Twas twenty-eight years ago today that this poor miserable sinner was ordained into the office of the holy ministry at the Lutheran Church of St. Andrew in Silver Spring, Maryland. In those years, I've had but three calls: Redeemer in Burlington NC, St. Paul's in Hamel IL, and now to the IC as Chaplain and LCMS Director of Worship. It's been an unspeakable privilege to serve in the holy office. I ask God's merciful forgiveness for my countless failings in His service; and his blessings upon whatever good He was pleased to work through those years of ministry. Franzmann's hymn remains my prayer and the prayer of all who (used to) sing it every call day at Concordia Seminary:
...such a wonderful visit. I hate to see it draw to a close. We'd had Lauren, Sawyer and Annabelle here since Tuesday evening. Bek and Lauren and the little ones flying out to NC early in the morning. I think the quiet will be deafening. Well, for a couple hours. Lydia will be back tomorrow in the morning and she's learned to love the sound of her own voice - soooo cute. They're all changing so fast right now, that I hate to think of not seeing Sawyer and Annabelle till September, but that's the next time I'll see them. Cindi will be out to visit them in August for Lauren and Sawyer's birthdays.
A Christian lives his days with Christ and in comtemplation of Him.
His Days pass in remembering the sufferings of Jesus. When the clock strikes eleven, he knows that the bells are ringing in the noon hour of his Redeemer, when thick darkness overshadowed Him. In the afternoon at three o'clock, he breathes a greateful prayer of joy, for the Lord has finished. Every stroke of the clock calls upon him to consider what Christ did and suffered in that hour.
His Weeks are pictures of Christ's life. Sunday, at each return, is the brother of the Easter Day, the most joyful day of the week. It is preceded by days of repentance and suffering. Wednesday already brings the memory of the unholy bargaining of Judas with the high priests and murderers of Christ. Thursday divides his mind between the struggle in Gethsemane and the blessed institution of the Lord's Supper. Every Friday is a weekly "Good Friday." Every Saturday is a sabbath of the rest of Christ in the grave.
As in the week, so also the Year: it recalls the life, suffering and death of Christ, an ever new experience of what the Gospels narrate; itself a very Gospel of Christ our Lord.
--from Wilhelm Loehe's Seed Grains of Faith. p. 142, 143.
For Lutheran Christians there should be no question at all. The catholic faith, as most of us confessed this morning, is that we worship the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity without either confusing the Persons or dividing the Substance; and to faithfully confess the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God of the substance of His Father before the ages and man of the substance of His mother, perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
It is a good question, then, to ask of ourselves: is our worship explicitly Trinitarian and confessing the Incarnation? Is it catholic?
One is struck right away by the rich way in which the Lutheran liturgy confesses the Trinity! From the opening invocation, the conclusion of the absolution, the Gloria Patri in the Introit, the three-fold (or nine-fold) Kyrie, the Trinitarian shape of the Gloria in Excelsis, the triple Alleluia before the Gospel, the three articles of the Nicene Creed, on to the proper preface with its "one God, one Lord, and in the confession of the only true God we worship the Trinity in person and unity in substance of majesty coequal," then the triple Sanctus (and the tripling of "blessed is he" and "hosanna"), the Gloria Patri at the end of Nunc Dimittis and the Aaronic benediction. Not to mention the termination of the collects: "through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever."
From start to finish, the Lutheran liturgy is profoundly Trinitarian, a worshipping of the Three Persons in Unity and the Unity in Three Persons. It's worthwhile to put that liturgy into the balance of the scales and weigh its proposed replacements for Trinitarian glorification. How well do they do? I think it would be most revealing.
For me, I'm delighted to be a catholic Christian who worships Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and who confesses the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Divine Service.
All celebrated in community (parish, IC, retreat, Issues "Making the Case" conference). I think I'm going to go through withdrawals this week. That was a bit of heaven on earth, truly. What a way to celebrate the full octave! And then today the great joys of Trinity Sunday (which already came to us at last night's Divine Service). It was a week of feasting royally on the Word, that's for sure!
Just got back today from a blessed time of retreat. We need these in our lives more than we dare to admit. Even our Lord spoke of this: "Come ye your selves apart into a desert place, and rest a while." The only business we attended it was the business of Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus to soak in His life-giving words and to enjoy His hospitality at the heavenly feast He spreads for His children here on earth.
Thank you, Lord, for times of refreshing, for the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, for the privilege of prayer, for the honor of joining with the angels and archangels in song, for the companionship of Your saints, and most of all for the gift of forgiveness and eternal life which You delight to reach us in Your most holy body and blood, which we poor sinners receive with overflowing joy.
...the days of the post-Christmas let down will be over at St. Paul's. What I mean is—as folks who worship there regularly know well—there is always this feeling of let down when the Christmas deocrations come down and the room looks just so...well, plain. From the sneak peeks we've had of the beautiful work being done in sanctuary and nave, it will be Christmas year round! Everywhere you look there is a beautiful sight to see. The scroll work across the ceiling is particularly impressive, but the use of color throughout the room is simply remarkable. The committee and Autenrieb studios have done outstanding work.
I think it was in Proper Distinction that Walther mentioned what a beautiful practice it would be for pastors to take as their initial sermon text 2 Corinthians 1:24: "Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand."
The preaching office is not there for dominion, for lording it over (and nor is it there to BE lorded over as though the congregation or members in it were lords of the pastor!), but it there to be help to the people of God's joy. The great task before the men in the office of the ministry, then, is helping the people of God into an ever fuller appropriation of that joy that is theirs through Baptism into Christ. What a calling! What a life!
A friend and I were talking today, though, about a situation we hear more and more of: a lay person (maybe not the most faithful in church attendance) who came into grievous trial, hospitalized, and yet unvisited. No "helper of her joy" came to her side, to swaddle her in the promises of God's Word as she faced her end. Her husband chose to bury her from his church, rather than from her own Lutheran parish where she seemed to have not been deemed worth bothering about.
How can we be helpers to our peoples' joys if we do not enter into their sorrows with visits, conversations, prayers? What on earth can a pastor think is more important to do than to attend to the needs of the sick and dying and "help their joy" by the sweet promises of the Word and the gift of the Savior's body and blood to a blessed end?
What new vigor would come into our churches today if all we pastors remembered this high calling, saying to ourselves: I am sent here by Christ to be helpers of my people's joy, for they stand by faith.
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
It might strike you as odd that the Three Year series assigns the prayer our Lord offered the night of His betrayal to be read in the churches on the “in-between” Sunday after Ascension and before Pentecost. But it actually makes a great deal of sense. What is our Lord doing at the right hand of the Father? What did He ascend to do? One of the important answers to that question that Scripture gives is: intercession. Romans 8:34: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who IS at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us!” Or as the writer to the Hebrews put it: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
James tells us that the prayer of a righteous man is mighty in its working – then you may be at great peace, for there is a righteous Man, the Lord Jesus, who does not cease to make intercession for you at the right hand of His Father.
But what is it to make intercession? Is it not to become one? Is it not to stand with another person and carry their sorrows as your own? Is it not to rejoice in their joys? Is it not as St. Paul once said: “to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep”?
Your Jesus, who is One eternally with His Father, became so One with you that He carried your sorrows as His own, your sin as His own. He stood with you before the Father and all that was yours, He made His so that all that was His He could make yours. And ascended to heaven, He is not far from you, but near. And He still bears every burden of your heart and lifts it up in union with His perfect sacrifice, begging the Father’s mercy and love upon you constantly. Could you ever hope for a greater High Priest? One whose constant vigil over you leads to constant intercession for you. He is so one with you that no sorrow of your heart, no pain, is distant from Him even now. He cries to the Father for you.
And He invites you into this life of intercession with Him. He invites you to become one with your neighbor in your neighbor’s need. What is it to open your heart to your neighbor but to take their sorrows and sins upon yourself and to intercede on their behalf? Luther once used the expression “to become little Christs to one another.”
Is there any other path to oneness than this? In the early 20th century, when the ecumenical movement was firing up the thought was if you could just assemble all Christians into one massive world wide organization then the Lord’s prayer for unity would be answered: we would be one. Do you see how shallow that turns out to be? The unity that Jesus calls us to is far, far deeper than that.
It is the unity that the saints in heaven already have been perfected in. Luther was meditating upon this great reality when he wrote these words in his commentary on John 17 on today's text: “For who can harm or injure a man who has this confidence, who knows that heaven and earth, and all the angels and the saints will cry to God when the smallest suffering befalls him?”
The medieval Church was big on asking the saints to pray for this or that thing. Luther, recall, cried to St. Anne for deliverance when caught in that horrible thunderstorm that ended up changing him and the world forever. But Luther's ah-ha in the John 17 commentary is that there is no more need of you asking the saints in heaven to pray for you any more than for you to beg the Lord Jesus to be praying for you: you know He does and that He will ever do so, and you may know that the saints whose rest is won and with whom you have "mystic sweet communion" also cry to God for you because they have been perfected in one. Love is complete in them, though it is only partial in us. And love stands as one with the neighbor in his need, takes it to heart, and bears it before the throne of God.
This is not all highfalutin mumbo-jumbo! Prayer is the path forward to oneness in the church. You take the person in your life with whom you have the greatest difficulty, the one you may even despise and hate in your heart. And you take that person into your heart and intercede for them, stand as one with them and ask God’s blessing upon them, you ask His mercy to shelter them, His love to provide for their every need, and you will see a miracle happen. You can’t hold onto bitterness or anger with those for whom you intercede. You can’t do it. Your love for them will startle you. But it shouldn’t. After all, by prayer you have been connected with them to Him who is Perfect Love; you’ve been joined to Him who prays for His enemies: “Father, forgive” and who never ceases to pray for you in every need.
Intercession, people loved by God, is the path to true oneness. And so the folks who chose the John 17 reading in these waiting days between Ascension and Pentecost, opened up to us a world of joy and hope. A path that we can follow with the Lord as we join Him in interceding and so become one. He in us. We in Him. We in each other. All of us one before the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation. Amen.
...I repent me in dust and ashes. I have received contacts from too many of you to write back to all, asking me NOT to drop the blog. Have heard, will heed. I will try to keep it going. Thank you for the kind words and the encouragements. They took me by surprise.
I knew I was in the presence of a gentleman. If that word is worn out and out of fashion, no one ever told him! His presence made me smile and his wit brought ready laughter. I only met him one time. But he's been kind enough to send me his sermons since, and blessed is that congregation (well, those congregations) that get to hear this gentleman proclaim the Gospel.
The usual packet arrived today and I opened it. There was a note with it. Unusual, that. Cancer and inoperable. No treatments. Just preparing to die and this: "I am at peace with this, since my salvation is secure because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ which, by Holy Baptism, I was literally plugged into. Please know that I really am at peace."
Not a doubt in mind that he is. He doesn't want publicity and so no names. No prayer lists or inclusion in bulletins. A man who has prayed his Nunc Dimittis and is content to slip quietly away. He now waits for the final breath to be drawn in this age, knowing that what awaits is the bracing air of Resurrection in the Age that is coming.
God bless you, my friend. And into paradise may the angels lead you:
I've written earlier how I like to spend part of my commute in meditating on the Catechism. Makes the miles fly and occupies my mind with things that are eternally worthwhile (as opposed to the news which is always much the same... money and war). This morning in praying the Ten Commandments a few thoughts came to mind that I'd not had before:
Honor your father and your mother.
To this the prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, grant me the grace of Your Holy Spirit so to fear and love You that I may not despise my parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
I only have one parent left here - Cindi's dad, Dave. And yet it occurred to me that this commandment doesn't expire with death. I still pray that I may honor my mother and father and mother-in-law by not despising the wisdom that they taught me through my early years. I still can obey them! And certainly we love and cherish our parents even long after they have ended their earthly pilgrimage. Death is no barrier to the God of the living or to the people who believe in resurrection.
You shall not commit adultery.
To this the prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, grant me the grace of Your Holy Spirit so to fear and love You that I may lead a chaste and decent life in what I say and do and that Cindi and I may love and honor each other; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
But today an added prayer for the families of our nation and of our world, where marriage is so misunderstood, so undervalued, so NOT the blessing that God intended it to be for us. A prayer that husbands and wives throughout the land may reflect in all their dealings with each other the Heavenly Bridegroom and His Bride, so that young people will not despise this sacred institution, but come to honor it and long to enter it.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house.
To this the prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, grant me the grace of Your Holy Spirit so to fear and love You that I may not scheme to get my neighbor's inheritance or house, or get it in a way that only seems right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
And though I've prayed this prayer many times, it occurred to me that I wasn't at all sure how to help and be of service to my neighbor in keeping his inheritance and house. I think it means to stand up against injustice or greed (to do the opposite of the role of Naboth's accusers!), but how does one do that in our context? Still uncertain and pondering.
and so the beautiful prayer that is attributed to the Venerable Bede that is our prayer in these in-between days of Ascension and Pentecost:
O King of glory,
Lord of hosts,
uplifted in triumph
far above all heavens,
leave us not without consolation
but send us the Spirit of truth
whom You promised from the Father;
for You live and reign
with Him and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.