Pray, Praise and Give Thanks

Biblical Text: Luke 17:1-11

How does one use the name of God?

The right use of God’s name always ends in thanksgiving.

That I believe is the message contained in the story of the 10 healed lepers. It is not just a miracle, although it is that. Neither is it an overly simple, “aw shucks, we should give thanks” lesson, although giving thanks is a good habit. It is really a lesson on who has used the name of God rightly. There are three groups named at the start: Jerusalem, Galilee and Samaria. All three think they know how to use the name. The 10 lepers use the name in seeking mercy. But only one receives the grace. Only one receives the kingdom. This sermon contemplates the 2nd commandment from Luther’s catechism, which is a spiritual classic. And it ponders our lives, our prayer, praise and thanks, in light of the command and the text. What does it mean to use the name of God rightly? Think about it.

He Preached the Good News…


Biblical Text: Luke 3:15-22
Full Sermon Draft

The day on the Church calendar was the Baptism of Christ and the text recognizes that. I think in the sermon there is recognition of baptism. If not, all the hymns of the day picked up on it as their connecting theme. But as I was preparing the sermon verse 18 (“So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people”) combined with a comment by Origin (2nd Century Teacher quoted in the sermon) made me look at John the Baptist himself. What was the gospel, the good news, that John preached?

As he would say, “Christ must increase, I must decrease”, so as a preacher the core of that Good News was simply the bridegroom has come – Jesus. That is the core of any preaching. But John’s good news, just from this brief snippet (Luke 3:1-22), is expansive. And Luke’s version of John has a striking and touching emphasis. After pointing out the bridegroom – the kinsman redeemer of Israel, John preaches against a false in everyway redeemer, Herod. Jesus & Israel are the bridegroom and sanctified bride. Herod and Herodias are the mocking of that redemption. John calls him out, and pays with his freedom and life. John’s preaching of good news, includes the role of suffering.

I didn’t make the connection in the sermon because the sermon itself is more breadth than depth. Pulling together all the threads of levirate marriage that this text relies on would have been explaining too much for a sermon. Better suited for a study. But marriage as the symbol of what God does for his people, and the mocking of marriage made by the state, and John’s suffering caused by that confrontation, seems applicable.

Recording Note: I have left in our opening hymn Lutheran Service Book 405 To Jordan’s River Came Our Lord. The congregation sounded great, and that hymn really captures the core message of the festival – “This man is Christ our substitute!” Also, they sang it post the OT reading, but I’ve moved it after the sermon here. These recordings can’t really capture the full service. We don’t really have the recording equipment for that, so the focus is really on the spoken parts (i.e. texts and sermon). But, I included our Choir singing a wonderful Epiphany piece. I included such things as markers to the full live experience. Worship really is about being there.

The Best Construction on Everything

Good article about something new in the world. But also about something real old. The 8th (9th for you Calvinists) commandment says don’t bear false witness against your neighbor. The rub always comes when we ask who is our neighbor and what does false witness mean. Luther, like Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, finds not just the negative force (don’t lie about your neighbor) but also a positive force (“defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything”). The Satire of Deception quote, the “quote that reveals what we all know to be true” even though it itself is fake, is the perfect negation of that positive force. I am going to put the worst meaning on my neighbors words and life and use that to beat him and leave him by the roadside. The fact that our politics have been reduced to this testifies against us.

A Picture of the Kingdom – Psalm 128

Psalms BonhoefferWe’ve been studying the Psalms. Originally following Bonhoeffer’s little book, but breaking off toward the end to look at a couple of Psalms of the day or those incorporated into the introit. But I’ve been casting around for a way to wrap up the study. For the one group I settled on the Songs of Ascent.

The Songs of Ascent were sung as you went up to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage feasts. You have one scriptural picture of such a pilgrimage in the story of the 12 year old Jesus in the temple in Luke 2:41-52. There are a bunch of psalms so labeled right around number 128. And we imagined their catechetical use in the vein of Deuteronomy 6:7. Instead of answering “are we there yet?” and “how much further?” questions (although I sure those came up as well), as you walked by the way Dad might say Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD. And there are all kinds of questions that could be asked or suggested. We happened to look at what does ‘to fear’ mean in class, but what does blessed mean or who is included in everyone are just two others off the top of my head. Son, what do you think the blessing of the LORD looks like? Then sing the rest of the psalm and it answers the question.

Psalm 128:1-6
A Song of Ascents.
Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.

The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!

The blessing of the Lord is: 1) peace, 2) useful and profitable labor, 3) Fruitful family life, 4) Good times for the people of God. Son, if you want to walk in the way of the Lord and live a good life, seek these things.

One of the things that I brought up was to what extent does that describe now and to what extent is the psalmist calling for the coming kingdom? Bonhoeffer’s key thought remember is that the psalms are OT prayers that reflect the Lord’s Prayer. And one of the points, taken by the class to greater or lessor degrees, was eating the fruit of the labor of your hands. My grandfather did this explicitly. He was so blessed. But this is something that at least from my perspective has been disappearing from our society. It is not even the goal often anymore. The goal is more to find a place to erect a toll booth or game the system by taking pieces of the labor of others. This is not a criticism of real capitalism. The trader buying for x and selling for y performs labor of either transport, discovery or just taste. It is a criticism of taking from x to give to y. If y is poor and needy, x should be moved to Christian charity. But to have z take from x, while taking a slice for himself ever bigger, in the name of y is not a blessing. And it eventually erodes that first blessing of peace as x, y and z all queue up to argue instead of doing useful and profitable labor. This can be fulfilled here to a greater or a lessor extent, but its true fulfillment is in the New Jerusalem. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Pastor Wilson looks at the effects of this in a “News this morning” way by way of Cyprus. A perfect example of not eating the fruit of your labor but losing peace arguing over other people’s labor.

Then the Cyprus debacle happened. The European Union demanded that bank accounts in Cyprus take “a haircut” in exchange for the next bailout, though they are now signaling “flexibility” on the issue because their stealing appeared to be stealing to too many people. We shall see what happens. I suspect that flexibility simply means slippery. Now bank accounts used to be private property, pure and simple, but not any more — whatever happens.

And you probably don’t need to be reminded that the money that was going to be used to bail out Cyprus was money that was stolen from somebody else, oh, weeks ago, and so we will not let that detain us. So the Cypriots wanted this bailout, see, paid for by some German sap or other, and they had a bunch of plump bank accounts of their own just sitting there. What did you expect?

When you attempt to govern a society of thieves with an elite corps of thieves trying to manage the whole affair, sooner or later a fight is going to break out over the swag. We are probably past the point of no return, and Europe most certainly is.

Bible Study Fragment…

Our Thursday morning bible study is a great group. For an idea of the maturity they have, when I said I was doing a small catechism class for new members, they said “why don’t we do that as well”. Paraphrasing Luther, always returning to the basics or the seeds of faith, is fruitful, because we have not mastered even such trifles.

We are on the 10 commandments. We spent the last couple of classes on some basic theology – law & gospel, revelation, scripture (and those tougher words authority and inspiration). The point is to make clear how we read the bible and how we make the claims that we do based upon it. But today we got to the commandments themselves. And Luther’s explanation to the first commandment is a tiny treasure. “We should fear, love and trust God above all things.”

All sins are ultimately a trespass of the first, but Luther in the Larger Catechism expands on his explanation. In that expansion he writes, “the heathen really make their self-invented notions and dreams of God an idol…so it is with all idolatry. For it happens not merely by erecting an image and worshiping it, but rather it happens in the heart. For the heart stands gaping at something else…” We all worship something. We all have something, maybe multiple things, which we fear, love and trust above other things. Even the atheist. The atheist fears the idea of God more than God himself. Our age, as the older song says, “has fallen in love with love” without hearing the next line “is playing the fool.” The list of idols of the heart is endless. Cranmer gets at the same thing when he writes, “what the heart wants, the will chooses and the mind justifies.”

God’s Word succinctly captured in Luther’s simple catechism, is a great tool to knock down those idols. Examine yourself (2 Cor 3:15). What do we fear, love and trust above God? Then look to the cross. Look at Jesus there. Is there anything more precious? The judgement and love and trust of God rolled into one man. Judgement of sin brought our release. Love willing took that judgement while we wandered. Jesus trusted his Father that injustice would not stand, and he was raised first to new life and now to the right hand of God. Fear, Love and trust God above all things.

The 9 yr Old is an Arian (oh no!)

Walking the 9 year old through the catechism. We got caught on a discussion about God.

Me: God promises salvation
Daughter: Where
Me: Jesus says so right here
Daughter: But that is Jesus not God
Me: Jesus is true God – we say it weekly in the creed
Daughter: But he’s a man, that doesn’t make sense
Me: That is what Christmas is about.
Daughter: How can there be two things that are both God
Me: There aren’t two things, there are three persons in one God called the Trinity
Daughter: That’s confusing
Me: That the mystery of the Trinity
Daughter: But Jesus born, how can he be God.
Me: Heretic! – My daughter’s an Arian; of all things an Arian
Daughter: Grrr!
Me: Will you trust me (and the creed for now)?
Daughter: Well, ok.

Every Spiritual Blessing in the heavenly realms

Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
Full Draft

The textual basis for this sermon is one long sentence. The English translations break it up because that is good English. But what it does is miss the catechism like effect as the clauses build up. The core sentence is short and clear – God be Praised. The rest of the text reads like Paul starts asking questions and answering them in phrases and clauses attached to that simple sentence.

Which God? The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. A Very specific one. One that you know.

Why praise? Because he has already blessed or praised us with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING.

What are these blessings? You were chosen to be Holy and Unblemished before the foundation. And not just that but you have been adopted into the family of God. You are part of the Royal ruling family.

How was this done (after all I don’t think I did anything)? You didn’t. It was through and in and because of Christ. First by his blood. Redeemed by the blood. Second you have been enlightened with the wisdom and insight of his grace to know the mystery.

What is the mystery? The cross primarily, but also the resurrection and the ascension (i.e. the Lordship). These things which have been hidden in plain sight.

How do I know this? You have been sealed with the Spirit which is the down payment. Outside of the revelation of Christ and the illumination of the Spirit the mystery would remain. But you have it right now.

Why has He done this? For the Praise of the glory of his grace. We are that praise. Our lives, our walks, our confessions and our worship. God be praised.

Hymns We Sing – Reformation Day Edition

You all know the big Reformation Day Hymn – A Mighty Fortress is Our God. If you want to start a real fight, ask a Lutheran which tune is the better – the Bach setting or the original Luther. Parson and Parson’s mother disagree on this. It’s not a pretty fight.

But Ein Feste Burg is not what I want to talk about. Instead I want to talk about a more obscure yet more numerous genre of hymns that Luther loved to write. This Reformation Day the choir is going to sing a couple of verses from Lutheran Service Book #766 – Our Father, Who from Heaven Above during the offering. The congregation will echo the same hymn at the close of service with different verses. This is a great example of a catechetical hymn. By that I mean it is a hymn that is teaches to music. Like A Mighty Fortress, words and tune are by Luther.

The Small Catechism – the short basic teachings of the Christian Faith by Luther that he thought everyone should have memorized – contain the 10 Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. It was quickly expanded to include baptism and the Lord’s Supper and Confession (or the office of the Keys). It all fits in a few page or one “poster sized” wall hanging. Printing a catechism poster was one of the first uses of the printing press at the time. The head of every household for a couple of pennies could have the catechism in his home to teach both the basics of the faith and reading.

This hymn takes up the Lord’s Prayer.  The Choir is singing 1 & 5 over the offering.  The congregation will be singing 1 & 9 at the close of service.

1) Our Father who from heaven above

Bids all of us to live in love

As members of one family

And pray to you in unity

Teach us no thoughtless words to say

But from our inmost hearts to pray

5) Give us this day our daily bread

And lets us all be clothed and fed

Save us from hardship, war and strife

In plague and famine, spare our life

That we in honest peace may live

To care and greed no entrance give

9) Amen, that is, so shall it be

Make strong our faith in You, that we

May doubt not but with trust believe

That what we ask we shall receive

Thus in your name and at your word

We say, Amen, O hear us, Lord


Observe how each stanza begins with a petition from the Lord’s prayer, and the rest of the verse answers – “What does this mean?” Luther would follow a similar format with:
Baptism – #406, To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord
10 Commandments – #581, These Are the Holy Ten Commandments
Creed – #954, We All Believe in One True God
Confession – #607, From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee

We don’t do that much anymore. In fact you could say that catechism style teaching is out of vogue. Asking a question, writing or memorizing the answer and building upon it in another Q&A seems to break our post-modern sensibility. As Steve Jobs would say – don’t just accept the dogma which is accepting someone else’s thinking. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was conflicted about that. At some level a catechism is invaluable. It gives you a starting point. Bloom’s taxonomy and all knowledge starts somewhere. Even Steve Jobs didn’t question Wozniak’s circuit board layout. I guess the synthesis I’d come to is a combination. Instead of the endpoint it too often became, the catechism is a start. We used to accept the memorization of Luther’s answers as proper catechizing. Now, its a good start, but you need to make the answers your own. That is the task of the disciple and of the Christian life – that we can truly say: Amen, so shall it be to “Make strong our Faith in You”.

Man does not live by bread alone…

This story by Australian Theologian Ben Myers is nifty. And I have to admit I hear the law in it slightly, I am convicted, but not where he is aiming.

Prof. Myers is part of one of those “uniting” churches. That is the same thing the founders of the LCMS were running to America away from – the dreaded Prussian Union. Myers is worried about baptisms without teaching, probably because they are practicing a believer’s baptism (i.e. baptism is administered at an age where you make a serious profession of faith). As Lutheran’s we baptize infants. We believe, with the Catholics, that baptism is the sacrament through which God promises to bestow the Spirit. God’s sure promise attaches to that water. What that doesn’t rule out is that child turning his/her back on the baptismal promise. [A Lutheran/Catholic vs. Reformed difference. To the true Reformed, if you are elect, you can’t ship-wreck you’re faith. The Lutheran/Catholic maintains to ability to do all kinds of damage although nothing positive without the Spirit.]

Where I would feel more convicted is at the Altar Rail for the Supper. We don’t really turn people away. If I see a person I don’t know, I’ll follow up. If I know they are going to be worshiping with us often, I will try and explain the Lutheran teaching. Luther’s questions (which are probably not actually Luther’s but added to the Catechism later) are the place I run. They boil down to three questions: Do you believe you are a sinner? Do you confess the Nicene Creed? Do you recognize the true body and blood (i.e. something mystical is going on here and not just bread and wine)? Here is actually a place where the liturgy or just a well planned worship service helps. Confession and Absolution come first (check first question), the creed is confessed (check second question), the words of institution and as the body and blood are distributed say ‘This is my body, blood…take, eat, drink” (check third question).

The small catechism is all Luther thought the typical peasant layman needed to know. The large catechism was intended for pastoral instruction. (Compare that to 8 years of college!) Am I complicit in not teaching enough? Yes. If I upped the level would I still be complicit? Yes. What is the answer? Sin boldly. Depend upon the providence and grace of the Lord. I come O Savior to your table for weak and weary is my soul. Thou, Bread of Life, alone are able to satisfy and make me whole.