Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sermon for 6/26/11--First Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Exalting the Lowly

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

As the old saying goes, “Looks can be deceiving.” They were certainly deceiving in case of the rich man and Lazarus. The world looks at the rich man and Lazarus in one way, but God has an altogether different perspective. From the world's point of view it is this nameless rich man who is the blessed man, the man with the good life. After all, he has wealth and power. He lives by the “golden rule”—that is, “He who has the gold, rules.” And he does rule his own little world. Jesus describes his life like this: “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” He has the image. He is well-dressed and well-fed. This rich man lives in the security of his wealth. It appears that he doesn't need anything. In the eyes of the world he is the model of success.

Then there is Lazarus. Jesus identifies him as a “beggar” who was “full of sores.” Now, Lazarus stands in stark contrast to the rich man. The rich man has his house while Lazarus is laid at his gate. The rich man dines from a full table, while Lazarus is lucky to get the crumbs that fall from his table—the table scraps of half-eaten dishes. The rich man is clothed with expensive attire—“purple and fine linen”—while Lazarus is clothed with sores. No doubt the rich man had friends to grace his parties with their presence. But Lazarus had only the dogs to lick his sores. In the eyes of the world, Lazarus is pitiful and sad. He is seen as a failure.

But the world does not see as God sees. And when God looks on the rich man and Lazarus, He sees something very different. He sees things as they are. What man exalts, God sees as an abomination. What man despises, God sees as blessed. This is the great reversal which Mary sang of in her Magnificat, when she said of our God and Savior:

He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.

This is what Jesus speaks of in the beatitudes when He says: “Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh....But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.

God's judgment on both the rich man and Lazarus reverses things. Both die. Death made clear what was hidden from human sight in this life. Death made clear how each of these men stood before God. Lazarus' death was a blessed death. He died and was escorted by the holy angels into paradise. Lazarus no longer laid outside the gate. The holy angels carried him through the gates of heaven and into presence of God. He was given rest at “Abraham's bosom.” This hungry man is now satisfied at the heavenly banquet. There are no more tormenting sores for him. Lazarus is revealed to be the blessed man. Indeed, in death the very truth of the name of Lazarus—“the one whom God helps”—is made manifest. In his life human eyes could not see this divine help. It was hidden. But now it is revealed.

Death was also a revelation of how it was with the rich man. The end of His unbelief is hell. He was not condemned because he is rich, but because his riches were his god. He did not draw his life from the Word of God, but from his own wealth. The very “god” that he had “feared, loved, and trusted above all things” in this life was not able to save him from death and God's judgment. Now he is in torment while Lazarus enjoys the riches of heaven. Indeed, the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty. The judgment of God is final. The boundaries between heaven and hell are completely closed. Once the day of grace has ended there are no second chances. In vain did the rich man plead for a visit from Lazarus to bring him so much as a cooling drop of water. It is too late.

But Jesus made it clear that this teaching is not so much about riches and poverty as it is about faith in the crucified and risen Lord Himself. The rich man then thought of his five brothers who were still alive and so he made the request that Lazarus be sent back to earth to testify to them, “lest they too also come into this place of torment.” Remember Abraham's answer: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” God does not use ghosts to bring people to repentance and faith; He uses His Word. If people will not hear the Scriptures, they will not be convinced, “though one should rise from the dead.” Here the Lord spoke prophetically of His own death and resurrection. No sign, not even the sign of Jesus' own resurrection from the grave, will convince those who do not believe the Scriptures.

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Your blessedness does not lie in your wealth, your learning, your career, or in your prestige. Your blessedness lies in the faith you received in Holy Baptism, faith which lays hold of Jesus Christ, who suffered and died as the atoning sacrifice for your sins and was raised again to give life to all who look to Him. Apart from Him, all appearances to the contrary, there is only death. But in Him there is life. Lazarus came to know that life. God grant unto us the same blessing. 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, June 20, 2011

Sermon for 6/19/11--Feast of the Holy Trinity (LSB 1-year)

My ISP is acting up, so I'm having trouble uploading the audio of the sermon. Look for another post if I finally get the podcast up.

What’s In A Name?

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

Nicodemus was one of those people who stood on the edge of the New Testament. Obviously, he was not a "leading character" like John or Paul. He was less than a minor figure like Timothy or Titus. We're not told much about Nicodemus. In our text, John identifies Nicodemus as a Pharisee, one of the rulers of the Jews. That means he was a layman who served on the Sanhedrin, that highest of Jewish councils that was dominated by the Sadducees. John also tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Perhaps John was making the point that Nicodemus not only came to Jesus "after hours," so to speak, but that he came under the cover of darkness. That is, the fact that Nicodemus came to the Lord by night also pointed to the Nicodemus' spiritual condition. He was still "in the dark," as he had not yet come to see Jesus as the Light of the world. Nicodemus, that man who comes to Jesus by night, will come to walk in the light. At the end of John's Gospel, we read that Nicodemus stepped out of the shadows and joined Joseph of Arimathea, also a secret disciple of Jesus, to prepare the corpse of Jesus for a proper burial. Nicodemus supplied the myrrh and aloes to anoint the Lord's body. Nicodemus might have on the edge of the New Testament, but he is nevertheless significant.

