30 May 2019

Homily for the Ascension 2019

You can listen here, or read below.

Texts: Acts 1:1-11; St. Luke 24:44-53
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is the one day of the year that I wish I were an Anglican, so I could use the Coverdale Psalter from the old Book of Common Prayer. I love the way it translated that one verse in Psalm 47: "God is gone up with a merry noise, the Lord with the sound of the trump!"

Who is gone up? GOD. God is gone up. So you find after He ascended, after He parts from them and is carried up into heaven, the disciples "worshipped Him." They plant their faces on the ground in adoration of this man with whom they had eaten and drunk and travelled, and whom they had watched get tired and sleepy and even sleep through a hum dinger of a storm, but who could then command the winds and the waves and they instantly obeyed, this man who was nailed to a tree and dead, and yet showed Himself to them as alive forevermore, this man who IS God, Him they worship and do so with great joy, no doubt with that merry noise, as they haunt the temple (nice inclusio, St.Luke) blessing God. 

Kretzmann contrasts the meager earthly liturgy at that first ascension day service with the heavenly one. "Seven words, "while they behold, He was taken up..." There were no bells and banners on earth, but surely all the trumpets on the other side sounded as they had never sounded before...Surely the chiming golden bells of heaven sang their welcome, and angel choirs intoned the song of the throne: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength"... On the anvils of God the nails hade been forged into the scepter of a king. "He was taken up"...The angel hosts sweep to either side, leaving the way clear to the Eternal Light that no longer blinds the eyes of us who stand gazing after him... He leads a procession which comes from the ends of time and space, all the harvest of all the white fields the world has ever known, pilgrims of the night who come at last to the dawn of an everlasting day." So far Kretzmann.

They stand with their tear-stained faces staring up after him, maybe not even noticing at first the angelic messengers who were sent to earth to remind them that they need not stand staring opened mouthed at the skies. He will come again in glory, just like they saw Him go. And of course, meanwhile there is work to do. His work. My witnesses. Here, there, everywhere. 

But is there a danger of out of sight, out of mind? Maybe, but it's more apparent than real. We are always thinking about things that we are not seeing and often we are quite oblivious to what is actually before our eyes. Our minds, it seems, have eyes of their own, of course. And just like your mouth can be rattling off the words of the liturgy and your mind be working on something totally different, so your eyes can be seeing what is before them, and yet your mind scarcely registers it, because you are so occupied with what no one else there is seeing. Now, the Ascension of Jesus beyond the reception of the bright cloud, we did not get to see. I hope Kretzmann was right and the scene John sees in Revelation 5 IS the heavenly side of the story. Or something very like it. But even though He has ascended and is not longer VISIBLE, He is anything but out of mind for the disciples and for all in whom their words lodge and live and bring to life. So the collect for this day: "that we may also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him." So heavenly minded as to end up actually being of some earthly good!

"He was taken up." What does that mean? What do we confess when we say that He ascended? One thing the Church learned early was that it does NOT mean that He's no longer here and active. He's not twiddling His thumbs way up there, far, far away, waiting for the cue from the Father to get up and get the long-awaited return underway. No. Were you paying attention to how St. Luke began his second volume? "In the first book, O Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus began to do and to teach." So calling it the Acts of the Apostles was surely a misnomer. It's the ongoing acts of Ascended, Glorified Jesus, ruling all and superintending the spreading of His gospel that nets more and more worshippers, falling down before Him and blessing His Father for the love they've come to know in the Father's Son. As Luke will say repeatedly: "And the Word of the Lord grew!"

So, Ascension, Jesus, on the throne of the universe, at the Father's right, Your brother, the one who shares Your flesh and blood: He's the King of all, the Ruler of all, the Lord of all things. Right now. And nothing that you will meet in your life comes to you but from His hand. Nothing? Really? Really! How the early Christians danced in that fire! After witnessing Polycarp's martyrdom, some of his disciples wrote an account of what happened and at the very end, they penned these words: "It was the second day of the first fortnight of Xanthicus, seven days before the calends of March, when our blessed Polycarp met his martyr's death, two hours before midday on the Greater Sabbath. The official responsible for his arrest was Herod; the High Priest was Philip of Tralles; and the proconsul was Statius Quadratus—but the ruling monarch was Jesus Christ, who reigns forever and ever. To Him be ascribed all glory, honour, majesty, and an eternal throne from generation to generation. Amen." 

Folks, THEM be fightin words! The Ascension of Jesus meant that at the right of God right now and governing all things forever is the One born of the Virgin Mary, nailed to the cross, raised from the dead, and the One to whom at His appearing we all must give an account of our deeds, for He is the Judge of all. The One who has whose blood alone has covered all Your sins.

