Psalm 131

Our Psalm for this Sunday is short and sweet – only three verses long.

1 My heart is not proud, O LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.

2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

3 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and forevermore.

You can see that this expresses a humble attitude towards God and a child-like faith.  Part of what it means to speak about God faithfully is to refrain from speaking about or for God outside of how God has revealed Himself. This doesn’t mean that we are mindless, close-minded, or fearful of thought and debate, but it does mean that we understand our place as the created children of an all-knowing and loving God.  Our God created all things, understands all things, and holds the universe together.  He knows what is best for us, provides for us, and takes care of us though all our lifetime. As God’s beloved children, we have the peace of a quieted soul, the peace which is beyond all understanding.

My God has all things in His keeping;
He is the ever faithful friend.

He gives me laughter after weeping,

And all His ways in blessings end.

His love endures eternally:

What pleases God, that pleases me.

Lutheran Service Book #719, stanza 4.

both now and forevermore.

The Remedy for Greed

Our Gospel reading for this Sunday comes from Luke 14 and it is one of the more familiar Gospel passages, especially verse 11, “11Foreveryone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”   Jesus tells us not to lift ourselves up but to humble ourselves before God. This is well and good, but leaves the question, “how do I put this into practice in my life?” Fortunately for us, the Gospel reading for this Sunday also includes the next three verses:

12He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

We are to live our lives in humble service to others; never seeking reward for ourselves but, instead, caring for those who have no way of paying us back.

Our hymn of the day for this Sunday expresses these truths in a fitting and powerful way. Son of God, Eternal Savior was written in 1893 by Somerset Thomas Corry Lowry (you know it’s going to be good if the author has four names), a Cambridge educated Anglican priest.  Lowry has given us a hymn that is full of biblical truth and insight. Here’s stanza 1:

Son of God, eternal Savior,

Source of life and truth and grace,

Word made flesh, whose birth among us

Hallows all our human race,

You our Head, who, throned in glory,

For Your own will ever plead:

Fill us with Your love and pity,

Heal our wrongs, and help our need.

There is so much beautiful Christology in this first stanza that it’s hard to know where to begin.  If you wish, you may get our your bible and follow along with the references. Jesus, the Son of God, truly is our source of life and truth and grace (John 14:6).  He is the Word made flesh (John 1) and He has made us into His holy people (1 Peter 2).  Now that Christ has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, he sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us (Romans 8:34).  We end the stanza with a fervent prayer and Jesus would fill us with His love and pity, with the compassion that he showed to those in need during His earthly ministry.  We also ask that He would right what we have wronged and help us in all our needs. Now for stanza 2:

As You, Lord, have lived for others,

So may we for others live.

Freely have Your gifts been granted;

Freely may Your servants give.

Yours the gold and Yours the silver,

Yours the wealth of land and sea;

We but steward of Your bounty

Held in solemn trust will be.

We pray in this second stanza that our lives may reflect the love that Jesus shows to us.  He has given all things to us freely, without any merit or worthiness in us.  That’s the kind of love we are to share with those around us.  If we refuse to help those in need because we feel that they somehow don’t deserve it, then we aren’t really reflecting the kind of compassionate love that Christ has shown to us.  God has given us earthly possessions, money, and income as a tool to be used to show that compassionate love to the world.

Stanza 3:

Come, O Christ, and reign among us,

King of love and Prince of Peace;

Hush the storm of strife and passion,

Bid its cruel discords cease.

By Your patient years of toiling,

By Your silent hours of pain,

Quench our fevered thirst of pleasure,

Stem our selfish greed of gain.

Here, in stanza 3, Lowry takes us to the cross.  He presents the cross as the one thing that silences the storm of our greed-filled sinful world.  We pray that the cross may silence the selfish greed in our hearts.

Stanza 4:

Son of God, eternal Savior,

Source of life and truth and grace,

Word made flesh, whose birth among us

Hallows all our human race:

By Your praying, by Your willing

That Your people should be one,

Grant, O grant our hope’s fruition:

Here on earth Your will be done.