The real significance of Nicodemus is that Jesus revealed Himself to this man; and in doing so, Jesus revealed the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and this revelation from Jesus did not fit into the theology of the Pharisees. These were pious men, dedicated to doing good works. They had vowed to tithe, fast, and keep the Sabbath. But their focus was on their good works, their sincerity. They chose to focus on obedience to the law rather than trust in the mercies of God. It sounds a great deal like today’s popular theology, really.

The first thing that Nicodemus said to Jesus in our Gospel reading points to works. He said, "Rabbi, we know that you are teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him." To his way of thinking, the miraculous works that Jesus does are indicators that "God is with Him," that is, He is operating under the blessing of the Lord God. Immediately Jesus changed the course of the conversation. He said to His visitor: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus was talking about signs and works. But Jesus spoke about rebirth. Nicodemus was confused. He knew that it was impossible to literally be born again. How could a man start his life over? How could a man return to his mother's womb and be "born again"? The answer Jesus gave is important. "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." This new birth is nothing other than Holy Baptism. Baptism is the Lord's doing, for it is done "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." With the water and the Word, the Triune God Himself puts His name on us and thereby gives us the new birth into His family. Thus Jesus says, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

The name of God is essential here. When Jesus gives His apostles the mandate to make disciples, He indicates that disciples are to be made by "baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" and teaching them to keep all things that Jesus has given. Now, to understand the full significance of Jesus' words about "baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" one must go back to the Old Testament. The greatest gift which God gave to the people of Israel was his holy name. In this one gift He included all the other gifts which He ever offered to His people. When God gave His name to the Israelites, He gave them Himself, for by His name they had access to Him personally. He made Himself present for His people. In Numbers 6 God instructs the priests to put His name on the people in the words of the Benediction, the same one which you hear in every Divine Service. Then, after God gives them the words of that Benediction He says, "So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them." Where God puts His name, He puts His presence and His blessing. In other words, unless God puts His name on you, you cannot enter His kingdom. With His name put on you in the waters of Holy Baptism, you are born again. That is why St. Peter says, "Baptism now saves you."

Even though he is a "teacher of Israel," Nicodemus still needed of some teaching. He asked, "How can these things be?" And Jesus does teach Nicodemus. Jesus in His words He reveals the Holy Trinity to Nicodemus as He testifies of the Father who sent the Son from heaven to be lifted on the cross, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so that all who look to Him in faith that is created by the Holy Spirit will not perish by the venom of sin but will receive eternal life, the very life of the Trinity. Jesus directs Nicodemus to the cross, for on the cross the forgiveness of sins was won for the world and that same forgiveness of sins, along with the life and the salvation which forgiveness brings, is given to us in the new birth of Baptism.

It is all in God's name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is the Lord's name revealed to you by the Lord Himself. No substitutes will do, for to lose the name of the Lord is to lose the Lord Himself. But to have His name, to cling to His name in faith, is to have everything that God has put in that name for you. We live in a changing world. Only one thing remains sure and certain, and that is the Lord: Father, Son (+), and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fatherhood revisited

Though happy chance, my father is here in Campbell Hill along with my mother this Father's Day. It's been over a year since we've been able to see him, as his new knees kept him from traveling and we had concerns that the Terrors--er, Twins--would be rough on him during his recovery. My dad turned 65 this past year, and it's so strange seeing him age. At 36, I am now the same age he was at when I really started paying attention and remembering things in detail. I remember how, even then, he seemed to be easygoing and had a simple confidence and competence. (How I wish I had received that as a genetic inheritance!) My father has always been a cornerstone in my life, and I pray he is able to continue in that role for some time to come.

The same day I became a husband, I also became a father. Or maybe I became a father seven years ago yesterday, the day I asked Faith to marry me. Alexis was 6 when I met her, and though I had been working with kids since I was pretty much still a kid myself, being a father is something different. Every day since I began to think about asking Faith to marry me, I've tried to figure out the job description of a father. Every day I try to figure out how to be the best father I can be. Every day I look at the kids and try to figure out how God could entrust them to a man with so little patience and skill. As always, God knows what He's doing, but He hasn't explained everything to my satisfaction! Nevertheless, my children have been a great gift from God to me, surpassed in earthly matters only by the gift of my wife.

