Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ruling on Health Care Reform

June 30, 2012
Saturday after Pentecost 4

The Lord be with you

The following is a statement, issued by the LC-MS president, Matthew Harrison, concerning the recent ruling of the US Supreme Court concerning the Health Care laws passed by our congress that mandates Christians to abandon their historic belief that life is a gift from God and should be protected. I wanted to share it with those who come to this blog.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

LCMS President Issues Statement in Response to
U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on Health Care Reform Legislation

ST. LOUIS, June 28, 2012—In response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling today to largely let stand the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, issued the following statement:

“In light of today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), we remain opposed to the controversial birth control mandate, which is one of the requirements included in the law.

“The Court’s decision today guarantees that we will continue to bring awareness to the threat to religious liberty represented by the birth control mandate, which requires virtually all health plans, including those of religious organizations, to cover birth control drugs and products that could cause the death of the unborn. We are opposed to the birth control mandate because it runs counter to the biblical truth of the sanctity of human life and creates a conflict of conscience for religious employers and insurers, who face steep penalties for non-compliance based upon their religious convictions.

“We will continue to stand with those who have filed suit in the many religious freedom cases pending against the birth control mandate.  Through education and civic advocacy, we will continue to educate the public about the vital necessity of protecting our First Amendment right to act according to the tenets of our faith.  We remain steadfast in our opposition to the birth control mandate and will continue working to ensure our right to refrain from paying for products and services that conflict with our doctrine about the sanctity of all human life.

“And, regardless of the Court’s decision on the health care reform law, we in the LCMS will continue to uphold the sanctity of all human life while we care for the sick and work to restore the health and well-being of people in our communities and around the world.”

The 2.3 million-member Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a mission-oriented, Bible-based, confessional Christian denomination headquartered in St. Louis. Through acts of witness and mercy, the church carries out its mission worldwide to make known the love of Jesus Christ.

Learn more at

Friday, June 29, 2012

Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul, Apostles

Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles
June 29, 2012

The Lord be with you

The festival of St. Peter and St. Paul is probably the oldest of the saints’ observances (dating from about the middle of the third century). An early tradition held that these two pillars of the New Testament Church were martyred on the same day in Rome during the persecution under Nero. In addition to this joint commemoration of their deaths, both apostles are commemorated separately: Peter on January 18 for his confession of Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:13-16) and Paul on January 25 for his conversion (Acts 9:1-19).

The New Testament tells us much about both apostles. Peter was with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry and served as a leader among the disciples. Despite his steadfast faith, Scripture also records some of his failures, such as his rebuke of Jesus (Matthew 16:21-23) and his threefold denial of his Lord (Matthew 26:69-75). Following Jesus’ ascension, Peter continued as a leader in the Church (Acts 1:15; 21:14; 15:7).

Paul, a devout Jew also known as Saul, entered the scene as a persecutor of the Church. Following his miraculous conversion, in which the risen Christ Himself appeared to him, Paul became a powerful preacher of the grace of God. During his three missionary journeys (Acts 13-14; 16-18; 18-21), Paul traveled throughout modern-day Turkey and Greece. The New Testament account of his life ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:16), though tradition holds that he went on to Spain before returning to Rome. As far as post-conversion faults of Paul, only one stands out to me. That would be the unforgiving spirit demonstrated when he refused to take John Mark along with him on his second missionary journey because he had “withdrawn from them (Barnabas & Paul) in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work” (Acts 15:36-41). Many commentaries seek to justify Paul’s actions, no doubt because of the great work he did and we just don’t like to see the feet of clay our heroes have, but I believe this has been recorded to accent that all, even the great Saint Paul, was a sinner and needed to live in the grace of God found in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Apparently Paul had a change of heart, recognizing his sin and repenting, being reconciled with Mark (2 Timothy 4:11). To his credit, Mark clearly did not hold a grudge, but forgave Paul. Mark also was a great blessing to Peter (1 Peter 5:13).

Tradition holds that, when Peter was to be martyred, the Romans were going to crucify him. Peter demurred, saying he was unworthy to die in the same fashion as his Lord. The Romans obliged and crucified him upside down. Paul, as a Roman citizen, could not legally be crucified. So he was beheaded.

With these two great Apostles we see the whole Jewish and Gentile mission of the Church, for Peter was primarily taking the Gospel to the Jews while Paul primarily took the Gospel to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7). This, of course, doesn’t mean that they didn’t preach to all people. They took advantage of all opportunities to share Christ given to them by the Lord.

Prayer: Merciful and eternal God, Your holy apostles Peter and Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of Your Son. Strengthen us by Your Holy Spirit that we may confess Your truth and at all times be ready to lay down our lives for Him who laid down His life for us, even Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Other appropriate prayers:
  • For the spread of the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles
  • For the continuation of the apostolic zeal and spirit
  • For those who are today’s martyrs

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Worship for July 1, 2012

Commemoration of  of Irenaeus of Lyons, Pastor
June 28, 2012

The Lord be with you

My guess is that almost all of the churches in the LC-MS will recognize this coming Sunday as the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost. That is because, on our liturgical calendar, there are no special commemorations for July 1. However, on a few liturgical calendars used in other denominations, Catherine Winkworth is remembered on July 1. This remarkable lady has had a significant impact on our worship life, specifically in the hymns we sing. Therefore, at Lamb of God, we will remember her on Sunday. I will also put a post on this blog Sunday providing more information about her.

We will be using the service of Prayer and Preaching for our liturgy (page 260). This is a non-communion service. Our opening hymn will be “Blessed Jesus, at Your Word” (LSB 904). This hymn was originally translated from the German into English by Catherine Winkworth. Our sermon hymn will be “Baptismal Waters Cover Me” (LSB 616). This is the hymn we are learning this month. Our closing hymn will be “God Bless Our Native Land” (LSB 965). This hymn was chosen because this Sunday is the closest to Independence Day. In the Service of Prayer and Preaching we normally confess our faith using the Apostles’ Creed. However this Sunday we will use “We All Believe in One True God” (LSB 953), a hymn based on the Apostles’ Creed. Originally written in German, it was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth.

I was in a bit of a quandary in reference to the lessons for Sunday. I could have used the lessons assigned for Catherine’s day from other liturgical calendars (2 Chronicles 20:20-21; Psalm 96; Colossians 3:14-17; Matthew 13:44-52) or the ones appointed for Pentecost 5 (Lamentations 3:22-33; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43; Psalm 30). After consideration, I’ve opted to go with the special lections for Catherine. That means, if you are not a member of Lamb of God and you are reading these notes, don’t expect the readings in your church to match the lessons below.

