Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sermon for 9/13/14—Funeral of Myrna Miesner




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

The burdens and cares of life often seem overwhelming—the project at work or school that’s due tomorrow and you’re still not sure how it should go; the bills that seem to pile up without any relief; the relationship that you’ve somehow damaged and you have no idea what will work to repair it. Or maybe, as it was for Myrna, the burden is an ailment, a disease, one that steals away bits and pieces of your thoughts and memories until it seems as though there’s nothing left. And in our case, the cares of life were made to seem even more overwhelming as we sought to care for the woman we all loved as she fought an overwhelming battle against her own mind and body.

There is another overwhelming enemy that we deal with this day. It is not an external force like ISIS, though such enemies are real. This enemy is even more fearsome, for this is an enemy within. This is no mere illness which could debilitate the body or mind—although we know disease can be fearsome and deadly. This is an enemy which makes slaves of people, many of them never knowing that they’re being attacked. This enemy is sin. Sin captures you. It tempts you to think evil thoughts, to desire evil desires, to perform dark deeds. Sin is the most fearsome enemy of all, for, as the Apostle Paul writes, “The wages of sin is death.” Sin carries death with it like a fisherman carries a pole. Death is what we earn with our disobedience to God and His Word and will. Those wages are evident in the aches and pains we feel. Those wages are evident in our worries and frustrations and grief. And those wages of sin are all too apparent in the body lying in the coffin before us today. Death is sin’s greatest tool, its doomsday device.

The faithful, however, do not need to be afraid of death. Christians don't have to fear whether or not they have done enough to merit salvation. There is no doubt. "The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." He has won salvation for us. He is our guardian and protector. We have nothing to fear. This is exactly the hope and confidence Psalm 46 gives to us today in our grief. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” When we experience pain or suffering or grief or shame or loss, we still have no cause for fear. God is our refuge and strength. God is our help in trouble. The Lord is a refuge for His Church. He has made His people glad in the rushing waters of Holy Baptism. We are protected. God will help us when morning dawns.

And for Myrna—for all of us—that morning has dawned. It was the morning of the first day of the week. The Son had been crucified. He had died and was buried. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, died on Calvary's cross, bearing the sins of the world. He made complete satisfaction for the sins of the world. Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Sin is defeated forever. Death is merely a rest from the cares of this life, a rest as we await our resurrection in bodies that will not become diseased or decay, with hearts that will know no evil desires, with flesh that will perform no evil deeds. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, even as you mourn, you have cause for great joy. Rejoice for Myrna, for our heavenly Father, through the merits and work of His Son, has called her to rest from her labors. And rejoice for yourselves, for the battle against sin, death, and the devil is not your battle to fight. Our Lord Jesus has already defeated them by the power of His blood. Be still, for our Lord Jesus Christ is present with you today. He is your mighty fortress, your refuge and strength, your very present help in trouble. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sermon for 9/7/14--Trinity XII



Ears and Tongues

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

The Lord gives us ears to hear with and tongues to make words and talk. He gives us ears because, as the Bible says, "Faith comes by hearing." Those ears are also meant to be used to hear our neighbors. He gives us tongues to speak His Word back to Him, mouths that declare His holy name. That same mouth is also to be used for speaking love to our neighbor. But how do you use your ears and tongues? You selectively hear the Word of God. What is it that fills your ears, making you deaf to God's Word? And as for your tongues, you might have a hard time thinking up something nice to say, but you can easily gossip or lash out with an insult. What destruction has been caused by your tongue and your words? My brothers and sisters in Christ, you are deaf and dumb even if you can hear and speak!

That is why the Word became flesh: to take deaf ears and put His Word in them, to take tongues that spout gibberish and to make them speak rightly. When the man in our text is brought to our Lord, Jesus takes him aside. He sticks His fingers in the man's ears. Only the Word of God, only Jesus, can open his ears. Jesus spits and touches the man's tongue. It is water and the Word which opens this man's mouth, loosing his tongue to make him speak rightly. This man's ears are opened and his tongue loosed because the Word of God touches them. Jesus is the Word, the only thing that saves the sinfully deaf and mute. He is the Word who became flesh, putting on ears and a mouth and a whole body of flesh to carry the sins of the world. He is the Word who hangs on the cross and cries out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!" Think about that. When Jesus is on the cross, the Father is deaf to His Son. The Father speaks nothing to His Son. Jesus suffers and dies alone for our sins. He hears the mocking of us sinners and yet speaks forgiveness. On the cross the Word hangs for sinners, for us, for wayward children who have shut our ears to our Creator's Word and tied our tongues with their wickedness. For all that, the Word gives His life on Calvary.

As he did for the man in our text, Jesus opens your ears and looses your tongue. He does it the same ways: by the Word going into your ears in absolution and preaching; by water and the word poured at the font in Baptism. The Lord desires to fill you with His Word, to open your ears to hear His Word, to loosen your tongue to speak that Word back to Him. The Word that your sinful flesh doesn't want to hear is the very Word that saves you! You could stick your fingers back in your ears and say, "I can't hear you!" But why would you? This preached Word, this Word poured out, this Word that touches your tongue—this Word saves! It goes into your ears, giving you the forgiveness of sins. Then it comes out your mouth, praising and glorifying God, confessing and speaking rightly that Jesus alone saves.

Jesus opens your ears so that you will delight in hearing the Good News that saves you! He loosens your tongue so that your words will speak what you have heard: that Jesus is the One who saves you. He opens your lips that you might use them for good, for blessing your neighbor, by speaking well of others, explaining everything in the kindest way, putting the best construction on everything.

What goes in your ears comes out your mouth. It's true for kids learning to talk and learning to cuss. It's true for God's people learning His Word. Isaiah prophesied the time when the deaf would hear and those who murmured would learn doctrine. That time is now. Jesus has opened your ears and untied your tongues. He has rescued you from being deaf so that you would hear and believe His saving Word. He has loosened your tongues to speak His Word and bless those around you. By opening your ears and loosing your tongues, Jesus, the Word of God, has saved you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Sermon for 8/31/14--Trinity XI


Who Are You?

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

Almost without exception, whenever we have something good to say, it's about ourselves. And almost without exception, whenever we have something bad to say, it’s about somebody else. We are very good at saying what good we've done and we are very good at saying how other people have failed. What's worse, if you think you don't live like that, then you prove the point! When it comes down to it, you and I are Pharisees.

In sharing this account of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the great danger from which Jesus would rescue us is that when we are Pharisees, we cannot be justified. You cannot claim salvation and forgiveness of sins when you see yourself as better than everyone else around you! The one who walked out of the Temple with a right relationship with God was not the guy who saw himself as holy. St. Luke records that Jesus told this parable to those who thought they were righteous and who looked down on others.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector teach us that there are really only two kinds of religion in this world. In the religion of the Pharisee, it's all about what we do and how we make ourselves look to God. The religion of the Pharisee is a popular religion because it makes the individual look good. Here's what I've done. Here's what I've accomplished. Brothers and sisters in Christ, if that's your day-to-day religion—and you can't deny that it is—then repent! Repent and recognize that such a way of thinking leaves no room in your life even for God Himself!

