23 February 2020

Transfigured into the Glory of God by the Cross of Christ

What you find and receive at the top of the Mountain is Life with God: To eat and drink, to rest, and to live in His presence, reconciled and at peace with Him in the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.

But for now it seems that you are far removed and far below the Lord your God.  What is more, you are afraid of Him and His Glory.  You’re afraid to get close to Him, as though you even could.

The Law of God with all its demands and punishments, with all its accusations and condemnations, is a consuming fire that threatens to destroy you.  And it surely would.  It’s not that the Law is evil.  Indeed, it is divinely good and wise, holy and right.  But it terrifies and threatens to consume you, because you are sinful and unrighteous.  You are not good and wise, but foolish and mortal.

Under those prevailing circumstances, appearances are deceiving, misleading, and frightening.

The Law cannot save you from your predicament.  It cannot save you from yourself, nor from your sin and death.  But it does aim at your life and salvation, at your Life with God in faith and love.  It aims at that, points to that, and leads you to that Life in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen.

On the one hand, the Law sacrifices Him and sheds His blood for your atonement, redemption, and rescue (for your Exodus), in order to forgive you, and to establish and seal His Covenant with you.

And on the other hand, the very life of faith and love which the Law of God calls for and requires is realized and fulfilled in the same Lord Jesus Christ.  So He is the One who brings you into that divine and holy Life, as He has opened up the way for you in Himself — in His Incarnation, by His Life and Ministry, and from His Baptism in the Jordan River to His Cross and Resurrection.

As your merciful and great High Priest, Christ Jesus is the One who brings you up the Mountain to God in His own Body of flesh and blood.  In Him, your entire human nature is transfigured with the very glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Hence, your life is not simply with God, lived in His presence; your whole life is hidden with Christ in God, in personal communion with Him.

You are transfigured in and with Him, in His Body, in His Person, by way of His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  For His Cross and Passion are the pinnacle of perfect faith and love.  His sacrificial death is atonement, redemption, and the means of your reconciliation with God.

He grapples with all the curse and consequences of your sin and death in His own Body on the Cross, and He heals all those ills, all those hurts and scars, all those frailties and weaknesses, all those griefs and sorrows, and your sickness unto death.  And so it is that, in His Resurrection, your human body is raised up, made brand new, and glorified — like unto His own glorious Body.

So, too, your heart and mind, your soul and spirit, your thoughts and feelings and emotions, all are healed and made whole in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Though it does not yet appear what you shall be in glory at the last, already it is true for you in Him — even now, hidden under the Cross, subjected to death and the grave.

There are no short cuts up the Mountain, no way to bypass the Cross on your way to Glory.

The Apostles are not even to speak of the glorious vision until after the Cross and Resurrection are accomplished; because the Glory of the Transfiguration is the Glory of the Cross, which is then manifested in the Resurrection — and manifested in the preaching of the Gospel of the Cross.

So, too, the transfiguration of your body and of your whole human nature — in and with Christ Jesus — occurs by the ways and means of His Cross.  It happens by the preaching of His Cross unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  And it is given to you in the Fruits of His Cross, in His holy Body and precious Blood, given and poured out for you to eat and drink.

It is for the sake of His Cross — for you and your salvation, in divine and holy love — that the Lord Jesus has come down from the Mountain.  And really, in Him, the Mountain Top itself has come down to you.  The Cloud of the Majestic Glory of God rests upon the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, even to His sacrificial death on the Cross.  For He is the Ark of the New Testament; He is the Mercy Seat; He is the Holy of Holies; and He has come down to tabernacle with you here.

So, listen to Him.

Hear and receive His Gospel, His forgiveness, His perfect Peace and Sabbath Rest.

See how He stretches out His hand and lays it upon you, not to punish and destroy you, but to comfort, to heal, to raise you up from death to life, and to serve you in grace, mercy, and peace.

You do ascend the Mountain of God with Christ Jesus, and in the Resurrection you also shall be transfigured.  But already here and now, the Glory of God dwells with you on earth.  By His grace, He is here with you to save you, and His flesh and blood unite and seal you to His God and Father.

His Blood of the New Testament satisfies the Law of God and sanctifies you.  It makes satisfaction for your sins of thought, word, and deed, and it transfigures and transforms your heart and mind, your words and actions, your body, your lips, your hands and feet, to be glorious with His Glory.

So it is that, even under the Cross — and precisely by the bearing and sharing of His Cross — the Glory of God is manifested in you.  In the forgiveness of all your sins, and in your salvation by God’s grace through the Gospel.  Then also in your faith and love, in your forgiveness of those who sin against you, and in your self-sacrificing service for those neighbors God has given you.

Thus are you stunning and beautifully adorned in both your body and soul with the true beauty of Christ Jesus, and in Him you are the most handsome of men, the most gorgeous of godly brides.

Such a life is not found on some Himalayan peak, far and away beyond your reach.  It is already hidden with Christ in God, while it has also come down from heaven and drawn near to you here at the bottom of the mountain, down in the valley so low, the valley of the shadow of death.

That is where the Altar stands among the people of God, and where His Church stands firmly and rests upon the twelve pillars of the Lord’s holy Apostles, the eyewitnesses of His great Salvation.

And so it is that you live in the presence of God, because God has come to live with you in His own Body of flesh and blood, with His own Word.  In Him you have perfect Peace and Sabbath Rest, because He has reconciled you to Himself, and to His Father by His Spirit, with the Gospel.

Daily and richly He comes to abide with you in mercy, with His free and full forgiveness of sins.

In Christ Jesus — in His Cross — in His Word — and in His entire Ministry of the Gospel, you behold the Lord your God with the eyes of faith.  You recognize the glorious goodness of His grace; and you eat and drink — not only “with Him,” in His presence, and not only food and drink that He provides — but you eat and drink the incarnate God, and He makes His tabernacle in you.

Yes, He abides with you and dwells even within you, in spite of all your frailties and weaknesses.

Consider, for example, where is it that Peter, James, and John are given to eat and to drink.  It is not high up on the mountain away from all the others, but in the Upper Room of the Church, in the Passover of the New Testament, in the gathered assembly of the disciples; and here also with you.

Here at His Altar, within His Church on earth, all the Law and the Prophets have been fulfilled in Christ Jesus; and here they are made sure and certain for you in the Ministry of His Gospel.

Here the Morning Star now rises in your heart and mind, in your body, soul, and spirit, by His gracious forgiveness of all your sins, and by the free gift of Himself, His Life, and His Salvation.

So it is that you shine like the stars with His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness; and so it shall be that you live with Him in His Resurrection from the dead, body and soul, forever and ever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

16 February 2020

The Holiness of Marriage and Life in the Righteousness of Christ

In His Word to you this morning from His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus addresses you with the clear meaning and significance of the Law, especially the Fifth and Sixth Commandments, whereby He guards and protects His good gifts of human life and holy marriage and teaches you to receive and sanctify these divine and sacred works in the righteousness of faith and love.

As He catechizes you in these Commandments of God, Jesus pushes you beyond the surface to the deeper intention and fundamental spirit of the Law, revealing that God is concerned not only with your outward behavior but with your heart and mind.  The anger and hatred that you harbor inside against your neighbor is already murder in the eyes of the Lord your God.  Likewise, the covetous lust and desire that you entertain and exercise for the bodies of other people is already adulterous.

This Word of our Lord could hardly be more timely and pertinent to our present day and culture, as the onslaught against human life and the perversion of human sexuality are rampant in the world around us.  Indeed, such sins are not only defended but increasingly celebrated, to such an extent that even many Christians have been numbed to the deadly seriousness of these matters.  Even so, the fact remains that these sins, in particular, are not only contrary to the Law of the Lord in the Holy Scriptures, but are diametrically opposed to the very nature and survival of the human race.

But lest you presume to hide behind the fact that you may not be guilty of doing this or that, it is again to the point at hand that the Lord aims at your heart and mind and cuts you to the quick.  Have you not gotten angry, lost your temper, and cursed your neighbor to his face and behind his back?  Have you not maintained grudges and nurtured bitter resentments against your neighbors, instead of seeking to be reconciled through mutual repentance and forgiveness of sins?  And have you not looked upon your neighbor’s spouse, marriage, and family with deep envy and jealousy?

It is sobering to consider how seriously the Lord describes the lust in your eyes and in your heart as adultery, justly deserving of temporal and eternal punishment.  Yet, lust pervades our culture as a basic marketing tool.  Adultery in all of its many and various forms is treated as the norm.  All manner of sexual confusion is glamorized and promoted.  And divorce is taken for granted, though anyone who has suffered through the breaking of a marriage knows well enough how painful and damaging it is, not only to the estranged husband and wife, but as much or more to their children.

