31 May 2008

Big Blue Eyes and a Heart of Gold

The amazing whirlwind of the past two days has finally stopped spinning. I've been wound up like a top, myself, but now I am completely spent. I knew that I'd be tired at the end of this day, but I had no idea just how exhausted I would be. It's a good thing I have a couple of months to rest up before Zachary's wedding in August. In the meantime, all the people who have wondered whether I dropped off the face of the earth can watch for me to reemerge from the thick fog of the past month and resume my normal routine.

The four weeks that have flown by since I returned from Siberia are too much of a blur for me to remember most of what has happened, so I won't even try at this point. I've got several blogs in my brain that I may or may not eventually post; the world can wait with bated breath for those, if it likes (or not). For the time being, it'll be all I can do to recall the last forty-eight hours before they slip into the past like a dream that has come and gone. Actually the first six hours of those forty-eight were easy enough, since I was sleeping then; now I'll pick it up from there.

I got up at 4:30 a.m. on Friday. Or, rather, I started the process of dragging myself out of bed around that point. I think it was closer to 5:00 a.m. when I finally managed to get that far. Then everything commenced moving considerably quicker. I left the house with Frederick and Gerhardt shortly after 6:00 a.m. in order to pick up Anna and transport her to Fort Wayne in a timely fashion to begin working on the wedding cake (a simple but elegant masterpiece). That early itinerary made for a great arrangement, as it gave me several constructive things to do with myself and my time, whereas I would otherwise have been a basket case all day. I spent several hours with my two littlest boys and, as it happily turned out, also with my biggest boy, Zach, who had already arrived from Texas. We boys had brunch together, then kicked around the seminary campus until it was time for me to take my Beanie Belle out for lunch.

We ate at Smokey Bones, which may not be formal dining, but it is good food in a comfortable atmosphere. I was delighted to learn that it survives in Fort Wayne, because our family was pretty disappointed when the Smokey Bones restaurants in both Bloomington and Mishawaka closed this past year. I took DoRena to the one in Bloomington on more than one occasion while she was going to school there, and it was at the Smokey Bones in Mishwaka that LaRena and I told the children we were expecting baby number nine, who turned out to be Gerhardt. Now I can add the special memory of taking my eldest daughter out for lunch at Smokey Bones in Fort Wayne on the day before her wedding. I was amazed, again, at how lovely and happy and grown up she is, and every breath I have taken these past two days has been a prayer of thanksgiving.

After lunch DoRena took me by the wonderful little house that she and Sam were able to find, which is now all ready to welcome them back from their honeymoon. It's perfect for the two of them, and also has a fantastic backyard, which DoRena's younger siblings will no doubt enjoy on visits to Fort Wayne. We'll have to make such visits some kind of routine in the coming years.

By that point in the day, LaRena and the rest of our children were at the seminary, and the rehearsal only a couple hours away. DoRena went on with her list of errands, while I did my best to help get the family situated in the guest dormitory. Once that was more or less accomplished, LaRena could get busy on her big task — the flowers — and I could return to working on my sermon in earnest. Thankfully, we had our own big boys and several other young friends on hand to assist in caring for our littlest people, so we parents of the bride could give our full attentions to serving our firstborn "baby girl." It is such an odd thing to reflect upon her growing up years, and how she used to be our little person, but now she is a competent and capable adult establishing a household of her own. I took Oly'anna out for breakfast on her eighth birthday earlier this week, and I was powerfully reminded of my once-upon-a-time little DoRena. Big blue eyes and a heart of gold, that's my Beanie!

I've never been so nervous about preaching as I have been in this case. I've been telling myself all week that it's really no different than preaching any other time; my task remains to proclaim the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, unto repentant faith in Christ. Yet, my feelings and emotions have been particularly resistent to logic, and nervous I have been. By last night and this morning, I really felt as though I were going to unravel with anxiousness. It wasn't fear, but I suppose a fervent desire to preach "the perfect sermon." Of course, that's not the right way to look at it, and I do know better. I reminded myself, as I would have counseled anyone else in a similar situation, that it is simply a matter of preaching the Gospel, the Word of Christ; there's no adding to that, nor any improving upon it. When it came down to it, despite my anxiety, I was resolved to stand up and speak the Word of God to my daughter and to leave it at that. I was still more nervous than I should have been, but less tied up in knots about it than I was.

But I've gotten ahead of myself. The rehearsal was both interesting and helpful. Pastor Petersen did a nice job of it, and I was appreciative of his guidance. It was a little odd being involved in a wedding that I wasn't officiating, but I have focused on being the father of the bride and doing those things that I was specifically given to do. In any case, I am very grateful for the good pastor that DoRena and Sam have at Redeemer in Fort Wayne. Thus, it has been no problem for me to defer the plans and preparations for the wedding to him. A lot of people have assumed (I've lost track of how many people have commented today) that I must have been the one to plan the wedding service. I guess I'll take such assumptions as a compliment, but I really can't take any credit. Sam and DoRena worked everything out with Pastor Petersen, and that was just as it should be. I was glad to be asked for my opinion on a few incidentals, but I am a big believer in respecting office and vocation, and the fact is that I had no God-given office or vocation to plan this wedding. As the father of the bride, it happens that I am also a called and ordained servant of the Word, which allowed me the special honor and privilege of preaching today; in its own way, though, that was no different than Sam's Dad making the beautiful prie-dieux that was used in the wedding and will serve in Sam and DoRena's home.

Anyway, the rehearsal was well done and helpful. Not everything in the service was quite the way that I would have chosen to do it, but that's okay. Nothing violated my conscience, and, if anything had seemed problematic, I was given every opportunity to speak my piece. The end result was stunningly beautiful, appropriate and reverent, and I have only gratitude for that. I especially appreciated the words that Pastor Petersen offered at the beginning of the rehearsal, in which he pointed out that Sam and DoRena wanted to begin their life together in this way, as a confession of their faith in Christ, and as a forthright testimony to the primacy of His love. Pastor Petersen asked everyone present to honor and respect those intentions, and, so far as I could tell, everyone certainly did. There could be no denying that Christ and His Gospel were the clear focus of the wedding. I know for a fact that my Beanie would not have wanted it to be any other way; just one of those things for which I am most profoundly thankful as a father.

The rehearsal dinner was perfect, featuring Jimmy Johns subs (a favorite treat that DoRena introduced to me in Bloomington over the past few years). Unfortunately, I was pretty restless to keep working on my sermon, which made it difficult for me to relax and enjoy the evening. I left relatively early and found my way to Ruby Tuesday for the next few hours. Normally, I would have had a margarita, but I stuck with ice tea last night. I really just needed to concentrate and focus my thoughts. Gradually, everything that has been chasing circles in my head for the past week or more settled into place, and I was able to write out an entire sermon (not that I would end up preaching from a manuscript, but it was helpful to have it in writing).

Family and friends were arriving throughout the afternoon on Friday and late into the evening, but I barely got to see or talk to any of them. That was the most frustrating and disappointing thing about this weekend. I guess it is to be expected, but it has driven me crazy to have people here from all over the country, and yet to have no time with them. Thankfully, LaRena's side of the family is spending the next few days with us, so there will be opportunity to visit with them at least. And we happily have Zachary home for the next two weeks, which is outstanding. But it broke my heart to see other loved ones so briefly, and then to say goodbye.

This morning began early, though not as early as yesterday. I got up at 7:00 a.m., showered and dressed, and made my way to Panera for a few hours of further sermon review. I debated back and forth all week, as to whether I should preach from a manuscript or from an outline; I was still undecided as of this morning, so I was reviewing my sermon from both sides of that dilemma. Pastor Grobien encouraged me to preach from my outline, and I'm very glad that I did take that approach; at the same time, I'm also pleased to have a proper manuscript to share with Sam and DoRena (and anyone else who may be interested).

By 10:00 a.m. I needed to be getting myself ready for the wedding, and helping to get the rest of my family ready for the wedding. From that point on the passage of time seemed to accelerate. Pictures began for me (with the other pastors) shortly after 11:00 a.m. Photography altogether continued pretty much up until 12:30 p.m. The wedding was scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. Pastor Petersen and I went to check on DoRena a few minutes ahead of time, and she was "still ready," as she put it. She's always been well-organized and efficient, but I've never seen her more ready or better prepared for anything than she was for this day and this wedding. She is a poised and confident young woman, but genuinely humble, unpretentious, easy-going, and charmingly feminine. All of that shone brightly in her today. She was eager and excited, to be sure, but calmer and more relaxed than I was at that point. In fact, I think it was her steady demeanor, more than anything else, that finally put my own heart and mind at ease. Everything fell into place as I walked her and Naomi across the seminary plaza to the narthex of the chapel.

When I asked DoRena, then, whether she preferred me to preach from my manuscript or from an outline (as I was intending at that point), she simply replied that it was up to me, and that she was sure it would be fine either way. It's seems a very simple thing, but she also said that she had confidence in my preaching, and it was especially that little comment, spoken from her heart, that carried me through (not discounting the work of the Holy Spirit, to be sure, but I believe my daughter's confidence and reassurance were surely among the ways in which the Spirit sustained me in this particular circumstance). As far as I could tell, up until that point, pretty much everyone was expecting me to get choked up and emotional during the sermon. People kept asking me if I was okay, and whether I was holding up alright, and then consoling me, as though I were dreading my daughter's wedding. I know that all these folks meant well, but most of them did not seem to understand that my chief concern was not with my emotions but with the faithful preaching of the Word of God. Pastor Grobien knew what I was after, because he knows me pretty well; which is why I solicited his advice on how to approach my preaching, whether from a manuscript or an outline. But somehow I think it was DoRena who understood her Daddy best of all, and she trusted me to preach the Word of God. When she made her little comment just before the wedding, it dawned on me that she and Sam hadn't asked me to preach because I'm her father, but because they counted on me to speak Jesus to them. Sure enough, that's what I had been aiming at all along, but knowing that DoRena trusted me to do just that was such a precious reminder to me as I walked her to the chapel.

The wedding began, probably a few minutes late (I have no idea, because I took off my watch and paid no attention to the time), and it was positively regal. The music was gorgeous. The ceremony was reverent. The occasion was magnificent: the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lord, on which day, twelve years ago, I was ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry. How better to celebrate than by giving my daughter in marriage to a fine young man aspiring to that same Holy Office? Walking my Beanie Belle down the aisle was awesome, in the fullest and least trivial sense of that much abused adjective. The wedding gown she borrowed from her dear friend Emily became her beautifully. Seeing her so composed and smiling with that marvelous smile of hers beneath the veil was breathtaking, but it also helped me to relax and to enjoy the privilege of giving such a daughter away. This is one of those rare defining moments of fatherhood. I wore Pastor Petersen's cope, the appropriate liturgical vestment for my office in the Service, and I was very glad for that added solemnity to accompany the bride down the aisle. Everything veritably shouted the Christological significance of holy marriage.

When asked who gave this woman to this man, I answered clearly and correctly, "Her mother and I" (which, during the rehearsal, I had managed to confuse). I lifted her veil and gave DoRena a kiss before placing her hand into Sam's and entrusting her to him. From that point onward, they were together, soon to be seated with their attendants like the kings and queens of Narnia in the high back sedalias on the lectern side of the chancel. The Service of the Word proceeded smoothly and comfortably according to its usual fashion; and then my own bride, LaRena, was squeezing my hand as I got up from my seat with her in the front pew to ascend the pulpit and preach.

The thing I remember most vividly from our wedding, now almost twenty-three years ago, is my Dad preaching to us. It has therefore seemed such a poignant thing for me to be given that same profound privilege today. One of my young parishioners, Sarah, told me that she's never heard me sound more confident than I did in my preaching today, but the truth of the matter is that I was still feeling more nervous than I ever have before in the pulpit. Nevertheless, I did know what I wanted to say, and I was resolved to say it for my daughter and her groom, and for all those people (whether married or not) who had come to celebrate their wedding with us. So that must be where the confidence came from; it wasn't from myself, but from the Word of the Lord that I was given to speak. It was a bit odd preaching across that big chancel to Sam and DoRena on the opposite side from the pulpit. At first, I tried turning back and forth between them and the rest of the congregation, but I finally settled into looking at the two of them. That would have been more difficult if I had attempted to preach from my manuscript. As it was, I only looked at my outline once. As I had predicted more than once ahead of time, the sermon was completed only in the preaching of it; everything else up until then was preparation.

My son tells me that someone timed the sermon at 30 minutes. I guess I'm not too surprised, though I would not have guessed that it ended up that long. At that, it comprised a third of the entire Service. I suppose it was being timed because of the bets that were placed as to how long it would take before I got choked up, but nobody ended up winning that wager. I am grateful for the many positive comments on my sermon, but it is mainly a relief to have fulfilled my office faithfully. Apparently there were some pastors in the congregation who were disappointed that I didn't say anything new. We shall have to wait for their daughters to be married for the proclamation of brilliant insights. For my part, I was glad to say what I know to be true.

It was immediately following my sermon that we sang the magnificent Gerhardt wedding hymn, "Oh Jesus Christ! How Bright and Fair," which was one of the true highlights of the day for me. Having fulfilled my preaching responsibility, I was fully able to revel in that glorious confession of the faith. In addition to the profound theology of the words, in which DoRena also took the greatest delight, she and I both enjoyed the subtle nod to her brothers, Gerhardt and Nicholai, who are named for the writer of the hymn (Paul Gerhardt) and the composer of the grand chorale tune for which it was written (Philipp Nicolai). Sam's best man, James, made some beautiful comments concerning Gerhardt and his hymn at the reception later in the day, for which I was very appreciative. I should also say, while I am thinking of it, that Sam and DoRena were surely blessed with a most outstanding best man and matron of honor in James and Naomi.

Gerhardt's powerful hymn led us directly to the wedding rite itself at the center of the Service. It was simple and relatively brief in the midst of so much grandeur, but powerfully moving in its traditional simplicity. I know that LaRena and I were caught up in that moment with rapt attention, and few things in my life have been so poignant as hearing the words spoken to and by our daughter. She and Sam both spoke their vows and solemn pledges with the same clarity and confidence that marked their demeanor throughout the day. The "Amen" that we all spoke together at the end of the rite was one that resounded from the very depths of my heart.

We moved swiftly and smoothly into the eucharistic rite and the Holy Communion. Nothing else so demonstrated the convictions of the bride and groom than that celebration. Their union to each other is one that finds its place within the "Communion of Saints" in the Body of Christ. To have the Sacrament of the Altar at a wedding (or, better to say, to have a wedding at the Divine Service) presents a pastoral challenge, but Sam and DoRena worked carefully with Pastor Petersen to ensure that all was done responsibly and appropriately. Of course it is a heartache that a number of our family members (on all sides) and many of our friends do not share with us the same confession of the faith, which also prevents us from communing together. However, Sam and DoRena were eager to confess their faith in this way, and above all to be strengthened and sustained in the faith by the Body and Blood of Christ, together with His Bride, the Church. I am proud of them for proceeding in the conscientious way they did, even as I was especially grateful to receive the Sacrament for the forgiveness of my sins and the strengthening of my faith unto the life everlasting.

The wedding reception afterwards was a lovely celebration of the joyous occasion. Everything seemed just right, so far as I could tell, and I think that for most everyone it was comfortable, relaxing and enjoyable. The live music by our longtime friend and fellow Emmausite, Dave Seyboldt, was both classy and fun. The food was perfect, including the cake, adorned with decorated strawberries (dressed up as little brides and grooms; too cute!). The toast was great fun, too, though my hand was shaking so badly with excitement and adrenaline, I thought I was going to spill my champagne. I hope my toast made sense (Zachary told me that he got it, and presumably DoRena did, too, if nobody else). I remarked that Beanie's theme song as a baby was "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones. She was, I am sorry to say, a sometimes disagreeable child. But, I said, it now seems clear to me that she was simply waiting her whole life for Sam to come along, and what I see in her now is nothing but joy and the sweetest contentment. "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need." So, there you go, James referred to my hero Paul Gerhardt in his toast, while I resorted to the immortal wisdom of Mick Jagger. Still, I know my daughter rather well, and she always has had a rock and roll heart. At least I didn't quote the Rolling Stones in my sermon.

Apart from the toast, I spent most of the reception keeping track of my children, making sure that none of them were falling into the fountains on the seminary plaza (or into the artificial lake, even if it was the place where Sam proposed to DoRena on the Fourth of July last year), and changing diapers as duty called. Poor Frederick ended up having to wear little Gerhardt's pants, but I suppose neither he nor anyone else noticed. I did manage to miss the cutting of the cake, as it happened at one of the many points when I was tracking down the ever elusive Justinian. I'm glad that I took a moment to peek into my little nephew Logan's car seat, where he was sleeping exactly like a baby, as I would otherwise have missed my first chance ever to see the little guy. I was able to share brief snatches of conversation with a few of our friends, but the most of my interaction with guests had come in the receiving line as they came out of the chapel. One by one, dear friends said goodbye and took their leave, and I suppose that is my one regret. It seems that is simply the way that it goes. There were family and friends spending the night in Fort Wayne, but there was no practical way for us to enjoy their company and fellowship, as we desperately needed to get our tired selves and our children back to South Bend for the night.

The Kodak moment came (and me without a camera) when we bid the bride and groom farewell. LaRena and I kissed our daughter and hugged our new son-in-law and sent them on their married way. It was a grand scene, worthy of a movie (I'm not biased, no, not at all). The two of them descended the long stairs from the upper to the lower plaza, flanked on both sides by so many loved ones showering them with flower petals, and then they walked hand-in-hand off into the sunset (well, the sun would set eventually in that general direction). I doubt that riding off on a horse could have made it any more romantic or beautiful. From this proud papa to the two of them, cheers, and all of my love. Here's to the beginning of a marvelous adventure.

The Visitation of Christ and His Bride

We cannot help but rejoice in the presence of the Bridegroom. We cannot help but marvel and rejoice at the beauty of the Bride. For Christ the Lord is here (in the flesh) in remembrance of His mercy. And His Church is gloriously adorned with His righteousness, which is by grace, by His Word and Holy Spirit.

It is most appropriate that you (Sam & DoRena) are married on this festival day (the Visitation). For in St. Mary we behold an icon of the Church, and therefore an example of what it shall mean for you, DoRena, to be a faithful wife. Even as St. Mary, with the entire Church, submits in faith and hope to Christ her Lord.

What, then, does such godly faithfulness look like? Not pride, but humility. Not doubt and fear, but trust. Not complaint and criticism, but thanksgiving. Not anxiety and dread, but patient perseverance. All of this by faith in Christ, your Savior.

And for all of that, it is chiefly in hearing the Word and receiving the gracious gifts and blessings of the Lord your God that you live as a bride: from your pastor in the Church, and from your husband in the home. And that, for now, precisely under the Cross.

It is a paradox, but not a contradiction; a great mystery, which is by faith and not by sight. Today you wear it well, dear daughter, but it remains a hidden reality.

The revelation of the Mystery, and the resolution of the paradox, are in the Incarnation and the Cross of Christ (God in the flesh, in suffering).

Get your bearings and take your cues from Him, Sam. He’s your primary example. But He is also far more than an example; for He is your own Savior and Head, your God and Lord.

The Lord has done great things for you, and He has given you His holy Name — as you give your name to DoRena in marriage. All the more reason for you to deal gently and compassionately with her, your wife, as the Lord Jesus Christ deals with you in love.

That’s not just beautiful poetry — though there will be beauty and poetry in your life together. Nor is this simply theological rhetoric for its own sake. But this is to be the steady pattern of your life, day by day by day, in faith, hope and love.

Theology is nowhere more practical, nor more profound, than it is in marriage. Not because you theologize it, but because it is the Word and work of God, embodied and personal. Already in the creation of Adam & Eve (male and female, the man and the woman for each other), the Word was becoming flesh. And so also now in you (Sam & DoRena).

This creative Word and work of God is a communication and a communion. It is a relationship of love — to love, and to be loved — by the way and means of the Word. The speaking of that Word is definitive and decisive to all of creation; so also in holy marriage.

Talk to each other. That’s not just good advice or pop psychology, but essential to the Love for which God has created you and for which He now gives you to each other. Speak as you are spoken to, by and with the Word of God; as you also live by faith in that Word which God the Father speaks to you by His Son. Because it is the Word of Christ the Crucified, it is a Word of the Cross, wherein God is hidden in humility.

Love that Word of God above all else; trust it, and cling to it, even though appearance and experience seem to contradict and destroy it. Times of great joy, like today, are like little miracles along the way (anticipating the Resurrection). But there is the Cross, too, which first of all reveals the glory of God in Christ.

As the Word of God reveals the divine glory of the Cross, so is the Word that you speak to each other one of humility. Make yourself small, in order to serve your beloved — as the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God does not spurn the womb but makes of it His Temple, in order to give life to us all.

In all your words and actions, therefore, speak with compassion and care; with attentiveness to every need; with patience for every ill, every weakness, every burden; with forgiveness for each and every wrong; and with self-sacrificing service.

You should each so do and speak for the other. But, Sam, it is especially important for you to serve your bride in this way; because Christ is the Savior of His Bride, the Church.

In truth, you are free to do all this in confidence, because the Lord your God does all of this for you. In Him there is no selfishness or self-interest, but a loving desire to give and to share Himself. For His mercy is upon generation after generation of those who fear Him.

In that, your love for each other (in Christ) may give birth to children (as God so wills). And then, the most important thing you shall ever do for them is to bring them to God by the catechesis of His Word. Not only by teaching them the Bible and the Catechism (which you should most certainly do), but also by loving, serving, and forgiving them in Jesus’ Name and for His sake. So shall the Spirit of the Lord rest upon them.

But whether the Lord grants you children or not, whether early or late, whether few or many, your love for each other (in Christ) is to manifest itself in hospitality for others. The "little church" of your home and family is to welcome the stranger, shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe and care for the forsaken.

It is not the two of you "against the world," no matter if it feels like that sometimes; but the two of you are bound together in love for the life of the world. Not by grand crusades and self-important "causes," but by your simple and straightforward offices and stations in life according to the Ten Commandments. Do what you are given to do.

The Cross of Christ and His Resurrection tell you the truth — concerning your marriage and your life, concerning each other and all your neighbors: Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but the humble will be exalted in and with Christ.

Do not become cynical or bitter. Repent of such despair as often as it enters in; it is the devil’s wicked lie. Fear the Lord, and do not be afraid of anything else. Fulfill your vocations in the confidence of Christ; they are not meaningless or pointless. Rejoice together, and weep together, but do so either way in hope. And pray without ceasing.

Your real life, your marriage and family are rooted and centered in the Church: the Bride of Christ, the Mother of God’s children. In the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the Breaking of the Bread, and in the prayers — that is where and how you live by faith and in love.

And that is where you learn the real measure and magnitude of marriage, both its profound meaning and the way in which it points beyond itself to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end (which even death shall not bring to an end).

The world gets it wrong on both counts: it idolizes marriage, on the one hand, and despises it on the other. Do not fall into either trap.

Your marriage, under the Cross, is a confession of the Word of God and a proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. Live accordingly (in faith and love). And just so, recognize that your marriage to each other, here in time, even unto death, shall finally give way to the heavenly and eternal Bridegroom of all Christians.

Indeed, already here and now, in the womb of His Church on earth, that great and glorious Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, visits you in the flesh (with the Body and Blood conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and crucified under Pontius Pilate). Here He is hidden in humility, yet living and active, gracious and life-giving.

As the Father gives you to Him, and gives His own Name to you; and as the Holy Spirit joins you to Him, so are you one flesh and blood with God, the Lord.

So does He remember you in mercy and fill you with good things and bless you unto all generations. It is for that, above all, that we magnify the Lord and rejoice in our Savior today. For He has done great things for you and for us all, and mighty deeds with His outstretched arms. All that He has spoken to you shall be fulfilled, and we too shall call you blessed.

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

25 May 2008

First Communion Redux: Catechetical Prerequisite or Pervasive Context

It was twenty-eight years ago on this date, the 25th of May, that I underwent the Lutheran rite of confirmation and received my First Communion: at Grace Lutheran Church in Wood River, Nebraska, from my pastor, my father, the Reverend Don Richard Stuckwisch, Sr. Now, on this day in the Year of Our Lord 2008, it has been the occasion of my son Justinian’s First Communion, together with another of my young Emmaus catechumens. Both of them are six years old and have been in formal catechesis classes with me, their pastor, since the beginning of this academic year. They have each been examined and absolved with the Law and the Gospel, and they will continue in formal catechesis with me, God-willing, for another five or six years. It is in such things that I rejoice, both as a pastor and a father.

This past fall, upon the examination and First Communion of another six-year-old, I blogged about my thoughts on catechesis and admittance to the Holy Communion, and that prompted the most vigorous discussion I have yet had in this forum. There were multiple and lengthy exchanges, both here and elsewhere, which continued for the better part of a week or more. I found it very interesting and helpful, and I would like to think that it was so for others, too. Whether it made any difference in anyone else’s thinking or practice, I have no way of knowing. Life has continued, and I have been consumed by the responsibilities of my vocations at home and at church. Prominent among those activities, however, is the actual task of pastoral catechesis and the administration of the Sacrament; which means that, with or without discussions of the topic (whether on blogs or over beer), I have continued to think carefully about the criteria and protocol for admission to the Holy Communion.

I have focused especially, and most concretely, upon the extent and the content of catechesis that may (or may not) be necessary prior to First Communion. How much and what kind of catechesis must take place before a catechumen may become a communicant? How is that to be measured? I’ve been increasingly concerned with these particular questions for several years now. In 2004, there were a number of articles and overtures opposing the "Rite of First Communion" in the proposed LSB Agenda. One of the arguments made against the prospect of First Communion prior to Confirmation was that any would-be communicant should already know (and be able to confess) everything there is to know about the Christian faith and life; and that such knowledge (and confession) was basically not possible prior to or apart from the "traditional" process culminating in eighth-grade confirmation. It should be clear enough that I completely and categorically disagree with the latter proposition. The initial argument is more compelling, but what does it mean or imply? I agree that every communicant should know and confess the Christian faith (and live the Christian life, which belongs to confession). But is this not precisely what it means to be a Christian at all? Is this not precisely what we expect and ask of each and every baptismal candidate? We have not wrestled seriously enough with that.

If what is meant by knowledge is a degree or quantity of intellect and academic achievement, and if confession is reduced and restricted to a particular sort of performance, then I have to disagree. On the one hand, one never knows "enough," and one should never stop learning, as though he (or she) already knew everything there is to know about the Christian faith and life. Yet, on the other hand, the tiniest baptized infant already believes and confesses the Lord Jesus Christ, His Father and the Holy Spirit, and the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith. They nothing lack if they are Christ’s, and He is theirs forever. He Himself holds up infants and little children as the paradigm, not the exception.

So, back to the questions at hand. I’ve operated with the Six Chief Parts as the basic foundation for catechesis in the Christian faith and life, and as the functional pre-requisite for participation in the Holy Communion. I’ve done so on the basis of the Large Catechism and the historic precedent and practice of the Lutheran Church. And I have no doubts as to the fundamental importance and benefits of those key texts: the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Our Father, and the three evangelical Sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion. Of these, the first three are clearly central, a succinct teaching and confession of the Law and the Gospel and faith in Christ Jesus, the Son of God. It is likewise clear that catechesis in the means of grace should accompany their administration. These Six Chief Parts are not simply (nor primarily) a minimum quantity of information, but a definitive pattern of faith and life and prayer. That is the basis on which I have operated, and I believe that to be sound.

But where do we find this particular measure of catechesis in the Holy Scriptures? How exactly is it to be connected to the process of admission to the Holy Communion? How thoroughly are the Six Chief Parts to be known? And what does it mean, what does it look like or sound like, for someone to "know" these things?

I’m a big believer in memorization, but is memorization equivalent to, or even necessary for, the knowledge and faith of the Six Chief Parts? Certainly, it is possible to memorize something without comprehending it (if that is what knowledge is supposed to mean). It is also quite possible to know and practice something without having it memorized (though a functional memorization will occur with time). Memorization is certainly a fine outward (and inward) training, but that person is truly worthy and well-prepared who has faith in the Words of Christ.

Should it really be the case that each communicant must be capable of confessing the faith with an identical level and sort of competence? Of course, such a thing is preposterous and impossible, but it seems to me that we, as a church collectively in recent centuries, have striven and contrived for precisely that. It doesn’t work. Not only that, but it simultaneously makes admission to the Sacrament a human achievement, and yet reduces catechesis (and discipleship) to a short-lived self-contained program, akin to the factory line of the public school system.

I’ve heard it said that pastors who advocate and practice "early" Communion are really just trying to avoid the hard work of catechesis. Perhaps that has been true in some cases, but as a generalization it is patently false nonsense. To the contrary, it is those pastors who withhold and deny catechesis (and First Communion) until fifth or sixth or seventh or eighth grade — and who then conclude that process of catechesis upon the man-made rite of confirmation, as though it were all said and done — who neglect and short-change the pastoral responsibility and ongoing pastoral care of catechesis.

In my experience and observation, a greater emphasis on catechesis goes hand-in-hand with an earlier admittance to the Holy Communion. As for my own proclivities and pastoral practice, I’m not in favor of less catechesis, but far more. It ought to start earlier than it typically has — much, much earlier — and it ought to continue far longer — until death. It ought to involve the active participation of both parents and pastor, as much as possible along the way. And it ought to be a way of life for the entire congregation, no matter how young or old.

The key, in my opinion, is to focus on the character, the content and continuation of the catechesis, and less so on the confession of the catechumen, as far as a basis for First Communion is concerned. That is not to undermine the importance of confessing the faith, nor is it in any way to suggest or advocate open communion (far from it). It is rather to point out that both faith and confession are dependent upon the preaching and teaching of the Word of Christ; and that, where such catechesis is faithfully happening, then, apart from a denial or rejection of the faith, those who are baptized and being catechized should be communed.

Actually, communing the disciples of Jesus is an important aspect of ongoing catechesis and regular pastoral care; not something that comes only "after the fact," as though there should ever be such an "after." In this life, until death, a pastor should never stop catechizing, and a disciple is always being catechized. Such things are definitive to the pastoral office and the vocation of Christian discipleship.

When it comes to the theology and practice of the Lord’s Supper, I have found it best and most helpful to proceed on the basis of the institution narratives and the Verba Testamenti Christi (the "Words of Institution"). The Lord Jesus gives His body and His blood to His disciples, to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins. Elsewhere He tells us quite clearly how such disciples are made: by the way and the means of Holy Baptism and the teaching (catechesis) of His Word.

Therefore, the criteria for admission to the Holy Communion are Baptism and catechesis with the Word of Jesus. That has been the true measure for "First Communion" among Lutherans all along: not age or grade level, but catechesis of the baptized. The big decisive question, though, so far as I have been able to discern, is whether this catechesis should be understood as a pre-requisite to First Communion, or as an ongoing context of pastoral care in which every Holy Communion (of every communicant) occurs. It certainly has functioned as the former (as a pre-requisite), but it seems increasingly clear to me that it must (also? or instead?) be the latter, that is, an ongoing context.

To be a disciple of Jesus — and thus to be a Christian and a communicant — is to be a lifelong follower of this Lord, a lifelong student of this Teacher, a lifelong apprentice of this true Master. One does not graduate from discipleship, but is and remains a disciple in the hearing and learning and following of the Word of Christ. A disciple of Jesus never does become greater than his Lord and Master, but continues to be catechized by Him, to receive His gracious gifts and to live alone by these.

Yet, while discipleship is never mastered or completed in this lifetime, it belongs already even to the little ones and infants who believe in Jesus by His Word and Holy Spirit. Indeed, it belongs especially to these believing babes and children, who are counted among the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. While it is true that we are to grow and mature in our faith and knowledge and life, it is also the case that such growth occurs through repentance, which is to say that we are humbled in order to be exalted. To say it another way, we are daily catechized to become as little children, who come to God as our dear Father.

It’s not only discipleship in general that begins and continues with, and depends upon, the ongoing catechesis of Christ’s Word; but, just as it is to such disciples that Christ Jesus gives His body and blood, so is the entire administration of the Holy Communion set within the context of catechesis, that is, the preaching and teaching of Christ the Crucified. The Apostles and the apostolic Church are to administer the Sacrament "in the remembrance" of Jesus, which I believe has far more to do with the Ministry of the Gospel than with the knowledge or attitude of the communicants. In other words, the "do this" refers to the administration of the Holy Communion, not to the eating and drinking. And doing this "in the remembrance" of Jesus is parallel to Holy Baptism (and Holy Absolution) "in the Name of Jesus," though with an added emphasis on the preaching and teaching of the Gospel. Thus, St. Paul declares, "as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes." Dr. Luther translated and interpreted that passage as an imperative, referring to the necessity of preaching the Gospel in connection with the Holy Communion. I agree (though I also believe that both the proclamation and the remembrance of Jesus extend from the Ministry of the Gospel to the confession and eucharistic sacrifice of the entire congregation).

So, what is my point? It is that each and every Holy Communion is administered with the catechesis of the Word of Christ, and that all of the disciples of Jesus are brought to a worthy reception of that Sacrament (in faith and with thanksgiving) by that ongoing catechesis. In this respect, while it is not identical to the administration of Holy Baptism, it is certainly parallel and similar to the stewardship of that sacred Mystery.

Holy Baptism is also administered with catechesis, and the baptismal candidate is brought to the reception of the that Sacrament by and with catechesis: before, during, and after the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of God. It is precisely in that Sacrament of Holy Baptism, in connection with Christian catechesis, that disciples are made; and, again, it is to such disciples that Jesus gives His body and His blood.

Now, as such catechesis of the Word of Christ creates and nurtures faith in the heart, so does the disciple of Christ Jesus confess Him and His Gospel before the world with his lips and his life. Where there is a persistently false confession, whether in speaking or in living, or a stubborn refusal to confess, then such a person must be called to repentance, put under discipline as needs may be, and excommunicated if necessary. Yet, each disciple of Christ Jesus confesses Him with the abilities and within the limitations of his (or her) finite being and particular station in life. Thus, a four-year-old disciple should not be expected to confess in the same way or manner as a fourteen-year-old or a forty-year-old; nor should a mentally challenged disciple be expected to confess as intellectually and eloquently as a college graduate or a seminary professor. A housewife confesses differently within her vocation than a fireman within his, and gradeschool students confess differently within their vocation than a grocery store manager does in his calling and position.

In truth, the littlest and youngest and simplest disciples of Jesus will confess as they are catechized. They will believe and confess as they have heard and been taught by the Word of Christ, their Lord. Which is to say, again, that the burden of responsibility falls especially upon the parents and the pastor to catechize, according to their respective God-given vocations, and not upon the abilities and achievements of the catechumen.

What is more, as we should expect on the basis of our theology, and as I have consistently observed in the families of my congregation over the past decade, the younger catechumens who are already communing from an earlier age and throughout their years of formal catechesis classes are strengthened and supported and sustained in their faith and faithfulness by that Holy Sacrament. The result, as I have already indicated, is not less catechesis, but far more catechesis; not only through the point of "confirmation," but continuing well beyond that point throughout the Christian life.

So my working hypothesis and contention is, that the Holy Communion should be administered, not on the basis of a theoretically "completed" catechetical pre-requisite, but within the pervasive context of ongoing pastoral catechesis, which takes place in a variety of ways, before, during and after First Communion. This catechesis and the Holy Communion are integral and vital aspects of pastoral care, which ought also to include church discipline and the regular exercise of the Office of the Keys (binding and loosing). But these latter comments introduce larger topics in need of further discussion.

Another related topic is that communicants are to be examined and absolved, as our Confessions state. This is most certainly true. However, this examination belongs to the practice of Individual Confession and Absolution, and to the realm of pastoral care, and should not be equated with a public recitation of the synodical explanation of the Catechism. Likewise, to be examined and absolved is not a once-in-a-lifetime critical event, but an ongoing aspect of the Christian faith and life, a regular return to the significance of Holy Baptism. With that, it should be noted that the baptismal rite is itself an examination and absolution of the candidate. As mentioned above, we need to take seriously the teaching and confession of our baptismal practice. Another topic for another day.

Let me also state, unequivocally and unambiguously, that I am not in favor of open communion, but advocate and follow the historic practice of closed communion. In fact, that is closely tied to my emphasis on the connection between catechesis and the administration of the Holy Communion. Lutheran altars are for Lutheran communicants, as Lutheran pulpits are for Lutheran preachers, because the preaching and the communing belong together. Those who submit themselves to a different preaching, or who refuse to submit themselves to any preaching, should not presume to present themselves at the altar for the Holy Communion.

24 May 2008

Don't Worry About Food and Drink

You have one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father who loves you. Your Father knows your needs and well provides them. He feeds and clothes you, shelters and protects you. In a thousand different ways, He daily and richly gives you the bread that you need for this body and life — even without your prayer.

Do not worry, then.

When you worry about tomorrow; when you work yourself to death, attempting to make a life for yourself; when you neglect the people God has given you to love, in order to make money and get things; when you covet what God has given to your neighbor — in any and all of these ways, you serve another lord and master; you worship another god; and you forsake the life that is by faith, in exchange for the death which is the wage of your sin.

Repent of such idolatry and unbelief. Trust the Lord, the one true God, who has revealed Himself and given Himself to you in Christ Jesus. And do not worry.

God has given His own Son to die for you. Do you suppose that He will withhold any good thing from you? In Christ, God has taken you to be His own dear child. Will He not care for you, in love, far better and more than any earthly father or mother even can.

He feeds you; He has, and He will. He will not let you starve. He clothes you, too; He will not let you go naked. With such food and clothing, be content. What more do you need?

If there is far more that you want, take care that you do not make a god of that desire. If your heart aches and burns for that which is not God, for that which He has not given you, repent — and return with all your heart, soul, mind and strength to the Lord alone. Fear, love and trust in Him above all else.

The birds trust Him, even the young ravens which do cry. They were not created in His Image, nor redeemed by the Son of God in their own nature. In truth, they have been given a different vocation altogether than you are; though they do share the curse and consequences of your sin. Yet, they go about their lives without worry, and your Father in heaven feeds them.

He clothes the grass, too, which is here today and gone tomorrow. It does not work, but lives and blossoms by the grace and providence of God.

Now, then, you are worth far more than the birds. For consider the price that God has paid for you: His own dear Son, His holy and precious blood, His innocent suffering and death. Unlike the grass that whithers and fades, you are created and redeemed and sanctified, in body and soul, for the Resurrection and the life everlasting. So, if God cares for birds and flowers, as He does, then He surely cares for you much more.

But what does this mean for you? These Words and promises of Christ Jesus are precious and beautiful — but do they ring hollow? Do they sometimes seem to be an empty lie?

There are Christians in this world without enough to eat or drink, without adequate clothing to wear. There are Christians who are sick and in prison. There are Christians who actually do starve or freeze to death; others who are persecuted and martyred for their faith. And like the birds and flowers, too, Christians die eventually, whether from disease or "old age," whether from violence or neglect or atrophy.

Meanwhile, the grass may be here and gone, yet the grass has for now been clothed more gloriously than even Solomon. Shall you compete with that? Are you dressed better than a king?

And while the birds of the air may not sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, God has given them their own vocations, which they perform according to His will. So has He also called you to work within your own station in life. If you will not work, then should you eat? (By the same token, if you see your neighbor hungry or naked, do not ask or wonder why God is not doing anything to help, but feed and clothe your neighbor in God's Name, as your brothers feed and clothe you.)

See, the "much more" with which your God and Father clothes you and feeds you is of another kind and quality entirely. To be sure, He does feed and clothe your body for a time in this world (and that by His grace and mercy alone). But sooner or later, your time on earth comes to an end; and even now, the ways and means by which the Lord provides for you may be more or less than your neighbor, more or less than the birds of the air or the grass of the field.

Look not only at nature, but all the more so and especially at the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God. What then shall you say? For He has hungered and thirsted, and He has hung naked on the Cross. He has suffered and died in your place.

Right there in His Passion, in His Crucifixion, is His Kingdom and His Righteousness. There He has entered the fiery furnace of your sin and death and damnation. He was planted like a seed into the ground, in order to be harvested in the Resurrection and gathered to the Father’s barn in the Ascension. So that you might die and rise and live with Him.

Thus it is by and with and from His Cross that God the Father clothes and feeds you with Christ.

In your Holy Baptism, He has clothed you with the beautiful and perfect righteousness of Christ (crucified and raised to newness of life), more glorious by far than Solomon or any earthly king; more than any grass of flower of the field.

