28 July 2008

Criteria for Selecting Hymns

I've always had a passion and appreciation for hymns. Even as a little boy, I loved hymnody and the hymnal (I treasured having my own copy of the book), and I would often spend hours on end studying the information given about each hymn. The hymns that I loved best as a child are not the ones that I appreciate most now, but I remember how much they once meant to me, and I know the power that hymnody can have. As I pastor, I have become increasingly aware of the benefits and dangers inherent in that power of hymnody. There's a strong emotional component, which can be either detrimental or beneficial, depending on whether it's serving or distracting from a good text (or aiding and abetting a poor one). Both the music and the poetry of hymns, and the fact that they are sung (and that they are sung together as a congregation), serve their potential for catechesis. A good hymn well-learned through regular use will teach people the faith more efficiently and stick with them far longer than almost any sermon. I say that not to disparage the importance of preaching, but to exalt the significance of hymnody.

Over the past several years, especially in connection with my work on the Lutheran Service Book, and then also in the process of introducing and using that new book in my congregation, I've become even more conscious of hymns and more conscientious in the way I select them. I'm more deliberate about the process by which I choose them, considering not only a week at a time, but the whole scope of the Church year and the whole corpus of our Lutheran hymnody. I have tried to learn from both my own pastoral experience and my study of historic precedent and practice. I have listened carefully to my colleagues in the ministry and to my musician friends, in the hopes of benefiting from the experience and expertise of others. I have taken into account the way in which certain hymns especially commend themselves for use, in a variety of ways, and have accordingly made an effort to use those hymns regularly. I have also followed the cues of my fathers in Christ in my catechetical use of hymns.

There's frankly a lot to be considered and taken into account when it comes to selecting hymns for the singing of the Church. There's a lot at stake, too, because hymns are not neutral or innocuous. They make a tremendous impact, whether positive or negative. I honestly believe that almost nothing else we do has greater long-term catechetical consequence than the hymns that we sing with our congregations over the course of weeks and months and years and lifetimes. Singing is fundamental to who we are as Christians, and what we sing matters.

Contrary to some recent scuttlebutt, it's not true that I only have ears for ponderous sixteenth-century chorales written in a minor key. It is true that I appreciate many of those hymns very much, and I do consider the Lutheran chorale a precious treasure of our heritage. The classic chorale is not "ponderous" (not if it is played correctly and well), but musically sturdy and solidly supportive of the text; and the text, which is definitive when it comes to hymnody, tends to be a rich and full confession of the Word of God. It really is hard to beat that combo. But I welcome good hymnody from wherever and whenever it may originate, in diverse musical styles, and serving sundry purposes; much as the inspired Psalter spans a wide range of moods and uses. There are truly great hymns from every age and every corner of Christendom. The measure of a hymn's worth, in every case, is its faithfulness in confessing the Word of Christ. With that, a number of different criteria come into play in determining how, when and where a given hymn may best be used in the service of that Word. Here follow a dozen of those criteria that I have found most helpful in my approach to this important pastoral task:

1. Not every hymn can or should say everything, but every hymn should say something. What it says should be a confession of the Word of God (that is, it should say what God has said), both the Law and the Gospel, properly divided, with the Gospel predominating.

2. The hymns selected for a particular day should confess the Holy Scriptures appointed for that day, in particular the Holy Gospel. That is especially true for the Sundays following Pentecost. During the festival seasons of the Church Year (Advent through Eastertide), many of the hymns may reflect more generally the seasonal emphases rather than any one particular Reading.

3. Hymns should be implicitly (if not explicitly) Trinitarian and Christocentric. There should be no doubt or ambiguity as to who the "God" of a hymn is, nor as to what He has done and is doing in the Person and work of Christ Jesus. Which also means, by extension, that hymns should be implicitly (if not explicitly) Sacramental in proclaiming the Gospel. Not just "God," but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Not just "Christ," but Him crucified for our transgressions and raised for our justification. Not simply "once upon a time," but actively present and at work, here and now, to forgive sins and give life in the means of grace, through the preaching and administration of the Gospel.

4. The appointed Hymn of the Day should be regarded as one of the Propers, and should therefore be used. Exceptions to this rule should be exceedingly rare, and only for compelling reasons.

5. At Matins and Vespers, Morning and Evening Prayer, the "office hymn" should be appropriate to the time of day (morning or evening), comprehensively pertinent to the season of the Church Year, or directly related to the particular occasion.

6. The Hymn of Invocation is fundamentally a prayer for the Holy Spirit to open our ears and our hearts to hear and receive the Word of God and the gifts of Christ in the Service. In some way, more or less, the hymn should articulate that purpose.

7. Distribution hymns may specifically speak of the Lord's Supper. It is not necessary that most of them do so. It is appropriate and helpful for distribution hymns to pick up on aspects of the Holy Gospel of the Day, or on the special emphases of the liturgical season, in order to identify the Jesus who gives His body and blood in the Sacrament with the Jesus proclaimed, confessed and celebrated in the preaching.

8. If there is an offertory hymn, it need not describe the offering, because it is an offering, that is, a priestly sacrifice of prayer, praise and thanksgiving. An offertory hymn should give thanks and praise by confessing what God has said and done, or else it should pray for that which He has promised.

9. If there is a final hymn following the Benediction, it should not put the people back under the Law, but it should underscore and emphasize the gift and certainty of the Gospel and express a joyful confidence in the life that is already theirs in Christ Jesus. It may also serve as a prayer of eschatological longing and hope for the consummation of God's promises in the resurrection.

10. A solid core of good Lutheran hymns should be used with a fair degree of repetition throughout each year, in order that the people learn to know those hymns by heart through singing them.

11. It is helpful to identify a particular hymn from the Divine Service on Sunday (usually the Hymn of the Day) to be sung throughout the week: in the daily prayer offices of the congregation, in the daily catechesis of the home and family, and at meetings and other gatherings of the people.

12. Hymns that have established themselves in the piety of the people over the course of years, even if not the strongest examples of good hymnody, should be used with careful consideration, allowing for the significance that has attached itself to such hymns in association with the life of the Church. Weaker hymns, however, should be supported by a context of stronger hymns (with reference, in either case, to both text and tune).

25 July 2008

In Praise of Cowboy Boots

Reflections on Pr. Kenneth Korby as Preacher and Presider

Beside Norman Nagel, the other great influence in my work as a preacher and presider was the sainted Dr. Kenneth Korby, who now rests from his labors and his works do indeed follow him. Kenneth was a remarkable man, both in the classroom and in the chancel. The key word is “man.” I recall him saying to a seminary class once, “God ordains men to the pastoral office. Be one.” Anyone who has seen and heard Korby in the pulpit and at the altar knows of what I speak. Korby was a man’s man in the liturgy.

Korby as preacher and presider reinforced for me the Lord’s wisdom in making the pastoral office a male office. I recall once standing for the Liturgy of St. Basil at Holy Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles. The priest in charge there was a large statured Scotsman with long red hair and beard and a Scotsman’s earthy sense of humor to match. Hearing him chant the liturgy, I whispered to a friend, “This is why there will never be female priests in the Orthodox church. I don’t know any women who could sing so low.” I vastly prefer the baritone range to the squeaky tenor than many of our settings, including TLH, impose on the presider, making him sound as though he had just taken a knee to the groin. Korby’s voice was seasoned by much speaking, unfiltered Camels, pipes, cigars, and vocal chord polyps, which together lent a certain gravitas to everything he said.

What many people don’t know is that Kenneth always wore cowboy boots in the chancel, a gift from his daughter and son-in-law. He also had a black Stetson, which Jeanne strictly forbad him to wear east of the continental divide (though he did anyway). I recall picking Kenneth up from Ontario Airport the day before my ordination where he was to preach. He paused dramatically at the top of the stairway (this was back in the day when Ontario used stairways instead of jet ways and resembled an airport straight out of Mayberry RFD), scanned the orange, dusk horizon, and put on his black Stetson. The man had landed in the West.

Where Nagel could preach the Gospel as though there were no tomorrow, Korby could preach the Law. His preaching of the Law left you in the dust, and it was sure to be answered by an equally powerful word of Gospel. But it was the law in all its diagnostic, killing severity that I remember most. You tasted the dust of your death when Korby was in the pulpit, and he pulled no punches when it came to his use of the language.

Liturgically, Korby was a man who had no patience with high-church chancel prancing or low-church pietism. He wore his pastoral robes like work clothes, including the black cowboy boots. He was known to scold congregations, my own included, who did not respond to a prayer or blessing with a vigorous priestly “Amen.” He would come out of the chancel to put hymnals into the hands of non-participants with an admonition to “open your mouth and sing.” He even called audibles in the chancel like Tom Brady at the line of scrimmage, suddenly deciding by some strange movement of the Spirit to “sing another psalm or hymn,” much to the consternation of organists and liturgical assistants. His wife Jeanne tells of Kenneth’s “lining” of unfamiliar hymns in the old American-Shaker tradition. He would speak a line and the congregation would then sing the line alternately through the verses. She also testifies that Kenneth would, for no apparent reason, momentarily leave the confines of the pulpit during a sermon to wander into the chancel or the nave. The Word could not be bound but had to have free course and be preached when Kenneth was the preacher.

This is not to suggest that Korby was sloppy or careless with the liturgy. On a vacation visit to Notre Dame (the one in France), Jeanne and Kenneth attended Mass there and discussed what they had seen and heard afterwards. Korby took approving note of the orderly, clean precision of the presider saying, “The way the man moved, you barely even noticed him.” Korby advocated clean and precise liturgics without affect or pose. You tend not to notice men at work; you take note of their work.

Korby was quite familiar with old Una Sancta crowd and the Society of St. James, the Lutheran liturgical revivalists of the generation before us. He had a full set of their journals in his possession. Korby knew Piepkorn, von Schenk, Kretzman, and others personally. He embraced their strengths and critiqued their weaknesses. He was a part of the great Lutheran confluence that came together at Valparaiso University in the 1960’s; Kenneth was the first celebrant at Valpo’s magnificent chapel. Though he soared in the heights of liturgical theology, Korby never joined in the excesses that inevitably come with “renewal movements.” He was a Lutheran in the most organic sense of that word - earthy, rough, 60-grit - able to conduct the liturgy across cultural boundaries with ease precisely because he handled the liturgy as a skilled workman at his trade. For Korby, clericals were work clothes, and cowboy boots were his favorite work boots. When chasubiles became the fashion rage among the liturgical set, Korby too rejoiced. He loved their seasonal colors and how they made the pastor a billboard for the church year, in which Korby, ever the teacher, took great delight.

That’s the image I take from the memory of Kenneth Korby as preacher and the presider - a workman hard at his craft. A workman, free in Christ, expertly handling the Word of God in the bold confidence of one who has been ordained to speak and act in the Savior’s stead. I have learned through hard lessons and experience that the Church doesn’t always want such pastors, as the expectations of the holy Office have become increasingly feminized, psychologized, and soft-edged. People seem to seek a nurturing mother more than a strong, loving, and wise father, perhaps due to the breakdown of our families and the absence of strong fathers in our society.

Korby never cared much for the honorific title “Father.” “Pastor” got his attention quite nicely, thank you. Yet for me, and for many others who had the privilege of studying with him, he exemplified genuine spiritual fatherhood in the pulpit and at the altar - a roll up your sleeves, put on your boots and go to work kind of father, for which I am forever grateful.

It is for this reason that I wear my boots in the chancel in memory of that great, gruff, sainted man with the black Stetson and gravel voice who taught us all to say a vigorous and manly “Amen.”


(Note: This essay and the material contained therein have been fact-checked and approved by Mrs. Jeanne Korby, Kenneth’s widow, who added some personal stories and observations of her own. It is published here with her blessing and approval.)

22 July 2008

Piggy Backing on Pr. Cwirla...

...here's a homily that Dr. Nagel delivered at St. Paul's on the Third Sunday after Trinity a few year's back. It was the 20th anniversary of my ordination into the holy office. We use the historic lectionary, so the texts were: Micah 7:18-20 / 1 Timothy 1:12-17 / Luke 15:1-10.

Homily for Trinity 3 - Doctor Norman Nagel (Text: 1 Timothy 1:12-17)

In the name of Jesus.

It's amazing what turns up Sunday by Sunday in the Scriptures we hear read. Take today. We could spend a happy time with the Gospel. In this congregation, I've been told, no one can get away with saying, "Oh, we know all about that business of the lost coin and sheep." You have gotten in the way of being surprised with what more and deeper there is with the lost sheep and the lost coin than you ever imagined. And that can also hit you in Bible study, or when the pastor visits you, celebrating some special gift and occasion. Or when you are sick, or dying.

So you have a pastor. That was our Lord's idea, which is where today's epistle comes in with talk of ordination. So let's run with the epistle. If you'd rather have a sermon about the gospel, sorry. Be sure to be here, then, next year, third Sunday after Trinity. Besides you can always count on more from your own pastor than you can from any one-shot preacher. However, a one-shot preacher may have one usefulness. If your pastor preaches the doctrine of the Office of the Holy Ministry, some may suspect he's puffing up himself.

Actually, you see, Holy Ordination does exactly the opposite. It gets the man out of the way of what the Lord puts him there for as His instrument. As Dr. Luther says, "It is the Lord who ordains and makes ministers." And weightier than Dr. Luther is the Apostle Paul, who has only the Lord to thank that he is a minister.

"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who enabled me because he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, an insolent man. But I obtained mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus."

That's where it's at. "In Christ Jesus." As a place, that is where He is doing His Christ Jesusing. Since He is the only one who does that, what is going on there is only by His doing. And what's the first thing to say about Him and His doing, and where it is going on? "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."
Paul not only had no score; he was clearly in negative, in minus territory, well below zero, a blasphemer and a persecutor. The Christ Jesus whom he confesses is the one who reached down below zero, rescued him, and - would you believe it? - put him into the ministry. That's enough to bowl Paul over.

But he isn't stuck there with himself. He is talking for the sake of those who are Christians or who are being drawn toward being Christians. Look, if He's such a Lord Jesus as can reach down to where I was, well below zero, you can surely count on Him, you can surely count on Him to do that for you. He saved "a wretch like me."

You've all sung it, but do be careful. Are you drawing attention to yourself or to your Savior? The Apostle points to the Savior: the one who has done the saving job. The only one. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. If you are not a sinner, don't play pretend and make a mockery of the liturgy; of the Savior, whose liturgy it is.

The liturgy begins before the Lord, in His name. We are sinners; there's no denying it. But are baptized. He put His name upon us with the water. There's no denying that. He will not deny that although we may try to get rid of it to our peril. The Lord runs the liturgy with His name. Out of His name, He speaks to us, and we say back to Him what He says to us. That this is what is going on is clearly confessed when the Lord speaks His words to us by the use of the mouth that He has put there for His speaking it.

Now it's not because we figured out it was a good idea to have a minister doing that. It is the Lord's idea. Ours by His gift and mandate. No one may dare to speak same as the Lord speaking, unless the Lord has put him there to do it, as the Lord's instrument for what He, the Lord, is having to say. You are being spoken to by the Lord, by what He is saying and delivering with His words. "It's not my two bits with" says the pastor. "By virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

In the name means He is doing it. And doing it in the way that He has given for it to be done. To say "office" is to say "instrument" is to say "the Lord is doing it." His doing, according as our text puts it, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He did that. Answered for our sins in our place. At Calvary. And then, as we read at the end of the Gospels, He arranged for the salvation He had achieved Good Friday and Easter to be delivered. He instituted the office of the holy ministry. And that continues on as He puts men into it. If there's no one put in, it's not going on.

His putting Paul in is where today's Epistle begins. Today we are celebrating His putting in, some 20 years ago, him upon whom He put His name in his baptism some twenty years earlier, named William, of the lineage of Weedon, and now called to be your pastor at St. Paul's.

The Lord doesn't let things float. He achieved salvation. He sees to its delivery. Proclamation, Baptism, Absolution, Lord's Supper. And for these to be going on, He instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry, as the Augsburg Confession so clearly confesses. To say "office" is to say "instrument", to say "instrument" is to say "the Lord is doing it." Or the other way round. To say that the Lord is doing it, is to say that His instrument is doing it, to say that the Office He instituted is doing it. The Office He put William Weedon into and called him to be your pastor at St. Paul's.

Did Pastor Weedon baptize you? You can say that. It wouldn't have happened unless somebody did it. But you confess, rather, with the Large Catechism, we see a man's hands doing it, but it is done in the Lord's name. That is, HE is doing it. Only what the Lord does can we be utterly sure of.

Lots of things, then, of His doing to be giving thanks for today, tomorrow, next Sunday. And next year's Third Sunday after Trinity, expect some surprises with the lost sheep and the lost coin. Then, there's heaven coming. That's where the Epistle's doxology swings us up to: "To believe on Him for everlasting life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen."

In a moment we'll be pulled into doing that with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. The Lord who gives 20 years has always lots more that He is leading us onto. Open your mouth wide, says the Lord, and I will fill it. Amen.

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

Nagel as Preacher and Presider

A Personal Reflection

Two men have shaped my liturgical and homiletical theology more than any others - Dr. Norman Nagel and Dr. Kenneth Korby. I have working closely under Dr. Nagel as a reader, grader, and graduate student for 3 privileged years, and I consider Dr. Korby to be one of my spiritual fathers in the faith. I still keep contact with his widow, Jeanne, a godly woman in the way of Proverbs 31 if ever there was one.

Dr. Nagel as presider was always a sight to behold, and great fun, as he quite innocently ran roughshod over all the fastidious precision of the “liturgiologists.” He would come to the seminary chapel with cassock and surplice rolled under his arm, making it look as though he had just slept in it. A frock of hair would be dangling down over his glasses and a typewritten manuscript with some handwritten “clincher” scrawled on it, likely conceived on his way to the chapel. His disheveled appearance stood in sharp contrast to the “spit and polish” taught in worship classes.

In the pulpit, Norman read his sermon with face buried in the manuscript, occasionally looking up over glasses that were slowly creeping down his nose. These were some of the finest sermons every preached in the St. Louis seminary chapel. So much for modern communication theory. Dr. Nagel’s sermons were intricately woven narratives, often retelling the text in a colorfully embellished way, interweaving the Law and the Gospel in a taut dynamic tension that was the trademark of his preaching.

I recall a lengthy discussion in Dr. Nagel’s office once after a lecture by the sainted Gerhard Forde over the proper distinction of the Law and the Gospel. Forde seemed to run these as static categories, and Dr. Nagel appeared somewhat displeased by it all. I asked him, “How would you distinguish the Law and the Gospel in a text?” Dr. Nagel replied, “First, one must look for what of Jesus the text is trying to deliver; then one must look for what gets in the way of the delivery.” I’ve carried that insight with me into the pulpit to this day.

At the altar, Dr. Nagel was unpretentious. He despised excessive pomp and ceremony. For Dr. Nagel, the Office was causa instrumentalis, the instrumental means, by which the Gospel and Sacraments delivered Christ to the people. He was adamant that the instrument never overshadow the gift. Liturgics that drew attention to the celebrant and away from the gifts of Christ would draw a furrowed frown from the good doctor. One sacristan tells the story of being literally thrown out of Dr. Nagel’s office for asking him to impose ashes on Ash Wednesday. Far be it from Dr. Nagel to soil a man’s forehead with the Law.

I recall but one amusing attempt by Dr. Nagel to wear a chasubile. It was in the old chapel/auditorium at St. Louis, prior to the building of the magnificent Chapel of Saints Timothy and Titus. Dr. Nagel abruptly exited to the sacristy after the prayers, and returned wearing a rumpled chasubile, slightly askew, glasses crooked and hair displaced even more than usual from the vesting experience. He never attempted it again, at least while I was at the seminary.

What I learned from Dr. Nagel is to hold the holy things with a rather loose, even dead hand of faith, trusting in the efficacy of the Word to do its killing and making alive work. What matters is Christ and the delivery of His gifts - that the words of Christ go into ear holes and the Body and Blood of Christ go into mouths. These treasures are delivered in weak, earthen vessels, and we can, if we are not careful, get in the way and become a distraction. Dr. Nagel was unpretentiously and transparently himself in the pulpit and at the altar. His eccentricities were natural - to him - and he taught by example that free men in Christ are not afraid to be themselves as they conduct the stewardship of their Office.

At the same time, I acquired a deep and abiding respect for the liturgy as a holy tradition, a trust handed down from our fathers who have come before us. Every paper written for Dr. Nagel was an exercise in liturgical theology, as he demanded from us that we examine how the worship of the past handled the holy things and whether they got it “Gospel right.” I would never have known of the ancient liturgies, both East and West, were it not for all my Nagel classes. Liturgy is doctrine put into practice, as the gifts of life and salvation won at Calvary are delivered in the present time and place.

Dr. Nagel’s oft-quoted introduction to Lutheran Worship (1982) summarizes well this way of faith’s receiving that which is handed down, and handing it on to the rising generation:

“We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each generation receives from those who went before and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day - the living heritage and something new.”

In short, Dr. Nagel taught and celebrated and lived the liturgy “in the way of the Gospel.”

Next, Dr. Kenneth Korby and why I wear boots in the chancel.


21 July 2008

Bending and Lifting: Ceremonial Catechesis

I had a pleasant and productive visit with my District President, the Reverend Daniel May, earlier this month. I met with him in my capacity as the chairmain of our district's Worship and Spiritual Care Committee, and I appreciated both his time and his attentiveness to what I had to say. I certainly don't envy his job, nor the hours he has to keep and the many miles he has to drive, but I have been thankful for the pastoral perspective and demeanor with which he has approached his office these past five years. His several decades in the parish shaped him in a way that climbing the bureaucratic ladder would not have.

Our meeting was chiefly to discuss a set of guidelines that the Worship and Spiritual Care Committee recently completed, intended to assist the president in giving evangelical direction to pastors and congregations when they are hosting services for gatherings of the Synod in this place. We're all painfully aware of the rampant diversity that has increasingly plagued the worship practices of congregations across the Synod. There seems to be little that synodical officials can do about that trend, other than encouraging the use of mutually agreed-upon orders of service and hymnody. When it comes to gatherings of the Synod, however, at the circuit, district or national level, Christian love for the neighbor and practical propriety commend the use of those things we have agreed upon together in our fellowship. By and large, the guidelines developed by our district committee urge that approach, specifically the use of service orders and hymns from the Lutheran Service Book.

Along with the suggested use of LSB, our committee has also urged that pastors and congregations who are contemplating practices that are likely to seem unusual, or even questionable, should seek the counsel and advice of the District President before incorporating such practices at district gatherings. Although we did not attempt to specify a list of what those particular practices might be, our committee discussions included the examples of "incense and rock bands in the chancel" as two extremes. Never mind that the use of incense is about as ancient and scriptural a practice as one may find, and that rock bands in the chancel are a modern novelty that intentionally draws upon the pop culture of the world; in today's Indiana District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, both practices may be found, but neither is common, and either one is likely to raise eyebrows. For those inclined to use such things outside the ordinary experience and expectations of brother pastors and sister congregations, we have asked that the District President be consulted at least.

Our approach to these guidelines, happily, is very much in sync with the goals that President May has advocated since he was first elected in 2003. His leadership in this area has been toward the common acceptance and use of LSB, with due allowance for evangelical freedom and a healthy consideration of love for the neighbor. In my opinion, this is a worthy goal, although I think it is a shame that it should have to be a goal instead of the way things simply are. Of course, I'm not talking about LSB vs. TLH or LW, but the use of any official service book and hymnal as opposed to the smorgasbord of local creativity and cleverly invented spectacles that no eye hath seen nor ear ever heard. How can the people of God confess such things? How should they even attempt to do so, not knowing whence they come or whither they are going?

Anyway, if we could all humble ourselves in Christian love to use the agreed-upon service orders and hymns of our official books, such as LSB, then we'd be a long way toward a greater unity of confession and practice. The sticky wicket, then, comes mainly with the question of ceremony, in the way that optional rubrics are followed (or not), and in the use of freedom where the rubrics do not give directions or suggestions. It is in such areas, again, that we have urged an exercise of caution when it comes to gatherings of the Synod in this place; lest, by our freedom, we sin against the weaker brother by distracting him from the Word of God. From what I am given to understand, it is especially in response to such things (at district gatherings and within congregations) that complaints are most often raised. Which goes to show that adiaphora are not indifferent, incidental or insignificant things, free though they be of divine command or prohibition.

My point is not to comment on the practices of the Indiana District, far less to criticize anything in that regard. I'm more interested in some general observations pertaining to adiaphora and the evangelical use of ceremonies. I'm quite adament about the freedom of genuine adiaphora, notwithstanding the misunderstanding, misapplication and widespread abuse of this teaching and confession. I've had my own frustrations in this area, and at a times a visceral resistance to it, but it is what it is; it belongs to the proper distinction of the Law and the Gospel, and it should be embraced within the bonds of faith and love. In particular, I recall a passage from Wilhelm Löhe, great liturgical scholar and reverent liturgist that he was, in which he praises the Lutheran teaching and confession of adiaphora as one of the most precious gems of the Reformation. I am grateful for his instruction and good example in this respect, which I strive to follow faithfully.

In faith toward God, we exercise our freedom in love toward our neighbor. We don't insist upon our freedom for the sake of serving ourselves, but for the benefit of others, that we may glorify the grace of God in Christ. Thus, we lay no laws upon others which God has not laid upon them or us; and we place no weight upon the consciences of others, whom Christ has redeemed and cleansed with His own blood. Sometimes that means foregoing pious practices which, in and of themselves, are meet, right and salutary. Else it means patient teaching and careful catechesis, in order to introduce a salutary practice as a gracious gift and as a way and means of confessing the Gospel. As pastors, even our exercise of personal piety bears a public witness and example, which may unwittingly impose itself upon the weaker brother or the uninitiated observer. It is for such reasons, for the sake of love, that I urge the avoidance of "extremes" in gatherings of our synodical fellowship, wherein our common confession and the common good is served by a recognizably common practice. To speak somewhat crassly, the "high church" brothers bend down to serve their neighbor, and the "low church" brothers lift themselves up for the many.

With those thoughts in mind, I have been contemplating a couple of particular examples. For I have it on good authority that two of those pious practices which are frequently perceived and questioned as "extreme" and outside of the norm are genuflecting and the elevation of the Holy Sacrament. Another sort of bending low and lifting up, both of which belong to my pastoral practice at Emmaus. Would I insist upon either one of these in a gathering of my brothers and sisters in Christ, knowing that many of the faithful in that context may be distracted or troubled by them? No, I would not insist upon either of these ceremonies. But in consideration of these two examples, I have wondered whether there are times and places for pushing the boundaries a bit, and how one might go about doing so in a loving, evangelical fashion. At the Divine Service in St. Louis for the Higher Things conference, I exercised both of these ceremonies; because they are my usual practice at Emmaus, and because I believe them to be, in their own unique way, a beneficial form of catechesis. Along with that, a written catechesis on these and other liturgical ceremonies was provided to all of the participants in the conference, so that all things might serve to the glory of God and for the edification of His people. Similarly, though I would not presume to insist upon genuflecting or the elevation at a synodical gathering, it is my opinion that catechesis in these ceremonies would be appropriate and beneficial to the Church.

Somewhere in our Lutheran Confessions, perhaps Apology XXIV, it is stated that the purpose of ceremonies is the teaching or instruction of the faithful, especially the young and the simple. I think there is more to ceremony than such instruction, and I resist the trend to make everything didactic in a cerebral manner; yet, I wholeheartedly agree the ceremonies do teach the faith in a particularly powerful way. It is certainly true, in my observation and experience, that the little children are formed significantly by what they see and experience in the Divine Service. They are also among the first to detect a dissonance or contradiction between what is said and what is done. A pastor can repeat ad nauseam that the bread and wine in the Holy Communion are the true body and blood of Christ, but, if he comports himself as though he were handling nothing else than bread and wine, the children will wonder if he is either a fool or a liar. My dear father in Christ, Professor Marquart, once described this sort of problem with a reference to pastors who distribute the body and blood of Christ as though they were hawking fish at the market. Such conduct is not only inappropriate and unbecoming, but misleading and offensive; it is surely as much a stumbling block to the simple faithful and the weaker brethren as any insistence upon that which is free. If some pastor has such a strong faith and confidence in the freedom of the Gospel that he may comfortably act the buffoon in the presence of God, he ought to rein himself in and forego his own freedom for the sake of those who may be led to wonder if they are in the presence of God or the devil.

I genuflect at various points in the Divine Service because I am there and then given to receive and to administer the very Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God. I do it to discipline and govern my own body, that my outward actions may confess and assist the faith of my heart; no less than my lips also confess the Word that I believe with my heart. And I genuflect, also, to teach and remind the people of God that there is more happening in the Divine Service than we can see with our eyes on the surface. We enter with boldness and confidence, yes, but we enter into the Holy of Holies through the very flesh and blood of Christ our Savior.

To genuflect at the consecration of the Sacrament is an adoration of that Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is not present for the sake of our adoration, but He is surely present, and it is truly meet, right and salutary that we should worship and adore Him: with our lips and with our lives, with the prostration of both our hearts and our bodies. It is not necessary, but it is appropriate.

I elevate the body and blood of Christ before the congregation of His disciples at the Pax Domini for the very reasons that Dr. Luther advocates in both his Latin and German orders of the Mass: It is an appropriate ceremonial affirmation of the Peace that Christ grants with the giving of His body and His blood for the free and full forgiveness of sins, and it offers a visual invitation to His Christians that His Supper is now ready for them to eat and to drink at His gracious Word. I am honestly surprised that this ceremony should be questioned among Lutherans, though I do not doubt what I have been told, that it is. Again, for the sake of love, I would not presume to insist upon the elevation; nor do I suppose it to be necessary. But I would like to suggest that the elevation not only enriches the celebration of the Holy Communion, but also serves to catechize the faithful in the Gospel of the Sacrament: that Christ comes to them in love, personally and bodily, to give Himself to them, and to welcome them to Himself.

The elevation invites and draws the communicants to Christ precisely in the Sacrament, in those external elements which are His very body and precious blood, rather than leaving the people to wander about in their minds looking for Christ in their hearts or in heavens far above, somewhere over the rainbow. It is a powerful confession of the Word of Christ, echoing their "Amen" to the Pax Domini, when the people sing the Agnus Dei to the Lamb of God who is right there lifted up before them in the bread and in the cup, concerning which He has spoken: "This is My Body. This is the New Testament in My Blood." And how shall we not bend low before that?

I'm not pushing for anything, nor suggesting that there be an imposition of liturgical law upon pastors and congregations. But I wonder if the absence of genuflecting and the elevation have not only impoverished our Lutheran ceremonial but also impoverished our Lutheran catechesis of the Sacrament. It goes hand-in-hand with a tendency to speak most often of the bread and wine, but seldom of the Lord's body and blood. That is like describing Sarah as Abraham's sister (true enough) without mentioning that she is his beloved bride.

I would like to suggest that faithful catechesis may include the gentle restoration of these two historic ceremonies; and that their evangelical use in the freedom of the Gospel would itself be a meet, right and salutary catechesis in the Word of Christ.

18 July 2008

In the way of the Gospel?

What's Law got to do with it?

Over at his always insightful and well-thought-out blog (I need a "writing day" on my weekly calendar. . . ), the founder of this blog provided a thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion of man and wife and child-bearing.

But that's not what this post is about - Fr. Rick's blog would be the place to comment on that. But I want to take just a line from Fr. Rick's analysis on this point and move that discussion here for the Four and Twenty Elders. In his post, Fr. Rick wrote that his way of thinking on the topic offered "not only a different consideration, but a different way of thinking: in the way of the Gospel instead of the Law, for the sake of my neighbor instead of my self."

What I've always wondered about Lutherans when they begin talking about serving the neighbor and acting out of the Gospel instead of the Law is this:

How do I know what Love looks like? How can I protect my neighbor from my own notions of what Love is? How do I know I'm being truly Loving and not instead swamped by my own sentiments in the way of the Gospel?

A crass example for the sake of clarity: When Jack Kavorkian says that he is being loving by killing people, we know he's wrong.

But how do we know he's wrong? I take him at his word that he thinks he's being loving. I believe that his sentiments honestly hold that death is immediately preferable to suffering. But I know he's wrong. I know that is not Love.

And I know it because of the Law. The Law shows us what love looks like, for love fulfills the Law. That is a reciprocal relationship. If I want to know what action is Loving, I can look to the Law and see.

Now, our Lord Jesus fulfills the Law by his actions which actions are Gospel to us. So I am certainly not opposed to talk of doing things in the way of the Gospel. But I struggle with this: What's the process for deciding if some one of our actions is loving in the way of the Gospel?

If I want to decide if something is loving based on the fact that love is the fulfillment of the Law, I have a built-in algorithm, if you will, for finding out if it is in fact loving: compare the action to the precepts of the Law.

But how do I find out if an action is loving in accord with the Gospel? Where's the algorithm? Does it boil down to WWJD? Isn't that a bit subjective?

Or another example: In college we used to debate at this Mennonite college. They had a poster in one of the rooms depicting the scene of the woman caught in adultery. The caption read: "The only time Jesus was asked about capital punishment, he was against it."

That seems to me to be an attempt at judging an action in the way of the Gospel. But I also think it is faulty reasoning. Because capital punishment is part of the Law of God (Gen 9, Rom 13) and the Law is the fulfillment of Love. . .

So, I remain confused. What does it mean to judge an action in the way of the Gospel? Can that ever be anything other than a subjective judgment along the lines of WWJD? And what's wrong with judging moral actions in the way of the Law, that is, to see if a moral action measures up to Love?

I'll look forward to reading all your comments when I get back from vacation. . .


The Pastor vs. The Clinical Ethicist

So one of the faithful is near death.

He has had complications following treatment for cancer and has been on a ventilator for 7 months or so. He was in rehab and was finally being weaned off the vent, but on Monday he developed an infection and went into kidney failure; along with very low blood pressure. He is now in the ICU on the vent, dialysis, medication to keep his blood pressure up and continued antibiotics to fight the infection.

Today the physicians told the family that there was nothing more that could be done....and that it would probably be a good thing to make him more "comfortable". They were told that an increased dosage of the morphine he was already on for pain would most likely counteract the blood pressure medication and as a result he could die comfortably within 1-2 hours. None of the other treatments would be removed mind you, but comfort would be given. So the pastor was called...please come as soon as you can.

This faithful man was the chairman of our parish's Lutherans for Life group. He is a man of life and having spoken about such things with him, I knew that this was no road that he would want his family to go down, but rather he would continue to live as he had for all these months, in real suffering, but also in real hope. His wife and children are faithful Christians, members of our parish together. His dear wife particularly was troubled by all of this talk from the drs., and wanted to hear from the pastor, but most importantly from the Word what should be done. There was a crisis of faith. So I stated that by no means would we do anything to hasten his death, rather we would put the comforting words of Christ into his ears. We discussed the suffering of our Lord, and the sanctified suffering of those who bear the cross as Christians. Also that the 5th commandment holds. They heard the Word of God and were happy to be freed from the foothold of Satan who would plague them with guilt over wanting it "all to be over with and his suffering to end." And as his wife even said, "I am tempted to want them to do this, so I won't have to keep on coming to these places and see this all." She knew the temptation and fought it; the temptation to live for herself, instead of living in faithfulness to her Lord and her husband. So at the end of a long conversation there was really no decision to be made, he would live with what they were giving him until the Lord would have His way.

So one of the nurses was in the room listening to much of this, and the man's wife told her that they were to continue all the current treatments but were not to increase the morphine because as she said, "We don't believe in euthanasia." The nurse's reply was, "Our clinical ethicist is on the floor and I know that he would be willing to speak with you." Now mind you I dress the part of the preacher, but what the preacher had told the family and what the family had seen as the way obviously did not resinate with this nurse. So she went to get him. And we braced ourselves for what he would say, more out of curiosity more than anything else I think. With one of the children saying something like, this should be interesting.

So in walks the guy, sits down, gives his first name only (what exactly his credentials are to be a clinical ethicist no one knows) and basically attempts to convince the family, in my presence mind you, of the need to "figure out what the goal here is. Is it to simply keep him alive as long as we can, or is it to make him comfortable?" I was waiting for some ethics to start coming out of his mouth but got no such thing. Again the dear wife, "We do not believe in euthanasia." Defensiveness from the clinical ethicist, "no, no that is not what I'm saying. We wouldn't remove any other of the medications or devices, but make him comfortable, that comfort might result in his death, yes if the blood pressure goes down." Again, this comfortable business. I was waiting for him to bring something up about letting him go to a better place or some such thing, but he basically gave the apologia for comfort over suffering, stating that the death might be painful and difficult without the increased medication. Really, death is difficult and painful, who knew? So the wife excused him, we made up our minds thank you.

So he left, having brought no real ethics to bear, because he came empty handed with no word of Christ, no guidance from the scriptures. No words like

"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God." Romans 8:14-19

"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 5:6-10

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. St. Luke 9:23-26

Jesus really means this business of bearing the cross, of denying the self of following him in suffering with the promises of resurrection and glory to come. We want to avoid this reality, and in doing so we are very tempted to avoid the glory of the cross itself, that God has done His greatest work in the suffering of His Son. The cross, it is His glory, it is our life. The promises that He gives through the Apostles are real too, of eternal glory of suffering a little while and receiving His gifts, real.

That it why it was with such joy that we prayed the Commendation of the Dying. Reading St. Matthew's Passion to a dying man, and to his family and telling him that because of Christ's suffering, of the fact that the Father forsook His Son, he was not forsaken in that room, nor would he ever be. That he was baptized into that one death, that his sins were truly atoned for and forgiven; that he was free from them and from death itself. And then to read St. John's account of the resurrection, "go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” Telling him that Christ has been raised that He is now at the Father's right hand, the one mediator who has destroyed death, who has prepared a place for him and will take him to his side with all the saints. And then the fulness of his baptism into Christ's death and resurrection to come, his own resurrection on the last day. That he has a true Father in heaven, because he has all that the Son is and has through Holy Baptism. All of this is the real comfort, not some drug, these Words. And I got to rejoice in the faithfulness of these people, commending their husband and father completely to the Lord knowing what he would face, but that he would face it with clarity of mind and they with clarity of conscience.

Talking to a brother pastor this evening, he said it was his experience all to often that the decision for "comfort" has won out, and that usually the decision is made well before he arrives at the hospital by relatives that are not among the faithful. I am wondering what you brethren think about all of this. Of course this isn't the first time I have had to deal with such things, it is the first time the clinical ethicist has shown up. Clinical ethicists called in when the family's pastor is present? Bizarre. But I am guessing that the clinical ethicist and the nurse and whoever else thought that the family and the pastor were really the bizarre ones.

It is one of those where the funeral sermon is going to write itself.

Pr. BT Ball+

16 July 2008

Compel me to Absolve you!

The following is a quote from Luther's Large Catechism "An exhortation to confession" -

28 So we teach what a splendid, precious, and comforting thing Confession is. Furthermore, we strongly urge people not to despise a blessing that in view of our great need is so priceless. Now, if you are a Christian, then you do not need either my pressuring or the pope’s orders, but you will undoubtedly compel yourself to come to Confession and will beg me for a share in it. 29 However, if you want to despise it and proudly continue without Confession, then we must draw the conclusion that you are no Christian and should not enjoy the Sacrament either. For you despise what no Christian should despise. In that way you make it so that you cannot have forgiveness of your sins. This is a sure sign that you also despise the Gospel.
30 To sum it up, we want to have nothing to do with coercion. However, if someone does not listen to or follow our preaching and its warning, we will have nothing to do with him [1 Corinthians 5:11], nor may he have any share in the Gospel. If you were a Christian, then you ought to be happy to run more than a hundred miles to Confession and not let yourself be urged to come. You should rather come and compel us to give you the opportunity. 31 For in this matter the compulsion must be the other way around: we must act under orders, you must come into freedom. We pressure no one, but we let ourselves be pressured, just as we let people compel us to preach to administer the Sacrament.32 When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian. If I have brought you to the point of being a Christian, I have thereby also brought you to Confession. For those who really desire to be true Christians, to be rid of their sins, and to have a cheerful conscience already possess the true hunger and thirst. They reach for the bread, just as Psalm 42:1 says of a hunted deer, burning in the heat with thirst, 33 “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God.” In other words, as a deer with anxious and trembling eagerness strains toward a fresh, flowing stream, so I yearn anxiously and tremblingly for God’s Word, Absolution, the Sacrament, and so forth. 34 See, that would be teaching right about Confession, and people could be given such a desire and love for it that they would come and run after us for it, more than we would like. Let the papists plague and torment themselves and others who pass up the treasure and exclude themselves from it. 35 Let us, however, lift our hands in praise and thanksgiving to God [1 Timothy 2:8] for having graciously brought us to this our understanding of Confession.

I was compelled, surprisingly so, to absolve some of the children while recently at Higher Things in St. Louis. Of course I had not taken any vestments as I was not serving during any of the services that week thus I had to borrow them and a stole. These children came and asked to receive Holy Absolution. Only two of the seven asked. They had all been "compelled" to come to private confession once during the course of their confirmation training and prior to being confirmed. They had already been examined by me and received into fellowship at the Holy Supper using the rite in LSB "First communion prior to confirmation".

After confession was over for the evening I went with a few brothers to converse about this and other topics over a cool beer. The conversation turned to how one actually "does" confession well, meaning the Father confessor and not the penitent. A very helpful suggestion was holding private confession on Saturday evening and thus, with sermon prepared from text studied during the week, one can provide counsel and exhortation that is not only relevant but new as the penitent may return (hopefully) for confession again and will not hear again the same pat lines or counsel regarding their sin. Well and good.

But with all the preaching on the joy of the absolution and the clean conscience that God's absolution gives to the repentant and contrite sinner, I do not have people banging down the door pressuring me to hear their confession. One brother suggested that I just set a date and time and offer confession rather than an open invitation that if one so desires they can schedule and appointment.

I believe that the Luther quote above puts to rest any notion that confession is "Roman" but rather that the confession of the Lutherans is free, not compelled, brings complete remission of sins and not just a beginning to what must be done for satisfaction. I must confess however, that even as straight forward, even blunt a person as I am, I cringe at the statement,"29 However, if you want to despise it and proudly continue without Confession, then we must draw the conclusion that you are no Christian and should not enjoy the Sacrament either." This statement condemns me as I have yet to find, seek out, a father confessor and thus have not taken advantage of but maybe rather despised such a precious gift of God. The Table would be empty at my church if this were held to be the regulation. What to do? For me I know but for all for whom I am accountable before God?

My question is how have those of you who have instituted private confession and absolution done so in congregations that have never had it and over what period of time did you do so? I have been with this congregation for over six years, starting as vicar and then called and ordained here, have made some, maybe many, liturgical changes and have begun with much younger age communion, but have yet to establish private confession and absolution. Also, how would you answer questions in light of Luther's exhortation and condemnation of those who would not come to confession or take umbrage with his statement that such are not Christians?

Son (and Father) of Encouragement

It’s a little late for St. Barnabas, but I just finished listening to a sermon by brother Cwirla, delivered at the 2006 St. John Chrysostom Preachers’ Retreat in Canada. I trust I’ll be listening to something from brother Weedon fairly soon. I encourage you to do the same.

Since it seems odd for me to find my name listed among so many “Marquee” brothers (let the hearer of Cwirla’s sermon understand), I decided to provide – as my inaugural offering – some fatherly ruminations, hopefully in the spirit of St. Barnabas, for encouragement to “Dads” and their beloved children everywhere.

This past Sunday marked my twenty first year as pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brandon, MS. God be praised for His faithfulness! I remember the days when people in this community would smile at a young man straight out of the seminary and ask me, "Are you the youth pastor at Good Shepherd?" When I said, “No,” they’d ask, incredulously, “Are you the ONLY pastor at Good Shepherd?”

My youth hasn’t seemed to be an issue now for a good decade or more. One of my parishioners even calls me "Dad." This is her way of rejoicing that her pastor is also her father in the faith. I think it may also reflect a few graying hairs on my head!

I had the joy of baptizing this woman's first grandchild Sunday. Little Elizabeth Annrose was buried and raised again in Christ, wrapped in the Name that is above every name, dressed up in Jesus, acceptable and pleasing to the Father.

It seems, at times, that we rush past the blessings of Holy Baptism – the way it seems I’ve rushed past the years of my service in this place. I decided to slow things down a bit this Sunday and savor the miracle and mystery. After about a week's worth of conversation with brothers in the Office (some of them gathered here), I decided we would have a chanted Invocation, a chanted Lord's Prayer. I also chanted the exorcism, the blessings, as well as the prayers of the rite, including Luther's Flood Prayer. I chanted the Gospel according to St. Mark. Oh yes, I chanted Elizabeth's baptism and the anointing afterward.

Her baptism sounded as sweet as it smelled, with myrrh-scented oil on her head and the voices of saints and angels blended in singing.

Over the years at Good Shepherd, we have grown into the practice of having baptisms and confirmations at the Vigil of Easter. Sunday was a little Easter, and it sounded like the Vigil to me. It was a glad marking of 21 years.

The blessed woman who calls me "Dad" rejoiced to see her granddaughter baptized. Another blessed woman approached the Altar with tears as well, for a different reason. Twenty one years ago this past weekend, the day I was installed, I received a phone call telling me her son had been hit on his motorcycle. A seventeen year old boy lay dying on my installation day. I spent the morning at the hospital. I spent the hours and days following my installation in the same place. On the Saturday before my first Sunday as pastor here I performed my first funeral. Todd Watts, baptized in Jesus, buried at peace in Jesus, soon to be raised from the dead in Jesus.

Twenty one years came back in a flood for me this weekend.

Todd’s mother watched me baptize another mother's child on Sunday. Then she walked past the font and knelt at the Lord's altar, with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. It all sounded and smelled so sweet, and tasted even better. Some of it was bittersweet, but all of it was wrapped up in the Gospel, in the Promises of God for us in Jesus.

I remember coming here, so long ago, it seems, not knowing what encouragement the Lord would bring to others through me, and what encouragement He would provide me through them. I remember thinking I should be moving on after the first couple of years. I hadn’t lived in one place for more than a couple of years at a time since I graduated from high school. Now, I’ve been father to the same family of believers for more than two decades; only slightly longer than I’ve been a father to my own two daughters, and only slightly less than I’ve been a husband to my wife.

I wonder when men move on so quickly, before they have grown into the marriage the Lord begins when He provides a pastor to a congregation. We grow into marriage with our wives and into fatherhood with our children. We grow into the same with the people who call us “Pastor.” Or “Dad.”

By God's good grace, I will see little Elizabeth come to the Lord's Table – in a few short years. Perhaps I will baptize her children. That part of my service here is just beginning; marrying those I have baptized and confirmed. Even declaring Life in the face of their death. How much more awaits this Barnabas in my third and fourth decades, God will pour out as He wills.

One young man, who was waist high to me when I first came to Mississippi now towers over me – in more ways than one. He is heading off for his vicarage with his new bride next month. In a couple of years, he will learn what it means to be the husband and the father of the family God provides him to serve as pastor; as a Son - and Father - of Encouragement. At first, they may ask if he is the youth pastor in that place. As the years go by, I pray he gets to hear them call him, “Dad.”

I pray that for all the young men on whom the Lord chooses to place the mantle of Father. Such a blessing when both Father and children grow up together.

15 July 2008


Above the entrance to the church where I was a child, there is a sign with a passage of Holy Scripture, Habakkuk 2:20, "The LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." I recall that as a child I never really understood why the sign with that particular passage was at the entrance to the church, as it seemed to me that it was hardly ever silent in there; whether the pastor was preaching, or the congregation singing with the organ playing or us kids talking before, during and after parish school chapel. I do recall being concerned that the whole congregation was breaking some law of God every time we came to church. However, I think I finally figured it out on Sunday, in the way of the Gospel.

Where I have been put, our usual practice at the distribution is to sing two hymns. Our Kantor will descend from the balcony to receive the Body and Blood of Christ following the singing of the first one, but this Sunday he did something a bit different. After the singing of the Agnus Dei, he didn't play the first hymn, but came down to receive right away, and so while the first 40 or so people received the Blessed Sacrament, there was - silence. All except for me and my office-brother speaking, "The Body of Christ given for you... etc." I mean, you could hear a pin drop in the place. No whispering, no babies crying (a miracle I am sure, helped by the fact that mine had attended the earlier Divine Service), no milling around - I was catching sneak peeks to see what was going on since it seemed to be so quiet. So what came to my mind during the distribution? Habakkuk 2:20 - "The LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him."

We live in a world with constant noise, most of it junk. The silence was so very good. I found myself wishing that the Kantor wouldn't play any distribution hymns. The silence made me thankful, for it showed the devotion of the faithful who gather on the corner of Park and Grant in Brookfield. Of course there has been silence during the distribution before but on this past Lord's Day, thanks to our Kantor and those faithful, I was finally given to understand the prophet's words on the sign above the church door in the way that comes by the Gospel. The LORD was in his holy temple, and on that piece of earth, on that corner, there was silence before Him. The LORD was present according to the promise of His Word for those dear Christians to eat His very Body and drink His very Blood and that raised up such great joy, adoration, reverence and devotion that all the people of God could do was sit and be quiet.

I think we need more silence in the way of the Gospel. I think I am going to tell the Kantor to skip a hymn or two every once in a while. I think I am going to see about getting one of those signs.

Pr. BT Ball+

Luther on Education – Source Located

There is a famous quotation of Luther that goes,

I am much afraid that schools will prove to be the great gates of hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, engraving them in the hearts of youth. I advise no one to place his child where the scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not increasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt.

A brief search of the Internet can find many, many times this is quoted. But I wasn’t able to find any references to the source of that quotation. In fact, I even read one place where Luther’s authorship was doubted. (Indeed, quite a few of Luther’s popular “quotes” are not authentic.)

A little effort last week with my Luther’s Works in Logos yielded the original in the American Edition, though worded a bit differently. I imagine the quote as popularly cited comes from an older translation. The words come from Luther’s 1520 work, “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate.”

I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God’s word becomes corrupt. ... I greatly fear that the universities, unless they teach the Holy Scriptures diligently and impress them on the young students, are wide gates to hell.

Luther, M. (1999, c1966). Vol. 44: Luther's works, vol. 44 : The Christian in Society I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (44:207). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Rob Franck