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Posts Tagged ‘liturgy’

Revelation 5

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

There is no subject in the world (always excepting sport) on which I have less to say than liturgiology. And the almost nothing which I have to say may as well be disposed of in this letter.

I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.

To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain—many give up churchgoing altogether—merely endure.

Is this simply because the majority are hide-bound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was “for what does it serve?” “‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.”

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats,  or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.”

 

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This painting is by the English artist and poet, William Blake. It depicts the Lord’s Parable of the 5 wise and the 5 foolish virgins. This parable is the basis of Philip Nicolai’s hymn, Wake, Awake for Night is Flying.

Almighty God, the apostle Paul taught us to praise You in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We thank You this day for those who have given to Your Church great hymns, especially Your servants Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heermann, and Paul Gerhardt. May Your Church never lack hymnwriters who through their words and music give You praise. Fill us with the desire to praise and thank You for Your great goodness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Bio: 

  • Philipp Nicolai (1556–1608) was a pastor in Germany during the Great Plague, which took the lives of 1,300 of his parishioners during a sixth-month period. In addition to his heroic pastoral ministry during that time of stress and sorrow, he wrote the texts for “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” and “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright,” known, respectively, as the king and queen of the Lutheran chorales. 
  • Johann Heermann (1585–1647), also a German pastor, suffered from poor health as well as from the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). His hymn texts are noted for their tenderness and depth of feeling. 
  • Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676) was another Lutheran pastor who endured the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War. By 1668 he lost his pastoral position in Berlin (for refusing to compromise his Lutheran convictions), and endured the death of four of his five children and his wife. He nevertheless managed to write 133 hymns, all of which reflect his firm faith. Along with Martin Luther he is regarded as one of Lutheranism’s finest hymn writers.(From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  These pastors and hymn writers, with their congregations and families,  suffered plague, war and sickness.  What sustained these men through such turmoil, when the ground beneath them was shaking and then write some of the greatest hymns for the Church’s song?  They may have seen plague, war and sickness as God’s judgment and the Word of God makes us stop at His judgment so that we hear His grace in Christ who suffered our plagues, wars and sickness.  We have expectations of life being easy but not so long ago, man did not have such an expectation.  Expectation, though, is not hope. Such calamities remind us we can not fix the world so we can look again, not to our selves, but to where true joy is found: The rock of salvation, Jesus Christ.

Faith can only have something or someone to seize for salvation and this is the justification of the sinner by Christ’s Atonement, the Savior, once and for all from the Cross, preached and taught into our ears and hearts, by sermons, yes!  But also by hymnody.  

In the Service Book and Hymnal (1958), the former worship book of the ELCA’s predecessor Lutheran denominations,  the forward states that they wanted the hymns to be more “devotional” and have a less of  a “didactic” content.   Nowadays, the search for the mere “devotional” devolves into a music that makes me feel a certain way. The didactic or teaching content of Lutheran hymnody is so important because it is the objective Word of God written in Scripture sung in words and music so we can learn and learn to praise aright in heartfelt devotion. Consider “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”:  this hymn is the Parable of the Foolish and Wise Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13) set to music. It is usually sung in Advent, pointing to the time on earth when the Bridegroom arrived and the time to come when those who are eager for His appearing, He will come again.  It is didactic and  instructional.  Dispensationalist and millenialist false doctrine is shown for what it is in that magnificent hymn of Scripture by the true and correct doctrine of our Lord’s parousia, in Scripture, correctly taught. He comes not when we expect it as chiliast timetables lay out and get wrong.  He comes at the fulfilled time for those who long for His appearing (cf. 2 Timothy 4:8).

At Concordia Junior College, I took a one credit course on hymnody. Professor “Ollie” Rupprecht pointed out that J.S. Bach had some 80 volumes in his library (quite an expensive acquisition in that day) and 60 volumes were on Lutheran Doctrine. This doctrine has been derided as too “sterile”.  It is not.  Like Jack Webb in Dragnet said: “The facts, ma’am, just the facts.” The objective justification by the life, word and work of Jesus Christ is the reason to sing in the midst of the world when the “nations rage” and “kingdoms totter” (Ps. 46: 6).

We give thanks to the Lord, the Conductor of the  “choir immortal” (from “Wake, Awake”),   for all church organists (underpaid and being squeezed out by contemporary worship), church musicians, choirs and the Lord’s people who sing their praise of their Lord through hymns replete with the Scripture, that is, the Word of God and so the Holy Spirit.  Pray for your organist, choir director, choir members and church musicians in petition and  praise to the Lord and tell them all this  Sunday:  thanks!

“Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” (#516, Lutheran Service Book) by Philipp Nicolai

3. Now let all the heav’ns adore Thee,
Let men 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 vision ever brought,
No ear hath ever caught,
Such great glory;
Therefore will we Eternally
Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee.

“O Christ, Our True and Only Light” (#839, Lutheran Service Book) by Johann Heerman

1. O Christ, our true and only Light,
Enlighten those who sit in night;
Let those afar now hear Thy voice
And in Thy fold with us rejoice.

“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (#450, Lutheran Service Book) by Paul Gerhardt

8. What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.

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“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.

― H. Richard Niebuhr

Jesus prophesies His suffering, crucifixion and Resurrection three times.  In The Gospel According to St. Mark, the three prophecies begin at 8:31, 9:31 and 10: 34, almost exactly a chapter apart.  This is noteworthy because the addition of chapters and verses was well after the completion of  the Scriptures.  The three prophecies are like the tolling of the death knell.  They are yet another pointer to the utter centrality of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Bible.  The Cross of Christ as symbol and the proclamation of “Christ and Him crucified” ( 1 Corinthians 1:23 ) with the Church Year is centered on Holy Week and Easter (or Pascha). This clearly reflects the Word of God, the Bible.  We see, though, so many times, beginning in the narrative of  the Scripture, flights from the crucifixion:

  • This Gospel reading for the 5th Sunday in Lent (Year B) includes the third Passion prophecy and immediately after that James and John request Jesus that they sit on His right and left hands in glory. It was as if they had not heard the prophecy of the crucifixion at all.
  • Earlier, after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus proclaims His first Passion prophecy, and Peter says basically, God forbid and Jesus calls Peter Satan for tempting Him away from Golgotha.(Matthew 16:22-24)
  • The Apostle Paul wrote to the spiritual Corinthians, who were thinking they were standing so tall as the saved that sins involving their bodies could not affect them, they forgot crucial preaching of the Crucified by which the Holy Spirit made faith in them, 1 Corinthians 2:  “ And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.       

We see all around us in our time both explicit and implicit flights from the Crucifixion:

  • Many denominations do not observe Holy Week or only in part.  Near Holy Week,several years back a devout Baptist told me that he loves the preaching of Christ in his church but he could not figure how they could just ignore Good Friday.
  • Many Lutherans, and other Christians skip on Good Friday and hasten to the sweet smelling lilies of Easter Sunday.
  • Too many Lutherans and many Protestants disdain the sign of a crucifex in a sanctuary as “too Catholic”.  Too many for that same reason do not make the sign of the Cross. We preach the Crucified, we are baptized into His death and resurrection, the four Gospels are all about His death and resurrection, then the Crucifixion is “too catholic”?!  Yes, it is! Amen!  The word, “Catholic” and its origin is Greek: “kata holos”, that is, according to the whole…the whole of salvation history, that is, “universal”: again, Amen!
  • When I see photos or videos of or from mega-churches, there is no cross in sight, let alone a crucifix.  Furthermore, there is no Altar and no Scriptural literalism, which is the foundation of His Presence, “This is My Body”, “This is My Blood” (see 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26), for the Supper on an Altar that is not there to begin with!   The Scriptures are clear about the Lord’s Supper, “For as often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes”. The Divine Service proclaims the death of Jesus for our salvation. They practice the divine absence.
  • But all of the above pales in comparison to what is preached, literally, “what”, not “Who” is preached.  Morals are preached. “Your best life now” with Jesus as a kind of positive thinking coach is the lecture.  The Christian is put back on to himself, not pointed to the Lord.  They preach the Christian, not the Christ.  

Holy Week is about proclaiming, preaching and teaching Christ.  Attend the Church which proclaims Jesus as Lord, in which the Sacraments are administered according to the Gospel, and there are a people who know they are sinners saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and that faith is “not their doing”,and neither are their good works, see Ephesians 2: 4-10.  Don’t flee the crucified and risen Lord, but flee for refuge to His infinite mercy to the Lord’s Church.

“For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 2: 17

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” 2 Corinthians 4: 5

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 Sermon for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, 8 February, 2,015/Text:  St. Mark 1:  29-39

A song lyric by the Rolling Stones:

 

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and faith
And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

 Can you guess his name? The song’s title  is, “Sympathy for the Devil”.  The singer is the devil. Jesus knows the devils and the demons game up close and personal.  Some 4 times in this short Gospel lesson the demons are mentioned.  Jesus knows the devil’s game:  it’s you, even the Rolling Stones knew the devil’s game (and probably better than many a Christian!):  to steal “many a man’s soul and faith”. In the Bible study at the Mayflower I pointed out that sin is separation and a woman remarked, I never heard it put that way.  Separation is also the devil’s game, to wrench us away from the Lord with temptation and sorrow and doubt.  Illness likewise is like demonic possession:  sickness gets us off by ourselves.  Sickness is almost always a quarantine.  When sick, what’s the one thing you want the most?  Yes, to do everyday something.  Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was burning with fever.  She could not get up.  Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up.  The word in Greek can also be translated, raised, as in resurrected.  She then went about her vocation as a mother and hostess.  Jesus touches her.   Sickness separates us from others while sin and the demonic separates us from God and then each other.  The chasm between us and God is great and Jesus came out to bridge the terrible gulf and conquer the abyss of hell.

 “Do you renounce the devil?  Do you renounce all his works?  Do you renounce all his ways?”  Those are the questions in the Rite of Holy Baptism in the Evangelical Lutheran Church put to the baptismal candidate.  The same questions are asked in eastern Orthodox church at a Baptism and then the priest instructs the person to be baptized to spit upon the devil.  I like that:  spitting on the devil and in the Church!  The Church needs to spit upon the devil.  Too many church bodies don’t spit upon the devil and let the devil’s vile spit of false Bible denying doctrine lavish them in sin and ruin. He lures people first with his niceness. After all Lucifer was an angel, a spiritual being, brimming with God’s good creation, an angel of light.  But he is finally a terrorist, bent in upon himself, using religion as pretext for his own lusts. The last verse of today’s Gospel is  the Lord went preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.  Congregational life and demonic possession goes hand in had. When the Lord sets us His house, Satan sets up his, but the two houses do not form a treaty or marry. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

And still be steadfast to proclaim to them that the kingdom of God is at hand, His hand, His nail-imprinted hand to save sinners and unbelievers as He has you and I.

 Jesus was not puzzled by the devil’s game at all. Jesus came not to puzzle about the devil but knowing his game to muzzle him.  Jesus has NO sympathy with the devil but for men and women possessed Jesus has perfect sympathy, “sym-patheo”. literally “to suffer with”. When the devil comes a knocking don’t answer that door but pray, Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil one.. You cannot dialogue with the devil.  Devil and his evil is cast out, muzzled, renounced and rejected, but even that is not enough, for by our own strength we can stop devil and evil. IF we try  we are only fooling ourselves but not the evil one. Remember those questions at a Baptism are prelude to the Baptism itself, the door of Jesus Christ opening the reign of heaven to you and to me.  When the devil says you are not good, you are not holy, you should have more in life, you’ve been gypped by life, just pray to the Lord and pray:  But I am baptized!  I am Christ’s.

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!   (“God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It”, #594, Lutheran Service Book)  

The Door’s been opened and the Lord has come in and you to the Lord.

 All of the town of Capernaum came to the door of Peter’s home at sunset and Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. The folks in Capernaum wanted what Jesus was giving, at no cost, except the cost to Him. Here was Jesuscare: sheer grace for the burdened, free and freeing.  Jesus had already begun bearing the sin of the world.  He began bearing the sin of the world from His birth. It took the Lord 6 days to create the heavens and earth but it took Him 33 years to save us.  As Isaiah foretold the government would be upon is shoulder fromthe get go.Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, preached John:  taking away the sin of the world right then and there. This was to fulfill what is written in Isaiah 53: Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.  Healing, saving, loving is the essence of the Lord for His people.  Poor Peter’s mother-in-law, it is sunset and the whole town is at her door and  Jesus was at the door of that home turned into the Church that evening.  As the Lord said, I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  The huddled masses were at the door yearning to be freed. We think sickness of the body is more terrible than sickness of the soul. He did not heal every sick person in Palestine for He came out, as He put it to preach, to preach the Gospel Word to free from  the terror of the sickness of sin, bind the strong man and free man trying to save himself when he cannot.

 After that evening, Jesus goes to bed then gets up early, before rise of sun to pray. In a sense He retreated. He seems to have planned to this.  Maybe the door at Peter’s house was also a battle line.  The Lord had been fighting the enemy, the terrorists of soul and body.  He was spiritually tired. His coming out into the world for the life of world was about Him and it was centered on His Father’s Word who said of Him, This is my beloved Son. This is what the Liturgy, the Divine Service is all about:  It’s about the beloved Son of the Father.  This is a way of looking at the Divine Service and all the services of God’s House:  a retreat every Sunday morning, away from the battle line.  Jesus, true man, needed to be with the Lord.  He was tempted in every we are, yet was without sin, yet was bearing already your sin and mine.  He needed to pray.  Too many times worship services are conceived as about us.  No.  A retreat is not about more about me and us, but more and ever more about the Lord, more about Jesus. The Lord has given Word and Sacrament for one purpose to proclaim through them of Christ, This is my beloved Son.  The one door is open and all who enter into will find a Father’s welcome and freedom from their sin.  He touches us with bread and wine, His body and His blood as He Himself has done so in His House.  We all need to retreat from the battle lines.  And it is not Peter’s mother in law serving the Lord, but the Lord serving us:  in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Now the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

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Many times I have been moved when I have witnessed, or as pastor led prayers in military ceremonies.  I have seen many a parade at the Virginia Military Institute and for all their rote marching, nevertheless, it is a solemn celebration that captivates.  I have led prayers at Navy retirements and once at a Navy commissioning of a “mustang“.  I have been moved at the simple eloquence of uniformed military presenting the colors on Memorial Day.  Given the gravity of the work our nation’s soldiers and sailors do on a daily basis protecting the Constitution and our nation, and what they are trained to do in war if needed, is reflected in a military ceremony which  portrays dignity of that purpose and vocation to that purpose.

I was struck by Pr. Gerhard’s meditation title, “The Dignity of the Church”, especially when I remembered this picture from a few years ago of bishops with clown noses.  Now I have been complicit in some of this nonsense over the years, such as,  I promoted a balloon release in a sanctuary for Ascension Thursday. It was all fairly silly…and lacking in dignity We have done many, too many silly things in Church, all with the purpose of being “relevant” and “reaching out to people”, as a way to be ‘joyful’.  Flippancy and joy are not the same.  As the noted 19th Century Baptist preacher said, and rather prophetically:  

Christians are being martyred as I write and you read this, not for wearing clown noses but for proclaiming Jesus as Lord.  They are not about public relations, but the Lord who sent His Son to die for a public weighted in death and despotism.  I think worship services lacking in dignity are an invitation to eventual apostasy.  We are called and baptized to a serious purpose, defending,yes, but also proclaiming the Lord.  Our vocations as parents, children, pastors, workers etc. is as the Lord’s, the salt of the earth.  The Church’s dignity is reflected in the liturgy of the Church which portrays the dignity of that purpose and vocation to that purpose, so the Lord captivates us in His freeing Word. Liturgy  is done by “rote”,  to show Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow (cf. Hebrews 13:8). Our vocations, the Lord’s call to Himself is for joy,”the serious business of heaven” (C. S. Lewis), not to be flip and forget about life, but joyful in the Life of all the living who finds us and saves us, and remember.  “Dignity” is from the Latin, “dignus”: worth.  The Lord has made us worthy, let us not do unworthy things.  From Pr. Gerhard’s meditation, The Dignity of the Church, for our encouragement:

Meditate, O devout soul, upon the worthiness of the Church, and take heed lest thou do anything unworthy of her.  The Church is thy spiritual mother; take care that thou despise not her voice as she speaks to thee. She is thy mother, and through word and sacraments thou oughtest draw all thy spiritual nourishment from her. The church is as a chaste virgin ; if thou then wouldst be true to her, abstain from the embraces of the world ; thou belongest to her, see then that thou dishonor not thyself nor her by any unholy alliances with the devil. The Church is the bride of Christ, and so is every godly soul ; let it take heed then not to cling to Satan in an unholy union. Thou, 0 my soul, art the bride of Christ; see to it that thou lose not the earnest of the Holy Spirit which hath been given unto thee; thou art the bride of Christ, pray unceasingly, that thy heavenly Bridegroom may hasten to lead thee unto the marriage feast above. Thy Bridegroom may come in the quiet and security of the midnight hour (Matt. xxv. 6); watch therefore, that when He cometh He may not find thee sleeping, and shut the door of eternal salvation upon thee. Let thy lamp be filled with the oil of faith and be brightly burning, lest at the coming, of thy heavenly Spouse thou shouldst seek in vain for oil for thy lamp (Matt. xxv.).

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I have an article at Brothers of John the Steadfast blog for your edification and encouragement: “When I was a child…”  Check it out!

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