Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Vigil Sermon

By David H. Petersen

[Ed. Note: This sermon is from the Rev. David Petersen's book of sermons for Lent and Easter entitled Thy Kingdom Come.  You will find a Thursday in Passion Week sermon from this collection preached by Fr. Petersen in your current print issue of Gottesdienst.  Thy Kingdom Come is a must-have for daily Lenten devotions, and it continues with weekly sermons up through Pentecost.  So even if you order it now, you will find it edifying as timely devotional reading for weeks to come.  It is my privilege as an editor of GO and as sermons editor of the print journal to present it here on this glorious Holy Saturday.  +LB.]


St. Matthew 28:1-7

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

"Behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it."

The ESV obfuscates the causality of this earthquake; that is, as read from the ESV it may not be immediately clear what causes this earthquake, and I would have you know the cause.  The angel is the cause.  He does it.  The word here translated "for" means "because," as in, "I did it for a good reason."  The earth quaked for an angel of the Lord descended.  He caused it.  But this earthquake was only a show.  It did not shake the stone loose.  It is after the quake that the angel rolls the stone away.  Then he sits on it.

I would like to know this angel's name.  I like him.  This angel is a bit of a showman and a jokester, but certainly, above all, he is a high church angel.  His vestments are like lightning and white as snow.  He is a showy, ostentatious, dramatic angel, unfit for low, cerebral celebrations of the strictly Protestant kind, but quite fitting for Easter in a catholic-minded place.

I think I know the answers, but I want to ask him, "Why the quake?  Why the showy clothes?  Why must you live out the songs that you wrote?"

My favorite part is when he sits on the stone.  He is not tired.  He, while looking like lightning, with clothing as white as snow, having just shook the ground for no good reason except to be a spectacle, now sits on the stone.  He sits there to mock it.  It is a puny stone, incapable of keeping Jesus in the grave, so he sits on it, as though to show both how insignificant it is and to keep it in its place.

And then look at how he ignores the temple guards.  They are afraid.  They tremble like the ground.  But he ignores them.  That is the force of the adversative conjunction which you non-English majors know as the word "but."  "But" introduces a contrast dependent upon that which precedes it.  "But the angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid."

Who knew that they were afraid?  St. Matthew doesn't say that the women were afraid.  He says the guards were afraid.  The guards were afraid, BUT the angel doesn't say anything to them.  Instead he says to the women, "Do not be afraid."  The guards, it seems, should be afraid, and they should be glad he doesn't sit on them.

"Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy," sings the Psalmist (Ps. 126:5).  But first he sings this:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
   we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
   and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the [Gentiles],
   "The Lord has done great things for them."
The Lord has done great things for us;
   we are glad.  (Ps 126:1-3)

Our sowing is complete.  Jesus lives.  Let us reap in joy, our mouths filled with laughter, as the angel sits upon that stupid, weak, and lying stone.

This Jesus, who was crucified, who went as weak as a kitten to the cross, has sapped the devil of all his strength.  The trickster has been tricked.  He ate the fruit that hung from the tree on Calvary, tempted and beguiled like Eve in the garden.  He ate and now his belly bursts.  His jaws are seared shut.  He can take no more.  He is done, finished, over.  He has no accusations left.  He hurled every last one of them at the Christ, and the Christ has answered for all of them, and there are none left for us or for anyone.  Jesus died to take them away.

Did Satan then think that a rock or a guard could keep Jesus dead?  The angels laugh at such a thought.  Can a thimble hold the ocean?  Can a dolphin swim to the moon?  They hold Satan in derision.  God is good.  He gets His way.  He won't be stolen from.  He takes back what is His.  He takes Eve, Gomer, us back out of slavery and prostitution and error.  He has bought and paid for us and the devil has no claim.  He got what he wanted.  He took a bite out of God.  He bruised His heel.  He spent all the fury of hell on Him and killed Him, put Him to death.  But Jesus crushed his head.  The devil has nothing left.  He cannot speak. He cannot lie anymore.  Jesus died, but Jesus lives.

The angel sits on the stone, looking like lightning, clothes as white as snow, laughing at the devil.  The grave is open.  It won't hold Jesus.  It won't hold your loved ones who have departed with the sign of faith.  It won't hold you.  Those who sow in tears, reap with joy.

Yes, I would like to know this angel's name.  One day, God be praised, one day I will.

In + Jesus' name.  Amen.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Maundy Thursday Visual

This is what communion looked like in Lutheran Churches in Bavaria in 1608. All the images of communion from the 16th-18th centuries included in the monograph I wrote about last week show the same method of distribution: the celebrant distributes the Body at one location to one kneeling communicant, who then moves to a second location to receive the Blood from the deacon. There are two single file lines for communicants, one at each location.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The God of Love is the God Who Comes Down: Thoughts on Holy (Maundy) Thursday

The God of Israel came down from heaven in a cloud on Mount Sinai, and He ate and drank, He feasted with Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders. He hosts them. He serves them. He gives, they receive. He is a God of love.

This same God then came down from heaven in human flesh, as a man, Jesus Christ, our Lord, and He ate and drank, He feasted with Peter, James, and John and the other disciples. He hosts them. He serves them. He gives; they receive. He is a God of love.

This same Jesus then came down from the seat of honor at supper, and setting aside His garments, He stoops down, kneels down to foot level to wash His disciples' feet. He takes the position of a slave, a servant. He gives; they receive. He is a God of love.

But Peter protests. But why? Because the washing of the feet is the slaves' task, the servant's duty to his master. And so Peter recognizes that the Lord of heaven and earth, the creator of everything, should not take the position of the slave, the form of a servant. It is beneath him. God is not to serve, but be served. And yet, neither Peter nor any of the disciples had stooped down to wash Jesus' feet. It had not occurred to any of them to take the form of a servant, to take up the task of a slave and serve their Lord and Teacher, Jesus, the God of Israel in the flesh. He is condemned by His own thinking, by his own unloving attitude toward Jesus, the way we feel when someone gets us a present for Christmas or our Birthday, and we didn't think enough of them to get them something.

But more than that, Peter didn't yet see who Jesus really was and what Jesus was really about. In fact, Peter didn't really see who the God Israel really was and what the God is Israel was really about. For the God of Israel is a God of love. He comes down, He stoops down to host, to serve, to give. Thus Jesus says, if I don't wash you, Peter, you have no share in me. That is, if I don't come down, if I don't stoop down, if I don't take the form of a servant, you have no share in me. For unless, I stoop down, you will not be raised up. Unless I empty myself, you will not be filled. Unless I give of myself, you will not receive me. I give; you receive. I am a God of love.

How low would He go? How far would Jesus stoop down? He would go all the way to the cross, all the way to His death, all the way to the grave. He would love them to the end, until it is finished. This is the God you have--a God who comes down, a God who empties Himself in order to fill you, a God who sets aside His power and might, His right as God to be served, and takes up the form of a servant. God serves you. He gives; you receive. For He is a God of love.

This is what love is, and this is what love does. Love empties itself, gives of itself, for the sake of the beloved. It seeks not its own good, but the good of the one loved. It gives everything and takes nothing. It looks not for reward, for love is not selfish. Love is selfless. Love always gives. Love never fails. Love never ends. And Jesus loved them, and you, to the end.

And like Peter, we protest. For it is difficult to receive because in receiving we are vulnerable. It is difficult to be loved, because in being loved, we are shown how much we don't love. We don't love God as we ought for we don't love one another as God has loved us. We don't stoop down. We don't take the form of a servant, the position of a slave toward one another. We don't subordinate ourselves one to another out of reverence for Christ. We don't put others first and ourselves last.

We instead insist on our own way. Husbands to their wives. Wives to their husbands. Parents to the children. And children to the parents. We don't submit, we don't obey, we don't serve, we don't love. When was the last time you said, in all honesty and humility, I'm sorry to your husband or wife, your mother or father, you son or daughter, your boss, co-worker, employee? When was the last time you put best construction on something they did assuming that they did it not to upset you but out of habit or in haste? If you loved, you would. For love covers a multitude of sins.

And that is why this same Jesus comes down from the seat of honor at the right hand of the throne of God, and gives of His body and blood in bread and wine. He eats and drinks, He feasts with you, with the whole church, with angels and archangels, with the whole company of heaven. He hosts you. He serves you. He gives; you receive. He empties Himself in the chalice, so that you are filled up with Him  by drinking from it. He takes away your sin, and gives to you His righteousness. For He is a God of love. And He loves to the end. And He fills you with His love. For what you eat and drink is love itself, love in the flesh, taking up residence now in you.

A Riff on Ephraim: Thoughts on Good Friday

Here's a riff on Ephraim the Syrian's sermon devoted to the Holy Cross. 

St. Paul said: “I have determined to know nothing among you but Christ and Him crucified.” The Church’s sermon is Christ and Him crucified. We preach Christ crucified. And though He is no longer hanging on the cross, though He no longer suffers, though He is no longer dead but lives, He is and will always remain Jesus Christ, the crucified one. For though He is risen from the dead, he bears in His body the wounds of His crucifixion. He always has the marks of the nails, the thorns, and the spear. He always bears the scars of our salvation from sin, death, and hell. And so that is what the Church preaches. For the cross is what gives the church its life. Because the cross is what takes away our sin. The cross is what conquers death and hell. It is what stops the accusations of the devil, and what opens the grave and the tomb, both His and ours.

The Cross is the resurrection of the dead. The Cross is the hope of Christians. The Cross is the staff for the lame, comfort for the poor, the deposing of the proud, and the hope of those who despair. The Cross is haven for those beset with the storms of this life. The Cross is comfort for those who mourn, light for those sitting in darkness, freedom for slaves, and wisdom for the ignorant. The Cross is the chastity of both the single and the married, the nourishment for both the young and the old.

The Cross is the foundation of the Church. It is the preaching of prophets, and the good news of apostles. The Cross is the destruction of idolatrous temples, the constant temptation for fallen hearts and minds. The Cross is the cleansing of the lepers, and the rehabilitation of the enfeebled. The Cross is bread for the hungry, a fountain for the thirsty, and clothing for the naked. The Cross is the good hope and joy of all who have sinned and believe.

And by the cross, Christ the Lord has shut the all-consuming bowels of death and hell and blocked the many snares in the mouth of the devil. Having seen the Cross, death trembled and released everyone it possessed. Armed with the Cross, the God-bearing apostles subdued all the power of the enemy and caught all peoples in their dragnets, and the fishers of men gathered them for the worship of the One who is Crucified but risen. And clothed in the Cross as in armor, Christians now trample underfoot all the plans of the evil one. For the cross is the victorious armor of the heavenly King.

Let us, therefore, hold fast to the life-giving Cross given to us in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion and placed upon our foreheads, and before our eyes, in our mouths and over our hearts. Let us ever be armed with the invincible armor of Christians, with this hope of the faithful, with this gentle light. Let us open paradise with this instrument of death now become the tree of life. Neither in one hour, nor in one instant, let us not forget the Cross, nor let us begin to do anything without it. But let us sleep, let us arise, let us work, let us eat, let us drink, let us go on our way, let us adorn all our members with the life-giving Cross. And let us not be frightened ‘by the terror of the night, nor by the arrow that flies by day, nor by anything roaming in darkness, nor by any calamity, nor any demon’ (Ps. 90:5, 6). For by the cross of Christ, you have the victory over sin, death, hell, and the devil. And in the cross of Christ, you have the power of God and the wisdom of God. You have the forgiveness of sin. You have eternal life.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sex and the Catechism

by Larry Beane

In our recent discussions regarding CPH and its copyright on the now-standard 1986 synodical translation of Luther's Small Catechism, one of the arguments in favor of retaining the current status quo of CPH retaining intellectual property rights and copyright protection is to prevent alteration.

I wonder if I violated the copyright provision by doing just that.

Years ago, I would lead the children at a Lutheran school (note: this exceeds the congregational use in CPH's disclaimer) in reciting the catechism using the CPH 1986 translation in the morning assembly.  I decided to change the translation of the sixth commandment to get rid of the word "sexually."  It just struck me as unnecessary (and to be blunt, disturbing) to have the children - including pre-kindergarten little ones - use the word "sexually" in their recitation - especially to the distracting giggles of the older kids.  I would have preferred the older wording of "chaste" - which is, I think, a better translation from the original languages than "sexually pure" - an opinion expressed by the late Rev. Prof. Kurt Marquart.  But rather than add words, I simply omitted the word "sexually" from our group recitation, opting for just a "pure and decent life."

Did I break copyright law?  Is this something CPH seeks to avoid?  Does unity take precedence over modesty and propriety for young children?  Would it have been acceptable to use the older "chaste" wording for the sixth commandment while retaining the rest of the translation?  Or is that the kind of alteration that would be unacceptable to CPH?

Maybe we could have some guidance about what we are permitted and not permitted to do under this arrangement.  I certainly see a great advantage to a common lexicon of catechesis, but by the same token, I also see a great advantage to using our own translations or older translations in the public domain in the absence of an "open source" approach to the text of the Small Catechism.

Easter Changes Everything: Thoughts on Easter Day

Easter is a moveable feast. Easter isn't on the same calendar date every year in the way that Christmas is always celebrated on December 25. The date for Easter each year always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox (March 21). And once you find the date of Easter, everything else finds its place. Once you know the date for Easter, you the know the date for Good Friday and Maundy Thursday, you know the date for Ash Wednesday and the Transfiguration, you know the date for the Ascension of our Lord and Pentecost.

All this is a long way of saying that Easter determines everything. Easter defines everything. It orders not only the entire church year, when this feast or that is to be celebrated, but it orders our very lives. It defines and gives meaning to our lives, as well to the things that happen in our lives. For since Easter defines everything, that means it changes everything too. It redefines who we are and where we stand with God and with one another.

Easter changes everything. For without Easter, death would still reign, we would still be in our trespasses and sins, and our faith and hope would be in vain. For without Easter, Jesus is not raised from the dead. But Jesus is raised from the dead. Therefore, darkness is overcome with light. Wrath with peace. Fear with hope. Angst with rest. Sadness with joy. Hatred with love. Sin with righteousness. And death with life. Easter changes everything, redefines everything, determines everything.

And yet, why is it the case that it doesn't always seem that way? Why do our loved ones still die? Why do we still sin? Why are we still afraid of our future and tormented by our past? Why are we still filled with angst and sadness?

It is because we, like the women who go to the tomb searching for Jesus, are looking in the wrong place. And so the angel says to the women at the tomb: "You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. . . . Why do you seek the living among the dead?" It is as if the angel said: "You are searching for the right thing, but you are looking in the wrong place." "Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise. And they remembered his words."

Our problem is that in our search for the right things, we look in the wrong place. We ask the wrong questions, and therefore, we get the wrong answers. We look to our works, our experience, our feelings, our history as the keys that hold the answers to our future. But the answers to our deepest questions are not to be found in us. This is the wrong place, perhaps even the wrong questions.

The answers are to be found in the Lord's Words. Remember how he told you. Remember what he said and how he promised. This is what is sure and certain and true. Only in light of the Lord's Word do we find the right answer. And what does the Lord say? "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die."Those who trust in the Jesus, who cling to His Word and His Work, have the answers. He is the resurrection and the life. Though he was crucified and died, yet does He live. And everything He said is now seen in light of that, in light of the fact that He is raised from the dead. Easter changes everything, defines everything, determines everything.

And so it is that the Temple that was torn down has been rebuilt in three days. The sign of Jonah has been given. The bright Morning Star, with healing in His wings, has risen on high. He, who was crucified for our transgressions, has been raised for our justification. The Father has accepted the sacrifice. Heaven and earth are reconciled, God is at peace with mankind. It has been declared publicly that we are redeemed, reconciled, pure, innocent and perfect in Christ. The words spoken in death ring out with life, “It is finished.” Indeed, it is finished! Easter changes everything because Christ is raised from the dead.

The mouth of death, that is, the tomb, is empty. It’s been silenced and there is now no one left to accuse you. The First-born from the dead has come forth. The pledge and promise of your own resurrection has been given. The chains of sin and the bonds of death are broken and you are set free. The devil is your slave master no more, for he has met his own Master. The stronger man has come and overpowered him. Freedom, peace, and life are here. Easter changes everything because Christ is raised from the dead.  

On the cross Jesus was clothed with your sins, wrapped with your wickedness, but those grave clothes are left in the tomb, your sin is buried and remains in the tomb. All of God’s anger is spent on Jesus. There is now no more for you: No more wrath, no more destruction, no more threats, no more punishments, no more condemnation. All of that is spent on Jesus. All of it, gone. Easter changes everything because Christ is raised from the dead. 

Christ is raised from the dead. Death is dead, and your sin is no more, as far from you as the East is from the West.  And today, the Son of man who is crucified but risen, is delivered into the hands of sinful men, and not just into their hands, but also into their ears and their mouths. Remember what He told you. Take eat; take drink, My Body and Blood to take away your sins, to give you eternal life and everlasting salvation. What is true of Him is true also of you. For He is in you and you in Him.  He is the resurrection and the life. Christ is raised from the dead. And so also shall you. For Easter changes everything, determines everything, defines everything. Easter changes and defines you. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why Attend Divine Service?

Every pastor has heard people say: "You don't have to go to church to be a Christian" and "I just don't get anything out of it."  While it is true that the Divine Service is primarily about "what we get out of it," i.e. the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation from our blessed Lord Himself, there is also another facet to the Christian's attendance at public worship.

The Rev. Mark Surburg muses on some passages of Scripture and the Didascalia in this thoughtful piece on Supporting the Body of Christ through attendance at the Divine Service.

Fr. Surburg's blog is theological and pastoral reflection at its very finest!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Not the Same Crowd!

There's been a discussion in recent days about whether the crowd who cried "hosanna" is the same as the crowd who cried for crucifixion.  We discussed it at the Pastors' Roundtable on  Issues, Etc. last Thursday, and it came up on facebook in recent days too.

Here's why I've been insisting the two crowds are not the same, but rather that what we are seeing is a clash of two groups.

First, it's hardly credible to see a large crowd, essentially children, rejoicing with hosannas on Sunday, and then within just a few days, derisiviely calling for crucifixion on Friday. That would mean they were hypnotized, or on cocaine, which is hardly possible.

Second, if everyone suddenly wanted him crucified, then why would they have to arrest him by stealth, at night, and hold a monkey trial?

Third, again, if it's the same crowd, does this mean the weeping "daughters of Jerusalem" were only a few stragglers?

Fourth, the Gospels--especially St. Mark, it seems to me--show a rising tide of animosity of Jesus' enemies against him while at the same time showing great crowds seeking him.   This would naturally reach its pinnacle during Holy Week, and there's no reason to suppose that suddenly the second group morphed into the first.

Fifth, in the Lucan version, the the evangelist and even the Phariseees specifically call those crying hosanna Jesus' disciples.

Sixth, the Matthean version refers to the crowd as "children crying in the temple," and Jesus referring to this as a fulfillment of Psalm 8: "Out of the mouths of babes . . ."  So to have the two crowds be the same, one would have to say that the crowd crying for crucifixion was also essentially children.

You might think it a nice homiletical device to say we are so fickle that we are like this, crying hosanna one minute and rejecting Jesus the next.  But it's less than helpful, in my opinion.  People should not be called to repentance for calling out "crucify him" if that's not what they actually did.  Although we are responsible for his death in that without our sin, he would not have had to die; on the other hand, we, his people, are not among the "brood of vipers," allies of the serpent of old, who actively sought his destruction.  This distinction is important.

So in short, the answer is No, the Palm Sunday "hosanna" crowd and the Good Friday "crucifry" crowd are not the same one.

Friday, March 22, 2013

David's Dance and the Triumphal Entry

Here's something that might help anyone preparing for Palm Sunday.

I ran across a marvelous piece from St. Methodius (d. 311) the other day as I was perusing NPNF, on the Procession of Palms.  In it he mentions several ways in which Palm Sunday fulfills prophecy; and there's one in particular that I found especially helpful.  Methodius sees in the dance of David before the ark of the LORD a prefiguring of the little children spreading their palm branches in jubilation before Jesus as he enters Jerusalem.  The writer mentions it only briefly, as is the case with many of the Fathers, but it certainly got me thinking.

His reference is helpful on at least two levels.  First, it shows yet again how all the Scriptures are fulfilled in Jesus; they are all to be seen Christologically (read St. Luke 24 again if you don't believe me), and in addition, it provides an answer to people who have falsely seen in David's dance a Biblical warrant for liturgical dance, or for the use of rock music etc. in church.  Of course one can easily say (as I have often said) that David was not dancing in the synagogue or in the Temple, so, no, one can't translate David's dance into a case for contemporary worship.  But now I see in David's dance something else, namely blueprint not for CoWo, but for the Triumphal Entry of Palm Sunday.  David dances before the ark in procession; the children celebrate before the Christ in procession.  David exults before the presence of God; the children rejoice before Jesus.  David's dance is with all his might; the children spread even their garments in the way.  Search the Scriptures.  They testify of Christ.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Worth a 1000 words

When it comes to teaching my Bible class crowd about Lutheran worship, why we do what we do, instilling in them a love for reverence, etc., I have found two tools to be of great worth. The first is LSB's marginal Scripture references for each line in the services. Of course you can do the same Bible Study with TLH or LW, but for some reason the people react better to the study when they see that the hymnal has, as it were, provided its own footnotes.

But even better than this, in terms of teaching the people, has been the use of historic artwork. Here is an amazing website that will let you zoom in on the Ghent Altarpiece with incredible detail and produce handouts or slides. My Midwestern, died in the wool Lutherans absolutely ate this up when combined with a look at Revelation 4-7.

I'm planning to study Holbein's The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb on Sunday. Read this from the Tate Museum for some more depth on the piece (that's for your background: don't read this out loud to Grandma Schickelgrueber!).

But my favorite art history series for Bible Class is Historische Bilder zum Evangelisch-Lutherischen Gottesdienst by Helmut Schatz. We all owe Fr. Kurt Hering and the saints of God at Trinity in Layton, UT for putting this up online. It's simply amazing. If your German is not very good, don't forget that you can just pop a paragraph of text into Google Translate and probably muddle through just fine. But again, it's not so much the text as the pictures.

You can read Ap. XXIV.1 to your people all day long and perhaps not get a very good response to the changes you would like to make to the Divine Service to increase reverence. But show them what Lutheran worship actually looked like in the 15th and 16th centuries and it seems to sink in. "Wow, this is what Lutherans did!"


A depiction of the first Lutheran Divine Service in Brandenburg, 1539

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How brothers should treat one another

Below we discussed the unfortunate words of President Meyer and his subsequent retraction. Now I will show you a more excellent way.


Monday, March 18, 2013

The Passover Lamb is Chosen and Bound: Thoughts on Palm Sunday

The Passover was instituted by the Lord as a remembrance meal, that is, to re-present the miraculous deliverance He gave to His people, Israel, in leading them out of the bondage to Pharaoh and the idolatrous gods of Egypt so that He could serve them. Every year, on the 15th of the first month of the year, the Israelite families had to slaughter and consume an unspotted Passover lamb.

But there were other ceremonies, too. Among these was the Lord's command to choose and separate from the flock the lamb to be sacrificed. On the 10th of the first month of the year, the unblemished lamb was chosen and kept until the fourteenth day of the month. And when evening came on the fourteenth, it was slaughtered, roasted, and eaten.

Along side of this, the rabbis record that the chosen Passover lamb was to be tied up on the 10th, after it had been chosen, and remain bound before the eyes of all the Israelites for the full four days until it was slaughtered.

John the Baptist tells us who our Passover Lamb is. Pointing to Christ our Lord, he says, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." Jesus is our unblemished, Passover Lamb. He fulfills in His Passion the entire Passover Feast. He is slaughtered and roasted in the Father's wrath against sin on the cross. None of his bones are broken. And His shed blood, when applied, is a sign of life so that the Angel of Death passes by.

And today, five days before the thorns, the nails, and the spear, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, according to the Lord's command, is separated from the flock, placed on a donkey, and paraded into Jerusalem through the Sheep's Gate with the acclamation: "Hosanna," that is, "Save us, now, O Lord." And He would. He

For when He entered the city, Jesus our Passover Lamb of God, is bound and set on display before all the people for the next four days. He is first bound in the Garden of Gethsemane, after having been betrayed with a kiss. He remains bound then in the house of Ananias and that of Caiaphas, and then before Pilate, the governor of Judea. All this that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (The preceding paragraphs adapted from Gerhard, Postilla, Vol. 1, 284-285.)

And why does Jesus our Passover Lamb of God do this? For the same reason, that the first Passover was observed: To save us from our slavery and idolatry.

But we have never been slaves. We are free. And we have always worshipped the true God, the holy Trinity.

Jesus says, "Whoever sins is a slave to sin." And the apostle James, does he not say, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it"? For when you break any commandment, you break all of the commandments. So you have broken the first commandment: You shall have no other Gods. Which means you have another God. You are an idolater. You have feared, loved, and trusted in something other than one, true God, the Holy Trinity. Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

And such were some of you. You have not kept all the commandments, perfectly, all the time and in ever circumstance. Repent. And "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry."

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. For the Passover Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, though He died, yet does He live. He was roasted in the Father's wrath on the cross. He shed His blood to make you clean, to forgive your sin, to mark you for life and save from death. What we could not fulfill according to the Lord's command. Jesus has fulfilled in accordance with the Lord's command.

You are delivered from bondage to sin and death and idolatry. For Jesus is the Passover Lamb.

And having been set apart, bound and put on display before all the people; having been slaughtered and roasted on the cross, He gives you His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. This is in remembrance of Him, to re-present, to give to you now what He won for you then: the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. Come and save us Lord. He is come, bearing salvation in His body and His blood. Take eat, take drink: The Passover Lamb of God given for you.

Troublesome clergy

The Reverend Doctor Dale Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary - St. Louis, shares some thoughts about how very problematic we clergy are.

UPDATE: Dr. Meyer's apology.

It was good of Doctor Meyer to rethink and repent.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Best Woodcut Portrait EVER

Beware, Lutheran! Caspar Hedio sees you sneaking up on him and he is itching for a fight.

Portrait of Caspar Hedio (Zwinglian preacher at Strasbourg), by Hans Baldung Grien, 1543. 
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Lutherans in Finland

The rebirth of confessional, catholic, orthodox Lutheranism continues in the North. The Harrison administration has been very hands on with the ILC and these emerging and reforming bodies. I'll be eager to see what they have to say about this group. For example - where do they stand on women's ordination? Which confessions do they subscribe to, etc?

HT: Prof. Tighe

Finnish Confessional Lutherans Organize a Free-standing DioceseTwenty-two congregations of Luther Foundation Finland (Luther-Säätiö) have joined with three independent Confessional congregations to form a new, free-standing church body. The organizing convention for the new Evangelical-Lutheran Mission Diocese in Finland was held March 16 in Lahtis, Finland. Retired Dean Risto Soramies was elected to serve as the first bishop. Soramies will be consecrated May 4 in Helsinki by Auxiliary Bishop Matti Väisänen of the Mission Province in Sweden and Finland.
Discussions and preparations for the re-organization have been under way for the past year. The development reflects the rapid growth of confessional congregations in Finland and the desirability of having the new diocese organized within Finland. Bishop Väisänen asked to retire this spring, and will step down after consecrating Bishop-elect Soramies.
The newly elected bishop has spent most of the past 40 years outside Finland, working with Muslim immigrants in Germany and in Lutheran churches in Istanbul. He is considered among the leading experts in Finland on Muslim theology and outreach to Muslims.
Eight of Luther Foundation Finland’s pastors were ordained in Sweden in the Mission Province. Since Bishop Väisänen was consecrated in 2010, he has ordained twelve more men.
Website of the new diocese:(Finnish language) language) photo of bishop-elect Risto Soramies Christopher C. Barnekov, PhDScandinavia House Fort Wayne1925 Saint Joe Center RDFort Wayne, IN  46825

Saturday, March 16, 2013

CPH, Copyright, the Catechism, and the Church

[Note: the following was written by the Rev. Peter C. Bender  as a comment to "Difficulties of the LCMS Visited on LSB and CPH" in the ensuing discussion about CPH's copyright and its policies regarding the 1986 translation of the Small Catechism.  Fr. Bender is pastor of Peace Lutheran Church in Sussex, Wisconsin and founder of the Concordia Catechetical Academy.  His response is reproduced here without editorial comment. - Ed.]

The official 1986 translation of Luther's Small Catechism by the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod ought to be public domain for all of our congregations to use without royalty fees being paid to CPH. That is my opinion. 

One of Luther's major concerns was that we, as congregations and pastors, adopt one form of the Small Catechism and stick with it year in and year out for the sake of teaching the faith and building a common language. It is destructive to synodical harmony when each congregation has its own translation or each entity of the synod has its own translation because the royalty fees of CPH are punitive. 

The Concordia Catechetical Academy of Peace Lutheran Church (an official auxiliary of our congregation) was formed to promote Luther's Small Catechism and faithful Lutheran Catechesis to the Church at large. While one could argue that the CCA produces catechetical materials "commercially" our use of the Small Catechism is NOT for profit. CPH was instituted to be of support to the congregations and pastors of the synod in preaching the Gospel and teaching the faith, but as everyone at CPH knows, it does cost money to produce materials. The "modest fee" that we are charged for use of the Small Catechism is 10% of the retail cost of whatever volume the Small Catechism appears in. Our catechumen edition retails for $18, so our fee per volume to CPH is $1.80. Our Catechist Edition (which has exactly the same amount of copyrighted material in it as the catechumen edition) retails for $40 per volume, so our fee per volume is $4.00. Since the copyrighted material in both volumes is the same, this means that Concordia Publishing House is "profiting" off of what I have written in the Catechist edition to the tune of $2.10. I would prefer not to be lectured about our "commercial use" of the Catechism. 

We are a congregation of the Synod. We produce catechetical materials to help the church. We give away catechetical materials to foreign Lutheran Church bodies and missions. We are not in this to "make money" commercially. We have been told that charging for use of our translation of the catechism is just the way business is done in the publishing business, yet it is only Concordia Publishing House that treats us this way. 
We have made use of the New King James Version in all of our materials since 1997. Thomas Nelson Publishers charges us nothing for the use of their translation as long as we follow their copyright guidelines, which we are more than happy to do. Thomas Nelson Publishers recognizes that such generous copyright permissions ONLY ENHANCES THE PURCHASE OF NKJV Bibles and materials. The same would be true for CPH when it comes to the Small Catechism and the liturgy and prayers in LSB. 

We, the Concordia Catechetical Academy, encourages our clients to purchase such things as Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, The Treasury of Daily Prayer, and the "Blue hardcover Catechism" from CPH (which contains the synodical explanation to the Small Catechism), and many other fine resources that CPH produces. 

There was a time, when the CCA first started its work, that we were not altogether certain that CPH would be producing the kind of fine confessional materials we have seen over the last ten to fifteen years. I am very grateful for the work that CPH has done in recent times. But the CCA is no threat to CPH, in fact, what we do only serves to support the confessional materials they publish.

The Small Catechism, Book of Concord, Liturgy and Prayers of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod belong to all of us. These works are very different from original works by authors where copyright protection and royalties are appropriate. But when it comes to the Catechism, the Lutheran Confessions, and the Liturgy it is my prayer that we would stop charging each other royalties for their use. We would all benefit. But most of all, the capacity to preach and teach the Gospel would be enhanced.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Been using Google Reader to access Gottesdienst Online?

I was sad to see Google's announcement that Google Reader will be going offline in July. I have found it a very convenient way to keep up with various blogs and I know that many of our readers use it to access GO. I am trying out a third party application that promises to provide the same service: Feedly. It's available for all the major browsers.


Poetry - again

The Writer’s Almanac provides a nice poem about simple join today (March 14, 2013).

by Wendell Berry

It's the immemorial feelings
I like the best: hunger, thirst,
their satisfaction; work-weariness,
earned rest; the falling again
from loneliness to love;
the green growth the mind takes
from the pastures in March;
The gayety in the stride
of a good team of Belgian mares
that seems to shudder from me
through all my ancestry.

"Goods" by Wendell Berry, from New Collected Poems. © Counterpoint Press, 2012

The Writer’s Almanac provides a nice poem about simple join today (March 14, 2013).

Berry’s poem feels like a grandfather’s address to his grandson. “Hunger is the best sauce,” he says. “There is nothing like lemonade under a shade tree when you’ve been really working for a few hours.” He extols the real satisfaction that comes from real need. We need this poem because our culture extols entertainment. Lemonade doesn’t thrill us because we are not thirsty, we’re bored.

He then moves to more subtle needs, the satisfaction of companionship, the satisfaction that comes from the yearly renewal of the earth in Spring, and the pleasure he takes in the beauty of horses.

Is Berry riffing on Psalm 147? He might be. The Psalm also extols the gifts of creation, including food and Spring. It then has these famous verses speaking of the Lord’s pleasure:

Psalm 147:10–11 (ESV)
      10        His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
      11        but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

I don’t think, however, that Berry’s sentiments are contrary to the Psalm. The point of these verses is that the Lord delights not in physical beauty or strength but in faith. Yet there is something beautiful and pleasant in the athleticism of Belgian mares and Olympic runners. It is not as though the Psalmist says, “The Lord’s delight is not in bowel movements.” Of course it isn’t. The point is that the Lord’s delight is not in what men, in their conceit, find delightful and even what is objectively good, but in those who believe in Him. In fact, the Lord does delight in the strength of the horse, some, even as He delights in the beauty of all His creatures, just not as much as He delights in faith. The Psalms are poetry and the statement here that the Lord does not delight in the strength of the horse is not literal. It is set up parallel to what the Lord does delight in as a comparison. What this means is that the delight the Lord takes in faith is so great, that it is as though there is no other delight, even in a horse.

Here is what the Psalmist wants to get to:

Ps 147:2-3 (ESV)
      2       The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
      3       He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Thinking in terms of Berry's poem, we might say something like, "In all the delights of creation, I like the simple and solid things best. There is nothing on earth like solid food when you're hungry, cold water when you're truly thirsty, and rest when you're tired. But those things, as good and satisfying as they are, pale in the satisfaction that comes from the Absolution. If hunger is the best sauce for food, repentance is the best sauce for faith. Nothing satisfies the bone-weary sinner like the good news of the Father's acceptance in Christ." 

Poetry can often help us with preaching. This Berry poem certainly got me thinking. The Writer’s Almanac is wonderful and free resource. Sign up and they will send you a poem a day by e-mail. My advice with poetry is to not try too hard. When the  poems arrive, read them out loud. If your mind wanders and it bores you, finish it and drop it. Don’t try to understand or love every poem. Just let the poem wash over you each day. Once in a while, something will catch your ear and get you thinking.

The Writer’s Almanac also provides literary history for each day. Once in a while, I find that stuff even better than the poems. But if you don’t want to take the 5 minutes to read that, just read the poems. And please, read them out loud.

There's still time . . .

to get your copy before the Passiontide & Easter Issue is out of the barn. Subscribe HERE.

Here's a sneak peek at what's in the issue.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wasn't this covered in I John 2:23?

One of the things that continually shocks me about the contemporary Roman Church is the complete loss of bearings regarding the Jews. Take the Bible passage quoted above and toss in a little Talmud, say Sanhedrin 43a. and 107, and the conclusion are not hard to come by, among them: the sons of Abraham according to the flesh who reject our Lord Jesus Christ are not our brothers, do not know our Father, and need praying for not with. Spirit of Vatican II, indeed

Oremus et pro perfidis Iudaeis: ut Deus et 
Dominus noster auferat velamen de 
cordibus eorum; ut et ipsi agnoscant 
Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum.
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui etiam 
iudaicam perfidiam a tua misericordia non 
repellis: exaudi preces nostras, quas pro 
illius populi obcaecatione deferimus; ut, 
agnita veritatis tuae luce, quae Christus 
est, a suis tenebris eruantur. Per eumdem 
R/. Amen.


HT: Fr. Ramirez 

The lingo keeps passing me by

I can't keep up. I just got an email from Concordia Seminary-St. Louis inviting me to a workshop on "Sharing Christ with Your Muslim Neighbor." This was the introduction to that invitation:

There are over 2,100 mosques in the United States. You will meet Muslims during your ministry. Be ready to share the Gospel in a culturally winning way. 

Be sure to add "culturally winning way" to your lexicon of Synodospeak. Double plus good!


The District Visitation

The district presidents shall, moreover, especially exercise supervision over the doctrine, life, and administration of office of the ordained and commissioned ministers of their district and acquaint themselves with the religious conditions of the congregations of their district. To this end, they shall visit and, according as they deem it necessary, hold investigations in the congregations. - LCMS Constitution, Art. XII

My District President, upon his first ascending to that office, took in hand a personal visitation of all his pastors. This was a low key affair - a devotion, a prayer, and a brief discussion of "how are things." It was a kind and, knowing the man, a heartfelt gesture. Toward the end he asked what the district could do for me, what I saw as a profitable role for the district in my parish's ministry.

Easy, I said: I need a bad cop. I need the district and the DP to actually stand up for the difficult teachings of the Synod. When long lost cousin Schickelgrueber, who was confirmed here but has since left for the ELCA, shows up on Sunday morning and I won't commune him, and then he complains to all his relatives - I want to be able to tell my elders the next day: Look, my hands are tied. This is what we do in Missouri: ask the DP if you don't believe me.

When somebody asks me to provide him a "non-alcoholic alternative to wine" in the Sacrament, I don't want to get into a long winded discussion of just what that ever-so-mysterious phrase "the fruit of the vine" means in the context of Passover. I just want to say: No. Our Synod doesn't do that, we're on paper on that issue, and I would have hell to pay with my DP if I tried to buck that.

Don't get me wrong - as readers of Gottesdienst Online surely know, I'm happy to talk about my reasons for what I see as the best practice and to do so at length. Yet explanations must finally end in action. And for the angry, the reluctant, the bullies, the hard of heart, those who just want to drag their feet with endless debate, those who really don't want to listen with an open mind - well, for them I just want to have a very simple explanation: I am not allowed to do that, you are barking up the wrong tree, I am a man under authority, that is above my pay grade, even if you could convince me of your position I still could not do it: NO.

I don't need the DP to be winsome, sympathetic, or even particularly pastoral. I just need someone honest and fair-minded who will stand up for the teaching of the Synod, follow the rules, and insist that I and my brethren do the same.

With that in mind, these are the kinds of things I'd like the District Presidents to ask during their visitations of the pastors under their supervision.

* What's the last book of doctrinal theology you read in whole or in part? What is your daily reading plan for keeping your doctrine sharp and true?

* What agenda and hymnbooks do you use in worship? If you are not using an agenda and hymnbook that our Synod has agreed upon as doctrinally pure - for example if you are writing your own agenda and using a CCLI license for songs - what is your process of evaluating them for doctrinal purity? How many weeks in advance can you get your homemade orders of service and song list to me for my evaluation?

* What elements do you use for the Sacrament of the Altar?

* Do you use a chalice, individual cups, or both? If you use individual cups are they the plastic throwaways?

* Explain to me who can serve as an elder in your congregation?

* Role play: I am a visitor on Sunday morning, "Pastor, can I take commune this morning?". . .

* Tell me about your confirmation curriculum.

* Please send me your last five sermons in manuscript, audio/video recording or both. I will provide a pocket recorder if you currently do not write them out in manuscript and are not recording them.

The list could go on, but you get the idea. Questions like these would, I think, make for a very helpful visitation that could go a long way to restoring our unity in doctrine and practice.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Who's Your Daddy?: Thoughts on Lent 5

The Jews are not the true children of Abraham because they did not do what Abraham did. Abraham rejoiced to see the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Jews didn't. Abraham is not their true father. QED. (For more on this theme see last year's post HERE.)

Children demonstrate that they are their father's children by what they say and do. "Christ shows that in no way were [the Jews] to be regarded as the children of Abraham because they did not not follow in their father Abraham's confession of faith nor in his conduct" (Gerhard, Postilla, 276). In other words, fathers are important. Who your father is, what he does, and what he says is important. It molds who you are and what you believe.

Fathers are to be the spiritual heads of the household. They are to hand on the faith they learned from their father before them. They are to teach their children to pray by praying themselves. They are to teach their children to read and study the Scriptures by reading and studying the Scriptures themselves. They are to teach their children to confess their sins and receive absolution, that is forgiveness, by confessing their sins and receiving absolution themselves. They are to teach their children to receive the holy things of God the Father by receiving these things themselves. They are to discipline their children, not provoking them to anger or provoking them to become disheartened so as to lose motivation, but to bring them up in the way of the Lord, in an education that is founded in the Lord, that is inspired and moved by the Lord, that is focused on the Lord, and that is appropriate to the Lord. Fathers are important. They teach sons how to be men, and they teach daughters how men are love women, they teach them to be loved by a man, and what kind of man to look for in a husband.

But this has gone out of style. Nowadays, fathers and mothers are interchangeable parts. Men and women are interchangeable parts. And if truth be told, the major theme that runs in today's discourse on fathers and mothers, men and women, is that whatever a man can do a woman can do better. Or whatever a father can do a mother can do better. Or whatever a husband can do a wife can do better. This is false and destructive. False, not because the opposite is true. False and destructive because man and woman, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives are not in competition. They are complementary. They are created for each other, to be together, to love and support each other. And by pitting man against woman, husband against wife, and father against mother, we have separated what God has joined together. We pervert God's good order created to bless us for the prevailing thoughts and feelings of our day.

This is the culture in which we live. But it is also the culture of which we are a product. It is our culture. We are a part of it. And so our thoughts and feelings are affected by it. Which of us doesn't either cringe or get a little uncomfortable when we hear passages from the Scriptures like: "Wives submit to your husbands" or "I do not permit a woman to have authority over a man" or "your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you"? The fact that this strikes us as old and outdated shows that we think and see things in the same way our culture thinks and see things. It demonstrates who we are and who our father is. For the culture and its prevailing thoughts have become our father. And it is destroying our families and our relationships with one another. But most of all, it is destroying the church. For when the church thinks and acts like the culture of the world, Satan has won.

For this we need to repent. We need to confess that we have listened more to our culture than to the Word of God our heavenly Father as it is revealed in the Scriptures. God's good order is not misogynistic. God's order is instituted to bless us. His order says nothing of superiority or inferiority. To say a father is to be over his children means that a father is to bless them by teaching, by disciplining, and by loving. To say that a husband is to be the head of his house, and that a wife is to subordinate herself to her husband, does not say that he is better than she is or that she is less than he is. It is to say that the husband is to bless his wife with his sacrificial love. That he is to give everything, even his own life, for her, and she out of respect for him is to receive this love with thanksgiving. To reject this order, God's good order, is to reject His blessing.

And this is why Christ came. This is why we, like Abraham, are to rejoice. For Christ re-establishes this order in His incarnation, death, and resurrection. He re-constitutes this order so that we may receive God the Father's blessing to us and for us. In becoming man, Christ subordinates Himself and His will to the will of His Father. And He does it for the sake of His Bride, the Church. In obedience to His Father, He loves us, His Bride. This love is a sacrificial love. By the giving of Himself to die on the cross for sins He did not commit He loved us so that we would be free from the Law's condemnation and death's wages. He does it willingly. He does it for our sake, so that we would be reconciled to the Father as His children and reconciled to one another to live within the order that blesses us all. In Christ, death is overcome by life, sin by righteousness, hatred by love, darkness by light, and chaos by order.

So who will our father be? Will it be the culture or will it be God? Will it be the good order that the Father established from the beginning, or will it be our own self-seeking order? Will we live as children in the Father's house, blessed with His good order and with the truth? Or will we live under a subversion of that order, an order that is both false and destructive to us?

Who's your daddy? The Lord is. He created you. He sustains you. He redeemed you. He loves you. He teaches you to pray. He gives you His Word and He blesses and sanctifies you with the Sacraments. He feeds both body and soul. He chastens and He heals. And He will never leave you or forsake you. Nothing will come between your heavenly Father's love for you in Christ Jesus. God is your Father. You are his Children and the holy Bride of Christ. Fathers are important. So are husbands. Let us then subordinate ourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Difficulties of the LCMS Visited on LSB and CPH

Our lives on this side of glory are full of compromise and darkness. None of us has perfect practice even as none of us are free of regret. 

LSB has strengths. If a pastor is well-trained and discerning and has deep support in his congregation, he can choose to use only the strongest things. But because it was borne in our turbulent times, and was designed to not rock the boat, the hymnal is chock full of weaknesses. To be sure, weakness is not the same thing as heresy, even as chocolate pudding is not the same thing as poison. There is room in a healthy diet for chocolate pudding. Sometimes it helps the medicine go down. So, also, a wise pastor might indulge his congregation in some of LSB's weakest stuff for the sake of helping them swallow some of the better stuff. 

That is sometimes necessary because the best stuff is not easy to add if a congregation doesn't already love it. It is almost always more difficult, less television jingle-like. It wears far better, over time, of course, but many people show up tired on Sunday morning. They don't want to work at learning things, especially hymns. The weak stuff is shallow. If it isn't already well-loved and known because it is being sung at every funeral in town and is on all the Christian broadcasts, it is very easy. It doesn't wear well, over time, but like an annoying pop song, it is catchy at first. They are designed along the lines of ear worms and they are also, by design, meant to feel modern. 

This is simply the reality of the compromises LSB made. Let no one judge the faithful men who sweated much blood over these decisions. Much was sacrificed to make room for the weakest things so that the hymnal would be immediately usable to our weakest congregations and not require them to change their Sunday services. It was a hugely profitable compromise. At last report, even though prices have gone up recently on the hymnal and the Catechism seems to be going up by the day, CPH was sitting on over 30 million dollars. I think that was mostly made on the hymnal, but I don't actually know that. I don't even know if we're allowed to know. I don't know if CPH reports its finances to synod members of not. I'd guess not. 

Sadly, CPH, and the synodical president, fear giving away the Catechism despite that nest egg and the huge salaries paid to the top CPH executives. I have to admit that even as I don't know how CPH managed to stockpile $30 million, I am not a business man. I am pastor. There aren't any pastors in top positions at CPH. Maybe that is because pastors would make the Catechism free to the world and that would in fact somehow ruin CPH. I can't imagine that it would, but, again, I don't have any business training or experience. Maybe the Catehism, at $14 a pop, is holding up the whole thing. Still, for me, since I love the Catechism as second only to the Bible, I would actually say that the demise of CPH is a price I'd gladly pay to give the world the Catechism. 

But as I've suggested before, why can't the synod underwrite CPH? The executive salaries could be reduced to something less competitive with Zondervan and more in keeping with LCMS parishes and they could be freed of the need to make such a huge profit on hymnals and catechisms? No one has yet explained to me why synodical subsidy for this wouldn't work.

I am glad for a few things that CPH does. I am not glad for everything it does. I wish it would stop its constant push for contemporary worship. I've been told, casually, that they have to do this also for a profit. If we lost CPH, I would surely miss the valuable work that is being done with Gerhard and Luther. Still, to actually put the Catechism out there, to make it available to the world, that would be worth even losing the good work CPH does and losing CPH's weaker stuff, like the LSB Service Builder's built-in liturgy editor, Creative Worship, and the vapid VBS songs might actually help us. Am I wrong in seeing all of the problems, both in what they push, and in their refusal to free the Catechism and the high prices of the hymnal, as driven by their need for profit? I am not trying to take pot shots here. I think this is not only the kindest explanation but that is accurate as well. 

In any case, whatever the wisest course is with regard to pricing or controlling the Catechism, we certainly don't serve the church well by pretending that LSB isn't full of weaknesses forced upon it by the political necessities of its time, that everything in it is good and usable, or even that it is the only source for the LC-MS. In that line, I received the following note from one of our elders this morning regarding the Luther hymn "O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold." Note that Psalm 12, which inspired Luther's text, didn't make the cut either. LSB just wasn't big enough for the whole Psalter. 

So what is a faithful pastor to do? It depends largely on the history, circumstances, and abilities of the congregation, the cooperation (or sabotaging) of the musicians, and the good will (or lack thereof) of the congregation. LSB has done us many favors. There are things that very helpful, particularly in the Agenda. But having LSB also open us up to a whole of host of the weakest hymns and several settings and "liturgies" that rather unfortunate. Working with LSB means the pastor has to really work and sometimes he has to suffer the decisions that the hymnal committee has made. It is part of the sad state of our synod and the tyranny we simply suffer. In our case, we are able to print the hymn below from TLH and sing it as part of our Sunday Services. We can't avoid the weakest hymns at funerals all the time but we are able to keep them out of Sundays. At to this particular hymn, even apart from its history, I think we need it today more than ever. It is worth it to us to print it. But without it in the hymnal many will find it hard to add, if they are even aware of it.

The elder writes:

I thought of you while I was working on my dissertation this week.  A while ago, we sang TLH 260: “O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold” in Bible study.  It’s all about teachers of bad doctrine, and you said something about how you never hear the hymn sung at synodical gatherings – no wonder it didn’t make it into LW or LSB.

Anyway, I was reading Joseph Herl’s Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism, and he recounts this from one of the church orders on pp.89-90.

“In 1527 a visiting preacher from Magdeburg, in his first and only sermon in Braunschweig, extolled the saving virtue of good works; whereupon: ‘a citizen by the name of Hennig Rischau began and said in a loud voice: “Father, you’re lying!” He then just as loudly began to sing the twelfth psalm, which Dr. Luther had just recently set in thought-provoking German verse as “Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein”’ (the above-mentioned TLH 260)…  In 1529 in Lübeck and 1530 in Lüneburg congregations distrupted the sermons by singing, seemingly spontaneously, Luther’s ‘Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein’. This hymn seems to have been so ubiquitous as a protest song that it, rather than the better-known ‘Ein feste Burg,’ deserves the epithet ‘battle hymn of the reformation’.”

"O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold" TLH 260
by Martin Luther, 1483-1546

1. O Lord, look down from heaven, behold
And let Thy pity waken:
How few are we within Thy Fold,
Thy saints by men forsaken!
True faith seems quenched on every hand,
Men suffer not Thy Word to stand;
Dark times have us o'ertaken.

2. With fraud which they themselves invent
Thy truth they have confounded;
Their hearts are not with one consent
On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
While they parade with outward show,
They lead the people to and fro,
In error's maze astounded.

3. May God root out all heresy
And of false teachers rid us
Who proudly say: "Now, where is he
That shall our speech forbid us?
By right or might we shall prevail;
What we determine cannot fail;
We own no lord and master."

4. Therefore saith God, "I must arise,
The poor My help are needing;
To Me ascend My people's cries,
And I have heard their pleading.
For them My saving Word shall fight
And fearlessly and sharply smite,
The poor with might defending."

5. As silver tried by fire is pure
From all adulteration,
So through God's Word shall men endure
Each trial and temptation.
Its light beams brighter through the cross,
And, purified from human dross,
It shines through every nation.

6. Thy truth defend, O God, and stay
This evil generation;
And from the error of their way
Keep Thine own congregation.
The wicked everywhere abound
And would Thy little flock confound;
But Thou art our Salvation.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Holy Space

UPDATE: Our thanks and appreciation to the HT team who send us this update: The Media guys in Higher Things worked all last night to make sure that the skits were edited and placed in the appendix of the VBS. Version 1.1 of the VBS was posted last night for download. So, not only are the skits expressly OPTIONAL, there can be no confusion that they are not to be done in the sanctuary. Thanks for the help!

Now, we've heard your concerns. We've acted on them. There's no reason for y'all not to ALL have these VBS materials. 

The link is

There is a rhyme and reason to traditional church architecture. It's no mistake that Joel Osteen's church is just a stage with a couple ferns. Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and traditional Anglican churches are built as they are because those are the folks who believe that the Sacrament is really Jesus' body and blood. When the Puritans and other Reformed-influenced folks got a hold Anglican churches, the ornate altars came down and were replaced with a simple wooden table for a reason: they didn't believe in the Real Presence.

The chancel is holy space because of the Sacrament. The nave is holy space because this is where we gather to receive the Sacrament. The pulpit is holy space because this is where the called minister preaches God's Word to push people toward God's Sacrament.

Jocularity, play acting, and entertainment are out of place in holy space. We need to be reminded of this because in our zeal to communicate the Gospel we may forget this truth. I remember how I cringed one day in chapel at CSL as a beloved, confessional, erudite professor of mine dressed himself in a Charlie Brown pageant costume and pretended to be St. Paul in the pulpit. His heart was in the right place, he wanted to teach us something, he thought this would be a fresh way to do it.

But the laughs and smiles he elicited were out of place in holy space. Can you imagine St. Peter and St. James acting out David and Nathaniel during a sermon in the first century? To paraphrase Paul, "Do you not have theatres and televisions on which to exercise your thespian inclinations?" Can you imagine St. Titus plotting to ask St. Timothy to interrupt his sermon and pretend to not understand the doctrine he was preaching while dressed in his bathrobe?

Our children, and ourselves, need to learn respect and holy fear for the things of God. Using the pulpit and chancel steps as a stage for play acting does not serve this goal - no matter who wrote the script.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It won't be this hard to get into Gottesdienst - Chicago

Breaking news from the Vatican. It won't be that hard to get into Gottesdienst - Chicago on May 14. Save the date and watch this space for more breaking news.

HT: Fr. Seaver.


They Sought to Make Him King: Thoughts on Lent 4

As the saying goes: The quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Feed them well and feed them often, and they will love you. But men are fickle. Their tastes change: their stomachs insatiable, and their hearts wayward. What satisfies today is tomorrow's discontent. Leftovers are rarely as good as the food on the day of the feast. This is why we only eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and why every cooking magazine comes out with 5000 ways to serve turkey in the November edition.

The 5000 miraculously fed by Jesus with the five loves and two fish knew what they wanted. They wanted this food always. And so they sought to take Him by force to make Him King. They would never go hungry again. Their bellies would be full. They would be satisfied. And they would love and cherish, serve and obey their bread king.

But Jesus knew better. For He knows the thoughts of man. More than that He knows the very heart of man, that it is filled with evil thoughts, deceit, slander, murder, adultery, and sexual immorality. He knows just how fickle they are, how quickly they can love you one day and hate you the next. When bellies grumble so do their hearts and mouths. And if manna and quail did not satisfy the grumbling hearts and stomachs of their fathers, neither will barley loaves and fish.

Kings are born not made. Kings inherit the crown and throne from their fathers or mothers. They are not made by the people. They are not taken by force to have the crown and throne thrust upon them. Kings rule their people. The people do not rule them. This is what the 5000 wanted. It's not so much that they wanted Jesus to be their king, to rule over them. They wanted what Jesus could give them. They wanted to rule over him, to tell him what to do and when to do it.

But this is not how Jesus works. He doesn't act according man's whims or wants. He doesn't even always act out of their perceived needs. He acts from His own character. He gives according to His divine goodness and mercy. He acts from His own heart, the very heart of God. He acts out of love. And so he serves them. For He feeds them before they even ask. He gives them food before their bellies, their hearts, the mouths even begin to grumble. He looks upon the gathering crowd and shows them hospitality, even in the wilderness. He welcomes them. He invites them. He bids them to sit down, to recline, and to receive what He has to give.

He invites them to believe, to trust in Him. To believe that He is true God begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man born of the virgin Mary. To believe that He has come into the flesh, not only to feed their bodies, but also to feed and nourish their souls. To trust that His sacrificial death on the cross takes away their sin, redeems them from death and the devil, just as He did for them and their fathers in Egypt and in the Wilderness. To know that He will never leave them, as He never left their fathers. To know His generosity, His love is without end, for they gathered up what was left over into twelve baskets full even as their fathers gathered food every morning and evening without fail.  

He does the same for us. And that makes us uncomfortable because it means that we are not in control. Faith simply receives from God everything that He gives. And it trusts that what He gives and what He does is always good, even when it is painful, even when it hurts, even when it makes us grumble. For when the body aches, when bellies grumble, when sin and evil wreak havoc in our lives and in the lives of those whom we love, the heart grumbles too.

But Jesus is greater than our hearts. And that is because He is king. Not some king that we have made and taken by force, but a true king, whose head was adorned with the crown of thorns and who willingly laid down His life to be lifted up on the throne of His cross. He is king by way of the cross. By giving Himself into death for sin so that you would not, and rising again to live and reign in eternity so that you, too, would live and reign with Him forever.

This is not an empty promise. His resurrection proves it. But we wait to realize it fully. And while we wait, He gives us a foretaste of what is yet to come. He invites you, even as He invited them, to sit down and receive what He has to give. To receive His divine goodness and mercy. To receive His love. To receive Him. And so He says: "Take eat, this is my Body. Take drink, this is my blood." This is no barley loaf or fish. This is the risen, living, and life-giving flesh and blood of the crucified but risen Lord Jesus Christ. The food from your King's work for you.

On Synergism (the good kind)

Another bit of Gerhard from the tomb of forgotten theology: we cooperate with God in our sanctification and He rewards our good works with eternal rewards. That's one reason why the rewards are promised - so that we will not lose heart in struggling against our sin and living righteously. This volume on Free Will and Free Choice is going to be worth every penny when CPH puts it out (and I don't get royalties, so no conflict of interest).

If rewards and punishments in the forum of divine judgment are under discussion, response must be made differently, for rewards are either of this life or of the life to come, as also are punishments. God rewards the external discipline even of the unregenerate person with the rewards of this life or temporal rewards and regularly punishes atrocious sins with atrocious punishments so that societies may be preserved. In Exod. 1:21, because “the Egyptian midwives feared God, He built homes for them.” God rewards only the works of the reborn with eternal rewards, and He does that not out of condign merit but out of gracious mercy, nor does God crown anything in us except His own gifts. In this way the question pertains to the reborn who, we do not deny, are coworkers [συνέργους] with God in good works, because the will, now freed from the yoke of sin, cooperates by virtue of new powers granted by the Holy Spirit.