Thursday, July 28, 2016

St James the Elder, Apostle

St James' Day was Monday, July 25th. We observed it yesterday at mass. The impetuous 'son of thunder' learned that, rather than seeking glory through the intercession of his mother, he was being served by the Son of Man who gave his life a ransom. So James willingly died from the sword (Acts 12), and so, like him, did the French priest Jacques Hamel, just this Sunday, July 24th, while celebrating mass. Such a glorious death! To be able, in effect, to say with Simeon: Now I can die in peace. Sermon for St. James the Elder is here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

St Paul's on the Air!

by Burnell F. Eckardt

Pastor David Ramirez (find his latest remark on this page) has been giving me a hard time about our blog lately, saying that it isn't active enough. He's right, of course, but I hope he notices that by way of correction we will now have entered four new posts in just one day here. That might be a record.

This one is an attempt to provide a link to an audio file of a half-hour radio program that goes out from St. Paul's in Kewanee, Illinois, every Sunday morning. I am not entirely confident it will work, since links to the account have sometimes been faulty. So if the link doesn't work, let me know.

This recording of our show, "St. Paul's on the Air" is set to broadcast on WKEI on the AM dial in Kewanee this Sunday; but that's not a very strong station, so if you don't live in town, you'll need to listen on your computer; and maybe we can make this a regular thing.

It's actually our 346th recording, but the very first time on this blog.

We are beginning here a study of II Peter with this offering; specifically, the first eight verses. The recording is right here, and the passage is written here:

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Dignus est Agnus

By Larry Beane

One of the things that drew me to the Lutheran Church as a 17-year old inquirer was the dignity of the worship service, for it bespoke the miracle of the coming of Christ to earth to save fallen creation, not only in the historic conception of Jesus of Nazareth in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, not only in His birth at Bethlehem and in His death and resurrection near Jerusalem, but in an ongoing gift through Word and Sacrament, sanctifying every time and place where His body gathers and where His blood atones.

This is no Watchmaker God we worship, but a God who is Man; a Man who is God. And he comes to be with us where we sojourn in space and time, just as He promised, unto the end of the age, deigning to grace us with His magnificent Presence in bread and wine, in a mystical and miraculous and Holy Meal.

The awe and majesty and wondrousness of it!

And as a token of our faith in this indescribable reality, and in profound thanksgiving (eucharistia) for this inexplicable warp in the time/space continum and in God's ongoing act of mercy of reaching through the barriers even of our own unworthiness, we participate in this Divine Service with reverent and holy joy, honoring this most unique and intimate encounter with Almighty God in hushed tones that proclaim and confess the dignity of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, who has conquered sin, death, and the devil, and who continues to come to us poor, miserable sinners made into saints by grace.

The word "dignified" showed up on a tract about Lutheran worship that I saw when I visited the local LCMS parish.  It referred to Lutheran worship as "dignified" and "focused on the cross."  And though, I suppose, the conventional wisdom about "youth ministry" would find it improbable, I was completely smitten as a 17-year old motorcycling rock and roller with long hair and blue jeans.

I wanted nothing to do with gimmicks.  It was the transcendent that I desired, sought, and by God's infinite grace and mercy, that I found.  For the Lord delivers this transcendence in an intimate, authentic, and yes, dignified manner in the reverent and cruciform Mass of the historic Church Catholic.  Dignus est Agnus!" as the Church proclaims, "Worthy is the Lamb!", taking her liturgical cue from the Holy Spirit in Revelation 5 and the eternal dignified heavenly liturgy recorded therein.

The very worthiness of Christ - as starkly contrasted by our own unworthiness - this dignity of the Lamb is given to us as a free gift, and we worship Him in dignity, truth, beauty, faith, and reverence, awestruck by His coming among us and by His abiding with us.

Is this something we contemporary Lutherans still understand, believe, teach, confess, treasure, and practice?

Dignus est Angus!   

Out of the Barn!

How long? cry the saints.

And the answer: no longer! At long last, the delayed Trinity issue of Gottesdienst is out of the barn, and on its way to a mailbox near you. Soon (if you are a subscriber) you will at last open that mailbox and upon opening this journal of the blessed Lutheran Liturgy may, if you wish, even see fit to repeat the words of Keats:

“Ah! dearest love, sweet home of all my fears,
and hopes, and joys, and panting miseries,
Tonight if I may guess, thy beauty wears a smile of such delight,
As brilliant and as bright
As when with ravished, aching, nassal eyes,
Lost in a soft amaze
I gaze, I gaze”

Wink, wink . . it is okay: It is a joke!

Uncle Screwtape says:

“Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence, it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is ‘mean,’ but if he boasts of it in a jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer ‘mean’ but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humourous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful — unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man’s damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke.” — P.51-52

HT: Wolfmueller

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dante Shrugged

by Larry Beane

How little things have changed since 1320, when the great poet Dante Alighieri complained about the worship wars in his own day and age in his Divine Comedy:

"Christ did not say to His first congregation:
'Go preach idle nonsense to the world,'
But gave them a sound foundation.

"And that alone resounded from their lips,
So that, in their warfare to ignite the faith,
they used the Gospel as their shield and lance.

"Now preachers ply their trade with buffoonery and jokes,
their cowls inflating if they get a laugh,
and the people ask for nothing more."

~ Dante (through the character Beatrice), Paradiso, 29:109-117

Cited by Rod Dreher in How Dante Can Save Your Life, p. 151

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Toast to the Milwaukee Reinstatement of Augsburg Confession Article XIV

The 2016 Milwaukee Convention of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod will likely be remembered as the convention that restored this august church body to its moorings in the Augsburg Confession, to wit, our churches confess that "no one should publicly teach or administer the sacraments without a regular call" (Article XIV). Such a simple confession, yet trampled underfoot by 27 years of misguided so-called 'emergencies' and other unscriptural reasons for pretending men are pastors who are actually not pastors, and expecting them to do what pastors do without the calling and ordination to do it (Baptists may get away with this kind of thing, but among Lutherans it certainly should not be so). Since the 1989 Wichita Convention that enacted this de facto amendment to the Augsburg Confession, we have had to endure life in a church that was at fundamental odds with itself in word and deed. No longer, deo gracias. Now the Synod has provided a way for these men to be trained, examined, and ordained. Now there is a deadline in 2018 after which all pastors will be pastors.

I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Synodical President Matthew Harrison, and to commend him for his work, and for his patience over the past several years, which has, as I put it to him, "paid off in spades."

Rightly should we all sing our Te Deums and celebrate this day!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Squandering the Treasure

by Larry Beane

One of our LCMS districts sent out the following advice for prayer:

1) Go to the Facebook Search Bar.
2) Close your eyes and hit a random letter.
3) Pray for the first three people on the list.

Yes, they actually sent this out. It's not a joke,

When it comes to prayers and devotions, think of all the richness of our Lutheran tradition, old and new.  Think about the plethora of resources for prayer that are available at CPH and from Lulu.  Think about the treasure that is the Psalter and the Daily Office - and how these are accessible to us modern Lutherans via the Treasury of Daily Prayer, which is even available on a smartphone app.  There is Oremus produced by Pastor David Kind, The Essential Lutheran Prayer Book and Lord, Teach Us to Pray by Deacon Latif Gaba, and Emmanuel Press's Brotherhood Prayer Book edited by Pastor Michael Frese and Dr. Benjamin Mayes.

The Minister's Prayer Book by John Doberstein is an often overlooked trove of treasure from our tradition that specifically has pastors in mind.  Although out of print, Herbert Lindemann's The Daily Office remains a gem.  Our own Dr. Burnell Eckardt has authored a devotional volume that plumbs the depths of Scripture and the meditations of the church fathers: Every Day Will I Bless Thee.

From the beautiful treasures of our Lutheran past come Emanuel Press's reprint of Johann Starck's Motherhood Prayers as well as their reprint of Wilhelm Loehe's Seed-Grains of Prayer.  Those who enjoy daily meditations by Dr. Luther can always find an old copy of Day By Day We Magnify Thee.

For a less rigorous approach to prayer from within our tradition, we have the prayers for morning and evening and the mealtime prayers enshrined within our Small Catechism, as well as a user-friendly devotional based on the Catechism called The Lord Will Answer.

Moreover, let's not forget about the richness of our hymns, our collects, our prayers for family devotions, and our litanies which are found in our hymnals.  And pastors will be particularly blessed with the Pastoral Care Companion, a wonderful resource for giving soul care in the parish - and which is also available as a phone app.

And if you want something more spontaneous, think about Luther's pamphlet in which he taught his barber to pray.  There is also the modern Portals of Prayer, which includes a light daily devotion and can be carried in the pocket.  For intercessory prayer, there are our congregational prayer lists of people in need.  There are also our persecuted brethren to pray for.

All of this richness and vast array of options expose the shallowness of what amounts to be a kind of Facebook game, a sort of "prayer roulette" that is not much different than the old canard of opening a Bible at random and pointing to a verse.  This is not too distantly removed from using a Magic 8-Ball or a Ouija Board as a prayer aid, or just plain hurling darts at a board.

How sad to disregard such rich treasure and trade it in for tawdry trinkets.