Monday, February 25, 2013

Newsletter Article: Hymns Teach the Faith

One of the great blessings which the Lord has provided to the Church is her rich collection of hymnody. Pastor Steven Starke, who helped assemble Lutheran Service Book (LSB), writes, “A hymn is a combination of dogma (theology) and doxa (praise) for worshipers to sing in a corporate setting.” In other words, hymns take the Word of God and put it into a form to be sung. For nearly two-thousand years the Church has been assembling hymns to the glory of God in the name of Jesus. If you flip through the pages of Lutheran Service Book, you will, for example, see hymns from approximately two-hundred years after the birth of Jesus (LSB 864: “Shepherd of Tender Youth”), 400 AD (LSB 384: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”), 800 AD (LSB 442: “All Glory, Laud and Honor”), 1100 AD (LSB 554: “O Jesus, King Most Wonderful”), 1500 (LSB 656: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”), and even from men and women who are alive today (LSB 624: “The Infant Priest Was Holy Born”). This collection of hymns grows daily. If all you do is consider the more than 600 hymns in our current hymnal and compare that collection with the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH), you can’t help but notice that some hymns that were in the old hymnal are not in the new hymnal (TLH 607: “Day of Wrath, O Day of Mourning”), and some of hymns from the new hymnal, though written hundreds of years ago, weren’t included in the old hymnal (LSB 594: “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It”, which wasn’t even translated into English until after TLH was released)—and indeed, some of the hymns in the new hymnal weren’t even written when the old hymnal was assembled. This collection of hymns comes from Christians of every time and place, and it will continue to grow as long as long as there is one Christian who wishes to sing praise to God.

It was my privilege to attend a recent conference for the writers of hymns. Dr. Joseph Herl, a professor at Concordia University, Nebraska, opened his presentation by asking, “How many of you remember a sermon you heard when you were a child?” None of us raised our hands. Then he asked, “How many of you remember any hymn you sang as a child?” Every person in the room raised a hand. The point was not to belittle the staying power of sermons. Instead the presenter was making a point about the long-term impact of hymns. Hymns are so much easier to remember than sermons. You hear a sermon, whereas you sing a hymn. You usually only hear a sermon once, whereas you sing hymns over and over again. Don’t get me wrong: it is very important to listen to the sermon. After all, “Faith comes by hearing.” But even the best of sermons are hard to remember. Hymns, on the other hand, you carry with you. The music, the marriage of music and text, and the repetition all aid in memorization. And once you’ve memorized a hymn (or anything else, for that matter), what you’ve memorized becomes part of you for the rest of your life.

That memorization becomes important for two reasons. First, do you remember that definition of a hymn? It is “a combination of dogma (theology) and doxa (praise)…” That makes hymns a valuable tool for teaching the faith. In the same way that we have our children memorize Luther’s Small Catechism so that it may grow with them throughout their lives, hymns helps take that theology and put it into language that aids memorization and understanding. Do you want to learn about the Incarnation (Jesus in the flesh)? Sing “Savior of the Nations, Come” (LSB 332, vv.2-3), in which we learn:

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.

Teaching your children about the Communion of Saints? Sing “For All the Saints” (LSB 677, vv.1,4):   

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

I could go on, but you get the point. Good hymns teach good theology. (That’s also why I am so careful in choosing hymns: bad hymns teach bad theology or no theology at all. Bad hymns give Satan a voice in the very house of God!)

That memorization also becomes important in times of trial. Martin Luther wrote in his Large Catechism, “What does it mean to have a god? Or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. … That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.” I was in a car accident in 1997. I don't remember much about that evening. But in what could be considered “the valley of the shadow of death,” when I was terrified as I rested on a gurney in an ambulance, on a day of which I remember precious little, I remember praying parts of the liturgy, including the Lord's Prayer. I remember singing “Abide With Me” and other hymns. These gifts, these treasures which so many in the Church disregard with nary a thought, took me to the feet of my Savior in the midst of tribulation. The hymns, the liturgy, tools that I had memorized, stuck with me in a dark hour.

And that’s just everyday life. What happens when the day of persecution comes? What happens when preaching the Word of God becomes a hate crime and your pastor is imprisoned for doing what you have Called him to do? During the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), Lutheran laypeople could not count on having Lutheran pastors. Every time an army passed through and took over their town, the authorities would install clergy who held to their confession of faith, whether Lutheran or Roman. This could happen several times in a year! One Lutheran pastor wrote to his congregation, “You should assemble yourselves together at arranged times with your children and domestics, consult your collections of sermons and other pure books, [let] the Word [of God] live richly among you, and let your prayers and singing of psalms sound out in consolation.” In the Soviet Union, the faithful had no faithful clergy, no churches, no Bibles, no hymnals. Even so, the Church survived and even flourished because they maintained an oral tradition of the Christian Faith.

Along with your Bible and the Catechism, your hymnal is one of the most important tools you carry with you in your life in Christ. The hymns of the Church are your songs. The faith, the Word of God they teach: this is your faith; this is the Word of God for you. The God they praise is your God. God grant that the Word, taught in Scripture, taught in the Catechism, taught in sermons, taught in the liturgy, and taught in the hymns of the Church, dwell in you richly—in good times and bad, in joy and in persecution—even unto death.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sermon for 2/24/13--Lent II

Crumbs for the Dogs

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

This Canaanite woman's daughter was possessed by a demon. The devil attacked her daughter and her family. But when the woman cried out to the Lord, He ignored her. Can you imagine? Here is the one man who can help this woman's daughter and He treats her like she doesn't exist. And if that's not frustrating or insulting enough, He then tells His disciples, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It’s as if she's not even there.

We know that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are against us, tempting us to turn from the Lord's Word and give in to sin. But what if our problem is with the Lord? What if God is the problem? We thought this woman's big problem was that he daughter was demon possessed. It seems like that's small potatoes compared to the treatment she's actually getting from the Lord! And haven't you gotten the same treatment from Him too? You pray and pray and nothing happens. It seems like the Lord is ignoring you.

So the Lord called the woman a dog. The woman falls down to beg Him to help her and He calls her a dog. A dog! I may be wrong, but I can’t imagine calling a woman a dog back then was any better than is today. “Yes, Lord,” she answers, “but even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table.” Wait—did that lady just admit to being a dog? Indeed, she must be a dog—not worthy of Jesus, not worthy of the Jewish Messiah, not deserving of anything. She has no claim on Him at all…except for one thing. She has His Word. When Jesus calls her a dog and she agrees, she's got Him! “OK, Lord, I'm a dog. Fine. But even dogs get crumbs, and crumbs from you will be enough to overthrow Satan's kingdom and save my daughter!” Jesus is trapped by His own words! Notice that this woman has claimed nothing about herself except what Jesus says of her. She’s a dog. That’s the truth. The only reason she has for Jesus to help her is Jesus Himself. She’s a dog, but He's the Master. His crumbs will be enough for her. And so Jesus does what He does: He saves her daughter. With a word, He casts out that demon and rescues this woman and her daughter from the tyranny of the Devil. And says to her: “Great is your faith.” It’s not because she's so persistent. This story isn't about the woman. It's about Jesus giving the woman something to trap Him with: His Word. She grabs a hold of it and does exactly that. And Jesus remains the Savior He came to be.

That's because Jesus came to be the kind of Savior who rescues His people from the devil. He rescues from sin and death. That's the kind of Savior He came to be, and He can't be any other kind of Savior than that one. From the earliest promises the Lord made to Adam and Eve throughout the Old Testament and the promises and pictures of the coming Savior; from His birth of the virgin to His baptism and temptation, to His casting out demons; from His arrest and mocking trial, to His scourging and crucifixion and death; from His resurrection and ascension to His future return in glory—we know from all these things that Christ is the one who saves. He is our God and Lord and Savior and Master from whose table even the crumbs save us. Jesus was not born with one purpose but then got sidetracked and ended up at the cross. The cross was always His destination, always the Father's plan. Remember that when it seems as if God isn't listening: Jesus is always Jesus, always the Savior, always the Lamb who is slain for our salvation.

What do you do as a Christian when it seems that the biggest problem you have in your life isn't the devil or the world or your sinful nature but the Lord Himself not doing anything about them? The answer is that you continue to take Christ's promises and speak them back to Him. Quit trying to negotiate with the Lord based on anything within you. Approach Him with His own promises in His Word. He has placed His name on you in Holy Baptism. That means you can approach Him as a baptized child of God. That’s the only hold on Him that you need. Like Jacob, grab a hold of Him and don't let go until He blesses you! It may seem for a time as if the Father is against you, but it can't be so. All that He does is to work out all good for you in Christ, who can only ever be the Savior that He is. Hold Him to that, dear Christians, for He delights to be trapped by His own Word and promises. His Word and those promises declare He will not leave you to your enemies; He will save you from all of them. 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, February 20, 2013

Sermon for 2/20/13--Midweek 1 (Catechism Series)

This Is Most Certainly True (Apostles' Creed)

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

The Lord was on His way to Calvary.  He traveled to Jerusalem where He was to suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes.  He went to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed, and on the third day be raised again to life.  On their way to Jerusalem, the Lord and His disciples stopped at Caesarea Philippi.  There our Lord put the rather general question to His disciples: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”  He guts a flurry of the latest religious opinions.  Some say John the Baptist.  Others say Elijah or Jeremiah or another of the prophets.  Then the Lord’s question becomes more specific as He quizzes the disciples.  “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter is quick to answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Peter confesses.  That is, he says back to the Lord what the Lord had first said to him.  We might even say that Peter’s confession there at Caesarea Philippi was the first Apostles’ Creed.  The Lord says of Peter’s creed that this was not revealed to him by flesh and blood, but by the Father in heaven.  Faith is not a product of human reason.  It is not the result of our flesh and blood, our intellect, will, or emotions.  Faith is created by the Word of God.  Paul says in Romans, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”  God’s Word alone is sure and certain.  You say back to the Lord only that which the Lord says to you in His Word.  That is why the explanation of each article of the Apostles’ Creed ends with the words, “This is most certainly true.”

The fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, was not an intellectual conclusion that Peter came eventually to embrace.  It was revealed to him by the Father in heaven.  And it was a public revelation, as at our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan River the Spirit descends on Jesus, and the voice of the Father declares, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Peter confesses that same Lord, that only-begotten Son of the Father.  We do the same we every time we confess the Creed.

Even as the First Commandment kills your false gods, the Creed proclaims and extols the true God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Luther writes, “Since the Ten Commandments have explained that we are to have no more than one God, it may be asked: ‘What kind of being is God?  What does He do?  How can we praise or portray or describe him in such a way as to make him known?’  This is taught here and in the following articles.  Thus the Creed is nothing else than a response and confession of Christians based on the First Commandment.”  You are called to proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  The Apostles’ Creed keeps your talk about God straight and clear as it repeats what God has said to you in His Word.

We live in a day and age when talk about faith is vague.  A popular song from a recent time tells us, “You gotta have faith.”  And boy, do we have faith.  It’s for sale everywhere you look.  If you aren’t living “Your Best Life Now,” you can still live “Forty Days of Purpose.”  If that isn’t enough to fill your need for faith, you can read the Koran or the writings of the Dalai Lama.  After all, don’t all roads lead to heaven?  But Christian faith is not generic belief.  Christian faith is trust in God the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit.  Faith has substance, and this substance is the true and living God.

We might paraphrase the Lord’s question to Peter: “Who do you say that this God is?”  The Apostles’ Creed answers on the basis of God’s revelation, repeating all that the Lord has given you in His name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Creed directs you to the Father Almighty who created and still sustains His universe “purely out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”  The Creed directs you to the only-begotten Son of the Father, the Son of Mary: Jesus Christ. This takes you to the beating heart of His work of redemption whereby He “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns through all eternity.”  The Creed directs you to the Holy Spirit, who has done for you what you yourself could not do: calling you to faith in Christ by the Gospel, sustaining you as a member of His Church, guarding and keeping you for the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.

Confessing this holy faith is serious business.  Listen to the sobering words of our Lord: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”  The Apostles’ Creed anchors you to the only name given under heaven by which you must be saved.  You were given that name in your Baptism, and in that name you have life and salvation.  This is most certainly true. 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, February 17, 2013

Sermon for 2/17/13--Lent I

From the Beginning

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

This morning we heard of two of the most important battles which have engaged humanity.  These two spiritual conflicts, more than anything else, define our human condition.  In both cases, Satan is the enemy man is fighting.  In the first instance man suffers a terrible defeat; the enemy’s crafty and deceptive tactics bring him an overwhelming victory.  But in the second, man wins a great victory; the devil’s attacks are fought off one by one, and Satan is routed.  In Adam, man lost the battle; in Jesus, the second Adam, the whole war has been won.  Though we are embattled and scarred by the powers of darkness, we are eternally triumphant over them through Christ our Lord.  In Him, and only in Him, do we have the victory.

The first battle took place, of course, in the Garden of Eden, where God had placed the man and the woman He had made in His own image.  Satan attacked Adam and Eve by trying to get them to become independent from God, and he succeeded.  Satan wants us to see ourselves as self-sufficient, free from any divine authority.  It was more than an attempt to entice Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit; Satan was trying to lure them into being something other than what God had created them to be.  He told them, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…”  The sin of Adam and Eve, then, was one of rebellion.  They were creatures trying to put themselves on the level of the Creator! 

Satan uses the same strategy on us.  In place of God’s Words and God’s gifts, he offers something that is supposedly better.  He lures us into thinking that we can be independent of God, self-sufficient.  He says to us, “Do your own thing!  You belong to no one else but you.  You make up your own rules.  You determine what is good and right and true for you.  You are the captain of your soul.”  Satan’s goal for you is self-help, self-importance, and self-fulfillment, all on your own terms.  His promise is that you will have unlimited potential within yourself, that you can be like God!
Satan’s promises are empty.  He is the father of lies.  He never gives, but only takes from us what is already ours. He leaves the Old Adam plundered, empty.  Trying to be like God, man has lost his humanity.  In attempting to become divine, man has become mortal; he has lost the life God created him to have and to live.  The wages of sin is death.  By causing Adam, and now us, to rebel against God, Satan has won the battle.

The war’s outcome, however, is a different matter.  As Luther said it so well:

With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the valiant One.
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?  

Jesus Christ it is,
Of Sabaoth Lord, 

And there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.

A battle with the devil may have been lost, but now, through Jesus Christ, the war has been won!  The Scriptures say, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Christ is the second Adam who came to undo the first Adam’s fall into sin, to overcome death and the power of the devil.  Jesus is the New Adam, who came to stand in for us and fight off all the devil’s attacks in our place, and conquer him decisively.

This is what we see in today’s Gospel: the decisive second battle between man and the devil, the turning point in the war.  The first Adam wants to be like God.  But, the second Adam, Jesus, who is true God, makes Himself true man.  He fully and freely submits to His heavenly Father’s will.  He does not exalt Himself to a higher position; He lowers Himself in order to serve and save mankind.  The first Adam was in a rich garden.  But Christ, the Last Adam, places Himself into a barren wasteland in order to restore men to Paradise.  He is in the wilderness in our place, engaging the enemy on our behalf.  Though Jesus is without sin, He subjects Himself to all the effects of sin—hunger and thirst, weakness and distress—in order that He might truly be one of us in His battle against Satan.  Our life is entirely in His hands!  Jesus appears to be no match for the devil, for He is there in weak human flesh, with no weapon other than the Word of God.  He fights not with human power but with the power of the living God. 

Satan thought that by crucifying Jesus he could be victorious over Him.  But it is precisely through His death that Jesus brings about Satan’s downfall.  Through the cross the Lord takes away the sin that gives Satan power over us.  Then Jesus rises to life again to break the curse of sin.  He comes forth from the grave eternally triumphant over death and Satan for you.  No longer can the devil cause you eternal harm, for you have been baptized into Christ, the conqueror of Satan.  The old serpent may still hiss and squirm, but ultimately he can only strike your heel. Christ has crushed the serpent’s head.

