All Saints Sunday

The Gospel is an offensive Word.  When you preach (or when you hear this Word preached) Jesus Christ, him crucified, and him alone handed over to be the life of dead sinners… when you preach that or hear that gospel of Jesus Christ, people will be offended and will revile you for offending them.  Such people think they still have life in themselves, and that God-Jesus-faith is just something you add to a pre-existing life.  The Gospel reeks of death and exudes the stench of the grave to such people.  They cannot abide hearing that they are dead in their sin (Eph. 2:1).  So, they silence the message by silencing the messenger who bears the Gospel’s stink.  However, to those dead in their trespass… dead in their sin… dead and in need of salvation… dead and requiring a resurrection not merely a resuscitation… to such people, the Gospel’s stench is but the sweet aroma of Christ.  The Gospel’s preaching fills their nostrils with a whiff of the new life.  This Word and its promise fills their dead ears and raises them up… makes them alive together with Christ… and these new creatures in Christ make welcome the one with beautiful feet who comes preaching good news (Ro. 10:15). 

Prayers from one who needs the offensive Word of the Gospel so that the stench of the grave would become the sweet aroma of Christ…

Father in heaven, you set out the Good News of your Son, Jesus Christ, so that it must be preached into people’s ears that they might have life out of death.  Provide me with a preacher with beautiful feet for bearing such good news to me that I, too, would be made alive together with Christ, through the firstborn from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Father in heaven, you set out the Good News of your Son, Jesus Christ, so that it must be preached into people’s ears that they might have life out of death.  Provide for me to be a preacher bearing such good news to my neighbors that they, too, would be made alive together with Christ, through the firstborn from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Father in heaven, you set out the Good News of your Son, Jesus Christ, so, that as my ears are filled with this Word, the stench of the grave and the reek of death readily apparent to me the reality of my death in trespass, through the first-born from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Father in heaven, you set out the Good News of your Son, Jesus Christ, and repent me from death to new life.  Now, with Christ as my life and as my righteousness, turn me toward my neighbors that I would meet them and serve their needs not mine, through the firstborn from the dead, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

Father in heaven, you set out the Good News of your Son, Jesus Christ, and repent me from unbelief to belief.  Since faith in Christ delivers me into the reality of the New Creation in Christ, grant that I pour myself out in service while the flesh still adheres in this creation, through the firstborn from the dead, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen

Father in heaven, you set out the Good News of your Son, Jesus Christ, and provide for the preaching and teaching of it.  Grant that the Institute of Lutheran Theology both provide for the teaching of the Good News and produce preachers of the Good News, through the firstborn from the dead, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen

Father in heaven, you set out the Good News of your Son, Jesus with the expectation that this news would fill our ears all the days of our baptism.  Grant, that as my ears are filled with this Word, my nostrils would be filled with the sweet aroma of Christ and I would not fear the stench of the grave as I wait and hope for the coming of my Lord in glory, through the first-born from the dead, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen

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Reformation Sunday

To be honest with ourselves, we must hear the Word of God regarding our human condition:  We are in bondage.  The only question is “To whom are we in bondage?”  In asserting our freedom, we declare our bondage.  Human independence is an illusory dream promulgated by sinners.  The freedom so carefully hoarded is but a lie of Satan, the arch-deceiver.  Our denial of bondage simply refuted in total by the death that awaits us.  Sin, death, and the power of the devil, named by Luther in the Small Catechism, are a trio of bondage holding us enslaved through an illusion, a lie, and a denial.  When Jesus comes, fully and bodily, through Word and Sacrament, he binds us to himself in such a way that both our death and our life are taken up fully in his death on the cross and his vindicating resurrection.  Only as the Holy Spirit reveals our bondage to the truth that is Jesus Christ is our freedom from the lies of the evil one realized and our death in sin accepted and not denied.  Out of our being dead in sin, Jesus Christ raises us to a freedom he establishes… a freedom with no constraints…. a freedom for freedom’s sake alone (Gal. 5:1).