What Jesus says concerning divorce may be especially difficult for many to hear and take to heart.  But His purpose is not to hurt or harm; it is to emphasize the importance and sanctity of marriage — and so also to signify His own marriage to the Church.  He thereby stresses the necessity of our faithfulness to Him as our true Bridegroom.  Even more to the point, though He would have the legal right to divorce us because of our unfaithfulness, He does not exercise that prerogative, but in His faithfulness, love, and mercy He lays down His Body and Life to reconcile us to Himself.

Later in St. Matthew, Jesus speaks again concerning marriage and divorce.  There He indicates that Moses permitted and made provisions for divorce because of the hardness of hearts.  Divorce thus belongs to the realm of sinful unbelief.  But God’s intentions were not so; and from the beginning His good creation included marriage as the union of one man and one woman as one flesh, joined together by God and not subject to human disruption.  Indeed, from the beginning man and woman were created in God’s own Image, and marriage as such was a reflection of Christ and His Bride, the Church.  So, for divorce to be tolerated and given a place within the Church is a contradiction at the most fundamental level.  It is a false confession of Christ and His Church, and therefore a denial of the Gospel itself.  That is why the Lord addresses it and deals with it so very seriously.

None of which is to say that divorce or any other sort of adultery cannot be forgiven.  Christ died also for these sins, and His Word of forgiveness absolves them.  But they are thereby dealt with precisely as sins, and not excused or rationalized as okay.  It must be so.  To treat them as anything else than sinful is to reject the very forgiveness they require, which is so freely offered in Christ.

The challenge is that even many Christians fail to consider and take to heart that all of us truly are sinners, not just in a general, abstract sort of way, but really and concretely in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  So, in exposing and condemning your sins for what they are, the Lord is not rejecting you; He is calling you to repentance, to fear, love, and trust in the one true God instead of yourself, and to find your righteousness by grace alone through faith alone in His Gospel of forgiveness.

Your only real life, which is your only real hope, is the life that Jesus Christ has lived for you and sacrificed for you — the life that Jesus Christ has given to you in your Baptism — the life you live in Him and He in you.  Every other sort of “life,” which is really only death in disguise, steeped in anger, hatred, and murder, lust, adultery, and divorce, must be repudiated.  The Church dare not tolerate these things as though they were innocent or harmless, but must condemn them for what they are, as sins leading to death; and daily call both you and all other sinners to repentance; and then speak and bestow the free and full forgiveness of sins in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, if you are divorced, you might be thinking that I am picking on you this morning; and if you’re not divorced, you might be thinking to yourself that I am really letting those “other folks” have it.  Either way, not only would you be forgetting that these are not my words but the Words of Christ Jesus; you would also be missing the whole point and not hearing what Jesus has to say.

Jesus does not let anyone off the hook; and in that respect He is letting each and every one of you “have it” with both barrels.  His Sermon on the Mount exposes the roots of your sin already in your sinful heart, in your thoughts long before it ever gets into your words and actions.  He does so in order to contrast the death of your sin with the life and salvation of His mercy and forgiveness.  For in Him you are given a new life — one that is not characterized by murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and covetousness, as your so-called “life” apart from Christ is found to be; no, your life in Christ is characterized by His perfect righteousness, which is revealed above all and most clearly in His Cross and Resurrection, and which is credited to you by grace through faith in Him.

His Word against divorce is so serious and harsh, because divorce is the very opposite of the mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation of His Cross.  He thus condemns this sin and all your sins, that He might forgive your sins and reconcile you to Himself as a member of His Bride, the Church.

As we also heard from Jesus last week, He did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them — to bring them to perfect completion in His own life.  Everything that He calls for throughout His Sermon on the Mount, all that He calls you to be and to do, He Himself lives and fulfills in His own flesh, even to His death upon the Cross.  For as St. Paul writes to the Church at Rome, love is the fulfillment of the Law, because love does nothing to harm the neighbor but rather seeks to help and serve.  It is such love that you see in the Cross and Crucifixion of Christ.

Instead of taking revenge, “an eye for an eye,” “a tooth for a tooth,” the Lord God responded to those who sinned against Him with mercy and forgiveness, giving His own Son for the world.

All that you and this whole world of sinners deserve, the Son of God has suffered.  All the debt that you owe, the Son of God has paid with His own Body and Life.  And since the Lord your God has thereby reconciled the world to Himself in Christ Jesus, any and all claims of wrongdoing and revenge that people may have against each other are already satisfied and wiped out, null and void.  Of course, here we are not speaking about worldly economics, but of sins and forgiveness.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” Jesus teaches you to pray in the Our Father.  Because Jesus has turned His cheek, surrendered His garments, and carried His Cross — for you and your salvation — you have no right to exact retribution from others.  Rather, you are to forgive, even at your own expense, as you are freely forgiven by God in Christ Jesus.

The perfection that is required of you — like that of your Father in heaven — is that righteousness of Christ which exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees — a righteousness defined and perfected by His mercy and forgiveness.  It is in the mercy and forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus that His perfection is most clearly revealed and expressed.  It is perfected by our Lord upon the Cross, even as He declares that “It is finished.”  For there His mercy and forgiveness are accomplished for you.

As a beloved and well-pleasing child of God in Christ Jesus, you are here called to be “perfect” in this same sense, in this same way, that is, by loving your enemies, by showing mercy toward and forgiving those who sin against you, and by finding and living your life in the Cross of Christ.

That is the point to all of Jesus’ Words: To love your neighbor as yourself, even your enemies, for the sake of your Father in heaven.  To love and serve your spouse, and to respect your neighbor’s marriage; to refrain from revenge, and to forgive instead; to give freely at your own expense, even to those who are taking advantage of you; to love and pray for those who hate you and hurt you.  All of this the Lord has done and continues to do for you.  Not only that, but He credits His perfect life to your account, so that you are righteous by faith in Him.  And He now lives His life in you, and through you for your neighbors, so that your body and life are an “epiphany” of His Gospel.

To make this very concrete and particular, by way of a specific example, consider again the Word of the Lord concerning adultery and divorce.  In that light, the higher and perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus is demonstrated by the betrayed husband who does not divorce his unfaithful wife but rather forgives her and reconciles her to himself in love.  The letter of the Law does not require such mercy and forgiveness.  But this is an example of how and why this righteousness of God in Christ Jesus exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees — not only by degree, but also by kind.  For His righteousness is revealed and perfected precisely in His gracious mercy and free forgiveness.

So it is that He, your heavenly Bridegroom, did not divorce His people, though they have been so unfaithful and adulterous.  But from heaven He came and sought you and all the children of Adam and Eve to be His holy Bride.  With His own blood He bought you, and for your life He died.

That is the righteousness to which you are called, which you cannot earn or obtain for yourself, but which has been obtained for you and given to you by Christ.  Only by faith in Christ Jesus do you live as a perfect child of your Father in heaven; for it is only in Christ Jesus that His God and Father is your God and Father.  And so it is that, by His Holy Spirit, you love and forgive where you would otherwise hate and hurt; you give and sacrifice where you would otherwise covet and lust; you serve without any thanks where you would otherwise retaliate with anger and revenge.

In all this, it is the Gospel that is confessed, and the world sees in you the grace of God in Christ.

Instead of retaliating, seeking revenge, and refusing to forgive, the righteousness of faith in Christ suffers all things, bears all things, endures all things — for the sake of Him who suffered death upon the Cross in your stead, bearing all your sins and griefs and sorrows in His own Body; who endured the righteous wrath of God on your behalf, that you should be redeemed and reconciled.  Think of how He turned the other cheek to those who mocked and abused Him; and when He was reviled, He did not revile in return, but He kept on entrusting Himself to His Father in heaven.

By His stripes you are healed — so that, having died to sin, you might live unto righteousness.

You thus live by entrusting yourself to your God and Father in Christ, seeking not your own way but His way of mercy, peace, and love.  In any case, you have no need to seek revenge or justice for yourself, since the Lord your God Himself has redeemed you and declared you to be righteous.

What is more — and most wonderful of all — wherever and however you have fallen short of His perfection, your merciful and great High Priest, the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, avails for you unto repentance and faith in the atoning sacrifice of His Cross and the perfect righteousness of His Resurrection from the dead.  He is your Life and your Salvation.  In His crucified and risen Body, as a member of His Body and Bride, the Church, you are perfect, as He Himself is perfect.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

15 February 2020

My Top Favorite Current Musical Acts and Artists by Genre

I've been working for a while now on narrowing down the number of musical acts and artists I follow, and, while the following is not an exhaustive list, it is a fairly comprehensive summary of where my focus is settling. Under each of fifteen musical "genres," I've listed my top twelve favorite current acts and artists. By "current" I refer to those who are still producing music in the present, though some of them are likely nearing the end of their careers. Beyond the acts and artists included here, there are probably another three or four dozen that I remain interested in and pay attention to. But for the purposes of this post, I was determined to limit myself to a dozen entries within each category. Some might quibble with my categorization, but it is my own.

I share this list, not only for the sake of disciplining myself and establishing a measure of public accountability for my goals, but also because I believe there's something of interest and enjoyment for almost anyone within these various musical categories, regardless of your own tastes in music. In any case, it is one of my greatest pleasures in life to share the things I love with my family & friends. So, see what you think, and maybe you'll discover something new.

Modern Mainline Country

Tim McGraw
Kenny Chesney
Keith Urban
Carrie Underwood
Brad Paisley
Lady Antebellum
Jason Aldean
Darius Rucker
Blake Shelton
Kacey Musgraves
Ashley McBryde
Dierks Bentley

Red Dirt, Retro, and (Neo-)Traditional Country

Cody Jinks
Trace Adkins
George Strait
Ronnie Dunn / Brooks & Dunn
Wade Bowen
Tyler Childers
Chris Stapleton
Casey Donahew (Band)
Cory Morrow
Cody Johnson
Randy Rogers (Band)
Vince Gill

Alternative & Edgy Country

Eric Church
Zac Brown Band
Sturgill Simpson
Miranda Lambert
Uncle Kracker
The Steel Woods
Brothers Osborne
Little Big Town
Paul Cauthen
Margo Price
Aubrie Sellers
Alex Williams

Folk & Americana

Lori McKenna
Brandi Carlile / The Highwomen
Allison Moorer
The Secret Sisters
Flatland Cavalry
Brandy Clark
The Waifs
Alison Krauss (and Union Station)
Dori Freeman
The Devil Makes Three
Mandolin Orange

Alternative & Progressive Folk

Parker Millsap
The Avett Brothers
The Decemberists
Mumford & Sons
The Head and the Heart
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors
Amanda Shires / The Highwomen
Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters
The Lumineers / Neyla Pekarek
The Dustbowl Revival
Belle & Sebastian
Shovels & Rope

Heartland-Americana Pop-Rock

Will Hoge
Jason Isbell
Kid Rock
Sister Hazel
Jimmy Barnes
American Aquarium / BJ Barham
Green River Ordinance
The Band of Heathens
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
Jamestown Revival
Reckless Kelly
Turnpike Troubadours

Singer-Songwriter Pop

Mat Kearney
Taylor Swift
Gavin DeGraw
Jason Mraz
Five For Fighting
John Mayer
Ben Rector
Sara Bareilles
Dan Layus / Augustana
Amos Lee

Alternative ~ Pop-Rock

Rob Thomas / Matchbox Twenty
Plain White T’s
Imagine Dragons
Rick Springfield
The Script
Grace Potter
American Authors
Better Than Ezra / Kevin Griffin
Weird Al Yankovic

Classic Rock

Black Country Communion
Brian Fallon / Gaslight Anthem
Black Star Riders
Rival Sons
Greta Van Fleet
Sammy Hagar / Chickenfoot / Van Halen
Beth Hart
Wolfmother / Andrew Stockdale

Modern Rock

Bon Jovi
Linkin Park
3 Doors Down
Revolution Saints / Night Ranger
Three Days Grace
Saint Asonia
Scott Stapp / Creed

Hard Rock ~ Heavy Metal

Alter Bridge / Tremonti / Myles Kennedy
Ozzy Osbourne
Black Stone Cherry
Saxon / Biff Byford
Pretty Maids

Progressive Rock & Metal

Dream Theater
Of Mice & Men
Sons of Apollo
Avenged Sevenfold
Within Temptation


Judas Priest
Black Veil Brides
All That Remains
Iron Maiden
Killswitch Engage / Times of Grace
Primal Fear / Magnus Karlsson

Ambiguous Alternatives

Andy Black
Breaking Benjamin
The Goo Goo Dolls
The Black Keys / Dan Auerbach
Good Charlotte
Mayday Parade
Sleeping with Sirens
Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
Need-to-Breathe / Wilder Woods


Joe Bonamassa
Slash / Myles Kennedy / Guns ‘n’ Roses
Joe Satriani — Chickenfoot
Paul Gilbert — Mr. Big
Michael Schenker
Gus G — Firewind
Zakk Wylde — Black Label Society
Tedeschi Trucks Band / Susan Tedeschi / Derek Trucks
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Jack White — The Raconteurs / The Dead Weather
Joanne Shaw Taylor
Diana Rein

02 February 2020

Face to Face with God in Christ Jesus

Today we are diverted from the normal sequence of the Epiphany Season, as we take a giant step backward in the lifetime of our Lord.  Once more He is an Infant in the arms of His Mother, being brought to the Temple in Jerusalem, His Father’s House, on this Fortieth Day of the ChristMass.

As throughout Epiphany, so also in the Presentation of our Lord, the Almighty God here reveals Himself and His Glory in the flesh and blood of His incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  In this little Babe, the Son of Mary, the Lord your God has burst upon the scene and confronts you face to face.

Now, if you consider what that entails, you realize that confrontation with God surely ought to be a terrible and frightening encounter for you, a poor, miserable sinner deserving of punishment.  If you’ve got your hand in the cookie jar, the last thing you want is to come face to face with your Mom.  And if you mess up on the job, you don’t look forward to a confrontation with the boss.

But here the one true God, the Lord Himself, who commands you to be holy and perfect, as He is holy and perfect, but who already knows that you are not — who knows all your sins of thought, word, and deed, past, present, and future — He comes to meet you face to face — the same One who comes to judge the living and the dead.  But are you ready to meet your Creator and Judge?

On your own and of yourself, no, you are not ready to face Him, nor would you be able to stand in His presence.  No more than Adam and Eve were ready, when they’d eaten the forbidden fruit.  Remember how they tried to hide from God among the trees of the Garden?  Whatever newfound knowledge of good and evil they might have gained was more than enough to tell our first parents that they had sinned against the Lord.  And like yourself, having disobeyed the Word of God, they knew what they deserved.  They could not bear to look God in the eye, to see Him face to face.

And yet, when God the Lord confronted them there in the Garden after the Fall — along with the cursing of the serpent and the punishment of pain in childbirth — side-by-side with the cursing of the soil and the decree that man would return to that soil in death — Adam and Eve also received the promise of the Savior.  Face to face with God, and they received His mercy and forgiveness.

That’s what happened again when the same Lord God revealed Himself to Abraham and promised that by his Seed the nations would be saved.  With Father Abraham God established His Covenant, sealed with the blood of circumcision as a sign of the Lord’s ongoing presence with His People.

Then again, the Lord our God came face to face with Jacob as a Man, and He wrestled with him through the night, thereby teaching him repentance and training him in the prayer and confession of faith.  Though putting his hip out of its socket (like the bones of Christ Jesus on His Cross), the Lord blessed Jacob and bestowed on him the name of Israel, that is, “he who strives with God.”

Remember Mt. Sinai, when God spoke face to face with Moses and through him established His Covenant with Israel — the Covenant fulfilled and perfected in the conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Son, Immanuel, who is indeed God-with-us in the Flesh.  As we celebrate throughout Christmas and Epiphany, the Lord God has come down from heaven to tabernacle with you and all in His own Flesh and Blood.  So is He with you today in this Temple of His Church.

And so it is that we rejoice and give thanks along with St. Simeon and St. Anna, two of God’s holy and righteous people who have gone before us in the one true faith, who came face to face with their Savior in His Holy Temple.  In the Face of the Infant Christ Jesus — the promised Seed of the Woman, the Seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — they beheld the Face of God Himself.

In that light, Simeon could not help but sing.  And his song of sweet salvation has gone out to all the ends of the earth, to every corner of the Church, and so also to you.  For the same Lord God comes to be with you in the Ministry of His Gospel.  Not with finger-shaking or scolding, but with tender mercy and forgiveness.  By faith you discern His great salvation in water, bread, and wine.  And in the Resurrection, with your own two eyes, you shall see Him face to face forevermore.

It was appropriate that Simeon should come face to face with God in the Temple, for he was no stranger to that sacred place.  Living in accordance with God’s Word and joining in the liturgical life of the Temple were an exercise of his faith and confidence in the coming Messiah.  The same thing is true for you.  In the Temple of the Lord, that is, within His Church of Word and Sacrament, Christ Jesus continues to manifest His divine glory in His forgiveness of sins and His gift of life.

The Prophetess Anna likewise clearly understood that blessing and benefit.  For St. Luke writes that she did not leave the Temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayers.

It’s not necessarily the case that Anna spent twenty-four hours a day at the Temple and never left, or that she lived in the building.  But it is certain that this devout woman of God faithfully took part in the worship life of Israel.  She was present for the daily services of the Temple, evening and morning, and for all the festivals and feast days of the Lord’s liturgical year.  She no doubt also used the Temple as a place of prayer, calling on the Name of the Lord to redeem His people.

St. Anna’s participation in the Temple’s worship and liturgy greatly increased her faith in the coming Messiah.  For there she heard the promises of God repeated daily from the Holy Scriptures.  There she sang with all the faithful the Psalms of promise and deliverance.  And in the sacrifices offered by the priests of God, St. Anna foresaw the Sacrifice of the Son of God for the forgiveness of all her sins.  So do you now hear and receive Christ Jesus in His Word and Sacrament here.

It was thus within the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem — where they had for so long and so faithfully stood in the presence of God and availed themselves of His Word and promises — that Simeon and Anna were, in the fullness of time, brought face to face with the Word-of-God-made-Flesh, the fulfillment of all those promises, to whom their worship, prayers, and fasting had always pointed.

This little Babe, just forty days old, is the very God who walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, who spoke to Abraham concerning a son, who wrestled with Jacob through the night and gave to him the blessing of His Name, and who spoke face-to-face with Moses on the Mountain and wrote His Law on tablets of stone.  This little Lord Jesus is Immanuel, the God who is with His People.

St. Simeon was thus given the blessed privilege of taking the Christ Child into his arms, thereby cradling the flesh of His Creator to his own sinful flesh.  Looking into the eyes of Baby Jesus, he was face to face with God.  By this Child he would have life everlasting in body and soul.  Seized with joy and the passion of realized hope, that faithful man of God burst into song by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, thus giving to the Church that song or canticle we know as the Nunc Dimittis.

Yet, what Simeon perceived in his Savior was a fearful task.  “Behold,” he said to St. Mary, “this Child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a Sign that is spoken against.  A great sword will pierce your own soul, and the secret thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”

Christ Jesus is the Light of Revelation for the nations and the Glory of His People Israel, but His Peace and Salvation are costly beyond price — purchased not with perishable things like gold or silver, but with His own holy and precious Blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.

It is the Cross and Passion of the Christ that St. Simeon beholds and foretells.  For him, the joy that began in the Bethlehem manger would find its fulfillment on Calvary.  So do we also recall that the Salvation which first appeared at Christmas in the pains of Mary’s labor would be completed in the pains of her great loss.  For the joy of our salvation is found only in the grief of crucifixion — a grief St. Mary also suffered when she stood at the foot of the Cross witnessing her own dear Son die an agonizing death for us all, and the great sword of sorrow went ripping through her soul.

Gazing at the Baby Jesus, St. Simeon did not dwell on the color of His eyes or comment on how much hair He had.  He rather saw the shadow of the Cross, standing already above the horizon.  Even as an Infant, that cursed tree was the focus and goal of our Lord’s entire life.  For it is by the Sacrifice of His Cross that He redeems and liberates His people from sin, death, and hell.

For all that, St. Simeon speaks not only of the Cross, but also of the Resurrection.  For the Child, he says, is destined not only for the falling but also for the rising of many in Israel.  As He dies and rises for you, so are you put to death and raised to newness of life with Him, by way of Baptism in His Name, and by daily repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins.  As you thus die with Christ Jesus, so do you also rise and live with Him, as well.  For Christ Jesus, having risen from the dead, will never die again.  And baptized into Christ, even though you die, yet shall you live!

In the meantime, it is true that you do not know the joy of holding Baby Jesus in your arms in the same way as Simeon and Anna.  But you do share with them the greater joy of forgiveness in the Cross of Christ.  And you join with them and all the saints of God in the Temple of the Church, in the Liturgy of the Gospel, week by week, year after year, awaiting the Resurrection of all flesh.

With St. Anna you gather day and night within the Temple to hear the Word and promises of God, to sing the ancient Psalms and hymns of faith, and to be presented with the Flesh and Blood of your Savior, Jesus — the same Flesh and Blood that St. Mary brought to the Temple in Jerusalem all those years ago, the same Flesh and Blood that were hung upon the Cross for your salvation.

And as surely as St. Simeon received the tiny Body of the Lord from the arms of His Mother, so do you also receive the Body of the same Christ Jesus from the hand of your pastors, and you are strengthened and sustained in peace and joy by that gift of the Word-made-Flesh.  Likewise, you drink the Blood of His forgiveness, which cleanses you from all your sins.  In the Lord’s Supper you come face to face with God, not for condemnation, but for everlasting life in body and soul.

Like Mary and Joseph, you will soon depart and leave for your own home.  But as you go your way, you do so with the Nunc Dimittis on your lips, as you also sing with faithful Simeon, “Lord, now let Your servant go in peace; Your Word has been fulfilled.”  For by faith you have seen the Salvation of God in the Light of Revelation which He shines upon you through the Holy Gospel.

You go home from this place as a beloved and well-pleasing child of God, holy and righteous in His sight, enlightened by the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ.  And by His grace through faith in Him, you are clothed with compassion and kindness, humility and patience, and above all, clothed with love.  It is in your body and life, dear Christian, that God comes face to face with the world around you, as He enables you to be a light to those who yet live in the darkness of unbelief.  Above all, you live a life of forgiveness and love, as the Lord loves you and freely forgives you.

If you are married, show the face of God’s mercy and forgiveness to your husband or wife.  Be patient and long-suffering, and love your spouse, as Christ Jesus patiently and steadfastly loves you both.  If you are a father or mother, show the face of God’s love to your children; forgive them, as the Lord Jesus is daily forgiving your sins.  If you are a child, show the face of God’s love to your parents; honor your father and mother, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.  And all of you, show the face of God to everyone you meet — at work, at home, at school, and wherever.

Where does the strength to do it come from?  It is surely not from yourself.  The world comes face to face with God in you, because you come face to face with God in His Word and Sacraments, here within the Temple of the Lord, His Holy Church, which is the very gate of heaven on earth.

Earlier, I recalled how Jacob wrestled through the night with the Lord Himself.  Afterwards, he named the place of his confrontation, “Penuel,” which means, “the face of God.”  For, as he said, “I have seen God Face to Face, yet my life has been kept safe.”  I dare say it is no coincidence that the name of St. Anna’s father is that same word, Phanuel.  And so are you also given to approach and depart from the Lord’s Altar in this House of God with the same words of Jacob on your lips.  For this is your “Penuel.”  Here you come Face to Face with God, and here you are kept safe.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

26 January 2020

The Epiphany of Christ in the Ministry of His Gospel

The Epiphany of our Lord, that is, the manifestation of divine glory in His Word and in His Flesh, is not a one-time past event but an ongoing grace of God in the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name, and in the healing power of His Word and Sacraments.  Thus does He enter in with the glory of God in His own flesh and blood, just like yours, with grace, mercy, and peace for your body and soul, now and forever.  For the true God became true Man in order to bear your sins and to live forever as your Savior.

So it is that He comes forth and draws near in the Holy Gospel this morning — not only to those whom He calls to be His first disciples and His Holy Apostles, but so also here and now to you.

St. Matthew writes for those who already know how the story will end — or, better to say, how it continues.  Not only the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, once for all, but His ongoing Life and Ministry in the Acts of the Apostles.  For the Lord Jesus is actively present in the words and deeds of Peter, Andrew, James, and John; and He likewise continues to guide and govern, to feed and protect His holy Church on earth.  Behold, He is with you always, even to the close of the age.

To be sure, Jesus is not simply going for a leisurely stroll along the Sea of Galilee; nor does He just happen upon the four brothers on the seashore.  St. Matthew indicates that Jesus comes to Galilee of the Gentiles, and that He travels on the “Way of the Sea,” that is, on the trade route to the Mediterranean, in fulfillment of God’s promises, as the true Light shining in the darkness, as the One who breaks the rod of oppression and liberates people from sin, death, the devil, and hell.

What is more, His journey is a purposeful and deliberate walk on the Way of the Cross, whereby He takes all the iniquities, transgressions, and burdens of the world upon Himself, in order to put them to death in His own Body.  Which is also to say that those who follow Him — His disciples — so also, you — are called to bear the Cross and die with Him, in order to live with Him forever.

It is significant that Jesus takes the initiative in choosing and calling His disciples to Himself.  The usual practice was for students to pick and choose the rabbis they would follow.  But as the Lord Jesus also declares in the Gospel of St. John, you do not choose Him, but He has chosen you.

There simply are no “decisions for Jesus.”  By your own reason or strength you are not capable of coming to Christ Jesus or believing in Him.  But He calls you to Himself by the Spirit through the Gospel, enlightens you with His gift of faith, and thereby sanctifies you for the Life everlasting.

Jesus saw those men, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, as they went about their business.  He saw them, and He approached them in His love and mercy toward them.  And so does He see you, as well, as you go about the business of your life.  And what is it that He sees, when He sees you?

