18 September 2019

Paper from Today’s CSL Symposium: The Daily Habits of Prayer

Apologies in advance for typos...it was just for me to present from, but figure might as well share for those who could not be there:

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

People loved by God, what an honor it is to gather with you and ponder a bit about daily habits of prayer. But whenever we presume to speak ABOUT the prayer we place ourselves in a precarious position. John Kleinig (in Grace upon Grace, p. 215) observed: “By itself, theorizing about prayer is as useless as theorizing about love.  So teaching about prayer is only useful if it comes from praying and improves our prayers.” To that end, Dominus vobiscum. (See, at least we know how to answer when someone says it in Latin, which is more than we can say in English!). Oremus: 

Kind and all-merciful Father, Your Scriptures reveal that Your Son never ceases interceding for us at Your right hand even as Your Spirit pleads within us with groans too deep for words. Open our hearts and minds anew to the wonder of Your invitation to walk before You always and to lift up our hearts to You, bringing to You every heartache, every joy, every fear, in the joyous freedom of dear children turning to a Father they know loves them; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Pardon me getting at this sideways. I have long been intrigued about Galatians 2:20 and what it might actually mean. “I have been crucified with Christ and nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by...” By what? ESV offers: “by faith in the Son of God.” Thus, deep sixing the definite article, interpreting away the genitive by inserting an “in.” The KJV leaves both definite article and genitive intact: “And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Luther does the same: “Denn was ich jetzt lebe im Fleisch, das lebe ich in dem Glauben DES Sohns Gottes.” 

What does it matter? Well, what if what St. Paul is teaching here about Him who loved us and who gave Himself for us and who is Himself God’s Son, is that the life we get to live by being joined to Him through baptism is a life of sharing in HIS faith in the Father, HIS trust that He is the beloved Son and that His Father will never abandon Him to the grave, and that His Father is good and kind and loving and sent Him into this world precisely so that He could be the firstborn of many brethren? What if Jesus’ faith is given you in Baptism to be your very own faith, so that everything that is His by nature as the Eternal Son of the Father He come into the flesh to fork over to you by grace as the heavenly Father’s adopted children? 

And in that everything, you find the prayer that arises from His faith. His weird kind of prayer. Indeed, His prayer. Prayer, then, not as some technique to be mastered, nor some dreary and random religious duty that God thinks you need to fulfill for your own good, nor three successful steps to butter up the King of heaven so that He reliably dispenses to you whatever you have decided you need from Him. Prayer instead as the simple asking of dear (that means loved) children, turning to a Father whom they love too. Along with Jesus. His prayer remains primary and it becomes yours as the faith of the Son of God becomes how you now live in the flesh.

In the Reformation Gospel from John 8, slaves have no permanent place in the house. Slaves always have to worry about getting the boot if they screw up too badly. Not so with the place of the Son. The Son’s place in the house is assured. And when He sets you free, He does by giving you His place, His Son’s place in the house. He effected the great switcheroo where He took your place under the Law’s condemnation precisely in order to bestow on you His place in the Father’s house. YOUR Father’s house. And you’ll never have the fear of being tossed out for not measuring up (slavish fear!); you have the astounding joy, the awe-inspiring shocker that you are loved as the very Son Himself is loved. And out of that, prayer. Christian prayer. That is, asking God like dear children ask their dear Father. That’s Christian prayer because that’s Christ’s prayer. 

I would suggest then that our Catechism was not mistaken when it sought to invite us into the marvel and awe of such praying, not in the classroom, and even, in a way, not first in the Church, but first in the home. That’s after all where dear children learn to ask their dear fathers. When Jesus gives you His faith, then the very “family” of the Trinity becomes your home, as His Scripture teaches: “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world: even from everlasting Thou art God.” Psalm 90

And THIS is what made the disciples ask. Bonhoeffer noted that they saw Jesus do a whole bunch of stuff. They saw Him raise the dead and make water into wine and calm the storm with His word and give sight to the blind, and you name it. Stuff that left their jaws on the ground. But there is recorded but ONE thing that they asked Him: “THAT! Teach us to do that! Teach us how YOU do that!” And that one thing, of course, is prayer. “Lord, teach us to pray.” John had given his disciples a prayer and they just noted that with Jesus, well, His prayer was odd and different. Maybe if he taught them how to pray like Him, they might come to share His faith and this wild and amazing life that He lived, so full of joy in the Father and always living confidently at the receiving end of His giving and so utterly void of the fear of men. They wanted a piece of that action somehow. And the Lord Jesus complies, as you know.

He actually gives them a prayer: “When you pray, SAY.” And say what? Have you ever compared the prayers of Jesus to the prayers of the Old Testament? There is something largely (but not entirely) missing in the Old Testament. What is it? How the prayer is addressed!

Oh, if you are careful you can hear it in Moses’ song: “Is he not your father who created you? Who made you and established you?” Deu. 32:6. Isaiah got there in 64:8: “You, O Lord, are our Father, we are the clay.” Malachi gets you there in 2:10: “Have we not all one Father?” But these glimmers are rare and I do not believe that the Psalter ever gets you there. It’s got down that you are praying to the Almighty, El Elyon, El Shaddai, Yahweh, Adonai, Elohim and even Malchi but mostly it’s court language or cultic language. It’s NOT family language. Except for those odd places where you get to listen in to the heavenly dialog: “Thou art my Son; today have I begotten thee!” Now when the Son is sent from the Father (who remains King and God) and is sent on the mission of bringing the lost children of men into the family of God, then prayer is transformed. Not that the object of prayer changes; the same One, and in the mind of the Church primarily God the Father.  But when He reveals Himself, gives Himself to you as your Father?  The King of the Universe? The Creator of all? The One of infinite wisdom and understanding and measureless strength and power? And His Son says: “He’s your daddy and He loves you” and the Spirit inside cries: “He’s your daddy and He loves you”? And not just in the sense of “He’s your origin, your source” (in that sense he’s the Father of the sun or the moon!) but in the sense of He’s adopted you, declared you His child. Pet peeve on Justification. Chrysostom was right that if you stick with what you’re saved from, you’re missing the marvel. It’s not just that he says to those in prison, headed toward sure and certain damnation, “I declare you  not guilty.” He not only throws open the prison doors, he leads us out and says: I declare you now mine, my adopted children, full legal heirs with my Son, my home is now your home! My everything is now as much YOURS as it is HIS. If you stop with “not guilty” you’ve missed the true and astounding wonder!!!