Lowry beings this last stanza by repeated the Christology from the first. He then ends with a prayer that we will live in unity. We pray that God’s will be done. We know His will is done without our prayer, but we pray that it may be done among us also as we share the love of Christ with the world.

The King of Chorales

This Sunday, at our 8AM service, we will be singing one of the great treasures of our hymnody. Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying, by Philipp Nicolai, is a beautiful, majestic, triumphant hymn describing the joyous scene which will take place when Christ returns and takes his bride, the church, to the heavenly banquet hall for the feast of joy and victory.  This is one of those great hymns that I wish every Christian knew by heart.

This hymn has a strong personal connection for me as it was one of the hymns at our wedding. For the ceremony, we chose Scripture readings that focused on imagery of the church as the bride of Christ.  This is so fitting for the marriage because the relationship between husband and wife should reflect the relationship between Christ and His church.  I hope that I can do this hymn justice when I lead it this weekend; although I won’t measure up to the organist at my wedding, Paul Soulek, who for the introduction improvised a perfectly harmonized 3 voice canon.

The hymn text is based on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins from Matthew 25, and is often used when that text is read. However, the hymn also incorporates Revelation 19:6-9, 21:21, and 1st Corinthians 2:9, which all describe the marriage feast of the lamb.  The genius of this hymn is that Nicolai combines the texts in such a wonderful way that we end up with a hymn that is a vision of what Christ’s return will be for those who are waiting for Him.  The parable of the ten virgins really focuses on the judgment for the foolish virgins, but this hymn gives us the perspective of those who were faithful.  It’s also worth noting that Nicolai wrote this hymn for a community that was hit by the plague. That he was able to put so much joy into this hymn shows a truly remarkable faith and is a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here’s stanza 1:

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!

Alleluia! With bridal care yourselves prepare

To meet the Bridegroom, who is near.”

For the church, the bride of Christ, the return of Christ is not a scene of fear and terrible wrath, but what another great hymn calls  “the consummation of peace forevermore”.  The church is the new Israel. We are the Jerusalem which awaits the coming king.  Can you see the joy that is springing from this first stanza?

Here’s stanza 2

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 risen, her Light is come.

Now come, Thou blessèd One, Lord Jesus, God’s own Son,

Hail! Hosanna! We enter all The wedding hall

To eat the Supper at Thy call.

In this stanza Christ is coming down to take us to the “wedding hall”.  I love the third line , “She wakes, she rises from her gloom;”. When Jesus returns we will be freed from all gloom, from all pain, from sorrow, from sin, and from death itself.  We will be victorious and we will enter the hall to eat the supper. I do not know if the reference here to holy communion is intentional, but we do get a foretaste of this heavenly banquet every Divine Service when we partake of the body and blood of our Lord.

And, finally, stanza 3:

Now let all the heavens adore Thee,

Let saints and angels sing before Thee,

With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone;

Of one pearl each shining portal,

Where, joining with the choir immortal

We gather round Thy radiant throne.

No eye has seen the light, No ear has heard the might of Thy glory;

Therefore will we Eternally

Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee!

Finally, in stanza 3, we are placed into the joy of heaven itself, where we praise our Bridegroom with the angels and saints and with the greatest music of heaven. The best part is that this glorious scene never ends! It is an eternal feast of worship and communion with our Lord. What a joy to get to sing this hymn in worship this Sunday!

Welcome to Mount Zion

Our Epistle reading for this upcoming Sunday comes from the twelfth chapter of Hebrews.  It’s really easy to skim over passages like this on Sunday morning, so I thought I would highlight it here. The second half of this reading gives us an amazing vision of the heavenly life that is ours in Christ and contrasts it with what the presence of God meant to the Israelites who were under the law.

First, the author of Hebrews describes the giving of the law on Mount Sinai:

18For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”

Then he describes the life we have in Christ:

22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Our Lord has not brought us back to Mount Sinai to be judged and condemned under the law, but He has brought us to Mount Zion, His holy church, where we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Here in Mount Zion we praise God with the innumerable angels and with the assembly of the firstborn.   We will, after Christ returns, enter fully into this heavenly worship for all eternity. We enter this heavenly scene even now in our worship.  Every Sunday we worship God “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven”.

There is an ancient hymn of the church, the Te Deum Laudamus, that really captures this well. The Te Deum Laudamus dates from the fourth century and may have been written by Saint Ambrose.  I’ll just post the first section of this hymn, where the author lists all the company of heaven that we join when we praise God.  I believe that these ancient words still speak clearly to us today:

We praise thee, O God :
we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee :
the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud :
the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubin and Seraphin :
continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy :
Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty :
of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world :
doth acknowledge thee;
The Father : of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true : and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost : the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory : O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son : of the Father.

Worship by Full Immersion

In the CCLI (for those of you who don’t know what CCLI is, they take care of copyright licensing for most evangelical praise music) monthly newsletter, there was an article by Tom Krauter about the order of worship services. You can find the entire article here

As you read this excerpt, pay close attention to the relationship between worship and the sermon.

The majority of churches today have the same general order or format for their services. Some of the elements may change periodically, or from church to church, but, overall, the corporate gatherings are very similar. Everything in the services leads to the climax: the sermon. Certainly, there may be other segments of the service that occur after the sermon—an altar call, communion, benediction, announcements, etc.—but the high point is the sermon.

Usually, in such services, the praise and worship time immediately precedes the sermon. Part of the idea behind this is that focusing on God will open the hearts of the people to receive the Word. I have heard an analogy used where the worship leader is the plowman, plowing up the soil of the hearts, and the preacher is the sower, planting the seed of God’s Word in those prepared furrows. Actually, I don’t really find much fault with this analogy. I have seen this scenario happen many times. People come to the church service in various states of mind, not all good. Some are tired. Others are frustrated. Still others may even be despondent. But as they begin to focus on the Source of strength, they are changed. Consequently, they have become prepared to receive the truth of God’s Word.

I highlight this article because it allows me to explain a big difference between the Lutheran perspective and other perspectives on our corporate worship. Look carefully at the second paragraph and answer the question, “Where in the worship service is the truth of God’s Word explained?”  Judging from the above paragraphs, it seems that the truth of God’s Word is proclaimed in the sermon. Everything else in the service, referred as the “worship”, serves to get the people in a frame of mind to hear God’s word.

Lutherans, by contrast, believe that everything we do in the Divine Service preaches. The truth of God’s word is proclaimed from beginning to end, not just in the sermon.  Just look at a few examples from our hymns and liturgy for this Sunday:

The sign of the cross may be made by all in remembrance of their Baptism.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Lutheran Service Book, p 203

Here, at the very beginning of the service, we proclaim the truth that we are gathered here by the Triune God, in whose name we are baptized.

Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. LSB p 203

Here, in the words of absolution, we hear the Gospel clearly proclaimed and we receive the very words of absolution from the Pastor as from God Himself!

From the cross Thy wisdom shineth

Breaking forth in conquering might;

From the cross forever beameth

All Thy bright redeeming light. Stanza 4 of Thy Strong Word. LSB 578

Here is proclaimed the truth that, by the power of the cross, sin, death, and the devil have been defeated and we are redeemed.

These examples are really just the tip of the iceberg. In the Divine Service, you will hear the Gospel beautifully proclaimed every week. You will receive God’s good gifts and respond with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  You will hear God’s Word, sing it, meditate on it, and be comforted by it.   You will be forgiven of your sins and strengthened to live as a child of God.  The sermon, readings, songs, liturgy, and everything else partner together in this wonderful event we call the Divine Service.

What does this mean?

This means that everything in the worship service is important. This means that the hymns in the Lutheran church are going to have strong theology because they help teach you the faith.  This means that Lutheran worship is an hour or more of full immersion in the Word of God.

Later in the article, Krauter says that at his church, they switched the order to having the sermon first and then the worship. This is a certainly a step in the right direction as in our worship we have time for praise and thanksgiving as we thank God for His love and salvation.   Perhaps someday his church will be able to participate in the constant proclamation and response that we are so blessed with in the Lutheran church.

Praying with the Saints

One of the great things about the Psalms is that they are the prayers of the saints, and through praying them we learn how to pray. We have in this wonderful book the prayers of David, Moses, Solomon, Asaph, Ethan, the Sons of Korah, Heman, and Jeduthun.

As is usually the case, Luther says this better than I do.

What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid these storm winds of every kind? Where does one find finer words of joy than in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving? There you look into the hearts of all the saints, as into fair and pleasant gardens, yes, as into heaven itself. There you see what fine and pleasant flowers of the heart spring up from all sorts of fair and happy thoughts toward God, because of his blessings. On the other hand, where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? There again you look into the hearts of the saints, as into death, yes, as into hell itself. How gloomy and dark it is there, with all kinds of troubled foreboding about the wrath of God! So, too, when they speak of fear and hope, they use such words that no painter could so depict for you fear or hope, and no Cicero or other orator so portray them.

And that they speak these words to God and with God, this, I repeat, is the best thing of all. This gives the words double earnestness and life…Hence it is that the Psalter is the book of all saints; and everyone, in whatever situation he may be, finds in that situation psalms and words that fit his ease, that suit him as if they were put there just for his sake, so that he could not put it better himself, or find or wish for anything better. [From Psalm with Introductions by Martin Luther, translated by Bruce Cameron.]

Our Psalm for Sunday is a great example of this. Look for how the Psalmist is in great distress and trouble, yet his hope and trust is in God’s word.

81My soul longs for your salvation;
I hope in your word.
82My eyes long for your promise;
I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
83For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
84 How long must your servant endure?
When will you judge those who persecute me?
85 The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
they do not live according to your law.
86All your commandments are sure;
they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
87They have almost made an end of me on earth,
but I have not forsaken your precepts.
88In your steadfast love give me life,
that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.

Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Your Word

Our hymn of the day for this coming Sunday will be Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Your Word, with both text and tune by our dear Martin Luther himself.

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.

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.

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.

This hymn has a very interesting history. In 1541, the Turks were threatening to overtake Vienna. The German speaking rulers called for special prayers to be made and Martin Luther responded by writing this hymn.  It was truly a frightening time for the Lutherans, as they were threatened by both the Turks and by the Pope. The original stanza 1 was more specific about these threats and read like this:

Lord, keep us in thy Word and work,
Restrain the murderous Pope and Turk,
Who fain would tear from off thy throne
Christ Jesus, thy beloved Son.

The words have been changed to be relevant to us today. It now serves as a prayer that our Triune God would guard and keep us in all times of trouble and uncertainty. It is picked for this Sunday because in the Gospel lesson Jesus promises that division and trouble will come.

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Luke 12:49-53

Notice that the three stanzas of this hymn correspond to the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The first stanza addresses our Lord (the Father) and asks Him to curb those who would wrest the kingdom from the Son. What does it mean to wrest the kingdom from the son? In the small catechism we read this:

How Does God’s Kingdom Come?

God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit so that by His grace we believe His Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

Wresting the kingdom away means leading us away from belief in Jesus and the life of faith.

While the kingdom of God comes without our prayer, we pray that it may come among us also.

There is certainly no doubt that the kingdom cannot be taken away from the Son, who sits at the right hand of the Father. This leads us into the second stanza, which is directed to the second person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son.  In this stanza we pray that our Lord of Lords would guard and keep us, His holy church, so that we may sing his praises for all eternity.

The third stanza is directed to the Third Person, the Holy Spirit.  In the Gospel of John, we often hear Jesus use the word ‘Comforter’ to refer to the Holy Spirit.  This Holy Spirit comforts us by calling us, gathering us, enlightening us, and keeping us in the one true faith.  While the church is certainly divided, we pray that He would give us true unity and peace.

Luther wrote this prayer at a time of political and religious unrest. Yet we can look back and see that God listened to the prayers of His people and preserved them. The Lutheran church survived this time of crisis and still exists to this day. This serves to remind us that we can sing this prayer joyfully, remembering the promise of Romans 8:

38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.