Does He see your laziness, your dishonesty, and your wastefulness?  Does He see you gossip and complain?  Does He see you serving yourself instead of others?  Yes, He does see all of that, just as He saw and knew the sins of Simon Peter and his brother and the sons of Zebedee.  There was nothing in them, nor in you, that should have been attractive in His eyes.  But it is in divine love that He sees you and desires you to be His own, and that He glorifies you with His own holiness.

What He saw in those two pairs of brothers were “fishers of men.”  And it is worth noting that, although He called those men away from their nets and boats and families, their new vocation was nevertheless patterned after their old occupations.  In a similar fashion, your own stations in life are sanctified and made brand new by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, by faith in His Word.

Now, to be clear, this Holy Gospel does not say that you must forsake your family and profession in order to be a Christian.  It is true, those first four disciples were called by Christ Jesus to a new vocation — to be Apostles and Ministers of His Gospel.  But you have been called to be and to live as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ — not away from your office and station in life, but within that very place and purpose to which God has called you, wherein He sanctifies you by His Word.

By all means, you are called to put Christ Jesus ahead of everything else — including your family and friends and your whole way of life.  You are to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things and all others.  But here again, it is a matter of faith and love within your God-given office and station, not a forsaking or neglecting of those things.  Your Christian life is lived where He has put you.

What, then, does it mean to become a disciple of Jesus, to bear His Cross and follow after Him?

It means a new attitude toward everything, inside and out, and a willingness to sacrifice everything, as needs may be, as you may be called upon to do for the sake of Christ Jesus and His Gospel.

The Lord Jesus calls people to Himself — to learn from Him how to live and who to be.  And such discipleship is perhaps best understood as an apprenticeship or as a kind of boot camp, in which you eat, sleep, breathe, and live your entire life immersed in the Word and work of Christ Jesus, in the Liturgy of His Gospel.  Certainly that was true for those first four disciples, who would go forth as Apostles in the footsteps of their Lord, engaged in fierce combat with the forces of Satan.

It is true for you, as well.  Military images are perhaps not the best for the Christian life in some respects.  But you also are engaged in a daily battle with the devil, the world, and your own flesh.  And your victory is found in that Ministry of Christ Jesus which covers you with His Gospel of forgiveness — and which also guides and governs your life in the pattern of His righteousness.

For those men who are called to the Office of the Holy Ministry in the footsteps of the Apostles, being a Christian disciple means continuing the Word and work of Christ Himself — preaching and teaching and “healing,” granting freedom from sin, death, and the devil through the Gospel — whereby you are called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Word and Spirit of Christ.

And for you, in turn, being a Christian disciple means speaking and living the Word of the Gospel in your own particular place, just as you have first heard and received it in the Ministry of Christ.

Nowadays, for good or ill, the term “ministry” is often used very loosely, broadly, and casually for any and all types of Christian service in, with, and for the Church on earth.  While not entirely wrong, such a use of the term has been misleading in a way that detracts from the unique authority and significance of the Holy Ministry of the Gospel–Word and Sacraments, while also giving the false impression that only those activities connected in some way or another to the Church are truly a Christian service to the Lord (no matter how contrived they may be).  But this is all wrong!

Better to understand that your “ministry” or Christian service is what you are called and given to do in your office and station as a husband or wife, as a father or mother, son or daughter, student or worker, citizen or soldier, or wherever else in life God has positioned you in relation to your neighbors.  It is there, within that context, by way of those duties and responsibilities that you are entrusted with each day, that your faith and life in Christ Jesus are busy and at work in service to the Lord and to your neighbors, manifesting His divine glory in all your mundane activities.

Such service in everyday life is truly Christian service to the Lord, because you are a Christian, and you are the Lord’s — by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone.

The real key is that, whatever you do, you do it all according to the Word of God.  You look at life, you understand it, and you live it, all according to His Word.  Not according to your own reason or strength, nor on the basis of your own thoughts and feelings, all of which are sinful and will mislead you.  You consider all things in life, and you live, according to the Word of the Lord.

At the Word of Jesus, like Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, you are simply called upon to act as He has spoken, to do what He says.  “Follow Me,” He said.  And immediately they followed Him, finally to their death in His Name and for His sake, thus to receive the Crown of Life in Him.

Where His Word to you is a Word of the Law, it is to be obeyed — and blessings will follow that obedience, because His Word to you is Wisdom, Truth, and Light; so, too, there are consequences when you disobey.  But His better Word to you, His “bottom line,” is the Word of His Gospel, along with those words that call you to the Gospel, such as, “follow Me.”  And His Word of the Gospel is not for you to “obey,” but to hear and receive, to believe and trust, that you might have Life in Christ Jesus through His forgiveness of all your sins and His healing of all your infirmities.

In regards to the Ministry of the Gospel, it is in general as Dr. Luther writes in the Small Catechism concerning the Lord’s Supper in particular.  There he poses the question: “What should admonish and incite a Christian to receive this Sacrament frequently?”  And then he provides this threefold answer: “In respect to God, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord should move [the Christian to do so]; and in respect to himself, the trouble that lies heavy on him, on account of which [need] such command, encouragement, and promise are given.”

Christian discipleship and Christian life are not a checklist of “moral dilemmas” to be solved and “ethical decisions” to be deciphered and done, but a life that is lived in Christ, as Christ Himself lives in you.  He lives and abides in you, not by any means of your own choices and decisions, nor by your own guesswork as to what He might do — but by means of Holy Baptism in His Name, and by means of His Body and Blood, given and poured out for you in remembrance of Him.

Now, to be sure, all of this means that you live under His Cross in this life.  But the Cross that you carry as a disciple of Christ Jesus does not destroy you or put you to death forever.  Rather, by the forgiveness of His Cross, He raises you up in His Resurrection to the everlasting Life of God.

And in the meantime, He feeds you and strengthens you with that very Body and Blood which He has sacrificed for you upon His Cross — so that your own flesh and blood, in turn, no matter what they must bear, serve to the glory of His holy Name and for the benefit of your neighbors.  So does the Word of Jesus which you hear and receive become a word in your own mouth for others.

So, then, as a husband or wife, speak the Word of Jesus to your spouse; and as a father or mother, speak the Word of Jesus to your sons and daughters, that they might live as the children of God.

Likewise, as a child, speak the Word of Jesus to your parents, to your brothers and sisters, and to your friends and playmates.

As an employer, speak the Word of Jesus to those whom you employ; and as an employee, speak the Word of Jesus to your boss, to your coworkers, and to those whom you are given to serve.

As a member of the Lord’s Church, speak the Word of Jesus to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and to your pastors, as well; for one and all of us are called to live by grace through faith in Him.

This life that you live and these Words that you speak — these are not of yourself, but they are the very things which you have received by the grace and charity of Jesus, who has made you His own.

And though you daily sin much in your thoughts, words, and deeds, though you are faced with all your failings, all your hurts and heartaches, troubles and torments, take to heart and take comfort that your dear Lord Jesus continues to come with purpose and with love for you, seeing you in His mercy even when you are blind to Him, calling you to life with God in Himself, and granting you His gracious forgiveness of all your sins and the health and healing of His Cross and Resurrection.

He comes preaching the Kingdom of God in your presence, and He calls you daily to repentance, that in this very place — at this very Altar, on earth as it is in heaven — you might eat His Body and drink His Blood in faith and with thanksgiving, unto the Resurrection of your Body and the Life everlasting of your body and soul in the neverending Epiphany of His divine, eternal Glory.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

17 January 2020

The 2019 Grampies

It's high time (and past time) for the posting of the 2019 Grampies, identifying the most significant albums of this past year across a wide diversity of musical genres. It was a different year in many ways. Whereas 2018 featured numerous new releases from a great many of my favorite artists, 2019 was predominated by a greater number of less familiar acts. The fact is, I was also more preoccupied with other priorities. By way of example, my three most favorite new releases in 2019, hands down, were my three most-recently-born baby grands, Benedict, Philippa, and Augustin. My father's departure from this vale of tears in 2019 also put the transience of popular music into perspective, especially considering that my Dad also avidly followed and charted music across the years. Now his collection of music sits without its owner, and his many lists and notes will go undeciphered. Even so, for the time that we are given in this body and life on earth, music of all kinds is part and parcel of our Lord's good creation, a beautiful gift of His grace, and a joy that gladdens the hearts of His dear children. And I give thanks for that blessing.

As always, my enjoyment and tracking of music have been aided and abetted by Amazon, Spotify, the St. Joseph County Library, the Rate Your Music and Album Of The Year websites, my good friend and colleague, Rev. Erich Fickel, and my own children. Often as not, I stumble upon great new music almost by accident. (I've concluded that, beginning with this New Year, I'm going to have to limit my exploration of new music and rather stick to my tried and true favorite artists; but here, for now, my focus of attention is on what I discovered and enjoyed in 2019.)

In addition to my "Album Top 40" (across all genres) for the year, I've included lists of the most significant albums within each of seventeen different "genres." Within those categories, I've listed the albums in more-or-less my order of preference (though that is likely to vary from day to day). In many cases, trying to determine the precise genre of a given album is a challenge, and I'm sure there are those who might well quibble with some of my decisions in that regard. So be it. This is all a matter of my own tastes and opinions, obviously, and one and all are free to disagree with me. That's part of the fun in posting such lists, and I welcome friendly discussion and debate. I should note that I have normally not included live albums as contenders in the annual Grampies, but I've made one exception (sort of) for this past year. Especially having had the privilege and pleasure of seeing Joe Bonamassa live in South Bend with my wife and a couple of good friends, I simply could not overlook his "Live at the Sydney Opera House" album, released in October. It is an exquisite album and a joy to listen to. So I've listed it as the first album in the "Guitarists" genre, and as a "Special Honorable Addendum" to my "Album Top 40."

Alright, then. Without any further ado, herewith are awarded the coveted Grampies for 2019:

D. Rick’s Album Top 40 (Across Genres)

1. Alter Bridge - Walk the Sky

2. Sabaton - The Great War

3. The Black Keys - “Let’s Rock”

4. Rob Thomas - Chip Tooth Smile

5. Andy Black - The Ghost of Ohio

6. Cody Jinks - After the Fire / The Wanting

7. Lonerider - Attitude

8. Opeth - In Cauda Venenum

9. The Head and the Heart - Living Mirage

10. Jamestown Revival - San Isabel

11. Avantasia - Moonglow

12. Jimmy Barnes - My Criminal Record

13. Black Star Riders - Another State of Grace

14. Terra Nova - Raise Your Voice

15. Flatland Cavalry - Homeland Insecurity

16. Skillet - Victorious

17. Miranda Lambert - Wildcard

18. Age of Reflection - A New Dawn

19. Kenny Wayne Shepherd - The Traveler

20. Battle Beast - No More Hollywood Endings

21. Scott Stapp - The Space Between the Shadows

22. Metalite - Biomechanicals

23. Inglorious - Ride to Nowhere

24. Switchfoot - Native Tongue

25. Beth Hart - War in My Mind

26. Iron Savior - Kill or Get Killed

27. Dream Theater - Distance Over Time

28. Damon Johnson - Memoirs of an Uprising

29. Volbeat - Rewind, Replay, Rebound

30. The Steel Woods - Old News

31. Taylor Swift - Lover

32. Majestica - Above the Sky

33. The Avett Brothers - Closer Than Together

34. Kiefer Sutherland - Reckless & Me

35. Cyhra - No Halos in Hell

36. Tanya Tucker - While I’m Livin’

37. Rival Sons - Feral Roots

38. Bayside - Interrobang

39. Lady Antebellum - Ocean

40. Rhapsody of Fire - The Eighth Mountain

Special Honorable Addendum: Joe Bonamassa - Live at the Sydney Opera House


Taylor Swift - Lover
Sheryl Crow - Threads
Céline Dion - Courage
James Blunt - Once Upon a Mind
Maggie Rogers - Heard It in a Past Life
Sara Bareilles - Amidst the Chaos
Dean Lewis - A Place We Knew
Walk Off the Earth - Here We Go!
Sabrina Carpenter - Singular Act II
Ingrid Michaelson - Stranger Songs
The Script - Sunsets & Full Moons
Jonas Brothers - Happiness Begins / Music from Chasing Happiness
Backstreet Boys - DNA
Dido - Still on My Mind
Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated
Norah Jones - Begin Again
Parachute - Parachute
Andy Grammer - Naive
Camila Cabello - Romance
Zac Brown - The Controversy

Alternative and Progressive Folk

The Head and the Heart - Living Mirage
The Avett Brothers - Closer Than Together
The Highwomen - The Highwomen
Neyla Pekarek - Rattlesnake
The Wild Reeds - Cheers
Joseph - Good Luck, Kid
Jessica Pratt - Quiet Signs
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen
Lula Wiles - What Will We Do
Dylan LeBlanc - Renegade
Glen Hansard - The Wild Willing
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors - Dragons
The Lumineers - III
Bailen - Thrilled to Be Here
Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center
Belle & Sebastian - Days of the Bagnold Summer
Shovels & Rope - By Blood
Steve Gunn - The Unseen In Between
Ida Mae - Chasing Lights
Son Volt - Union

Folk and Americana

Jamestown Revival - San Isabel
Flatland Cavalry - Homeland Insecurity
J.S. Ondara - Tales of America
Sister Hazel - Earth / Fire
Allison Moorer - Blood
Molly Tuttle - When You’re Ready
Emily Scott Robinson - Traveling Mercies
Eilen Jewell - Gypsy
Ian Noe - Between the Country
Vince Gill - Okie
Joy Williams - Front Porch
Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars
Carrie Newcomer - The Point of Arrival
Buddy & Julie Miller - Breakdown on 20th Ave. South
Mandolin Orange - Tides of a Teardrop
Patty Griffin - Patty Griffin
Dori Freeman - Every Single Star
Over the Rhine - Love & Revelation
Hayes Carll - What It Is
Kelsey Waldon - White Noise / White Lines
John Paul White - The Hurting Kind
Josh Ritter - Fever Breaks
The HawtThorns - Morning Sun
Joshua Radin - Here, Right Now
Rhiannon Giddens - There Is No Other
Passenger - Sometimes It’s Something, Sometimes It’s Nothing at All
Justin Townes Earle - The Saint of Lost Causes
Andrew Combs - Ideal Man
The Talbott Brothers - Ghost Talker
Leonard Cohen - Thanks for the Dance

Modern Mainline Country

Miranda Lambert - Wildcard
Lady Antebellum - Ocean
Ward Thomas - Restless Minds
Christie Lamb - Broken Lines
Maddie & Tae - One Heart to Another / Everywhere I’m Goin’
Michaela Anne - Desert Dove
Lauren Jenkins - No Saint
Luke Combs - What You See Is What You Get
Brooks & Dunn - Reboot
Jason Aldean - 9
Austin Jenckes - If You Grew Up Like I Did
Clay Walker - Long Live the Cowboy
Hunter Hayes - Wild Blue, Part I
Hootie & The Blowfish - Imperfect Circle
Jon Pardi - Heartache Medication
Justin Moore - Late Nights and Longnecks
Kevin Fowler - Barstool Stories
Jake Owen - Greetings from . . . Jake
Maren Morris - Girl
Brooke White - Calico
Cassadee Pope - Stages
Tracy Lawrence - Made in America
Rodney Atkins - Caught Up in the Country
Thomas Rhett - Center Point Road
Zac Brown Band - The Owl
Sarah Darling - Wonderland
Old Dominion - Old Dominion
Chris Janson - Real Friends
Danny Gokey - Haven’t Seen It Yet
Dean Brody - Black Sheep (EP)

Retro and Traditional Country

Cody Jinks - After the Fire / The Wanting
Tanya Tucker - While I’m Livin’
Kendell Marvel - Solid Gold Sounds
Sunny Leigh Shipley - Out of the Sky
George Strait - Honky Tonk Time Machine
Tyler Childers - Country Squire
Trisha Yearwood - Every Girl
Erin Enderlin - Faulkner County
Randy Rogers Band - Hellbent
Cody Johnson - Ain’t Nothin’ to It
Reba McEntire - Stronger Than the Truth
Yola - Walk Through Fire
Willie Nelson - Ride Me Back Home
Midland - Let It Roll
Mike and the Moonpies - Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold
Casey Donahew - One Light Town
Ronnie Milsap - The Duets
Dee White - Southern Gentleman

Alternative & Edgy Country & Americana

The Steel Woods - Old News
Kiefer Sutherland - Reckless & Me
Paul Cauthen - Room 41
Pony Bradshaw - Sudden Opera
Adrian - Desert Dwelling Mama
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real - Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)
Ryan Bingham - American Love Song
Lillie Mae - Other Girls
Jason Hawk Harris - Love & the Dark
Chris Knight - Almost Daylight
Steve Earle - Guy
Kalie Shorr - Open Book
Aaron Lewis - State I’m In
Brantley Gilbert - Fire & Brimstone
Randy Houser - Magnolia
Frank Turner - No Man’s Land
Montgomery Gentry - Outskirts (EP)
Micky & The Motorcars - Long Time Comin’
Dillon Carmichael - I Do for You (EP)
Jack Ingram - Ridin’ High . . . Again

Pop and Heartland Rock

Rob Thomas - Chip Tooth Smile
Jimmy Barnes - My Criminal Record
Beth Hart - War in My Mind
Keuning - Prismism
The Goo Goo Dolls - Miracle Pill
Avril Lavigne - Head Above Water
Grace Potter - Daylight
Don Felder - American Rock ‘n’ Roll
Wilder Woods - Wilder Woods
The Cranberries - In the End
Jimmy Eat World - Surviving
Bryan Adams - Shine a Light
Electric Light Orchestra (Jeff Lynne’s ELO) - From Out of Nowhere
Kevin Griffin - Anywhere You Go
Fastball - The Help Machine
Ringo Starr - What’s My Name
American Authors - Seasons
Stray Cats - 40
Alan Parsons - The Secret
Allen, Mack, Myers, & Moore - Let It Roll

Classic Rock

The Black Keys - “Let’s Rock”
Lonerider - Attitude
Black Star Riders - Another State of Grace
Inglorious - Ride to Nowhere
Rival Sons - Feral Roots
Tesla - Shock
The Allman Betts Band - Down to the River
The Raconteurs - Help Us Stranger
Thunder - Please Remain Seated
Wolfmother - Rock ‘n’ Roll Baby
Melissa Etheridge - The Medicine Show
The Magpie Salute - High Water II
Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown - Truth and Lies
Whiskey Myers - Whiskey Myers
Laura Cox - Burning Bright
Caleb Johnson - Born from Southern Ground
Black Stone Cherry - Black to Blues, Vol. 2 (EP)
The Who - Who
The Drugstore Gypsies - Easy Access
Reese Wynans and Friends - Sweet Release
The Glorious Sons - A War on Everything
John Mayall - Nobody Told Me

Retro Radio Rock

Terra Nova - Raise Your Voice
Age of Reflection - A New Dawn
The Brink - Nowhere to Run
Trishula - Scared to Breathe
Rob Moratti - Renaissance
Gathering of Kings - First Mission
Restless Spirits - Restless Spirits
The Defiants - Zokusho
Danger Zone - Don’t Count on Heroes
Danny Vaughn - Myths Legends and Lies
Wake the Nations - Heartrock
First Signal - Line of Fire
Work of Art - Exhibits
Find Me - Angels in Blue
DeVicious - Reflections
Viana - Forever Free
Hardline - Life
Cats in Space - Day Trip to Narnia
Toby Hitchcock - Reckoning
Jim Peterik and World Stage - Winds of Change

Modern Rock

Alter Bridge - Walk the Sky
Andy Black - The Ghost of Ohio
Skillet - Victorious
Scott Stapp - The Space Between the Shadows
Volbeat - Rewind, Replay, Rebound
Eclipse - Paradigm
Takida - Sju
Saint Asonia - Flawed Design
Ray Alder - What the Water Wants
The Darker My Horizon - Seize the Day
Buckcherry - Warpaint
Art of Dying - Armageddon
Art Nation - Transition
Torndown - Out of the Darkness
Cold - The Things We Can’t Stop
Puddle of Mudd - Welcome to Galvania

Progressive Rock & Metal

Opeth - In Cauda Venenum
Dream Theater - Distance Over Time
Queensrÿche - The Verdict
Evergrey - The Atlantic
Arch/Matheos - Winter Ethereal
The Neal Morse Band - The Great Adventure / Jesus Christ the Exorcist
Steve Hackett - At the Edge of Light
Insomnium - Heart Like a Grave
Vanden Plas - The Ghost Xperiment - Awakening
Sweet Oblivion - Sweet Oblivion
Darkwater - Human
Hollow Haze - Between Wild Landscapes and Deep Blue Seas
Pattern-Seeking Animals - Pattern-Seeking Animals
Avandra - Descender
Sifting - The Infinite Loop
Teramaze - Are We Soldiers
Lance King - ReProgram
Richard Henshall - The Cocoon
Flying Colors - Third Degree
Jordan Rudess - Wired for Madness
TOOL - Fear Inoculum
Baroness - Gold & Grey

Hard Rock / Heavy Metal

Sabaton - The Great War
Battle Beast - No More Hollywood Endings
Beast in Black - From Hell with Love
Liliac - Chain of Thorns (EP)
Spirits of Fire - Spirits of Fire
The End Machine - The End Machine
Sammy Hagar & The Circle - Space Between
Mind Key - MK III - Aliens in Wonderland
Starbreaker - Dysphoria
Michael Sweet - Ten
Pretty Maids - Undress Your Madness
Alchemy - Dyadic
Lazy Bonez - Kiss of the Night
Whitesnake - Flesh & Blood
Last in Line - II
Blacktop Mojo - Under the Sun
Stargazer - The Sky Is the Limit
KXM - Circle of Dolls
SOTO - Origami
Overkill - The Wings of War

Epic Power Metal

Iron Savior - Kill or Get Killed
Majestica - Above the Sky
Signum Regis - The Seal of a New World
Tanith - In Another Time
Timo Tolkki’s Avalon - Return to Eden
Gloryhammer - Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex
The Ferrymen - A New Evil
Eternity’s End - Unyielding
Frozen Crown - Crowned in Frost
Rexoria - Ice Breaker
The Raven Age - Conspiracy
Vision Divine - When All the Heroes Are Dead
Hammerfall - Dominion
Sonata Arctica - Talviyö
DragonForce - Extreme Power Metal
Metal De Facto - Imperium Romanum

Symphonic Metal

Avantasia - Moonglow
Rhapsody of Fire - The Eighth Mountain
Chaos Magic - Furyborn
Turilli / Lione Rhapsody - Zero Gravity (Rebirth and Evolution)
The Dark Element - Songs the Night Sings
Moonlight Haze - De Rerum Natura
Visions of Atlantis - Wanderers
Within Temptation - Resist
Edenbridge - Dynamind
Imperia - Flames of Eternity
Delain - Hunter’s Moon
Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra - Legacy of the Dark Lands

Alternative Metal

Metalite - Biomechanicals
Cyhra - No Halos in Hell
In Flames - I, The Mask
Of Mice & Men - Earth & Sky
Amon Amarth - Berserker
Lacuna Coil - Black Anima
Rage of Light - Imploder
Freedom Call - M.E.T.A.L.
Killswitch Engage - Atonement
As I Lay Dying - Shaped by Fire
Edge of Paradise - Universe
Starset - Divisions
Myrath - Shehili
Jinjer - Macro / Micro (EP)
Voyager - Colours in the Sun
Nemesea - White Flag

Ambiguous Alternatives

Switchfoot - Native Tongue
Bayside - Interrobang
Collective Soul - Blood
Sleeping with Sirens - How It Feels to Be Lost
Judah & the Lion - Pep Talks
NF - The Search
The Hold Steady - Thrashing Thru the Passion
Weezer - Weezer (Black) / Weezer (Teal)
The Claypool Lennon Delirium - South of Reality
Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride
Sunset Sons - Blood Rush Déjà Vu
little hurricane - Love Luck
Of Monsters and Men - Fever Dream
Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow
Tegan and Sara - Hey, I’m Just Like You
Alice Merton - Mint
Sturgill Simpson - Sound & Fury
Bastille - Doom Days
blink-182 - Nine
Jenny Lewis - On the Line
Pixies - Beneath the Eyrie
Ed Sheeran - No. 6 Collaborations
James Blake - Assume Form
Swervedriver - Future Ruins


Joe Bonamassa - Live at the Sydney Opera House
Kenny Wayne Shepherd - The Traveler
Damon Johnson - Memoirs of an Uprising
Diana Rein - Queen of My Castle
Michael Schenker Fest - Revelation
Steve Dadaian - Follow the Light
Tommy Emmanuel - Heart Songs
Tedeschi Trucks Band - Signs / High & Mighty (EP)
Joanne Shaw Taylor - Reckless Heart
Gary Clark, Jr. - This Land
Billy Strings - Home
Soren Andersen - Guilty Pleasures
Morano - Incognito
Joe Stump - Symphonic Onslaught
Gary Hoey - Neon Highway Blues
Santana - Africa Speaks
Peter Frampton Band - All Blues
Yngwie Malmsteen - Blue Lightning
Eric Gales - The Bookends
Mark Morton - Anesthetic
John 5 & The Creatures - Invasion

12 January 2020

You Are Baptized and Beloved of God in Christ Jesus

As the Boy Jesus submitted to His earthly parents in obedience and love, so does the same Lord Jesus now submit Himself to St. John the Baptist — to his preaching and baptism of repentance.  And no one is more surprised by that fact than St. John himself, who tries at first to prevent Him.

The people coming to be baptized by St. John come confessing their sins.  But Jesus has no sins of His own to confess, nothing to repent.  He comes, however, confessing your sins and the sins of the world, as though they were His own, as though He had committed all of them Himself.  He confesses all your failures to do what you should do, and all your wickedness in doing what you should not.  He confesses your murder and adultery of thought, word, and deed; your theft and false witness; your gossip and greed; your covetous idolatry and blasphemous speaking and acting.

And for all of these sins, which He takes upon Himself, He repents by way of His Cross, by His sacrificial Death and Resurrection.  That is the work He begins to do in the waters of the Jordan.

He submits to St. John’s Baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness for you and for all sinners, in order to reconcile the world to His God and Father.  To set all things right, as they should be.  To repair what has been broken, to revive and refresh what has been bruised and bent, and to establish a good and right relationship with God, a friendship of faith and love, a true sonship of peace.

In order to accomplish such great things for you, St. John’s fierce and fiery preaching of God’s Law is here set upon Jesus, so that all the righteous wrath and judgment of God against your sins, and all the punishment of your sins, now punishes Him.  At the same time, He also submits Himself to all the just demands of the Law — everything that pertains to faith and love toward God and belonging to love for His neighbors — that He should thereby perfect and establish all things in Himself, in His flesh and blood, in all of His relationships, vocations, and stations in life.  That is what He does for you and all, for your sake and for your benefit, in your stead and on your behalf.

In this way He puts not only His body and life on the line for you, but His divine, eternal Sonship.  In flesh and blood like yours He weathers the curse and consequences of sin and death under the Law, in order to give you His body and life and bestow His divine Sonship upon you by His grace.

All that has been yours becomes His, in order that all that belongs to Him should become yours.

On the one hand, the Law’s fire and brimstone fall upon Him; and on the other hand, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in bodily form as a dove, anointing Him as the Christ.  Thus, in Him, the fire does not consume you, but purifies you as silver and gold are purified by fire; and likewise, the same Spirit that descends upon Jesus is poured out generously upon you, in order to sanctify you in body and soul, and to give you Life with God in Christ Jesus, both now and ever after.

As Jesus went into the water for you, and He came up out of the water, so do you drown and die to sin in the waters of Holy Baptism, and you emerge and arise from that watery grave to a new life.  By the water, Word, and Spirit of Christ Jesus, you are a new creation.  You are a Christian, anointed by the Spirit of Jesus, the Christ.  You are a beloved and well-pleasing son of the Father.  As He speaks from heaven concerning Christ Jesus, so also of those who are baptized into Him.

Heaven is now opened to you, and it shall not be shut to you again, because all of your sins have been washed away, and thus are you clean.  The righteousness of God in Christ is yours.  Because His Baptism is not only for you; it has been given to you, and so it is yours.  His repentance, His confession and forgiveness are yours.  His Cross and Resurrection are yours, not only once upon a time, but once and for all, for every day of your life on earth, by His grace through faith in Him, by His Word and Spirit, until your Baptism shall be completed in the death of your mortal flesh and in the resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting, immortal, imperishable, and glorious.

Your Baptism is the beginning of that good work in you, which the Lord has already accomplished and completed for you by His Incarnation — by His Nativity and Holy Baptism, by His Life and Ministry, by His Cross and Passion, and by His Resurrection and Ascension.  That is the good work that He is bringing to completion in you by His preaching of repentance and by His daily forgiveness of your sins, unto the day of His glorious appearing for the final Judgment.  Then the righteousness which is already yours by faith in Him shall be openly declared before the face of all the nations, in the presence of all your enemies, in defiance of sin, death, the devil, and hell.

Just as surely as Jesus came up out of the water and out of the tomb, so surely are you justified and sanctified in Him.  And it is just as true and sure and certain that you shall be raised from the dead at the last and live forever and ever in your body and soul with Christ Jesus and all the faithful.

It is true that every day your sins are putting you back into the ground, returning you to the dust of the earth from which your first father was taken.  With every covetous and hateful thought, with every false and hurtful word, with every selfish and abusive act, old Adam buries you again.

But your sins do not bury Christ Jesus or put Him back into the ground.  Having died once for all, and having risen from the dead, He will never die again.  Death no longer has any mastery over Him.  Nor does death have any lasting hold or power over you, since you have already died with Christ in your Baptism, and sharing His death you also share His Resurrection.  The life He lives, He lives for you in the presence of God in all righteousness, innocence, blessedness, and purity.

As often as the old Adam in you, with all your sinful lusts and desires, puts you to death and buries you in the tomb, so often and even more decisively does Jesus Christ, the New Man, put your old Adam to death and raise you to newness of life in Himself, in peace and reconciliation with His God and Father in heaven.  His Voice and Spirit descend to where you are, even to the depths of Sheol, in order to raise you up and make you brand new through His forgiveness of all your sins.

Your sins put you to death because they separate you from God, but the Father has reconciled you to Himself in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, and He has anointed you with His Spirit, adopted you as a child and heir by His grace, and bound Himself to you, and you to Him, with His own Name.

Your sins are deadly, but they cannot destroy you in Christ.  Death is brutal and devastating, but it does not have the last word concerning you, and it is not permitted to keep you.  The devil is cunning and powerful, but he has been robbed of all his weapons against you — for Christ has fulfilled and satisfied the Law, atoned for all your sins, and overcome your death; He has risen from the dead for your justification and ascended to the right hand of the Father for your glory.

This same Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and St. Mary’s Son, crucified and risen in the flesh, has been baptized for you.  Therefore, your Baptism into Him avails for you at all times and in all places.  What this means for you is that even sin and death must serve the purposes of God and not of the devil; they drive you to repentance — from idolatry and unbelief to faith in Christ Jesus.

And so it is that the death of your body in this wilderness of tears does not mean the end of your life with God, but only the end of sin and every evil in your flesh.  Until then — though you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment — the Jordan River of Holy Baptism is constantly washing away your sins and preserving you with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

His mercies are new every morning, and from the waters of your Baptism, day by day throughout your life, He makes of you a new creation.  The same waters that drown and destroy your sin and death, lift you up and save you aboard the Holy Ark of Christendom.  They stand as a mighty wall against your enemies, a tidal wave drowning proud Pharaoh with all his chariots and horsemen, keeping them at bay, while opening up the way out of Egypt before you — through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus — into the good Land that God has promised and given to you in His dearly-beloved and well-pleasing Son.   Holy Baptism thus stands for you at the foothills of the Lord’s Holy Mountain, on the cusp of the wilderness, and at the threshold of Paradise.

The new and better Joshua has entered those waters ahead of you, in order to open up the way for you and for all; and He has established Himself in the midst of the Jordan until you and all His chosen people have passed through those waters into Canaan.  He shall not be moved.

The waters that would have dashed you against the rocks and swept you away have swept over Him and swallowed Him up.  But just when it seems as though He has been drowned and died forever, His body never to be recovered, He rises from the water and lives.  And in that sacred bath, in that washing of Jesus in the Jordan River, which you share with Him by the washing of water with His Word — in that Baptism is your repentance, forgiveness, faith, and resurrection.

And here is the reason why: When Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God, came to St. John, the son of a priest and more than a prophet, and submitted to his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, He was humbling Himself before God, putting Himself under the Law, and obeying His Father in perfect faith and love by submitting Himself to the suffering and death of the Cross.

So, then, already in His Baptism the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ began putting Him to death for the sins of the world — for all of your sins — until this Baptism which He undergoes for you would be fully kindled in the fire of His Passion and finished in His atoning Sacrifice.

God put Him to death for your sins.  And God raised Him up again, the very One who died for you.  That is your Absolution, your righteousness and holiness, and your resurrection, now and forever.

So, then, as you have died with Christ by your Baptism into His death, and as you are risen with Him by faith in His Resurrection, your life in both body and soul is safe and sound — hidden with Christ in God by the Holy Spirit, who lives and abides in you by the Ministry of the Gospel.

Set your heart and mind, therefore, on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  Set your sights on Him and on His sacred and eternal things, and do not cling to the perishing and temporal things of this dying world.  Do not invest yourself in those things which do not last and cannot give you life, but fear, love, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is not to say that you neglect or ignore your body and life in this world.  On the contrary, it is by faith in Christ that you live your life here and now, and love your neighbor as yourself, and do the work that God has given you to do, and bear the Cross in the hope of the Resurrection.  As Israel proceeded from the Red Sea to the Jordan, and as Christ Jesus proceeded from the Jordan to His Cross and Passion, so do you live and work in the wilderness on your sojourn to the Land that God has promised — from the waters of your Holy Baptism to the resurrection of your body.

Whether you are an officer and leader of our congregation, a father or mother, a husband or wife, a brother or sister, or whatever your callings and stations in life may be, your labors of faith and love are not in vain.  For you are baptized into Christ Jesus, and though you die, yet shall you live.  So shall He guard your body and soul in His righteousness throughout your pilgrimage on earth, and so shall He preserve you steadfast in His Word and Holy Spirit unto the Life everlasting.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.