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.