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. 

Profession of Faith

In the Roman Communion it was custom to have Protestant converts renounce their faith quite explicitly in a rite. I'm just quoting a few paragraphs from the Rituale Romanum which I find particularly of interest:

Note the phrase “in a sense contrary to the UNANIMOUS consent of the fathers” and the phrase: “transubstantiation, which is the change of all the substance of bread into the body of Christ and of all the substance of wine into His blood.”

And ponder then these words of the great Pope, St. Gelasius, who could not be clearer:

Certainly the sacraments of the body and blood of Christ are a divine thing, through which we are made partakers of the divine nature; and yet the substance or nature of bread and wine does not cease to be. – De duabis nature. In Chr. Adv. Eutych. Et Nestor. Patrology IV, 1:422

One may have one of these things, but for the life of me I do understand how one can profess BOTH. If Pope St. Gelasius is correct (and since his words accord with the Sacred Scriptures that's a given for a Lutheran; cf. 1 Cor. 10:16; 1 Cor. 11:27), the position regarding transubstantiation as here articulated runs afoul of the “unanimous” consent of the fathers. There is no question that the fathers took quite literally and seriously the Lord's promise in His Testament: “this IS my body...this IS my blood of the new (and everlasting) covenant).” Yet they held this holy mystery in the conviction that in a way beyond our understanding there is a communion of the earthly and the heavenly in the Sacrament, as not only St. Gelasius but also St. Irenaeus bears witness. 

20 August 2019

Small Catechism Update

If you missed the update, CPH released a very cool update to their Small Catechism app (which has always been free). For $7.99 you can upgrade your Catechism app to contain the content of the latest Explanation of the Small Catechism. Each section is neatly tucked away under its primary text heading. You can expand or put to background at will. I decided for fun last night to review the sections that our parish school children are working on this week: Commandments 1 and 2. It was great to review the primary text and then click and dive into supporting Scripture, statements from the Large Catechism and engaging questions. And having the entire Synodical Explanation in your pocket means you're always walking around with a mini-dogmatics at your fingertips. Now where did Scripture address x? All you have to do is locate x in the Small Catechism and the Scriptural data spreads out before you. It's really rather a steal for $7.99. I love it!

15 August 2019

The Dormition of the Mother of God

Today at the LCMS International Center we celebrated the festival of St. Mary, the day the Church commemorates her falling asleep in her Son.

Chapel for the Feast of St. Mary, the Mother of God

Matins, p. 219 (Invitatory and Venite omitted) 

Psalm 132 (Two part Psalm Tone I)

Office Hymn: Hymn: 670 Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." 

46 And Mary said, 
  "My soul magnifies the Lord, 
 47  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
 48  for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. 
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
 49  for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name. 
 50  And his mercy is for those who fear him 
from generation to generation. 
 51  He has shown strength with his arm; 
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 
 52  he has brought down the mighty from their thrones 
and exalted those of humble estate; 
 53  he has filled the hungry with good things, 
and the rich he has sent away empty. 
 54  He has helped his servant Israel, 
in remembrance of his mercy, 
 55  as he spoke to our fathers, 
to Abraham and to his offspring forever." 
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

O Lord, have mercy on us. R.

Responsory, p. 221

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

"And she returned to her home." Well, not quite. The return to her home, her true home and to our true home, is what we celebrate on this day. Arise, O Lord, You and the Ark of Your might. If we remember how she heard and treasured all these things in her heart, perhaps her going home was like this:

I remember when the angel came and told me, and my heart burst with joy and terror.
I remember when I came to the door of Zechariah's house and Eliabeth knew my secret and my heart melted and my eyes burned with tears and my mouth prophesied.
I remember when I felt your movement first inside my body, and I realized that I was the living ark of the living God.
I remember when first I saw your face, and touched your hands, and looked into my Joseph's eyes.
I remember when they came creeping in to see you, to worship you, the shepherds of the night, and told me songs of angels and glory in the highest and peace on earth. 
I remember when we brought you to the temple and the old man took you in his arms and blessed God, ready to die, and told me of pain yet to come.
I remember when they came from the East and bowed before you as I held you and gave their gifts - the gold, the incense and the myrrh, while the star's light shone upon us.
I remember when he woke me and we fled into the night ahead of the terror of Herod's sword.
I remember when we came home at last, and people looked and talked, but you were all our joy.
I remember when you stayed behind, when you left us, and we found you in the temple and my heart rose up in fear realizing that you chose to abide in the place of sacrifice and death.
I remember when you spoke to me in roughness and yet made the water into wine.
I remember when we came to make you take your rest and you taught me that all these in need were dear to you as your own family.

I remember when they took you, tortured you, and crucified you; and before my eyes rose up the old man in the temple – his words haunted me still – and a sword ran me through as I watched you dying.
I remember when you looked on me and the beloved one and gave us to each other for all our days. 
I remember when the light died in your eyes and my heart sank beyond tears and words.
I remember after the empty days when they came and told me that you lived again, and joy flooded my heart, and I knew then what I had always known - your every promise was true.
I remember when we prayed together after you had gone into heaven and the Spirit came in wind and flame.
I remember how they went and told the news to all the world. And I welcomed each new believer as my beloved child, a brother of my Son, the King of all.
I remember it all now as I die, as I lay my head down in death. 
My Son, I am not afraid. I go to you, to you who have conquered death, to you who are the Forgiveness of all sins. My soul magnifies You and my spirit rejoices in You my Savior.  Receive me, child. Receive me.  I remember. I remember. I remember.

And so (at last) Mary DID return to her home. Her home and yours. Prepared by Her Son to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.

Te Deum Laudamus, Kyrie, Our Father, Salutation

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your only Son. Grant that we, who are redeemed by His blood, may share with her in the glory of Your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ, our Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

O Savior Child of Mary, who felt our human woe, remember in mercy your sisters and brothers who cry out to you for relief and healing, especially: Al, Zoey, Kent, Joel, Bonnie, Herb, Gene, Paula, Roger, Allen, Jan, and all we name in our hearts before You… granting to each what You know to be best; in Your holy, dear Jesus, we pray. Amen.

O Virgin's Son, remember in Your infinite compassion all who have gone forth in Your name to speak Your word and promises, particularly the short term mission team from Faith Lutheran in Monmouth, OR serving in Grand Cayman and Rev Daniel and Joan Jastram missionaries to Japan. May all those who are appointed to eternal life be given faith and preserved in the same; 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.

Benedicamus & Benediction

09 August 2019

Absolutely fun conversation

With Dr. Steve Schave about “sacramental mission plants.”  Give a listen and let me know your thoughts. Right here.

08 August 2019

Today’s Chapel Homily

Prayer and Preaching, p. 260

Reading: Jeremiah 7:1-11

Jeremiah 7:1-11 (NLT) 1 The LORD gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, 2 "Go to the entrance of the LORD's Temple, and give this message to the people: 'O Judah, listen to this message from the LORD! Listen to it, all of you who worship here! 3 This is what the LORD of Heaven's Armies, the God of Israel, says: "'Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. 4 But don't be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the LORD's Temple is here. They chant, "The LORD's Temple is here! The LORD's Temple is here!" 5 But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; 6 only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. 7 Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever. 8 "'Don't be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It's a lie! 9 Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, 10 and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, "We are safe!"--only to go right back to all those evils again? 11 Don't you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the LORD, have spoken!


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

People loved by God, the crowds to whom Jeremiah preached and wrote were tempted to abuse the great promises of God regarding His temple. They remembered God's words to Solomon: 1 Kings 9:3 (NLT)  "I have heard your prayer and your petition. I have set this Temple apart to be holy--this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart." But their selective memory ignored the threat God made only a few verses later in the same chapter: "But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods,  then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will shake their heads in amazement. They will ask, 'Why did the LORD do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?'" Couldn't have been much clearer, could He? And yet they dared to treat the Lord's temple as a talisman, a sort of magic charm that warded off destruction and somehow guaranteed their continuing as a nation in the land regardless of how faithless they were to the covenant; how much they rebelled against His commands. "The temple of the Lord! The temple of Lord!" they chanted, and thought they were safe. So they deceived themselves, but Jeremiah exposes their deception and invites to repentance. 

Oh, people loved by God, do we face a similar danger today, particularly we Lutherans Christians? Do we not sometimes treat Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist as talismans? As Lutherans we're convinced we've got the straight on biblical scoop on the Sacraments. But do we ever abuse them to comfort ourselves that impenitence and rebellion in our lives against God is all going to turn out okay because we've been baptized and take communion. With our imagined "get-out-of-hell-free" card in our back pocket do we blithely go on our way, blind as ancient Judah to God's implacable opposition to impenitence. "No sin can bring me into judgment! I am baptized! I took communion last Sunday! i am saved. I am good to go." 

