Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Now Greet the Swiftly Changing Year

As 2008 comes to its close, it's good to recall with thanksgiving all the blessings that Christ has poured out upon His Church through the hymn texts of Jaroslav J. Vajda (1919-2008).  I had the occasion to meet Pastor Vajda only once, at the very beginning of the Hymnal Project.  The Hymnody Committee spent much of the first morning of their time together just listening to Jaroslav Vajda and Carl Schalk as they freely spoke about their perspectives on the textual and musical aspects of a hymn.  I also corresponded with Pastor Vajda on one occasion, when (in 1993) I wrote "The Tree of Life."  He was very kind and encouraging with his remarks in response to my text.

Vajda's translation of the 17th century Slovakian hymn first appeared in Worship Supplement (1969).  The first line has undergone a few of changes from the original: "Greet, Man, the Swiftly Changing Year."  His second revision is what is printed here.  The final version is: "Greet Now the Swiftly Changing Year."  (What is printed here [LSB 896] was chosen because it fits best with Alfred Fedak's tune, SIXTH NIGHT, a wonderful melody that expresses the joy of this text.)

1.  Now greet the swiftly changing year
     With joy and penitence sincere.
          Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace
          Another year of grace.

2.  Remember now the Son of God
     And how He shed His infant blood.
          Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace
          Another year of grace.

3.  This Jesus came to end sin's war;
     This Name of names for us He bore.
          Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace
          Another year of grace.

4.  His love abundant far exceeds
     The volume of a whole year's needs.
          Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace
          Another year of grace.

5.  With Him as Lord to lead our way
     In want and in prosperity,
          What need we fear in earth or space
          In this new year of grace!

6.  "All glory be to God on high,
       And peace on earth!" the angels cry.
            Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace
            Another year of grace.

7.  God, Father, Son, and Spirit, hear!
     To all our pleas incline Your ear;
          Upon our lives rich blessing trace
          In this new year of grace.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How, Before All Time Began

"For he chose is in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will--to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  (Ephesians 1:4-6)

1.  How, before all time began,
         Before the world's creation,
     Could the Lord conceive His plan
         Of mercy and salvation?
     Yet, from that high and timeless place,
     God chose to save our death-bound race:
         Emmanuel--as prophets tell the story
             In Scripture as we know,
         Would veil in flesh His glory
             And dwell with us below!

2.  To the darkness of our night
         And to our need descending,
      Come the Word as Light of Light
         Beyond our comprehending--
     Radiant within the virgin's womb;
     Dawning as day upon our gloom.
          Hail, Jacob's Star! For all You are now shining
              Your beam of grace on earth,
          Your royal might confining
               Within such humble birth.

3.  As the presence of a king
         Brings honor to a city,
     Bethlehem, be glad and sing
          Your Sov'reign's tender pity;
     Join all the angels who rejoice;
     Let ev'ry creature raise its voice--
          Sing "Glory be to God!" for He is solely
              The God who comes to save
          And to our world unholy,
               The Prince of Peace He gave.

4.  Tarshish lords from distant shore,
          Come, pay your tribute to Him;
     Kings of Sheba, kneel before
          The One with worship due Him.
     Rise up, O nations!  See!  Your Lord!
     Long may He live and be adored!
          Oh, may His fame and holy name, transcending
              Each name upon this sphere,
          Be sung with praise unending
               For love so pure and near!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Stable Lamp Is Lighted

Christ's birth culminates in His death and resurrection.  Even the very stones of creation praise God for such redemptive love.  The text was written by Richard Wilbur (b. 1921) in 1958 for the annual Christmas concert at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.  (I had the joy and privilege of serving as pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Middletown, Connecticut from 1985-2000 and was on the campus of Wesleyan University on numerous occasions.)  The text was first published in Advice to a Prophet and Other Poems in 1961 under the title "A Christmas Hymn." In 1987, Richard Wilbur was named second Poet Laureate of the United States, following Robert Penn Warren.  "A Stable Lamp Is Lighted" appeared in Hymnal Supplement 98 paired with the tune ANDUJAR, a tune composed by David Hurd (b. 1950).  The tune was named after Lily Andujar Rogers, a Fellow at the American Guild of Organists and choirmaster of the boys' choir in which David Hurd sang at St. Gabriel's Church, Hollis, Long Island.

1.   A stable lamp is lighted
        Whose glow shall wake the sky;
           The stars shall bend their voices,
         And ev'ry stone shall cry.
         And ev'ry stone shall cry,
             And straw like gold shall shine;
                 A barn shall harbor heaven,
             A stall become a shrine.

2.  This child through David's city
         Shall ride in triumph by;
             The palm shall strew its branches,
         And ev'ry stone shall cry.
         And ev'ry stone shall cry.
             Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
                 And lie within the roadway
             To pave His kingdom come.

3.  Yet He shall be forsaken,
         And yielded up to die;
             The sky shall groan and darken,
        And ev'ry stone shall cry.
        And ev'ry stone shall cry,
            For stony hearts of men:
                God's blood upon the spearhead,
            God's love refused again.

4.  But now, as at the ending,
         The low is lifted high;
             The stars shall bend their voices,
         And ev'ry stone shall cry.
         And ev'ry stone shall cry,
             In praises of the Child
                 By whose descent among us
             The worlds are reconciled.

Friday, December 26, 2008

O Sing of Christ

"Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.  Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.  Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples."  (Psalm 96:1-3)

1.  O sing of Christ, whose birth made known
        The kindness of the Lord,
     Eternal Word made flesh and bone
        So we could be restored.
     Upon our frail humanity
        God's finger chose to trace
     The fullness of His deity,
        The icon of His grace.

2.  What Adam lost, none could reclaim
        And Paradise was barred
     Until the second Adam came
        To mend what sin had marred.
     For when the time was full and right
        God sent His only Son;
     He came to us as life and light
        And our redemption won.

3.  He came to that which was His own,
        But He was not received;
     Yet still through Him God's glory shone,
        And some His name believed.
     To these He gave the right to be
        The heirs of heav'n above,
     Born not of human ancestry,
        But born of God in love. 

4.  Lord Jesus Christ, You deigned to dwell
        Among us here on earth
     As God with us, Emmanuel,
        To bring this holy birth.
     Though rich, You willingly became
        One with our poverty,
     That we might share Your wealth and name
        For all eternity! 

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior

"I will rejoice greatly in the LORD; my soul shall exalt in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."  (Isaiah 61:10)

1.  Thee we adore, O hidden Savior, Thee,
     Who in Thy Sacrament art pleased to be;
          Both flesh and spirit in Thy presence fail,
          Yet here Thy presence we devoutly hail.

2.  In this memorial of Thy death, O Lord,
     Thou dost Thy body and Thy blood afford:
          O may our souls forever feed on Thee,
          And Thou, O Christ, forever precious be.

3.  Thou, like the pelican to feed her brood,
     Didst pierce Thyself to give us living food;
          Thy blood, O Lord, one drop has pow'r to win
          Forgiveness for our world and all its sin.

4.  Fountain of goodness, Jesus, Lord and God:
     Cleanse us, unclean, with Thy most cleansing blood;
          Increase our faith and love, that we may know
          The hope and peace which from Thy presence flow.

5.  O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see,
     May what we thirst for soon our portion be:
          To gaze on Thee unveiled and see Thee face to face,
          The vision of Thy glory, and Thy grace.   Amen.

(Stained glass window is from the chapel at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bay City, Michigan.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Prepare the Royal Highway

"The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  It is written in Isaiah the prophet: 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way'--'a voice of one calling in the desert, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him." '  And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."  (Mark 1:1-4)  

1.  Prepare the royal highway;
     The King of kings is near!
     Let ev'ry hill and valley
     A level road appear!
     Then greet the King of Glory
     Foretold in sacred story:
          Hosanna to the Lord, 
          For He fulfills God's Word!

