Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas, Vacation, The Constantine Codex

First Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2012

The Lord be with you

Hello all. I apologize for there being such a lag in posts. Christmas is a very busy time for any pastor, and I’m no exception. These posts simply do not rank as high on my priority list as developing sermons, worship services, and newsletters. Nonetheless, I pray everyone had a joyous nativity celebration.

I and my wife are on vacation now. The first few days were full, so again I didn’t get around to posting anything. I did have a chance to read the next LitWits book, The Constantine Codex by Paul L. Maier (more on that later).

This morning we were blessed to worship at Island Lutheran Church here on Hilton Head Island, SC. Their pastor, Rev. Larry Eckart, is also on vacation. The word of God was shared by Pastor Len Moore and Mr. Terry Nickerson led the liturgy. If I was to boil down the sermon to a sentence, it would be that, while the rest of the world is over with Christmas for the year, for Christians the celebration of the birth of our Savior continues on and on.

As I mentioned, I just finished The Constantine Codex. This is the third book featuring Dr. Jon Webber, who first appeared in Maier’s book, A Skeleton in God’s Closet. Each book in the series is a stand-alone novel. Like the first two books, this book continues the fast pace action of an interaction between international religious issues, startling discoveries, intrigue, risk, and mortal danger, while avoiding the Indiana Jones antics which look good on a big screen but are more eye candy than story telling. Maier’s first book asked what would happen if the mortal remains of Jesus were actually found. His second book (More than a Skeleton) asked what would happen if someone living claimed to be the returned Jesus and was very, very convincing. This third book asks what would happen if an ancient manuscript was found that might have been written by one of the recognized New Testament authors. (Naturally, the document seems very, very convincing.) I won’t tell you how the book ends, but ask yourself, “What would it take for a new book to be added to the Bible?”

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sandy Hook Shooting

Saturday after Advent III
December 15, 2012

The Lord be with you

My prayers ascend to the Lord of mercy on behalf of the families of the shooting victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In total there are 28 dead, 20 of which were children.

Some will use this tragedy to argue for banning guns in America. Others will use it to argue for a greater presence of religion in our schools. Still others will use it to argue that God doesn’t exist. Other “special” interests will see in this sad event some opportunity to argue for their cause.

I encourage you to see this as a call to prayer. Pray for the families who lost loved ones, that the God of all consolation will provide them with the consolation they need. Pray for the city of Newtown, that this horrific act may bring them together instead of driving them apart. Pray that other troubled people do not draw some unwholesome inspiration from this and seek to copy it.

Pray also for all the schools in our land, both religious and secular, that they may be nurseries of wholesome values and knowledge, so that our children may grow up to be a blessing to others. May they learn respect, humility, compassion, courage, as well as how to read and write.

Pray for our country in general, that we repent of our arrogance and humbly come to the Lord of all to receive forgiveness. Pray that we may do our part to help the poor, hungry, destitute, sick, abused, and imprisoned, instead of always expecting others to do it. Pray for a unity that is based on godly principles.

Let others use this tragedy as they will. As for me, I will use it as a call to prayer.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Beginning of Advent

Commemoration of Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter
December 7, 2012

The Lord be with you

Advent Season is the beginning of the Church Year. It begins with the First Sunday in (or “of”) Advent. The First Sunday in Advent is the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Anthony, Apostle, which is November 30. This year that means Advent I is December 2.

There are four Sundays in Advent but, if November 30 falls on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, there are only three Wednesdays. For those congregations that have special Wednesday services during Advent, it can seem odd that their congregation is not having four Wednesday services. That, however, is just how it works.

Though Advent marks the beginning of the Church Year, it was not the first part of the Church Year to develop. That honor belongs to Easter, which was commemorated the very first Sunday after the Resurrection. It quickly developed into an annual celebration. I will write more about that for the Lent/Easter seasons.

Christian time is divided into three great seasons: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Advent is part of the Christmas cycle along with the Christmas season itself and the Epiphany season. I will write more about the Christmas and Epiphany seasons when they arrive.

It may surprise people that Christmas was not a big deal with the Early Church. The “Great Triduum” (Good Friday through Easter Sunday), as the pinnacle of the work of Christ, was the focus of the work of Christ and the Christian life. (These three days are reckoned by the Jewish system of measuring days meaning it was from sundown Thursday to sundown Sunday and, therefore, included the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday.)

