Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving celebration - Pops, myself, Gramps, and Uncle Charlie

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bonhoeffer on Confession and Community

"In confession the break-through to community takes place.  Sin demands to have a man by himself.  It withdraws him from the community.  The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.  Sin wants to remain unknown.  It shuns the light.  In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person.  This can happen even in the midst of a pious community…
The expressed, acknowledged sin has lost all its power…It can no longer tear the fellowship asunder.  Now the fellowship bears the sin of the brother.  He is no longer alone with his evil for he has cast off his sin in confession and handed it over to God…Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the cross of Jesus Christ" - from Bonhoeffer's "Life Together"

Monday, November 23, 2009

To Be Born Again

"Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?' Jesus answered, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."

Saint Cyril declares that baptism “was at once your grace and your mother.”  The baptismal font is your tomb and womb.  For Saint Cyril of Jerusalem his catechumens have become sons and daughters of one Mother, which is the church.  Regarding this baptism he writes in his protocatechesis, “It is the ransom for captives; the remission of offences; the death of sin; the regeneration of the soul; the garment of light; holy indissoluble seal; the chariot to heave; the luxury of Paradise; the gift of adoption.”  In the font – In the waters of Holy Baptism is the participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.  This is not a figurative participation – it is not metaphoric of an alternative event – rather it is the true cataclysmic, cosmic reality of the blessed exchange with the Lamb of God – the Christ – Jesus.  Jesus overcame the enemy, by becoming a servant unto death – washing, healing, teaching, and dying.  And what a blessed death, which became the very slaying of death itself.  Death was swallowed whole – death was consumed buried in the body of Christ.  Death buried, and banished by a God-man.  And what a blessed death it is for it is your own.  Saint Paul writes: 

Know ye not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in His death?  Therefore we are buried together with Him by baptism into death: that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also may walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” (Rom. 6:3-5). 

Where is this death?  Where is this newness of life?  Is it in the meditations of nature?  Lofty thoughts about a God of power and might?  Is it in our strivings to be better, more virtuous people, more productive and well known members in our communities?  Does it come from the barrage of self-help books that promise you a more successful career, improved happiness, and higher esteem?  Dear Christians, there is no life here – only crafty deceptions.  There are no restored souls from lofty thoughts, increased happiness, or self help books.  Death, salvation, and life come through the baptismal font.  A cold block of cement or thousands of shabby wooden rotting fonts in rural parishes across the world deliver thousands of saints every year.  They approach the altar or are carried there as infants for a blessed burial, a blessed death, and a most glorious resurrection to walk forever in the newness of life – the very body of Christ.

You descend into water as broken vessels, and are made dead.  This font becomes your tomb, your shroud of death.  You are dipped three times, for a three day burial in the bosom of the earth - which you share with Jesus your Christ.  Your former man was laid in a coffin, descended through the waters, and flooded to a certain death in the Red Sea – by blood of the Lord.  Pastors pronounce death with water and the invocation of the Divine Name.  This is a necessary and blessed death for the curse of sin is death.  Yet like Christ we are not left for dead but are resuscitated when the breath of life is breathed into our nostrils by the Holy Spirit.  Here, we sinners, with our diseased and broken bodies and souls are put to death and are resurrected.  Pastors, simple men of all types, vested with the authority of Christ perform these Holy Mysteries not with any power of their own but with the power of God who declares you holy sons and daughters.  In this font you are buried and dead.  Yet you are never left for dead but just as surely resurrected as Christ.  From the tomb of the font a perfect shroud of righteousness is wrapped around you.  God does not see your sin.  He does not see an ungrateful heart.  He does not see your failures as a father, a mother, a son, or daughter.  He does not see that bitter and dark secret that you have tried oh so hard to forget.  He does not see a desecrated body that has been defiled by the monstrous devils and tempters of this world.  He sees you as a holy saint.  He sees not a blemish on your body or an impure thought in your heart.  He sees not your life story with all your troubles and tears but sees your life story in His Son only.  He sees a righteous one.  He sees you – who sings his praises, and hallows His Holy Name.  He sees you wonderfully and perfectly made because He sees Christ in you and for you.                    

The Roman Missal for the consecration of the font refers to the Holy Spirit “who is to make fruitful with the mingling of His mystical power this water prepared for the rebirth of men, that a heavenly race conceived in holiness may come forth from the immaculate womb of the divine font.”  Understanding our spiritual life in light of our human birth is essential to any understanding of the Gospel.  In this font the Romanists and Saint Cyril suggest a very helpful symbol that we might better understand the totality of all that takes place in baptism.  As Saint John writes in his Gospel, “But as many as received Him, He gave them power, to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His name.  Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:12-13).  Christ Jesus was both true God and true man.  Not just spirit but blood and flesh.  It is flesh that was tempted – flesh of a man – who like us was tempted by Satan – who hungered, thirsted, cried, and laughed.  Our human birth came from the waters of a mother who bored us in pain.  And in sin we are conceived - and in sin we enter into a fallen and shattered world.  As Nicodemus did learn, we cannot enter a second time into our Mother’s womb to be born again.  Our births from our dear Mother’s was a one time event.  And yet the birth from our mother’s womb was not the final declaration of all matters on life.  For God ultimately had plans for us – that we might be born again of water and the Holy Ghost.  God willed that we be born of the womb of Holy Mother Church.  A virginal and holy birth, born of God, born from above, born as redeemed saints.  Here you are adopted by a jealous and loving Father who wants you so dearly that His own son is sent to shed blood.  Rivers of water and blood flow forth from a pierced side, giving a new birth to us blind beggars.  In a most treasured hymn, God’s Own Child, I Glady Say it we sing:  Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!  Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed.  Now that to the font I’ve traveled, All your might has come unraveled, And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!

The simple baptismal font does not look like it contains the complete mysteries of the Gospel of our Lord.  Yet our Lord comes through means that give us great comfort.  In the font, with the eyes of faith, there is a tomb and a blessed womb.  There is death and burial.  There is resurrection and life.  There is water and blood.  There is the body of Christ who stands with you in the Holy waters of your baptism.  He gives all things to you.  And God the Father sees you as His most prized possession.  He delights in you at this simple font.  He sustains you and provides for you until the final day when you will inherit heaven to dine and sing with your Lord.  And in your baptism angels rejoice with all the company of heaven.  Amen. 

The Ol' Gang

Raise Your Heads, Your Christ Draws Near!

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

We have no lack of signs to see that the ending is near. We have plenty of signs. The world has been falling apart for a very long time.  Since our first parents Adam and Eve sinned in that cool Eden morning, distress and confusion has been pouring over the land.    
Contrary to the opinion of evolutionists, the human race is not improving itself, moving progressively toward some utopian world.  We are not evolving into more peaceful, civil people.  In fact no century at been more barbaric and horrifying than the last one.  In the 20th century, the modern, evolved and enlightened man put his neighbor to death in numbers that exceed all prior centuries put together.  Entire nations have been destroyed and routed from their homes.  Mothers and fathers have fainted in fear of what is coming. 
Last week with the OWLS group of St. Paul’s I was able to visit the new Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education center.  This museum holds hundreds of artifacts from the Nazi regime and concentration camps that were scattered throughout Europe.  There are documents and pictures that tell the story of the holocaust.  At the museum they have real German rail car – an actual train car used for deporting Jews, Christians, the disabled and political enemies off to the work camps and killing chambers. 

More than 50 people were jammed in those dark train cars.  Two buckets for waste and bathroom needs.  As I stepped into the dark train car at the museum I could almost hear the roaring train and screeching of the metal on the tracks. It is impossible to see this car and not sense the terror and despair felt by the millions of men, women and children who were placed into these dark and inhuman transports during the Holocaust.     
The Lord’s Coming – the advent of our Lord has always been surrounded by violence.  When King Herod heard of the coming of the Christ he killed all the male children of Bethlehem.  There were screams and fainting that surrounded the birth of Jesus.  When the Apostles were sent out to proclaim the Gospel - to baptize, preach, and teach they were systematically hunted down, crucified, and put to death.

We do not simply need reform, as a human community.  We need redemption.  We need a savior.  We need mercy.  We need to be saved from the ongoing holocaust of human cruelty, hatred, and violence.  For the stirring troubles that erupt across the globe and our own city, we need much more than reform and transformation.  
We have murder in schools, gang violence, corporate greed and political corruption.  We have economic depression, rising deficits, and nuclear proliferation in dangerous parts of the world. Political action will not save us.  Healthcare will not save us.  Not pacifism.  Neither will continued war save us.  We need a cosmic rescue mission.  We need an apocalyptic rebirth.  We need a calling forth of the new. 
"And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Jesus has come and Jesus is coming.  Take heart dear Christians, the long nightmare will soon be ending.  The warring between nations and the roaring of the sea and the waves will be quieted by the advent of a child.  This child Jesus will be born.  Resting in the womb of Mary He is the ruler of the sun, the moon, and the stars.  He governs the waves and the seas. He is God of God and light of light, having and sharing all the glory of the Father.  

The fainting and foreboding.  The anxiety and fear that the world feels soon will be met by angels announcing the birth of Jesus – the Coming of the Son of Man.  The children of the church will sing Hark the Herald Angels sing. Members of our congregation will go out into our surrounding community, they will knock on doors of God’s children and sing praises to Christ the King and His glorious coming.And the angels will say “Fear not…raise your heads…your Savior draws near.”  

Though the coming of Jesus is both terrible and marvelous, He has spoken to you so that it may be a lovely coming for you.  It is to you that the Lord speaks, “straighten up and raise you heads.”  Our Lord calls us not to be weighed down by the weight and burden of our sin.  Lift your heads, raise your eyes and feel no shame.  That nervousness that often casts our heads downward, and redirects our eyes has been met by the eyes and voice of our Good Shepherd!  Your sins are forgiven, go in peace!  Awake from the long nightmare.  Raise your head, dearest son and daughter.                

He has baptized you and raised your body to stand in His light.  Your body, however weak or strong it may be has been fashioned to be among all those standing at His coming, to be brought to that heavenly home.  He has formed your body into a sign and living witness of the resurrection.  In our Gospel reading it is as if God says, “I am coming to the world to rescue you.  From heaven above to earth I come to break in.  To break in a save those who sit in darkness” 

Jesus came for those who looked up for mercy in those torturous German train cars.  He came for those first born of Bethlehem that were slaughtered by King Herod.  He came for every holocaust and genocide and unspeakable terror.  For he paid for the sins of the German army.  Paid for the guilt of a world which apathetically looked away.  He paid for the sins of King Herod.  And he has come to bear every sin that plagues us and weighs us down. 

Jesus is our Sun and our moon, our heavens and bright star of light.  He purifies us and raises us up to stand before him.  He dresses us up in dazzling white and anoints our forehead with baptismal waters.  We stand with the whole Christian church on earth.               
"But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
Dearest Christian, this is good news.  You are the holy ones standing in the light of his birth and resurrection.  The Lord has found you standing and confessing.  He has found you praying and singing.  He has found you awake and alive in the peace that He Himself has given you. 

He sees you baptized and marked in His saving blood.  You eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper here at this altar.  Nothing pleases our God more than receiving this food and drink here today.  At our Lord’s coming he has found you here – where he has placed you.  Even though the earth may shake and wars rage through the nations, our homes, or conscience, the Word of Jesus is the final one.  You are innocent and have been made to stand before him in perfect righteousness – perfect freedom.  He delights in you in every way.  As we await the Lord’s Coming and look toward the birth of Jesus you may know that your name has already been written in the book of life and painted in the halls of heaven.

We have all the signs we need to see and know that Jesus has come and will bring us into all the light of his glory.  You lack nothing in your preparation.  He has given everything you need and has set you free.  He has stood you to be numbered among all the saints. As Paul Gerhardt ended his hymn that we sang this morning Jesus is “a light of consolations and blessed hope to those.  Who love the Lord’s appearing.  O Glorious Sun, now come, Send forth Your beams so cheering, And guide us safely home.” Amen.         

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rev. Steven Cholak on Preaching

The Reverend Steven Cholak, my dear brother and friend, in this short piece writes directly about the preaching task - that of Christ and him crucified.  He writes about the difference between preaching merely about Christ and actually handing him over freely to the sinner who seeks the forgiveness of sins.  I have received his permission to post this short piece he wrote in April of 2008.  Thank you Reverend Cholak!  
"God Speak" by Rev. Steven Cholak

I expect to be soaking in the blood of Jesus when the preacher says, “Amen.” That bright red river of life from the cross of Calvary makes the robes of God’s people white like snow. The professors at Concordia Theological Seminary would say that a sermon should be a good exposition of Law and Gospel in a liturgical context. There should be Law that cuts you down and Gospel that picks you up. BUT the Gospel should always predominate. In other words, when the preacher opens his mouth – Jesus picks you up.

The preacher must give you Jesus. He shouldn’t just tell you about Jesus. He shouldn’t just mention the cross. Preachers should never tell you about telling the story. Preachers are called to preach the Christ. They are called out of darkness to proclaim light and life into this dark and dead world. Preachers do that by preaching Jesus to your person.
Pastors bring the forgiveness of sins from the cross and wrap you with it, like a warm blanket on a cold, winter’s night. They take his blood and wash you with it. Like a mother after you’ve played in the mud, a pastor scrubs you clean (even behind the ears) with Christ’s blood. They do it because only that blood can take away your sins. They are faithful to this call because God resurrects the sinner from his watery grave and gives him new life.
How does God do it? He does it by opening the mouths of preachers, and then soaking you in his Son’s blood. He does it by opening your mouth and pouring that blood down your throat. He does it through weak and sinful men. He does it through your pastor. Expect to be soaking in Christ’s blood when the pastor says, “Amen.” Expect to be alive because Christ has wrapped you with his love and breathed new life into your ears. Not only should you expect it, you should demand it. It is your heritage. It is God’s good gift. AND…it’s yours.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pastor Gutz along with the nice folks from Immanuel Lutheran Church in Salisbury, MO
(picture taken at DOXOLOGY - Saint Benedict Center in Schuyler NE)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

O Lord, How Shall I Meet You

"And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves...stay awake at all times, praying that you have the strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

The season of advent is about waiting.  Something which is not our most highly prized virtue.  Waiting is a fine art that our impatient age has all but forgotten.  We want things now.  And the means to have them now.  And we want things on our time table – our schedule.  In the words of one popular preacher, we want “Our best life now.”  Or as the popular phrase goes “live in the now.”   

Yet, the Lord God, the ruler of the roaring sea and waves, though He can create instantaneously, He desires time.  Time and waiting is good.  Our Lord uses the waiting of time to create and recreate.  On the fourth day of creation God set the sun, moon, and stars in place.  They mark the time of the day and the seasons.  The fallen and brittle leaves on the ground skip in the cold breeze waiting to be ground into the hard earth.  Each sunset and cold, dark winter night is a sign of a looming end – a reminder of death – for from dust we come and to dust we return.  And every sunrise reminds us of a calling to new life, as we see the glistening lighted beams of the resurrection.                   

The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul and poor in spirit. Celebrating advent is for those who mourn and thirst for righteousness.  It is for those who are imperfect and confess, I a poor sinner.  It is for children who long for the togetherness of family and the comfort that it brings.  It is for those who long for what is good and true and wholesome.  It is for those who long for home.  

The greatest and most delicate joys on earth involve waiting.  We wait for an end to war and the distress among the nations.  We wait for fruit to ripen on our kitchen countertops.  We wait to hear the singing voices of the children at St. Paul’s.

Who has not felt the emotional anticipation of waiting to be loved by another, or kissed by another?  This waiting and anticipation grows and blossoms and from it sprouts immeasurable joys.  The bonds of love are solidified and spoken to each other always in anticipations of hearing the other, “do you love me?”  We wait for great things. 

Who has not waited to be healed from an illness?  Who has looked upon their own body - your own bones and joints - with its weaknesses and chronic pains and hoped for release?  Who here agonizes over the death of a loved one?  Who here wakes up in the night with a sense of dark emptiness or confusion?
We wait for great things.  We wait for receiving that which has been lost to us.  And we wait for the one who promises to give to us.  Christians live in a ‘now but not yet’ reality.  We live in confidence concerning that which we receive: Holy Baptism, forgiveness, and eternal love between God our Father and His whole creation.  Our “not yet” is the longing that comes in between.    

Our “not yet” is the waiting.  Our “not yet” is the tears and searching.  Our not yet is homelessness and hunger.  The “not yet” is violence and neglect.  It is terrorism, economic depression, disease and loneliness.  It is a multitude of questions that we cannot find ready answers for. It is the roaring of the sea and the waves which crash over the Christian church.  The roaring of gossip and confusion that often wreaks havoc upon all believers…It is the fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world….For our Lord says that the powers of heaven will be shaken.   
As we minister to one another in Christian love, we ought know that we cannot ultimately fix a dying and aging world.  As we attend to the “not yet” of creation and minister to the muffled cries of the needy we meet with the living God himself in Jesus Christ.  Jesus comes in a familiar face.  He comes as neighbor and as brother.  In the advent of Christ – in His coming – he ties us together as brothers and sisters – this is the advent message.     

Soon we will hear the angels sing.  Now, that is, but not yet - Soon.  All that has been fallen will be lifted up.  And all that has been lost will be restored to you in full.  The crashing waves and roaring of the sea will be stilled by a child.  
When the Son of Man comes in a cloud with power and great glory to judge the nations, how shall we meet him?  Our Lord tells us in His Gospel today, “stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." 

Today we stand in hope and expectation of Advent - that God has come and is coming as He has promised.  We are called to stay awake and be ready.  We are made ready only by Christ’s coming to us.  And by awakening to His coming we may rest secure.  Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to His people on earth.      
Let us learn how to wait together!  O glorious Sun, now come, Send forth Your beams so cheering.  Come quickly Lord Jesus.  In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

I have written about Advent and Christmas Hymns HERE.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pops, Uncle Charlie, and myself

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Good Shepherd Institute Conference on J.S. Bach

Last Monday I attended the Good Shepherd Institute’s conference on “Bach in Today’s Parish” at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN.  Among the addresses I heard, the one by Dr. Uwe Simeon-Netto stood out as a brilliant and touching account of a life narrated by the Art of Fugue, sacred cantatas and Passion works by Johann Sebastian.  Dr. Uwe Simeon-Netto recounts a childhood memory of Bach between the air raids in wartime Germany:

“From that very moment I heard the Art of Fugue at home, the opening bars of its Contrapunctus One returned to my inner ear virtually every day – while being bombed, while fleeing from Soviet-occupied Leipzig after the War, while sitting exams at school, while feeling lovesick of covering the Vietnam War as a reporter, while suffering from a writer’s block.  O, I sang hymns in my head too, and I still do, none more often than ‘Abide with me.’  But most of all I am fixated by these fugues!  They order my mind and my soul.  In my prayers fugues join the hymns my grandmother sang into my ears during the air raids.  And this has been going on for nearly seventy years now.”

The presentation also highlights Bach as world evangelist, particularly in the East.  Netto tells story of musicologist Keisuke Maruyama who became a Christian by the studying the weekday lectionary readings as they followed Bach’s cantatas.  Maruyama, simply by being acquainted with Bach and the historic lectionary readings said to friend, “It is not enough to read the Christian texts.  I want to be a Christian myself.  Please baptize me!”

You can read the presented paper here, “The Global Importance of Bach Today.”  It is an incredibly insightful look at Bach’s musical confession of Christ crucified, and its impact across the world.  During the presentation itself I remember Dr. Netto going off his script some as relates to the sale of the Lutheran Radio station KFUO in Saint Louis, said something to the effect of “For me, I cannot separate music and my faith!”

Well, neither can I.  As we approach the Advent season of our Lord and reach the end of the church year, I am eagerly awaiting the final Gospel reading of the year, Matthew 25:1-13 (historic one year series) on The Parable of the Ten Virgins.  Sebastian wrote a sacred cantata “Wachet auf ruft uns die stimme” for this eschatological text to be heard, sung, and confessed on the “Ultimate Sunday.”  I have written a detailed analysis on this sacred cantata HERE. 

J.G. Hamann on Divine Service

"The mystery of Christian godliness does not consist of services, sacrifices and vows, which God demands on us, but of promises, fulfillments and sacrifices  which God has made for our benefit.  Again, the mystery of Christian godliness doe snot consist of the finest and greatest commandment that God has imposed, but of the supremem good that he has given us.  Once again, the mystery of Christian godliness does not consist of laws and moral teachings which merely had to do with human dispositions and actions, but of the enactment of divine decrees by means of divine acts, works and measures for the salvation of the whole world."

Johann Georg Hamann, "Golgotha und Scheblimini," in J.G. Hamann 1730-1788: A Study in Christian Existence by Ronald Gregor Smith (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960), pp. 229-230.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.

G. K. Chesterton (1874 - 1936), Orthodoxy