Thursday, December 31, 2009

Circumcision and Name of Jesus

Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus
Seventh Day of Christmas
New Year’s Eve
December 31, 2009

The Lord be with you

For us in the United States, and everyone around the world that uses the Julian/Gregorian Calendar, today is New Year’s Eve and tomorrow is New Year’s Day. On the liturgical calendars (like the one used in the LCMS) the New Year started with the First Sunday in Advent, so the New Year is well underway. Still, there is a holiday to celebrate tomorrow, the Circumcision and Name of Jesus.

In Jewish homes in Jesus' day, children were (and still are I assume in Jewish households) circumcised on the eighth day and given their name. So our Lord Jesus was circumcised and given his name on January 1 (though of course they didn’t call it January 1). In this act of circumcising and naming, Jesus’ destiny of atonement was already revealed. At that moment, His blood is first shed and Jesus receives the name given to Him by the angel “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). In the circumcision of Jesus, all people are circumcised once and for all, because He represents all humanity. In the Old Testament, for the believers who looked to God’s promise to be fulfilled in the Messiah, the benefits of circumcision included the forgiveness of sins, justification, and incorporation into the people of God. In the New Testament, St. Paul speaks of its counterpart, Holy Baptism, as a “circumcision made without hands” and as “the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11).

So we can celebrate today/tomorrow. We celebrate that Jesus is our redeemer who bought us with his shed blood.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Honor Your Father and Your Mother*

Sixth Day of Christmas
December 30, 2009

The Lord be with you

I was asked the following question in a comment on an earlier post: “How do you honor an estranged parent?” This question deals with the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16), as St. Augustine numbered them (Fifth Commandment as John Calvin numbered them).

There are many reasons why a person might be estranged from their parent. The parent may have left home when the children were young and is now seeking reentry into the adult childrens' lives. The parent might have been cruel and abusive when the children were young and is now seeking reconciliation. The child might have fallen in with undesirable companions thus driving a wedge between parent and child, and the parent might still want to keep the child at a distance. There are many other possible scenarios. Because of the various reasons, this answer can only be a general one.

First we should note how God starts the Ten Commandments. He says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6). Keeping the Ten Commandments does not flow from what we can do, or should do, or have done, nor from what others can do, should do, or have done, but from what God has done. The Commandments begin with a clear note of grace. God delivers, we therefore … The ultimate deliverance, the one of which the Egyptian deliverance was a type, is the deliverance from sin, death, and the devil Christ achieved for us. We receive that deliverance from “the house of slavery” when we receive Christ as our Savior. Without God’s grace in Christ Jesus our keeping of the Ten Commandments will only be superficial.

Therefore the first step in keeping any of the Ten Commandments is repentance. We recognize that we are poor miserable sinners deserving nothing but God’s wrath and condemnation. But we sincerely repent of our sins and trust in God’s grace in Christ Jesus for forgiveness. To keep any of the Ten Commandments, even in a partially God-pleasing manner, begins with repentance and forgiveness.

This is much more difficult than it first appears. We may feel we have nothing of which to repent. In the examples I made-up above, we may feel the offense of the other party is so great that our lack of repentance is justified, or our desire to hold on to grudges, nurse wounds, etc., is more than reasonable. We can easily end up thinking that God is the one who needs to repent for asking such an unreasonable thing from us. As long as we focus on the offense (either perceived or real) of the other party, and hold on to the idea that we are the main (only?) offended party, we will not repent. (God is offended by all sin.)

Another way to hold on to a wounded spirit, instead of letting God’s grace heal you, is to set up some sort of requirement for the offending party to fulfill before reconciliation can be achieved. Often such requirements can remain unspoken or are impossible to achieve.
“If my parent would just do this,” or “If my child would just do that,” then we could be reconciled. Typically if “this” or “that” is done, it is not enough. Two possible reasons why it is not enough occur to me. First is the sinful desire that the offending party be made to suffer for their past transgressions for the rest of their lives. This is taking the role of God as your own (Romans 12:19). True reconciliation prevents this retribution from taking place and therefore reconciliation is not desired. The other reason I can think of why “this” or “that” is not enough is because what is really desired is that the cause of the offense never happened. The past, though, cannot be changed. However grace can bring healing. That grace comes with a repentant heart before God.

Next we note the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7). As Luther explained this in his Small Catechism, it means “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

This is the most broken commandment. Every time we break one of the other commandments, we break the first, for we have exalted our will above God’s will. We have either feared or loved or trusted in something more than God. This again drives us back to repentance and forgiveness. Because we recognize that we will always fail, we recognize that we must always live in repentance and grace. Luther certainly recognized this in the first of his famous 95 Theses when he wrote, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

When reconciliation is lacking we often see that one or more of the parties involved is focused on the faults of the other. These faults may be (and often are) very real. Take the hypothetical example of the parent who abandons their children given above. The abandonment was real. We are not simply talking about a father who didn’t play ball with his son. No “reason” will ever make sense to the child, nor will it ever make-up for what the parent did. Nothing the parent might also do in the present can make up for their abandonment in the past. Therefore the child may feel justified in holding on to their injured soul, forever holding the sins of the past over the parent in the present. This pattern will result in some dark sense of retribution, but never bring healing. As the old saying goes, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Being focused on the sins of others simply keeps you stuck.

This does not mean the sins of the past are necessarily forgotten. They may have ongoing present importance. Let us say that the parent above abandoned their children because they were involved with illegal drugs. It might certainly be unwise for the adult-child to leave their children unattended with the estranged parent. Such action would be honoring the First Commandment for parents are called to protect and provide for their children by God. This would include not putting your children into inherently dangerous situations.

So far I’ve written about what is the essential foundation for keeping the Fourth Commandment. In reality, this is the foundation for keeping all the commandments; you just need to change a few words here and there. The question given me does not indicate why the estrangement exists. Not does it indicate who is perpetuating the estrangement. In some ways it doesn’t matter which party is perpetuating the estrangement, it is both parties' responsibility to seek peace. However if the other party is unwilling, then we have the recourse of prayer, hoping that the unwillingness will one day be changed. Until that day, prayer for the unwilling parent is one of the best ways to honor them. It is always a God-pleasing thing to pray for others asking God to bless them.

As this question seems to be coming from an adult-child whose parent does not wish to be reconciled, holding out that olive branch might be all that they can do. Such estrangement can be caused by numerous things. Perhaps the child married someone of whom the estranged parent didn’t approve. Perhaps the child engaged in a life-style of which the estranged parent didn’t approve. Perhaps the child stole money from the parent. Perhaps the child somehow brought great shame to the family. A Christmas card, an occasional letter, sending a photo once in a while, and prayer, prayer, prayer, are ideas that come to my mind about how such an estranged child could honor their parent. When the opportunity to do more arises, step up.

There are at least two other possible motives for this question of which I can think. First, the child might be the one perpetuating the estrangement and, feeling the weight of the commandment, desire reconciliation but not know how to go about it. The second is again the child is the injured party, feels the weight of the commandment, but really does not want reconciliation. The question then is, “How can I remain estranged and still honor my parent?”

In the first case, where the child has been perpetuating the estrangement but now desires to bring it to an end, the first step is at the foot of the cross. Confession and absolution provides the bedrock of the foundation needed. Follow this up with prayer for wisdom. The estranged parent may now feel they have ample reason to punish the child seeking reconciliation because the child continued so long in holding their grudge. That “punishment” might be a lot of finger-pointing and even refusal of reconciliation. The child’s forgiveness will need to set no preconditions. In the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) we see human reasoning in both the elder son and the prodigal son. Both thought that some kind of preconditions needed to be fulfilled before forgiveness could be extended. However the hero of the story, the Father, recklessly extended forgiveness without preconditions. For both the elder and younger sons, forgiveness was the only way forward.

This being said, the “restored” relationship will not be what it would have been if it had never been broken. The memories lost due to the estrangement will remain missed opportunities. Whatever caused the estrangement cannot be undone. What you are working for in the reconciliation is a better future, not a different past.

In the next possibility the child has perpetuated the estrangement, desires no reconciliation, but also desires to keep the Fourth Commandment. This situation might not be as unusual as it first appears. Let us take the example of an abusive parent. Such abuse can, and often does, have long lasting negative results. These negative results not only impacts how the adult child relates to their peers, but also colors the ongoing relationship with the abusive parent. Such an adult-child might truly wish to obey the Fourth Commandment, but still have the negative baggage of their childhood. No amount of picnics or Christmas cards will effectively jettison the negative baggage, nor heal the damage.

What I am about to say is not so much biblical as it is logical. Therefore, I could be wrong. It seems to me that, in such a case, the first step in honoring the parent is healing the damage done. This may well take some encounter with the parent, but it may well not start with that encounter. Availing oneself of skilled counselors is a wise move. God’s grace will need to be brought to bear on the damaged. That could mean relearning how to think about and approach self and others. This might be considered a first step in honoring, for you are seeking to get to a place where you can establish a positive relationship.

In the end, we all fail in relationship to the commandments. Some we struggle with more than others. In the end, though, our sin returns us to the cross of Christ and the forgiveness we find there. As that forgiveness brings healing and health to us, we are equipped to bring healing and health to our relationships.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert
(* In looking over this post I noticed a few spelling errors. I have corrected them.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

King David

Commemoration of David
Fifth Day of Christmas
December 29, 2009

The Lord be with you

In the Church Year, as celebrated in the LCMS, today is set aside to remember King David. David was the greatest of Israel’s kings, ruling from about 1010 to 970 BC. The events of his life are found in 1 Samuel 16 through 1 Kings 2 and 1 Chronicles 10-29. David was also gifted musically. He was skilled in playing the lyre and the author of no fewer than seventy-three psalms, including the beloved Psalm 23. His public and private character displayed a mixture of good (for example, his defeat of the giant Goliath [1 Samuel 17]) and evil (as in his adultery with Uriah’s wife, followed by his murder of Uriah [2 Samuel 11]). David’s greatness lay in his fierce loyalty to God as Israel’s military and political leader, coupled with his willingness to acknowledge his sins and ask for God’s forgiveness (2 Samuel 12; see also Psalm 51). It was under David’s leadership that the people of Israel were united into a single nation with Jerusalem as its capital city. David was, of course, also one of the ancestors of Jesus.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, December 28, 2009

the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Festival of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs
Fourth Day of Christmas
December 28, 2009

The Lord be with you

On all liturgical calendars I know of, not just the one used by the LCMS, today is celebrated as the Festival of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs. Matthew’s Gospel tells of King Herod’s vicious plot against the infant Jesus after being “tricked” by the Wise Men. Herod, threatened by the one “born King of the Jews,” murdered all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2:16-18). These “innocents,” commemorated just three days after the celebration of Jesus’ birth, remind us not only of the terrible brutality of which human beings are capable but more significantly of the persecution Jesus endured from the beginning of His earthly life. Although Jesus’ life was providentially spared at this time, many years later, another ruler, Pontius Pilate, would sentence the innocent Jesus to death.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Sunday, December 27, 2009

If You Are Sick

Feast Day of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
Third day of Christmas
December 27, 2009

The Lord be with you

I am on vacation. Normally I attend worship while on vacation. It is one of the few times I get to sit with my wife Kitty and hear someone else preach a sermon. However, today Kitty was not feeling well (probably something we ate at dinner last night). So I elected to stay home with her (something else I typically do not have the freedom to do). I was, therefore, able to do something I have often recommended, but never been able to do.

I went to this blog and clicked on the link to “my favorite radio station). It is KFUO. I then clicked on the FM station (They have both an AM station and an FM station.) Beginning at 10:30 our time, 9:30 their time, KFUO broadcasts live the worship service from Chapel of the Cross Lutheran Church. By following the link on the KFUO page I was able to go to Chapel of the Cross’ webpage and open their Sunday morning worship bulletin. The bulletin has their liturgy printed out so we could follow the service. Because we have a copy of the Lutheran Service Book, we were also able to join in the singing of the hymns, when the words were not printed in the bulletin.


Of course it was not as good as actually being in the worship service; still it was much better than just hearing a sermon. There is a lot to be said about being able to participate.

If for some reason you cannot attend a worship service on Sunday morning, I truly recommend you participate is this fashion.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Feast Day of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

Feast Day of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
Third Day of Christmas,
December 27, 2009

The Lord be with you

On the Liturgical Calendar used in the LCMS, today is set aside to remember St. John. He was a son of Zebedee and brother of James the elder (whose festival/feast day is July 25). John was among the first disciples to be called by Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22) and became known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” as he refers to himself in the Gospel that bears his name (e.g., John 21:20). Of the Twelve, John alone did not forsake Jesus in the hours of His suffering and death. With the faithful women, he stood at the cross, where our Lord made him the guardian of His mother. After Pentecost, John spent his ministry in Jerusalem and at Ephesus, where tradition says he was bishop. He wrote the fourth Gospel, the three Epistles that bear his name, and the Book of Revelation. Especially memorable in his Gospel are the account of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12), the “Gospel in a nutshell” (John 3:16), Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-43), Jesus’ saying about the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18), the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11), and Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene on Easter morning (John 20:11-18). According to tradition, John was banished to the island of Patmos (off the coast of Asia Minor) by the Roman emperor Domitian. John lived to a very old age, surviving all the apostles, and died at Ephesus around 100 AD. He is also called St. John the Theologian and the Icon on this post has this title.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Saturday, December 26, 2009

St. Stephen, Martyr

Feast Day of St. Stephen, Martyr
Second Day of Christmas
December 26, 2009

The Lord be with you

Today is the day set aside on the liturgical calendar used in the LCMS to remember St. Stephen. He was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5) and was one of the Church’s first seven deacons. He was appointed by the leaders of the Church to distribute food and other necessities to the poor in the growing Christian community in Jerusalem, thereby giving the apostles more time for their public ministry of proclamation (Acts 6:2-5). He and the other deacons apparently were expected not only to wait on tables but also to teach and preach. When some of his colleagues became jealous of him, they brought Stephen to the Sanhedrin and falsely charged him with blaspheming against Moses (Acts 6:9-14). Stephen’s confession of faith, along with his rebuke of the members of the Sanhedrin for rejecting their Messiah and being responsible for His death, so infuriated them that they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Stephen is honored as the Church’s first martyr and for his words of commendation and forgiveness as he lay dying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Eve
December 24, 2009

The Lord be with you

The exact date of the birth of Jesus is not known, and during the earliest centuries of the Church it seemed to have little significance. This followed the Early Church’s tradition of honoring and celebrating a Christian’s death as his or her birth date into eternity and the ongoing presence of Jesus. Likewise the life, work, death, and resurrection of Christ was of much greater importance to early Christians than the earthly details of His life. The earliest nativity feast, Epiphany (January 6), celebrated both the birth and Baptism of Christ. However, in the fourth century great Christological controversies that questioned Christ’s divinity and humanity raced throughout Christianity. By 336 AD, December 25 had been established in Rome as the celebration of Christ’s birth, a festival welcomed particularly by orthodox Christians in the West. This date was settled on because it was believed that people died on the day they were conceived. Nine months after March 25 (the day they believed Jesus died) is December 25. From Rome, Christ’s natal festival spread throughout the Western Church. In Eastern traditions of the Church, Epiphany remains the principal celebration of the birth of Jesus.

May you each have a very blessed Christmas.

Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Really Celebrate Christmas


Wednesday after Advent 4
December 23, 2009

The Lord be with you

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Friday is Christmas Day. People celebrate in many different ways. They decorate their homes. They attend family gatherings. They eat favorite foods. There are many traditions that make the day glow in our hearts.

However Christmas is not about any of these types of traditions. If we follow the lead of the world, which tells us Christmas is about family, or Christmas is about the Children, or Christmas is about … You are not really celebrating Christmas. You are celebrating family, or children, or food, or whatever.

Christmas is about the birth of the Savior of the world. Christmas is about the in-fleshment of the Second Person of the Triune God. It is about God keeping his promises.

We celebrate this event, which is the center of human history, in worship. At Lamb of God we have two special services, one on Christmas Eve (7:00 PM) and the other on Christmas Day (10:00 AM). If you are in the Spartanburg area, we invite you to join us.

However you do not have to live in the Upstate to celebrate the Lord’s birth. If your church does not have special services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, find a church in your area that does. Most Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregations will offer such services. Just check your phone book.

Celebrate CHRISTmas this year. Gather with the believers and worship the newborn king.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Communion and the Swine Flu*

Tuesday after Advent 4
December 22, 2009

The Lord be with you

Is it safe to receive the Lord’s Supper from a silver chalice in light of the Swine Flu, or other infectious diseases? A review of the material available on-line is not as helpful as one would hope. That is because the vast majority is based either on fear, “common sense,” or just plain ignorance. As much as I value the opinions of ministers, to be frank, they simply are not specialists in infectious diseases. Even many doctors who give their opinion do not consult the available research, but appeal to “common sense.”

It comes as no big surprise that this is not the hottest subject among researchers that specialize in infectious diseases. However there has been some quality research done. While I was at the seminary we received copies of such research done at Columbia University Medical Center back in the 1950’s. It demonstrated that there was no detectable danger in spreading disease via a common cup when traditional practices were followed. But that was then. What about now?

With the fear of AIDS growing in the 1980’s another extensive series of studied was done and reported in The British Society for the Study of Infection prestigious Journal of Infection, in 1988. I have a copy of this article, but it said in part:

    "Bacteriological experiments have shown that the occasional transmission of micro-organisms is unaffected by the alcoholic content of the wine, the constituent material of the cup or the practice of partially rotating it, but is appreciably reduced when a cloth is used to wipe the lip of the cup between communicants. Nevertheless, transmission does not necessarily imply inoculation or infection. Consideration of the epidemiology of micro-organisms that may be transmitted via saliva, particularly the herpes group of viruses, suggests that indirect transmission of infection is rare and in most instances a much greater opportunity exists for direct transmission by other means. There is substantial evidence that neither infection with hepatitis B virus nor HIV can be transmitted directly via saliva so that indirect transmission via inanimate objects is even less likely. ..Currently available data do not provide any support for suggesting that the practice of sharing a common communion cup should be abandoned because it might spread infection." (Emphasis added)

So you can’t get AIDS, or a cold from the Common Cup when traditional practices are followed, but what about the Swine Flu? A letter to the Annals of Internal Medicine earlier this year suggested that the Swine Flu could indeed be transmitted through the use of the Common Cup, even when traditional practices were followed. However, another doctor responded, after checking the available current research, and wrote the following:

    “The letter by Furlow and Dougherty about the common communion cup needs comment, given the media attention it has received. The presence of bacteria on the common cup has been established previously, albeit not necessarily after a Eucharistic service. No study, however, including theirs, has shown transmission of these organisms from one communicant to another. More important, I can find no evidence after searching the literature that establishes inoculation and infection through this religious custom. As outlined by Gill in his exhaustive 1988 review, Disease attributable to the shared common communion cup has never been reported.” (Emphasis added)

This letter can be found by clicking here.

I have referred to “traditional practices” several times. Those practices are:
  1. A chalice made from a precious metal like silver or gold.
  2. Wine, not grape juice – preferably a port because of its high alcohol content.
  3. Turning the chalice after each communicant.
  4. Wiping the rim of the chalice after each person communes.
Precious metals have been shown to retard the growth of bacteria, so much so that you can now purchase band-aids with silver in them. Port is a fortified wine with the highest alcohol content of all wines. Turning the chalice ensures each communicant receives wine from a fresh part of the lip of the cup. These three elements are good, but by far the greatest benefit is achieved when the rim of the cup is wiped with a cloth (the purificator). That is why I wipe the chalice after each communicant, and again after each rail.

To be honest, I do not expect this article will change the minds of anyone who is a die-hard individual cup supporter. However, if you prefer the Common Cup, there is no scientific reason to give it up. There is no scientific reason to fear the transmission of disease, even if the person receiving the Lord’s Supper right before you has some kind of influenza. It seems the Lord God has guided tradition to provide us with a meal that is safe.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert
(* In looking over this post I noticed a number of spelling errors, most notably I had the wrong "flu." These errors have been corrected.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

St. Thomas, Apostle

Feast Day of St. Thomas, Apostle
Monday after Advent 4
December 21, 2009

The Lord be with you

Today is set aside on liturgical calendars for the recognition of St. Thomas. All four Gospels mention him as one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. John’s Gospel, which names him "the Twin," uses Thomas's questions to reveal truths about Jesus. It is Thomas who says, "Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?" To this question Jesus replies, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:5-6). Thomas could show great courage and loyalty to Jesus (John 11:16). John's Gospel, however, also tells how Thomas, on the evening of the day of Jesus' resurrection, doubts the report of the disciples that they had seen Jesus. Later, "doubting Thomas" becomes "believing Thomas" when he confesses Jesus as "my Lord and my God" (John 20:24-29). Thomas’ requirement of empirical evidence of the resurrection (John 20:25) has always made his story especially valuable when sharing the Gospel with skeptics. According to tradition, Thomas traveled eastward after Pentecost, eventually reaching India, where still today a group of people call themselves "Christians of St. Thomas." Thomas was martyred for the faith by being speared to death.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Katharina von Bora Luther

The Fourth Sunday in Advent
Commemoration of Katharina von Bora Luther
December 20, 2009

The Lord be with you

Aside from being the Fourth Sunday in Advent, today is also set aside to remember Katharina von Bora Luther, the wife of Martin. Katharina von Bora (1499-1552) was placed in a convent while still a child and became a nun in 1515. In April 1523, she and eight other nuns were rescued from the convent and brought to Wittenberg. There Martin Luther helped return some of the women to their former homes and placed the rest in good families. Katharina and Martin were married on June 13, 1525. Their marriage was a happy one and was blessed with six children. Katharina skillfully managed the Luther household, which always seemed to grow because of the reformer's generous hospitality. After Luther's death in 1546, Katharina remained in Wittenberg but lived much of the time in poverty. She died as the result of injuries she received in an accident while traveling with her children to Torgau in order to escape the plague. In may ways Katharina, or Katie as Martin Luther lovingly called her, set the pattern for the modern parsonage. There are two biographies about her worth noting. Kitty, My Rib by E. Jane Mall is popularly written and an easy read. A Reformation Life Katharina Von Bora by Rudolf and Marilynn Markwald is also popularly written but cites more original sources and for someone with a little higher reading level.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Commemoration of Adam and Eve

Commemoration of Adam and Eve
Saturday after Advent 3
December 19, 2009

The Lord be with you

This day has been set aside for the Commemoration of Adam and Eve on the liturgical calendar used in the LC-MS. Adam was the first man, made in the image of God and given dominion over all the earth (Genesis 1:26). Eve was the first woman, formed from one of Adam's ribs to be his companion and helper (Genesis 2:18-24). God placed them in the Garden of Eden to take care of creation as His representatives. But they forsook God's Word and plunged the world into sin (Genesis 3:1-7). For this disobedience, God drove them from the garden. Eve would suffer pain in childbirth and would chafe at her subjection to Adam; Adam would toil amid thorns and thistles and return to the dust of the ground. Yet God promised that the woman's Seed would crush the serpent's head (Genesis 3:8-24). Sin had entered God's perfect creation and changed it until God would restore it again through Christ. Eve is the mother of the human race, while Adam is representative of all humanity and the fall, as the apostle Paul writes, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, December 18, 2009

O Sing of Christ

Friday after Advent 3
December 18, 2009

The Lord be with you

O sing of Christ, whose birth made known
The kindness of the Lord,
Eternal Word made flesh and bone
So we could be restored.
Upon our frail humanity
God’s finger chose to trace
The fullness of His deity,
The icon of His grace.

What Adam lost, none could reclaim,
And Paradise was barred
Until the second Adam came
To mend what sin had marred.
For when the time was full and right
God sent His only Son;
He came to us as life and light
And our redemption won.

He came to that which was His own,
But He was not received;
Yet still through Him God’s glory shone,
And some His name believed.
To these he gave the right to be
The heirs of heav’n above.
Born not of human ancestry
But born of God in love.

Lord Jesus Christ, You deigned to dwell
Among us here on earth
As God with us, Emmanuel.
To bring this holy birth.
Though rich, You willingly became
One with our poverty.
That we might share Your wealth and name
For all eternity!

Those who know me know that I cam speak in less than glowing terms about contemporary Christmas music. I thought I’d do something different on this blog.

The above song, by Stephen Paul Starke and published by Concordia Publishing House (see link on the sidebar), is a beautiful blend of poetry and theology. Starke, born in 1955 in Bay City, MI, is pastor at St. John Lutheran Church-Amelith in Bay City. He graduated from Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1975 and from Concordia University Chicago in 1977. He received his Master of Divinity degree from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1983. He has also served Lutheran parishes in Chicago and Middletown, CT. He is married to Pat, a physical therapist, since 1978 and they have four children. In 2005, Concordia Publishing House released a book of 122 of his hymn texts entitled, O Sing of Christ. This song is in the Lutheran Service Book, number 362.

If you type the number 362 in to Better Noise (see link on the side of this page) you can hear the tune. However the words are wrong on Better Noise (the site actually has verse three of O Little Town of Bethlehem) so use the words above if you want to sing along.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Daniel and the Three Young Men

Commemoration of Daniel the Prophet and the Three Young Men
Thursday after Advent 3
December 17, 2009

The Lord be with you

Daniel the prophet and the three young men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were among the leaders of the people of Judah who were taken into captivity in Babylon. Even in that foreign land, they remained faithful to the one true God in their piety, prayer, and life. On account of such steadfast faithfulness in the face of pagan idolatry, the three young men were thrown into a fiery furnace, from which they were saved by the Lord and emerged unharmed (Daniel 3). Similarly, Daniel was thrown into a pit of lions, from which he also was saved (Daniel 6). Blessed in all their endeavors by the Lord—and despite the hostility of some—Daniel and the three young men were promoted to positions of leadership among the Babylonians (Daniel 2:48-49; 3:30; 6:28). To Daniel in particular the Lord revealed the interpretation of dreams and signs that were given to King Nebuchadnezzar and King Belshazzar (Daniel 2, 4, 5). To Daniel himself, the Lord gave visions of the end times.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

In the Garden

Thursday after Advent 3
Commemoration of Daniel the Prophet and the Three Young Men
December 17, 2009

This coming Sunday will be the Fourth Sunday in Advent. It will also be the Commemoration of Katharina von Bora Luther. In our adult Sunday school class we will continue our series titled: Puzzlers and Questions about the Bible. This weeks question is:

“Was Jesus’ torture in the Garden stemming from His knowledge that He would be separated from God (be in Hell) for the time necessary to be offered as our sacrifice, more than it was of fear related to the cause and suffering of death?”

I’ve titled the study “In the Garden.” I always love questions about Jesus, especially ones relating to our atonement. Anyone can come and join the study. We begin at 9:00 AM.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Worship for Advent 4

Thursday after Advent 3
Commemoration of Daniel the Prophet and the Three Young Men
December 17, 2009

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Fourth Sunday in Advent. The appointed lessons are Micah 5:2-5a, Hebrews 10:5-10 and Luke 1:39-45. Psalm 80:1-7 is the appointed Psalm. Verse 7 is the antiphon. The sermon, based on the Gospel lesson, is titled “The Beauty of Christmas.” We will be using Matins (page 219) for our liturgy. Our opening hymn will be “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (LSB 357). The sermon hymn will be “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” (LSB 356). Our closing hymn will be “Tell Out, My Soul, the Greatness of the Lord” (LSB 935). The choir will be singing “Born In Bethlehem.”

Speaking about being born in Bethlehem, don’t forget our Christmas Eve Candlelight service at 7:00 PM, and our Christmas Day service of Carols and Communion at 10:00 AM. I’ve always had a hard time understanding Christians who do not attend a worship service in celebration of our Lord’s birth; so be kind to my poor brain and worship the newborn King this Christmas.

Better Noise (see the link on the right-hand side of this page) has “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came,” but not “Tell Out, My Soul, the Greatness of the Lord.” I did find a video on YouTube of “Tell Out, My Soul, the Greatness of the Lord,” and it is posted at the end of these notes. It was recorded at a church named St. John’s and is played on their church bells.

Preview of the Lessons
Micah 5:2-5a: Micah lived and worked from about 750 to 686 BC. He saw the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to Assyria in 722. In general he called the people, especially in the North, to wake-up to the dismal state of their spiritual condition or they would suffer the consequences. They did not and Israel fell. These are the famous “lost” tribes of Israel. These “Jews,” who had abandoned the faith of Abraham long before the fall of Israel, were simply assimilated into the Mesopotamian culture. Judah (the southern kingdom) listened and repented under the good king Hezekiah, and held off Assyria. While the leaders of Israel, identified as shepherds, didn’t care for the spiritual state of the people, the Lord promised a Shepherd who would. That Shepherd is Jesus. In Sunday’s reading Micah indicates that this Shepherd would be born in Bethlehem. This is the passage that the scribes referred Herod to when the wise men asked Herod where the Messiah would be born.

Hebrews 10:5-10: The writer of Hebrews probably quotes the Old Testament more than any other New Testament writer (though Matthew gives him a run for his money). His purpose in this is to establish that the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus. Apparently persecution of Christians was increasing and the Roman sanction faith of the Temple was looking mighty tempting to some believers. In this reading the superiority of the once for all time sacrifice of Jesus over the time and time again sacrifices of the Temple is accented. It is interesting that the writer of Hebrews cites Psalm 40:6-8 in this lesson as the words of Jesus. This is not an error on his part. He is fully convinced that it was Jesus speaking through the King David. Therefore King David would also encourage those considering returning to the Roman sanction Jewish religion to remain faithful to Jesus.

Luke 1:39-45: Sunday’s sermon will be based on this lesson, so I don’t want to say much here. However there is a point or two that will not make the sermon. This is the story about how Mary, right after the angel Gabriel informed her that she would be the Messiah’s mother, went to visit Elizabeth. Elizabeth was about six months pregnant with John the Baptist. When Mary greets Elizabeth the English text says “the baby [John] leaped in her womb.” The word “leaped” in Greek means to “skip about like a calf.” It is also worth noting that John recognizes Jesus, even though Jesus would have been only the size of a pencil dot. What a way to underscore that life begins at conception. Also notice the accent on the Word of God throughout the story. “When the sound of your greeting came to my earys, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Based on this last quote, Luther once said that Mary “conceived through her ear.”

Sunday’s Collect
Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come and help us by Your might, that the sins which weigh us down may be quickly lifted by Your grace and mercy; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Gradual (Zechariah 9:9; Psalm 118:26)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion.
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem.
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.

Verse (Luke 3:4b, 6)
Alleluia. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel. Alleluia.

Introit
Psalm 80:1-7 is the appointed Psalm for the day and we will be using it instead of the appointed Introit.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Miss America at RAI

Tuesday after Advent 3
December 15, 2009

The Lord be with you

Camp Restore, part of the RAI Ministries, continues to work in New Orleans and surrounding areas helping to restore homes and lives that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Though four years have passed, and the problems have left the national spotlight, there is still much that needs to be done. Just last month Katie Stam, Miss America, visited the area and pitched in. What follows is a short video of her time there.



Kitty and I spent a week down there a couple of years ago, and found the work rewarding and the organization excellent. If you want to find more chick here for a link to the RAI website.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, December 14, 2009

Saint Lucia

Monday after Advent 3
December 14, 2009

The Lord be with you

Yesterday was the Commemoration of Saint Lucia, Martyr. She was one of the victims of the great persecution of Christians under the Roman emperor Diocletian. Lucia met her death at Syracuse on the island of Sicily in 304 AD. Known for her charity, "Santa Lucia" (as she is called in Italy) gave away her dowry and remained a virgin until her execution by the sword. The name Lucia means "light," and, because of that, festivals of light commemorating her became popular throughout Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries. There her feast day corresponds with the time of year when there is the least amount of daylight. In artistic expression, Lucia is often portrayed in a white baptismal gown, wearing a wreath of candles on her head, and holding a dish with eyes in them. The eyes represent the legend that her eyes were gouged out before she was executed. If she is wearing a red sash, that represents her martyrdom. She is also called Saint Lucy. Finally, when her day is celebrated in Scandinavian countries, the eldest daughter dresses in white (the baptismal gown) with a crown of candles (she trusted in Christ, the Light of the world).

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mission Central

Saturday after Advent 2
December 12, 2009

The Lord be with you

Hark, the voice of Jesus crying,
“Who will go and work today?
Fields are white and harvests waiting—
Who will bear the sheaves away?”
Loud and long the Master calleth;
Rich reward He offers thee.
Who will answer, gladly saying,
“Here am I, send me, send me”?
(LSB 826)

I’ve always loved this hymn. Throughout it the writer Daniel March holds up the idea that each of us can be a missionary. The final verse begins, “Let none hear you idly saying, ‘There is nothing I can do’.” Yet that is often how we can feel. If you sometimes feel like this, let me encourage you to contact Mr Gary W. Thies, director of Mission Central.

Back in 1994 Gary left his banking job and became the first LCMS Mission Development Counselor. In that roll he coordinates prayer and financial support for missionaries and mission projects around the world. His base of operations is “Mission Central,” located in Iowa.

I can not even begin to count the souls that have been brought to Christ, or strengthen in their Christian Faith, because of the work of Gary and the team at Mission Central. Support can range from a few dollars to as much as only people like Bill Gates can think of as “reasonable.” Each year Kitty and I select a project and “give” it to each other as a Christmas present. This year we are giving Bibles for Ethiopia. These Bibles (only $6.00 a piece) will be for the Hadiyya and Kambaata people, who are “begging” for Bibles in their own language. You can learn more by going to the Mission Central website, project # 710-61002. There are projects and missionaries all around the world.



This is a picture of Gary, his wife Maxine, and his mother Haze (who still volunteers). Yes, those are overalls they are wearing. The overalls remind them that they are working in the fields.

Blessings in Christ
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Worship for Advent 3

Thursday after Advent 2
December 10, 2009

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Third Sunday in Advent. Back in the days we used Latin names for the Sundays in the LCMS, this Sunday was know as Gaudete Sunday. The Latin names for the Sundays were always taken from the first word or two from the Introit for the day. In this case that first word is “Rejoice!” So we could call this “Rejoice Sunday.” Each of the appointed Propers have a rejoicing theme.

Many churches, like Lamb of God Lutheran, use Advent Wreaths during the Advent Season. These have four candles arranged in a circle, one candle for each Sunday. The candles are either blue or purple. However the candle lit on “Rejoice Sunday” is lighter in color, usually pink or rose. This reflects the contrast in the appointed lessons for this Sunday with the other Sundays in Advent. The other Sundays emphasize penitential preparation for the coming King. The shift to the pink candle points to a lessening of the penitential emphasis and more of a celebration in anticipation of the coming King who will return again.

The appointed lessons for Gaudete Sunday are Zephaniah 3:14-20, Philippians 4:4-7, and Luke 7:18-28. The sermon, based on the Epistle lesson, is titled “Rejoice! The Lord is at Hand!” We will be using the first setting of the morning service with communion (page 151). Our opening hymn will be again the hymn we are currently learning, “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding” (LSB 345). The sermon hymn will be “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” (LSB 338). The distribution hymns will be “Rejoice, My Heart, Be Glad and Sing” (LSB 737), “Your Table I Approach” (LSB 628), and “Arise, O Christian People” (LSB 354). Our closing hymn will be “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers” (LSB 515).

Better Noise (see the link on the right-hand side of this page) has every hymn for Sunday. A video of a Presbyterian choir and congregation singing “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” is at the end of these notes.

Preview of the Lessons

Zephaniah 3:14-20: Zephaniah 1:1-3:8 is basically God’s judgment (all have sinned) and a call to repentance. Starting with verse 9 we find God’s all encompassing grace for all humanity. Starting in verse 14 we are called to rejoice because God has taken away all the judgments against us. He did that through the ministry of Jesus. Therefore, in spite of all the thundering in the first two chapters, we have no reason to fear. Not only that, but all our oppressors are judged, we need to tremble on that account either, but rejoice. People sometimes get confused with passages like this, thinking that God is speaking of some future restoration of Old Testament Israel. They are misinformed. Concerning verse 14 Dr. Theodore Laetsch wrote, “Three honorable names are given to the Church of God: Daughter of Zion (Ps 2:6; 48:2; Is. 1:8), Israel (Gen. 32:28), Daughter of Jerusalem (Ps 135:21; 137:5 f.). The daughter of Zion is to sing as did the women who came out to meet the returning victor (1 Sam. 18:6 f.). Israel, the conqueror of God and man (Gen. 32:28), shall shout as victors rejoice over their defeated enemies (1 Sam. 17:52). Jerusalem is to be glad and rejoice “with all the heart,” with joy flowing from the very seat of life, true, sincere, living joy.” If you want to get the true sense of such titles (Daughter of Zion, etc.), then think of them as meaning “believers in the Triune God.”

Philippians 4:4-7: This will serve as the test for Sunday so I’m not going to say much here. Instead I’ll quote RCH Lenski’s comment concerning the entire book of Philippians. “Joy is the music that runs through this epistle, the sunshine that spreads over all of it. The whole epistle radiates joy and happiness.” What makes this even more remarkable is that Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter, thus demonstrating that circumstances should not be allowed to determine our joy in the Lord.

Luke 7:18-28: At the time of this lesson John the Baptist is in prison. He hears about Jesus and sends his disciples to invistagte. The question to be answered is wheterornot Jesus is the promised Messiah. Jesus answers by pointing to how he is fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, culminating with the preaching of the Gospel. After John’s messengers leave, Jesus confirms John’s ministry as his forerunner. Verse 28 has perplexed some. Jesus says, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the koingdom of God is greater than he.” John is the last of the Old Testament prophets, that is, the prophets that prepared the way for Jesus. He will not live to see the ushering in of the New Age by the death and resurrection of Christ. So, while is is the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, for he saw the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he still is part of the anticipation ministry of the Old Testament prophets. The most humble Christian today is still part of the fulfillment of the ministry of Christ. The most humble of Chirstian still knows that Christ died and rose for our forgiveness. We have what John looked forward to. You might say John lived in the days leading up to Christmas, when we can look at the presents under the tree and anticipate opening them. We live in the days after Christmas, the presents are opened and we rejoice in having them.

Sunday's Collect

Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Gradual (Zechariah 9:9; Psalm 118:26)

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion.
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem.
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.

Verse (Luke 3:4b, 6)

Alleluia. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight; all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Alleluia.

Introit (Psalm 71:14-18; antiphon: Philippians 4:4)

Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I will say, Rejoice.
I will hope continually
and will praise you yet more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day,
for their number is past my knowledge.
With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come;
I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.
O God, form my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I will say, Rejoice.

December 13 is also the Commemoration of Lucia, Martyr. You may know about her from the song Santa Lucia. You can expect a post concerning her closer to her special day.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christ, Sin and the Father

Wednesday after Advent 2
December 9, 2009

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday (Advent 3) the adult Bible class will tackle the following question:

“Taking on the sin of the world separated Jesus from God because God cannot be in sin. How can God separate Himself from Himself?”

All I can say is, ouch! How can someone ask a simple parish pastor such questions? I feel like saying, “Go to the seminary and take a Christology class.” But the question has been asked and we will look at it and say what we can say about one of the truly great mysteries of our faith. We begin at 9:00 AM. The study is titled “Christ, Sin and the Father.”

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Final Report of the BRTFSSG

Wednesday after Advent 2
December 9, 2009

The Lord be with you

The final report from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance (BRTFSSG) is finished. It is 50 pages long. It will consume most of the time of the 2010 Synod Convention. If the proposals are adopted by the Convention, it will have a major impact on the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS). I encourage all members of the LCMS to read it and let your representatives to the convention know your feelings. The pastoral delegate for Circuit 18 is Pastor Timothy Sandeno of Good Shepherd in Charleston. His e-mail address is timothysandeno@1989.usna.com. You can find the full report of the BRTFSSG by clicking on the name of the Task Force above. That link will take you to their web sight.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cubs Get Awards

Tuesday after Advent 2
December 8, 2009

The Lord be with you

Cub Scout Pack 1031 of Lamb of God Lutheran (LCMS) had their first advancement dinner and ceremony this evening. Aside from some great pizza, each of the boys received the awards they have earned and their pinewood derby cars. We are now on our Christmas break. The boys will meet again Tuesday, January 12, 2010. We have a fun second half in the works with trips to the Chapman Cultural Center, Walnut Grove Plantation, Cowpens Battlefield (which was canceled earlier this month due to weather), Lake Keowee Hydro Power Plant, the Cottonwood Trail, a spaghetti supper fund raiser, a car wash fund raiser, and advancements, advancements, advancements! How will we ever fit it all in? I don’t know, but we will sure try! I pray that all the boys and their families have a great Christmas break.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert


Monday, December 7, 2009

Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter

Commemoration of Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter
December 7, 2009

The Lord be with you

On the liturgical calendar used in the LCMS, today is set aside to commemorate Ambrose of Milan. He was born in Trier in 340 AD, and is one of the four great Latin Doctors of the Church (with Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great). He was a prolific author of hymns, the most common of which is Veni, Redemptor Gentium ("Savior of the Nations, Come"). His name is also associated with Ambrosian Chant, a style of chanting the ancient liturgy that took hold in the province of Milan. While serving as a civil governor, Ambrose sought to bring peace among Christians in Milan who were divided into quarreling factions. When a new bishop was to be elected in 374 AD, Ambrose addressed the crowd, and someone cried out, "Ambrose, bishop!" The entire gathering gave their support. This acclaim of Ambrose, a thirty-four-year-old catechumen, led to his Baptism on December 7, after which he was consecrated bishop of Milan. A strong defender of the faith, Ambrose convinced the Roman emperor Gratian in 379 AD to forbid the Arian heresy in the West. At Ambrose's urging, Gratian's successor, Theodosius, also publicly opposed Arianism. Ambrose died on Good Friday, April 4, 397. As a courageous doctor and musician, he upheld the truth of God's Word.

Blessings in Christ this Advent Season
Pastor John Rickert

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nicholas of Myra

Commemoration of Nicholas of Myra, Pastor
December 6, 2009

The Lord be with you

Because today is the Commemoration of Nicholas of Myra, Pastor, I did a little research on the man for my children’s message at Lamb of God Lutheran (LCMS). I discovered that an independent film company is making a movie titled:

Nicholas of Myra
The Story of Saint Nicholas

Judging from the website (www.nicholasofmyra-movie.com) it will be an excellent movie which will not only inform many about a hero of the faith long overlooked in this country, but be a great way to handle the whole “Santa Claus” issue as children grow older. Below is a trailer for the movie.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Commemoration of Nicholas of Myra, Pastor

Saturday after Advent 1
December 5, 2009

The Lord be with you


On the Church Calendar used in the LCMS, tomorrow (December 6) is the commemoration of St. Nicholas of Myra, Pastor. As I tend to be busy on Sundays, I thought that I'd post something about him today.

Of the many saints commemorated by the Christian Church, Nicholas (d. 342 AD) is one of the best known. Very little is known historically of him, though there was a church of Saint Nicholas in Constantinople as early as the sixth century. Research has affirmed that there was a bishop by the name of Nicholas in the city of Myra in Lycia (part of modern Turkey) in the fourth century. From that coastal location, legends about Nicholas have traveled throughout time and space. He is associated with charitable giving in many countries around the world and is portrayed as the rescuer of sailors, the protector of children, and the friend of people in distress or need. In commemoration of Sinte Klaas (Dutch for "Saint Nicholas," in English "Santa Claus"), December 6 is a day for giving and receiving gifts in many parts of Europe.

Blessings in Christ this Advent Season,
Pastor John Rickert




Tinsel on Christmas Trees

Saturday after Advent 1
December 5, 2009

The Lord be with you

There are many traditions surrounding Christmas. One of those is decorating Christmas trees. This practice, so we are told, began with Martin Luther. Of course Luther’s tree would have been quite meager compared to the elaborated trees of today.

One item often found on Christmas Trees is tinsel. The ledged about why this tradition began is, no doubt, not as sure as the one about Luther. The story goes that once there was a poor widow who was distressed at the coming of Christmas because she could not afford any presents for her children. Still, she was determined to do what she could, so she went out Christmas Eve to chop down a Christmas Tree. She decorated it with all she could, nuts, fruits, paper chains, and such. Then she went to bed, still concerned that her children would be disappointed because there were no presents.

There were spiders in the home who had watched the widows’ efforts. After she retired they came down and began to spin their webs all over the tree. The spiders left the tree covered with a beautiful lace. When the widow and her children awoke Christmas morning they were stunned by the beauty of the tree for a miracle had occurred. After the spiders had left, God had turned the spiders’ web into pure silver. Ever since people have used tinsel on their Christmas Trees as a reminder of this Christmas wonder.

While the story is not true, it might be a nice way to accent God’s continual care for us. That care is seen most clearly in the person and work of Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate in December.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, December 4, 2009

Commemoration of John of Damascus

Commemoration of John of Damascus, Theologian and Hymnwriter
December 4, 2009

The Lord be with you

Today on the Church Calendar used in the LCMS we commemorate John of Damascus (ca. 675-749 AD). He is known as the great compiler and summarizer of the orthodox faith and the last great Greek theologian. Born in Damascus, John gave up an influential position in the Islamic court to devote himself to the Christian faith. Around 716 AD, he entered a monastery outside of Jerusalem and was ordained a priest. When the Byzantine emperor Leo the Isaurian in 726 AD issued a decree forbidding images (icons), John forcefully resisted. In his Apostolic Discourses, he argued for the legitimacy of the veneration of images, which earned him the condemnation of the Iconoclast Council in 754 AD. John also wrote defenses of the orthodox faith against contemporary heresies. In addition, he was a gifted hymnwriter ("Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain") and contributed to the liturgy of the Byzantine churches. His greatest work was the Fount of Wisdom, which was a massive compendium of truth from previous Christian theologians, covering practically every conceivable doctrinal topic. John’s summary of the orthodox faith left a lasting stamp on both the Eastern and Western Churches.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Suffering Savior

Thursday after Advent 1
December 3, 2009

The Lord be with you

At Lamb of God Lutheran Church (LCMS) we continue our Bible study series “Puzzlers and Questions About the Bible.” Our last study actually took two weeks, which is why nothing was posted about this past Sunday’s lesson. However this coming Sunday (Advent 2) we move on to a new topic. This time we do not actually have a question, per se, but a request for a deeper understanding of our Lord’s suffering. The submission reads, “Jesus is and always has been God. God chose to have his son (God in the flesh) serve as the sacrifice for all mankind. Please discuss why Jesus had to suffer so in His death, why was death not enough?” The study is titled, "The Suffering Savior."

We will tackle this topic Sunday, beginning at 9:00 AM. As always, everyone is welcome.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Keeping Up With the Crandall's

Thursday in the week of Advent 1
December 3, 2009

The Lord be with you

Allison Crandall, the daughter of Rev. Ted & Helga Crandall (Lamb of God's Mission Developer in Beaufort) is quite the talented musician. Recently she performed with the Beaufort Youth Orchestra, where she is has the "second chair" in the trumpet section. In the photo below she is all the way on the right, second row from the back, wearing a blue shirt. She is the middle trumpet player. (The choir is from Community Bible Church.)

I thought the members of Lamb of God (LCMS) would enjoy knowing what some of our far-flung members are doing.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Worship for Advent 2

Thursday after Advent 1
December 3, 2009

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be celebrated as the Second Sunday in Advent at Lamb of God Lutheran (LCMS), and we will use the assigned Propers (Scripture lessons, Collect, Gradual, etc.) for that day. However it is also the Commemoration of Nicholas of Myrna, Pastor. Yes, this is the same Saint Nicholas who, over the centuries, has morphed into Santa Claus. I will add a post about Nicholas to this blog later, but he will be the topic of the Children’s Message Sunday morning.

For our liturgy Sunday we will be using the Service of Prayer and Preaching (page 260). The assigned lessons are: Malachi 3:1-7b, Philippians 1:2-11, Luke 3:1-14, and Psalm 66 (antiphon verse 12). The sermon is titled “If John Came Today.” The text will either be Malachi 3:5 or Luke 3:3 (maybe I’ll just use both). The opening hymn will be “Hark! A thrilling Voice Is Sounding” (LSB 345). The sermon hymn be “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” (LSB 344). The closing hymn will be “Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord” (LSB 352). The choir will be singing “Advent Gift.”

Better Noise (see the link on the right-hand side of this page) has every hymn for Sunday. A video of a congregation singing “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding” is at the end of these notes. It is with a full orchestra.

Preview of the Lessons

Malachi 3:1-7b: This is the well know passage, quoted in the New Testament, about John the Baptist coming as a forerunner to Jesus. John’s message is depicted in Law/Gospel terms. That is to say, he condemns sin (Law) and promises grace and every blessing by God’s grace in Jesus (Gospel). Verse 6 jumps out where God says, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” “Jacob” identifies the spiritual descendants of Jacob, those who trust in the God of Jacob. Jacob was nowhere near perfect, but he received forgiveness by grace through faith in the coming Messiah. Our unchanging Lord operates the same today. Those who refuse his grace receive judgment. Those who receive his grace receive forgiveness. Sadly, fare too many reject, preferring the fleeting rewards of this corrupt world to the eternal treasures of heaven.

Philippians 1:2-11: Philippians is one of the letters Paul wrote while he was in prison. The note of joy throughout the letter is remarkable. Though Paul is in prison in a different city, he still describes the Philippians as partners in the gospel. This is true because they share the same Christina Faith, but also and especially because they support Paul with their prayers and physical support. When we support missionaries, we are partners in the Gospel, sharing the Christian Faith wherever the missionary is. Paul is sure that God will bring to completion the good work that has begun in the Philippians. He designates when that will happen, on the Last Day. This “good work” is their faith. The 19th century hymn puts it, “we feebly struggle, they in glory shine.” Though today we are still sinners and saints, there we will be just saints. I also like the confidence of Paul. So often we become focused on temporal obstacles, forgetting that the work of the Church is really directed and supported by the Lord. Paul also encourages his readers to abound more and more with “knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent.” The Christian Faith is not just a warm and fuzzy thing, where anything goes. Also, growing in our knowledge and discernment is not simply a head trip. We grow in our faith so that we may grow in how we live our Faith.

Luke 3:1-14: This is Luke’s account of the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry. There was nothing soft and cuddly about him. John stepped on toes. He preached, to quote James, “faith without works is dead.” Now that is not the same thing as ‘works save,’ or ‘works contribute to your salvation,’ or something like that. What he means is that the Christian Faith makes a difference in how we live. Notice how the believers asked him how they should live, and John gave directions that were vocation specific. How we live our faith in our lives depends a lot on what our vocation is. A police man, school teacher, pastor, street cleaner, business executive, and so on, will apply their Christian Faith in quite different ways, but they will apply it in their lives. Someone once said, “Faith alone saves, but faith is never alone.” So it is to this day, for the Lord does not change.

Sunday’s Collect

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Gradual (Zechariah 9:9; Psalm 118:26)

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion.
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem.
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.

Verse (Luke 3:4b, 6)

Alleluia. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight; all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Alleluia.

Introit

We will be using the appointed Psalm this coming Sunday instead of the appointed Introit.

NOTE: The Lutheran Women's Missionary League will be having a Christmas Party after the worship service Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert



Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Peace Between Christian and Muslim?

Tuesday after Advent 1
December 1, 2009

The Lord be with you

Muslim terrorists have certainly been in the news lately. We all know the terrible events of 9/11 that sparked our involvement in Afghanistan. Those who know history also know that Islam was born in war, first to unify the Arabian Peninsula, and then conquests across the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and deep into Asia. The wars and counter wars make for captivating reading, but it can cause us to miss something important in the history of Islam … its strong tradition of peace.

People getting along really doesn’t make the headlines often, but I remember one remarkable time it did in my lifetime. Anwar Sadat (Muslim), Menachem Begin (Jewish), and Jimmy Carter (Christian) clasped hands together in a peace accord. Yes Sadat was assassinated by a Muslim, and Begin was assassinated by a Jew, and Carter failed to be re-elected, but we did see three men from three different faith traditions coming together for the sake of peace.

I remember reading about a New York mosque emptying out into the streets after the 9/11 attacks chanting “Death to the Taliban!” Clearly they did not support the violent actions undertaken by the murderers that hijacked the airplanes.

Still, I have heard from time to time people say, “Why don’t the important people in Islam speak out against the violence?” Well … many have.

On October 13, 2007 no less than 138 Muslim leaders from around the world, “representing all denominations and schools of thought” in Islam, issued A Common Word Between Us and You. “It extensively quotes the Qur’an and the Bible to show that both Islam and Christianity teach love for God and love for one’s neighbor. The document focuses on beliefs held in common. It also encourages peaceful and harmonious relationships between Muslims and Christians, since together these faiths incorporate ‘well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world.’” (LOGIA, A Journal of Lutheran Theology, volume XVIII, # 4, page 23)

Just because a person is a Muslim does not automatically make them a terrorist. If we are to make progress in our relationship with Muslims it seems wise to find common ground. At least for many, that common ground can be love for God and for our neighbor.

A link to A Common Word Between Us and You, along with reactions to it from Jewish, Christian, and Islamic groups, can be found by clicking the document name in this paragraph.

Blessings in Christ
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent Services


Commemoration of St. Andrew, Apostle
November 30, 2009

The Lord be with you

Lamb of God Lutheran (LCMS) will again have Wednesday Advent services. As is our custom, we will have an half-hour service starting at 12:15 PM, for those who either do not drive well at night or desire to attend on their lunch break. During this service the liturgy is spoken and we sing only one hymn. The evening service begins at 7:00 PM, has three hymns, and the liturgy is mostly sung. For the evening service we will be using Evening Prayer, beginning on page 243 of the Lutheran Service Book. For the 12:15 service we will be using Responsive Prayer 1 (AKA Suffrages), beginning on page 282 of the Lutheran Service Book.

This year the evening services will be preceded by a Soup Supper, which begins at 6:00 PM. Following the evening service the choir will have a rehearsal.

The theme for this year’s homilies is “An Advent God – An Advent People.” The homily for the first Wednesday in Advent is titled “Coming Ones” and is based on Genesis 12:1-4.

Blessings in Christ

Women's Bible Fellowship Christmas Party

The ladies of Lamb of God Lutheran Church (LCMS) Women’s Bible Fellowship will be having their Christmas party this year at the Sahara Mediterranean Grill (8161 Warren Abernathy Highway (Hwy 29)) Thursday, December 10, at 6:30 PM. After the meal they will go to a member's home for a gift exchange and desert.

St. Andrew

Commemoration of St. Andrew, Apostle
November 30, 2009

The Lord be with you

St. Andrew is commemorated on November 30. The brother of Simon Peter, he was born in the Galilean village of Bethsaida. Originally a disciple of St. John the Baptist, Andrew then became the first of Jesus’ disciples (John 1:35-40). His name regularly appears in the Gospels near the top of the lists of the Twelve. It was he who first introduced his brother Simon to Jesus (John 1:41-42). He was, in a real sense, the first home missionary, as well as the first foreign missionary (John 12:20-22). Tradition says Andrew was martyred by crucifixion on a cross in the form of an X. In 357 AD, his body is said to have been taken to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople and later removed to the cathedral of Amalfi in Italy. Centuries later, Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland. St. Andrew’s Day determines the beginning of the Western Church Year, since the First Sunday in Advent is always the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day.

Blessings in Christ

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Questions Anyone?


The Last Day of the Church Year
November 28, 2009

The Lord be with you

In a comment on an earlier post I was asked if there was any place on this blog to submit questions. I said there is no such designated local, but that a question could be submitted as a comment on any post. If the question does not relate to the post, then I’d just create a separate post.

To no great surprise, I received two questions that did not relate to the post. They were; 1) How can you be angry and not sin; and 2) How do you honor an estranged parent? I will deal with these questions in two future posts, however I would like everyone to know that they can submit a question in the same fashion. I’ll get to them as time and inspiration permit.

Blessings in Christ

Commemoration of Noah

Saturday after the Last Sunday in the Church Year
November 28, 2009

The Lord be with you

Tomorrow is the First Sunday in Advent. It is also the Commemoration of Noah in the Church Calendar used in the LCMS. As I tend to be busy on Sundays, I thought I’d post information about Noah today.

Noah, the son of Lamech (Genesis 5:30), was instructed by God to build an ark in which his family would find security from the destructive waters of a devastating flood that God warned would come. Noah built the ark, and the rains descended. The entire earth was flooded, destroying “every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals” (Genesis 7:23). After the flood waters subsided, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. When Noah determined it was safe and God confirmed it, Noah, his family, and all the animals disembarked. Then Noah built an altar and offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for having saved his family from destruction. A rainbow in the sky was declared by God to be a sign of His promise that never again would a similar flood destroy the entire earth (Genesis 8:20-22; 9:8-17). Noah is remembered and honored for his obedience, believing that God would do what He said He would.

The image is a recreation of Noah’s Ark in Holland.

Blessings in Christ