Prayers from one who loves the lies and illusions more vigorously than the reality given him by the Word of God…

Father, your Son Jesus Christ tells me that he is the truth.  So use your Holy Spirit to work such faith within me that I be born into the reality established by your Son, leaving behind the lies and illusions that hold me in their bondage.

Father, your Son, Jesus Christ tells me that he is the way.  So use your Holy Spirit to work such faith within me that I resist finding any other way to you except the way that comes through the Word of God.

Father, your Son, Jesus Christ tells me that this is life itself.  So use your Holy Spirit to work such faith within me so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.

Father, your Son, Jesus Christ, has taken away that self-centered “I” and given me neighbors to fill its place.  So use your Holy Spirit to work such faith within me that I can trust this reality your Son provides and not seek the comfort of the lies and illusions.

Father, your Son, Jesus Christ, provides me with neighbors so that I can pass the days of my baptism in both usefulness and in expecting his imminent return so that I do not seek out the lies and illusions of bondage out of boredom and impatience.

Father, your Son, Jesus Christ, has given me a particular neighbor in the Institute of Lutheran Theology; so use your Holy Spirit upon me that I am useful to it in its endeavor to teach and preach Christ, him crucified, and him alone.

Father, your Son, Jesus Christ, has given me a promise to sustain me while I wait for his return in glory.  So use your Holy Spirit upon me that I do not neglect the hearing of your Word but gladly hear and receive it as if it were life itself.  Amen

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The Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost C

The example of the unrighteous judge (Lk. 18:1-8) is now applied in a concrete way to those confronting Jesus.  These who are righteous in themselves and contemptuous of others are akin to that judge who neither feared God nor respected people (Lk. 18:2).  The crowd of people confronting Jesus consists of both disciples and Pharisees (Lk. 17:20).  The target audience for this parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is indeterminate.  It could be pointedly aimed at the Pharisees in the crowd, or it could be broadly aimed and include the disciples as well.  Limiting the target audience to the Pharisees also limits the accusation of the parable.  Rightly, its application extends to disciples both then and now.  Those who would be righteous in themselves and are contemptuous of others lack the quality of honesty exhibited by the unrighteous judge.  Jesus must speak even more pointedly in his confrontation with the sinners around him.  That confrontation with sinners is brought forward today by your preacher who speaks for Jesus in calling out your self-righteousness and lack of respect for others.

Prayers from one who would rather look to the work of his own hands for righteousness rather than Jesus’ work on the cross…

Father in heaven, your Son provides my total righteousness; keep my eyes and my faith entirely looking to him rather than looking to myself.  Amen

Father in heaven, your Son provides for my total humility; in that humility, keep me from contempt for evildoers for I myself am numbered among them.  Amen

Father in heaven, your Son died at the hands of sinners, and I am numbered among them, totally. Like that tax collector, I can only say, “God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!” (Lk. 18:13).  Amen

Father in heaven, your Son provides my total righteousness, so hold me in his righteousness that I turn to my neighbors in usefulness rather than to prove my own righteous deeds.  Amen

Father in heaven, your Son forgives my sins, grant that I, too, forgive the sins of my neighbors.  Amen

Father in heaven, your Son, Jesus Christ, is the content of our proclamation.  Grant to the Institute of Lutheran Theology a single-minded pursuit of this content and its proclamation.  Amen

Father in heaven, your Son has promised to return in glory so that what is hidden now may then be revealed.  Hold me in patient anticipation so that I do not covet a premature glory.  Amen

I commend these things to you, Father, trusting in your mercy through Jesus Christ your dear Son, my Lord.  Amen

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The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost C

Jesus’ words tell the truth about that judge.  Later, the judge tells the truth about himself when he confesses, “I neither fear God nor respect man” (Lk. 18:4).  This judge, unrighteous though he may be (Lk. 18:6), is at least honest in his confession:  he has no fear regarding human or divine consequences.  This honesty of his extends over the attitudes and affections of his own heart.  He admits he will only help the persevering woman out of his own self-interest (Lk. 18:5).  We as sinners should be as honest as this unrighteous and self-interested judge.  Every time we come before our God in confession, we come as sinners who are totally “in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”  Truly, as sinners, we neither fear God nor respect man.  When we are honest about ourselves, the good that we do flows from the core of our self-interest.  An honest confession demands this from us sinners.  As long as our flesh endures, we are totally and completely sinners, dead in our sin.  But God has chosen us; we are his elect.  Our God, in sending Jesus Christ, has emptied himself of all self-interest in his love toward sinners who neither fear God nor respect man.