In our prayers on Sunday we will remember the Lutheran Church of Venezuela (ILV) (Iglesia Luterana de Venezuela) and their President, Rev. Luis Coronado. We will remember our missionaries, George and Shary Frahm, who serve in Cambodia. We will remember the persecuted believers in Morocco. Morocco is located on the northwest corner of Africa. At one time Christian, it was conquered by Moslems in the 7th century. Officially Jews and Christians have full civil rights in Morocco, however in recent years the Moslem government has been cracking down on Christians, arresting or expelling them from the country. This is because many Moslems have been converting to the true faith. We will also remember our sister SED congregations: St. Paul on the Shore, Hallwood, VA; Christ Community, Hamilton (Leesburg), VA; Emmanuel, Hampton, VA; Nazareth, Hopewell, VA; Holy Lamb, Myrtle Beach, SC. 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 that are pleasing in his sight to end this sinful practice.

Below is a video of the “Lutheran Warbler” singing We All Believe in One True God.”

Our adult Bible class meets at 9:00 Sunday morning. This Sunday we will in Matthew 22, walking with our Lord through Holy Week. As always, everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

2 Chronicles 20:20-21:           After a period of bad kings ruling over Judea, Jehoshaphat became their king. Jehoshaphat was a good king who, among other things, restored the Temple and the divinely ordained worship practices. This reading is a portion of the rededication of the people to the Lord and the establishment of the worship of the Lord.

Colossians 3:14-17:   Paul writes about our Christian life to which we have been called. What does that Christian life look like and how do we sustain it? That life is a life of love, peace and gratitude. It is sustained through worship, where we receive the sacraments and the word. The word is not just the preached word, but also the written word and sung word. You can’t take the pastor with you everywhere you go, but you can take the written and sung word with you to sustain you each and every day.

Matthew 13:44-52:    Jesus tells three parables about the “kingdom of heaven.” He concludes with what might be called a wisdom saying. This points to the importance of the parables, but is not limited to the parables. We will explore, in Sunday’s sermon, how the “treasures” Jesus speaks of can be our treasures today.

  • Our LWML will have a meeting after the worship service on Sunday (or so I’ve heard).

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Irenaeus of Lyons

Commemoration of Irenaeus of Lyons, Pastor
June 28, 2012

The Lord be with you

June 28 has been set aside on our liturgical calendars to remember Irenaeus of Lyons. His name means “peace,” and the English word irenic comes from the same Greek word as his name. He lived from around 130 to 200 AD and is believed to be a native of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey). He studied in Rome and later became pastor in Lyons, France. Lyons in the second century was an important commercial city, the seat of a garrison and headquarters for three provinces, a gateway between the Mediterranean world and the provinces north of the Alps. Like Rome, Lyons had a large Greek-speaking element in its population, and it was among this group that Christianity was first established.

During the Montanist controversy (the Montanists were an apocalyptic party that expected the immediate outpouring of the Holy Spirit), Irenaeus was sent as an envoy to Rome by the Christians at Lyons. In his absence, a fierce persecution of Christians led to the martyrdom of their bishop. Upon Irenaeus’s return (around 177 AD), he became the second bishop of Lyons. Little is know of his later years, including how he died.

Among his most famous writings is a work condemning heresies, especially Gnosticism, which denied the goodness of creation. In opposition, Irenaeus confessed that God has redeemed his creation through the incarnation of the Son. Irenaeus also affirmed the teachings of the Scriptures handed down to and through him as being normative for the Church. This defense against heretics with novel ideas provided by some sort of “special” knowledge remains the bulwark of the Church today. The Bible is our Faith’s solid foundation. Because Irenaeus provided lengthy quotes from the heretics he opposed and whose works would otherwise have been lost, we have a much clearer understanding of what they believed. He also provides us a clear witness to the New Testament books that were received in his day and age. They are the same we have today. He clearly taught that “the ground and pillar of our faith” is the Scriptures “handed down to us” “by the will of God.” Unlike many of his contemporaries, Irenaeus was raised in a Christian home, taught and probably baptized as an infant by Polycarp (see February 23). Polycarp was a student of the Apostle John.

Prayer: Almighty God, You upheld Your servant Irenaeus with strength to maintain the truth and to bring peace to Your Church: Keep us, we pray, steadfast in Your true religion, that in constancy and peace we may walk in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and Forever. Amen.

Appropriate Prayers:
  • For peace in the world
  • For peace in the church
  • For a renewed appreciation of the apostolic tradition
  • For church leaders who guard and defend the apostolic faith
  • Thanksgiving for the Bible

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cyril of Alexandria

Commemoration of Cyril of Alexandria, Pastor and Confessor
Thursday, June 27, 2012

The Lord be with you

Today is the Commemoration of Cyril of Alexandria, Pastor and Confessor, on the LC-MS calendar. He was born sometime around the year 376 and died in 444. Most liturgical calendars that recognize him (and that is most of them) do so for his theological skill. To be honest, I am surprised that the word “pastor” is in the name chosen for this day by our Commission on Worship. Perhaps it is their way of recognizing that Cyril was the pope/patriarch/archbishop of Alexandria. Be that as it may, he made his mark as a theologian and not for his “pastoral skills.”

Cyril holding an Icon of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus
Cyril’s uncle, Theophilus, was the “pope” of Alexandria. It was his uncle who ordained Cyril, who quickly gained fame for his theological skill. When Theophilus died in 412, Cyril was selected to follow him, though many supported the archdeacon Timothy. This was when the leadership of the church in Alexandria was at its peek of power and influence, making the post desirable for many reasons. In response to Cyril’s election a riot between the followers of Timothy and Cyril broke out in the streets.

In his exuberance for the orthodox faith, Cyril employed heavy-handed tactics against his opponents, especially in the early days of holding his position. (I told you he wasn’t really remembered for his pastoral skills). For this many modern scholars take him to task, though his methods were not atypical for his time. Many modern scholars also blame him for the actions of his supports, even when they acted without his support or knowledge.

What Cyril is specially remembered for is his stance for the orthodox faith in the face of the challenge from the new false-teachings of Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, as well as his leadership at the Third Ecumenical Council. Nestorius taught that the phrase “theotokos” (Greek, meaning “birth give of God,” translated into Latin as mater Dei, meaning “mother of God”) should not be applied to Mary, the mother of Jesus. He maintained that the “union” of the Divine and Human in Jesus was “moral” and not real. The historic understanding of the Church, as found expressed in places like John 1:1, 14 and John 10:30, is that Jesus is both completely human and completely divine, in one being, “begotten of His Father before all worlds … of one substance with the Father … and was incarnate [en-fleshed] by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” Because of this miraculous union, Paul could correctly write that “they … crucified the Lord of Glory” (2 Corinthians 2:8). Therefore the term theotokos was in keeping with the Christian Faith. Of course, a scholar like Cyril was able to cite earlier Church Fathers, like Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and others, in supporting his point that Nestorius was teaching a novel view of Jesus.

It seems like a shame that Cyril had such a confrontational nature. Many speculate that his nature prolonged the troubles. In deed, while councils decided that Cyril was right, the issues continued to trouble the Church for decades after his death. However, such speculation is something like being a Monday morning armchair quarterback. You may decide some other play should have been called and then your team would have won the game. But you really don’t know. The opposing team may have played just as well against your play calling. While Cyril was heavy-handed, so were the opponents. The Jews he expelled from Alexandria were responsible for riots and mob violence that killed many Christians. The Governor of Alexandria (an opponent of Cyril) also arrested and executed Christians. Nestorius called his own council which deposed and excommunicated Cyril, accusing him of false doctrine.

Cyril’s legacy for us, and the reason we honor him today, deals with his theology and not with his heavy-handed policies. Throughout his career, he defended a number of orthodox doctrines. The writings of Cyril on the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ reveal him to be one of the most able theologians of his time. Cyril’s Christology influenced subsequent Church councils and was a primary source for Lutheran confessional writings. Because the controversies of his day were basically Christological, his writings also contain some excellent passages concerning the Real Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper and Mary’s place in the Incarnation.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Your servant Cyril steadfastly proclaimed Your Son, Jesus Christ, to be one person, fully God and fully man. By Your infinite mercy, keep us constant in faith and worship of Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Other appropriate prayers:
  • For a deeper understanding of the incarnation
  • For theologians
  • For bishops and pastors who must deal with difficult situations

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Commemoration of Jeremiah

Commemoration of Jeremiah
June 26, 2012

The Lord be with you

We celebrate, on June 26, the Commemoration of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah was active as God’s prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah around 627 to 582 bc. As a prophet he preached, witnessed, and lived through the Babylonian siege and eventual destruction of Jerusalem in 587 bc. In his preaching, he often used symbols, such as an almond and a boiling pot (Jeremiah 1:11-14), wine jars (13:12-14), and a potter at work (18:1-17). His entire prophetic ministry was a sermon, communicating through word and deed God’s anger toward His rebellious people. Jeremiah suffered repeated rejection and persecution by his countrymen. As far as can be known, Jeremiah died in Egypt, having been taken there forcibly. He is remembered and honored for fearlessly calling God’s people to repentance.
The book that bears his name seems to be a collection of his writings gathered by a second party, perhaps by his scribe Baruch. It is not in chronological order. Reading Jeremiah is like entering the cavernous darkness of another person’s frustration and despair (cf 4:22-26). The Lord calls Jeremiah – the “iron” prophet (1:18) – to preach a hapless message of repentance to the stony hearts of sinful Judah. Jeremiah pours out his strength in the task, hammering the people with prophecy after prophecy, firing them with repented warning of judgment (23:29). The result is one of the longest compositions in the Bible (52 chapters), most of which is pure rebuke or calls for the people to turn from their sin. Yet at the heart of Jeremiah, shining brightly as a ray of light through the darkness, appears the aptly named “book of comfort” (chs 30-33), one of the brightest Old Testament prophecies of everlasting salvation. Indeed, people in Jesus’ day even identified Jesus with Jeremiah (Matthew 16:13-14).

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Jeremiah, You continued the prophetic pattern in teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, June 25, 2012

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

Commemoration of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
June 25, 2012

June 25 is the day set aside to commemorate the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. This is the document that was formally presented to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, at the Diet of Augsburg, on June 25, 1530 (hence the name of the confession and the date selected to commemorate it). Augsburg was a city in Germany. “Diet” is an old word for a conference. The Augsburg Confession contained the views of the Evangelicals (Lutherans) and is their statement of faith.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his now famous 95 Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This was intended as a call for an academic debate. That debate never happened, but the announcement sparked debate around the Holy Roman Empire from the halls of power to the fields of the peasants. Thus began the Protestant/Lutheran Reformation.

Many were coming to believe that the Roman Church had accepted false and abusive practices. To be honest, many Roman Catholic scholars today agree that the century leading up to the Reformation was, in many ways, a low point for their church. Others think it was a high point, but these are people who value the church for what it accomplished in the way of art, architecture, and the like, not for its role as a caregiver to souls or a promoter of clear moral standards. The Roman Church, in many ways, had sunk into the games of power politics.

As the Reformation picked up momentum, the political powers of the Holy Roman Empire (Charles V), and the leaders in Rome, became alarmed. However, just marshaling an army and attacking the places where the Reformation was flourishing, wasn’t practical. At the eastern boarder of the Empire was a serious threat to Europe, the Ottoman Empire. This Moslem Empire was constantly seeking any weakness in the Holy Roman Empire in its Jihad (Crusade) against the West.
The Diet of Augsburg was called as a way to bring the Church back together under the leadership of the Pope. The idea was presented to the Evangelicals as a way to present and defend their positions, hopefully (from their point of view) demonstrating that they were faithful sons of the Roman Church, but from the Roman point of view as a way to discredit the Evangelicals, bringing them to recant their views, and return to the leadership of the Pope.

The Evangelicals learned that the cards were stacked against them. They were going to be accused of believing all kinds of harebrained ideas (like rejecting the Trinity, rejecting the Two Natures of Jesus, etc.). The Evangelicals had originally planned to focus only on areas that were in dispute, but when they found out that they would be accused of things they did not teach, a more comprehensive presentation needed to be drawn up.

The decision was made to accent, not just what the Evangelicals believed that was different from Rome, but also what they believed that they held in common with Rome. Martin Luther would have been the natural choice to write and present the position of the Evangelicals, but he was under the Imperial Ban. That means he was an outlaw and could be killed on sight. So the job fell to Philip Melanchthon, pretty much Luther’s right-hand man.

The irenic tone of the document, and the clear statements about such things like the Trinity and who Jesus is, caught the Roman delegation completely off guard. Those who attended the Diet said that, when the Augsburg Confession was read, the audience was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. The Roman representatives couldn’t simply condemn the Protestants because they would, at times, be condemning their own positions.

A response was prepared quickly, and in a couple of weeks read. As it was read, eye-witnesses said the people in the audience actually burst out into laughter as it was so poorly reasoned. Nonetheless, the Emperor declared that the Protestants were refuted and demanded that they recant. The Protestant princes refused. Due to the threat of the Ottoman Empire, Charles’s hands were tied. The Evangelical cause continued, now with a clear statement of what it meant to be an Evangelical.

The document is divided into three main sections. One dealt with what Evangelicals believed, taught, and confessed. Another dealt with abuses in the Roman Church. The third dealt with areas in which the Evangelicals thought discussion could profitably be engaged. Soon Protestants all around the Empire were “subscribing” to the Augsburg Confession, making it the first generally accepted expression of Protestant/Evangelical Faith.

