Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Worship for Advent 2 - 2011

Feast Day of St. Andrew, Apostle
November 302011

The Lord be with you

Today is the Feast Day of St. Andrew, Apostle. To find out a little more about this day check out the post I made earlier on the blog. I normally post my worship notes on Thursdays, but I will be out of town tomorrow so I’m doing it today.

This coming Sunday is the Second Sunday in Advent. It is also the Commemoration of John of Damascus, Theologian and Hymnwriter. Typically this year that would mean that we would be using the lections for John of Damascus (Psalm 118:14-21 or 16:5-11; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 or 2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2:1-3; John 5:24-27). However the readings appointed for the first three Sunday’s in Advent all come from Isaiah, and I have chosen to do a little mini-series I’m calling “Isaiah’s Advent” so we will be using the regularly appointed lessons (Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8; Psalm 85, antiphon v. 9). To compensate, we will have an insert dealing with John of Damascus.

The insert will be part of the way we keep out theme for the year, the Communion of Saints, alive. With this theme we are also remembering various denominations around the globe. This Sunday we will remember our partner church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG), and their president, Dr. Paul Kofi Fynn. We will also remember again our mission for the month, Concordia International School Hanoi, and its head, Steven Winkelman. There will be another insert about the school in the bulletin. Each week this year we are remembering Christians who are persecuted for the Faith. This week we will remember our brothers and sisters in the Faith from Algeria. We will also remember in our prayers Trinity, Lexington Park, MD; St. John’s, Long Green, MD; St. Paul’s, Mechanicsville, MD; St. Mark, Middle River, MD; Calvary, Charleston, SC, all sister congregations in the Southeastern District.

For our liturgy Sunday we will be using the service of Prayer and Preaching, page 260. This is one of those services that uses the appointed Psalm instead of the Introit. Our hymns will be “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” (LSB 344), “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding,” (LSB 345) and “Savior of the Nations, Come” (LSB 332). The sermon is titled “Are You Ready?” and the text for the sermon is Isaiah 40:10. Our choir will be singing.

The video below of “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” is by Jim Bode. While he uses the tune found in our hymnal, it has been “refreshed.” This means it isn’t done on an organ, and the arrangement is a little jazzier.

Our adult Bible class this coming Sunday will pick up at Matthew 11:25. Class begins at 9:00 AM. As always, everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Isaiah 40:1-11: For those of you who know Handel’s Messiah, you will have a hard time not bursting into song as this lesson is read. In this lesson Isaiah foresees the ministry of John the Baptist as he announces the Advent of our Lord. Beginning with the words “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,” Isaiah reveals that John will be the forerunner of Christ, crying in the wilderness, preparing his way. This mighty intervention is then contrasted with the weak efforts of humanity, which withers and fades. This comparison is especially stark when we consider the humble nature of Jesus’ life and ministry and his death on a cross. So Isaiah reminds us that “the word of our God will stand forever.” His might (10) is not like the might of men. His reward is not like the rewards men offer. They are eternal. In the humble birth of Jesus, in his shameful death, God reveals his rule. As this is the text for Sunday, I will say no more.

2 Peter 3:8-14: Peter speaks of the patience of God. Apparently some were wondering why the Second Coming was taking so long. Peter tells us that it is so the maximum number of people can be saved. Indeed the Lord desires all to be saved (9). However Peter does tell us that the Second Coming will come. When it does, all will be surprised. He also tells us that this present creation will be destroyed. It will be replaced with “new heavens and a new earth.” In light of this Peter asks, “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?” The answer is obvious, I should think. We are to pursue lives of holiness and godliness. Think of it this way. You can pursue two different types of money. One is Monopoly money, by becoming the king of Monopoly. The other is US Dollars. Dollars have real value. Monopoly money doesn’t. When the game is over, it goes back into the box. Well, in the light of eternity, US Dollars are just as valueless as Monopoly money. “You can’t take it with you.” The “currency” of eternity is holiness and godliness.

Mark 1:1-8: Mark begins his Gospel with a bang. John the Baptist appears preparing the way for Jesus. No genealogies, no effort to date the events by telling us who was ruling this or that country, no nice prologue setting the stage, no infant narratives. This is Mark’s style. He tells us right off that this is about Jesus, the Son of God (1). Let’s not clutter things up with other stuff. He sites Isaiah for John’s credentials. The message of John is summed up with two points: 1) he proclaimed a baptism for the forgiveness of sins and 2) One would come after him who was mightier than he, who gives the Holy Spirit. In verse 9 Jesus is introduced as that One to whom John was pointing. This “speed” approach focuses us on Jesus all the way. That is what Marks wants, and it works.


• I think the Board of Evangelism will be meeting Sunday after the worship service.

Advent services have begun. The theme is “The Saints of Advent.” We meet each Wednesday. Our first service is at 12:15 and our second service is at 7:00 PM. We will also have a soup supper beginning at 6:15 PM. Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter, will be the saint we will consider December 7.

• Choir practice has resumed. We meet after the Wednesday evening worship service. New voices are welcome.

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

St. Andrew, Apostle

Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle
November 30, 2011

The Lord be with you

Vocation, acceptance, God’s call, our response, and ministry to our own family are themes of this feast day. Andrew, whose name means “manly,” was the brother of Peter, and was born in Bethsaida, a village in Galilee. He was the first apostle to follow Christ, his title in the Eastern Church is “the First-Called,” and his name regularly appears near the head of the lists of the apostles. Perhaps his greatest work was to bring his brother Simon Peter to Jesus.

After Pentecost, Andrew is said by Eusebius to have preached in Scythia, by Jerome and Theodoret in Greece; by Nicephorus in Asia Minor and Thrace. A late and rather unreliable tradition says that he was martyred on November 30 around 70 AD, at Patras in Achaia, Greece. The tradition he was crucified on an X-shaped cross first appeared in the tenth century. He was martyred, legend has it, for defying the proconsul Aegeas, who ordered Andrew to stop preaching and to sacrifice to the gods.

St. Andrew’s body is said to have been taken, along with St. Luke’s, to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople in 357 and later removed to the cathedral in Amalfi, Italy. The church at Constantinople claimed St. Andrew as its first bishop. The churches in Greece and Russia in particular hold Andrew in high honor. Also, quite early, certain of his relics were taken to St. Andrew’s Church in Fife, Scotland, and he became a patron saint of Scotland; the X-shaped cross of St. Andrew in the Union Jack represents Scotland.

The feast of St. Andrew was observed as early as the fourth century by the Eastern Church and by the sixth century in Rome and elsewhere. It is a national holiday in Scotland.

St. Andrew’s Day determines the beginning of the church year, since the First Sunday in Advent is the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day whether before or after. Because of this, the Feast of St. Andrew is the first day on our liturgical calendar, and many others.

St. Andrew’s eve, as the beginning of the church’s year, was long a traditional time for young girls to expect to see in dreams their future husbands.

Appropriate prayers on this feast day include prayer for obedience to God’s command, for a sense of mission, for those on spiritual pilgrimage, for the church in Scotland, for the church in Greece, and for those who minister to their own families.

(Adapted from: New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints, by Philip H. Pfatteicher)

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Commemoration of Noah
November 29, 2011

The Lord be with you

One of the features of the Liturgical Calendar developed for the Lutheran Service Book is the addition of a number of Biblical saints not previously celebrated in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod with a designated day. One of them is Noah, whose name means “rest.” His story can be found in Genesis 6-9.

In the days of Noah the world had grown so corrupt that only one man, and his family, retain faith in God. Having abandoned the source of life, they went after the devices of their own hearts, following in the ways of death. God determined to judge the world by sending a flood. Noah was warned and he built the Ark, sort of a giant floating barge, in which he, his family, and representatives of the diverse animal kingdom, would ride out the flood. Along with building the Ark, Noah also regularly warned humanity, but none believed him. On the day Noah and the other passengers entered the Ark, the rains started, great subterranean guises gushed forth, and the flood came. After the Ark beached itself, and the land dried up, Noah disembarked along with all the rest, to give the earth a second chance. God used the rainbow is a symbol for all humanity that he would never again destroy all life with a flood. He did this in spite of the fact that he knew we were all sinners and really deserve nothing but death and damnation.

The debate over the historicity of this story rages. By focusing on this aspect, we often overlook the lessons of the story. In 1 Peter 3:18-22 the Flood and the salvation of Noah through the Ark are presented as a type of Baptism. Just as Noah were brought safely through the waters so “baptism now saves us.” This taps us into the Gospel message of Genesis 6-9. God wants to save. Those who perish are those who reject God’s saving purpose for them.

Noah also is a model of faith. He acted on what he believed. Sometimes we might think that beings saved by grace alone through faith alone means we can sin all we want. Such an attitude is not only not scriptural, but does not reflect saving faith. Saving faith is a faith we act on. Noah didn’t just believe in God as some propositional truth, but he put his faith into action.

A third lesson we might learn from Noah is the need to be vigilant. After the flood he got sloppy drunk and passed out. Clearly this man of God had his flaws. However, so do we all. “None are righteous.” Therefore we learn to keep a watch over how we live our lives.

A fourth lesson we can find in this story is the importance of passing the Faith on to our children. It seems most parents failed in this responsibility in the antediluvian world. Noah, though, had succeeded. Though the names of his family are not recorded, clearly they believed for instead of joining with everyone in the society that mocked Noah, they joined him in the Ark. We too should take every opportunity to pass the Faith on to our children.

A final lesson we might learn is that God knows how to save those who believe in Him. We might say by analogy that the antediluvian world represents our own fallen world. The ark of wood, by which Noah and his family were saved, represents the cross of Christ, by which we are saved. The post-diluvium world represents heaven. The Flood represents the Final Judgment. To be saved on the Last Day, one must have received God’s grace in Christ Jesus. God, who is faithful and just, will safely bring us to that distant shore.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Worship for Advent 1 - 2011

Thursday after Christ the King Sunday
Thanksgiving Day (USA)
November 24, 2011

The Lord be with you

First, let me say that I hope everyone is having a blessed Thanksgiving Day. While I’m writing this early and will post it on Thanksgiving Day, Kitty and I plan to spend the day with my daughter and her family. At Lamb of God we have an Eve of Thanksgiving Day worship service so I get the day of Thanksgiving off. In my childhood, at Holy Cross Lutheran in San Diego, CA, we always had a worship service on Thanksgiving Day. While I always did, and still do, think that is most appropriate, in retrospective I have to wonder how that impacted the family gatherings of my pastor. Pastor Koenig was a dedicated servant of the Lord with a real heart for his people. It is not surprising to me that at least four men in our congregation (those are the ones I know) went on to become pastors themselves.

This coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. This marks the beginning of a new Church Year (happy New Years!). For those who use a three-year lectionary series, this means that this Sunday we will be moving to the next set of assigned readings. For us it is series B. Series B uses Mark heavily in its Gospel lessons.

Another feature of Advent is the dropping of the hymn of praise and all “Alleluias.” That is because Advent is a penitential season. The hymn of praise is either the “Gloria in Excelsis” or the much more contemporary “This is the Feast.” These features of praise will return with Christmas.

One last “Advent” note; You may have wondered how the date for the First Sunday is Advent is determined. Well, it is always the Sunday closest to the Feast Day of St. Andrew, Apostle, which is November 30. This year this feast day is a Wednesday and therefore the First Sunday in Advent is the Sunday before the Feast of St. Andrew.

For the upcoming year Lamb of God will also be accenting the “communion of saints” in our worship services. This will be done in a number of different ways. One of those ways will be in our prayers. We will be remembering all our partner churches and their leaders around the world. We will also be remembering various missionaries and missions. In addition, we will be remembering Christians in areas where persecution because of the Faith is common. We will also continue to remember the churches in the Southeastern District of the LC-MS.

So, this coming Sunday, we will be remembering Rev. Matthew Harrison, who is the president of our denomination, and Rev. Jon Diefenthaler, who is the president of the Southeaster District. We will pray for the Concordia International School Hanoi and Steven Winkelman, who is the head of that school. We will remember the Christians in Afghanistan, who face all kinds of problems for the sake of Christ. Finally, we will bring before the Lord St. Paul’s in Kingsville, MD; Grace in La Plate, MD; Ascension in Landover Hills, MD; Our Savior in Laurel, MD; and Bethlehem in Aiken, SC.

Let us now turn to more typical information fond on this blog in the worship notes. The appointed lessons for Advent 1 are Isaiah 64:1-9, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, and Mark 13:24-37. The sermon will be based on our reading from Isaiah and is titled “A Scary God.” The text will be Isaiah 64:1-2. We will celebrate the Lord’s Supper, using the first setting of the morning service beginning on page 151 of our hymnal. Our opening hymn will be “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding,” (LSB 345). Our sermon hymn will be “The Day Is Surely Drawing Near” (LSB 508). Our closing hymn will be “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” (LSB 524). Our distribution hymns will be “The Night Will Soon Be Ending” (LSB 337), “O Lord, We Praise Thee” LSB (617), and “The Advent of Our King” (LSB 331).

The video below is of Christ Church Bronxville singing our opening hymn, “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding.” It includes an excellent brass section. The hymn was written in 1868 by Daniel March, a Congregational pastor in Philadelphia. He had been asked to preach a sermon to the Philadelphia Christian Association and, at a late hour, he learned that one of the hymns selected was not suitable. He wrote the hymn in “great haste,” and it was sung from the manuscript. It has since become an Advent favorite in many denominations.

Our adult Bible class this coming Sunday will pick up at Matthew 11:20. Class begins at 9:00 AM. As always, everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Isaiah 64:1-9: Isaiah received his call in 740 BC and was active until 681. This means he lived through the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrian Empire. There is so much Gospel in Isaiah that he is sometimes called the Old Testament Evangelist. That doesn’t mean that there is no Law. However the general purpose of the book is to comfort God’s people with the good news of Zion’s redemption. The Lutheran Study Bible identifies the following “Law Themes”: Judgment on false worship; Judgment Day, selfishness; woes against Israel and the nations; defeat by Assyria and Babylon; idolatry condemned. The same study Bible identifies the following “Gospel Themes:” The remnant preserved; Immanuel; the Messiah’s just reign, salvation promised to Ethiopia, Assyria, and the nations; the feast; mercy for Hezekiah; God’s comfort for Zion; the Lord’s Servant; Zion’s deliverance; new heavens and a new earth.

