Bayern, USA, Deutschland

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Martyrs in Afghanistan

It is a sad commentary on the American media, when one has to actively search for information regarding the 23 South Korean Christians being held hostage in Afghanistan. As of today, two have been murdered. People are on the airwaves screaming bloody murder about Michael Vick and the dog fighting ring he is accused of running (and lets not forget the maxim of the American judicial system: Vick is innocent until proven guilty). The silence is deafening regarding the killing of two human beings. This is the world in which Christians live.

The South Korean government is pleading with the international community to bend the rules and bargin for the lives of their citizens. I haven't heard anything from the United Nations, whose Secretary-General is a South Korean. Maybe the media is silent about this, too.

I understand the rationale for the South Korean government's pleading. However, they miss the point. These 23 South Koreans went to Afghanistan to provide medical help to poor villagers. These Koreans consider themselves Christians first, and Koreans second. This should be the way every Christian sees him or herself: Christian first, nationality second. Faith leads to doing good works for our neighbors, even if they live in a different country and have a different religious belief.

The lives of these Christian men and women are precious to God Almighty. We should pray for their safe release, and we should also pray for those keeping them captive. Truly, the Lord's Prayer is grander than we may have first thought.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Lord's Prayer: A Perfect Prayer

Yesterday's Gospel from Luke 11 dealt with the Lord's Prayer. It is difficult to preach on the Lord's Prayer in one sermon, when the catechism divides it up into nine sections.

However, Jesus teaches us the simplicity of praying with this prayer.

There are seven (7) petitions that touch on every thing in our lives.

1. Make God's Name holy.
2. God's reign come on earth.
3. God's will be done on earth.
4. Give us our daily bread.
5. Forgive us of our trespasses.
6. Lead us not into temptation.
7. Deliver us from evil.

The petitions also touch on our physical life and our spiritual life. God sustains them both. By praying this prayer we not only petition God as He has commanded us to do in the 2nd Commandment, but the Holy Spirit is teaching us what a loving and caring heavenly Father we have who desires to bless us and provide for us.

The Lord's Prayer is a perfect prayer. It's petitions cover all the necessities of our life and teach us the deep things about God. It's petitions show us what a wonderful Father we have who sent His only Son to suffer, die, and rise again to make us righteous.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Riches of Lutheran Hymnody

I have always enjoyed the wealth of German Lutheran hymns. I have developed an even greater appreciation for the mighty Lutheran hymnwriters over the centuries during the past few years as I have delved more into reading and translating untranslated Lutheran hymns.

The Lutherans brought to America a gift in their Lutheran hymnals. Lutheran Service Book has a fine collection of solid Lutheran hymns that have been in every major Lutheran hymnal and newer hymns from modern Lutheran authors that are just as rich. Another fine hymnal is the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary produced by the Norwegian ELS (Evangelical Lutheran Synod). There are many wonderful Norwegian and Scandinavian hymns that are unfamiliar to those of us only reared on Missouri Synod hymnals.

I do have one SERIOUS negative complaint about LSB. Why didn't "A Mighty Fortress" get the German text printed? I would have rather given up the German text space of "Now the Light has Gone Away" in order to make room for Luther's grand hymn. Seems to me that if a hymnal is going to add the original German to several hymns, "A Mighty Fortress" should have had the utmost priority.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Football Season is upon us!

One of my good friend notes that a new football season will soon sweep in upon us. I look forward to NFL games and cheering on the half-dozen or so teams I follow.

American football has gotten a hold in Europe, especially Germany. The now defunct NFL Europa had built a sizeable fan base the last few years, as more and more Germans took to the sport. There are even high school teams playing American football in Germany!

Our brand of football will never replace European football. Soccer dominates the European landscape. And there's nothing like the European Cup and the World Cup.

As we in America gear up for a new season of football, so too do the Europeans. I look forward to cheering on my two favorite teams: the Cheslea Blues and Bayern-Muenich. Although we have professional soccer teams in the states, the games don't seem to have the same energy as the European teams do on the pitch.

Rugby is another manifestation of football. It's not real popular in Germany at the professional level. Countries like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji seem to have embraced rugby as their national past time.

Fans of football can enjoy many, many games soon. Soccer and rugby are almost ready to begin, and the NFL will not be far behind.

Here's hoping Chelsea can capture the Premiership this season and Bayern-Muenich can place in the top three in the Bundesliga. Go Packers, Giants, Cardinals, and Ravens.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Little Brit Different

The English are producing some innovative television programs. If you have BBC America, check out some of their shows (or buy them on DVD).

Doctor Who (which also is shown on the Sci-Fi Channel) is remade and definitely a fine 21st century approach to the original 1960s classic British sci-fi show that ran for over two decades.

Torchwood (premieres in September) is a spin off from Doctor Who. There seems to be a cross over, as the Doctor seems to be bumping into the activities of the Torchwood Project on his adventures on Earth. By the way, Torchwood is a reworking of the letters in Doctor Who.

Life on Mars is a cop show set in 1973 England with a detective from 2006. Is he dreaming? Did he travel in time? Find out.

MI-5 is based loosely on our popular 24. It follows a group of British agents who must thwart terrorist activities in England.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What does this mean?

Every Lutheran remembers this phrase from their days of catechesis. "What does this mean?" is Luther's famous question in the Small Catechism, most notably in the part that deals with the Ten Commandments.

Here we have one of those situations where the translation doesn't do justice to the original text. The original German says, "Was ist das?" which properly translated is "What is this?" or "What is that?" "What does this mean?" would be something like "Was bedeutet dies?" Clearly, Martin Luther had something more in mind than "meaning" when he penned his famous catechetical question.

The First Commandment is: You shall have no other gods. Luther asks: What is this? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Luther is describing intent and actions with this explanation. What intent or actions follow from having no other gods? Answer: Fearing, loving, and trusting in the one, true God.

"What does this mean?" has an intellectual or academic sense. The danger here is that we might fall prey to the temptation to quantify God and define Him. Luther's answers are more than merely understanding or defining what God expects. Luther's answers involve both the mind and the body. The Apostle James tells us that faith leads to good works. Here, too, Luther says the same with his "Was ist das?" Not only must we understand the commandment, but we must do the commandment. We haven't understood the meaning of the commandment if we only intellectually know that we should fear, love, and trust in God. We must go a step farther; we must actually fear, love and trust in God with all our heart, soul, and strength.

Here the full force of the law (and Luther's answers) bear upon us. We cannot think, desire, or do what the commandments require. We cannot fear, love, and trust God as He commands. Which is why Luther wrote that beautiful explanation to the Second Article of the Creed.

What is this?
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

Christ crucified and risen is not merely an intellectual statement to grasp, but it is a real action performed by a real person who redeemed us! We don't just know the facts; we also believe that Jesus did die and rise again to make us righteous. That's what it is.

Are we going to see a wholesale reprinting of Luther's "What does this mean?" into "What is this?"? No. The translation is too well ingrained in our memory and catechesis. But we don't want to imply that "meaning" merely has to do with academics, memorizing, and then forgetting about it once the confirmation quiz is complete.

We can get "What is this?" out of the translation "What does this mean?" We just need to be aware of what Luther is doing with this question and where he's taking us with it. He's taking us to the cross and the empty tomb, and these aren't rational equations, but actions by our Lord Jesus Christ who brings life to us. That is what it is; that is what it means.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Catherine Winkworth, 1827-1878

July 22nd was the Feast of Mary Magdalene. A number of Christian women have blessed the Church throughout the ages. For German-American Lutherans, Catherine Winkworth is an important woman. She was born in England in the 19th century, and she is responsible for translating many German hymns into English. Page through the list of translators in The Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Worship, and Lutheran Service Book, and you will find her name listed for many hymn translations. She translated more German hymns than are found in our synodical hymals.

Her published works include: Lyra Germanica (1854), The Chorale Book for England (1863), and Christian Singers of Germany (1869). These three books brought the rich German hymnody into English-speaking churches.

Paul Gerhardt was a prominent Lutheran hymn writer. Many of his hymns have been translated into English and have been included in our Lutheran hymnals. One of Gerhardt's hymns that is found in the Kirchen-Gesangbuch fuer Evangelisch-Lutherische Gemeinden (the hymnal used by the Missouri Synod until we transitioned to English) is entitled "I Know, my God, that all my Works". This hymn has never been included in any synodical English hymnal. Winkworth translated 6 of that hymn's 18 verses. I conclude with her translation of the first and second verses.

1. I know, my God, and I rejoice
That on Thy righteous will and choice
All human works and schemes must rest;
Success and blessing are of Thee,
What Thou shalt send is surely best!

2. It stands not in the power of man
To bring to pass the wisest plan
So surely that it cannot fail;
Thy counsel, Highest, must ensure
That our poor wisdom shall avail.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Synodical Convention + One Week

A week ago, the synodical convention was well underway in Houston. One of the most important resolutions passed involved altar and pulpit fellowship between the LCMS and the AALC. The LCMS was once in fellowship with the American Lutheran Church (ALC) from 1969-1981. (The ALC has a heritage of German, Dutch, and Norwegian churches). The American Association of Lutheran Churches is a remnant of the ALC. The AALC did not enter the merger that begat the ELCA.

Fellowship resolutions don't just appear from thin air. They are the end result of discussions between church bodies. The LCMS and the AALC have been talking about doctrine and fellowship for almost twenty years. Once a fellowship resolution hits the convention floor, all the "i"s have been dotted and the "t"s crossed.

The discussion that ensued over this resoltion was healthy. There are still some issues to be discussed (such as, what about those LCMS pastors who were rightly removed from the roster and who have now been accepted on the roster of the AALC).

The LCMS and the AALC seem to be on the right doctrinal page and walking down the same road. The same is not true between the LCMS and the ELCA. When the ELCA meets in assembly this August, we may find our paths have diverged even farther apart. I know some ELCA pastors who wish they had sided with the AALC at the merger. I am sure there are other pastors and congregations in the ELCA who are thinking the same thing.

We should keep the LCMS and the AALC in our prayers, asking God to keep us firmly grounded on the Scriptures and the Confessions. When we err, may the Holy Spirit reveal this and guide us back to pure doctrine and practice. When we are right, may the Holy Spirit keep us on the orthodox path. Let us not forget the pastors and congregations in the ELCA who need our prayers, too. They have some contentious items on their agenda. May the Spirit guide them to be pure in doctrine and practice.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

July 22, The Feast of Mary Magdalene

This was the first time I preached on the Feast of Mary Magdalene. The festival seems to have been retained by the Reformation in the Lutheran liturgical calendar, but apparently only some of the Lutheran churches in Renaissance Europe kept the feast day during Luther's lifetime.

This feastival is "new" for American Lutherans, only showing up in our hymnals and liturgical calendars since 1978 (LBW). Lutheran Worship (1982) and Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (1996) also list the festival.

The Gospel Reading for this festival is great as we are in the early part of the long season of Pentecost. We are about four months removed from Easter Sunday, and John 20 redirects our attention back to the empty tomb and the risen Christ. How many Christians are even thinking about Easter at the end of July? The Gospel Reading reminds us of the liturgical truth, namely, that every Sunday is a little Easter celebration. Even the hymn of the day for LSB was an "Easter" hymn, Now All the Vault of Heav'n Resounds (LSB 465).

We see, however, that this day is not really a focus on Mary, but rather a focus on Jesus Christ. The Gospel Reading emphasizes that Jesus is risen and victorious over sin, death, and the devil. This gospel strengthened Mary’s faith and enabled her to go and tell others. This dovetails nicely with our recently concluded Missouri Synod convention in Houston that had the theme One Message---Christ. Such was the proclamation of Mary to the disciples. And what Christ is this? The Christ who suffered, died, and rose again for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of the world. The Apostle Paul said it this way: We proclaim Christ crucified. And so we proclaim even today, and will continue to proclaim until Christ returns from heaven.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I finally did it!

It took some time to decide on whether or not to blog, and what to blog about. My interets involve the Lutheran Church and my German heritage, so I figured why not go with that. I can always flesh my blog out later with more stuff.