Prayers from one, who in his own self-interest, struggles to make an honest confession . . .

Heavenly Father, the attitudes and affections of my heart are completely known to you, and yet you continue to forgive my sin.  Grant that I may be honest with myself and with you regarding the depth of my sin.

Heavenly Father, the attitudes and affections of my heart are completely known to you, and yet you continue to love me though I lack fear of both divine and human consequences.  Grant that you raise me from being dead in my sin to a new life in Jesus Christ my Lord.

Heavenly Father, the attitudes and affections of my heart are completely known to you, and yet you continue to provide me with a preacher who delivers your election of me in Christ made before the foundation of the world.

Heavenly Father, the attitudes and affections of my heart are completely known to you, and yet you continue to turn me toward my neighbors so that, even in my self-interest, I would be useful to them.

Heavenly Father, the attitudes and affections of my heart are complexly known to you, and yet you continue to provide me with neighbors who will set before me both the goods of this creation and of the next.

Heavenly Father, the attitudes and affections of my heart are completely known to you, and yet you continue to set before me the Institute of Lutheran Theology with all its needs.  Grant that I may be of use—even in my selfishness—in meeting those needs.

Heavenly Father, the attitudes and affections of my heart are completely known to you, and yet you continue to hold me in the promises of my baptism.  Grant that my preacher would speak them to me again and again throughout these days of waiting.

Heavenly Father, hear these prayers of mine and hold me in the confidence of their speedy response.  Amen

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The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost C

Jesus’ question has echoed through the generations until it has come to us.  As it reverberates in the emptiness of our none-too-crowded sanctuaries, it resonates between the poles of despair and pride—despair that our local congregations are dwindling and closing, pride that the few of us still gathered are the faithful remnant.  The truth is that we cannot answer Jesus’ question except to say, “They are not here.”  Perhaps they have gone off as Jesus once commanded, “Go and proclaim the kingdom of God!”  Or maybe they’ve gone off to bury their dead or to say goodbye to father and mother or to find a place to lay their head (cf. Lk. 9:57-62).  Could it be that having once shown themselves to the priest, they were overcome by the desire for attending to the religious duties they so neglected during their time of affliction?  Even today, religious duties of all sorts come between us and our Lord Jesus Christ.  We should, I think, be cautious in our assessment of the absent nine as ungrateful louts… hesitant in our despairing and taking pride… and prayerful in being confronted by Jesus’ question, “Where are the nine?”  Tomorrow, it may be us who are numbered among them.

Prayers from one in constant danger of being numbered among the nine…

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the healer of our souls, grant that your Son so heal my soul as to take me out of pride and despair and deposit me in eternal gratitude for the healing his salvation has wrought within me.

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the healer of our souls, grant that your Son forgive my sins of pride and despair which overtake me whenever your saving Word slips from my hearing.

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the healer of our souls, grant that your Son be delivered to me by my preacher so that my ears do not remain empty of your saving Word.

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the healer of our souls, grant that, as my ears are full of your saving Word, my hands would be filled with works useful to my neighbors.

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the healer of our souls, grant that my works, useful though they may be, do not become my source of righteousness; keep that, Father, solely to your Son, Jesus Christ.

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the healer of our souls, grant the Institute of Lutheran Theology be the recipient of some useful work from the labor of my hands.

