Fishing ≠ Worship — Cruciform Stuff

It would appear that our world is indefinitely fixed with the global stamp which reads “Pandemic,” and so I don’t know what the future holds. For the most part, I’d say our efforts to maintain as a church engaged in public worship together here at Our Savior in Hartland is succeeding. It hasn’t been without […]

Fishing ≠ Worship — Cruciform Stuff

The above article is a wonderful, pastoral response to our current circumstances, and I encourage you all to read it. Thanks to pastors like Pr. Thoma (and mine, and others I’ve been happy to learn about!), who are still faithfully offering Word and Sacrament, while abiding by current restrictions and taking excellent precautions, God’s people are being fed even now. I am very grateful that God has provided for His church these loving, faithful shepherds. As we continue to receive God’s word and the body and blood of our Lord, we are enabled to to live in the peace of sins forgiven and to bring this light to our neighbors.

“Lord, I have loved the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells.”—Psalm 26:8

Good Lord, Deliver Us

***I am sorry if you’ve been trying to access this post and it’s not available or keeps changing, or is only part done, etc. I accidentally opened it on the app on my phone and it reverted to an old draft, then lost blocks, then lost the picture, and I think that maybe now it’s back to where I had it when I first published it***

***3/22/20—Anyone who read this earlier and is worried about my husband’s health can rest easy. He’s been back to normal all day today, and the kids and I are fine also!***

Our world is in tumult right now as everyone tries to figure out how to stem the spread of Covid-19. Though the number of cases in the U.S. remains low, they are rising, and we are all facing a lot of restrictions due to the possibility of cases spiking as they have done elsewhere. People are losing work, have had their classes and activities canceled, are finding store shelves empty, and are banned from gathering in large (or even small) groups, can’t visit loved ones in care centers or hospitals, and some aren’t allowed to leave their houses for anything “non-essential.” Many businesses have been forced to close indefinitely, while others have voluntarily shut their doors. My heart goes out to the many who have been, and whose family members have been affected by the illness directly, to those who have been affected by the financial consequences of safety precautions, and to those who find themselves very alone right now.

I know I’m late to this topic, but things have been unfolding like a Jacob’s ladder—once we think we have a handle on the situation, more information and mandates cascade down. And perhaps we’re not done yet. There’s been a lot of chatter where I live about a possible shelter-in-place order going into effect by Monday. Our governor said in an interview yesterday afternoon that he doesn’t think it is necessary right now, but I must have grown awfully cynical in the last few days because I immediately thought, He just doesn’t want us panicking and leaving our homes en masse to run last-minute errands. He’ll announce the order when he has everything in place to enforce it. We shall see. All in all, the rapid response and panic took me by surprise, and it still feels a bit surreal. Streets empty, businesses dark, everything canceledno children playing outside even though the schools are all closed, shortages and rationing of certain groceries and home goods. Lord have mercy.

What should we as Christians do (and not do) in times like this? Same as always, really. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. And we should love our neighbors as ourselves. We should not live in more fear of illness than fear of God. We should not love our own lives more than the lives of our neighbors. We should not buy up all the hand sanitizer at regular prices and sell it at a premium so our neighbors have a harder time accessing it. We should also take precautions not to contract or spread any illness. Wash your hands, cover your cough, if you’re sick, stay home—this is all part of loving your neighbor. If your neighbor is sick (or at high risk), make sure he has the care and supplies he needs. We should continue gathering as the church to repent, receive God’s gifts, lift our neighbors up in prayer, and lift our voices in praise to the One who made us and still takes care of us.

Understandably, with restrictions on group gatherings, coming together as the church is looking different across the country now. Word and Sacrament are being given and received in many, many, very small services instead of having everyone in fewer, larger services. Services are being held specifically for small groups of elderly or immunocompromised members, and there are/will be many home visits to individual people, families, and small groups. There are seats separated by a minimum of 6 feet and no passing of the peace, no handshakes, no hugs, no coffee, and no meals. There’s mandatory hand-washing, distribution of individual communion cups, and enforcement of greatly enhanced sanitization protocols. Sunday School classes and Bible studies are being canceled. Churches are live-streaming classes that can’t be done in person and putting audio and video of Sunday morning and midweek Lenten services online for those who cannot attend.

All of these changes allow us to protect and serve our neighbors without neglecting preaching and God’s word, the Sacrament, confession of sins, prayer for the church and the world, and thanksgiving for all the blessings we continue to receive. However, these changes also make for a huge amount of extra work for our pastors and other church workers and will take away from the time they are usually able to set aside for their families, for rest, and for study. Figuring out the logistics of faithfully serving a congregation while adhering to social-distancing orders must be exhausting, and yet not as exhausting as the actual execution. I’ve been searching church websites, and those that have remained open have packed schedules of regulation-compliant services (according to each state’s mandates) with sanitizing being completed after each one. In addition, pastors will now have greatly expanded home-visit rosters.

I may be in the minority on this, but I’m not on board with not offering any opportunity for people to receive Word and Sacrament in person if they desire it (and are well enough to be out). I’ll take the drive-up, individual/family 10-minute confession and absolution, scripture reading, and Eucharist at an easily-sanitized table if it’s all that’s available (some are offering this). However, a lot of churches have simply closed their doors, saying not to worry because it’s only temporary, but if we will so quickly close down in indefinite temporariness, how much more difficult will it be to remain open if we are ever told to close entirely? If that time arrives, overcoming will require individual church bodies to stand unified. And if these expected weeks of closure turn into months, will people decide that watching a YouTube service on a laptop is a fine long-term substitute for gathering with fellow believers to really be the communion of saints, confessing our faith and receiving Holy Communion together? These are rather extreme hypotheticals, but as I noted before, I’m feeling a bit cynical just now, I apologize. I truly do believe that Christ protects His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, no matter what.

