30 January 2016

Unbelievable weather...

...for St. Louis in January. We've already ventured out for an hour's walk. It's now 64.  We have curried chicken stir fry to serve over basmati, some chickpeas roasting, and broccoli and cauliflower roasting also. After that delicious meal, we intend to walk again and then catch a bit more of Downton Abbey. 

Friday's homily

By Pr. Larry Vogel...gold, pure gold. 

January 29, 2016

Matthew 20:1-16 

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' 7 They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' 13 But he replied to one of them, Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.

A love that makes you wonder (“What kind of love is this?” LSB 542, refrain)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. 

I’ll call them Joni and Frank. 

Our congregation and school had regular work days several times a year—Spring and Fall cleanup, planting flowers and trimming hedges, touch-up painting, whatever. We’d usually end with pizza for lunch. 

You had to love Joni. One of the best! You could count on herShe would be there early, committed and ready to work, and stay until the end

Then there was Frank, who showed up sometime late morning and promptly started to . . . talk! He wasn’t a bad guy, but he had a condition—total inability to multi-task. He couldn’t do anything while he was talking—couldn’t rake, couldn’t pick up trash, couldn’t mop. He could hold a rake for an hour, while he talked. He could let all the paint run out of a paintbrush without ever hitting the wall, while he talked. The only thing he could do while talking was eat. Boy, could he eat pizza—as much as any two or three others

Joni was nice, but Frank made her crazy. At times she felt like feeding Frank a pizza box, he made her so mad. And Joni would have had lots of assistance in the force-feeding. We could all sympathize. As much as we loved him, there was always that time when you wanted to throttle him. 

If we’re anything like Joni, we can understand why 

A. Jesus’ stories make you wonder

Think about this parable about the workersSome work a full day—not an 8 hour day, either, but a long 12 hour day! And others work—how much? An hour! One lousy hour! 

And everyone gets the same pay!The Joni-types that day were mad! What in the world! Is this fair?

Is it? It really makes you wonder! What kind of parable is this, Jesus? 

And this isn’t the only bizarre thing Jesus has to say. He talks about being unworried when you’re poor or naked or hungry since sparrows have food and lilies are beautiful (whoop-de-do); about being unafraid of murderous kings because they can only kill your body (is that all?); about mourning and meekness and the like as blessings (really?); about his disciples having to hatehusband and wife, father and mother, son and daughter to love him (if you can believe it!). And after he tells parables, like this one, that leave many confused, he goes on to explain that he’s doing it for that very purpose—to befuddle peopleso that some will not see and not hear (13:13)! 

How can he say stuff like that? 

It really does makes you wonder—and maybe even a little angry.

But it’s not just what he says, because 

B. His ways make you wonder, too

He goes to the least, not the greatest. Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, scholars—these were good people in countless ways, impressive people. But he seems to avoid them, and he calls them a brood of vipersThe rich? Their money matters not at all to him, who has nowhere to lay his head. He has the temerity to tell an eager-beaver lawyer to cash in his wealth and give it away. No wonder the strong and healthy don’t want him or like him

And he doesn’t seem to notice, since he is surrounded instead by common, workaday men and womenand, yes, even the poor, and, worse, by the unclean, leprous, and demonic, by sick and blind and lame people reduced to beggars, by women (even though a man shouldn’t talk to them) and by questionable women at that, by traitorous tax men, and the like. 

Surrounded by fellow Jews, he praises a Gentile’s faith and heals his servant. He heals lepers and unclean women. This man eats with sinners! He occupies himself not with the righteous, but with the seemingly worst of humanity

What in the world? Is this fair? How can he do stuff like that? That really makes you wonder, too, and maybe even a little angry.

And that. . . that wondering. . . is the point. 