Ack! Lord, have mercy on us if those sacred gifts offered to us to grant us forgiveness AND grace to resist and fight disobedience to Christ in our lives, to enable lives of genuine repentance and contrition, end up being abused by us, by not being used toward their intended end. 

Throughout the prophets God is clear that He's not interested in mere ritual compliance. "This people draws near to me with their mouth, but their heart is far from me!" "To obey is better than sacrifice." "Rend your hearts and not your garments! Return to the Lord that He may have mercy and to our God for He will abundantly pardon."

make no mistake, the temple as the forgiveness place pales in comparison with Christ's sacraments. Yet Holy Baptism and the Eucharist, so chocked full with the forgiveness of Jesus, poured into them by the Savior Himself, the very atonement of the cross dished out richly over your life and into your body, mind, soul, and spirit, both, I say, end up bringing only judgment if you use them with the assumption that merely receiving them outwardly guarantees God's certain favor. That is no different from "the temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord" that Jeremiah decried. 

So while it is true that baptism now saves us, as St. Peter taught, and as our Lord said: "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved" it is also true that "he who does not believe will be condemned." Yes, even though he be chanting: "I am baptized! I am baptized!" all the way to the grave. And the Eucharist is of course the very body and blood of Him who wiped out all the sins of the all the world on the tree of the cross and is given now to you to eat and to drink for your forgiveness, but when you receive in an unworthy, thoughtless manner (particularly by not discerning the body of the Lord), what was intended for life brings judgment instead. 

Our Augsburg Confession expresses this matter with clarity in article XIII: "Our churches teach that the Sacraments were ordained...to be signs and testimonies of God's will toward us. They were instituted to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them. Therefore we must use the Sacrament in such a way that faith, which believes the promises offered and set forth through the sacraments, is increased. Therefore, they condemn those who teach that the Sacraments justify simply by the act of doing them."

When the Lamb of God makes you a beautiful promise, people loved by God, this promise is to be heard, relied on, and put to work in your life. That's what it is to receive the Sacraments in faith, that is in repentance, because genuine faith only exists in repentance. God deliver you and me and all of us from presumption in the use of His holy gifts and stir up our hearts to living faith, through His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. God grant it! Amen.

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

Hymn: 583 God Has Spoken by the Prophets

Prayers: Al, Zoey, Kent, Joel, Bonnie, Herb, Gene, Paula, Roger, Allan and Jan; for all those in missionary training this week.

03 August 2019

Jack Kilcrease’s book on The Atonement

People loved by God, I cannot recommend highly enough Dr. Jack Kilcrease's book on The Atonement. HT to T. R. Halvorson at Steadfast Lutherans for his review of this book. I'd heard of it, and heard it praised, but T.R.'s review got me very curious to dig in. I'm so glad I did. If you've ever been puzzled (as I was indeed) at how the vicarious satisfaction AND Christus Victor motifs of the atonement (which can certainly appear contradictory) actually form a quite coherent whole, particularly in Luther's thought and the thought of Lutheran Orthodoxy, this book will prove enormously illumining. My only sadness in the work was that (as theologians so often tend to do), he did not give any attention to the role of the two motifs in Lutheran hymnody. Lutheran hymnody is where Lutheran theology comes to its most practical expression. Luther's hymns tended to favor heavily the images from Christus Victor. You see this above all in "Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice," "A Mighty Fortress," "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast" and in "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands." Christ is the hero fighting for His Church and conquering by His death.

Yet the images blend in others. Think of Gerhardt's great "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth" (and pity it was so reduced in LSB!): "The guilt of sinners bearing, and laden with the sins of earth...that spotless life to offer." Vicarious satisfaction. And yet the heroic task laid on Him by the Father, who is NOT against us, but precisely FOR us: "Go, forth, My Son, the Father said, And free my children from their dread of guilt and condemnation. The rod and stripes are hard to bear, but by Your passion they will share the fruit of your salvation." Christus victor, but conquering precisely in bearing "the rod and stripes." And as the believer steps back to look at the union of these two motifs: "O wondrous Love, what have you done? The Father offers up His Son, desiring our salvation. O Love, how strong You are to save! You lay the One into the grave who built the earth's foundation."

The unifying theme, of course, is the great exchange which is not exhausted by the incarnation, but reaches to the depths of Calvary and the cry of dereliction. And yet, the incarnation is not neglected. In fact, think of how Gerhardt could sing at Christmastide in a hymn that far exceeds any English carols I have ever heard: "Should we fear our God's displeasure, Who, to save, freely gave His most precious treasure? To redeem us He has given His own Son from the throne of His might in heaven." Pure Christus victor. God on our side sending the Savior. "See the Lamb, our sin once taking, to the cross, suff'ring loss, full atonement making. For our life His own He tenders and His grace all our race fit for glory renders." Pure vicarious satisfaction. And then in a glorious unity of themes, the Child calls out to us from His manger bed: "Softly from His lowly manger Jesus calls one and all: You are safe from danger. Children from the sins that grieve you, you are freed; all you need, I will surely give you." And so the explosion of joy: "Come, then, banish all your sadness! One and all, great and small, come with songs of gladness. We shall live with Him forever there on high in that joy which will vanish never."

Similarly hear the great exchange in another Christmas hymn: "He undertakes a great exchange, puts on a human frame, and in return gives us His realm, His glory and His name" (better auf Deutsch: und gibt uns in Dein Vaters Reich die klare Gottheit dran). "He is a servant, I a Lord, how great a mystery! How strong the tender Christ Child's love, no truer friend than He."

The great Good Friday hymn "O Darkest Woe" also unites both motifs: "Thy Bridegroom dead! God's Lamb has bled upon thy sin forever, pouring out His sinless self in this vast endeavor. // O Virgin's Son, what Thou hast won is far beyond all telling: How our God, detested, died, hell and devil felling." I could go on but this post has gotten too long. It was merely meant to commend Jack's fine work, T.R.'s great summary, and to comment on how the Lord Jesus becoming the victim who freely offers Himself in obedience to the Father to live the perfect life of love and to bear in His body the sins of the world and their penalty, and THUS putting to flight the enemies of the human race: sin, death, the devil and evil spirits and even silencing the power of His own Law to condemn us, is not merely taught and preached with gusto in our beloved Lutheran Church but also sung into the hearts of young and old. Okay, okay. One last one:

"O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild! For sinners You became a child. You came from heaven down to earth in human flesh through human birth (I first learned this as You came from heaven to fulfill Your Father's great and holy will). O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild! O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild! With God we now are reconciled. You have for all the ransom paid, Your Father's righteous anger stayed. O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild! O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild! Joy fills the world which sin defiled. Whate'er we have belongs to You; O keep us faithful, strong and true. O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild!"

01 August 2019

How did August get here already?

It's been a very busy summer, no question. Floor Committee Weekend with its extra services; Making the Case up in Chicago; a whirlwind trip driving with friends to Florida for a week; back home and all the preparations for Convention; preaching and Bible class at Zion, Carpenter and Trinity, Worden; flying down to Tampa for Convention (leaving the house at 3:30 on Thursday, July 17 and getting back at 12:00 a.m. on Friday, July 26, with most every day in between starting at 5:30 and ending at 9:00 or so); six handed pinochle with our tribe; and playing services at St. Paul's on last weekend in July and first weekend in August. This week I took this year's first bit of vacation (staycation) and it has been just what the Dr. ordered. Now, if only I could stop dreaming all night about convention stuff! 

Most days have entailed early morning Treasury and coffee, then workout, and often a walk. Some playing around with piano for another Noisetrack offering. Afternoons in the pool. Evenings have been spent playing Liverpool (Opa's back in town, but Lois is still out east, so it's still three handed for the time being), and watching Pride and Prejudice at Rebekah's insistence. As usual, she was right. It's very good. 

We also downloaded the excellent documentary from iTunes: FAT by Vinnie Tortorich. Excellent, highly recommended watching. 

And right on cue this morning, I could hear my mom's voice. I walked into the kitchen and saw the temperature outside (55) and remembered her always saying: "The nights begin to cool down in August." Too true. 

Next week my eldest daughter, hubby, and her delightful family will arrive and we'll get some time with them. It's always a zoo when we're all together, but I wouldn't trade those moments for the world.