30 June 2019

Once again

In today's Divine Service, Pastor used one of the great General Prayers from the Altar Book. Each time we pray these familiar words, I find my heart and mind settling into their old rhythms with a calming peace. I'll know exactly what we are asking together here in this prayer and can give it my hearty "amen." This particular prayer is an update of the one that appeared in TLH, p. 5. Some of my favorite turns of phrase (not all of which survived the editing of LSB):

Almighty and everlasting God, who art worthy to be had in reverence by all the children of men, we give Thee most humble and hearty thanks for the innumerable blessings, both temporal and spiritual, which without any merit or worthiness on our part, Thou hast bestowed upon us... 

Grant unto Thy holy Church throughout the world purity of doctrine and faithful pastors, who shall preach Thy Word with power; and help all who hear rightly to understand and truly to believe it... 

Be Thou the Protector and Defender of Thy Church in all time of tribulation and danger; and may we, in communion with Thy Church and in brotherly unity with all our fellow Christians, fight the good fight of faith and in the end receive the salvation of our souls... 

Bestow Thy grace upon all the nations of the earth. Especially do we entreat Thee to bless our land and all its inhabitants and all who are in authority. Cause Thy glory to dwell among us and let mercy and truth, righteousness and peace, everywhere prevail.... 

Be Thou the God and Father of the widow and the fatherless children, the Helper of the sick and the needy, and the Comforter of the forsaken and distressed... 

Accept, we beseech Thee, our bodies and souls, our hearts and minds, our talents and powers, together with the offerings we bring before Thee, which is our reasonable service... 

And as we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, help us by true faith and a godly life to prepare for the world to come doing the work Thou hast given us to do while it is day; before the night cometh when no man can work. And when our last hour comes, support us by Thy power and receive us into Thine everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost forever and ever.

How timeless such intercession! How apt the words are for the tribulations of the Church in the world in our own day and age! How beautifully our holy mother, the Church, teaches us by lifting the sorrows of the world into her arms and carrying them to the throne of grace! How gently she reminds us of our status as strangers and pilgrims here, with our true home in the age to come!

Each time we use one of those old General Prayers I stop and wonder if the liturgical movement in the mid 20th century did a disservice to our prayer life as the children of God by transforming what had been an Ordinary (unchanging part of the rite) into a Proper (a changeable part), and thus suggesting that trying to think up new ways of continually asking for the same things is somehow preferable to taking the words of our spiritual fathers and mothers on our lips and praying with them anew in the old and sturdy phrases (which lean so very heavily upon the language of the Sacred Scriptures). 

24 June 2019

The day couldn’t have been more perfect

Weather-wise, that is, after all the rain this weekend. I was able to get out over lunch hour and do my 300 push-ups, then ran sprints. By the time I was done I'd gotten my 15K steps for the day. When I got home, it was so inviting out that pumped up the bike tires and headed down to the store to pick up some cheese. I came home and looked outside again and it was too enticing. Back in the saddle and up the bike trail to the swamp, north of Worden. There was a steady west wind the whole way (so it blew across me both ways), bright blue skies and white puffs of cloud. I got to see a blue bird, several cardinals, some queen anne's lace, some blooming honeysuckle and some flowers I couldn't identify. About an hour's ride all told. Perfect way to cap off the day. Now I have the windows open and the wind is still blowing nicely through the house.

Homily upon the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, 2019

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

Joy, joy, joy! Zechariah and Elizabeth in their childlessness had learned to embrace a life of less joy than they saw many of their neighbors have. I don't doubt that they had prayed for the gift of a child and finally had assumed that the answer was "no." Some of you may know the pain of that answer. But the One before whom they were righteous, He was after all the God of Abraham and Sarah. And so when the Angel bops into the Temple as Zechariah is offering the incense and giddily tells him: "Oh, stop being afraid! Your prayer is heard! Your wife will bear you a son! His name will be John, Yahweh is Gracious! You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth!" Joy, joy, joy! And Zechariah, of course, dumbfounded: um, my prayer? That was a very long time ago. How can this possibly be? I'm old. She's old. How will I possibly know this joy?

The angel of course gives him a remarkable gift that is so scarce in our day. The gift of silence. He can't talk because he didn't believe the embassy of joy from the mouth of God's joyful messenger.

And so as he awaited the fulfillment through those nine months, he'd learned in silence that when God announces to you great joy the proper response is not: "No way, dude." Gabriel had no doubt: "I was sent to speak to you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words (well, God's words that I was sent to speak to give you joy), which will be fulfilled in their time." 

The fulfillment of His promise is joy. But in those nine months, Zechariah gestated along with his wife on the rest of the words of Gabriel and they did swell up in him in a joy that finally grew big as Elizabeth's womb till at last it burst forth in the words of Benedictus. The child would be a source of joy and gladness by his birth because he would be great before the Lord. The child would not a partaker of the lesser gladness from wine or strong drink ("wine which You made to make his heart glad" -Psalm 104 it has its gladness, but that's mere water compared to the joy that would be John's). Filled not with wine but with the Holy Spirit, and not even waiting for that till after birth. He was born again before he was even born! While still in his mother's womb, drinking down the Spirit. And he had a mission for Israel: to turn many of the children of the promise back to the Lord their God, going before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, getting ready for the Lord, that is, for Yahweh, who was coming, a people prepared.

And so when the joy conceived in Zechariah and swelling within him in those nine months bursts forth into Benedictus, he isn't all about the joy of the miracle baby that Elizabeth bore him. First, it is the joy of the God of Israel. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has VISITED and REDEEMED His people." The way Luke gives the narrative maybe hints that Mary's stay lasted through the birth of John and so if she were in the room, well then, HE was in the room. And that's the joy that was brimming over in Zechariah throughout those days. "God has visited and redeemed His people and raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and form the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the sworn Oath to Abraham. Blessing to all the families of the earth. Through His Seed. Jesus. So that we might serve him without fear in holiness and in righteousness before Him all our days." This is the joy that swelled in Zechariah and note the angel said: it wasn't just joy for him, but that many would rejoice at this birth! You are part of that many! You come here today to rejoice and share in the joy and awe. 

And at last Zechariah turns attention to the little one, his little one - not the little one still hidden in Mary. "You, my child, will be called prophet of the most high, going before Him, the Lord, to prepare His ways" and here's some massive joy, people loved by God, "to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins." And notice how Zechariah can't stay focused on John. He slips right back to the Lord: "This forgiveness is all because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high" (he'd been thinking a lot about Malachi since the angel basically quoted that prophesy in the temple about his son) "to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the path of peace." 

Joy, joy, joy. Today, the one once hidden in Mary THEN but the cause of growing, bursting joy to Zechariah and Elizabeth and all who waited for the salvation He would bring, the salvation He would BE, He comes to you, hidden beneath the bread and the wine, but the same one, Mary's flesh and blood, very God of very God, begotten, not made. He comes to you as John would go on to teach, when he proclaimed in Him the forgiveness of your sins: He comes to be your Lamb that carries away the sin of the world, so that you may know in Him the tender mercy of God, this light that breaks through the darkness of death and the shines upon the path of peace, calling you home. Joy at John's birth! Joy at John's witness! Nine-month joy bursting from Zechariah! Joy coming into you! And that great joy has a God-given name, like his cousin, John, that is, Yahweh is gracious. Joy's name is Yahweh saves, Jesus, the one who came and comes to bring those lost and frightened in the darkness back home, to take them back to promised land, back to the garden, back to the Father. Joy. Jesus. Oh, and happy birthday, John!

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

23 June 2019

Chicken or Egg

I've been reading St. Basil's The Long Rules and just finished his discussion of the great commandment: to love God above all. His argumentation for this is something I'd not encountered in exactly this form before (though it does have similarities to JPII's theology of the body). What captivated me, though, is when he begins unpacking the nature of God's benefactions toward us and it sounded eerily familiar in thought progression. Here are some snippets:

God made man according to His image and likeness, that He deemed him worthy of the knowledge of Himself, that in preference to all the animals He adorned him with rationality, bestowed upon him the opportunity of taking his delight in the unbelievable beauties of paradise, and made him the chief of all the creatures on earth. Then, even after he was seduced by the serpent and fell into sin, and by sin into death and its attendant evils, God did not forsake him. First, He gave to him the Law as an aid, appointed angels to watch over and care for him, sent prophets to refute evil and teach virtue, checked his impulses toward vice by threats, aroused his eagerness for the good by promises, In addition to all these and other favors equally great, He did not turn away from man when he persisted in disobedience. We have not been deserted by the Lord's goodness, nor have we impeded His love for us by our stupidity in treating our Benefactor contumeliously through not comprehending the greatness of the favors bestowed nay, we have even been recalled from death and restored to life again by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Even the manner in which this favor was granted calls for the greatest wonder: 'Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.' He has, moreover, taken upon Himself our infirmities and carried our sorrows. He was crucified for us that we might be healed by His bruises. He also redeemed us from the curse, 'being made a curse for us,' and endured the most ignominious death that He might restore us to the life of glory. Nor was He content with merely bringing back to life those who were dead, but He conferred upon them the dignity of divinity and prepared everlasting rest transcending every human concept in the magnitude of its joy.

Is not that remarkably similar in thought flow and even at points in language to his great Anaphora? It led me to wonder which came first: the Anaphora of St. Basil or his ascetical writing on The Long Rules? Anyone have a clue?

Trinity 1 and Cantata 75

I am befuddled why the hymn of the day for Trinity 1 is not “What God Ordains is Always Good” as in Bach’s Cantata 75 (which is a MUST listen meditation upon the Gospel of the day, Luke 16, Lazarus and the Rich Man).

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

What God ordains is always good:
This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm,
For with His arm
He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me. LSB 760:5,6 (Stanzas used in Cantata 75)

O Armut, der kein Reichtum gleicht! 
Wenn aus dem Herzen 
die ganze Welt entweicht 
und Jesus nur allein regiert, 
so wird ein Christ zu Gott geführt. 
Gib, Gott, daß wir es nicht verscherzen!

08 June 2019

Today at Making the Case

Pr. Wilken announced that come October, God willing, I will begin as an employee of Lutheran Public Radio, with a new podcast kicking off on Reformation called The Word that Endures Forever. The show will be 15-20 minutes or so a day of straight expository preaching. My last day with Synod will officially be September 30, but will be on vacation that month. My last day at the International Center will be August 29th. Prayers appreciated as we head into a new chapter in our lives.

06 June 2019


...it started with my brother Butch asking me whether or not Daddy had been at D-day. So I began thinking: he and mom were married up in Wisconsin where he was training, February 12, 1944. And then there's the date of my brother's conception: he would have been conceived in early October 1944, which would still have Daddy state side. But surely not for long.

I found an old pic of him standing by his jeep or whatever you call the thing (found out later, it is a Willy). For all of a second I thought: I wonder if I could grab meta data... Oh, wait. Silly. A real picture. No meta data.

But then I looked more closely at it and wondered. The numbers on the vehicle are plain to read. 83-308M D-1. A little investigation via the wonders of the world wild web and voila! Daddy served in the 83 Infantry Division. That Division did land on D-day, but he was still here then. He must have joined them in November or so. He was always watching movies about the Battle of the Bulge. He loved it. And apparently, he lived it. After the battle was won, the 83rd did some recuperation in Belgian and Holland. And my mom had two momentos he brought her back from the war: a wall tapestry of some cats dressed up as people standing at a fence (with product of Belgium on the back) and some little Dutch brass figurines. I know that he worked with the medic division as a driver, hence the 308M. And I'm sure being buddies with the docs came in handy for him when his appendix nearly burst during his time of service.

If you look closely at the pic you can also see that there's a triangular insignia on his shoulder. I'm guessing it is the symbol of his division.

His unit did make its way through Central Europe and that is no doubt where he visited the famous Salzburg amphitheatre that impressed him so much. It was all 74 and 75 years ago, but somehow since it was my daddy it just doesn't seem that long ago.

01 June 2019

Visitation Homily on the Feast of the Visitation (3 Year)

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

Well, let's get the bad news out of the way first. Gregory of Nazianzus, one of the great Cappadocian fathers of the fourth century, leader of the Second Great Ecumenical Council held at Constantinople in 381 (you know, the one that gave us basically the final form of the Nicene Creed), and regarded by none other than Johann Gerhard as simply THE greatest theologian of the Church ever, THAT Gregory....He was being badgered to attend to another meeting of church leadership, and he wrote (Letter 124), and I quote: "Synods and conventions I salute from afar, since I have experienced that most of them (to speak moderately) are but sorry affairs." Ouch. And here you are, prepping for a convention of Synod. No question that it can end up being the sort of sorry affair Gregory the theologian expected. But you know, it need not.

Tonight's reading opens up another way, a better way. Behold a different kind of convention, of coming together, a Synod, if you will, that is anything but a sorry affair. Let's think on it for a few minutes. Mary, having spoken her "let it be to me according to your word" leaves Nazareth and heads to the Judean hills. Mary, that is, AND the little child whose tiny heart may already even then have been beating beneath her own. Why head to Judea? Gabriel had told her this was already the sixth month with Elizabeth, her old kinswoman. As Mary reaches the door, she calls out her greeting."Shalom, Cousin Elizabeth!" And maybe even "Baruch ha shem adonai!" Blessed be the name of the Lord. Praise for a safe journey.

Whatever she said, at the sound of her young voice, Elizabeth sat up startled. And not just because of an unexpected visit. Something happened inside her. The child in Elizabeth's womb, St. John the Baptist a little more than six months along now, did a somersault of joy. And Elizabeth sat straight up in shock, filled with the Holy Spirit, and then she saw it. She saw the whole thing in a moment. I don't doubt Zacharias had somehow communicated to her all that happened in the temple. She knew that HER child was the forerunner for Another, to "make ready for the LORD a people prepared." She saw it and wonder shone on her face as Mary stepped into her house that day. 

Can you see her go over to the virgin? Can you see Elizabeth's old hands gently hold Mary's face between them as she looks with tears into those questioning eyes? This was not the first time that Mary would have the experience of that look and it would not be the last. A look of awe on people's faces. She'd seen it on the angel when he came to her, bearing his astounding embassy. Now the awe shines from Elizabeth. Mary was coming to understand what it meant: "Ah, here's another that God has let in on the great secret of the ages!"

Elizabeth looks her in the eye and whispers: "Blessed are you among women!" Blessed indeed. There would never again be such: a woman who would unite both virginity and motherhood in her body, the walking fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. But more. Can you see Elizabeth step back, look down, and maybe lay a trembling hand upon Mary's womb and say: "And blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is it granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, as soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy." Blessed in being Virgin Mother, yes, blessed even more in this: that the fruit of her womb is the Lord, is Immanuel, is God with us! She alone of all creatures is the Mother of God, the Eternal Word. Now first two beatitudes Elizabeth pronounced upon Mary are Mary's alone. We are blessed in contemplating them but we do not share them and never will. But Elizabeth is not done blessing. Oh, no.

For now, I strongly suspect she turned to her old Zacharaias lurking in the corner watching it all unfold, and she gave him a proper look as she pointed to Mary and cried out: "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." (Unspoken, of course, but no doubt heard were the words: Unlike you, you silly old goat! Arguing with an angel and ending up silent all these months, not that I'm complaining about that too much). But this last beatitude, this blessedness of Mary that she believed what the Lord promised her, no matter how crazy and impossible it seemed, this, people loved by God, this is a beatitude you can share with her. Just like old Zacaharias was laughing and nodding in agreement with his cheeky wife. "Yes, I should have known better." He no doubt thought: "Truly, with God nothing is impossible, nor do any of His words fail." 

Luther once pondered this text and concluded that in contained three miracles. The first was that a Virgin would conceive and become a mother. The second that her child should actually be God the Eternal Son in human flesh. And the last? The last miracle, said the Reformer, was that Mary should believe any of it. And he paused to add, that he didn't know if that weren't actually the greatest miracle of them all. And that this last miracle for which Elizabeth blesses Mary is precisely the one you can share,

I think Luther got that last blessing of Elizabeth as the greatest from an incident later in Luke's gospel. You remember Jesus had been teaching, and a lady in the crowd cried out her own beatitude upon Mary: "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you sucked." Jesus responds in what surely seems an odd way: "Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it." Now, I don't think He was putting down His mother, but He was inviting that lady and you and me too to share in the greatest blessedness of Mary. Blessed are THEY who hear the Word of God and hold onto it, not just blessed is SHE.  But how many times does Luke say it: "and Mary kept all these things, these sayings, and pondered them in her heart." As though Jesus were saying: Get right, dear woman, what was so extraordinary about my momma: her greatness was this, that she heard and held the Word of God's promise to her and credited it as truth. And you can do that too. In fact, that is the very secret of the Church's abiding joy: that we come together to read and hear, hold and treasure, ponder and proclaim "what was spoken to us from the Lord."

Mary, of course, hearing these three beatitudes from Elizabeth breaks into her joyous song. And do you notice: we sing her song with her. Every evening in the Church whenever we gather for Vespers or Evening Prayer, we take up Mary's song. All of us. Why? Because this last blessedness is ours too. She alone is Virgin Mother; she alone is Mother of God, but the Child she bore, He is the Lord and our Savior of who has done great things for us too and holy is His name.  

Now just for a moment, back to Gregory's sad observation about the sorry affairs that in his experience Synods and Conventions usually turn out to be. I dare say they end up that way whenever we come together around any other reason than to be in the presence of the Lord together, to listen to Him as He speaks aloud His words and promises, and then being set free to join in singing His praises, and asking His gifts and praying with all our might that HIS will to be done among us, and not our own. In other words, what if you just trashed all your own private agendas, admitting them to make for the sorry state of affairs that Gregory the Theologian expected, and instead entered into the joy of the Lord Jesus, basking in the love that brought Him from the heights of heaven to the Virgin Mother's womb, from Mary's womb to the manger, from manger to cross, from cross to resurrection, from resurrection to Ascension, and who seated at the right hand of the Father still delights to pour out His Spirit upon His people, so that through His words and promises and Sacraments He dwells among us, even that we wait with joy for that moment when He will appear again in glory: His final promise kept!

Look, just like He was there with Elizabeth and Mary and John the Baptist and Zacharias, hidden in His mother's womb, but busy at work as He filled Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit and John with joy, His hidden advent, even so He comes still among you still to fill you with joy ("In Thy presence is fullness of joy at Thy hand are pleasures forevermore"), to free you from fear (His "perfect love drives out fear"), to set your lips to praising and your lives to serving, while you wait. As Mary and crew waited for the day when "that Babe, the world's redeemer, first revealed His sacred face," so we wait now for Him to show that same face once more at His glorious appearing. 

O people loved by God, do not miss out on the third blessedness of Mary: it's for you. Listen and hold tight to your God's promises, trust His Words and pray that everything you say and do this weekend and at Convention will strengthen the congregations and schools and mission starts and ministries of our Synod and all her workers to do the same that together we may open our mouths and say with Mary: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He that is mighty hath done great things for me and holy is His name. 

Because then even Gregory the Theologian would find nothing to grump about in our coming together. And wouldn't that be glorious?

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

There is no question

That since I first heard this piece, it has been my favorite organ piece ever. Why? Because it is an auditory incarnation of joy, sheer exuberant delight in being. And this fellow's execution is flawless, flawless because of the joy with which he enters into the music itself. Check it out: Gigue Fugue.