31 August 2008

Am I Missing Something?

Somebody help me out. Or, confuse me further to begin with, if that's what it takes to get things sorted in my head. I'm genuinely puzzled and perplexed, and I would really welcome some clarity. I'm trying to understand how so many conservatives — not only political conservatives, but theological conservatives, including some of my kindred spirits — are evidently and unabashedly excited and energized by John McCain's naming of Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate.

I've got nothing against Sarah Palin. She sounds like an amazing woman. I'm glad that she's a wife and a mother of five children. I'm thankful that she did not abort her Down's Syndrome child (though I was shocked to learn that nine out of ten women do, if they know ahead of time). I'm grateful that she is so staunchly pro-life, and that she's evidently been unafraid to take on corruption in her home state of Alaska, where she is governor. These are all wonderful things. I'm not as impressed by what I've read of her religious life and church attendance, but I don't regard those factors as inherently pertinent to her nomination.

Sarah Palin's politics are impressive. I don't question for a moment that her knowledge and expertise in that arena are better than most and light years beyond me. Let no one take my confusion and concern as a doubting of this impressive woman's competence or ability. I am privileged to know many intelligent, capable women, including those who are nearest and dearest to me, who make my life and the world we live in a better place. Kudos to all of them, and to Sarah Palin, too.

But I am having a hard time understanding the appropriateness of nominating a woman for such an office as Vice President of the United States (or governor of a state, for that matter). How does this fit the order of creation? How does it harmonize with the headship of a husband and father for his wife, family and household? I realize that civil government is not the church, and this isn't a matter of the pastoral office, but I haven't bought the recent rhetoric that the roles of men and women are distinguished solely by the prohibition of women's ordination. It's clear that women should not be ordained to the pastoral office, but it doesn't follow that a woman should be free and clear to do anything and everything else that a man might otherwise do.

I'm not commenting here on the broader topic of women in the workplace, nor even the more general topic of women in politics. I'm confused enough as it is trying to sort out this present case at hand. I know that a husband is the head of his wife, as Christ is the Head of His Church. I know that a father is the head of his household. And I believe, teach and confess with the Large Catechism that the government is the office of father writ large. Presidents and Kings are the fathers of their countries. Vice President isn't quite President, but it strikes me as not so far removed, in so far as my question is concerned.

I am well aware of some very powerful queens who have reigned in the history of the world, including Christian women who have ruled with competence. I'm not sure what to say about that, either. I'm honestly looking for some explanation and some answers, as to why this should be okay and acceptable. Or, if there is no sound and solid rationale, why are conservatives of various stripes applauding the nomination of a woman for the office of Vice President? Is this really a good thing? I'm having trouble connecting the dots.

The closest thing to an answer that I've heard so far is a comparison to Deborah in the Old Testament, whom God raised up to shame the men for not fulfilling their responsibilities and rising to the call of duty. In particular, Sarah Palin has been an outspoken opponent of abortion, in a way that John McCain and many other men have not been. That's well and good, but are there no men anywhere who will stand up and be counted, who will do their duty in protecting the women and children of this country? Have we really sunk so low? If John McCain wants to champion pro-life politics, he should simply repent of any past poor performance in this area, and do better in his own efforts to safeguard the lives of the unborn. Frankly, any man that would advocate or support the legality and practice of abortion is unfit to serve office. But are there no men anywhere left who have the political acumen and the moral fortitude to oppose abortion?

Part of my concern stems from the fact that abortion, as vile and wicked as it is, belongs to a larger context in which children are viewed as an obstacle to the careers of working women. Okay, so maybe Sarah Palin is one of those oustanding super heroes who supposedly demonstrate that today's woman really can have it all and do it all. She's not only a governor and a wife and mother, but she's still having children. In fact, she had her youngest earlier this year (in April, if I have understood correctly). Yet, she is still a finite creature. Simply being a wife and having children does not necessarily mean that she is devoting all the time and energy she should to those primary vocations. Maybe being the governor of Alaska has afforded her the opportunity to juggle everything, though I have my doubts; I'm skeptical, however, that being the Vice President of the country would allow her to manage the demands of her home and family, especially with an infant and a Down's Syndrome child.

I'm not drawing my own conclusions, yet. I'm trying to think through this, and I'm very open to explanation and clarification of things I either haven't considered or simply do not understand. For the time being, though, I have to confess that the nomination of a woman to the office of Vice President does not thrill me. Not because I have anything against Sarah Palin, far less against women in general, but because I'm wondering where all the men have gone, and what has become of every fatherhood on earth.

30 August 2008

For Ingrid on Her Baptism Day

It’s not kill or be killed; it’s die or be dead.

The key to life is not that you should find yourself, or be yourself, or make a name for yourself. If you would live, you must die to yourself; but if you live for yourself, you will die.

That is the paradox of Christianity, and that is your dilemma. Any sort of life that is taken, instead of received and given, is no life at all, but sin and death.

Christianity is not simply a lifestyle choice among others. It is the only way of life. But it is life in Christ by the way of the Cross. Everything depends upon the Cross. Your life depends on it.

Christ Jesus, the Crucified One, is not simply a means to some other end. He is your Life, your Light and your Salvation. He and His Word are the only true delight. But the surprising thing about Him is that He must die (and rise again). And if you would live, you must follow Him.

Deny yourself. Take up the Cross. Follow Him.

If you would live, you must be His disciple. You must be a Christian. Not in name only, though that name is most precious and significant. But you must be a Christian in deed and in truth; for the Son of Man is coming in glory to judge and repay everyone according to his deeds. Set your mind, therefore, on God’s interests, not your own. Live as a Christian. Die and rise with Christ.

Holy Baptism makes all the difference; because Baptism, along with catechesis, makes disciples.

It is in Holy Baptism that you have been given the Name of God, the Name and Spirit of Christ Jesus; that you have thus become a Christian.

Ingrid has been named by her father, and someday, God-willing, she’ll be named again by her husband. But here she has been named by her God and Father in heaven, and by her heavenly Bridegroom, with His own name, which is alive and life-giving and stronger than death.

It is in Holy Baptism, also, that both Ingrid and you have been given the Cross of Christ. You are crucified, dead and buried with Him, by His Cross, in order to rise with Him in His Resurrection, unto life. This is first of all how you take up His Cross, and how you are able to do so; so that now you follow Christ Jesus by taking up His Cross each day.

Taking up the Cross does not mean suffering for its own sake. Christians do not go looking for trouble and death; they do not throw themselves to the lions, no more than they throw themselves down from the pinnacle of the Temple.

Take up the Cross, rather, by faith and love. Receive from God what He gives you. Give to your neighbor what you have received. That’s what the Christian life looks like, and that’s where and how you take up the Cross.

Do what you are given to do. Fulfill your vocations faithfully. Within your vocations, serve your neighbor for Christ’s sake, whether you receive thanks or a slap in the face as your payment.

Bear your neighbor’s burdens in love, and bear with your neighbor in forgiveness. If you suffer in doing so, and for doing so, bear that suffering in faith and love. In all that you do and suffer, glorify the Name of Christ that you bear, and glorify your God and Father in heaven.

Trust the Lord, whom you follow, whose disciple you are. If you lose your life for His sake, you’ve lost nothing; you shall yet live with Him forever in His Kingdom.

But if you turn aside from Him and seek to avoid the Cross, in order to save yourself, then you shall be lost. Then you shall die.

Do not guard and protect yourself, but get back in line behind Jesus. Deny yourself, take up the Cross, and follow Him. Repent, and live, that you not be lost and die forever.

Return to your Baptism: to the Cross and to the Name that were given to you there by your Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s all right there; your life is there — in the death of Christ, and in His Resurrection — in your Holy Baptism. There’s no need to repeat it, for God’s Word and His gift are perfectly sufficient. Just return to the significance of your one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. It remains sure and certain, as steadfast as the Cross and Resurrection are.

Die to yourself. Die to the world. Die to sin. Die to the devil, all his works and all his ways. Die, not to atone for your sins or redeem yourself, but because Christ, by His death, has atoned for all your sins and redeemed you. Live unto righteousness in Him, not to satisfy the Law, but because He has fulfilled the Law, and He has risen from the dead, and He lives forever for you.

The example that He has left for you to follow in His steps is the way of life, by the way of the Cross; not that you must save yourself by your good deeds or by your suffering, but that He has saved you by His suffering and death. He has taken up the Cross and carried it before you, in order to forgive you and give you life.

He who is coming in glory to be your Judge, has already come into His Kingdom in the glory of His Father, not to condemn you for what you have done or left undone, but by His Cross to reward you according to His own deeds.

He has redeemed you from all your sin and eternal death. He has given His own life in exchange for your body and soul. He has tasted death upon the Cross, that you may not taste death forever, nor at all apart from His Resurrection.

Indeed, His Resurrection on the third day is the guarantee and the first fruits of your own resurrection from the dead.

Take and eat, therefore; not death, but the Body of Him who suffered many things, was crucified, died and was buried, who has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. As He lives, so shall you.

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

29 August 2008

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Herod celebrates his birthday with a grand party, but he’s a dead man: dead in his trespasses and sin.

St. John the Baptist goes from the frying pan into the fire; from the dungeon to the chopping block and martyrdom, but he is raised, and he lives with Christ Jesus.

Those are your options, too. It’s a matter of life or death. You have no true or lasting life except in Christ Jesus. It is only in His Resurrection from the dead that you rise; so it is only by His Cross that you have life. It is by sharing His death and losing your own life that you share His Resurrection and His life.

That is what your Holy Baptism has granted, and that is what your Baptism still means for you each day. You are put to death in order to be raised. Your own head is removed, that Christ may be your Head, your Bridegroom and Lord. Your body is buried with Him through Baptism into His death, in order that you may belong to His Body, the Church.

That’s what discipleship looks like: crucifixion or beheading, but, either way, death and burial. Those who baptize, and those who are baptized, are put to death for the Name of Christ. Those who are sent to Minister in His Name, and those who receive that Ministry, are under the Cross.

It is by that Cross of Christ that you are raised with Him and live with Him forever.

As you suffer that Cross, therefore, do not despair.

As you are shut up in prison, or shut out from the crowd, or otherwise left alone and lonely, lift up your head, your heart and mind to Christ. Hear and heed His Word of the Gospel, and know that He delivers you from death.

As you have your head chopped off, whether metaphorically or bodily, find your rest and peace in Christ Jesus. Though you are despised and rejected by the world, you are righteous and holy by faith in Him.

Live, therefore, in the righteousness and holiness of Christ. Live by faith, by the hearing of His Word.

Do not seek to shut up or shut out the Word of the Lord, nor keep it at arm’s length, as though it were under your control. If you are perplexed by the preaching of repentance, do not harden your heart, but repent; confess your sin, and be forgiven.

Do not continue in your sins, which are a living death. It is neither lawful nor safe to go on sinning. Do not suppose that you shall escape the consequences. They will come back to haunt you.

Do not harbor envy and jealousy, nor bitterness and resentment, in your heart against your neighbor. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, but, for Christ’s sake, be reconciled to your neighbor (by the way of repentance and forgiveness). For whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and the life and love of God are not in him.

Do not entertain the lust of the flesh, whether with your eyes, your imagination, or your body. Whoever looks upon a woman or a man with lust is already an adulterer. Such covetous lust conceives and gives birth to sin, which grows fully into death.

For all such hatred and adultery in your heart and mind, repent.

Turn away from evil, and do what is lawful, what is good and right.

Do not be afraid to do the right thing, as though, if you did not line your own pockets and pad your own treasure chest, the Lord would let you die. You have already died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. But if you live in sin, then only death shall be your lot.

Do what you are given to do with confidence. Be strong and courageous. The Lord is with you like a dread Champion. If you share His death, so shall you share His Resurrection and His life. Whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.

If you are sorry for what you have done or left undone, do not despair, but repent, and do better. Not as though you will save yourself or set things right by your own righteousness and holiness, but because Christ has died and risen. He has saved you. His righteousness and holiness are yours. He so identifies Himself with you, that He has risen in you and lives in you; He manifests Himself and His life in you.

You need not dance for this true King, nor seduce Him. For He has redeemed you with His own holy, precious blood, by His innocent suffering and death; that you should be an heir with Him of His Kingdom (not half, but the whole thing).

Here, then, is the Supper that He hosts, in proclamation of His death until He comes: not for the high and mighty of the world, but for the weak and lowly and despised.

Recline here at His Table with Him, and receive from His hand His Body given, His Blood poured out, for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. Where there is such forgiveness, death cannot hurt you.

Rest here under His altar, until all things come to pass and all His promises are fully realized, just as He has spoken. You shall not die, but live; just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns eternally.

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

26 August 2008

Worship & Spiritual Care Workshop

A fine annual tradition continues with the 2008 "Worship and Spiritual Care Workshop," sponsored by the Indiana District.

The workshop will take place on Saturday, the 20th of September, from 9:00 a.m. until 3:15 p.m. (Eastern time) at Advent Lutheran Church in Zionsville, Indiana (Northwest corner of Indianapolis, a mile north of I-465 on the west side of Michigan Road / U.S. 421).

This year's plenary presenter will be the Reverend Dr. Arthur Just, speaking on the connection of the Church's liturgical life to her works of mercy in the world.

Sectional speakers will include the Reverend Peter Cage (on daily prayer in the home and family), the Reverend Phil Meyer (on the churchly conduct of Christian funerals and weddings), and yours truly (on liturgical preaching and how to listen to a sermon). Deaconess Rachel Thompson, now serving at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, will speak on the office and vocation of a deaconess.

For church musicians, Amanda Goodspeed of St. James, Lafayette, will be leading a sectional workshop on hand bell choirs, and Mr. Bill Ickstadt of Immanuel, Valparaiso, will provide a sectional on children's choirs.

The workshop will begin with the Order of Matins and conclude with a hymn festival. Registration fee is $25. Lunch provided.

For additional information and registration form, please go to:


24 August 2008

How to Make the Good Book Better

No, not that Good Book, but the excellent Lutheran Service Book could have been even better. The Reverend Dr. Paul Grime, who served as the project director for LSB, has quipped that work on the next new hymnal has already begun; not formally or officially, of course, but in the ongoing use and evaluation of the Lutheran Service Book. In that spirit, I offer a few basic ways in which it could have been a better good book, and maybe someone will take notes for posterity.

One simple thing: The response to the salutation throughout the book should have been, "And with your spirit." Not establishing that consistency was a mistake, which we'll have to live with and regret for the next couple decades now.

There shouldn't be any hymns in the electronic edition that aren't in the pew edition. The few Biblical canticles and the several good hymns (see below) that were relegated to the electronic edition only should be in the book, while the rest of the electronic-only songs should have been lost in some place where they would never be heard from again.

The entire Psalter should have been included in the pew edition. That was actually the first official decision of the Lectionary Committee (but we were men under other authorities).

The Collects for all of the Sundays and Festivals of the Church Year should have been included in the pew edition. My impression is that everyone realized that within months of publication.

In order to make room for the Collects and the missing Psalms, I recommend removing the following 100 hymns and replacing them with forty-eight other hymns that should have been included (below). These 100 hymns are not all bad (some of them are), but in my opinion they weren't necessary and could easily be done without; in some cases, we'd be better off without them. This isn't to say that all the other LSB hymns are excellent and most worthy. There's another few dozen that I'd be glad to let go, but I've tried to acknowledge the inherited piety of the Missouri Synod, as well as the ecumenical significance of certain hymns.

So here are 100 hymns that should have been left out of Lutheran Service Book (and, no, please don't put them in any electronic editions, either):

LSB 343 — Prepare the Royal Highway
LSB 354 — Arise, O Christian People
LSB 369 — Where Shepherds Lately Knelt
LSB 373 — See amid the Winter’s Snow
LSB 374 — Gentle Mary Laid Her Child

LSB 411 — I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
LSB 445 — When You Woke That Thursday Morning
LSB 456 — Were You There

LSB 474 — Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen
LSB 477 — Alleluia, Alleluia! Hearts to Heaven
LSB 479 — Christ Is Risen, Christ Is Living
LSB 484 — Make Songs of Joy

LSB 502 — Holy Spirit, the Dove Sent from Heaven
LSB 506 — Glory Be to God the Father

LSB 535 — How Wide the Love of Christ
LSB 541 — "Away from Us!" the Demon Cried
LSB 542 — When I Behold Jesus Christ
LSB 547 — The Lamb
LSB 550 — Lamb of God
LSB 560 — Drawn to the Cross, Which Thou Hast Blessed

LSB 591 — This Is the Spirit’s Entry Now
LSB 595 — O Blessed Spring
LSB 605 — Father Welcomes

LSB 620 — Jesus Comes Today with Healing
LSB 626 — Come, Let Us Eat
LSB 638 — Eat This Bread
LSB 641 — You Satisfy the Hungry Heart

LSB 653 — In Christ There Is No East or West
LSB 654 — Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure
LSB 660 — Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus
LSB 669 — Come, We That Love the Lord
LSB 678 — We Sing for All the Unsung Saints

LSB 695 — Not for Tongues of Heaven’s Angels
LSB 699 — I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
LSB 705 — The Man Is Ever Blessed
LSB 706 — Love in Christ Is Strong and Living

LSB 712 — Seek Ye First
LSB 721 — Lead Me, Guide Me
LSB 722 — Lord, Take My Hand and Lead Me
LSB 723 — The Lord Is My Light
LSB 727 — On Eagles’ Wings

LSB 739 — Precious Lord, Take My Hand
LSB 748 — I’m But a Stranger Here
LSB 749 — There Is a Balm in Gilead
LSB 751 — O God of Love, O King of Peace
LSB 763 — When Peace, like a River

LSB 767 — Jesus, Remember Me
LSB 771 — Be Still, My Soul, before the Lord
LSB 780 — O Lord, Hear My Prayer

LSB 781 — We Give Thee But Thine Own
LSB 786 — Lord of All Good
LSB 787 — The Temple Rang with Golden Coins

LSB 788 — Forgive Us, Lord, for Shallow Thankfulness
LSB 789 — Praise and Thanksgiving
LSB 795 — Voices Raised to You We Offer
LSB 796 — When in Our Music God Is Glorified
LSB 799 — Alabaré - I
LSB 800 — Alabaré - II
LSB 804 — O Worship the King
LSB 806 — Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart
LSB 807 — When Morning Gilds the Skies
LSB 808 — O Sing to the Lord
LSB 814 — O Bless the Lord, My Soul
LSB 817 — Earth and All Stars

LSB 826 — Hark, the Voice of Jesus Crying
LSB 827 — Hark, the Voice of Jesus Calling
LSB 829 — Christ the Eternal Lord
LSB 831 — "How Shall They Hear," Who Have Not Heard
LSB 833 — Listen, God Is Calling
LSB 835 — On Galilee’s High Mountain

LSB 840 — Christ High-Ascended, Now in Glory Seated
LSB 841 — O Son of God, in Galilee
LSB 844 — Lord of All Nations, Grant Me Grace

LSB 854 — Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go
LSB 866 — Lord Jesus Christ, the Children’s Friend
LSB 867 — Let Children Hear the Mighty Deeds

LSB 871 — Greet the Rising Sun
LSB 873 — Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies
LSB 879 — Stay with Us
LSB 893 — Sing to the Lord of Harvest

LSB 911 — Lord, This Day We’ve Come to Worship
LSB 920 — Forth in the Peace of Christ We Go
LSB 922 — Go, My Children, with My Blessing

LSB 932 — Jesus Sat with His Disciples
LSB 939 — You Are God; We Praise You
LSB 943 — Kyrie-I
LSB 946 — Glory to God, We Give You Thanks and Praise
LSB 949 — Heavenly Hosts in Ceaseless Worship
LSB 951 — Alleluia-I
LSB 952 — Alleluia-II
LSB 955 — Let the Vineyards Be Fruitful
LSB 956 — Create in Me
LSB 958 — Our Father Who Art in Heaven - IIa (English)
LSB 959 — Our Father Who Art in Heaven - IIb (Spanish)
LSB 961 — Sanctus
LSB 962 — Agnus Dei-I
LSB 963 — Agnus Dei-II

LSB 964 — Lift Every Voice and Sing
LSB 965 — God Bless Our Native Land
LSB 966 — Before You, Lord, We Bow

Removing those 100 hymns would make room, not only for the Collects and the entire Psalter, but also for the following forty-eight hymns that should have been included in Lutheran Service Book. Most of these are hymns from TLH and/or LW, since the primary goal of the LSB project was to bring together the best of those two predecessor hymnals. Along with those, however, I've included a number of Paul Gerhardt hymns that have previously been published in other English-language Lutheran hymnals. Instead of letting go of Gerhardt hymns we already had, we should have been gaining ground and recovering more of that heritage.

So here are forty-eight hymns that should have been included in Lutheran Service Book; and then the good book would have been that much better. (I know that Susan has her own list, but this one's mine):


(Ohio Synod's Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal #25)

(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #457)




(American Lutheran Hymnal #645)



(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #129)

[now in the electronic edition only]


[now in the electronic edition only]


(ELHB #506)



(American Lutheran Hymnal #635)

NOW LET US COME BEFORE HIM (Gerhardt) (TLH 122; LW 184)


(the first half of the hymn, Rejoice, My Heart, Be Glad and Sing, LSB 737)


(Australian Lutheran Hymnal #126)

OH, ENTER, LORD, THY TEMPLE (Gerhardt) (TLH 228)

(Ohio Synod's Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal #339)



[now in the electronic edition only]


(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #405)




22 August 2008

Would've, Could've, Should've

One area in which Lutheran Service Book could have been even better is in its collection of Paul Gerhardt hymns. LSB has sixteen of his hymns in the pew edition, plus "I Will My Maker's Praises" in the electronic edition only (for shame). Many others would have been readily available, and should have been included, in my opinion. Between The Lutheran Hymnal and other Lutheran hymnals published in this country, at least a dozen other Gerhardt hymns were at hand to serve the Church in our day. In addition to those, the following twenty Gerhardt hymns are found in Walther's Kirchengesangbuch, and/or Grabau's Gesangbuch, and/or the current SELK Gesangbuch, and have also been translated into English. Although some of those English translations would have required some attention, it would not have been difficult to put them into use. For the sake of comparison, all three of these aforementioned German hymnals include 40+ Gerhardt hymns. Both TLH and the recent Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (of the ELS) include more than twenty. LSB could easily have included four dozen Paul Gerhardt hymns, and that would have been a good thing.

Anyway, here are twenty Gerhardt hymns that were out there, ready and waiting to be discovered and recovered for the use of English-speaking Lutherans in our day. They're still waiting:


"Wherefore Dost Thou Longer Tarry" (C. Winkworth)
Warum willst du draußen stehen (Grabau #17; SELK #404)


"Mortals, Who Have God Offended" (Miss Cox)
Warüm machet solche Schmerzen (Walther #56; Grabau #61)


"Thousand Times by Me Be Greeted" (Moravian Hymn Book)
Sei mir tausendmal gegrüßet (Walther #91; Grabau #118; SELK #427)


"Be Joyful All, Both Far and Near" (J. Kelly)
Sei fröhlich alles weit und breit (Walther #113)


"O Father! Send Thy Spirit Down" (J. Kelly)
Gott Vater, sende deinen Geist (Walther #130; Grabau #179)


"The Time Is Very Near" (J. Kelly)
Die Zeit ist nunmehr nah (Walther #432; SELK #451)


"O Lord, My Love, I Have No Rest" (K. Reinhardt, 2001)
Herr Jesu, meine Liebe (Walther #200)


"Be Glad, My Heart! Now Fear No More" (J. Kelly)
Nun sei getrost und unbetrübt (Walther #419)

"Thou Art Mine, Yes, Still Thou Art Mine Own" (C. Winkworth)
Du bist zwar mein und bleibest mein (Death of Child; Walther #401)


"Be Thou Content: Be Still Before" (C. Winkworth)
Gib dich zufrieden und sei stille (SELK #295)

"Look Up to Thy God Again" (J. Kelly)
Schwing dich auf zu deinem Gott (Walther #370; SELK #296)


"How Can It Be, My Highest Light" (J. Kelly)
Wie ist es möglich, höchstes Licht (Walther #290)

"O God, my Father! Thanks to Thee" (J. Kelly)
Ich danke dir demütiglich (Walther #338)

"Thank God It Hath Resounded" (C. Winkworth)
Gott Lob, nun ist erschollen (SELK #392)


"Twofold, Father, Is My Prayer" (J. Kelly)
Zweierlei bitt ich von dir (Grabau #451)


"I Know, My God, and I Rejoice" (C. Winkworth)
Ich weiß, mein Gott, daß all (Walther #274; Grabau #411; SELK #384)


"Our Lord Be Praising, All His Glory Raising" (H. J. Buckoll)
Lobet den Herren, alle die ihn ehren (SELK #347)


"The Daylight Disappeareth" (J. Kelly)
Der Tag mit seinem Lichte (SELK #551)


"O Come, My Soul with Singing" (Miss Burlingham)
Du meine Seele, singe! (Psalm 146; SELK #197)

"The Lord, the Earth Who Ruleth" (J. Kelly)
Derr Herr, der aller Enden (Psalm 23; Walther #248)

20 August 2008

Ninety-Six Reasons

Here are the top Ninety-Six Reasons why a congregation should replace The Lutheran Hymnal with Lutheran Service Book:

LSB 336 — Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending (LW #15; also HS #802)
LSB 337 — The Night Will Soon Be Ending (HS #806)
LSB 351 — Creator of the Stars of Night (LW #17)
LSB 355 — O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide (LW #32)
LSB 356 — The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came (HS #805)

LSB 362 — O Sing of Christ (Stephen Starke)
LSB 376 — Once in Royal David’s City (LW #58)
LSB 377 — On Christmas Night All Christians Sing (LW #65)
LSB 378 — Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light (HS #811)

LSB 401 — From God the Father, Virgin-Born (LW #74)
LSB 402 — The Only Son from Heaven (LW #72)
LSB 403 — O Savior of Our Fallen Race (LW #45)
LSB 404 — Jesus, Once with Sinners Numbered (Stephen Starke)
LSB 406 — To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord (LW #223)
LSB 413 — O Wondrous Type! O Vision Fair (LW #87)
LSB 415 — Jesus on the Mountain Peak (HS #818)
LSB 417 — Alleluia, Song of Gladness (HS #819)

LSB 418 — O Lord, throughout These Forty Days (LW #92)
LSB 430 — My Song Is Love Unknown (LW #91)
LSB 446 — Jesus, Greatest at the Table (Stephen Starke)
LSB 454 — Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle (LW #117)

LSB 460 — Christians, to the Paschal Victim (LW #10)
LSB 462 — All the Earth with Joy Is Sounding (HS #829)
LSB 465 — Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds (LW #131)
LSB 476 — Who Are You Who Walk in Sorrow (Herman Stuempfle)
LSB 482 — This Joyful Eastertide (LW #140)
LSB 483 — With High Delight Let Us Unite (LW #134)
LSB 489 — Hail Thee, Festival Day (LW #125, #148, #159)
LSB 491 — Up through Endless Ranks of Angels (LW #152)

LSB 501 — Come Down, O Love Divine (LW #162)
LSB 503 — O Day Full of Grace (LW #163)
LSB 512 — At the Name of Jesus (LW #178)
LSB 517–518 — By All Your Saints in Warfare (LW #193–194)
LSB 521 — Christ, the Lord of Hosts, Unshaken (Peter Prange)

LSB 529 — Since Our Great High Priest, Christ Jesus (Christopher Idle)
LSB 530 — No Temple Now, No Gift of Price (HS #861)
LSB 533 — Jesus Has Come and Brings Pleasure (LW #78)
LSB 534 — Lord, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor (LW #281)
LSB 538 — Praise Be to Christ (Timothy Dudley-Smith)
LSB 539 — Christ Is the World’s Redeemer (LW #271)

LSB 540 — Christ, the Word of God Incarnate (Steven Mueller)
LSB 544 — O Love, How Deep (LW #275)
LSB 545 — Word of God, Come Down on Earth (James Quinn)
LSB 546 — O Jesus So Sweet, O Jesus So Mild (HS #858)
LSB 553 — O Christ, Our Hope, Our Hearts’ Desire (LW #151)

LSB 561 — The Tree of Life (HS #873)
LSB 564 — Christ Sits at God’s Right Hand (Stephen Starke)
LSB 572 — In the Shattered Bliss of Eden (Stephen Starke)
LSB 578 — Thy Strong Word (LW #328)
LSB 586 — Preach You the Word (LW #259)

LSB 594 — God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It (HS #844)
LSB 596 — All Christians Who Have Been Baptized (Paul Gerhardt)
LSB 597 — Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying (Stephen Starke)
LSB 599 — O Gracious Lord, with Love Draw Near (Stephen Starke)
LSB 602 — The Gifts Christ Freely Gives (Richard Resch)
LSB 604 — I Bind unto Myself Today (LW #172)
LSB 616 — Baptismal Waters Cover Me (Kurt Reinhardt)

LSB 621 — Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (LW #241)
LSB 624 — The Infant Priest Was Holy Born (HS #853)
LSB 630 — Now, My Tongue, the Mystery Telling (HS #852)
LSB 633 — At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing (LW #126)
LSB 639 — Wide Open Stand the Gates (Wilhelm Löhe)
LSB 640 — Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior (HS #849)

LSB 650 — Holy Spirit, Ever Dwelling (LW #164)
LSB 667 — Saints, See the Cloud of Witnesses (HS #840)
LSB 671 — Sing with All the Saints in Glory (HS #839)
LSB 675 — Oh, What Their Joy (HS #838)
LSB 690 — Hope of the World (LW #377)

LSB 726 — Evening and Morning (LW #419)
LSB 736 — Consider How the Birds Above (Stephen Starke)
LSB 762 — There Is a Time for Everything (Stephen Starke)
LSB 764 — When Aimless Violence Takes Those We Love (HS #890)

LSB 769 — Eternal Spirit of the Living Christ (LW #432)
LSB 773 — Hear Us, Father, When We Pray (Chad Bird)
LSB 777/78 — Grant Peace, We Pray, in Mercy, Lord (LW #219)
LSB 792 — New Songs of Celebration Render (HS #897)

LSB 815 — All Praise to Thee, for Thou, O King Divine (HS #862)
LSB 818 — In Thee Is Gladness (LW #442)
LSB 821 — Alleluia! Sing to Jesus (HS #851)
LSB 834 — O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth (LW #319)
LSB 836 — O God of Light (HS #869)

LSB 842 — Son of God, Eternal Savior (LW #394)
LSB 845 — Where Charity and Love Prevail (HS #878)
LSB 849 — Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness (HS #881)
LSB 853 — How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord (HS #879)
LSB 860 — Gracious Savior, Grant Your Blessing (Stephen Starke)
LSB 861 — Christ Be My Leader (LW #365)
LSB 863 — Our Father, by Whose Name (LW #465)

LSB 875 — Father, We Praise Thee (LW #482)
LSB 877 — God, Who Made the Earth and Heaven (LW #492)
LSB 884 — Lord, Support Us All Day Long (Stephen Starke)
LSB 885 — I Lie, O Lord, within Your Care (Jochen Klepper)
LSB 889 — Before the Ending of the Day (LW #489)
LSB 896 — Now Greet the Swiftly Changing Year (LW #183; also HS #837)

LSB 914 — Light of Light, O Sole-Begotten (Stephen Starke)
LSB 916 — Only-Begotten, Word of God Eternal (LW #323)

Once Lost, Now Found

Here are twenty hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal, not included in Lutheran Worship, but now recovered in Lutheran Service Book:

LSB 353 — Jesus Came, the Heavens Adoring (TLH #56)
LSB 371 — Let Our Gladness Banish Sadness (TLH #82)
LSB 372 — O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is (TLH #81; also HS #814)

LSB 452 — O Perfect Life of Love (TLH #170)
LSB 494 — See, the Lord Ascends in Triumph (TLH #218)
LSB 495 — Look, Ye Saints, the Sight Is Glorious (TLH #222)

LSB 515 — Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers (TLH #72; also HS #801)
LSB 532 — The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns (TLH #219)
LSB 548 — Thanks to Thee, O Christ, Victorious (see TLH #207)

LSB 565 — Thy Works, Not Mine, O Christ (TLH #380)
LSB 567 — Not What These Hands Have Done (TLH #389)
LSB 568 — If Your Beloved Son, O God (TLH #375)
LSB 573 — Lord, ‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee (TLH #37)
LSB 598 — Once in the Blest Baptismal Waters (see TLH #598)

LSB 757 — Lord, It Belongs Not to My Care (TLH #527)
LSB 759 — This Body in the Grave We Lay (TLH #596)

LSB 872 — Come, Thou Bright and Morning Star (TLH #539)
LSB 882 — O Christ, Who Art the Light and Day (TLH #559)

LSB 898 — The Ancient Law Departs (TLH #117)
LSB 909 — Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation (TLH #466; also HS #865)

15 August 2008

Excellence in Mediocrity

Mediocrity is generally a pejorative term. I've sometimes attempted to use the word in a more neutral and objective sense, describing that which is simply average rather than superlative. But it's difficult to own this description gracefully; at least it is for me.

I've always had a competitive spirit; some would say contentious, and that's probably been true more often than I'd like to admit. I've always been driven by a pursuit of excellence, in a way that has frequently been labeled (not always kindly) as perfectionism. I do take pride in a job well done, but the truth is that I have also been prideful in competition with others. I've measured my own success or failure in comparison with the accomplishments of my neighbor. I've tended to approach life as though it were a contest, as though life itself depended on being the best and winning. I suppose that sort of drive can be helpful in achieving worthwhile results, which may also benefit other people in the process. But in my heart and in my head I know it stems from an idolatry of self.

Perhaps it is because of the Olympics, which began this past week, or maybe something else has brought it to the forefront of my mind these days, but I've recently become more aware of just how competitive my approach to everything has been. I'm not one of those people who thinks that competition is inherently bad; nevertheless, I'm not thrilled with the competitiveness that I've recognized in myself, in my attitude and actions. Frankly, I've become increasingly weary of contesting all the time. Maybe it sometimes helps me to do a good job, okay, but it also causes me frustration and disappointment, jealousy and resentment, anger and bitterness. It's a sinful temptation to measure my worth by my own works, and to do so at the expense of my neighbor; which is to sin against both faith and love. Not only that, but, as in the case of every sin, it is a fruitless undertaking. It doesn't bring life, but death. It's a game that can't be won.

I'm certainly not the best at everything. I guess I figured that out a long time ago. So, instead, I've sought to be the best at certain things, as many as possible, and to carve out my niche that way. But I'm not really the best at anything, and I'm never going to be. It's a pointless pursuit. It's like the disciples arguing over which of them is the greatest, when they haven't yet begun to understand what real greatness is. By the standards of the world, there's always going to be someone better at this, that or the other thing; if not for the moment, then sooner or later. Even Michael Phelps, who is evidently the best swimmer in the world right now, and perhaps the greatest Olympian ever, is not going to hold onto that status for long. His records may or may not stand for many years, but he's going to get older and slower, while young bucks are passing him left and right. But I have no such greatness in me to begin with. I'm basically an average guy. I'm better at some things than I am at others; and I'm better than others at some things, but I have more weaknesses than strengths, and even my strengths are relatively mediocre.

It occurred to me this evening, as we were celebrating the Feast of St. Mary, the Mother of God, that greatness is found not in what we achieve, but in what we receive; not in our own merits, but in the mercies of God; not in superlative successes, but in the weakness and humility of repentant faith. Actually, I've known all of those things for a long time, and I've preached them on a regular basis. So, why is it so hard for me to embrace this sort of excellence in mediocrity? Why do I approach life and proceed with my pursuits as though anything less than "winning" were ultimately failure? Why do I think and act as though my place and my purpose were dependent on being "the best" at whatever? Is it really only a gold medal (or any medal) that makes the race worth running, the swim worth swimming, or the life worth living?

Mediocrity borne of laziness or carelessness would hardly be appropriate. For that matter, the point is not to suggest that any kind of "mediocrity" is inherently commendable; that would only turn the problem inside-out. The point is, rather, a different sort of measure altogether. Real excellence is found in Christ, by His grace, through faith in His Word. The joy and satisfaction of a job well done are found, not in besting the competition, but in doing faithfully what I have been given to do. Still, no matter how superlative, mediocre or pathetic my performance may be, I am at best an unworthy servant who lives alone by divine goodness and mercy.

Of course, the good example of such excellence that we find in St. Mary's humble faith, points us to the Cross of her Son, to the humility and sacrificial service of the Crucified Lord Jesus Christ. It is in His Cross that all of my prideful competitiveness and all of my achievements, be they real or imagined, and all of my worldly successes and failures are put to death, so that I may receive the surpassing greatness of the gift of God. It is not my own name in lights, in record books or in journals, but His Name given to me in Holy Baptism, which gives me life and salvation, value and worth, peace that passes all human understanding, and rest from all my labors. Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief. Let it be to me according to Your Word.

11 August 2008

Grandpa Me

I've been busting at the seams to share this news for the past several weeks now, but needed to wait for the timing to be chosen by the proud parents to be of my first grandchild! Yes, it seems that my family is approaching exponential growth in this amazing year, as Sam & DoRena are expecting a baby in March of 2009. They called to let us know last month, but wanted to wait until now to spread the good word further. The thought has brought a silly grin to my face, over and over again, ever since their phone call. Hard to think of myself as a grandpa, but few things in life could make me giddier with excitement and anticipation.

So 2008 really has been rather remarkable to date. LaRena and I have sent one child ahead of us to heaven from the womb; we have gained a son-in-law in Sam and a daughter-in-law in Rebekah; now we are giving thanks and interceding for both another child of our own and our first grandchild in the womb. It is fun to think that my new baby, expected in February of 2009, will welcome his first neiphling a month later. Actually, it kind of blows my mind a bit, but in a good way.

The only thing that has me feeling a bit puzzled, is how it is that my family can seem so small at this point, when it is growing so amazingly. With Job in heaven, Sam & DoRena and their little unborn child in Fort Wayne, Zach & Bekah down in Texas, and our youngest little person in utero, it appears that exactly half my children (broadly speaking) are out of sight and beyond my reach. None of them are ever far from my heart; all of them are daily in my thoughts and prayers, as consistently and conscientiously as anything I've ever done in life. But I can't keep an eye on those seven. I still have the other seven under my watch, and they are surely no less precious to me: Nicholai, Monica, Ariksander, Oly'anna, Justinian, Frederick and Gerhardt. It's only that seven can feel like such a small little group, especially without their big brother and sister around.

Well, anyway, I'm eagerly looking forward to the arrival of my first grandchild, and in the meantime I am praying for my daughter's health and well-being during her pregnancy. The prayers and intercessions of those who may be so inclined to offer them, are deeply appreciated.

How It All Went Down with Only One Hitch

We left South Bend on Tuesday morning, not as early as we might have liked, but without any earthshattering difficulties. My goal was to get as far as Little Rock before we stopped for the night, and sure enough we did, late in the evening but none the worse for the wear. The drive was long and tedious, but otherwise not difficult. I guess the highlight was seeing gas for $3.45 per gallon in Missouri; though it is a crying shame that such a price should sound so good! Sadly, crossing over the border into Arkansas brought with it a significant jump in the price. Oh, well.

Wednesday, we arrived in Houston early enough to have supper with Zachary and the Theiss family, which made everything seem suddenly less surrealistic. Living 1200 miles north of here has made all the plans and preparations difficult to grasp in any sort of tangible way, but simply being here with Zach & Bekah and interacting in person with her dear family brought it all home. Our time together that first evening was too short, but there were things to be done, and we were tired enough from our two days of driving that anything more would have been too much.

For my part, after helping to get children settled for the evening, I went looking for a place to work on my sermon for the wedding. For Sam & DoRena's wedding this past May, I drafted my sermon at Ruby Tuesday's the night before. This time, I worked things out at T.G.I. Friday's two days ahead. Not as though I hadn't already been thinking things through for the past few weeks, but I gathered my thoughts and put them into writing on Wednesday. That made the next couple of days less stressful and more enjoyable for me.

I got to spend a good deal of the day on Thursday with Zachary, which was a special treat for me. We left around 10:00 a.m. with Nicholai and Frederick to pick up Zach's buddies from South Bend at the Houston Hobby Airport. The airport parking lots were full, so we ended up driving around in circles for half an hour or more, while Billy, Erik and Nathaniel waited for their luggage. Then we all hunted up a place to eat nearby, in order to be on hand when Sam & DoRena arrived at the same airport a few hours later. Finding a place to eat was not so easy, and we ended up getting to know that part of town somewhat better than I would have chosen, but eventually we settled on a decent Mexican restaurant.

By the time we got back to the hotel that afternoon, it wasn't long before we all needed to be heading out for the rehearsal in Tomball. My Mom and Dad were there ahead of us, and my brother-in-law, Rob, had also arrived from Scottsbluff by that point, so it was all starting to feel rather exciting. I talked through the service with the other pastors; the rehearsal itself went smoothly and well; and the rehearsal dinner, provided by some of the ladies from the church, was the best meal we had eaten yet since leaving South Bend. Afterwards, the girls took Bekah out for some bachelorette fun, while the guys, including Zach, gathered in Rob's room for a poker party, which lasted until after midnight. I was sorry not to join them, but was very glad for Nicholai to be part of the gang. He made a handsome groom's man, and I know he was proud to serve that role for his big brother. It reminded me a lot of when my younger brother, Paul, did the same for me at my wedding all those years ago; especially because Nicholai looks so much like Paul, who arrived with his family around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday.

The wedding itself was on Friday, the 8th of August in this Year of Our Lord 2008 (08/08/08). That morning, I ran a few errands and reviewed my sermon. I picked up some groceries from the local Kroger, sandwich fixings and such, in order to feed the big bunch some lunch. But I waited until Zach was available and took him out for lunch, just the two of us, much as I had done with DoRena the day before her wedding. It seemed appropriate that we should go to T.G.I. Friday's, given the occasion and the fact that it actually was Friday, and all the more so since I had drafted my sermon there two nights earlier. That opportunity to share a meal and conversation with my son was one of the most precious highlights of the entire week for me, and I know that I will savor the memory of it as much or more than anything else.

The pace picked up dramatically after lunch, as it was time for everyone to get over to the church for pictures. Zach & Bekah followed Sam & DoRena's lead in having all the posed shots taken prior to the wedding, rather than trying to fit them in after the fact. It worked well, I think, and I was also impressed with the photographer throughout the evening.

The wedding was scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. So around 6:00 p.m., the other pastors and I began vesting and preparing ourselves for the service. I had been reviewing my sermon off-and-on all day, and I was feeling pretty comfortable with it. I knew what I wanted to say, and I was confident that I could do so fairly simply and coherently. After my experience with preaching for Sam & DoRena's wedding, I had already determined that I would preach from an outline rather than a full manuscript. As it turned out, I never even looked at my notes, but simply got up and spoke the Word of the Lord to my son and his beautiful bride, both of them sitting right there in front of me.

The entire service was lovely and appropriate. Very different from Sam & DoRena's in some respects; it was Vespers rather than the full Divine Service, and there were fewer choral and ceremonial aspects, but it was reverent and decorous, and all flowed beautifully. A highlight, again, as on the 31st of May, was the singing of Paul Gerhardt's wedding hymn, "O Jesus Christ! How Bright and Fair." I'm hoping that others will follow my children's lead in the use of this grand piece, which so magnificently confesses the Christological theology of holy matrimony.

Having so recently given away my own daughter in marriage, I strongly empathized with Tim as he entrusted his Rebekah to my Zachary. I empathized with him, and I was also deeply moved and humbled by the fact that he was giving his daughter to my son. Few things in life have ever struck me quite so profoundly as that. It touches upon those unique differences between a son and a daughter, which I have found so compelling over this past year. When I have tried to put those differences into words for other people, it has been difficult to do so, and I can tell that no one else is really quite able to grasp what it is that so moves me in this regard. Perhaps it is best identified in the giving of the groom's name to his bride. A daughter is no longer named for her father, but for her husband; whereas a son gives the name he received from his father to his own bride, and to his children in turn. A daughter goes from being under her father's headship, to being under her husband's headship. A son becomes the head of his own family and household, and thus assumes the same office and authority that his father has held over him. Such things become quite serious and specific when it comes right down to giving a daughter away; I felt it when I put DoRena's hand into Sam's in May of this year, and so I could not help but feel for Tim as he put Rebekah's hand into Zach's this past Friday. Only, in this case, another father was handing over his dear and precious daughter to my son. In that moment, I had a poignant sense of the responsibility that rests upon a father to prepare his sons to become husbands. I suspect that mothers may think about that more often as their little boys are growing up, but it is as much or more a father's task to teach his sons to become men, especially in this very way.

Well, the entire service was lovely and a wondrous event. Zachary and Rebekah each made their vows and promises with clear and confident voices, and they both radiated joy and happiness. Seeing my son so tall and strong and handsome, and his bride so poised and beautiful, I could not help but swell with pride and happiness. There is such an unmitigated sense of delight in beholding these things, such that I felt as though I could hardly contain it within myself. I was sorry that I couldn't sit with LaRena and share it more closely with her, since I was in the chancel as the preacher. From that angle, I couldn't see Zach's face as he watched Rebekah walk down the aisle, but I could see his face as he listened intently to my preaching and then with rapt and serious attention to Pastor Teichmiller in the rite of holy matrimony. Let no one doubt the conscientious conviction with which Zach has approached and prepared for this event; the same goes for Rebekah. They may be young and green in lots of ways, but they are neither ignorant nor irreverent as to the seriousness, the significance and the sanctity of marriage. That was clearly obvious throughout their wedding. The only hitch was the one that was fully intended to be tied in the presence of God and a whole mess of witnesses. Let no one ever seek to untie it.

Following the wedding, I should say, the reception was a marvelous celebration. Tim & Debbie sure do know how to throw a party, and everyone had a great time. The decorations were festive and tasteful. The food was excellent, topped off with wedding cheesecake for dessert. The D.J. did a nice job, and the playlist of songs that Bekah and Zach picked were good fun. I had the special treat of dancing with my Oly'anna for quite a few songs, and with my own bride for "Lost in This Moment." The newlyweds stayed and partied with us until after 11:00 p.m. before departing in a cloud of bubbles and driving off into the night for their honeymoon and a lifetime together. For the father of the groom, speaking for myself, it was a satisfying conclusion to a perfect day. I'm going to miss my son, now that he's out from under my roof and building a home and family of his own with his new bride. I'm wishing that we didn't live so far apart. But as I said in my toast on Friday night, I could not be more proud of my son, nor more pleased to have Rebekah as my daughter-in-law. As her Daddy put it, they do have a lot yet to learn about life, but they're going to learn it together. Cheers to that, and to the two of them, with all my love.

10 August 2008

They All Die

That was my son Ariksander's succinct, straightforward summary of what happens to those who rely upon chariots and horsemen. "They all die." Israel should have remembered that when the people asked for a king like all the nations around them. They should have remembered what the Lord their God, their true King, had done to Pharaoh with all his chariots and horsemen. "The horse and its rider, He has drowned in the depths of the sea." The battle belongs to the Lord, not to military might or technological advantage.

But no, when Samuel warned the people that a king would draft their sons into the military, to drive his chariots and run before them and to serve among his horsemen, the people craved precisely that. They wanted such a king, who would go out before them and fight their battles with impressive military prowess. They wanted to become like all the nations; despite the fact that Pharaoh and the Philistines and every other militarily superior nation in between had been swept away by the hand of the Lord, whenever Israel proceeded according to His Word.

What are the "chariots and horsemen" that we in our own day crave, in order to become like all the nations around us? What advantage do we suppose that we must have in order to prevail, apart from and other than the Word of the Lord? Shall the Israel of God, His holy Church, make disciples of all the nations by mimicking those nations and establishing kingdoms after their own kind? Or should we not rather be strong and courageous in the Word and promise of Christ, His own Anointed, who accomplishes His purposes, not by might, not by power, but by His Spirit?

It was not a horsemen but One who rode upon the foal of a donkey, and not a chariot of iron but a Cross of wood, that prevailed over all our enemies and won the decisive battle to end all battles.

The Lord gave the people of Israel the sort of king they asked for, but Saul was not a man after God's own heart. The kingdom and the future did not rest with him, but with a most unlikely other. David was a scrappy fighter, too, and he killed his ten-thousands to Saul's thousands, but he was always at his best when he proceeded in faith. Significantly, his first and most famous fight was won, not with Saul's manly armor or weaponry, but with the pastoral tools of his trade. He went out to meet Goliath "in the Name of Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of the armies of Israel," and He who had tamed the lion and the bear would again preserve the shepherd against the uncircumcised Philistine, as well.

Great David's greater Son has come, defeated all our enemies round about, and established His Kingdom of peace and rest for the sheep of His pasture. He calls and sends men after His own heart to shepherd His Israel, not with weapons of war, not with chariots and horses, but with the humble means of the pastoral office. Let us not be humbled or intimidated by the Pharaohs and Philistines of the world. They all die. But in the humility of repentance, let us go out with courage in the confidence of Christ, who by His death has conquered death forever.

09 August 2008

Sermon Synposis for Zach & Bekah

This great mystery is about Christ and His Church. It is, therefore, also about Zach and Bekah, who belong to Christ's Bride, the Church. This sign is also for them, His disciples.

Indeed, the two of you are His sign for all of us and all your neighbors.

The world shall neither recognize nor understand this sign; and so the world's "wisdom," counsel and advice for you shall be all wrongheaded. But no matter. Christ shall work His work in you, and He shall manifest His glory in your marriage.

You, for your part, do whatever He tells you.

Rebekah, submit to Zachary in faith. That is what it looks like for you to confess your faith and trust in Christ Jesus, who gives you to this man.

Zachary, love Rebekah in the way that Christ loves her and you and His whole Church. You know that means bearing the Cros and sacrificing yourself for her; not with heroic deeds of valor, but with your whole life, everyday, all the time. It means, in particular, adorning her with the grace, mercy and peace of forgiveness.

Faith and forgiveness. Those are the twin pillars and foundation of your love and marriage in Christ. Not just theoretical or idealistic, and not just for today or this coming week, but in the bump and grind of your everyday life in the world, in body, mind and spirit, till death parts you.

Delight in one another, physically and emotionally; for it is Christ who makes of you one flesh, as well as one heart, one mind and one life (in Him). His Word makes every difference; by it, He sanctifies your union. So delight in one another, not only on your honeymoon, but throughout your life together. For so does Christ delight in His Church, and His Church delights in Him; not only in the head or in the heart, but bodily, in the means of grace.

In that union of heart, mind and body, understand that children are a gift and blessing of the Lord; they are His creation and His good work (not yours). Recognize and receive whatever (and however many) children God may give you as both a sign and a part of the most genuine evangelism and Church Growth. Have babies, have them baptized, and teach them the Word of Christ.

Serve each other, and any children God may give you, with the Word of God. Make of your home a little chapel of the Church by drawing from the wellspring of the Church's life, by availing yourself of the means of grace.

Speak the Word of God to each other. Do it daily, as you here begin your life together with the Word of God and prayer. Zachary, it is your duty, in particular, to serve your wife in that way. It is the most important responsibility that you shall have as a husband, and the most important responsibility that you shall be given, in due time, as a father. Whether or not you ever become a pastor in Christ's Church, you are to be a bishop and a deacon of your household; and, with that, see to it that your family is brought regularly to Christ in His Church.

In this, as in all things, your marriage and your life toegether, your home and family, always point beyond the two of you to Christ and His Bride, the Church. That is true, not only for you and your family, but so also for your neighbors in the world, including those without spouse or children here on earth; not as though to rub it in their face, what they do not have, but to hold before them the promise that is also theirs: that Christ is their heavenly Bridegroom, and that His Church may be their family in Him, both now and forever.

You and your marriage are a sign of that great mystery, of Christ and His Bride, the Church. If you don't realize that, you won't comprehend what marriage is, nor will you understand anything else. It is for the sake of Christ and His Bride, the Church, that God the Lord created all things and established the estate of holy matrimony.

Thus, man (and a husband, in particular) is formed in the Image of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, the crucified One. And the woman is made for the man, and brought to him and given to him as a wife, in the image of Christ's Church. For He is the new and greater Adam, from whom His Church is given life, and to whom His Church is given.

It is in the sacred sleep of His sacrificial death upon the Cross that His Eve is taken from His side in the water and the blood; and she is given life by His Spirit in His Word of Holy Absolution.

It is by these means of grace that you belong to His Bride, His Church.

Everything has to do with that Hour of Cross, and nothing else matters apart from that.

Your own resources will run out and run dry. But don't let anyone tell you that it is because of your age or inexperience. It is rather because you are sinful creatures. You have been created by God, not to live by your own reason or strength, but to live by faith in your Creator. Thus, you depend on Him for life and health and every good. Sin has burdened and prevented that faith and life, so that everything is always dying. Even the prettiest girls grow old and get wrinkles. Even the strongest young men grow weary and faint. But Christ has rescued you from sin and death, from the curse and all its consequences.

Your own resources will run dry, but the Cross of Christ supplies all that you need: with and through the forgiveness of all your sins. Nineteen is not too young to know and trust that. Whatever is lacking, He fulfills. Whatever is amiss, He rectifies. Whatever is wrong, He forgives.

For the sake of His Cross, in His great love for you, He provides you with all good things. He feeds you and clothes you, shelters and protects you, and with that you may be content. But He is prone to lavish you with so much more, as He fed the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes, and there were twelve baskets full leftover; and as He made simple water into the best of wines.

With or without the temporal gifts and blessings of this life, you lack nothing, because you are His and He is yours forever. He cleaves to you, as He has made of you one flesh with Himself. That is for keeps, both now and forever. He will never leave you nor forsake you. No, never.

It is in His faithfulness and His forgiveness, free and full, that you live and love each other in faith and forgiveness.

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

07 August 2008

Hey, Nineteen!

My eldest son, Zachary, is getting married tomorrow evening. At nineteen apiece, he and his beautiful bride, Rebekah, are almost exactly the same age that LaRena and I were when we got married on June the 15th in 1985. We were young and in love and pretty green about life, the universe and everything. Of the two of us, there's no doubt that I was the greener, but we both had lots to learn along the way. By all sorts of standards, we were too young and not ready; though I am not sure what real "readiness" would ultimately look like. The sort of advice that many young people are getting these days, sometimes even from their parents, is patently false. By way of example, "shacking up" is a bad idea, because it is sinful and wrong, and because it is a huge strike against the foundations of a good marriage. The fact that ostensibly Christian parents have not only tolerated such perversity, but have in some cases been guilty of advocating it, is as close as anything I've ever seen to causing the little ones who believe in Jesus to stumble. Somebody tie a rock around that wickedness and drown it in the depths of the deepest sea. It is infinitely better and wiser to get married young and naive than to live together outside of marriage. It is, in fact, the difference between that which is righteous and holy, on the one hand (because it is sanctified by the Word of God), and that which is sinful and unclean on the other hand (because it is contrary to the Word of God).

There was an awful lot that LaRena and I didn't know, yet, when we got married. As far as that goes, we're still learning as we go along. There's wisdom that derives only from trial and error; and you can't short-cut that. A few more years would have given us greater knowledge, experience and maturity, but it is ever the case that even the best of plans and preparations may go awry. One should not rush into marriage unadvisedly or lightly. It must be taken seriously and entered into soberly and deliberately. This is where parents and pastors are such a significant factor; for they are the instruments through whom the Lord God speaks His Word and reveals His will (which is why they dare not contradict His holy Word). Praise God for His Third and Fourth Commandments. Apart from that guidance, to suppose that a few more years will make for a better marriage, may be a failure to take sin and mortality seriously. Waiting indeterminately until "the time is right" for marriage is flirting with temptation. Too often, what couples learn with a few more years of experience prior to marriage, are things better left unlearned.

Getting married young is no guarantee of a good marriage. Nor is it adequate to "live on love," though there is something refreshing about the optimism of young love, especially when it leads to marriage as opposed to reckless abandon. Whatever a couple of nineteen year olds lack in experience, they make up for in eagerness, energy and enthusiasm; not only for the honeymoon, but for life, the universe and everything. But the only real key to a successful marriage, which is necessarily to speak of a godly and Glod-pleasing marriage, irrespective of anything else, is a mutual commitment borne of faith and forgiveness from the Word of God.

Looking back, it was the Word of God that LaRena and I had going for us when we got married at nineteen. The odds were stacked against us, frankly, in all sorts of different ways that we were too naive even to realize. But even in our youthful ignorance, we were brought to marriage and united to each other by the Word of God. Our commitment to each other was rooted in our commitment to that Word of God; and that commitment, more importantly, grew out of the faith which the Lord worked in us with His forgiveness of all our sins. It has always been His commitment to us in Christ, and His faithfulness toward us in the Gospel of the Cross, that has strengthened and sustained us. We shall spend our whole lives on earth being catechized by Christ and His Cross, but even as a couple of starry-eyed teenagers, He had taught us to follow His Word in faith. It was precisely that, as much as anything, that prompted us to get married when we did. From the beginning, therefore, our marriage and our commitment to each other have gone together as an objective fact, an inviolate given, which we simply have no prerogative to undo or break, even if we wanted to. That solid fact has enabled us to weather the trials and tribulations of the past twenty-three years, as well as sailing along under the blue skies and sunshine of many great days and weeks, among which this one will surely rank pretty high.

Zach and Bekah are reminiscent of LaRena and me in the June of 1985. Nineteen and green in lots of ways they have yet to learn. But that is not the decisive fact. They, too, have taken their cues from the Word of God, and they are staking their claims upon it. They're going to have ups and downs, good days and bad, joys and sorrows, successes and failures, and all of that matters, but none of it matters nearly so much as their faith and life in Christ Jesus. I trust Him, and I know that Zach and Bekah do, too. They have both been well catechized by His Word, and they are more pious and faithful than I was at their age. They also love and honor their parents in an exemplary way, and there is nothing more significant in a young person's life than that. All of these things point to their reliance upon the Word of the Lord, which is a greater wisdom than the world will ever know. It will guide their footsteps in the way of truth, not only by the commandments of the Law, which are the good and acceptable will of God, but especially by the Gospel of Peace. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

02 August 2008

Not By Bread Alone

Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word the proceeds from the mouth of God.

Here, then, is the priority. Here is what you need: God's Word and the preaching of it.

Whatever your hunger, whatever your sickness, whatever your poverty, weakness or want, it is the Word of God in Christ that feeds you, heals you, and gives you life.

It is freely given to be freely received at no cost. You cannot work for it. You cannot earn it or buy it. Just listen. Hear and receive. Do not allow anything to stand in your way or detain you from hearing the Word.

It is by this Word that is preached to you that Jesus gives you life. You do not live otherwise. It is with divine compassion that He speaks to you and serves you in this way. Listen, and live.

It is the same Word of God in Christ that your neighbor also needs, in order that he may live. So, you, give him something to eat. What you have heard, speak. What you have received, share.

In your vocation as a child of God, baptized into Christ and fed with that living Bread from heaven, He has called you to love and serve your neighbor. In your particular vocations as spouse, parent, child, sibling, He has placed you in special relationship to particular neighbors, whom you are given to serve and care for with and according to His Word. Above and beyond all of their temporal bodily needs, what they need most is the Word of God.

You fathers, especially, care for your wife and children by speaking the Word of God to them, the Law and the Gospel, all centered in Christ Jesus. If you aren't serving your family with the Word of God, then, no matter how much money you make or have, no matter how well-fed and well-clothed your household may be, you're starving them to death and killing them forever.

For God's sake, give them something to eat. Do not suppose that the care and provision of their mortal flesh is of such concern as the life-giving Word of Christ.

That's not to say that you should neglect the duties and responsibilities of your office and stations in life. It is rather to point out that your number one duty and chief responsibility, within your own vocation, is to confess the Word of God (to say what God says) and to pray, praise and give thanks in Jesus' name.

And, along with that, fulfill all of the other duties and responsibilities of your office and station by faith in that Word of the Lord (in love).

Do not worry about what you will eat or drink, nor be anxious about clothing for your body. Your Father knows you need those things for the life that He has given you for the here and now on earth, and in love and compassion for you, He provides them. He feeds you, clothes you and heals you, for Jesus' sake. It is a small thing for Him to do so, in comparison to that which He does and gives in Christ Himself, who in compassion went to the Cross for you.

It is a matter of faith, not of sight. Do not look at what you have or can do. Do not be daunted by the task of providing for yourself and your family, and for your neighbor's needs, as well. Simply do what the Lord has given you to do, and trust that He will provide all that is needed.

But what if you go hungry? What if you are starving to death? What if you do find yourself out on the street with little or nothing to wear? What if you are sick and dying? What if?

Look not to yourself, but to Christ. And looking to Christ, look also to your neighbor in love, and do what you are given to do. If you spend yourself in love and die in the line of duty, what have you lost? Nothing. You shall still live. But if you turn away from Christ and your neighbor and seek to feed and clothe yourself, to make a life for yourself, then you shall die and lose everything.

It is the Lord, in His tender compassion, who feeds you and clothes you, and helps you and heals you.

But He has called you to a better life than this, and He has done so by the way and means of His own Cross. Let His Cross and His compassion for you there be your teacher and your hope in life and death.

What He did for the people then, and what He does for you so faithfully and well, it is all at His own expense, having denied Himself the same comfort and benefit with which He serves you. He has gone hungry and thirsty, that He might feed you and quench your thirst. He has gone homeless, that He might shelter you; naked, that He might clothe you. He has borne all your griefs and sorrows, all your sickness, suffering and death, that He might heal you and give you life forever.

You shall not live by bread alone, but by that Word of God in Christ, the Word-made-Flesh, who speaks to you in love and gives Himself to you as Bread for both your body and soul. He is the Rock who has opened Himself up to pour out water and blood to quench your thirst and cleanse your spirit and give you life, even in the desert.

He does it now, as then, by the hand of His disciples, but He is the One who acts, who speaks: He takes the bread, He blesses and breaks, and He gives it to you: Take, eat, be satisifed, and live.

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