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the healer of our souls, grant that during these days of my baptism you would deliver me out of pride and despair and turn me again and again to the healing wrought by my salvation in Jesus Christ your Son.  Amen

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The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost C

Jesus provides an unsettling answer to this apparently earnest plea from the disciples.  By describing the amount of faith they currently possess as being even smaller than a mustard seed, Jesus effectively tells them they have no faith at all… no faith at all to increase.  Faith itself has eluded them.  Jesus informs them of their need for faith itself.  These disciples are like the rest of us, even though we are centuries distant from them.  They easily confuse, as do we, faith as a human virtue with faith as a divine gift.  Faith as a human virtue cannot escape the self as its source and subject.  It is unable to avoid the “I” in “I believe.”  This human virtue, faith, is all about the commitment of the “I.”  The “I” loves, believes, trusts, acts, obeys, and remains loyal to the object of its commitment, God—The Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  This “I” is empowered by God’s gift of grace and the Holy Spirit to accomplish all the work of its commitments or not.  This faith as a human virtue is simply the faith possessed by the “I.”  On the other hand, faith as a divine gift does not come from inside of oneself as a virtue or any other work of the “I.”  Faith as a divine gift takes the “I” out of itself.  It leaves that old sinful self in the grave of its mortality.  Faith as a divine gift establishes the New Creature in Christ on the other side of the eschaton where its eternal life is a reality in the New Creation.  Faith as a divine gift is not possessed by the “I.”  Instead, this faith possesses the “I” and hides its life away with Christ in God (Col. 3:3-4).  Though it takes away the “I,” this faith establishes Jesus Christ as the life of the mortal body and as the Lord of the Conscience and, rather than being inward-directed, this person walking in newness of life is turned outward in usefulness to the neighbor and creation.  This faith as a divine gift admits no degree.  It is or it isn’t.  Either Christ is your life, or he is not.

Prayers from one who yearns to be possessed by faith…

Heaven Father, possess me in faith such that I live from its reality and by the revelation of your Word…

Heavenly Father, possess me in faith such that Jesus Christ is my life, his righteousness becomes my righteousness in that blessed exchange of his life for my death…

Heavenly Father, possess me in faith such that the virtue I would call faith falls from my possession, my hands and heart emptied, and then filled with the heart and works of Christ…

Heavenly Father, possess me in faith such that both creation and neighbors are returned to me as gifts to be enjoyed as they exercise my usefulness…

Heavenly Father, possess me in faith such that I delight in those neighbors closest to me, loving them and receiving their love through the life of Christ…

Heavenly Father, possess me in faith such that I extend my usefulness to the Institute of Lutheran Theology…

Heavenly Father, possess me in faith such that the future holds no fear or dread for I have what my Lord Christ has promised me:  life with him eternally.

Into your hands, heavenly Father, I commend my body and soul and all that is mine, let your holy angels have charge over me that the wicked one will have no power over me.  Amen

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The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost C

Lazarus didn’t make his own way to the gate of the rich man.  Somebody put him there.  Maybe it was family… maybe it was neighbors… maybe the ones who deposited Lazarus at the gate of the rich man knew that Lazarus was beyond the means of their care or perhaps they were exhausted from caring for him or it could be that they figured the rich man should take a turn at providing for the poor man Lazarus.  Whatever their reason, the ones who laid Lazarus there left him in the company of dogs who provided an unwitting ministry as they licked his sores.  There Lazarus lay at the gate of the rich man, a silent accusation, the same accusation made through the generations anytime the poor and suffering come into the presence of the rich and successful.  Lazarus’ presence was the voice of the law sounding in the rich man’s conscience, a voice unheeded until it was too late, and the law’s consequences were delivered:  the torments of Hades (Lk. 16:23).

The law comes and lays a Lazarus at everybody’s gate… yours… mine… all sinners.  Will the preaching of the Law and the Prophets be sufficient to awaken your conscience, or will you wait for someone to rise from the dead?