Now how to help form this conviction, this faith of Jesus, into the hearts and minds of little ones so that they may know that they have a Father and that there is nothing that will ever come their way that is too big or too difficult for Him; and that His love for them doesn’t waiver with their behavior but is deeper and stronger than the depths of time, and anchored in the cross? How to learn to pray out from the peace of the Son’s faith in His Father, particularly so can face the moments when they may be praying with the Son their own “Eli, Eli” with the stress on the I!? MY God.

The Catechism, I believe, gives us solid answer to this and if we DO what it teaches, prayer ceases to be a religious exercise or a theoretical problem and becomes the warp and woof of our daily living with the Word of God as we learn to pray His Spirit’s Word through our union with the Son of God. 

So off to the Daily Prayers, subtitled “How the head of the family should teach his household to pray morning and evening” and “How the head of the family should teach his household to ask a blessing and return thanks.” This in the spirit of Kleinig’s the only theory of prayer that’s of use is one that helps us to pray. I firmly believe that the Catechism does exactly that!

This section has been so horribly neglected, because we’ve tended to treat the poor Catechism in a naughty manner, stealing it away from its native home and trying to make it fit something it manifestly was never intended nor written to fit: a class room! Piety is meant for the home and the CATECHISM was written for the home. And NOT written for the children, of course, but for the parents! It was written so that dad or mom would know how to teach their children by practice, that is, by doing what it actually says. Which is a far cry better than memorizing words to recite in an oral exam or even worse to write down on some sheet of paper with the teacher’s marker ready to pounce. Can we pretty, pretty please move the Catechism back to where it can breath again, and where it can BE a breath of fresh air again? If “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result from what you’ve always gotten” it is way past time in the Lutheran Church to get this little gem of a book away from being locked up in “Confirmation instruction” and into our homes! Rant over. Maybe.

And the daily prayers work at home in a way they’ll never work in the classroom because home’s where you sleep and home’s where you eat. And the locale of either actually form your home altars. There is first the bed and then there is the table. And both bed and table have their own liturgies. Those liturgies involve, as all liturgy does, a combination of actions and words. 

So let’s look at the liturgy of the bed first. To get this liturgy you need to pull in the whole Biblical joining together of the images of sleep and death. “As the Lord has promised me, my death is but a slumber” (Luther’s great paraphrase of the Nunc Dimittis). Look at your bed and learn to think of your coffin so that you can look at your coffin and learn to think of it as your bed! What either has in common is this period of rest from which there is a rising, a rousing, a resurrection. So, “in the morning, when you get up...”

The Catechism teaches us to see the entire pilgrimage of life mirrored in each day. Awake, O Sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will give you light! That is, out of your native darkness through the inheritance of original sin, Light in Jesus dawned on you at your Baptism in which you were raised with Him through faith in the mighty working of God who raised Him from the dead. And now you get to live a new life in companionship with Him on the journey home to the Father. And in this life He will strengthen you with food and prepare you all the way through till the work begun in your baptism is finally completed as all your practice pays off, and you lay down for the last time in this age only to be raised from death and freed from corruption on the day of the general resurrection, the appearing of Christ.

So just getting up is already an amazing gift of grace! God kept you safe through the night, protected you from all harm, and has brought you to see the light of yet another day here in this world as His child. Just like you didn’t choose to be born, but your life came to you as a gift from Him, just as you didn’t choose to be born again, but it came as a gift, so the sustaining of your life is always gift. And that you can “get up” is already huge. And even huge-er (ha!) when it’s picture of a bigger getting up that happened when you were baptized and raised with Christ and all of it but practice for that biggest getting up when you rise on the last day.

Each morning comes as your own little anticipation of the resurrection, when the Sun of Righteousness will shine with healing in His wings and we’ll indeed “get up and take up our bed and go home” as those whom the Son of Man has freed and forgiven. And so “when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross, and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The conjunction of Baptism and the sign of the holy cross deserves some consideration too. I do not think it is JUST that in the rite of Baptism you’ve been signed with the cross on forehead and heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. That is, that you’re HIS. It certainly is that. Luther keeps it in both1523 and 1526 baprismal booklets. But it reminds you each day too that apart from the Cross of Jesus, you’d have no safe access into the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The only eternal life in all the world is Him, His life, but His very holiness is death to sinners when experienced “raw” if I may so put it. Apart from the work of Christ, the wrath of God abideth upon the sons of disobedience. You only have the Father AS your Father only because of the suffering and death of His Son on the cross for you. So those baptismal words are intimately connected with the passion of the Son of God and you show it when you rise up in the morning and say the words outloud that He used to claim you as His own and you sign your very body with the cross as a reminder of HOW He made you His own and made it possible for you to share in His own life. And St. Paul is ringing in the background: “I have been crucified with Christ.”