I do find it strangely fitting that we are experiencing this now, during our deepest penitential season. Illness is a consequence of our fall into sin, and it should always be seen as a call to repentance and to (re)turn to Christ. It should remind us that we are dust. Does that sound familiar? It should send us running to where the remedy for sin is found, to the place we receive the medicine of immortality, to the one thing needful—the Word of God. Let us not forget (this is very much a reminder for myself) that Satan is already defeated. And along with defeating the devil, Christ has also conquered sin and death, winning for us life and salvation. Our Lord took unto Himself all of our iniquity, pain, distress, and sickness. He is the bread from heaven that gives life to the world. He is the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in Him will, even if he dies, live. These promises are there for our comfort, and we need that comfort now more than ever.

Since most of us have a lot more time at home now, we certainly have more time to be at prayer as well. Prayers particularly fitting for these times include:

  • The Litany (pg. 288 in LSB and 661 in TLH)
  • Prayer for the sick here and around the world
  • Prayer for the high-risk members of our communities and their families
  • Prayer for the isolated and lonely
  • Prayer for wisdom, discernment, faithfulness, strength, and perseverance for our pastors and other church workers
  • Prayer for doctors, nurses, and first responders
  • Prayer for churches to receive enough in contributions to continue serving their congregations and that mercy funds would also be kept up during this time of increased need
  • Prayers of repentance, and prayers for all to turn from their impenitence
  • Prayer for those whose businesses have been forced to close and workers who are now without incomes
  • Prayer for wisdom and moderation for our government at all levels
  • Prayer for the many who have found themselves without a church to attend
  • Prayer that those activist individuals and groups trying to get churches shut down during these already trying times will turn from their evil intentions (this is really happening)

And since we are to care for our neighbors, bringing the light of Christ to those in need, here are some ways we may be able to serve them:

  • Check on the elderly, those with babies, high-risk individuals, and those who are already sick and offer to shop for them
  • Assist parents who must still work, but whose children are home from school (make sure you have a clean bill of health first)
  • Call to talk with and encourage those who are lonely or anxious
  • Buy only what you really need so that food and supplies are available for others
  • Continue giving to your church and to your church’s mercy fund—even if your church is closed right now
  • Offer assistance to families who have lost their income, according to your ability (gift cards for groceries, household essentials, and health items would be useful)
  • Bring food, paper goods, diapers, etc. to your local food bank/shelter
  • Provide for your extra-busy church workers and their families

I am praying that you and your families will all remain well and connected in some way to the rest of the body of Christ. For those of you who could use some worship-at-home resources, I will include a few here, and I would love it if others would add to the list in the comments section!

Last-minute update: Joe just got home after being gone for about 24 hours and he is coughing, just a little, but I’m canceling church attendance tomorrow. I’m sad about that, but I don’t want to get anyone sick, so I’ll avail myself of some of these resources too, and we’ll all hunker down till there is no sign of illness in the house! 

One last thing. Here is our hymn of the week, which, as usual, seems perfectly suited to our current experiences. Take time to sing it this week!

1 God loved the world so that He gave
His only Son the lost to save,
That all who would in Him believe
Should everlasting life receive.

2 Christ Jesus is the ground of faith,
Who was made flesh and suffered death;
All then who trust in Him alone
Are built on this chief cornerstone.

3 God would not have the sinner die;
His Son with saving grace is nigh;
His Spirit in the Word declares
How we in Christ are heaven’s heirs.

4 Be of good cheer, for God’s own Son
Forgives all sins which you have done;
And, justified by Jesus’ blood,
Your Baptism grants the highest good.

5 If you are sick, if death is near,
This truth your troubled heart can cheer:
Christ Jesus saves your soul from death;
That is the firmest ground of faith.

6 Glory to God the Father, Son,
And Holy Spirit, Three in One!
To Thee, O blessed Trinity,
Be praise now and eternally!

LSB 571

A Mini Archive

As some of you have been trying to click through my links to Lutheran Pub without success (I’m sorry; I’ll go back and remove those) I figured I should note here for those who don’t already know that Lutheran Pub is no longer publishing articles, and the website is gone. I am sad that the site is shut down, and I’m disappointed in myself for not writing nearly so often as I was supposed to. I had all kinds of ideas and good intentions, but we all know where good intentions lead…yeah. I also wish I’d downloaded some of the other articles so I could reread them. There was some really good stuff there!

Anyway,  I figured I’d just stick the few that I did manage to write below if anyone was interested.

  1. With All Creation
  2. Lessons from the Liturgy (all 3 parts)
  3. Book Review Ecclesial Poetry Volume 1 Introduction

Free Book from CPH

I don’t know how long this deal will last, but you can currently get a free physical copy of Relationships Count: Engaging & Retaining Millennials from Concordia Publishing House (and yes, the shipping is free too!). The ebook is also currently available for free on both Kindle and iBooks. I have not read it yet, but I have ordered a copy! As a millennial, I am pretty interested in finding out how my generation responded to the researchers’ questions, and how that information is being viewed and used to help keep others like myself in church. I am hoping to write a post about it whenever I’m done reading. It might be a while.

About the book, from CPH:

In 2016, the LCMS Youth Ministry and LCMS Research embarked on a special accounting of the millennial generation. This three-phase research project, composed of surveys and focus groups, aimed to understand retention rates of LCMS millennials. The conclusions of the research are found here, hoping to give church leaders a better understanding of these retention rates.

If any of you have already read it, or finish reading it before I get to it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments!

Serendipity

Just a super short story this Christmas Eve.

As a child in my family, holidays were always carefree and full of fun. I have nothing but fond memories of long Thanksgiving dinners, boisterous Christmas Eves with cousins, quiet Christmas mornings, and all-night New Year parties hosted by a local high school.

One thing missing from childhood celebrations is glaringly obvious to me now. Even though we attended church every Sunday as a family, holidays were not celebrated there (except for Easter). If Christmas fell on a Sunday, our church service would actually be cancelled. There were some years they had Christmas Eve services, but we didn’t attend because we spent Christmas Eve at my aunt’s house. I remember one year, when I was about 6 or 7, my mom and my aunt thought it would be good to find a Christmas Eve service to bring us kids to. We ended up attending a little Lutheran church built of stone with an impressive, arched doorway just because it was within walking distance from my aunt’s. I don’t remember much except that everyone was welcoming, the church itself was beautiful and decked out for Christmas, there were a lot of candles and an advent wreath, and we sang MANY Christmas songs (I wonder if we actually were at Lessons & Carols as there was also no communion), and some of the songs were in German (which I thought was really cool). That night has stuck with me as one of my favorite Christmas Eves ever.

Decades after that lovely night, I joined a Lutheran church and one of the most surprising things for me was that ALL the holidays have church services. I love gathering for worship with the saints on these special days. It keeps priorities straight and brings peace to chaotic times.

I recently looked up that little church I visited so many Christmas Eves ago, and found that it was called Nain Lutheran Church. I did a double take, and then I laughed. I wonder if God laughed too. The name isn’t funny, of course, but the Gospel for the first sermon I ever heard preached at my church, the sermon that hooked me and began to draw me back to Christ, the sermon that made me think maybe I could yet be saved, was on the the raising of the widow of Nain’s son. What a happy “coincidence” that these two moments are tied together by the recounting of a miracle, a miracle where Christ, out of compassion, brings life to the dead.

Blessed Christmas, all!

This flow’r, whose fragrance tender

With sweetness fills the air,

Dispels with glorious splendor

The darkness ev’rywhere.

True man, yet very God,

From sin and death He saves us

And lightens ev’ry load.

—LSB 359:3

Christmas Gift Guide: Lutheran Edition

Updated 7:56am and 8:45am; 11/19 7:43pm

I like to observe Advent as fully as possible, so when it comes to playing Christmas music and putting up decorations, I like to wait till Christmas is really upon us, or at least as long as my family will allow. Besides, Advent music is just as good as Christmas music, in my opinion! When it comes to purchasing gifts, however, it won’t do to wait until the last moment. So, even though it is not even Thanksgiving, here’s a list of some of my favorite Lutheran crafters, authors/publishers, and creators, as well as a couple that I’ve just been happy to have found very recently. Maybe you’ll find that perfect something for someone on your list, without even having to fight your way through a mall! I hope that you at least have fun looking through the available items and books (there are a lot of books!).

Lutheran arts and crafts

1. Pleasantly Crafted

I know the owner of this shop, and I have had the pleasure of seeing several of her original works (not prints) as well as works in progress. The amount of time and love that goes into each piece amazes me. I am not artistic. I would never have thought about all the steps it takes to get from concept to finished creation without seeing someone else work through the process. You can get a tiny glimpse for yourself here. I love her passion for her craft and the people she creates for.

In her shop, you will find beautiful prints of hand-lettered Bible verses, hymn stanzas, and Luther quotes with acrylic, watercolor, and ink embellishments. There are also prints of acrylic paintings, customizable baptismal art, Luther rose glass mugs and pint glasses, Luther rose necklaces and tie clips, hand-lettered tote bags, Lutheran coloring sheets, Christian greeting cards, gorgeous Christmas cards made from some of her acrylic paintings, and more. She will also work with you to make custom designs as well, though I don’t know if there’s time still for that before Christmas!

I have purchased a number of items both for myself and as gifts, and the quality is wonderful. There’s no skimping on paper (the cards can even be framed), the colors on the prints are rich, the hand-lettered and hand-cut items were executed with great care. the glasses are hand-etched and dishwasher safe, and the necklace pendants are lustrous. The coloring sheets, which my kids love, draw from the Catechism, hymns, and Scripture.

The prints, jewelry, and Christmas cards are shipping free right now, and a few of the prints and the coloring sheet set are digital downloads. Prices for individual items range from $3–$38

2. GatchellsWoodnCrafts

I also know the owners of this shop that sells lovely wooden decorations. I have seen many of the items in-person, and the designs are beautifully intricate and delicate. I absolutely love the Advent wreaths, nativity Christmas ornaments, and crosses. They also have candle rings, nativities, wall and desk clocks, wall plaques (including a stunning one of the Lord’s Prayer), many ornaments, and wildlife plaques. They also have a small collection of handmade, fabric wine bottle tote bags, which are lined and padded.

Have you ever run across something you never knew existed, but realized you needed it once you did find it? Well, they make candle holders for Lenten devotions—why did I never know that was a thing? I love this idea!

Do check expected “ready to ship” times for each item as some are ready to ship in a few days, while others take a couple weeks. Prices range from $10–$750 (most are in the $30–$80 range).

Lutheran authors, publishers, reprints, and print-on-demand (POD)

1. Dr. Nancy Almodovar (Lutheran Girl Apologetics)

Dr. Nancy Almodovar is a blogger, author, and speaker. Perhaps you heard her recent interview on Issues Etc. as part of their “Paths to Lutheranism” series during Reformation week. I have not yet read her book, The Accidental Lutheran: The Journey from Heidelberg to Wittenberg, but after hearing her speak about her journey, I would like to, and maybe you know someone who would like to also! To make reading easier, particularly for those with carpal tunnel or arthritis, she also sells “ThumbThingys,” small wooden tools that slip over your thumb and hold the pages of your book open, making one-handed reading much easier. I would have loved one of these in college!

The book is available in hardcover ($30), paperback (Prime, $13.21), and Kindle ($9.99). The ThumbThingys range from $2.99–$13.49, depending on the material chosen.

2. Mary J. Moerbe

I wrote a couple reviews for Mary Moerbe’s first volume of poetry a short while back. I loved this little book, and I think that it would make a great stocking stuffer. Since I’ve spilled much digital ink on this one already, I’ll keep this short. Ecclesial Poetry is a thought-provoking and faithfully Lutheran collection that would be engaging for men, women, and teens who enjoy poetry; it would also be an undaunting introduction to poetry for those who are new to it.

This volume is available in paperback ($4.99) and Kindle ($2.99) editions.

3. Kloria Publishing

Kloria Publishing creates beautiful books using the lyrics of classic Lutheran hymns paired with incredibly detailed illustrations that tell a story. There are several, more simple board books for the younger ones and several picture books with longer hymns for older children. They have one in the works also, and I can’t wait for its release in April! Music is printed in the back of each book so you can learn to sing/play the songs. I wrote a bit about Kloria and reviewed Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart when it came out in June, so you can take a peek there for more info, or visit their website for previews BP up Zac of their books. They sell a few audio CDs also, which may be good gifts for music lovers who prefer to have physical recordings even in this digital age.

Their board books are $5.99, and the picture books are $11.99.

4. Reverend Raconteur Publishing

Hopefully I’m getting too ahead of myself here. I haven’t read any of the books by this very new publisher yet, but I’m excited about it anyway. I do own one of the books, so if I manage to read it soon, I’ll update this section*. Reverend Raconteur, if you haven’t guessed by the name, publishes books by pastors. They publish a variety of genres for both adults and children. The selection is small but growing, as you would expect for a new business. Currently, they have two pastor-authors, both LCMS Lutherans. They also did a reprint of A Christmas Carol with an introduction by another LCMS pastor, and this classic title should be a staple in everyone’s home at Christmas (in my very humble opinion).

*UPDATE: I just finished reading The World of the Wazzlewoods, a children’s chapter book by Rev. Tyrel Bramwell, with my 1st grader, and it was a hit! The book was adventuresome and humorous. I loved the mix of reality with imagination and the little lessons that were slipped in without interrupting the action. When you read it, you can envision a (very creative) dad telling it as a bedtime story. My son can’t wait for the second book in the series to be released Dec. 3rd.

The books range in price from $7.99–$14.99 for paperbacks. Hardcover (not available for all options) are more, and Kindle (not available for all options) are much less.

5. Repristination Press

For the theology nerds on your list! Repristination Press has Confessional Lutheran offerings at very competitive prices. They have works from Bugenhagen, Chemnitz, Gerhard, and Löhe, just to drop a few big names. They also publish works by contemporary authors such as the Revs. Burnell Eckardt (of Gottesdienst fame) and Richard Stuckwisch (a personal favorite). Definitely worth checking out.

These books range in price from $5.99–$24.99 for paperbacks.

6. Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller (link to books page)

In addition to writing some wonderful books of his own, Pastor Wolfmueller has made a lot of classic Lutheran resources available also. Each of the books in his “Everyone’s Luther” collection (which keeps growing!) is available for free in PDF or may be printed as paperbacks inexpensively ($5–$15) as POD. His “Around the Word” reprints of classic liturgy and theology books are also available as free PDFs or POD for ($5–$25). Several chapters of a “teaching Bible,” which include notes by Pr. Wolfmueller, are available in Greek and English, or just English—I have my eye on these for myself. There is also a Bible study, a mini hymnal, and a book of hymns as poems (pretty much hymn texts without music), all available for free download or inexpensive POD.

7. Maggie Casey

Maggie is a piano teacher, not an author (so far as I know!), but she has compiled a number of Lutheran hymns from the public domain into piano books for beginner piano students to play from—so much easier than trying to play from a hymnal! There are currently five volumes to choose from: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and Transfiguration, Lent and Holy Week, and Easter. If you have a young pianist in your life, and you want them to learn the timeless treasures of the Lutheran Church, these would be great gifts.

These are free to print from PDF, but if you want bound copies (great for gift-giving!), you can have them printed on demand for approximately $5 apiece.

Miscellaneous

1. Wolfson Creative

Pr. Wolfmueller gets himself another mention because he is also part of Wolfson Creative, which produces extraordinarily beautiful certificates for baptism, confirmation, and marriage. If you are looking for a gift for your church, you can purchase licenses for your congregation to print an unlimited number. Prices for B&W are $35 per type of certificate, while color is $40 for baptismal sponsors, but $50 for all others. B&W and color combos are $50 for baptismal sponsor certificates, but $75 for all others. Do check with whoever does your congregation’s printing to make sure you can make 11×17 printouts.

2. Ad Crucem

Here is a site that has a little bit of everything! Some of the items already recommended can be found there, but there are also many others. There is a wide variety of jewelry, home decor, Christmas items (my favorite ornament is from them!), distinctive church banners, prints of paintings (Edward Riojas is a wonderful artist!), posters, picture frames, and even Lutheran prayer beads if you’re into that sort of thing!

If you know of a great little Lutheran business or resource that would make a good addition to this list, feel free to add it in the comments!

Pastor Appreciation Month

158]…Besides these [“fathers in blood and fathers in office”] there are yet spiritual fathers; not like those in the Papacy, who have indeed had themselves called thus, but have performed no function of the paternal office. For those only are called spiritual fathers who govern and guide us by the Word of God; 159] as St. Paul boasts his fatherhood 1 Cor. 4:15, where he says: In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel. —Large Catechism, 4th Commandment

It would be thoughtless of me to allow Pastor Appreciation Month to pass entirely without mentioning what a blessing my pastor has been to me. I know there are many people who object to calling a pastor “Father,” but that’s exactly how I view mine. There are many ways in which spiritual fathers are like “fathers in blood.” Spiritual fathers nourish with the Gospel, protect with prayers of intercession, instruct & admonish according to Scripture, and give dad hugs. If you listen to them, it will go better for you, just like listening to Dad 😉

What really makes a spiritual father, according to the LC quote above is that he always governs and guides by the Word of God. My pastor’s been patiently answering my (millions of) questions for nearly 3.5 years, always drawing from and directing me to Scripture and our confession’s explication of it. And whether I need admonishing, comforting, or teaching, I don’t get my pastor’s opinions; I get “Here’s what God’s Word says about ______.” What he thinks about something is never what he uses to “govern and guide,” even in situations where there may not be a clear-cut biblical answer.

My pastor’s humility before Christ and his dependence on Word and Sacrament for himself are my favorite things about him. Even more than the many things he does for the congregation and for me. But he sure does do a lot for us. Most importantly, he preaches God’s word in its truth and purity and administers the Sacraments rightly. He holds firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9).

Until recently, I wouldn’t have thought of putting “pastor” in a list of the most demanding jobs, but after seeing how ours is constantly running, I do. Between studying, writing sermons, and officiating all the services (including daily chapel); teaching Bible classes, confirmation/adult instruction classes, youth group, and Old and New Testament for our parish school and children of the congregation; visiting our sick and shut-in parishioners; providing private confession and absolution and pastoral counsel; conducting the Senior Choir; creating Sunday school materials and instructing the Sunday school teachers; attending meetings and conferences; teaching engagements; and plenty of things I don’t know about I’m sure, there is never a point where he’s “done.” It must come down to prioritizing as best as possible and serving continually. He’s also on call pretty much 24/7 for emergencies. I don’t know how he does it, and with such care.

As for what he’s done specifically for me, he took me, broken, doubting, and confused, and gave me hope—he gave me the Gospel. Pastor gave me my Baptism, and by this, I mean that he revealed to me the promises that God made to me in my baptism years earlier; he taught me who I am in Christ. He baptized my precious babies ❤ He gave me the Scripture straight, no twisting, no prevaricating, no “what does this mean to you?” interpretation. He gave me an understanding of vocation. By his teaching, he gave me the desire to receive the Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, and I do receive, from his hand, every Lord’s day.

To be honest, I’m still often broken, doubting, and confused, and there are some things he needs to tell me repeatedly (I must really try the poor man’s patience at times). For example, he reminds me, every time I need to hear it, that it is not the strength of my faith (as in how strongly I believe) that matters, but only the strength of the object of my faith: Jesus. And that knocks me back down to where I belong—kneeling at the feet of the Crucified One, whose promises never fail. Another blessing is Confession and Absolution. Pastor’s ear is like a graveyard; sins die and are buried there as he speaks Christ’s absolution. It is life-giving and freeing to receive the Gospel individually, to hear your own name, followed by the proclamation of the forgiveness of all your sins.

Now at this point, I’m afraid of sounding like I’m bragging, but we actually have two faithful pastors for our congregation. Our assistant pastor is so welcoming and kind. He’s one of those people who can always make you smile, even on the roughest mornings. He assists with services, classes, visitations, and evening activities; he is the administrator for the CCA, an auxiliary organization of our church; and he fills the head pastoral role any time Pastor is absent. He also holds a full-time job outside the church, which must leave him exhausted, yet he serves with joy. I have seen him switch effortlessly from an assisting role to leading role and back again as necessary. He is an excellent preacher and caretaker of souls—he has provided guidance and pastoral care to me, stepping in as though he’d been my pastor forever. I am so thankful for him.

Now, I am fully aware that my pastors aren’t perfect, and they would be the first to admit it. Pastor once began a sermon by saying, “I’d like to tell you something about my sin” My son’s eyes got big, and he said in a (loud) whisper, “Pastor is a sinner!” I am grateful that God uses ordinary men to be preachers, that those who are called to shepherd, must, like the rest of us, rely entirely on Christ for all things. And I thank God for preserving them in the standard for pastors set before them in Scripture.

So…today is Reformation Day (I can’t believe I didn’t write this before the last day of October!), and one of the reasons I love Reformation Day is because the confirmation verse Pastor chose for me is always part of the readings.

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” —John 8:31b-32

I’m not sure what made him pick this particular verse, but he chose well. I love it. It’s a beautiful promise—I now keep it framed at my bedside, so I can’t ignore it—it is also the motivation I need to remain in God’s word and not become lazy! In case you need a little Law & Gospel in your life right now too, here is our Reformation Day sermon, in which we find a gracious God who sent His Son to set us free from our bonds of sin and self-reliance.

I thought it was funny that one suggestion on the CPH blog for Pastor Appreciation Month was taking “candid selfies” with your pastor and using them on your social media sites. I don’t think my pastors really use social media (or read blogs), and I didn’t want to be a weirdo asking for pictures (besides, how does one take a “candid selfie?”) so I have no pictures for this post, sorry!

Ecclesial Poetry, a Review

Ecclesial Poetry Volume 1: Introduction, by Mary J. Moerbe. Self-published (CreateSpace) 2019. 135 pages. Available in paperback for $4.99 and Kindle for $2.99.

*Note: The image quotes were all made in the Kindle app, which doesn’t keep the original line breaks. I found them all still lovely even structured as prose, so I used them.*

I love reading poetry. I love Lutheran theology. I love Mary Moerbe’s writing. This book was pretty much made for me. And it’s priced extremely reasonably, which should make it even more appealing.

If you are not familiar with Mary J. Moerbe, wife, mother-of-six, homeschooler, author, blogger, LCMS deaconess, and now poet, you can get to know her at her blog, Meet, Write, and Salutary, which she uses to encourage other Lutheran writers (and even reviews and showcases their work).

I wrote a more standard (and shorter!) review for another site, but it’s not up yet (likely my fault for sending it too early, recalling it, and resending it…it’s been a long couple of weeks). I’ll link to it here when it’s up, but If it’s not posted soon, I’ll just add it to this site instead and back-date it to come before this one.

This post will cover a series of topics that are brought up in the book, just to give you a taste, but the book itself is not structured in this way. (Ecclesial Poetry’s twenty-five poems are organized into 7 categories: One God, Catechetical, Hymn Texts, Prayers, On Jesus, Bible Stories, and Imagery and Metaphors.)

This is just how I started categorizing my notes as I read because my mind likes to follow its own patterns…or something.

Creation

IMG_6025
“Consequential”

Let us begin at the beginning. Not the beginning of the book, but the beginning of all things. Creation by God’s word is mentioned in a number of the poems, but I’m going to just stick with two. They are very different in style and tone—I love the diversity of the verse styles in this volume!

“Let There Be” is a lilting poem, full of joy, that recounts not only the creation in Genesis but also the creation of the Sacraments and the Church. And these are all made by the word of God—“Let there be!” The first line of the first and last verses is the same: “Swift yet lingering.” God creates with a word. It is swift. Yet, He sustains it all throughout the ages—He lingers over it—He takes delight in it.

I think my favorite aspect of this poem is how Moerbe ties creation to redemption:

Let there be beasts
And let there be man.
Let them be like Us
And He’ll be a Lamb.

A Lamb for the slaughter,
So meek and so mild,
For mankind before Us,
He’ll come as a child.

Jesus was always going to be our redeemer. God was not the author of our sin, but He was the author of our salvation from the beginning—before we had sinned at all. Christ is for us, and He always has been.

Another poem that speaks of creation is “Firsts.” This poem reads rather like a list; it would be easy to hurry through it. Don’t. Instead, think on the words and where they fit in the biblical narrative and our own experience. The section most pertinent to creation reads:

First Creator,
First Designer,
First Material Engineer.

First Chemist, Physicist,
Over-all Scientist,
Mathematician, and Logistician.

First Builder, Crafter, Artist.
First Planter, Gardener, Landscaper.
First Speaker, first Audience, first Impression and Impression-Maker.

I was quite surprised at how the author was able to evoke fully-formed thoughts and images with such a few words. My first thought was that it puts God in His place above all else—all of these functions are His. And He is a God of order, not just leaving things to random chance. He created an order that continues. Secondly, it puts us in our place. We are not first anything, though we may be scientists, builders, artists, etc. Can our best minds fully comprehend what happened at creation? No. Can we grasp all the laws that govern our universe? Nope. Who are we to try to pit science against God? It’s an absurd thought. And thirdly, it also puts us (in a sense) in God’s place. We are His “impressions” having been made in His image. He gave us the ability to “create,” not ex nihilo, but with the materials He has given and within the laws He set to order our world.

This also made me think of how Jesus performed miracles that left the people in awe because created beings1 cannot interact with the physical world in the same way the Creator can. And we are still in awe as He continues to give of his body and blood to many people, at many altars, all at once. Our minds cannot comprehend it.

The Fall

IMG_6026
“My Name Is Jealous”

Swift on the heels of creation comes man’s fall into sin. And with sin came death and separation from God. Again, the theme is found throughout the book, but we will just consider a few examples.

“Formed Not” reminds us of the unformed, uncreated, eternal Trinity. The author successfully uses negative statements to reinforce the fact that we are not the creators. Man’s contribution, what “we formed,” was sin only. We believed that by partaking in that which was forbidden we would become more like God. But instead, we enacted our own “undoing.”

We’ve formed not our crafting,
Our sensing or doing.

We’ve formed not our lasting—
Instead our undoing!

We formed days that end,
And darkness that reigns.
We figured out poison,
Inventing new pains.

We were already made in the image of our Creator. So rather than being enlightened when we transgressed, darkness descended upon us. And we came to know pain, in work, in procreation, in our relationships with one another.

Man was made “very good” and for good, but is “Now, vessel for good or ill, / Light or darkness, / Virtue or filth” (“Vessel”). Ever receptive beings, we opened ourselves to uses outside of and opposite of what had been intended.

“Death First,” creatively presents several types of death (the fall and original sin, sacrificial death as temporary “clothing,” an allusion to Christ’s death, and then “Baptismal death” where we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness) with the first belonging to our topic:

Death first came through suicide:
A girl wanted something else—
Tried something else—
And succeeded.
When only death was withheld,
Free will sought what it lacked:
Confinement,
Perfection tainted by rebellion and doubt.

The first suicide. I’d never thought of it that way before. Eve weighed the word of the serpent against the Word of the Lord, and life hung in the balance. Self-destruction for the (false) promise of becoming something better. The irony being that it’s impossible to be better than being made in His image—it’s impossible to have more good than what God has given.

Just a note: making Eve the only actor in this section seemed a bit off to me. After all, “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin” (Rm. 5:12, my italics). However, it was not Adam but Eve who, “being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Tim. 2:14). So it is not wrong to say that Eve, believing the serpent, “wanted something else,” and her will was “tainted by rebellion and doubt.” Still, I’d have liked to have seen Adam somewhere here also.

The Human Experience

IMG_6051
“Vessel”

Since the fall, we have all been born with a will that is set against God. We cannot choose God on our own. Only by His grace are any of us saved. And even then, we still sin against God and our fellow man.

In “My Name Is Jealous,” Moerbe uses the biblical parallel between idolatry and adultery to express our continual search for satisfaction anywhere but where it can be found. We reject the one thing needful, and whore (←totally biblical word to use in this instance) after other gods. We sacrifice to idols. We desecrate the temples of our bodies.

Satan bears witness.
For a spell his lies set aside
As we enact our own condemnation. It is true.
The perfect Husband lacks a perfect wife.
The adulteress brings lovers into His gardens and houses.
Servants seduced,
Enfleshed and living temples objectified.

Here, we see just how corrupt we have become. We don’t even need Satan and his lies to condemn us—the truth itself is damning. Yet Christ is “The Man who still comes for His forgiven Bride, / Who will present her holy, / Cleansed, restored, and made beautiful.” This poem is heavy in that it does not spare our sensibilities. But the Gospel promise still shines through.

“Cast to the Wilderness” is singable (as are several other selections, all marked with their syllable counts), and brings us the consolation of knowing that Christ, the Man, has stood in our place and stands with us now. This poem reiterates God’s steadfastness despite our faithlessness and shows that whatever our experiences here, we can take comfort in the fact that our Lord has walked this wilderness first.

Behold a child of God stands dirty and in need.
Another lives in fear and dread, in want from greed.
We hunger and we thirst, though ones for whom You died.
Forsaken not, we bear our cross, You by our side.

These lines reveal that, though we will all have our share of trials and even bring distress upon ourselves through our sin, Christ has borne our sin and sorrow in his body on the cross—allowing us to endure our cross with His help.

By Grace Through Faith

IMG_6059
“Send Your Angel with the Gospel”

When the Holy Spirit brings us into faith by Word and Sacrament, we are made new. Something I really appreciated about Ecclesial Poetry was that faith is never spoken of as an abstract thing. It is not a feeling, a state of mind, or a way of thinking; neither is it a choice. Faith is always presented as a gracious gift given to and worked in a person by the Holy Spirit, and saving faith is never separated from its object: Christ.

“My Only God” is meditative and extols the Holy Trinity and emphasizes that we only know God as He is revealed in the person and work of Jesus. Our faith is in no way our doing. Only by Word and Sacrament are we brought into and sustained in the faith.

My faith lives in Him,
Wet with Baptism,
Taught by His Word,
Fed in His Supper,
Raised by His Family,
Fixed within His Foundation,
Living by His Spirit—
His very Breath—
Persisting by His Passion,
Led by His sight,
Waiting for the final homecoming.

Another point the author makes evident here is that faith doesn’t grow in a vacuum. We are baptized, often brought to the font by our parents as infants, and baptism is celebrated by the whole congregation; the Lord’s Supper is received in communion with the other members of Christ’s body; we are taught by God’s Word, which we hear because God has given us pastors preach that Word to us; and we cannot raise ourselves, so we are raised by “His Family”.

“The Mustard Seed” reminds us from whom our faith comes and what its focus is: “from God’s Word alone you [faith] flow / The God-made-Man to know.” It goes on to describe faith as a seed planted, nourished, and sustained by God. It is His power that moves mountains and uproots trees. It is not the strength of our faith, but the strength of the One in whom we have faith. I love how Moerbe uses Mt. Zion here—God moves the mountain, placing our feet on the rock, making us part of His Kingdom.

For He has moved the mountains.
He brings Zion under feet.
He stills the storm in baptismal breast,
Uprooting the tree,
To plant in the sea,
Our God providing new rest.

Oh, little faith, bask in God’s light,
God’s rain, and God’s root,
Serve there as planted,
Blooming God’s gifts in season.

Life is only found in Christ, and He only is our rest. Our striving is nothing; we must receive our faith and life from our Lord, and the result is a blooming tree. We have received all as gift and so live to serve our neighbors by the grace of God.

Conclusion

There is no feel-good fluffiness in these poems. There is beauty. There is no motivational speech-making. There is Truth. There is no do-it-yourself tutorial. There is catechesis. There is no winking at sin. There is Law and Gospel.

I am so happy to have some current poetry that is faithful to the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions. I really found this volume to be satisfying, and it made me realize how often I fail to pause and consider the beauty of imagery in the Bible as I read. I look forward to more from this author, and perhaps (hopefully) others will follow her lead.

Here’s a peek inside the book so you can preview a few poems in their entirety:

 

Angels

I’m really not a great creative writer (though I occasionally find it fun), so I typically steer clear. However, my pastor’s sermon for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels made me want to write a poem, so I tried 🙂 

Angels

Glad performers of God’s Word,
Swift messengers to us below,
Proclaimers of His Truth;
They defend God’s children,
Protect Christ’s precious, spotless bride.
Swords of flame drawn against evil.
Speaking peace of sins forgiven
To the faithful and upright.
Their eyes behold the face of God.
In their arms, we’re borne home at last.

Angels rejoiced when I was drowned,
And quickened by water and Spirit.
They must have been dismayed
As I strove to prove and please by works.
Nevertheless, they stayed disaster,
According to God’s will, in moments of danger.
They preserved life.
Unable to see this love hidden under my cross,
I went my own way,
Expecting nothing of the One I’d failed.

Yet God sent another angel, a star
From His hand to feed my guttering flame
With olive oil from a golden lampstand.
My angel returned me to my first love,
Who had first loved me.
Instilled a confession I would, by the grace of God,
Sooner die for than deny.
He speaks God’s truth in love,
Dexterously wielding the two-edged sword.
From his hand, I receive the holy things.

Still, Satan prowls about me here,
Hissing words of condemnation and inciting
Sinful thoughts, and words, and actions.
Father of lies, be not my father.
Sheol has gaped wide, but the angel host
Surrounded me with songs of deliverance.
I raise my voice with theirs in praise,
To the Holy, Almighty, Alpha and Omega.
Impatiently, I await the day when angels
Carry me to Jesus or shout, “Your Deliverer is here!”

In Memoriam

I sometimes hold it half a sin
   To put in words the grief I feel;
   For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.
But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
   A use in measured language lies;
   The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.
In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
   Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
   But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.
—Alfred Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam A.H.H.” Part V

I probably should have realized how near the end she was. She said that after the last surgery she was feeling particularly weak—not an admission she would usually make. The thought crossed my mind, but I pushed it away and told her that once she was strong enough, I’d take her out for lemon ice. She said she’d love that. I think she knew it wasn’t going to happen.

Initially, I kept thinking it wasn’t fair. But of course, death is fair. Yet it didn’t seem right that someone who loved life and lived it well is gone, while I, who am too often weary of this life, remain. I wanted to take her place and give her back to the world, to her family—she was their baby. I know this was all horribly wrong, but grief works strange things in the mind.

I got a call as I was driving home from church, but I didn’t answer because I didn’t recognize the number. That was followed by a short series of text messages, which I read after pulling into the garage.

“Mama, why aren’t you getting out of the car?” Weston asked, “We should go inside.”

“Oh Honey, I have sad news.” Take a breath. One more. “Miss Tanya died last night.”

There was silence for a bit, then, “That’s really sad; are you sad Mama?”

“Yes, I’m sad. I need to call her Mom. Let’s go in.”

“Can I talk to her Mom? Her mom must be really sad. Her daughter died, and now…”

We met in our Junior year of college in one of Professor Fischer’s Literature classes. We chatted about the readings, about life, and the reasons we had for putting college off as long as we did. She’d been diagnosed with lupus near the end of high school, and it had quickly progressed. It took a long time to get a good care team together and to try to understand what was happening. She was already in renal failure. She never knew when she was going to end up back in the hospital.

I left a voicemail, as I expected. I knew the bereaved mother would be fielding a lot of calls. When she called me back, she asked how I was doing and thanked me for being her little girl’s best friend. She told me that she knew about our plan to go get lemon ice, and said that Tanya wanted to go, but that recently, she hadn’t been able to reduce her pain meds enough to leave the house. That’s why she had canceled the last outing, but she didn’t want anyone to know. She was even hurting too badly to paint much.

Our friendship really started in a little hospital room. She’d texted me one afternoon to ask if I’d keep her up to date on assignments since she didn’t know how long she would be out. She was right near campus, so I asked if she wanted a visitor, hoping she wouldn’t find it weird. She accepted, and we spent hours talking—there was nothing else to do! She was really the only friend I’ve had for any length of time that was my friend, and not my husband’s friend’s wife (though I know some great ladies that way too). Through all the pain, the setbacks, and the uncertainty, she was joyful. It drew people to her, and she touched the lives of so many people with that joy.

I don’t grieve well, obviously. I don’t really know how. I dislike strong shows of emotion, and my practiced ability to remain stoic has served me well. People may think me cold or unaffected. But it’s all there, trapped somewhere inside. A kind young lady from church had been checking on me periodically via text. It helped to have someone, not in person, just to tell about the one who’s gone. I found relief in praying Psalms, but days seemed long and the peace would evaporate. I should have prayed more instead of pushing on through the day and only praying at night. I’d not been seeking strength where it was sure to be found.

When she was well enough, we would visit the local museums, find tasty food, and walk at the zoo. We had a lot in common: curious minds, an appreciation for art without feeling the need to analyze it endlessly, a love of family (and similar upbringings in a lot of ways), and the Christian faith. We were also quite different: our taste in music, our politics (sort of), and our experiences in society (I can’t imagine anyone calling the cops on me just because I’m walking slowly on a public sidewalk while wearing a sweater in summer). Once Weston was born, she loved to have him come along with us, and they became good friends too. When Tanya would be admitted to the hospital, Weston and I would bring her food and Twizzlers, and visit with her so she wouldn’t be alone. We could talk about anything. Nothing fazed her, and if there was ever disagreement, we did our best to understand where the other was coming from.

When the funeral date was set, her mom called me again. She wanted to make sure I’d found the information, to let me know that she wanted me to sit in the reserved area in front and that she’d love for me to bring Weston along. We talked about how all the doctors and nurses loved to stop by her daughter’s room just to chat because she was always so cheerful. She reminded me that the most important thing in all of this was that Tanya never lost her faith. She may have occasionally wondered what her purpose was if she was just going to be sick, but she never doubted that God did have a purpose for her and that whatever it was, it would be fulfilled.

A few years ago, Tanya had open-heart surgery to replace a heart valve. She needed to have it done not just to improve heart function, but also to remain on the waitlist for a donor kidney. She was already on dialysis three times a week and had been for quite a while. I was pregnant with Elijah at the time. She asked if I would walk with her from her room to the OR. I got there about an hour before she had to go down, and she was laughing with her mom and painting her toenails. I know she was frightened. She had seriously considered not having the surgery at all. But once she decided to go through with it, she knew that God would decide the outcome, and so we prayed that His will would be done as she was wheeled down. While there were complications after the surgery was complete, she was eventually put back on the donor list. But a match was never made.

She had hoped that, when she died, there would be something left of her body to donate to people who needed organs. She always did consider others first. Her eyes alone were unravaged by lupus, and the usable parts have already been matched to recipients. While her body was at the facility where her eyes were made ready for donation, the staff also made memory books with her handprint. My boys and I each received one.

After Elijah was born, I saw her a lot less. He was not fond of being out of the house, as in, he’d typically scream if we were anywhere for more than half an hour, so meetings were short. After he was one, we were able to at least meet up for lunch sometimes. She hadn’t been able to drive for several years, so having her at our house was tough since we lived nearly an hour away, and I couldn’t visit her as my husband didn’t want me driving in “that part of town,” especially with the kids. I feel so guilty that in her last years, we talked on the phone, texted, and used social media more than we saw each other in person. That’s the worst part of all this. I know I wasn’t there for her as much as I should have been.

I took Weston with me to the funeral. He gave hugs to the family, who were so happy that he wanted to come to say goodbye. He wrote them a letter that said, “Jesus is with you and loves you.” We looked at all the pictures, all the little trinkets from her past. We talked about when we met and recalled all the fun times we were able to have. He remembered bringing her Twizzlers and a stuffed owl the last time he went with me to see her in the hospital. When we got home, my little man pulled me to his room and said, “Mama, now we need to sing a Church Triumphant hymn and pray for Miss Tanya’s family.” So that’s what we did. He’s been to enough funerals at our church to know what was missing. He picked “Sing With All the Saints in Glory.”

1 Sing with all the saints in glory,
Sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story,
To the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking;
Soon the storms of time shall cease;
In God’s likeness we awaken,
Knowing everlasting peace.

2 Oh, what glory, far exceeding
All that eye has yet perceived!
Holiest hearts for ages pleading
Never that full joy conceived.
God has promised, Christ prepares it;
There on high our welcome waits.
Ev’ry humble spirit shares it,
Christ has passed the eternal gates.

3 Life eternal! Heav’n rejoices;
Jesus lives who once was dead.
Shout with joy, O deathless voices!
Child of God, lift up your head!
Life eternal! Oh, what wonders
Crowd on faith; what joy unknown,
When, amid earth’s closing thunders,
Saints shall stand before the throne!

—Lutheran Service Book 671

And with that, my five-year-old pulled me from the gloom that had enfolded me. This song, so full of God’s promise of the resurrection and my son’s sweet voice shattered the sadness. It also makes me realize what a treasure the Lutheran funeral service is. Instead of just a bunch of memories, which are wonderful to think on and talk about in other settings, the family and friends are comforted by Christ.

I am so thankful that my dear friend is no longer in pain, that her soul rests with Jesus, and that we will see one another, in perfect bodies, with our own eyes on that last day.

 

yWT089ZDT826zilMQcSMww_thumb_81cd
At Cirque de Soliel

IMG_5173
At Milwaukee Public Museum