Prayers from one who would rather go out the back door and thereby avoid Lazarus in his poverty awaiting at the front…

Father in heaven, fill my ears with your Word so that my eyes would see the Lazarus you’ve laid at my gate, and I would answer the accusation leveled against me by alleviating his poverty.  In the name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen

Father in heaven, use my labors at satisfying the law’s accusation to make me so weary and heavy-laden that I am driven to Jesus Christ who is the only one in whom the burden of the law’s accusation falls silent.  In the name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen

Father in heaven, give me rest and solace in Christ who fulfills his promise of rest to the weary and heavy-laden.  In the name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen

Father in heaven, fill my eyes with the needs of my neighbors that I may be of some use to them in meeting the demands of this sinful and broken creation.  In the name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen

Father in heaven, set my hands to the tasks and duties of the various offices committed unto me that I would fulfill their obligations and satisfy their demands.  In the name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen

Father in heaven, you have set needy students at the gate of the Institute of Lutheran Theology.  Give it such generous neighbors that it would have the means to satisfy those needy students.  In the name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen

Father in heaven, you have set before me the days of my baptism.  I know not how many they may be, but I do know that their end will arrive when the one who has promised to never leave me nor forsake me finally appears in all his glory.  Until that day, let me rest in faith in his presence.  In the name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen 

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The Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost C

Money and friends do you no good when you demand entrance into “the eternal dwellings.” Two weeks previous, Jesus announced the necessary requirement for following him was to be the “renunciation of all things” (Lk. 14:33). This week, Jesus emphasizes that “what you have” and “who you know” will not be of any use to you when you stand before those “Pearly Gates”: God knows what is in your heart. Justification before your neighbors and in the eyes of the world may mean that you are a well-behaved sinner, but you are a sinner none-the-less. Even though the apple may be well-polished, there’s a worm lurking at the core—and that worm is sin. Your neighbors and the world may exalt you for your virtue, but that sort of self-justification is “an abomination in the sight of God” (Lk. 16:15). Neither the righteousness of the good you’ve purchased nor the love of the friends you’ve bought along the way satisfy the demand for justification before God which is had only in Jesus Christ, him crucified, and him alone.

Prayers from one who prefers the shine on the apple over the humility of repentance…

Father in heaven, you have willed my life to be one of constant repentance, take from me the coveting of virtue’s polish and the hungering after a righteousness of my own so that I would have only the righteousness of Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen

Father in heaven, you have willed my life to be one of constant repentance, turn me from the love of money and all it can buy to the love of Christ and all he bestows freely. Amen

Father in heaven, you have willed my life to be one of constant repentance, trouble and disturb my conscience whenever Jesus Christ is dethroned as its Lord and put your Word once again in my ears for faith’s sake. Amen

Father in heaven, you have willed my life to be one of constant repentance, turn my attention to the plight of my neighbors, not that I may hone my virtue among them, but that I would be of use to them in their need. Amen

Father in heaven, you have willed my life to be one of constant repentance, take from me the love of how I look in the eyes of my neighbors to a love of my savior Jesus Christ when he has no form, no majesty, and no beauty that I should desire him. Amen

Father in heaven, you have willed my life to be one of constant repentance, grant such a life to the Institute of Lutheran Theology as well. Amen

Father in heaven, you have willed my life to be one of constant repentance, as I await the coming of my Lord Jesus Christ in his glory, keep me in this repentance so that neither pride nor despair overcome me in these days of my baptism. Amen

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The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost C

As Jesus implies here, there is a profound difference between sinners who know they sin and sinners who don’t think they are sinners.  The former are brought to repentance by the presence of the Word of God.  The latter are disturbed by the presence of the Word of God, found, as it is, even among sinners and eating with them.  This latter group of sinners who don’t think they are sinners consider their sin as something optional in their lives.  They don’t consider themselves bound to it as that former group of sinners, those who know they sin.  To the one group, sin is a matter of freedom; to the other, sin is a matter of bondage.  To the one, sin is a matter of behavior and remains an adjective; to the other, sin belongs to the very definition of self, and they are lost in it.  To the one, they are not lost but have found themselves in varying degrees of righteousness depending on their behavior; to the other, they are hopelessly lost until they have the presence of the Word of God among them bestowing upon them and their sinful selves the righteousness of Christ.  The lost will be found by Jesus Christ while those who have found in themselves some degree of righteousness will only grumble that the Word of God extends himself, even unto sinners.