The Tax Collector show us the other kind of religion. He came before the Lord and confessed that he was nothing: he was worth nothing, and he could do nothing to save himself. All he had was God's promise that He would send a Savior. That was his only hope. He didn't even look up to heaven. He cried out, "Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner." He walked out with His sins forgiven because he relied on God's mercy alone. The Pharisee wanted no mercy from God; he had already justified himself by his pride.

Two kinds of religion means two kinds of Jesus. In the Pharisee's religion, Jesus is nothing but a teacher of wisdom and good works. Jesus is the one who is supposed to pat good people on the back. But in truth, the only Jesus for those believe that way is the Jesus who will stand in the Last Day in all of His eternal glory and burns to ashes all who behold His face in their sinfulness. Indeed, brothers and sisters, if you think you are better than anyone else, more holy, more religious, then just make sure you can prove it when you stand before the Judge. But the Law will testify against you; your condemnation will be swift and certain! For the Tax Collector there is another kind of Jesus. He is the Son of God who was born of the Virgin and lay in a manger. He is the Son of God who patiently taught His disciples. He is the Son of God who allowed Himself to be captured and nailed to a cross. For the Tax Collector and for every other sinner who acknowledges their wretchedness, He is the Jesus who takes their place on the cross and bleeds and dies for them. This is the Jesus who delivers the forgiveness of sins. This is the Jesus in the water of Baptism. This is the Jesus who is present, body and blood, in the Supper.

Let us learn to count ourselves as nothing, for it is Christ who makes us into something—and what’s more, something holy and precious. Because of what Jesus has done and given to you, you are numbered with the Tax Collector who had nothing in himself but sin, but who in Christ is filled to overflowing with all of the Lord's holy and saving and everlasting gifts! And so like the Tax Collector you go away from this temple today justified in Christ. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sermon for 8/24/14--Trinity X



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

The people of Israel weren't sorry for their sins. They thought that having a temple meant they could just do whatever they wanted out in the world. After all, they could just cry, "The temple! I'm at the Temple!" And it's no different for Christians. You know the attitude: I can do whatever I want, live how I want, because it's all just forgiven in church anyway. You go out into the world and forget all about the Lord for the week and do whatever you feel like, despising your neighbor and doing whatever pleases you, and then stroll through these doors as if it's all magically gone. My brothers and sisters in Christ, you have the same problem God's people have always had: you are in danger of turning His grace into a joke. You are in danger of turning His church into a hideout for bandits. You turn showing up for church into the work that saves you. Jesus warns Jerusalem that, because that's the way they've received God's Word, the city would be wiped off the map. Tremble at the judgment of God that is in store for those who make His house into a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

But see then what our Lord Jesus does. Jesus comes to you. He comes to robbers and thieves who would make a hideout of His church. He comes, hidden in the flesh, that He might hide us from God's wrath and punishment for our sins. Like a common criminal they nail Him to the tree between two thieves. And there, on the cross, the Lord dies like a thief. He dies for the thieves. Jesus forgives both thieves. One of them hangs there and holds onto his sins, denying that Jesus is accomplishing His salvation. But the other thief beholds Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The man can do nothing on his own but plead for mercy. Jesus speaks to Him, declaring that He Himself is this thief's eternal refuge and shelter.

Here is the Good News of the Gospel: Christ's wounds are your hiding place, your refuge against all sin and evil. Christ dies on the cross and hides you in Himself so that sin, death, devil, hell, and even God's own wrath cannot touch you. And then, dead for your sins, Jesus is laid in a tomb. And on the Third Day He rises from the tomb, leaving behind your sins in the grave. His triumph over death and the devil means that His church, His Temple, is now the place where He dwells, and it is no longer a hideout; it is a shelter. It is no longer a place to "get away with” something; it is a place where our sins are paid for and covered up and taken away by Jesus' blood.

Christ's church is your shelter, your refuge, your place to flee from your sins. And what is given here? Here you receive the water of Holy Baptism to quench your thirst. Here you receive the body and blood of Jesus to nourish you. You receive forgiveness. Whatever you have done against God and your neighbor has been blotted out by the blood of the cross. Your sin against God and neighbor has been washed away at the font, declared null and void by the Absolution. Because these gifts are given by Christ, your sins truly are taken away. What was gained for you by the innocent suffering and death of Jesus is given to you in His church. You can flee here, to Christ's church, as a refuge and a shelter. When your sins overwhelm you, when the devil accuses you, when the troubles of this world rain down on you, then rest easy in your Lord's church, the place of safety and shelter.

Come to His church, not for a hideout but for refuge. Come to Christ's house, not as bandits trying to escape, but as sinners who are truly safe nowhere else. Here at the font, the altar, and the pulpit, Christ has all that you need for your peace: forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus. Here in Jesus and His gifts is your true and safest shelter. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sermon for 8/17/14--Trinity IX

Sorry, no audio this week.

Forgiving Debts

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

Our Lord commends the sons of this world for their single-mindedness and zeal. They are shrewd. They know what they want and they focus upon it. They guard and protect their treasures. On the other hand, even though the sons of light have a far greater gift, they guard it with less zeal than criminals guard their loot. The loot and plunder of this world will not last. Its value is temporary. And yet, without a second thought, you can rattle off the price of what you covet, whether it’s a new car, a new house, a video game, whatever it might be. We all spend a great deal of time counting our money and adding up our debts and the cost of what we wish we had. Why then are you so tongue-tied and confused when asked about the hope that is in you?

The master of the unjust steward commends the steward for his shrewdness. He commends the man for giving away his master’s goods and canceling debt. This is not a master like the masters of men. By this parable Jesus would show you how the Kingdom of God works: where goods are given away for free, debts are canceled, and sinners—liars, cheats, thieves, the unjust—are praised and loved. The Father has given all He has, right down to the life of His Son, to have you. He is like the shepherd who leaves the rest of the flock behind to secure the safety of one sheep. He does not calculate or analyze the cost. The Church is not a business. God is one of us in Christ, but He is not like us. He is holy. He bestows His holiness on you through holy things—Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Holy Absolution, Holy Word. He gives you faith. Even so, because of the old man still with you, His ways baffle you and mock your wisdom. They are not your ways. But by the faith that He has planted, you know that His ways are good.

So…what goods of the Lord's have you wasted or stolen? How have you been negligent or miserly with God's love? Are you holding grudges? Do you secretly desire vengeance? Are you willing to lie and cheat to gain honor with men? What have you done? How have you violated God's law and spurned His gifts? It doesn't matter how long your list of sins is. It doesn’t matter how you have squandered His gifts. He still wants you back. The debt is canceled. You are free. After all, He is not a master like the masters of men. He loves to forgive. He is gracious. He is holy.

This is a Love so consuming that it would sacrifice a Son. This is a Love so bent on giving that it suffers constant abuse and betrayal. This is a Love so pure that it cannot be spent or end or ever taken away, a Love that cancels debts, ends death, and adopts rebels as sons. Such love seems foolish to the sons of this world. It even seems foolish to many who consider themselves sons of light. This is the incomprehensible Love of God in Christ Jesus. This is the work of the Father in the Spirit of Christ. God has loved you by sending His Son. In His suffering, death, and resurrection He has canceled your debts. He has bathed you in this Love by His Name and water, fed you in this Love with His risen Body and Blood, encouraged and taught you in this Love by His holy Word. These are treasures that moth and rust cannot destroy, that thieves cannot break in and steal. These are the treasures of heaven—even Christ Himself—and it is He who guards, protects, and preserves them for you, who continues to give them to you. He is the steward of the Father who gives away the Father's kingdom and cancels debts. The Master loves to cancels debts, and His love cannot be contained in the vessels of men. With God, there is always more. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sermon for 8/10/14--Trinity VIII



Good Fruit

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

Our Lord Jesus tells us, "Beware! Watch out for false prophets who come in sheep's clothing but inwardly they are ravenous wolves." Jesus is warning us that the world is full of preachers and writers and speakers and ideas that all sound good. They might even say stuff about Jesus and sound religious and pious. They have crafty and sneaky ideas designed to make it sound like they’re preaching God's Word, but in fact they would lead you astray from God's Word into death and darkness and eternal hell.

The Lord calls your pastor to preach and teach God's Word and administer Christ's holy sacraments. Scripture tells us, "Test the spirits to see whether they are from God." You must do that even with your own pastor. Don't ever take my word for something. Open the Scriptures and see whether what I'm telling you is what the Word of God says. But if you don't know the Word of God so well, let me teach you. We will study it together. Let me show you how Christ Himself teaches that He is the heart and center of all the Scriptures. From cover to cover, it's all about Jesus. It's about the Son of God coming into this world, obedient to His Father, to do the work of saving us from our sins by taking our place and dying and rising again.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, learn what a true prophet is. A true prophet, a true preacher, is one who delivers Jesus. Look at Jesus Himself. Jesus is not just wearing sheepskin. He is the very Lamb of God who takes away sins. He never acts like a wolf, fooling people and then eating them up. He brings the comfort of God's grace to them by preaching the forgiveness of sins. His fruits are blood and water: water that washes away our sins in the font, and blood that nourishes us with the forgiveness, life and salvation He won for us by His death and resurrection. There is no truer Prophet than our Lord. He is the Lamb, the One who bears the fruits of salvation.

So if Jesus is such a prophet and such a Savior, anyone who comes preaching in His Name should give out nothing other than the repentance and forgiveness Christ died and rose to provide. A preacher is to do what Christ has sent him to do: to preach and teach God's Word, to call sinners to repentance, to deliver Jesus at the font, to speak for Jesus the words of absolution, to give Christ’s body and blood to Christians to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. If you go to an apple tree, you expect apples. If you go into a peach orchard, you expect to pick peaches. When you go to a Christian pastor, most especially your own pastor, you should expect Him to warn you away from your sins and point you to Christ. You should expect Him to point you back to the font, to absolve you and to call you to the Holy Supper where Christ feeds you. The fruits of a preacher's ministry are nothing other than the fruits of Christ Himself.

This is why Jesus tells us to watch out for false preachers! It's easy to be deceived into thinking that something other than the forgiveness of sins is what preaching is all about. Don’t trust a pastor who is looking out for himself. Don’t trust a pastor who is in it just for the money or status or authority or popularity. Don’t trust a pastor who claims to be your life coach. If a preacher is preaching for any of those reasons, He is a ravenous wolf. At the same time, don’t measure preachers by looking for the wrong kind of fruit. “That preacher is friendly.” “That preacher makes me feel good.” “That preacher keeps the young people in church.” “That preacher does what I like.” Judging a preacher apart from Christ and the forgiveness of sins welcomes false preaching. You might as well baste yourself to be tasty for the prowling devil.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, listen to the Lord's warning today! Watch out for false prophets! Beware of anything and anyone that doesn't preach Christ crucified for you and point you to your Baptism. Watch out for any preaching or teaching that merely exalts you rather than speaking Jesus into your ears. Beware of any religion that exalts the man who preaches rather than the Son of God who died and rose for you. Don't blindly trust your pastor; test him by the Word of God. Test the spirits, knowing that in Christ alone you have salvation. And then, on the Last Day, there will be no need to try to convince Jesus that you were faithful to Him, for Christ Himself will be your boast, your confidence, and your certain entrance into eternal life. Covered by the Lamb Himself and bearing the fruit of His cross, you will have eternal life in Jesus. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Sermon for 8/3/14--Trinity VII



Trusting God for Bread

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

Our heavenly Father promises to give us all that we need for our body and life. We are to trust Him because He gives us his Word of life, and that same Word of life gives us salvation and tells us that the Lord will provide for us in this life. Adam taught his wife differently, and that sin has been with us ever since. Rather than having God's Word first, we run around trying to grab all the stuff of this life. Rather that having God's Word as our highest treasure, we think the most important things in our life are the things we can buy. The Devil loves to tell us the lie: "God's Word can't keep your belly full and a roof over your head." And we believe him!

The disciples were all excited to hear Him preach and teach too, until their tummies started rumbling. The Word of God is great…until you've been with Jesus three days and you're starving. Then what? Jesus feeds them. It doesn't matter how much bread or fish there is; Jesus makes it enough. Jesus comes into this world for unbelieving, worrying, ungrateful idolaters who think they need stuff but don't need God's Word. For our worry, for our idolatry, for our coveting, for our unbelief, for all our sin, Jesus hangs on Calvary, giving His body into death. Over and over Jesus gave up earthly treasure to redeem us from our sins. All Jesus had was the cup of suffering and the ashes and dust of our sins. Yet Jesus trusted in His Father's Word, and that sustained Him. Our sins are His sins, our death is His death. And His life becomes ours. And He rose and lives to give us salvation and all that we need for this body and life.

That's why He feeds the 4,000. Why were the 4,000 there? They had been listening to His Word. Their first concern was His Word. After all, His Word saves them. His Word is true food. His Word is life. His Word is life, but that doesn't mean daily bread is unimportant. So Jesus feeds them. My brothers and sisters in Christ, there is such a temptation for us to think that God's Word and gifts are not the most important thing. Gas prices go up. That means food prices go up. The price of everything is going up. With that comes a huge temptation to worry that we won't have enough for what we need. Jesus fed four thousand with seven loaves of bread. Do you think He can’t or won't provide for you what you need?  We question His goodness. After all, sometimes that next paycheck seems so far away. Even so, did you go hungry? Did you have no place to live? The Lord has made you His own. Do you think He'll let you starve? And even if He did, you still have forgiveness and eternal life and all things.

It's no random detail that St. Mark throws in when he writes that Jesus took the bread, gave thanks and broke it and distributed it. That reminds us of the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper teaches us that Jesus is our Lord—both for eternal life and for now. He doesn't just give us forgiveness of sins. He provides for and cares for us now. God is not just for spiritual things, but also for bodily gifts. When we eat and drink the Lord's body and blood, it feed our bodies and forgives our sins. Just as He dies to bear our sins and makes us God's children, in the same way He provides for us all that we need to live in this life.

Man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. From the Words that make you His own at the font to the words that feed you with His own body and blood, Jesus is your Lord for this life and for the life to come. Jesus comes so that there will be One who really does live by God's Word. And that living done by Jesus counts for you. That's what gives you life. Food, clothing, and shelter are no problem for a Lord who can die and rise again and take away your sins. After all, you've got Jesus Himself, and that means you have everything. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Friday, August 01, 2014

HYMN Updated: Saints of God, the Devil, Prowling

Thanks to some helpful advice from Kathryn Hill on a different hymn at the 2014 Institute on Liturgy, Preaching, and Church Music (about which I will post later), I've re-worked my latest hymn. It still needs more work, but for once I plan on keeping track of my progress as I make it. Let me know what you think or what advice you might have.

Saints of God, the Devil, Prowling

1. Saints of God, the devil, prowling,
Seeks God's children to devour.
All his demon horde is howling
In this persecution hour—
Tempting, blaming, sin-befouling.
Who on earth resists his pow'r?

2. Saints of God, our holy Father,
Looking from eternity,
Saw our fall, but still would gather
Sinners who from Satan flee.
He sent Christ to be our brother—
Sent the Christ to set us free.

3. Saints of God, the Son, our Savior,
Born of woman, born of God,
Bore the brunt of man’s disfavor,
Bore the curse of death’s foul rod.
Now death’s sting is gone forever,
Overcome is Satan’s fraud.

4. Saints of God, the Spirit crying
Comforts us in ev’ry need.
Death, the world, the devil’s lying
Can no more our souls impede.
Now the Spirit, ever vying,
Calls God’s children free indeed.

5. Saints of God, our flesh betrays us.
Lo, the prince of earth conspires.
All who hate the Word would slay us,
Sentence us to angry fires.
Though they beat us, mock, or flay us,
None can dare our souls require.

6. Saints of God, the world deplores us—
Rage and spite, our earthly lot.
Boldly face the cross before us
Let the faithless scheme and plot.
You, though all the world abhors us,
By Christ’s holy blood are bought.

7. Saints of God, though death comes near us—
Blessed to face the fearful blade—
Rise to pray. The Father hears us.
Tremble not! Be not afraid!
Sing for joy! The Lord will cheer us
With white robes which never fade.

8. Saints of God who live hereunder,
Hail the Lord with heav’nly host.
Martyrs, with the voice of thunder,
Praise the name of which we boast.
Worshipping in endless wonder
Father, Son and Holy Ghost!

(c) 2014 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87 87
Tune (for now): Ascended Triumph
(LSB 491, © 1973 Henry Gerike)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

HYMN: Saints of God, the Devil, Prowling

I'd been looking for an idea for a hymn for next year's 125th anniversary of my current congregation, St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois. With the events happening all over the world with Muslims marking out Christians for death, I was inspired to write this. As you can see, I Peter 5 and the Sermon on the Mount influenced this text. I wanted to talk about persecution and how the three Person of the Trinity answer it. Whether or not I succeeded, well...I'll leave that for you to say.

This is a very rough first draft. I'd appreciate any feedback you'd want to give.

Saints of God, the Devil, Prowling

1. Saints of God, the devil, prowling,
Seeks God's children to devour.
All his demon horde is howling
In this persecution hour—
Tempting, blaming, sin-befouling.
Who on earth resists his pow'r?

2. Saints of God, our holy Father,
E’re He did the world create,
Saw our fall, but still would gather
Sinners from their wretched state.
Sent His Son to be our brother—
Sent His Son to bear our fate.

3. Saints of God, His Son, our Savior,
Born of woman, born of God,
Bore the brunt of man’s disfavor,
Bore the curse of death’s foul rod.
Now death’s sting is gone forever,
Overcome with Satan’s fraud.

4. Saints of God, the Spirit crying
Comforts us in ev’ry need.
Death, the world, and Satan’s lying
Can no more our souls impede.
Now the Spirit, ever vying,
Calls God’s children free indeed.

5. Saints of God, your flesh betrays you.
Lo, the prince of earth conspires.
All who hate the Word would slay you,
Sentence you to angry fires.
Though they beat you, mock, or flay you,
None can dare your soul require.

6. Saints of God, the world deplores you—
Rage and spite, your earthly lot.
Boldly face the cross before you
Let the faithless scheme and plot.
You, though all the world abhor you,
By Christ’s holy blood are bought.

7. Saints of God, though death comes near you—
Blessed to face the fearful blade—
Raise your prayers. The Father hears you.
Tremble not! Be not afraid!
Sing for joy! The Lord will cheer you
With white robes that never fade.

∆ 8. Saints of God who live hereunder,

Hail the Lord with heav’nly host.
Martyrs, with the voice of thunder,
Praise the name of which we boast.
Worshipping in endless wonder
Father, Son and Holy Ghost!

(c) 2014 Alan Kornacki Jr.
87 87 87
Tune in my head as I wrote: Ascended Triumph (LSB 491, (c) 1973 Henry Gerike)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sermon for 7/20/14--Trinity V

There won't be a new sermon for July 27, as I will be heading to a conference. See you in August!


Fish in the Net

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

Everything in our Gospel points us to how Christ makes salvation happen. The church is the boat. In the church is Christ, whose Word is preached to the world. In the boat, Christ's servants, humble, sinful preachers, cast the net of His Word and draw people up out of the baptismal waters and into the boat. In this world, Christ reels us in through His Gospel and Sacraments. Drawn from the waters of Holy Baptism and fed with the life-giving body and blood of Jesus, we are now safe in the boat, the church. We are drawn by His Word, feasting and feeding upon the crucified and risen Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Just as the fish are drawn into the nets by the Word of Jesus, so we are drawn by that same Word into the church, to faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

Our thinking, our planning, our doing, our wishing and wanting and trying are all worthless. In the church, we learn that our ways are not His ways. We learn, as Elijah did, to stop worrying about ourselves and instead be concerned with the kingdom of God and the promises that the Lord Himself gives. In the church, we learn to despair of ourselves and place all of our hope and faith and trust in Christ alone. Just think: Peter is a master fisherman, but he catches nothing. Then Jesus tells him to fish in broad daylight in the deep. Then he finds a catch! So it is in our lives and in the church. Follow your own ways, devise your own plans—try to perfect your marriage, to raise your kids, to live your life on your own terms. This will give you nothing but empty nets. But hear Christ's Word: your sins are forgiven! Live by His Word. Live by His grace and mercy and promises that your nets will be full of fish. Of course this is easier said than done. That’s why Jesus gives full nets even to a sinner like Peter and promises forgiveness, life and salvation even to doubting sinners!

We agonize at times that our pews are no longer full on Sunday morning. We worry at times about our financial situation. We fret that maybe we’re doing things in a way that keeps the fish from our boat. My brothers and sisters in Christ, Peter learned that the purpose of Jesus' power was not to frighten and destroy that sinful man, but to save him. In the same way, Christ has not come to condemn you but to save you. Confess your sins! Say with Peter that you are not worthy to be anywhere near God. Then hear the words of absolution which declare your sins forgiven. Remember the baptismal water from which you were pulled and rescued from sin and death. Feast upon the body and blood of the who would have you in the churchly boat! Never mind your own plans and purposes. Rather say with Peter, "At your Word I will do it!" That's the very Word that saves us from sin and death and puts Jesus in us, the reason for our hope. Trust that Word when you look at the empty pews, at the red numbers on the financial statement, on the small number of students in Sunday School and Bible study. The Lord provides, and He does so in His way and in His time and to His glory. That’s His work. We’re just the fish.

We have been pulled from the water by the fishermen who have been commanded to do so with the nets of God's Word. Jesus has spoken His Word and brought us into this boat, His church, where He and His life-giving Word are. Our little congregation has its share of struggles and problems. In our own lives we have our share of struggles and difficulties and heartaches. Repent of trying to work all these things out yourself. Hear again the words of Jesus: "Do not be afraid." Fear not, for Jesus is the reason for the hope that is in you. Cling to Jesus and His Word. "Do not be afraid!" In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sermon for 7/19/14--Wedding of Daniel James and Ashley Young



Man's Wish or God's Word

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

In God’s great wisdom He has divinely designed husband and wife to be the very expression of His will. Men and women are divinely designed to be a perfect fit for one another. We are designed to fit each other emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually. When you join together in marriage this day you will become more as one. Marriage, therefore, is an age-old and sacred practice. Despite all the voices in our world that denigrate marriage, despite the curses our society chooses when it opts for easy divorce and a distorted image of what God designed marriage to be, what you are about to do is certainly ordained by God.

The union you are about to enter is a sacred mystery. The language of Jesus is puzzling from a human perspective. How can two become one? God is describing a totally new way of relating as human beings. He is not describing two independent people who have merely chosen to live together, but rather the creation of an entirely new entity, two people who are taking sacred vows to live as a sacred unit.

In the holiness of marriage we can begin to comprehend the graciousness of God. Here is a view of God personified. Christ was willing to give up the glory of God to become a man. He was willing to become the servant of another because of our desperate need for a restored relationship with Him, a relationship that had been broken by humanity’s sinful rebellion. Christ was willing to sacrifice His life for the sake of His beloved people.

In the same way, Marriage is a place of considering the other person’s needs ahead of your own, a place of mutual service for the sake of another, a place of personal sacrifice for the love of another. The more you look at the love of Christ for us, the more you will understand your own marriage and how marriage works. If you wish to learn how to love one another as husband and wife in such a way that the quality of your love continues to grow with the passage of time, then you must learn more about the love of God in Christ Jesus. God is love, and He will teach you what love truly is.

As you begin this mysterious and sacred journey today, remember that it is God, the Creator of this holy and blessed institution of marriage, who stands ready to show you how to live confidently in His love and His forgiveness together for as long as you live on this earth. This is a time blessed by God and established in His name, and in this blessed union, you can find your mutual joy in Him. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sermon for 7/13/14--Trinity IV




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

Just as Adam and Eve sought to be like God, we want to be like God. In fact, we want to be God because God being God isn’t good enough for us. No, we must be God so we can be in control of our lives and that of our neighbor. We want our neighbor’s life to spin out of control so he can be served that ice-cold dish of revenge, while we eat the warm plate full of satisfaction, power, and control. We want God’s power to judge and condemn every soul.

But God has not measured you in wrath. As you stand alone before God, He measures you graciously. If He were to assess you according to what you deserve, you would deserve only His wrath. You would deserve to have the earth swallow you up. Your entire life, you have conducted yourself in such an evil way that you rightly deserve death and hell. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Why do you seek revenge when your neighbor comes to seek forgiveness? This is not God’s way. He throws out everything that we deserve: the anger, disgrace, judgment, death, and hell. In its place He gives us heaven, grace, and freedom from the Law’s accusation and our bad conscience.

Your hypocrisy is forgiven. Your arrogance is forgiven. Your anger is forgiven. Your quest for revenge is forgiven. You are forgiven because of Jesus Christ. Jesus takes all these sins and dies for them. Jesus allows his flesh to be hung on the cross, His head covered in a crown of thorns, to pay for your sins. Jesus breaks the bonds of death and rises from the dead to destroy death and hell, giving you everlasting life. Vengeance truly belongs to the Lord, for He alone destroys death and hell for us.
Our Father’s loving mercy to us is to be the motive and measure of our mercy in our relationship with others. To love as we have been loved, we must be merciful in the same way our heavenly Father is merciful—not merely to our friends, not only to those engaged in wrongdoing, but to everyone. That includes those whom we dislike, those who dislike and persecute us, and people to whom we don’t even want to say hello when we see them. God would have His children live in His mercy.

God would have us live as Joseph lived. Joseph forgave his brothers. He thought nothing of all the evil that happened to him. He forgave, forgot, loved them, and took care of them and their families. Saint Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Nothing our neighbor does against us is so bad that we cannot answer it with the love of Christ within us.

God’s House is the place where we start living as brothers and sisters in Christ, anticipating Christ’s return. We sit together as the family of God. We confess our sins. We receive Holy Absolution. We give thanks and praise to God for all He gives us. We hear the Good News of forgiveness, life, and salvation. We receive frequently that Good News of forgiveness in the Body and Blood of Christ under bread and wine. We depart from this house redeemed, restored, forgiven, at peace with God and our neighbor.

God gives to you today as He does every Lord’s Day. He gives more: more forgiveness, more life, more salvation. He gives to you that you would then give to your neighbor. Though you walk in the midst of trouble, the Lord will revive you; He will stretch out His hand against the wrath of your enemies. His right hand will save you. "Oh, give thanks unto the Lord for He is good; for His mercy endures forever." And it does endure, for you and for your neighbor. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Good Reviews for "Lutheran Purgatory"

It's been just over two weeks since I released Lutheran Purgatory: Pastors Without Calls, and the response has been amazing! I have no way of tracking how may people may have downloaded the free PDF file. However, despite the fact that the book is available for free as a PDF file, over one-hundred people have paid for either Kindle or print versions. That means I will be able to donate nearly $200 dollars to aid pastors without congregations. That amount is a mere drop in the ocean of what is needed to help these pastors as they await the repair of this broken system, but even a drop can make a difference! I would like to thank everyone who has downloaded or purchased this book. I apologize for any typos or proofreading errors you may find. That's a danger of self-publishing, of course. As I find these errors (or as others point them out to me--hopefully gently), I will fix them in the Kindle edition and in subsequent print editions. I also hope to update the book in time. More pastors have shared their tales with me, and readers have shared questions or concerns about what I've written.

In the meantime, I have heard a lot of good things from readers who have shared their responses with me. You can see some responses on my Amazon author's page. In addition to these, I have seen responses on independent blogs and on Facebook, and I would like to share some of those with you, especially if you're wondering if this is worth reading.

"Stop whatever you are doing and READ THIS BOOK. Just remember, once you've read it, you can't unread it." -- Rev. Todd Wilken, host of Issues, Etc.

"This is non-fiction--scary non-fiction. ...We commend this for your reading, edification, and action, as the 2013 LCMS Convention acted in care and loving concern for pastors without a call." -- Rev. Paul Cain, host of the Liturgy, Hymnody, and Pulpit Quarterly Book Review blog

"This book should not only be required reading for members of the synod’s candidate committee. It should be read and placed on the agenda of the Council of Presidents. Pastors should make sure their DP’s have a copy. Ask them to discuss it with other District Presidents. Then follow up after COP meetings and see if they did so. Everything he says about what a pastor goes through is true." -- Rev. Lincoln Winter, host of the Musings of a Country Parson blog"

"Pastor Kornacki accurately describes the 'heavy, pressing emotions' (my description) that accompany these statuses. He accurately describes the inability to pray, to worship, and to otherwise participate in the life of the church. People who have 'been there' need to know they are not alone; and their feelings and responses are common with others. Members of the LCMS Council of Presidents and the Resolution 3-10a Task Force all need to buy the book and put it in their library. They have no excuse, because they can even get it for free to put on their laptops, or in PDF on their smart phone.They need to read this book carefully and then ask, 'How could this be happening to our own people? What is wrong here?' Because some of the cases cited describe improper actions by the District Presidents. Or in some cases, the actions are clearly unjust, even when the District President followed the Sohns 'Divine Dismissal' document. This book will open eyes to real problems to which many are clueless." -- Rev. Martin Noland, former Director of the Concordia Historical Institute, former Candidate, and contributor to the Brothers of John the Steadfast website

I hope that, should you read it or if you already have read it, you will send me your comments, questions, and concerns. Also, please keep praying for our pastors and their families who are mired in Lutheran Purgatory.

Thank you!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Guest Post: Making the Case for Classic Christian Hymnody by William Weedon

As always, a good teacher recognizes that there are sometimes other teachers with more expertise on a given subject. I love hymnody, but I am a mere kindergartener in my hymnological studies. On the other hand, Pastor William Weedon, LCMS Director of Worship and Chaplain at the Synod's International Center, has spent much of his life in such studies. With that in mind, I share with you his paper from the Issues Etc. "Making the Case" Conference. This paper appears as it is posted at this link on Pastor Weedon's blog. (By the way, some of my parishioners may remember Pastor Weedon as the liturgist during my Installation back in May of 2010. I hope one day to have him as a guest preacher.)

Making the Case for Classical Christian Hymnody

“Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” Psalm 145:3.  On this I suspect Christians of every stripe could agree. The Lord is great and the Lord is greatly to be praised. But we might see the cleft that has developed in the Church if we venture to the next verses: “One generation shall commend your works to another and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and sing aloud of your righteousness.”

What has happened in some sections of the Church is that THIS generation has told all the other generations to shut up and keep silent. Instead of listening to their proclamation of God’s majesty (who He is) and His wondrous works (what He’s done) and being inspired by their witness to join in their song with our own, some would silence their song and replace it entirely with the song of the present generation. Instead of the Church’s classical way of operating: supplementation, the rich treasury of hymns that goes back so far, growing and being added to by each generation, first listening to and learning to love the old praises of prior Christians as they tell us of God’s wondrous works; we have instead supplanting - replacing of this heritage of proclamation in song that reaches century upon century back through the ages with the songs of now.a

And we need to be honest about the nature of the songs of now. A friend of mine sought to use some of the modern sounds in his church one Sunday, but all the classic texts. It was very telling when a woman left that worship service in tears and she told the musicians on the way out: “You’ve taken away my music.” They were befuddled because they’d striven so hard to use the musical idiom that that congregation had come to expect. Why would it be welcomed? She gave them the answer: “It’s not what I hear on Christian radio.” AH! The commercial interests driving so called Christian radio is to get folks to download and listen over and over again to the current song and then promptly to forget it when they need you to download the newest, latest, greatest hit. Do you see what has happened? The throw away generation, the disposable everything generation, has come to treasure disposable, throw away songs too.

The demand for the music of today exclusively to reign supreme in the Church, whatever else it does, simply cuts off the prior generations in a way that the Church has not known before. We become an orphan Church that way, a church without our spiritual fathers and mothers. Anyone who knows me know that I love reading the Church fathers. Great stuff. And yet THE way that the prior generations have always spoken in the Church to the current generation is not in the dusty study of Patristics but in the living voice of the congregation. We take up THEIR song and it becomes OUR song and so their theology, their witness to Christ, continues to shape and mold us.

But there’s more. Dr. John Kleinig helpfully wrote about the theology that runs with the praise music that came originally out of the Pentecostal Church. The idea of this music is move a person. To move them spiritually from entering into the courts of God with loud and joyous songs of thanksgiving, to move them into the more mellow music of the inner courts of the temple with lush and quiet songs of praise, and finally for the congregation to peak, dare I say it, to spiritually orgasm in the singing in the spirit, often done in tongues and musically sustained by held chords and arpeggios and shimmering on the cymbals. Music here at its base is employed to achieve the desired emotional outcome. To bring a person to a feeling of the presence and closeness of God.

This is in huge tension with the sturdy objectivity of the Church’s historical musical deposit. For the Church classically simply did not see music as first and foremost a vehicle to move emotions. She knew that it does this. Luther confessed as much in any number of places. And yet that was just an inevitable result of music, but not it’s task. It’s task was rather to give voice to God’s Word. To proclaim to one another the great things that God has done for us in Jesus Christ and to summon one another to taste and see the goodness of the Lord and to proclaim the person blessed who trusts in Him.

We might wonder how this shift toward exclusive use of compositions of the present generation could possibly make its way into a Church like ours which has traditionally been a bulwark of preserving the music of previous generations. The answer, I believe, is that those who studied Church Growth were trained to match in church the music liked and listened to by their community. So that when new folks came in through the narthex doors they immediately would feel at home with the same sounds that filled their lives outside the doors. More than one writer has pointed out the disingenuousness of this approach, for the Church does not invite the old Adam to settle down and feel at home, but to his own execution. Nor, even sociologically, has it proven to be the case that unchurched folks expect the music at church to mirror the music they listen to when washing their cars on Saturday. You can read more about this in Daniel Zager’s stupendous monograph “The Gospel Preached Through Music: The Purpose and Practice of Lutheran Church Music” (Good Shepherd Institute 2013).

So it was with the best of motivations that our churches began to dump the deposit of the church’s treasury of hymnody. But it wasn’t wise. And it hasn’t worked if the purpose was simply to bring in the folks from outside in droves. We’re a smaller Synod today than we were prior to the time when classic church music reigned.

But I must issue this caveat. Dr. Nagel was always fond of asking what’s the opposite of an error? Not the truth! Just the opposite error. So the error of thinking that the Church’s hymnody is fixed. You have the old songs and you should be content to sing them. Period. Full stop. Nonsense. With the Spirit extolling our Lord Jesus through the Word, the new song springs up in the Church continually. Not everything written in a generation will be found worthy of adding to the deposit, but the current generation tends not to be in the best position to evaluate the final worthiness of its own contributions. The generation to come will weigh and decide in which of our new songs they hear the words and promises of God most clearly issued for their consolation and upbuilding in the faith. But that the deposit grows with each generation is simply a given. The Church’s song is richer now by far than it was at the time of the early church or even the Reformation. It keeps being enriched and for that all glory to God!

So when we speak of making the case for classical Christian hymnody we mean defending the proposition that previous generations ought be given an ongoing voice in the church’s praise, and this praise consists of meditating upon God’s glorious majesty (that is, proclaiming WHO He is, and above all who He has revealed Himself to be in the Crucified and Risen One), and in meditating on His great works. We do both of these by proclaiming them together to each other in song in the presence of God.

How far back does the treasury reach? Well, certainly biblical scholars will tell you that it reaches right into the pages of the New Testament. Philippians 2; Colossians 1; numerous portions of Revelation; 1 Timothy 3. You can find tantalizing bits of the song that the Christians sang to each other there. Maybe it was something like Philippians 2 that St. Paul and St. Silas sang together at midnight in the jail of Philippi.

Outside of the New Testament, though, we have these ancient hymns that have come down to us and even made it into the liturgy. In the Divine Service, we sing the Gloria in Excelsis or Agnus Dei or Sanctus. In the Daily Prayer Services, we sing Te Deum Laudamus and Phos Hilaron. That last is particularly of interest to those who study the history of the hymns. You see, in literature, I think the first mention of Phos Hilaron (our “Joyous Light of Glory” from Evening Prayer, but also in the hymnal O Light Whose Splendor Thrills and Gladdens or O Gladsome Light of Grace), the first mention is in a little book by St. Basil the Great (and he died in 379). He writes: I will now adduce another piece of evidence which might perhaps seem insignificant, but because of its antiquity must in nowise be omitted by a defendant who is indicted on a charge of innovation. It seemed fitting to our fathers not to receive the gift of the light at eventide in silence, but, on its appearing, immediately to give thanks. Who was the author of these words of thanksgiving at the lighting of the lamps, we are not able to say. The people, however, utter the ancient form, and no one has ever reckoned guilty of impiety those who say “We praise Father, Son, and God's Holy Spirit.” (Par. 73 On the Holy Spirit)

Just like we have no idea who wrote the Gloria in Excelsis or the Te Deum (medieval legend notwithstanding), so with Phos Hilaron. It simply was a song Christians sang and have continued to sing throughout generations. Is it not amazing that we here in America today continue in our Evening Prayer to offer praises in a hymn that St. Basil the Great thought was positively antique back in the 370’s?

So the deposit goes very far back, especially if we think of those ancient hymns of the church that were not rimed or set in stanzas. But the riming and setting in stanzas goes back a long, long way also. The man traditionally regarded as the father of western Christian hymnody is St. Ambrose of Milan. Our LSB features three hymns attributed to this great father of the Church. We even get to know a little bit about how this form of hymnody took root and spread. Listen to St. Augustine in his Confessions, paragraph:

Not long had the Church of Milan begun to employ this kind of consolation and exhortation, the brethren singing together with great earnestness of voice and heart. For it was about a year, or not much more, since Justina, the mother of the boy-Emperor Valentinian, persecuted Thy servant Ambrose in the interest of her heresy, to which she had been seduced by the Arians. The pious people kept guard in the church, prepared to die with their bishop, Thy servant. There my mother, Thy handmaid, bearing a chief part of those cares and watchings, lived in prayer. We, still unmelted by the heat of Thy Spirit, were yet moved by the astonished and disturbed city. At this time it was instituted that, after the manner of the Eastern Church, hymns and psalms should be sung, lest the people should pine away in the tediousness of sorrow; which custom, retained from then till now, is imitated by many, yea, by almost all of Thy congregations throughout the rest of the world. [Confessions IX:7:15]

So Ambrose is popularly considered the father of hymnody as we’ve come to expect it: a poem consisting generally of  number of consistent stanzas that rime and often concluding with the doxology: an ascription of praise to the Blessed Trinity.

If we listen to THAT generation proclaim to us the great deeds of God and call us to meditate with them on who He is and what He has done, we get something like this:

Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here Your home!
Marvel now, O heav’n and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh—
Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.

Here a maid was found with child,
Yet remained a virgin mild.
In her womb this truth was shown:
God was there upon His throne.

Then stepped forth the Lord of all
From His pure and kingly hall;
God of God, yet fully man,
His heroic course began.

God the Father was His source,
Back to God He ran His course.
Into hell His road went down,
Back then to His throne and crown.

For You are the Father’s Son
Who in flesh the vict’ry won.
By Your mighty pow’r make whole
All our ills of flesh and soul.

From the manger newborn light
Shines in glory through the night.
Darkness there no more resides;
In this light faith now abides.

Glory to the Father sing,
Glory to the Son, our king,
Glory to the Spirit be
Now and through eternity.

Let’s note a number of things about this. It clearly proclaims Christ. Proclaims Him as the Virgin’s Son, God of God, yet full man, whose source was God the Father. It proclaims His deeds: His conception by the Spirit, his birth of the Virgin, His coming from God and returning to God even His descent into hell. It proclaims what He has won: the victory and in our flesh to make whole all our ills of flesh and soul. And it summons us one and all to join in praising the Trinity in and through Him.

And consider that these words by Ambrose or from someone around that time, have continued to proclaim Christ in each generation. Year after year, when Advent arrives, this hymn is found on the lips of Christians to bring comfort to each other and to join their voices with that of all the previous generations, extolling the Lord’s incarnation for us. So much did Luther value this Latin hymn that it was the first he rendered into German. When we sing this hymn each Advent truly “one generation commends your works to another and shall declare your mighty deeds!”

Ambrose’s hymns primarily are set to sanctify time and to celebrate the events commemorated in the Church’s year: the great story of the life of Christ. They had their home first and foremost in the Daily Office, Matins and Vespers etc. But you couldn’t really keep the hymns away from the Lord’s Supper. They migrated. And did so even before the Reformation. Remember that “O Lord, We Praise Thee” was a folk hymn long before Luther took it hand. Or remember the hymn of Huss for the distribution.

With the Reformation, the ancient heritage was conserved, even in many cases in Latin, but much was also put into the vernacular and of course it was added to. New hymns couldn’t but continue to be birthed by the joy of the Gospel’s clarity that took hold agin in those days. Luther’s first great hymn was Nun Freut Euch. Listen: “Dear Christian, one and all rejoice, with exultation springing, and with united heart and voice and holy rapture singing: proclaim the wonders God has done, what His right hand the victory won; what price our ransom cost Him!” There’s the theology of praise right in a single hymn stanza. Luther never ceased to marvel at music: “After all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely by proclaiming [God’s Word] through music and by providing sweet melodies with words.” (AE 53:323) Or as Luther said in the preface to the Bapst hymnal: “For God has cheered our hearts and minds through his dear Son, whom he gave for us to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil. He who believes this earnestly cannot be quiet about it. But he must gladly and willingly sing and speak about it so that others also may come and hear it.” (AE 53:333).

So with the Reformation comes this explosion of new music, filled with the joy of the Gospel, and aimed at the consolation of those terrified in conscience or broken in heart. All designed to lift you up through preaching the promises of God into your heart via putting them onto your lips.

Of the many great hymns that arose in that time, who deserve particular mention. They were by Philip Nicolai, Pastor in Unna, Westphalia. He saw his congregation decimated by plague. Between July of 1597 and January of 1598, Pr. Nicolai buried no less than 1,400 of his parishioners– 300 in the month of July alone. He could have fled the plague, but he didn’t. He stayed put. He preached. He celebrated the Sacrament. He prayed. He buried, and he prayed some more. And he did one more thing. He wrote a book. A book he called The Mirror of Joy. It was all about the joy that filled his heart as he thought of the heaven his Savior had won for all upon His cross and to which He would one day bring His people as they share His risen life in the New Heavens and the New Earth. In the words of Luther, he “gladly and willingly sing and speak about it.” At the tail end of his little book, he put three poems he wrote, two of which he also set to music. One is called: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright) and the other: Wachet Auf, Ruft uns die Stimme. Wake, Awake! For Night is flying.

In the face of unspeakable tragedy, to families where mothers had lost their sons, daughters their fathers, sisters their brothers, brothers their sisters, husbands their wives - with no family left untouched by the horror of death- faithful Pastor Nicolai sang the hope of heaven into his people as they waited for the day of the Savior’s return and learned to sing in hope along with him even with tears in their eyes. No wonder these two pieces became known as the Queen and the King of the Chorales. They are triumphant in the cross. Just listen in to sections from either hymn:

Almighty Father, in Your Son
You loved me when not yet begun
Was this old earth’s foundation!
Your Son has ransomed us in love
To live in Him here and above.
This is Your great salvation.
Alleluia! Christ the living
To us giving Life forever,
Keeps us Yours and fails us never.

O let the harps break forth in sound!
Our joy be all with music crowned,
Our voices, gladly blending!
For Christ goes with us all the way—
Today, tomorrow, every day,
His love is never ending!
Sing out! Ring out!
Jubilation, exultation!
Tell the story!
Great is He, the King of glory!

Or this:

Now let all the heaven’s adore Thee;
Let saints and angels sing before Thee
With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone.
Of one pearl each shining portal,
Where dwelling with the choir immortal,
We gather round Thy radiant throne.
No eye has seen the light,
No ear has heard the might
Of Thy glory.
Therefore will we eternally,
sing hymns of praise and joy to thee.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s nigh unto a high treason when a Lutheran (well, when any Christian) is deprived of the comfort and power of such great hymns! And they abound. Those are just two. Note that they sing of Christ. They fling the comfort of Christ against the darkness. They hold tight to the joy of what shall be when Christ renews all things. They proclaim: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again, and they add the promise: “for you!”

You might notice if you’ve been around our Church for any length of time, that SOME of our hymns are really, really long. Take Luther’s delightful Christmas hymn: “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” It’s got an eminently singable melody, but it goes on for 15 stanzas. Yikes! What gives with that?

That’s a hint that the singing of hymns in the Lutheran Church, it’s use of the classical Christian hymnody, from the start employed “wechselsingen” as Dr. Walther termed it: “back and forth singing” would be a good translation. So take “From Heaven Above…” and you might have the choir sing all together stanza one, then just the women of the choir on stanza two, then the men, stanza three, then all the choir on stanza four, maybe just four voices, one on each part for stanza five, then the whole congregation on stanzas six, seven and eight. Children’s voices along on stanza 9. Women on 10. Men on 11. All on 12 and 13. Choir on 14 and then all on 15. What does this back and forth singing do? It enables us to preach to each other in the song. We literally sing the comfort the Gospel into each other’s ears, hearing it and then in our turn sounding it forth.

By the way, this way of singing is also key to getting the best way to sing, say, “Isaiah, Mighty Seer.” Picture it like this:

Choir 1: Isaiah, mighty seer in days of old,
Choir 2: The Lord of all in spirit did behold,
with the whole congregation joining in on: Holy is God the Lord of Sabaoth!

Luther’s Gloria hymn works the same way. This back and forth is the royal priesthood at its work: proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. It is the fulfillment of the Apostles’ exhortation: Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in PSALMS, and HYMNS, and SPIRITUAL SONGS, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

And the centuries roll on and the witness keeps ringing out. The nineteenth century was a time of rich meditation on the Church herself. Everyone was thinking about it and singing about it. So we have “For All the Saints” and “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones” and so many others. The focus wasn’t on Church for her own sake, but look at who the Spirit has called us to be in Christ! And through them all ring comfort: “And when the fight is fierce the battle long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again and arms are strong! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

In the 20th and 21st century a new flowering of hymnody took place and to the old songs were added numerous new proclamations of Christ. We don’t have time to even begin to delve into the richness, but we must note the hymns of Stephen Starke (“We praise You and acknowledge You, O God, to be the Lord, the Father everlasting by all the earth adored…” - great paraphrase of the Te Deum and set to the Jupiter tune, proclaiming who the true King of the universe is!); Martin Franzmann (O thou who when we loved thee not, didst love and save us all; thou great good shepherd of mankind, O hear us when we call! Send us thy Spirit! Teach us truth! Thou Son, O set us free, from fanciest wisdom, self-sought ways to make us one in thee. Then shall our song united rise to Thine eternal throne where with the Father evermore and Spirit thou art one); Vajda (How could I not have known Isaiah would be there, his prophesies fulfilled, with pounding heart I stare: A child, a king, the prince of peace for me, a child, a king the prince of peace for me); so very, very many others.

One last point I think needs to be made in favor of classical Christian hymnody. It has, somehow, survived the fragmentation of the Church. So a hymn written for a Roman Catholic eucharistic conference in 1976 ends up being sung in Lutheran parishes around the world: “You satisfy the hungry heart.” Or an EWTN broadcast of the Roman Mass for Ash Wednesday, opens with the solemn singing of Luther’s “From Depths of Woe.” The Baptists might have owned “Just as I am” at the start, but it is sung universally by Christians. This united song of the Church gives me great hope. And it witnesses a very Lutheran thing: if it sings truth, we say, it is ours! We joyfully can take it to heart and praise God with it. So our hymnal is not merely limited to the stream of music that flowed directly from the medieval church to the Churches of the Augsburg Confession. Rather, when Geneva sang truth, we sang it with them. When Rome sang truth, we sang it with them. Did you know that Beautiful Savior was originally composed to be a song of Eucharistic devotion? Tis true! And yet its words are simple truth and so we take them gladly on our lips.

Psalm 145 goes on to say: “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you. They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power to make known to the children of men your mighty deeds and the glorious splendor of your kingdom… The Lord is faithful in all his works and kind in all his deeds.” One generation declares His great works to another in the classic hymnody of the Christian Church. And our calling in this generation is to hear their song, to sing it with them in joy, and then to add to it as best we may in our own day and age.

When Isaiah pictured the Church, he described her in chapter 35 in these words: “And the redeemed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing, everlasting joy upon their heads. They shall obtain gladness and joy and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” The Church is one long procession of the people of Zion headed home, and the song we sing here at the tail end of the procession at the moment is one we learned from those who went before. Let us treasure the gift bequeathed to us and learn to love it and to pass on such a tremendous heritage to our children and children’s children until the glorious appearing of Lord Jesus when we join the saints and angels in the song of the Lamb!