So you’ve got a brand new day in front of you in Him and with Him and you start it with the reminder to yourself, to angels and to demons that You now are His. And then choices to make! “Then kneeling or standing...” So when you get up, you stand up, sign yourself with the cross and use your mouth to utter the first words of the day: “In the name of the Father...” and you can then either choose to fall down on your knees or to stand. What runs with either? Psalm 95, you know well. Venite. “Oh, come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” Before the Lord. You are in His presence. That is how you will live your life. You may fall down before Him. Or, conversely, Nehemiah 9:5 “Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be Your glorious name which is above all blessing and praise.” Again, the mark of being in His presence. Either standing or kneeling. 

“Repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.”

Now, you really have to be a liturgical geek to see this, but what you have with that particular ordering, when paired with the invocation, is literally a walking your way backwards in the liturgy of Baptism. When you come to Baptism, it is first Lord’s Prayer then Creed then baptism in the triune name. At the start (and at the end) of each day it is inverted order: out from the name to the Creed to the Our Father. “The Lord bless your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” said the Pastor as he led you to the font. Your whole life becomes a journeying out from or back into your Baptism. And the Creed, of courses, confesses who this Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are.

To pray the Creed already sounds ODD to most folks, I think. Hence you’ll notice some odd things going on in the Divine Service where a pastor will think he ought to turn and face the people or even the goofiness from the 60’s where the people were encouraged to turn and say the Creed to each other. The Catechism is blessedly devoid of such nonsense. It’s a prayer. But it’s a prayer because it’s the word of God. In the Creed we simply say back in very tight summary only what He’s already said to us. Come to think of it, isn’t that exactly what we did when we began with the words He said to us in our Baptism? His words on our lips back to Him.

So I’ve been enormously blessed with grandkids. Eight and one on the way! But watching how the little ones begin to talk and master it. How it starts. Mom or dad or nana or pa saying over and over again the same thing, and the eyes attentive to the mouth and learning to form the sound. And how excited we get when it kinda sorta maybe sounds SOMETHING like what we were saying. Triumph! “As dear children...their dear Father.”

So we begin to pray first of all, but just saying back, repeating what He has said. Name, Creed, Prayer. Name and Creed are all about HIM. Who He is. The Large Catechism put it like this: “For in these three articles God Himself has revealed and disclosed the deepest profundity of His fatherly heart. He created us for the very purpose that He might redeem us and make us holy. And besides giving and entrusting to us everything in heaven and on earth, he has given us His Son and His Holy Spirit in order to bring us to Himself through them. For as explained earlier, we were totally unable to come to a recognition of the Father’s favor and grace except through the Lord Christ, who is the mirroring image of the Father’s heart. Without Christ we see nothing in God but an angry and terrible Judge. But we could know nothing of Christ either, if it were not revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.” Thus every day at the altar of the bedside: the confession that I walk this day or sleep this night before THIS God, the God who loved me so much as to create me and whose depths of love shown forth in the gift of His Son to redeem me and His Spirit to sanctify me. THIS we confess, this we pray, whenever we recite the Creed.

And from confessing the Creed, which is always an act of praise (“Thank the Lord and sing His praise, tell everyone what He has done”), we turn to the Our Father. We remember that we’re in that “our” only because Christ has extended His Sonship to us by the Spirit. We remember that it’s WE who are in that our. This we is not me and Jesus, but Jesus and all the Church. The Creed just reminded us of the holy Christian or catholic church in which there is forgiveness of sins and through which we come to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. It’s a we thing, not a me thing. 

So when you are kneeling bedside or standing bedside and repeating your morning prayers, you realize that before you ever get to “I” you’ve been a bunch of we’s. So Luther’s great counsel to Peter the Barber (poor man), “Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition which God cannot disdain.” Treasury, Jan. 4th.

So Our...give us...forgive us...lead us...deliver us... Christian prayer is personal, but never individual. It is always offered in union with Christ and the Spirit who prompts it joins it to that of the entire body. 

Luther added morning and evening the option of a little prayer that he composed that owes its origins to a bit of the monastic prayers he’d learned from his breviary. TLH, LW, LSB they all hijacked it for morning services, and that’s okay, I guess. Though it sounds odd to pray when not actually prayed right where he intended: at the altar of the bed. “I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son...” for protection through the night (or through the day); for forgiveness at night; and how it commends “my body and soul and all things” into the Father’s loving hand, begging the companionship and protection of the holy angels: “Let your angel be with me that the evil foe may have no power over me.”

Morning then, off to work with a song like one of the Ten Commandments. Great hymn to remind us of our various duties toward God and neighbor and so open our eyes to the plethora of good works God’s hidden throughout our lives for us to discover each day and enjoy in praise of Him and to the blessing of others. Or at evening, just going to sleep at peace. It might be our last night! And that’s all good. Sins confessed, ready for the resurrection whenever it shall be.

Now, note that all of this which I’ve expounded in detail really only takes a matter of what? Two minutes maybe? Can doing something as small as that morning and evening really lead us into the mystery of prayer and strengthen us? I’d argue a thousand times YES. I’m going to go out on a limb here. I do not think that when the Lord urged that we should pray always and not give up; or St. Paul exhorted us to “pray without ceasing” he meant that they meant that we should always be running our mouth. I do NOT think that the fellow who wrote *The Way of the Pilgrim* actually nailed it that we need to have the Jesus prayer, marvelous as that is, running constantly in our hearts in order to pray without ceasing. Nor do I think that our Lord and St. Paul were actually, in a paradoy of Lutheran idiom, giving a commandment that they knew we could never fulfill precisely so that we could confess what poor, miserable sinners we are and flee for mercy and forgiveness to God. Ugh. No. I suspect it’s as simple as what Brother Lawrence hit on when he thought about these matters as he faithfully washed yet another pile of dishes in the monastery scullery. It’s what God said to Abraham, the man who is called the father of faith: “Walk before Me and be blameless!” WALK BEFORE ME. Lawrence called it “practicing the presence of God.” I think that’s exactly what the Catechism morning and evening prayers are seeking to inculcate: remember who has raised you from the death of sin and how He has set you on a venture and journey with Him this day. You live this day with Him. He is nearer to you than your breath. Never forget in whom you live and move and have your being. Ask big things of Him, cause He loves you, and go enjoy the whole day in His presence and with the companionship and protection of His angels. I hope that makes a modicum of sense. When you start the day off saying these words and doing these actions, you remember in whose sight you will be walking all day. And when you do those actions and say those words at night and look upon your bed, you will remember into whose care you can entrust your body and soul and all things. 

And then there is daily bread, the altar of the Table. First thing, though, is to note the cruel move that Luther made in the explanation of the fourth petition. He could just have said: “daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.” He could have put a period and been done. But oh, no. He goes on to give that bodaciously long list that is so confusing because of its similarity to the explanation of the first article. And did he do it to torture little Lutheran children and make their puzzlers sore? No! He did it to open our eyes to the bounty of gift that rains down on us from the Father unceasingly so that we might not unthinkingly walk by the gift, but learn to sense His Fatherly love behind each and every one of them. And a huge part of this are the gifts that come to us at the table.

If the bedside is intimately tied by the prayers to Baptism, the table at home also serves as a bit of a mirror of the table around which we gather in the Church. Sadly, if the morning and evening prayers have been somewhat neglected among us, I fear the Table prayers have all but vanished in the space given to the pithy (and apparently Moravian) “Come, Lord Jesus!” But let’s take a step into the Catechism and ponder the blessing of the table and giving of thanks to see what treasures are opened to us here.   

Again, how the head of the family is to teach the household to ask a blessing and return thanks. Note the odd rubric at the start: The children and members of the household shall go to the table reverently, fold their hands, and say...

I used to think the folded hands were a clever way to keep the children from grabbing at the food before the blessing or to keep them from getting into mischief with each other. That misses the boat by a mile. You see the key is reverently. Why with reverence? We can get at this by answering the question: What IS your refrigerator? Do you know? It is actually a morgue. It’s a place where you store recently dead things before corruption sits in (though of course there IS that nasty tupperware you forgot about with the bit of burger from last month or was it the month before? Better to throw it away than open it!). It holds dead things because this is rock bottom reality: you only go on living in this world because something else died and gave up its life and you put it into you to suck the last little bit of life out of it before it goes all bad. True for carrots, true for cattle. Something has to die that you may go on living. So yes, you come to the table with folded hands and reverence before the sacrifice.

And that something dies to give you life is not mere tragic necessity. It is in fact God Himself who sets our tables. We confess this with the words of the Psalm:

The eyes of all look to You, O Lord, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Psalm 145:15-16

And stop for a moment and glance toward the table in the Church, where Someone died that He might give Himself as food for you to life on, not for just a year or decade or so in this age, but to give you a food that endures. How did He put it? “Do not labor for the food that perishes (that is, rots), but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

Every time you come to your earthly table and you gather with reverence, you remember we live because something died and even more you will live forever because someone died for you. Reverence before the mystery! A gift of unfathomable proportions.

And in Him, then, you lift your voice in prayer and the Our Father is prayed at the table in the home just as we pray it at the table in the Church, towards a worthy reception of the gifts. Here, we might call them first article gifts to sustain first article life. And then: Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

He is the Giver of bountiful goodness and we the grateful recipients and we acknowledge it all comes to us from a Father and that we have such a Father only in Jesus. 

Then comes what might be termed distribution and at the end, like in church, there is giving of thanks. The same rubric: “Also after eating, they shall, in like manner, reverently and with folded hands say: Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures forever. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.” Hammering home, love that endures forever. Hammering home, unfailing love. Then onto Our Father and the final thanksgiving: We thank You, Lord God, heavenly Father, for ALL Your benefits; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

And all of that liturgy at table each time you gather as a family for a meal (and note the assumption that meals are together - we intuitively sense that eating alone has something amiss about it. I wonder if that’s why folks who live alone tend to turn on a TV?). But all this liturgy at table, I’m guessing it would still take no more than another three minutes of prayer for each meal? But if fathers and mothers DID that, and food ceased to be understood as “fuel put in the tank” but seen for what it is as “a loving gift of life given by your Father for the sake of His Son” do you see how it would open eyes to see and rejoice in all His benefits, to begin to notice them and not take them for granted? To be moved to reverence and awe?

So imagine the set points of prayer, anchored in daily habits that touch bodily need: Bedside and Table as a kind of daily trellis on which the vine of prayer can grow and fill out the spaces in between, mirroring the way that Font and Table of the Church provide an overarching trellis for our whole lives. Reaching out from these points, we walk before God in the faith of Christ as dear children before a dear Father who loves them. And as we walk in His presence, and begin to be trained by the catechism to see the gifts showering down, we learn to exclaim and let prayer fill the day. Here’s how Luther put it in the Larger Catechism:

It is also useful that we form the habit of daily commending ourselves to God, with soul and body, wife, children, servants, and all we have, against every need that may arise. So also the blessing and thanksgiving at meals and other prayers morning and evening, have begun and remained in use. Likewise children should continue to cross themselves when anything monstrous or terrible is seen or heard. They can shout: “Lord God, protect us!” “Help, dear Lord Jesus” and such. And if anyone meets with unexpected fortune, however trivial, he says, “God be praised and thanked” or “God bestowed this on me.” LC I:70

Here’s the sort of prayer that grows from the confidence of knowing that the One to whom we pray has loved us with a love immeasurable, deep, divine, and to whom nothing is impossible but whose understanding and ways of loving us are not for us to prescribe. 

When should pray? At all times and places, of course, but you have to start somewhere with habit. Our Catechism teaches: start at bedside and tableside and let it grow from there. Let it reach out to fill your life as the godly habits inculcated in the Catechism teach us to walk in His sight as children in whom He delights through His Son.

Dominus vobiscum. Oremus. 

Glory to You, our Father, for Your countless gifts to us in Your Son, but above all for the gift of calling upon You as our Father in His name, praying, praising and giving thanks! Glory to You, O Eternal Son, for the gift of Your Father to be as our Father and for the joy of being joint-heirs with You! Glory to You, Everlasting Spirit, for Your never ceasing cries within us to our “Abba!” And for bringing us into the faith of Jesus and keeping us with Him in His true faith. Glory to You, blessed Trinity, for all Your unfathomable love and the unspeakable joy of walking before You in faith! Glory to You forever. Amen!

17 September 2019

Another Autenrieb Triumph

Today I got to visit Hope Lutheran Church in St. Louis for the first time since their renovation. It is simply breath-taking. I am super excited that I will get to preach and preside in this lovely space (with so many dear friends) in a few weeks while my dear friend Pr. Randy Asburry is on some well-deserved R&R. The Autenrieb studio that redid both St. Paul’s, Hamel, and Trinity, Worden, worked their magic here also.

10 September 2019


This morning I was blessed to attend Matins for our school children (including granddaughter, Lydia) and whoever of ours or neighboring parishes shows up. It was so beautiful. The liturgy was entirely chanted. After Venite, we chanted Psalm 146 and then sang LSB 581:1, 8,9. In the sermon, Pr. Gleason expounded the Catechism and memory verse in a simple and clear manner: "Be people of truth; that's who you've been made in Christ" sums it up nicely. Then Te Deum, Kyrie and prayers. Immediately after the benediction, Pastor asked us all to recite commandments 7 and 8 and their explanations and to recite Matthew 5:37. The children did so with clarity and conviction. Thanks be to God for schools like this, where the children of God learn to love and sing the liturgy, to take to heart God's commandments and to be shaped in the Word of God!

09 September 2019


In truly one more delightful divine (and surreal) surprise in life, tonight I received a call from St. Paul's, Hamel to serve as an Assistant Pastor and Catechist. It is with great joy that I announce that I have accepted this call and look forward to serving (in a limited and part time capacity) in this new field of service, alongside of my work with Lutheran Public Radio. The installation service at St. Paul's has been set for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, Sunday, September 29th, at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. Join us if you can and may we all pray together: "Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me."

03 September 2019


Ah, the joys of another staycation. I am taking some time off between the end of work for Synod and the start of working for Lutheran Public Radio. We did our usual a.m. routine with Treasury and Coffee, but Cindi had to go to work today, so I was on my own for a bit. I took a long walk, came back and did my workout, cleaned the silt out of the run-off gutter behind our back yard and I'm estimating about 300 lbs worth of silt and grass and other junk, hauled it to the curb in time for Tuesday lawn pickup, vacuumed the pool, and enjoyed the pool for a bit afterwards. Then I thought about the Baldacci I had finished last night and the library in Worden. I did not want Mr. Money Mustache calling me a typical car clown (after all, I just ditched a 80+ minute daily commute), so I texted Cindi (she was getting her hair cut) that I was off to the library on my bike. Left the house at 1:50. A leisurely pace got me to the library by 2:12. Turned in one book, signed out two more, and headed home. We've gotten through a pile of home fix-it projects already, and plan on knocking a couple more out tomorrow.

30 August 2019


This was a week farewells for me. Last crazy daily commute to and from IC (whew! Deo gratias!!!); last workout on lovely campus of St. John Vianney; last directors' meeting; last sermon and service as Chaplain of the LCMS and Director of Worship. And so it was filled with farewells. Farewells to a bunch of people that I've come to love and treasure. That part was hard, of course. So many valued colleagues and friends. Way too many to name and thank one by one, for I have been inordinately blessed by so many that I fear if I were to attempt to list them all, I would most certainly inadvertently leave out someone who is dear to me. But two that must be mentioned, one briefly and one verbosely (in honor of many an email...). Briefly, my kind and compassionate boss, Pastor Robert Zagore. This man walked into our building with the heart of a pastor for his people and forged his relationship with the Office of National Ministry team in that mold. We have all been blessed by him.

And now with many words: my right-hand, Deaconess Sandra Bowers.

Sandy and I have known each other for so long that it seems like she's always been part of our lives. I still remember the horrid snowstorm where my family been trapped inside for days and we were all at each other's throats. And at a time when surely no sane person would be out and about, a knock at the door. Sandy and Matt with board games to play. I remember I was so exasperated with the kids at the moment that I was anything but gracious. I think I said something along the lines of: "Come on in, if you don't mind a bunch of people ready to kill each other." It was a marvelous evening. Who would drive from Highland to Hamel in snow??? Sandy! When I started at the IC and realized I was in over my head, I began to wonder whether Sandy might not be the answer. She was. In spades. (And that's one of her favorite cards games, by the way). Early on we struck an agreement: she does numbers (budget, spreadsheet stuff) and I do words (writing). We mostly stuck to that and it worked like a charm!

Another way we complimented each others gifts: we discovered through Strength Finders a very curious thing. Yours truly is gifted in but one of the four areas: strategy. Sandy, blessedly, was gifted in several areas, but excelled in execution. I wasn't sure how this worked together at first, but it finally gelled with this: I dream it up, Sandy makes it happen.

I remember feeling absolutely horrible about this at the last Institute. Toward the end, Sandy was working like a mad woman. And it seemed whenever I would try to help, I only got in her way and caused her MORE work. It finally took Kevin (my fellow-voyager in all things Bible) telling me: you do what you do, let her do what she does. All my "help" tended toward the sort of things that made her life more burdened. I learned a valuable lesson: get out of the way. She'll take care of it, and cheerfully do whatever she asks me specifically to do. And don't try offering her what surely (to me) seems a better way to do x or y; invariably I was off base. She'd have to take time to explain why I hadn't thought this through and if we DID x or y, then z or a was going to be likely and undesirable consequence.

Which is just a long winded way of saying I learned to trust her ability to get stuff done and to distrust my own instincts when it came to anything dealing with execution. This is as simple as when I was going to "help" her unwrap the communion ware for convention. And she knew exactly what a disaster that would be, because she knew ahead of time she was going to save every little plastic bubble wrap bag to put them all back in (really! She did too! And so they're all ready to go for next time round)! She gave me a stern lecture about how it would have to be done and I think accomplished her objective of scaring me off elsewhere to work on something different, you know, something with words where I couldn't do too much damage unsupervised.

She has seen us through two Liturgical Institutes and three Synod Conventions now and what a blessing she has been through it all. And that's not even counting the stuff she just makes happen at the IC week by week. Oh, there's chapel today and someone to play and someone to preach the Gospel? Thank Sandy! And how she does it all with such a generous sense of humor (provided I'm not helping her).

So Deaconess Bowers orchestrated my farewell reception at the IC. It could NOT have been more perfect. Cake and punch, right? Well, not with Sandy dreaming things up. For this carnivore there were eggs fried and hardboiled, sausages (fried up in ONM even!), and then bacon. The requisite cake sported a warning as you can see in the pics. It was a hoot and half! Such joy. We all laughed and laughed and she gave me a shirt featuring my food pyramid: chicken, standing on hog, standing on cow. YES. Beautiful flowers for Cindi from Grace. A stunning calligraphy of stanza three of "Lord, Thee I Love." Overwhelming. Thank you Sandy and Barb and all who worked to make the most fun farewell EVER. I am going to miss you all!

29 August 2019

The Last Sermon as Chaplain and Director of Worship

Matins, p. 219

Psalm 71:1-8 and Gloria Patri
1In you, O LORD, do I take | refuge;*
let me never be | put to shame!
2In your righteousness deliver me and | rescue me;*
incline your ear to me, and | save me!
3Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may contin- | ually come;*
you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my | fortress.
4Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the | wicked,*
from the grasp of the unjust and | cruel man.
5For you, O Lord, | are my hope,*
my trust, O LORD, | from my youth.
6Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my | mother's womb.*
My praise is continually | of you.
7I have been as a portent to | many,*
but you are my strong | refuge.
8My mouth is filled | with your praise,*
and with your glory | all the day.
Glory be to the Father...

Hymn: 518:1, 24, 3

Reading: Mark 6:1-14

Mark 6:14-29 (ESV) 14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him." 15 But others said, "He is Elijah." And others said, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised." 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you." 23 And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom." 24 And she went out and said to her mother, "For what should I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist." 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. O Lord, have mercy on us. R. 

Responsory: Forever O Lord. Your Word is firmly set in the heavens. R. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. R. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. R. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What do you do when you chop off a man's head and you still can't shut him up? That was poor Herod's dilemma. He was convinced Jesus was John come back from the dead. And well he might think so when he learned what Jesus was up to, and especially when he heard that same "Repent!" come roaring from His mouth. 

Did Herod still hear John's preaching to him in his sleep? The Word John preached, after all, is living and active. It is an eternal Word. It doesn't and can't die just because the one who first spoke it is no longer breathing. It gave St. John a life that never ends, and that Word simply goes on forever. He keeps speaking.

The Smalcald Articles remind us of this in a rather shocking passage on repentance. Luther writes: "But here comes [PRESENT TENSE, note!] the fiery angel of St. John, the true preacher of repentance. With one bolt of lightning, he hurls together both. He says: "Repent!"[ Matthew 3:2].
31 Now one group imagines, "Why, we have repented!" The other says, "We need no repentance."
32 John says, "Repent, both of you. You false penitents and false saints, both of you need the forgiveness of sins. Neither of you know what sin really is. Much less your duty to repent of it and shun it. For no one of you is good. You are full of unbelief, stupidity, and ignorance of God and God's will. But He is present here, of whose 'fullness we have all received, grace upon grace' " [John 1:16]. Without Him, no one can be righteous before God. Therefore, if you want to repent, repent rightly. Your works of penance will accomplish nothing. As for you hypocrites, who do not need repentance, you serpents' brood, who has assured you that you will escape the wrath to come and other judgments?" [Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7].

See, beheaded or not, here comes St. John, the fiery angel, that is, the messenger of the Lord. Like Abel of old, "he being dead yet speaketh." The Word of the Lord endures forever.

So, people loved by God, to the world it is the strangest thing that we Christians should assemble today and hold a holy feast in honor of the martyrdom of that greatest born of women, St. John the Baptist. The world's like: You are actually CELEBRATING his beheading? We answer: Oh, yes, indeed. And we do so in triumph and joy. Despite Herodias and her scheming, despite her daughter's salacious dancing, despite the lecherous King's insatiable lusts, despite his foolish and rash promise and the horrible injustice and wrong inflicted upon the Baptist, despite it all, we are celebrating, people loved by God, that John's voice LIVES. It rings still. Because what John spoke was the Word that does not and cannot perish. 

You might recall how he identified himself out of Isaiah 40 as "A voice sounding in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord! Make His paths straight!" And what else does Isaiah 40 say? "A voice said: Cry out. And I said: What shall I cry out? All flesh is grass and all its glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows upon it. Surely the people is grass. Come the answer from the Lord: The grass does indeed wither. The flower does indeed fade, BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER! Get up to a high mountain, Jerusalem, herald of glad tidings! Lift up your voice, be not afraid! Lift it up. Proclaim to the cities of Judah: "Behold, your God!"

The Word of the Lord that endures forever was in John's mouth. So he prepares you to welcome the Lord by summoning you to repent, just as the Smalcald Articles put it so well. And we all get lumped into that; no one gets exempted. And yet John's great work wasn't done with "Repent!" That was his great: "Stop! Quit the excuses! And turn around!" And then his "behold!" "Behold, your God" Isaiah said in chapter 40. John puts it a slightly different: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" John said, jumping from chapter 40 to 53 and picking up all the servant songs along the way. 

And so it's not just that John's voice goes on in Herod's ear and head and heart and makes him think Jesus is John resurrected. It's not even that every Advent the Baptist makes his entrance as he has in the last 2000 years and summons us all to repentance. It is rather that in every Divine Service TWICE the Words of John that endure forever are taken upon our lips: in the Gloria, "Lord God, Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us." And in Agnus: "O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world."

Words from the mouth of John. Living and abiding words. Speaking still. And on our lips too and in our hearts! Words that will stand when all else falls. Even if you lose your head. Words that endure forever and when those words hold you, YOU endure forever. 

When John in prison sent his disciples to Jesus, Jesus bore witness to how Isaiah was coming life before their eyes: "the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have good news preached to them." The dead are raised up. Did John hold onto that when the grim soldier walked in, unsheathed sword in hand? John surely already already knew it would end badly. He had foretold that Jesus was the Lamb. You do remember what they did to Lambs, right? Slaughtered for sacrifice! And he knew he had to be the forerunner. He would go before, before the same way that the one he named the Lamb of God would walk. But the Lord who raises the dead was coming after. John held tight to the words that endure, and so we rejoice that John lives, for after all "whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." And we might add: And will never be silent. No, as the Psalm had it: "My mouth is filled with your praise and with Your glory all the day." So as the sword flashes and the blood pours and the head rolls and then is placed on its grizzly platter and paraded to that wretched girl and mother, the Word of the Lord spoken by John endures forever. And John will go on speaking into all the years that are left for this world and when this age is concluded, you shall join him rejoicing in the presence of the Lamb to whom he bore witness, whose blood has blotted out all the world's sin, whose resurrection has dealt death its mortal blow, and whose words give exactly what they promise. Eternal words of eternal life. On John's lips. On yours. And in your heart.  Forever. And so you forever. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Te Deum Laudamus, p. 223ff.


Our Father

Collect of Day: Almighty God, You gave Your servant John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in both his preaching of repentance and his innocent death. Grant that we, who have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, may daily repent of our sins, patiently suffer for the sake of the truth, and fearlessly bear witness to His victory over death; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Blessed Lord, who heals all our diseases and forgives all our sin, have mercy on the sick, the grieving, the wounded, the hospitalized, the homebound, the oppressed, and all who cry to You in hope and need, especially Your servants Doreen, Jimmy, Lauren, Al, Zoey, Kent, Joel, Bonnie, Herb, Gene, Paula, Roger, Allan, Jan, and Al and Karen and all who mourn the passing of Al's father. Lift up their spirits with Your promises, renew their hope, strengthen their patience and grant them relief; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Holy One, we thank You that You continue to send laborers into Your vineyard that Your Word may resound, faith in You be strengthened and love toward others be increased. Sustain Micah and Britt Odebma and all who have gone forth in Your name that the Word of reconciliation may be proclaimed to all people and Your joyful Gospel preached in all the world; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, You have safely brought us to the beginning of this new day. Defend us in the same with Your mighty power and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings, being ordered by Your governance, may be righteous in Your sight; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Let us bless the Lord. R.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

25 August 2019

The Sunday Dinner

I remember them at Aunt Emma's after Church on Sunday when three generations gathered around the massive table in the dining room. And being good southerners, the conversation was not artificially interrupted just because one had food in one's mouth! I remember at the St. Paul's parsonage where sometimes we'd have four generations at the table: Nana visiting (and our table comes from her family, where again, generations have sat at it), maybe Aunt Sandy, Opa and Jo, us and the kids. Joyous times indeed. And here we are now. It's not all the family (sniff, sniff; missing the Herberts), but right now our usual is Opa and Lois (generation 1), Cindi and I (generation 2), David and Meaghan, Andy and Bekah (generation 3) and three of our grandchildren: Lydia, Henry, and Oliver (generation 4). With Oliver still in a high chair, I'm already puzzling my grinchy puzzler over how to make us all fit together when we're done with that (and we almost are). Maybe back to using Grandma Bess's bench with the children and an adult consigned to it. Anywho, most every Sunday, following Divine Service and Bible Class, you'll find us together fixing and feasting on a massive breakfast. We've sort of settled into a routine: we supply the sausage (2 lbs), bacon (2 lbs) and some 22 eggs, (and today we even had some roasted sweet taters), David and Meaghan bring along supplies to make breakfast burritos (for the carb lovers), Lois adds a grace note or two (today some fresh Caprese and some grapes for the kiddos). And it almost always completely vanishes! And, just like I remember from Richardsville, we're LOUD. I think it took Lois a while to realize that in this household, you just have to keep getting louder and more insistent. Somehow it all seems perfect, and this weekly time together is something I treasure more than words can tell. A weekly face off of four generations with stories and remembrances and crazy ideas all floating about over delicious food and drink (coffee for Lois, Andy, Cindi and me). It seems the perfect way to wrap up the Sunday morning!

23 August 2019

Tomorrow is St. Bartholomew’s Day

And marks one of the saddest days in Western Christian history. For upon that day in 1572, French Roman Catholics (presumably believing that they were acting to the glory of God) martyred some 3,000 Huguenot Christians in Paris alone, and more in the countryside. It was only a few years later that the Preface to the Book of Christian Concord was composed, and it alludes to the sad day when it issues an important caveat about its own condemnation of the Sacramentarians (those who would deny that the body and blood of the Savior are in fact present and received with the earthly elements). It specifically noted that the anathema was not directed against the mass of simple people who are not blaspheming the Supper as celebrated in our churches:

But we have no doubt at all that one can find many pious, innocent people even in those churches which have up to now admittedly not come to agreement with us. These people go their way in the simplicity of their hearts, do not understand the issues, and take no pleasure in blasphemies against the Holy Supper as it is celebrated in our churches according to Christ’s institution and as we concordantly teach about it on the basis of the words of his testament.

The Huguenots are in view here, and there is hope expressed that if they are further instructed in the truth from God’s Word they will repent of their error. And then come the words that allude to the horrors of St. Bartholomew’s Day:

For this reason we desire to testify before the face of almighty God and the whole of Christendom that it is in no way our disposition and purpose to give occasion by this Christian agreement for any molestation and persecution of poor, oppressed Christians. For just as Christian charity causes us to have special sympathy with them, so we entertain a corresponding loathing for and a cordial disapproval of the raging of their persecutors. We want absolutely no share of the responsibility for this bloodshed. Payment for it will without doubt be required of the persecutors on the great day of the Lord before the solemn and severe throne of God’s judgment, and there they will have to give a hard accounting.

In memory, then, of the Reformation martyrs in Paris and elsewhere in France who fell to the sword for their faith, slain by their own fellow baptized brethren (as righteous Abel was felled by Cain), let us give thanks to God in the words of the hymn that Luther first composed to commemorate the martyrdom of the Augustinian Martyrs in Brussels:

The Father hath received
Their latest living breath,
And vain is Satan’s boast
Of vict’ry In their death.
Still, still, tho’ dead, they speak,
And, trumpet-tongued, proclaim
To many a wak’ning land
The one availing Name. (TLH 259)

22 August 2019

Looking Backwards

So a friend of mine pointed this out, and it's odd to me that I never noticed: everything in our house looks backwards. Our furniture is mostly made up of family pieces; and even the pieces Cindi and I have added over the years tend to mix in with the "old" look quite naturally. I noticed walking from room to room today that my Grandma Bess could easily spot something in every room that was hers: her old iron sits on the hearth of our fireplace in the living room; the bench that we used to sit on as children on her back porch sits beneath the window of my dining room; the kitchen has several pieces of her crockery atop the cabinets; the master bedroom has her wash-stand beside the bed with my stuff on it and pictures of her sons are on the wall and also her grandmother; in the guest room the rocking chair I found in her barn and had refinished occupies a corner, and a cloth made by her aunt covers the dresser; and last but not least in the study, my desk is actually the large two-plank table made by her grandfather and at which we enjoyed many a buttery light roll and glass of sweet tea. And that's just my dad's mom! We could do much the same for my mom's family and Cindi's family also (at least on Nana's side). 

And frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way. My friend asked if I were presenting a "sanitized" version of the past. No, I don't think so. Almost every object comes with memories and the memories are not uniformly pleasant. I remember, for instance, that no matter how carefully I tried to get my grandmother's tea to her, if I spilled a little bit outside the cup, she never failed to note the fact: "Oh, you spilled it again." And if my father was mostly a silent man, his father was far, far more so. Rarely did he speak at all, though I recall his voice being a bit high and raspy. He's still largely an unknown, and yet I treasure the mementos from the old house. I honestly wish I had inherited more of them, but know that I ought not be greedy. 

And then there are the ghosts. No, I don't mean that in the way you're thinking. I mean the memories that crowd in of all these folks that touched our lives at some point, some of them quite deeply, some of them even painfully, and yet who are all gone. And I carry the memory of many, Cindi of her many too, and to our children they are but stories, and to our grandchildren they will likely be unknown. Will they even care that that teapot was a wedding gift to my grandmother and grandfather back at the turn of the 20th century? I know that I never got to meet my great Aunt Annie (Nannie) and yet there has rarely been a more influential presence in my life than that women. Her sayings lived in my mother's mouth and so they live in my own memory and heart. I know who she is from some pictures I have. But, of course, who will she be to my grandchildren? It still makes me smile to hear Cindi sometimes trot out for the grandchildren one of her saying: "I can't lost his cornfield, but I'll try found it!" My personal favorite was always one my mother ceaselessly drummed into my bookish head: “All the book learning in the world won’t teach you how to milk a cow.” On the other hand, Aunt Annie always said that a book was the most wonderful thing, for with it you could travel the world without leaving your rocking chair.

So while I live and the memory of them is live, I enjoy my ghosts. I enjoy tremendously looking and remembering. I see the desk where Aunt Fanny wrote her letters to her dear friend Mrs. Kennedy in the evening. I see Nana's table around which so many gathered for Christmas at her house in Bethesda. I just lift my bottle of water from Aunt Gee's little library table that sits beside my chair and I'm reminded of how she and Uncle Cleve first lived in the house that my father later grew up in. Memories abound and I'm happy for a backwards looking house that lets the past live comfortably with the present. Yes, a standing desk contraption with iPad and printer sits upon the old table in the study. Yes, a light alarm clock occupies pride of place on my washstand. And I had to explain to a friend the other day, we don't DO Compact discs because we actually stream all our music on the HomePod or our portable devices. The new snuggled against the old. But not the new simply without the old or vice-versa. Both together. The past and the present meeting together in partnership to provide a haven for facing whatever tomorrow may bring. And the past helps remind me that no matter how permanent anything may seem, here we have no lasting city. They knew that. They often put it on their headstones. But we seek the one to come.