The “We Believe” link on the right-hand side of this page is almost entirely taken from the Augsburg Confession. The only exception is the final statement of what we believe, which is taken from Epitome of the Formula of Concord, another one of Lutherans' confessional documents.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, You preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg. Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Festival of The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Festival of The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
June 24, 2012

The Lord be with you

Today is set aside to celebrate the birth of John the Baptist. It is actually one of the earliest festivals in the calendar of the church. As it celebrates the birth of John the Baptist, it is an exception to the general principle that the church remembers martyrs on the day of their death. There are two other birthdays celebrated on the LC-MS calendar. The first is that of our Lord Jesus. The second is of Philipp Melanchthon (February 19). I really don’t know why we remember Philipp on his birthday instead of the anniversary of his death, April 19. Some denominations recognize September 8 as the birthday of Mary, the Mother of our Lord.

The feast of the Visitation, when Elisabeth is visited by Mary (see May 31), celebrated the meeting of two related and prospective mothers. June 24 celebrates the birth of the first of the two infants, John the Baptist. It is the next event leading to the incarnation, as God is pictured stirring up his strength to visit and rescue his people. The very name “John” means “God’s gracious gift,” and so even by his name, given by the angel, the forerunner points toward the one who is to come.

The day marks the occasion of the song of Zechariah, used daily at Morning Prayer (or Lauds), for it sings of the sunrise that is dawning upon the world. Each clause of this fourfold proclamation carries us one step further back into antiquity, to remind us that behind the continuity of Israel’s history, now about to reach its climax in the arrival to the long-awaited Messiah, there lies the divine plan, to which God is faithful in spite of the faithlessness and recalcitrance of his human agents. So also the primal certainties of nature—that day dependably follows night— remind us of an order that follows its course, despite the madness of mortals.

John the Baptist was born into a priestly Jewish family several months before the birth of Jesus. Events of his life and teaching are known from accounts in all four Gospels and in the writings of Flavius Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian. According to the Gospels, the birth of John was predicted miraculously to Zechariah and Elizabeth. At his birth the aged father sang the hymn of praise called the Benedictus, the traditional Gospel canticle at the church’s Morning Prayer (as I already said).

John lived “in the desert.” About the year 29 ad, while in the wilderness of Judea, near the Jordan River, John began to preach a call to repentance and a baptismal washing. He gathered a group of disciples; Andrew and probably Peter and John, who later became disciples and then Apostles of Jesus, were among them.

In the course of his preaching, John the Baptist denounced the immoral life of the Herodian rulers. Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, had him arrested and imprisoned in the huge fortress of Machaerus, which Herod the Great had built in the wilderness east of the Dead Sea. It was there that Herod Antipas had John beheaded. The story of his death has been told again and again in music and in art as well as in the lessons and devotions of the church.

Other days associated with John the Baptist on our calendar are: The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist (August 29) and, of course, he is prominent on Epiphany because it is John who baptizes Jesus.

Prayers – The following four prayers have all been suggested as appropriate for this festival.

Almighty God, through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation. Now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
(Treasury of Daily Prayer, LC-MS)

God of justice and grace, you raised up blessed John the Baptist to prepare a holy people for Christ the Lord: Give to your Church gladness of spirit, and guide all who believe in you into the way of salvation and peace; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
(Leonine sacramentary + 1952 Roman Missal, RS, trans. PHP)

Lord God, heavenly Father, through your servant John the Baptist you bore witness that Jesus Christ is (the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and that all who believe in him shall inherit eternal life: Enlighten us by your Holy Spirit that we may at all times find comfort and joy in this witness, continue steadfast in the true faith, and at last with all believers attain eternal life; through the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
(Luneburg 1564, CSB, SBH)

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Worship for the Festival of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Thursday after Pentecost 3
June 21, 2012

The Lord be with you

Most of the congregations in the LC-MS will recognize this coming Sunday as the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (or more simply, Pentecost 4). However June 24 is also the Festival of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. If a church chooses to recognize this Festival, there is a different set of appointed lessons. At Lamb of God we will be using this option. Using such options is becoming much more common these days, even though I suspect it is still the minority practice. The appointed lessons for the Festival of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist are: Isaiah 40:1-5; Acts 13:13-26; Luke 1:57-80.

The Naming of John the Baptist
For our liturgy we will be using the First Setting of the Diving Service (page 151). This is a Communion Service. The appointed Psalm for the day is Psalm 85. We will not be using it, because the liturgy for Sunday uses the appointed Introit instead of the appointed Psalm. However Psalm 85 is an excellent Psalm to read and meditate on as we prepare for the reception of the Lord’s Supper. You may read it to prepare for the Sacrament.

While the sermon will draw on each of our appointed lessons, I have to pick a text. The text will be Acts 13:17. The sermon is titled “Is History Bunk?” Our opening hymn is “The Son of God Goes Forth to War” (LSB 661). The sermon hymn is “By All Your Saints in Warfare” (LSB 518, vs 1, 18, 3). The closing hymn is “Saints, See the Cloud of Witnesses” (LSB 667). The distribution hymns are “Christ, the Lord of Hosts, Unshaken” (LSB 521), “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” (LSB 633), and “Just As I Am, without One Plea” (LSB 570).

In our prayers we will remember the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay (IELP) (Iglesia EvangĂ©lica Luterana del Paraguay) and their President, Rev. Norberto Gerke. We will remember our missionaries, George and Shary Frahm, who serve in Cambodia. They ask specifically for prayers as they learn the Khmer language; that members of the Church would consider how they might be involved in God’s mission in Cambodia; for the Angels Dormitory—that it would be a successful ministry; that the Frahms would have courage and creativity and that the dormitory would serve as a model for similar ministries in the future; that their family, children, grandchildren and friends would accept and celebrate the sacrifices they’ve made for George and Shary to be able to serve in Cambodia. We will remember the persecuted believers in Mauritania. Mauritania is in the western part of Africa and gained their independence from France in 1960. Mauritania is an Islamic nation and is ranked 13th on the Open Doors World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians. We will also remember our sister SED congregations: St. Paul’s, Falls Church, VA; St. John’s, Farmville, VA; Redeemer, Fredericksburg, VA; Prince of Peace, Glen Allen, VA; Mt. Olive, Irmo, SC. 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 that are pleasing in his sight to end this sinful practice.

Below is a video of the “Lutheran Warbler” singing our final Distribution Hymn, “Just As I Am.”

Our adult Bible class meets at 9:00 Sunday morning. This Sunday we will continue in Matthew 21. As always, everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Isaiah 40:1-5: This reading is part of the Old Testament lesson for Advent 2 when we are using Series B. It is also part of the Old Testament lesson in the One Year Lectionary (Advent 3). It has been set to music many times, probably the most famous by Handel in his Messiah. The following notes come from The Lutheran Study Bible (CPH).
40:1 Comfort, comfort. First of three heralds in vv 1-11. The Lord’s prophet reminds the Israelites that they are still His covenant people … Repetition is the Hebraic way of driving home a point; … Luth: “God’s people are those who need comfort because they have been wounded and terrified by the Law and they are an empty vessel capable of receiving comfort. Only those who are afflicted have comfort and are capable of it, because comfort means nothing unless there is a malady” (AE 17:3].
40:2 Speak tenderly. Not harshly, as rebels against the King of heaven and earth should expect, but in the tone of winsome pleading with which a lover seeks to touch the heart of a maiden he is courting (Gn 34:3; Jgs 19:3). Jerusalem did nothing to deserve tender words. Her redemption would be an act of divine mercy without any merit or worthiness on her part, warfare. Destruction of the nation and subsequent Babylonian captivity (Is 43:14). God promised to cut short the time of “hard service” (14:3) in the exile, even though justice required that suffering for sin should never end. double for all her sins. People receive double in unmerited comfort (cf v 1). [The] Penalty of her iniquity was paid, even though she could do nothing to make amends for the debt she incurred. She received from the Lord’s hand good things in double proportion to the punishment she deserved for her sins (61:7; Jb ll:6).
40:3 A voice cries. The second herald, John the Baptist, was commissioned to “go before the Lord to prepare His ways” (Lk 1 -.76-79). He did so when he preached repentance “in the wilderness of Judea” (Mt 3:1). prepare the way of the Lord. The double comfort of vv 1-2 will come about when the Lord breaks into history and comes to the aid of His people. The Lord has done this before (cf Dt 33:2; Jgs 5:4-5; Ps 68:7-8) and will do so again (Is 52:7-10). The prophet may also be playing on a Babylonian hymn that speaks of making straight paths for Nabu, Babylonian god of writing and wisdom. Roads were often constructed for visiting dignitaries, triumphant kings, or for idols as they were carried in procession. highway. According to His eternal plan, ‘the way of the Lord’ has as its predestined goal the redemption of all humankind through His Son, Jesus Christ. All obstacles will be cleared from His highway of salvation. His chosen people will come forth from the grave of the exile and survive the rise and fall of empires in order that the Savior might be born “of the house and lineage of David” (Lk 2:4) as foretold.
40:5 glory of the Lord. See pp 6-7. The Lord’s presence in, with, and under a pillar of cloud or pillar of fire (cf Ex 16:10; 40:34). This phrase has played a key role throughout Is thus far (cf 4:5; 6:3; 35:2) and will continue to play an important role, esp in ch 66. all flesh. All people. When the Lord’s glory was revealed in His incarnate Son, His purpose was not to destroy sinners but to bring the light of salvation to all peoples of the earth (52:10; 60:1-3). However, there will also come a time when “the Son of Man comes in His glory” to judge “all the nations” (Mt 25:31-32). …
40:1-5 The Lord promises comfort and restoration for the Babylonian exiles. These promises, fulfilled through John the Baptist’s ministry, have personal consequences for you and for all people. Just as the Lord doubled the comfort and forgiveness for the exiles, He has doubled comfort and forgiveness for you in the person of His Son. • Lord, as You have prepared comfort for all people through Jesus, prepare my mouth and heart to speak of that comfort and peace to those around me. Amen.

Acts 13:13-26:            This reading comes from Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary trip. They have arrived at Antioch. Visiting a synagogue one Sabbath, Paul and Barnabas were invited to address the congregation. Paul addresses the people, providing a sweeping review of Jewish history, of which our reading is the first half. In this half Paul takes us up to, and through, the ministry of John the Baptist. Paul is demonstrating how Jewish history culminates in the salvation brought to us by Jesus. It is worth noting that this message would be nonsense if the congregation didn’t know its history. Everyone listening to Paul knew the facts, including the facts about the ministry of John the Baptist. What Paul provided was a new way to understand those facts.

Luke 1:57-80: This is the account of the birth and naming of John the Baptist. After John is named, his father Zechariah, who had been mute from the time he had doubted the angel’s announcement to him about the birth of John (1:18-20), had his speech restored. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah sang the Benedictus. We still sing it during Matins (LSB, page 226). This song is far too rich to do it justice in these brief notes. One of the main themes is that God iwa keeping his promises of providing forgiveness and salvation. These are promises made long ago, and were now (for Zechariah and his contemporaries) being fulfilled.

  • Our book club, the LitWits, will gather Sunday evening, at 6:30. The topic will be the book Warrior Priest: A Pastor Steven Grant Novel.  
  • Pastor has been summoned for Jury duty. He is to appear Monday, June 25. Only time will tell if he actually will serve on a jury or not. Often all cases are settled “out of court” and the jurors are dismissed.

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Commemoration of Elisha
June 14, 2012

The Lord be with you

Today is the Commemoration of the Old Testament prophet, Elisha. Elisha was one of the “non-writing” prophets of the Old Testament. This doesn’t mean that he couldn’t write, just that he didn’t write a book of the Old Testament.

Elisha was the Son of Shaphat of the tribe of Issachar, and was the prophet of God to the northern Kingdom of Israel in the 9th century bc. The kings during this time were: Joram, Jehu, Jehoahaz and Jehoash. Upon seeing his mentor, Elijah, taken up into heaven, Elisha assumed the prophetic office and took up the mantle of his predecessor. Like Elijah, Elisha tirelessly called the people back to Yahweh, was an outspoken opponent of Baal worship, played an active role in political affairs, and performed many miracles (such as curing the Syrian Army commander Naaman of his leprosy (2 Kings 5) and restoring the life to the son of a Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8-37)). He certainly lived up to his name, which means “my God is salvation.”

Two prayers inspired by the life and ministry of the prophet Elijah.

Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Elijah, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles your presence in creation to heal it is its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church, through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

O God, protector and redeemer of the human family, whose wonders have been proclaimed through the wonders accomplished by your chosen prophets, you have bestowed the spirit of Elijah on your prophet Elisha: in your kindness grant us too an increase in the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that, living as prophets, we will bear constant witness to your abiding presence and providence, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Worship for Pentecost 2 - 2012

Wednesday after Pentecost 2
June 13, 2012

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is recognized at Lamb of God as the Third Sunday after Pentecost. (For the reason why some use the name “Trinity Season,” instead of “Pentecost Season, see my post on June 5, “Is It Trinity orPentecost Season?”) It also happens to be Father’s Day.

The appointed lessons for the day are: Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:1-17; Mark 4:26-34; Psalm 1, antiphon v 6. We will be using Matins (page 219) for our liturgy. Our opening hymn will be “Our Father, by Whose Name” (LSB 863). Our sermon hymn will be “Awake, O Sleeper, Rise from Death” (LSB 697). Our closing hymn will be the one we are currently learning, “Christ, the Lord of Hosts, Unshaken” (LSB 521). The sermon will be based on our epistle lesson. The text will be 2 Corinthians 5:17. The working title for the sermon is “A Fresh Start”

In our prayers we will remember the Lutheran Synod of Mexico (SLM) (Sinodo Luterano de Mexico) and their President, Rev. Isaac Garcia. We will remember our missionaries, George and Shary Frahm, who serve in Cambodia. They ask specifically for prayers as they learn the Khmer language; that members of the Church would consider how they might be involved in God’s mission in Cambodia; for the Angels Dormitory—that it would be a successful ministry; that the Frahms would have courage and creativity and that the dormitory would serve as a model for similar ministries in the future; that their family, children, grandchildren and friends would accept and celebrate the sacrifices they’ve made for George and Shary to be able to serve in Cambodia. We will remember the persecuted believers in Mindanao, Philippines. While Christianity is the majority religion, a violent Moslem separatist movement has brought jihad to the area with its ensuing destruction and death. We will also remember our sister SED congregations: Immanuel, Charlottesville, VA; Grace, Chester, VA; Christ the King, Danville; VA; Living Savior, Fairfax Station, VA; Island, Hilton Head Island, SC. 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 that are pleasing in his sight to end this sinful practice.

I couldn’t find any videos for Sunday’s hymns. I did find one video for the Sermon Hymn that had the same words, but a different tune. So I have no video to post this week.

Our adult Bible class meets at 9:00 Sunday morning. This Sunday we will continue in Matthew 21. As always, everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Ezekiel 17:22-24:       Much of what the Old Testament prophets wrote was poetry. Poetry relies on symbolic language. This passage is no different. It is a messianic prophecy, spoken to a descendant of David, and amplifies the promise made by the prophet Nathan who promised an everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7). The promise will be fulfilled in ways the Old Testament people of God could not imagine. The cedar tree represents the Old Testament people of God. From this a “sprig” from the top of the tree is broken off. That “sprig” is Jesus. The “sprig” is planted, representing the birth of the Church, the New Testament people of God. As it grows and become a noble cedar, all kinds of birds come to nest in it. All the different birds represent the Church reaching all kinds of people around the world. Verse 24 is yet to be fulfilled. It points to the Last Day. “All the trees of the field” represents all the various non-Christian movements, religions, governments, ideologies, etc. On the Last Day, all will recognize Jesus as Lord. The dry tree that flourishes is a way of expressing the thought that, no matter how lowly the Church may be in the eyes of the mighty in the world, in the end, it is the Church that is blessed by God.

2 Corinthians 5:1-17: Paul also uses symbolic language. The “tent” he is referring to is our temporal bodies. The word translated “tent” could also be translated “tabernacle,” and carries with it the image of the Old Testament tabernacle, where God dwelled, met with his people, and where sacrifices were made. Even though out “tent” is temporal, we still have the Lord dwelling in us. The “house” that we have waiting for us at the resurrection is permanent. It is our glorified bodies. The idea of the present creation as temporary and our eternal destination as being permanent permeates the reading. Our life is a journey. Heaven is our home. It is from this eternal perspective that we view our current reality. We live by faith, not by sight.

Mark 4:26-34:            This reading contains two of our Lord’s parables. Parables have been described as earthly stories with heavenly meanings. In other words, they are again symbolic. The first parable says the kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seed on the grown. The seed grows, through the man does not really understand how. Finally the harvest comes. The harvest is the Last Day. The grain harvested is believers being taken to heaven. The ground is the world. The seed is the word of God. The man is Jesus (or if you prefer, the Church, which is the body of Christ). God’s word works, we don’t know how, bringing life to those who receive it. The second parable is another “kingdom” parable, this one about a mustard seed. In it the very small mustard seed is planted, producing a “tree” under which the birds of the air can find rest in in whose branches they build nests. This has the same meaning as our Old Testament lesson. Added points include the accent on the smallness of the mustard seed, indicating the humble beginnings of the Church. One might also note the surprise that such a small seed produces such a large tree.

  • Don’t forget, it will be Father’s Day.  

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ecumenical Council of Nicaea

Commemoration of The Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, ad 325
June 12, 2012

The Council of Nicaea in 325 was the first of the seven recognized ecumenical (world-wide) councils conduced by the church. The last of these councils was also held in Nicaea in the year 787. Each of these councils were held before the great East-West split in 1054, placing them in the unique position of speaking about what the Church believes, teaches and confesses at a time when the Church had not broken apart into different “confessions” or “communions” or “denominations.”

This does not mean there were no controversies. Far from it. In fact, the councils were called to settle controversies. What it does mean is that the Church, through the councils, could speak with a united voice concerning the controversial issues.

Currently, in our newsletter, I have begun a series on the Nicene Creed (in the “Digging In” articles.) That means that much of what I might write here, I will be writing in those articles over the coming months, and in greater detail. So this will be just a quick overview.

This council was called by Emperor Constantine I (the Great). (His saint day is May 21.) Though he gave the opening address, he did not interfere with the theological discussions or decisions. (In the future, when emperors did interfere with theological decisions, things typically degraded into power politics.) The emperor invited all 1800 Christian Bishops to attend, promising to pay all expenses for those attending along with their assistants. While the actual number of bishops attending cannot be confirmed with absolute historical certainty, there is no real reason to reject the traditional number of 318 (which is the number reported by two of the people who attended, though others had different counts). Along with their assistants (priests, deacons, etc.), the number in attendance would have been over 2,000. The city of Nicaea was chosen because of its convenient location for most bishops and because it had the facilities to handle the large numbers. Bishops from every part of the Roman Empire attended, except Britain. There were also bishops from outside the Roman Empire, most notably from Persia.

While everyone agrees on the year of the council, the exact dates are harder to determine. The earliest suggested beginning is May 20. The latest possible ending date I’ve found is August 25.

Numerous issues were considered. The biggest was the innovations of the presbyter Arius. He denied the Trinity and the eternal existence of Jesus. The second was the date to celebrate Easter. Some celebrated it on Nisan 14 (according to the Jewish calendar), while others felt the current Jewish calendar was inaccurate and so they calculated the date for Easter differently. A third big issue was how to treat those who had abandoned the Christian Faith during the recent persecutions and now wanted to return to the Church. There were other issues as well.

In response to the teachings of Arius, who attended the council and fully explained his position, the council endorsed the first form of the Nicene Creed. (It would be expanded at the second ecumenical council and this expanded creed is the one confessed by the Church today.) This creed rejected the teachings of the Arians, in part, because they were innovations. When Arius arrived 22 of the bishops supported him. After he spoke, and these bishops finally understood what Arius was teaching, most dropped their support. In fact, at the end of the council, only two bishops continued to support Arius. Arius and the two bishops were banished to Illyria.

One misconception about this council is that they created the teaching of the Trinity and the eternal existence of the Son. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone familiar with the writing of the Anti-Nicean Fathers (that is, the Church Fathers that came before the Council of Nicaea) knows such claims are distortions from the pits of hell. The council affirmed, and clarified, what the Church had taught since Apostolic times.

Concerning Easter, the council decided in favor of the “Christian” Nisan. This is the day normally celebrated as Easter today around the world.

Concerning those who had renounced Christ to avoid persecution and now wanted back into the Church, the council decided on a rather mild reconciliation process.

Another false statement people sometimes make about this council is that it established the canon of the Bible. Such statements spring from ignorance. The council made no statement whatsoever about which books belong in the Bible or did not belong.

This council had a profound long-term impact. This was the first council, since the Jerusalem Council in the book of Acts, when representatives from the entire Church gathered and spoke concerning what we believe, teach, and confess. It affirmed what had been handed down from the Apostles as the orthodox Christian Faith. Though the Arian controversy didn’t go away, those who clung to the truth now had a clear statement, recognized wherever the Church had spread, to express their faith. The pattern of gathering together to establish what the Church believes on specific issues has been repeated time and time again throughout history.

Prayer for the day: Lord God, heavenly Father, at the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea, Your Church boldly confessed that it believed in one Lord Jesus Christ as being of one substance with the Father. Grant us courage to confess this saving faith with Your Church through all the ages, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, June 11, 2012

Barnabas, Apostle

Feast of St. Barnabas, Apostle
June 11, 2012

St. Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus. He was, therefore, like Paul, a Jew of the Diaspora in contrast to the Palestinian Jews like Peter. A man of means, Barnabas sold some land and gave the proceeds to the early Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36-37). His name was originally Joseph, but the apostles gave him the name Barnabas after his generous gift.  This name appears to be from the Aramaic meaning ‘the son (of the) prophet’. However, the Greek text of the Acts 4:36 explains the name as meaning “son of consolation” or “son of encouragement”. A similar link between “prophecy” and “encouragement” is found in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:3). In this case the word “prophecy” should be understood in the original sense of the word, that is, as speaking the word of God. It does not carry any overtones of special individual divine revelations, but someone who is skilled in proclaiming what has been revealed. Therefore a pastor who delivers a good Law-Gospel sermon is “prophesying” because he is being faithful to the word of God. To put this another way, Barnabas was a great preacher. All that we know for certain about Barnabas comes from the pages of the New Testament.
St Paul informs us that Barnabas was a cousin of John Mark (Colossians 4:10). He is traditionally regarded as one of the seventy disciples commissioned by Jesus to go ahead of him a prepare towns for our Lord’s visit (Luke 10:1). It was Barnabas who was convinced of the genuineness of Paul’s conversion and vouched for him to the Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27). Sometime later, the Church at Jerusalem heard about the growing Christian community in Antioch so they sent Barnabas to oversee the young Church there (Acts 11:22). While at Antioch, Barnabas went to Tarsus and brought Paul back to Antioch to help him (Acts 11:25-26). After about two years, the church at Antioch was strong enough to send out its own missionaries, and they commissioned Barnabas and Paul for this task (Acts 13:2-3). They took along with them John Mark, who left the mission half-way through.

Returning from this first missionary journey to Antioch, Barnabas and Paul were sent to Jerusalem to consult with the church there regarding the relation of Gentiles to the church (Acts 15:2; Galatians 2:1). According to Galatians 2:9-10, Barnabas was included with Paul in the agreement made at that first “ecumenical” council. This council officially opened the church to none-Jews. That is to say, they didn’t have to become Jews first in order to become Christians. This matter having been settled, they returned again to Antioch, bringing the agreement of the council with them.

When it was time for the second missionary journey Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along again, but Paul would have nothing to do with it. Though many have tried to exonerate Paul, no doubt due to his great contributions, I can’t help but feel that Paul was just plain wrong and Barnabas correct. At any rate, the disagreed broke up the team. Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus; Paul took Silas and headed north through Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:36-41). Based on 2 Timothy 4:11, it is safe to say that Paul recognized the sinfulness of his attitude and actions, repented, and was reconciled with Mark. Based on 1 Corinthians 9:6 it is also safe to say that the reconciliation included Barnabas (who always seems to be willing to “put the best construction” on things. Barnabas, though, was not perfect either. His actions, as related in Galatians 2:13, gave a poor witness to the Gospel.

Nothing more is known for sure of the activities of Barnabas. Tradition relates that Barnabas died a martyr’s death in Cyprus by being stoned.

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, Your faithful servant Barnabas sought not his own renown but gave generously of his life and substance for the encouragement of the apostles and their ministry. Grant that we may follow his example in lives given to charity and the proclamation of the Gospel; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Appropriate prayers include:
  • For preachers of the gospel
  • For reconciliation of those at variance with one another
  • For the relief of the poor and those who work in this field
  • For Christian outreach
  • For a faithful witness in word and deed

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, June 8, 2012

Is It Trinity or Pentecost Season?

Friday after Trinity Sunday
June 8, 2012

The Lord be with you

Most of the congregations in the LC-MS follow a three-year lectionary cycle and a liturgical calendar that designates our current season as the Pentecost Season. A small, but significant, minority follow a one-year lectionary cycle and a liturgical calendar that designates our current season as the Trinity Season. Both lectionary cycles and liturgical calendars have been approved by the Synod so no one is “wrong” by choosing one system over the other. [For those who are not part of the LC-MS, I should point out that we are not mandated to use either of these systems. A church and its pastor may decide to use a different lectionary system (such as the Revised Common Lectionary) or even abandon lectionary systems entirely. If a church should do this, once again, they are not “wrong.” Each local church and pastor determines what is best for them in their local setting.] So, depending on your local church’s practice, we are either in the Pentecost season or the Trinity season. Many people travel during the summer. They, therefore, might attend a church using a different name for the season than their home church. This could be a little confusing. So I thought I’d post something about how this duel name came about. 

The Church/Liturgical Year did not spring into existence fully fleshed out, but developed over the centuries. The first element was the celebration of Easter, then the Easter Season including the season of Lent and ending with Pentecost Sunday. Easter, celebrated beginning at sundown on Maundy Thursday and concluding at sundown Easter Sunday, was (and is) the most important celebration of the Church Year. Pentecost Sunday was the second most important celebration. The Church Year continued to develop, adding first Epiphany and its season and then the celebration of Christmas with the twelve days of Christmas (which begins Christmas Eve), and its season of preparation called Advent. It is easy enough to see that these seasons focus on Jesus, who he is and what he accomplished.

There was a huge chunk of time that did not fall into these seasons. This was called “ordinary time.” There are two prevailing thoughts about why this name came about. The dominate thought is that “Ordinary Time” gets its name from the word ordinal, meaning “numbered,” since the Sundays of Ordinary Time are expressed numerically (Pentecost/Trinity 3, etc.). Of course, this is also done in the other seasons (twelve days of Christmas, Advent 2, etc.). Others suggest the etymology of “Ordinary Time” is related to our word “ordinary” (which itself has a connotation of time and order, derived from the Latin word ordo). The fact that we don’t know for sure about the origin of the name “Ordinary Time” indicates just how old the name and practice is.

The long expanse of time between Pentecost and Advent came to be numbered as Sundays after Pentecost.

During the early 300s a presbyter named Arius from Alexandria in Egypt began teaching false doctrine concerning the nature of God. In other words, he denied the Trinity. His body of thought is called Arianism and his followers Arians. [Arianism should be clearly distinguished from “Aryanism,” which formed the core of Nazi racial ideology during the twentieth century, and which had nothing whatsoever to do with Arius or his teachings.] While it took most of the century to completely stop the spread of Arius’ poisonous teaching inside the Roman Empire, it remained alive much longer outside the empire. This included “barbarian” tribes, like the Goths and the Vandals, which conquered much of the Western Roman Empire.

Probably in response to Arianism, many regions began to celebrate “Trinity Sunday.” The day of the celebration during the year varied from region to region, but most selected either the Sunday before Advent or the Sunday following Pentecost.
The Islamic Umayyad Empire at its peak

Charles Martel at Tours
A new challenge to the biblical understanding of God as Triune arose on the Arabian Peninsula. Muhammad (c. April 26, 570 – June 8. 632) claimed to have visions from God that utterly rejected the Trinity and the biblical understanding of the person and work of Jesus. Through conquest, he united the Arabian Peninsula, demanding that everyone either convert to his new religion (Islam) or die. After his death, his successors made war on any and all in an effort to spread their new religion. To say they were successful would be an understatement. Within a hundred years the Persian Empire was conquered and most of the Byzantine Empire. They had also jumped the Mediterranean Sea and conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula (where modern day Spain and Portugal are). Many of the areas in Europe that were conquered by the Moslems were Arian, so converting to Islam (which had a similar view of God) was not too big a jump. 100 years after the death of Muhammad, and with a century of nothing but military success behind them, the Moslems crossed the Pyrenees into “Gaul” (modern France), and were stopped cold by the king of the Franks, Charles, henceforth known as Martel—the Hammer. The battle of Tours, on October 11, 732, was a major turning point in history. The Franks were “orthodox” or “catholic” Christians who held to the biblical understanding of God as Triune. Slowly the Moslem invaders were driven out of Europe, with the last area re-conquered in 1492. What this means, for our discussion, is that for over 700 years there was a strong anti-Christian, anti-Trinitarian voice in Europe, the followers of Muhammad.

This Moslem voice would certainly be one of the reasons Trinity Sunday continued to be celebrated, and slowly it became customary to celebrate it on the first Sunday after Pentecost. This was made official in 1334 by Pope John XXII. In doing so, John made it clear that the orthodox understanding of the Trinity was under attack and having a special day to celebrate the Trinity, and a season numbered from it, was to strengthen the faith of the people in this biblical understanding of God. Therefore, the days following Trinity Sunday became known as Sundays after Trinity and the time period was now called the season of Trinity.

We skip forward now to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation. The Christians who broke from the Roman Church can be divided many ways. One way is in reference to their attitude towards Church Tradition. Some rejected almost all of it while others retained that which could be used with profit once they eliminated elements believed to be objectionable. Members of the first group went so far as to reject the celebration of Christmas because it has the word “mass” in it. They also rejected the Liturgical/Church Year, traditional worship practices, and much more. Lutherans, however, felt from the very beginning that much of the tradition had great value, and set about removing late additions and returning it to an earlier form, which was then used. This included the Church/Liturgical Year. As already said, the practice at this time was to number the “Ordinary Time” following Trinity Sunday as Sundays after Trinity. The Lutherans retained this practice in their Liturgical/Church calendars.

Skip forward again to the 1960s. There was a growing interest in what is called “Liturgical Renewal.” This interest continues to this day. Many new and valuable resources were, and are, being produced. This movement focuses on all aspects of the liturgical life of the Church and Christians, including the Church Year. In 1970 the Roman Catholic Church returned to the older name Pentecost Season and Sundays after Pentecost. Part of the reasoning for returning to the older name was that the threat, posed by Arianism and the Moslems to Christians understanding God as Triune, was past. (This was not the only argument.) Most liturgical protestant churches followed the lead of the Roman Catholic Church. The LC-MS did so with the introduction of the hymnal Lutheran Worship in 1982.

Another aspect of the Liturgical Renewal Movement was changes in the lectionary. For centuries the Church had used a one-year lectionary. Rome, and the Protestants that followed their example, introduced a three-year lectionary. The old one-year lectionary had only two readings assigned to each Sunday (usually a Gospel and an Epistle lesson) and a Psalm (or Introit based on the Psalm of the Day). The changes introduced in the later part of the twentieth century included a third reading from the Old Testament.

Both systems have much to commend them. In recognition of this, in the LC-MS, both options are made available. This is why some of our churches have Sundays after Trinity while others have Sundays after Pentecost.

You can see, and even download, a three-year and/or a one-year LC-MS calendar by going to the following link:

Another happy result of the Liturgical Renewal Movement is that many churches, who once rejected such things as a Liturgical Calendar, are now embracing the Church Year. Many Baptist congregations gladly celebrate Christmas (or at least Christmas Eve) even though 100 years ago most Baptist thought it was too “Catholic.” There are “non-liturgical” churches that celebrate Advent, Lent, and Holy Week. Many “non-liturgical” pastors now gratefully use lectionaries. This is just the “tip of the iceberg.” It would certainly be interesting, if possible, to come back in a hundred years and see where this all is going. Right now, I’m just glad to see large portions of Protestantism accepting practices that have for century after century nourished the spiritual life of believers.

One final thought. Those who use the one-year lectionary get to keep those cool old Latin names like Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. That is because those names are based on the first words in the old Introits. The three-year lectionary introduced different Introits, so the old names no longer fit.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert