Monday, February 28, 2011

Disaters and Theology

Monday after Epiphany 8
February 28, 2011

The Lord be with you

The recent 6.3 earthquake in New Zealand has catapulted Christchurch, which was devastated by the quake, into the international spotlight. Christians around the globe have kept the people of this city in their prayers. However this is only the most recent natural disaster that has hit humanity in recent years. We all remember the hurricanes that hit New Orleans, the earthquake that hit Haiti, and the 2004 earthquake in the Indian Ocean that caused a title wave that killed hundreds of thousands in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

When such disasters strike, it is natural for people to ask, “Why?” An explanation that speaks of moving tectonic plates is most unsatisfying. Disasters move people to look for moral explanations. Even the most hardened seem to consider God. Some use them as justification for their lack of faith in God. Others use them as a way of pointing the blame at the people who have been affected by the disaster. Still others think of the mystery of God. No matter how people understand the disaster, one truth is accented by the very questions people are asking. Faith in the existence of God is hardwired into human nature. No one blames Sigmund Freud, or the psychoanalytical method for the disasters, or seek to exonerate them. No one blames democracy or communism or socialism, or seeks to exonerate these governing systems. When we look for ultimate meaning, we look to God.

The Winter 2011 issue of Concordia Journal was dedicated to the whole question of understanding disasters from a biblical perspective. The disaster the issue focused on was the January 2010 Haitian earthquake, but the observations apply equally to other natural disasters. I especially liked the contribution by Rev. Jon Diefenthaler, the president of the Southeastern District.

When the earthquake hit Haiti there were not a few people, even in Haiti, who blamed the Haitian people themselves. This impoverished nation has a history of Voodoo. The idea was that God was punishing them for this sin. I’ll call this the “special judgment” view. Justification for such thinking might be found in Deuteronomy 28:38 and Joel 1. Here we read, not about earthquakes or title waves, but about locust. This natural disaster is a judgment from God intended to call the Israelites to repentance. However the analogy fails because these recent disasters did not hit ancient Israel, but New Zealand, Haiti, India, the USA, and so forth. Ancient Israel had a special place in salvation history. They were the people selected by God to carry the promise of the Messiah, first given to Eve. If they abandoned their God-given roll as the carrier of the promise, then there would be no humanly possible way to be assured that Jesus was the one foretold. They always had to have at least a remnant that remained faithful; that passed on the true faith. For the analogy to work we must be able to demonstrate, from the Bible, that Haiti, India, New Zealand, the USA, and so on, hold a critical roll in salvation history. As Christ has already come, it can’t be in relation to that. It would have to be in relation to the Second Coming. In other words, we would have to demonstrate from the Bible that if one of these nations dropped the ball the Second Coming would not happen. Now I am a patriotic American, but I cannot assert such a special roll for us.

Another place in the Bible one might cite for the special judgment view of disasters is the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. However this analogy also fails when we realize that the danger that Sodom and Gomorrah posed was again a danger to the promise God gave to humanity (Genesis 3:15). Abraham, from whom the nation of Israel descended, was the carrier of that promise. These cities of intense immorality and idolatry (even though they knew of the true God – Genesis 14:17-20), possessed such a draw to abandon the true God that even Lot was being attracted. To preserve the promise, the cities received their “End-Times” judgment early.

The special judgment idea also fails because we would have to demonstrate that the sins of this or that nation, or city, so exceeded the sins of other nations and cities that it called forth special treatment from God. In the USA, since the legalization of abortion, over 40,000,000 babies have been legally executed in abortion clinics. Are the sins of Haiti worse than that? 600,000 to 800,000 people right now, half of which are children, are slaves in the world today. (Some say many more are enslaved right now, but I’m using the smallest number I found.) They can be found in Toronto, Canada and San Diego, CA, (and elsewhere, of course). Are the sins of Christchurch so much grater than those of Toronto, where slave auctions have been reported? What about all the countries that have outlawed Christianity? At least in India Christians can hold to their faith and share it. Sure the people who live in Haiti, Indonesia, New Orleans and Christchurch are sinners, but so are we. It really doesn’t seem to me that their sins are so much more terrible that God is compelled to strike them, while sparing others because their sins “aren’t so bad.”

So, if we can’t say that these natural disasters are the result of special judgment from God on these cities and nations, does that mean that there is nothing of theological and spiritual significance about them? Of course not.

First off, all natural disasters are the result of the general judgment of God. They are the result of the earth being cursed at humanities Fall into sin. God tells Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17). St. Paul writes of this in Romans 8. “For the creation waits in eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” To put all this another way, things like earthquakes, title waves, and hurricanes, happen because we live in a fallen world.

The next thing we can learn is that all disasters are a call to repentance. Quite obviously, this is a message to those who survive, not to those who died. This is our Lord’s message in Luke 13:1-5. “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

The third thing any disaster is, is a call to every Christian to be about the works of God. That is to say, it is a call for us to exercise compassion in the name of Jesus. Paul tells the Galatians, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:10). Certainly such disasters give us an opportunity to do good. We do not limit our compassion to those who are Christians. Paul also accented this in Romans 12:19-21. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” When someone asks, “Where is God in all this,” the answer is to point to his Body, the Church, which is responding with the compassion and love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

This is not all that can be said about disasters, but this post is already much longer than I thought it would be. A fuller treatment would certainly also accent that God has not abandoned the earth or her people. I would also want to explore how God's judgment against sin was taken by Jesus on the cross. He has born our punishment. Another area that could be examined are the "hidden things of God." With what I have touched on, though, we have some understanding as well as a call to action. We are to repent of our own sin, keep these people in our prayers, and as we have opportunity, reach out in acts of mercy.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert
(The first picture is of post-earthquake Haiti. The second picture is of post-earthquake Christchurch.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Christian Tradition

Feast Day of St. Matthias, Apostle
February 24, 2011

The Lord be with you

For some “Christian Tradition” is almost a synonym for Christian “myth” or “legend.” For others, it is something held to as having near biblical authority. It doesn’t help that people use the term “tradition” with a wide variety of meanings. The following is a list (no doubt incomplete) of things people might be referring to when they speak of the “Christian Tradition.”

1. The Bible
2. The decisions of the first seven Ecumenical Councils
3. The writings of the Church Fathers through the first six centuries AD.
4. The writings of any recognized Christian leader from any age
5. The stories about the saints, both biblical and post-biblical
6. The development of worship liturgies, and styles
7. Icons
8. The development and current use of the Christian Year
9. The three Ecumenical Creeds

The problem of what is meant by “tradition” is further complicated by the fractured nature of the visible Church today. While the Church baptized babies for the first 1,500 years of its existence, during the Reformation segments of the protestant movement broke with this “tradition.” They refused to baptize babies or recognize people who were baptized as babies as being truly baptized. This group was called “Anabaptists.” The name either means “against [infant] baptism” or “re-baptizers.” (The experts are split as “anabaptist” can mean either.) At any rate, those who share such thinking now have a strong “tradition” stretching back 500 years. They believe it stretches back to the days of the New Testament. So they might say, in all sincerity, that the “Christian Tradition” teaches us to baptize only those who can confess their faith verbally. This means that today we can also speak of the Lutheran Tradition, the Baptist Tradition, the Methodist Tradition, the Roman Catholic Tradition, the Easter Orthodox Tradition, and so on, each asserting that they represent the true tradition of the Church.

Today is the Feast Day of St. Matthias, Apostle. From the pages of the Bible we have very little information about him. He was selected to replace Judas (Acts 1:12-26). From the selection process we know that he was one of the men who accompanied Jesus and the other disciples “during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21-22). He was, therefore, an eye-witness to the life, teachings, miracles, trial, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Because the Holy Spirit fell on all the Apostles on the first Pentecost, and all the Apostles spoke in unlearned foreign languages, Matthias also shared in this experience. In fact, any of the exercises that “all” the Apostles engaged in would also include Matthias (such as preaching and baptizing). However, by name, he is never referred to again in the pages of the Bible and, by name, he is not referred to prior to Acts 2.

When people want to know more about Matthias, or anyone else in the New Testament, we turn to “tradition.” In this case we mean the stories handed down over the centuries about these people. Such stories answer questions like: How did this or that person die? Did this or that person become a Christian? What was the field of ministry for this or that person? What did this or that person look like?

How reliable are the stories? They must be judged on a case by case basis. A good beginning question is: How old is the story? If the story can be found in writings from the Second Century, chances are there is a good bit of history in it (as in a good chance it is completely or almost completely historical). If a story about a New Testament person doesn’t appear in the written record until the Tenth Century, the chances are it is mostly fiction (like 99.9%).

Experts in this field can spend a great deal of time trying to distinguish history from fiction. There is value in such study, but most of us lack the skill in the original languages to do it. We also have other things to do, like earn a living. So what value do these stories have for those of us who can’t invest the time to determine the historical reliability of each one? Simple. The stories still serve as encouragement to us. Was the Apostle Thomas really the person who brought the Gospel to India? Well, I like the story, but the bottom line is that, if it wasn’t Thomas, it was someone. Letting the Indian Church “have” Thomas also accents that they are built on the same Apostolic foundation, with Christ as the Cornerstone, that the rest of the Church is built. Was Paul really a short, stooped man with weak eyes and a large nose? Even if he wasn’t, the picture accents that God can use any and all of us, even if we don’t fit the world’s idea of a perfect physical specimen. Was Peter really crucified upside down because he didn’t feel worthy to die in the same manor as his Lord? Even if he wasn’t, the story accents a deep humility and a life completely committed to Jesus.

Now to be honest, the traditions about Peter and Paul are quite good. That is to say, Peter probably was crucified un-side down and Paul probably was a short, stooped, weak-eyed, large nosed man. Thomas going to India is not as solid, but it is better than others. Sometimes the stories are even impossible to reconcile (like a person dying in more than one place). Be that as it may, if they inspire us to a closer walk with Jesus, they have served a blessed purpose.

Remember, our Lord told parables. We don’t ask if the events really happened. In fact, in a straight parable, the events didn’t happen. When farmers went out to sow their fields, they didn’t scatter the seeds all over the place. They aimed for the field. That there were no farmers as stupid as the one in Jesus’ parable doesn’t detract from the meaning of the story. So it is with the stories in Christian Tradition.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

The Glory of Obscurity

Feast Day of St. Matthias, Apostle
February 24, 2011

The Lord be with you

Today is the Feast Day of St. Matthias, the man who was appointed by lot to replace Judas. According to tradition he was one of the 72 sent out by Jesus (Luke 10), which seems reasonable enough considering the requirements laid out in Acts 1:21-22. While tradition does assign certain deeds to him, for the most part he is a mystery. This is true of most of the Apostles (and most of us, if we are honest).

