Tuesday, May 31, 2011

St Boniface of Mainz, Missionary to the Germans

Tuesday after Easter 6
May 31, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday (June 5) will be the Commemoration of St Boniface of Mainz, Missionary to the Germans. While we will remember to thank the Lord for the witness of this saint in our prayers, and I might be able to work in a reference to him in the sermon, in general our focus will be on the lections designated for the Seventh Sunday of Easter and not the optional lections for this commemoration. In many ways, this is a shame. Few have had a greater impact on the history of Europe and certainly no Englishman. So I have decided to post something about this saint.

Historical Background

To have a better understanding of Boniface it is helpful to have a bigger picture of his times, and the events leading up to them.

Christianity had spread in the wake of the spread of the Roman Empire. By the time of the death of Hadrian (138 AD) that covered northern Africa, the Mediterranean coast of the Middle East up to the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey, sweeping around to most of modern Europe (the Scandinavian parts never fell), the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) and England. Christianity was not limited by the Roman Empire, nor was all of these areas automatically open to the Christian Faith. However the Church did work hard to bring Christ to these areas.

As the Middle Ages closed in, the Western half of the Roman Empire was challenged by wave after wave of barbarians. Most, after conquering, actually became Christians and established their own kingdom. Attila the Hun in the first half of the 400’s established the largest of these kingdoms and his forces took over much of modern German and France. The Roman Church, while surviving, was far from its grand influence of the High Middle Ages. The Popes, though, through skillful negotiations and such, kept Rome as a going concern and positioned it well for the future.

Meanwhile, on the Arabian Peninsula, Mohammed had started his new religion in the 600’s. With the sword they spread out conquering most all in their way. By about 700 they had taken over North Africa and decided to attack Europe by crossing from Tangier in western North Africa to the Iberian Peninsula. They met with their usual military success, conquering all of modern Portugal and almost all of Spain, and pushing into modern France. Their goal was to push on to Rome and make it another Moslem shrine. In 732 there was a key turning point when the Arabs were stopped by Charles Martel, the king of the Franks.

Elsewhere the Arab’s conquered the Persian Empire but its advance was stopped from going north and into modern Russa by the Khazars. The key turning point came in 644 in the Caucassus. This is a region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The Arabs were also blocked from attacking Europe west across Anatolia (modern Turkey) by the Byzantine Empire, also in the 600’s.

So, when Boniface was born, the Moslems were still in North Africa. Sixty years later they were stopped in their tracks by Charles Martel at Tours, just south of Paris. Charles Martel was followed by his two sons, Carloman and Pippin. After a while Carloman resigned as king of his area, giving it to Pippin, and entered a monastery. Pippin was the father of Charlemagne (742-814). The Franks were orthodox Christians. Most of those conquered by the Moslems were Arian Christians.

During this time, when Christian kingdoms were under assault from all sides, paganism from the Scandinavian areas spread south into the German areas. So you had areas that had remained orthodox, areas where people blended biblical faith with pagan beliefs, and areas that were completely pagan. To be quite “frank,” from a human point of view, it is very doubtful that Christianity would have survived in Europe if not for the Carolingian (Frankish) Empire. I believe that it was the hand of God himself who raised up the Franks. We do have the promise of our Lord that the Christian Church will not cease, but will last until the Second Coming.

Boniface’s Life

This was Boniface’s world when he was born in England, around 672 AD. He died a martyr’s death June 5, 754. The exact location of his birth is debated because the place named in the records no longer exists, though it was probably the south-western part of Wessex. Born into a well-off family, he was named Winfrid, which means "friend of peace." The name Boniface was given to him by Pope Gregory II (Latin for “good deeds”). Boniface was quite intelligent and his dad had planned for him to enter the family business and do something important with his life, that is, make money. Boniface, though, had been deeply impressed with the missionary monks and wanted to become one. His father finally reluctantly agreed.

Entering a monastery, Boniface distinguished himself in scholarship and piety and his future looked safe and secure in the Benedictine Order, but he never lost his zeal for mission work. After years of pleading for a chance to preach the Gospel to the pagans in Friesland (modern Holland) his Abbot finally let him go in 716. (This happened just after Boniface refused to become the Abbot, knowing he would never get to be a missionary if he accepted the post.) Going to Friesland seemed like a good choice. The missionary work already in progress there was being led by the famous missionary monk Willibrord, so Boniface would have an excellent guide. Boniface also knew Old English, which was very similar to Old Frisian. So, full of zeal, Boniface set off. When he arrived he discovered that Radbod, king of the Frisians, had declared war on all Christians. Charles Martel had come to the defense of the Christians, but ultimate victory was years away and would be at the hands of his descendants. The pagans were murdering Christians, destroying churches, and anything else that seemed Christian. Though Boniface wanted to preach in the open fields, wiser heads prevailed. Frustrated, he returned to England.

Boniface had gone on his first missionary journey without being prepared. He would not make that mistake again. In 719 he went to Rome hoping to be officially sent to Friesland to work. He did receive a papal commission, but to work in Germany (this is also when Winfrid became Boniface). In Germany he devoted himself to starting, organizing, and reforming churches and monasteries in Hesse, Thuringia, and Bavaria. Some of these areas had completely reverted to paganism and others had never been converted, while still others had remained in good shape. After becoming an archbishop, Boniface was assigned to the See of Mainz in 743. Thousands came to Christ through his efforts, and thousands more returned to the Christian Faith. Ten years after becoming an archbishop Boniface resigned his position to return to mission work among the Frisians. By this time Radbod had died.

Once again Boniface’s work was blessed with multitudes either being converted or returning to Christ. However not everyone was pleased with his work. One day, while in a field waiting for some catechumens (students learning the basics of the Christian Faith), a mob of pagans attacked him and his party. The party was ready to fight (there were about 50 of them), but Boniface reminded them that Christians were taught to overcome evil with good. Holding up a copy of the Gospels as his only defense, he was slain, along with most of the rest of his party. It is said that the pagan who killed Boniface actually drove his sword through the book and into Boniface. That is why Boniface is often depicted with a sword through a Bible. The date was June 5, 754. When the Christians returned to the site the book was found.

Boniface’s time of activity overlapped the period in which Pippin the Younger and Charlemagne reigned and his work of converting the Saxons to Christianity was seen as a boon for expansion of Frankish rule. Yet Boniface never operated as a pawn of the kingdom of the left hand. Instead, he balanced alliances among the Carolingians, Bavarian rulers, and the papacy and often consecrated bishops who were already his followers in order to keep others from meddling in ecclesiastical affairs. It is safe to say, though, that his work would not have gone as well if it had not been for his relationships with these leaders, for they offered him protection and aid. Much of his work was also furthered by help from abroad by supporters in the Church.

There are many stories about Boniface. Perhaps the best known is a confrontation with some pagans at the “Oak of Thor.” This was a “sacred” tree where people were sacrificed. While the Christian Faith was attracting people, they were reluctant to convert. It seems they were afraid of angering the old “gods.” Boniface, with Elijah-like overtones, challenged Thor. If Thor was a real god, he cried, let him strike me down with a bold of lightning for chopping down his tree. The locals agreed to the challenge. Boniface chopped. No thunderbolt came from the sky. According to the story, Boniface didn’t even have to finish the job himself as a mighty wind blew down the tree, as if God himself had finished the job. The pagans were convinced and became Christians. The tree itself was used to build a chapel.

This also depicts one of the things people who hate to see others become Christians grip about in reference to Boniface. He destroyed pagan objects of worship. I wonder how such people would feel if they were the ones being sacrificed?

Another story of Boniface tells how he once stopped some pagans from the bloody sacrifice of a boy by blocking the death blow of a hammer with his bishop’s crook thereby splitting the hammer in two. He smacked the trunk of their ritualistic oak, and at once a powerful wind arose, ripping the tree from the ground, smashing it to pieces. Boniface then told the people of Jesus Christ, mankind’s Savior who sacrificed himself so others may live forever! Boniface pointed to a nearby fir tree and said it was a symbol of Christ, for its leaves are evergreen and pointed towards heaven. The tree was to be taken into homes, “not to shelter deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.” This is told about how the Christmas Tree began. It was Luther, of course, who ledge says introduced Christmas Tree lights by putting candles on a fir tree in his home.

It has been said, “More than any other Christian missionary, Boniface is credited with the conversion of Germany to the Christian faith.” Now this is a man of God worth remembering.

Blessings in Christ,

Monday, May 30, 2011

Women's Bible Fellowship

Memorial Day 2011

Dear Ladies of Lamb of God,

We have had a serious drop off in the number of women attending Bible study, so I propose we make some changes:

First, I am willing to do a daytime study for those who do not drive at night.
Second, I am willing to start later and/or switch the evening on which the current Bible study meets.
Third, I am willing to lead all of the sessions myself.

Give me some feedback so we can get Law & Gospel underway!!!

In Jesus,

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Get out your sewing machines!

28 May 2011

This is a picture of two dresses I made this week. They are very special and will travel to the other side of the world. Would you like your dresses to have international appeal?

These are made from pillowcases, making them very easy to sew. The pillowcases don't have to be new, they can be "gently used" ones. I shop thrift stores for them - it's amazing what you can find for under $1! You can make a difference in the world today by sewing a few seams. For more information, go to www.littledressesforaftrica.org/blog and start making cute little dresses today!

In Jesus' Arms,

Friday, May 27, 2011

How You Can Understand the Bible's "Contradictions"

Friday in the week of Easter 5
May 27, 2011

The Lord be with you

In Luke 10:25-28 we read:
    And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
In Galatians 3:10-11a St. Paul wrote:
    For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law…
It seems that Jesus and Paul disagree. It seems like Jesus is telling the lawyer to keep the Law and by doing so he will inherit eternal life. Yet is seems like Paul is saying keeping the Law is impossible and that no one inherits eternal life by keeping the Law.

To be honest, this apparent conflict runs through the Scriptures. I say “apparent” because there really isn’t a conflict. However to understand how these two biblical themes are not in conflict you need to have a proper distinction between Law and Gospel.

That distinction was the subject of thirty-nine lectures C. F. W. Walther gave in the evenings way back in 1884-1885. Those who listened took copious notes and those notes were published. Of course the lectures and notes were in German. In 1897 they were translated into English, and that English translation has been used ever since.

Recently the lectures have been retranslated, and the translator was given access also to Walther’s lecture notes. Therefore some transcription errors were correct. This new translation is available from Concordia Publishing House.

What sets this edition off is the extensive notes provided to aid the reader. It has maps, historical and biographical information, definitions, photographs, and much more. This edition normally sells for $29.99. Right now it is on sale for $19.99. That is a bargain for a book that will pay rich dividends for the rest of your life in aiding your understanding of the Bible and how to apply it in your life.

Click Here to go to the CPH page where you can learn more about the book and order a copy.

This is one of those book I believe should be read by every Christian.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Matthew on His Own

Friday in the week of Easter 5
May 27, 2011

The Lord be with you

The story of the life of Jesus is very familiar to Christians, as it should be. We have heard countless sermons about his birth, ministry, death and resurrection, as it should be. But, because of that great familiarity, it is sometimes hard to hear the voice of the individual Gospel writer. We, almost automatically, synthesize the various Gospels into one smooth story. What one Gospel writer leaves out we just supplement from the other Gospels. For example, John tells us that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on Maundy Thursday. The other Gospel writers leave that out. However, when we hear a Maundy Thursday sermon based on, say Matthew, the sermon might very well refer not only to the establishing of the Lord’s Supper which Matthew records but also to the foot-washing found in John’s Gospel. For the most part, this is good. The problem, as I already mentioned, is that it sometimes become hard to hear the voice of the individual Gospel writer.

Currently we are studying the Gospel of Matthew in our Sunday morning adult Bible study. In Matthew 4:18-22 the Evangelist records the calling of the first four disciples.
    While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
In Matthew’s Gospel this is the first time Jesus and these four men meet. We know from John’s Gospel that they had actually met before this call, but Matthew doesn’t record it. These two accounts do not conflict. Matthew does not say this is the first time the disciples meet Jesus. However, for the sake of the point Matthew wants to make, he does not record the earlier meetings. Matthew is not expecting his readers to supplement information from John’s Gospel. In fact John’s Gospel had not been written when Matthew wrote his Gospel.

So what is Matthew’s point? Just this, we are saved by Christ, not by our own efforts. Jesus seeks out and calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John. THEY do not seek Jesus. JESUS seeks them. JESUS calls them. This is made all the more remarkable as it is quite the opposite from the norm back in First Century Judea. Back then the student would seek out the teacher. Here the teacher seeks out the students.

Matthew is saying that we are saved by grace through faith, it is not our own doing, it is a gift of God, now of works, so no one can boast

There are many more treasures to be found by reading Matthew on his own. If you live in the area of Spartanburg, we welcome you to join us Sunday mornings at 9:00 AM.

Blessings in Christ
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Worship for Easter 6 - 2011

Thursday after Easter 5
May 26, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Easter 6). We will be using the service of Morning Prayer (page 235) for our liturgy. To be frank, we don’t know this service all that well. To help prepare for the service I therefore recommend you check out the following website.


At this site you will find the musical tracts for Morning Prayer along with the musical tracts for Matins, Vespers, Evening Prayer and Compline. The tracts not only have the music, but also singing, so you can sing along and strengthen your ability to participate in the worship service. If you have a copy of the Lutheran Service Book it is all that much easier. If you don’t have a copy of the Lutheran Service Book, I recommend you get a copy. You may order a pew edition from Concordia Publishing House for $23.00 (plus shipping and handling) at the following website:


There are other editions available, but the pew edition cost the least. A big part of the reasoning for these worship notes is to help people prepare for the worship service. This week we need to expand that preparation a bit to help us sing well on Sunday.

This coming Monday is Memorial Day. This three-day weekend is the traditional first day of Summer. As the price of gasoline has come down a few pennies, members may well be on the road thus decreasing attendance. Once again that accents the importance of being prepared for the worship service.

The appointed lessons for Sunday are Acts 17:16-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22; and John 14:15-21. In the service of Morning Prayer we also chant a Psalm The one appointed for Sunday is Psalm 66, verses 8 through 20. The antiphon is verse 8. The text for the sermon is Acts 17:22 and the sermon is titled “A Good Defense.”

The Latin name for this coming Sunday is Rogate. For information concerning the Latin names for each Sunday see last weeks worship notes by clicking here.

We will begin learning a new hymn Sunday, “O Day Full of Grace,” (LSB 503). It will be our opening hymn. The sermon hymn will be “Lift High the Cross” (LSB 837). Our closing hymn will be “Jesus Lives! The Victory’s Won” (LSB 490).

“O Day Full of Grace” may be new to us at Lamb of God, but there is nothing new about the hymn. The hymn is based on a pre-Reformation vernacular folk hymn popular in Scandinavia. It first appeared in print in Hans Thomissön’s Danish language hymnal (1569), where it was revised for use in the cause of the Protestant Reformation. It first appeared in English in the 1932 Concordia Hymnal. This was the hymnal for one of those Lutheran denominations that was first swallowed up by the ALC and later by the ELCA. “O Day Full of Grace” was included in Lutheran Worship, but not The Lutheran Hymnal. There are any number of choral performances on YouTube, but the recording below is of Trinity Lutheran in Sheboygan, WI.

Our Sunday morning adult Bible study is continuing its study of the Gospel of Matthew. We will be starting the Sermon on the Mount Sunday. Our Education Hour begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Acts 17:16-31: Paul had been driven from yet another town, Berea, for proclaiming Jesus and the resurrection. Supporters took him to Athens, where Paul sent for Silas and Timothy. This reading is what happened while Paul was in Athens. Needless to say, Paul didn’t remain silent about Jesus. We can learn a lot from Paul and how he shared the Gospel in a pagan context, and we will be hearing about that in Sunday’s sermon.

1 Peter 3:13-22: This is an especially rich text. You could preach a sermon on evangelism, suffering, the suffering of Christ, his descent into hell, his resurrection, his exaltation, the Second Coming and heaven, and baptism. That all these topics are presented together reflects the interrelatedness of them. We are to be prepared to make a defense to anyone (evangelism)… for the hope that is in us (the Second Coming and heaven). This can certainly lead to persecution (suffering). The reason for our hope is the suffering, death, descent into hell, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. We are united with the victory of Jesus through our baptism by which we receive a “good conscience" (that is, our sins are forgiven by grace through faith received in baptism).

John 14:15-21: We pick up where we left off last week. Jesus is now speaking of the promise of the Holy Spirit. One thing I’d like to point out is that this promise is for all Christians, not just some. There are some today who think only a portion of believers receive the Holy Spirit. That is not what Jesus says. None of us are orphans. We also have the promise of eternal life in this reading, as Jesus says, “because I live, you also will live.” Notice the importance of Jesus living. If he remained dead and in the grave, then our hope of heaven is also in vain. But, praise God, He is Risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

• The June newsletter will be posted any day now. Paper copies will be available for those who do not have internet access.
• The office will be closed Monday, which is Memorial Day.
• Our Women’s Bible Fellowship is considering moving to a new day. If there is a better time for our ladies than Wednesday evenings, please let Kitty or Ramona know.

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Do the Parts of the Liturgy Mean?

Wednesday after Easter 5
May 25, 2011

The Lord be with you

Every once in a while we conduct a “Dialogue Service” at Lamb of God. This is a standard morning worship service with commentary. In essence, the commentary replaces the sermon. I actually do have a sermon, but it is less than five minutes long. In this service I lead the liturgy like normal, but from time to time I stop and an Elder reads a commentary on what has, or is about to, happen. The service is always well received, and I always have several people ask me to do it more often. That is because the worship service is enhanced by understanding.

While checking out the LCMS web presence, I noticed that they have a wonderful commentary on a standard morning worship service. It opens the following way:

    What do the parts of the liturgy mean? This is a frequently asked question; maybe you have asked that question yourself. The following descriptions of worship and the parts of liturgy were first published in an article by the former Commission on Worship for the Reporter Insert entitled “Taking a Tour of Heaven.”

    "Worship is like no place else in this world.
    But there is one place that it does resemble, and that is heaven"

    The story is told of how Christianity was introduced to Russia. More than 1,000 years ago Grand Duke Vladimir of Kiev was interested in selecting an appropriate religion for his new nation. His emissaries investigated the main religions of the day, including Roman Catholicism and Islam. But it was only after visiting the chief site of the Orthodox Church in Constantinople that they found what they were looking for. In their report to their duke, the emissaries noted that in Orthodox worship there was such solemn splendor that they had a hard time knowing whether they were in heaven or on earth.

    Worship is like that: one foot in heaven with the other here on earth. What brings heaven into our earthly worship is not dependent on the elaborateness of the service or the sincerity of our devotion. Rather, it is because of the One who is present in our worship that we experience heaven on earth.

    If worship is "heaven on earth," then it stands to reason that what we do and say in worship should in some sense give us a foretaste of that great feast to come. In the following tour of the Divine Service we will see how the ancient texts of the liturgy give us that glimpse of heaven and, more importantly, how they deliver to us, here and now, the eternal benefits of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

    Learn more about the parts of the liturgy here.

If you click on the link about you will go to the commentary provided by the LCMS. It is well forth reading.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

The Benedictus for Morning Prayer

Wednesday after Easter 5
May 25, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday we will be using Morning Prayer (LSB page 235) for our morning worship service. We only use this service about four times a year. It is one of the “new” services in the Lutheran Service Book. The congregation does well with most of the music, but we kind of struggle with the Benedictus (page 238) (The Benedictus is Zechariah's Song from Luke 1:68-79). I was checking out the web to see if I could find something to help and stumbled across the site for Christ Lutheran in Sioux Falls, SC. They have a page titled “For Your Devotions – LSB Treasury Audio – Daily Offices Chants and Canticles”. On this page are audio files for the various chants and canticles in the LSB services of Matins, Vespers, Compline, Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer. These are professionally produced tracts, available from CPH on the CD "Evening & Morning the Music of Lutheran Daily Prayer."

All you need to do is click on the play button next to whatever piece you want to hear, and it begins to play. I suggest the members of Lamb of God click on and listen to the Benedictus on page 238 for Morning Prayer and listen a couple of times before Sunday. If you have a hymnal, then sing along. Not only will this aid you Sunday morning, but you will then be able to aid those who do not have computers.

The link is:


Blessings in Christ
Pastor John Rickert

A Sermon on Vocation

Wednesday after Easter 5
May 25, 2011

The Lord be with you

It was suggested that my sermon this past Sunday (May 22, 2011) should be made available to a wider range of people than just those who were in the worship service. I have, therefore, decided to post it here. The topic of the message is Vocation. While the text below is not exactly what I said in the pulpit, it is pretty close. I’ve included some graphics, just so it will be a little bit easier on the eye.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cantate)

Lections: Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

Text: Acts 6:2-3

Sermon: “What Is Your Job Description?”

Acts 6:2-3 2And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”

I once read a story about two brothers. Mike, the older, was a few years ahead of his younger brother Harry. They were raised in a good Christian home. Baptized as babies, they attended Sunday school, and, when they were old enough, Catechism class. Both of them, when they were confirmed, told their mother that they were committed to serving the Lord. They were dedicating their lives to Jesus, 24-7. Mom was thrilled. She would have two pastors in the family.

Each boy remained active in their church throughout high-school, becoming leaders in their youth group and assisting in worship services. Mike, after graduating high school, went to college and then the seminary, entering the Holy Ministry. Mom was practically bursting with pride the day he was ordained. Her first born son has kept his promise and was entering full-time service to the Lord as a pastor.

Harry, while he was in high school, got a job at a local gas station owned by Rick. Now I need to digress just a bit. This story takes place in the early 1960’s. Back then gas stations were called “service stations.” When you drove your car into a service station, an attendant came out and pumped your gas for you, cleaned the windows of your car, checked your car’s oil, and so forth. They also had a garage where they could work on cars. At your corner service station you could get everything from new tires to a rebuilt engine. Many people, maybe most, took their cars to service stations to be repaired, not car dealerships.

Anyways, when Harry graduated from high school, he didn’t go on to college. Instead he continued to work for Rick at the service station. To say his mother was disappointed would be an understatement. She had dreamed of having two pastors, two full-time servants of the Lord, in her family. Harry, she felt, had reneged on the promise he had made when he was confirmed. However she kept her disappointment to herself. As far as Harry goes, he continued to attend worship services, remained active in the church as a layman, and work at Rick’s service station.

One day Harry’s mother dropped by the station to meet her son and go out to lunch. Harry was just finishing up working on a car so mom waited. While in the small office/waiting room that such service stations always had, a customer came in to pick-up his car. As Rick was beginning to ring-up the customer, he stopped. Looking at the bill he said,

“I’m sorry, Mr Smith. There seems to be an error on your bill. Let me call in Harry. He is the one who actually did the work.”

In came Harry. Rick said, “Harry, I noticed that you were working late last night on Mr. Smith’s car, but I don’t see the hours on his bill. How late did you work?”

“Yes, I did work late,” Harry responded. “I was here until about 10:00. However I didn’t put the hours down because I was fixing a mistake I’d made earlier on the car. If I hadn’t made the mistake, I wouldn’t have had to stay late. I figured I would do the work on my time so I wouldn’t have to add the hours.”

Rick excused Harry. After Harry left the room Rick said to both Harry’s mother and Mr. Smith, “That Harry is not only my best mechanic but also the best Christian I’ve ever met. For him, his faith is not just words, or a Sunday morning thing, but it is how he lives every day. You know, I’ve started attending church services again, and it’s because of Harry. It is because, in him and how he lives, I can see Christ. He doesn’t preach at me, at least not with words. His life, and an occasional word, gets the message of the importance of Jesus to him through loud and clear.”

That day Harry’s mother learned that there is more than one way to be in full-time service to the Lord. Harry, just like his older brother Mike, was living his life dedicated to Jesus, 24-7.

This idea, that we are called to live for the Lord in whatever place the Lord has put us, is covered under the general topic of Vocation and is reflected in our lesson from Acts.

The Church, right from the beginning, took the words of Jesus about caring for the poor seriously. The Apostles’, like good over-achieving ministers, were trying to take care of everything, including the Church’s charitable activities. But the Apostles were spread too thin and problems began to develop. So the Church appointed seven men to take care of the charitable work and called them deacons.

These men were not Apostles. We might call them today “administrators” because they were in charge of administering the church’s aid. They were not called to be preachers, though Stephen apparently was a gifted speaker. In fact Stephen’s life and witness were so powerful that he got the attention of the Jewish leaders. The layman Stephen became the first martyr of the Church. This administrator, this layman, lived for the Lord 24-7.

Just because he didn’t have a vocation as a pastor did not mean that he didn’t have a vocation from the Lord. Just because he wasn’t writing sermons, preparing Bible studies, and spending hours in prayer for the members of the congregation, did not mean that he couldn’t serve the Lord 24-7. Like Harry, the deacons served in the vocation the Lord gave them.

Each person here today also has a vocation from the Lord. In fact, you have more than one vocation. A vocation is a job or roll that we have. So, as soon as you are born, you have a God-given vocation as a child of your parents. Other very common vocations include brother and sister, neighbor and friend, student, employee and employer, citizen, spouse, parent, and so on.

Because such vocations are so common, we might easily overlook them. “Sure,” people might think, “the pastor has a vocation from the Lord, as do missionaries, seminary professors, parochial school teachers, and the like, but not me. I’m only a car mechanic.” Some might broaden their view to include all school teachers, doctors, nurses, and other helping positions and still think, “I’ve no calling from the Lord. I’m just ten years old, or I only work as a maintenance man, or I run a retail store,” or whatever. “The Lord hasn’t called me.” Such thinking is not biblical.

While in our text Stephen and the other deacons were appointed to a new role, a new vocation, that does not mean that they had no vocations before becoming deacons. In deed, it was the testimony of their very lives as they lived out their vocations that commended them to the congregation and led to their new vocation as deacons.

Jesus once said, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10). The men appointed as deacons had been faithful in their earlier vocations and so it was believed they would be faithful as deacons. In a parable Jesus once told, a master, who represents God, said to his servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). Again the idea is to be faithful with what you have now, in your current vocations. Such faithfulness leads to greater responsibilities in the kingdom. To use a metaphor from the 60’s, we are called to bloom where God has planted us.

How are we to live in our vocations? What does God desire from us? The general answer is to live in faith towards God and Christian love with all. However, due to our fallen nature, it is easy to get confused about just what that means. So I’d like everyone to turn to page 328 of their hymnal (the Lutheran Service Book). Go ahead, I’ll wait. …

Here we see the Table of Duties found in Luther’s Small Catechism. There is real guidance for many vocations in this list. Luther has scriptures appropriate for pastors and parishioners, husbands and wives, parents and children, governments and citizens, employees and employers, and so on. If you have a vocation that is not covered in this list, and there are lots, Luther even has listed at the end some general passages for everyone.

As baptized children of God, living in the power of his grace, his forgiveness, we serve the Lord 24-7 through our God given vocations. He has placed us in them that we may serve him and others. You do have a calling from God. You do have God-given jobs. You don’t have to choose between serving God or your job, or your family, or your country, and so on. You serve God in these rolls, and you can serve 24-7. Amen.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Controversial Church Music

Friday after Easter 4
May 20, 2011

The Lord be with you

Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology is a journal I receive that targets basically confessional Lutheran pastors and theologians. Each issue, for the most part, focuses on one specific theme. The issue for Epiphany 2011 (volume XX, Number 1) was dedicated to the theme “Lutheranism in Europe.” In it was an article by Robert Mayes titled: Controversial Church Music—Then and Now.

He begins, “Among American Lutheran, the use of various cultural, contemporary styles of music in congregational worship has been debated for decades. While the terms contemporary, blended, traditional, and liturgical are no longer new to Lutherans, still there is a recognized division that seems more divided as time progresses.”

Mayes goes on to say that this is not the first time Church Music has been the center of controversy. During the period of time between Luther and Bach there was a great deal of controversy over the “new” musical styles and their use in worship. These styles were coming over from popular culture, especially from that hot new cultural entertainment called “Opera.” In church, therefore, you could hear sung the shocking new style in the new musical invention called “cantatas,” and in other ways. Why, in the new style, sometimes the organist simply played the organ and no one sang anything! This controversial music style is called today “Baroque.”

The lines were drawn. Opponents called those who embraced the new style “crypto-Catholics.” On the others side, they called those who rejected the new style “crypto-Calvinist.” Both names were intended to be insulting.

Those opposed to using the new style were basically Pietists. I would define Pietism as piety gone bad. A pious person may decide to pray the Lord’s Prayer every day at 3:00 PM, because that is the hour Jesus died. This is an excellent way to remember our Lord’s sacrifice on our behalf every day. Pietism begins to believe it is a sin if you forget to pray at 3:00, and then begins to think everyone should do the same as the pietist. In other words, a pietist thinks you sin if your piety is different from theirs.

Pietism is actually a perennial problem and by no means has died out today. I happen to think that there is a “little pietist” in all of us. It is the result of our fallen human nature. In the Fall our entire human nature was corrupted. This includes our God-given desire to live a pious life. That corruption is called Pietism. However, the form Pietism takes from era to era changes. In fact it also changes from group to group and even person to person.

During the time covered in Mayes’ article, the Pietists were strongly anti-Roman Catholic. This was expressed by rejecting all things they felt were even remotely associated with the Roman Church. This included the Baroque music form, which began in Italy. They also rejected the historic structure of Christian worship, because it was used in Roman Catholic Churches.

No doubt in part because it came from Roman Catholic countries, the new style of music was adapted to historic worship practices. Because Lutherans have always used this same tradition, the new style of music found a home in Lutheran churches. This is not to say the new form was instantly embraced. There was over a century of controversy, but in the end, it was adopted.

Complaints against the new style called it hard on the ears, nothing but noise, aimed purely at emotions, infecting the church with pop-culture, and so on. Advocates noted it value for evangelism. One proponent noted that people may come to worship for the music, and be reached by the sermon.

I loved Mayes’ reference to Scheibel who showed how texts from then-current operas could be slightly modified to be used in the church. It reminded me of the practice in the late 60’s and early 70’s where pop-songs were modified to serve Christ. This practice even made it to the movies in the 1992 film “Sister Act.”

In the end, it was the orthodox that embraced the “new style” of music in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Today it is quite different. Those commonly viewed as representing the “orthodox” camp reject the “new style” of music. Oddly, to me, Mayes’ seeks to justify this in his conclusion. I almost wondered if he had read his own words.

He says some of the current “new style” might survive if it, in the future, is divorced from its current cultural associations. However the “new style” was, according to Mayes, being used in church, in worship, at the same time it was in vogue in opera and other purely secular settings. Those who defended the “new style” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, accented the words. So do those who defend the “new style” today. As Randy Stonehill said back in the early 70’s, “Why should the devil have all the good music?”

One point Mayes makes in his conclusion that I think is dead on, is that the “new style” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries embraced, and was embraced by, the historic worship practices of the Church. The contemporary “new style” of music tends to reject historic worship practices. Therefore you have Bach’s Mass in C (which is a standard worship service with Communion). There is little in the Contemporary Christian Music scene I know of that can be used in a worship service except as a song sung. That is to say, you are hard pressed to find a CCM liturgy. Personally, I think it could be done, and even done well. Our new hymnal, the Lutheran Service Book, has such elements in it like "This is the Feast" and the refrain used in the “Magnificat” in Evening Prayer. It is because of the words, and not the actual tunes themselves, that few think of these as examples of Contemporary Christian Music.

If supporters of CCM hope to persuade more of their “orthodox” brothers to their side of the issue, they will need to include words with their music that are more sacramental, incarnational, and useable in the worship service in more ways than singing a hymn/song.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Rickert

Monday, May 16, 2011

Worship for Easter 5 - 2011

Thursday after Easter 4
May 19, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter 5). We will be using the first setting of the worship service (page 151) for our liturgy. This will be a communion service. The Latin name for Easter 5 is Cantate. Once again it is drawn from the first word of the Introit, and means “sing ye.” These opening words are from Psalm 98:1, which in English is “Sing to the LORD a new song.” The new Introit for series A in the three-year lectionary is taken from Psalm 30:1-5 and the antiphon is Psalm 149:1. The opening line (taken from Psalm 149:1) is, “Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song”. Therefore, in this case, then old name still reflects the Introit for the Day.

It seems I am always explaining how things have changed from The Lutheran Hymnal to the Lutheran Service Book. I have decided to just put the information about the names in the Easter season down here for easy reference. TLH means The Lutheran Hymnal. LSB means the Lutheran Service Book. I will start with translations of the Latin names.

Quasimodogeniti (also spelled Quasi modo geniti and Quasimodo geniti) – “as newborn babies”
Misericordias Domini – “goodness of the Lord”
Jubilate – “rejoice”
Cantate – “Sing ye”
Rogate – “pray ye”
Exaudi – “hear”
Whitsunday – either “white Sunday” referring to the white garments worn by those being baptized on Pentecost, or “wisdom” Sunday referring to the gift of wisdom by the Holy Spirit. Either way, this is not a Latin word, but a very old English word.

Easter Day – The Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord; Introit: Psalm 139:18b, 5b, 6, 1, 2a
Quasimodogeniti – First Sunday after Easter; Introit: 1 Peter 2:a; Psalm 81:8, 1
Misericordias Domini – Second Sunday after Easter; Introit: Psalm 33:5b, 6a, 1
Jubilate – Third Sunday after Easter; Introit: Psalm 66:1-3
Cantate – Fourth Sunday after Easter; Introit: Psalm 98:1a, 2, 1b
Rogate – Fifth Sunday after Easter; Introit: Isaiah 48:20b, Psalm 66:1-2
The Ascension of Our Lord (always a Thursday); Introit: Mark 16:14-20, Acts 1:11, Psalm 47:1
Exaudi – The Sunday after the Ascension; Psalm 27:7a, 8-9a, 1a
Whitsunday – The Feast of Pentecost; Book of Wisdom 1:7a, Psalm 68:3, 1

LSB (One-year lectionary)
The Resurrection of Our Lord – Easter Day; Introit: Psalm 8:1, 5-6, Luke 24:5b-6b
Second Sunday of Easter – Quasimodo Geniti: Introit: Psalm 81:1, 7a, 10, 16b, 1 Peter 2:2a
Third Sunday of Easter – Misericordias Domini: Introit: Psalm 33:1, 18-20, Psalm 33:5b, 6a
Fourth Sunday of Easter – Jubilate; Introit: Psalm 66:3, 5, 8-9, Psalm 66:1-2
Fifth Sunday of Easter – Cantate; Introit: Psalm 98:1b, 3-4, Psalm 98:1a, 2b
Sixth Sunday of Easter – Rogate; Introit: Psalm 66:1-2a, 17, 19-20, Isaiah 48:20b
The Ascension of Our Lord; Introit: Psalm 47:1-2, 5, 8, Acts 1:11
Seventh Sunday of Easter – Sunday after the Ascension – Exaudi; Introit: Psalm 27:1, 11a, 12, 7a, 8b, 9a
Pentecost – The Day of Pentecost; Introit Psalm 68:1, 4a, c, 11a, 33b, 35a, 3

LSB (Three-year lectionary)
The Resurrection of Our Lord – Easter Day
Second Sunday of Easter
Third Sunday of Easter
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Ascension of Our Lord
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Pentecost – The Day of Pentecost
(The Introits vary from year to year in the three-year lectionary and clearly the names for the Sundays are drawn from their relationship to Easter and not the words used in the Introits.)

As you can see, while the numbering has changed from TLH to LSB’s one-year lectionary, the Latin names remain the same relative to the time distant from Easter. The name Whitsunday has been dropped, perhaps because the meaning is not completely certain.

Now, back to our worshp service for this coming Suday. Our appointed lessons are: Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14. The text for the sermon is Acts 6:2-3 and is titled, “What Is Your Job Description?” Our opening hymn will be “Lord, Help Us Walk Your Servant Way” (LSB 857). The sermon hymn will be “How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord” (LSB 853). Our closing hymn will be “We Are Called to Stand Together” (LSB 828). Our distribution hymns will be: “This Is the Spirit’s Entry Now” (LSB 591) , “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” (LSB 461), AND “Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior” (LSB 627).

The video below is of the Lutheranwarbler playing and singing “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” You can hear the melody line of most, but not all, of the other hymns at Better Noise. The link is in the left hand sidebar on this page.

Our Sunday morning adult Bible study is continuing its study of the Gospel of Matthew. We will pick-up in chapter 4 with verse 18. Our Education Hour begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Acts 6:1-9; 7a, 51-60: With this passage we get another look at the Apostolic Church. Acts 6:1-9 is widely used to support the establishment of auxiliary offices in the church. There were problems developing in the distribution of food to the needy. The problem was presented to the Apostles. The Apostles decided they needed men whose main task was to oversee this effort. Seven men were chosen by the congregation and they took charge of the work and were called deacons. Stephen was one of these seven. Stephen was “full of grace and power … doing great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8). As a powerful witness to the resurrection, he was a problem to those who opposed God. They gathered a group to falsely accuse him and stir up trouble. In chapter 7 Steven appears before the Sanhedrin to defend himself. The tale end of the assigned reading has Stephen’s closing words and the response of his accusers. They were so enraged they grab Steven, take him outside, and stone him to death. The fact that Steven’s death gets so much space in the book of Acts is an indication of just what an impact the death of this first martyr had on the Church. There was a definite turn in the approach to the Church by the Jewish authorities. This is also the first mention of Saint Paul (here still using the name Saul as he was an enemy of Christ) in the New Testament. One item often overlooked in this reading is in verse 7. Not only do we read “the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (which is no big surprise) but also “a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” Perhaps this is the reason the High Priest decided to take a more aggressive approach to the Church. It also seems likely to me that some of these priests helped form the group that insisted Gentiles become Jews before they could become Christians, including being circumcised. These, though, are issues that will not develop for a number of years. In this reading we see the Gospel bridging every social, economic, and even religious gap. The Gospel is for all.

1 Peter 2:2-10: Peter is writing this general letter to Gentile congregations with lots of recent converts. This is reflected in verse 2 where he says, “like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation …” Many scholars think the letter is basically a baptismal sermon. In this reading Peter cites several Old Testament passages indicating how they are about Jesus, specifically about our Lord’s rejection by the Jewish leaders and his exaltation. This points to a very important principle for understanding the Old Testament that all the Apostles used, they read the Old Testament through the lens of the Gospels. In other words, they used the story of Jesus to understand the Old Testament. The phrase in verse 2, “that by it you may grow up into salvation,” might strike many today as odd. Aren’t we already saved? Haven’t we already acquired our salvation when we came to faith in Jesus? The answer to this riddle is that the word “salvation” is being used in two different ways, one way by Peter and a different way in the questions. It is comparing apples and oranges. Peter is speaking of the Second Coming, when our Salvation is fully manifested, when we will be raised from the dead with our glorified bodies to die no more. The questions are actually about the down payment on that ultimate fulfillment of our salvation. As believers in Christ we now have a “foretaste of the feast to come” (to quote the liturgy). Then we will “know as we have been known” (to quote St. Paul). Those who disobey the word stumble (verse 8). Those who continue to grow in Christ, continue to grow in the word, are already a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (verse 9) and yet also “sojourners and exiles” (verse 10). There is an “already” and “not yet” aspect to our lives as believers in Jesus. Quite literally we can say, “we are saved,” “we are being saved” and “we will be saved.”

John 14:1-14: This reading is the same Gospel lesson used for the Festival of St. Philip and St. James. This is probably so because in it Philip asks a question. Thomas also asks a question in this lesson. In the King James translation, Jesus says in verse 2, “In my Father’s house are many mansions”. In the English Standard translation, and every other modern translation I know of, Jesus is reported as saying, “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” The Greek word in question is monai, a plural from of mona (long a). The word means “rooms,” not “mansions.” The KJV is simply a poor translation here, as the context should indicate. Jesus says, in the KJV, and all other translations, “In my Father’s house …” Just how many mansions do you think you can fit into one house? This difference in translations gives us a different idea about eternity. Mansions are lone homes, sequestered away from the rest of humanity on large pieces of land. Community is not in the picture. A large home with many rooms with many people living in those rooms gives a strong feeling of community, of fellowship, of friendship, etc. Heaven is a friendly place, not a place where we never see our neighbors. There is a great deal of other treasures in this lesson. Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (verse 6). Here we have a deception exposed that is common today, which is that all religions actually worship the same God. If Jesus is correct, and no one can come to the Father except through him, then those religions that do not recognize Jesus as the incarnate God, do not worship the Father. Indeed Jesus goes on to say that to know him is to know the Father. How can he say this? In responding to Philips question, “Show us the Father,” Jesus says “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. Jesus also says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Some consider verses 12-14 as support for all sorts of spectacular things. Jesus says “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do”. What is overlooked are the words “in my name” when Jesus says “whatever you ask in my name, this I will do …” “In my name” means, in part, according to my will. We discover that will in the Bible, not in our wild imaginations. We may think this or that "work" is greater then what Jesus did. Perhaps it might be raising all the people in a graveyard back to life, or maybe building a temple without hands, or whatever. Such things are not promised in Scripture. We have no sure word that they are in accord with the will of Jesus. What we do know is that such things are not all that great, as far as God is concerned. The salvation of a person, a person going from death to life, is the greatest thing we can see and be a part of. Jesus even tells us that this is so spectacular that heaven literally rejoices every time it happens (Luke 15:7). How backward our thinking is from God’s when we consider a person being healed from some physical ailment as more impressive than a baptism! Heaven doesn’t make that mistake.


• Information for the June newsletter is due Sunday. .
• The office will be closed Monday and Tuesday, May 23-24, as pastor will be attend a Circuit Counselors meeting in Richmond, VA.
• Our Women’s Bible Fellowship will begin their new study Wednesday, May 25. The meeting begins at 6:30 PM. The ladies meet at church.

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Worship for Easter 4 - 2011

Thursday after Easter 2
May 12, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Easter 4). We will be using Matins (page 219) for our liturgy. Matins is one of the historic “prayer hours” developed in the monasteries. The historic “hours” are Matins (performed at night, often midnight), Lauds (done at dawn or 3:00 AM), Prime (early morning, about 6:00 AM), Terce (mid-morning, around 9:00 AM), Sext (mid-day, around noon), None (mid-afternoon, around 3:00 PM), Vespers (evening, “at the lighting of the lamps,” around 6:00 PM), and Compline (before going to bed, around 9:00 PM.). Lutherans have historically retained Matins and Vespers for public worship, moving Matins from midnight to later in the morning. The “Western” influence in establishing these “hours” is seen by starting the day at midnight instead of sunset or sunrise. For corporate worship, aside from Matins and Vespers, the Lutheran Service Book also provides a setting for Compline (page 253) and two services that are an amalgamation of the other unused services called Morning Prayer (page 235) and Evening Prayer (page 243).These two “new” services are basically modifications of services developed in the Episcopal/Anglican traditions.

The use of the prayer offices (hours) is once again growing in popularity. Many churches are now offering one or more of them at least once during the week. Many individuals have begun to incorporate them in their personal devotional life. These offices, which focus primarily on the book of Psalms, provide wonderful ways to begin or end the day. Can you think of a better way to begin the day that with the opening words of Matins, taken from Psalm 51:15: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise”? The opening versicles from Compline are wonderful to ponder as you prepare to go to bed: “The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night and peace at the last. Amen. It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to Your name, O Most High; to herald Your love in the morning, Your truth at the close of the day” (Psalm 92:1).

The Latin name for Easter 4 is Jubilate. It again comes from the first word in the historic Introit for the day, which translates into English, “Shout for Joy [to God]” (Psalm 66:1). The appointed Psalm for Easter 4 in series A of the three-year lectionary (which is what we are using at Lamb of God this year) is Psalm 23. So once again the old name does not fit the new lectionary. However, for the churches that are using the one-year lectionary, the old Introit is retained so, for them, the old name still fits. We will be using Psalm 23 Sunday. Our antiphon will be verse 1.

Our appointed lessons from Sunday are: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10. The sermon is titled “Your Resurrection Life.” The text is 1 Peter 2:21. We sing only three hymns when we use Matins. Our opening hymn will be the one we are learning this month, “This Is the Spirit’s Entry Now” (LSB 591). The sermon hymn will be “I Walk in Danger All the Way” (LSB 716). Our closing hymn will be “This Joyful Eastertide” (LSB 482).

The video below is of the boys choir of King’s College Cambridge singing "This Joyful Eastertide."

Our Sunday morning adult Bible study is continuing its study of the Gospel of Matthew. We will pick-up with verse 12 of chapter 4. Jesus has just finished his forty day fast/test in the wilderness and returns to Galilee. He hears that John the Baptist has been arrested, calls his first disciples, and begins his public ministry. Our Education Hour begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Acts 2:42-47: These closing verses of Acts 2 give us a look at the life of the very first Christians. It was an exciting time. The hostility of the Jewish leaders had not yet come out and so the believers were still welcome in the temple. This time of peace would not last long. We are told that “they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching." Today we do that by attending to their writings. This is certainly describing a worship service, in part we know this because that was the only place they could attend to the teaching of the Apostles. The New Testament had not been written. However, the rest of the text also points to elements in their worship service. “Fellowship” can only happen when you gather together. “The breaking of bread” is a reference to the Lord’s Supper, again something that is shared in a corporate, worship, setting. Finally, we are told that they attended to “the prayers.” Some translation, like the NIV, loosely translate this “and prayer” but the ESV “the prayers” is correct. By sticking with the Greek it becomes more difficult to imagine Luke is speaking of private devotional time. “The prayers” is speaking of the corporate, public, prayers of the Church. May Pentecostals become enamored with verse 43 and treat it as a promise. It is not a promise. It is a descriptive passage, just like verse 42 is describing their worship service. This is also true of verses 44-46. These verses do not endorse communism. It is worth noting that the giving the believers did was all voluntary. Nothing was mandated by the Apostles. This group was easily identified by the way they loved each other, as Jesus said would happen (John 13:35).

1 Peter 2:19-25: This reading will form the foundation of Sunday’s sermon, so I’m not going to say much here. However it should be obvious to all who read it that the words are completely out of sync with the “health and welfare” and “name it claim it” doctrines so popular among some segments of American Christianity.

John 10:1-10: Jesus warns us against false teachers with a shepherd metaphor. Those who hear Jesus (attend to his word) are safe because they are not fooled by those who come to steel and destroy (the false teachers). In going over this text with the Greek club Monday I was hit by something I never noticed before. In verse 9 Jesus says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” In the Greek, the words “in” and “out” could easily have been “eis” and “eck.” Our English translations would be the same for these words are commonly translated “in” and “out.” However John records Jesus using compound words. The words “eis” and “eck” are joined with the word “luo,” which means “release,” or “loose.” “Luo” is often used in the New Testament in reference to sin, we are “released” or “loosed” from our sins, and so is often translated “forgive.” So, in the Greek, it becomes pretty obvious that Jesus is speaking of forgiveness of sins. The way to enter the presence of God is through forgiveness. As Jesus is the door through which we go in and out, forgiveness is found in Christ. Jesus makes it clear that there is no other way to go in and out. He is the one and only door. There is no other way to receive forgiveness of sin except through Jesus.

• Don’t forget that this Saturday, May 14, at 2:00 PM, we will be showing the video the “Spiritual Heritage” of America. It is a video tour of the Capital, reflecting on the faith that is reflected in so many of the elements there.
• Sunday we will have our regularly scheduled Voters’ meeting. While nothing earth-shattering will be decided (at least I don’t think so), everyone is still encouraged to attend. This is OUR church, after all.
• Our Women’s Bible Fellowship was unable to meet this past Wednesday as the power in the church had been knocked out by the storm. Their next meeting will be May 25, when they will begin their new Bible study.

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bin Laden and Easter

Friday after Easter 2
May 6, 2011

The Lord be with you

The circumstances around the death of bin Laden’s, along with something I read in the newspaper about it, got me thinking. Apparently bin Laden was unarmed when the Seals found and killed him. In response to this, the article quoted a man named Hamid Mir, an anchor for Geo Television, as saying, “I think he was definitely armed and he was firing on U.S. commandos. Osama told me many times that he will not surrender; he claimed that he will fight and I think he was fighting.” To be honest, what Hamid Mir thinks makes sense to me. The Seals are coming, his people are fighting, and he knows the USA has said he was wanted “dead or alive.” The natural thing would be to pick up a gun and join his fighters to defend himself. Why didn’t he? Could it be that he just didn’t believe the evidence? Did he simply think that his being found and killed impossible? There are numerous examples of this in the pages of history.

In the early 1200’s, the Mongols conquered the mighty Chinese Empire. When the Mongols attacked the capital, the Emperor, who was the “son of heaven,” knew that the capital could not fall. When the Mongols stormed the palace, the emperor knew that the palace would not fall; after all, he was the “son of heaven.” When the Mongols found the emperor, he was completely surprised and unprepared. The facts all around him pointed to something that was “impossible,” so he didn’t believe all was lost.

In the mid-1600’s the Chinese still think that they are the center of the universe, the Mongols are long gone, they still think the emperor is the “son of heaven” so they can’t be conquered, and the Qing (who are Manchurians from the north) are attacking. Once again the Chinese army is no match for the invaders, and once again the emperor does not believe it. Territory is falling into the hands of the Qing, the Qing attack the capital, and then the Forbidden City, but what is that to the emperor. Emperor Yongle did realize he was in trouble before the Qing burst into his room, but only by moments. Those moments gave him time to commit suicide.

In WWI Germany attacked Russia. What was the response in St. Petersburg? The Czar didn’t believe it. After all, they had an alliance with Germany. Russians were dying by the score and the Russian leadership did nothing because the facts pointed to something that was impossible.

In WWI, Germany had an “unbreakable” code. The code was indeed broken when the Allies captured a German “enigma” decoding machine. The Germans had ample intelligence indicating that the Allies had broken their code, but that evidence was pointing to something that was “impossible.” The result? The German Kaiser and his High Command simply didn’t believe the evidence. They continued to use their “unbreakable” code and the Allies continued to intercept messages and decoded them.

Examples could be multiplied. When facts conflict with belief, often facts lose in the hearts and minds of people. Many prefer to hold onto cherished beliefs to the bitter end.

This seems to have an application to Easter, to the life of Jesus, and to the Christian Faith in general. The evidence that Jesus rose from the grave on the first Easter was overwhelming. Why didn’t the High Priest believe it? The two disciples walking to Emmaus also had the evidence, but didn’t believe. The other men had heard the report of the women and even examined the tomb, but didn’t believe. They didn’t believe because the evidence, the facts, pointed to something that was “impossible.”

Down to this day there are millions and millions around the globe that do not accept the resurrection. Why? The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the best, the very best, attested to events in ancient world. But, if you “know” it is impossible, then you reject the evidence. You search for some other explanation, no matter how unlikely it might be. It seems better to believe that in the case of Jesus, in this one and only case, Jesus didn’t really die on the cross; that, with Jesus, we have an example where a man survived an execution that no one else ever survived. Or you might believe that all the disciples experienced a mass hallucination, in which their hallucinations were all identical. It doesn’t matter that such a mass hallucination has never occurred in any other setting. Or you believe that the disciples stole the body of Jesus and then were willing to die for their lie. It doesn’t matter that such things never happen, that over 500 people agree to a lie and all of them are willing to die for the lie. Someone always breaks down and tells the truth. Other far-fetched explanations have been proposed. The only reason people have ever believed in them is because the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is “impossible.”

But it did happen. Jesus did rise from the dead. It is his proclamation of victory over sin, death, and the devil. It is his proclamation that the atonement for the sins of humanity had been paid. It is the Father’s proclamation that the atonement earned by Jesus was accepted. It is the message that the Holy Spirit uses to create life and salvation in the hearts of those who receive it. It is God’s open invitation to forgiveness and eternal life.

So what is it in your life? Do you believe the evidence that points to the “impossible,” or do you reject the evidence and wait until it is too late? Christ calls each of us through the Gospel.

Today Your mercy calls us
To wash away our sin.
However great our trespass,
Whatever we have been,
However long from mercy
Our hearts have turned away,
Your precious blood can wash us
And make us clean today.

Today Your gate is open,
And all who enter in
Shall find a Father’s welcome
And pardon for their sin.
The past shall be forgotten,
A present joy be giv’n,
A future grace be promised,
A glorious crown in heav’n.

Today our Father calls us;
His Holy Spirit waits;
His blessed angels gather
Around the heav’nly gates.
No question will be asked us
How often we have come;
Although we oft have wandered,
It is our Father’s home.

O all-embracing Mercy,
O ever-open Door,
What should we do without You
When heart and eye run o’er?
When all things seem against us,
To drive us to despair,
We know one gate is open,
One ear will hear our prayer.

(Lutheran Service Book # 915)

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Who Was Fredrick the Wise?

Thursday after Easter 2
Commemoration of Fredrick the Wise, Christian Ruler
National Day of Prayer
May 5, 2011

The Lord be with you

Who was Fredrick the Wise? He was the elector of Saxony from 1486 to 1525, making him Martin Luther’s sovereign in the early years of the Reformation. Were it not for Frederick, there might not have been a Lutheran Reformation. Born in Torgau, Germany, in 1463, Frederick became so well known for his skill in political diplomacy and his sense of justice and fairness that he was called “the Wise” by his subjects. Although he never met Luther, Frederick repeatedly protected and provided for him. In all likelihood, he saved the reformer from a martyr’s fate when he refused the pope’s demand to extradite Luther to Rome for a heresy trial in 1518. When Emperor Charles V declared Luther an outlaw in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, Frederick provided sanctuary for Luther at Wartburg Castle. On his deathbed, Frederick received the Lord’s Supper in both kinds—a clear confession of the evangelical faith.

The information was found in the Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by Concordia Publishing House.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Worship for Easter 3 - 2011

Thursday after Easter 2
Commemoration of Friedrich the Wise, Christian Ruler
National Day of Prayer
May 5, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be the Third Sunday of Easter (Easter 3). The season of Easter lasts until Pentecost, which is always fifty days after Easter and therefore always a Sunday because Easter is always a Sunday. Ascension, which always falls forty days after Easter and is therefore always a Thursday, falls during this season. (By-the-way, we will again have a joint Ascension Day service with Good Shepherd, Greenville, and Abiding Savior, Anderson. Other area LC-MS congregations may elect to join as well.)

The Latin name for this coming Sunday in our one-year lectionary is Misericordias Domini. It comes from the first words of the Introit, as it is in the Latin, and means “Goodness of the Lord” and was taken from Psalm 33:5b. In the lectionary used in The Lutheran Hymnal, and in the Roman Catholic Church historically, this was actually the name and Introit for the Second Sunday of Easter. We use the three-year lectionary at Lamb of God Lutheran and are currently in “Series A.” The Introit is drawn from Psalm 133, and the antiphon is verse 1. In English the words are “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” As you can see, once again the old name no longer fits the new readings.

This Sunday will also be Mother’s Day in America. This is an American civic holiday. Many other countries have similar days, though not necessarily celebrated on the second Sunday in May, like ours.

Our appointed lessons from Sunday are: Acts 2:14a, 36-47; 1 Peter 1:17-25; Luke 24:13-35. The sermon is titled “Spirit-Water.” The text is Acts 2:38. For our liturgy we will be using the third setting of the “Divine Service” (page 184). This is the service which is most similar to the Morning Service with Communion in The Lutheran Hymnal. Our opening hymn is the one we are learning this month, “This Is the Spirit’s Entry Now” (LSB 591). I am unable to find a video for it, but I think you will agree when you see the words that it is well worth learning. The words were written by Thomas Herbranson, who was born in 1933. The tune was written by Roy Hopp, born in 1951. Both are copyrighted, which is probably why I can’t find them online.

The sermon hymn is titled “All Who Believe and Are Baptized” (LSB 601). The closing hymn is “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” (LSB 549). The distribution hymns are “Lord Jesus Christ, Life-Giving Bread” (LSB 625), “I Am Content! My Jesus Ever Lives” (LSB 468), and “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain” (LSB 487).

Below is a video of our sermon hymn, “All Who Believe and Are Baptized,” being played on the organ, but not being sung. This hymn has only two verses.

    All who believe and are baptized
    Shall see the Lord’s salvation;
    Baptized into the death of Christ,
    They are a new creation.
    Through Christ’s redemption they shall stand
    Among the glorious, heav’nly band
    Of ev’ry tribe and nation.

    With one accord, O God, we pray;
    Grant us Your Holy Spirit.
    Help us in our infirmity
    Through Jesus’ blood and merit.
    Grant us to grow in grace each day
    That by this sacrament we may
    Eternal life inherit.

I am always amazed by the anti-baptism attitude of some. When I read passages like “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16), “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’” (John 3:5), “[T]hat he [Jesus] might sanctify her [the Church], having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27), and other such passages, I just can’t help but feel that baptism is a wonderful and precious gift God has given us. We will be talking about that more in Sunday’s sermon.

Our Sunday morning adult Bible study is continuing its study of the Gospel of Matthew. This week we will begin chapter four. This chapter has Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, the baptism of John, the calling of Jesus’ first disciples, and Jesus teaching and healing the crowds. Our Education Hour begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Acts 2:14a, 36-47: Acts 2 is dedicated to the birthday of the Church, that is, Pentecost. A large portion of the chapter is given over to Peter’s sermon, which begins in verse 14. This reading begins with a snippet from verse 14, simply so everyone will know that it is Peter speaking. Verse 36 is the final sentence of Peter’s sermon. Starting with verse 37 we find the response of the people to Peter’s message, and a description of the very early days of the Church in the city of Jerusalem. In fact it is possible that Jerusalem was the only place in the world where you could find Christians at this time. While people from all over the world were converted to Christ on Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11), they may well have decided to remain in Jerusalem to continue to learn about the Faith from the Apostles and others who heard Jesus. The sermon will focus on the connection Peter makes between baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit.

1 Peter 1:17-25: In verses 13 through 25 Peter is speaking about being holy. The words are packed with overtones from the rest of the Bible. For example, when he says “throughout the time of your exile” he is comparing our time in this fallen creation to the exile of the Israelites from Promised Land. Our “Promised Land” is heaven (v. 13) and will be revealed when Jesus comes to Judge the living and the dead. When Peter speaks of Christ as “a lamb without blemish or spot” the background is the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. So, while we are called to be holy in this life, our holiness will always be imperfect. Our complete holiness will be revealed on the Last Day. This is no excuse to live as our sinful hearts desire. We are not to conform ourselves to the sinful ways of the world (v. 14) but seek to live holy lives (v. 15). This is manifested by lives shaped by Christian love for others (v 22) and seen by how we live (vs. 16-17). It is created and powered by the Gospel (vs. 22-23). Therefore separating yourselves from the Means of Grace (Word and Sacrament) is to separate your self from the source and power to live a holy, God-pleasing, Christian-loving life. Another wonderful and encouraging point Peter makes is that our salvation is no accident. The Atonement of humanity was planned from the foundations of the world (v. 20).

Luke 24:13-35: During the Easter Season we have the joy of reading about Jesus’ various post-resurrection appearances. This is the account of two disciples walking home to a town named Emmaus, about three and a half miles from Jerusalem. The story takes place on Easter Sunday. These two men had heard the report that Jesus had been raised for the dead, but didn’t believe it. In stead of sticking around Jerusalem, they head home … they head away from the action. Jesus appears to them but they were “kept from recognizing him” (v. 16). They are talking about the events of Easter Sunday when Jesus joins them. Jesus explains how the events they didn’t believe in were all foretold throughout the Old Testament (v 27). When they arrive at Emmaus the two men invite Jesus (whom they still do not recognize) to stay with them and have dinner. Jesus accepts. At the dinner table Jesus stands, “took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.” At that moment they recognized Jesus, and the Lord vanished from their sight. Many have seen strong overtones with this and the Lord’s Supper. It is as if Luke is telling us that we meet the resurrected Christ in the “breaking of the bread,” an expression in the Apostolic Church for the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42). The text not only accents the power of the Lord’s Supper, but also the word of God. As they remembered Jesus’ Bible study they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (v 32). So we have both Word and Sacrament as the means by which we encounter the Living Lord.

• Remember, Sunday is Mothers’ Day.
• The May newsletter has been posted on this blog. Just click the link. The church calendar has a separate link.
• The Ladies of the Women’s Bible Fellowship will be dinning out tonight (6:00 PM)
• This Saturday, 9:00 AM, pastor will be leading our cub pack on a trip to the Cottonwood Trail here in Spartanburg. The office will be closed.

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

    National Day of Prayer - 2011

    Thursday after Easter 2
    Commemoration of Friedrich the Wise, Christian Ruler
    National Day of Prayer
    May 5, 2011

    The Lord be with you

    Today has been set aside as a National Day of Prayer. This tradition has a long history in the USA. In 1775 the Continental Congress allocated a time for prayer in forming a new nation. Over the years, there have been calls for a day of prayer, including from President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. On April 17, 1952, President Harry Truman signed a bill proclaiming the National Day of Prayer into law in the United States. President Reagan amended the law in 1988, designating the first Thursday of May each year as the National Day of Prayer.

    The National Prayer Committee was formed in the United States in 1972. It went on to create the National Day of Prayer Task Force, with the intended purpose of coordinating events for the National Day of Prayer. According to the Legal Information Institute, the President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.

    Though this is not on the Liturgical Calendar, it is on our civic calendars. Therefore I thought it appropriate, and even maybe my duty as a Christian pastor and citizen of the USA, to offer a prayer or two here for any who may happen upon this blog today. It also gives me another chance to point to the riches of our hymnal, the Lutheran Service Book. Each of the following prayers can be found in that book, in the section titled “Prayers, Intercessions, and Thanksgivings” (beginning on page 305). These prayers are in the section titled “Civil Realm” (beginning on page 313).

    For the nation
    Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage. Grant that we remember Your generosity and constantly do Your will. Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action. Grant that we, who came from many nations with many different languages, may become a united people. Support us in defending our liberties, and give those to whom we have entrusted the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land. When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

    Responsible citizenship
    Lord, keep this nation under Your care. Bless the leaders of our land that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to the other nations of the earth. Grant that we may choose trustworthy leaders, contribute to wise decisions for the general welfare, and serve You faithfully in our generation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

    In times of war
    Almighty God, You alone can establish lasting peace. Forgive our sins, we implore You, and deliver us from the hands of our enemies that we, being strengthened by Your defenxe, may be preserved from all danger and glorify You for the restoration of tranquility in our land; through the merits of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior.

    Armed forces of our nation
    Lord God of hosts, stretch forth Your almighty arm to strengthen and protect those who serve in the armed forces of our country. Support them in times of war, and in times of peace keep them from all evil, giving them courage and loyalty. Grant that in all things they may serve with integrity and with honor; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

    These are just four of the prayers in this section. As you can see, the hymnal isn’t just for Sunday morning. May God bless America.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Pastor John Rickert