so it is necessary to warn against this, while acknowledging the existence of angels as celestial beings sent to watch over us. It is not idolatry in itself to name a church or a day after St. Michael any more than St. Paul or St. Peter, for Luther also said that “the acknowledgment of angels is needful in the church” (Luther’s Table Talk, p. 245). Rather, it is idolatry to regard any of the angels, apostles or the Virgin Mary as intermediaries between ourselves and God. We have only the one Mediator and High Priest, who is Jesus.

Thus we pray:

O everlasting God, who has ordained and constituted the services of angels and men in a wonderful order, mercifully grant that, as Thy holy angels always do Thee service in heaven, so by Thine appointment they may help and defend us on earth, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with Thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Installation of new pastor in Barinas

Visitors from the national church.
On Friday, Sept. 20, representatives from our national church sat in on the afterschool tutoring. Our guests were Eduardo Flores, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Caracas and acting president of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela; Eliezer Mendoza, pastor of Cristo es Amor (Christ is Love) Lutheran Church in Barquisimeto and director of the Juan de Frias Theological Institute; Roamird Castillo, legal adviser for the national church; Ginny Mendoza, deaconess and wife of Pastor Eliezer; and Sandra de Brito, wife of Raimundo Brito, who was to be installed as pastor of Corpus Christi Lutheran Church in Barinas the next day.

Pastors at the installation service.
The Corpus Christi congregation has not had a fulltime pastor in seven years. Occasionally members of Corpus Christi have attended the Divine Service at Epiphany Lutheran Mission. Last fall I went to the hospital in Barinas to administer the sacrament of the Lord's Supper to Graciela de Brito for the last time. A few days later, I said some words over her coffin before it was taken to the place of burial, according to custom.Other national pastors have preached and administered the sacraments at Corpus Christi. But the job has become increasingly difficult with the collapse of the public transportation system.

We were able to attend Pastor Brito's installation thanks to our new (for us) car. Eduardo, Eliezer and I participated in the rite of installation. I first met Raimundo Brito in 2006, when he was studying for ordination. Later, he served as national missionary to rural church in the eastern Venezuelan state of Monagas.

We are planning a joint Reformation Sunday service with Corpus Christi here in La Caramuca on October 27. Anyi Vanesa Garrido will receive her first communion on that day. 

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