Today I read part of an address given by Martin Luther Koehneke (1916-1995) to the graduates of Concordia Teachers College in 1961. He had some great insights about this whole obscurity thing that I want to share with you. (It will help to remember that the word “apostle” means “sent one.”)

If I allowed you five minutes, could you name the twelve apostles? Peter, James, and John we know. Oh yes, there is another James, and then there is Matthew. If you could mention the others, how do you explain the way the New Testament permits them to appear on the stage of history as if they had dropped from the clouds, only to vanish as abruptly as if they had fallen through a trap door?

I should like to pursue this question a little further with you who have been summoned by the Lord and sent out by Him to serve, and discuss briefly the thought of The Glory of Obscurity.

Your purpose as a twentieth century apostle is the purpose of any apostle of any century: to bear witness to the Light. From beginning to end, the true Hero of the Scriptures is not men; it is God. Men are important only as instruments and organs of God. Christ is the Vine, we are the branches, and without Him we can do nothing. Nothing! But He is by His Spirit the sole worker in the progress of His Church. He builds, He sanctifies, He glorifies. And He must remain our strength, our wisdom, and our righteousness, our all in all, our alpha and omega. We are channels; He is the flashing water of life.
    “Thou are the organ, whose full breath is thunder;
    I am the Keys, beneath Thy fingers pressed.”
Ever since Christianity began, men have been talking as if it were at the point of perishing. But they leave Christ out of their reckoning. When you become conscious of your own weaknesses, are tempted to think of your tasks as heavy, or when you are complacent in your own power, or tempted to regard your task as easy, think of Him Who braces you for every duty and rebukes your easy-going idleness. Union with Him remains your only true strength, and oblivion of yourselves your highest wisdom.

No doubt those apostles who have no place in history toiled honestly, did their Lord’s commands, yet oblivion has swallowed it all. They became partakers of the glory of obscurity.

So will it be sooner or later with us all. Much of our work may go unnoticed and unknown. The memory of our service may live in the hearts of some few who loved us for a while, but will fade wholly when they follow us into the rest which remaineth to the people of God. The world has a short memory, and the saints of God can also forget.

The apostle of any century is not destined to be a man of notoriety, but of obscurity. The big issue is one of faithfulness if we serve either at a conspicuous or obscure post in the Kingdom. We need to be careless of praise or censure, because God is our Judge; careless whether we are unknown or well known, because we are known altogether by and to Him. He measures excellence by the quantity and quality of love poured into our ministry.

The final and great glory of obscurity is this, that forgotten work is remembered, and unrecorded names are recorded. The names of these almost anonymous apostles have no place in the records of the advancement of the Church. They drop out of the narrative after the list in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. But we do hear of them once more. In the last vision of the great city, we read that in its “Foundations were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

When the Church reaches that great moment of final triumph, the works these men did will be forever remembered. Though unrecorded on earth, they are written in heaven.

The forgotten work and its workers are remembered by Christ. He is faithful, and He sees. He will never forget. …

But there is one other note of triumph of triumph for the apostle in obscurity. The faithful servant of his faithful Lord cannot be robbed of the blessings of faithfulness for the doer. Nothing done for Christ is ever wasted. What is done for Him leaves its mark on the doer. The act itself becomes its own benediction. The service is transformed into blessing. You cannot love another in the name of Christ and not feel the warmth of love’s rays. You cannot give a cup of cold water to the thirsty in the name of Christ without looking into His eyes.

(For All the Saints, A Prayer Book For and By the Church, Volume III, Year 2: Advent to the Day of Pentecost, The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 1309-1311)

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

P.S. The Icon is of St. Matthias

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Worship for Epiphany 8 - 2011

Commemoration of Polycarp of Smyrna, Pastor and Martyr
Wednesday after Epiphany 7
February 23, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Eight Sunday after the Epiphany. We will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper. For our liturgy we will be using the first setting of the morning service, which begins on page 151 of the hymnal. This will be the last Sunday we will be using bulletins purchased from a supply house. After this we will be using bulletins produced in-house that depict the stained-glass windows above our altar.

The appointed lessons for Sunday are Isaiah 49:8-16a; 1 Corinthians 4:1-13; and Matthew 6:24-34. The text for the sermon is Matthew 6:24. The sermon title is “Who Do You Trust?”. (It seems like I’ve been on a question kick lately for my sermon titles. Maybe next week I’ll come up with something different.”

As this is a Communion Sunday, we have three distribution hymns. The first of these (Jesus, Once with Sinners Numbered) is a new hymn. We would have started learning it last week, but I wanted to have only well known hymns for our Friendship Sunday.

Our Opening Hymn will be “Lord, Open Now My Heart to Hear” (LSB 908). Our Sermon Hymn will be “We Give Thee But Thine Own” (LSB 781). Our Closing Hymn will be “Almighty Father, Bless the Word” (LSB 923). The Distribution Hymns will be “Jesus, Once with Sinners Numbered” (LSB 404), “Thy Body, Given for Me, O Savior” (LSB 619), and “Take My Life and Let It Be” (LSB 783).

I normally post a video of one of the hymns, but that proved too difficult for me this week. I could find recordings of only two of them, “We Give Thee But Thine Own” and “Take My Life and Let It Be.” There are two well-know tunes to “Take My Life.” Sunday we will be singing the easier of the two. All the choirs on YouTube seem to prefer the harder of the two. There are also plenty of people “interpreting” each of the hymns, which means they don’t sound anything like what you and I will be singing on Sunday. So, this week, I have no video. Instead of a video, I’m posting a picture of Isaiah by Michelangelo, because our OT reading is from Isaiah.

This Sunday will mark the final installment in our adult Bible study series “Puzzlers and Questions about the Bible.” Our final question is: “What is the meaning of the story of Balak and Balaam in Numbers?” The story of Balaam and Balak can be found in Number 22-25. Balaam’s death is recorded in Numbers 31, along with a treacherous act not recorded earlier. The story is again referred to in Deuteronomy 23; Joshua 13 & 24; Nehemiah 13, Micah 6, 2 Peter 2, Jude, and Revelation 2. In other words, there is ample biblical information to provide a good answer. Our Education Hour begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons
Isaiah 49:8-16a: The years of Isaiah’s activity were 740 to 681 BC. This means that he worked through the time that the Northern Kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians (722 BC) and scattered throughout the Middle-East, but before the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (586 BC). There is so much Gospel in his book that Isaiah is sometimes called the “Evangelist of the Old Testament.” The book is largely poetic, and understanding it properly requires reading it with that in mind. In other words, you expect symbolic language, parallelisms, and the like. There are three main images of Christ presented in the book: The Ideal Davidic King; the Servant of Yahweh; and Yahweh in Person. In Isaiah 49:1-7 we see Jesus as the Servant of Yahweh. Verses 8-16 continue the Servant image. In verse 8 we hear that God answers “in a time of favor.” The background for this is the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25), when land was restored and slaves set free. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this. He sets us free from slavery to sin, death, and the devil and gives us our eternal home. Verse 8 also tells us that the Servant (Jesus) is the covenant. As Paul wrote, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:11). Verse 10 is quoted in Revelation 7:16-17 as a description of heaven, teaching us that the ultimate fulfillment of this passage will be at the Second Coming of Jesus. People look at their current troubles and conclude that God has abandoned them (v 14), but we are assured that He has not (15-16). Verse 16 has a remarkable reversal of ancient practices. It was common for a slave to have his owner’s name carved into their flesh. God reverses it here, demonstrating just how committed he is. He will not forget his people.

1 Corinthians 4:1-13: We continue with 1 Corinthians. This troubled congregation had lost its focus, and Paul is seeking to refocus then on Jesus. Apparently some of the problems were cause by people with visions they claimed were from God. Paul reminds them to “not go beyond what is written” (6). Such “visions” tend to “puff-up” those who claim to receive them, and even those who follow them, because the followers consider themselves superior to those who do not recognize the vision. All this is taking their eyes off of Jesus. Everything we receive, we receive from him. Paul is getting worked up. These people want all the goodies (from a human perspective), but none of the cost. They view the sufferings of the Apostles as a mark of the inferiority of the Apostles. These, in reality, indicate the faithfulness of the Apostles. Even today we tend to think in terms of human accolades as evidence of God’s favor. We need to be on our guard that such things to not turn our eyes off of Jesus. As Paul said in chapter 1, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (31).

Matthew 6:24-34: We continue with the Sermon on the Mount. This reading includes the well-known words of Jesus about not being able to “serve two masters” and “consider the lilies of the field.” This reading will serve as the text for the sermon, so I will not write more on it here.

• Paper copies of our March newsletter will be available Sunday for those who do not have internet access. For the rest of us, the newsletter will be posted on this blog.
• My count of visitors for “Friendship Sunday” is at 9. This represents about 20% of the people in the worship service. Of course some of them are regular visitors, still I feel it was a good effort.

Well, that's all folks. I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, February 18, 2011


Commemoration of Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor
February 18, 2011

CTCR approves fellowship with Siberian church
By Roland Lovstad

Recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship with the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) and a document on theological criteria for assessing cooperative endeavors among other Christians and church bodies were approved by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) during its Dec. 16-18 meeting in St. Louis.

Following the CTCR action on Dec. 17, LCMS President Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, having previously consulted with the LCMS Praesidium (vice-presidents), declared recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship with the SELC.

The procedure for declaring fellowship with [To finish the story follow the link.]

This story appeared in the February 2011 printed version of Reporter, the official newspaper of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Other stories include:

Life march: Lutherans share ‘unique blessing’

A year after Haiti quake, Lutherans still help

Seltz takes ‘Lutheran Hour’ speaker post

112th congress includes six LCMS Lutherans

Teacher finds 340-year-old copy of Luther’s Bible

There are also stories about Ablaze!, the new emphasis in the LCMS “Mercy.Witness.Life Together,” our participation in the “Martin Luther Experience” being planned in Wittenberg, mission opportunities, and more. To see the on-line version go to

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Rickert

Commemoration of Martin Luther

Commemoration of Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor
February 18, 2011

The Lord be with you

On the Church Calendar, at least in Lutheran denominations, today is recognized as the Commemoration of Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor. This day has been selected because Luther died February 18, 1546, and the day a saint is “born” into heaven is typically the day selected to commemorate them.

Luther was born on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. Initially he began studying to become a lawyer, as his father desired. However, after a close encounter with death, he switched to the study of theology, entered an Augustinian monastery, was ordained a priest in 1505, and received a doctorate in theology in 1512. As a professor at the newly established University of Wittenberg, Luther’s scriptural studies led him to question may of the Church’s teachings and practices, especially the selling of indulgences. His refusal to back down from his convictions resulted in his excommunication in 1521. Following a period of seclusion at the Wartburg castle, Luther returned to Wittenberg, where he spent the rest of his life preaching and teaching, translating the Scriptures, and writing hymns and numerous theological treatises. He is remembered and honored for his lifelong emphasis on the biblical truth that for Christ’s sake God declares us righteous by grace through faith alone. Luther died while visiting the town of his birth.

There are many devotional books that provide daily readings from Martin Luther. To be honest, the quality of these books varies. One which I have recently become acquainted with is titled: Daily Readings from Luther’s Writings. The editor is Barbara Owen and it is published by Augsburg. So far, Barbara seems to have made some excellent choices. In honor of the day, I thought I’d include one of her daily readings from Luther.

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Psalm 32:8

[It is as if God were saying:] This is where I want you to be. You ask that I deliver you. Then do not be uneasy about it, do not teach Me, and do not teach yourself; surrender yourself to Me. I am competent to be your Master. I will lead you in a way that is pleasing to Me. You think it wrong if things do not go as you feel they should. But your thinking harms you and hinders Me. Things must go, not according to your understanding but above your understanding. Submerge yourself in a lack of understanding, and I will give you My understanding. Lack of understanding is real understanding; not knowing where you are going is really knowing where you are going. My understanding makes you without understanding.

Thus Abraham went out from his homeland and did not know where he was going. He yielded to My knowledge and abandoned his own knowledge. By the right way he reached the right goal.

Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it, but I must lead you like- a blind person. Therefore not you, not a human being, not a creature, but I, through My Spirit and the Word, will teach you the way you must go. You must not follow the work which you choose, not the suffering which you devise, but that which comes to you against your choice, thoughts, and desires. There I call; there you must be a pupil; there it is the time; there your Master has come: there you must not be a horse or an irrational animal. If you follow Me and forsake yourself, behold, then "I will counsel you with My eye upon you."

Commentary on "The Seven Penitential Psalms" (1525)
Luther’s Works 14, 152

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Rickert

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Field Notes from East Africa, Winter 2010/11

Thursday after Epiphany 6
February 17, 2011

The Lord be with you

Rev. Shauen Trump and his family (Krista and Josiah) have arrived in Kenya and have begun their work for the Lord directing all the outreach work of the LC-MS in East Africa. His newsletter, Field Notes, can be found on line. A link has been added to this blog. A portion of the current newsletter is reproduced below. As we keep this work, Shauen and his family in our prayers each Sunday, please also keep them in your prayers.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Agricultural Seminars with the Meyers

Six days after we landed in Nairobi, Shauen was on the road again for a two week trip into Tanzania. Over the initial days of the journey, Agricultural Missionaries Delano and Linda Meyer stood in corn fields, looked at cattle in stables, asked questions about plants, fertilizers, and land practices, and learned everything they could about the farming techniques employed in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. All this to establish the background for the program they brought to the people of the Lutheran Church of East Africa (LCEA), a small church body currently exploring opportunities for joint mission efforts with LCMS World Mission.

This amazing team-teaching duo spent decades farming in the United States before “retiring” to mission service in West Africa. There they continued to do what they knew best, infusing instruction on soil conservation, nitrogen fixation, and small-business management with solid Law and Gospel proclamation through discussions on Christian stewardship, marital fidelity, and the two kingdoms.

Years of fine-tuning their two-day program has resulted in a polished presentation of information in an intuitive teaching style. Each section begins with questions, “Tell me how…” that are discussed in groups. Well-versed in some of the sweeping generalizations we can make about African culture, the Meyers divide discussion groups by sex and age and solicit responses in order: young women, old women, young men, old men. Were the old men to speak first (the social custom), no one else would speak to contradict them. The Meyers know that their class may be the first time some women have ever been publicly asked their opinion and they lavish praise.

After learning from those gathered before them, the Meyers begin pointing out opportunities for improvement. “If fast-moving water will carry away the soil, how can we slow it down?” “How can we put more hummus into the soil so we need less fertilizer?” “How can we take advantage of the yearly cycle in the price of maize—is it possible to sell later?” Together the class explores ways to improve the life of the soil, the yield of their crops, and their quality of life. The Meyers masterfully present a compelling and interactive opportunity for these subsistence farmers to give their farms a boost while hearing the Gospel message.

Shauen was privileged to travel with the Meyers and Rev. Claude Houge for this program, taking an opportunity to meet the leadership of the LCEA for the first time. He also participated in the program by leading a Bible Study called “Honor God with Your Body.” On Sundays they worshiped with many of the participants attending the agricultural sessions. The first Sunday Rev. Houge preached and they witnessed the church grow through baptisms. The second Sunday Shauen shared the message and witnessed the confirmation of three boys. Praise the Lord for His work in this part of Tanzania!

Shauen Preaches in Mkombozi Congregation

Sunset in Tanzania

Josiah and "Aunt" Rhoda

More pictures can be found on the Trump newsletter.

Prayer Requests

• For the work of Tanzania’s Lutheran Church in East Africa
• For our family as we settle in to our new home
• For Shauen as he adapts to his position as Mission Facilitator

In Praise

• For Josiah sleeping through the night
• For the safe journey and good health during our time of homeservice
• For Josiah sleeping through the night
• For the 12 men who graduated from Shauen’s TEE class in Uganda
• For Josiah sleeping through the night
• For a successful and safe journey with the Meyers in Tanzania

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Worship for Epiphany 7 - 2011 (Friendship Sunday)

Commemoration of Philipp Melanchthon (birth), Confessor
Wednesday after Epiphany 6
February 16, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany. At Lamb of God we have chosen this Sunday to celebrate as Friendship Sunday. Each of our members has been encouraged to invite someone to worship with us.

We will be using Matins (page 219) for our liturgy. In the service of Matins a Psalm is used instead of the Introit. Our Psalm Sunday will be Psalm 119: 33-40. The antiphon will be verse 35.

You might be interested in knowing that the historic worship services of the Church come from two different tradition streams. The services in which we celebrate the Lord’s Supper come from the “Cathedral” tradition. Services like Matins and Vespers come from the “Monastic” tradition. The “Cathedral” tradition focused on Sunday morning and developed with the laity in mind. The “Monastic” tradition developed in monasteries and had full-time clerics in mind. Matins was a very early morning service, done each day of the week (monks spent eight hours a day in prayer and this was the first prayer service of the day). With this in mind, the opening words of Matins seem even more significant: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise” (Psalm 51:15). What a great way to begin the day.

The appointed lessons for Sunday are Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:10-23; Matthew 5:38- 48. The text for the sermon is Matthew 5:48. The sermon title is “Tips for Living?”.

Our Opening Hymn will be “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” (LSB 702). Our Sermon Hymn will be “I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus” (LSB 729), Our Closing Hymn will be “What Is the World to Me” (LSB 730). The hymn below is the “LutheranWarbler” singing “I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,” the Sermon hymn.

In our adult Bible study we are just about finished with our series “Puzzlers and Questions about the Bible.” This coming Sunday our question is “Who are the two anointed ones in Zechariah 4:11-14?”. We will examine the entire chapter to help answer the question. There is only one more question after this one. Our Education Hour begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18: In the opening words of this reading, God tells the Israelites “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” We then have a list of how this holiness would express itself in relationship to one’s neighbors, ending with the passage Jesus quoted as one of the two “great commandments,” “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” People often get focused on how the Israelites are told to live and almost overlook the opening words “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” It is God who cares for the poor, the sojourner, the powerful and weak, the blind, who does not lie, betray, and so on. We see this reflected in the life of our Lord Jesus, who fulfilled the Law perfectly on our behalf. He was able to do that because he is holy. As we think of this passage in terms of Jesus, the words “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” seems even more powerful. Does this not describe our Lord as he went to the cross?

1 Corinthians 3:10-23: Paul continues to try to straighten out the Corinthians. Last week he brought up the topic that they had divided into groups, some claiming to follow Paul, some Apollos, some Peter, and the like. He ended by introducing the metaphor that we are “God’s building.” He continues that metaphor with this reading. The foundation of this building is Jesus, recalling what Paul said earlier that he desired to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Then he speaks of those who work on the building. These workers are the ministers, people like Paul, Apollos, and Peter. There are two different types of building materials, good and bad. The quality of this building material will be revealed on the Last Day, with the bad material being destroyed but the good material entering Glory. What exactly is the material used in building the Church? It is not people for the builders (Paul, Apollos, etc.) are people and members of the Church. Also, while the building material is destroyed causing those who have built with it to “suffer loss,” Paul adds “though he himself will be saved.” What do the teachers of the Church build with except with what they teach, that is, with doctrine? Paul goes on and says we are God’s temple. The application is that bad building material can lead to the destruction of the Temple, so be sure to build with the gold, silver, and precious stones of Christ-centered, Biblically grounded, doctrine. We should not be drawn away from this by the “wisdom of the world.” While all things are ours in Christ, including the wisdom of the world, it should never supplant a Christ-centered faith, a Christ-centered understanding of the Bible, a Christ-centered life. Girolamo Savonarola († 1498) said it well in his hymn Jesus, Refuge of the Weary:
“Jesus, may our hearts be burning
With more fervent love for You;
May our eyes be ever turning
To behold Your cross a-new
Till in glory, parted never
From the blessed Savior’s side,
Graven in our hearts forever,
Dwell the cross, the Crucified.”

Matthew 5:38-48: We continue hearing our Lord’s “Sermon on the Mount.” Once again the sermon is based on this reading, so I’m not going to say much. Jesus, though, is on the same theme as our Old Testament lesson, and even what we read in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

• Last week our voter’s meeting selected a design for our bulletins. This new look will be first used the first Sunday in March, which happens to be Transfiguration Sunday, the Last Sunday after Epiphany.
• This coming Sunday evening LitWits (our book club) will meet at 6:30 PM and talk about the book “Life among the Lutherans” by Garrison Keillor. There is still time to read it.
• Also this Sunday information for our March newsletter is due.
• REMEMBER – this Sunday is “Friendship Sunday.” Everyone should be seeking to invite someone to the service.
• I did get some of the above information wrong on last week’s post. It is correct this week.

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Worship for Epiphany 6 - 2011

Commemoration of Silas, Fellow Worker of St. Peter and St. Paul
Thursday after Epiphany 5
February 10, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany. It is also the Commemoration of Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos. The witness of these saints will be remembered in our prayers.

We will be using the Third setting of the Divine Service from our hymnal (page 184) for our liturgy. This is a Communion Service. To prepare your hearts to receive this sacred meal you may read Luther’s Catechism on the Lord’s Supper.

The appointed lessons are Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37. The text for the sermon (Who Can Do That?) is Matthew 5:22.

Our Opening Hymn will be “Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now” (LSB 902). The Sermon Hymn will be “The Law of God Is Good and Wise” (LSB 579). Our Closing Hymn will be “Lord, Dismiss Us with Your Blessing” (LSB 924). Our Distribution Hymns will be “The Gospel Shows the Father’s Grace” (LSB 580), “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” (LSB 411), and “Your Table I Approach” (LSB 628). The hymns "The Law of God Is Good and Wise" and "The Gospel Shows the Father's Grace" are actually one hymn, written by Martin Luther. It is too long by modern standards, so it has been devided into two hymns.

The hymn below is a mass German choir singing “Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now.” As they are German, they are singing in German. However, the English words scroll across the screen, so you can sing along. This can be something of a Pentecostal experience as you will be singing in different “tongues.” (Acts 2 makes it abundantly clear that the “tongues” are different human languages, hence the Pentecost reference.)

We continue our adult Bible study series “Puzzlers and Questions about the Bible” this coming Sunday. This is where we handle various questions that have been submitted. This Sunday’s study is titled “Shotgun VII.” Regular attendees know that the “shotgun” lessons handle more than one question. This coming week we will consider two questions.
    1) What does the passage “Return of an unclean spirit” mean? (Luke 11:24-26; Matthew 12:43-45)
    2) John 13:26 – Jesus answered “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” And having dipped the bread He gave it to Judas Iscariot the Son of Simon. – This passage describes the scene when Jesus announces that one of the twelve disciples will betray him. When John asked “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered as above. Question: Upon hearing and seeing this, why didn’t John jump up, tell the others “It’s Judas!” and the eleven beat the snot out of Judas Iscariot, son of Simon?
I probably could have stretched these out to two individual studies, starting late and ending early. Instead we will start on time and go at full speed right to the end.

Last week I said that we would have only two more studies to complete the series. Upon closer examination I must say, I was wrong. NOW, we have only two more studies in the series to complete. After that we will return to a book study. We will work through the Gospel of Matthew. The Bible study begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons
Deuteronomy 30:15-20: Deuteronomy is the fifth book of Moses. The name means “Second Law” and comes to us from how the book is titled in a BC Greek translation of the OT named the Septuagint. In Hebrew the title is the first words of the book, “These are the words.” The book is the final sermons of Moses to the Israelites before he dies and they enter the Promise Land. This reading comes from the end of the book. What follows afterwards is more or less simply tying up loose ends. Moses says that there are two ways in this life. One way leads to eternal death. The other way leads to eternal life. One way is a way of curses. The other way is a way of blessings. Moses urges the way o life; loving the Lord God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9: We continue reading from 1 Corinthians. Paul isn’t pulling his punches here. The Corinthians felt like they were quite sharp, spiritually speaking. This had led to factions in their church. Because each thought of themselves as being super-spiritual, those who didn’t agree with them were clearly sub-spiritual. Those who didn’t “speak in tongues” or who didn’t have as much money, or who idolized the wrong spiritual superstar (Paul, Apollos, Peter, etc.), were just not as good. Paul cuts all these super-spiritual people down by telling them that they all are still infants in Christ. They are still nursing, when they should have grown-up enough by now to eat meat. As Paul said last week, it’s all about Jesus and his atoning death. So this week Paul reminds his readers that glitzy gimmicks do not produce spiritual growth; God does. Period. End of story. We are God’s field, God’s building, not our own or someone else’s.

Matthew 5:21-37: We continue listening to Jesus as he teaches the “Sermon on the Mount.” In this reading our Lord shows how we poor sinners always try to water down the Law. This watering down then makes the Law doable. However the Law, full strength, reveals a standard that is not doable for sinners. Therefore we must turn to the mercy of the Father found in Christ. That is all I’ll say, because the sermon comes from the Gospel lesson.

• After worship Sunday we will have a Voter’s meeting. One item we will consider is the cover of our new bulletin (samples to pick from will be provided).
• Sunday evening LitWits (our book club) will meet at 6:30 PM and talk about the book “Life among the Lutherans” by Garrison Keillor. There is still time to read it.
• Also Sunday information for our March newsletter is due.
• February 20th will be “Friendship Sunday.” Everyone should be seeking to invite someone to the service. I’m telling you this now so you have time to invite the same person more than once. Some people (maybe most) need more than one friendly invitation.
• Lastly, Monday, February 14, is Valentine’s Day.

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Silas, Fellow Worker of St. Peter and St. Paul

The Commemoration of Silas, Fellow Worker of St. Peter and St. Paul
Thursday after Epiphany 5
February 10, 2011

The Lord be with you

Today is set aside on our Church calendar to remember Silas. He was a leader in the Church at Jerusalem and was chosen by Paul (Acts 15:40) to accompany him on his second missionary journey from Antioch to Asia Minor and Macedonia. Silas, also known as Silvanus, was imprisoned with Paul in Philippi and experienced the riots in Thessalonica and Berea. After rejoining Paul in Corinth, Silas apparently remained there for an extended time. Sometime later he apparently joined the apostle Peter, likely serving as Peter’s secretary (1 Peter 5:12). Tradition says that Silas was the first bishop at Corinth. (Information found in Treasure of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What is the Bible Basically About?

Wednesday after Epiphany 5
February 9, 2011

The Lord be with you

Rev. Crandell sent me the following video. It is excellent.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, February 7, 2011

Congratulations Packers and Packer Fans

Monday after Epiphany 5
February 7, 2011

The Lord be with you

Congratulations to the Packers, who won Super Bowl 45 yesterday, and their fans, especially Tim. There was no doubt who Tim was pulling for in the Super Bowl when he showed up for church yesterday. Even our guests knew.

Pastor and Tim

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Worship for Epiphany 5 - 2011

Thursday after Epiphany 4
February 3, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany. It is also “Scout Sunday” Finally, it is also Super Bowl Sunday.

The Boy Scouts of America designates the Sunday that falls before February 8 (Scouting Anniversary Day) as Scout Sunday, which is the primary date to recognize the contributions of young people and adults to Scouting. Having a Scout Sunday is in keeping with the Boy Scout Law, which is: “A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent..” Notice that the capstone of the Scout Law is “Reverent.” This spiritual dimension to scouting is also found in the Boy Scout Oath/Promise, which is: “On my honor, I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” Here we find the foundation for the promise is God.

In recognition of Scout Sunday our Cub Scouts will be present in our service, along with their families. The boys will also assist with ushering. By-the-way, the boys will also have tickets for sale for the Spaghetti Dinner, which will be Thursday, February 10. Cost is $5.00 per person, with no family being charged over $20.00. Everything goes to help our pack. For more information check out the article in our newsletter posted on this blog (see the left-hand side bar near the top for the link to the newsletter).

We will be using the Service of Prayer and Preaching (page 260) for our liturgy. This is one of those services that use a Psalm instead of an Introit. Our Scripture lessons for Sunday will be: Psalm 112:1-9 (antiphon Psalm verse 4), Isaiah 58:3-9a, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, and Matthew 5:13-20. The sermon text will be Matthew 5:17, and it is titled “Things Have Changed”

Our hymns will be “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus” (LSB 685), “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” (LSB 411), and “On What Has Now Been Sown” (LSB 921). The video below is of the hymn “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus.” It is just the music, so you will have to break out your hymnals. I posted “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” with the worship notes for Epiphany 3, so you can preview two of this coming Sunday’s hymns if you desire.

We continue our adult Bible study series “Puzzlers and Questions about the Bible” this coming Sunday. This is where we handle various questions that have been submitted. This Sunday’s study is titled “Shotgun VI.” Regular attendees know that the “shotgun” lessons handle more than one question. This week’s questions are:

    1) See 2 John 1:10-11 “… do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” How?
    2) John 1:3 – Through Him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Question: Does this mean God created evil, idolatry, false doctrine, sin, …?
    3) How can Abel be considered a prophet, when he left no writings or sayings, nor did he appear to “speak” to any of us (Christians) living today?
The second question could be a study in itself, but it is so similar to an earlier question we handled that I will simply be referring to that study. We have only two more studies in the series to complete. After that we will return to a book study. We will work through the Gospel of Matthew. The Bible study begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons
Isaiah 58:3-9a: The book of Isaiah has so much Gospel in it that he is sometimes called the Old Testament Evangelist. However, just at the New Testament Gospels have ample Law passages, so does Isaiah, as this week’s lesson shows. In this reading God is accusing the people of having a religion that is all form and no substance. The particular form of piety being addressed is fasting. The people felt that if they abstained from food they were doing some great and noble work. While there is nothing wrong with fasting, it certainly does not replace the moral obligations God has placed on us like caring for the homeless, the hungry, the enslaved, and so forth. As verses eight and nine tells us, God blesses those whose faith translates into acts of mercy. We should make sure we have this relationship correct. Faith first, then works. Works do not produce faith, but faith produces works. So God is not saying “Do good works and I will bless you,” but “A faith that does good works will be blessed.” Indeed, one might truly wonder if a faith that produces no good works is a real Christian Faith. Only God can answer that question.

1 Corinthians 2:1-12: This is the fourth in a series of seven lessons drawn from the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians. Paul contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God. The wisdom of God is centered on Jesus, especially the crucifixion. It is through this message that the power of God is revealed. All the wisdom of God flows from this central message, which is why the message of the Gospel does not make sense to the “world.” Consider our Old Testament lesson. The world would put works as more important than faith, and demonstrations of piety as more important that acts of charity. Paul brings the whole Triune God to bear on his argument in verse 10-12, culminating in the fact that Christians have received the Holy Spirit. It is worth noting that the mark of having received the Spirit is not any kind of work, but faith in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. No one can call Jesus Lord except by the working of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works this faith, not with showy signs or clever words, but by the message of the cross of Christ.

Matthew 5:13-20: We continue our trip through the Sermon on the Mount, and Matthew. In verses 13 through 16 Jesus speaks of our witness. He uses the analogy of us as light and salt. In verses 17 through 20 he speaks of how he has come to fulfill the Law. As this reading forms the foundation for Sunday’s message, I’ll say nothing more now.

• The February newsletter has been posted on our blog.
• Remember, this Saturday, February 5, Rev. Frank Senn will be leading a workshop on “The Church’s Prayer” at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Greenville. For more information see the post on the blog.
• On February 10, Pack 1031 will have the Spaghetti Dinner fund raiser. Cost is $5.00 per person, with no family having to give more than $20.00. Eat-in or Take-out. Dinner is available beginning at 5:00 PM.
• February 20th will be “Friendship Sunday.” Everyone should be seeking to invite someone to the service. I’m telling you this now so you have time to invite the same person more than once. Some people (maybe most) need more than one friendly invitation.
• Also, on February 20, LitWits (our book club) will meet and talk about the book “Life among the Lutherans” by Garrison Keillor. There is still time to read it.

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert