Friday, December 31, 2010

Vacation, Day 1

Friday, December 31, 2010
The Eve of the Circumcision and Name of our Lord
New Year’s Eve

The Lord be with you

Kitty and I are taking a short vacation down to Texas to visit my son and his family. This vacation is short in part because of our time share, which we traded out for a place on South Padre Island. It is also short because I have to be back in town for the first session in my next seminar at Gardner-Webb University, which is Epiphany Day (January 6). The seminar is on preaching, so I’ve brought a few text books with me to read if I have the time.

Any ways, we are spending the night in Lake Charles, LA. The last time we were through here was just after Hurricane Katrina. There was massive destruction all along Interstate 10. Here in Lake Charles I remember seeing a yacht that had been blow completely up on dry land. Roof after roof were covered in blue, the massive advertising signs along the road were destroyed, buildings had whole sides torn off, and on and on. They have done a great job of rebuilding, as far as I’ve seen.

We are staying in a Motel 6. Gas prices along the way have been only a couple of pennies short of $3.00. We ate lunch at a road-side stand named “Lil’ Italy” and it advertised authentic Chicago Style Italian food. I didn’t know Chicago had moved to Italy.

Every time we drive down I-10 we are impressed and amused by the names of so many of their swamps, rivers, and the like. I’m sure everyone in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas can pronounce them with out giving them a second thought. For those of us from other parts of the US they are a mystery. I hope we can write down some of them on the way back. I did get one of the easier ones, “Atchafalaya National Heritage Area.” Try to say that five times real fast!

The drive was fine. We did have some rain, but that was a blessing as it kept us fresh in the afternoon. We did pass a hazardous spill on I-10. They closed down the interstate going east and they had scads of emergency vehicles for every branch of the government cleaning it all up. Kitty and I hope we didn’t breathe in anything too bad.

Temperatures were in the mid-70’s. Quite a change from Spartanburg which had snow on Christmas Day! No pictures today, maybe tomorrow.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Angels at Waffle House

Fourth Day of Christmas
December 29, 2010

The Lord be with you

The homilies in my mid-week Advent worship series this past year were based on well know canticles from the Christmas Story. One of them, delivered Wednesday, December 15, received a number of comments about how it helped people "hear" the Christmas Story in a way that it must have sounded to many in the first century. While I normally do not post my sermons, I thought I'd post this one. I hope it is a blessing to you.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday in the week of Advent 3
December 15, 2010

Text: Luke 2:13-14

Homily: The Angels’ Song

13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14)

Once again we all know the story. Shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night, received a visit from an angel announcing the birth of our Lord Jesus. Then, suddenly, that angel was joined by a host of angels, all praising God and saying Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, good will, towards men.” After the heavenly visit, the shepherds dash over to Bethelhem to check things out for themselves. They discover that everything told them was true. They then returned to their sheep, rejoicing and praising God for all they had seen and heard.

There is a problem with familiar stories. They get surrounded with the glow of tradition, of warm feelings, of comfort. It can be hard to hear them like the original audience heard them. So, if you will permit me, I shall re-tell the story, in a modern context. I will change dates and holidays, so the feel of the story might be closer to how people would have heard it in the first century.

It was Thanksgiving Thursday in Spartanburg. Everyone was gathered with family and friends to enjoy great dinners and watch some NFL football games. People were beginning to plan for Christmas. Most business had closed so their employees could spend some time with their families.

One exception was the Waffle House. What few customers they had had throughout the day had long since left. The cook and waitresses were keeping watch over an empty restaurant. Suddenly there was a tremendous light up in the sky outside. Everyone ran out and looked up. They couldn’t believe their eyes.

There, just above the light on the pole, was a being that looked like he was made of flame, not even remotely shaped like a human. The flames leaped off him every direction. They all fell down in fright. Then, from this living fire, came a voice. “Fear not, for look, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For to you is born this day in Spartanburg a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you, you will find the child in the Emergency Room at Regional Hospital.”

Then, suddenly, once the message was finished, the sky was filled with all sorts of beings. They were in every shape, size and color. Some looked like people, some looked like lions, some looked like eagles, some looked like hybrids between animals and people, some looked like living flames, some couldn’t be described as looking like anything we have ever seen, and all looked massive and powerful. Each and everyone of them had a voice, distinct from the others. And they began to sing.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will, towards men!”

Then, just as suddenly, while the employees were watching, the heavenly beings just vanished, disappeared. After talking it over, they closed the Waffle House and went to Regional. Their they found things just as the angels had said. There was a young girl, maybe fourteen. She had just given birth to a child. Her husband, who had been laid off from his construction job, was there. They had just arrived in Spartanburg that very day. They didn’t even have a place to live yet. Oddly there were no other babies in the hospital at the time, so this disadvantaged child had to be the one spoken of. So they told the father and mother what had happened at the Waffle House. They also told the whole staff at the hospital. To say the least, everyone was amazed. Then the employees returned to the Waffle House, changed forever.

Yes, changed, because the most improbable thing had happened. What they had seen and heard, was not believable, yet they were witnesses. Just think of it. If a Waffle House employee told you this story, if they said it happened this past Thanksgiving, if they said that they had checked it out, would you believe them?

And if the story is not believable, then the message would also be ignored. God, coming to humanity, bringing reconciliation between humanity and divinity, would be dismissed as evidence that the employees at the Waffle House had snuck some alcoholic beverages into work and were having their own personal Thanksgiving party.

No wonder the real party, the real celebration, at the first Christmas, was in heaven. Notice the accent of the words of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest.” “The highest” is heaven. That is where the angels and archangels, and all the heavenly hosts, praise God. On earth we tend to ignore God. Even when God breaks into human history, people tend to ignore it. Things are different in heaven.

This praising is not forced. It is natural. It is like when your favorite sports team wins. This past Sunday the San Diego Chargers won their game. No one forced me to be happy, it just happened. So it is in heaven. No one forces the heavenly hosts to rejoice. It just happens. What God does produces a natural response of giving God glory, of rejoicing. That we do not rejoice and give God glory reflects that we do not yet have the heavenly vision. Don’t worry. One day we will. When we are part of that heavenly host.

The second part of this song can be translated two ways. The ESV translates “and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” The KJV translates it, “and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The ESV translation could be understood as being focused on people. God has looked, found a certain group of people with whom he is pleased, and he is sending the Savior for all of them. In other words, Jesus comes for a select group of people who have met God’s requirements.

I think the KJV translation is superior. It matches the words of the first angel who said “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” not just some of the people. The reason for praising God is that God has taken the initiative and entered human history to bring to all people salvation. This matches what Paul wrote to Timothy, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:4). This matches what Jesus told Nichodemus when he said, “God so loved the world,” not just a portion of the world (John 3:16). Again Paul wrote “we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). The coming of Jesus, his sacrifice of himself to bridge the gulf between us and the Father, was not just for just a “few good men,” but for all.

God indeed works in mysterious ways. Always has. Always will. Praise God. For this the angels give glory to God in the highest. For this we also join the heavenly host in giving God glory, and in doing so have a foretaste of heaven. Amen.

Do You Know the Way to ...

A little boy was waiting for his mother
to come out of the grocery store.
As he waited, he was approached by a man who asked,
"Son, can you tell me where the Post Office is?"

The little boy replied,
"Sure! Just go straight down this street a
couple a blocks and turn to your right."

The man thanked the boy kindly and said,
"I'm the new pastor in town.
I'd like for you to come to church on Sunday.
I'll show you how to get
to Heaven."

The little boy replied with a chuckle.
"Awww, come on...
You don't even know the way to the Post Office

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day

First Sunday after Christmas
Feast Day of St. Stephen, Martyr
The Second Day of Christmas
Boxing Day
December 26, 2010

In England, today is known as “Boxing Day.” It is a day dedicated to charitable work. The idea behind the name is that people box-up presents and give them to the poor. It is also the Feast Day of St. Stephen, Martyr, of which I wrote in the worship notes for today’s canceled worship service.

[For those who do not live in Spartanburg, we canceled our worship service for today (like so many other churches in town) because it snowed yesterday. (Yes, we had a white Christmas.) In fact, it is still snowing. Because we do not get that much snow, the city does not have a host of snow removal equipment and the roads remain treacherous. Our church is at the top of a hill that remains in the shade until the afternoon, so getting to church can be dangerous.]

I guess most people know of the Feast of St. Stephen from the old English Carol “Good King Wenceslas. The carol tells one the legends associated with the very real historical person Wenceslas. He was a Christian king/duke of Bohemia (907–935). When his father died his pagan mother, Drahomira, ruled as regent (though she was baptized when she married Vratislav). She persecuted Christians and instituted other harsh measures. Wenceslas had her deposed and began his reign. He was known for his charitable work and support of the Christian Church. His brother, Boleslav, supported by the pagans in the land, murdered Wenceslas while he was on his way to a worship service and assumed the throne. The people were outraged because Wenceslas was so admired by all for his fairness and compassion. Even many pagans liked him and were opposed to the harsh measures of Drahomira. Whether from political concerns, or from a sincere change of heart, Boleslav worked successfully to have Wenceslas declared a saint, transferred his remains to St Vitus's Church, and he became a dedicated supported of works of mercy and the Christian Church.

Why might the carol Good King Wenceslas place the story of a charitable act of this saint on the Feast of Stephen? Probably because they both die a martyr's death and because the Feast of St. Stephen falls on the day after Christmas. Those who enjoy material blessings (like Wenceslas), on the day after they have enjoyed them (receiving presents on Christmas) now turn their Christian hearts to the poor (like Wenceslas) and box-up some gifts for them.
    Good King Wenceslas looked out
    On the feast of Stephen
    When the snow lay round about
    Deep and crisp and even
    Brightly shone the moon that night
    Though the frost was cruel
    When a poor man came in sight
    Gath'ring winter fuel

    "Hither, page, and stand by me
    If thou know'st it, telling
    Yonder peasant, who is he?
    Where and what his dwelling?"
    "Sire, he lives a good league hence
    Underneath the mountain
    Right against the forest fence
    By Saint Agnes' fountain."

    "Bring me flesh and bring me wine
    Bring me pine logs hither
    Thou and I will see him dine
    When we bear him thither."
    Page and monarch forth they went
    Forth they went together
    Through the rude wind's wild lament
    And the bitter weather

    "Sire, the night is darker now
    And the wind blows stronger
    Fails my heart, I know not how,
    I can go no longer."
    "Mark my footsteps, my good page
    Tread thou in them boldly
    Thou shalt find the winter's rage
    Freeze thy blood less coldly."

    In his master's steps he trod
    Where the snow lay dinted
    Heat was in the very sod
    Which the Saint had printed
    Therefore, Christian men, be sure
    Wealth or rank possessing
    Ye who now will bless the poor
    Shall yourselves find blessing

Blessings in Christ,

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Service Cancled

Christmas Day
December 25, 2010

The Lord be with you

Lamb of God Lutheran Church's worship service for the First Sunday after Christmas, December 26, has been canceled due to the weather. You can listen to the Lutheran Hour by going to their web page. The link is on the left hand side of this page.

Blessings in Christ,

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Worship for Christmas 1 - 2010

Thursday in the week of Advent 4
December 23, 2010

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the First Sunday after Christmas. It is also the Second Day of Christmas and the Festival of St. Stephen, Martyr. We are using the lessons appointed for the First Sunday after Christmas which are: Isaiah 63:7-14, Galatians 4:4-7; and Matthew 2:13-23. We will be using the first setting of the morning service for our liturgy (page 151). This is the setting that is very similar to the liturgy in The Lutheran Hymnal. The text for the sermon will be Matthew 2:13 and the sermon is titled “The Irony of Christmas.” As it is NOW the Christmas Season, we will be singing a lot of Christmas hymns this Sunday and next. One of those Christmas hymns will be a hymn selected by our hymnal review committee as worth learning, O Sing of Christ (LSB 362). To learn more about it go to the January newsletter on this blog. Our other hymns will be I’m But a Stranger Here (LSB 748), O Jesus, Blessed Lord, to Thee (LSB 632), O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (LSB 357), What Child Is This (LSB 370), and Angels from the Realms of Glory (LSB 367). This will be a communion service.

In may seem odd to some to honor a martyr so soon after the celebration of the birth of our Lord; however there is some solid theological reasoning behind selecting this date. Jesus himself said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Jesus didn’t mean that the Church should send out armies, but that the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith would be violently opposed (Matthew 11:12). Many even falsely believe that they are serving God by killing Christians (John 16:2). So by honoring the Church’s first martyr so close to the birth of Jesus reminds us that there is a cost in following Christ. It reminds us that the Christian Faith will be opposed, even violently. There is another reason this date is appropriate. Jesus came into our world that we might enter his world, that is, eternal glory with him and all those who are with him in heaven. We enter his blessed presence when we die, it is our heavenly birthday. So we mark Stephen’s heavenly birthday in the season of our Savior’s earthly birthday. The entrance of Christ into history is linked to the entrance of all believers into glory.

As the first martyr, Stephen’s death made a profound impact on the Early Church (given two whole chapters in the book of Acts) and it marked the beginning of a general persecution of the Church by Jewish authorities. Their hatchet man was Saul, later to become St. Paul. St. Stephen 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).

Below is a video of the Lutheran Warbler playing O Sing of Christ, our new hymn for the month. Because the words are copyrighted, she is not singing. However you can hear the tune and arrangement, which is public domain.

Preview of the Lessons
Isaiah 63:7-14: This section of scripture begins with a remembering of God’s past steadfast love. This is always a good place for us to begin as well. When God identifies with us, even our afflictions become his (verse 9). When God deals with us in love and mercy there should be a natural result of faithfulness to him and lives lived in harmony with his will. However, as verse 10 tells us, Israel rebelled, and this rebellion grieved the Holy Spirit (a great passage for establishing the personhood of the Spirit. Also see verses 11 and 14.). Immediately Isaiah, in verse 11, calls to the rebellions people to again remember God’s past mercy, kindness, aid, etc. So the focus of the passage is to remember God’s actions in the past. What a wonderful reminder in these days of Christmas as we remember the Christ Child who was born to save us from the consequences of our sinful ways.

Galatians 4:4-7: Paul begins this short lesson with the words “When the fullness of time had come”. What this means is “at just the right moment in time.” Everything necessary had been accomplished for the birth of Jesus. Once all was ready not a moment was lost, the Son of God became flesh. Paul alludes to the virgin birth when he says Jesus was “born of woman.” He doesn’t say he was the son of Joseph or born of "man." Still Jesus had a human mother, which was necessary for him to be “born under the law.” Being born "under the law" was necessary so that Jesus could be the redeemer of all who are under the law, that is, all humanity for we are all under God’s law. The end result is that those who receive Christ are adopted as sons. Being a “son” of God is not a sexist designation. Its root is in the legal system of antiquity. Daughters could not inherit. By designating all believers as “sons of God” Paul is saying that all believers are now heirs of eternal life. A woman does not have to depend on her father or brother or husband, she inherits in her own name as a “son” of God. So, in reality, the title “son of God” for believers is the exact opposite of sexism. As adopted sons of God we how possess the Holy Spirit. This means that you don’t become a Christian and a son of God at point A in time and then, sometime later, receive the Holy Spirit (as some teach), but as soon as you are adopted into the family of God, as soon as you believe in Jesus, as soon as you become a Christian, as soon as you become a child of God (all these phrases and many more refer to the same thing from different angles) you receive the Holy Spirit and freedom from the consequences of your sins.

Matthew 2:13-23: This is the epilog to the story of the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. It is a part of the Christmas story that is known to those who attend church regularly, but unknown to those who are only casual attendees. That is because it is a dark story and does not fit with the warm and fuzzy image of Christmas that is popular in general American culture. This story is called, in tradition, the Slaughter of the Innocents, and is commemorated on December 28. Our calendar names the day “The Holy Innocents, Martyrs.” In their search to find the Christ Child, the Magi stopped in Jerusalem and called on King Herod the Great. By this time Herod was an old and paranoid ruler, who even murdered two of his own sons. When the Magi asked where they could find the one “born king of the Jews,” Herod’s paranoid, yet cunning, nature swung into full gear. He found out from his scribes that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. He found out from the Magi when the star first appeared, giving him a rough idea of how old Jesus was. Then he told the Magi to go to Bethlehem, find the child, and report back to him so he also could worship the newborn Lord. Herod, however, planned to murder Jesus. The Magi were warned by God of Herod’s treachery and so they went home by a different route. This is where our reading picks up the story. When Herod figured out that the Wise Men had been wiser than he thought, he flew into a rage and ordered all the children in the Bethlehem area, two years old and younger, murdered. Jesus escaped Herod’s hand because Joseph, warned in a dream by God, immediately got the Holy Family up and fled to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod died a few years later. When they returned to Judea, Joseph moved the family to Nazareth. This story not only reminds us 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. This whole episode is depicted figuratively in Revelation 12:1-6 where a dragon (Satan) seeks to devour the newborn child of a spectacular lady, but fails. So we see who the real mastermind behind the persecution of Jesus and his Church is, the devil. Although Jesus’ life was providentially spared at this time, many years later, another ruler, Pontius Pilate, would sentence the innocent Jesus to death. By the way, thanks to the prophecy of Jeremiah, quoted in this Sunday’s Introit, we can be certain that these children went to glory.

Gradual (Isaiah 9:6; Ps 98:1 a)
To us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder.
And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!

Verse (Luke 2:30, 32)
Alleluia. My eyes have seen your salvation; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. Alleluia.

Collect for the Day
O God, our Maker and Redeemer, You wonderfully created us and in the incarnation of Your Son yet more wondrously restored our human nature. Grant that we may ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Introit (Jeremiah 31:15-17; antiphon Hosea 11:1)
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
Thus says the LORD: “A voice is heard in Raman,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”
Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears,
for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD,
and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
There is hope for your future, declares the LORD,
and your children shall come back to their own country.”
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.
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.

Adult Bible Study
We continue our series “Puzzlers and Questions about the Bible.” The question for this coming Sunday is: “Mark 7:27-30 – What was meant by verses 27 and 28?” This is the story of a woman seeking the help of Jesus and, in the conversation, Jesus compares her, and apparently all Gentiles, to dogs. The story can be found in Mark 7:24-30. I resisted giving this some cute or catchy name and simply call the study, “The Syrophoencian Woman and Jesus.” The study begins at 9:00 AM. Come one and come all.

Well, I hope to see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Worship Schedule

Monday in the week of Advent 4
December 20, 2010

The Lord be with you

As with most Christian Churches, our schedule is full of worship services this week. This post will give you some information about these special services at Lamb of God. As I sit here writing these worship notes I am being bombarded by a barrage of so-called Christmas songs from the radio, piece after piece performed by individuals who, judging from their recordings, don’t have a clue about the true meaning of Christmas. Join us and rejoice in the real meaning of Christmas, God’s saving action.

Wednesday, December 22

This is our final Advent worship service for the year. We will again have two services, one at 12:15 and a second at 7:00 PM. The message, based on Luke 2:24-35, is titled “Simeon’s Song.”

12:15 PM
Liturgy: Responsive Prayer I (page 282) (Spoken)
Hymn: “Lord, Bid Your Servant Go in Peace,” (LSB 937)

7:00 PM
Liturgy: Evening Prayer (page 243) (sung)
Hymns: “Savior of the Nations, Come,” (LSB 332); “Lord, Bid Your Servant Go in Peace,” (LSB 937); “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” (LSB 367)

Also on Wednesday
We will have our Soup Supper, beginning at 6:15 PM
The evening worship service will be followed by our choir practice.

Friday, December 24 – Christmas Eve
We will have a Christmas Eve Candlelight service at 7:00 PM. We will be using a specially designed liturgy which accents the light/darkness theme of the season. The message is titled “A Christmas Story.” No, it is not about the book/TV special with the same title. I promise no references to bb guns or boys getting their tongues stuck to lampposts. Our choir has prepared two special pieces.
Hymns: “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel,” (LSB 357); “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful,” (LSB 379); “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” (LSB 380), “Silent Night, Holy Night,” (LSB 363)

Saturday, December 25 – Christmas Day
At Lamb of God we have a Christmas Day service at 10:00 AM. Once again we have a special liturgy. This is a service of Carols and Communion. Instead of a single homily, I give a series of short homiletical introductions to each of the hymns we sing. Pastor Schuette, one of Lamb of God’s former pastors, used to do this. He had gone to be with the Lord before I arrived, but his wife was still with us. She told me about this tradition, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Hymns: “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” (LSB 366); “Gentle Mary Laid Her Child,” (LSB 374); “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” (LSB 379); “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” (LSB 388)

May the Lord bless the end of your Advent season, as we look forward to the Christmas season (which begins December 25).

Pastor John Rickert

Saturday, December 18, 2010

International Response

Saturday after Advent 3
December 18, 2010

The Lord be with you

Anyone who is even slightly aware of what has happen in Lutheranism in America is aware that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) decided in convention to receive into their ordained ministry active homosexual individuals. Such “aware” people would also know that the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) has rejected this decision for numerous reasons.

With this decision the ELCA has turned its back on the vast majority of Christians, not just Lutherans. They have also turned their back on the ecumenical process, not only moving unilaterally but actually making a decision in spite of how it would impact others in the Christian community. Because they bear the name “Lutheran,” their decision has special impact on others who bear this same name, including the many in their own denomination that, agreeing with the Bible, reject their own denominations decision.

I thought the readers of this blog might be interested in how the ELCA’s decision has been received by Lutherans around the world. The following two statements reflect the international response. The first one is from Africa and the second one is from the Baltic area of the world. Each document represents groups of self-identified Lutherans.

Advent Blessings,
Pastor John Rickert

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya's Statement on the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's
Resolution on Same Sex Marriage

The General Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya issued their statement on September 25, 2009, in Kapenguria, on the decision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to roster among her clergy those who are in same sex marital unions.

We, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya, have received with shock, dismay and disappointment, the news that the ELCA, in her Churchwide Assembly held on 21 August 2009, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, resolved officially to open the door of the office of the public ministry to those who are in “committed” same gender sexual relations. We, therefore, would like the general public, particularly the Church of Christ here in Kenya and elsewhere in the world, to take note of the following:

1. that the church body involved in this act (ELCA) is not associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya;

2. that we condemn in the strongest terms possible this unfortunate and anti-scriptural development in a church body that bears the name of the great reformer, Dr. Martin Luther;
that we condemn sexual perversion in all its manifestations;

3. that we condemn sexual perversion in all its manifestations;

4. that same sex marital union is not only contrary to God’s will as clearly expressed in the Holy Scripture, but also repugnant to the natural created social order;

5. that God's plan and purpose of marriage is fulfilled only in heterosexual (one man-one woman) lifelong commitment;

6. that this act by the ELCA constitutes a loveless and callous disregard of the spiritual condition of those caught in homosexual bondage; and

7. that, most seriously of all, it is nothing less than a denial of the transformative power of the love we know in our Savior Jesus Christ, Who seeks all sinners in order to restore them to communion with the Father through the ministrations of His Holy Spirit in Word and sacrament.

Therefore, we must confess the Word of God and be faithful to it. In the name of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, we call upon the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to repent of its apostasy from the truth. We feel compassion for those among us who are caught in homosexual bondage and want them to know the transforming power of God’s forgiveness and love. Thus we hereby dedicate ourselves anew into the service of Him Who came to serve, us sinners, including those caught in homosexual bondage, and Who by the power of His cross and resurrection creates in us a new will to please Him in patterns of living that are chaste and pure. In saying these things, we are standing with our fellow redeemed in the great consensus of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, particularly with those church bodies in the International Lutheran Council. We acknowledge there are many Christians within the ELCA itself who are offended by the action of their church body, and we want them to be assured of our prayers and support.

Signed this 25th day of September 2009:

Rev. Bishop William Lopeta, North West Diocese
Rev. Bishop Richard Amayo, Lake Diocese
Rev. Bishop Thomas Asiago, South West Diocese
Most Rev. Dr. Walter Obare, Archbishop
Rev. John Halakhe, General Secretary

Message from the Meeting of the Baltic Lutheran Bishops

The leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania met in Tallinn on the 3rd and 4th of November, 2009 to strengthen the long experience of unity of the Lutheran churches in the Baltic countries and to pray for the fellowship among Christians of the whole world, recognizing that in our time the ties among and with Christian communities in many places are put to the test. Bishops also discussed tasks and responsibilities of their churches looking for better ways of co-operation in the future. Christian faith means living with Christ and serving one another.

Especially at times of economic difficulties when so many people have lost their external foothold and inner peace, we invite our compatriots to extend their appreciation of their Christian roots and to utilize all the spiritual wealth that is revealed in Holy Scripture and offered to everyone who turns to God and puts their trust in Christ. The present crisis of the world economy is a fruit of a long term failure to act accordingly to the principles which God has laid in the foundations of His creation. Consumerism and individualism of the modern society have taken their toll. To look for a solution only by means of mending the economy would mean to repeat the same mistake. A spiritual renewal must come first, a renewed sense of balance between rights and obligations, communion empathy, solidarity, and mutual support. We believe that the most convincing inner motivation for that change is found in an encounter of a person with the living Christ. To facilitate that encounter by word and deed is the first and foremost calling of the Christian church. Jesus Christ said: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matt 28:19-20).

The Christian community as a part of the society is not separated from issues related to the natural and human environment both locally and globally. Justice in the society, life quality of the people, or protection of our Baltic Sea against the state negligence and corporate exploitation are some of the critical examples of this area of concern. As communities gathered around the Word of God and the keepers of the Christian ethos, our churches must address the spiritual root-causes of the contemporary problems. The churches must remember that the main instrument entrusted to them by God is His word — the law and the gospel — and the service to the neighbor in charity.

We also invite our political powers to realize more clearly the spiritual dimension of the human life and the good fruits of a positive co-operation between state, municipalities, schools, and the church. Teaching and implementing Christian principles strengthen the family as well as the whole community. Liberty of conscience and freedom of speech belong to the values of society defining religious life not only as private but also as a public social right which has to be fostered. Religious education and religious studies form an inseparable part of this right.

At the present time, a common witness of churches is vitally important. Therefore, we express our deepest concern about modern tendencies that weaken the fellowship among Christians and cause divisions among churches. The recent decisions made by some member churches of the Lutheran World Federation to approve of religious matrimony for couples of the same gender and to equate such conjugal life with marriage or to ordain non-celibate homosexual persons for pastoral or episcopal office epitomize these tendencies that are tearing apart fellowship among Christians. We affirm that marriage is the conjugal life between a man and a woman and that homosexual activity is incompatible with the discipleship of Christ. We believe that in following the modern trends, churches are departing from the apostolic doctrine of human sexuality and marriage. We see the Lutheran communion and ecumenical efforts endangered by such decisions and actions because they lead to a situation where the Lutheran churches, members of the Lutheran World Federation, are not able to fully recognize each other's ecclesiastical offices, to exchange ministries and participate together in preaching the Word and celebrating the sacraments.

We call upon our Lutheran sisters and brothers to unity and co-operation based on the foundation of Holy Scripture and loyalty to the Lutheran confessions. Contemporary challenges demand a firm stand based upon timeless truths and values. The common understanding of the Gospel by churches is ^treasure we cannot afford to lose and it needs to be passed on to the current and future generations. Our mission is to be faithful in that which we have received, God's mercy. We are to serve our Lord and our neighbors thus until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph 4:13).

Archbishop of Riga, Janis Vangas, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia
Bishop of Daugavpils, Einars Alpe, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia
Bishop of Liepaja, Pavils Bruvers, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia
Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania
Archbishop Andres Poder, Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church
Archbishop emeritus Kuno Pajula, Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church
Bishop Einar Soone, Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Worship for Advent 4 - 2010

Thursday in the week of Advent 3
December 16, 2010

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the Fourth Sunday in Advent. The appointed lessons for the day are: Isaiah 7:10-17, Romans 1:1-7; and Matthew 1:18-25. As we will be using the service of Matins for our liturgy (page 219), instead of the Introit we will be using the appointed Psalm for the day, which is Psalm 24. The antiphon is verse 7. The text for the sermon will be Isaiah 7:14 and is titled “But That’s Impossible.” This will be the last week for our “new” hymn, “The Night Will Soon Be Ending” (LSB 337). It will be our opening hymn. The sermon hymn will be LSB 352, “Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord.” Our closing hymn will be LSB 917, “Savior, Again to Thy Dear Name We Raise.”

This coming Sunday is also the Commemoration of Adam and Eve. 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).

A lot of “extras” have been added to the biblical account of Adam and Eve, some harmless, others harmful. It is harmless to think the fruit Adam and Eve ate was an apple, though the Bible never identifies it as such. (In earlier generations the pomegranate was a popular option.) Some have thought that eating the forbidden fruit is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. This is a harmful idea as God commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). God does not command us to sin! This would also mean that every married couple would be commanded by God to sin.

Below is a video of some fellow playing on the organ “Savior, Again to Thy Dear Name We Raise,” our closing hymn this coming Sunday. No one is singing. He plays it a little slow, but does a fine job. This has to be one of my favorite closing hymns. I also want to say what a great decision the Commission on Worship made when they jettisoned the “updated” version of Lutheran Worship in favor of the traditional words restored in the Lutheran Service Book. The words are:

Savior, again to Thy dear name we raise
With one accord our parting hymn of praise;
Once more we bless Thee ere our worship cease,
Then lowly bending, wait Thy word of peace.

Grant us Thy peace upon our homeward way;
With Thee began, with Thee shall end, the day.
Guard Thou the lips from sin, the hearts from shame,
That in this house have called upon Thy name.

Grant us Thy peace, Lord, thorugh the coming night;
Turn Thou for us its darkness into light.
From harm and danger keep Thy children free;
For dark and light are both alike to Thee.

Grant us Thy peace throughout our earthly life,
Our balm in sorrow and our stay in strife;
Then, when Thy voice shall bid our conflict cease,
Call us, O Lord, to Thine eternal peace.

Preview of the Lessons
Isaiah 7:10-17: Isaiah prophesied from 740 to 681 BC in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. During this time the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian Empire (721 BC), never to be restored. This section of Isaiah tells of an event that happened when Ahaz was king of Judah (735-715 BC). Ahaz was not a good king, promoting synchronistic religious practices (it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere). There was a collation of forces (including Israel) planning to invade Judah. God, through Isaiah, tells Ahaz not to worry but to trust in the Lord. Not only will the collation fail in their objectives, but the nations planning the attack will themselves be destroyed (which happened when Assyria defeated them). God then tells Ahaz to ask for a sign from God so that God could verify this promise and strengthen Ahaz’s trust (this is where the reading begins). Ahaz refuses. God is displeased. God then proclaims that he will give a sign far more difficult than Ahaz would have ever thought of, he would come himself, in human flesh, born of a virgin.

Romans 1:1-7: Paul’s letter to the Romans stands out as something different from his other letters. It is the only letter he wrote to a church he had never been to. This, in part, explains the general nature of the letter. There is also another reason. Paul was planning to bring the Gospel to the areas of modern France and Spain. For this he would need a home base, much like Ephesus served for him as he brought the Gospel to the Easter Roman Empire. He was hoping the Church at Rome would serve that purpose. To help establish this, the letter to the Roman Church covered most of the basics of the Christian Faith as Paul taught it. He was seeking to get everyone on the same page. As usual, Paul’s opening address (which is this reading) is extremely rich. Scholars, after reading scads of letters from the first centuries BC and AD, have determined that Paul was the first to use these expanded greetings. He was copied by those who followed him. In a nutshell Paul tells us what he teaches: the Trinity; Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy; Jesus is the Son of God; Jesus was raised from the dead; we receive grace through Jesus; the Gospel is for all people (including Gentiles); and salvation is a gift from God. He will develop each of these thoughts in greater depth in the letter.

Matthew 1:18-25: This is Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus. His focus is on how Joseph’s reservations were overcome. Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant and doesn’t believe that she is still a virgin. In a dream, an angel appears to him and allays his concerns. Matthew further confirms the uniqueness of Jesus by quoting this Sunday’s Old Testament lesson, establishing that the birth of Jesus was in fulfillment of prophecy. One of the key elements in Matthew’s Gospel is the fulfillment of prophecy.

Gradual (Zech 9:9; Ps 118:26, alt.)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion.
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem.
Behold, you 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 (Matthew 1:23a)
Alleluia. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel. Alleluia.

Collect for the Day
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.

Psalm 24; antiphon verse 7
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
The earth is the LORD’S and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!
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.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

Adult Bible Study
We continue our series “Puzzlers and Questions about the Bible.” This coming Sunday we will be considering the question “Why was Jesus baptized, since He is sinless?” Join us and learn the answer. The study begins at 9:00 AM.

Well, I hope to see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Worship for Advent 3 - 2010

Thursday in the week of Advent 2
December 9, 2010

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the Third Sunday in Advent. The appointed lessons for the day are: Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-11; and Matthew 11:2-15. The text for the sermon will be James 5:7. The sermon is titled “In-Between Time.” We will be using the third setting of the morning service (page 184) for our liturgy. This will be a Communion Service. Our hymns will be LSB 337, “The Night Will Soon Be Ending;” LSB 359, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming;” LSB 618, “I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table;” LSB 515, “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers;” LSB 338, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus;” and LSB 643, “Sent Forth by God’s Blessing.”

Below is a video of the Tyler Junior Collage A Cappella Choir singing the first two verses of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”

Preview of the Lessons
Isaiah 35:1-10: I wanted to preach on this lesson, but I’ve done it so many times I really thought I should make my sermon on one of the other texts. This is the reading where Isaiah speaks of the New Testament era in glowing metaphorical language. It is also a foreshadowing of what will be after Christ returns. Life without Christ is depicted as a bleak desert. After the coming of the Gospel everything springs to life. The desert is the last place one would expect a green paradise, but God does the impossible. Danger is gone, sickness is eliminated, and sorrow has given way to singing and everlasting joy. As I said, this passage finds its first fulfillment with the first advent of our Lord. Then it is fulfilled when we come to faith. Finally it is fulfilled when Christ returns.

James 5:7-11: Believers live in “in-between time.” In the Former Days they lived in-between the first promise of the Messiah (Genesis 3:15) and the fulfillment of that promise by the life of Jesus. In these Ladder Days we live in-between the fulfillment of the promise that Christ would come to redeem us and the fulfillment of his promise to return. As the fulfillment of the first advent of Christ stretched out for thousands of years, believers had to live in hope (which was not always easy to do). We are in the same position. James addresses this issue for us, and we will hear about it in the sermon.

Matthew 11:2-15: This passage has perplexed many. John the Baptist is in prison, soon to be executed, and he sends some of his disciples to Jesus asking if Jesus is the “One who is to come,” i.e., the Messiah. Why did John do this? Didn’t he know? The text is silent concerning John’s motivation. Jesus treats it seriously, though, giving an answer that would assure his cousin. Jesus then begins to speak about John, telling us that his ministry was prophesied in the Old Testament. John is a great example of how God works in ways that are contrary to human expectations. In stead of living in a palace, he lived in the wilderness. In stead of wearing fine clothing, he word rugged clothing. In stead of calling down fire from the sky or raising the dead, he simply preached. Yet Jesus calls him the greatest of all prophets. Still, such greatness is nothing compared to what is the possession of the “least in the kingdom of heaven.”

Gradual (Zech 9:9; Ps 118:26, alt.)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion.
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem.
Behold, you 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 (Matthew 11:10b)
Alleluia. Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.. Alleluia.

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

Introit (Psalm 105:4-8; antiphon Isaiah 40:3b)
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, from 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.

Adult Bible Study
We continue our series “Puzzlers and Questions about the Bible.” This coming Sunday we will be considering three questions. They are not necessarily related. It is just that I don’t think any of them will take a full hour. I could be wrong, in which case we will just stretch it out to two weeks.

The questions are: 1) Peter and Paul say God raised Jesus from the dead, but Jesus says he lays down his life and takes it up again – which is correct? 2) Mark 7:4 – Why is it talking here about washing pots and cups? 3) Mark 7:11 – What is corban? What does the rest of this verse mean also? The study is titled “Shotgun V” (because this is the fifth time I’ve grouped unrelated questions).

If I was just doing a lecture, I’m sure I could cover these questions in an hour. However we typically have a lively discussion. This question sparks another one, and so on. Everyone is welcome to join us. The study begins at 9:00 AM.

Well, I hope to see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Learning From Women

Wednesday in Advent 2
December 8, 2010

The Lord be with you

I believe my denomination is correct in its position that the office of the Holy Ministry is reserved, by God, for men. That being said, there is a problem in this position that exceeds the counterculture nature of it. What do we make of Mary, the Mother of our Lord?

Granted, Mary did not hold the preaching office. Granted, Mary was not ordained. Granted, Mary did not lead any local congregation. But those observations are about who Mary wasn’t, not about who she was.

Of course we know that she was the theotokos, the “Mother of God.” She has been called “blessed” by every generation. She was humble. The list of things we know is quite impressive. But one that is often overlooked is that she was a great theologian.

We see that reflected in her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56). Books have been written about it. Churches have sung it. It has inspired countless believers. And this great theological song comes from the mind and heart of a young woman.

One conclusion we can draw from this is that women, like men, can make deep and profound contributions to theological discussions. Of course women, like men, can also make worthless and even heretical comments in reference to the same discussions. The simple fact is that the gender of the speaker does not determine the value of the comment.

It is also worth recognizing that one false step does not a raging heretic make. We should always be thankful to God that St. Paul did not write, “For by grace you have been saved through faith and perfect doctrine” (Ephesians 2:8). This is not permission to believe false doctrine. God never gives us that permission. It is, though, recognition that we poor fallen creatures do hold false views (along with true views), and those false views do not keep us out of a saving relationship with our Lord (unless they are whoppers like teaching that Jesus was just a really good man).

The reason I bring this up is that I’ve just read a book by Barbara Brown Taylor, an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. It is a text for my upcoming January seminar on preaching. While I would not say that I agree with everything in the book (she is, after all, and Episcopalian and I am a Lutheran), the book has much to commend it. The name of the book is: The Preaching Life.

Half of Barbara’s book is a collection of thirteen of her sermons, by which she illustrates the narrative style of preaching she describes in the first half of the book. I truly enjoy a good sermon, whether hearing it or reading it. I have to say that Barbara’s sermons are a very enjoyable read. If you are a preacher you will probably enjoy the entire book. (I especially found valuable the chapter titled: Imagination.) With this book you can learn a style of preaching that communicates to today’s people. If you are not a “preacher,” I bet you would still enjoy the second-half of the book.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, December 3, 2010

Atheists Don't Have No Songs

This just made me smile, and I thought it might do the same for some of you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Worship for Advent 2 - 2010

Thursday in Advent 1
December 2, 2010

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the Second Sunday in Advent. The appointed lessons for the day are: Psalm 72:1-7 (antiphon v. 18), Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-13; and Matthew 3:1-12. The text for the sermon will be Isaiah 11:6. The sermon is titled “An Unnatural Peace.” We will be using the Service of Prayer and Preaching (page 260) for our liturgy. Our hymns will be LSB 337, “The Night Will Soon Be Ending,” LSB 342, “What Hope! An Eden Prophesied,” and LSB 922, “Go, My Children, with My Blessing.” “The Night Will Soon Be Ending” is the hymn we are learning this month.

Advent marks the beginning of a new Church Year. At Lamb of God we use a Three-Year Lectionary. The lectionary has appointed Scripture lessons for each Sunday and significant holy day of the Church Year. Each new cycle begins with the season of Advent. Therefore we have moved to a new cycle in our lectionary as of this past Sunday, which is Series A. Each of the series (A, B and C) accents a different one of the “Synoptic” Gospels. The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke. “Synoptic” is Latin and means something like “seen together.” Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels because they cover pretty much the same material in very similar fashion. This year (series A) our Gospel lessons will feature Matthew.

Now you might be wondering, “What about the Gospel of John?” John wrote his Gospel many years after the first three and was familiar with them. He covers some of the same material as the other three, but adds significant information that is not in the others. Basically, it seems, John included the same material if he had important additional information to include or because the event was so important that he could not leave it out and tell the story. This allowed him to include information that is totally absent from the other Gospels. The Three-Year Lectionary handles this by including significant material from John’s Gospel in each of the series. So John is not overlooked, he is just inserted in the other series at needed times.

Below is a video of a man playing an organ and singing the first verse of “Go My Children, with My Blessing.”

Preview of the Lessons
Isaiah 11:1-10: This is a well-known passage where Isaiah speaks of the Coming One in terms of a shoot coming from the stump of Jesse (the father of King David). The “stump of Jesse” is the dead remains of a once mighty tree (the house of David). The shoot is new life springing from the apparently lifeless stump. So Christ, a descendant of David, came long after the House of David was producing kings. Instead they were a subject people in the mighty Roman Empire. The results of his coming are also reveled, in metaphorical language, and that is what we will focus on in Sunday’s message.

Romans 15:4-13: This lesson from Romans is a foretaste of the coming year. Most of Romans will be read during the year. When Paul says, “Whatever was written in former days,” he is referring to the Old Testament. In Biblical language time is divided into two great periods, the “Former Days” and the “Latter Days.” The “Former Days” is time from Creation to the First Coming of Jesus. The “Latter Days “ is Time from the First Coming to the Second Coming of Jesus.” (Hebrews 1:1-2). We are living in the Latter Days, and have been since Jesus. Paul urges us to remember that the Old Testament was “written for our instruction,” so we should not ignore it. For this reason I am pleased that, ever since the introduction of Lutheran Worship, our lectionary series has included an Old Testament lesson. With The Lutheran Hymnal we only had an Epistle and Gospel lesson. This reading is at the end of Romans. Paul is concluding by assuring his Gentile readers that they are included in the promises of God to his people, and cites several Old Testament passages to underscore his point. One of those passages is from Isaiah and refers to Jesus as the “root of Jesse.”

Matthew 3:1-12: The ministry of John the Baptist, as he prepares the way for Jesus, is a perennial Advent theme. This reading covers a portion of his ministry. John was a fiery preacher who unflinchingly pointed to the sins of the nation, calling them to repentance. He is sometimes misunderstood as a preacher of good works. He was not. He was a preacher of repentance. However he knew that true repentance bore results and those results are good works. He speaks in this passage about false security, telling his audience not to count on being the physical descendants of Abraham for their salvation. If they do not repent and believe in the Messiah, they will be chopped down and cast into the fire. This will not leave God without children or Abraham without descendants. God is fully capable of raising descendants of Abraham, and creating his own children, out of rocks! This is a reference to the Gentile mission, for Jews of the First Century often characterized Gentiles as rocks. This is also a sobering reminder that we are not to rest on our past laurels, especially those laurels of past generations that include such great saints like Luther and Melanchthon. We are to bear the fruit of repentance and not rely on the faith of former generations. It is also important to notice that John is fully aware of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He speaks of the one “who is coming after me,” who is Jesus. He says Jesus will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” And, of course, he speaks of “God,” who in this case is the Father because he is distinct from the Son and the Spirit.

Gradual (Zech 9:9; Ps 118:26, alt.)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion.
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem.
Behold, you 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.

Collect for the Day
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.

Psalm for the Day: Psalm 72, antiphon v. 18
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!
May they fear you while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth!
In his days may the righteous flourish,
and peace abound, till the moon be no more!
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.

Adult Bible Study
We continue our series “Puzzlers and Questions about the Bible.” This week we will conclude the study we began two weeks ago. The question is, “We studied Romans 6:6. What is the (“body of sin”) and if we have no sin in our body (or does “that the body of sin might be destroyed” – not mean that we have no sin in our body? Then what does 6:7 mean if we are free from sin – does that mean we don’t sin & 6:9 – death has no dominion – it doesn’t say spiritual death – could it mean physical death? Matthew 16:28 and there in the Old Testament it says “death is the enemy” can’t recall where but if death is the enemy what enemy (Satan)? If Satan is the enemy then can’t he be destroyed?” Class begins at 9:00 AM. Everyone is invited.

Well, I hope to see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Why December 25?

Wednesday after Advent 1
December 1, 2010

The Lord be with you

Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to

To finish this article go to the link. It will take you to a page called “The Preachers Institute.” Learn the real reason why December 25th is celebrated by Christians as the birth of Jesus.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Rickert

Monday, November 29, 2010

92 Year Old Preacher

Commemoration of Noah
November 29, 2010

The Lord be with you

A member of my congregation sent me the following story. I have no idea whether or not it is true (and I certainly do not recommend watching worship services on TV instead of participating in a worship service with living breathing fellow believers) but the story makes a good point. One observation, there is a re-work of an old hymn at the end. The final verse in what I received took the focus of the hymn off Jesus and put is squarely on the person who is singing. The original hymn avoided this anthropocentric blunder and kept the hymn Christocentric throughout. To overcome this, I simply deleted the new final verse and repeated the new first verse. I also made some punctuation changes.

Blessings in Christ
Pastor John Rickert

92 Year Old Preacher

While watching a little TV on Sunday instead of going to church, I watched a church in Atlanta honoring one of its senior pastors who had been retired many years. He was 92 at that time and I wondered why the church even bothered to ask the old gentleman to preach at that age.

After a warm welcome, introduction of this speaker, and as the applause quieted down, he rose from his high back chair and walked slowly, with great effort and a sliding gait to the podium. Without a note or written paper of any kind he placed both hands on the pulpit to steady himself and then quietly and slowly he began to speak.

"When I was asked to come here today and talk to you, your pastor asked me to tell you what was the greatest lesson ever learned in my 50-odd years of preaching. I thought about it for a few days and boiled it down to just one thing that made the most difference in my life and sustained me through all my trials. . . The one thing that I could always rely on when tears and heartbreak and pain and fear and sorrow paralyzed me. . . the only thing that would comfort was this verse. . .

"Jesus loves me this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so."

When he finished, the church was quiet. You actually could hear his foot steps as he shuffled back to his chair. I don't believe I will ever forget it.

A pastor once stated, "I always noticed that it was the adults who chose the children's hymn 'Jesus Loves Me' (for the children of course) during a hymn sing, and it was the adults who sang the loudest because I could see they knew it the best."

"Senior version of Jesus Loves Me"

Here is a new version just for us who have white hair or no hair at all. For us over middle age (or even those almost there) and all you others, check out this newest version of Jesus Loves Me.


Jesus loves me! this I know,
Though my hair is white as snow,
Though my sight is growing dim,
Still He bids me trust in Him.

Though my steps are oh, so slow,
With my hand in His I'll go.
On through life, let come what may,
He'll be there to lead the way.

When the nights are dark and long,
In my heart He puts a song,
Telling me in words so clear,
"Have no fear, for I am near."

When my work on earth is done,
And life's victories have been won.
He will take me home above,
Then I'll understand His love.

Jesus loves me! This I know,
Though my hair is white as snow,
Though my sight is growing dim,
Still He bids me trust in Him.

Wednesday Advent Activities

Wednesday * Wednesday * Wednesday

This Wednesday we will have our first Advent Services for this year.

The message at both services is titled “Mary’s Song,” and is based on the Magnificat.

12:15 Service
Liturgy: Responsive Prayer I (Suffrages), page 282
Hymn: “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came,” LSB 356

7:00 Service
Liturgy: Evening Prayer, page 243
Hymns: “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” LSB 338

“The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came,” LSB 356
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” LSB 357

Preceding the evening service, at 6:15 PM

Soup Supper * Soup Supper * Soup Supper

Soups this week:
Turkey & Brown Rice and Red Lentil

Following the evening service, at 8:00 PM

Choir Practice * Choir Practice * Choir Practice

When it comes down to the basics of who we are, worship of the Triune God is what makes the Church different from all other organizations in the world. Join us each week for worship (and fellowship).

Blessings in Christ,

Pastor John Rickert

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Worship for Advent 1 - 2010

Saturday after Christ the King Sunday
November 27, 2010

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the First Sunday in Advent. At Lamb of God we will have a guest minister, Rev. Dr. Hugo Kaeding, presiding at the worship service. Pastor Kaeding is the Circuit Counselor for Circuit 19. I will be in Camden in my capacity as Circuit Counselor for Circuit 18. Because I will not be here, I cannot tell you what the sermon text will be, etc. However I will share the following information.

As this will be the first Sunday in Advent, the paraments will be blue. Blue is the most recent addition to liturgical colors and first began being used in Scandinavian countries. It represents hope, and reflects our hope in the Christ who came and is to come.

We will be using the first setting of the Diving Service (page 151). This will be a communion service. The appointed lessons for the day are: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 21:1-11.

Our Opening Hymn will be LSB 337, “The Night Will Soon Be Ending.” The sermon hymn will be: LSB 396, “Arise and Shine in Splendor.” Our Closing hymn will be: LSB 333, “Once He Came in Blessing.” Our Distribution Hymns: LSB 620, “Jesus Comes Today with Healing,” LSB 331, “The Advent of Our King,” and LSB 918, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer.”

The Opening Hymn, “The Night Will Soon Be Ending” is another hymn that was selected by our Hymnal Review Committee as one that is worth learning. We will be singing if for four weeks.

Don’t forget that Wednesday Advent Services begin this week, December 1. As usual for us, we will have a service at 12:15 with only one hymn and a spoken liturgy. The 7:00 service will have a sung liturgy and three hymns. The theme this year for the Wednesday Advents services is the “Canticles of Christmas.” The first homily is titled “Mary’s Song” and is based on the Magnificat. The services will be preceded by a Soup Supper at 6:15 PM.

Below is a video of a High School Choir singing the first and last verses of "Arise and Shine in Splendor," our sermon hymn. They do a real good job.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Worship Thanksgiving Eve - 2010

Commemoration of Clement of Rome, Pastor
November 23, 2010

The Lord be with you

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America. This is the fourth Thursday in November, the day set by law back on December 26, 1941, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. Before that it was, by tradition started by President Abraham Lincoln, the last Thursday in November. (Sometimes November has five Thursdays.) Roosevelt wanted it moved earlier to help the economy and the selection of the fourth Thursday was a compromise with congress.

When I arrived at Lamb of God they traditionally had a Thanksgiving Eve worship service, and we have maintained that practice. Therefore tomorrow evening, at 7:00 PM, we will have our Thanksgiving worship service.

We will be using Evening Prayer (page 243) for our liturgy. Our hymns will be: “Before You, Lord, We Bow” (LSB 966), “God Bless Our Native Land” (LSB 965), “We Give Thee But Thine Own” (LSB 781:1-2, 6), and “The Day Thou Gavest” (LSB 886). The appointed lessons are: Deuteronomy 8:1-10, Philippians 4:6-20, and Luke 17:11-19. The appointed psalm is Psalm 67, antiphon: v. 7. The text for the homily is Deuteronomy 8:1, and the homily is titled “God Blessed America.” No, that is not a typo. “Blessed” is suppose to be in the past tense.

For us, this is the last worship service of the Church Year. The First Sunday in Advent is November 28 this year. So come and join us as we give thanks for the many blessings God has graciously granted us in the past.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Rickert

Friday, November 19, 2010

Luther Medallions

Friday after Pentecost 25

ALPB gauging interest in anniversary medals
Reporter, November 2010

The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau (ALPB) would like to hear from those interested in buying a series of nine commemorative medallions it plans to offer "to begin a countdown of the years to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017," according to an ALPB press release.

Established in 1914, the ALPB "is …

Flunking the Religious Knowledge Test

Friday after Pentecost 25

Commentary: Flunking the religious knowledge test
By Gene Edward Veith
Reporter, November 2010

Do atheists know more about religion than religious people do? That was the conclusion of recent news reports on the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which released the survey results Sept. 28. Though the media conclusions are somewhat misleading, the survey raises issues that Christians need to face up to.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Worship for the Last Sunday of the Church Year - 2010

Thursday after Pentecost 25
November 18, 2010

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the Last Sunday of the Church Year. On other liturgical calendars it is also known as Christ the King Sunday.

The appointed lessons for the day are: Malachi 3:13-18; Colossians 1:13-20, and Luke 23:27-43. The appointed Psalm is Psalm 46 and the antiphon is verse 7. The sermon will draw on each of the main lessons, but I need only one text, so I’ve chosen Luke 23:43. The sermon is titled “Saved Four Times.”

We will be using Matins for our liturgy Sunday (page 219). Our hymns will be “Salvation unto Us Has Come” (LSB 555), “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” (LSB 702), and “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers” (LSB 515). .

Below is a video of a graduation ceremony where a choir is singing “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers.” The words are almost identical to the ones in our hymnal, and the tune is the same. Because it is a real occasion, the organist gets fancy, especially at the beginning and between verses. They do a real fine job. (By-the-way, we will not be singing the little fanfare the choir does at the end.)

Preview of the Lessons
Malachi 3:13-18: Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament and probably the last one written. Scholars date it to 440 through 430 BC. The book was written after Nehemiah returned to Babylon, and the people had quickly fallen back into sinful ways. In this reading the people are depicted as complaining against God, claiming that God’s ways are of no value and that the ways of the world are to be preferred. Those who remain faithful suffer at the hands of those who have abandoned God’s ways. The Lord, though, pays attention to the faithful and will, on the Last Day, distinguish them by bringing them into eternal fellowship with him.

Colossians 1:13-20: Paul begins this section by reminding us that we were saved when we came to faith in Jesus, transferring us to the kingdom of God. Paul then expounds on who Jesus is. This is a powerful Christological section. In the final verse Paul points to the moment Christ died on the cross, reconciling to himself al things whether on earth or in heaven.

Luke 23:27-43: This reading is from Luke’s Passion account. Jesus is carrying his cross and being led to Calvary. Multitudes follow, weeping, clearly indicating that many, many Jews did not support the decision of their leaders to kill Jesus. This reading includes two of our Lord’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” This last ‘word’ has brought comfort to countless multitudes who have stood at a grave and known that their loved one is not really dead. Christ saved them from that. Their loved one is in Paradise with their Lord.

Gradual (Rev. 7:14b; Ps. 84:5)
These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.
They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

Verse (Luke 23:43)
Alleluia. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. Alleluia.

Collect for the Day
Lord Jesus Christ, You reign among us by the preaching of Your cross. Forgive Your people their offenses that we, being governed by Your bountiful goodness, may enter at last you’re your eternal paradise; for You live and reign with the Fahter and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm for the Day: Psalm 46, antiphon v. 7
Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared,
a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves.
God has gone up with a shout,
the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!
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.
Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

Adult Bible Study
We continue our series “Puzzlers and Questions about the Bible.” The next question is, “We studied Romans 6:6. What is the (“body of sin”) and if we have no sin in our body (or does “that the body of sin might be destroyed” – not mean that we have no sin in our body? Then what does 6:7 mean if we are free from sin – does that mean we don’t sin & 6:9 – death has no dominion – it doesn’t say spiritual death – could it mean physical death? Matthew 16:28 and there in the Old Testament it says “death is the enemy” can’t recall where but if death is the enemy what enemy (Satan)? If Satan is the enemy then can’t he be destroyed?” These questions all revolve around sanctification. I’m sure this will take more than one Sunday. Class begins at 9:00 AM. Everyone is invited.

Well, I hope to see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Worship for Pentecost 25 - 2010

Birthday of Martin Luther, 1483
November 10, 2010

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost. On our old calendar it was known as the Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year. While the name has changed, the theme for the last three Sunday’s of the Church Year remain the same – Eschatology. (Eschatology is a word that means the study of “end things.” End things can be anything from our own death to the Second Coming of Jesus and beyond.) The Lutheran Church is sometimes accused of not teaching about the End Times. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we don’t teach is the false doctrines popularized by those influenced by Darby and the Scofield Reference Bible. These fancies may make for exciting movies, but they do not represent the teaching of the Bible.
This Sunday is also the Commemoration of Emperor Justinian, Christian Ruler and Confessor of Christ. While Justinian is certainly worthy of being remembered, alas this Sunday he will be overlooked at our church.

The appointed lessons for the day are: Malachi 4:1-6, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, and Luke 21:5-28. The sermon text is Luke 21:8 and the sermon is titled “False Prophets and the Church.”

We will be using the third setting of the Divine Service in the hymnal for our liturgy Sunday (page 184). We will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Our hymns will be “Father Most Holy,” (LSB 504), “Faith and Truth and Life Bestowing” (LSB 584), “Almighty God, Your Word is Cast” (LSB 577), “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” (LSB 575), “O Jesus, Blessed Lord, to Thee” (LSB 632), and “My God Bestow on Us His Grace” (LSB 824).

Below is a video of a young man playing “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less.” There are actually two well know tunes associated with these words. The one in this video is the one we will be singing Sunday.

Preview of the Lessons
Malachi 4:1-6: Malachi looks forward to the “End Times.” These times began with Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2). God uses images for fire to describe his judgment against the wicked. The wicked are those who do not fear God’s name (2), that is, lack faith. In the end, all that they valued is destroyed. The role of believers in the judgment is also revealed as well as the glory that will be ours at the resurrection. While the religious leaders in Malachi’s time were faithless, the faithful are to remember Moses, God’s faithful servant, and the word God delivered to him. Even in a time when the leaders of the Church have abandoned God’s word, we still have the examples of God’s faithful past servants and the testimony of God’s word. The reference to the appearance of Elijah might be a reference to John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14) or the Transfiguration of our Lord when Elijah and Moses appeared on this earth again (Matthew 17:3). Either way, the End Days began with Jesus.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13: It appears that some in this church believed that the Second Coming of Jesus was eminent and so had quit their jobs and were living off the good will of other members in the Church while they waited. I guess they even felt a little smug about their supposed spirituality. Paul tells them to get off their lazy behinds and go back to work. No one knows when Christ will return. Not only that but, if we are gainfully employed then, as good stewards of what the Lord gives us, we are able to do good to all people, especially those of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). Therefore Paul urges us in this lesson to “not grow weary in doing good” (13).

Luke 21:5-28: This is one of Jesus’ famous “eschatological discourses.” Because he is speaking of things dealing with End Times, and because the End Times began with him, the events he describes span history from his day until the Second Coming. For example, the destruction of the Temple he speaks of (6) happened in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed it. Certainly there have been plenty of wars and rumors of wars for the last 2,000 years. People are always pointing to unusual celestial events, and have been for the last 2,000 years. Of course one of the most remarkable is the Christmas star. We will be focusing our considerations on verse 8 and see how this has been and is being fulfilled and consider what difference it makes for us today.

Gradual (Rev. 7:14b; Ps. 84:5)
These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.
They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

Verse (Luke 21:28b)
Alleluia. Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Alleluia.

Collect for the Day
O Lord, almighty and ever-living God, You have given exceedingly great and precious promises to those who trust in You. Rule and govern our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit that we may live and abide forever in Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Introit for the Day (Ps. 121:1-2, 7-8; antiphon: Luke 21:33)
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The LORD will keep from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
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.
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.
Adult Bible Study
We continue our series “Puzzlers and Questions about the Bible.” The next question is, “Regarding O.T. offerings, how do we reconcile giving a tithe at the temple/tabernacle with the verse that says that if the place is too far away, use the $ for “strong drink,” etc.?” This question seems to be based on Deuteronomy 14:22-29. We will consider just what “strong drink” is, what this text means, and what it means for us today. The study is titled “Tithes and Strong Drink.” Class begins at 9:00 AM. Everyone is invited.

Well, I hope to see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert