Friday, February 29, 2008

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est

Why do churchgoers rush out the door after church? (Duties discharged—I'm on my way.) Why don't we stay and talk to one another? Are we so caught up in our personal universes that we can only spare a meager hour for God and His people? What makes us so uncomfortable in the House of the Lord?

In the culture today, finding a sense of community and belonging can be very difficult, and the majority of Americans somehow don't expect to find it in church. I find the widespread lack of sympathy disturbing. Does anyone else?

Make no mistake: the primary purpose of a church is to worship and serve the Living God. However, an indispensible component of serving God is treating our fellow human beings well. In the words of Christ: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me." As believers, we are the body of Christ, made of disparate parts, but designed to function harmoniously. God has no patience with elitism and what James calls the "respect of persons." The value of a person cannot be based on his financial or social standing. The local church ought to be a place where anyone can find sympathy, compassion, and life-giving counsel based on the Word of God.

Sometimes Christians are shy and afraid to reach out, and then they blame other Christians for "being cold" toward them. Proverbs offers some excellent advice. "He that hath friends must show himself friendly." Selfishly, we often seek not so much to understand as to be understood. As humans, we feel our own need for sympathy so deeply, but others' rather slightly. Loving others means being aware of the needs of people around us, and attempting to serve those needs whether we feel like it or not. It means being a giver and not a taker—characteristics of a mature individual. Are we up to the challenge?

Do you think strangers likely feel welcomed at your church? Within the circle of believers, there should be time set aside to consider how to offer hospitality and fellowship not only to one another, but to strangers in our midst. Hebrews 4 reminds us, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for some have entertained angels unaware." In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, the Bible says that "God added daily to the church such as should be saved." God brings people to church through various means, and we become part of God's work when we reach out in love to those who seek Him.

On a slightly deviant, yet related point, I think church leaders should be aware that age segregation has succeeded in depriving us of some of the richest expressions of human culture. We miss so much when we avoid the cross-pollination of age groups: the seasoned perspective and unique wisdom of seniors, the brightness and enthusiasm of youth. Successfully integrating people of all ages greatly enhances the socialization experience for everyone.

Certainly, the future of the Christian church depends on our ability to reach out in love, both to fellow Christians (our brothers and sisters) and to strangers and seekers. We not only represent Christ to the world, we are called to be Christ's Body and function as His hands, His arms, His feet. We, therefore, must love as He loved.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What Does It Mean to Be a Lutheran? Part I

This is part of an article written by my former pastor, Dr. Hunsicker of Christ Lutheran Church in Abbotsford, Wisconsin. I'll be posting more later.

To make the answer as simple as possible, a Lutheran is someone who believes that Jesus is the only source of salvation for sinful mankind. Faith in Jesus saves. When you believe in Jesus you acknowledge that your faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9) and that you are the recipient of God’s grace, His forgiveness, and His guarantee of heaven through trust in His Son Jesus. Lutherans believe that God is the One Who receives all credit for the ability to believe, all credit for forgiveness, and is to receive all credit and glory for eternal life. Man is the recipient of God’s gifts and is to respond in thankfulness for God’s salvation by a life lived according to God’s Word just as the Israelites were to live in response to God’s salvation from Egypt (Exodus 20, the context of the Commandments).

Lutherans also believe that the Bible is God’s Word cover to cover. This means that we believe in a six-day, twenty-four-hour-day creation and we reject evolution. It means that Noah was real, the flood was real, and that the fossils we find around today were alive at the time of Noah. We believe the miracles of Jesus are real. We believe that Jesus died and physically rose from the dead and bodily ascended into heaven where He remains until He returns to judge the living and the dead. We believe that every word of the Bible was inspired by God the Holy Spirit in their original autographs, that is, as they were originally written by the prophets and apostles.

We believe that our human thinking, human wisdom, is to be subservient to the Word of God and it is not to interpret the Word of God. The Word stands by itself as truth whether we understand it or not. Those who interpret Scripture based upon tradition or upon human reason do damage to the Word of God and to faith in Jesus. Scripture is to be read and understood in the context of a sentence within a paragraph within a book of the Bible within the historical and cultural context in which the Holy Spirit inspired any particular sentence to be written or communicated. The Bible interprets itself based on what the Holy Spirit inspired at other times and places.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Good News/Bad News for the Pastor

Good News: You baptised seven people today in the river.
Bad News: You lost two of them in the swift current.

Good News: The women's group voted to send you a get-well card.
Bad News: The vote passed by 31-30.

Good News: The pastor-parish relations committee accepted your job description the way you wrote it.
Bad News: They were so inspired by it that they asked the bishop to send a new minister capable of filling the position.

Good News: The trustees finally voted to add more church parking.
Bad News: They are going to blacktop the front lawn of the parsonage.

Good News: Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks.
Bad News: You were on vacation.

Good News: Your biggest critic just left your community.
Bad News: He has been appointed as your conference bishop.

Good News: The youth of the church came to your house for a visit.
Bad News: It was in the middle of the night and they were armed with toilet paper and shaving cream.