Do not worry about what you will wear tomorrow, but seek to return to the white wedding gown of your Baptism each and every day. Thus are you clothed and not found naked.

So, too, does God your Father feed you with the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, which is real food for body and soul, for life everlasting. And He gives you to drink from the Cup of Salvation, the overflowing Chalice which is the New Testament in Christ’s Blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Do not worry about tomorrow, but eat this day your daily Bread. Be satisfied, and live. You don’t know what tomorrow will hold, or if there will even be a tomorrow here on earth. But you do know what forever holds for you in Christ, because He is already putting it into your ears, into your heart, into your hands and mouth and body, by His Word of the Gospel.

Your body may suffer here, and it will die and decay; but your body will yet be raised and live, all glorious and flawless and healthy and perfect.

Here now set before you is the down payment on that life, the surety of the heavenly Kingdom, the foretaste of the blessed Feast to come: Take and eat. Drink of it, all of you. This is the Body and Blood of Christ, which is given and poured out for you, dear Christian. He or she who eats this Bread and drinks this Cup will live forever. And you shall not want for anything at all.

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

23 May 2008

An Ecumenical and Catholic Core of Hymns in the Lutheran Service Book

It continues to be the case that my personal interest in hymns, my pastoral responsibility for the selection of hymns for my congregation, and my scholarly study of hymns and hymnals, often intersect in some discovery or another. I suspect that all of these things will remain with me a lifelong pursuit and learning experience, and I'll be glad if that proves to be so. I am convinced that hymnody is, on the one hand, a primary means of pastoral care and catechesis, and on the other hand, one of the most difficult challenges of the pastoral ministry. There are those who do not perceive such things to be a pastoral prerogative; I've even been told of people who regard me as an oppressive ogre for supposing that it is up to me to choose the hymns my congregation sings. Oh, well. Given that I have been called and ordained to the Ministry of the Word, and that I am held accountable by the Lord for my pastoral care and catechesis of His people in this place where He has stationed me, I shall have to persevere according to my conscience and not be dissuaded by the consternation of naysayers. Precisely because hymns are one of the best and most important ways of preaching and teaching the Word of the Lord, they belong to the responsibility of the pastoral office. Of course, pastoral wisdom will take into account the knowledge and abilities of the congregation, and will rely upon the input of church musicians, as also upon the guidance of the church catholic, past and present. It is a tall order indeed, and thus a perennial challenge.

Over the past two years, in particular, I have been spending a good deal of time on the hymn corpus of the LSB. I've endeavored to identify a core body of the most significant and essential Lutheran hymnody (Kernlieder), and then to ensure the regular and consistent usage of those hymns. I've also worked hard to identify and use a cycle of catechetical hymns, taking into account the various and sundry factors that contribute to hymnody as catechesis. Although I continue to tweak these and adjust these considerations in my pastoral practice, I have by and large been very pleased with what I've learned and been able to employ.

There is yet another area of hymnody that presents a serious pastoral challenge, namely, the piety and past experience of the people. Hymnody confronts them not as an intellectual or academic enterprise, but as an aspect of the Church's faith and life that touches them deeply and emotionally. That's one of the reasons that hymnody is such a powerful means of implanting the Word of God in both the mind and heart of those who hear and sing it. But it also means that, when people have grown up on certain hymns, they are understandably reluctant to give them up, even if it can be rationally demonstrated that this or that hymn may be lacking in substance or even heterodox in its confession. That often results in a volatile situation, which is frustrating to pastor and parishioner alike, as each contends for the faith once delivered to the saints.

It is has been one of my primary goals to catechize the younger members of my congregation in a solid Lutheran hymnody, including, of course, the hymns of the church catholic of all times and places. That effort seems to be working rather well, and to be producing good fruits. The young people of Emmaus, including the littlest children, have a great love for the meatiest and best of hymns (and, by the same token, my youth especially resist the use of less than stellar hymns). I'm very pleased by those developments. At the same time, I do sympathize with the older members of the congregation, who grew up being catechized by and with a different body of hymns. They miss some of those hymns when they aren't being sung so often anymore, and they are often challenged by the heftier hymns that we are now singing more frequently. For the most part, really, the dear older people of Emmaus have been quite patient with their pastor, and have done remarkably well in learning a larger and richer repertoire of hymns. But sometimes more than others their hearts cry out for the "old favorites" they grew up with. How does a pastor address those concerns responsibly and lovingly? That is one of the big questions I continue to ask myself, and which I am constantly seeking to answer. The goal, after all, is not to insist upon the best hymns for their own sake, but to serve the people of God with the Gospel.

For those who have learned to enjoy and appreciate a more substantial hymnody, many of the "old favorites" are schmaltzy, tedious, boring, or otherwise lacking. There are days when I feel like the selection of hymns is simply a no-win situation. No matter what I choose, someone is made unhappy, whether they patiently bear with it or vent a bit about it. It's not possible to please all of the people all of the time, nor is that the proper approach to pastoral care, anyway. Instead, I have made every effort to explain the way in which hymns serve and support the Word of God, and to select hymns with that purpose deliberately and transparently in view. There are really four ways that works: (1.) with reference to the appointed readings of the day; (2.) with reference to the season of the church year; (3.) with reference to the liturgical location of a hymn in the order of service; and (4.) with reference to basic catechetical hymns, which review and rehearse the fundamentals of the faith in a clear and consistent fashion. These are the criteria I use in choosing hymns. For the sake of the older members of the congregation, I have looked for opportunities to use their "old favorites" when they meet these criteria.

Recently, I have come across data that may prove helpful in my efforts to meet the challenges involved in selecting hymns for my congregation. A number of different scholars have compiled satistics identifying the hymns most firmly and widely established among American Protestants over the last two hundred years and among Roman Catholics within the last fifty or sixty years. I have found these lists intriguing, not only because I have a propensity for making lists of my own, but because they provide an objective analysis of hymns that have found a place among Christians of diverse confessions of the faith. Thus, it is interesting to consider those hymns that overlap between Protestants and Roman Catholics, and to notice those hymns that are unique to one group or another. I am all the more interested in those hymns that others share in common with us Lutherans, and those that have not found a place in any of our hymnals. There are reasons for these similarities and differences, which are sometimes obvious and sometimes less discernable.

In attempting to get a handle on all of this data, I compiled a comprehensive list of these broadly "ecumenical" and catholic hymns (for which I am using quotation marks and a lower-case "c" on purpose). From this master list of some 300-400 hymns, I've removed all those that are not found in the Lutheran Service Book. Notably, that reduces the list by more than half, so that fewer than 150 hymns remain. Similarly noteworthy is the number of definitive Lutheran hymns that are nowhere to be found in many (or any) Protestant and Roman Catholic hymnals. But what I'm dealing with here are those hymns that we evidently shared with those other confessions, at least within our published books.

I've arranged the resulting list of hymns both alphabetically and by their LSB number and category. I've used the LSB nomenclature in every case, even though some of these hymns have been published under a variety of titles. It makes for a long blog post, I realize, but I'm including both arrangements here for the sake of anyone who may find this helpful.

It should be understood that this is not a list of the best hymns available. There are a large number of outstanding hymns not included in this list, many of which are stronger than the vast majority of those that are included. For example, only three hymns by Luther and two hymns by Gerhardt are found here. By the same token, a fair number of the hymns on this list are among those that I have termed "mediocre" in the past, and my assessment of those hymns has not changed. I'm certainly not going to suggest that all of these hymns should be used a lot; though I should say that many of them are very good hymns which should be used regularly. Perhaps others will also find some surprises, as I have, in examining this list.

I'm not sure, frankly, how I will make use of this information. My thinking, however, is that these hymns have objectively obtained a certain right to be called "old favorites." Although they vary in substance and quality, they are likely to be among the hymns that many older members grew up hearing and singing (whether in the Lutheran Church or elsewhere). That goes also for the better and stronger hymns included on this list, which may assist pastors in knowing how to play to the strengths already in place among the people. In any event, it seems to me that a relatively short list, such as this one (less than 25% of the total LSB hymn corpus), presents a more manageable amount of material to consider in addressing the challenges of hymn selection. Thus, along with a basic Lutheran Kernlieder (such as I have blogged about in the past), and together with the Hymn of the Day and a deliberate use of catechetical hymnody, perhaps this list can be a reference for potential hymns that might be used on any given Sunday.

An Ecumenical and Catholic Core of Hymns in LSB

Alphabetical Listing

A mighty fortress is our God (LSB 656)
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide (LSB 878)
Alas! And did my Savior bleed (LSB 437)
All glory, laud, and honor (LSB 442)
All hail the pow’r of Jesus’ name (LSB 549)
All my heart again rejoices (LSB 360)
All people that on earth do dwell (LSB 791)
All praise to Thee, my God, this night (LSB 883)
Alleluia! Sing to Jesus (LSB 821)
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound (LSB 744)
Angels from the realms of glory (LSB 367)
Angels we have heard on high (LSB 368)
As with gladness men of old (LSB 397)
At the Lamb’s high feast we sing (LSB 633)
At the name of Jesus (LSB 512)
Awake, my soul, and with the sun (LSB 868)
Away in a manger (LSB 364/365)

Blessed Jesus, at Your Word (LSB 904)
Blest be the tie that binds (LSB 649)
Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light (LSB 378)
Brightest and best of the stars of the morning (LSB 400)

Christ is made the sure foundation (LSB 909)
Christ the Lord is ris’n today (LSB 469)
Come down, O Love divine (LSB 501)
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest (LSB 498/499)
Come, let us join our cheerful songs (LSB 812)
Come, my soul, with ev’ry care (LSB 779)
Come, Thou almighty King (LSB 905)
Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing (LSB 686)
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus (LSB 338)
Come, ye thankful people, come (LSB 892)
Come, you faithful, raise the strain (LSB 487)
Creator of the stars of night (LSB 351)
Crown Him with many crowns (LSB 525)

Eternal Father, strong to save (LSB 717)

Father most holy, merciful and tender (LSB 504)
Father, we praise Thee (LSB 875)
Father, we thank Thee who hast planted (LSB 652)
Fight the good fight (LSB 664)
For all the saints who from their labors rest (LSB 677)
From all that dwell below the skies (LSB 816)
From heav’n above to earth I come (LSB 358)

Glorious things of You are spoken (LSB 648)
Go, tell it on the mountain (LSB 388)
Go to dark Gethsemane (LSB 436)
God moves in a mysterious way (LSB 765)
God of grace and God of glory (LSB 850)
Good Christian friends, rejoice and sing (LSB 475)
Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer (LSB 918)

Hail thee, festival day (LSB 489)
Hail, Thou once despised Jesus (LSB 531)
Hail to the Lord’s anointed (LSB 398)
Hark the glad sound (LSB 349)
Hark! The herald angels sing (LSB 380)
Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face (LSB 631)
Holy God, we praise Thy name (LSB 940)
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty (LSB 507)
Holy Spirit, light divine (LSB 496)
How firm a foundation, O saints of the Lord (LSB 728)
How great Thou art (LSB 801)
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds (LSB 524)

I know that my Redeemer lives (LSB 461)
I love Your kingdom, Lord (LSB 651)
If thou but trust in God to guide thee (LSB 750)
Immortal, invisible, God only wise (LSB 802)
In the cross of Christ I glory (LSB 427)
It came upon the midnight clear (LSB 366)

Jerusalem, my happy home (LSB 673)
Jerusalem the golden (LSB 672)
Jesus Christ is ris’n today (LSB 457)
Jesus, priceless treasure (LSB 743)
Jesus, Savior, pilot me (LSB 715)
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun (LSB 832)
Joy to the world (LSB 387)
Joyful, joyful we adore Thee (LSB 803)
Just as I am, without one plea (LSB 570)

Let all mortal flesh keep silence (LSB 621)
Let us all with gladsome voice (LSB 390)
Lift high the cross (LSB 837)
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates (LSB 340)
Lo! He comes with clouds descending (LSB 336)
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (LSB 359)
Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious (LSB 495)
Lord, dismiss us with Your blessing (LSB 924)
Lord Jesus, think on me (LSB 610)
Lord of all hopefulness (LSB 738)
Love divine, all loves excelling (LSB 700)

My faith looks up to Thee (LSB 702)
My hope is built on nothing less (LSB 575)
My song is love unknown (LSB 430)

Not all the blood of beasts (LSB 431)
Now, my tongue, the myst’ry telling (LSB 630)
Now thank we all our God (LSB 895)

O come, all ye faithful (LSB 379)
O come, O come, Emmanuel (LSB 357)
O day of rest and gladness (LSB 906)
O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken (LSB 439)
O gladsome Light, O grace (LSB 888)
O God, our help in ages past (LSB 733)
O Jesus, King most wonderful (LSB 554)
O little town of Bethlehem (LSB 361)
O Lord, throughout these forty days (LSB 418)
O Morning Star, how fair and bright (LSB 395)
O sacred head, now wounded (LSB 450)
O sons and daughters of the King (LSB 470)
O splendor of God’s glory bright (LSB 874)
Of the Father’s love begotten (LSB 384)
Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing (LSB 528)
On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (LSB 344)
Onward, Christian soldiers (LSB 662)
Open now thy gates of beauty (LSB 901)

Praise, my soul, the King of heaven (LSB 793)
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (LSB 790)

Ride on, ride on in majesty (LSB 441)
Rock of ages, cleft for me (LSB 761)

Savior, again to Thy dear name we raise (LSB 917)
Savior of the nations, come (LSB 332)
Silent night, holy night (LSB 363)
Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle (LSB 454)
Sing praise to God, the highest good (LSB 819)
Son of God, eternal Savior (LSB 842)
Songs of thankfulness and praise (LSB 394)
Soul, adorn yourself with gladness (LSB 636)

Take my life and let it be (LSB 783)
The advent of our King (LSB 331)
The Church’s one foundation (LSB 644)
The day of resurrection (LSB 478)
The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended (LSB 886)
The Head that once was crowned with thorns (LSB 532)
The King of love my shepherd is (LSB 709)
The King shall come when morning dawns (LSB 348)
The strife is o’er, the battle done (LSB 464)
This is the day the Lord has made (LSB 903)

Wake, awake, for night is flying (LSB 516)
What a friend we have in Jesus (LSB 770)
What child is this, who, laid to rest (LSB 370)
What wondrous love is this, O my soul (LSB 543)
When I survey the wondrous cross (LSB 425)

Ye watchers and ye holy ones (LSB 670)
You are the way; through You alone (LSB 526)

Listing by LSB Number and Category


331 — The advent of our King
332 — Savior of the nations, come (Luther; Ambrose of Milan)
336 — Lo! He comes with clouds descending (Wesley)
338 — Come, Thou long-expected Jesus (Wesley)
340 — Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates
344 — On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (Praetorius tune)
348 — The King shall come when morning dawns
349 — Hark the glad sound
351 — Creator of the stars of night (Latin; Sarum plainsong)
357 — O come, O come, Emmanuel (Latin)


358 — From heav’n above to earth I come (Luther)
359 — Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (German; Praetorius setting)
360 — All my heart again rejoices (Gerhardt; Crüger tune)
361 — O little town of Bethlehem
363 — Silent night, holy night
364/365 — Away in a manger
366 — It came upon the midnight clear
367 — Angels from the realms of glory (Montgomery)
368 — Angels we have heard on high
370 — What child is this, who, laid to rest
378 — Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light (Johann Rist; Bach setting)
379 — O come, all ye faithful
380 — Hark! The herald angels sing (Wesley)
384 — Of the Father’s love begotten (Prudentius)
387 — Joy to the world (Watts; Handel tune)
388 — Go, tell it on the mountain
390 — Let us all with gladsome voice (German)


394 — Songs of thankfulness and praise (Wordsworth)
395 — O Morning Star, how fair and bright (Nicolai)
397 — As with gladness men of old
398 — Hail to the Lord’s anointed (Montgomery)
400 — Brightest and best of the stars of the morning


418 — O Lord, throughout these forty days
425 — When I survey the wondrous cross (Watts)
427 — In the cross of Christ I glory
430 — My song is love unknown
431 — Not all the blood of beasts (Watts)
436 — Go to dark Gethsemane (Montgomery)
437 — Alas! And did my Savior bleed (Watts)
439 — O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken (Heermann)

Holy Week

441 — Ride on, ride on in majesty
442 — All glory, laud, and honor (Theodulf of Orleans)
450 — O sacred head, now wounded (Gerhardt; Bernard of Clairvaux)
454 — Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle (Fortunatus; Schalk tune)


457 — Jesus Christ is ris’n today (Latin)
461 — I know that my Redeemer lives
464 — The strife is o’er, the battle done
469 — Christ the Lord is ris’n today (Wesley)
470 — O sons and daughters of the King (tr. J. M. Neale)
475 — Good Christian friends, rejoice and sing
478 — The day of resurrection (John of Damascus)
487 — Come, you faithful, raise the strain (John of Damascus)
489 — Hail thee, festival day (Fortunatus; R. V. Williams tune)


495 — Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious (Thomas Kelly)


496 — Holy Spirit, light divine
498/499 — Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest (Rabanus Maurus)
501 — Come down, O Love divine (Bianco da Siena; R. V. Williams tune)

Holy Trinity

504 — Father most holy, merciful and tender (Latin)
507 — Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty

End Times

512 — At the name of Jesus (R. V. Williams tune)
516 — Wake, awake, for night is flying (Nicolai)


524 — How sweet the name of Jesus sounds (John Newton)
525 — Crown Him with many crowns
526 — You are the way; through You alone
528 — Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing (Wesley)
531 — Hail, Thou once despised Jesus
532 — The Head that once was crowned with thorns (Thomas Kelly)
543 — What wondrous love is this, O my soul
549 — All hail the pow’r of Jesus’ name
554 — O Jesus, King most wonderful (Bernard of Clairvaux)


570 — Just as I am, without one plea
575 — My hope is built on nothing less

Confession and Absolution

610 — Lord Jesus, think on me (Synesius of Cyrene)

The Lord’s Supper

621 — Let all mortal flesh keep silence (Liturgy of St. James)
630 — Now, my tongue, the myst’ry telling (Thomas Aquinas)
631 — Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face
633 — At the Lamb’s high feast we sing (Latin)
636 — Soul, adorn yourself with gladness (Franck; Crüger tune)

The Church

644 — The Church’s one foundation
648 — Glorious things of You are spoken (John Newton; Haydn tune)
649 — Blest be the tie that binds
651 — I love Your kingdom, Lord
652 — Father, we thank Thee who hast planted (Didache; Bourgeois tune)

The Church Militant

656 — A mighty fortress is our God (Luther)
662 — Onward, Christian soldiers
664 — Fight the good fight

The Church Triumphant

670 — Ye watchers and ye holy ones
672 — Jerusalem the golden (Bernard of Cluny)
673 — Jerusalem, my happy home
677 — For all the saints who from their labors rest (R. V. Williams tune)


686 — Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing
700 — Love divine, all loves excelling (Wesley)
702 — My faith looks up to Thee


709 — The King of love my shepherd is (Irish tune)
715 — Jesus, Savior, pilot me
717 — Eternal Father, strong to save
728 — How firm a foundation, O saints of the Lord
733 — O God, our help in ages past (Watts)
738 — Lord of all hopefulness (Irish tune)

Hope and Comfort

743 — Jesus, priceless treasure (Franck; Crüger tune)
744 — Amazing grace, how sweet the sound (John Newton)
750 — If thou but trust in God to guide thee
761 — Rock of ages, cleft for me
765 — God moves in a mysterious way


770 — What a friend we have in Jesus
779 — Come, my soul, with ev’ry care (John Newton)


783 — Take my life and let it be

Praise and Adoration

790 — Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
791 — All people that on earth do dwell
793 — Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
801 — How great Thou art
802 — Immortal, invisible, God only wise
803 — Joyful, joyful we adore Thee
812 — Come, let us join our cheerful songs (Watts; Crüger tune)
816 — From all that dwell below the skies (Watts)
819 — Sing praise to God, the highest good (Johann Schütz)
821 — Alleluia! Sing to Jesus

Mission and Witness

832 — Jesus shall reign where’er the sun (Watts)
837 — Lift high the cross


842 — Son of God, eternal Savior
850 — God of grace and God of glory


868 — Awake, my soul, and with the sun
874 — O splendor of God’s glory bright (Ambrose of Milan)
875 — Father, we praise Thee (Gregory the Great)


878 — Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
883 — All praise to Thee, my God, this night
886 — The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended
888 — O gladsome Light, O grace (Greek; Bourgeois tune)

Harvest and Thanksgiving

892 — Come, ye thankful people, come
895 — Now thank we all our God (Crüger tune)

Beginning of Service

901 — Open now thy gates of beauty (Schmolck)
903 — This is the day the Lord has made (Watts; Crüger tune)
904 — Blessed Jesus, at Your Word
905 — Come, Thou almighty King
906 — O day of rest and gladness (Wordsworth)
909 — Christ is made the sure foundation (Latin)

Close of Service

917 — Savior, again to Thy dear name we raise
918 — Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer
924 — Lord, dismiss us with Your blessing


940 — Holy God, we praise Thy name (Latin)

In the interest of full disclosure, the following nine LSB hymns also appeared on the lists of Protestant and Roman Catholic hymns that I have discovered in my research; yet, for a variety of reasons, I would not willingly have any of these nine sung by my congregation. (Which is not to say that I would necessarily choose to have my congregation sing all of the others, above, either, but I would be willing to entertain at least the possibility of using those.)