And so from the Ascension onward, the Church waits, but she doesn't wait for One who is absent to come back; the whole secret inner joy of her life is that she waits for One who is yet Present in her midst in a hidden manner and who in an equally hidden and mysterious manner rules everything. She waits for Him to Appear, and that's when the rest of the world will be let in on the secret that is the Church's inner life and hidden joy. 

God is gone up with a merry noise. The God-man. The Lord with the sound of the trump. What joy is yours today, people loved by God, as you join the merry noise of angels and archangels and the whole company of the redeemed, raising a mighty Te Deum like a trump to your Ascended King, to His holy Father, to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to whom be glory now and ever and to the ages of ages! Amen.

26 May 2019

Happy anniversary

To Andy and Bekah. Cannot believe it's been a year.

23 May 2019

From Seed-Grains of Prayer

I dearly love the old Lutheran prayer books, and one of those is Seed Grains of Prayer by Löhe, which is in turn largely an ingathering of older forms of prayer he found useful in the history of Lutheran devotion. Today I was particularly struck by these paragraphs from a prayer for all classes of men (prayer 341 in the book) and the way it dealt with prayer for the dead:

I would remember before Thee also my parents, pastors, teachers, children, kindred, and benefactors, who have gone before me in the blessed faith and are now at home with Thee. If, through Jesus Christ, my prayer finds favor in Thy sight, do Thou, in my stead, repay unto them my thanks and love, in whatsoever manner it be possible. 

Unto all whom I have ever pained, deceived, or caused to sin, or whom I have robbed of honor, health, or possession, whom I can no longer ask for pardon, nor restore unto them, because they are already gone into joy and pardon of every sin—gone home to Thee—to all these, O Lord, grant good for all my evil both now and in the day of the resurrection of the just; even as Thou knowest how, and in how far all of this which I ask can be granted. 

As for myself, let me spend my remaining days in prayer, and in adoration of the most holy name of Jesus, and in praise and thanksgiving for the hearing of my prayers and those of all Christian people which have ever been offered up unto Thee through Jesus Christ. Amen.

17 May 2019


Probably one of the best college courses I ever had: the entire semester with Dr. Gary Pittinger was devoted to learning the dangers of logical fallacies. One of the more famous, of course, was post hoc, ergo propter hoc. It's a fallacy that's so tempting: noting correlation and drawing causation. But in life, because it is inherently way more complex than are usually willing to admit, determining causation is well nigh impossible. Why? Because of those wretched confounders; unaccounted for variables.

So, here I was, utterly convinced that the trick to solving the migraine problem was simply this: at mid February I cut the coffee consumption down to 1 mug in the morning. I have since then, occasionally (very occasionally) had a third cup sometime during the day, or a decaf at night. Today marks day 91 sans migraines, Deo gratias!

But this morning something hit me that had not even dawned on me before. It wasn't only the amount of coffee that changed. Also how we brewed it changed. We had one of those nice cuisinart devices that went off with your alarm, ground the beans, and then brewed the coffee by dripping. We've had it for years. In fact, every morning for years beyond memory, drip coffee is how the day had begun.

Son-in-law, Pr. Dean Herberts, introduced us to the simplicity of pour over last year, though, and we immediately noted how much more we liked the taste. Richer and yet, what? Less acidic? I'm not sure. Just better. So when we put away the pot that made the four cups we always drank first thing in the a.m., we opted to clean off our counter and just use our beloved pour over. And so we've done since Prelent started: just pour over coffee. AND, when I've had that splurge in the afternoon now and again, I've also ordered a pour over from Starbucks, and intentionally declined anything they had drip brewed.

So I've been wondering all day: is it cutting back the amount that stopped the migraines? Is it the brew method that stopped them? Is it both of those together? Is it both of those combined with a zero-carb life-style where I eat mostly straight meat, eggs, fish, high fat dairy? Too many confounders to know for sure yet, but I am planning on sticking with the pour over (which tastes better anyway, as I said) and we'll see what happens.

11 May 2019

See you in Chicago?

The one-and-only 2019 Issues, Etc. "Making the Case" Conference is Friday, June 7 and Saturday, June 8 in Chicago.  Learn more: http://issuesetc.org/2019conference/.

On those Paraphrases

I was asked on Twitter today about the Lutheran custom of substituting chorales for the texts of the Ordinary. Thought I share my response here as well. First, this custom has long-standing within the Lutheran tradition, of course. To many Lutherans for centuries "Allein Gott in der Höh'" WAS the Greater Gloria. Second, though, Lutherans throughout the age of Orthodoxy continued to hear and sing the Latin original canticles (think at Bach's time where the A choir would carry the Latin and the B choir would carry the predominantly German paraphrases, and alternate by week—I think I'm remembering how Stiller laid it out). The key, then, is that Lutherans of yesteryear heard the chorale paraphrases as enriching meditations on the shorter Latin texts that no doubt many of them held in their heads and hearts. Zum Beispiel, "Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis...dona nobis pacem" would always be in their heads as the background to:

O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig
am Stamm des Kreuzes geschlachtet,
allzeit erfunden geduldig,
wiewohl du warest verachtet,
all Sünd hast du getragen,
sonst müssten wir verzagen.
Erbarm dich unser, o Jesu... Gib deinen Frieden, o Jesu.

Lamb of God, pure and holy,
Who on the cross didst suffer
Ever patient and lowly,
Thyself to scorn didst offer.
All sins Thou borest for us,
Else had despair reigned o'er us.
Have mercy on us, O Jesus... Thy peace be with us, O Jesus.

I think the chorale paraphrase tradition can still be enriching, but ONLY if the prose is in the heads and hearts of the chorale singers, and that seems to require regular use of the prose. Hence, it seems to me that the best practice is a regular use of the prose ordinary, such as we have in Divine Service 3, then with occasional use of paraphrases (i.e., Divine Service 5) as enriching fare, just not the so-called "meat and potatoes" of one's liturgical diet.

09 May 2019

A cultural shift

That's what the old prayer books and hymnals of our church reveal we have had. Now, thanks to the work of Matthew Carver, we have what Walther and crew thought of as "THE Prayer Book," Lutheran Prayer Companion. The intro rightly points out it was designed for home (personal) use and is rightly considered an addenda to Walther's Hymnal (which we also have in English now thanks to Matthew Carver).

Just a few things to note in this older level of Missouri's piety that would make those accustomed to the shape of her piety in the mid 20th century squirm a bit. There is a prayer on p. 257 for a committal service. Towards the end of the prayer we find these words: "To the deceased, therefore, grant a gentle rest in the bosom of the earth and a joyous resurrection with all the elect on the day of Your beloved Son's appearing." Prayer 257, p. 140  

Of a piece with this prayer 481, a prayer to be used immediately following a death. It includes these words "To Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory and Prince of Life, be praise and thanksgiving, for so graciously delivering this blessed man today and receiving his soul into His holy hands. May He reunite his soul and body in heavenly glory on the Last Day, and grant us together with him a blessed voyage at the time appointed to God..." (pp. 342,3)

Note how this accords also with the prayer from the time of Lutheran Orthodoxy from Starck upon the same occasion: "Refresh the soul that has now departed with heavenly consolation and joy, and fulfill for it all the gracious promises which in Your holy Word You have made to those who believe in You. Grant to the body a soft and quiet rest in the earth till the Last Day, when You will reunite body and soul and lead them into glory, so that the entire person who served You here may be filled with heavenly joy there." (P. 345, Starck's Revised). 

But it is not only in prayers such as these that the different spirit stands out. Consider also the way the Apocryphal books are used throughout the volume. In the section "Comforting verses to read to the sick and the dying" we find as the last of the Old Testament passages Wisdom 3:1 "The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment touches them." (See p. 299) Similarly, at the very start of the prayer book Luther's instructions for proper prayer are given there we find as his fifth and final point the principle that one must not assign God a goal, prescribe a time or place, or specify the manner or means of the prayer being answered. He adds "The holy woman, Judith, did the same thing. When she heard that the citizens of Bethuliah would hand over the city in five days unless God delivered them during that time, she rebuked them and said, 'Who are you, that you put God to the test? These are not the means to obtain grace but to stir up more disfavor. Would you prescribe for God a time to have mercy on you, and specify a day according to your whim?'" Judith 8:11ff. Throughout the book, the prayers are replete with the language of Scripture and whoever is familiar with the apocryphal writings will note some turns of phrase lifted directly from there.

And the Eucharistic piety the book evidences is also a thing of beauty to behold! In the Saturday prayer that expands upon "but deliver us from evil" in the Our Father, the prayer asks the Holy Spirit that our last food may be the Holy Supper; the last image in our mind Christ crucified; the last words on our lips "Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit." There are a plethora of prayers of preparation for the Eucharist and nearly as many to offer in thanksgiving after receiving the holy gifts. In all of them the joy of the sacrament is fully expressed and yet the gravity of an unworthy use of the Sacrament is not short-changed at all. 

In sum, the book inculcates a piety that has all the breadth of the Book of Concord's theology. Once again, I highly recommend the volume. It's become well, this Lutheran's daily "Prayer Companion."

07 May 2019


People loved by God, please pray for my friend Herb tomorrow. He'll be undergoing surgery to remove a mass on his brain. Please join us in putting him into the loving arms of our Great Physician and begging His mercy, His healing, His protection.

05 May 2019

Our Lord Speaks and We Listen

For Eastertide, Pastor sings the Our Father and we join in at the Doxology, and then he chants the Words of Our Lord's Testament: "Our Lord Jesus Christ..." When he concludes the words over the bread, he elevates the host as the chime rings out three slow steady strokes. I confess that I usually sing the words along with him in my head, and then as he holds aloft the Lord's body, there is time to offer prayer as he and the assistants genuflect before our Lord's body. My usual prayer is:

Thine of Thine own, which Thou didst offer on behalf of all and for all. Glory to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God. Glory to Thee forever!

And thus the evocation of Thomas' confession from last week's Gospel which further pulls toward the beatitude that Christ pronounced in response to Thomas's confession: "You believe because you have seen; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

We look upon the consecrated bread, but we do not see what it is. We believe what it is. Christ word tells us what it is. "My body, given for you." And that is why Pastor drops to his knees before the altar and the servers with him. And this kneeling before the Lord, this is itself a confession of and anticipation of Christ's return in glory, when "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father."

Similarly, with the consecration of the cup. Pastor resumes his chant and I (and I expect most of us) sing the words in our hearts right along with him. He holds the chalice aloft at the conclusion as the chime sounds those three solemn strokes again. And again, my usual prayer during this solemn moment before the blood which has redeemed the world is to pray:

Thine of Thine own, which Thou didst offer on behalf of all and for all. Glory to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God. Glory to Thee forever! 

The chalice we see. If we could peek in it, the wine we would see. But the blood is not seen. Yet our Lord has promised us: "This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you." What He promises is so, and blessed are we who believe. 

Today's Gospel reading from John 10 spoke of the voice of Christ as the very principle of the Church's unity: "And I have other sheep that are not of this fold (i.e., not of the Jews, but the Gentiles, us). I must bring them also, and *they will listen to my voice.* So there will be one flock, one shepherd." The listening to the voice of Christ is precisely that which constitutes the unity of the Church: He speaks, we listen, and His Word bestows what it says (Norman Nagel). And this IS the primary pulse of the Divine Service. One of the great beauties of the Church's Divine Service as celebrated at St. Paul's is the way the listening to the words of Christ (both in the Gospel reading, usually read in the midst) and the Words of the Lord's Testament are given special treatment, where the chanting and the ceremonies invite us, summon us, remind us: "Listen, Little Lambs! Listen now to my voice! I am speaking who gave My life into death that you might never die."

Agnus dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miscerere nobis... dona nobis pacem.

04 May 2019

Prayer for Confirmation

Tomorrow is Confirmation at St. Paul's. Here is a lovely prayer for Confirmands from Lutheran Prayer Companion. I am persuaded every Lutheran would be hugely blessed by this wonderful volume!

An Intercession for Confirmands:

O almighty, true, living God, eternal and merciful Father of our Savior Jesus Christ, who in loving kindness revealed Yourself to us: You say of Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, "This is My beloved Son, to whom you shall listen"; and this Your beloved Son Himself said, "Let the children come to Me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of God." Therefore since these children present have been brought to Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, in Holy Baptism and are baptized into His death, washed with His blood, and buried with Christ by Holy Baptism, we beseech You, merciful God and Father, of Your lavish goodness, to renew in these Your children once more the Holy Spirit, whom You poured out on them richly in Holy Baptism, that their hearts may be lightened with the radiance of the Holy Gospel. Increase in them, O gracious God, both the pure knowledge of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and the true faith, that they may believe firmly in You, the true God, and in Jesus Christ, Your Son, whom You have sent, and with firm confidence abide steadfast in You. Deliver them from the power of darkness and set them in the kingdom of Your beloved Son, in which we have redemption and forgiveness of sins. Put in their minds the peace of Christ and the joy of the Holy Spirit, and the love of God and neighbor. Fill them with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that He may instruct and guide them into all truth, and make them fit to serve in Your holy congregation, to put to death the deeds of the flesh, to overcome the devil in all his guile and temptation, and to serve You in holiness and the righteousness pleasing to You, that together with all the faithful they may look for and await the coming of Your beloved Son with a cheerful heart and active prayer in soberness, righteousness, and godliness, to Your glory and the edification of Your poor Church; for You live and reign with Jesus Christ, Your only-begotten Son, in the power and unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

You can buy it right here.

03 May 2019

And that’s a wrap

Today was my final day hosting Thy Strong Word. It’s been such a joy since August of 2014, but this frees me up to attend to other matters and I’m so happy with our new host, Pr. A.J. Espinosa. Here’s the final show, with our “hand off” at the end. Loved doing the show today with Pr. Joel Shaltanis. You can listen right here: 2 Peter 3. Be sure to keep on listening!