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Archive for March, 2015

Our Partners are Having a Convention.


lwml convention 2

One of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s most trusted and effective partners is the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League.  They are partners in mission and mercy.  They are having their convention in Des Moines Iowa and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t been to a convention to go.  Here is a part of the press release.

Men and women of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) from across the nation are registering for the 36thBiennial Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) Convention to be held June 25-28, 2015, at the Iowa Events Center, in Des Moines, Iowa. Rooms are filling up and rumors have circulated that all hotels are full. This is not true! Extra hotel blocks have been added to the LWML list and, while these are not shown in the 2014 winter issue of the Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly, many rooms are still available. Find additional hotel information on the LWML website. When making your reservation, identify yourself as desiring to make a reservation for the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League Convention in Des Moines in June. Ask for the LWML block of rooms and the LWML rate. The theme for this convention, “Bountiful! Sow ž Nourish ž Reap,” is based on 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV). Register, reserve your hotel room, and be prepared to sow, be nourished, and reap! More information is available on the LWML website.

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Prisoners of Hope


Zechariah 9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

10 And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.

11 As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.

12 Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee”.

I have spent a large part of last week visiting the dying and those who visit and stay with the dying. Because of Christ and his suffering and death and resurrection, we are able to live the life of Christ in the world so that we are able to remain at the bed of the dying, and prepare for death in Christ on our own. We fall back on a faith that holds to Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit we see Christ living and acting in us. In a sense we are prisoners of hope. We cannot but speak of the things we have seen and heard as God works out his glorious mercy and grace through Jesus. The hope that we live in gives us the courage to go back to our stronghold, back to our mighty Fortress, and fight the fight and struggle through the struggles that exist in a fallen world. Our king came humble and pronounced his peace. And now we prisoners of hope can proclaim that piece to one another.

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The Wind Blows Where It Wants to…………

Somewhere around the beginning of Lent we read the story of Jesus visit with Nicodemus that ends with great Gospel in a nutshell. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

There is also a great conversation there about the Holy Spirit and the “wind blowing where it wants to”.  Spirit and breath are basically the same word.  When Jesus gave up Spirit, He died.  Jesus breathed on His disciples and said “receive the Holy Spirit”.  The Holy Spirit on Pentecost sounded like a great rushing wind.  Luther would talk about the Gospel being like a passing rain shower.  It stays in one place for a time and moves along.  He believed that the Gospel would disappear because of un-thankfulness.  The wind of the Spirit who calls and gathers and enlightens and sanctifies would blow somewhere else.

Here is a song I wrote about that a long time ago.

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The Cross Over.

John 5 cross

One of the joys of Lent, (if we can say we are looking for joy in a season of repentance), is the focus upon the death of Christ that becomes our life. Even in the season that focuses on our sin, and God’s answer for our sin, there is joy in the belief that death is swallowed up in victory and that the Christian has passed from death to life. It is Jesus himself who says in John chapter 5 “I tell you the truth whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

The sad reality of Lent is that many people don’t want to think about the death of Jesus because it makes them think about their own death, as well as making them think about their own sin. Preachers endlessly comment upon the fact the very few people will come to Ash Wednesday services, while Easter services are relatively packed.

I came across a funeral sermon presented by Dean Wenthe, President of  Concordia Theological Seminary delivered in 1999 at the death of Dr. Heino O. Kadai. There is a paragraph in the sermon that is stunning. “Look about in our day. The plot and the paradigm are transparently evident – from the elderly to the unborn, from the gradeschool to the grad school. You can feel the fear, you can see the flight – the rush to play; the need to purchase; the push to squeeze the most from every moment and never to mention the end, the finale. For we live in a time that is robbed of richness and wholeness and holiness, all because it embraces and assumes that life is followed by death. Dark, deep, and forever – death swallows up all hope in a culture where the intellect is clouded and people are reduced to mere moments before endless silence.” Wenthe then goes on with marvelous gospel proclamation that it is not to be that way with Christians. That we who trust and believe in Christ celebrate at funerals the great reversal. That because of Jesus death is followed by life.

Just so!

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Lent and the Peaceable Kingdom.

IMG_8358My friend Al Collver sent me these pictures a few days ago.  I called them “the peaceable Kingdom”.  The images from the Bible of a peaceable Kingdom and eternal life are pictures of a recreated created order at peace  because of Christ and His work of redemption.  The quiet bliss of Eden is brought back and the creation is what God intended it to be.  The Prince of Peace has made peace through the blood of his cross and the whole creation praises that Lamb who was slain.  The lion lies down with the lamb, the bells on the harnesses of the horses say “holy to the Lord” and there is no more sorrow or tears or pain.  The creation that groaned awaiting the revealing of the Sons of God now sings for joy.

Lent began with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  The Gospel of Mark has the shortest report of Jesus temptation in the wilderness and it gives us an interesting tidbit to think about.  “And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.”

Perhaps we have here the echoes and fulfillment of Psalm 91……

9If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, 10no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 13You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

Maybe the wild animals were hostile and Jesus overcomes them because He is the author of a new creation.

Perhaps there is a kind of environmentalist, hippy dippy, “can’t we all just get along”, interpretation like that of Richard Bauckham…………

“For us, Jesus’ companionable presence with the wild animals affirms their independent value for themselves and for God. He does not adopt them into the human world, but lets them be themselves in peace, leaving them their wilderness, affirming them as creatures who share the world with us in the community of God’s creation.” (Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Wild Animals (Mark 1:13): A Christological Image for an Ecological Age,” in Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ—Essays on the Historical Jesus and New Testament Christology (ed. Joel B. Green and Max Turner; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans/Carlisle: Paternoster, 1994) 3-21.

From Colossians 1 Paul says,

19 For in him (Christ) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

When God reconciles all things to himself those things are reconciled to one another.


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The Left and Right Hand of Glory.

Mark  tells us that James and John wanted to be on Jesus right and left “in His glory” (Mark 10;35-45) which would put them in the positions of the two thieves on the crosses next to Jesus.  No wonder Jesus asked them if they knew what they were asking for.  Their requests had to do with being power hungry and wanted to be bog shots, not with hanging on a cross next to the glory of God who was glorified in that horrible death.  This gives rise to the wonderful statement of Jesus that ……..

“For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom  for many” (Mark 10:45). The letter to the Hebrews chapter which was the epistle lesson for Sunday explains what this means.  “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25). Jesus is made a perfect High Priest before God by what he suffered and because of his perfect  life, death and resurrection he has made the perfect “ransom for many.”

James and John didn’t know what they were asking for but Jesus knew exactly what his Father in heaven was asking him to do.  As Luther wrote in his great hymn “Dear Christians One and All Rejoice”…..

5. He spoke to His beloved Son:
‘Tis time to have compassion.
Then go, bright Jewel of My crown,
And bring to man salvation;
From sin and sorrow set him free,
Slay bitter death for him that he
May live with Thee forever.

6. This Son obeyed His Father’s will,
Was born of virgin mother,
And God’s good pleasure to fulfill,
He came to be my Brother.
No garb of pomp or power He wore,
A servant’s form, like mine, He bore,
To lead the devil captive.

7.To me He spake: Hold fast to Me,
I am thy Rock and Castle;
Thy Ransom I Myself will be,
For thee I strive and wrestle;
For I am with thee, I am thine,
And evermore thou shalt be Mine;
The Foe shall not divide us.

8. The Foe shall shed My precious blood,
Me of My life bereaving.
All this I suffer for thy good;
Be steadfast and believing.
Life shall from death the victory win,
My innocence shall bear thy sin;
So art thou blest forever.



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My Lord and My God…..

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Thomas, confronted with the crucified, risen, Christ called out “my Lord and my God”.  There is a missionary emphasis that we wish to see the mass of fallen human beings call Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, their Lord and God as well.

my lord and my god







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Wing and a Prayer

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My memories from years ago and an old Saint that I visited in the hospital was that I edged the conversation into the fact that he was dying and he plowed right ahead and said that he was on the way out but he knew that he “would be Okay”.  He said something to the effect that he wouldn’t survive life in this old world, but he would survive.  When I asked “why?’ he said, “because Christ died for me.”  It  was a great relief and I remember the fun conversation we had after that.  Here was a mortal being swallowed up by life and he knew it.

My Father said much the same thing to me.  “Whatever happens to me, I am going to be alright”.  That is a great gift to family and friends.  Make the statement of faith so we all don’t have to wonder.

Wrote this song years ago with thanks to Johnny Cash.

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Corpses, Concerts and Kitsch Controversy


I love the alliteration but my article yesterday caused some mild controversy.  I had some correspondence from folks, not on the blog of course, asking kind of “is it I” questions as if their farewell to a loved one was inappropriate.  I don’t want to be the arbiter of good taste in this area and so I find it best to rely on a liturgy.  I prefer to use the old funeral liturgy from the Pastors agenda from our church.  It is solemn and dignified and yet hopeful.  I wrote about the denigration and disintegration that I see in the funeral service that doesn’t use such a device.  I has become something less than a worship service and something more that a commemoration of the departed.  Of course I am speaking in generalities but funeral directors that I know are also appalled at the nonsense that they put up with in the planning and performance of the service.

It was the Germans, not known for understatement, that coined the word “kitsch”.  It first referred to cheap goods that were imitations of fine art.  They were the “Elvis painted on black velvet” kind of things found in Munich markets.  Over the years the term has come to mean anything that “offers instantaneous emotional gratification without intellectual effort, without the requirement of distance, without sublimation”.*

Instantaneous emotional gratification about sums it up.  The funerals that I have attended were meant to appeal to the emotions, and that is not bad in itself, but there was no attempt to apply the balm of the Gospel and explain that faith in Christ grafts us into a community of faith that is trans geographical and transcends time and space.

Dr. Al Collver has written an article today in the “Witness, Mercy and Life Together Blog” commenting on The Service of Praise and Thanksgiving for Ronald Raymond Feuerhahn, held on 17 March 2015 at the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus at Concordia Seminary, where Dr. Feuerhahn served for 22 years. The press announcement about his funeral can be found here on Concordia Seminary’s website.   Dr. Collver writes about the proper remembrance of those that have passed away, especially our teachers in the faith, and gives a great summary from Herman Sasse about the general remembrance of the dead.  You can read the whole thing at  But for now ………..

“Hermann Sasse, in Letters to Lutheran Pastors, Volume III (available from CPH in hardcover and on Kindle) wrote about remembering the dead. In his essay “The Remembrance of the Dead in the Liturgy,” Section 8, Sasse writes: “Let me say a word about that which is specifically important for our death-filled century. The remembrance of the dead needs to be revived in the church. It is one of the bases of the powerful attraction of Catholicism in our day that it has preserved this remembrance, while Protestantism, including Lutheranism, has lost it. Therefore, despite all assurances to the contrary, Protestantism has to a greater or lesser extent become a this-side-of-eternity religion. It was the task of the Reformation to dissolve the symbiosis which in Catholicism brought about a point of contact between the Christian faith and pagan presuppositions about the hereafter. The result of this paganism in the church’s faith and practice has been all too evident; it is no accident that the Reformation began precisely on an All Saints’ Eve (October 31, 1517) with a protest against he fearful commerce which was designed to accomplish the salvation of souls.” Dr. Sasse goes on to point out how Dr. Martin Luther’s liturgical reforms of the church refocused the church on the purpose of Holy Communion, “forgiven sinners who in the reception of the Lord’s true body and blood are made one with all members of the church, all the saints in heaven and on earth, as the Body of Christ.” On Sunday morning, in the Proper Preface in the Communion liturgy, the pastor says, “…therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name ever more saying:” Then the congregation sings the Sanctus, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth…” Although dead (sic) separates us from the saints in heaven, we are untied together in the body of Christ. Sasse concludes his letter, “It is my hope that the considerations of this letter, for which you waited so long, and longer than you should have, will contribute to the clarification of our thoughts about one of the most difficult theological questions and help us rightly to exercise the church’s ministry of consolation in a cheerless world.”

*Menninghaus, Winfried (2009). “On the Vital Significance of ‘Kitsch’: Walter Benjamin’s Politics of ‘Bad Taste'”. In Andrew Benjamin. Walter Benjamin and the Architecture of Modernity. Charles Rice. pp. 39–58. ISBN 9780980544091.







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“Bringing a corpse to a concert”…………

funeral music

A funeral is meant to give substance to Biblical questions raised in places like Job 14, and to theological questions like those asked in the Book of Common prayer, “In the midst of life we are in death, of whom may we seek comfort but of Thee oh Lord who for our sins are justly displeased?”

I need to start by saying that I love music and that some of the greatest sacred music ever written was written for funerals.  The requiem music of Bach is considered some of the greatest music ever written.  I don’t have the capacity to speak to the theology of Bach, but as the old saying goes, I know what I like.  I am not a fuddy duddy that hates everything that is not played on a pipe organ, but I can’t help but notice that what passes as appropriate at funerals today is getting creepy.

Somewhere I read an account of the funeral of a famous person which was described with  the unforgettable phrase, “a concert with a corpse”. That is a marvelous image and it portrays wonderfully what so much of our religious expression has come to mean today. We have a liturgical battles, and our fights over what is praise, what is entertainment, what is good right in salutary, and what is pap. Regardless of where you stand on contemporary worship or the liturgy you have to admit that so much of what passes as religious observance today is basically a concert. When you bring a corpse to the concert you have a funeral service. I can’t think of anything that might show the problems we have in our culture more completely than what is happening to the funeral service. I haven’t attended that many that I wasn’t presiding over, but the ones I have been to without exception were utterly devastating.

The purpose of the funeral, or at least it had had been for countless years, was the application of the comfort and admonition of God’s Holy Word to living people. In many ways the deceased was not the star of the show, but a kind of object lesson to bring home the marvelous grace of God. This person died the common death of all man because all have sinned and the wages of sin is death. But this person, because of the marvelous grace of God will rise again in glory to a new life because of the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. The emphasis was upon the grace of God. The eulogy was “good words”,  the gospel (good news) of what God had done in Christ to save this person.  The funeral used to be about the reality of death and the promise of resurrection.  It was a ritual expression that “this mortal is swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4).

Today’s funeral seems to be a mix of fun remembrances, a family reunion, and a chance for various family members to get up and sing something. What the “something” might be is often the latest country paean to “country folk” and their love affair with pickup trucks, a recollection of the “Great Speckled Bird”, or another iteration of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.  I have sat through funerals were neither the law nor the gospel was ever mentioned. I have been at funerals where the death of Christ in the place of sinners in order to save them was never mentioned.   There is no committal service as near as I could tell.  Placing these remains into the earth in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection it seems to me might be an important concept.  In many ways I felt I was witnessing a denial of death.  The corpse was brought to the concert and was somehow listening to the music in the great beyond.

Professor David Scaer wrote an article for Concordia Theological Quarterly, July/October 2004 entitled “Johann Sebastian Bach as Lutheran Theologian” where he says, “………the contemporary person runs away from the reality of death. He/she would like to shun funerals, pretend that he/she will not get old, and does all in his/her power to retard the ravages of old age with a proper regimen. Christians are not immune from this secular attitude to life. A majority celebrates Christmas and Easter but avoid Lent and Good Friday. Christmas is the birth of life and Easter its recovery. We can face life, but death is the insoluble enigma. Christian life defined must first be defined by the crucifixion. Removing death from any definition of  human existence creates a fanaticism.  In his Passions Bach does not take the listeners beyond the tomb where Jesus’ body is placed. We are left as weeping mourners at the grave with little more than the promise that God will in some way vindicate the dead Jesus. In the art world, the counterpart would be Michelangelo’s “Pieta” in which Jesus’ sorrowing mother holds the dead body of her son in her arms. All this is pathetic, but how better can we define ourselves and our world?”

Well I guess the answer to that question is found in bringing the corpse to a concert.  But that raises another question – why have the concert in a church?


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