C. Because his love makes you wonder 

We should wonder about this Jesus—what he says and does. The real danger is that we won’t wonder—we’ll just scoff. Worse, we might explain it away and water it all down and refuse to see how this dear Man longs to make us wonder—how he longs to shock us into sensibility. He longs to force us to see him as he is, so that we can see ourselves as we are. 

We pride ourselves on being good, solid, dependable, and, yes, right. We believe rightly and we act rightly and we are right. . . with people and with God. Right? 

Well? Not when Jesus comes back into our ears, into the eyes of our heart, into the secrets of our soul and starts to make us wonder. 

Does he come to commend us? No, he comes to open eyes and unstop ears with stories that strike at our hearts and deeds that stun us, not with sweet nothings and pious pleasantries

So, back to the story. Am I Joni or Frank—the one who works all day and grumbles or the one who shows up late only to be treated so generously

I might prefer to think myself a Joni, who’s worked all day. But fat chance! Any work I’ve done is not for him, but for me! No, his probing truth makes me realize that I’m not the strong and holy worker who has done all for him, but the sick and troubled beggar who needs everything from him. 

In his parable, Jesus tells us only about the Joni-types—the hardworkers who are ticked off at the end of the day. What, I worked all day and you only paid me for working. . . all. . . day

He tell us about the Joni-rejoinder, but he also invites us—if we are not too put off—to see that we are fellow-Franks—the ones who came later, who hoped for a farthing or a few cents, and got. . . can you believe it?. . . a whole day’s pay! 

He helps us—if we’re not too ticked off—to realize the incredible surprise, the great joy of the screw up who discovers that this rich guy chose to be generous beyond belief! 

He welcomes us—if we’re not too full of the fire of unfairness—to realize how wonderful this is, how wonderful is this gracious, undeserved, utterly kind Lord! 

He begs us—if we’re not blinded by pride—to see and hear his words, because he is speaking to us, to us sinners, to us screw-ups, to us beggars. 

And so we beg: please, Jesus, we’re ready to listen, so say it again. “. . . ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. . . . Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Do you begrudge my generosity?'”

Do we? Do we begrudge his generosity? 

What is going on here with this Jesus? He is our Friend—and none is dearer. He is doing no harm to us or anyone in his great generosity. He is loving with a genuine love, a generous love, a stunningly wonderful love, rather than with our shallow kind of love that extends only as far as those who are good to us, those who benefit us, those who give to us. 

No, this is Jesus, the Savior, this is the God-Man. Did we expect a selfish man, like us? Would we want his love to be like our own, shallow, selfish version of love? 

Shall we begrudge his generous love—or luxuriate in it in wonder with joy and gratitude? 

He loves the sick, the sinner, the fallen, the hapless, the helpless, the foolish, the lost

Even more stunning: He loves so much He dies for us: “While we were yet sinners,” writes the sinful screw-up named Paul, “Christ died for us!” (Rom 6:8). 

He loves losers—people who have nothing going for them, and no excuses. He loves me, and he loves you!

Thank you, Lutheran High North Choir, you sang it: this is the One whose love quiets souls, who defends those without excuse, who steadies weak knees. This is the One whose name and love extend to all the nations. 

We will all sing it too in just a minute, a song of wonder (#542): “What kind of love is this?!”

What kind of love? The love of the “True God who died for me.” 

What kind? The kind that does this: “For me you gave all your love, for me you suffered pain.

What kind? This kind: “You had no sin, holy Lord. . . [but] “for all My sins you bled and died”. 

That’s the kind of love we will sing into eternity. That is Jesus! That is the God, who is love, made flesh. 

What kind of love? Love for the world! Love for me and you. 

A love that should make us wonder, because it’s the wonderful love that has saved us all.

29 January 2016

Yes, It's Possible!

Here are the scholars of St. Paul Lutheran School in Hamel this week when they visited the LCMS International Center in honor of Lutheran Schools Week. They provided us with a great deal of very nice music, vocally and with the strings (and with Anastasia Curtis on both organ and piano). This one, though, is my favorite: Soul Adorn. Most of these youngsters have only been playing for about a year. I wish I had had such an education when I was in Elementary School!!!

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

For when the Word and faith are lost, we soon slide into endless monstrosities. Therefore, learn the First Commandment according to which you are to trust in God alone, and then undertake these works by which you know that you are obeying God, but do not put your trust in that, and flee from self-chosen ones.—Martin Luther, on Isaiah 57:8

Patristic Quote of the Day

Now this is said, that men may not suppose that they derive no benefit, or but scant benefit, from the grace of Christ, seeing that they must needs die in the body. For they are bound to remember that, although their body still bears that desert of sin, which is irrevocably bound to the condition of death, yet their spirit has already begun to live because of the righteousness of faith, although it had actually become extinct by the death, as it were, of unbelief. No small gift, therefore, he says, must you suppose to have been conferred upon you, by the circumstance that Christ is in you; inasmuch as in the body, which is dead because of sin, your spirit is even now alive because of righteousness; so that therefore you should not despair of the life even of your body.—St. Augustine, On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, Book I:7

27 January 2016

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

If you cleave to your Lord Christ, you are certainly one of those whom God has chosen from the beginning to be His own. Otherwise you would not come to Him, nor listen to such a revelation and accept it.—Martin Luther, Sermons on John xvi–xx.

Patristic Quote of the Day

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who took upon Him to die for all, stretched forth His hands, not somewhere on the earth beneath, but in the air itself, in order that the Salvation effected by the Cross might be shown to be for all men everywhere.—St. Athanasius, Letter 22

26 January 2016

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

God may give to a great saint small faith and to a small saint great faith, in order that the one shall always esteem the other higher than himself.—Martin Luther, Sermons from 1525

Patristic Quote of the Day

Without the protection of faith good works cannot stand.—St. Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy, Book II:7.

25 January 2016

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

He bore what we should have suffered. Here you see the fountain from which St. Paul draws countless streams of the suffering and merits of Christ, and he condemns all religions, merits, and endeavors of the whole world through which men seek salvation. —Martin Luther on Isaiah 53:4

Patristic Quote of the Day

The grace of the Spirit makes that to be heavenly which it can create earthy. —St. Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, Book II:67

22 January 2016

Some Lenten Resources...

...from LCMS Worship:



Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

The watchmen and bishops are called ministers of the Word. In their teaching they have nothing but a voice as far as the task is concerned, and with that voice they do not wail and mutter sad words, but they sing praises and lift up their voice, that is, harmoniously, with one voice, they proclaim joyful news.—Martin Luther on Isaiah 52:8

Patristic Quote of the Day

For although the Mysteries of the Incarnation and of the Passion must be in like manner matters of amazement, yet the fulfilment of faith is in the Mystery of the Passion.  I do not indeed value less the birth from the holy Virgin, but I receive even more gratefully the Mystery of the sacred Body. What is more full of mercy than that He should forgive me the wrongs done to Himself? But it is even fuller measure that He gave us so great a gift, that He Who was not to die because He was God, should die by our death, that we might live by His Spirit.—St. Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, Book 3:17

21 January 2016

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

The Christian man knows his weakness. He cannot help being afflicted in his conscience and being disturbed by a wavering faith.—Martin Luther, on Isaiah 51:23

Patristic Quote of the Day

So everything which we esteem holy proclaims that Sole Holiness. Cherubim and Seraphim with unwearied voices praise Him and say: Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God of Sabaoth. Isaiah 6:3 They say it, not once, lest you should believe that there is but one; not twice, lest you should exclude the Spirit; they say not holies [in the plural], lest you should imagine that there is plurality, but they repeat thrice and say the same word, that even in a hymn you may understand the distinction of Persons in the Trinity, and the oneness of the Godhead and while they say this they proclaim God.—St. Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, Book III, chapter 16

20 January 2016

Patristic Quote of the Day

We who have been before converted to the Lord, so as by spiritual understanding to see the glory of the Lord, as it were, in the mirror of the Scriptures, are now being transformed from that glory which converted us to the Lord, to the heavenly glory.—St. Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, Book 3:102.

