Thursday, October 30, 2014

For All the Saints - Bible Study

For All the Saints
Text: William Walsham How (1823-1897)
Primary Texts: Hebrews 12:1–3; Revelation 2:10; 14:13; 17:14
(Lutheran Service Book 677)

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
William Walsham How
Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold!
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day:
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

“For All the Saints” is one of the 56 hymns William Walsham How composed. While many of his hymns were written with children in mind (he was called, at times, “the children’s bishop”) five of his hymns are in our hymnal (523, 677, 781, 816, 900) proving he also wrote for grown-ups. He was born near Shrewsbury, England, educated there, and was ordained in 1846. In 1879 he became Bishop of Bedford, which included the slums of East London. Totally lacking in personal ambition, How refused the bishopric of Manchester and later that of Durham, both prestigious and lucrative positions, without even mentioning the offers to his wife. He spent a great deal of his energy seeking to improve the lot of the downtrodden. This is reflected in two of his other nicknames, “the poor man’s bishop” and “the omnibus bishop.” The name “the omnibus bishop” reflects that he lived within the boundaries of his bishopric (many bishops didn’t) and would take public transportation (most bishops had private carriages). My guess is that his best known hymn is “We Give Thee but Thine Own.”

“For All the Saints” is often sung on All Saints’ Day and at funerals. In many ways it captures the best of how we are to remember the saints. I’m not going to print it out here, but review Hebrews 11. This chapter is about some of the “great cloud of witnesses” spoken of in Hebrews 12:1-3.

12:1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
3     Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Notice how many times the writer of Hebrews uses the phrase “by faith” in chapter 11. The hymn reflects this in the very second line of the hymn, “Who Thee by faith before the world confessed”. Faith in Christ is what all saints have in common.

We are still, of course, enduring “the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1.) It is filled with trials (as we see some examples in Hebrews 11), but we are God’s chosen people The trials of this race were faced by our Lord, in Spades. He “endured the cross” to pay for our sins. We are to keep our eyes fixed on Him (Hebrews 12:2) and His Gospel through which His Holy Spirit brings us to faith and keeps us in faith; this means clinging to our Baptism and treasuring the Lord’s Supper and the Scriptures.

Fixing our “eyes on Jesus” through the Word and Sacraments, is important. We don’t get to make a custom Jesus. Such a “Jesus” would be an idol. There is no substitute for the real Jesus and we find him where he chooses to be found, Word and Sacrament.

As we follow our “Captain” (verse 2) we face “labors” (verse 1), we “fight” (verses 2, 3, 5) and “struggle” (verse 4), just like the saints who have won the victor’s crown of gold (verse 3). Jesus, though, is our leader. To Him we look for help (Hebrews 12:2). So Jesus was “their rock, their fortress, and their might.” He is ours as well.

In Revelation 2:10 Jesus has a word of warning and encouragement to the church in Smyrna.

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)

Jesus conquered Satan, sin, and eternal death, but the old enemy is still formidable. But when the “fight is fierce, the warfare long” our hears are brave and arms are strong because we hear the distant triumph song of the saints that Jesus has overcome. So, while we certainly will be tested in various ways, our trials are relatively short when compared to the eternal glory that awaits us (“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life”). While it is true that we can’t be perfect in this life (1 John 1:8) we can be faithful—repenting of our sins, knowing we have forgiveness through Christ, and clinging to the Gospel (1 John 1:9). We can be confident of heaven. We, by grace through faith, will join the countless hosts (Revelation 7:9) streaming through the gates of pearl.

In Revelation 14:13 a heavenly spokesman tells John to write, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Somehow the gift of “our” good works (Ephesians 2:10) is remembered in heaven (“their deeds follow them”). So the saints that have gone before us now “in glory shine” and are in “bright array.” Such admittedly figurative ways of speaking of the saints in glory (and our future state) is probably the best way to speak of those things that are currently beyond our fallen minds.

In this life we are in a war. Paul wrote:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

John makes the same point in Revelation 17:14.

They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

Satan and his minions war against our Lord and His followers. Our Lord has won the victory (1 Corinthians 15:57) and as judge He will sentence them to eternal punishment on the Last Day. Notice that it is Christ who gets the credit for the victory. Those who were “called and chosen and faithful” will be there. How many times is this reflected in the hymn? Through God’s grace, we will be in that number as well.

Worship Notes for All Saints' Sunday, 2014

Festival of St. Andrew, Apostle
The first day of the Church Year
Thursday after Reformation Sunday
October 30, 2014

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday will be recognized by us, and by most churches in our denomination, as All Saints’ Sunday. Of course, All Saints’ Day is November 1 and some of our sister congregations will have a special service on that day. Most, though, will transfer the holiday to this coming Sunday like us. As this Sunday is celebrated as All Saints’ Sunday, we will have a special communion liturgy. Many of our departed friends and loved ones will be remembered by name in the service. We will also welcome into our local fellowship new members Harold and Susan Lurksen. It seems appropriate to welcome saints into our fellowship on the day we specifically set aside to remember all saints. This welcome will continue following the service with a pot-luck lunch.

Because Sunday uses a special liturgy, many parts of the service will be replaced with hymns. Therefore the list of hymns we will be singing is a longer than typical. They are:
          “For All the Saints” LSB 677
          “Sing with All the Saints in Glory” LSB 6714
          “Take My Life and Let It Be” LSB 784
          “Holy, Holy, Holy” LSB 507:1
          “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy” LSB 434
          “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones” LSB 670
          “Jerusalem, My Happy Home” LSB 673
          “Eat This Bread” LSB 638
          “We Sing for All the Unsung Saints” LSB 678
“For All the Saints” and “Take My Life and Let It Be” are actually broken up and sung at various points in the service. “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones,” “Jerusalem, My Happy Home” and “Eat This Bread” are distribution hymns.

I will post a Bible study on one of these hymns tomorrow.

Even though this is a communion service, we will use the appointed Psalm for the Day. So our lections for Sunday will be Revelation 7:2–17, 1 John 3:1–3, Matthew 5:1–12 and Psalm 149 (antiphon v. 4). The sermon text will be Revelation 7:9. The sermon is titled “Party Like A Saint.”

Below is a video of the Lutheran Warbler playing and singing our opening hymn, “For All the Saints,” hymn 677. This is one of those hymns that we sing with gusto.

Our Sunday morning Bible hour begins at 9:00 am. We will continue our consideration of the biblical themes of Witness, Mercy and Life Together. The study of God’s word is a key way to keep the Third Commandment which Luther explains as meaning, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Bible study is a great opportunity to “gladly hear and learn” God’s word.  

What follows is a summary of Sunday’s lessons provided by the LC-MS and then the actual lessons. You might have noticed that the Psalm/Introit are never part of the summary.

Saints Are Blessed in the Eternal Presence of Christ
“A great multitude … from all tribes and peoples and languages” cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne” (Rev. 7:9–10). Faith-filled saints from every place and time with unified voices eternally magnify the Lamb of God. As His beloved children, we, too, “shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Joined with the throng of angels and a myriad of saints, we shall “serve him day and night in his temple” (Rev. 7:15). In our earthly tension vacillating between saint and sinner, faith and doubt, sacred and profane, we earnestly seek Jesus to calm our fears, comfort our spirits and forgive our sins. The Holy Spirit, through faith in Christ, propels us forward to our eternal home, fortifying us in Word and Sacrament. In the midst of our constant struggle as believers, we need to be blessed. And so we are. The poor in spirit, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty, the merciful, the pure and the persecuted are all blessed, and we will most certainly inherit the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:1–12).

Revelation 7:2-17
2         Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” 4And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

5         12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
          12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
          12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
6         12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
          12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
          12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
7         12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
          12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
          12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
8         12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
          12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
          12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

9         After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13        Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15        “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
                   and serve him day and night in his temple;
                   and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16        They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
                   the sun shall not strike them,
                   nor any scorching heat.
17        For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
                   and he will guide them to springs of living water,
          and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Psalm 149
1         Praise the Lord!
          Sing to the Lord a new song,
                    his praise in the assembly of the godly!
2         Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
                   let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
3         Let them praise his name with dancing,
                   making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
4         For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
                   he adorns the humble with salvation.
5         Let the godly exult in glory;
                   let them sing for joy on their beds.
6         Let the high praises of God be in their throats
                   and two-edged swords in their hands,
7         to execute vengeance on the nations
                   and punishments on the peoples,
8         to bind their kings with chains
                   and their nobles with fetters of iron,
9         to execute on them the judgment written!
                   This is honor for all his godly ones.
          Praise the Lord!

1 John 3:1-3
3:1       See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Matthew 5:1-12
5:1       Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

2         And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3         “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4         “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5         “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6         “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7         “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8         “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9         “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10        “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11        “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

A Couple of Quick Notes:

  • Remember, Sunday is a Pot Luck.
  • Today is the, Festival of St. Andrew, Apostle. If you want to know a bit more, click on the name of the festival for a link to an article I did back in 2012.

Well, I pray we will see you Sunday morning.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Houston Five

The Lord be with you

The city of Houston has been in the news lately as the Mayor and city council seek to acquire sermons from five area pastors in an effort to discover comments they oppose. Rev. Dr. Scott Murray, an Houston area Lutheran pastor and fourth vice-president of the LC-MS, has written a thoughtful commentary on the issue. His piece was widely published by the Religion News Service and appears here.

Blessings in Christ
Pastor Rickert