25 May 2017

Homily

from the International Center, our celebration of Ascension. Such a joyful liturgy. St. Paul's sponsored the Eucharist and we sang Divine Service 1, with the choir chiming in on two very beautiful pieces by Henry Gerike and one by J. S. Bach. We also got to sing Gerike's "Up Through Endless Ranks" and then Bede's "A Hymn of Glory."

Here is the homily.  Chapel Homily Ascension

If you'd like to hear the entire liturgy, KFUO.org is rebroadcasting it at 7 p.m. Central tonight (5/25). Though "entire" is not exactly correct. Prelude ended early and we began, so the recording picks up during the Confession of sins, I believe.

18 May 2017

Chapel Homily: A Cantate Catechesis


Prayer and Preaching, p. 260.

Reading: Colossians 3:16–17
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Catechism: from the Small Catechism, Close of the Morning Prayers
Then go joyfully to your work, singing a hymn, like that of the Ten Commandments, or whatever your devotion may suggest.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

So let's see who here is old and who here is not. Were I to sing: "Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce…" who can finish it? "Special orders don't upset us!" That's right. I ran it by Kevin yesterday and, youngster that he is, he didn't have a clue. I ran it by Georgia who is my own age and she chimed in. She even looked it up for me. The year was 1974, as in 43 years ago. Forty three years ago, some advertiser for Burger King thought to put some words with music and voila, after all these years and probably without ever really thinking about it, those of you old enough to have heard it, remember the words. 

Music and words. They work like that. They reinforce each other. Text and tune. The tune seems to write the text somewhere deep in the memory. Sandy reminded me that it doesn't always work like that, of course. She's right. It doesn't always. But what is shocking is how often it does. Words to melody repeated often enough in your ears and the words seem to take up a home in you.

So today's reading from Colossians, particularly the 16th verse. I confess I'd translate it a bit differently from what we heard a moment ago. The Weedon Standard Translation would run: "Permit Christ's Word to richly inhabit you with all its wisdom, teaching and forming each other's minds in grace by means of psalms and hymns and odes of the Spirit, singing (on and on) in your hearts to God."

Christ's Word? The Word about Christ? The Words of Christ? Yes. Either and both. Maybe even Christ, the Word, to richly inhabit you, teaching and forming your mindset in joyful grace, speaking them to each other even as you sing them heartily to God. And here's a point where some pastors and parishes massively miss the mark. We have these long hymns in our book. Take "From Heaven Above." Pull out your hymnal and look at 358 with all 15 stanzas. And some pastors inflict that entire on a congregation to sing, yup all 15 stanzas straight through and by stanza 5, the people are exhausted and just want it to stop. And some, recognizing the problem of exhaustion, chop it up and sing a bit of it and leave the rest. UGH. Which of these words do you want to not hear? What both approaches miss out on is how hymns like this were designed to be done antiphonally, back and forth, wechselweis as Luther would say. So one little angelic voice from the balcony cries out: "From heaven above to earth I come…" They're preaching to you in song. Writing the word of Jesus into your mind. And then maybe the choir chimes in with its preaching: "To you this night is born a Child…" and then the congregation can't take it anymore and they break out: "This is the Christ, our God Most High!" And so back and forth singing, listening, singing, listening, and so teaching and forming each other's minds in grace as we speak to each other in the songs, the Spirit writing the words deep in us. And note that you actually have them written faster by just hearing than even by singing. None of you ever went around singing "Hold the pickles…"

And for these words to lodge in us, music serves a vital role. It carries them deep into us. But here is where things get a bit dicey. It's possible to take the Words and set them to music and for the musical language to actually communicate something OTHER than what the words themselves say! Music, my friends, is never a neutral. In his writing the Republic, the philosopher Plato regarded it as downright dangerous stuff, subversive even. Here's what I mean. Take one of the very best and most well-known hymns: "Amazing grace." What happens to it if I sing it like this: (to the tune of Gilligan's Island). You smile, you laugh, but you were thinking not of amazing grace but of Ginger and the Captain, the Professor and Marianne, the Howells and Gilligan. The music didn't actually work to carry the text into you because it was carrying a different message. 

The mark, the mark, I'd argue, of the music that works, that can write the words deep in your heart and mind is that it breathes the air of the home to which we're headed. Isaiah 30 is key. You remember, the exiles on their way back to Zion, on their way back home. "And the redeemed or ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, everlasting joy shall crown their heads." The music that serves the Words pulls the Words into you and plants them there and the words in turn pull you, tug you toward the Father's house, toward the joy of the home to which you are headed. Think of how "Lord, Thee I Love" does that! 

I do not believe for a second that this simply is pure subjectivity or a figment of my own imagination. The music that serves the words like has a sound to it that says: "Don't stop! Keep on marching! Focus on where we're going and the marvelous love that invites us into itself." To steal from Lewis, it cries "further up and further in!" You can HEAR the hope of homecoming ringing through them; the joy of the Father's house; the certainty of the Savior's open arms to welcome you; the constant dwelling upon the great things that He has done for us to secure that welcome by coming in our flesh to suffer and die in order to bring us home. The Church sings this song as an alien people journeying from exile back to where we belong. We sing it through the centuries where the evils mount up and hearts break and sins devastate. We sings it in the face of our own failure and sin. We sing it to shout down our fears. We sing the song of the words of Jesus, when times are good and when they are awful. But we never stops singing it. And this is how we let the Words of Christ, about Christ, Christ the Word inhabit us and make sure that we'll settle for nothing this world has to offer; we're seeking the Age that is to come, our home, where Love will have triumphed over all and where Forgiveness' great truth will bring rejoicing so huge to the hearts of all that an eternity can't begin to contain it.  Grace, joy, home, love, Spirit words giving Jesus, Jesus bringing us to the Father, and so the song rolls on and on. And how often it simply sweeps us up into the great activity of doxology: giving glory to Father and Son and Spirit. All those little triangles in the hymnal are not meant to give you practice doing your exercises; but are proleptic. They give you a teasing taste of how it all ends, or rather, how it will begin and never end,  It's all about home. The home Jesus came to give you and where you can dwell even now through his Words.

The hymn we're about to sing is one of the few in our book that reflects on the nature of the church's singing. See if you don't find it a powerful way for the words of Jesus to dwell in us as we teach and mold each other's minds in grace: "Then let us sing for whom He won the fight! Alleluia!"  

Hymn: #796 When In Our Music God is Glorified

16 May 2017

On the Reformation and Worship

an article that I wrote for our sister Church to the north: The Lutheran Church—Canada. You can read here.

11 May 2017

And Carver


Does it yet again...


Enjoy the feast for the eyes on Lutheran worship of yesteryear. 

Today's Homily


Chapel for Thursday of Easter IV:

Reading: 1 Peter 2:11, 12
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I didn't remember ever noticing it, but it noticed me. Poison ivy. Or poison oak. I never knew which. But there it was, red blistery and oh, so itchy. And you know the temptation: SCRATCH it. There in the middle night when you wake up and it is just calling out to you: A little light scratch is all. Please. Just scratch a wee bit and I'll leave you alone. I promise. Uh, huh. And you know how well that worked. An hour later I'd still e scratching and until I was raw and bleeding. And it still wouldn't stop itching.

Behold, the passions (cravings, desires) of the flesh. You'll never get why their itch is insatiable until you get what they are. Every last one of them begins as a good thing, a pleasure, which God formed and gave to be enjoyed that through its enjoyment you might perceive Him, the Giver and rest in His love for you, love shown by the gift itself. Each of them calls beyond itself to the Giver. BUT, the very nature of our fall from the getgo, is that we attempt to extract the pleasure or good from the very gift in which it lives and where the Creator imbedded it and to have it as a thing unto itself on our own terms. Treated so, these pleasures that God filled this creation with become little monsters inside of us. Back to the poison ivy and you'll behold, how they work!  

Just scratch the itch a little. It feels so good. Ah… But it never, ever stops with the little scratch. It always comes back stronger. More, give me more. Drink. Porn. Sweets. Opiates. They're the obvious ones. But also that chasing after others' approval. How many likes did my post get? Never enough. Living from the attention that others give you, but it's never enough. Chasing after the next pat on the back and "good job, well done!" But then always needing to hear it again and more. 

You see, it doesn't matter how much you throw at this little monster with its lusts, it opens its mouth ever wider to demand even more. And pretty soon, you realize you're inside of Little Shop of Horrors. Feed Me Seymour. Feed me all night long. Always more. That's the way the passions of the flesh work; the more you yield to them the more they demand of you.  

And they wage war against your soul, your psyche, your life in God which is your true self now. If you give them reign, they eat up the gift of a good conscience, you peace, the joy and the love in which God would have you rest and live and enjoy His good gifts as His beloved children.

So how do you handle them? Every last one of us knows this battle, even though the itch expresses itself in a diversity of cravings in our lives. St. Peter's exhortation is remarkable. He just says: "Abstain." We might render it "walk away from it." Ah, like the poison ivy. The only way to win against the itch, is to abstain from scratching it. Then peace and sleep and whew in the morning it may itch again, but you know what to do this time. You don't fight it. You just don't feed it. Slowly it begins to die. To fade.

You can only do that with the passions of the flesh when you remember whose you are and so who you are. "Beloved," Peter said. "Sojourners," Peter said. "Aliens," Peter said. Put them together and they add up to this: people loved by the Father who have a home with Him. And this life isn't the final stop. You're journeying through it toward the final stop. And as you journey, you do so, bathed in His unshakable love. 

And THAT is, the calamine lotion, the balm. There's only one thing really helps the itches, and that's to recognize that their very insatiability calls out to you no pleasure in this life was meant to be finally satisfying in itself. Think how St. Augustine put it: "You have made us for yourselves, and our souls are restless until they rest in you." Baptism gives you that rest. By resting in the Father's love that doesn't change and never fades and that shone forth most gloriously in the darkness of Calvary's tree, where He was determined to love you and have you forever that He gave His Son into all our death, all our itching of the various passions, only there can you find the relief. Jesus in Baptism literally gives you His life, His psyche, to be your very own, and His is a life of total receptivity. Where everything is gift, and gift from the hand of the Father who loves Him, who loves you. 

Peter says, you live like that with abstention from itch scratching, plastered over with the peace of the love of God in Christ, and people will begin to notice. In a world of people frustrated beyond belief by their inability to still the various itches of their lives, you will shine. They will take notice you and at first may even curse you, trash talk you, but when God comes to visit them with some particular sorrow that shows the dead end of all their attempts to still the itches that are driving them crazy, how every attempt to feed the beast only makes it more hungry, they will glorify God because of what they've seen in you. The way of Jesus. A way past the dead end. A way not of your making, but His giving. Not a people without itches, as you well know; a people who have been bathed in the water and smeared with the oil that gave you a love that soothes them every one. 
When you begin to allow every pleasure to remain where God put it, the pleasure leads you always to something more. To Someone more. You then discover that joy itself waits to surprise you. Psalm 16: "In Your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand, pleasures forevermore." 

Peter, like John, writes these things that your joy may be full! That you may abstain from the vain attempt to extract pleasures as items for your use and manipulation and return in Christ to the life that is real life. The life of receiving gifts. This IS the life into which You were baptized and which He calls you to embrace anew today. For alleluia! Christ, is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia! 

10 May 2017

My Father's House


I've been very much living in John's writings of late. The words that Jesus speaks to us, that He brings to us from the Father, He invites us to find a home in them ("If you abide in my word..." John 8) and for us to welcome them into us that they might find a home in us ("If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home in him..." John 14). And the Father is literally in those words. I think this means that as we sojourn in this world, we learn to make the Word of God our home, to dwell in His stories, and to let His stories dwell in us. This is how God dwells in us. The liturgy in its greatest depth is this house of God. We move into that house that that house may move into us.

Once, Dr. Nagel was challenged to define liturgy in a way that some students (who came from a different confession than the Lutheran) could grasp what he was talking about. He said the oddest thing: "The liturgy is wherein we live as the people of God." The liturgy holds forth the Word for us to be our home that we may live in it, children in the house of the Father.

Luther said that Augustine never said anything better than Verbum accedat ad elementum et fit sacramentum. I think we hear it too narrowly, though. This is first Incarnation. The Word comes to the element - and element here is the thing held as an object in itself - and suddenly the element is no longer in isolation, it is restored to what God would have creation be: sacrament, gift, alive with His presence. A man who was utterly and fully alive and connected to all. And the Verbum Dei comes in His incarnation to the whole of creation, to all our disjointed and singular "elements" by which we break down the inherent unity of creation's original gift and try to have each thing as its own. And this is death. So even into death, comes the Word of God, to fill it with Himself and suddenly even that last enemy becomes gift. The cup received from the hand of the Father who loves us.

And so all things cohere as liturgy. "All times and in all places" isn't a statement of moral duty, but a confession of eyes opened to the stunning lavishness of the Creator's gift that never ceases to rain down at every point in our lives. 

The passions of the flesh that Peter warns us against as warring on our souls, our very selves, are in each instance the attempt to extract a good, a pleasure, from the gift in which the Giver gave it and to enjoy it as a thing unto itself. And each instance fails. Cannot but fail. This attempt at extraction characterizes the whole of our modern lives. Don't give me the whole gift in the food; put it into a pill I can buy. Don't give me a marriage;  I'll just take the sex. Don't give me the friends gathered together enjoying each other's company, I'll just take the wine. Every time we yank the original pleasure from its gift context, it becomes "passion of the flesh" and by very definition insatiable. Doesn't matter what you throw at it, "too much is never enough." 

And we have no way out of this fragmentation that extends even to the way we treat our bodies and the bodies of others and all things as mere objects. We have no way out. But into this intense objectification stepped the Man for whom all was gift, even our sin, even our death, and who thus opened the way home to the Father, IS the way home to the Father. 

When His words dwell in us and we in them, then the Word that came to the element makes of the isolated stuff of life sacrament and the world becomes again a home. He gives us the words He carried from the heart of the Father that we might dwell in them and from them touching all the isolated "elements" of our lives, all might become sacrament, gift, the Presence of the Giver in the gifts uniting them all.

01 May 2017

Celebrating!


Sandy and the volunteers at the IC have been working on this project for a long time, but as of today the Worship Library is catalogued and shelved and my office is back to a pleasant workspace. Yay! Thanks, ladies. Kinda makes me eager to get to work tomorrow! Last week I'd already "Konmaried" my own stuff there and tossed tons. 


30 April 2017

Homily for Good Shepherd at St. Paul's


There's a lot of thinking out there that the Lord only has time for you when you, more or less, have your act together.  That God loves you when you are lovable.  Against such a notion comes this glorious Sunday with its readings.  Miscericordias Domini - the Loving-kindness of the Lord.  That's it's name in Latin, but we usually just call it "Good Shepherd Sunday."

The Lord Jesus lets us know that that's who He is.  "I am the Good Shepherd."  So in today's Gospel reading.  But in saying that He lays claim to be the one speaking in the Old Testament reading from Ezekiel:  "I myself" - that is Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel - "I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak." 

Bless Carl Steinmann's heart. Good thing he's not here to hear me say this. He shepherded those paintings through to make sure that the sheep turned out just right. They only thing I've never liked about that beautiful painting is how the little lamb and the others are all so clean and white and beautiful. In the reading from Ezekiel, they're a mess! The sheep that are dirty, wounded, torn up, damaged. They've wandered off, gotten lost, strayed into all the byways of sin and all its sorrows.  They've injured themselves, inflicted damaged on their own persons and those around them. Some are so weary, just plumb worn out, they don't know if they can go on.  The Lord is in the business of gathering them together and making them lie down while He tends them, heals them, loves them.

"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!" - that is the cry of your Lord's heart to you.  You see He knows you.  He knows you in your sin.  The lies you've told.  The gossip you've passed on with glee.  The hatred you've harbored.  The bitter words you've let flow from your heart through your lips to sting and hurt the people you were supposed to love.  The betrayal of the promises you made your spouse.  He knows every click of the mouse and every video you've watched. He knows the distrust that overwhelms your heart at times when you wonder if there really even is a God who can bring good out of this mess.  The misuse of your body, treating it as though it were yours to do with as you please, forgetting that you were bought with a price.  The stinginess of your heart that  judges your brother and hypocritically holds him to a standard that you know perfectly well you do not keep yourself.  Oh, yes.  He knows you inside and out.  Me too.  In all the things I've ever done, thought, or said - and the countless good I have failed to do.  

But that's the miracle of grace we celebrate this Sunday.  The One who knows us inside and out like that, didn't come among us to destroy us.  For some utterly unfathomable reason that we'll never understand and will marvel at for all eternity, He loves us.  He came to heal us.  He came to set right the things broken.  He came to bind up the wounds and heal them.  He came above all, to protect us from the wolf.  

You see, to Him the wolf is personal.  To the hired hand, his own life is more valuable than the sheep.  He runs at the first sign of the trouble on four legs with a bush tail. Why?  Jesus puts it so simply:  "he doesn't own the sheep."

To Him, you are valuable.  Don't go scrounging around inside yourself to discover what it is that He finds valuable.  You can't find it that way.  Your value comes from the outside in: you have value because He values you; He doesn't value you because you have intrinsic value.  You're His.  No matter how damaged you are, not matter how beaten up and bruised and wandering.  Now matter how worn out and tired.  You're His.  He made you His own in the font of living water, plopped His name on you and said:  "Mine.  Mine forever."

So the wolf coming after you is very personal business to Him.  And He has no intention of allowing you to end up as a canine snack.  So He interposes His own life.  "The Good Shepherd lays down His LIFE for the sheep."  

"Here, little wolfie!  Come over here and eat me!  Let them go free!"  Of course, the little wolfie has no intention of letting anyone go free, but he freely gobbles down the snack offered.  Bait.  Poison.  You know the story.  The wolf couldn't keep that Good Shepherd in his stinking gullet.  The Good Shepherd burst right through.  Raised from the dead on the third day.  Leaving a hole behind in the wolf's belly that will never ever heal or mend.  And so when the wolf comes after you, you can go cheerfully down its stinking throat without a thought of fear - for you know that your Good Shepherd has already travelled this way, has gone down into the valley of shadow of death, and come up again, and He will bring you with Him.  When all is darkness, and it closes around you - you needn't fear.  His voice rings out:  "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will live though he die and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."  Death had no right to Him because He had no sin; but it took Him; and so Death forfeited its right to hold you forever.  

Tending the wounds of your sins, giving you rich pasture in His word, refreshing you at His table with His own body and blood, forgiving you every sin - the table set in the very presence of your enemies as the sign and seal of your triumph over them - you begin to see how Good your Shepherd truly is.  Good beyond all deserving, good beyond anything we could even imagine. 

In all of this gift, St. Peter tells us, our Lord has left us also an example - so that we might follow in His steps.  The pattern He set is clear:  trust in the Father who loves you and who will vindicate you and then you have no need to extract vengeance and such on your own.  Rather, like the Lord, when He suffered, He did not threaten, when mocked and reviled He did not revile in return.  He bore our sins in His body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  

No, He's not the God and Lord of those who have their act together.  Those who imagine they do are, in fact, not His proper clientele and the only ones He really ever chews out.  He's the God and Lord of the sick, injured, and weak, the straying and foolish ones.  He will not turn you away.  He died to release you from sin's power.  He rose to proclaim to you that death itself would never be the end of you.  He invites you to come to Him today at His table and be refreshed and then leave this place to follow His example - to die to your sin and to live in the righteousness that is His gift to you, forgiving and loving those who mistreat you and cause you suffering as you yourself have been forgiven and loved by Him, by Jesus, your Good Shepherd.  Amen.