19 January 2016

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Here he calls it a time and a day of salvation, where the Word is preached. Therefore let us prayerfully keep busy with the Word.—Martin Luther on Isaiah 49:8

Patristic Quote of the Day

For salvation is not sure unless everyone worship in truth the true God, that is the God of the Christians, under Whose sway are all things.—St. Ambrose, Letter 17:1

17 January 2016

One of the peculariaties

Of the Lutheran liturgical calendar is the observance of Transfiguration at the end of Epiphany. AND there's a subset of Lutheran congregations for whom that observation fell today, following the historic lectionary and thus making room for three Sunday's of preLent. Ours belongs to the subset! Transfiguration has long been one of my favorite feasts and today was a worthy celebration indeed.

The St. Paul Lutheran Choir served as cantors today, singing a number of pieces and leading the Introit, Gradual and Alleluia Verse. John Thoelke's trumpet sounded forth on a number of pieces. The hymn of the day ("O Wondrous Type") with that lovely English tune is a perennial favorite. The farewell to alleluia ("Alleluia, Song of Gladness") concluded today's liturgy. Pastor preached a fabulous homily, reflecting mostly on the Father's words: "Listen to Him." I still recall Pastor Plvan telling me that a sermon for Transfiguration that didn't focus on "Listen to Him" was missing the point of the day! Pr. Ball did NOT miss it. 

Thank you, Father, for this joyous Feast to brighten the dreariness of winter. The warmth of the Divine Love that shines in the face of Christ drives the chill from all hearts that will but "listen to Him."

16 January 2016

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

The Word and grace of God benefit none except those who mourn and who are humbled.—Martin Luther on Isaiah 48:10

Patristic Quote of the Day

God is able whenever He wills to forgive us our sins, even those which we think cannot be forgiven.—St. Ambrose, On Repentance, Book II, Chapter 2.


For some reason Frank Coniglio was on my mind. Hadn't seen him in several years. Wondered where he was and how he was doing.

Frank and I graduated the same class from Concordia Seminary, but he'd already had a career in the Air Force. I checked the LCMS site and noted he was not listed and thought "oh no." Sure enough, found his obituary. He died last February out in Cheyenne, retired from the ministry and a member of Pr. Maas' congregation, where I had just been this fall. He was one of my favorite people from the first time I met him. We'd catch lunch together quite often. Always laughing! But my favorite memory of Frank?

I was very frustrated. I could NOT get the microfiisch machine to work at the library. Seeing Frank nearby I asked him: "Do you have the first clue why this won't work?" He gave me a very solemn look. "William, did you remember to check the O-N button." I said: "Frank I didn't even know there was an O-N button." With a completely serious face he walked over to the machine and flipped it on. Then he burst out laughing. Then solemn again: "William, never forget to check the status of the O-N button before you attempt to use the equipment." He told me later that military officers were famous for forgetting about the mysterious O-N button too!

Frank always brought us laughter and joy and every time I'd see him, he'd give me one of his big bear hugs. May he rest in peace!

15 January 2016

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

The kingdom of the world is ruled by a lie, but the kingdom of Christ is ruled by the truth. Hence not both of them can endure, but the one built on lies will collapse.—Martin Luther, on Isaiah 47:12

Patristic Quote of the Day

For I said that neither to me nor to any one else ought you to write anything of the kind; and lo, in the preface of the epistle which you have addressed to myself who forbade it, you have thought fit to make use of a proud appellation, calling me Universal Pope. But I beg your most sweet Holiness to do this no more, since what is given to another beyond what reason demands is subtracted from yourself. For as for me, I do not seek to be prospered by words but by my conduct. Nor do I regard that as an honour whereby I know that my brethren lose their honour. For my honour is the honour of the universal Church: my honour is the solid vigour of my brethren. Then am I truly honoured when the honour due to all and each is not denied them. For if your Holiness calls me Universal Pope, you deny that you are yourself what you call me universally. But far be this from us. Away with words that inflate vanity and wound charity.—Pope Gregory the Great to Eulogius, Bishop of Alexandria

14 January 2016

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Therefore we must strive with a single heart that we abide in the Word. The Lord will reject no one, however weak, if only we cling to the Word, the womb of God. Thus, then, we must believe in our weakness that we are borne in the womb of God, who will care for us with supreme devotion and never reject us.—Martin Luther on Isaiah 46:3

Patristic Quote of the Day

 Our Lord Jesus Christ judged that men could more readily be bound and led on to do the things that are right by kindness than by fear, and that love avails more than dread for correction. And so, when He came, being born of a Virgin, He sent forth His grace, that sin might be forgiven in baptism in order to make us more grateful to Himself.—St. Ambrose of Milan, Letter 41:6

13 January 2016

Patristic Quote of the Day

In fine, turn all to the Lord Jesus. Let your enjoyment of this life be with a good conscience, your endurance of death with the hope of immortality, your assurance of the resurrection through the grace of Christ; let truth be with simplicity, faith with confidence, abstinence with holiness, industry with soberness, conversation with modesty, learning without vanity; let there be soberness of doctrine, faith without the intoxication of heresy.—St. Ambrose, Letter 63:113.

12 January 2016

Patristic Quote of the Day

Nor was Mary below what was becoming the mother of Christ. When the apostles fled, she stood at the Cross, and with pious eyes beheld her Son's wounds, for she did not look for the death of her Offspring, but the salvation of the world. Or perchance, because that royal hall knew that the redemption of the world would be through the death of her Son, she thought that by her death also she might add something to the public good. But Jesus did not need a helper for the redemption of all, Who saved all without a helper. Wherefore also He says: I have become like a man without help, free among the dead. He received indeed the affection of His mother, but sought not another's help.—St. Ambrose of Milan, Letter 63:110

[Apparently Ambrose missed the memo on co-Redemptrix...]

11 January 2016

Patristic Quote of the Day

How many masters has he who has forsaken the One! But let us not forsake Him. Who would forsake Him Whom they follow bound with chains indeed, but chains of love, which set free and do not bind, those chains in which they who are bound boast.—St. Ambrose of Milan, Letter 63:96

09 January 2016

What is it

That is so utterly calming about a lazy Saturday afternoon, with a fire in the fireplace, the grandchildren in the house napping (not at the same time, of course), and a couple of kids stretched out and snoozing? Oh, and a hound dog lapping up the extra attention like it was just like what the Dr. ordered? 

08 January 2016

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Therefore, that person of the Trinity through whom human nature was created in the first place and through whom it was sustained after the Fall, lest it be reduced to nothingness, was sent by the Father to restore and redeem it in order that He might be the Remaker of what He had been the Maker.—Martin Chemnitz, Two Natures, p. 44.

Patristic Quote of the Day

And at last when His sufferings were completed, as though completed and made perfect Himself, He gave health to all, He bore the sin of all.—St. Ambrose of Milan, Letter 63:47

06 January 2016

The Poetic Soul of the Slovak

I did my vicarage with Slovaks and learned about a gentle kind of of Lutheranism that doesn't have the Teutonic combativeness about it. There was something so joyful, pious and rich in this way of being Lutheran; I fell in love with it at once!

This week I had two Slovak joys: We sang Čas Radosti in chapel on Monday (and David even showed me the difference between the ACTUAL Slovak and the Czech version I had learned on vicarage) AND I opened my mail to find a feast of poetry celebrating the Incarnation from dear Pr. Harvey Mozolak. "Our God is a poet" Franzmann once said. And I think the Slovak Lutherans totally get that. It's not just that the heretics compel us to put into words what cannot be put into words (Hilary), but that the Gospel itself compels us to put into words that Word beyond all words. The good news must be noised abroad, aloud, and put into poetry.

And just when you thought Epiphany couldn't get any better...

...Divine Service at St. Paul's and for the first time in I don't know how long, I got to worship with and receive the Sacrament with our three children (unfortunately, missing Meaghan and Lydia, Sawyer and Annabelle). Holding Flynn, singing harmony next to Lauren, the sweet smell of the incense floating aloft, Cindi and David's fine rendition of "Zion hears the Watchmen" (Buxtehude), Pastor's sermon, the gift once again of the Savior's body and blood...yes, a very good Epiphany.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

The exhortation is that we diligently learn and study the Word and grow in its understanding, so that we may be filled with the light of this glory. Those who regard this light as a treasure hold all glory of the flesh to be nothing. This is what we see in the martyrs. By comparison with the Word they spurned all things.—Luther on the OT Reading for the Feast of Epiphany, Isaiah 60:1ff.

Patristic Quote of the Day

Jesus goes up out of the water...for with Himself He carries up the world...and sees heaven open, which Adam had shut against himself and all his posterity.—Gregory of Nazianzus, reading from Treasury for today.

Epiphany Service

What a glorious Epiphany service this morning at the International Center, a Eucharist sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church of Worden, IL. As Pastor Curtis could not be present this morning, I presided and preached in his stead, with Vice-President Mueller assisting. We sang Divine Service, Setting Three. The Entrance Hymn consisted of stanzas one and two of O Morning Star; the Hymn of the Day of the next two stanzas, and the Concluding Hymn was the final stanzas. I chanted the Gospel reading, and in the middle of the reading, the choir sang a lovely setting of "Lo, the star." Henry Gerike on the organ with Cara on the trumpet for O Morning Star; then Henry Gerike on piano and Erin on flute and Anna on violin. The chapel choir, though smaller in number than usual, did a very fine job indeed. Celebrated ad orientem, facing that lovely crucifix. It was wonderful to welcome in Epiphany with such overflowing joy.

And lo

the star which they had seen in the east went before them...

Blessed Epiphany, people loved by God!

05 January 2016

I Remember

It like it was yesterday. My father, Stuart, died this morning some 36 years ago. I sat with him some in the morning while mom and the others had breakfast. I remember he reached out his hand. I didn't take it. I think I knew he was saying goodbye and I didn't know how to deal with that. I did read him some Scripture and I'm glad of that, but not taking that hand will be one of the lasting regrets of my life. The snow began to fall. He had wanted to see snow again, and he got to. When the others came up, I went to the livingroom and lost myself in the piano for a while. I was working on the two part inventions in D minor and in Bb major. Joe came to call me in if I wanted to say goodbye. And so he passed, surrounded by his wife and all his children. The breathing just finally stopped and he was gone. 

I think of the loss of time with him over the intervening years, but above all the very great sadness that my children never got to know their grandfather, or he them. Cindi and I had begun to date the previous winter, though we'd been friends since the seventh grade. She sang "Amazing Grace" at his graveside funeral in Richardsville. He'd have like that a lot. He enjoyed hearing her sing. And then we all went back to Uncle Edgar's home for the wake. 

Daddy, you are still remembered and loved, and one day may God grant me to take that hand in my own.

04 January 2016

Patristic Quote of the Day

Do not trust in riches; for all such things are left here, faith alone will accompany you. And righteousness indeed will go with you if faith has led the way.—St. Ambrose of Milan, Letter 63:87

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

We must not look at our sins and disgraceful acts, but we ought to get out of ourselves, away from our sins and our presumption, and go to Christ Himself, to the Lamb of God that bears the sins of the world (John 1:29); to Him we should rise, on Him we should look.—Luther, on Isaiah 38.