Thursday, March 31, 2011

Worship for Lent 4 - 2011

Thursday after the Third Sunday in Lent
Commemoration of Joseph, Patriarch
March 31, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the Fourth Sunday in Lent. The Latin name for this coming Sunday is Laetare, which means “rejoice.” It again comes from the first word of the old Latin Introit (Isaiah 66:10). The new Introit for this coming Sunday opens with the words from Psalm 25:10, which has no mention of rejoicing. The old Epistle lesson (Galatians 4:21-5:1a) also referred to rejoicing, but the current one does not. So, in this case, the old Latin name no longer fits with the Propers of the day in series A. All of this is a little moot, as we will be using the Service of Prayer and Preaching (page 260 of the hymnal) for our liturgy Sunday. It does not use the Introit.

The appointed lessons for the day are: Isaiah 42:14-21; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41. Our Opening Hymn will be “When I Behold Jesus Christ” (AKA “What Kind of Love is This?”) (LSB 542). The Sermon Hymn will be “Amazing Grace” (LSB 744). Our Closing Hymn will be “Jesus, Greatest at the Table” (LSB 446).

The sermon for Sunday is title “Two Options.” The text will be John 9:39.

Below is a video of the “Lutheran Warbler” playing and singing “Amazing Grace.” The other two hymns are not available either at Better Noise or from the Lutheran Warbler. By the way, you can view all the hymns the Lutheran Warbler has posted by clicking here.

Our Sunday morning adult Bible study is continuing its study of the Gospel of Matthew. This week we should finish chapter two. Our Education Hour begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Isaiah 42:14-21: Isaiah was active from 740 through 681 BC. This means he was active at the time of the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians (722 BC) but well before the fall of the Southern Kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians (586 BC). Modern “scholars” typically reject Isaiah as the sole author of the book that bears his name. They believe that there were two, three, and sometimes even four, different writers. A few even deny that Isaiah wrote any of the book. The arguments are not based on any historical facts. Instead they assume that differences in the writing of different parts of the book reflect different authors. They also typically reject the possibility of any direct prophetic utterances about the future. Any such statements, they believe a priory, must have been written after the fact. Such arguments are far too weak, in my opinion, to overcome the self-testimony of the book itself (Isaiah 1:1; 2:1; 13:1), the overall verbal and thematic unity of the book, and the unified testimony of Christian and Jewish tradition. One example of verbal unity can be seen in the use of the phrase “the Holy One of Israel.” This phrase occurs 26 times in Isaiah, all over the place (1:2; 1:5-6; 5:27; 6:1; 6:11-12; 11:1; 11:6-9; 11:12; 35:10; 40:30; 49:22; 51:11; 52:13; 53:2; 4-5; 57:15; 62:4; 65:25; 66:24), and only 6 times in the rest of the entire Bible. The differences are much easier to explain by change of topics and by the fact that Isaiah’s book was composed over the years of his ministry. There is so much Gospel in the book of Isaiah that he is sometimes called the Old Testament Evangelist. One of the striking features of Isaiah is the Servant passages. This reading is taken from one of them. In verses 14-17 the LORD states that the Israelites had failed in their commission to live by the Torah and to proclaim his grace to the world. Instead they had abandoned God and gone after idols. Yet in the midst of this judgment we continue to find the hope of the Gospel held out (16). In verses 18-21 the Lord’s messenger/servant comes to Israel but the people refuse to be healed. This is reflected in the Gospel lesson where the Jewish leadership refused to believe, even though there were powerful reasons to do so.

Ephesians 5:8-14:
Paul, using a metaphor of light and darkness, encourages us to live like Christians. This life recognizes all that is good and right and true. This life takes no part in the unfruitful works of darkness. This life seeks to try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. With such sweeping statements, we recognize that the Christian life is not limited to attending worship services and morning devotions. It encompasses our entire life, our family life, our employment, our relationships with our neighbors, how we spend our free time, how we spend our money, our language, and so on. Such high expectations are actually impossible for us fallen creatures, but that does not lessen the requirement. Therefore the first and critical step in living in the light is living a life of repentance and dependence on the grace of God in Christ Jesus, who is the Light of the world. We live, not by our own power, but by the power of the cross of Christ.

John 9:1-41:
This is a long reading (which makes using the Service of Prayer and Preaching a good choice because it is a shorter service). In it Jesus heals a man born blind. The Jewish leaders, even though they know the man was born blind and that Jesus healed him, refuse to come to the light. I have placed some posts on the blog about disasters and theology. One of the misunderstandings people have concerning this topic is reflected by the Jewish leaders as they cross-examine the healed man. Because he was born blind they say to him, “You were born in utter sin”. Because the man was undeniably healed, and they didn’t want to face the obvious fact that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the leaders “cast him out.” Boy do they ever reflected the attitude Isaiah spoke of! This healed man, though, comes to faith in Jesus (38). In this account, Law is seen by rejecting the Gospel. If you reject grace, all that is left is law, and the law damns. While the Jewish leaders, through self-deception, claimed that they were in the light and the healed man was in darkness, the reality was exactly the opposite.


• The LWML will have a meeting after the worship service this Sunday. The ladies are asked to bring snacks.
• The office will be closed on Monday as Pastor attend the Professional Church Workers Conference in Cary, NC.
• Our Wednesday Lenten services continue with our focus on what happened during Holy Week. This coming Wednesday we will finish our reading covering Maundy Thursday. There are two services, one at 12:15 and a second at 7:00 PM. Choir practice follows the evening service.
• On Sunday, April 10, LitWits will meet. LitWits is our book club. The book to be discussed is titled “The Book of Sorrows.” It is a sequel to “The Book of the Dun Cow.”

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, March 28, 2011

How to Handle a Troubled Conscience

Monday after the Third Sunday in Lent
March 28, 2011

The Lord be with you

I use the Treasury of Daily Prayer for my devotions (published by Concordia Publishing House). The “Writing” for today was an excerpt from Martin Luther. I thought it was excellent and wanted to share it with those who read this blog.

You cast your sins from yourself and onto Christ when you firmly believe that his wounds and sufferings are your sins, to be borne and paid for by him, as we read in Isaiah 53 [:6], “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” St. Peter says, “in his body has he borne our sins on the wood of the cross” [1 Pet. 2:24]. St. Paul says, “God has made him a sinner for us, so that through him we would be made just” [II Cor. 5:21]. You must stake everything on these and similar verses. The more your conscience torments you, the more tenaciously must you cling to them. If you do not do that but presume to still your conscience with your contrition and penance, you will never obtain peace of mind, but will have to despair in the end. If we allow sin to remain in our conscience and try to deal with it there, or if we look at sin in our heart, it will be much too strong for us and will live on forever. But if we behold it resting on Christ and [see it] overcome by his resurrection, and then boldly believe this, even it is dead and nullified. Sin cannot remain on Christ, since it is swallowed up by his resurrection.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Why is the Annunciation Celebrated on March 25?

Monday after the Third Sunday in Lent
March 28, 2011

The Lord be with you

This past Friday (March 25) was the Festival of the Annunciation of Our Lord. A member of my congregation asked me why a festival that is linked with the birth of Jesus was celebrated in Lent. I thought that others might wonder the same thing.

In the ancient world, that really didn’t keep track of when people were born all that much, it was believed that people died on the anniversary of the day they were conceived. As it was commonly held that Jesus died on March 25, it was also believed that he was conceived on March 25. The Annunciation is when the angel told Mary that she would be the mother of our Lord and that the birth would be a miracle. She would “conceive by the Holy Spirit,” as the creeds put it. As she believed, so it was. So, upon hearing the words of the angel, and believing them, she conceived.

This, by the way, is also how they computed the date for Christmas. Count nine months forward from March 25th, and you have the traditional birthday of Jesus.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Worship for Lent 3 - 2011

Thursday after the Second Sunday in Lent
March 24, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the Third Sunday in Lent. The Latin name for this coming Sunday is Oculi, which means “eyes.” It again comes from the first word of the old Latin Introit (Psalm 123:1). The Introit for this coming Sunday opens with the words from Psalm 84:5, which has nothing to do with eyes. So, in this case, the old Latin name no longer fits with the Propers of the day.

We will be using the first setting of the Communion Service this Sunday. It begins on page 151 of the hymnal. The appointed lessons for the day are: Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-30, 39-42. Our Opening Hymn will be “Today Your Mercy Calls Us” (LSB 915). The Sermon Hymn will be “Jesus, Refuge of the Weary” (LSB 423). Our Closing Hymn will be “Forth in the Peace of Christ We Go” (LSB 920). Our Distribution Hymns will be “Jesus, Greatest at the Table” (LSB 446), “O Lord, We Praise Thee” (LSB 617), and “O Christ, Our Hope, Our Hearts’ Desire” (LSB 553).

The text for Sunday’s sermon is John 4:6. The sermon is titled “Living in the Wilderness.”

Below is a video of the “Lutheran Warbler” playing and singing “Jesus, Refuge of the Weary.” She just posted this a few hours ago.

Our Sunday morning adult Bible study is continuing its study of the Gospel of Matthew. This week we begin chapter two, which has the story of the visit of the Magi to the Holy Family, the “slaughter of the innocents,” the exile of the Holy Family to Egypt, and their return to Israel. Our Education Hour begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Exodus 17:1-7: The events recorded in this reading occurred after the Hebrews were delivered from the Egyptians by God by means of the ten plagues and the crossing at the Red Sea (Exodus 7-15) and before the set up camp at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19) and received the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Based on Exodus 19:1, we know that these events happened within three months of their crossing the Red Sea. In this short time the Lord had also turned the bitter waters of Marah “sweet,” providing the people with safe drinking water (Exodus 15:22-27). He also began to daily provide them with manna (Exodus 16). In each case the people were grumbling against Moses and God, even longing to return to slavery in Egypt. In this reading the Israelites had moved to Rephidim, where there was no water. Again, instead of trusting the Lord, they “quarreled with Moses” and “tested the LORD.” They were so upset with Moses that they were ready to stone him. As you read Moses’ prayer with the Lord, you can sense his frustration growing. Moses is commanded to strike the “rock at Horeb” with the staff he had stuck the Nile with. When he did so, water gushed out. Many feel this is the incident referred to in Numbers 20:10-13 for why Moses was not allowed to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. A few feel the Numbers account is referring to Exodus 15:22-27. Horeb is another name for Sinai, so these events took place in the general area of Mt Sinai. St. Paul refers to this story in 1 Corinthians 10:4. There he says the Israelites “all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” Some wonder about what Paul says because the Rock accompanying the Israelites during their wilderness travels is not recorded in the Old Testament. However, in Jewish tradition, the wisdom from God continuously supplied water to the Israelites through a single rock, which traveled with them. Paul equates the Rock with Christ, demonstrating that the people were served by Christ. This accents even more strongly the faithlessness of the people. We have an ugly peek at the state of the sinful human heart in these stories. God constantly calls us to remember his faithfulness in the past, and sinful humanity is always saying, “What have you done for me lately?”

Romans 5:1-8: When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he had never actually been to that church. He was laying the foundation for his planned future visit, hoping that this already established church would serve the same function for him that Antioch had served in his earlier missionary trips throughout the eastern part of the Roman Empire (that is, a home base). Therefore this letter is less pointed at specific issues in the Roman congregation and more a general exposition of the Christian Faith. In this reading Paul is speaking of the peace we have with God through faith in Jesus. The opening verse is another gospel in a nutshell: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through Jesus we obtain the grace in which we stand (notice the power for Christian living flows from God’s grace in Christ Jesus, not our own efforts) (2). This empowers us to stand in the face of all kinds of trials and tribulations (3-4). This is also a wonderful Trinitarian passage. In verse 1 we read of God [the Father] and our Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 5 Paul speak of the Holy Spirit, whom has been given to us. Verses 6-8 continue to accent grace. Christ dies for us while we were yet sinners. Here we understand just what Paul means when he speaks of being justified by faith. Our faith is in the Son who died for us. We see, then, the centrality of the cross in Paul’s theology, and in deed, all Christian theology. I sometimes wonder how those “preachers” that are always talking about God’s favor being seen in an abundance of temporal blessings reconcile their “theology” with passages like this which speak so much of trials. If God wants all his followers to be healthy, how do they handle death? If God wants all his followers to be rich, how do they handle a Lord who had no place to lay his head?

John 4:5-30, 39-42: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were written decades before the Gospel of John. This explains, in part, why John’s Gospel is so different from the other three. Because the outline of the life and work of Jesus was well known from the other Gospels, John felt no need to rehearse again stories like the Virgin Birth of Jesus. However, because the size of scrolls was limited and therefore much information had to be omitted in the earlier Gospels, and because John not only knew these stories but shared them with his congregation, his people wanted him to record this additional material before he died. Therefore we have much material about Jesus that appears only in John’s Gospel. Yet John wants us to know that, even with all four Gospels, we do not know all that Jesus said and did. The very last verse of John reads, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (21:25). So, even with John’s Gospel, we have only a slice of what our Lord did.

This Gospel lesson is the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at a well. It is found only in John’s Gospel. This provides a good example of how the three-year lectionary series handles the Gospel of John. The first year of the three-year lectionary series (series A) features the Gospel of Matthew. The second year (series B) features the Gospel of Mark. The third year features the Gospel of Luke. Readings from the Gospel of John are found in each series and are typically stories not covered in any of the other Gospels.

The story of Jesus and the woman at the well is well known. Jesus and his disciples were traveling through Samaria, already an oddity as Jews typically traveled around Samaria. The two groups despised each other. The disciples had gone off to acquire supplies while Jesus rested. The woman, whom we discover had a checkered past, approached the well and Jesus engaged her in conversation. In the end she is brought to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus stays in the Samaritan village two days, with many of the citizens also coming to faith in Jesus. While many lessons can be drawn from this reading, one very big one is that Jesus, and the gospel, is for all people.

• The April newsletter will be posted on the blog before this coming Sunday. Paper copies will be available Sunday for those who do not have internet access.
• Our Wednesday Lenten services continue with our focus on what happened during Holy Week. This coming Wednesday we will cover Holy Wednesday and begin our look at Maundy Thursday. There are two services, one at 12:15 and a second at 7:00 PM. Choir practice follows the evening service.

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Disaters and Theology, Part 3

Monday after the Second Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2011

The Lord be with you

This past Saturday, here in Spartanburg, a miniature train derailed. Twenty Eight people, mostly children, were injured and one six-year old boy died. I expect most of the churches in our area, like Lamb of God, remembered them in their prayers Sunday morning. The boy was the son of an area Baptist minister, who was also injured in the accident. A number of the other children were members of the same Baptist church. They were on a church outing.

This story will never make the front page of USA Today. It is not a disaster on the scale of Japan. However this tragedy brings the idea of disasters to mind yet again. Disasters come in all sizes. Some effect whole countries. Some impact whole communities, like our miniature train wreck. Some impact only single families or an individual. No matter the size, they are a disaster to those impacted. As Christians we need to know what God’s word says at times like these.

This is now my third post on the topic of Disasters and Theology. To read the other posts just click on part 1 and part 2. This topic also relates to the flawed theology of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, as I wrote about in an earlier blog post.

As I indicated in those earlier posts, God is indeed involved in the events of our world, even those events we deem disasters. God has not abdicated his roll, nor is he too weak to prevent things that we do not like. God is also not punishing us for our sin. Punishment for our sins was met out on Jesus on the cross. It may seem odd to say but God works through these events for our good. That we do not see the gracious hand of God is our fault. In this post I hope to expand of what God is, or might, be doing through disasters both large and small.

As said earlier, one of the purposes we can always see in a disaster is a general call to repentance. This is a call to all of us, not just to those directly impacted by the disaster. Luther caught this need for a general attitude of repentance in the first of his famous 95 Theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

I have also already written about how disasters are a call for the Church, the Body of Christ, to reach out with the love of God. We are God’s main avenue to spread his mercy. This includes sharing the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, but it is certainly not limited to that. James reminds us forcefully that faith in Jesus compels us to acts of mercy (James 1:22, 27; 2: 14-17).

Finally, in my former posts, I brought up Romans 8:28: “For we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It is this that I wish to expand on here by drawing the distinction between punishment and discipline.

In America the words discipline and punishment can almost seem like synonymies. We might speak of a parent disciplining his child or punishing his child, and mean the same thing. This is really a sloppy use of the English language. Discipline is interested in changing the one disciplined. Punishment is interested in justice, or retribution. Thus we speak of Capital Punishment, not Capital Discipline. When the state executes a person, there is no effort to modify his behavior or attitudes. We also might speak of a person leading a disciplined life, but we would never say he is leading a punished life; at least not with the same meaning.

God does discipline us. Just a couple of passages that speak of this are:
    Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:1-4)

    But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (Colossians 11:32)

    Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

    “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
    For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

    It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:3-11)

    Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19)
Discipline may be to correct bad behavior or it may be to improve behavior that is already okay. Two stories can demonstrate this. When I was a child I was an atrocious speller. (I’m still not great, but I am better.) In elementary school I turned in a paper with the word “combustion” spelled half a dozen different ways. I don’t think I spelled it correctly once. My grandmother made me write that word over and over again, testing and retesting me, until I could spell it correctly. This discipline was to improve my bad spelling, at least with this one word. The second story also comes from my childhood. There were, on occasions, times when what I said was not appreciated by my parents. Once I said something, I don’t remember what, but apparently it was quite inappropriate. My mother washed my mouth out with soap. This was designed to get me to stop talking in a specific way. In both stories someone was seeking to reform my behavior for the better. Neither of these stories are what you would call a tragedy or a disaster. Both, though, demonstrate in a small way the purpose of discipline.

God often uses tragedies and disasters to discipline us. Behind a Christian’s tragedies God is hiding. Through them he disciplines us, seeking to transform us into the image of Christ. The Theologians of the Lutheran Church call this the “Theology of the Cross.” It is through suffering that we are shaped. It is in our weakness that God’s strength is seen (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Just some of the possible goals/results of God’s discipline include:
    1. leading us to a greater reliance on Christ and diminishing our trust in ourselves;
    2. strengthening our prayer life;
    3. breaking our pride;
    4. increasing in us compassion for others;
    5. increasing in us appreciation for the gifts God has given us;
    6. strengthening in us a realization that earth is not the place of our Christian hope but heaven is;
    7. leading us in a new direction;
    8. turning us away from false doctrine;
    9. increasing in us an understanding/appreciation of a true doctrine;
    10. increasing in us appreciation for the family of God, the Church.
There are certainly many other things God’s discipline may work in us. These are just a sampling. That God is working through our trials, our disasters, is a statement of faith. We may, or we may not, be able to deduce what he is doing. We may think we know what he is doing, and be wrong (Isaiah 45:15; 55:8). Whether we have some idea or not, our Faith agrees with the hymn writer:

    Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    But trust Him for His grace;
    Behind a frowning providence
    Faith sees a smiling face.
    (God Moves in a Mysterious Way, LSB 765:2)
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Worship for Lent 2 - 2011

Thursday after the First Sunday in Lent
Commemoration of St. Patrick, Missionary to Ireland
March 17, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the first day of Spring. For Jews, it will be the holiday called Purim. For Christians, it will be the Second Sunday in Lent. The Latin name for this coming Sunday is Reminiscere. The Latin name means “remember,” and is the first word of the old Latin Introit (Psalm 25:6). The Introit for this coming Sunday opens with the words from Psalm 105:8, which are “He remembers,” so the old name still fits. However, because we will be using the service of Matins (page 219) for our liturgy, we will be using the appointed Psalm for the Day instead of the Introit. That Psalm is Psalm 121. The antiphon is verse 8. So our opening words do not begin with “remember,” and I guess it is a good thing then that we don’t use the Latin names much anymore. Our scripture lessons will be Genesis 12:1-9, Romans 4:1-8, 13-17 and John 3:1-17. The text for the sermon will be John 3:16. The sermon is titled, “Do You REALLY Know John 3:16?”

Our opening hymn will be “Jesus, Greatest at the Table” (LSB 446). This will be the first time we will be singing this hymn, and we will be using it over the next month. It is a hymn about some of the events that transpired in the Upper Room on the night Jesus was betrayed. The sermon hymn will be “God Loved the World So That He Gave” (LSB 571). It is based on our Gospel reading. Our closing hymn will be “Christ, the Life of All the Living” (LSB 420). It is a Lenten hymn, and was selected because we are in the season of Lent. Both “God Loved the World So That He Gave” and “Christ, the Life of All the Living” have tunes that are well known at Lamb of God.

Below is a video of the “Lutheran Warbler” playing and singing “God Loved the World So That He Gave.”

Our Sunday morning adult Bible study has begun the study of the Gospel of Matthew. This week we pick up with chapter 1, verse 18. This is where the Christmas story begins in Matthew, and all of Jesus’ childhood information in Matthew is covered from here through chapter 3. Our Education Hour begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons
Genesis 12:1-9: This is the account of God’s call to Abraham (known as Abram at this time). Apparently it was God’s intention that Abram’s father, Terah, move the family to Canan, but he only got the family as far as Haran (Genesis 11:31). Abram will now complete the journey. The Lord blesses Abraham and promises him several things. The greatest of these promises was that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” That blessing came true in Jesus, his descendant. It is in reference to this promise that we are told Abram “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). This faith was implied in chapter 12 when Abram acted on it by following God’s directions. This is the first time in the Bible where the word “believe” is used. Twice in this lesson Abram builds altars. These were used for worship. In fact the second time the text specifically says that Abram “called upon the name of the Lord,” a standard phrase for conducting a worship service. It was at least in part through these worship services that Abram made know the true God in this foreign land, and many came to faith in the promised Messiah.

Romans 4:1-8, 13-17: Paul unpacks some of the meaning in our Old Testament lesson, demonstrating how Abraham is a model of faith, and how faith saves instead of works of the Law. There is always a tug in our hearts towards self-righteousness. We would rather think that our salvation is in our own hands instead of the hands of God. Such a view actually nullifies the promise, as Paul tells us. It also puts us under the Law, which puts us under wrath. The way out is not good works, but faith in Christ. The way out is trusting in the grace of God found only in Christ Jesus. The way out is throwing ourselves on the mercy of God. The way out is the cross of Jesus, where he took the wrath of God for our transgressions. Good works flow from this faith. They are not the path to salvation, but the path we walk after we are saved.

John 3:1-17: The Gospel lesson contains one of the best known Bible verses, John 3:16. I say one of the best known, because I still think passages like Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer, and the like, are better known. Those passages that have been a part of the worship life of the Church for centuries are so well known that many believers are surprised to discover they are drawn straight from the Scriptures. The problem with well-known Bible passages is that sometimes we can actually think we know them when in reality we have given them little thought. So this Sunday the text for our sermon will be John 3:16. Let us see if we know it as well as we think we do. (By the way, it does relate to both of our other lessons.)

• Information for the April newsletter is due Sunday.
• The Church Council will meet Sunday after the worship service.
• The installation of Rev. (Ensign) Charles Mallie as a chaplain in our military services will be Sunday at 5:00 PM. The service will be at Holy Trinity in Columbia. Lamb of God is invited to join in this special day for Ensign Mallie.
• Our Wednesday Lenten services continue with our focus on what happened during Holy Week. This coming Wednesday we will focus on Holy Tuesday. There are two services, one at 12:15 and a second at 7:00 PM. Choir practice follows the evening service.

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Westboro Baptist, Free Speech, and Theology

Wednesday after the First Sunday in Lent
March 16, 2011

The Lord be with you

On March 2, Westboro Baptist of Topeka, Kansas, won its Free Speech case in the Supreme Court. Westboro Baptist is a small independent Baptist Church whose membership is all (or at least almost all) drawn from the family of their preacher, Fred Phelps. They have protested at over 600 funerals for fallen soldiers. It is their position that the death of our soldiers is due to our country’s current “politically-correct” attitudes towards homosexuals.

I think the decision of the Supreme Court is in keeping with current understandings of the right to free speech in our country. If the display of exceptionally vile and profane pictures of my Lord Jesus is protected by the constitution, then certainly the actions and signs of the Westboro Baptist group is as well.

I also think that much of the reaction to this group is driven by emotion, and not clear thinking. This response is fueled by the media. In one editorial I found on line by Gary Graham, the following adjectives were used in describing Westboro Baptist and their actions: “horrible,” “odious,” “hate-filled,” vile,” “bigotry,” “so-called ‘content,’” “hatemongers,” and so on. With such words peppering his article, it is clear that Graham isn’t seeking to inform but to generate a negative emotional reaction in reference to Westboro Baptist. Actually, I don’t think the media has to try so hard to get people to emotionally reject this group’s views, but I may be wrong.

The problem is that emotions are fickle. Those who speak for Christ, and I do not include Fred Phelps in that group, should speak clearly on whether or not the Westboro theology is reflected in the Bible. If we know what the Bible says, then we are forearmed against the charm of charismatic but misguided speakers.

As I understand it, the basic premise of the Westboro Baptist theology is that God is punishing us for our sins, specifically tolerance of homosexuals (or perhaps advocacy of homosexual behavior). The death of our soldiers is at least one mark of that punishment.

Much of what I have written in my two posts on Disasters and Theology (part 1, part 2) directly applies to this thinking. In short, it is not supported by the scriptures.

It is also not supported by simple logic. In 1941 the USA entered World War II when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. At that time America had its most “churched” generation ever. Culturally homosexuality, as well as many other behaviors that are currently culturally condoned but are opposed to the will of God, was not accepted. In spite of this 416,800 American military personal died in that conflict. If the Westboro Baptist theology was accurate, our men should have walked through that war virtually untouched.

There is a natural result of countries being at war: soldiers die. There death is not divine retribution. It is the result of the sins that keep us from getting along with our fellow man. Such things like greed, pride, hatred, fear, and the like, are the building blocks of war. In other words, it is our own fault, not God’s punishment.

Westboro Baptist’s theology and actions are wrong, but calling them names simply makes us sink to their level. As believers in Christ, our best approach to groups like this is to be able to calmly explain this. I feel, if you only have a short time to talk to someone, the best single point to bring out is that our punishment for our sins was taken by Jesus on the cross. To say God is punishing us for our sins is to say Jesus’ sacrifice was incomplete. But, you can read about that, and more, in my posts on Disasters and Theology.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, March 14, 2011

Disaters and Theology, Part 2

Monday after the first Sunday in Lent (Invocavit)
March 14, 2011

The Lord be with you

The newspapers are full of yet another disaster, this one in Japan. There was a 9.0 earthquake, followed by a tsunami. The devastation was immense. This once again brings disasters to the front of our minds and so I thought I’d do a “part 2” to the Disasters and Theology post I put up last month.

There are those who instantly think that any disaster that strikes a person is God’s just retribution for some sin the individual (or city, or nation) has committed. The Bible seems to indicate differently.

Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). In spite of this, in very short order his property was stolen by raiders and his servants slaughter by them, followed by a great wind that knocked down the house his children were in, killing them all. Both natural and man-made calamities devastated his life. God’s evaluation of Job, both before and after these disasters, is the same, Job is a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil (Job 1:8; 2:3). Job is further afflicted with some kind of loathsome disease. Why did these disasters befall Job? Did he bring them on himself? The answer is clearly no. In fact, God is so impressed with Job that God even brags about him to Satan. Wouldn’t it be great if God could brag about us?

In the book of Genesis, Joseph comes front and center beginning with chapter 37. He is 17 years old, a good boy who obeys his Father and tells the truth. This earns the enmity of his older brothers, who first plot to kill him and then, instead, decide to sell him into slavery. He first works as a slave in Potiphar’s house. Things are going okay for him when the wife of Potiphar tries to seduce him. Joseph, holding fast to his integrity, refuses. The result is that she accuses him of trying to rape her and Joseph is thrown into jail. This period of time lasted years. Throughout the account it is clear from the biblical record that Joseph did not do anything to merit or deserve this mistreatment.

The prophet Elijah, due to his faithfulness to the Lord, spent three years in exile. After the exile he has a major confrontation with the prophets of Baal. God demonstrates his superiority to the idol. The thanks he gets is death threats from the queen Jezebel, and running for his life. (1 Kings 17-19). Steven was a faithful believer and deacon of the early Church. He was stoned to death (Acts 7).

The list could go on. Calamities, whether natural or man-made, have never been an automatic mark of God’s disapproval. We are not to conclude from this, however, that God has abdicated from the world. Quite the opposite is the case.

God is working something good for his kingdom out of the messes we get into. Joseph tells his brothers, “do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. … God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5, 7-8). In Genesis 50 Joseph tells his brothers “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (20). Clearly Scriptures depict God as involved in Joseph’s calamities, working things towards his goal.

Many other examples could be cited. Jacob deceives his father and steals his older brother Esau’s blessing. This treachery left him fleeing for his life. In exile for 21 years, he meets and marries Rachel, the ancestor of Jesus. Moses murdered an Egyptian, and flees for his life to Midian (Exodus 2:11-22). In exile he learns about survival in the wilderness, lessons that will be vital in keeping Israel alive as they wander for forty years in the same wilderness. It was while in exile that Moses first came to Mt. Sinai (Exodus 3:1), the very place Israel would camp, receive the Ten Commandments, and build the tabernacle. A fierce persecution of the Church began in Jerusalem, leading to the spread of the Gospel beyond that ancient city (Acts 8:1). Paul is arrested (Acts 21) which leads to him sharing Christ before kings and governors, and even Caesar.

Of course the greatest example of God working through calamity to further his kingdom is the cross of Christ. No greater miscarriage of justice has ever occurred, yet through that dark event God worked redemption for humanity.

The work of Christ is not adequately considered when people are claiming God is punishing people for their sins by the calamities in their lives. Probably without realizing it, they are claiming that Christ’s work on the cross was insufficient.

In speaking of the “Suffering Servant,” that is, of Jesus, Isaiah wrote “Surely he had borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6). St. Paul wrote of Jesus to the Corinthians, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). In Romans Paul wrote that Jesus was “delivered up for our trespasses” (5:25). The list of such passages could be greatly multiplied. They are all commentaries on what Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Our sins were all paid for on the cross. Jesus finished the job. Every time someone says God is punishing someone for their sins, they are saying Jesus didn’t get the job done. If you want to see God’s punishment for your sins, or the sins of anyone, do not look to calamities but to the cross.

So, if a disaster is not God’s direct punishment for some sin, and yet God does remain involved with his creation, what exactly are we to think about them?

In my last post I referred to how all calamities are general calls to a life of repentance. This is true whether or not the calamity happens to us personally. I also wrote of how all calamities are a call for the Church (that is, you and I) to reach out with the mercy of God.

A third point I made was how calamities are simply the result of living in a fallen world. This is reflected in earthquakes and the like. There is also another aspect to this, a personal one. If we lead a sexually immoral life we should not be surprised that our marriage falls apart and we die of some loathsome disease. God did not directly intervene to wreak your marriage of give you the disease. You did it to yourself. Your sinfulness produced these results. Blaming God is not the answer. Repentance is.

The last point I wish to make relates to the stories like that of Joseph referred to earlier. Not only was the hardships he endured not due to his sin, but God was actually involved in them. In part God was ensuring that the hardships never drove Joseph to the point of despair. Joseph never abandoned his faith. But God was also using Joseph’s calamities to further God’s plan. In this case it was to preserve the Israelite nation so that the promise made to Abraham would not be lost. This promise was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.

Paul summarizes this whole theme in Romans 8:28: “For we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Now that is a bold statement, especially for a man who suffered all kinds of abuse for the sake of Christ. Paul, though, can use his sufferings as a vindication of his faithfulness (Job should be able to relate to that). In defending himself against the accusations of false teachers, his tribulations are his badge of Divine approval. He wrote, “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often with out food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Of course, eventually, Paul will pay the ultimate price for following Christ with a martyr’s death. Paul, though, would assure us that in all these calamities God was indeed working all things together for good.

With 2,000 years of hindsight, we are able to see all the good (or at least much of the good) that God accomplished through Paul. That, though, is a perspective Paul did not have. For him, the statement that God was working all things together for good for those who are called according to Christ’s purpose was a statement of faith.

When considering what God might be working through earthquakes, down turned economies, illnesses, or whatever, we may be able to discern an answer that is personally satisfying. That possible answer may or may not be accurate. We will not know until we reach glory.

Through Isaiah God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Paul put it this way: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

Passages like these indicate that we will never have a perfect knowledge of God’s actions in this world. We know only in part in this life. Therefore all calamities are also a call to faith. We are to trust that, even when we do not see it, God is still working all things together for the good of those who love the Lord, who are called according to his purpose. We trust that the Lord is our Shepherd, even when we walk through the valley of death. Disasters, hard times, etc., should teach all to trust in Jesus.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Message from President Harrison

Dear Friends in Christ,

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith!

With the Lenten season fully underway, LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison has invited us all to join him daily in praying the ancient Litany, a prayer used by Christians particularly in times of need.

“This is a time of need, both for our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and for Christianity around the world,” Harrison says from the kneeler in his office in the video. You can view his video invitation here.

The Litany can be found on page 288 of Lutheran Service Book, or you can download it from the LCMS website here.

Please be sure to share the video with your congregation and staff, and encourage them to be in regular prayer during this Lenten season!

Blessed Lententide,

Rev. Jon D. Vieker,
Senior Assistant to the President

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Worship for Lent 1 - 2011

Thursday after Ash Wednesday
March 10, 2011

The Lord be with you

I want to start these notes out with some comments about the names of the Sundays in Lent.

This coming Sunday is the First Sunday in Lent. The Latin name, which many of us life-long members of the LC-MS remember from The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH), is Invocavit. The Latin names for each Sunday are based on the traditional Introit of the Day, which in turn is drawn from the traditional appointed Psalm for the Day. In this case, the opening words of the Introit are from Psalm 91:15, “When he calls to me, I will answer him.” Invocavit (from the Latin translation known as the Vulgate) is the opening word and is rendered “When he calls” in the ESV.

Lectionaries are books that have the appointed readings for each Sunday and other special days in the Church Year. The historic lectionary used in TLH was a one-year lectionary. As far as I know, every liturgical church used this lectionary or a modification of it. The Roman Catholic Church held its Second Vatican Council from October 11, 1962 to December 8, 1965. One of their decisions was to go to a three-year lectionary. Most liturgical churches have since followed their example, including most of the LC-MS churches. Of course each denomination, and indeed even an individual local church, has the right to further modify the lectionary they use. The lectionary we use at Lamb of God is a modification of the Revised Common Lectionary as represented in the approved worship material of the LC-MS.

While a three-year lectionary has many strengths, not the least of which is a wider exposure to the Scriptures, it does have at least one drawback in reference to the historic names for each Sunday. As I said, these historic names are based on the Introit/Psalm of the day. In the three-year lectionary these historic Introits/Psalms are used only once in the three-year cycle. So the historic names reflect these readings only a third of the time. It just so happens that this coming Sunday is one of those Sundays in our lectionary cycle. The rest of the Introits for Lent this year do not use the traditional Psalms, though some reflect similar words in their opening lines, not necessarily on the same Sunday.

It is because of this move to a three-year lectionary that the historic Latin names for the Sundays are not heard much today. However, those churches that still use the one-year lectionary often also retain the Latin names. In their lectionary cycle they still make sense.

Another interesting thing to note about the names of the Sunday’s leading up to Holy Week is that they are called Sundays IN Lent. (not OF Lent). This is true in all lectionaries. The reason for this is quite simple. Lent is a season of repentance. Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. So Sundays are not counted in the forty days of Lent. Check it out on your calendar. You get the forty days only if you skip the Sundays. What this means is, if you are giving up something for Lent, Sundays don’t count. If you have given up sweets for Lent, you can have a brownie on Sunday and not break your Lenten Fast. Sunday is not part of Lent.

And now ... our retular notes.

This coming Sunday we will be using the third setting of the morning service, which begins on page 184. We will be sharing the Lord’s Supper. You may prepare by reading the section on the Lord’s Supper in your Small Catechism. The appointed lessons are Genesis 3:1-21, Romans 5:12-19, and Matthew 4:1-11. The text for the sermon is Matthew 4:1. The sermon is titled “In Our Steps.”

Our Opening Hymn will be “Jesus, Once with Sinners Numbered” (LSB 404). The Sermon Hymn will be “O Christ, You Walked the Road” (LSB 424). The Closing Hymn will be “Abide, O Dearest Jesus” (LSB 919). Our distribution hymns will be “O Lord, throughout These Forty Days” (LSB 418), “Lord Jesus Christ, You Have Prepared” (LSB 622), and “My Song Is Love Unknown” (LSB 430).

Below is a video of the hymn ‘My Song Is Love Unknown.” It includes the words.

This past Sunday our adult Bible study began the study of the Gospel of Matthew with some introductory information. This week we will dive into the text. Our Education Hour begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons
Opening Note: The temptation of Adam and Eve (our OT lesson) and the temptation of Jesus (our Gospel lesson) are traditional lessons for the First Sunday in Lent. Our Epistle lesson ties them together with the theme of Adam as a type of Jesus. This will be the theme we will be exploring in Sunday’s sermon. The notes below, therefore, will not explore this relationship, but accent other things in the texts

Genesis 3:1-21: This is the story of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. God had created a paradise for them with only one rule. The devil tempts them and they succumb to the temptation. The devil’s temptation is interesting. Through lies and distortions he entices Eve to covet that which is not hers. Today coveting is often the overlooked sin. Yet it remains one of Satan’s greatest weapon in sowing discontent and rebellion. After the fall God curses Satan. Part of that curse is in verse 15, which reads in the ESV, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The word translated “bruised” can also be translated “crushed.” Some translations have translated is as such in one or both cases. I prefer the translation “crushed.” The word translated “offspring” is also translated as “seed” in some translations. This is actually the more literal translation, but “offspring” is what the Lord means. Clearly Eve is not a plant with seeds. This is the first promise concerning Jesus, and the word translated “offspring” in reference to Jesus should be capitalized. Satan will crush the heal of Eve’s Offspring while at the same time the Offspring will crush the head of Satan. This happened on the Cross. The virgin birth is also revealed for the first time here. Notice how Adam does not factor into this equation. It is not Adam’s seed, that is, a child born of a natural union, but only a child of a woman who will defeat Satan. Of course things are made clearer in future generations.

Romans 5:12-19: Paul is drawing out many of the typological aspects of Adam in relation to Jesus. One of those aspects is the universal nature of the acts of each. Of course Types are always an imperfect reflection of the Antitype. More will be said about this relationship between Adam and Jesus in the sermon.

Matthew 4:1-11: This is the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness after John baptized our Lord. The forty days echoes the forty years Israel wandered in the wilderness. Time and time again they failed when tempted. Jesus, on the other hand, overcame Satan. The temptations of Satan are similar to the ones Adam and Eve faced, as the Prince of Darkness again sought through lies and distortions, to get Jesus to covet. If that could be accomplished, then it would be only a short step for Jesus to greedily grab what was dangled in front of his eyes and lose the fight for our salvation. I love how this lesson ends. “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” We are reminded in this lesson, not only of the reality of who is assailing us, but also of the comfort God can afford us.

Daylight Savings Time Begins this Sunday (set your clocks forward one hour).
• The board of Evangelism will meet after the worship service Sunday.
• Our Wednesday Lenten services have begun. This past Sunday we heard about Jesus’ activities on Palm Sunday. This coming Wednesday we will hear about what happened on Holy Monday. There are two services, one at 12:15 and a second at 7:00 PM. Choir practice follows the evening service.
• On March 17th Dustin Lentz and Patricia Capaul will be married at Lamb of God at 7:00 PM. They are from out of state, and Lamb of God is the closest LC-MS church to Gaffney, where Dustin has family. The members of Lamb of God are invited to attend.

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Worship for Transfiguration Sunday - 2011

Wednesday after Epiphany 8
March 2, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, known as Transfiguration Sunday. We will be using the Service of Prayer and Preaching (page 260) for our liturgy. This Sunday we will begin using our new bulletins, the design of which was selected by our voters. The appointed lessons for Sunday are Exodus 24:8-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9. The appointed Psalm is Psalm 2:6-12. The text for the sermon is Matthew 17:3. The sermon title is “More Than Moses.”

Our Opening Hymn will be “‘Tis Good, Lord, to Be Here,” (LSB 414). The Sermon Hymn will be “Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory” (LSB 416). The Closing Hymn will be “Jesus, Once with Sinners Numbered” (LSB 404). The Closing Hymn is the one we are currently learning.

Below is a video of the hymn "‘Tis Good Lord, to be Here." The congregation singing is a Lutheran one in Frankenmuth, MI. It includes the lyrics. You might be interested in knowing that Lutheranism came to Frankenmuth before the founding of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and congregations from this area were founding members of the LC-MS. Lutheran missionaries came to the Frankenmuth area with the purpose of bringing the Christian Faith to Indians, specifically the Chippewa. They did run into an unanticipated problem. The Lutheran’s, with their European background, found Indian villages, built towns nearby, learned the language, and began their work. However the Chippewa were a mobile people. When the time came to move on, the whole village simply picked up and moved. The Lutheran’s were nowhere near as mobile, with their wood and brick homes and churches. The effort did produce the first printed book in a Native American language, Luther’s Small Catechism.

This Sunday our adult Bible study will begin studying the book of Matthew. We will start with some introductory material. Now you may be thinking … “Yawn. I already know who wrote the book.” There is much more to introductory information than just who wrote the book. It gives an opportunity to provide an overall sweep of the major themes of the book, and how it differs from Mark and Luke, and other valuable information. In other words, it lays a good foundation for the rest of the study. Our Education Hour begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons
Opening Note: All three of Sunday’s readings are traditional lections for Transfiguration Sunday. That is because the Old Testament reading is one of the background passages for the Transfiguration (there are certainly many more) and the Epistle reading contains a clear reference from Peter about the event. Naturally the reading from Matthew is his account of the event.

Exodus 24:8-19: One of the BIG themes of Exodus is worship. Moses tells Pharaoh that the reason the Hebrews are to be released is so that they can go and serve the Lord, that is, worship the Lord. The second half of the book is dominated by the establishment of that service. This reading is the establishing of the covenant between God and the people of Israel and as such is rich in worship themes. In 24:1-7 Moses reads the words of the covenant to the people and they all agree to it. It is God’s desire to establish fellowship with his people. A sacrifice is made, confirming the covenant. Blood sacrifices always point to Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice. The altar Moses constructs (his first) also points to Jesus (as all altars do), specifically the cross. The blood is sprinkled on the altar (Jesus will die) and then on the people (his blood covers our sins). This event prefigures the Transfiguration as the upcoming sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is what Moses and Elijah speak of with Jesus. Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 of the elders (including Joshua) go up Mt. Sinai. There they eat in the presence of the Lord. Sacrifices were generally eaten, representing fellowship. This also points to the Lord’s Supper, were we eat the sacrifice of the Lord, receiving the forgiveness earned on the cross and renewing our fellowship with him. Though the elders see God, God is not described. They see him from a distance. Going up a mountain is one of the ways the Transfiguration is prefigured in this text. Another way is that some of the people of God are in the presence of God on the mountain. A third way is that the glory of the Lord is revealed on the mountain in this reading, and it is revealed in Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. This glory is revealed and yet hidden with the appearance of a cloud. The Father speaks from a cloud in our Gospel lesson. Returning to the theme of worship, we have here accented that true worship is only through Jesus. Much more could be said about this text, but this will have to do for these notes.

2 Peter 1:16-21: 2 Peter was written shortly before Peter was martyred, around 35 years after the resurrection of Jesus. The Church was being troubled by those who said Jesus’ promise, and the promise repeated by the Apostles, of the return of Christ to judge the living and the dead were obviously false. The danger of hell and the hope of heaven were ridiculed. The faithful were losing heart. Peter writes to reaffirm the promises. In this reading Peter reminds his readers that they did not follow “cleverly devised myths.” Instead, the Apostles were eyewitnesses to the events recorded. Peter specifically refers to the Transfiguration (1:16b-18). However our confidence rests on even firmer ground, the Holy Scripture (1:19-21). This is also a wonderful text for affirming the Trinity. Peter speak of “God the Father," of Jesus being identified by the Father as “my beloved Son,” and the Holy Spirit as the One who inspired the Scriptures. These Scriptures are like a “lamp shining in a dark place.” In this world of darkness, where people continue to ridicule faith in Christ, we still have that sure word.

Matthew 17:1-9: The Transfiguration is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each accents different points. They do not contradict each other, but supplement each other. However, if we blend the three accounts together, we run the risk of missing the specific points each narrator wants to bring out. Because the text is so rich, I can write more here, without giving away any of my sermon. Sunday I will be focusing on Matthew’s account so here I will make some comparative observations. Matthew, with his very first time reference, tells us that the Transfiguration happened six days after Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ and then tried to persuade Jesus to abandon his mission. (Mark also notes this, but Luke says it was “about” eight days.) Peter, James and John (the first time in Matthew’s Gospel these three are singled out as a special group) ascend a mountain with Jesus. If you take a trip to Israel, your guide will point to a mountain and say it is the Mount of Transfiguration. The text does not identify which mountain it is, and your guess is as good as the guides. While Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was in prayer, Matthew omits this. Luke also tells us that Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory,” but Matthew omits that as well. Luke also tells us that Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about his upcoming “exodus” (i.e. at least his death, and perhaps also his resurrection and ascension). Matthew simply indicates that they were talking. Matthew also omits that the disciples were sleepy (Luke 9:32). It is Mark who tells us that the disciples were “terrified” before the Father spoke. Matthew and Luke only tell us of their fear when the Father speaks. The booths that Peter wants to build (mentioned in all three accounts) could have several Old Testament backgrounds, the Tent of the Tabernacle and the Festival of Booths being the two most likely. Luke tells us that Peter made this statement “as they were leaving” but Matthew doesn’t report that fact. In stead, in Matthew's Gospel, Peter is simply presented as blurting out his idea, actually interrupting Jesus and these two Old Testament saints. Both Luke and Matthew depict the Father as interrupting Peter, but Mark omits that fact. The bright cloud not only connects this with our Exodus reading, but has other numerous Old Testament connections (Exodus 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Psalm 26:8; Haggai 2:7, 9; Isaiah 6:1-3; Ezekiel 43:4-5; to reference some). Certainly the unity and yet distinction between Father and the Son are brought out here. The compassion of Jesus is depicted in verse seven (skipped by Mark and Luke). The next time these words are uttered in Matthew's Gospel is by the angel at the empty tomb. Matthew and Mark both records Jesus telling the three to not speak of what they had seen until after the resurrection, Luke records only that they didn’t speak of it. One translation point; in verse nine Jesus says “Tell no one the vision …” Now that is an okay translation, but the word “vision” can be understood in English to mean something not really there. Perhaps a better translation might be “Tell no one what you saw …”, for what they saw really happened, as Peter indicates in our Epistle lesson. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and I haven’t really touched on the “So what?” question that each of these observations prompts us to ask. But I have to stop sometime, and this is the time to stop.

• The March newsletter has been posted on this blog. Just go to the link in the upper left-hand column on this page.
• The pastors of Circuit 18 will be meeting in Irmo Tuesday, March 8, so the office will be closed.
Ash Wednesday is March 9. We will have our regular 12:15 and 7:00 PM worship services. The “noon” service lasts about half an hour, and is great for those who can make it on a lunch hour. The evening service lasts about 45 minutes (more singing).
Choir practice will follow our evening Lenten service.

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert