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.