Prayers from one who needs his Lord to reveal just how lost he is and that his Lord has now found him…

Heavenly Father, your Son seeks out the lost, keep me from presuming upon my being numbered among the found so that the presence of your Son is always good news and never old news.  I pray in the name of the only seeker who matters, Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen

Heavenly Father, your Son seeks out the lost, so number me among them that I may be also numbered among those whom he has found and carried home rejoicing.  I pray in the name of the only seeker who matters, Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen

Heavenly Father, your Son seeks out the lost, grant me the confession, “First, I was lost but now, I am found.” As I am numbered among the found, grant to me as well my rejoicing among the whole host of heaven.  I pray in the name of the only seeker who matters, Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen

Heavenly Father, your Son seeks out the lost and, since he has found me, send me to bear the presence of the Word of God into the world so that my neighbors, too, may be found by him.  I pray in the name of the only seeker who matters, Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen

Heavenly Father, your Son seeks out the lost, grant that this Word of God, Jesus Christ, gather this number of found ones together in the fellowship of those who have faith and the Holy Spirit in their hearts.  I pray in the name of the only seeker who matters, Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen

Heavenly Father, your Son seeks out the lost, grant the Institute of Lutheran Theology raise up those who may be used as well to bear the presence of the Word of God into the world.  I pray in the name of the only seeker who matters, Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen

Heavenly Father, your Son seeks out the lost, during these days of my baptism see to it that I am held in readiness for that day when your Son comes in all his glory and takes all those who once were lost but then were found to table with him at the banquet feast of the Lamb. I pray in the name of the only seeker who matters, Jesus Christ my Lord, who seeks me out all the days of my life.  Amen

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The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost C

Luke 14:25-36

So therefore, any one of you who does not
renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple
(vs. 33)

Jesus ups the ante on Isaiah. Isaiah had confessed his surrender to being unclean; he had announced that all his righteous deeds were as filthy rags (cf. Is. 64:6). Jesus ups the ante: not just righteous deeds but “all that you have” must be renounced. All things that could even remotely be considered “yours” falls under renunciation… relegated to that unclean pile of filthy rags. Sinners protest, “Surely, Jesus, there must be something that I can call my own?” Not so! All things are to be renounced, even that most prized possession of sinners: their “I.” The “I” at their center is the hardest surrender for sinners. So hard, in fact, that sinners find it impossible. Jesus must come like that thief in the night and steal it away, putting it to death by God’s “stroke of grace,” his coup de grac. This mercy killing is the final renunciation, doing for sinners what they could not do for themselves. The Word of God, however, continues to speak into those dead and now empty ears… ears empty of every competing word. God’s Word speaks words of life and words of promise and raises those dead sinners to walk in newness of life.

Prayers from one bound to his failure at renouncing his “I”…

Heavenly Father, release me from my bondage to self, grace me with my death beneath the law, and the mercy of having Christ as my life. Amen

Heavenly Father, release me from my bondage to self, so establish me in faith that my resurrected life in your eternal kingdom is reality, a reality to faith now and sight then. Amen

Heavenly Father, release me from my bondage to self, so strip away those righteous deeds of mine which I covet so completely and fill me with a righteousness that is not my own but Christ’s alone. Amen

Heavenly Father, release me from my bondage to self so that I might be of use to others. Amen

Heavenly Father, release me from my bondage self that, rather than be curved-in-upon-myself, I would be straightened up and have eyes to see my neighbor and her needs. Amen

Heavenly Father, release me from my bondage to self that I would be of use to one particular neighbor, the Institute of Lutheran Theology. Amen

Heavenly Father, release me from my bondage to self so that these days, the days of my baptism, would be filled with the hope and anticipation of your Son’s return in glory. Amen

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