Thursday, October 29, 2009

In memory of Paul Manz (1919-2009)

Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein . . .

Without question, the most beautiful piece of music I ever performed during my time in the Festival Choir and Tour Choir at Concordia College in Bronxville, New York was "E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come" by Paul Manz. I've posted about this piece before, so I won't tell the story of the piece again. Suffice it to say, this music touches me profoundly. It is a rich melding of text and music. Despite the fact that the prayer will have already been answered, I fully expect to be singing this in heaven with choirs of angels, with all the heavenly host.

It was with sadness that I heard today that Paul Manz had been called to his heavenly rest. Though I never met the man and knew him only through his music, that music had such a profound impact on my life that his death makes me sorrowful in the knowledge that his days of earthly composition are complete.

In honor of the glory he ascribed to God through his life and music, and in his memory, I have written a hymn which deals with the same general text. This hymn would be appropriate for the Sunday of the Fulfillment (or whatever it's called these days). Though my work pales (at best) in comparison to his, I hope in some small way to honor him here.

Rest in peace, my brother in Christ. Thank you.

Lord Jesus, Quickly Come

1. Lord Jesus, quickly come--
The Christ by all adored,
Who is, who was, who is to come,
Who lives forevermore.

2. He is the First, the Last,
Beginning and the End,
The One whom all tongues shall confess,
Before whom all knees bend.

3. His eyes, a flame of fire;
His name: the Word of God.
He strikes the nations with His sword
And rules with iron rod.

4. He holds within His hand
The keys of hell and death.
Yet Christ will dwell with all who live
And overcome by faith.

5. And He shall dwell with them
In Zion, city fair.
No pain or sorrow, no more tears,
And death has no place there.

6. "Lo, I am coming soon!"
Thus says th'Almighty Son.
We with the Bride and Spirit pray,
"Amen! Lord Jesus, come!"

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
Suggested Tune: St. Thomas (LSB 331)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Since I can't think about theology all the time . . .

I wrote this to take a gentle swat at my wife, who finds Derek Jeter to be . . . overrated. Actually, that's probably nicer than she'd put it. She thinks they talk about him way too much, and she mocks sportscasters and their Jeter love, saying, "That Jeter. He's such a leader." If she so chooses, I'll let her say all this in her own words. But since I'm a huge Yankees fan, I felt it appropriate to share this as the Yankees attempt to win their 27th World Series. (Rough start, eh?) Anyway, here it is.

Dedicated to my wife.

Derek "the Captain" Jeter
(tune of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer")

You know Damon, Teixeira, Rodriguez, Posada-
Cano and Matsui, Nick Swisher, Cabrera.
But do you recall
The most famous Yankee of all?

Derek "the Captain" Jeter
Swings a very lively bat.
Fielding or stealing bases,
He moves like a jungle cat.
All of the "Red Sox Nation"
Used to boo and call him names.
They never thought poor Jeter
Could win those important games.

Then one late October Eve,
Torre came to say,
"Derek, from the leadoff spot,
Hit us a tape measure shot!"

Then all New York fans loved him,
And they named him M-V-P.
"Jeter, you're such a leader-
You've made Yankees history!"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brandon, Mississippi

This past weekend I took a trip up to Brandon, Mississippi, where I had been invited by Pastor Rick Sawyer of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Pastor Sawyer was heading off to speak in Missouri, and he wanted to leave his congregation in good hands. For some strange reason, he chose mine. Even so, things went well. The Word was preached. The people received the Word of Holy Absolution and the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.

I knew that the congregation had done a bunch of work in the chancel area, and I knew it would be good. The chancel before had been . . . plain. It was functional, and there was no doubt that it served well.

This is the old altar with Deaconess Emily Carder (from whose blog this picture was taken) standing behind the baptismal font. As you can see, it's by no means ugly. I would have no qualms about serving in a church with this altar. I've served at numerous churches with all sorts of altars, including portable ones, and each of them demonstrates the presence of God in the midst of his people.

But through the labors of congregation members, the chancel was transformed. Many hundreds of hours of labor went into this project, and what emerged is just breathtaking.

Above is the view from the rear of the nave.

Pictured here is the chancel area. The font stands at the forefront. To the left is the lectionary book, covered with the appropriate seasonal color. The altar stands at the center, faced with icons. To the right is the lavabo, the tray for the individual cups, and what I believe was anointing oil, though I did not check. Behind the altar is a processional crucifix, torches, and a fixed wood cross.

Close up views follow:
The altar

The lectionary book

The lavabo with thurible in front

More beautiful than this gorgeous sanctuary, however, was the love I received from the people of Good Shepherd. I again stayed with a wonderful couple, Rob and Anita McArty, who welcomed me into their home, put up with my LSU fandom, and fed me as always with wonderful fare. The members of Good Shepherd greeted me with appreciation for bringing the Word and the Gifts of God to them. They told me their stories, plied me with orange juice, and laughed tolerantly as I passed around pictures of my children.

Every opportunity I'm given to preach is a blessing and a privilege, and I again thank Pastor Sawyer and the people of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Brandon, Mississippi, for inviting me in and making me feel at home. If you're ever in the area (just outside of Jackson), don't hesitate to stop in and receive the gifts of God with His people in this beautiful area of Mississippi.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sermon for 10/26/09 -- Twentieth Sunday After Trinity (1-year LSB)

I will be preaching this sermon on Sunday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brandon, Mississippi. This is the congregation that produces the high quality Vox Visuals DVDs. It's been my privilege and pleasure to fill in for Pastor Sawyer in the past, and I'm looking forward to my time there this weekend. A wonderful couple from the congregation has put me up every time I've visited Good Shepherd, and the congregation has always welcomed me warmly. I pray the congregation at Good Shepherd will be as blessed this weekend as I will be through them.

The Wedding Banquet

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

The parable we heard this morning is the last one Jesus told, and appropriately so. It is about the consummation of the kingdom, when the King of kings and Lord of lords will set before His people a feast of His love and joy, a feast which will be theirs eternally.

How do we respond when we have been invited to participate in some grand event, with all of the festivities, all of the wonderful food, and everything that is a part of some great occasion? At least, how should we respond? If we are not invited, we can become pretty despondent. It is hard to stand aside and watch others having all of the fun. If we are invited, of course we will accept the invitation, with gratitude and excitement and anticipation! And yet, that was just how God’s people had not responded.

Keep in mind that this feast was not just any feast. It was a marriage feast, and a royal one, at that. It was a feast given by the king for his son, the prince. It was a feast to end all feasts. To be invited to it was a mark of profound privilege; to reject such an invitation was an offense like no other.

The marriage imagery is one of Scripture’s richest and most beautiful pictures of the relationship between God and His people. It is expressed frequently in the New Testament as an image of the “marriage”, if you will, between Christ and His Church. We see this as early as Jesus’ miracle at the Wedding at Cana. But, this was also a picture not unknown to the Old Testament. Now and again, the prophets would speak of God as the “husband” of His people, which meant, of course, that they were like a “bride” to Him. He would love them and care for them and provide for them, and they were to honor and love Him in return. And when they would not, it was as if they were committing adultery; evil, treacherous, destructive, and even self-destructive. And that is how this text finds Israel. She has had the invitation for years, but has made one excuse after the other to justify her spiritual adultery. The succession of servants sent by the king with his invitation have been met with anger and spite; they were treated shamefully, and some were even killed. Finally, the patience of the king ran its course. Angrily, he sent his troops to kill those who had murdered his servants, and then burned their cities to the ground.

The meaning was plain for those who would see it. Jesus, Himself, was their last invitation. If they rejected Him, they would suffer the consequences of that rejection. To spurn the personal invitation of the king, delivered by his son, would be the height of arrogance. There would be no more invitations.

It’s easy for us to look at this parable in a detached sort of way. After all, we are those who were out on the thoroughfares, as the parable describes it, those in the streets to whom the king sent his servants with the invitation. The feast was all prepared, but there was no one to enjoy it; no one to share the king’s joy in the marriage of his son. That is where we come in. The invitation has gone out to others. They are called the Church, literally, the “called-out ones,” those whom the king has called to fill up His banquet hall. But, are we not faced with the same danger that overcame those who were first given the invitation? Don’t we find excuses to turn a deaf ear to the king when he calls out to us? Don’t we find it too easy to neglect that invitation that is always new and always fresh with its promise of the king’s blessing?

Neglect is the key thought here. Now, consider the man who tried to “crash the party” without the appropriate wedding garment. Today, entrance to a great feast would be gained by means of an engraved invitation, most likely. Perhaps it might be that you would need to purchase a ticket, like for Michael Jackson’s funeral. In this instance, the king gave to each one invited a garment that would be instantly identifiable as his; there would be found his name or his mark, something which would set his garments off from all others.

And that is just what we have been given. We have been “clothed with Christ”, St. Paul said. His reference was to Holy Baptism. In Holy Baptism we have been named with His name. We are unmistakably identified with our Lord Jesus Christ, set apart by Him for a life that is eternal. But, what happens all too often is that Baptismal faith is not fed and nourished. It is not sustained with the Word of God and prayer, and thus withers up and dies like a branch that is severed from the vine. And only because of neglect, only from taking for granted the king’s invitation, not taking seriously his wish to bring us and to keep us at his eternal feast.

Does this, in any way, describe where you are at this moment? Is it possible that, though you may be here frequently, still you have, in truth, neglected the invitation of the Lord to enjoy His eternal feast? There is one above all, and that is the feast our Lord spreads at His table for us, the blessed meal of His holy body and blood, a “foretaste of the feast divine,” as it sometimes called. And that it surely is! As we will confess in the liturgy a bit later, it is that point at which we join with angels and arch-angels and the whole company of heaven. It is a preview of the marriage feast of the Lamb, as the Book of Revelation tells us: “‘Let us rejoice and exult and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure…’ And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’”

If you have neglected this invitation, here is where to make amends. The wedding garment you were given in Holy Baptism still bears His name. It is still the guarantee of your entrance to the eternal feast. As you have confessed your sins this day and have received the Lord’s word of absolution, come and partake of the very body and blood of the Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world. Even now He prepares that eternal feast of His love and joy for you, and you are an invited and welcome guest at His table. 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, October 22, 2009

Ten Commandments for Mid-level Management

1. Thou shalt always cover thy posterior, that it may be well with thee and thou mayest have continual employment.
2. Remember thou the Golden Rule: He who directeth the gold, maketh the rules.
3. Remember: Thou shalt never have the gold.
4. Remember: He who hesitateth is lost.
5. Thou shalt treat thine employees fairly and with compassion, remembering that thou, also, art an employee.
6. Thou shalt treat the public courteously and circumspectly, remembering that thou representest them.
7. Thou shalt maintain thy nose with neither spot nor blemish.
8. Thou shalt accomplish thy tasks in a timely manner.
9. Thou shalt consider thy words carefully.
10. Thou shalt always, always, cover thy posterior.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Four Years Later: Redux

Last week I posted about the fourth anniversary of my forced resignation. I've been a pastor for over nine years, but the last four years have been spent in what is known as "Candidate Status". Candidate Status means, in short, that a pastor is not serving in a parish, but he is able to receive and consider Calls and can serve as pulpit supply for congregations needing a fill-in pastor. According to the by-laws of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, a pastor can stay on Candidate Status for four years. My four years are up. Nonetheless, I still greatly desire to return to parish ministry.

I received the following message from the Southern District secretary on Friday:

Your status as Candidate ends this month as it marks your fourth year on this status. Our office will be changing your status to Non-Candidate. This will not impede your availability for a call. You can stay on Non-Candidate status for eight years.

This verifies an earlier message I received from President Schultz of the Southern District:

When your status expires you will move automatically to Inactive Candidate Status unless you indicate otherwise. You can remain on this for another 8 years. I will continue to circulate your information for call.

These messages are somewhat comforting. I'd been told by then-President Bergen that I could remain on Candidate Status for four years, but if I went to non-Candidate status, I would be unable to receive a Call. I've worried about that.

I may have good reason to be worried about that. Looking at a Q&A on the LCMS website (see point 5) I read the following:

Non-candidate CRM pastors, who only wish to remain on the roster of the Synod but are not interested in a call at the present time, may remain on the roster as non-candidate CRM for eight years, renewable once.

I believe my district president when he tells me that I am still eligible to receive Calls on non-Candidate status. The Handbook is not really all that clear about the Call eligibility of non-Candidate pastors (look on page 57 of your copy of the 2007 Handbook and see for yourself), so I can only trust the interpretation of my ecclesiastical supervisor.

Nonetheless, if I seem confused about where I stand, it's because I am.

Incidentally, this is post 100 on this blog. I would like to thank all of you who read this blog. Whether you post comments or not, the fact that people find this blog to be of interest is a source of constant amazement to me. Of course, if you're here because it resembles a train wreck and you can't help but look, I can understand that, too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Four Years Later

For many in America, October 12 is a day to celebrate—or to rail against—Columbus Day. For my Canadian friends (and, I suppose, those people in Canada who I don't know or with whom I do not share friendship), today is Thanksgiving Day.

For me, October 12 marks the anniversary of what was probably the worst day in my life. Four years ago today, the leaders of the congregation I was serving in Ohio demanded my resignation as the Associate Pastor of their congregation. I've told the story here before, and I don't need to repeat the whole sordid tale here.

So . . . yeah. It's been four years now since I've been a parish pastor. It's not easy, knowing that you're Called to do something and to be unable to do it. Oh, I've preached and taught Bible study all over Louisiana and beyond. I've officiated at three funerals. I've even been blessed to baptize three beautiful children, two of whom are my own. Every chance I'm given to do these things is a blessing. But the difference being a parish pastor and being a pastor who only occasionally gets to be a pastor is extremely frustrating. I've been trained and Called to preach the Gospel, to administer the Sacraments, to serve God's people as an undershepherd. What God has given me to bring to His people is the greatest Good News, and not being able to do what I've been Called to do is a terrible burden to bear. It's been four years, and there's no way to say when—or even if—I'll be a parish pastor again. God willing, it will happen soon. God willing, it will happen. I have no ambition but to serve God by preaching the Word to His people and faithfully administering the Sacraments.

I always thought that guys who end up on CRM status—the abbreviation for "candidatus reverendi ministerii," or, "candidate for the holy ministry"—ended up there because they did something terrible. They cheated on their wives. They taught false doctrine. They stole money from the congregation. But that's not usually the case. Oh, those guys exist. But more often, someone in a position to "make things happen" in a congregation decides they don't like the way a pastor preaches or teaches or keeps his schedule or what he stands for, and they convince those around them that the pastor must go. I am not without guilt in my own situation, but the majority of the men I've met who have been forced to resign from their congregations, many of whom I've had contact with. have been forced to resign merely for doing what they do: preaching the Gospel in its purity, teaching the Word of God instead of popular ideas, and loving people with God's love. These men vow to do these things, and they are treated shamefully for doing what they have been Called to do by the very people for whom they have been Called to do it.

The world needs what these other men and I have been Called to bring. God grant that we all be given a place to being faithful servants of God and faithful undershepherds to His people.