Come, we that love the Lord (LSB 669)
I heard the voice of Jesus say (LSB 699)
In Christ there is no east or west (LSB 653)
O worship the King (LSB 804)
Stand up, stand up for Jesus (LSB 660)
Were you there? (LSB 456)
When morning gilds the skies (LSB 807)
When peace like a river (LSB 763)
You satisfy the hungry heart (LSB 641)

Observations of a Homeschool Graduation

My son Nicholai and I attended the high school graduation ceremony of another young Emmausite, Sarah, and it was quite interesting. She's been homeschooled to this point, but she and her family have participated in a rather impressive co-op, which hosted the graduation for her and nine other students. Of the ten graduates, there were nine girls and only one young man. Nicholai and I were both amused by the young man's "speech," in which he noted that he found himself exactly where he wanted to be in life: surrounded by girls. He certainly did have a big grin on his face, but perhaps that was unrelated.

The co-op is not Lutheran, but interdenominationally Christian. As far as I know, Sarah was the only Lutheran among the graduates. The ceremony took place in a church (Presbyterian, I think), but I don't believe the church has any particular connection to the co-op per se. There was lots of religion, and frequent references to God, but almost no reference to Christ and His Gospel. We sang several hymns, a couple of which were vaguely familiar to me, but I was briefly perplexed and confused as I tried to sing the first one out of the hymnal in the pew, until I discovered that everyone else was singing the somewhat different words and stanzas that were being projected on the front wall. The pervading theme of the evening was the stalwart commitment of the graduates and their families, coinciding and cooperating with the providential blessings of God. It was what I might describe as an interesting blend of classic Calvinism and enthusiastic Arminianism. Lots of blessings were acknowledged, the vast majority of them having to do with overcoming adversity and achieving success through good choices, hard work and determination. Each of the fathers gave a speech in presenting a high school diploma to his daughter (or son), and I couldn't help but chuckle when Sarah's Dad declined to mention any more blessings than had already been itinerated. I was almost ready to throttle another of the fathers, however, who indicated that he and his wife would have liked to give their daughter guidance, but, since she had chosen to follow the Lord's guidance, they figured they best not get in her way. How in the world does he suppose the Lord will guide her ways, if not especially by giving her a father?

Now, I should say that I was generally impressed with the students and their families, and I honestly do commend them on their commitments to education. I don't believe that homeschooling would work for everyone, nor do I consider it a necessary approach for anyone, but I certainly do think it is a very sound and salutary way for parents to exercise their God-given responsibility for the instruction and well-being of their children. So, I applaud not only Sarah but her classmates and their parents. All of these young people comported themselves admirably, and their various accomplishments are surely a significant tribute to their dedication and efforts. I do not doubt or question that the Lord has blessed them in all these things, first of all by giving them fathers and mothers who have taken an active interest in them along the way.

What most pleased and impressed me, above and beyond anything else, was Sarah's graduation speech. Of course I was biased, since she's one of the sheep entrusted to my pastoral care, but it was not only for that reason that her speech stood out. It was different. She's a brilliant young lady, articulate and eloquent, but many of her classmates were at least comparably well spoken. No, the difference was chiefly in what she said. She confessed her faith, as did many of the others in their own fashion, but the content of her confession distinguished itself from all the rest. In the midst of seemingly endless accolades to "God" for all His "blessings," Sarah spoke concretely of Christ and His Cross, of His mercy and forgiveness, of her church and her pastors and the preaching of the Gospel and the means of grace.

I cannot even put into words how proud I was of Sarah; how proud of her I am. Not only because she "gets it" and confessed her faith most beautifully, but because she spoke the Gospel that was otherwise not heard anywhere else in the graduation ceremony. With all those other sincere and well-meaning Christians, it was Sarah who actually spoke of Christ Jesus. The heart and center of His grace and every blessing are not found in temporal successes and achievements, but in His Cross and His forgiveness of sins. It is not in our strengths but in our weaknesses that His providence and almight power are made known, chiefly in showing mercy and pity toward us poor, miserable sinners, who surely deserve nothing but punishment. Thank you, Sarah, for confessing that, which is most certainly true, which alone is most comforting and precious.

22 May 2008

Snack Time with the Barenaked Ladies

The name of the group is still a bit off-putting (it was years before I even gave them a listen, because of their name), even though "The Barenaked Ladies" are actually a fun-loving bunch of fully-clothed, semi-nerdy Canadian fellas. Once I did discover their music, some time ago, I found that I rather enjoyed their clever sense of humor. It was for that reason that I had to pick up their most recent recording, Snack Time, which is a collection of original children's songs. I am so glad I did, because my children and I have been loving it. It's infectious and great fun.

Those parents with young children who have a quirky sense of humor, or those adults who have a quirky sense of humor themselves, should check out Snack Time with the Barenaked Ladies. It's as clever (or moreso) than anything else they've ever done, and really just a joy to listen to. It's catchy and addictive, but not in a Barney-the-dinosaur, commericial-jingle sort of way. The lyrics are sometimes silly, sometimes quite sweet, and often incorporating puns and interesting sounds and such, which children (and adults) can find very amusing.

The best sort of comparison I could make, is to describe Snack Time as a musical equivalent to the first Shrek movie (and to some of the other better animated films in recent years). That is to say, it appeals to adults and children both, at different levels. There's humorous references to things that adults would get, cultural connections and that sort of thing, while the overall result is simply charming and delightful to little children. My boys and my girls love it equally, it seems.

What is very obvious to me is that "The Barenaked Ladies" must have children of their own, and they must know them and love them well. There's one pair of songs, in particular, "Bad Day" and "Things," which almost brings tears to my eyes because of its sweet insights and sensitivity to a little child's feelings and to the role of a father in comforting his hurting child. Good job, guys.

There are so many highlights on the record, I couldn't possibly identify all of them. But the songs that have most endeared themselves to me and my children are the aforementioned "Bad Day" and "Things," the opening track, "7 8 9," and the following: "The Ninjas," "Pollywog in a Bog," "Food Party" and "The Canadian Snacktime Trilogy," "Allergies," and "Crazy ABC's." The last of these songs is a real hoot, because it goes through the whole alphabet using words that begin with completely different sounds than their first letters normally make. My son Ariksander likes that one the best, I think. Really, though, the whole record is just delightful.

16 May 2008

Learning to be a Gentleman 101

My thirteen-year-old son, Nicholai, is out on his first date. There's no "danger" of any romantic potential, but I'm very pleased for him to have this opportunity to be a gentleman. He's taken some of the typical peer-driven teasing over the whole thing, which developed rather randomly and altogether innocently, but I can tell that he is pleased, too, and that he's serious enough about it. We've chatted about some of the basics, especially the proper way to treat a lady. He may have been a bit shy about the conversation, but he was also listening carefully and taking mental notes. This is a good thing, and I'm not only pleased by the opportunity, but proud of my son. I've noticed in him, as in some of our other young homeschooling friends, that there is at least less of the awkwardness and shyness that often accompany the social interactions of adolescent boys and girls. Contrary to the popular rhetoric, homeschoolers actually do socialize with other people; not only with their own families, nor simply with their immediate peers, but with other children of all ages, and with adults, generally with ease and poise.

The date in question has come about due to Nicholai's announcement on a Higher Things chat list that he was anxious to see the new Narnia movie, Prince Caspian. One of his friends from church, a young lady on the edge of seventeen, responded that she'd be glad to see the movie with him. Teasing ensued from various segments of the peanut gallery, including the remarks of several young men who were, evidently, endearingly envious of the prospect. I was careful not to make too much of these developments (which was less difficult for me than it might have been, due to the fact that I was in Siberia when all of this transpired). My dear wife tipped me off to the exchange, and I simply replied that it seemed very sweet to me. I shared the same sentiment with the young lady upon my return from Russia, and pretty much left it at that. I was actually quite hopeful that it would work out for Nicholai to go to the movie with her.

It reminded me of a similar situation that I enjoyed back in high school. That was a long time ago, and I haven't thought of it in more than a while, but I recalled it fondly this past week. I was a little older than Nicholai is now; maybe I had just turned 16, or it was thereabouts. One of my closest friends was an upperclassman, Paul, who played the trombone alongside me in band. Even though he was two or three years older than me, he was always kind to me, and he often looked out for me when other older students were giving me a hard time about something or other. It doesn't pertain directly to the story at hand, but I should mention that I had a massive crush on his younger sister, who was in my own grade. I harbored aspirations for her through most of high school, though there was never even the remotest possibility that she would ever have been interested in dating me. She was a good friend, honestly, despite the fact that people delighted in teasing me about her, and teasing her about my crush on her. In looking back, I'm grateful that she was a good egg about it, and she never was cold or cruel to me. Teenage boys have particularly fragile egos when it comes to teenage girls, and she managed to leave mine intact. But dating was not really in the cards I was dealt, not until the Lord brought me to McCook, Nebraska, where at last I met the wonderful woman who would become my wife. Amazing how these things all work themselves out. In the meanwhile, I was quite the geek, or dork, or nerd, or whatever the term was back then.

Anyway, Paul had a steady girlfriend, who was also in the band, and she was in the grade between the two of us. They were a serious item for years, and there was no doubting their relationship, nor their commitment to each other. I am chagrined to say that her name escapes me at the moment, which is all the more ironic given the story I'm attempting to narrate. Let's call her Lisa, since that's the best I can do for now. She wanted to see a movie that was playing — leastwise, that's what I was told at the time; it may have been a friendly pretense. "Lisa" wanted to see this movie, but Paul either couldn't take her to see it, or he didn't care to see it, and he asked me if I would take her. In retrospect, I've thought that he was probably just giving me the opportunity to go out on a date; that would have been typical of his thoughtful friendship.

I don't remember what the movie was, but I do remember feeling both quite proud and incredibly nervous to be escorting this "older woman," my good friend's girlfriend, on a date. I had taken a girl friend in gradeschool putt-putt golfing and to the swimming pool, but never "out on the town," so to speak. It was great, because I got to be a gentleman without any of the stress or anxiety of romance, nor any of the temptations that frequently occur in dating. There was simply no question or hint of those things, but I was free to be courteous, respectful and polite, which was nice. Young ladies do like to be treated like ladies, even by those who are not prospective suitors. This goes directly to the reasons for which I am so pleased that my Nicholai has been given the chance to be a gentleman today. It's good training for the future, for the way he will want to treat his future spouse, but also for the way he should treat his Mom and his sisters, and really any woman, including any of his sisters in Christ.

The one particular thing that I do remember from my date with Lisa was horribly embarrassing at the time, yet it was a good learning experience, I suppose. I took her to Wendy's following the movie, and we got a little late-night snack, probably french fries and frostees. I know for a fact that we also got a couple soft drinks, because, on my way to the table, I managed to tip one of those soft drinks off the tray I was carrying and all over the floor. Thankfully not all over Lisa! But I was utterly and absolutely mortified, and momentarily certain that my life was going to end, as far as any meaningful joy or happiness was concerned. It didn't, of course. But that mishap did teach me to be extra careful when taking a date out to eat. I've also tended to avoid Wendy's for the most part, although that was entirely circumstantial to the spill. I specifically shared this bit of wisdom with Nicholai earlier today, so that he could also learn from my experience and hopefully spare himself the same embarrassment. It could have been worse, I pointed out to him, but he shouldn't feel the need to compete. Actually, I encouraged him to get a drink for his date today, but I cautioned him to carry it very carefully!

I can't resist interjecting that, when DoRena and Zachary were still quite young, it seemed that whenever I would take them to a movie, without fail, one or the other (or both) of them would spill whatever beverage I bought. Which was especially disturbing back in the days before free refills. Oh, the trials and tribulations of growing up!

Well, as I've been thinking about Nicholai's date today, I've considered how seldom it is that young men and young women have the privilege and pleasure of interacting with each other apart from all the tensions of potential romance, and the politics of dancing (one of my favorite phrases, from an old pop record back in the 80s when I was a lad), and the "battle of the sexes," just to speak comprehensively and somewhat euphemistically. There's so much baggage involved in all of this, one can hardly manage it all. So, opportunities for a young man to be a gentleman — a real gentleman, simply for the sake of being nice and treating a girl like a lady — without any hidden or unspoken agendas, but only because it's a decent thing to do, and every young lady ought to be so treated — such opportunities are, in my estimation, a precious thing.

I hope that all of my sons have that sort of chance, and that, in any case, they will always be looking for ways to be gentlemen. I try to set a good example, and to be a good role model for them, in the way I treat my wife, and in the way I treat any other woman or young lady I may interact with. It seems a good rule of thumb to me, that one ought to regard and treat any woman like one's mother, and any young lady like one's sister. St. Paul says that in 1 Timothy 5:2. So do I also hope and pray that young men will treat my daughters with special respect, as ladies, and not for the sake of anything other than Christian courtesy. I would like to believe that my daughters, in turn, will demonstrate the same kindness and consideration toward younger boys that I have observed and appreciated in the young ladies among our Emmaus youth. The wholesome friendships that I see cultivated in that group — between the boys and girls, both younger and older, and really with one and all — are among the many joys for which I regularly give thanks.

13 May 2008

Jesus, His Mother, and Babies

The northern Indiana spring pastors' conference was especially good this year. I always welcome the opportunity to drink beer and talk theology with my brother pastors, many of whom I do not often get to see (not often enough, at any rate). On that point, I am very sorry that my good friend Greg missed out on the comradery, all the more so because I know him to enjoy and value the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren. He wasn't aware when or where the rest of us were gathering, and he ended up spending the evening alone in his room. That made me feel badly for him, and it's painfully too easy for me to empathize, as I have spent such evenings on my own before. It's usually been my own fault when I've been left in that boat, typically waiting around for others to take the initiative instead of seeking out the company and care of my brothers in Christ. In Greg's case, the fault was mine for not seeking him out to join us. How shall I ever learn to be consistently more concerned for my neighbor than for myself?

Greg's gregarious persona would have made the gathering grander, but it was pretty good as it was. There were various guys coming and going as the evening wore on, but there were four of us who stuck it out to the end. The conversation was invigorating, as ever, equal parts entertaining and thought-provoking. The beer was not to be compared to Fiddler's Hearth in South Bend, but it was okay. The discussions were superlative. Only don't ask me to remember everything we talked about, given that it roamed the landscape over the long course of several hours and several beers. No, I wasn't drunk, but I was suitably relaxed, and I'm glad that we were all walking back to the hotel rather than driving. I slept better than a baby that night and awoke refreshed for the next new day.

One thing I remember very well from the evening's meandering gabfest was this great epitaph, evidently originating with a seminary grad student: "I just love Jesus, His Mother, and babies." I'm contemplating the possibility of willing this to be inscribed on my tombstone, when that day should eventuate (I don't anticipate any such need anytime soon, though one never knows). It would also make a nifty campaign slogan for any would-be synodical president; not that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod would ever stoop to political campaigns or campaigning, but I'm just saying, hypothetically, that one could do far worse than such a platform: "Jesus, His Mother, and babies." For those of us who don't just put Jesus first, but believe, teach and confess that all theology is Christology . . . and for those of us who hold St. Mary in high esteem, that most highly favored lady and graciously blessed woman, not only because she is the Mother of God (which is already quite enough to esteem in itself), but also because she is set forth as a beautiful example of faith and a living icon of the Lord's holy Church . . . and for those of us who also love the little children, in the home and family and in the Church, and who rejoice with our Savior that our Father in heaven has hidden Himself from the wise and intelligent and revealed Himself to infants . . . well, anyway, let me just say that I really like this motto: "Jesus, His Mother, and babies." Granted that Jesus alone is inexhaustibly sufficient, but His Mother and babies bask in the radiance of His grace and His glory, like Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration; and if one can see the Holy Sacraments implicit in all three (that is, in "Jesus, His Mother, and babies"), then there's almost nothing else we'd ever need to talk about.

This wonderful little epitaph was mentioned in the course of our long, rambling discussion, because it became known to us that our conference speaker, the Reverend Dr. Gregory Lockwood, was likely to include some comments on infant Communion in his presentation the following day. My good friend and faithful colleague, Pastor Petersen, tells me that infant Communion is the topic of our time, and perhaps he is correct. He gets around more than I do, so I suppose that he would know such things better than me; and, even if he doesn't really have his finger on the pulse of things, I'd prefer to pretend that he does. I'm not saying any of this to prejudice my own thoughts and conclusions on the topic of infant Communion. I expect I'll get around to thinking-out-loud about that at some point in the near or not so distant future. For the time being, I'll say this much: I'm not advocating infant Communion in the LCMS at this juncture, nor am I practicing infant Communion in my own congregation, but I am in favor of discussing the practice on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, and the historical precedents of the church catholic. There are critical aspects of this discussion which need to be addressed, in any case, irrespective of any conclusions; not only the nature of the Sacrament and the protocol of its administration, but the broader contexts of pastoral care, ongoing catechesis, church fellowship and church discipline.

As it turned out, Dr. Lockwood did address the topic of infant Communion at some length, in connection with a wider discussion of First Communion prior to the rite of confirmation and at an earlier age than has typically been practiced among Lutherans of recent generations. Apparently, these topics have been very much on the table in the Lutheran Church of Australia, in which Dr. Lockwood serves. He and others have recently given papers on various considerations to be taken into account in contemplating the ways and means of admission to the Sacrament of the Altar. I was impressed with what he had to say, and with the way that he presented his points. My sense is that he comes down at more or less the same point I do, although our approach to the topic and our thinking about it are not identical.

I was pleased, not only by Dr. Lockwood's presentation, but also by the way in which it was received by the pastors at the conference. Reactions and discussions were respectful and polite, thoughtful and balanced. There were no emotional outbursts or defensive rants, but some good questions were raised and helpful comments offered. This is all quite striking to me, given that, less than twenty years ago, the notion of infant Communion was simply and flat-out taboo. The fact that it now seems to be a topic for reasonable discussion and careful investigation is encouraging to me. Not as though I presume to know what the outcome of such discussion will be, but because the Church needs to engage in vigorous theological discussion in order to stay healthy and vital. I'm not talking about relativism or accommodation (God forbid!), but about daily repentance and ongoing reformation and growth in the wisdom and knowledge of God.

It's been a number of years since I've seen Dr. Lockwood or had any opportunity to chat with him. I was very glad for the chance to do so at the conference. He was one of my professors at Fort Wayne back in the early nineties, and I really appreciated him then, too. He helped me to discover Wilhelm Löhe and his tremendous contribution to the Lutheran Church worldwide, for which I shall always be grateful. Along with that, Dr. Lockwood was the one who rescued me for a positive attitude toward Lutheran missions. A previous missions professor had basically convinced me that one had to choose between orthodoxy and missions, but from Dr. Lockwood (and Wilhelm Löhe) I came to understand that genuine orthodoxy and real evangelical missions go hand in hand. Dr. Lockwood's own example of faithful, evangelical service is a case in point. His ability to speak with scholarly acumen and pastoral insight, with a charitable heart and a gentle spirit, and with an evident zeal for those within and outside of the Church, is refreshing and edifying. In all these ways, he reminds me of his friend and colleague, Dr. John Kleinig, for whom I also have tremendous admiration. Those boys down under are doing something right.