When you are tested and tempted, you have at your disposal the very same things Jesus had in the wilderness.  He gives you His righteousness and His salvation as a shield and armor to protect you from the blows of the evil one.  You have the sword of the Word, with which you can lop off his head.  And when you call upon the Lord Jesus, you are calling upon One who can sympathize with your weakness because He has been there, in all points tempted as you are, yet without sin.  Come therefore, boldly, before the throne of grace, that you may obtain mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need.  The Son of God has gone forth to war for us, He has entered the battle for us. And though bloody and bruised, “He holds the field forever.”  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, February 15, 2013

Sermon for 2/13/13--Ash Wednesday (Catechism Series)

A Jealous God (The Ten Commandments)

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

It never fails. As you reach for something, you accidentally knock over an open jar. The jar has liquid in it—doesn’t matter what the liquid is. Whatever it is, it’s about to run off the edge of the counter or table or whatever. You grab a towel, and just as you’re about to stop the flow, it goes over and lands in your shoes or on the newspaper or on some prized possession. You weren’t quite fast enough. Or maybe you’ve been playing a game, and all you have to do is roll the right number on the dice to get to the end and win the game. You’re one square away when your opponent rolls the number they need. You came so close, but you still failed. The scribe is like that. He is not far from the kingdom of God, but he’s not quite close enough.  The scribe’s answer shows that he knows what God wants of him: “There is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  It was a wise answer.  It shows us what the Lord wants. 
The Lord God wants every last bit of you.  God does not deal on fractions or parts.  He says, “I am the Lord your God.  You shall have no other gods before me.”  It is the burning passion of the living God to be the Lord over your life: heart, soul, mind, and strength.  For this reason, the Lord describes Himself as a “jealous God.”  True love does not exist without jealousy.  But jealousy here is not self-centered greed, but rather the desire of our loving Lord to have you to Himself.  You are His beloved, and He does not want to share you with any idol.  Israel’s forty years in the wilderness was her honeymoon with God.  There in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land, the Lord was teaching His bride Israel how to fear, love, and trust Him above all things.
Israel did not learn that lesson very well. Neither do we. Who can say that they love the Lord God with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind, and with all their strength?  Who here can say that every desire of his heart has been in complete alignment with the heart of God?  Who here can say that his soul is without the stain of disobedience to God who will one day judge the souls of all who have ever lived?  Who here can say that all his strength, all his might, all his energy has been completely directed to service and worship of the Lord alone?  No matter how much we do, no matter how close we come to these standards, we can never do enough.  God gets in us exactly what He got in Israel.  He said to Israel, “Beware, lest you forget who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”  Israel forgot the Lord and His love.  God gets exchanged for a golden calf.  We also forget the Lord and His love.  God gets exchanged for a calf of green paper, microchips, or one in the shape of our own face. And those idols turn to dust. “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.
The Law was given not only to Israel but to the whole world that every mouth might be shut and the whole world held accountable to God.  The holy commandments of our God show you your sin, your failure to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your failure to love your neighbor as yourself.  The Law of God shows you, as it did the scribe, that your best efforts, your right answers to the questions about the Law, are not enough.  It is as the Apostle James writes: “For whoever shall keep the whole law and stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”  When it comes to a holy God and His Law, what we do is never enough.
Nothing we do could ever be enough to earn a place in God’s kingdom.  But the good news is: we don’t have to.  That Kingdom is given to us by grace through faith in the King who did, in fact, actually love the Lord His God with all His heart, His soul, His mind, and His strength.  Our King is the One who was born of woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the curse of the Law.  The life He lived was sinless: not only in the fact that our Lord refrained from sinning, but also that He actively kept the whole Law of God, loving His Father with all His being and loving His neighbor as Himself.  And He did this in our place.  We see it throughout His life.  He was there in the temple as a boy of twelve years saying, “I must be about my Father’s business.”  He was there in the desert, tempted by Satan, yet overcoming each temptation with the Word of God.  And He loves His neighbor—and indeed the whole world—so much as to lay down His life on the hard wood of a Roman cross as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. 

In His cross all of your sin is answered for by His blood.  Your half-heartedness toward God is covered by the blood of God’s own Son, whose heart was filled with compassion for the sinners who did not love Him.  Your sin-stained soul is made clean by the forgiveness of sins won by this King at Calvary.  Your mind, darkened by sin and unbelief, is enlightened by the light of the glory of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Your strength is re-focused away from simple survival and self-preservation, so that you live by faith in Him who loved you and gave Himself for you.  What we do is never enough.  But because of Jesus, God speaks these words to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your lord.”  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, February 10, 2013

REVIEW: The Driving Lesson by Ben Rehder

Life Has Become Cheap

I read. A lot. I used to read two or three fantasy novels a day as a single man, and even now that I have a family I average about two-thirds of a book each day. Some of the books are better than others, and I'll reread them often. Others I read once and I set aside. Now that I have a Nook and the Kindle app for my iPhone, it doesn't bother me as much too much not to reread books, since many of the books I read these days are books which I receive free through various promotions.

I've been reading a lot of young adult literature to get into the right mindset to work on a new novel in that genre. One such book is The Driving Lesson by Ben Rehder. The book description on the Amazon site reads, "Charlie Dunbar had big plans for the summer break, but becoming a fugitive was nowhere on the list. Even more unexpected, his partner in crime is his own ailing grandfather. Now they're on the run, trying to make it across the country to see a special kind of doctor, while the world becomes mesmerized by their journey. They are the subject of heated debates on cable news channels. Thousands of people voice their support on Facebook fan pages. And Charlie's own parents appear on live TV to plead for him to come home safely. But Charlie isn't ready yet. He's determined to get his grandfather to Seattle. The only question is, will the police stop him first?"

Perhaps I retain a modicum of naivety. Perhaps I didn't want to read into that description what I now realize to be true: the "special kind of doctor" to whom Charlie Dunbar is driving his grandfather is a doctor who will assist his grandfather, diagnosed with terminal cancer, to die. This book is an apology, a defense, for physician-assisted suicide. I won't ruin the book for you if you want to read it, but in brief, Charlie, a fourteen year-old high school student, is picked up by his grandfather on the last day of school, and the grandfather has him leave Texas and drive toward the state of Washington, where physician-assisted suicide is legal. Along the way Charlie learns about relative morality, about using the media to manipulate the authorities, and about the power of social media--among other lessons.

This book is being marketed as a young adult novel. Indeed, he writes well, and the writing level in general is appropriate for his audience--not an unremarkable feat for one who is usually an adult novelist. From the perspective of the sinful world, this is an excellent defense for those who advocate "dignity in death." As one who believes that all life is sacred and that even a life of suffering is a blessing from the Lord, I might use such a book as a discussion tool with my youth group. In no way do I advocate the position put forth by the author through his character, but he states his case very well.

Sermon for 2/10/13--Quinquagesima

Opened Eyes

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

For three years, Jesus had been preparing His disciples for this day. Now the time had come. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” This all sounds very clear, doesn’t it? Jesus told the disciples exactly what was going to happen. The road to Calvary runs before them. But they couldn’t see it. They couldn’t understand. As the old saying goes, “A blind man could see it.”

How about you? You've heard it all before. Jesus suffers and dies and rises again. You hear it in every sermon. Most of you have heard it your whole lives. But do you get it? Do you understand what Jesus is saying? You can hear repeatedly that Jesus is true God and man who suffered and died and rose. And yet you still have notions in your heads that you somehow please God by what you do, or that Jesus was just a good teacher, or that it doesn't matter how you live, or that somehow you need to have a God other than the one who suffered and bled and died and rose for you. The fact is, you live as if you haven't heard it before or don't get what it means for your faith and life. As the old saying goes, “A blind man could see it.”

Well, as it happens, a blind man did see it. Jesus encountered a blind man outside Jericho. This man, when he found out it was Jesus going by, cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He's heard of Jesus. He knows who Jesus isthe Son of David, the promised Saviorand He knows Jesus can heal Him. Even when the crowds try to shush him, he just cries out louder, “Lord, have mercy!” Nothing will stop this guy from having His Jesus save him and help him. And Jesus does have mercy on this poor man. He opens his eyes and gives him his sight. You'd think now that his eyes were opened he could see Jesus for what He is and run the opposite direction. But instead he follows Jesus. The man follows Him toward suffering and death. The disciples heard Jesus over and over talking about His suffering and death and resurrection, and they don't get it. This blind man receives his sight, and he follows after Jesus, even seeing and knowing what is to come.

When it comes down to it, the only Jesus that saves you is the One who is handed over, spit upon, mocked, scourged, killed and rises again the third day. The only Savior who saves is the One who suffers and dies in your place. People don't want a seemingly weak, suffering, crucified God. But nothing else saves you from your sins. Nothing else removes from you the curse that would otherwise leave you cast out from God forever. Nothing else but the Son of God crucified for sinners will shut down the accusations of Satan against you. When Jesus tells His disciples over and over that He must suffer and die, He is teaching them what sort of a Savior He will be. And when you hear it preached over and over that Jesus suffered and died and rose, you are learning by God's Spirit to trust in no other God than the One who became man and did what it seems God should never do: die. But that's what He did for you.

So the blind man knew that Jesus could save him and so he cried out even when the crowd was against him. Do you pray like that? Do you cling to Christ like that? When you come to the Divine Service, and Christ Himself passes by in His Word and Body and Blood, are you yawning in your heart as if it is just the same old stuff? Or do you cry out with the blind man, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus does have mercy on this blind man. And He has mercy on you. You need your eyes to be opened by Jesus. And that is exactly what He did when He washed you at the font. That’s exactly what He does when absolves you of your sins, when He speaks His Word into your ears, when He gives you His Body and Blood to eat and drink. By the same Word that said to the blind man, “Receive your sight,” the Lord tells you, “Receive your sight. Your sins are forgiven.” When you come to church, you are doing exactly what the blind man does: crying out for Jesus to have mercy on us. And His answer is, “Your faith, your Jesus has saved you,” for here in His church, the Lord is opening your eyes and forgiving your sins and granting you eternal life.

Lent is coming. Ash Wednesday is this Wednesday. The Lord has opened your eyes, and you can see the road to Calvary standing before you. With your open eyes you can see that this is the time to learn to die to sin, to crucify your sinful flesh, to cling to Jesus. Lent is the time when your open eyes are fixed on Him, looking on as He goes to be handed over, mocked, spit upon, scourged, killed and to rise the third day. You've heard it countless times before, and you will hear it countless times again. With your eyes opened, behold your God. Here is your salvation. 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, February 03, 2013

2013 Reading List: January

I read a lot of books. I used to read a book or two each day. Being a parent has slowed my reading a bit, but I still read as much as I can. I have never kept track of my reading, though. Until now, that is. I made a conscious decision this year to track my reading. I'm not doing any challenges, and I haven't written any reviews. I just want to keep track of what I read. Some of these are research for novel ideas. Others were assigned for the hymnwriters conference. Still others were read to have something to read.

Anyway, here's my list for January:

  1. Zager, Daniel, ed. Hymns in the Life of the Church. Journal of the Good Shepherd Institute, Vol. 4. Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 2003.
  2. Lovelace, Austin C. The Anatomy of Hymnody. Chicago: GIA Publications, Inc., 1965.
  3. Reynolds, William J. and Price, Milburn. A Survey of Christian Hymnody. Third Edition. Carol Stream, Illinois: Hope Publishing Company, 1987.
  4. Hobbs, Eric. The Librarian—Book One: Little Lost Boy. Kindle Edition, 2011.
  5. Hobbs, Eric. The Librarian—Book Two: Unhappily Ever After. Kindle Edition, 2012.
  6. Bird, Chad L. Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing: An Apology for Lutheran Hymnody. Kewanee, Illinois: Evangelical-Lutheran Liturgical Press, 2003.
  7. Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology. “Hymnody & Confession of the Faith.” Volume III, Number 2: Eastertide/April 1994.
  8. Gregory the Great. Pastoral Care. Henry Davis, trans. Ancient Christian Writers, Volume 11. New York: Newman Press, 1978.
  9. Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works. Volume 53: Liturgy and Hymns. J.J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H.T. Lehmann, eds. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
  10.  Billington, Sarah. The Kiss Off. Self-Published Kindle edition, 2012.
  11. Jones, Jenny B. There You'll Find Me. Kindle edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011.
  12. Bourque, Stefan. My Name Is Joe. Self-Published Kindle edition, 2010.
  13. Crafton, Carrie. Snow Soldiers. Self-Published Kindle edition, 2012.
  14. Paris, Patricia. Letters to Gabriella. Glebe Point Cay series, book 2. Self-Published Kindle edition, 2012.
  15. Lutheran Theological Review. Volume 20, Academic Year 2007-2008.
  16. Burke, Rachel K. Finding Mia. Self-Published Kindle edition, 2012.
  17. Hamm, Amanda. The 4th Floor Lounge. Self-Published Kindle edition, 2012.
  18. Schalk, Carl. Praising God in Song. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1993.
  19. Schurig, Rachel. In Search of a Love Story. Self-Published Kindle edition, 2012.
  20. Springer, Kristina. The Paparazzi Project. Self-Published Kindle edition, 2012.

Sermon for 2/3/13--Sexagesima

Hearing the Word

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

The Word of God is a funny thing. In Isaiah, the Lord says His Word goes out and does the thing which He says it will do. But then Jesus says that the very same Word which saves people when it is preached is the Word that keeps people from hearing and believing. Why do some people who hear the Word of God believe it and live lives that bear fruit while others fall away? Why does one kid who gets confirmed grow up in the church while another from the same class just vanishes? Why does one person to whom pastor speaks the Word repent while another gets mad and storms off?

The Word goes forth and does what the Lord sends it to do—and not just the Word written down or preached, but Immanuel, the Word made flesh, Jesus, who came to be that seed planted in the ground in death, planted only to spring up and give life. The Word comes to do what He says: to forgive sinners by taking their place, to carry the cross and be nailed to it, to bear our sins, to die; and then to rise from the dead. Jesus Himself is the Word planted in you by preaching, watered by Holy Baptism, and nourished and fed with His own body and blood.

So why then do some receive it and some don’t? All we know for certain is that Jesus says it will be that way. We ought to immediately recognize the things that keep the Word from bearing fruit. The birds are the devil; he comes and snatches away faith. The sun that withers the seed on the rock is temptation. The thorns that choke the plant are the cares and riches of the world. The devil, the world, and your sinful flesh are unholy enemies who seek to destroy your faith in Christ.

What is preached in church and what is given to you in the Scriptures is not just facts, history, and details. It is the living Word of God which has the power to forgive your sins and make you right with Him. It is the life-giving Word that gives you strength and, as it did to St. Paul, gives you grace in your weakness. Your sin is that you doubt its power and treat it as mere facts. Repent of thinking of the Word as just one more thing you need to cram into your head. Instead learn to rejoice that the Word of God is a holy and precious treasure that is more valuable than anything you think is important. The Word of God gives life. Don’t despise it. Don’t fear it. Learn it! Pay attention to it in the sermon. Read it every day. Join your brothers and sisters learning their Catechism and studying and growing in God’s Word. Cry out for that Word in your eyes, in your ears, in your mouth!

That’s Christ’s promise to you today. His promise is what He has said to His disciples: “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.” To you has been given the Word which does what it says. The Word forgives your sins. It declares death cannot have you. It promises eternal life. It is that Word, given in preaching and teaching and with the water and body and blood, which Jesus plants in you to make you bring forth a crop of good works that glorify Him and serve others around you. Where the world says the Word is just more information to be learned once and forgotten, the Lord promises that His Word actually gives you life. Live in that Word. After all, that Word is Jesus, and He always accomplishes what He says—namely, your salvation and everlasting life. Where God’s people are, that’s where His Word is, and He always keeps His promises. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!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.