Watching my own bumbling attempts at fatherhood has helped me to appreciate all the more the heavenly Father. He has marked me as His own child (I gladly say it!) in the waters of Holy Baptism. He has given me all that I need to support this body and life. When in my human weakness I give half-hearted thought to sacrificing my kids to the gods of peace and quiet, it is comfort and joy that the Father spared Abraham's Isaac and my own children and even me, sacrificing instead His own Son, Jesus, for the sake of all the rest of His children. We see in our own fathers--as through a mirror, dimly--the great goodness of the Father.

A blessed and happy Father's Day to all you dads out there--especially to my own Dad and to my grandfathers, one of whom I will meet for the first time in heaven. And Happy Father's Day to the heavenly Father. May I learn to be a father more like You in the years ahead.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sermon for 6/12/11--Whitsunday: The Feast of Pentecost (LSB 1-year)

Reposted, as I now have an audio link

Keep My Word

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

You would expect the Church to be loving, right? Well, the Church on earth, especially in our day, has done a lot of strange things in the name of “love”. To prove to the world that the Church acts out of love, many within the Church have abandoned the idea that there is a hell, a place where the unrepentant and unfaithful will dwell in torment for all of eternity. To demonstrate the love the Church is capable of, many within the Church say that Jesus acted and taught the way He did because He lived in primitive times. If Jesus was active today, they say, He would have had female disciples and pastors; after all, it was only because he lived in a woman-hating society that Jesus only had male disciples. If Jesus was preaching today, they say, He would have known that homosexuality is a genetic happenstance, not a product of sin; after all, Jesus lived in the midst of a patriarchal society that valued rugged manhood, and the world is different today. If Jesus was teaching today, they say, He would not condemn abortion; after all, Jesus was all about love and happiness, and He wouldn’t want any woman to suffer the emotional distress of an unwanted pregnancy. Some even go so far as to say that the Jesus portrayed in Scripture is really the product of those patriarchal, woman-hating apostles and evangelists and their disgraceful agenda. In the name of love, surely Jesus would be permissive; and the Church must be the same way, striving to include everyone, if we want to prove how loving we are. In reality, this so-called love which many in the Church teach today will actually love people to their death and eternal damnation.

In truth, Jesus is all about love. But Jesus had something else in mind when He taught about love. He said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.” And then He said, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words.” Instead of concentrating on the love of the world, Jesus pointed the church to the love, the holy desire for His Word: His teachings and practice, everything He had given them from His Father. Jesus made the connection for the Church between love and doctrine. But this isn’t the only place where He stressed that connection. On the mountain with the apostles, about to ascend, Jesus told them to make disciples by baptizing in the name of the Triune God and “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.

The Church does not love the world with Christ’s love by coddling it, by confirming it in sinfulness and error. Instead, the Church demonstrates the love of Christ by speaking the truth of the Word of God lovingly to a world that does not know Christ or His love. The Church loves the world by not turning a blind eye toward premarital relations or abortion or homosexuality or any other sin, but by speaking the truth that these things are sin, and sin has eternal consequences for those who do not repent before God. It is not an easy message to deliver, and it’s certainly not going to be a popular message. But in I Corinthians 13, his famous “love chapter”, the Apostle Paul wrote that love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.

How could the disciples presume to deliver such a message? How could they even begin the task of delivering the counsel of God to the world? What if they were to forget something? This is where the Holy Spirit enters the picture. The Father sends the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, and the Spirit gives understanding of what Jesus has taught. And more than that, as you heard from the Acts of the Apostles today, the Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak—giving boldness even to Peter, who had denied Jesus less than two months earlier. On that first Pentecost, Peter confessed Christ boldly, saying, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” And when his hearers asked him what they should do, Peter replied, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized.” Peter received the teachings and gifts of Jesus; and by the Holy Spirit, Peter and the Apostles were made bold to confess what they had received. The Spirit inspired these men and others to record the teachings they had received from Jesus faithfully and without error. And the Spirit sustained Peter and the Apostles in those teachings and the gifts of Christ, even to martyr’s deaths.

So it is today. In Holy Baptism, where you received the Holy Spirit, you too have given the gift of faith so that you may have understanding concerning the teachings of Jesus, teachings which have been handed down to you by the Apostles through the work of that same Spirit. By the Holy Spirit, you are given the faith which clings to the promises of Jesus that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. By the Spirit you are made bold to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the One who was crucified carrying the burden of your sins, the One who rose again, bringing you to life again with Him. By the faith that is yours from the Holy Spirit, you receive this day in your mouth the very body and blood of Jesus Christ—a gift in which you receive the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

There is a beautiful prayer in your hymnal—page 308 if you want to read it yourself later—which our old hymnal called the Collect for the Word. “Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that, by patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” It is a prayer which pleases God, for in it you ask Him for what He would already so graciously give you. By the Holy Spirit, God has caused all of Holy Scripture to be written. And because He loves you, He wants you to hear that Word, to learn it, and to take it to heart, so that you can embrace and hold fast to the sure and certain hope of everlasting life. He grants you His Holy Spirit, by which you cling to everything you have received from Jesus. By that Holy Spirit, you receive boldness to confess to the world around you concerning all Jesus has said and done for you. And by that Holy Spirit, you receive the gift of the peace of Christ, a peace the world does not have and cannot give, a peace that will sustain you, even should you be called upon to die the death of a martyr for the sake of Christ. “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle them in the fire of your love. Alleluia!” 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.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

My year with LSB

In 2006, the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and Concordia Publishing House released a new hymnal: Lutheran Service Book ("LSB" from here on). I'm sure Paul McCain will correct me if my numbers are outdated, but last I'd heard, 70% of the congregations of the LCMS have purchased LSB, and over 1,000,000 (one-million, yes, that's the right number of 0s) copies of the hymnal have been purchased. Those are incredible numbers, numbers which reflect the possibility of an increase in liturgical uniformity across the Synod.

This is the fourth major hymnal the LCMS (officially or unofficially) has utilized in my lifetime. I've used all four for significant periods of time. The Lutheran Hymnal ("TLH") from 1941 is the hymnal I've used most. My home church used TLH until I was 8, and all of my congregations previous to this one used TLH nearly exclusively. My home congregation adoped Lutheran Worship ("LW") right away in 1982, and it was the main hymnal I used until I reached seminary. The sem had LW, and my field work congregation for the first two years of sem had and used both TLH and Lutheran Book of Worship ("LBW"), the hymnal released in 1978, which the LCMS worked on with what is now the ELCA but then did not adopt. (Many congregations in the LCMS, however, anticipating that adoption, pre-ordered LBW and used it.) Using four different hymnals has certainly broadened my horizons, and it has given me a strange perspective on each.

For much of these first five years since the release of LSB, I was not a parish pastor. Though most of the congregations for which I was a guest preacher made the move to LSB during my time in Louisiana, it takes a period of constant use to get a real feel for a hymnal. Last year, Pastor Will Weedon made a post on his excellent blog (a blog I highly recommend, by the way) in praise of one of the hymns they had used in the divine service that day. We'd used the same hymn that day, and I'd made a comment about how angry I was that the text of the hymn had changed from the hymnals I was used to. As you can read in the comments on that post, Pastor Weedon, the liturgist at my Installation here at St. Peter, Campbell Hill, allowed me "ONE YEAR of grousing". He then told me that I must cease and desist at the one-year anniversary of my Installation.

I've been pretty busy the past month since right before that anniversary, so I hadn't had the time yet to formulate my one last grouse. But since that discussion on Pastor Weedon's blog took place in July of last year, I'm between the anniversary of my Installation and the anniversary of that blog post. And I promise not to grouse--at least on my blog, anyway--about LSB after this post is . . . well, posted.

That's the background of this post. All that being said, here's the beef.

General Comments, good and bad

  • Unlike its immediate predecessors, TLH and LW, LSB does not include the Collects for each Sunday. I'm sure that space was a consideration in that decision, but it makes LSB into a 3-resource book (hymnal, Bible, agenda/lectionary/Propers book) for devotional use instead of a two-resource book (hymnal, Bible).
  • The Psalter, while more complete than those contained in either TLH or LW, is still incomplete. This was not the decision of the committee.
  • The Psalter comes before the orders of worship. Having grown up with both TLH and LW (and also LBW for a time), I've seen it both ways. My personal preference is for the orders of worship to come first, but it's not a deal breaker. Having the Psalter first makes it easier to find the psalm you're looking for . . . as long as that particular psalm is in the hymnal, of course.
  • Again, this is a nit-picky point, but Divine Service Setting 3 in LSB should probably be Divine Service (DS) Setting 1. This is the service that was p.15 in TLH and was DS1 in LW, so it would have made sense to keep it as DS1 in LSB. It's an easy enough adjustment to make, but for the first month or so, it was a distraction.
  • The music of the Litany should be in the Pew Edition of LSB. It was in the hymn section of TLH and it was its own order in LW. Not having it in the pew edition of LSB weakens the hymnal, even if it's included in the Lutheran Service Builder software. On a happier note, the musical setting of the Litany was made available online for free, so it's available even to those who don't have the software, but it would have been better to have it in the hymnal itself.
  • Instead of burying the Small Catechism in the middle of the hymnal (p.321), it could have been placed in the very back or very near the front, making the hymnal more friendly for catechesis.
  • Though space was already at a premium, it would have been nice to have the Augsburg Confession in the hymnal. But that's just a personal dream. I liked seeing it in Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary used by the Evanelical Lutheran Synod. (Of course, that hymnal has its own problems, but that's another matter entirely.)
  • I appreciate the inclusion of the wedding and funeral liturgies in LSB, as they were in LW. That was a strike against TLH. Also a great addition over TLH is the inclusion of the Rite of Individual Confession and Forgiveness!
  • I know this was not the fault of the hymnal committee, but the response in the Salutation should never be "And also with you"; instead it should always be, "And with your/thy spirit".
  • Though I will list some specific instances (though not all), let me say here that some of the textual changes from TLH and LW to LSB were quite unnecessary.  I've been reading, singing, and worshiping with the old versions for over 30 years and teaching the old versions for over 10. Many of my members had used TLH most or all of their lives before switching to LSB. The changes in hymns and liturgies that have been memorized for 50 or more years can be a huge distraction, and I have members who will just stop singing altogether when the hymn isn't how they remember it. What Luther said in the Preface to the Small Catechism about Bible translations should also stand for translations of the Catechism and the hymnal: pick one and stick with it! (I won't list all the unnecessary changes made in LSB, as I don't want to be here until my second anniversary here.)

Hymnody Issues
  • LSB 333--Once He Came in Blessing: vv.2-3 are original to LSB. v.4 is an alteration of Winkworth's translation. The old version (TLH/LW) deals more with justification, conversion, repentance; LSB is more Sacrament of the Altar. The LSB version is good, but this was an unnecessary change.
  • LSB 343--Prepare the Royal Highway: "O blest is He that came/ in God the Father's name" flows better than "Hosanna to the Lord/ For He fulfills God's Word". (Yes, I talk about flow. No, I'm not a "New Age hippie".)
  • LSB 362--O Sing of Christ: The text and tune are not well-matched. It fits the meter, but it's forced. I have the same problem with a number of the many Starke-penned hymns. As a text-writer myself, I know this is a struggle.
  • LSB 372--O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is: This new tune to a hymn found in TLH does not have the accompaniment with it in the pew edition. Though the tune was introduced in Hymnal Supplement 98, a new tune to an old hymn should have the accompaniment, especially when it doesn't take up that much more space.
  • LSB 383--A Great and Mighty Wonder: This is one of my favorite hymns, and it is a classic. The unnecessary changes are exacerbated by the fact that it had already been changed between TLH and LW. If you can't teach what "for aye" means, at least settle on a substitute! And the refrain is just horrible. Since the text is in the public domain, this will always be sung from a bulletin insert.
  • LSB 394--Songs of Thankfulness and Praise: I appreciate the re-introduction of TLH's v.4, which were not included in LW. (And you thought this was going to be all bad, eh?)
  • LSB 455--The Royal Banners Forward Go: TLH offers the tune Vexilla Regis. LW offers both Vexilla Regis and Herr Jesu Christ, Wahr Mensch Und Gott. (I REALLY liked using those two tunes antiphonally!) LSB gives Vexilla Regis Nova, a debasing of Vexilla Regis
  • LSB 615--When in the Hour of Deepest Need: A classic that should not have been changed. Oh, and in v.5 of LSB/v.6 of TLH, should the Lord hide His face or not?
  • LSB 672--Jerusalem the Golden: Nit-picky changes that should never have been made to a classic.
  • LSB 685--Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus: same as above.
  • LSB 700--Love Divine, All Love(s) Excelling: Title change from TLH and LW, but I do like that the tune Hyfrydol is given instead of TLH's O du Liebe.
  • LSB 708--Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart: The changes in Herzlich Lieb actually make it easier to sing this hymn than it was in TLH. Kudos!
  • LSB 766--Our Father, Who from Heaven Above: Why is this further altered? As a catechetical hymn, it's so hard to use it for catechesis when it changes from one generation to the next.
  • LSB 837--Lift High the Cross: I'm probably the only person in the world who thought this hymn was too long at 5 verses, and LSB adds a sixth. But that's just me.
  • LSB 851--Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us: The removal of TLH's v.4 is a shame.
  • LSB 878--Abide with Me: I will miss the 4 extra verses from TLH, but they chose the best 6.
  • LSB 940--Holy God, We Praise Thy Name: Though all seven verses appear neither in TLH or LW, I would have loved to have seen all seven appear in LSB to make the Te Deum Laudamus complete.
  • LSB 954--We All Believe in One True God: Like LSB 766, the modernization of a classic Luther catechetical hymn is frustrating.

Hymns Missing from LSB

Pastor Rick Stuckwisch on his excellent blog (another one I highly recommend) made a list of hymns that should be included. I don't agree with every decision, but markedly missing from LSB is a great deal of Paul Gerhardt. In addition to the Gerhardt, my not-fully-fleshed list includes:
  • Day of Wrath, O Day of Mourning (TLH 607)
  • O Jesus, King of Glory (TLH 130)
  • O Perfect Love (TLH 623)

Notice that none of my hymns are on that list.

Hymns that SHOULD BE Missing from LSB

Pastor Rick Stuckwisch also made a list of hymns that should never have appeared in LSB. I agree with about 90% of his lists. My list (mostly matters of trite texts or contemporary Christian crap included for contemporary worship proponents who wouldn't be using the hymnal anyway) includes (but is not limited to):
  • About 95% of Stephen Starke's hymns: Nothing personal, but the numerous bad marriages of text and tune are VERY distracting.
  • Anything Taize: To quote Mark Schlamann, "Don't taize me, bro!"
  • LSB 411--I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light: Me, me, me, I, I, I.
  • LSB 456--Were You There: Trite, doesn't really say anything.
  • LSB 474--Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen: Horrible marriage of text and tune.
  • LSB 477--Alleluia, Alleluia! Hearts to Heaven: Enough with the Ode to Joy remakes!
  • LSB 479--Christ is Risen, Christ Is Living: A good Spanish hymn that isn't quite as good in English.
  • LSB 502--Holy Spirit, the Dove Sent from Heaven: Same thing.
  • LSB 550--Lamb of God: Twila Paris? Really?
  • LSB 595--O Blessed Spring: The mental associations with "The Water Is Wide" are too much for me.
  • LSB 605--Father Welcomes: Trite.
  • LSB 669--Come, We That Love the Lord: Watts has other, better stuff.
  • LSB 721--Lead Me, Guide Me: Blah. (And yes, I say the same thing about stuff I write.)
  • LSB 749--There Is a Balm in Gilead: I have no problem with African American Spirituals of themselves, but this one is . . . folksy.
  • LSB 763--When Peace, Like a River: In the interest of full disclosure, I should say right now that I've re-written this with a text of my own. There's just not enough substance to the original.
  • LSB 789--Praise and Thanksgiving: Cat Stevens associations are hard to overcome.
  • LSB 799--Alabare: The English text (beautiful, by the way) just doesn't work with the tune.
  • LSB 806--Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart: Trite.
  • LSB 808--O Sing to the Lord: Another instance where an English translation doesn't work with the tune. 
  • LSB 817--Earth and All Stars: At the risk of angering my own dear father, it seems like an attempt at combining Psalm 150 with a hymn concerning vocation, and it doesn't quite work.
  • LSB 827--Hark the Voice of Jesus Calling (take 2): Unnecessary.
  • LSB 879--Stay with Us: The pietist in me likes this hymn very much.
  • LSB 910--Now the Silence: Trainwreck-of-thought.
  • LSB 911--Lord, This Day We've Come to Worship: Sounds like a bad re-write of "Angels We Have Heard on High; and a little too much about what we do and not quite enough about what He does.
  • LSB 939--You Are God; We Praise You: If a liturgical Te Deum Laudamus was to be included in LSB, it should have been the Te Deum from LW's Matins (p.214), not the one from LBW.
  • LSB 964--Lift Every Voice and Sing: Can we get any more musical cliches in one hymn? This is like singing the Edelweiss Benediction. In fact, it sounds a bit like someone trying to plagiarize Rodgers and Hammerstein. 


All that being said, LSB is a treasure. Are there things I'd change? Obviously. Is it perfect? No. Is it a solid resource for corporate worship and personal/family devotions? Definitely. I do believe it's a step (or even two) forward from LW, though LW does have its advantages. I also believe it's a step forward from TLH, though that excellent hymnal has far outlived its intended lifespan. LSB is an excellent hymnal, and I thank God that we have it. I'll ignore or work around the warts, and I will thank God for this fine resource that will (I hope) last the rest of my life. I have no desire to learn a fifth hymnal!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Sermon for 6/5/11--Exaudi: The Seventh Sunday of Easter (LSB 1-year)

I was in the practice of posting my sermon as soon as it was written and edited. Now that I'm recording the service, I can also post a link to the audio file. So that I do not post the same sermon twice, I'll be waiting until the sermon is recorded before I post. CLICK HERE for the audio of this sermon.  (Someone let me know if it turned out okay.)

(The audio will likely be deleted once I run out of online storage space to make room for what will be more recent sermons.)

The Time Is Coming
John 15:26-16:4

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

Today is the Seventh Sunday of Easter, the Sunday After the Ascension of Our Lord. This is a day of transition for the Church. This past week we commemorated the ascension of Jesus. Next Sunday we celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit. But this Sunday is a transition in the Church calendar. Today the Church finds itself in that time between—that time when Jesus was no longer with the disciples in the way He had been with them to that point, but before the promised sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

The disciples would not be in that transition period very long. Ten days after the Ascension, the disciples would be gathered in one place, and the Holy Spirit came upon them, even as Jesus had promised them. But even then, things would not be the same for the disciples. The disciples would now be living by faith in Jesus rather than with Jesus before their eyes, and this would require a different way of living. After all, when He was with them and teaching them, He was the one who took all the heat. Nobody really paid all that much attention to the disciples. Jesus was the one with the big target painted on Him. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the High Priest all wanted Jesus on a spit in the temple court, dying for the blasphemy of claiming that He was the very Son of God. But the disciples were just the little fish; they wanted the whale.

But in their eyes, they had hit the target; they had slain the whale. In truth, Jesus had risen from the dead and had ascended into heaven. Either way, Jesus was out of their reach. But with the disciples set to take up His cause, they would be next on the list. And that’s what Jesus was preparing them for in our Gospel reading. They’d be kicked out of the synagogue. They’d become targets, and the people aiming for those targets would do so in the name of God. The perversion could go no farther than to murder God’s children in the name of God as an act of worship. Their idea of God and what He would desire of them was so distorted because they didn’t recognize God.

These things I am telling you, that you won’t be caught unawares,” He told them. They were to share with the world everything Jesus shared with them; and He promised to send the Spirit upon them from the Father so that, even knowing what was to come, they would know the truth of that message and continue to share that message, even to the point of death. “The time is coming,” He said. And as the Acts of the Apostles tells us, the time came. It all happened exactly as Jesus said it would. Each of the apostles would face ridicule and persecution; and with the exception of the Apostle John, eventually each of them would be put to death.

Unlike the disciples, we do not face the same kind of transition period between the departure of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we live in the time which Jesus foretold. The world doesn’t know God. It doesn’t understand the Christians who do know God. What the world does not understand, it fears; and what the it fears, it kills. The time has come. The time has come when you will be made to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. The time has come when clinging to God’s Word will cause some who call themselves Christians to try to remove you from the Church. The time has come when people will seek to persecute you for living according to God’s Word. The time is coming. Faithful pastors are driven from the pulpits they have been called to serve precisely for preaching faithfully. The time is coming and has come when some will even seek to kill you for your faith. Some people consider Christians to be extremists and terrorist threats. Take that to the next step: how long will it be before Christians are locked away or even put to death for belonging to a congregation that preaches Christ? The time is coming. How can we persevere?

That, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is the crux of the matter. Too often, we do not persevere. Too often we find ourselves wilting under the pressure. We look to the heavens, throw up our hands and cry out, “Why, Lord?” Too often we look at the Word of Truth and seek to hedge our bet. “Sure, I believe in Jesus, yeah . . . but I don’t think I need to be part of the Church to worship Him.” “Yes, the Bible is the Word of God . . . but that doesn’t mean God can control what I do with my body.” Too often we look at our various roles in life—parent or child, citizen, worker, or whatever it may be—and we see these as hardships rather than vocations from God. We stumble in our selfishness, unprepared for the trials that come.

This is why it’s so important that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. The spirit helps you and gives you comfort that goes from today throughout all eternity. After all, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. This Spirit descended upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He continues to come to you in the Word and in the Holy Supper, giving you that comfort, that aid, and hope for eternity. How can this be? Simply put, the Holy Spirit points you to and gives you Jesus. In the midst of sufferings and trials, sorrows and persecutions, you receive Jesus. Your problems are more than can be solved by reading self-help books or by living a morally upright life. You need a Savior. You need Jesus, and that’s exactly what the Spirit gives you.

The comfort, peace and life which Jesus gives you, things you receive by the work of the Holy Spirit, mean that the struggles you endure, the frustrations you feel, and the persecutions you face as Christians will pass away. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “I consider that the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Christ is in you and you are in Christ, and this means that these tribulations you face on earth will not endure for you. Even if you suffer persecution unto death for the sake of your faith, this will not be the end for you. Heaven awaits you. Jesus has ascended, going before you to prepare a place for you; and He sent the Spirit so that you will be comforted and have the faith to endure.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, today we rejoice in two things. First, we rejoice that Jesus ascended into heaven. And second, we rejoice that He did not leave us to fend for ourselves, but instead sent His Holy Spirit to comfort us and give us peace. We are not alone. Christ is still present with you; and the Holy Spirit has come to you so that you believe, even though you cannot see. Thanks be to God! For even though the time is coming and, indeed, has come, by God’s grace you will endure. 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, June 02, 2011

When the going gets tough . . .

. . . the tough call the chaplain.

One of the things about being a pastor that is simultaneously invigorating and frustrating is that he's often called upon to interact with people at the lowest points in their lives: illness, suffering, destruction, and death. On the one hand, he's doing what he's been Called by God to do, and that keeps a pastor moving when it seems like the meetings are endless and the busy work becomes a heap on his desk. On the other hand, a pastor worth his salt tends to get emotionally involved with those he serves, and that can be draining when it's his constant diet.

Pastor Dean Kavouras of Cleveland, Ohio, is very good at walking that ever-so-thin line straddled by service and sanity. He served those who sifted through the remains of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He serves as a chaplain for the FBI and for Cleveland Emergency Services. And He is also a faithful Lutheran pastor to a congregation. Yesterday he sent out what he calls a "Chaplain Field Report" in which he recounts a situation and the pastoral care he offered to those involved in that situation. This is, at times, what it is to be a pastor.

I warn you, the event recorded in this report may disturb you.
Chaplain Field Report
Cleveland, Ohio
June 1, 2011

Dear Friends:

The weather turned beautiful in Cleveland today, from a wintry/spring to instant summer.  But the devil also came to Cleveland on this fine day to offset its wonder with full strength dose of evil.  A 31 year old man went to the home of his lady friend and attempted to murder her 10 year old daughter by cutting her throat, and did murder her 5 year old son in the same manner.  The injured girl ran down the street to the nursing home where her mother is employed, and people there called the police.  When police arrived the suspect exited the house with a steak knife in his hand, refused all commands to drop the knife, and charged the officers.  All three discharged their weapons and stopped the suspect who was grievously wounded but is still alive at this time.

The event occurred in Cleveland, but at the last house before the Warrensville Heights border.  WHPD arrived first and did the shooting.  Cleveland police arrived shortly thereafter and so did WHFD, CFD and CEMS.  Because the incident occurred in Cleveland our crime scene unit processed the scene and all involved were understandably distraught.

For my part, I positioned myself in the driveway and spoke with individual officers as they took short breaks, and provided the presence of God via the Office of the pastor.  This brought comfort and the eternal perspective to a scene that desperately cried out to heaven for it.  There was no gallows humor today as there often is at crime scenes.  Instead I listened to people's reflections and gave theological answers and quotes from Scripture in reply.  The general message was that as dark as this situation is, death and the devil have been defeated by Jesus who entered into gruesome death for our sins, and rose again; also that at the end of the day God will sort it all out for us, but until then we will do the work He has given us to do, and lean on Him for comfort and strength at all times and in all places.

Once the process was complete and everyone was ready to leave I asked if anyone would like to gather for prayer.  There was no hesitation. We gathered on the sidewalk in front of the house.  I read the 23rd Psalm "yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and they staff they comfort me."  I also read from St. John's Gospel "Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid, you believe in God believe also in me...peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."  I then prayed a spontaneous prayer taking in all the concerns that people had voiced.  We all joined the the Lord's Prayer and I gave the benediction.  As I spoke the final amen there was a brief silence and then one officer quipped with a smile: I hope the ACLU doesn't get a copy of this.  The humor was a good sign!

We said our good bye's and from there I went to the WH police station to see if I could be of any assistance to officers there since not all departments have a chaplain.  I spoke with the lieutenant on duty and he filled me in on the situation and condition of his people.  I then asked him where the fire station was since they, too, were knee deep in this incident.  He walked me to the next part of the complex which houses the fire department and met briefly with some of the personnel and heard more of the story from their perspective.  Since a Critical Incident Stress diffusing was scheduled to start soon I left, but on the way out I noticed several people from CEMS who were there early for the diffusing.  I spoke with them, listened to their story and had prayers for them.

From that horrific scene I came home to my 61st birthday party with all my kids and grandkids in attendance and we had a wonderful evening!  My wife, St. Barbara, planned it all out and the kids pitched in to help.  We began the meal by singing "Jerusalem The Golden," one of my favorite hymns and just what the doctor ordered. My son Theo played the piano and all the voices joined in, it was the perfect balm for such a day.  Tomorrow I will follow up with a few people and await the next call.

Thank you for reading.

Rev. Dean Kavouras, Chaplain
Cleveland Emergency Services
FBI - Cleveland Division

We do a disservice to our public servants who put their lives in danger day after day if we ignore the trauma they experience in dire situations, whether or not they themselves experience physical injury. Their service in explosive situations takes its toll on them, just as much as it does on those who are the victims of fires or violence or terrorism. Thanks be to God for men like Chaplain Kavouras whom God has equipped to bring the Word to bear for their sake. (And thanks be to God for the family that helps to sustain the chaplain when he comes home!)

I want to be Pastor Kavouras when I grow up.