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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

On the Commemoration of Abraham

In order to discover what Jesus is doing in neighborhoods, some pastors are encouraging their people to forsake sanctuaries for driveways, parks, or backyards. Rather than going to the place God has promised to meet us on the day the Church has gathered since the resurrection of Jesus, some falsely believe that we must chase after Jesus instead because He’s on a mission and already way ahead of you. After all, why waste an hour or more in a building when you can be meeting people where they are? Jesus isn’t there, remember? He’s on the loose! (Seriously. There’s a book all about it.) And plus, don’t you know that the church isn’t the building but the people?

However, as the Church commemorates Abraham on this day, hear what Luther has to say concerning Genesis 12:7.

“Here for the first time you see that though the holy patriarch is an exile and sojourner, nevertheless, on account of the promise made to his seed, he gives consideration to a definite habitation. Now for the first time he builds an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. That is, he appoints a definite place where the church should come together to hear the Word of God, offer prayers, praise God, and bring sacrifices to God; for this is what it means to build an altar.

Abraham builds on altar; that is, he himself is the bishop or priest, and he himself teaches the others and gives them instruction about the true worship of God. This must be the one purpose both of altars and of temples, that those who gather there hear the Word of God, pray, give thanks to God, praise God, and carry out those forms of worship which He has commanded. Where these activities are not present, there altars and temples are nothing but workshops of idolatry, of which the papacy is full; for the true forms of worship are disregarded, and meanwhile the entire worship is devoted to the blasphemous an ungodly sacrifice of the mass.

But here the question is asked whether Abraham has the right to do this when he does not have a definite command from God. For it is idolatry to establish worship as a result of one’s own choosing and not as the result of a command of the Lord. My answer is: Abraham did not arbitrarily select this place for his altar. The Lord Himself, who appeared to Abraham there, selected it; for the Lord is its first founder. He shows Himself there because he wants to be worshiped there and to have His promise proclaimed.

Likewise later, when Jacob had seen the angels ascending and descending on a ladder, he said (Gen. 28:17): “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Therefore, because the Lord is the first to tarry there and sow His Word, He truly dedicates or consecrates the place, so that it is not secular but sacred and serves sacred purposes; for it is the Word by which all things are consecrated (1 Tim. 4:5). At this place, however, the Word is proclaimed, not by a human being but by God Himself.

Hence the first temple is the one that the patriarch Jacob builds. Of course, it is not one like ours; it is a heap of stones in a field. Here the church gathered to hear the Word of God and to perform the sacred rites. The place gave his worldly descendants the opportunity for countless acts of idolatry, as the sermons of the prophets prove. Among others, it is especially Hosea who prophesies against the kingdom of Israel.

The Samaritan woman in the Gospel account defends her religion with the example of the patriarchs when she says (John 4:20): “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain”; for she is speaking of this very same mountain [Gerizim], which I think either was the rock Moreh or was not far away from it. And reason is indeed caught in this snare and cannot free itself. It hears: “Abraham did this, and the action pleased God”; from this it immediately concludes: “Therefore I shall do the same thing; and I, too, shall please God.” But when the prophets denied that this conclusion was valid, they were beaten and slain.

The insolence and pride of the Shechemites was extraordinary. For this reason Sirach calls them “foolish” (Ecclus. 50:26). Because they knew that an altar was built by Abraham on Mt. Moreh, they made it their business to build a splendid temple on Mt. Gerizim at the time of Alexander the Great, with Alexander’s permission, as Josephus relates in the eighth chapter of his second book. Since Moses foresaw this wickedness, he once more urges the godly in Deut. 16:5-6 to follow, not the examples of the patriarchs but the Word of God, saying: “You shall not sacrifice in any place whatever, but at the place the Lord has chosen.” This statement he repeats in that same sermon, not once but many times. Because the location of the tabernacle would be changed rather often until at last a temple was built, Moses wants them to respect the place that the Lord points out in His Word, to gather there, and to perform the sacred rites there” (Luther’s Works, Volume 2, American Edition, 284-285).

 A blessed Commemoration of Abraham to all of you.

John Bussman1 Comment