Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Visitation - 2012

The Visitation
May 31, 2012

The Lord be with you

Today we celebrate as the visitation of Mary. This commemorates when Mary, the mother of our Lord, visited Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, when they were both pregnant (Luke 1:39-45). The Visitation is basically a festival of Christ. John the Baptist and Jesus, the two great figures of salvation history, come together for the first time when Mary visits Elizabeth.

Many have noted the step-parallelism in the stories of the two births (and the lives of the two men in general). Both women conceived their children under miraculous circumstances, though the miracle in reference to Mary was greater. Both John and Jesus had their birth announced by angels, but the birth of John was met with disbelief while the birth of Jesus was met with belief. Both children are vital in salvation history, but Jesus had the key role while John announces it. Both die unjustly, but Jesus rose from the dead on the third day while John waits for the Last Day.

Back to the Visitation; John is brought into the presence of Jesus while they are still in their mother’s wombs. This presence of the Lord causes a response by the child John as he leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. John’s response to the presence of Jesus, the Messiah, foreshadows John’s own role as forerunner. Already now, a new creation is beginning, and a baby still in the womb hails the new creation’s inception. Foreshadowed in John’s leap are the miracles of Jesus, who will cause all creation to leap at His presence: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22). The incarnate presence of the Messiah also evokes a response from Elizabeth, who proclaims Mary’s blessedness. Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) provides the theological significance of the meeting as Mary sums up her place in salvation history. Mary’s song is a hymn to God for His gracious gifts to the least in this world, whom He has lifted up out of lowliness solely because of His grace and mercy.

This feast is a relative newcomer to the Church Year. It was first observed by the Franciscans in the thirteenth century. Pope Urban IV added it to the Roman calendar in 1389. In 1441 the Council of Basel extended it to the whole Western Church. In spite of its late development, Lutherans have tended to keep it because of its strong biblical roots. Back in the days of The Lutheran Hymnal, it was celebrated on June 2. However, the Roman Catholic Church moved their celebration to May 31, so that the day would make better chronological sense by coming before the birthday of John the Baptist, June 24. Most Lutherans saw the sense of this and made the move also.

Some have used this event to support the view that life begins at conception. While such a use of the story is legitimate, that certainly isn’t the main focus. The main focus is that God has taken on human flesh for “us men and for our salvation.”

Collect for the Day:
Almighty God, in choosing the Virgin Mary to be the mother of Your Son, You made known Your gracious regard for the poor, the lowly, and the despised, and You inspired her to visit Elizabeth and assist her in her need; Grant us grace to receive Your word in humility, and so to be made one with Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Appropriate prayers for the day include:
  • For the poor, the forgotten, the despised
  • For grace to acknowledge Christ and to perceive his coming
  • For hospitality to visitors and travelers
  • For a deepening sense of Emmanuel, God with us
  • For all pregnant women
  • For God’s blessing on homes and family life
  • For the safety of all unborn children
  • For a proper regard by all Christians of Mary, the mother of our Lord

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Worship for Trinity Sunday - 2012

Wednesday after Pentecost
May 30, 2012

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday we celebrate the Festival of the Holy Trinity. This festival is unique in the Church Year. All other commemoration, feasts and festivals celebrate an even or person. This one recognizes the unique nature of the true God and as such focuses us on a teaching or doctrine of the Church. I plan post something about the Icon associated with this teaching, based on the Old Testament story of the Lord visiting Abraham and Sarah, Sunday.

We often have a special liturgy for Trinity Sunday. However, the SED convention will be taking me out of town tomorrow and I will not be back until late Saturday, therefore I do not have the time to craft such a service. (This is also the reason this post is early.) Therefore, for our liturgy, we will use the first setting of the Divine Service, which begins on page 151 of the hymnal. This is a communion service. To prepare for receiving the Lord’s Supper you may read Psalm 139, especially verses 1-16. As you read, reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit. We will use the Athanasian Creed (page 319) instead of the Nicene Creed, as is customary for this festival.

Our appointed lessons are Isaiah 6:1-8; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; and John 3:1-17. The sermon is titled “Pathway to the Divine.” The text is John 3:11. Our hymns will be:
Opening:     “Holy, Holy, Holy,” LSB 507
Sermon:      “O Sing to the Lord,” LSB 808
Distribution: “Triune God, Be Thou Our Stay,” LSB 505
                         “Your Table I Approach,” LSB 628
             “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow,” LSB 805
Closing:      “Glory Be to God the Father,” LSB 506

In our prayers we will remember the Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile (IELCHI) and their President, Rev. Egon Kopereck. We will remember our missionary, Megan Birney. Megan serves in Hong Kong. She desires that we pray that the Lord would pave the way and open hearts to the ministries of LCMS World Mission, Church of All Nations, and The Lutheran Church—Hong Kong Synod; that the Lord would grant her discernment and wisdom as she serves in this leadership role; that God will continue to bless the ministry in Hong Kong and that nothing would hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. We will remember the persecuted believers in Malaysia. We will also remember our sister SED congregations: Immanuel, Alexandria, VA; St. John’s, Alexandria, VA; St. Paul, Amelia, VA; Our Savior, Arlington, VA; Incarnate Word, Florence, SC. We will give thanks for the Lord’s guidance of our Southeastern District Convention (which begins tomorrow and ends Saturday) and ask God’s blessings our recently elected officers (who have not been elected at the time this is being written).. Naturally we will continue to remember those who have been misled by our cultures acceptance of abortion and sexual immorality, asking God’s grace for their lives that they may be healed and restored by the Holy Spirit. We will also continue to remember those trapped in the modern practice of slavery and ask God to bless all efforts to end this sinful practice that are pleasing in his eyes.

Below is a video of the LutheranWarbler singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” our opening hymn.

By the way, if you would like to go to Rachel’s YouTube site and listen to more of her videos, the address is:

Our adult Bible class meets at 9:00 Sunday morning. This Sunday we will finish Matthew 20 and begin chapter 21. As always, everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Isaiah 6:1-8:   Isaiah 6:3, along with Matthew 21:9, form the scriptural foundation for the Sanctus, used in many worship services. The word sanctus is Latin for “holy.” This is a vision of heaven and the call of Isaiah to be a prophet. Isaiah is overwhelmed by the vision and cries “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” The Lord has a comforting message, atonement is made for Isaiah. The grace of the offer is breathtaking. After Isaiah has been absolved, God asks for volunteers, and Isaiah says “Here am I, send me, send me!” Thus it is for us as well. First God’s grace absolves us, then we are fit to work in his kingdom.

Acts 2:14a, 22-36:      This is a continuation of last weeks reading and is a part of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Here Peter makes it clear that nothing that transpired in reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus was a surprise to God. All went according to God’s plan and Jesus is not exalted to “right hand” of the Father, being designated Lord and Christ. Much comfort can be derived from this portion of Peter’s message. When things seem out of control, remember God is in control. When sin strikes, remember Jesus is your Lord and Christ. When things seem to make no sense, remember God is working and it does make sense to him.

John 3:1-17:    This is the famous passage where Nicodemus visits Jesus one evening. Our Lord speaks one of the best known passages to people who speak English (John 3:16). Many sound sermons could be based on this reading: concerning the person and work of the Holy Spirit; concerning baptism; concerning fallen human nature and God’s grace; concerning the need for divine help for us to understand spiritual things, concerning the sacrifice of Jesus, and what our sermon will focus on Sunday (so I’m not going to tell you now), are just a few.


  • Paper copies of our newsletter will be available Sunday.
  • Please keep the Southeastern District, meeting in convention May 30-June 2, in your prayers. 
Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Festival of Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday
May 27, 2012

The Lord be with you

Today is Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter. Below is the Icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit and an explanation drawn from For All the Saints.

Icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit

The first representations of the icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit had Mary, the mother of God, in the center of the apostles as the biblical record suggests (Acts 1:14). However, with the gradual unfolding of the understanding of the significance of Pentecost, Mary was removed from the icon for theological reasons, just as Mary, not present at the Ascension according to the biblical record, was placed in the center of the apostles in the icon of the Ascension. Theologically Mary symbolizes the church as the bearer of Christ who received the promise of the Holy Spirit. Here in the icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit that promise is fulfilled, and the emphasis is placed on the multiplicity of the church’s members and their gifts united in one mission.

Looking at the icon one first notices a semi-circular bench around which the twelve apostles sit in perfect harmony, reminding the viewer of the icon of the Holy Trinity and the circle of love and oneness between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Here that unity is found in the circle (mandorla) at the top of the icon, symbolic of God the Father, with twelve rays descending, symbolic of the Holy Spirit, toward the head of each apostle. The rays then terminate in the tongues or flames of fire (which cannot be seen in this icon) resting on each of them, reminding us of the words of John the Baptist, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11). Below the circle is an empty, unoccupied place at the head of the semi-circular bench between Peter on the left and Paul on the right, the place occupied by the invisible head of the church, Christ, who through the Holy Spirit, in the words of Luther, “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in unity with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

The icon appears at first to contradict the biblical record in Acts 2:1-21, since the external account of what the uninitiated saw was chaos—people were drunk with wine—but what is revealed in the icon is the inner experience of peace and calm of people of all nations united in the Spirit. The fathers of the church saw in the Pentecost event the restoration of what was lost at the time of the building of the earthly tower at Babel where humankind wanted to usurp the place of God and numerous languages were given so they could no longer communicate with one another (Genesis 11:1 -9). At Pentecost people of diverse languages were reunited in that all understood the promises of God in their own languages and were drawn back into oneness.

The diversity of gifts that the Spirit gives to each while uniting them is expressed in the individuality of each apostle. As they speak with one another each one’s face looks in a slightly different direction and no two of them have their hands or feet in the same position. Paul would later say, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one” (1 Corinthians 12:4-13). The inverse perspective of the icon—the apostles grow larger in size as they recede to the background, making them all appear the same—shows that they are equal in honor and dignity.

Tradition says that, to fulfill the prophecy of Joel (2:28-29 and Acts 2:17-21), the Spirit descended not only on the twelve apostles but on all who were “together in one place” (Acts 2:1), that is, on the whole church. The icon also expresses this by showing apostles not belonging to the twelve. We have already mentioned Paul who sits opposite Peter, but others also appear who were not among the twelve such as Luke (third from the top on the left) and Mark (third from the top on the right). Collectively the twelve represent the fact that the work of the Holy Spirit is ongoing, and embraces the whole church of which they are a part. The evangelists each hold bibles in their hands and the rest hold scrolls, both being symbols of the apostolic message.

As the upper part of the semi-circular bench of apostles was opened to the heavens and the source of their unity in the Triune God, the bottom part of the semicircular bench opens on the world. In the oldest icons of the Descent of the Spirit the multitude mentioned as being baptized in Acts 2:41 were depicted by small figures in different costumes representing the people of the world. These were later replaced with the figure of a prince or king (as in this icon) whose name is “Cosmos,” a personification of the universe in captivity to the prince of death. But Cosmos holds in his hands a napkin or towel (expressive of reverence or respect) containing the twelve scrolls of the apostles, symbolic of the apostolic proclamation of the church and the promise of salvation to all who through the Spirit confess Jesus as Lord.

