Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Saint Stephen Stood Boldly Before the Sanhedrin

My latest attempt at hymn writing is meant for the Feast of Saint Stephen the martyr, who was stoned for his testimony concerning Christ before the Sanhedrin. The Feast of Saint Stephen, Proto-Martyr, is celebrated on December 26. I've always been intrigued by the connection between the stoning of Stephen, the persecution which followed, and the spread of Christianity "to the ends of the earth". This hymn follows Stephen through his Acts 7 speech, though as other hymn writers have noted, it's not always easy to put the prose of Scripture into verses.

I took some liberties with the meter, since the hymn tune, Kremser (LSB 785: "We Praise You, O God") has some leeway in it. Anyway, here it is. Feel free to use it with proper attribution.

Saint Stephen Stood Boldly Before the Sanhedrin

1. Saint Stephen stood boldly before the Sanhedrin,
Charged falsely with blaspheming God and His Law.
His words caused dissension, his signs, apprehension,
Yet in the face of Stephen an angel they saw.

2. He answered their charges with covenant hist'ry—
How God unto Abraham showed forth His grace.
He gave circumcision and showed him a vision
Of homeland and of heirs—his children a race.

3. He spoke of how Joseph was sold by his brothers.
Yet God remained with him in Egypt the same,
And with Pharoah's favor he rose as a savior.
Thus to the land of Egypt the Patriarchs came.

4. He told them how Moses led God's chosen people
From bondage in Egypt to Sinai's broad plain.
God's people defected and Moses rejected.
They praised the golden calf, the cov'nant disdained.

5. The Lord is now dwelling among His own people—
No longer in temples by human hands made.
You stiff-necked, hard-hearted! God's Word you've departed.
You persecute the prophets; in their blood you wade.

6. The crowd was enraged; they no longer would listen.
Then from the great city they cast him away.
In anger they stoned him, but Christ did not disown him.
And having died in faith, in Christ's arms he lay.

7. The seed of the Church is the blood of the martyrs:
With Stephen’s death great persecution did spread.
Yet God brought conversion by means of dispersion.
The Gospel sowed abroad as each Christian fled.

8. All glory to God to whom Stephen was faithful:
For Stephen's confession and death taught the faith.
Lord, make our faith ample in Stephen's example
That we, like him, keep steadfast even in death.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
12 11 12 11
Tune: Kremser (LSB 785: "We Praise You, O God")

Monday, September 21, 2009

Take your medicine!

I'm in quite the unique position right now. As an Ordained layperson, I get to see things from both sides of the communion rail. I hope this post doesn't come off sounding like sour grapes. Since I'm not a parish pastor at the moment, I'm not speaking about any particular congregation.

For the most part, Americans trust the professionals with whom they interact. When we call the doctor, we trust the advice they give and usually take the medicine they prescribe. After medical school and residency, we trust that a doctor generally knows what he's talking about. When we want our will drawn up, we call a lawyer. After all, that's what she went to law school for, and we trust that someone who has passed the bar exam can help us with legal issues. The same is true for most professionals, whether it's plumbers or architects or stylists or home security installers.

Sadly, the same cannot be said about how we interact with pastors. Too often pastors are viewed with skepticism. Sure, we extend Calls to these men to care for our souls, but when the rubber meets the road, too often we are ready to ignore what they have to say. Why do we not accord our pastors the same trust?

Let me share with you one example that I've encountered all over the country. Historically the Church and its congregations have received the Lord's Supper every Sunday. This practice fell by the wayside in Lutheranism during the 1700s, when it became common to offer the Lord's Supper only once every three months. For the most part Lutheran congregations have at least gotten back to the point where they offer the Eucharist twice a month on alternating Sundays. The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod in convention has encouraged a return to offering and receiving the Sacrament of the Altar every Sunday, and our seminaries teach that this is a salutary practice. Nonetheless, many congregations resist this practice. One of the most common reasons given is, "If we have this too often, it will seem less special." I find it distressing that someone might think that the Lord's Supper could ever be less than special. After all, it is the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins; what could be more special?

But that's beside the point. When our doctor informs us we have an infection and tells us to take the penicillin until we have finished the prescription, we follow her directions. When our lawyer tells us we're facing criminal charges and tells us not to answer any questions without her being present, we listen. When the exterminator comes and tells us that we have an infestation, by all means we tell him to eradicate it. Yet when our pastor tells us that we can have the potent and efficacious remedy to sin and death every week, we tell him we'd rather not have it, that we don't need it.

Ideally, your pastor went to seminary for four years of intensive theological training, just as doctors and lawyers receive intensive training in their fields. He has worked diligently in the original languages of Scripture. He has studied church history and systematic theology. He has been trained to care for your soul. Though he is a sinner just like you, he brings you forgiveness in the stead and by the command of Jesus. This has nothing to do with the personality of the man who is your pastor and everything to do with the powerful gifts God delivers to you through him.

You are suffering the disease of sin, and there is no disease that is more terminal. Yes, you can read your Bible at home. Yes, God made the world, and He is present everywhere, so you don't have to go to church to be in His presence. But when your soul is in distress, this is no time to self-medicate. You are suffering the disease of sin, and there is no disease that is more terminal. Trust the man to whom God has given the care of your soul. Take the medicine he brings you from God as often as prescribed, whether it's the Lord's Supper, the Word of holy absolution, or the preaching of Law and Gospel. You cannot overdose, and this medicine will never fail you . . . even if the sinner who is your pastor does.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What are your priorities?

I'll be going on vacation this week, meeting my wife and children in the town where I grew up. There is a concentration of Lutheran congregations in the greater North Tonawanda area, and we've been thinking for months now about where we'd be receiving the gifts of God in the divine service. The easy decision would be to worship at the church I grew up attending. The problem is, the congregation has changed so much just in the nine years since I moved away that I won't feel as though I belong there. (Yes, I know it's not about how I feel, but we'll deal with that another day.) I'd prefer not to worship where the traditional service is in the minority of divine services offered.

That leaves a bunch of other congregations in the area. I've spent a lot of time on the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod website searching the area churches for Communion services. One of the blessings of worshiping with the congregations of the greater New Orleans area is that almost all of the churches have the Eucharist every Sunday. In Western New York, this is not the case. For the most part, even the most "confessional" congregations don't offer the Eucharist every Sunday.

I've had a devil of a time finding that out, though. Most of the congregations have a website, but those websites don't say when the congregation celebrates the Lord's Supper. Are you looking for a blended or a contemporary or a "celebration" service? Check the website. Do you want to know when the congregation's softball team plays next? Check the website. Do you want to know when Gambler's Anonymous meets at the church? Check the website. Do you want to know everything about the grade school or preschool or daycare? By all means, check the website! But if you want to know when the Sacrament of the Altar will be offered . . . well, it may be in the fine print, but more often than not, it's not there at all.

What a congregation puts on its website obviously says a lot about the priorities of a congregation. The youth group is usually prominently placed, usually with a group picture in matching shirts. The ladies group also has a place of honor on the website. Don't get me wrong: these things are important in the life of the congregation. Never let yourself forget that these things are not nearly as important in the life of the Church as receiving the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper, kneeling before Jesus to receive the gifts He has for you. While Martha worried about the fellowship hall, Mary was seated at the feet of her Lord where she belonged, receiving the one thing needful.

What is the priority of your congregation? How is that portrayed in promotional materials and especially on the website? Is the "one thing needful" your highest priority? If so, don't be afraid to say so--and not just to make it easier for me to find a church for vacation. Boldly confess your Lord and the gifts He freely and graciously gives you, and tell everyone else when they will be offered at your church. You don't have to hide your youth group or ladies group away. Just let them be where they belong: under the shadow of their Lord.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood moves uptown

I beg your indulgence as I post something that is not the usual fare for this blog.

I know I'm a little slow in posting this, since the Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony was on September 11 of this year. However, I would be remiss if I didn't post, even this late, on the induction of David Robinson to the Basketball Hall of Fame. I know Michael Jordan was the "big" name of this Hall of Fame class. That's typical, because even though David Robinson had a Hall of Fame career, won a league MVP award, was selected to ten all-star teams and was chosen as one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time, he was often overshadowed by players with more flash, more style, and certainly more ego.

Known as "The Admiral" in honor of his service in the United States Navy, Robinson had the God-given advantage of height. He took that advantage and ran with it. He was not flashy, but he was perhaps the most fundamentally sound basketball player ever. He played the game the right way--with talent, with passion, with humility. He was a stand-out on his own, but when the San Antonio Spurs drafted Tim Duncan with the first pick of the 1997 draft, David took under his wing the young man who everyone said would overshadow him. He invited Duncan into his home, helped to develop his skill, and showed him by shining example how to play the game the way it should be played--both in his respect for the game and in showing how mastering and returning to fundamentals could make Duncan an even greater player. Together these men won two NBA championships, with Robinson retiring as a champion in 2003.

But even greater than Robinson's basketball career are his contributions to his community. Robinson's Christian faith has led him and his wife, Valerie, to be charitable, saying in an interview with People magazine, "The Bible is very clear: Don't do your good works before men to be cheered by men. [Valerie] and I do the right things because that's what God told us to do." Robinson promised fifth graders from a San Antonio elementary school that he would given them each a $2,000 scholarship if they completed school and went to college, and those who accepted his challenge and went to college each received $8,000. The Robinsons also used $9 million of their own money to found the Carver Academy, an inner-city school whose purpose is to prepare mostly underprivileged children with a quality education to prepare them for even the most competitive high schools. He also participates in a program called "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood", which encourages kids to stay in school and away from drugs. The NBA named the trophy given to winners of their monthly Community Assist Award for outstanding charitable efforts the "David Robinson Plaque".

Congratulations, Mr. Robinson. You deserve the accolades you have received--both as an athlete and as a Christian gentleman.

Here is his Basketball Hall of Fame speech. I won't compare it with Michael Jordan's speech, but be sure to note Robinson's humility, graciousness and eloquence. It's a shame more professional athletes don't get the chance to sit at Robinson's feet and learn from him. I look forward to the day Tim Duncan gives his Hall of Fame speech, as I think it will be the same way.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Two Years Later

In honor of the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as well as the attack thwarted by the passengers of Flight 93, I post here something I wrote on the occasion of the second anniversary 9/11.


September 11, 2003.

We're now two years removed from the most heinous attack ever to occur on American soil. In many ways it is hard to believe that two years have passed since we watched the repeated footage of the collapse of the two towers of the World Trade Center, since we witnessed with horror the crater in Pennsylvania and the hole in the Pentagon. The images of that day were burned into our minds and hearts, images which will likely remain fresh and raw in our memories.

However, two years have passed. In many ways we have moved on. Outside of New York Cityfor who even thinks of the Pentagon or of those who crashed in Pennsylvania anymore?it's hard to see how the attacks have affected our lives. Oh, we expect the inevitable delays in the airport as we wait through more intensive inspections and searches, and we're more inclined to be respectful of emergency workers than we have been in times past. But the flags have come down. Our cynicism toward the government has returned. The party spirit once again runs rampant.

But while life moves on, people are still in pain. For the husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, family and friends of the victims of these attacks, the images are only the beginning. There are holes in their lives which will never quite be filled.

I am reminded of the speech which President Bush delivered shortly after the attacks, in which he tells of the badge a woman gave him. The badge had belonged to her son, and she gave it to the President in memory of her son. As he held it up during the speech the President said, "It is the reminder . . . of a task that does not end."

The task continues. There are still people who need our prayers and what comfort we can give them. There are still criminal terrorists who must be brought to justice. And we as citizens of this great nation must remember the cost of freedomnot only the lives of soldiers, but the lives of those who were murdered just for being citizens of this nation.

The party spirit will continue to grow. Our cynicism toward the government will resume. The flags may not come back out. But let us never forget the reason why, for one brief moment in time, we were not liberals or moderates of conservatives, nor pro-Life or pro-Choice, nor black or white. Let us not forget: for one dark and yet shining moment, we came together as Americans.


I'm sad that I was correct in my predictions for how things would come to pass in the years that followed. What has come to pass is the responsibility of every American, and it is the responsibility of every American that we remember those who were murdered by extremists, that we remember and honor our police and fire departments, EMTs, armed forces, and all those who serve us in our darkest hours with their finest hours, and that we pray—pray for peace, pray for the healing of those who were left behind, and pray for the Lord to return in glory to bring us all home.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Lord Jesus Christ, the Church's Head

Having recently begun my tenth year as a pastor, and having witnessed recently more and more pastors being forcibly removed from the parishes to which they have been Called to serve, I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing a hymn which gives glory to God, asking Him to keep pastors faithful to the their callings and asking Him to strengthen congregations to treat their pastors as precious gifts from God. (That's quite a sentence, if I do say so myself!) I have to school myself not to repeat words and themes from verse to verse, because, as you can see, I used the word "Word" a lot—not necessarily a bad thing, but that's a lot of repetition for a relatively short hymn. Anyway, here it is. Critiques are welcome and encouraged. Feel free to use, share, or rip apart . . . as long as you give proper attribution and glory to God.

Lord Jesus Christ, the Church's Head

1. Lord Jesus Christ, the Church's head,
Keep faithful those who, in Your stead,
Forgive the sins and preach the same
To all who call upon Your name.
(refrain) Lord Jesus Christ, build up Your sons
To preach Your Word to everyone.

2. As You rose up to God's right hand,
You gave th'apostles Your command
To make disciples by Your Word:
"Baptize and teach them all you've heard." (refrain)

3. Today into Your harvest field
You call men Your own Word to wield
As stewards of Your mysteries—
But not the ears of men to please. (refrain)

4. The world has no desire to hear
The message that Your Kingdom nears.
Help pastors to preach faithfully
So all the world Your grace shall see. (refrain)

5. Equip Your Church for righteousness.
Give pastors courage to address
The sins of those who won't repent,
Despising Word and Sacrament. (refrain)

6. Lead Christians all, dear Lord, to hear
And cherish pastors You bring near,
Who preach the Gospel, e'er the same,
And glorify Your holy name. (refrain)

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
Long Meter and Refrain (88 88 refrain)
Suggested Tune: MAGDALEN
(My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less—LSB 575)