Once, however, we recognize the “Great Triduum” as the focal point of salvation history, we also see the importance of all the events that led up to it as they shape our time. That includes, of course, the birth of the person who later died and rose to save us.

It was in the 9th century that Advent became the beginning of the Church year. Way before that, in the year 380, a Church Council declared that there be a three-week fast before the Feast of Epiphany, which is closely related to Christmas. That date was December 17. Later that was pushed back to November. In Rome, the Liturgical season of Advent was first observed toward the end of the 6th century.

So, in a nutshell, Advent appears to have begun after Christmas was lifted up to Christians as a feast to be celebrated.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Worship for Advent II & Wed following (2012)

Commemoration of Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter
Friday after the First Sunday in Advent
December 7, 2012

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Second Sunday in Advent. The appointed lessons are: Malachi 3:1-7b; Philippians 1:2-11; and Luke 3:1-20. Our liturgy will be Divine Service I (page 151). This is a communion service. Our opening hymn is “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” (LSB 348). The sermon hymn is “Herald, Sound the Note of Judgment” (LSB 511). The closing hymn is “Go, My Children, with My Blessing” (LSB 922). The distribution hymns are “Christ is Surely Coming” (LSB 508), “O Lord, We Praise Thee” (LSB 617), and “Once He Came in Blessing” (LSB 333). The sermon is titled “An Obsolete Idea” and the text is Malachi 3:2. The choir will be singing “Advent Prayer.”

Aside from our regular prayers, we will remember the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, the Concordia International School in Hanoi, the persecuted believers in Algeria and our sister congregations Christ and Church of St. Andrew, Silver Springs, MD; First, Sunderland, MD; Oxon Hill, Temple Hills, MD; and Incarnate Word, Sumter, SC

The adult Sunday school class will begin part four of the four-part study The Intersection of Church and State.

After the worship service the LWML will have a meeting.

If you have a Jewish friend, you may want to wish them a happy Hanukkah on Sunday.

On Wednesday we will again have a 12:15 service and a 7:00 pm service. The “noon” service uses Responsive Prayer I (page 282) and sings only the homily hymn. The evening service uses Vespers (page 229) and sings three hymns. The opening hymn is “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” (LSB 338). The homily hymn is “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People,” (LSB 347). The closing hymn is “Abide, O Dearest Jesus,” (LSB 919).The scripture lesson is Isaiah 40:1-11. The homily is titled “Waiting with Comfort.” This Wednesday we will “Green” the church (meaning we will decorate it). Those at the “noon” service will begin and those at the evening service will finish the job.

Also each Wednesday in Advent we have a soup supper that begins at 6:15 pm and choir practice following the evening service.

Below is a video of Sunday’s opening hymn, “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns.” Once again, the video is from the Lutheran Warbler.  

One final note: Over the past Church Year I have posted information concerning each of the commemorations/feasts/festivals in our Church Year. If you are interested in reading something about the feast/festival/commemoration on any particular day, you can go to those posts. I may, from time to time, put something new up but I will not be making that effort as I did last year. The foundation has been laid.

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, December 3, 2012

First Ever Portrait of Jesus?

Monday after Advent I
December 3, 2012

The Lord be with you

I typed into my search engine “the oldest picture of Jesus” and I came across a fascinating discovery. It seems that an Arab fellow has found/acquired a number of “books,” made of led plates, dating from the late first or second century. They come from a cave in the same general area as the Dead Sea Scrolls and Masada.

Now finding ancient artifacts in that part of the world is not all that surprising. What is surprising it that one of the “books” contains what may be the oldest portrait of Jesus. The portrait is on this page. If you want to read an article about it, click here.

One of the amazing things about this discovery is that it didn’t make the national news. If this had been discovered a century ago, it would have been the topic of everyone’s conversation. Now, such an amazing discovery was so under-reported that I didn’t find out about it until it is really old news.

Whether or not this is an actual representation of Jesus made, perhaps, in the life time of those who knew him face to face, will be debated by scholars. Perhaps, if we are blessed, the media will keep us abreast in an unbiased way. Wouldn’t that be great.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, November 30, 2012

St. Andrew, Apostle - 2012

Festival of St. Andrew, Apostle
Friday, November 30, 2012

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. Originally a disciple of John the Baptist, 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. Andrew was, therefore, in a real way the first “home missionary” as well as the first foreign missionary (John 12:20-22).

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.

Collect for the Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle: Almighty God, by Your grace the apostle Andrew obeyed the call of Your Son to be a disciple. Grant us also to follow the same Lord Jesus Christ in heart and life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Other 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
  • For those who minister to their own families.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Worship for Advent 1 - 2012

Commemoration of Noah
Thursday after the Last Sunday in the Church Year
November 29, 2012

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent and, as such, marks the beginning of a new Church Year. I will post a little something on this blog about the Advent Season later.

Our assigned lessons are Jeremiah 33:14-16, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, and Luke 21:25-36. You might notice that our Gospel lesson is taken from Luke instead of Mark. With the beginning of a new Church Year we move to series C in our three-year lectionary cycle. The first year accents the Gospel of Matthew. The second year accents readings from the Gospel of Mark. The third year accents the Gospel of Luke. These three Gospels are sometimes called the “synoptic” Gospels, which means “seen together.” That is because they cover much the same ground in much the same way. The Gospel of John, written years after the first three, provides much information that is not covered in the first three, and skips over many things that were well covered in the first three Gospels. Therefore the Gospel of John is used to supplement the Gospel readings each year.

We will be using Matins (page 219) for our liturgy Sunday. We will be modifying our liturgy cycle this coming year. In past years we have used four different services each month (Divine Service, setting 1 and 3; Matins and the Service of Prayer and Preaching). When the month had five Sundays we used Morning Prayer (page 235). For a visitor, that meant that they would hear the same service only once a month making it difficult to learn the liturgy. This year we will be rotating our services quarterly. So, for the first quarter, we will be using Matins for our non-communion Sundays and Divine Service, Setting 1, for our communion services. In the end, this means we will not use Morning Prayer but, because we used it so infrequently, even our regulars struggled with the music.

The sermon is based on our Old Testament reading. The text is Jeremiah 33:15. The sermon title is “An Eternal Moment.” Matins uses only three hymns. They will be “The Advent of Our King” (LSB 331), “When All the World Was Cursed” (LSB 346), and “Jesus Came, the Heavens Adoring” (LSB 353). We also chant the appointed Psalm in Matins. This Sunday it is Psalm 25:1-10. The antiphon is verse 6. We will be using the Advent options in the liturgy and the Benedictus for our canticle. The choir will be singing “Sing of Mary, Pure and Lowly.”

In our public prayers we will remember our denomination (the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod), our president, Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, and our district (the Southeastern District) and president, Rev. Dr. John Denninger. We will also remember our sister congregations Immanuel, Preston, MD; Church of the Cross, Rockville, MD; Bethany, Salisbury, MD; Calvary, Silver Springs, MD; and Good Shepherd, Charleston, SC. We will remember Concordia International School Hanoi (Steven Winkelman, Head of School), and the persecuted believers in Afghanistan. We will also continue to remember those who have been misled by our cultures acceptance of abortion and advocacy of sexual immorality, asking God’s grace for their lives that they may be healed and restored by the Holy Spirit. We continue to remember those trapped in the modern practice of slavery and ask God to bless all efforts that are pleasing in his sight to end this sinful practice. We will remember the Lutheran Malaria Initiative’s effort to end malaria in Africa by 2015. We will remember those seeking to recover from Hurricane Sandy. 

Below is a video of our opening hymn, “The Advent of our King.” It has words and music, but no singing.

Our adult Bible class meets at 9:00 Sunday morning. We are doing a study titled The Intersection of Church and State, produced by the Men’s Network of the LLL. It is a four-part video-based study. We have begun part three. As always, everyone is welcome.

Preview of the Lessons

Jeremiah 33:14-16:         Advent, which means “coming,” has three large “coming” themes: The coming of Christ in time about 2,000 years ago, the coming of Christ at the end of time, and the coming of Christ into our lives by grace through faith. This reading accents the first of these three comings, which is the first Christmas. However the work of Christ is not limited to any one generation but transcends time. It is also not limited to any one nation or ethnic group. The promise made to Israel was a promise for all people that would be fulfilled through the Jewish race.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13:            Paul offers thanks to God, and prayers on behalf of the believers in Thessalonica. As is the case for all who trust in Christ, he looks forward to being a blessing to others. This is also the blessing he bestows on the readers. In faith towards God and in love towards our neighbors, we look forward towards the Second Coming of Jesus, who will arrive on the Last Day accompanied with all the saints who have gone before us.

Luke 21:25-36:     Jesus instructs his followers concerning the days leading up to his Second Coming. His return will be visible. The lone thing that is eternal in this creation is the word of Christ. It is as we sing in A Mighty Fortress, “God’s Word forever shall abide, No thanks to foes, who fear it.” In spite of the fact that Jesus speaks of signs pointing to his Second Coming, he tells us plainly that the day will “come upon you suddenly like a trap.” In other words, no one will know when the end will come. Therefore we must always be on watch, always ready. (This ties into what Paul writes in our Epistle lesson.) Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor to make this point. A modern metaphor might be something like “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings” (referring to opera). One might think of the turkey in the oven being prepared for Thanksgiving dinner. The aroma fills the house. You know full well what it means, the turkey is coming. But the aroma fills the house long before you are sitting at the banquet table. So the “aroma” of the Second Coming fills the air, but we just don’t know when it will actually happen. Still, we want to always be ready for when the dinner bell rings.

  • After the worship service Sunday there will be a meeting of all ladies interested in a mid-week Bible study. All options will be on the table. That includes a Christmas party.
  • Advent Services will begin this coming Wednesday. You can find the schedule in the newsletter. Simply go to the newsletter link on the side of this page. As in the past, we will have two services, one at 12:15 and a second at 7:00. The evening service will be preceded with a soup supper and followed by choir practice.
Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Commemoration of Noah - 2012

Commemoration of Noah
November 29, 2012

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, retained 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 and his family 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 being 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 our Christian Faith on to our children. It seems most parents failed in this responsibility in the antediluvian world. Noah, though, had succeeded. The faith of his family is clearly seen as, 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 our 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.

Collect for the Commemoration of Noah: Almighty and eternal God, according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. Grant that we may be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, so that with all believers in Your promise, we would be declared worthy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, November 26, 2012

Seek Ye First

Monday after the Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 26, 2012

The Lord be with you

Karen Lafferty
This past Sunday we sang hymn 712, “Seek Ye First.” This “hymn” was written by Karen Lafferty, who was born in Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1948. (She was raised there also.) This particular song is now found in most major hymnals, which is why I called it a “hymn.” Hymn is in quotes because the song does not conform to what most traditionally call a hymn. It is more what we might call a “scriptural chorus,” and is in the genre we commonly call Contemporary Christian Music. Karen has remained an important influence in Contemporary Christian Music for decades.

This song, in one of our official hymnals, illustrates a point that is often overlooked by many who are passionate about worship styles today. It is a point that can be made for each generation. That point? Every song in every generation, or even from a single song writer, is not created equal. Some are good and worth remembering. Others are weak and should be forgotten. Some fall somewhere in between. In any generation, the majority of hymns fall into the weak or somewhere in between categories. Even if the hymn writer is a strong hymn writer, the majority of their songs will probably fall into the bottom two categories. This is true in all genres of music.
Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock

I grew up with rock-and-roll. Someone I thought was fabulous was Jimi Hendrix. His records were uniformly excellent. He died in 1970. After he died something interesting happened. It seems that Jimi recorded a tremendous amount of material that he didn’t release. In fact, he had no intention of releasing it. However, with a legion of fans clamoring for his music, someone saw an opportunity to make some money and they began to release more Jimi Hendrix recordings. Eventually more Jimi Hendrix recordings were released after his death than before. I discovered that, for the vast majority of the music, I agreed with Jimi; they were not worth the vinyl they were printed on or the time spent listening to them.

Taking that kind of experience into the world of hymns, we find a person like Charles Wesley. You can’t find a hymnal worthy of the name “hymnal” that doesn’t contain some of his hymns today. He has been called “The Prince of Hymn-writers,” The Sweet Bard of Methodism,” The Father of Sacred Song,” and so on. The Lutheran Service Book has nine of his hymns. The Lutheran Hymnal has twelve. Yet, with such a contribution, it represents only the smallest of fractions of Wesley’s work. He wrote around 6,500 hymns! There is a reason why even Methodist hymnals do not include the majority of them, and that is not simply because of space. Many simply are not “top shelf” hymns. Like writers of Christian music today, Charles Wesley produced some “turkeys” and a lot of “second place” hymns. That so many of his hymns are remembered by so many believers is a testimony of God’s grace.

This insight can be applied to our worship life. Some churches use a very “high” church format with a completely chanted liturgy, splendid vestments and altar paraments, candles, incense, maybe icons, pipe organ, and so on. Others follow a format called “contemporary.” The service will often feature elements like music written within the last fifty years, guitars, drums, etc., projection screens, ministers in a business suit, a spoken liturgy, and so on. A third option is sometimes called “traditional.” It falls somewhere between the two.

Now worship is something people have deep feelings about. Because of that, adherents of the various styles can (and sometimes do) say silly things to support their preferred style and to discredit other styles. The simple truth is that everything new is not weak and everything old is not strong. Just as some that passes as Christian worship today really reflects little that is distinctively Christian, so in the past there was worship that really reflected little that is distinctively Christian. Also, just as the history of the Church has provided us with outstanding Christian worship formats, so people today can (and I might say, do) produce outstanding Christian worship formats.

Worship at Lamb of God Lutheran Church
It is part of the best nature of the Christian Church to recognize gold in worship and hymnody wherever and whenever it is found. Thus we have “Seek Ye First” in our hymnal. To reject it because it wasn’t written with a pipe organ in mind is silly. To say that it is okay in a worship service if accompanied by an organ, but out of place if accompanied by a guitar, is silly.

On the other hand, to say “A Mighty Fortress” (Martin Luther, 1483-1546), “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (Charles Wesley, 1707-1788), or “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (Bernard of Clairvaux, 1091-1153) are outdated and can’t reach a modern listener is just as silly. To say that a modern listener can’t follow the theology of such hymns is silly. To say they can’t appreciate a pipe organ, or enjoy singing to one, is silly.

Maybe some who read this will think I am silly. Maybe I am. But I feel we should give thanks to our Lord for all the gold he has given us, throughout the centuries, in our worship formats and hymns. As the old hymn puts it, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, November 23, 2012

Worship for the Last Sunday of the Church Year - 2012

Friday after Pentecost 25
Friday, November, 23, 2012

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Last Sunday of the Church Year. Our assigned lessons are Daniel 12:1-3, Hebrews 10:11-25, and Mark 13:1-13. We will be using the first setting of the Divind Service (page 151) for our liturgy. This is a Communion Service. To prepare to receive the sacrament you may read (or sing), and ponder the words of, any of the hymns in the hymnal section “The Lord’s Supper.” The assigned readings are: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:4b-8; and Mark 13:33-37. The text for the sermon is Revelation 1:5 and the sermon is titled “Christ the King.” For those who have a long liturgical memory, you will recognize the title of the sermon as a “tip of the hat” to the name for this Sunday back to the days we used a one-year lectionary; “Christ the King Sunday.” Our opening hymn is “Seek Ye First” (LSB 712). The sermon hymn is “Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord” (LSB 352). Our closing hymn is “Jesus Shall Reign” (LSB 832). Our distribution hymns are “Prepare the Royal Highway” (LSB 343), “Spread the Reign of God the Lord” (LSB 830), and “Eat This Bread” (LSB 638).

In our public prayers we will remember Apple of His Eye, an outreach to Jews, our sister SED congregations Good Shepherd, Olney, MD; Christ the King, Owings Mills; Redeemer, Parkton, MD; Galilee, Pasadena, MD; and Mt. Olive, Irmo, SC. We will also continue to remember those who have been misled by our cultures acceptance of abortion and advocacy of sexual immorality, asking God’s grace for their lives that they may be healed and restored by the Holy Spirit. We continue to remember those trapped in the modern practice of slavery and ask God to bless all efforts that are pleasing in his sight to end this sinful practice. We will remember the Lutheran Malaria Initiative’s effort to end malaria in Africa by 2015. We will remember those seeking to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

Below is a video of a home-schooled children’s choir in Pennsylvania singing Prepare the Royal Highway in a Christmas program. For those who think being home-schooled necessarily means missing out on some of the fun things schools can offer, like a choir, this video can be an eye-opener. The children are as good as any public school children’s choir.

Our adult Bible class meets at 9:00 Sunday morning. We doing a study titled The Intersection of Church and State, produced by the Men’s Network of the LLL. It is a four-part video-based study. Sunday we are beginning part three. That means viewing an new video segment. As always, everyone is welcome.

Preview of the Lessons

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14:      For some background on the book of Daniel, see last week’s Worship Notes. In this vision Daniel sees what amounts to a heavenly court. Presiding is the “Ancient of Days,” who is God the Father. This identification is confirmed by the appearance of one like the “Son of Man” in verse 13. The esv does not have “son of man” capitalized, but the title should be capitalized as it is referring to Jesus. The description of the Father emphasizes his holiness and echoes the appearance of God at Mt. Sinai and Christ in the book of Revelation. God is being served by a myriad (though finite because they are created beings) number of angels. The books are opened and judgment will now be meted out. Because “books” is a plural, there are at least two books opened. Many have speculated that one book is the Book of Life and the other book contains the deeds of the individuals who appear to be judged, and those who think this may well be right. The information in these books is effectively what people are judged by. The other way some view the books is that they are filled with the deeds of the people judged, and as such are pure Law, for the evidence will only condemn. The vision is interrupted by verses 11-12 in which Daniel sees the beast being killed. These verses are omitted in Sunday’s reading. Verse 13 resumes the court scene. Jesus appears before the Father and receives “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” This is clearly a look at what happens when Jesus ascends back to heaven, having accomplished his purpose of defeating Satan on the cross. Jesus rules, now and forever.

Revelation 1:4b-8:           The first part of verse four, which is omitted in Sunday’s reading, is simply an address line “John to the seven churches that are in Asia”. As the book of Revelation is being sent to seven churches, we can take this book as being sent to the whole Church. God deals with those who are in Christ in grace, granting us the peace that passes all human understanding. The Holy Spirit is described as “the seven spirits who are before his throne.” Again the esv should be capitalizing words that they do not. Seven is the number that indicates God (3) interacting with the world (4), and it is the Holy Spirit that “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies” us so the number seven in describing him accents this work of the Spirit and the Holy Spirit’s roll in general in relationship to believers. Christ’s roles as savior, witness and ruler of all are included in his title. This mighty God loves us and redeems us through his atoning death, bringing us into his kingdom, where we serve in joy and peace for all eternity. Starting in verse seven, the Second Coming of Jesus is accented. The general resurrection of the dead is revealed in that “every” eye will see him, even those who pierced him. This is a great comfort for Christians, but a real terror for all who have battled against Christ and his Church. It is not at all surprising that non-Christians strongly reject and ridicule this biblical teaching. How frightening for them to face the resurrected and enthroned eternal, almighty, God they rejected. Of all mankind, only those who have received his grace and peace will stand that day in confidence and joy.

Mark 13:33-37:    This Sunday is the final Sunday of the current liturgical year. That means that it is also the last Sunday when our Gospel readings will predominately be drawn from the Gospel of Mark (at least until Advent 2015). Jesus urges us to be always ready for his Second Coming. The analogy he uses brings out several points strongly. First, he will return. Second, no one knows when that will be. Third, from a human point-of-view, it will take some time before the Second Coming happens. (This, by the way, underscores a mistake made by many modern commentators, who believe the first century Christians expected Jesus to come back in their life-time. Some surely did, but always being ready is not the same thing as expecting Jesus’ return tomorrow. They accented always being ready, whenever Christ might return.) Fourth, we have a purpose, a job (or more precisely, jobs) to which we are called while we live.

  • The newsletter has been posted on the blog (go to the link on the right hand side of this page). Sunday, print copies will be available for those who do not have internet access. 
Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Clement of Rome

Commemoration of Clement of Rome, Pastor
November 23, 2012

The Lord be with you

November 23 is set aside for the commemoration of Clement of Rome on the Church Calendar used in the LCMS. Clement (ca. 35-100 ad) is remembered for having established the pattern of apostolic authority that governed the Christian Church during the first and second centuries. He also insisted on keeping Christ at the center of the Church’s worship and outreach. In a letter to the Christians at Corinth, he emphasized the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Let us fix our eyes on the blood of Christ, realizing how precious it is to His Father, since it was poured out for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to the whole world” (1 Clement 6:31). Clement displayed a steadfast, Christ-like love for God’s redeemed people, serving as an inspiration to the future generations to continue to build the Church on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Christ as the one and only cornerstone. Tradition indicates he suffered a martyr’s death by drowning, being tied to an anchor.

Clement was probably the fourth bishop of Rome, the third after Peter, who is said to have ordained him. He may well be the Clement referred to in Philippians 4:3.

Collect for the Commemoration of Clement of Rome, Pastor: Almighty God, Your servant Clement of Rome called the Church in Corinth to repentance and faith to unite them in Christian love. Grant that Your Church may be anchored in Your truth by the presence of the Holy Spirit and kept blameless in Your service until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Other prayers that this day might inspire:
  • For the Roman Catholic Church and the Bishop of Rome
  • For peace in the church
  • For solid, Christ-centered, leaders in the Church
  • For a commitment to remain true to Jesus unto the end
  • For those who, in these days, face death for their faith in Christ 
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day
November 22, 2012

The Lord be with you

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the USA. Many other countries have similar holidays, but typically on some other day of the year. So, for example, Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October.

For a Christian, every day is a day to give thanks to our Triune God. However, it is fitting that a nation set aside one or more days in a year to express their gratitude to God for his many kindnesses. These mercies exist even in dark days. You just need the spiritual eyes to see them. If we focus on these blessings, our hearts are lifted. The old hymn surely had it right:

All depends on our possessing
God’s abundant grace and blessing,
          Though all earthly wealth depart.
They who trust with faith unshaken
By their God are not forsaken
          And will keep a dauntless heart.

He who to this day has fed me
And to many joys has led me
          Is and ever shall be mine.
He who ever gently schools me,
He who daily guides and rules me
          Will remain my help divine.

Many spend their lives in fretting
Over trifles and in getting
          Things that have no solid ground.
I shall strive to win a treasure
That will bring me lasting pleasure
          And that now is seldom found.

When with sorrows I am stricken,
Hope anew my heart will quicken;
          All my longing shall be stilled.
To His loving kindness tender
Soul and body I surrender,
          For on God alone I build.

Well He knows what best to grant me;
All the longing hopes that haunt me,
          Joy and sorrow, have their day.
I shall doubt His wisdom never;
As God wills, so be it ever;
          I commit to Him my way.

If my days on earth He lengthen,
God my weary soul will strengthen;
          All my trust to Him I place.
Earthly wealth is not abiding,
Like a stream away is gliding;
          Safe I anchor in His grace.
(Lutheran Service Book 732)

As this hymn indicates, it is possible for us to lose our focus on Christ. Our prayers of thanks and petitions for assistance can become self-centered. “God bless me, help me, thank you for helping me, blessing me” or “God bless my loved ones, help my loved ones, thank you for helping my loved ones, blessing my loved ones.” Now it is appropriate to offer such praise and requests, but if that is all our prayers consist of, then they are shallow and self-serving. They are not focused on Christ, even if they are addressed to him. The “star” is really the person offering the prayer. Below is a prayer from The Lutheran Hymnal (page 110) which is an excellent prayer and can guide us into a richer prayer life.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we, Thine unworthy servants, do give Thee most humble and hearty thanks for all Thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men. We praise Thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but above all for Thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech Thee, give us that due sense of all Thy mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful and that we may show forth Thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; that, walking before Thee in holiness and righteousness all our days, we may enjoy the testimony of a good conscience and the hope of Thy favor, be sustained and comforted under the troubles of this life, and finally be received into Thine everlasting kingdom; through Thine infinite mercy in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

We offer unto Thee our common supplications for the good estate of Thy Church throughout the world, that it may be so guided and governed by Thy good Spirit that all who profess themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Send down upon all ministers of the Gospel and upon all congregations committed to their charge the healthful spirit of Thy grace, and that they may truly please Thee, pour upon them the continual dew of Thy blessing.

Most heartily we beseech Thee with Thy favor to behold* the President and Congress of the United States and all others in authority

[For Use in the British Empire:
C * Her Majesty the Queen of the British Commonwealth, of Nations, the Governor-general and the Prime Minister of our Dominion, as well as the Premier of our Province, and all Governments and Parliaments, and all Judges and Magistrates]

(If the user of this prayer is not a citizen of the British Commonwealth or the United States, those who govern their nations may be appropriately remembered here.)

and so to replenish them with Thy grace that they may always incline to Thy will and walk in Thy way. Prosper all good counsels and all just works that peace and happiness, truth and righteousness, religion and piety, may be established among us throughout all generations.

We humbly entreat Thee also for all sorts and conditions of men, that Thou wouldst be pleased to make Thy ways known unto them, Thy saving health unto all nations.

May it please Thee to preserve all that travel by air, land or water, to help all that are in peril or need, and to satisfy the wants of all Thy creatures.

We also commend to Thy fatherly goodness all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed in mind, body, or estate, that it may please Thee to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings and a happy issue out of all their afflictions.

(Here special Supplications, Intercessions, and Prayers may be made.)

Hear us, most merciful God, in these our humble requests, which we offer up unto Thee in the name of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, to whom, with Thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving Day.

Pastor John Rickert

Monday, November 19, 2012

Elizabeth of Hungary - 2012

Commemoration of Elizabeth of Hungary
Monday, November 19, 2012

The Lord be with you

Elizabeth, the daughter of King Andrew of Hungary and his wife Gertrude, was born in the summer of 1207 in Pressburg, Hungary. In order to seal a political alliance, she was betrothed at the age of one to Ludwig, the young son of the Landgrave of Thuringia, and when she was four she was taken to the castle of the Wartburg near Eisenach to be raised with her future husband. (You may remember that the Wartburg was the castle where Luther was hidden several centuries later and where he translated the New Testament into German.) Elizabeth was a serious child, generous to those who had less than she had, and a devout Christian. Some of the people at the Thuringian court disapproved of her as the future duchess, but Ludwig was very fond of her. 

In 1216 Ludwig succeeded his father as Landgrave, and in 1221 when he was twenty-one and Elizabeth was fourteen, the marriage took place. In the course of the next few years they had three children, a boy and two girls, and the marriage was a happy one. Elizabeth in her new position was even more generous to the poor. On one occasion in 1225, when there was a severe local famine, she gave away most of her own fortune and supply of grain to the poor of the area. She was criticized for doing this, but her husband upon his return gave his approval to her action.

Elizabeth founded two hospitals during this period, one at the foot of the steep rock on which the Wartburg was located. She regularly tended the patients in these hospitals herself and gave money for the care of children, especially orphans. In helping the poor, she and her husband also tried to find suitable jobs for those who had no way of earning a living. In 1221, when the Franciscans entered Thuringian, Elizabeth put herself under the spiritual direction of Brother Rodeger, who guided her in the spirit of Francis of Assisi. Her kindness extended to all kinds of unfortunate people, and there is a well-known story of her lodging a leper in the house. The Landgrave was startled and repelled to find him in their bed, but he almost immediately realized that in helping the leper, his wife was serving the crucified Lord.

On September 11, 1227, Ludwig died of the plague while on a journey to join a crusade. During that winter, Elizabeth left the castle—some accounts say that her brother-in-law expelled her—and she went to live in Eisenach. (You may recall that Eisenach was Luther’s childhood home and the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach.) She was rejected by the townspeople and suffered great hardship until she received the protection of her uncle the Bishop of Bamberg. On Good Friday 1228, she formally renounced her worldly cares, adopted coarse garments for clothing, and devoted herself as a follower of St. Francis. After the care of her children was assured, she built a small house near Marburg and with it a hospice for the sick, the aged, and the poor, and devoted her life to their care.

In her last years St. Elizabeth lived a life of unnatural austerity and isolation from her friends, partly out of obedience to her confessor, Conrad of Marburg, who seems to have been almost sadistic in his treatment of her. Her health broke, and on November 17, 1231, she died, at the age of twenty-four. Four years later the Church began annual commemoration of her. Elizabeth was buried in Marburg.

She is known as both St. Elizabeth of Thuringia and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Since her time countless hospitals have been named for her in Europe, America, and other parts of the World.

Collect for the Commemoration of Elizabeth of Hungary: Mighty King, whose inheritance is not of this world, inspire in us the humility and benevolent charity of Elizabeth of Hungary. She scorned her bejeweled crown with thoughts of the thorned one her Savior donned for her sake and ours, that we, too, might live a life of sacrifice, pleasing in Your sight and worthy of the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus, who with the Holy Spirit reigns with You forever in the everlasting kingdom. Amen.

Other things Elizabeth might inspire you to pray about:
  • For the poor
  • For the sick and suffering
  • For the unemployed
  • For the spirit of self-sacrificing service
  • For those who embrace austerity for the love of Christ
  • For the medical profession

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert