Tuesday, July 29, 2014

HYMN: Saints of God, the Devil, Prowling

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

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

Saints of God, the Devil, Prowling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

∆ 8. Saints of God who live hereunder,

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

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sermon for 7/20/14--Trinity V

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


Fish in the Net

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

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



Man's Wish or God's Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sermon for 7/13/14--Trinity IV




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Good Reviews for "Lutheran Purgatory"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

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

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

Making the Case for Classical Christian Hymnody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

+ The Reverend Klemet I. Preus +

With my 500th blog post, I'm sad to share that I received word today that the Reverend Klemet I. Preus, Pastor of Glory of Christ Lutheran Church in Plymouth, Minnesota, has been called home today by the Lord to rest from his labors. I pray that the peace of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit would be with his family, friends, and congregation. God is faithful; He will surely do it.

For some of my readers, undoubtedly the first thing you might be thinking is, "Who is Klemet Preus?" That's understandable, even for life-long Lutherans. In the "Six Degrees of Separation of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod," undoubtedly most life-long Lutherans have heard the name of "Preus" at some point. J.A.O. Preus was President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, and Jacob's brother Robert was President of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Robert was Klemet's father, and Jacob his uncle. The Preus family is rather large, and many in the family have chosen to serve the Church in an official capacity, so coming across the name should come as no surprise. Yet even though we are all connected, among the over-2 million LCMS Lutherans, of course we will find strangers. And as Klemet never sought glory for himself, his own name might not raise an immediate flag of recognition.

Pastor Preus was a bold preacher of the Gospel of the incarnate Christ. This was never more apparent than in the days when death drew near. The Reverend Matthew Harrison, President of the LCMS, shared an account of a visit he made with Pastor Preus in hospice:

We spent the day with Rev. Klemet Preus and Janet at the hospice where Klemet is spending his last days on this earth. I have never been so encouraged and strengthened as I was spending that day with Klemet. He is singularly focused on Christ and the gift of eternal life. He is singularly focused on sharing Christ and his hope with others. He is physically incapacitated having suffered a debilitating stroke. His right shoulder is fractured due to the weakening caused by cancer. He can not move. Yet he is a source of constant joy, encouragement and love to all those around him. He knows hundreds of hymns by heart. Daily his brother in law visits him in the morning to sing matins. After Steve read the text for the day, he said, "Klemet, you've preached on this text many times haven't you?" "Yes I have," came the response. "What did you preach?" Then Klemet gave a five minute homily on the beautiful surety of Christ's word in the holy scriptures and the place where the word of forgiveness is delivered in Church on sunday. I was floored and humbled. Klemet woke at one point later in the day saying, "Jan! Thank God for LIFE! Thank God for life! Get the wine Jan. Everyone gets two glasses. Thank God for LIFE! We're paying for it Jan. Two glasses for everyone. The kids can have one glass. Thank God for life! Tell Christian and Cindy [brother and sister in law] let's get this party started. Thank God for Life!" Hundreds of bible passages from friends all over the country have been printed and taped to the walls of his hospice room. What a blessing.

As for me...well, as far as I know, I only stood within ten feet of the man once. Having been inspired to persevere while reading his book The Fire and the Staff when I was a pastor without a congregation, I tried to meet him at the Higher Things gathering in Illinois in July of 2011. "Tried" is the operative word, as everyone seemed to want to speak with him. I never got to speak with him. Yet I will never forget him. His words, his faithful confession, his joy in the Lord, will always be a part of my ministry and my life in Christ. I will forever thank God for Pastor Preus and his faithful words as I stood with my staff but had no sheep to tend.

Thanks be to God, for I know I meet Klemet now at the Communion rail, and I will meet him and rejoice forever at the eternal Wedding Feast.

"Lord, let at last Thine angels come..."

Monday, July 07, 2014

Sermon for 7/6/14--Trinity III



Sinner or Pharisee?

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

Which son are you? Are you the sinner or the Pharisee? It’s a simple question, and your past and present testify for you. Those who lean toward the sins of the younger son are those who say, “I am going to enjoy life, even when it means departing from God’s Word to enjoy it.” That may mean indulging in all sorts of sins which bring us sinful delight, comfort, or security. It may mean despising the Sacraments for things you would rather be doing. It won’t feel all that bad, and you’ll get the praise of friends and the world. That's a good feeling.

The sins of the older brother are attractive to others. These are the sins of pride and contempt. For many, it is a constant temptation to measure their Christian life by the good that they do, by the offerings they give, by the sins from which they abstain. We all ought to do good things; but pride eventually leads to contempt for those who do not do as much, and a feeling of self-righteousness that sees no need for Christ. That won’t feel bad, either, as you get praise of other law-and-order types, and you'll even be held up as an example of one who works hard in service to others. That’s a good feeling, too.

But note this truth about both kinds of sinners: they are both outside of the Father's house. They are both outside the Father's care. Neither of them is open to the Father's love. If you pursue the sins of the younger son and delight in all sorts of pleasures, you will only say, “I have sinned too much to be forgiven. God couldn’t possibly still love me and forgive me.” And that sin is far worse than all the others that got you there, because it accuses God of not keeping His promises. It accuses Jesus of not having died for all of your sins. That is what keeps you out of the house: it is simply that you do not believe that Christ would for give you.

If you pursue the sins of the older brother, pride and self-righteousness will gradually wear away your faith, too. Despair will not be your fatal temptation, but vanity. You will say, “I am not afraid of death, for I have lived a good enough life for God to welcome me in.” But that calls God a liar: you deny your sin, and you deny that you needed Christ to die for your sin. Just like the parable, sinners run away from the Father, and Pharisees don’t want to go into the house on the father's terms, especially if He's letting sinners in. Jesus warns against the sin of believing that God loves you because of the good work you do. If you believe that God loves you because of the good work you do, then when you do sin, you will believe that God doesn’t love you; and when you manage to keep the Law least on the outside, you’ll believe that God loves you more than He did before. If you believe any of that, you deny the Gospel.

The truth is, God doesn't love you because of the good work you do. God loves you because of the good work that Christ has done. Christ has borne your sin to the cross. On the cross, God declared His Son to be the unworthy sinner and damned Him for your sin. On the cross, God the Father forsook His Son, who was taking your place when He was forsaken. Because the Son has suffered God's wrath for your sin, God the Father is now your loving Father, the one you see in the parable. He runs to you in His Word and Sacraments. He runs to you! You honestly confess, “I am not worthy to be called your son,” and He cuts you off right there. He clothes you in the best robe, the spotless baptismal robe of Christ’s righteousness. Rather than count against you His gifts you have wasted, He declares to you, “You are always with Me, and all that is Mine is yours.” The kingdom of heaven is yours, for you are God’s beloved, baptized child. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Sermon for 6/29/14--Trinity II



Hungry for the Feast

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

Our Father in heaven has made us a feast! He has sent His Lamb, Jesus Christ, to be slaughtered for our sins and to be the main course at the meal of salvation. Just as someone works hard to prepare a feast that will be a sumptuous setting of savory delights, so the Father has prepared a feast for us that is far beyond anything in this world. When the Father sends the Son, He is preparing a feast. And this feast is for you.

We come to this feast when we hear and believe the preaching and teaching of God's Word and when we eat and drink the Lamb's own body and blood. Since Christ is the feast that is prepared for us, to partake of this feast means to receive Christ. It means to hear His Word and eat and drink His body and blood. And just like a good meal sustains and refreshes us, even more so the Lord's feast renews us with eternal life and salvation. The Lord washes us up for the Supper in the waters of Holy Baptism. He invites us in and washes our feet again through the words of Holy Absolution. We hear His Word read. We hear the sermon preached. We have the wonderful flavors and textures of the liturgy and the hymns. And then we enjoy the main course, the body and blood of Jesus. The feast our Lord gives us to enjoy is the feast of forgiveness, life and salvation.

And while the Lord wants everyone to come to His feast, most people don't want the feast. When the things of this world cause us to reject the Lord's invitation and to skip out on His feast, then there is the warning. When we love the things of this life more than Christ and His gifts, we have rejected the feast, despised the invitation. But here's the scary thing. What happens to the people that refused the Lord's invitation? In His wrath, the Lord declares, “They will never eat my supper!” Those who despise the feast will perish apart from the Lord and His mercy. But here's the shocking thing. Here's what we have to understand when we hear the Lord's condemnation. When the Lord condemns on the Last Day, He is not doing anything else than giving people what they want. If they don't want the Lord and the Feast of His Son, then they don't have to have it or Him or anything else. That is the punishment for those who don't want the feast of the Lord: He gives them exactly what they really want!

But for those whom the Holy Spirit has called, gathered and enlightened, those who have not rejected the gifts our Father freely gives us, we have this Word from our Lord as our gift of repentance, to turn us away from despising the Lord's gifts and bring us to cling to them in faith as the most precious of treasures. Here, in this feast, Christ washes you, absolves you, preaches and teaches to you, and gives you His own flesh and blood for your salvation. He who is the Bread of Life and the Lamb of God is the main course of this feast, and through Him we have everlasting life. That's a feast that's so rich and plentiful the whole world can have it. You can have it all the time, every Sunday if you want it, every time the people of the Lord gather! There's enough for all people of all times and all places. You who are wearied and hungry from your long journey in this world, come and take your place at the Lord’s table, for the feast is ready! The feast of Jesus is prepared for you. Come and enjoy it now forever and ever. 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.