Good News: The Church Council has agreed to send you to the Holy Land for study.
Bad News: They are waiting for war to break out before sending you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Debtor to Mercy Alone

The author, Augustus Toplady, at­tend­ed West­min­ster School, Lon­don, and Trin­i­ty Coll­ege, Dub­lin. He was or­dained an Ang­li­can priest in 1762, and served as Cur­ate at Blag­don and Far­leigh. In 1766, he be­came Vi­car of Broad­hem­bu­ry, De­von­shire. He left the Ang­li­can church in 1775, moved to Lon­don, and be­gan preach­ing at the French Cal­vin­ist church in Lei­ces­ter Fields. His works in­clude:

The Doctrine of Ab­so­lute Pre­des­tin­a­tion Stat­ed and As­sert­ed, 1769
Historic Proof of the Doc­trin­al Cal­vin­ism of the Church of Eng­land, 1774
The Church of Eng­land Vin­di­cat­ed from the Charge of Armin­i­an­ism, 1774
Po­ems on Sac­red Sub­jects, 1775
Psalms and Hymns, 1776

A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on,
My person and off'ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour's obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.

The work which His goodness began
The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is yea and amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Not all things below or above,
Can make Him His purpose forgo,
Or sever my soul from His love.

My name from the palms of His hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on His heart it remains,
In marks of indelible grace;
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv'n;
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heav'n.

Augustus M. Toplady, 1740-1778

Friday, February 8, 2008

None Other Lamb

I became familiar with this text last year when I sang a simple, yet stunning Crawford Thoburn setting with the Bach Chamber Choir. It fits well during Holy Week as we reflect on Jesus, the Lamb of God, Who died to take away the sins of the world. It is definitely one I plan to use again and again. This woman's faith in God is deep and real, bridging the sometimes awful gap between hope and experience.

None other Lamb, none other Name,
None other hope in Heav'n or earth or sea,
None other hiding place from guilt and shame,
None beside Thee!

My faith burns low, my hope burns low;
Only my heart's desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe,
Cries out to Thee.

Lord, Thou art Life, though I be dead;
Love's fire Thou art, however cold I be:
Nor Heav'n have I, nor place to lay my head,
Nor home, but Thee.

by Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


As the season of Lent is upon us, today being Ash Wednesday, I wanted to post what I believe is the most beautiful contritional prayer in modern English. Mr. Donne speaks for me here.

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.
by John Donne (1572-1631)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Brahms’ Requiem:

An Appreciative Analysis for Deeper Listening

I wish to examine the masterful illumination of a great text with music fully befitting its grandeur. Few composers ever matched the intellectual mastery of Brahms’ work. He obviously took his craft as a musician very seriously, and honed his skills to their highest capacity.

The word Requiem is Latin for “rest.” Originally, in the Latin liturgical tradition, Misse pro Defunctis (Mass for the Dead) began with the words Requiem √¶ternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis (Give them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them). A very small portion of the Latin text came from the Bible, but it was apparently composed for the express purpose of observing a mass for the departed; it contained, most notably, a section called the Dies Irae or Day of Wrath, conjuring images of terror at the Last Judgment, which Brahms ignores. Countless settings of the Requiem Mass had been produced by composers since medieval times.

Influenced, no doubt, by Lutheran innovation, Brahms takes this opportunity to break with Catholic tradition by using a completely different text and still calling it a requiem. Brahms carefully chooses relevant texts from Luther’s translation of the Bible which focus on comfort for the living who mourn their dead. The use of the German vernacular is quite significant in church history, and subsequently in music history.

Brahms seeks to express the heart and soul of the various Biblical texts; each new thought in the text comes in on the wings of a new melodic theme perfectly suited to its character. Brahms draws from an exceptionally wide palette of musical techniques in producing the desired effects. One sees the influence of early music and especially Bach, from whom he learned the art of fugue. The musical structure of the Requiem is often compared to an arch, with seven movements that complement and balance each other in mood and character.

The work opens with “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,” and closes with a quote from Revelation, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; for they rest from their labors and their works do follow them,” both set gently with tender, lyrical melodies.

The second and sixth movements are heavy both in character and content, with the music ponderous under the weight of ultimate realities. The text of these movements (refer to translation below) reflect on the brevity of human life, the vanity of human works and the hope of the Resurrection as the sole relief of that despair. The sixth movement gives way to a fierce, ostentatious celebration in the victory (won by Christ) over death, and then falls into a rapturous, deeply felt adoration of our God, Who is “worthy to receive glory and honor and power.”

The third and fifth movements each make use of baritone and soprano soloists, respectively. The text of the third movement states the human longing for purpose and meaning to life: “Lord, help me to number my days, that my life would have a worthy goal,” (loose translation from the German) and the haunting woodwinds reflect that yearning. This cry is answered in the fifth movement, where God promises to comfort His people “as a mother comforts her child.”

In the fourth and central movement (also the most popular), the Christian’s blessed hope becomes luminous and palpable. “How lovely is Thy dwelling-place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, fainting, for the courts of the Lord! My heart and my flesh cry out for the Living God. Blessed are they who dwell with You; they will praise you forever.” As if David’s poetry alone were not breathtaking enough, the sweep of angelic massed sopranos and determined footsteps of the bass-entering fugue would threaten to overwhelm the sensibilities. The melodies are utterly charming, but the compositional workmanship is nothing less than masterful.

The effect of the work as a whole is uncommonly powerful because of its dual impact on right and left brain functions. The profound intellectual and technical mastery allows the emotional response to follow it to its depths.

Come and hear the Master Singers of Milwaukee perform this work in two locations,
Saturday, February 23, 2008 at 7:30pm
North Shore Congregational Church, 7330 N. Santa Monica, Fox Point
Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 3:00pm
St. Sebastian Catholic Church, 5400 W. Washington Blvd., Milwaukee