In this reading Isaiah speaks of Judgment Day with images drawn from Israel’s days in the wilderness. He recognizes that Israel deserves judgment for their sins. (Verses 6 & 7 are quoted in the New Testament as evidence that we are all sinners.) Still Isaiah pleads for mercy. Therefore the reading ends on a Gospel note, asking the Lord to “remember not iniquity forever.” While calling God “Father” is not common in the Old Testament, this is one of those places where he is. Those who believe in him can come to him as children of a loving Father.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9: In these opening words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Paul lists numerous reasons he gives thanks to God for the Corinthians. However he makes it abundantly clear that these blessings are not something they have done, but are gifts from Jesus. The last of the blessings mentioned, and therefore the apex of the blessings, is that Jesus will sustain them to the end, guiltless as they stand before the Judgment Throne. God’s grace doesn’t last just a lifetime, but is good for all eternity. Verse nine wraps this up with a reminder that God is faithful, meaning he will keep all his promises, and those promise are all grounded in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Mark 13:24-37: This lesson is taken from the last week of the earthly life of Jesus. He is speaking of the Last Day. The fundamental message is to “stay awake,” meaning always be looking for the Second Coming. How do we do this? We attend to the word (verse 31)! For example, Jesus says in 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Every generation produces false prophets who claim to know when the Last Day will be, or at least to know that they are living in the last generation. Jesus calls them frauds. You can’t circle the Last Day on your calendars. You must be ready at all times, for we do not know when this current age will end.


• Well, as this will be posted on Thanksgiving Day, let me once again say Happy Thanksgiving!

• The December newsletter is already posted on the blog and paper copies will be available Sunday.

• The office will be closed this coming Thursday as Pastor will be attending class.

Advent services begin next week. The theme is “The Saints of Advent.” Our first saint will be the Apostle Andrew. It seems appropriate as November 30 is his Feast Day. Services will be at 12:15 and 7:00 PM. We will also have a soup supper beginning at 6:15 PM.

• Choir practice has resumed. We meet after the Wednesday worship services. New voices are welcome.

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, November 21, 2011


Monday after Christ he King Sunday
November 21, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Thursday, November 24, will be celebrated in the United States as Thanksgiving Day. The foundation for this national holiday has eroded in recent decades. That foundation is to set aside a day for the nation to give thanks to the Almighty for his many blessings to our nation and to implore Him to protect and bless us in the future. One of those blessings many of us enjoy is that of family. As such families often gather together, and that gathering typically includes a large meal. Featured in this meal is often a turkey. Those who have lost the original meaning of the day, or have had it pushed into the background by the contemporary culture of the USA, often simply call the day “Turkey Day.” It becomes an excuse to indulge our appetites and entertain ourselves with television specials.

Now there is nothing innately wrong with gathering with our families, enjoying a meal together, or even watching television on Thanksgiving Day (at least many programs on television). What is wrong is when such things become the center of the day, when God is pushed into the background, when it becomes a day to pat ourselves on the back as if God didn’t exist and our particular desires are the center of the universe.

At Lamb of God we will have a Thanksgiving worship service, held on the Eve of Thanksgiving Day, Wednesday, November 23. While our members are encouraged to attend, I encourage all who read this post to attend a Thanksgiving service wherever you may be.

If you live in the Spartanburg area, we invite you to join us. Our service will begin at 7:00 PM. We will be using Evening Prayer for our liturgy (page 243 of the Lutheran Service Book). The focus of the homily will be prayer.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Ancient Whale Bones Discovered in Desert

Monday after Christ the King Sundya
November 21, 2011

The Lord be with you

The following AP story appeared on the internet today and I thought I’d share it.

Ancient Whale Bones Discovered in Desert

Paleontologists in Chile have made a surprising discovery in the desert. Scientists uncovered what appears to be a massive graveyard of whale bones in Copiapo, more than a half-mile from the ocean. More than 80 whales, including 25 complete skeletons, were found in one of the driest deserts in the world. There is currently a construction project to widen the highway near the Atacama Desert, where the bones were found. Scientists believe the bones could be between 2 million and 7 million years old. So how did the whales make their way from the ocean to the desert and end up so close to one another when they died? Scientists have many theories: Maybe the area was once a lagoon and it dried up, maybe there was a giant wave that flung the whales onto shore, or maybe a giant earthquake sealed them off. Whale bones were not the only find for the paleontologists. A dolphin carcass with walrus-like tusks was also uncovered. Scientists say this discovery gives them a glimpse of ancient sea life. One paleontologist said, "The fossils are exceptionally well preserved and quite complete--a rare combination in paleontology and one that will likely shed light on many facets of the . . . ecology and evolution of these extinct species." People on social media are debating creationism vs. evolution theories. Some people are just waiting for a scientific explanation. Still others are saying they should "accept the biblical account of the flood."

The following link will take you to the story:

I’m sure the scientist will come up with some explanation for these bones; they always do. However, will that explanation be credible, or just yet another example of the inability for modern theories to predict but only explain and in an after the fact kind of way. If all these theories about the ancient earth were truly sound, why didn’t they go looking for whale bones in this desert much earlier? Why didn't the paleontologists warn the goverment of Chile that this project would unearth ancient marine fossils? Why did they have to wait for a road to be widened? I know why creationists have to wait – they don’t have the money. But surely these people, who have drawn up all these maps of the globe millions of years ago, should be able to spot likely places to make such finds. Well, it is something to think about.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Timely Question

Friday after Pentecost 22
November 17, 2011

I guess just about every congregation has at least a few members who are “watch watchers.” They seem to feel that the time they spend Sunday morning in the sanctuary should fit into a discreet time segment, typically an hour. God help the poor minister if the worship “hour” lasts 70 minutes. Tongues can start wagging and the ministry of the Lord can be undercut.

Who decided that Sunday worship should only be an hour long? That certainly wasn’t the sentiment for the first 1500 years of the life of the Church. That means it is a development of the modern era.

Perhaps we can blame large churches that have multiple services on Sunday morning. Clearly they have to finish one service before they can start a second service. Therefore, there is a time limit looming over them. Perhaps we can blame television, which tends to neatly wrap things up in half-an-hour or an hour (with time to spare for commercials, to boot). Perhaps we can blame professional sports, or other things that are scheduled for Sunday afternoon, that create a feeling that the worship of God is cutting into time reserved for other activities. Perhaps we can blame the invention of watches, which can turn each person into a timekeeper. What is a timekeeper if there is no specific designated time to watch over? When I raced as a child, the question was, “who finished first?” Nowadays, it is “who had the best time?” Perhaps we can just blame the general trend of modernity, which marginalizes Christianity. Perhaps the growth of the accent on the individual in modernity is to blame. This is “my” time. Whatever the source of the idea that Sunday worship should be limited to an hour, for many it is something of an unchallengeable fact.

Such self-appointed timekeepers can have a wide range of suggestions for how the time spent in worship by the Body of Christ can be reduced to its “proper” length. If the minister announces such things like the hymn name and number, or some other rubric (we confess the Apostles’ Creed found on page …, let us join in the Kyrie on page …, etc.), you might hear that such information is superfluous. People can read it in the bulletin or find the information on the hymn board. If the pastor takes verbal prayer requests, it can be suggested that these should be written down before the service. If the pastor greets the congregation with more than five words, this can be considered a waste of time. General announcements about upcoming activities of the Body of Christ may be deemed unnecessary as people who want to know “should” read them in the bulletin or newsletter. Hymns are evaluated by how long they are, not by content. Sermons are subject to the same standard. Choirs, soloists, prayers, and just about anything else can be subject to the same tyranny of time. It can even be suggested that services that last longer than an hour hamper a church’s outreach activities as people certainly couldn’t imagine inviting someone to a worship service that lasts more than an hour, and people who are not regular attendees at worship certainly would not stand (or sit) still for a worship service that lasted longer than an hour. They might do so for a movie or football game, but never for the worship of God.

I suggest that focusing on the time spent in the worship service is not appropriate. As we gather on Sunday morning, it is not because we simply need to fill an hour in our day. You can stay home and watch the talking heads on television if that is all you are trying to do. “How long is your worship service?” is simply the wrong question and leads down paths that are not pleasing to the Lord.

The question we should be asking is, “Why do we gather?”

I suggest that we gather as the Body of Christ, as it is expressed in this or that local congregation. As the Body of Christ, as the expression of our Lord in this locale, we manifest who we are through what happens on Sunday morning. That is expressed in prayer, sermon, song, scripture, sacrament, and so on. If the congregation greets each other on Sunday morning, perhaps “sharing the peace,” this is an expression of the love Christ has for us. The sermon, the hymns, the choir pieces, are all words of Christ; it is the Lord’s voice in the Body. Announcements of upcoming events are expressions of the life we have as the Body of Christ. Even a car wash by the youth or a Christmas party by the women are expressions of who we are as the Body of Christ. To artificially limit the time for announcing such expressions of our identity is to say the most important aspect of our life together as the Body of Christ is time. It is to say that we may be the Body when we sing a hymn or hear the sermon, but not when we hear about a new Bible study that is beginning or learn of the upcoming Christmas schedule. It is to say that nothing of value can happen beyond a certain time limit.

Others may answer the question “Why do we gather?” differently. However, if they are asking that question, and not the question of time, then they are asking the right question, at least in my opinion. The more we can get the members of our congregations to ask the right question, the better their time will be spent on Sunday morning as the Body of Christ, no matter how long or short that time is.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Worship for Pentecost 23 - 2011

Wednesday after Pentecost 22
November 16, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost according to the liturgical calendar used by most LC-MS congregations. Other liturgical calendars can identify the day as Christ the King, Last Sunday of the End Time, and the Last Sunday of the Church Year. I would not be surprised if many churches that use the same calendar as Lamb of God still use one of the other names for this Sunday. I can’t blame them. The other names are far “cooler.” But, no matter what you call the day, the appointed lessons for the day will deal with the End Times.

As one of the alternate names suggests, this is the last Sunday in the Church Year. The Sunday following (November 27) will be the first Sunday in Advent. Therefore this coming Sunday marks the end of “ordinary” time and we are moving into the festival half of the church year. In the USA the first service will be a Thanksgiving one. Thanksgiving is not a liturgical holiday but a national one. However it always falls at the beginning of the festival half of the Church Year and so becomes the first service churches have in that half of the Church Year. This is only true in the USA. Other nations also often have an annual Thanksgiving celebration, but they just choose some other day in the year.

We will be using Matins for our liturgy (LSB page 219) so we will be using the appointed Psalm for the Day instead of the Introit. The lessons are: Psalm 95:1-7, antiphon v. 7a; Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; and Matthew 25:31-46. The sermon text will be Matthew 25: 31 and is titled “Judgment.” Our Opening Hymn will be “The Clouds of Judgment Gather” (LSB 513). Our Sermon Hymn will be “The Day Is Surely Drawing Near” (LSB 508). Our Closing Hymn will be “Built on the Rock” (LSB 645).

The video below is of the LutheranWarbler singing and playing our closing hymn, “Built on The Rock.” It was written by Nikolia Fredrik Severin Grundtvig and translated into English in 1909 by Carl Dövig. Grundtvig was born in Denmark in 1783. He died in 1872. He wrote so many poems and hymns that it took five volumes to publish them upon his death. Only two, however, made it into the Lutheran Service Book, this one and “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage” (LSB 582). Some have called him “the most important Scandinavian hymn-writer of the 19th century.”

Our adult Bible class this coming Sunday will pick up at Matthew 11:2. Class begins at 9:00 AM. As always, everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24: Ezekiel’s career began about seven years prior to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 BC, and concluded around 570, almost 20 years after the deportation of the Jews. Ezekiel is one of the most difficult books in the Bible to understand. The rabbis of the Jews said a person should not read the beginning and ending few chapters until they were 30 years-old, that is, until they had a mature enough faith to not misunderstand it. The idea that a reader should have a good understanding of biblical teaching before tackling Ezekiel is sound. Many false ideas that circulate among Christians, that twist portions of this book, could be brought back into line with the Bible if this rule was observed. Ezekiel was a priest and so lived to see his beloved Temple destroyed by the Babylonians. Some of his imagery is drawn from his priestly background. He also engages in physical acts which are prophetic. His language can be shocking, using sexual images. These sexual images depict the unfaithfulness of Israel in quite graphic terms. Ezekiel 34:1-10 is a strong condemnation from the Lord against the “shepherds of Israel.” This is a metaphor for the priests, Ezekiel’s co-workers in the Temple. It is also a strong word for pastors and denomination leaders. God is watching and God expects us to be faithful. If we do not care for the “sheep” (the parishioners) God will judge us for our unfaithfulness. Even though the “shepherds” have proven to be unfaithful, the “sheep” are not abandoned. Picking up with verse 11, God promises to search for the “sheep” himself. Verses 11 through 16 ultimately are about the Last Day, when all the dead will be raised and those who have been brought to faith in Christ enter eternal joy. However it is also about the “in-time” reality that the Church (which is the Body of Christ) reaches out with God’s love and grace, bringing all that receive God’s mercy into God’s fold. The prime example of both of these gatherings is Jesus. In-time he came to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). At the end of time he will return to gather his sheep into eternal pastures. Verses 17-19 are a warning to “sheep” (parishioners). There are those who seem to specialize in troubling congregations. Many problems in churches are caused by members, not the pastors. God is watching you also, and judgment awaits those who will not repent. Verses 20-24 are God’s solution. Not surprisingly, it is the same solution – Jesus. God will set up Jesus as the “shepherd” who will protect the “sheep” from those other sheep that would prey on the weak, and ensure that they receive their food (word and sacrament). So, basically, the appointed reading kind of skips over the Law portions of Ezekiel and focuses us on the Gospel portions. The closing verses of Ezekiel are also Gospel, looking forward to the blessings of heaven.

1 Corinthians 15:20-28: This chapter is sometimes called the “Resurrection Chapter” of the New Testament. In verses 1-11 Paul covers the highlights of his gospel message. A point he emphases is all the people Jesus appeared to after his resurrection. The rest of the chapter unpacks the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus for us. Those who deny the resurrection of Jesus deny a critical element in the Christian Faith, a linchpin, a foundational truth. It is, in reality, a denial of Jesus himself. It is so important that it is in all three of the Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian). This particular pericope focuses on the connection between Jesus resurrection and our own on the Last Day. Our Lord’s resurrection means that he will return, raise the dead with bodies, and rule for all eternity. Denying Jesus resurrection, then, is tantamount to denying his return, denying our physical resurrection, and denying Jesus as God in the flesh who rules all things. For those who have faith in the Resurrected Christ, this passage is pure gospel, the promise of our future is secure, as secure as the physical resurrection of Jesus is sure.

Matthew 25:31-46: Sunday’s sermon is based on this passage so I’m not going to say much. The whole chapter deals with the Second Coming of Jesus. In these verses, Jesus describes the Last Day with a courtroom scene. Humanity gathers before him, separated into two groups. The evidence of their faith is examined. Those who have faith, and therefore expressed their faith in various “good works,” are invited into heaven. Those who lack faith, and therefore have no “good works” to be examined, are expelled. Those who lack faith will go to “eternal punishment” but those who receive the righteousness of faith will go into “eternal life.” A key difference between this week’s reading and last weeks’ is that the nature of our “good works” come into sharper focus.


• After our worship service Sunday we will have a voters’ meeting. At this meeting we will be voting on our budget for the coming year. We will also be voting on whether we want to nominate various people from around our circuit for district positions. Finally we will be casting our vote for Circuit Counselor. The selection of Circuit Counselors is different from other district positions. For those other positions congregations and circuits nominate individuals and the district, in convention, elects individuals to fill the various rolls from those who have been nominated. The position of Circuit Counselor is filled by the member congregations of the Circuit in question and the district convention ratifies the selection made by the Circuit.

• Information for the December newsletter is due Sunday.

• Next week we will have a Thanksgiving worship service on Wednesday, at 7:00 PM. This is our custom at Lamb of God. The office will be closed for the national holiday Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, November 24).

Junior Confirmation class has been meeting on Wednesdays this year. For the Advent season the students will be attending the Advent services and writing a paper on each of the homilies.

• Our first Wednesday Advent service will be November 30. We will again offer a service at 12:15 PM and a second service at 7:00 PM. The evening service will be preceded by a soup supper, which will begin at 6:15 PM. .

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, November 14, 2011

Transforming This Christmas

Commemoration of Emperor Justinian, Christian Ruler and Confessor of Christ
November 14, 2011

The Lord be with you

The Church Year is rapidly drawing to a close. The Advent season, the first season in the Church Year, will officially begin Sunday, November 27. This is followed by the Christmas Season, which lasts 12 days and begins on December 25. Epiphany (January 6) commemorates (among other things) the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem.

For the next month and a half we will be hearing Christmas songs, watching Christmas specials, buying Christmas gifts, and generally getting ready for December 25th in some fashion. The goal is often to have a Christmas to remember, one full of laughter, joy, friendship, hope and peace.

However times are tough. Many people are having a difficult time making ends meet. Maybe you have been out of work far too long. Maybe your marriage is in a bad way. Maybe your children have gotten caught up in the wrong crowd. Maybe one of your loved ones is in the military and engaged somewhere around the world. Maybe you, or a loved one, is struggling with a serious illness. Maybe you have lost a loved one to death.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this Christmas we could rise above the turmoil in our lives? Wouldn’t it be great if you could really find joy and peace despite all the burdens you carry and the mad, hectic preparations for Christmas?

This is just the point of the Lutheran Hour Ministries Advent/Christmas devotions this year. Copies of “Transforming This Christmas” have been placed in the mail boxes at Lamb of God. However you can also have the devotions sent to you by e-mail, read them on line, or listen to them read to you by clicking here.

These devotions were written by LHM’s Theological Editor and Writer Rev. Wayne Palmer.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, November 11, 2011

Kakuma Refugee Camp

Commemoration of Martin of Tours, Pastor
Veterans’ Day

The Lord be with you

Rev. Shauen Trump is a missionary of the LCMS in East Africa. Kitty and I have supported him this past year with our prayers, and a small financial gift. He has, in turn, keep us informed concerning his work through his newsletter, which is available on line ( The following post is from their October newsletter.

In a shallow depression of a parched and desolate land lies the Kakuma Refugee Camp. Approaching its 20-year anniversary, the refugee camp is located close to Kenya’s border with Sudan and at its peak provided living space to 70,000 refugees. Today the camp contains an unknown number of refugees from Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, and Uganda.

Years ago, as part of its work with the developing Lutheran Church in Sudan, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) began to provide pastoral care for the Sudanese Lutherans in Kakuma. At one point there were four Lutheran congregations in the camp, each ministering to a different people group. A lay leader provided for the day-to-day spiritual needs of the congregations and LCMS missionaries or pastors from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK) visited as they were able. It’s been three years since a Pastor was able to visit the congregations in the camp.

Last month the ELCK’s Archbishop asked Shauen if it would be possible for LCMS World Mission to send someone to visit the congregations in Kakuma. Shauen’s immediate response was “I myself will go. Who will you send with me?” So this month, as part of an Advance Trip for New Hope Missions Church of Mooresville, NC, Shauen and seven others were able to visit the three congregations in the camp.

Together we rejoiced as Water and the Word flowed in 150 baptisms of men, women, and children. We presided over scores of confirmations and celebrated Holy Communion with those who had not received it in three years. In one congregation a small group of eight children sang, danced, recited Scripture, and presented a dialogue with energy and conviction that astonished us: “We are the young soldiers of Jesus Christ that will move the church forward into the battle of tomorrow. Yes, we are bishops, pastors, and evangelists of tomorrow. But without some foundation we cannot hope to go on… We must be sure we are in the Lord, the One Foundation … Remember we are marching through the world with the cross of Jesus Christ!”

As is often the case, Shauen set out to joyfully serve and encourage God’s people here only to find that it was they who served and encouraged him. Praise the Lord for His people in Kakuma!

(The first picture is of Shauen as he Baptizes in the Kakuma Refugee Camp. The second picture is of the children in the Kakuma Refugee Camp sharing their faith.)

I am reminded of the following wonderful hymn.

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

If you cannot speak like angels,
If you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
You can say He died for all.
If you cannot rouse the wicked
With the judgment’s dread alarms,
You can lead the little children
To the Savior’s waiting arms.

If you cannot be a watchman,
Standing high on Zion’s wall,
Pointing out the path to heaven,
Off’ring life and peace to all.
With your prayers and with your bounties
You can do what God commands;
You can be like faithful Aaron,
Holding up the prophet’s hands.

Let none hear you idly saying,
“There is nothing I can do,”
While the multitudes are dying
And the Master calls for you.
Take the task He gives you gladly,
Let His work your pleasure be;
Answer quickly when He calleth,
“Here am I, send me, send me!”

As verse three reminds us, supporting missionaries with our prayers and financial aid is a real and valued way to respond to our Lord’s call to reach out with the Gospel. Everyone can’t go to Kenya, or China, or wherever. But “with our prayers and with our bounties” we can, and should, fill the roll of Aaron.

Maybe you would like to support a mission/missionary with your prayers and with your bounties, but East Africa just isn’t pulling at your heart. I strongly recommend “Mission Central,” headed up by Gary Theis, as a place where you can be put in touch with men and women who are doing the Lord’s work and in need of support. Mission Central is sort of a clearing house for missions/missionaries associated with the LC-MS. If there is a need they go to Gary and Gary finds a way to meet the need. Mission Central’s web address is: Mission Central put Kitty and I in touch with Shauen. They can connect you with a missionary or mission of your own.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Worship for Pentecost 22 - 2011

Thursday after All Saints’ Sunday
Martin Luther’s Birthday
November 10, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost according to the liturgical calendar used by most LC-MS congregations. Other liturgical calendars can identify the day as the Third Last Sunday of the Church Year and the Third Sunday of the End Time. As you might surmise from the other names, the Church Year is almost over. With our three-year lectionary there is the chance for up to 27 Sunday’s after Pentecost. Just how many you have depends on what date Easter is. We have but one more (November 20) this year.

The accent of the lessons at the end of the Church Year are themes that deal with the “eschatology.” Eschatology is the study of end time things. This obviously includes the Second Coming of Jesus, but also our death, heaven, judgment, and eternity. Some of these traditional themes come through in our assigned lessons for Sunday. They are: Zephaniah 1:7-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30. The sermon text will be Matthew 25:19 and is titled “Will Christ Say, ‘Well Done’?”. For our liturgy we will be using the third setting of the Communion service, which begins on page 184 of the hymnal. The opening hymn will be “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me” (LSB 756). The sermon hymn will be “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” (LSB 516). Our closing hymn will be “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers” (LSB 515). The distribution hymns will be “Jesus Sinners Doth Receive” (LSB 609), , “Glory Be to the Father” (LSB 506), and “Sent Forth By God’s Blessing” (LSB 643).

The video below is of the LutheranWarbler singing and playing “Glory Be to the Father.” This hymn by Horatius Bonar was first published in 1866. It has been in all four of the main English hymnals used in the LC-MS.

Good Lord willing, we will finish chapter 10 in Matthew in our adult Bible class this coming Sunday. Class begins at 9:00 AM. As always, everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Zephaniah 1:7-16: Zechariah is one of the so-called Minor Prophets. These twelve prophets received this title, not because their writings are unimportant, but because they are short when compared to the Major Prophets. All twelve could fit on one scroll. (Zephaniah is only three chapters long.) Zephaniah was active from 640 to 609 BC. This puts him about a generation prior to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586. Jeremiah was a contemporary, beginning his work after Zephaniah did, and ending his work after Zephaniah. Not surprisingly there are many similar themes in Zephaniah and Jeremiah. The fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 BC happened a generation or so earlier, so only the Southern Kingdom of Judah remained. Zephaniah spoke of the coming judgment on Judah because of their sin and rebellion against God, as well as providing great comfort in speaking of God’s mercy in Christ. Of course few listened to him, just like few listened to Jeremiah. The same is always true when God’s Law is spoken. Does our nation listen when told that sexual relationships outside of marriage are sinful? Does our nation listen when told that even “committed” homosexual relationships are sinful? Do people listen when told that skipping worship services Sunday after Sunday so they can sleep in, watch NASCAR, or whatever, is sinful? Do people change when they are told that profaning God’s name by using it casually or as an expletive is sinful? Do people cringe when the True God of the Bible is placed on a pare with the idols of the nations? In this particular pericope Zephaniah warns the people of the coming disaster (a warning they ignore). As always, these disasters not only warn of some calamity in time, but also the great calamity for those who reject God at the end of time. Scripture consistently uses such temporal judgments to warn us about the final judgment. However most will respond just like the Jews of Zephaniah’s day. Most said in their hearts, “The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill” (verse 12). Such are the proud of heart today who believe God will not judge. They interpret his patience as either an endorsement of their sin, or as evidence that God cannot, or will not judge.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11: Paul writes about the coming “Day of the Lord.” He tells us to not be concerned, because we are ready by grace through faith in Jesus. The Last Day will mean destruction, but not for Christians. However we are told that we do not know when the Last Day will be. So we are encouraged to always be ready. As believers we are to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (verse 8). Faith denotes our relationship with God. Love denotes our relationship with our fellow man. Hope denotes our confidence in our future in glory.

Matthew 25:14-30: This reading is a parable Jesus told about a man who goes away on a journey. Before going he gives sizable amounts of money to three of his servants, entrusting them to use it in their master’s best interest. After a long time the master returns and receives an accounting from the servants concerning how they used the money. This parable is sometimes called the “Parable of the Talents.” All of chapter 25 in Matthew deals with Christ’s return on the Last Day, and this parable is no different. However, as this text will serve as the foundation for Sunday’s sermon, I’ll say no more.


• Our Cub Council will meet Sunday after the worship service.

• The Arbors Homeowners Association will be meeting at Lamb of God Monday, beginning at 7:00 PM.

• The Kappa-Alpha Fraternity of Wofford College will be using our building Monday through Wednesday, 8:00 PM to midnight, for their induction ceremony.

• Our Greek Club will meet Monday morning at Panerra’s Bread Company for breakfast and some translating.

• The office will be closed Thursday, November 17. Pastor will be attending his “supervision group” meeting in Asheville, NC. This is part of his D.Min program.

• Our Beading Class will meet Saturday, November 19, from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. The gathering includes lunch. Cost is $10.00.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARTIN LUTHER. If alive today he would be a spry 528 years old.

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Atheist Delusions

Commemoration of Martin Chemnitz (birth), Pastor and Confessor

The Lord be with you

I receive a journal named Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology. One of the features I enjoy are the book reviews. Trust me on this; the books they review are not reviewed by the New York Times. In Volume XX, Number 4 (Reformation 2011) there was a very interesting review by Jack Kilcrease. I thought I’d share it with you.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. By David Bentley Hart. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Atheist Delusions is the attempt on the part of Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart to write a rebuttal to the new atheist movement (Dawkins, Hitchens, and so forth). From the first page, Hart demonstrates his extreme erudition as well as a keen writing style. He displays a thorough knowledge of classical Christian thought and the Western philosophical tradition. His first few chapters debunk the "Scientism" that is the presupposition of the new atheists. Hart shows himself to be a master of demystifying their faulty thinking and ignorance of post-Enlightenment Western thought. Despite their pretense at being "Brights" (Dawkins’s suggested alternative name for atheists), they show a profound ignorance. Frequently they are simply repeating long-discredited philosophical, theological, and historical fallacies. Hart suggests their popularity stems not from the theological or philosophical viability of their proposals, but rather from the appeal of their metanarrative of nothingness. Modern and postmodern people think of themselves as self-positing, free-willing, and unconstrained subjects. They see God as interfering with this autonomy and ability to self-create. Nevertheless, to be totally undetermined means to be nothing in particular. Only nothingness is pure indeterminacy and absolute autonomy. Modern and postmodern people, in effect, argues Hart, believe in nothingness more than anything.

Most of the rest of the chapters deal with historical questions and the impact of Christian theism on world civilization. The Christian narrative is the ontology of peace rooted in the inner life of the Trinity and the peaceful act of creation ex nihilo. Paganism held a narrative of order and chaos in a perpetual conflict (see Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy). Here Hart echoes John Milbank, among others. The claim that Christianity is actually an ontology of violence masquerading as ontology of peace is unfounded, notes Hart.

Similarly, the claim that Christianity maintains its peaceful charade in order to perpetrate violence is false. The claims that historically Christians have been responsible for the lion’s share of violence and intolerance in world history are also false. For example, the new atheists frequently attack Christianity for causing religious wars, from which only the secular state can save us. This is pure propaganda. Hart notes that the Thirty Years' War, frequently credited with showing Westerners the need for religious toleration, was about the birth of the secular state, not about religious rivalry. The modern secular state has bequeathed the human race far more violence and misery than Christianity ever did. Furthermore, Christian values—the belief in the order of creation and value of each individual—have informed the West’s cultural striving in ways that directly contradict paganism. Nietzsche was correct that one cannot reject a Christian worldview and expect to hold on to its ethical dimensions. If each human is not made in the image of God and therefore valuable, then why respect them? If the world was not created by a rational and intelligent mind, then why look for order in it through scientific inquiry?

The new atheists demonstrate their profound historical ignorance when they posit that Christianity has constrained peace, freedom, and scientific inquiry. In fact, the ancient pagan world, which Christianity conquered, was not the sphere of tolerance and scientific inquiry that they imagine it to be, but a gloomy place, stagnating in its technological and scientific advancements. (By the time of Augustus, all discernible scientific or technological development had more or less ceased.) Regarding liberties and freedom, the Pax Romana was a tyranny much like the empires that preceded it. Its literature, philosophy, and religion all presupposed a tragic metanarrative. In effect, it was nothing like the ethical, optimistic, and scientific world Dawkins and Hitchens believe would exist if the Christian church were to blip out of existence. In truth, to the extent that the secular metanarrative upholds these values, it is simply parasitic upon the Christian worldview. It posits a meaning, peace, and order to the cosmos that its own tragic atheism cannot logically sustain. In the end, Hart demonstrates that the atheistic worldview stands in great conflict with its own moral compass, as well as its scientific and historical pretensions.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Plagiarism in the Pulpit

Saturday after Reformation Sunday
November 5, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be celebrated as “All Saints’ Sunday” at Lamb of God. (All Saints’ Day was this past Tuesday, November 1.) Though I do not do it often, the outline for the sermon I will preach is not original. I found it in Concordia Pulpit Resources, a publication from the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

I am working on a Doctorate of Ministry degree (D.Min.) at Gardner-Webb University. The degree requires a project. My project will be to introduce the Stations of the Cross at Lamb of God. In preparing “my” service I have reviewed samples of the Stations as found in Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, General Protestant, and other traditions.

This sort of borrowing brings up the question of plagiarism. This is a relatively new issue. Five hundred years ago no one worried about this. If you thought Mr. A wrote or did something worthwhile, you just used it. Mr. A. was typically happy that his work or idea was deemed valuable enough to be used by others. Mr. A. did his work for the glory of his Lord, not for personal recognition. Of course, Mr. A. didn’t typically oppose being recognized, and often was recognized, but it wasn’t anywhere near as big a deal as it is today.

For some time now, though, the idea of “intellectual property” has been recognized by the law. The attitudes of a former age seem odd, at best. A person who uses someone else’s idea, without giving them credit, is perceived as dishonest and duplicitous. In this atmosphere, congregations generally expect the sermon a pastor preaches to be “original.”

This concern is widespread enough for the Council of Presidents of the LC-MS to have sent out to us pastors a few years ago a study discouraging plagiarism in the pulpit. In my time at Gardner-Webb I’ve learned that this is an issue that transcends denominational lines. However this presents a unique problem for the preacher. To stop and identify every source in a sermon would make the sermon unbearable to the hearer. Imagine if I started this coming Sunday’s sermon as follows:
    “They say that if you really want to know what a preacher is all about, or what is in the heart and center of his teaching, or if you really want to know what a church believes, teaches, and confesses, attend a funeral service at that church. (Douglas Rutt, Concordia Pulpit Resources, volume 21, part 4, 2011, General Editor Carl Fickenscher II, page 33, with the idea for the phrase ‘believes, teaches, and confesses’ taken from the Formula of Concord, Epitome, Tappert translation, copy write 1959, Fortress Press, pages 466, 473, 478, etc.)”
While the above opening of a sermon may well scrupulously observe the desire to not plagiarize, it would be unbearable for the congregation. Such a sermon would be five minutes of sermon and fifteen minutes of citing references!

The call to the ministry of the word is not a call to be original. It is a call to proclaim the truth of God’s Word. Originality, in my opinion, is overrated. Truly original thoughts are, more often than not, also false doctrine. A preacher should preach from a storehouse of received wisdom, handed down through the ages. In that tradition the “original” thoughts that have gained acceptance throughout the ages most likely represent the truth of the Bible. I say “most likely” because sometimes that tradition has erred. The final authority is always the Bible.

If you want to stand against the received tradition you better be sure you have a solid biblical foundation. Luther had such a foundation during the Reformation. He also had the tradition of the first five hundred years of the Church Fathers. More often than not, people who veer off the beaten track with an original idea do not have a solid biblical foundation.

Using the material of others does not hamper the Holy Spirit. The story is told about how John Wesley attended a meeting of Moravians on Aldersgate Street. While there he heard Luther’s introduction to Romans read and felt his heart “strangely warmed.” Clearly using someone else’s material can be used by the Lord. However the reader at that meeting was honest. He didn’t pretend that he had written the message. I think this honesty is the key to the plagiarism issue.

Note the beginning sentence from the Rutt outline cited above. It goes “They say that …” With those short three words he indicates that this observation was not original to him. In a sermon I might say, "Who cares who originally made the observation?". Rutt, and everybody else who uses this opening, has given enough notice that a source is being used.

The second thing about being honest comes when relating a story. If it is not your own story, don’t pretend it is. I remember hearing a humorous anecdote that illustrates the point. It seems a preacher said in his sermon something like, “While on vacation in California with my family a clerk said, ‘If I’m good enough I’ll go to heaven.’ My son piped up and said, ‘That’s not right. Jesus takes us to heaven just because we believe in him!’” At this point in the sermon the preachers young son said, in a voice just as loud as a five- or six-year old's voice can be, “Mommy, I didn’t said that, and when did we go to California?”

If it is someone else’s story, just say so.

Finally, there are a tremendous amount of sermon helps “out there.” They are published for the express purpose of being used by pastors. I expect that every pastor has used such aids at some point in their career. They probably adapt them to their local setting, but the flow, the ideas, and even some or all of the illustrations, come from “the source.” The pastor may be using the aids because they have had an exceptionally busy week. On the other hand, they may be using the aids because, as they were doing their research for the sermon, they just found their source to be excellent, quite appropriate for their congregation, better than anything “original” that they might come up with, and doctrinally sound. Should the congregation be given an inferior sermon (at least in the pastor’s opinion) instead of using the sermon outline he found? If he does use the sermon/sermon outline he found should he begin his sermon with words like “I found this sermon online at www.quick-and-easy-sermons –”? That isn’t exactly a great opening line, is it?

As I said earlier, the outline for the sermon I will preach this Sunday comes from Concordia Pulpit Resources. It was written by Rev. Douglas L. Rutt, PhD, the Director of International Ministries for Lutheran Hour Ministries. I expect that many other pastors around the country will be using the same outline. Because of that, our sermons will have the same flow and, at times, use virtually identical words and phrases. If those pastors, or I, reference each occurrence of this in our sermon with the phrase, “As Douglas Rutt wrote,” the point of the message would be lost. The congregation would, instead, leave the service wondering who Douglas Rutt is. Pastor Rutt submitted this outline in the hopes that people like me would use it. He submitted it with the firm belief that it contained biblical content worth communicating to congregations. That I am using source material will be indicated simply with a phrase like the one Pastor Rutt used in his opening line.

I am not troubled by this. My job is to proclaim the truth found in God’s Word. My job is not to be original. Even when I do not use any overt source, I am not being original. I rely on what I’ve learned. I rely on the truth handed down throughout the ages. Most of all, I rely on the Scriptures. I may illustrate this truth with contemporary or personal stories. I am, however, not original. Personally, I do not want a pastor who is.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Worship for All Satins' Sunday - 2011

Thursday after Reformation Sunday
November 3, 2011

The Lord be with you

All Saints’ Day was November 1 in the West. Like many other churches, Lamb of God will celebrate this coming Sunday as All Saints’ Sunday. Churches that are affiliated with the Eastern Orthodox denomination celebrate All Saints’ Sunday on the first Sunday after Pentecost. The connection to the Easter season is logical, with its theme of resurrection hope and new life. In the Western Church, the date of November 1 seems to have been set in the eighth century when Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in the Basilica of Rome to all the saints and fixed November 1 as the day throughout the Church to remember those saints, “known and unknown.” In the Roman Catholic denomination, November 2 is reserved as “All Souls’ Day,” in honor of those they believed still trapped in purgatory, in the hope that they might eventually attain the beatific vision.

The Reformation understanding of sainthood as pertaining to those who are pure because they are forgiven by grace through faith transforms All Saints’ Day into a wonderful remembrance and celebration of all the faithful departed. On All Saints’ Sunday we, like many others, will remember by name departed loved ones by the reading of their names in the service and tolling a bell for each one. While many names have been submitted, we will accept more names Sunday morning, they just will not have their names included in the bulletin.

The service will be printed out in the worship bulletin. We will begin with the remembrance of the departed. Our first hymn, which will follow the remembrance, will be “For All the Saints” (LSB 677). The hymn of praise will be “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” (LSB 790). The sermon hymn will be “O Love, How Deep” (LSB 544). The offertory hymn will be “Take My Life and Let it Be” (LSB 784). Our closing hymn will be “Saints, See the Cloud of Witnesses” (LSB 667). The appointed lessons are Revelation 7:2-17, 1 John 3:1-3, and Matthew 5:1-12. We will be using the appointed Psalm instead of the Gradual, which is Psalm 149 (antiphon verse 4). As is our custom, we will chant the Psalm by the half verse. The sermon will be based on the reading from 1 John and is titled “The Bottom Line”

There has been some concern expressed by the Council of Presidents of the LC-MS about plagiarism in the pulpit. From my time at Gardner-Webb University I’ve discovered that this concern cuts across denominational lines. In the interest of disclosure, I want to say I leaned heavily on Concordia Pulpit Resources in preparing this coming Sunday’s sermon. In the coming days, I think I will put a post on this blog explaining how I think about this whole issue.

The video below is of the LutheranWarbler singing and playing “For All the Saints.” This hymn has been in all the hymnals of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. It was first published in 1837 by Richard R. Mant. This is the only hymn by Mant in our hymnal.

Sunday we will continue our trip through Matthew in our adult Bible class. Class begins at 9:00 AM. As always, everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons
Revelation 7:2-17: In this portion of John’s vision he reports seeing a glorious vision of all the saints in heaven who have come “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” They are standing before the Lamb, who is Jesus, in white clothes waving palm branches in worship and praise (verse 9). The emphasis is on the universal dimension of the Gospel, which is meant for all regardless of race, ethnicity, language, or nation. Verses 4-8 are often misunderstood. Here 144,000, 12,000 apiece from twelve tribes of Israel, are seen by John. These are those who have been “sealed.” The sealing is baptism. The number 12 represents the people of God. The number 10 represents completeness. 12,000 equals 12 times 10 times 10 times 10. This number represents all the people of God. The reference to the Old Testament patriarchs (a unique selection of names, by the way) indicates that those in heaven come from both the Old Testament age and our New Testament age. The symbolic meaning of numbers was covered at great length (looking up countless Bible passages) when we covered the book of Revelation in our adult Sunday school class.

1 John 3:1-3: According to most commentators John wrote this epistle sometime during the 90’s and was seeking to combat early versions of a heresy known today as Gnosticism. This belief system considered people to be basically good spirits that are trapped in an evil material world, including corrupt, inferior physical bodies. The way out of this dilemma is through special knowledge (Greek – gnosis, hence the name of the belief system). This belief led to a seriously flawed Christology. For example, some forms denied the true, full deity of Christ. The very first verse of 1 John clearly stipulates that the “Word of life,” Jesus Christ, was actually “seen” and “touch” and “heard.” However there is more to John’s first epistle than accenting a proper understanding of Jesus. He also clearly proclaims salvation for all by grace through faith in Jesus (not for a few by acquiring some secret knowledge). However John is clear that good works follow faith. As Douglas Rutt put it, “salvation by grace through faith, apart from works, but not without works.” Luther said John proclaimed the true “middle ground.” John does see a relationship between faith and good works, but those good works are a result of faith, not a cause of faith or salvation (4:19). As this will be the text for the sermon I’ve kept my comments more general. Sunday we will focus on this specific reading.

Matthew 5:1-12: Those who know their Bible will immediately recognize this pericope as the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. Here we find the description of the ideal Christian. Even though this believer might suffer all sorts of humiliation and persecution he or she still can “rejoice and be glad” (5:12). Rutt says of this phrase, “A better translation of agalliasthe would be ‘be exceeding glad.’” It is worth noticing that Jesus does not promise to deliver us out of various trials in this life, but that he will sustain us in these trials. We will be ultimately delivered when we join the heavenly hosts.

• This coming Saturday, November 5, members of Lamb of God will gather at 10:00 AM to give the church a “deep clean.” The more hands we have, the faster the work will get done. Please plan to come and assist.

DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME ENDS! Don’t forget to set your alarm clock back an hour before you go to bed Saturday night or you will get to church early (when only I am here).

• The Board of Evangelism will have their regular lunch meeting Sunday after the worship service at Panara’s Bread Company.

• The office will be closed Tuesday, November 8, as I will be leading the Circuit Pastors’ Conference (Winkel) down in Irmo.

• The Women’s Bible Fellowship will be having a dinner meeting Wednesday. I do not have any details (place, time, etc.).

• Our cubs will meet on Tuesday and our Jr. Confirmation will meet on Wednesday, as usual.

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert