31 March 2007

Patristic Quote for the Day

No matter what they bring or from where they bring it, let us rather, if we are His sheep, hear the voice of our Shepherd. Therefore let us not listen to: This I say, that you say, but to: This the Lord says. - St. Augustine, chapter 3 of De unitate Ecclesiae

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

In honor of the fact that tomorrow at St. Paul's 9 young people will be examined and then confirmed in Christ with prayer and the laying on of hands, the following quote from the Blessed Martin Chemnitz:

Our theologians have often shown that if traditions that are useless, superstitious and in conflict with Scripture are removed, the rite of confirmation can be used in a godly fashion and for the edification of the church, namely, in this way, that those who were baptized in infancy (for that is now the condition of the church) would, when they have arrived at the years of discretion, be diligently instructed in the sure and simple teaching of the church's doctrine, and when it is evident that the elements of the doctrine have been grasped, be brought afterward to the bishop and the church. There the child who was baptized in infancy would by a brief and simple admonition be reminded of his Baptism, namely, what in his Baptism the whole Trinity conferred upon and sealed to him, namely, the covenant of peace and the compact of grace, how there Satan was renounced and a profession of faith and a promise of obedience was made.

Second, that the child himself would give his own public profession of this doctrine and faith.

Third, he would be questioned concerning the chief parts of the Christian religion and would respond with respect to each of them or, if he should show lack of understanding, he would be better instructed.

Fourth, he would be reminded and would show by his confession that he disagrees with all heathenish, fanatical, and ungodly opinions.

Fifth, there would be added an earnest and serious exhortation from the Word of God that he would persevere in his baptismal covenant and in this doctrine and faith and, by making progress in the same, might thereafter be firmly established.

Sixth, public prayer would be made for these children that God would deign, by His Holy Spirit, to govern, preserve, and strengthen them in this profession. To this prayer there could be added without superstition the laying on of hands. This prayer would not be in vain, for it relies upon the promise concerning the gift of preservation and on God's strengthening grace.

Such a rite of confirmation would be very useful for the edification of the young and the whole church. It would also be in harmony with both the Scriptures and the purer antiquity.

30 March 2007

Sie denkt...

...dass sie eine Katze ist!

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

"When in 1 Corinthians Paul said that a man should examine himself, he spoke only of adults because he spoke of those who were quarreling among themselves. However, he doesn't here forbid that the sacrament of the altar be given even to little children." Martin Luther, AE 54:58

Patristic Quote for the Day

Those who say that infancy has nothing in it for Jesus to save, are denying that Christ is Jesus for all believing infants. Those, I repeat, who say that infancy has nothing in it for Jesus to save, are saying nothing else than that for believing infants, infants that is who have been baptized in Christ, Christ the Lord is not Jesus. After all, what is Jesus? Jesus means Savior. Jesus is the Savior. Those whom he doesn't save, having nothing to save in them, well for them he isn't Jesus. Well now, if you can tolerate the idea that Christ is not Jesus for some persons who have been baptized, then I'm not sure your faith can be recognized as according with the sound rule. Yes, they're infants, but they are his members. They're infants, but they receive his sacraments. They are infants, but they share in his table, in order to have life in themselves. - St. Augustine, Homily on 1 Timothy 1:15 (The Works of Saint Augustine, Part III-Sermons 5:261.)

Pastor Petersen

has raised one of the rather hot button topics over at his blog. But it does bring to mind a question that I would like to have input on:

Confessional Lutherans tend to be quite united on the rejection of making children wait until the 8th grade to receive the Holy Sacrament. We know that this practice is relatively recent in the church's life and does not accord with our Lutheran Symbols. But is there any sort of a consensus among confessional Lutherans about this question: is it better to confirm at a lower age and so admit to the table, or to keep confirmation the same age and introduce first communion? Pros and cons? And if there are those who have already done either, how was it received in the parish?

29 March 2007

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

The Son and the Spirit are the greatest witnesses to Your immeasurable love. You clothed me with the finest robe by restoring original innocence to me. You placed a ring on my hand by sealing me with the Holy Spirit. You shod me with shoes by equipping me with the Gospel of peace. For my sake, You killed the fatted calf by offering up to death for me Your beloved Son. You feasted and delighted me by restoring joy to my heart and true peace to my conscience. I was dead, but through You I returned to life. I wandered, but through You, I returned to the right path. I was destroyed by poverty, but through You, I returned to the wealth I had previously enjoyed. -- Johann Gerhard, *Meditations on Divine Mercy* IX.

Patristic Quote for the Day

May Thy Cross, O Lord, which is the seal of the Church and protects her children from Satan and his warriors, be the comfort of Thy sheep, whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy life-creating blood! - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* 96

28 March 2007

Oh, Another Feature of This Year's Vespers

was using each Wednesday night the Psalms appointed for the Wednesday evenings of Lent in LSB. Thus, we used Psalm 141 (appointed at each Evening Prayer), Psalm 27, and Psalm 51. We did not vary the Psalms with the week, but prayed them over and over again. Those are words that need to sink deep into our souls, and how will they do so if we do not use them repeatedly?

"One thing have I desired of the Lord... to behold the beauty of the Lord... the Lord will take me up... the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."

"Have mercy... blot out my transgression... in sin did my mother conceive me... wash me and I shall be whiter than snow... Create in me a clean heart, O God... a broken and contrite heart, O God."

I notice that Psalms 27 and 51 are also part of the Good Friday Tenebrae Vespers. Six times in six weeks is not too much to make these prayers our own.

Re-evaluating the Conflated Passion

Tonight we finished reading through the [conflated] Passion of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ at the Midweek Vespers. I have to confess that, while there were things that I did not like about putting the story together like that, it was really wonderful in the end that those who attended the whole series did not miss out on a single loving act that our Lord performed to save them. I am not entirely persuaded, but I am rather inclined to do the same thing next year and on into the future. I notice also how attentive the people were to the reading. It has a way of simply drawing you in - no two ways about it. I think our people could do a lot worse than hearing this tremendous story unfolded for them each year.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Inwardly, the devil wounds my soul with the poison and fiery darts of temptation. Outwardly, he harasses me with adversaries and a thousand traps. He is like a serpent because of his treacherous deception, a lion because of his violent aggression, and a dragon because of his cruel oppression. If he dared to attempt to make himself commander of the heavenly army, will he keep himself from me, a common soldier? If he did not think twice to oppose the very Head, is there any wonder that he attempts to destroy a weak member of the mystical body? -- Johann Gerhard, *Meditations on Divine Mercy* XIII

Patristic Quote for the Day

Grant me, O Lord, enlightenment to recognize the wiles of my adversary, the hater of all good; for he places in my path countless multitudes of seductions and pitfalls - both profits and losses, the comforts of this age, and carnal pleasure, the length of the present life, timidity in ascetic labors, slothfulness in prayer, sleep and rest for the body instead of the singing of psalms. Inasmuch as the enemy strives for my ruin, so do I, who am miserable, surrender myself to recklessness and apathy. The more snares he sets out for me, the more carless I become. - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #67

27 March 2007

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

If I weigh carefully the sternness of Your Law, I find that in so many ways my life does not measure up to its demands. If I consider my conscience, I find that the thoughts of my mind accuse me as I face Your judgment. If I consider the approaching hour of death, I realize that it is the just reward for my sins. If You were not to receive me out of pure mercy because of Christ, my death would be the entrance to and beginning of eternal death. - Johann Gerhard, *Meditations on Divine Mercy* VII

Patristic Quote of the Day

Take from me the burden of my sins and grant me not that which my deeds merit, that I may not perish in the end, and that I may not be altogether deprived of thought and concern for my restoration. I fall down before Thy compassion; have mercy on me who am cast into the dust by Thy judgment of my deeds. O Master, summon me, a captive who is held and bound by his deeds as with chains, for Thou alone knowest how to free those who are bound and to heal the invisible sores that are known only to Thee who knowest all mysteries. - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #19

Homily for the Last Lenten Midweek

[The Passion: V. CALVARY]
In the end, we're either one or the other. We're either the thief on the left or on the right. Death catches up with us, and when it does, what do we say to the Lord?

The first thief was basically crying: "Not fair." And he was telling the Lord Jesus what a wimpy sort of Lord he was if he couldn't save himself and us from having to die. "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!"

And there are plenty who go into death, their voices and their hearts raging at the Lord; wondering what on earth good is a God who can't get them out of that last looming crisis.

But there is another way to die. It's not that it's any less painful. It hurts just as much. But it has a peace about it that is unmistakable.

The other thief rebuked the first one. Said to him the remarkable words: "Do you not fear God since you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are getting what we deserve for what we have done; but this man has done nothing wrong."

Ponder those words! The second thief, seeing our Lord Jesus suffering along with him is amazed. He recognizes the fundamental truth about the passion: we get what we deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong. And yet he is suffering, and yet he is dying.

When the suffering comes to you, as it finally will, the first step to peace is to say: "And this is what I have deserved. This is what my every choice for sin was bringing me. This is what I WANTED, what I EMBRACED, what I RAN AFTER. Now I get to see what this thing is that I have preferred to my God, to Him who is life. Now I see it in all its terror. This is death. This is my choice. This hideous monster.

But also to look at Jesus and realize: He is making this choice too. NOT the way I did, by choosing the cheap pleasures of sin over the unending love of God. No. He chooses death despite never having rejected God's love. He chooses death so that when I go into it I will never have to go alone. He chooses death so that mercy can be poured out on all who have embraced the hideous monster and clutched it to their bosom.

And so the second thief, seeing with the eye of faith, cries out: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom! Above our Lord's head there stands the proclamation: "King of the Jews" as Pilate insisted it read. On His bloody head there is a crown - but of thorns. And beneath the mockery intended, the penitent thief beholds the absolute truth of it all: this Jesus IS a King and He does have a Kingdom.

From our Lord's cross come the sweetest words: "Today you will be with me in paradise."

Paradise. The home we lost on that first fateful day when our parents, Adam and Eve, clutched death to their bosom instead of God. Paradise Jesus now flings wide open to the thief and to all who who will accept His gracious Kingdom.

You will be one of these two when your moment arrives. You will be in the company of those who rail at the unfairness of it all and protest their innocence and cry out against God with their last breath. Or you will be in the company of those who look upon the Man on the Cross, confess His innocence, and marvelling that is He shares our suffering, beg His mercy: "Jesus, remember me."

Baptism gives you the gift of moving from one thief to the other. It gives you the gift of dying to all words of recrimination against God. It gives you the gift of dying to all thoughts of God's unfairness. Instead, it imparts to you the conviction that One who was innocent has given His life as your ransom. Baptism joins you to the One who did not HAVE to die, but chose to die, in order to bring to you the gift of Paradise restored. Baptism gives you the peace that on your dying day, whenever it falls, your Jesus will speak to you the tender words: "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

26 March 2007

Fr. Timothy

I was thinking today about Jan Karon's delightful books about Fr. Timothy at that little Episcopal Church in the NC mountains. Especially about when Fr. Timothy gave up driving and just biked around his parish for a couple years. Yeah. Right. I was thinking this today as I made a circuit from St. Paul's to Metro East Lutheran High to lead chapel, to the nursing home in Glen Carbon, to the hospital in Maryville, to the nursing home in Maryville, and then up the highway back to home for lunch. Then down route 140 to Alton to visit the hospital and then go to an assisted living home, and finally back to Hamel. It took fully 1/4 of my gas tank. Now, if I were Fr. Timothy on my bike, I *might* have just reached Maryville... :)

Seriously, our automobile society has totally rewritten "parish boundaries" in the sense of defining the area people live in. They live, shop, go to doctors and hosptials within an hour's or so drive of their homes. It makes modern parishes outrageously huge. And of course, we're then constantly overlapping. So when I go to the hospital it is not at all unusual to run into fellow LCMS pastors making the rounds. But when Fr. Timothy went to the hospital in his little town, he was the only episcopal priest in sight.

Sigh. I sometimes think Fr. Timothy might be onto something. Maybe I SHOULD go buy a bike and give it a try.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

He is the first and only-begotten of His mother here on earth, who according to His divine nature is the first and only-begotten of His Father in heaven. He is born poor and needy, that He might prepare the riches of heaven for us. He is born in a mean stable, that He might lead us back to the royal palace of His Father in heaven. - Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditations* XIV

Patristic Quote of the Day

He was the Only-Begotten of the Father and also the Only-Begotten of Mary. And he who divides the hypostasis in Him will also be separated from His kingdom, and he who conjoins His natures will be deprived of the life that is in Him. - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #15


There is something wondrous about celebrating in the very heart of Lent the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord. What a reminder that the Eternal Word of the Father came among us, took on flesh for us, precisely so that in that flesh He might die, and in that way destroy death's power forever. One also notes the complete harmony between the Blessed Mother's "Let it be to me" and her holy Son's prayer in the Garden: "Thy will be done."

The hymn assigned as the Hymn of the Day for this feast in LSB is 356, The Angel Gabriel:

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
With wings as drifted snow, with eyes as flame:
"All hail to thee, O lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored Lady." Gloria!

"For know a blessed mother thou shalt be
All generations laud and honor thee;
Thy Son shall be Emmanuel by seers foretold,
Most highly favored Lady." Gloria!

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head;
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said.
"My soul shall laud and magnify God's holy name."
Most highly favored Lady, Gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born,
In Bethlehem all on a Christmas morn,
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say,
"Most highly favored Lady." Gloria!

25 March 2007

Another Year Done

Doing the happy dance! Sunday afternoons and evenings just came free for several months. Tonight I finished up the last Public School Catechism class until September 9th. This afternoon I finished up the last Adult Catechism class until the same date. So... I'm ready for some PINOCHLE. But it will have to wait until after Palm Sunday (all the confirmation parties) and Easter (when we come home and simply collapse!).

What Happened to Annunciation?

I'll save some thoughts on that for tomorrow. In the Western tradition, the Sundays of Lent are privileged and are not displaced by Annunciation. The day is instead transferred to the nearest free weekday. That would be tomorrow, Monday, March 26.

They're back...

...the doves, I mean. I've heard their lovely, lonely song for the last several mornings. The robins have been back for a number of weeks. Early morning is getting down-right "chattery" outside. I haven't seen the chimney swallows yet, but I suspect they're not far behind. Song of Songs comes to mind, a passage that was read at our wedding:

My beloved speaks and says to me:
"Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away." 2:10-13

24 March 2007

Anybody else do this?

I find that as Holy Week and Easter draw nearer, I want to sing all the songs for those festivals. I've been through the Holy Week and Easter sections of LSB a couple times today on the piano. I am particularly loving the setting of "Christian to the Paschal Victim" included in LSB. I mentioned before the new setting of "The Royal Banners" - it is very worth looking at. It simplified the plain song in exactly the same way that the old Lutherans did with, say, "Komm, Gott Schöpfer" from "Veni Creator Spiritus." Each of the four palm Sunday hymns has become a favorite - can't even envision the day without all of them. David surprised me by saying that his favorite Palm Sunday piece was "No Tramp of Soldiers' Marching Feet" which, he noted, is as marshal beat as it gets!

The Moment Has Arrived...

...Bekah, my lovely baby, had her Sweet 16th last week. On Wednesday to be exact. She's the little one in that picture - taken on Prince Edward Island many moons on ago. She celebrated in the normal way: she had her mom drive her into school early and then went to take her driving test. SHE PASSED! And so she has her license. And we just got her car back from the shop today. She's ready and set to go. An era thus ends in our life as our parents: no more chauffeuring. It's been a LONG time coming, but now at last, all our kids are driving and each one has a vehicle. Now, if only we can keep those vehicles going until they are safely out of the house and on their own.

But how did my little Bekah turn 16? I remember like yesterday the day Cindi went into labor with her. It was a typical March day in NC. We walked the streets of Mebane beneath countless dogwood blossoms, as her contractions grew nearer. You see, Bekah was going to be a bit of an experiment. Cindi had had two c-sections. She was convinced, though, that the doctors were rushing her and that she could deliver just fine in the way God intended. So she hired a birth coach and went to midwives.

Understand, please. Lauren was 9.5. David was 9.15. Then there was Bekah. When the child finally came out - naturally and after intense labor - she weighed, YES, 11.10. Her placenta didn't even fit on the tray they used to carry them away. She was HUGE. I asked Cindi: "Was it worth it?" Meaning, the VBAC. She insisted that it was. Being the daddy, I wasn't entirely convinced. But I was delighted with our little girl.

I took her for a ride to visit Miss Ruby the first day she and Cindi were home. Miss Ruby took one look at her and exclaimed: "That poor child!" meaning CINDI! I tell you, Bekah was HUGE. It's funny now. She's downright petite.

She's on band/choir tour till tomorrow night. I've been informed that as soon as she gets home she's heading out somewhere in her car - all by herself. Just because she can. When did she get so grown up???

O God, keep your angels on guard duty for her as she drives and protect her always! Amen.

Now if only we had the organ back...

...yes, we're STILL waiting for that. Went out in December as a result of water damage by the ice storm. Now at least the organ company is on site and working each day. Maybe within the next two months.

But so many things have gotten easier around here! First, instead of hiring a new person to replace our beloved Marianne, the Church extended the job to our school secretary, Joanie. She's been unbelievable! Very speedy worker, mega organized, and great at keeping the pastor in line.

Then, to help out Joanie, the Church "purchased" a folding machine. The quotes are because we TRIED to purchase it, but the company kept delaying our order. Finally, after our treasurer threatened to pull the order and go elsewhere, they GAVE us the folding machine. Yup. For free. It really is a time saver!

Of course, the use of LSB has made bulletin publication easier, because it's such a simple hymnal to use that there is zero need to print out the whole of the liturgy. That saves us both time and energy.

THEN, Pastor GeRue (our Headmaster and associate pastor) met with the Trustees and did the research to show that we'd actually SAVE money with a new copy machine. The Voters approved it on Monday and it arrived this past Thursday. It prints on both sides at once, and even collates. And its instructions are easy enough that even YOU KNOW WHO was able to follow them and not screw up. And who said miracles had ended???

Taken all together, the result is that we're putting together the church's publications at a faster rate than ever. I can just HEAR what Marianne would say to us about getting all the toys when she is no longer here to use them!

But the organ remains the last piece of a return to some semblance of normality for the parish. You wouldn't believe how the singing has died. St. Paul's was known as a singing parish. The people belted the music out. Marianne always said that you have to get behind them with the organ and PUSH the sound out. And push she did. Well, week by week without the organ, the singing has grown quieter and quieter. It's not that we don't have great music: Diane, Millie, and Kristie have all done a SUPER job. But the clavinova just does not have the UMPH that the organ had. I am SOOOOOO looking forward to that first liturgy with the organ again!!!

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Most High God, I owe You great thanks that in the sacred mystery of the Supper, You feed me with the body and blood of Your Son. What in heaven or on earth is more precious and excellent than this divine body, personally united with Your Son? Where is there a more certain testimony and pledge of Your grace than in the precious blood of Your Son, poured out for my sins on the altar of the cross? This, the price of my redemption, You give to me as the firmest testimony of Your grace toward me. - Johann Gerhard, *Meditations on Divine Mercy* p. 86

Patristic Quote of the Day

Earth does not cover over the blood of our Redeemer, for every sinner, as he drinks the blood that is the price of his redemption, offers praise and thanksgiving, and to the best of his power makes that blood known to all around him. Earth has not hidden away his blood, for holy Church has preached in every corner of the world the mystery of its redemption. - St. Gregory the Great, *Moral Reflections on Job* (Christian Prayer, pp. 1976, 1977)

23 March 2007

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Although I have been regenerated and renewed in the washing of Baptism through the Spirit of grace, I am not totally free from the yoke and captivity of sin. That bitter root lurking in me always strives to shoot forth. The law of sin that rages in my flesh fights to capture me. I am full of doubts and distrust. I desire my own honor. From my heart come depraved thoughts that defile me in Your sight. From a poisoned spring flow poison streams. O Lord, do not enter into judgment with Your servant. Instead, be gracious to me according to Your great mercy. The depth of my wretchedness calls out for help to the depth of Your mercy. - Johann Gerhard, *Meditations on Divine Mercy* pp. 32,33

Patristic Quote of the Day

Before Thy glory, O Christ my Savior, I will announce all my misconduct and confess the infinitude of Thy mercies, which Thou pourest out upon me according to Thy kindness.

From my mother's womb I began to grieve Thee, and utterly have I disregarded Thy grace, for I have neglected my soul. Thou, O my Master, according to the multitude of Thy mercies, hast regarded all my wickedness with patience and kindness. Thy grace has lifted up my head, but daily it is brought low by my sins. - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #10

No Poison Can Be in the Cup

McCain has a nice post on the beauty of the Lutheran Chorale. Couldn't agree more. There is something about the combo of text and music that really strikes home. One of my favorites is LSB 760. It was written by Samuel Rodigast to comfort his friend, the Kantor Severus Gastorius, during an illness. During his convalescence, Gastorius composed the cheerful melody used with the hymn.

What God ordains is always good:
His will is just and holy.
As He directs my life for me,
I follow meek and lowly.
My God indeed
In ev'ry need
Knows well how He will shield me;
To Him, then, I will yield me.

What God ordains is always good:
He never will deceive me;
He leads me in His righteous way,
And never will He leave me.
I take content
What He has sent;
His hand that sends me sadness
Will turn my tears to gladness.

What God ordains is always good:
His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my physician sends me.
My God is true;
Each morning new
I trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.

What God ordains is always good:
He is my friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me hard
Though many storms may gather.
Now I may know
Both joy and woe;
Someday I will see clearly
That He has loved me dearly.

What God ordains is always good:
Though I the cup am drinking
Which savors now of bitterness,
I take it without shrinking.
For after grief
God gives relief,
My heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling.

What God ordains is always good:
This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm,
For with His arm
He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me.

22 March 2007

Lent V: Judica

[Genesis 22:1-14 / Hebrews 9:11-15 / John 8:42-59]

But what kind of a God would ask such a thing of anyone? “Take your son, your only son, named laughter, whom you love, and offer him as a burnt sacrifice on one of the mountains I will show you.” It sounds positively demonic, doesn't it? But as is their way, the Holy Scriptures lead us deeper if we let them.

What scandalizes us in this story? The idea that God would command a father to slay his own son by his own hand? Yes, and perhaps even more, that Abraham would do it. Would go along with it. I always think that he rose early in the morning and high tailed it out of there before Sarah got wind of what was up, because she would have put a stop to it right quick. And who of us would blame her one little bit?

But to think like that is to suppose that the most terrible thing that can befall a human being is death. Now, Scripture does speak of death as the enemy, make no mistake about it. But there are worse things than death, and in the mind of Abraham the very worst thing of all is separation from his God, no longer holding to Him in faith. To him, that would be something worse than death.

Abraham had learned a long and painful lesson through his many years of walking with his God. He had learned that this God makes promises. And this God keeps them. And he doesn't keep them in ways that accord with our reason. So he promises Abraham children when both he and his wife are old and Sarah beyond the years of fertility. And then God ups the ante. Not just some children, nations. Abraham thought: God needs help keeping the promise. He must mean for me to have relations with Sarah's Egyptian servant, Hagar. But no, God reveals, He needs no help at all. Not from Abraham's doing, but from His own gracious giving, Abraham and Sarah would be blessed with a child of their own flesh. And Sarah laughed at the thought. God hearing her 90 year old cackle said: “Good name. Call him that. Yitzihak. Isaac. Laughter.” And when Abraham had given up trying to help God keep His promises, it all happened.

This is all crucial, because God promised Abraham something else. He told him: “through Isaac shall your descendants be.” The promise that Abraham would become a great nation, kings coming from his body, would all be fulfilled in the offspring of his boy, Isaac. So, when God says, “sacrifice him to me as a burnt offering” there is only one conclusion that Abraham can draw. This is how Hebrews put it: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, 'through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” (Heb. 11:17-18) Abraham knew that death was not a barrier to God keeping His promises. God is mightier than death and if the God who says: “through this one your children will come” says also “sacrifice him,” you go ahead and do it, knowing that the promise of God is the strongest force in the world – and it is often clean contrary to our fallen reasoning. Abraham feared unbelief more than he feared death. Wise man.

But still, how could God ask it of him, of anyone? His promises aside, it just seems cruel and vicious. But Abraham knew his God was neither. His God was good and though he may not have understood anything of the “how” of God's promises he had long since come to rest in the certainty of the “that” of the promises. What God says will be, will be. And so Abraham prophesied: “God will provide a Lamb for the offering, my only Son.”

In today's Gospel, Jesus says that Abraham rejoiced to see His day; that he saw it and was glad. Abraham saw and knew that from his many descendants, God would raise up One who would be different, who would bring blessing to all the nations of the earth. That One would be the long promised Lamb. They'd been sacrificing lambs since the days of Abel, and they knew the sentence of God: “in the day you eat of it, you shall die.” They knew that they lived on borrowed time and that their entire pilgrimage through this world – no matter how many days it lasted – ended for one and all in the dust of the grave. Blessing for all the peoples of the earth could only mean one thing: release from the chains of sin, release from the bonds of death. And there would come One who would effect such a release. Not by abrogating the stern word “you shall die” but by fulfilling it.

“Before Abraham was, I am.” And they took up stones to throw at Him. But the time wasn't yet. It WAS drawing near. Ever closer and closer to the wondrous moment when God's truth and His mercy met and kissed: when the sentence of death fell squarely on God's substitutionary Lamb so that it might be fulfilled for all humanity and mercy thus poured out on all.

Today's epistle describes the drama of the cross from the heavenward side. What was going on there was far more than the eye could see. Not just the blood staining the wood, the body writhing in pain, the prayers and the cries, the closing of his eyes in death. All that anyone on earth could see. But what was happening beyond sight was Christ entering once for all into the holy places by means of His own blood securing an eternal redemption. Beyond the visible of Calvary the Scriptures open our eyes to see how the blood of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God – the perfect offering, for He lived an unbroken “yes” to the will of His Father, even to death – that blood is now at work purifying our consciences from all dead works to serve the living and true God.

How could God ask such a thing of Abraham? He asks nothing of us that He does not fulfill in Himself. He is the Father who sacrificed His well loved and only Son upon Calvary in order to supply you with the blood of the covenant that carries to you forgiveness for all your sins and the gift of eternal life. Here is the Seed promised to Abraham who brings blessing to all peoples. Here is the Lamb promised to Isaac whom God Himself has provided to stand in his place and ours, enduring what we could never endure without it destroying us, and so imparting to us His life that has no end. Here at this altar today, into you is placed the body and blood of that promised Lamb who said: “Before Abraham was, I am.” And receiving such a gift, how can we not cry out with St. Paul: “He who did not spare His only Son, but delivered up for us all, how will He not with Him freely give us all things?”

That does not mean you are exempt from God asking terrible things of you. You know that. He may have already, and He certainly may yet. But it makes all the difference when you remember that He who asks of you such hard things is the One who has given His Son, His ALL, for you. When the crosses come, they come from the heart of Him who gave His Son. They come to you, yes, even as gifts – sometimes received only with tears – that through them you might experience how mighty is the power of the promise of God that you shall have a life that never ends and how puny is the power of death. We adore You, O Lord, and we praise and glorify Your holy resurrection, for behold by the wood of Your cross joy has come into all the world. Amen!

From Today's Vespers...

Mark 13:14 "...then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains."

That reminded of this passage which, long before the Reformation, was (erroneously, apparently) attributed to St. John Chrysostom from a homily on the parallel passage in Matthew (cited in the medieval Glossa Ordinaria):

When you shall see the wicked heresy, which is the army of Antichrist, standing in the holy places of the church, then let those who are in Judea head to the mountains, that is, those who are Christians should head for the Scriptures. For the true Judea is Christendom and the mountains are the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles, as it is written, "Her foundations are in the holy mountains." But why should all Christendom at this time head for the Scriptures? Because in this period in which heresy has taken possession of the churches there can be no proof of true Christianity nor any other refuge for Christians who want to know the truth of the faith except the divine Scriptures. Earlier we showed in many ways which is the church of Christ, and which heathenism. But now there is for those who want to know which is the true church of Christ no way to know it except only through the Scriptures. Why? Because heresy has everything just like the church. How, then, will anyone who wants to know which is the true church of Christ know it in the midst of this great confusion resulting from this similarity, except only through the Scriptures? The Lord, therefore, knowing that there would be such great confusion of things in the last days, commands that Christians who...want to gain steadfastness in the true faith should take refuge in nothing else but the Scriptures. Otherwise, if they look to other things, they will be offended and will perish, because they will not know which is the true church, and as a result will fall into the abomination of desolation which stands in the holy places of the church. (Cited in Chemnitz' *Examen* I:156)

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

You showed Your incomprehensible and unspeakably great love toward us when You promised a Son, a Savior, to our first parents after the fall. In the fullness of time, You sent this Savior to us. Through Him, You recall us from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from hell to heavenly glory. O Lover of all humanity, whose delight is in the children of men, who can offer worthy praise for this philanthropy? Moreover, who can conceive of it? These are the incomprehensible riches of Your goodness. This is the immeasurable treasure of Your kindness, which our impoverished understanding cannot grasp. The slaves were so valuable that for their redemption the Son was given up to death. The one hostile to You was so loved that You appointed the beloved Son to be my Redeemer. My soul is astounded as I reflect on this kindness. - Johann Gerhard, *Meditations on Divine Mercy* pp. 63, 64

Patristic Quote of the Day

So go forth boldly, O sinner. The door is already open and ready to receive you. Bring the Lord a sacrifice of tears and go freely to Him. He does not demand gifts, nor does He have any respect of persons. He is kindhearted to men and willingly forgives the sins of repentant sinners. - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #21


Okay, so you all know I've been quite favorable to LSB - I think in general it is a very good hymnal. But last night, there I was, singing along and came across THIS:

Help me see forgiveness won
By Your holy Passion.
If for me He slays His Son,
God must have compassion!

(stanza 5 of 440: "Jesus, I Will Ponder Now")


This replaces:

Grant that I may trust in Thee
And Thy holy Passion.
If His Son so loveth me,
God must have compassion.

Now, the German original reads, literally translated:

You and Your Passion
Let me believingly hold fast to.
If His beloved Son loves me,
How can God hate me?

Now, I ask you WHERE ON EARTH did that horrible stanza come from in LSB? You can't call it a translation of the German; it's not. It has nothing do do with the point that the original was making, which is the comfort that comes from the identity of the divine will in Father and Son - if the Son so loves me that He embraces His passion to forgive me and destroy my death, then it is manifest that such love for me also exists in the heart of the Father. The Son's Passion manifests this love.

Does Scripture ANYWHERE use the language that "God slays His Son"? "Spared not His Son" "Gave up His Son" yes. But "slayed His Son"??? Peter spoke far differently on the Day of Pentecost: "This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, YOU crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. GOD raise Him up." Acts 2:23-24 "And YOU killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead." Acts 3:15 "This Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom YOU crucified, whom God raised from the dead." Acts 4:10

If the stanza as it appears in LSB is not out and out false, it is horribly misleading. I think from now on that stanza will just be skipped when we sing this hymn.

21 March 2007

Is the Church Eternal? Then...

The Lutheran Symbols teach so: "By this preaching He gathers an eternal Church for Himself from the human race and works in people's hearts true repentance, knowledge of sins, and true faith in God's Son, Jesus Christ." FC SD II:50

But an eternal Church leads us to ponder the weight of 2 Corinthians 4:18: "For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

Let the reader understand...

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

You bore all this because of me, because of Your indescribable love. Your love was not satisfied by the assumption of my flesh. You desired to establish that love even more firmly through that most bitter passion of Your soul and body. Who am I, most powerful Lord, that for the sake of a disobedient slave You willingly served so many years? Who am I, the most disgraceful bond-servant of sin and whore of the devil, that for my sake You, fairest Bridegroom, did not refuse to die? Who am I, kindest Creator, that for my sake, a most wretched creature, You did not shrink from the punishment of the cross? - Johann Gerhard, *Meditations on Divine Mercy* p. 68

Patristic Quote of the Day

Out of nothing You brought us into being, and when we had fallen, raised us up again; and You have not ceased to do all things until You brought us up to heaven and graciously gave us Your kingdom which is to come. - Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom

20 March 2007

What is the Real Church?

What is the real Church, the true mother of all Christians? According to St. Paul, she is, first of all, "the Jerusalem above." Therefore, she is not of this world. She is not an earthly, bodily, visible kingdom, but an invisible, spiritual, heavenly one. She is not an institution perceptible to the senses, not a number of people who are bound by certain laws and customs. Instead, she is a kingdom of hearts that are bound together in one understanding and one Spirit. What holds her together is unseen by the eyes of people. She is not a host of people who can be recognized by natural descent or by the country in which they reside. She is bound to no nation or city of the world. She is a congregation that is dispersed over the face of the entire earth, and she has members of every age and station among all people everywhere.

Furthermore, the apostle says, the Church is "free." There are no children of Hagar, no Ishmaels, none who by their human birth alone belong to her as servants of the Law. She is made up entirely of Sarah's children, of Isaac's, of pure children of the promise, namely those who are born again by the promise of grace as free children of God.

The true Church is thus the whole number of those who have sought and found their salvation, not on Sinai, but on Golgotha. -- C.F.W. Walther, *God Grant It* - Tuesday of Lent IV (sermon on Gal. 4:26)

Herzliebster Jesu

What punishment so strange is suffered yonder,
The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander,
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know Him.

There was no spot in me by sin untainted;
Sick with sin's poison, all my heart had fainted;
My heavy guilt to hell had well-night brought me,
Such woe it wrought me.

O wondrous love, whose depths no heart hath sounded,
That brought Thee here, by foes and thieves surrounded!
All worldly pleasure, heedless, I was trying
While Thou wert dying.

O mighty King, no time can dim Thy glory!
How shall I spread abroad the wondrous story?
How shall I find some worthy gifts to proffer?
What dare I offer?

I'll think upon Thy mercy without ceasing,
That earth's vain joys to me no more be pleasing;
To do Thy will shall be my sole endeavor,
Henceforth forever.

And when, dear Lord, before Thy throne in heaven
To me the crown of joy at last is given,
Where sweetest hymns Thy saints forever raise Thee,
I, too, shall praise Thee.

(LSB 439:4-8, 12, 15)

Two Helpful Resources

A friend recently inquired about any helps on the net for preaching and using the historic one-year lectionary. There are two resources that I think are quite helpful and would recommend. For preaching, the incomparable lectionary central:

click here

For musical settings of the propers of LSB, liturgy solutions:

click here

In either of these spots, you'll find some fabulous resources for preaching and using the Western Church's historic lectionary. Enjoy!

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

For these sins that I commit every day of my life, I offer to You, O holy Father, the precious blood of Your Son, which was poured out on the altar of the cross. His blood cleanses me from all my transgressions. My sins hold me captive and are powerful enemies, but still more precious and efficacious is the ransom of Your Son. May that most perfect, full, and holy ransom of Christ avail for me, for the forgiveness of my transgressions. Amen. - Johann Gerhard, *Mediations on Divine Mercy* p. 37

Patristic Quote of the Day

Our error is much mightier than our prayer. Our prayer is insignificant, but our guilt it great. What sacrifice could we bring Thee to reconcile ourselves with Thee? We have nothing to give Thee. Thus we ask Thee to reconcile us by Thy blood, O All-merciful One. Thanks be to the Father Who sent Thee, O our Savior! For by Thee we who are guilty are vindicated. Thou hast taken away our sins by Thy cross; take away our guilt also in Thy coming. - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #13

19 March 2007

The Amazing Candace

Our webmaster, Candy Esch, never ceases to astound me. She was at the Divine Service this morning, commemorating St. Joseph. And then I discover this little gem this afternoon on the website:

click here

Beautiful job she does with that site. If you've not explored it lately, click around and enjoy!

Gottesdienst Day!

Each time I think the periodical Gottesdienst couldn't get any better, Fr. Fritz pulls a fast one. There's much to be commended in the latest edition, but the top reading, in my opinion, is from Fr. Fritz himself. He has written a little opinion piece called "Lutheran Identity Crisis?" VERY worth the read. What does it say? Well, subscribe and find out!

Oh, all right. All right. Just one teasing bit:

"This leaves the restless among us to consider flight to one of the historic episcopates. Some have been known to get a bit misty-eyed about the historic episcopates, an understandable weakness for the liturgically aware.... The temptation is palpable. A bishop comes along who actually looks and acts like a bishop, and whose churches actually look and act like churches, and it's no wonder we fumbling Lutherans look up from our sandboxes and wonder if maybe there's something we're missing over here. Well, of course there is! Our churches don't look or act like churches. That's what is missing."

Oh, so much more. And very tasty. Enjoy!

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

The end of a human soul is God Himself, since it is created indeed in His image. It can never then be at rest and peace, except as it attains the end of its being, that is God. - Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditations* XXXII

Patristic Quote of the Day

Accept our prayer, O Lord, and grant us Thyself. May we live in Thee, may we possess Thee instead of all else, for then all is ours. - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #4

There are days...

...when I think that Matins prayed publicly in the Church, followed by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is THE way that every day should begin. A blessed Day of St. Joseph to everyone!

18 March 2007

Short Meditation for St. Joseph's Day

Tomorrow is the day. This is what I will share at our spoken Divine Service tomorrow morning. The texts are 2 Samuel 7:4-16; Romans 4:13-18; and Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23.

Who's the carpenter here? David wanted to build a house for God, but God tells him: "No, I'm the one who will build a house for you." David is blown away by the kindness of the Lord, His goodness and love. "Let it be" he prays. "Dump down the goodies."

Years later, a Carpenter, a Son of David, welcomed into his home a woman pregnant with a child not of his own body, but the child of his heart. He welcomed the little Carpenter, God in the flesh, who had come to build a true temple for God among human flesh and blood. Jesus was the name the angel gave. "Because he will save his people from their sins." As Mary came nearer to term and the child bulged in her womb, Joseph would place his hand on her tummy and feel the baby kick, and say to himself: "This is my Savior. This is the one we have prayed for and hoped for all our lives. He comes to set us free!"

Old Joseph didn't live to see how that redemption would take place. He's last mentioned in the temple with Mary and Jesus when the lad was 12. Sometime between then and Jesus' baptism at the age of 30, he died. He didn't live to see the shame of the cross, when only Mary and her friends had the courage to stand by him. He didn't live to see the triumph of the empty tomb when Jesus would begin spreading the joy of death's defeat into all the world. He probably never saw Jesus work a miracle, but that didn't matter.

He still died full of faith and hope because he knew that in that child, learning to walk, learning to talk, in that child who hugged him and liked to rub his face in Joseph's rough beard, in that child who ate at his table and looked so peaceful sleeping under his roof, in that child who played with abandon and prayed with glee, in that child God had come to be with us, to save us. And so Joseph closed his eyes in peace and opened them in heaven's light only to be embraced by his child, his Jesus.

While on earth, Joseph had cared and provided for the Child and now in heaven the Child of Mary would forever care and provide for him - the Child, his Jesus, had built a lasting home for his foster-father and for all who welcome Him into their lives.

Joseph lurks in the background. But how our Lord loved his earthly protector and provider! You and I often know what Joseph felt like. We're background people, too, for the most part. Maybe often overlooked and forgotten, just doing the tasks the Lord has given us to do. That's okay. There's one who doesn't overlook or forget. One who loves us. One who is waiting to welcome us home. The Child who was born of Mary, nurtured by Joseph; the Child who by his cross and resurrection has built and opened wide for all who trust Him - great and small alike - an eternal home. There's a reason he was the Carpenter's son. Amen.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Wonderful, indeed, is the exhange Thou dost make; our sins Thou takest upon Thyself, and Thy righteousness Thou dost impute to us; the death due us for our transgressions Thou dost Thyself suffer, and in turn dost bestow eternal life upon us. Therefore I can no longer doubt Thy grace or despair on account of my sins. - Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditations* X

Patristic Quote of the Day

To Thee, O Victor pierced by nails on the cross Who calleth out to sinners, saying: come, receive forgiveness freely - to Thee I unrelentingly pray, O my Savior: turn Thine eyes away from lawlessness, and by Thy sufferings heal my sores that I may glorify Thy kindness. - St. Ephrem the Syrian *A Spiritual Psalter* #8

Lenten Tilt

When Laetare Divine Services are though, it seems Lent has tilted - it is rushing towards its conclusion. By the day's end, I have only one more adult catechism class left before the Vigil. I will have only one more public school catechism class left for the year. Confirmation for the youth looms on Palm Sunday - now just two brief weeks away.

And then begins the marathon! We're committed to offering the Divine Service for every Sunday and Holy Day of the LSB calendar. When combined with our regular schedule for the weekend, that means we will observe the following:

Saturday before Palm Sunday - Divine Service, 6 p.m.
Palm Sunday - Divine Service with examination of catechumens, 7:45; Divine Service with Confirmation, 10 a.m.
Holy Monday - Matins, 6:30 a.m.; Divine Service, 7 a.m.
Holy Tuesday - Matins, 6:30 a.m.; Divine Service, 7 a.m.
Holy Wednesday - Matins, 6:30 a.m.; Divine Service, 7 a.m.

GREAT THREE DAYS: "From death to life eternal!"
Holy (Maundy) Thursday - Divine Service to begin Triduum, 7:15 p.m.
Good Friday - Chief Service, Noon; Tenebrae Vespers, 7:15 p.m.
Holy Saturday - Great Vigil of Easter, 8:00 p.m.

FEAST OF RESURRECTION: "Christ has arisen!"
Easter - Matins, 6:30 a.m.; Divine Service, 9:00 a.m.
Easter Monday - Matins, 6:30 a.m.; Divine Service, 7 a.m.
Easter Tuesday - Matins, 6:30 a.m.; Divine Service, 7 a.m.
Easter Wednesday - Matins, 6:30 a.m.; Divine Service, 7 a.m.; Compline, 8 p.m.

It's exhausting to look at it, but it's also what we've been in "training" for this Lent, and it is a fabulous feast of LIFE that is being served up to us. We hope that many folks will take advantage of the extra opportunities to receive the Lord's gracious service to us, and to render Him thanks and praise for the most important events in the entire history of the human race!

Lent draws to a close, and Easter's bright joy beckons! Let us haste to meet the Bridegroom!

17 March 2007

Patrick, Missionary to Ireland

Today our churches remember St. Patrick, the missionary to Ireland. From our Synod's website:

Patrick is one of the best-known of the missionary saints. Born to a Christian family in Britain around the year 389, he was captured as a teenager by raiders, taken to Ireland, and forced to serve as a herdsman. After six years he escaped and found his way to a monastery community in France. Ordained a bishop in 432, he made his way back to Ireland, where he spent the rest of his long life spreading the Gospel and organizing Christian communities. He strongly defended the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in a time when it was not popular to do so. His literary legacy includes his autobiography, Confessio, and several prayers and hymns still used in the church today. Patrick died around the year 466.

LSB 604 is attributed to St. Patrick, called "St. Patrick's Breastplate."

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
By pow'r of faith, Christ's incarnation,
His Baptism in the Jordan River,
His cross of death for my salvation.
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom,
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The pow'r of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need,
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The Word of God to give me speech,
His heav'nly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
the vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within in,
The hostile foes that mar my course;
Or few or many far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me those holy pow'rs.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three,
Of whom all nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!

16 March 2007

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Let us all be frightened from the heart by all sins, but especially by the sins of fornication and covetousness. For the person whose conscience testifies that, until now, he has lived in one of these sins and continues in it, there is still time to escape the future wrath. - C. F. W. Walther on Eph 5:3-5 *God Grant It* p. 291

Patristic Quote of the Day

Thee have I angered, yet to Thee do I run, according to Thy great capacity to forget evil-doing. Thee have I offended, yet to Thee do I run, according to Thy great love for mankind, and I entreat and cry to Thee: Turn Thy face from my sins and blot out mine iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a right spirit within me!

I have nothing to offer Thee, neither a good deed, nor a pure heart, but hoping in Thy compassion I lay myself down, that Thou mightest bring me to contrition and unwaivering observance of Thy commandments, and that I might not fall so easily into sin again, but serve Thee henceforth in reverence and truth all the days of my life.

--St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #146

Productive Day - and Productivity Software

Today was supposed to be my day off, but I spent a good deal of it working. I was inspired to work quite a bit by playing around with some new productivity software: Open Office 2.1 for Mac. My goodness! What a deal! It's free, and coolest of all? It does brochures. Pastor Heath Curtis first told me about it on Wednesday. I was lamenting that it seems one HAD to use Publisher to make brochures, and he told us: "Not any more. Open Office does it too."

Ah, but would it work on the Mac and my printer? Turns out the answer is YES. Pr. Curtis was kind enough to send me a bulletin from his church and I just saved it as a template setting, and voila! When I want to print a brochure and have all the pages come out where they need to be for printing up mass copies, I just use his template, and under the print menu select "options" and then click brochure, close that dialog box and print. THAT easy! Too cool.

Oh, and it is FASTER than MS Office - at least on my little iBook. MS Office often gives me the spinning beach ball as the program tries to decide what to do next, but so far, once Open Office is open, it just does what I tell it to do. Like right away. How cool is that?

I threw tons of things at it, and it all worked and worked well. The only downside for me is booting into X11, but that's relatively painless and then off we go. I think I agree with Pr. Curtis. Time to say "goodbye" to MS Office for Mac!

15 March 2007

A Tad Early

This coming Saturday we're headed to the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate Bekah Lee's birthday (which is actually not till next week, but she'll be on tour when it happens). And since Saturday would be St. Paddy's day, we transferred the feast - to today!

Sadly, Bekah was at school; David at the university; but Dean and Lauren (both on Spring break) joined Cindi and me in a wonderful feast:

Irish soda bread (whole wheat with raisins, sliced thin and smothered with butter)
Fried cabbage
Mashed tatters
Corned Beef

It was delicious - and the soda bread reminded us of Marianne. She always made the Irish soda bread - usually with white flour and with so many raisins that you were amazed the bread could hold together! Absolutely delicious. What we forgot? To serve hot tea with the meal. We always used to do that too.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

An unprejudiced and unpartison comparison of the Lutheran doctrine with the doctrines of other Churches, especially with the doctrines of the Roman and Reformed Churches, shows that in all the distinctive doctrines it holds the just mean between both. In no single doctrine does it defend an extreme, but everywhere its doctrine offers the only possible agreement and union of the extreme contradictions which find expression in the different particular Churches. - Löhe, *Three Books* (Book III, Chapter III: "It is the Centre in which the Different Confessions Unite")

Patristic Quote for the Day

This food is called the Eucharist among us. Only those are permitted to partake of it who believe the truth of our doctrine, who have been washed in the laver of the forgiveness of sins and regeneration, and who live accordingly, even as Christ has bidden us. - St. Justin Martyr, Apology I, par 66

First Draft for Laetare (2007)

[Isaiah 49:8-13 / Acts 2:41-47 / John 6:1-15]

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Devoted themselves is pretty strong language. To devote yourself means you've made a commitment to something and, further, made that commitment not out of some dreary sense of duty, but out of love. Think what it means to speak of a man as a “devoted husband and father” or a woman as a “devoted wife and mother.”

So those first Christians after receiving Baptism on that joyous day of Pentecost – they devoted themselves to, they made a commitment out of love to listening to the Apostles' teaching, to sharing in the communion, that is, breaking of the bread, and to joining together in the prayers. They were committed to living at the receiving end of God's good gifts, and look at what happened!

Their lives began to shine with the love of Christ Himself as they provided for the poor in need, out of new hearts that were both glad and generous. Said simply: if they had the Divine Service, they had enough and more than enough, and that freed them to live in charity.

We might look at their giving away all their stuff and shake our heads, though. “Live like that and what will become of you?” we wonder. Such is our unbelief. You see, they knew WHO they were living with – they knew WHO met them in the Apostles' Words, the Communion, the Prayers. They knew it was none other than He who knows how to multiply the loaves and fish and provide for His people all that they need, more in fact than they ever dreamed possible.

Our Lord tosses Philip the hot potato to see whether he's learned anything yet. But instead of tossing it right back as he should have done, he plays with it and it burns his hands. Jesus asks: “Philip, where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”

Philip starts looking over the crowd, does some math, comes up with the answer: “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Andrew joins in the game: “There's a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”

Picture the three of them: Our Lord looking at the two disciples. Philip staring opened mouth into the crowd. Andrew, shaking his head over the pitiful amount of food. Neither passed the test.

You see, our Lord does not send us tests to find out how bright and ingenious we are, let alone to test our will power. He always sends tests for us to toss them right back at Him, and look to Him alone because the problems are too big for us to handle. Jesus shows us that by what He does with the disciples next.

“Have the people sit down.” Then HE took the little food and gave big thanks over it and handed the little food to the Apostles to dish out.

Can you see Andrew looking at the little piece of bread in his hand as Jesus says: “Go, give it away!” Can you see Philip looking at the vast crowd and shaking his head? How long did it take them before they realized? How long before they discovered that no matter how much they gave away, the Lord multiplied in their hands the food? They never felt as though they had anymore than that little bit that the Lord had first given, and yet they found that little bit to be, with His blessing, an inexhaustible supply. Twelve baskets of left overs. One for each Apostle. Twelve baskets out of the little amount they held in their hand.

Ah, but if they had held on it? If they had not given it away? If in fear of not getting more they had kept it for themselves? What then? They would have had not a basket full, but a little piece only.

Are you beginning to see? They saw, and that's why we find those who devoted themselves to their teaching in our second reading, taking their earthly stuff and handing it over to those in need. They knew they were not impoverishing themselves. They had made the joyful discovery that you can't out-give the Lord Jesus. He gives, and you pass it on to others, and He multiplies and provides. But how can He multiply what is not given over?

To have more than enough as you give it all away makes no sense in the ways of the world. But we must think of Who teaches us this. For it is not some principle of finance, but of LIFE that He is disclosing here.

He gave Himself away, not in part, but in whole. He poured Himself out for you and for me and for us all. He emptied His life upon the Cross so that He might forgive us – His blood blotting out our sin – including our sin of fear that tries to hold onto earthly stuff as though we could squeeze some real life out of it; His life destroying our death by giving us a real life that never ends. He gave Himself entirely to us. And you might think: “If I do that, then there's nothing left. Best to hold on to what I've got.”

His resurrection shows that such is a lie. This is why He would say: “The one who saves his life, will lose it; while the one who loses his life for my sake keeps it for eternal life.” The One who gave His all is the One who lives forevermore, His body made incorruptible and the very fountain of salvation. And He goes on giving Himself away, feeding His people in the wilderness not with earthly food alone, but with Himself. For HE is the very Word of God made flesh to be our bread of life. Here at His table, He reaches you a food that provides you with more than you'll ever need – and that's how He frees you not to grasp, but to open the hand and give away. Your stuff, yes, but above all your life. It's not just what He did when He multiplied the loaves; it's what He did when He went to Calvary; it's what He calls you and me to join Him in doing now.

Then we will know first hand the joyful heart of those first Christians on Pentecost, for devoted like them to the Lord's Words, His Meal, and the Prayers, we will find that the One who poured out His life to death for us and who now lives forevermore – that to have Him is to have everything and so our hearts will be set free to give ourselves away entirely. And we'll then find ourselves among that company that the Lord adds to every day – the company of those who “are being saved.”

14 March 2007

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Employ thy power in aiding the weak, thy wisdom in instruction the ignorant, and thy riches in benefactions to the poor. Let not adversity crush thee, nor prosperity unduly exalt thee. Let Christ be the aim of thy life; follow Him in this world, that thou mayest come at last into His fellowship in the heavenly fatherland. In all things let thy greatest care be to manifest deep humility and glowing love. - Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditations* XXVIII

Patristic Quote for the Day

Christ, Master of us all, free us from all these destructive passions and the thoughts born of them.

For Thy sake we came into being, so that we might delight in the paradise which Thou hast planted and in which Thou hast placed us. We brought our present disgrace upon ourselves, preferring destruction to the delights of blessedness. We have paid for this, for we have exchanged eternal life for death.

O Master, as once Thou looked on us, look on us now; as Thou becamest man, save all of us. For Thou camest to save us who were lost. Do not exclude us from the company of those who are being saved.

Raise up our souls and save our bodies, cleansing us from all impurity. Break the fetters of the passions that constrain us, as once Thou hast broken the ranks of the impure demons. Free us from their tyranny, so that we may worship Thee alone, the eternal light, having risen from the dead and dancing with the angels in the blessed, eternal, and indissoluble dance. Amen.

--St. Thalassios, *Philokalia II:324*

13 March 2007

Homily for the Third Lenten Midweek Vespers - III. The Palace of the High Priest

We have heard the Lenten call of the Church summoning us back to the font, reminding us that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die and that a new man daily should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. That something in us needs to die and something God gives us need to take its place as our life. Tonight we see this in the matter of Confession.

Not the Confession of sin, but the Confession of the holy faith, the Confession of who Jesus is and what our relationship is to Him. Jesus is mostly silent during his mockery of a trial, but when the high priest asks him point blank: "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Jesus confesses and does not deny: "I am. You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God's power and coming with the clouds of heaven." Those were the words that sealed his fate. "Do we still need any witnesses?" cried the High Priest. "You have heard this blasphemy. What is your opinion?" And they all agreed He was deserving of death. Deserving of death because He had told the truth about Himself - a truth they did not want to hear.

And then there's Peter. He has the opportunity to confess Jesus too. Remember, how boldly he had said: "Lord, even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you." There is no reason to doubt his sincerity. He meant it. But when the moment came, in the flicker of the light from the fire, he withdraws into the darkness and insists: "I do not know what you mean." And again: "I do not know the man." And again with a solemn oath, calling down curses upon himself, he lies and says: "I do not know the man."

Why? What was it that enabled our Lord to make the good confession to the High Priest, even though that Confession meant his death? What was it that hindered Peter from confessing and owning up that yes, he knew Jesus and further was His disciple? We understand Peter's response all too well. We live by nature with what was eating at him: fear.

When push came to shove, Peter's courage failed him because he was afraid. Afraid of suffering and most of all, afraid of death. And that made him a captive to the fear that he served. That's exactly what the Apostle tells us in Hebrews: that the devil, who has the power of death, keeps in life-long slavery those whom he locks up in the fear of death.

And here is the key to our Lord's boldness. For though He hates death, despises it, scorns it, He does not fear it. He came into this world to destroy it. He came among us to let it devour Him so that by taking its stinking gullet Him over whom it had NO claim, it might be destroyed forever, and so His people set free from their slavery, free from their fear.

Jesus, standing before the High Priest, knows what is about to happen. He knows that He will yield His life upon the cross - a fragrant offering and sacrifice to His Father, His blood blotting forever the guilt of our sin and the sin of the whole world. And He also knows and rejoices that His Father will never abandon Him to the grave. That though death takes Him, death's bands will be burst. The way several early fathers put it, He was death's poison pill. Having swallowed Him down - the utterly indigestible Divine - death began to wretch and ended up vomiting up all it had swallowed. Jesus does not fear death, because Death will never be the end of Him - or of any who are joined in living faith to Him.

But Peter has only heard that Jesus will be raised from the dead; and now that he sees the Master in the hands of those who will turn Him over to crucifixion, his heart quails and he trembles and fears and rather than in peace confessing His Lord, in terror of death he denies Him. Jesus calls Peter to repentance with a look, and Peter went out and wept bitterly.

He wept bitter tears for his own fear and sin and cowardice, but he did not despair. Unlike Judas. Did the look that Jesus gave him communicate to him: Remember, I told you you would deny me, and I was right, so you have; but remember I also told you I would rise again, and I will be right about that too! I have prayed for you, Peter, that you faith fail not!

Think of the man we meet here on the other side of the resurrection, on the day of Pentecost! The man who cowered before the serving girl boldly tells the crowds that day: "This Jesus whom YOU murdered by hanging on a tree God has raised from the dead and we are all His witnesses!"

What stands in between? The resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Spirit. And so with you and your Baptism. For in the waters you are placed into the tomb with Christ and raised with Him as the guarantee of a life that will never end. In the waters the Holy Spirit Himself descended upon you even as He descended on Peter and the other Apostles on Pentecost - transforming them from quivering cowards to bold confessors. What changed was the conviction of faith that Jesus truly HAS destroyed death's power by enduring it.

Years later Peter was told: Sacrifice to the Emperor and deny this Jesus or die! And in the grace of God he refused. He refused and he went the way of his Lord. Even to being crucified, though upside down because he did not feel himself worthy to die the same as his Lord. But in the end, Peter looked the fear of death in the face and laughed at it. "You can't scare me this time! I know Who lives forevermore and I know you have NO power over Him and I am in Him and His body and His blood are in me. You lose, even as you take me. I am not afraid of you."

Something has to die and something rises as a gift of God to us. Slavery to fear of death gets left behind in the baptismal water, and courage to boldly confess the Master is poured out fresh each day. Lent calls us to return to this gift of the water - to embrace the death of fear and the resurrection of bold confession in the Spirit's power. O Lord, set us free and loose our tongues to confess! Amen.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Remember thy sins, that thou mayest bewail them; be mindful of death, that thou mayest avoid sin; keep in mind the divine justice, that thou mayest fear to sin; and above all remember the mercy of thy God, lest thou yield to despair. - Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditations* XXVIII

Patristic Quote for the Day

Effects comprise all created things in heaven and on earth, while the causes that we have brought them into being are the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. It is therefore clear that there can be no exact resemblance between the two. - St. Maximos the Confessor, *Fifth Century of Various Texts* par. 67 [Philokalia II:276]

A Question on Prayer

Last night a friend wrote me and asked about verses like John 14:13-14 and John 16:23-24. He said: "I know what these appear to say, and I know how the Joel Osteen's of the world use them, and I understand the risk of wandering headlong into a theology of glory, but frankly if Joel Osteen walked up to me and threw one of these verses in my face, I'm not sure how I would respond. What are we supposed to do with verses like these?"

I am posting the conversation with my friend's permission because it is a question that I think frequently troubles people, and I so loved the answer that I learned from Dr. Nagel. Here's what I wrote:

Well, let me share with you how Dr. Nagel helped me understand those. First, understand that when I was a teenager and a new Christian, I read those. And tried it. And it didn't work. So you know what I did? I stopped praying. In the sense of asking for anything. I just figured it didn't work and so why bother. Now, I did thank the Lord for communion and things like that, but petitionary prayer I just sort of ignored. And I was that way through much of Sem too. I didn't believe Jesus had lied to me, but I knew that it didn't work the way I tried it. So I let it go.

One day, Dr. Nagel began talking to us about prayer. He told us that prayer is pulling things out of God's name. I'd never heard anything like this, so I was intrigued. He said picture the name of Jesus like the treasure chest that holds all of God's gifts for you. You can simply ask for anything that is "in that name" and He gives it to you. The key is to learn what is "in the name" and what not. This whole way of thinking revolutionized how I thought about praying. Instead of taking my (often!) silly will and slapping a "in the name of Jesus" onto the prayer, I learned to stop and ask: what does the Name of Jesus hold for me in this situation? What can I ask for from this treasure chest?

And then I saw the complete harmony between the promises of our Lord in John's Gospel and John's own words in the fifth chapter of his epistle - that if we ask anything according to His will, we know that he hears us and grants us whatever ask. I saw that the will of God is precisely that we have all the goodies God has loaded into the name of Jesus.

Okay, does that make ANY sense? The way I teach it to the kids is to take a box and label it with the word "Jesus" and then fold up all kinds of paper in side of it: peace, joy, health, daily bread, deliverance, strength, etc. I tell them to reach in and grab one. They do and then I ask them to read it to the class. Then I say: this is what it means to pray "in the name of Jesus." That everything that is IN that name is YOURS.


12 March 2007

"Come, Let Us Fix Our Eyes..."

The midway point of Lent is upon us, and I know in my own life how hard Satan has been working to focus my attention anywhere else but upon the Passion of our Lord. Has he been up to his tricks with you too? Let us then remember the words of Hebrews 12:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

"Run with endurance." That endurance part. Whew! The saints who surround us invite us to follow their example - and that is above all, to keep the eyes focused upon our Lord, upon Him who is the source of our faith and the one who brings it to perfection. Our blessed Lord let nothing deter Him from the path His Father appointed: the cross. If there is one thing that binds the saints together it is their focus upon the Crucified and Risen One. He is their life. And they, one and all, summon us to find in Him also our life. To not stop the struggle until our eyes are fixed on Him without fail.

One of the saints a long time ago, St. Augustine, captured the heart of Lent when he wrote: "Meanwhile brethren, that we may be healed from sin, let us now gaze on Christ crucified" (Homily on John 3) As the world around us and Satan and his minions all lure us to focus our attention elsewhere, anywhere else, but the Cross, the saints who surround us urge us not to give up the struggle, but to fix our eyes on Jesus that we too may endure.

My sister-in-law wrote on her blog recently a famous statement from a monk about what they do at the monastery: "we fall, we get up, we fall, we get up." Yup. Not just at the monastery, but in all of the Christian's life. We fall each time we take our eyes off the Crucified, but then we rise as we look to Him again.

Lord Jesus, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, keep our eyes fixed upon You, our Crucified and Victorious Lord. Amen!

Be Thou my consolation,
My shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion
When my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee,
Upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfold Thee.
Who dieth thus dies well. (LSB 450:7 - by Paul Gerhardt - one of the saints who kept his eyes upon the Cross and who was born this day 400 years ago.)

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Silence of the mouth is an excellent thing for peace of heart. - Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditations* XXVIII

Patristic Quote of the Day

Christ is by nature both God and man. In an ineffable and supranatural manner we participate by grace in Him as God, while He in His incomprehensible love for men shares in our lot for our sake by making Himself one with us with a form like ours. -- St. Maximos the Confessor, *Fourth Century on Various Texts* #25 (Philokalia II:241)

10 March 2007

The Intercessions*

We come to You, Holy Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ, Your Son. Through Him we ask You to accept and bless the prayers and gifts we offer. Lord, in Your mercy, Hear our prayer!

Remember, Lord, Your holy church. Watch over her and guide her. Grant her peace and unity throughout the world. Lord, in Your mercy, Hear our prayer!

Remember, Lord, all pastors and servants of the Church. Grant them to hold and teach the faith that comes to us from the apostles. Lord, in Your mercy, Hear our prayer!

Remember, Lord, and bless the schools of the Church, including our own. Grant that our children may grow in wisdom and faith each day. Lord, in Your mercy, Hear our prayer!

Remember, Lord, our President, our public servants, and all in our armed forces. Guide, bless, protect and uphold them in honor. Bring all nations into the ways of peace and justice. In Your kindness and love, grant us seasonable weather and an abundance of the fruits of the earth. Lord, in Your mercy, Hear our prayer!

Remember, Lord, all who suffer for Your name, all who are in prison, the hungry and ill-clad, the poor and the lonely, those who travel, and all who cry out to You in time of need, especially your servants... Take them under Your tender care and grant them a happy release from their afflictions. Lord, in Your mercy, Hear our prayer!

Remember, Lord, all who are gathered here before You, our living and true God. We pray for our well-being and redemption. Grant us Your peace in this life, save us from final damnation, and count us among Your chosen flock. Though we are sinners we trust in Your mercy and love. Do not consider what we truly deserve but grant us Your forgiveness. Lord, in Your mercy, Hear our prayer!

Holy Father, in communion with the whole Church we give You thanks for Your saints, in whom You have given us a mirror of Your mercy and grace. We praise You especially for the Blessed Virgin Mary, for Joseph her husband, for John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, and all Your martyrs. Give us grace to walk before you with faith like theirs and grant us some share in their heavenly fellowship. Lord, in Your mercy, Hear our prayer!

Lord God, in Your unfailing mercy and love You have graciously given us the holy Supper of Your Son. As now we prepare to receive His Gifts, stir up our minds to the salutary remembrance of Your benefits and to true and unending thanksgiving.

Aid us, Your ministers and Your people, that by this Mystery of the new and eternal Testament, we may recall how Your Son offered Himself upon the altar of the cross for us -- a Ransom pure, holy, and undefiled - so that, rejoicing in His resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven, we may joyfully await His coming in glory.

And we beg You to bless and sanctify by Your Holy Spirit’s power the bread and wine we bring before You that they become for us, through our Savior’s Words, His true Body and Blood, the nourishment of eternal life. Grant that receiving them in faith, we may be filled with every grace and blessing, through Christ our Lord.

Through Him and with Him and in Him in the unity of the Holy Spirit all glory and honor is Yours, almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen!
*This form of intercession is based largely upon the Roman Canon which, I believe, makes an outstanding intercession but not the greatest Eucharistic prayer. The concluding petitions are based upon the Red Book, promulgated under the authority of King John III of Sweden in the 16th century.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Formerly we "were dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph ii.I), according to the Apostle. Therefore sin is spiritual death to the soul. Through mortal sin man loses God. God is the infinite and incomprehensible Good; to lose God is therefore an infinite and inconceivable calamity. As God is the greatest Good, so sin is the greatest evil. Punishments and afflictions are not real evils, because much good may come out of them. On the other hand we should esteem them good because they come from God, the highest Good, from whom naught but good can come. Christ Himself, the highest Good, suffers such afflictions, and He could not be a partaker of what is really evil. They lead also to the highest Good, that is, eternal life. Through suffering Christ entered into His glory; and through much tribulation must we Christians enter eternal life (Acts xiv.22). Sin is the greatest evil, because it draws us away from the highest Good; the nearer we approach God the farther we get from sin; the nearer we come to sin, the father do we withdraw from God. How salutary then is true repentance, which releases us from sin and leads us back to God. - Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditations* III

Patristic Quote of the Day

Confession takes two forms. According to the one, we give thanks for blessings received; according to the other, we bring to light and examine what we have done wrong. We use the term confession both for the grateful appreciation of the blessings we have received through divine favor, and for the admission of the evil actions of which we are guilty. Both forms produce humility. For he who thanks God for his blessings and he who examines himself for his offences are both humbled. The first judges himself unworthy of what he has been given; the second implores forgiveness for his sins. - St. Maximos the Confessor *Third Century of Various Texts* par. 63 Philokalia II:226

09 March 2007

Just to show...

...that he is not ALWAYS a dufficity....

Here is David's first commercial artwork venture. He notes that while he designed the sign, he does not think the size they ended up employing matches the building - it should be larger.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Pride is a scorching wind drying up the fountains of divine grace in the heart; beware then of lifting thyself up with pride, lest thou deprive thyself of the influences of God's grace. O blessed Christ, do Thou graciously heal the swelling pride of our hearts. May we rest our hopes of eternal life on the merit of Thy holy humility! May that humility be the pattern of our lives! May our faith more firmly lay hold of Thy humility, and our lives be ever fashioned after Thy lowly life! - Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditations* XXXIV

Patristic Quote of the Day

When wrath takes the form of God allowing the demons to attack an arrogant intellect through the passions, it is a means of deliverance. For through suffering these shameful attacks the person that boasts of his virtues is enabled to learn who is the giver of these virtues. Otherwise he will be stripped of those things that are not in fact his, though he regarded them as such, forgetting that he had received them as a gift. - St. Maximos the Confessor, *Third Century of Various Texts* Philokalia II:215

08 March 2007

Eating the Crumbs Ain't All They're Up To...

About an hour and a half before dinner, his mother asked: "David, did you remember to take out the dog?"

Answer: "No."

Then we sit down for dinner. We say grace. I take a bite, swallow, and then proceed to read the Walther devotion for the day to the family - an outstanding devotion, I must say.

But as I had read about two paragraphs, I become aware that David has suddenly tensed up. I figure whatever it is can wait. But Cindi stops me: "I think we need to stop for a minute."

The look on David's face is priceless. It's as though Lucy knew that HE were the one who was supposed to take her out. So she peed. All over his foot. And it wasn't just a little bit either.

He is indignant and we are all dying laughing. "I asked you if you took her out," Cindi said. David, with that utterly hoplessly lost little boy look on his face said: "But I didn't know you were TELLING me to take her out." Right. Mom just wanted information for her own health, eh?

Anyway, David cleaned up her "gift", took Lucy out, and we finished the Walther - except I kept cracking up as I thought about it all. Mea culpa.