2.  God's people see Him coming:
     Your own eternal king!
     Palm branches strew before Him!
     Spread garments!  Shout and sing!
     God's promise will not fail you!
     No more shall doubt assail you!
          Hosanna to the Lord,
          For He fulfills God's Word!

3.  Then fling the gates wide open
     To greet your promised king!
     Your king, yet ev'ry nation
     Its tribute too should bring.
     All lands, bow down before Him!
     All nations, now adore Him!
          Hosanna to the Lord,
          For He fulfills God's Word!

4.  His is no earthly kingdom;
     It comes from heav'n above.
     His rule is peace and freedom
     And justice, truth, and love.
     So let your praise be sounding
     For kindness, so abounding:
         Hosanna to the Lord,
         For He fulfills God's Word!  

Monday, December 1, 2008

O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide

"Oh, that You would rend the heavens!  That You would come down!  That the mountains might shake at Your presence--as fire burns brushwood, as fire causes water to boil--to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence!"  (Is. 64:1-2)

1.  O Savior, rend the heavens wide;
     Come down, come down with mighty stride;
     Unlock the gates, the doors break down;
     Unbar the way to heaven's crown.

2.  O Father, light from heaven send;
     As morning dew, O Son, descend.
     Drop down, you clouds, the life of spring:
     To Jacob's line rain down the King.

3.  O earth, in flow'ring bud be seen;
     Clothe hill and dale in garb of green.
     Bring forth, O earth, a blossom rare,
     Our Savior, sprung from meadow fair.

4.  O Fount of hope, how long, how long?
     When will You come with comfort strong?
     O come, O come, Your throne forego;
     Console us in our vale of woe.

5.  O Morning Star, O radiant Sun,
     When will our hearts behold Your dawn?
     O Sun, arise; without Your light
     We grope in gloom and dark of night.

6.  Sin's dreadful doom before us lies;
     Grim death looms fierce before our eyes.
     O come, lead us with mighty hand
     From exile to our promised land.

7.  There shall we all our praises bring
     And sing to You, our Savior King;
     There shall we laud You and adore
     Forever and forevermore.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Now Thank We All Our God

"Now Thank We All Our God" was written by Martin Rinckart who lived in the town of Eilenberg, Germany in the early 1600's during the Thirty Years' War.  Eilenberg was a walled city and as such it became a haven for fugitives from both far and near.  Because of the overcrowding and poor sanitation, it became a breeding ground for disease and death.  After the other two pastors died, Pastor Rinckart was left alone to bury the dead and minister to the dying and console the grieving as best he could.  He buried an average of 40 people a day; and the end of the whole ordeal, he had buried a total of 4,480 people, among whom was his own wife.  Twice the city was overrun by foreigners.  Yet in spite of all these severe adversities that would be enough to challenge anyone's faith, Pastor Rinckart trusted God and praised God's goodness and grace, even in the face of such difficult circumstance with the words of this hymn:

1.  Now thank we all our God
         With hearts and hands and voices,
             Who wondrous things has done,
         In whom His world rejoices;
     Who from our mother's arms
         Has blest us on our way
             With countless gifts of love
         And still is ours today.

2.  Oh, may this bounteous God
         Through all our life be near us,
             With ever joyful hearts
         And bles-sed peace to cheer us
     And keep us in His grace
         And guide us when perplexed
             And free us from all ills
         In this world and the next.

3.  All praise and thanks to God
         The Father now be given,
             The Son, and Him who reign
         With them in highest heaven,
     The one eternal God,
         Whom earth and heav'n adore;
     For thus it was, is now,
          And shall be evermore.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Day of Christ's Return

Carl Schalk's tune CHEOPS was the inspiration for this text based on the passage from 2 Peter 3:3-15a (NASB):  "Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation."  For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction by ungodly men.  But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements destroyed with intense heat, and the earth at its works will be burned up.    Since all these things are to be destroyed this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!  But according to His promise we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.  Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless and regard the patience of the Lord as salvation..."  Even so, Lord, come quickly!

1.  The day of Christ's return is still denied
     By skeptics, who in unbelief deride:
          "Where is this coming of your Lord?"
     Their darkened minds are blinded by their pride.

2.  Yes, in the human heart rebellion grows,
     Forgetting what the Scripture clearly shows:
           A thousand years within God's sight
     Are like a day that quickly comes and goes.

3.  The gracious reason why our Lord delays
     Reflects His patience, born of endless days:
          For God would have the world repent
     And turn from futile, selfish, empty ways.

4.  For soon the heav'ns will vanish with a roar;
     The earth laid bare by fire will be no more!
          What kind of people ought we be
     As we await the One whom we adore?

5.  Live godly lives of holiness and peace;
     By word and deed the reign of Christ increase;
          Look forward to and speed that day
     When all will be made new and never cease.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord

Two years ago I visited the Wartburg Castle near Eisenach in the Thuringian region of Germany.  I took this photo of the Wartburg on a very cold and blustery November day in 2006. While visiting the castle, I learned about the history of the castle and how, by Luther's day, it had become quite run down, not considered too highly, largely forgotten and nearly abandoned (a perfect place to hide the Reformer!).  Above the foundational parts of the castle is a large room that has been, in recent years, lavishly decorated with mosaics on all its walls and pillars to tell the story of the castle and the role that Elizabeth of Hungary played in its history.

Elizabeth was the daughter of King Andrew the II of Hungary.  In 1211, an embassy was sent by Landgrave Hermann I of Thuringia to Hungary to arrange, as was customary in that age, a marriage between his eldest son, Hermann and Elizabeth, who was then only four years old! Not long afterward, Elizabeth was taken to the Thuringian court to be brought up with her future husband and, in the course of time, to be married to him.  

The Thuringian court was famous for its magnificence at this time and the Wartburg Castle was the centerpiece of Thuringia, splendidly placed on a hill near Eisenach, where Landgrave Hermann lived, surrounded by poets and minnesingers, of whom he was a generous patron.  In spite of the pomp of her surroundings, Elizabeth grew up as a very religious girl.

When Elizabeth was fourteen, she was wed to Ludwig, Hermann's son.  The marriage was happy and exemplary and each spouse was devoted to the other.  They had three children.  Ludwig led a busy life and was often away from the Wartburg.  While Ludwig was away, Elizabeth took charge of the affairs of the castle and she was renowned for her charitable endeavors.  For example, in order to personally care for the unfortunate, she built a 28-bed hospital below the Wartburg to tend to the sick and the poor.  She gave away much of her stately clothing and ornaments to the poor. Ludwig died in 1227 on a crusade to Palestine (Elizabeth had just given birth to their third child when she received the news.)  

After Ludwig's death, his brother assumed the regency during the minority of Elizabeth's oldest child.  It was he, according to tradition, that cast Elizabeth and the children out of the Wartburg Castle, depicted by the mosaic. She went to Marburg in Hesse. She died at the age of twenty-four years old.  She is remembered for her charitable works and the starting of the hospital below the Wartburg and the hospital she built in Marburg with the money from her dowry.

Fred Pratt Green's hymn gives a commentary on the joyful virtues of one like Elizabeth, commemorated today on the Church Year calendar, "joyful virtues that put to shame the casual way we wear" God's name.

1.  How clear is our vocation, Lord,
          When first we heed Your call:
     To live according to Your Word
     And daily learn, refreshed, restored,
   That You are Lord of all
           And will not let us fall.

2.  But if, forgetful, we should find
          Your yoke is hard to bear;
     If worldly pressures fray the mind,
     And love itself cannot unwind
          Its tangled skein of care:
          Our inward life repair.

3.  We marvel how Your saints become
          In hindrances more sure;
     Whose joyful virtues put to shame
     The casual way we wear You name
          And by our faults obscure
          Your pow'r to cleanse and cure.

4.  In what You give us, Lord, to do,
          Together or alone,
     In old routines or ventures new,
     May we not cease to look to You,
          The cross You hung upon--
          All You endeavored done.

Monday, November 17, 2008

With Longing Heart the Father Waits

Recently I received a newly-published book of hymn texts, "My Light and My Salvation" by Canadian Lutheran pastor, Kurt E. Reinhardt (currently serving at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kurtzville, Ontario.)  "With Longing Heart the Father Waits" is one of the many fine hymn texts contained in Pastor Reinhardt's new book.  I am thoroughly enjoying working my way through this 68-page volume of his hymn texts and poems.  (Pastor Reinhardt's hymn "Baptismal Waters Cover Me" is found in Lutheran Service Book, #616.)  This new book of hymns was published in 2008 by Redeemer Press of Fort Wayne, Indiana and its ISBN is 978-1-934328-02-6. 

Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son could be called the Parable of the Prodigal Father.  The word "prodigal" means "extremely wasteful."  A casual reader of this parable could argue that the father was far too generous with his love for his rebellious son.  Yet all sinners know such a Father's generous love.   Jesus' parable indeed gives us a glimpse into the heart of our heavenly Father, whose great mercy and grace can never be fully sounded--they are too deep! In His great love, the Father clothes His own dear Son in our filth and shame in order to pave our way back to His estate.  Not only that, for undeserving and rebel sons and daughters, He assures us again and again of His love and forgiveness in His holy Supper. Prodigal love indeed, for all our times of casting His precious pearls before the swine of our own sinful desires.  

1.  With longing heart the father waits,
     Like a watchman at his gates,
         His gaze fixed on the homeward way
         In hope his child might come today.

2.  From far away the father knows
     His son in filthy tattered clothes,
          Whose once familiar face and name
          Lie buried deep beneath his shame.

3.  From far away the father knows
     His son, who in greed's fever chose
          To fill his soul with poisoned wine
          And cast his pearls amongst the swine.

4.  From far away the father knows
     The son who caused him many woes;
          Yet love with arms outstretching wide
          In heedless joy runs to his side.

5.  With longing heart our Father waits
     For His lost children at His gates;
          A ring, a cloak, and shoes lie near
          While Love's own feast awaits them here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lord of All Nations, Grant Me Grace

Martin of Tours was born to pagan parents; his father was a Roman military officer and tribune.  Martin was raised in Pavia, Italy.  He discovered Christianity and became a catechumen in his early teens.   He was baptized at age 18.  Joining the Roman army at the age of 15, he served in a ceremonial unit that acted as the emperor's bodyguard and, as such, was rarely exposed to actual combat.  Martin, a calvary officer, was eventually assigned to garrison duty in Gaul. 

Trying to live out his faith, Martin refused to let a servant wait on him.  Once, while on horseback in Amiens in Gaul, (modern France) he encountered a beggar.  Having nothing to give the beggar but the clothes on his back, he cut his heavy officer's cloak in half and gave it to the beggar.  Later on, Martin had a vision of Christ wearing the cloak.

Arianism was the chief heresy of Martin's time period, but Martin was instructed by Hillary of Poitiers, an orthodox teacher.  Part of Martin's life was spent as a hermit.  His reputation of holiness attracted other monks and they formed what eventually became the Benedictine abbey of Ligugé.  He preached and evangelized the Gallic countryside.  He destroyed old temples and built churches.

When the bishop of Tours died in 371, Martin was the immediate choice to replace him.   He lived in a hermit's cell near Tours and had many visions, some of his contemporaries ascribing his visions to his lengthy fasts.  Upon his death, he was the first non-martyr to receive the cultus of a saint.

Olive Wise Spannaus, an LC-MS hymnwriter, wrote the text "Lord of All Nations, Grant Me Grace." It is #844 in Lutheran Service Book.

1.  Lord of all nations, grant me grace
     To love all people, ev'ry race;
          And in each person may I see
          My kindred loved, redeemed by Thee.

2.  Break down the walls that would divide
     Thy children, Lord, on ev'ry side.
          My neighbor's good let me pursue;
          Let Christian love bind warm and true.

3.  Forgive me, Lord, where I have erred
     By loveless act and thoughtless word,
          Make me to see the wrong I do
          Will grieve my wounded Lord anew.

4.  Give me the courage, Lord, to speak
     Whenever strong oppress the weak.
          Should I myself the victim be,
          Help me forgive, remembering Thee.

5.  With Thine own love may I be filled
     And by Thy Holy Spirit willed,
          That all I touch, where'er I be,
          May be divinely touched by Thee.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word

November 9th is set apart to commemorate the great orthodox Lutheran theologian, Martin Chemnitz, sometimes known as "the second Martin."  It has been said, "If the second Martin had not come, the first Martin would not have stood."  The writings of Martin Chemnitz helped rescue Lutheran theology, which after Luther was being undermined by both Calvinism and Roman Catholicism.  Under the tutelage of Phillip Melanchthon, Chemnitz accepted and defended Lutheran teaching, by both his lecturing and by his writings.  One of his best known books, Loci Theologici, was a commentary on Melanchthon's theology.  In it, Chemnitz strongly defends the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  In other writings, Chemnitz defended Luther's teaching on the Lord's Supper and the church's ancient teaching that Jesus is both man and God.  Another important work by Martin Chemnitz was his Examination of the Council of Trent.  At Trent, the Roman Catholics restated and clarified their doctrines.  Chemnitz replied to their claims with four volumes which were a strong Protestant answer to Roman Catholic claims.  For Lutherans, Chemnitz' most important contribution was his part in drafting the Formula of Concord.   This was an orthodox restatement of the Lutheran faith that was acceptable to different Lutheran factions.  Due in large part to his efforts, the Formula of Concord was adopted by the Lutherans of Saxony and Swabia.

Martin Luther's hymn,  "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" seems like an appropriate commentary on the life of " the second Martin."

1.  Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word;
     Curb those who by deceit or sword
          Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son
          And bring to naught all He has done.

2.  Lord Jesus Christ, Your pow'r make known,
     For You are Lord of lords alone;
          Defend Your holy Church that we
          May sing Your praise eternally.

3.  O Comforter of priceless worth,
     Send peace and unity on earth;
          Support us in our final strife
          And lead us out of death to life.

Monday, October 27, 2008

O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright

Here is the second of Nicolai's two great hymns, "The Queen of Chorales."

O Morning Star, how fair and bright!
You shine with God's own truth and light,
     Aglow with grace and mercy!
Of Jacob's race, King David's son,
Our Lord and master, You have won
     Our hearts to serve You only!
          Lowly, holy!
     Great and glorious,
     All victorious,
          Rich in blessing!
Rule and might o'er all possessing!

Come, heav'nly bridegroom, light divine,
And deep within our hearts now shine;
     There light a flame undying!
In Your one body let us be
As living branches of a tree,
     Your life our lives supplying.
          Now, though daily
     Earth's deep sadness
     May perplex us
          And distress us,
Yet with heav'nly joy You bless us.

Lord, when You look on us in love,
At once there falls from God above
     A ray of purest pleasure.
Your Word and Spirit, flesh and blood
Refresh our souls with heav'nly food.
     You are our dearest treasure!
          Let Your mercy
     Warm and cheer us!
     O draw near us!
          For You teach us
God's own love through You has reached us.

Almighty Father, in Your Son
You loved us when not yet begun
     Was this old earth's foundation!
Your Son has ransomed us in love
To live in Him here and above:
     This is Your great salvation.
     Christ the living,
     To us giving
          Life forever,
Keeps us Yours and fails us never!

O let the harps break forth in sound!
Our joy be all with music crowned,
     Our voices gladly blending!
For Christ goes with us all the way--
Today, tomorrow, ev'ry day!
     His love is never ending!
          Sing out!  Ring out!
          Tell the story!
Great is He, the King of glory!

What joy to know, when life is past,
The Lord we love is first and last,
     The end and the beginning!
He will one day, oh, glorious grace,
Transport us to that happy place
     Beyond all tears and sinning!
          Amen!  Amen!
     Come, Lord Jesus!
     Crown of gladness!
          We are yearning
For the day of Your returning!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying

October 26th is dedicated on the calendar of commemorations to three stellar hymnwriters: Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heerman, and Paul Gerhardt.  Where would we be without their rich texts?  Nicolai was also a gifted composer, writing the text and tune for "Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying," known as the "King of Chorales," as well as "O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright," known as the "Queen of Chorales."  The circumstances which called into being these two great hymns and the classic chorales to which they are wed are tragic.  Pestilence raged in Westphalia.  At Unna, where Nicolai was pastor, 1,300 villagers died of the plague between July, 1597, and January, 1598.  During one week in August, 170 victims were claimed by death!
From the parsonage, which overlooked the churchyard, Nicolai witnessed the steady procession of burials and the regular digging of graves.  In the midst of all this death and sadness, Nicolai wrote a series of meditations entitled, "Freuden Spiegel," or "Mirror of Joy."  His purpose, stated in the preface, dated August 10, 1598, was "to leave it behind me (if God should call me from this world) as a token of my peaceful, joyful Christian departure, or (if God should spare me in health) to comfort sufferers whom He should also visit with the pestilence....There seemed to me nothing more sweet, delightful and agreeable, than the contemplation of the noble, sublime doctrine of Eternal Life obtained through the Blood of Christ...I...searched the Scriptures as to what they revealed on this matter...then day by day I wrote out my meditations, found myself, thank God! wonderfully well, comforted in heart, joyful in spirit and truly content."  Both of these classic hymns appeared for the first time in his "Mirror of Joy."  As a title to "Wachet auf" Nicolai wrote, "Of the voice at Midnight, and the Wise Virgins who meet their Heavenly Bridegroom. Mt. 25."  The title to "Wie schon" reads, "A spiritual bridal song of the believing soul concerning Jesus Christ, her Heavenly Bridegroom, founded on the 45th Psalm of the prophet David."  Two treasures.  The first is presented here:

"Wake, awake, for night is flying,"
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
"Awake, Jerusalem, arise!"
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices:
"Oh, where are ye, ye virgins wise?"
The bridegroom comes, awake!
Your lamps with gladness take!
With bridal care
Yourselves prepare
To meet the bridegroom, who is near."

Zion hears the watchmen singing,
And all her heart with joy is springing;
She wakes, she rises from her gloom.
For her Lord comes down all-glorious,
The strong in grace, in truth victorious;
Her star is ris'n, her light is come.
Now come, Thou Blessed One,
Lord Jesus, God's own Son,
Hail!  Hosanna!
We enter all
The wedding hall
To eat the Supper at Thy call.

Now let all the heav'ns adore Thee,
Let saints and angels sing before Thee
With harp and cymbals' clearest tone.
Of one pearl each shining portal,
Where, joining with the choir immortal,
We gather round Thy radiant throne.
No eye has see the light,
No ear has heard the might
Of Thy glory;
Therefore will we
Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Saints, See the Cloud of Witnesses

After the Apostles, Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch in Syria.  Whether he knew any of the apostles directly is uncertain.  Little is known of his life except for the end of it.  Early in the second century (perhaps around 107 A.D., during the reign of Emperor Trajan), he was arrested and condemned to death, transported to Rome to die in the arena.  By dealing with Ignatius, the authorities hoped to terrify his followers.  Instead, Ignatius took the opportunity to encourage the Christians, speaking to groups of them at every town along the way to Rome.  He wrote seven letters that have been preserved.  In one he writes:  "I am God's wheat, ground fine by the lion's teeth to be made purest bread for Christ."  Ignatius' life and death are commemorated on October 17th.

1.  Saints, see the cloud of witnesses surround us;
     Their lives of faith encourage and astound us.
          Hear how the Master praised their faith so fervent:
          "Well done, My servant!"

2.  These saints of old received God's commendation;
     They lived as pilgrim-heirs of His salvation.
          Through faith they conquered flame and sword and gallows,
          God's name to hallow.

3.  They call to us, "Your timid footsteps lengthen;
     Throw off sin's weight, your halting weakness strengthen.
          We kept the faith, we shed our blood, were martyred;
          Our lives we bartered."

4.  Come, let us fix our sight on Christ who suffered,
     He faced the cross, His sinless life He offered;
          He scorned the shame, He died, our death enduring,
          Our hope securing.

5.  Lord, give us faith to walk where You are sending,
     On paths unmarked, eyes blind as to their ending;
          Not knowing where we go, but that You lead us--
          With grace precede us.

6.  You, Jesus, You alone deserve all glory!
     Our lives unfold, embraced within Your story;
          Past, present, future--You, the same forever--
          You fail us never!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Nearer, My God, to Thee

Sarah Flower Adams' (1805-1848) pastor asked her and her sister to help him prepare a hymnal, and the two responded eagerly, writing thirteen texts and sixty-two new tunes!  As the sisters were completing their work, their pastor mentioned he was planning a sermon on Jacob's dream of a ladder ascending to heaven and he needed an appropriate hymn.  Adams soon completed the five stanzas of "Nearer, My God, to Thee."  Her own life was a difficult one which included many losses, not the least of which was her own mother who died when Sarah was only five years old.  She learned, as we have learned, that our steps along life's path, even those steps which are difficult or painful or filled with loss, only draw us nearer to God as He carries us through such times, also ministering to us with His holy angels who strengthen us in our weakness.  "For are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?"  (Hebrews 1:16)

1.  Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
     E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me;
     Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee,
     Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.

2.  Though like a wanderer, the sun gone down,
     Darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
     Yet in my dreams I'd be nearer, my God, to Thee,
     Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.

3.  There let the way appear steps unto heav'n;
     All that Thou sendest me in mercy giv'n;
     Angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee,
     Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.

4.  Then, with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
     Out of my stony griefs, Bethel I'll raise;
     So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee,
     Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.

5.  Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,
     Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly,
     Still all my song shall be nearer, my God, to Thee,
     Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Tree of Life

Holy Cross Day

1. The tree of life with ev’ry good
    In Eden’s holy orchard stood,
        And of its fruit so pure and sweet
        God let the man and woman eat.
    Yet in this garden also grew
    Another tree, of which they knew;
        Its lovely limbs with fruit adorned
        Against whose eating God had warned.

2. The stillness of that sacred grove
    Was broken, as the serpent strove
        With tempting voice Eve to beguile
        And Adam too by sin defile.
    O day of sadness when the breath
    Of fear and darkness, doubt and death,
        Its awful poison first displayed
        Within the world so newly made.

3. What mercy God showed to our race,
    A plan of rescue by His grace:
        In sending One from woman’s seed,
        The One to fill our greatest need—
    For on a tree uplifted high
    His only Son for sin would die,
        Would drink the cup of scorn and dread
        To crush the ancient serpent’s head!

4. Now from that tree of Jesus’ shame
    Flows life eternal in His name;
        For all who trust and will believe,
        Salvation’s living fruit receive.
    And of this fruit so pure and sweet
    The Lord invites the world to eat,
        To find within this cross of wood
        The tree of life with ev’ry good.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Soul, Now Praise Your Maker

Fred Precht writes in Lutheran Worship Hymnal Companion about this marvelous hymn text: "This hymn by Johann Gramann was written, according to the great Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz, one of the authors of the Formula of Concord, at the request of Albrecht the Elder, Duke of Prussia, a follower of Luther's and staunch supporter of the Reformation.  Albrecht asked for a hymn based on his favorite psalm, Psalm 103, a beautiful psalm in praise of the God of all grace."

Psalm 103 is one of my favorite psalms too.  We sang this hymn today in our Matins worship services here at St. John-Amelith.  What a gloriously strong text!  As the summer flowers fade and fall approaches, one is given an object lesson in the brevity of life contrasted to the steadfast, everlasting love of God.

1.  My soul, now praise your Maker!
         Let all within me bless His name
     Who makes you full partaker
         Of mercies more than you dare claim.
             Forget Him not whose meekness
                  Still bears with all your sin,
              Who heals your ev'ry weakness,
                  Renews your life within;
                       Whose grace and care are endless
                           And saved you through the past;
                       Who leaves no suff'rer friendless
                           But rights the wronged at last.

2.  He offers all His treasure
         Of justice, truth, and righteousness,
     His love beyond all measure,
         His yearning pity o'er distress;
              Nor treats us as we merit
                  But sets His anger by.
              The poor and contrite spirit
                  Finds His compassion nigh;
                       As high as heav'n above us,
                           As dawn from close of day,
                       So far, since He has loved us,
                           He puts our sins away.

3.  For as a tender father
         Has pity on His children here,
      God in His arms will gather
         All who are His in childlike fear.
              He knows how frail our powers,
                  Who but from dust are made.
              We flourish like the flowers,
                  And even so we fade;
                       The wind but through them passes,
                           And all their bloom is o'er
                       We wither like the grasses;
                           Our place knows us no more.

4.  His grace remains forever,
         And children's children yet shall prove
     That God forsakes them never
         Who in true fear shall seek His love.
              In heav'n is fixed His dwelling,
                  His rule is over all;
              O hosts with might excelling,
                  With praise before Him fall,
                       Praise Him forever reigning,
                           All you who hear His Word--
                       Our life and all sustaining.
                           My soul, O praise the Lord!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Did Not Brave Esther Speak

John Mc Cain's choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin took me and many by surprise.  Her tenure as governor of the 49th state of our nation has included the confrontation of corruption within her own Republican party and bold leadership to improve her state.  Who had heard of her or her work before today?  A few, but not many.  What touched me most today after being introduced as John Mc Cain's choice for a running mate was her commitment to life in the birth of her Down Syndrome son.  The two parties running for office this fall are in stark contrast to each other on many issues but especially on life issues: one is pro-choice; the other is pro-life.  I firmly believe that the Word of God is crystal clear in this area:  no one has the right to choose death for the unborn child! God is the giver of life and it is indeed a sacred gift to be cherished.  Yet we live in a dying world where pro-death forces threaten to sweep into power in a dramatic way.  I believe that Christians must speak up and make their voice heard in the upcoming election.  Life is sacred.  It remains under attack and must be protected.

This hymn text was commissioned by composer Stephen R. Johnson for Mary Ragonesi Johnson.  His tune, MARY'S DAUGHTER, was written by him for the text.  The text speaks of women who have been used by God in their lives of faithful witness and service.  It begins by telling of Esther, whose bold actions prevented the Jews of her day from being eradicated.  It continues by recalling the women who did not desert our Lord even as the forces of darkness sought to snuff the Light of the world.   Other women from the New Testament era are briefly highlighted in the third stanza.  The fourth stanza calls upon us to dare to live for Christ as we daily deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow our Savior. May we continue to be inspired by such biblical women and by faithful women in our own day!

1.  Did not brave Esther speak to free
         Her people from their doom?
     She dared confront a treachery
         That would her race entomb.
     Has God not brought you to this place
         For such a time as this,
     To speak His Word of light and grace
         So none its truth dismiss?

2.  What tender care the women showed
         When Christ was crucified!
     With tears and prayers their love bestowed
          As Jesus bled and died.
     Those faithful Marys shared the gloom
         Of Jesus' bitter strife;
     They came with spices to the tomb,
         Yet found Him raised to life!

3.  O sing of Anna, prophetess,
         The temple was her home;
     Of Phoebe, faithful deaconess,
          Who brought Paul's words to Rome;
     Of Lydia, whose cloth was dyed
          With hospitality;
     Their lives of service magnified
          The Holy Trinity.

4.   God summons you to truly care,
          To weep with those who cry,
      To take your cross and for Christ dare
          To live and self deny,
      To give till wealth is sacrificed
          For those in pressing need,
      That all may see in you the Christ--
          His love your living creed.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lord, It Belongs Not to My Care

St. Paul writes in Philippians 4:11-13  "For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me." 

One might assume from this hymn text that Richard Baxter lived a quiet life of a British gentleman.  Not so.  This seventeenth century English clergyman was too Puritanical for the Anglican bishops and too Episcopalian for the Presbyterians.  Baxter was always getting into trouble.  And the Puritans didn't like him because he was a champion of church music.

When Richard Baxter was 70 years old, he was brought before a judge and accused of writing a paraphrase of the New Testament.  The judge called him "an old rogue, a hypocritical villian, a fanatical dog, and a sniveling Presbyterian."  The judge proceeded to have Baxter whipped and jailed in the Tower of London.

This hymn was written as a commentary on Philippians 1:21 "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."  It was dedicated to Baxter's wife, who had died a few years earlier after a lengthy illness.  Baxter's life was one of constant struggles, but he was content to leave such matters in God's hands.

1.  Lord, it belongs not to my care
         Whether I die or live;
     To love and serve Thee is my share,
        And this Thy grace must give.

2.  If life be long, I will be glad
         That I may long obey;
     If short, yet why should I be sad
         To soar to endless day?

3.  Christ leads me through no darker rooms
         Than He went through before;
     He that unto God's kingdom comes
         Must enter by this door.

4.  Come, Lord, when grace has made me meet
        Thy blessed face to see;
     For if Thy work on earth be sweet,
        What will Thy glory be!

5.  Then shall I end my sad complaints
        And weary, sinful days
     And join with the triumphant saints
        Who sing my Savior's praise.

6.  My knowledge of that life is small,
        The eye of faith is dim;
     But 'tis enough that Christ knows all,
        And I shall be with Him.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gracious Savior, Grant Your Blessing

Among the hymns that we sang at my daughter's wedding was #860 in Lutheran Service Book, "Gracious Savior, Grant Your Blessing."  We sang it as the opening hymn of the service after the processional, so stanza one was slightly altered for use at that point in the worship service. (From a purely practical standpoint, placement of this hymn after the processional enabled me to change into my alb in the vestry so that I could proceed to marry Sarah and Justin.) The text was originally written to the tune, JESU, JOY OF MAN'S DESIRING; it was included in LSB to the tune HYFRYDOL.  Even though the processional was "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," I still decided to go with HYFRYDOL as the tune for the text. The Hymnody Committee got it right in choosing HYFRYDOL over JESU, JOY OF MAN'S DESIRING, which is perhaps more suitable for a choir or a soloist than a congregation. The words of the hymn remain our prayer for our daughter and new son-in-law.

1.  Gracious Savior, grant Your blessing
        To this husband and this wife,       To this couple gathered here,
            That it peace they live together
        In Your love throughout their life.    And Your holy Name revere.
    Christ, defend them from the tempter
        And from all that would destroy
            Love's foundation You have laid here,   Love's foundation that You lay here,
       And its threshold paved with joy.

2.  Lord, if You are not the builder,
         Then the house is built in vain,
             For a home without Your presence
         Shall without true love remain.
     Yet when You within a marriage
         Come and dwell with grace divine,
             There You fill the empty vessels,
         Changing water into wine.

3.  Cana's guest, this union hallow;
         Tenderly embrace this pair.
             Clothe this couple with the garments
         They will daily need to wear:
      Patience, kindness, and compassion,
          Gentleness, humility;
              Robe them, Lord, with love to bind them
          In a perfect unity.

4.  Make their love a living picture
         Showing how You loved Your bride:
             When You gave Yourself to cleanse her,
         When for her You bled and died.
     Jesus, You have made her holy,
         Pure and fair her radiant train;
             To Yourself Your Church presenting,
         Without wrinkle, spot, or stain.

5.  Father, You created Adam
         Crafted Eve, and made them one;
             Jesus, from their sin You saved us,
         As God's true incarnate Son;
     Holy Spirit, You forgive us;
         From our sins we are released.
             Bring us, Lord, at last to heaven,
         To the endless wedding feast.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

All for Christ I Have Forsaken

Among the hymns submitted for consideration by the Hymnody Committee for what eventually became Lutheran Service Book where a number of Asian hymns.  One such batch of hymns was submitted by Pastor Don Baron of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Honolulu, Hawaii.  His direct and literal translation of a hymn by Calvin Chao is printed below in italics on the right; my English poetical version is on the left (LSB 753).  The tune SHANGHAI, the name listed in the Chinese hymnal from which the text was taken, is the same tune also known as RESTORATION.

1.  All for Christ I have forsaken     I have forsaken all things
        And have taken up my cross; And taken up my cross to follow Jesus.
    Worldly joy, its fame and fortune, The world's joys, reputation, riches
        Now I count as worthless dross. Have become as refuse to me.

2.  Who is sweeter than Christ Jesus? The Lord has never failed me, not forsaken me;
         No good thing in Him I lack! Who is sweeter than my Lord?
     Hand to plow, at peace I follow Why should my heart fear and tremble?
        Where He leads me...why look back? Why look back, having put my hand to the plow?

3.  Gone the past, unknown the future-- The past is gone, the future still remote;
        Grace supplies my daily breath; The Lord's grace is sufficient for me.
     Strong in Christ through death's dark valley,   His hand will support me through death's valley;
        Firm and faithful unto death. While in this mortal body, I will be faithful.

4.  When God takes me home to heaven, If He takes my spirit home
        Should this be the day I die, It is no loss if I die in His will.
     God will keep my spouse and children Though I leave widow and orphans behind
        As the apple of His eye. The Lord will care for them and carry on His work.

5.  Though the road ahead be thorny, The road ahead may be thorny,
        Though dark clouds all light obscure, Dark clouds dense, no ray of light,
     Though my cross-shaped path grows steeper,   The way of the cross ever harder,
        With the Lord, I am secure. But I walk ahead without alarm.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Come, Precious Lord and Triune God

Today my daughter Sarah and her fiancee Justin are being married here at St. John.  It is a beautiful, sunny day and family, friends and parishioners will be gathering at 3:00 p.m. to share our joy as Justin and Sarah become husband and wife.  The theme verse upon which I will be preaching is 1 Corinthians 13:13, "So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest is love."  The wedding hymn following the homily was written for this special occasion and is set to the tune CLOTH FAIR by John Scott.

1.  Come, precious Lord and triune God,
       O Father, through Your Son,
           Pour out Your Spirit from above,
           Come now with faith and hope and love;
      Come, join these two as one.

2.  Lord, grant them faith that trusts in You
        For all security;
            Faith that will cling to You alone,
            Bearing much fruit when it has grown
       To full maturity.

3.  Lord, grant them hope secure in You,
        An anchor holding sure,
            So that if poorer or in wealth,
            In tears or laughter, sickness or health,
       Their union will endure.

4.  Lord, grant them love, a love like Yours,
        To last throughout their life.
            You on the cross Yourself denied;
            Grant that such selfless love may guide
        Their love as man and wife.

5.  Come, precious Lord and triune God,
        O Father, through Your Son,
            Pour out Your Spirit from above,
            Come now with faith and hope and love;
        Come, join these two as one.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Death of Jesus Christ, Our Lord

Haquin Spegel (1645-1714) wrote this Communion hymn, originally ten stanzas long.  Lutheran Worship omitted the ninth stanza, which reads:

     O Jesus Christ, our Brother dear,
     Unto Thy cross we now draw near;
        Thy sacred wounds indeed make whole
        A wounded and afflicted soul.

Lutheran Service Book omitted two more stanzas, the fifth and seventh of the remaining nine stanzas, which read:

     A precious food is this indeed--
     It never fails us in our need--
        A heav'nly manna for our soul
        Until we safely reach our goal.

     The guest who comes with true intent
     To turn to God and to repent,
        To live for Christ, to die to sin,
        Will thus a holy life begin.

The fifth stanza is not remarkable; the seventh stanza, it was felt by the Hymnody Committee, focused the communicant far too much on what he/she brings to the Sacrament.  Instead, one's thoughts ought to center more on the promise of forgiveness given in the Sacrament.  Thus, a new stanza was penned by Joe Herl and myself to reflect the catechism's answer to the question concerning the worthiness of the communicant:  "That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: 'Given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.' " 

That left the Hymnody Committee with seven stanzas of the original with a new stanza.  A few word changes were made, most notably in what is now stanza seven.  The concluding stanzas were slightly reordered, to end the hymn on a more evangelical note.

1.  The death of Jesus Christ, our Lord,
     We celebrate with one accord;
       It is our comfort in distress,
       Our heart's sweet joy and happiness.

2.  He blotted out with His own blood
     The judgment that against us stood;
       For us He full atonement made,
       And our debt He fully paid.

3.  That this forever true shall be
     He gives a solemn guarantee:
       In this His holy Supper here
       We taste His love so sweet, so near.

4.  His Word proclaims and we believe
     That in this Supper we receive
       His very body, as He said,
       His very blood for sinners shed.

5.  We dare not ask how this can be,
     But simply hold the mystery
       And trust this word where life begins:
       "Given and shed for all your sins."

6.  They who this word do not believe
     This food unworthily receive,
       Salvation here will never find--
       May we this warning keep in mind!

7.  But blest is each believing guest
     Who in these promises finds rest;
       For Jesus shall in love remain
       With all who here His grace obtain.

8.  Help us sincerely to believe
     That we may worthily receive
       Your Supper and in You find rest.
       Amen!  They who believe are blest.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying

Artist Ed Riojas of Byron Center, Michigan, recently completed this iconic crucifix for me which illustrates, in part, the words of "Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying." The text in Greek above the image of our suffering Lord is from 1 John 5:6a, "This is he who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ..." The water and blood rushing from the wounded side of our Savior flow into the life-giving font of Holy Baptism and the life-sustaining chalice of the Holy Supper. The symbols on the linen covering Christ's naked shame say, "Jesus Christ, Conqueror." The theology of the cross states that God accomplishes His greatest work in the seeming weakness and foolishness of the cross. To look for God we need look no further than the cross. There we see in stark revelation the depth of His love for a fallen humanity. The subtitle on "Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying" is The Three Witnesses. One of the Scripture passages upon which this hymn text is based is 1 John 5:6-8: "This is he who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ; not by water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree." The precious means of grace--Holy Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the Word of God--indeed testify to all that God has done for us and for all by Christ's death on the cross, by which He brings life to our dying world, defying and defeating death itself!

1. Water, blood, and Spirit crying,
    By their witness testifying
    To the One whose death-defying
       Life has come, with life for all.

2. In a wat'ry grave are buried
    All our sins that Jesus carried;
    Christ, the Ark of Life, has ferried
       Us across death's raging flood.

3. Dark the way, yet Christ precedes us,
    Past the scowl of death He leads us;
    Spreads a table where He feeds us
      With His body and His blood.

4. Through around us death is seething,
    God, His two-edged sword unsheathing,
    By His Spirit life is breathing
       Through the living, active Word.

5. Spirit, water, blood entreating,
    Working faith and its completing
    In the One whose death-defeating
       Life has come, with life for all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

God's Word Is Our Great Heritage

Whenever one sees a sculpture of Luther, it is with the Holy Bible.  Does anyone know of any other way he is ever depicted?  One of the three pillars of the Reformation, "Scripture alone," tells the world that Lutherans take their teaching from the Bible.  If it is revealed in Holy Scripture, we are bound to teach and confess it.  If it is not in Holy Scripture, but merely a human tradition, we are not bound by it.  If the tradition is salutary for use and not contrary to Holy Scripture, it may be retained.  To stand on "Scripture alone" is an unpopular (and certainly politically incorrect) posture these days.  How dare one speak against the mores of society!  Yet the Scripture-centered preacher is duty-bound to proclaim the full counsel of God.

God's Word is our great heritage
   And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
   Shall be our chief endeavor.
      Through life it guides our way,
      In death it is our stay.
         Lord, grant while worlds endure,
         We keep its teachings pure
            Throughout all generations.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Preach You the Word

Martin H. Franzmann, scholar, seminary professor, and gifted hymnwriter, has many fine texts that bless our church body and the Church at large.  One that ties in beautifully with tomorrow's Gospel lesson from Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23, "The Parable of the Sower," is the hymn "Preach You the Word."

I love this hymn for many reasons.  First of all, as a pastor and preacher, I find great comfort in this hymn text.  Far and above all that seems important and enduring in this world is the Word of God.  That Word has been entrusted to pastors to preach awesome task!  And so, week after week, the preacher "scatters abroad the goodly seed" of God's Word intent that all may feast on the Bread of Life, the Lord Jesus Christ, the bread from heaven that all need. And as the pastor labors to preach the Word of God, he may see few results from his efforts. He may see the faithful slipping away as the Word of snatched or scorched or choked or matted flat.  All he can do is keep sowing..."Oh, what of that, Lord, what of that?"  But when the good seed of God's Word takes root in the human heart, the heart cleansed and made new by that good seed, and when a rich harvest is raised to the glory of God..."Ah, what of that, Lord, what of that!"  Yes, the preacher never faints because the faithful Harvest Lord watches and tends His planted Word. 

1.  Preach you the Word and plant it home
        To men who like or like it not,
     The Word that shall endure and stand
        When flow'rs and men shall be forgot.

2.  We know how hard, O Lord, the task
        Your servant bade us undertake:
     To preach Your Word and never ask
        What prideful profit it may make.

3.  The sower sows his reckless love
         Scatters abroad the goodly seed,
     Intent alone that all may have
        The wholesome loaves that all men need.

4.  Though some be snatched and some be scorched
         And some be choked and matted flat,
     The sower sows; his heart cries out,
        "Oh, what of that, and what of that?"

5.  Of all his scattered plenteousness
        One-fourth waves ripe on hill and flat,
     And bears a harvest hundredfold:
        "Ah, what of that, Lord, what of that!"

6.  Preach you the Word and plant it home
        And never faint; the Harvest Lord
     Who gave the sower seed to sow
        Will watch and tend His planted Word.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Entrust Your Days and Burdens

In Lutheran Service Book, this hymn by Paul Gerhardt is #754.  In LSB the text is set to a new tune by LCMS composer, Stephen R. Johnson, a tune called SUFFICIENTIA.  In previous hymnals this text was set to a more somber tune.  SUFFICIENTIA is a tune that better reflects the confident trust which believers have in a God who sees and knows and meets their every need, a God who will sustain them through each and every trial that they experience in this fallen world.  It is one of my favorite hymns by Paul Gerhardt...yet how does a person choose one from the many gems that he wrote?

1.  Entrust your days and burdens
        To God's most loving hand;
            He cares for you while ruling
        The sky, the sea, the land.
     For He who guides the tempests
        Along their thund'rous ways
            Will find for you a pathway
        And guide you all your days.

2.  Rely on God your Savior
        And find your life secure.
            Make His work your foundation
        That your work may endure.
     No anxious thought, no worry,
        No self-tormenting care
            Can win your Father's favor;
        His heart is moved by prayer.

3.  Take heart, have hope, my spirit,
        And do not be dismayed;
            God helps in ev'ry trial
        And makes you unafraid.
     Await His time with patience
        Through darkest hours of night
            Until the sun you hoped for
        Delights your eager sight.

4.  Leave all to His direction;
        His wisdom rules for you
            In ways to rouse your wonder
        At all His love can do.
     Soon He, His promise keeping,
        With wonder-working pow'rs
            Will banish from your spirit
        What gave you troubled hours.

5.  O bless-ed heir of heaven,
        You'll hear the song resound
            Of endless jubilation
        When you with life are crowned.
     In your right hand your maker
        Will place the victor's palm,
            And you will thank Him gladly
        With heaven's joyful psalm.

6.  Our hands and feel, Lord, strengthen
        With joy our spirits bless
            Until we see the ending
        Of all our life's distress.
     And so throughout our lifetime
        Keep us within Your care
            And at our end then bring us
        To heav'n to praise You there.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

We Are Called to Stand Together

Today's LSB lectionary reading is Acts 13:42-52 in which Paul and Barnabas are preaching Christ Jesus to Jew and Gentile alike.  Many believed, but Paul and Barnabas also faced persecution for the message they preached.  We too are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus' life, death and resurrection in our world today, to be salutary salt and brilliant light, to stand in that succession of believers which extends backward through time.

1.  We are called to stand together
        With the saints of ages past,
            With the patriarchs and prophets
       In the faith they once held fast;
                 Promises and hopes they treasured
        Now we find fulfilled at last!

2.  Those whom Jesus called apostles
        Journeyed with Him side by side,
           Heard His teaching, felt His power
        Saw the way He lived and died;
              Then the news of resurrection
        They delivered far and wide.

3.  Through the intervening ages
         Round the world the Gospel spread:
            Faithful heralds took the message,
         Guided where the Spirit led;
               So the body grew in stature,
         Serving Christ, the living head.

4.  Now to many tongues and cultures
        Songs of celebration ring;
           Millions who confess our Savior
        Honor Him as Lord and King
              And for courage, grace and guidance
        Ev'ry day their prayers they bring.

5.  To each coming generation
        Tell the truth, persuade, explain,
           Till the time when time is ended,
        Till the Savior comes again--
              Till the saints are all united
        Under Christ's eternal reign!

"We Are Called to Stand Together" is hymn #828 in Lutheran Service Book.  There it is wed to Henry Gerike's strong tune ASCENDED TRIUMPH.

Martin Leckebusch was born in Leicester, Great Britain, in 1962 and educated at Oriel College, Oxford and Brunel University.  He and his wife Jane have four daughters; their second child, a son, died in 1995.  Since 1987 he has written nearly 400 hymn texts, of which around half have so far been published by Kevin Mayhew.  

Friday, July 4, 2008

O Beautiful for Spacious Skies (America the Beautiful)

Katharine Lee Bates first published "America the Beautiful" in 1895 in The Congregationalist.  It was originally entitled, "O Beautiful for Halcyon Skies."  She made a number of changes to the original 1895 text in a revised version published in 1904.  Her final version, revised for the last time in 1911, is what is printed here.

The main themes of  "America the Beautiful" are themes that Bates explored all her life:  the wonder of nature, the vitality of our nation, its treasured past and its infinite potential for the future.  Bates' niece wrote in her biography of Katherine Bates' life, Dream and Deed, about Bates' idealism in Katherine's own words:  "The heart must 'outsoar the hand.' "  That idea is reinforced in each verse:  an opening celebration, a brief prayer, then a challenge to make America better.  "America the Beautiful" is a portrait of America not only as she is, but as she could be.

Happy Fourth of July!

1.  O beautiful for spacious skies,
        For amber waves of grain,
     For purple mountain majesties
        Above the fruited plain!
     America!  America!
        God shed His grace on thee
     And crown thy good with brotherhood
        From sea to shining sea!

2.  O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
        Whose stern, impassioned stress
     A thoroughfare for freedom beat
        Across the wilderness!
     America!  America!
        God mend thine every flaw,
     Confirm thy soul in self-control,
        Thy liberty in law!

3.  O beautiful for heroes proved
        In liberating strife,
     Who more than self their country loved,
        And mercy more than life!
     America!  America!
        May God thy gold refine
     Till all success be nobleness
        And every gain divine!

4.  O beautiful for patriot dream
        That sees beyond the years
     Thine alabaster cities gleam
        Undimmed by human tears!
     America!  America!
        God shed His grace on thee
     And crown thy good with brotherhood
        From sea to shining sea!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Will You Come and Follow Me

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."  (Luke 14:26-27)

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of my ordination last Sunday has given me pause to reflect upon these years of my pastoral ministry.  These past twenty five years have been richly blessed in many ways by a gracious God. While pastors serve God's people and the world with the Gospel in special and unique ways, all Christians are called to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in a life of committed, evangelical discipleship: loving and serving God and loving and serving our neighbor and the world in which we live.  Yes, we daily fail to live up to our high calling as disciples of Christ, but thanks be to God for the abundant grace and forgiveness of our sins through Christ our Savior.

"Will You Come and Follow Me"  by John Bell of the Iona Community in Scotland (b. 1949) is a hymn that speaks of commitment and discipleship and the call of Christ.  The truth is that Christ's call changes the one being called even as the disciple changes the world by giving witness to the Savior by word and deed.   The first four stanzas are the Savior's call and summons to discipleship.  The final stanza is the Christian's response to Christ's call.  The wonderful tune KELVINGROVE, to which the text is usually sung, is a traditional Scottish folk tune.

1.  "Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
      Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
          Will you let my love be shown,
          will you let my name be known,
          will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?"

2.  "Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
       Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
           Will you risk the hostile stare,
           should your life attract or scare?
           Will you let me answer pray'r in you and you in me?"

3.  "Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
       Will you set the pris'ners free and never be the same?
           Will you kiss the leper clean,
           and do such as this unseen,
           and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?"

4.  "Will you love the you you hide if I but call your name?
       Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
           Will you use the faith you've found
           to reshape the world around,
           through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?"

5.   Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
      Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
          In your company I'll go
          where your love and footsteps show.
          Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow

Yesterday at my parish (Sunday, June 29th...St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles) we celebrated the 25th anniversary of my ordination into the Office of the Holy Ministry.  It was a glorious day of joyful thanksgiving to God for the innumerable blessings He has poured out so richly these past twenty-five years.   Loving family members, honored guests, special friends, and dear parishioners all helped to make it a very special day that I will not soon forget.   

The "Common Doxology" is probably the most frequently sung hymn stanza in all Christendom.  Thomas Ken (1637-1711) wrote these words in 1674 and they first appeared in a Manual of Prayers for Use of the Scholars of Winchester College for use by schoolboys.  This doxological stanza appeared with the hymn text for morning, "Awake, My Soul, and With the Sun" (LSB 868) as well as with the hymn text for evening,  "All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night" (LSB 883).  Both these hymns have received wide usage in many English language hymnals. 

     Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
     Praise Him, all creatures here below;
         Praise Him above, ye heav'nly host:
         Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen.

In today's gender-neutral climate, one nows sees this "politically-correct" version:

       Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
        praise God, all creatures here below;
            praise God above, ye heav'nly host;
            praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Of course, no poet in his/her right mind would ever use "God" repeated so often is such close proximity, but sadly this is where things stand in some circles of the Church.

Here is an even worse alteration of this doxological stanza, with words that hint at themes of feminism and liberation theology.  This version cannot even name the names of the Trinity:

       Praise God who gives all blessings birth
        praise God all creatures on the earth;
            praise God, who makes, sustains, sets free
            one holy God in persons three.  

Friday, June 27, 2008

All Who Believe and Are Baptized

This coming Sunday we will be celebrating St. Peter and St. Paul here in my parish, marking the 25th anniversary of my ordination (June 26, 1983), and receiving new members into our parish. Two of the adults being received on Sunday will be baptized.  

One of today's lectionary readings is the account of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:26-40.  Philip, urged by the Spirit, encounters this man puzzling over the scroll of Isaiah, not understanding of whom the prophet had written.  Philip, beginning with that very passage, spoke to him about Jesus.  The eunuch was baptized and continued on his way to his home in Africa.

Thomas Kingo, a Dane, wrote this hymn which was originally intended for use after Holy Baptism.  This Sunday it is our opening hymn in both services.

1.  All who believe and are baptized
        Shall see the Lord's salvation;
     Baptized into the death of Christ,
        They are a new creation.
            Through Christ's redemption they shall stand
            Among the glorious, heav'nly band
       Of ev'ry tribe and nation.

2.  With one accord, O God, we pray:
        Grant us Your Holy Spirit.
     Help us in our infirmity
        Through Jesus' blood and merit.
           Grant us to grow in grace each day
           That by this sacrament we may
        Eternal life inherit. 

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lord Jesus Christ, With Us Abide

The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, commemorated on June 25th, recalls an event that was very important in the history of the Christian Church.  On June 25, 1530 in the city of Augsburg, the rulers and mayors of Saxon Germany confessed their faith in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Augsburg Confession was signed by laymen who endangered their own lives by signing the document.  John the Steadfast and other courageous laymen stood before the emperor and presented 28 doctrinal statements called articles; the first 21 dealt with the Christian faith as taught by Lutherans, the other 7 articles dealt with abuses in the medieval Roman Catholic church.  The Augsburg Confession was written by Philip Melanchthon, scholar and theologian.  (Luther could not appear at Augsburg due to the imperial ban that had been placed upon him, making Luther an outlaw who could be arrested or killed.)

One thinks of the many threats the Church of the Reformation faces in our own day and age.   We seek to remain faithful to the Word of God, the only source of Christian teaching, central among which is justification by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Melanchthon and Selnecker's hymn wonderfully expresses the believer's prayer: 

1.  Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide,
     For round us falls the eventide.
         O let Your Word, that saving light,
         Shine forth undimmed into the night.

2.  In these last days of great distress
     Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness
         That we keep pure till life is spent
         Your holy Word and Sacrament.

3.  To hope grown dim, to hearts turned cold
     Speak tongues of fire and make us bold
         To shine Your Word of saving grace
         Into each dark and loveless place.

4.  May glorious truths that we have heard,
     The bright sword of Your mighty Word,
          Spurn Satan, that Your Church be strong,
          Bold, unified in act and song.

5.  Restrain, O Lord, the human pride
     That seeks to thrust Your truth aside
         Or with some man-made thoughts or things
         Would dim the words Your Spirit sings.

6.  Stay with us, Lord, and keep us true;
     Preserve our faith our whole life through--
        Your Word alone our heart's defense,
         The Church's glorious confidence.  

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sing Praise to the God of Israel

JUNE 24th is "The Nativity of St. John the Baptist" on the Church Year calendar.  Luke (1:5-25; 57-80) records the events surrounding the birth of John, son of Zechariah the priest and Elizabeth, his wife.  You'll recall that Zechariah was was struck dumb for his unbelieving response to Gabriel's announcement about the birth of a son to him and his wife.  Upon the birth of their son, when neighbors and relatives questioned Elizabeth's naming their newborn son John, Zechariah confirmed what she had said as he wrote on a tablet that their son was to be named John.  His tongue was loosed and he spoke words of praise and prophecy.  These words are known as the "Benedictus,"  the first word of this song of praise and prophecy in Latin.  The Benedictus is the alternate canticle at Matins.  Originally, the Te Deum was used at Matins (the first hour), and the Benedictus at Lauds (the second hour), but when the Reformers adapted these daily services to the needs of their times and decreased the number of the daily hours services, Lauds was combined with Matins and the use of the Benedictus retained.

This versification of the Benedictus set to the tune DEN SIGNEDE DAG is #936 in Lutheran Service Book and was written in 1992:

1.  Sing praise to the God of Israel!
        Sing praise for His visitation!
            Redeeming His people from their sin,
       Accomplishing their salvation,
            Upraising a mighty horn within
                 The house of His servant David!

2.  God spoke by the prophets long ago,
         His promise on oath recalling--
              To Abraham made in former years:
         Of vanquishing foes appalling,
              That those He delivered from their fears
                  Might gladly and truly serve Him.

3.  You, child, will go on before the Lord
          As prophet, His way preparing;
               To speak on behalf of God Most High,
         His counsel of truth declaring:
               Rich mercy and grace for all whereby
                   Iniquity is forgiven.

4.  O bright, rising Sun, now shine on us
          In need of illumination;
               Come scatter the shades of sin and death
          And shatter their domination.
               Be guiding our footsteps on the path
                   Of peace, in Your presence dawning!