[For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church, volume IV (The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, Delhi, NY, 1996) 7-11]

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bede the Venerable, Theologian

The Commemoration of Bede the Venerable, Theologian
May 25, 2012

Today we remember Bede the Venerable (973-733/5 ad). He was the last of the Early Church Fathers and the first to compile the history of the English church. Born in Northumbria, Bede’s parents took him to a local monastery in northern England at the age of seven for his education, and he never left the monastic life. He became a deacon at age 19, which was quite early. (The conical age was twenty-five.) He was ordained a priest when he was thirty. He rarely left the monastery and devoted the rest of his life to teaching and writing. He once wrote, “I have spent all my life in this monastery, applying myself entirely to the study of the Scriptures; and, amid the observance of the discipline of the Rule and the daily task of singing in the church, it has always been my delight to learn or to teach or to write.”

Bede was, in fact, the most learned man of his time. He was a prolific writer. He published 25 commentaries on books of the Bible (he felt these were his best works), and it is said “his commentaries are still fresh today.” He also published works on the history of the saints, grammar, metrics, and chronology (he introduced the dating of years from the birth of Christ). Today he is probably known for his works on history. His careful use of sources provided a model for historians in the Middle Ages. His book The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, is still the best source of English history from 597 to 731, when the Anglo-Saxon culture developed and Christianity triumphed.

He had just finished a translation of the Gospel of John into Old English when he died. His most famous disciple, Cuthbert, reported that died with the words of the Gloria Patri on his lips. He received the title “Venerable” within two generations of his death and is buried in Durham Cathedral as one of England’s greatest saints.

Collect for the Day
Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines of religion and scholarship. Grant that as he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generations, so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you known in all the world. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Appropriate prayers include
  • For universities, colleges, and schools
  • For students and teachers
  • For biblical scholars and translators
  • For the teaching and learning of history in general, and church history in particular
  • For a life devoted to Christ

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Worship for Pentecost Sunday - 2012

Commemoration of Esther
Thursday after Easter 7
May 24, 2012

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. This is one of those festivals that was first celebrated by the Old Testament people of God, but brought over into the worship life of the New Testament people of God with a fuller understanding. There will be a special post concerning Pentecost that I will put on this blog Sunday, so I will not go into a lot of background today.

This weekend also happens to be when we, in the United States, “observe” Memorial Day. I say “observe” because Memorial Day is actually May 30. Monday, when we “observe” the day, will be May 28. The day we observe Memorial Day was changed to the last Monday in May in 1971 by congress with the passing of the National Holiday Act. The purpose of this act was to create as many three-day weekends as possible. Most of the holidays thus effected have gradually lost their distinctiveness as people view them more and more as just long weekends.

In the U.S., Memorial Day began after our Civil War, and was a way to recognize the sacrifice of all the war dead, North and South. After World War I, the day was expanded to include all who have died in our nation’s wars. I have, for a long time, thought that there is a wonderful parallel between those who have given their lives for our freedom with our Lord, who gave his life that we might be free from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Of course, it is not an exact parallel, but it is a good one nonetheless.

For our liturgy Sunday we will use the first setting of the Divine Service, which begins on page 151 of the hymnal. This is a communion service. To prepare for receiving the Lord’s Supper you may read Psalm 139, especially verses 1-16. As you read, reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit.

Our appointed lessons are Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21; and John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15. Throughout the season of Easter, our Old Testament lesson has been replaced by a reading from the book of Acts. As this Sunday marks the beginning of a new season in the Church Year, we return to a reading from the Old Testament for our first lesson. Our opening hymn will be “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest” (LSB 498). The sermon hymn will be “The Lamb” (LSB 547). Our closing hymn will be “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (LSB 556). This hymn has ten verses. We will sing verses 1-5. Our distribution hymns will be “O Sing to the Lord” (LSB 808), “Draw Near and Take the Body of the Lord” (LSB 637), and “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord” (LSB 497).

The sermon will be based on the Old Testament lesson. The text will be Ezekiel 37:3. The sermon will be titled: “Can These Bones Live?”

In our prayers we will remember the U.S. military, and specially the family members who have lost loved ones while serving in the military. the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB) (Igreja EvangĂ©lica Luterana do Brasil) and their President, Rev. Egon Kopereck. We will remember our missionary, Megan Birney. Megan serves in Hong Kong. She desires that we pray that the Lord would pave the way and open hearts to the ministries of LCMS World Mission, Church of All Nations, and The Lutheran Church—Hong Kong Synod; that the Lord would grant her discernment and wisdom as she serves in this leadership role; that God will continue to bless the ministry in Hong Kong and that nothing would hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. We will remember the persecuted believers in Libya. We will also remember our sister SED congregations: Our Redeemer, Wilson, NC; St. John’s Winston-Salem, NC; St. Mark, Winston-Salem, NC; Bethany, Alexandria, VA; Holy Trinity, Columbia, SC. We will be remembering the Southeastern District, which will be meeting in convention this coming week. Naturally we will continue to remember those who have been miss-led by our cultures acceptance of abortion and sexual immorality, asking God’s grace for their lives that they may be healed and restored by the Holy Spirit. We will also continue to remember those trapped in the modern practice of slavery and ask God to bless all efforts to end this sinful practice that are pleasing in his eyes.

Fifty-two members of the U.S. military with S.C. ties have died in Iraq, and eight in Afghanistan. A number of them came from the upstate, and two from Spartanburg. As our country remembers the sacrifice of our military this weekend, we will honor these individuals in our prayers and remember specifically their family and friends who mourn their loss. They are:


  • S.C. Army National Guard Pvt. Algernon Adams, 36, of North Augusta; Oct. 28, 2003, noncombat injuries, Forward Operating Base St. Mere, Iraq
  •  Army Pfc. Michael Scott Adams, 20, of Spartanburg; Aug. 21, 2003, in combat, caused by ricocheting bullet near Baghdad
  • Airman 1st Class Carl L. Anderson Jr., 21, of Georgetown; Aug. 29, 2004 in a bomb attack near Mosul
  • Army Staff Sgt. George Buggs, 31, of Barnwell; March 23, 2003, in ambush of convoy near Nasiriyah
  • Army Capt. Josh Byers,29, an Anderson native; July 23, 2003, when homemade bomb exploded under his Humvee east of Baghdad
  • Army Reserve Pfc. Thomas Caughman, 20, Lexington; June 9, 2004, when his vehicle was ambushed near Baghdad
  • Marine Staff Sgt. Jay T. Collado, 31, of Columbia; Feb. 20 from a roadside bomb near Baghdad
  • Marine Lance Cpl. James R. Davenport, 20, of Anderson, died Nov. 22 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province
  • Army Chief Warrant Officer Jason G. Defrenn, 34, of Barnwell; Feb. 2 when his Apache helicopter was shot down in Taji
  • Army Sgt. Joseph Derrick, 24, Columbia; Sept. 23, 2005, small-arms fire near Ar Ramadi
  • Marine Cpl. Matthew V. Dillon, 25, of Aiken, died Dec. 11 in a bomb blast while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province
  • Army Spc. Rian Ferguson, 22, of Taylors; Dec. 14, 2003, fell from vehicle near Forward Operating Base Quinn, Iraq
  • Marine 2nd Lt. Almar L. Fitzgerald,23, of Lexington; Feb. 21, of wounds suffered Feb. 18 from a hidden bomb in Al Anbar province
  • Marine Lance Cpl. Travis A. Fox, 25, of Cowpens; Oct. 30, 2004, killed in enemy action in Al Anbar Province
  • Army Sgt. Donald D. Furman, 30, of Burton, Oct. 12, 2005; Humvee he was riding in collided with civilian vehicle near Balad
  • Marine Lance Cpl. Jonathan E. Gadsden, 21, of Charleston; died Oct. 22, 2004,from injuries suffered in combat in Al Anbar Province on Aug. 21
  • Army Lt. Clifford V. Gadsden, 25, of Red Top; died April 29, 2005 when a bomb exploded near his convoy vehicle in Balad
  • Marine Cpl. Armando Areil Gonzalez, 25; died April 14, 2003, in Kuwait in an accident. A Florida resident, he was based at the Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station
  • Army Pfc. Satieon V. Greenlee, 24, of Pendleton; died Oct. 2 in Baghdad from small arms fire
  • Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Lee Griffin Jr., 31, an Elgin native; May 13, 2003, of shrapnel wounds near Diwaniyah
  • Army Capt. Kimberly Hampton, 27, Easley; Jan. 2, 2004, when the Kiowa helicopter she was piloting was hit by ground-fire near Fallujah
  • Army Spc. Seth A. Hildreth, 26, of Myrtle Beach, died on Aug. 27, in Baghdad, of injuries suffered when a bomb exploded near his vehicle
  • Army Pfc. Melissa J. Hobart, 22, of Ladson; June 6, 2004, in Baghdad, after collapsing while on guard duty
  • Marine Pvt. Nolen Ryan Hutchings, 20, of Boiling Springs; March 23, 2003, in combat at Nasiriyah
  • Army Spc. Darius T. Jennings, 22, of Cordova; one of 16 soldiers killed Nov. 2, 2003, when Chinook transport helicopter was hit by ground-fire over Fallujah
  • Army Spc. Katrina Johnson,32, of Orangeburg; Feb. 16, 2005after the supply delivery truck she was riding in overturned
  • Army Sgt. Anthony G. Jones, 25, of Sumter; June 14, 2004, in Baghdad where a bomb exploded near his vehicle
  • S.C. National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Patrick Leach, 39, Rock Hill; Dec. 9, 2004 in a helicopter crash near Mosul
  • S.C. National Guard Staff Sgt. Jerome Lemon, 42, of North Charleston; Oct. 27, 2004 in Balad, when a car bomb exploded near his vehicle
  • Pfc. Juan M. Lopez Jr., 23, of Florence; Aug. 13, 2007, one of three killed when an IED struck their vehicle in Qayyarah
  • Army Pfc. Vorn J. Mack, 19, of Orangeburg; drowned Aug. 23, 2003 in the Euphrates River
  • Army Pfc. Spence McNeil, 19, of Bennettsville; fatally injured March 8, 2003, in a truck crash in Saudi Arabia before the war started
  • Army Spc. Jason Moski, 24, of Blackville; one of three soldiers killed Feb. 25, 2005, by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad
  • Army Staff Sgt. Paul Neff, 30, of Fort Mill; one of six soldiers killed Nov. 7, 2003, when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed near Tikrit
  • Army Spc. Anthony C. Owens, 21, Conway; Feb. 1; when his unit was attacked in Baghdad
  • Army Staff Sgt. Esau Patterson Jr., 25, Ridgeland; one of eight soldiers who died April 19, 2004, in a Baghdad bomb blast
  • Marine Sgt. John P. Phillips, 29, of St. Stephen; died Aug. 16 at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas, from wounds received March 7 during combat operations in Al Anbar province
  • Chief Warrant Officer John R. Priestner, 42, of North Charleston, died Nov. 6, in Balad, of injuries suffered in AH-64 Apache helicopter crash at Balad
  • S.C. National Guard Lt. Andrew Shields, 25, Campobello; Dec. 9, 2004 in a helicopter crash near Mosul
  • Army Spc. Orenthial J. Smith, 21, Martin; June 22, 2003, when his convoy was ambushed south of Baghdad
  • Army Sgt. Maj. Michael B. Stack, 48, Lake City; April 11, 2004, in combat in Anbar province
  • S.C. Army National Guard Master Sgt. Thomas Thigpen, 52, Augusta; suffered either heart attack or stroke March 16, 2004, at Camp Virginia, Kuwait
  • Army Staff Sgt. Anthony O. Thompson, 26, of Branchville; one of three soldiers who died Sept. 18, 2003, when their Humvee was ambushed near Tikrit
  • Army Spc. Douglas L. Tinsley, 21, of Chester; killed Dec. 26 when in a vehicle rollover incident in Baghdad
  • Marine Master Sgt. Timothy Toney, 37, Columbia; March 27, 2004, collapsed and died of natural causes at Camp Wolverine, Kuwait
  • Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua L. Torrence, 20, of Lexington; March 14, 2005, of wounds suffered in hostile action in Al Anbar province
  • Staff Sgt. Terry D. Wagoner, 28, of Piedmont; Sept. 14 in Baghdad of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle during combat operations
  • Army Spc. Zandra T. Walker, 28, of Greenville; Aug. 15, 2007, when the enemy attacked with indirect fire in Taji
  • Marine Cpl. David G. Weimortz, 28, of Irmo; died Aug. 26, in a roadside bombing in Al Anbar province
  • Army Spc. Harry Winkler III, 32, of Hampton, died Nov. 12, when a car bomb went off near his vehicle in Samarra
  • Army Pfc. Dustin Yancey, 22, of Goose Creek; Nov. 4, 2005, of wounds suffered when Humvee he was in struck a roadside bomb near Baghdad.
  • Marine Pvt. Rodericka Youmans, 22, Allendale; one of four Marines killed July 6, 2004, in a bomb attack near Fallujah in Al Anbar province


  • Army Reserve Sgt. Edward R. Heselton, 23, of Easley; Aug. 11, 2005, in Orgun-E, Afghanistan, when ordnance exploded near the vehicle he was driving
  • Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Hicks, 25, of Jefferson; March 23, 2003, helicopter crash near Ghanzi, Afghanistan
  • S.C. National Guard Sgt. Stephen High, 45, of Spartanburg; April 6, 2005, helicopter crash in bad weather near Ghanzi, Afghanistan
  • Army Sgt. Michael R. Lehmiller, 23, of Anderson, Aug. 21, 2005, when a bomb exploded near his Humvee during patrol operations, near Baylough, Afghanistan
  • Marine Capt. Daniel McCollum, 29, of Irmo; Jan. 9, 2002, refueling plane crash in Pakistan while supporting the war effort
  • Army Maj. Edward Murphy, 36, of Mount Pleasant; April 6, 2005, helicopter crash in bad weather near Ghanzi, Afghanistan
  • Army Staff Sgt. Tony B. Olaes, 30, of Walhalla; Sept. 20, 2004, in hostile action near Shkin, southeastern Afghanistan
  • S.C. National Guard Spc. Chrystal Stout, 23, of Travelers Rest; April 6, 2005, helicopter crash in bad weather near Ghanzi, Afghanistan
Below is a video of “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest,” our opening hymn. It only has three of the verses and it is an older form of the hymn, with “thee’s” and “thou’s” in it.

Our adult Bible class meets at 9:00 Sunday morning. This Sunday we will continue in Matthew. As always, everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Ezekiel 37:1-14:         Ezekiel lived and worked during a dark time for the Jews. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had long been gone, destroyed by the Assyrians. A new world power, the Babylonians, had risen. The Jews were disciplined by God through the Babylonians due to their unfaithfulness. Ezekiel warned them of this before it happened, but his message was rejected. Finally, as Ezekiel warned, the Babylonians attacked again, destroying the temple. As God told Ezekiel, the glory of God had departed from the nation. But Ezekiel’s message was not all doom and gloom. He foretold of a future when the nation would return to their God and their land. It was a tough sell to a people in exile. Just as the people didn’t believe God when Ezekiel told them of the impending disasters, so now they didn’t want to believe God when Ezekiel told them of their future restoration. (The human heart is constantly at war with God.) This part of Ezekiel is about the restoration of the Jews and is the vision of “dry bones.” The Spirit’s ability to bring life where death reigns supreme is a strong gospel theme wherever it appears.

Acts 2:1-21:    No big surprise here. Sunday is Pentecost Sunday and this is part of the story of the first Christian Pentecost. It begins with the believers gathered together. The Holy Spirit comes with the sound of a mighty wind and the appearance of “tongues” of fire. The disciples begin to speak in foreign languages, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All who believe in Jesus have “life in his name.” The passage makes it abundantly clear that they are speaking standard human languages, and not in “tongues of ecstasy,” as some have maintained. It is certainly worth noting that it is through the proclaimed word that the Holy Spirit is choosing to work to bring the audience to faith in Jesus. This is again emphasized by how the story ends in verses 40 and 41. Saint Paul emphasized this same point in Romans 10, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (14-15). The word of God is a “means of grace,” that is, a means used by the Holy Spirit to “call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify” us.

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15:       Jesus is teaching about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. There is far too much in these verses to do them justice here. I will draw out just a couple of points. In verse 26, speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, “whom I will send to you from the Father”. This is reflected in the Nicene Creed with the words concerning the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” This is peek into the mystery of the Trinity, a mystery we cannot come close to truly comprehending. We confess with the Bible teaches, without full comprehension. The Holy Spirit is called the “Helper” in the ESV translation. The Greek word is “Paraclete.” There is no good single English word to translate the Greek. Some translations have “Advocate,” others, “Comforter,” and still others “Counselor.” All are good, but limited, translations. The word means all of the above. Another thing to note is how the Holy Spirit works to spread the gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Finally, some have used the closing verses to teach “continuing revelation.” The idea is that the Holy Spirit continues to reveal new truths which are not recorded in scripture. The book of Acts actually does record the Holy Spirit revealing things, and the books written by the Apostles (Acts, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, etc.) all testify that the Holy Spirit can and has provided us with greater clarity concerning what Jesus and the Old Testament taught. However, one must be extremely careful in this area. The biblical standard for claiming direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit include 1) absolutely no errors; 2) absolutely no contradictions of former confirmed revelations; and 3) in absolute harmony with the rest of revealed scripture. I, personally, have found no contemporary “prophet” who had given a message that fills these requirements. I have found many that I would classify as “false” prophets, like the ones the true prophets of God battled in the Old Testament and of whom Jesus warned us of in places like Matthew 7:15. In deed, it is probably best to think of Jesus as referring primarily to the writing of the New Testament canon.

  • As in the past, we will have a cook-out this Pentecost Sunday. Everyone is encouraged to attend. There will be games (corn hole, etc.) lost of food (hamburgers, hotdogs, etc.) and wonderful fellowship.

  • Paper copies of our newsletter will be available Sunday.

  • The Southeastern District will be meeting in convention May 30-June 2. Pastor and Kitty are Lamb of God’s representatives.

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Commemoration of Esther

The Commemoration of Esther
May 24, 2012

The Lord be with you

Esther (which means “star”) is the heroine of the biblical book that bears her name. Her Jewish name was Hadassah, which means “myrtle.” Her beauty, charm, and courage served her well as queen to King Ahasuerus. In that role, she was able to save her people from the mass extermination that Haman, the king’s chief adviser, had planned (Esther 2:19-4:17). Esther’s efforts to uncover the plot resulted in the hanging of Haman on the very same gallows that he had built for Mordecai, her uncle and guardian. Following this, the king named Mordecai minister of state in Haman’s place. This story is an example of how God intervenes on behalf of His people to deliver them from evil, as here through Esther he preserved the Old Testament people through whom the Messiah would come.
Concerning the story of Esther, Ambrose of Milan wrote:

“Why did Queen Esther expose herself to death and not fear the wrath of a fierce king? Was it not to save her people from death, and act both seemly and virtuous? The king of Persia himself also, though fierce and proud, yet thought it seemly to show honor to the man who had given information about a plot which had been laid against himself, to save a free people from slavery, to snatch them from death, and not to spare him who pressed on such unseemly plans. So finally he handed over to the gallows the man that stood second to himself, and whom he counted chief among all his friends, because he considered that he had dishonored him by his false counsels.

“For that commendable friendship which maintains virtue is to be preferred most certainly to wealth or honors or power.”
(The above is almost entirely from Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publish House.)

Appropriate prayers:
  • For the safety of all believers, especially those in lands where Christianity is persecuted
  • For those who rule, that they may allow the Gospel to be freely preached
  • For the willingness to sacrifice all for the sake of Christ
  • Thankfulness to God for saving his people of old that we might have faith today
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, May 21, 2012

Constantine & Helena

Commemoration of Emperor Constantine, Christian Ruler, and Helena, Mother of Constantine
May 21, 2012

The Lord be with you

The Bible stands as unique among all the “holy” books in the world in many ways. One of those ways is in its descriptions of “holy” people. Noah, Abraham, David, Peter, Saul/Paul, Thomas, and so many others, were definitely flawed people. Many have taken comfort in their examples. If God can forgive and use a person with a drinking problem (Noah), murders (David, Saul/Paul), doubters (Thomas), and so on, he can certainly forgive and use me. The Bible depicts us as we are. It is a mark of God’s greatness that our flaws do not impede him.

So often the stories of the post-biblical saints collapse to the level of non-Christian stories of heroes in other faiths. People without flaws. Impossible standards to live up to. Today we honor two saints who were flawed followers of Jesus. (All his followers are flawed, we just happen to know enough about these two to know some of their flaws.)

Constantine & Helena - Mosaic in Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
Constantine I (the Great) served as Roman emperor from 306 to 337 ad. He was probably the greatest general of his generation. He consistently won battles against overwhelming odds. He sponsored many building projects, including the new capital of the Roman Empire, New Rome. The people called the city Constantinople, which is the name that stuck. Born a pagan, he became a Christian. The major turning point in his life was when he saw a vision of a cross before a major battle that came with a promise of victory. He had crosses painted on the shields of his troops, and had a cross carried in front of the troops when they entered battle. Constantine won. During his reign, the persecution of Christians was forbidden by the Edict of Milan in 313 ad, and, ultimately, the faith gained full imperial support. (However Constantine didn’t make it the state religion. Conversion was voluntary.) Constantine took an active interest in the life and teachings of the Church and in 325 ad called the Council of Nicaea, at which orthodox Christianity was defined and defended.

As one might guess, as a Roman general and, later, emperor of the Roman Empire, Constantine did some questionable things (to put it kindly). Any adequate short biography will supply some of them. It is because of such actions that some historians wonder if he ever really became a Christian. Perhaps, they think, it was just a shred political move. The fallacy in such thinking is that it assumes, when a person becomes a Christian, they no longer sin and conform to the historian’s opinion of what is Christian behavior. As Luther said, we are at the same time both sinners and saints. This was true of Constantine. In spite of his flaws, he was a strong Christian leader who ended persecution of the Church in his empire (it would be revived again by Julian the Apostate). With his support, the Church fashioned the Nicene Creed, which is still used as a mark of orthodox faith.

Constantine’s mother was Helena (about 255-329 ad). She became a Christian after her son did (indicating one powerful way the Lord works in bringing people to faith, through family ties). She became so committed to Christ that many said it seemed like she had been baptized as an infant and been a Christian her whole life. When Constantine became emperor, he brought his mother to Rome and had her recognized as Augusta.

Constantine sent Helena to the Holy Lands to identify various sites of the Christian Faith. She was, therefore, one of the first Christian pilgrims. Her research identified where Jesus was born in Bethlehem, where Jesus was crucified, and buried, and others sites. Most of the sites she identified have stood the test of time. While in these areas she had several churches constructed at the discovered holy sites, and shrines at others. She was also responsible for imperial relief efforts for the poor of the land. According to ledged, she also discovered the “true cross.” However the story doesn’t appear until over 100 years after her death, so it seems rather unlikely.

The dark spot on her record deals with her relationship with Jews. In her zeal to discover Christian holy sites, she mistreated the Jews in the area, whom she believed were deliberately hiding where these places were located to keep the Christian faith down. Who knows, maybe they were. That still doesn’t excuse abusive treatment. In the Christian Faith, the end does not justify the means.

God accomplished great things through these flawed saints, just as he did in the Bible.

Appropriate Prayers:
  • For Christian rulers
  • For rulers in general, that they might let the Gospel be preached in their lands
  • For families
  • For the work of archeology in the Holy Lands
  • For peaceful relationships with Jews and other non-Christian faiths
  • For us, as sinners/saints, to faithfully follow our Lord

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Worship for Easter 7 - 2012

Saturday after Easter 6
May 19, 2012

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Seventh Sunday of Easter. We will be using Matins (page 219) for our liturgy. The appointed lessons are Acts 1:12-26, 1 John 5:9-15, and John 17:11b-19. The Psalm for the Day is Psalm 1. The antiphon is verse 6. Our hymns will be “O Sing to the Lord” (LSB 808), “Lift High the Cross” (LSB 837), and “Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds” (LSB 465).

In our prayers we will remember the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (IELA) (Iglesia EvangĂ©lica Luterana Argentina) and their President, Rev. Edgardo Elseser. We will also thank God for the new partner church status established between the LC-MS and the Lutheran Church of Liberia. We will remember our missionary, Megan Birney. Megan serves in Hong Kong. She desires that we pray that the Lord would pave the way and open hearts to the ministries of LCMS World Mission, Church of All Nations, and The Lutheran Church—Hong Kong Synod; that the Lord would grant her discernment and wisdom as she serves in this leadership role; that God will continue to bless the ministry in Hong Kong and that nothing would hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. We will remember the persecuted believers in Lebanon. We will also remember our sister SED congregations: Trinity, Tryon, NC; Hope, Wake Forest, NC; St. Paul, West End, NC; Messiah, Wilmington, NC; and Good Shepherd, Charleston, SC.

Below is a video of “Lift High the Cross,” our sermon hymn. It is sung and played by “Rachel” aka the LutheranWarbler.

Our adult Bible class meets at 9:00 Sunday morning. This Sunday we will continue in Matthew. As always, everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Acts 1:12-26:  This is the account of the selection of Matthias to replace Judas as one of the Apostles. After the Ascension (this past Thursday), the disciples returned to the “upper room” in Jerusalem. There the men and women, “with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.” There were about 120 people. Peter gives a “sermon.” Based on the Old Testament, Peter recognized several things. First, the betrayal of Jesus had been foretold. Second, the death of the betrayer had been foretold. Third, the office once allotted to Judas, needed to be filled by another. This they set out to do. After reviewing the qualifications for being an Apostle, it is discovered that only two men have the necessary qualifications. Of the two, Matthias is selected by lot. The way pray and scripture permeate the process is a lesson for us today. The importance of carrying on the work Christ has given the Church is also important for us to recognize. Finally, in our modern day when people like to stile themselves as modern “apostles,” it is worthwhile to see what the qualifications for a full-fledged apostle are. Of special note is that they are to have been with Jesus from the baptism of John through the resurrection. While the word “apostle” means “sent one,” and certainly we can and do send people so that they are “apostles” is a sense, nonetheless they are not apostles in the sense that Peter, James, Matthias and John were. Those who pretend to speak with such authority should be avoided as false teachers. When we say something is “apostolic,” we mean built on and reflecting the teachings and work of the Apostles of Christ, those first century saints called by God.

1 John 5:9-15:            This lesson is packed! John begins by speaking of the “testimony of  men,” and he calls it important. “Men” testify about many things, the economy, how to be a good citizen, work, and so much more. Just look at the self-help section in any book store. But the “testimony of God” is greater, because it is about Jesus. Through faith in him we have eternal life. The ‘testimony of God” is carried by the Church of God, you and me. When John says whoever does not believe “makes God a liar,” he means they are calling God a liar (not that God is somehow a liar). John wants us to have faith in Jesus. John also touches on prayer. Some look at John’s words and conclude that God has promised to grant us anything we ask for. Nothing could be further from what John wrote. John writes that God will grant anything we ask “according to his will.” We discover God’s will in the pages of the Bible, not in the selfish recesses of our hearts.

John 17:11b-19:         This is part of Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” Jesus prayed this prayer on the night he was betrayed. He prays for the unity of his followers. The loss of Judas and how it was foretold in Scripture is prayed about. This illustrates how Scripture should inform our prayer life. One of the great aspects of the Churches historic prayers is how they are shaped by the Bible. If these prayers seem out of sync with your private prayers, perhaps you should examine what you are praying for. Jesus recognized that the “evil one” will persecute his followers, and so he prays for their safety. We reflect this each Sunday by praying for believers in area of the world where persecution of believers is common. He prays that we might be “sanctified,” which is done through the Bible. If regular Bible reading is not part of your devotional life, then you are ignoring the key element through which the Holy Spirit strengthens us and conforms us into the image of Jesus. Finally Christ also prays for the mission of the Church, to reach out with the truth of the Gospel. We reflect this concern each Sunday as we pray for one of the LC-MS missionaries.

  • The Church Council will meet Sunday after the worship service.
  •  Remember, on the 27th (Pentecost Sunday) we will have a cook-out after the worship service.
Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, May 18, 2012

Icon of the Ascension

Friday in the week of Easter 6
May 18, 2012

The Lord be with you

Yesterday was the Ascension of our Lord. Kitty and I joined with other area Lutherans in a special worship service. The service was conducted at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Greenville. Good Shepherd is one of those congregations that appreciate art and some of that art happens to be icons. Now, when I write “icons,” I don’t mean those little cartoon images so prevalent on computers. In this case, icons are a very old style of painting quite common in the Eastern Orthodox denominations (Greek, Russian, Serbian, etc.). They are considered theology in paint and, as such, those who paint icons do not say they “paint” icons, but that they “write” icons.

At Good Shepherd, they have an Icon of the Ascension of our Lord, which had been placed in the altar area. Every element in an icon has significance. Below is an image of an icon of the Ascension of our Lord. It is not the exact icon at Good Shepherd. That doesn’t matter, because icons follow a distinctive pattern. All “real” icons of the Ascension “must” have specific elements. Therefore the significance in the icon of the Ascension is the same from icon to icon. Following the icon is an explanation of the icon which was made available at Good Shepherd. This explanation is drawn from For All the Saints, vol. 3, pages 1228-1232, 1995 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau), page 1228 and following. This is a wonderful devotional book.

The Icon of the Ascension of Our Lord

The earliest image of the Ascension comes from the fifth century and depicts Christs return to God the Father as recorded in Luke 24:50 and Acts 1:9-11.

At first one is puzzled when looking at the icon because Christ appears to be smaller than and secondary to Mary, the apostles, and angels. Also puzzling is that Mary is present at all since the biblical account does not record her being at the Ascension but rather at Pentecost (Acts 1:12-14). But this disparity expresses the theological meaning of the event, in which Christ establishes and defines the role and significance of the church in the world and her relationship to God. In the words of Paul, “...and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).

Thus we notice that Mary, who dominates the icon, stands in the center of the angels and disciples. She is the one who has taken God into herself and become the temple of the incarnate Word, and thus symbolizes the church—the body of Christ. As the personification of the church she is placed directly beneath her Son. He is leaving her behind on earth but through the promised descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the church will receive all the fullness of his being. This link between the Ascension and Pentecost is revealed in the words, “ is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

From the postures of the disciples and the placement of the angels in the sky and on earth around Mary and Jesus, the heavenly and the earthly appear to be joined. By looking carefully one can see a hidden design or pattern, with one triangle that points down extending from the lower part of the two upper angels to the feet of Mary, and another triangle that points up extending from the lower left and right through Mary’s head. The total image suggests movement and seems to say that by Christ’s Ascension “he fills all in all,” heaven and earth are joined, and the finite contains the infinite.

Mary’s hands are lifted in prayer, indicating the role the church is to fulfill in praying for the world, and her stillness expresses the immutability of God's Word, whose keeper is the church. In contrast, the disciples as they stand on either side of Mary are animated, their postures expressing awe and dismay. Each one is different in appearance, perhaps a foreshadowing of the icon of Pentecost and the multitude and variety of gifts that will be given to the church called to bear witness to one Lord.

Although Matthias has not yet been chosen, there are twelve apostles, for St. Paul appears, on Mary’s left. He is one who did not know Christ in the flesh, being “untimely born” (I Corinthians 15:8), but the icon represents the church in its fullness and not just those historically present at the Ascension. Paul also expresses the church’s mission to the Gentiles.

The angels’ hands point to the ascending Christ and announce to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). This is a reminder to the church to proclaim the Second Coming of Christ in Glory and that he will return to judge “both the living and the dead.”

The hilly landscape and presence of olive trees reminds us that the event took place on the Mount of Olives.

His hand raised in blessing calls to mind that as he ascended, he blessed them (Luke 24:50-51). Though Christ is here leaving the world in the flesh, we know that he did not abandon it in his divinity but is ever present, filling all things and promising “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

This explanation is only partial and focuses on the elements unique to this particular icon. There are also a great many “standard” symbols in the icon. Just a few dealing with the depiction of Jesus include him sitting on a rainbow. This, drawn from Revelation 4:3, points to Jesus as the all-powerful God. The circle around Jesus reminds us that he has entered eternity. The “nimbus” (halo) always reminds us of heaven. Jesus’ halo is different from the others, divided into three parts. This reminds us of the Trinity, of whom Jesus is the “Second Person.” Even the position of our Lord’s hands, like the position of Mary’s hands, has meaning. These sorts of symbols are seen in icon after icon, and become something of a language by which you can “read” an icon, even the first time you see one.

I hope you enjoy this icon and appreciate a portion of the theology depicted in it. I also hope that maybe a few who read this post might be intrigued enough to learn more about this ancient art form by which the Church has taught for centuries.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert