Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Out of the Barn

The Christmas issue has been mailed; it may have even reached some subscribers already. It includes our annual insert containing data for all the Sundays of the year (a color version of this is also at our web site).

Not a subscriber? You can remedy that right here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

God With Us

By Larry Beane

Like the word "sacramental," the word "incarnational" has become a kind of hackneyed expression within Christian circles.  When it is used by some - including some Lutherans - we are tempted to quote the line from The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means."

The Reverend David H. Petersen knows what it means.  

The enfleshment of the Son of God for us men and for our salvation is the essence of the new collection of sermons by Father David in Emmanuel Press's new publication God With Us: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Sermons by David H. Petersen.  This latest release is an ebullient companion to Thy Kingdom Come, Pastor Petersen's earlier published collection of Lent and Easter sermons.

This is one of those books in which underlining "the good stuff" just becomes an exercise in futility.  To paraphrase one of the lessons in The Incredibles: "When everything is underlined, nothing is underlined."

Incline your ear as the preacher does not just define, but proclaims, not merely a definition, but a meditation, on what the Incarnation means for us: 

"God is with us.  He has taken up our flesh.  He wears our skin.  He moves about with the muscles, bones, and cartilage of a man, conceived in one of us.  He has a body like ours, taken from the Virgin's womb.  And like our bodies, His body is bruised and dying, indeed, was created for the very purpose of being bruised and crucified.  He has a human soul as well, for He is an actual man.  His soul was created for the sole purpose that it be separated from His body, that He endure physical death in our place and be set Adam-like, dust to dust, into the ground.  He is one of us, in life and in death.  He is with us.  He is Emmanuel who lives our life and dies our death" (p. 52).

In the introduction, the Reverend Michael N. Frese identifies the Incarnation as the very reason, 

"why the Christian Church gathers around preaching and the Sacraments.  That's why books of sermons continue to be published and cherished in the Church.  Christ is present in His body - for us, for forgiveness.  The sermons in God With Us embody incarnational preaching.  Pr. Petersen preaches an ever-present Christ, a Christ for you, a Christ with you" (p. xii).

God With Us contains 58 sermons, covering Thanksgiving, each day in the four weeks of Advent, three Christmas sermons, daily homilies for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany, the five Sundays after Epiphany, Transfiguration, and the various saintly festivals that fall within this period (as well as Pastor Frese's thorough and thoughtful Introduction and a provocative and contemplative Preface by the Reverend Jason M. Braaten).  The book is a treasure trove for private or family devotions, as well as a solid source of homiletical material for daily chapel or Divine Services.  If you are looking for some additional spiritual refreshment this Advent through Epiphany seasons, this is a perfect combination of brevity and potency, of meditation and instruction, but most of all, of our Lord Jesus Christ who has come to save us from our sins!

Those familiar with Father David's writing, teaching, and preaching will find what they have become accustomed to: a use of language that is poetic and yet not pompous, teaching that is pensive and yet not pedantic, proclamation that is ponderable and yet not ponderous.  

Pastor Petersen keeps the material fresh by not following a set order of how he approaches any given text.  Some of the sermons are expository in nature, with succinct explanations such as how Lutheran dogmaticians use words, an explanation of how Greek articles are rendered in English, and commentary on the relative merits of modern English translations of Scripture.  And yet, this is a book of sermons, not a textbook.  The preacher's primary motive is to proclaim the Word of God, to bring the incarnate Word to the incarnate sinner.  Some of the sermons in God With Us are stunningly poetic and crying out to be read aloud.  Some make use of illustrations and observations of ancient fathers in the faith as well as contemporary pastors and scholars (footnoted in the text).  

Contrary to the stereotype of the stodgy black-shirted liturgical preacher who avoids preaching in a way that critics might call "relevant," Pastor Petersen's language and prose leap out in a provocative way that demands and commands the reader's attention while addressing matters in the lives of his hearers that challenge, and even compel, the reader to meditate on the Word of God, and to do so where we find ourselves in this fallen world.  Pastor Petersen takes on the challenges Christians face at the hands of Facebook, Twitter, Photoshop, and the lonely attention-seeking culture of duck-face selfies.  He speaks of God's love for us as as "borderline-erotic" (p. 3), and even describes our Lord as being "a bit bossy" (p. 8).  He does not shy away from the Christmas trappings of eggnog, feasting, presents, and "gaudy decorations" (p. 24), of "dry turkey, missing batteries, and family squabbles" (p. 93), the difficult questions about why God permits evil in the world, and of course, the sadness and depression that is a cross for so many at this time of year: 

"We long for our lost childhood, for the times when we had not so many loved ones buried in the earth; when we had not yet suffered so many betrayals and heartaches at the hands of those we love; when our lives didn't have so much to regret, so many mistakes and selfish acts; when Christmas seemed a time of endless possibility and magic.... The best answer to seasonal depression is the voice crying in the wilderness" (pp. 61-62).

The sermons are driven by the texts of the church's lectionary, including the Introits and Graduals used in the Divine Services.  This liturgical element of preaching draws Father David into the discipline of obediently treating the holy texts regarding Sts. Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Zechariah, the prophesies of Isaiah, the doubts of John the Baptist, the Canaanites, the Exodus, the Passover, the Scapegoat, the shepherds and the magi, the prophet Malachi; Sts. Andrew, Nicholas, Lucy, Peter, the Holy Innocents, and others.  In these pages, you will find both the manger and the cross, the womb and the tomb, the Law and the Gospel, and the oft-repeated call to "Repent!"

If you are expecting a naive view of the world into which our Lord was born, and in which we Christians find ourselves in the twenty-first century, you will be delightfully surprised.  Pastor Petersen invites you to confront the mysteries of the Incarnation, of God With Us, in ways that reflect the shocking nature of what this means for us in our fallen world.  "What kind of God is this," asks the preacher, "who suffers violence, who makes Himself weak, who is born out-of-doors and judged by unjust and petty rulers?  What kind of a God takes all the devil's violence unto Himself and doesn't lash out in righteous vengeance and anger?" (pp. 32-33).  Concerning St. Joseph: "the dirty minds and petty men of this world snickered at him and his bride all of their days.  They called the Son of God a bastard" (p. 81).  Concerning our liberty: "The Lord is a lover, not a rapist" (p. 89). Concerning the magi: "They were magicians, pagan (that is, Gentile) astrologers.  They looked to the stars for answers and are something akin to palm readers or strippers.... Ouija board-using addicts" (p. 127). On our Lord's first miracle: "He gave good wine to drunks" (p. 135).  

Pastor Petersen is not afraid to say, "Repent, O Lutherans" (p. 128), and to target those of us in the Lutheran tradition for our own pet sins and iniquities: "There is a pretend piety for those who claim they have a passion for the lost, and there is a pretend piety as well for those who claim to love doctrine and the liturgy.... One is not better than another, and do not think that God will wink at yours or not mind it as much as another's.  Repent" (p. 52).  I don't believe that Pastor Petersen's mention of Lake Ponchartrain (p. 144) was intended to see if I actually read all of the sermons.  But if that were the case, I am happy to report that the reference did not go unnoticed, and at very least I won't be called to repent for not reading the book closely enough.  There are precious few opportunities to wiggle out of Pastor Petersen's numerous calls to repentance.

Most importantly of all, at the center of each and every one of these sermons, leaping out triumphantly on each and every page, is Christ: Christ the incarnate, Christ the crucified, Christ the victorious, Christ the risen, Christ the Savior, Christ the coming-again.  As with all good Christian preaching, this collection of sermons isn't about pithy sayings, trenchant soundbites, insightful teaching, poetic turns of phrase, profound exegetical insight, but rather it is all, first and foremost, from Alpha to Omega, about Christ and the Gospel that He, our Emmanuel, our God With Us, bears to us in His very Body and in His Word.  Preaching is all about heralding the Good News and filling our very ears and souls with our Lord Jesus Christ unto our justification and everlasting life.

In case I have not been clear: in the sermons archived in God With Us, the Reverend David Petersen preaches the whole counsel of God in Christ Jesus: the Law to call us to repent, and, most emphatically, the Gospel to deliver unto us forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And that is simply what it means for preachers to preach, and for hearers to hear, incarnationally.  And the Reverend David H. Petersen knows what it means.  

I will leave you with one more passage:

"Nothing can ruin Christmas.  Not sticks, not stones, not broken bones.  Not lies or false names, nor cruel words, nor even divorce.  Not war.  Not hunger.  Not drunkenness, nor neglect.  Not old grudges.  Not fresh wounds.  Not bad news from doctors, teachers, or the stock market.  None of that.  And if none of that, then certainly not dry turkey or boring presents or disgruntled children and boorish guests.  Nothing can ruin Christmas.  Not even death" (p. 104).


God With Us: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Sermons by David H. Petersen (Paperback, 186 pp., 9″ x 6″, 2014 ISBN 978-1-934328-11-8) is available from Emmanuel Press for $20.00.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Oktoberfest Videos

Here is  link to the YouTube channel that has the videos of this year's Oktoberfest, courtesy of Mr. Gene Wilken. Featuring Dr. John Stephenson, speaking on the Blessed Sacrament in the Theology of Wilhelm Loehe.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Tale of Two Renditions

Here  are two renditions of the old standard Isaac Watts hymn "O That The Lord Would Guide My Ways." This hymn is weak thematically, having no reference to Christ or His work. There is nothing objectionable in the lyrics, and certainly no false doctrine. It's what it lacks that makes it weak.

But the following comparison is not about the content of the hymn.

You will also note that in neither of the two renditions is there an organ.

But it isn't about the use of an organ either.

It's only about the style.

And there is no absolutely no question that style matters.

Here's the first rendition.

And here's the second.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cheapening the Pulpit

While I sympathize with preachers who want to exert their freedom from government intrusion, I think the idea of endorsing candidates from the pulpit is beneath the dignity of God's House. I live in a small town and I've lived here a while now. My parishioners who care to know certainly do know about my political leanings. But not from listening to my sermons. Indeed, I think it's important for preachers to make the disclaimer "not the Lord, but I say" whenever they discuss politics with layfolks, even just over a cup of coffee at the local greasy spoon.

But then again, part of my political leaning is that I don't put much stock in I may be biased.