The Very Stones…

563007_380173768681380_299594056739352_1195707_1022789384_n  I’ve been a musician almost my entire life. From singing in the children’s choirs at church and school and Sunday School, to attempting to learn and play guitar and banjo, to my time singing in the collegiate touring chamber group, I’ve enjoyed making and listening to excellent music. In that time also, I’ve spent much of it writing and reading, another of my favorite pastimes. So it should come as no surprise that I like to sing hymns from the hymnal. It’s a collection of wonderful, descriptive texts set to fulfilling music. I sing them to my children. I belt them out from the pew in church. I like to sit quietly and contemplate the words and the Scriptures behind the music.

One of the hymns that grabbed my attention earlier this year was “No Tramp of Soldiers’ Marching Feet,” LSB 444. It’s a particular passage in the second verse that I found myself especially proud to sing. “Or else the very stones would cry/‘Behold, behold your King!’”

This is, of course, a Holy Week hymn, set to be used during Palm Sunday, as we hear of our Lord’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. The hymn’s text is from Luke 19:36-40, where Jesus’, as He rides on a colt into the city, is admonished by the Pharisees to have the people stop praising Him. The crowds had, as Jesus passed by, thrown down their cloaks, waved palm branches, and shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” These were the same praises sung at the other bookend of His earthly life, as the heavenly hosts told the shepherds of His birth. Jesus knew, as we do now, that these crowds could not, would not, be silent. They had seen the Savior, the one spoken of by Simeon in the temple, when Jesus first traveled to Jerusalem as an infant. Here He is again, on His way to back Jerusalem, to the temple even, but this time, instead of a sacrifice by His parents for cleansing at His birth, He would be the sacrifice for the cleansing of all through our own rebirths by water and the Spirit.

It’s no wonder, then, that Jesus tells the Pharisees, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” And His words were proven true less than a week later. For you see, after that entry in triumph to the earthly city of Jerusalem, it was Christ’s eternal triumph over death and sin that caused those stones to cry out, to declare the majesty of the Son of God. Matthew 27:47b, “And the earth shook, and the rocks split.” The earth could not keep silent at the victory of Jesus and the crushing of the head of the serpent. And still, there was to be one final demonstrative act by the earth, as the stone was rolled away, and the great maw of the earth, the tomb entrance, was laid open as a mouth shouting out the resurrection of our Lord and the Last Words of Christ,

“It is finished!”

Amen.

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Forgive the infant as Christ forgives you…

This evening my wife and I brought our new, infant son to church for Divine Service. We sat through the worship service, hearing God’s Word and receiving His gifts. When it came time for the Lord’s Supper, I carried my son to the Table and knelt at the rail with my wife and older boy. The pastor came down the line, passing out the bread and blessing the children. At my older son he said, “May God keep you in your baptismal grace.” At my newborn he stopped, looked down and forgave my 11-day-old of his sins by saying, “I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Interestingly enough, he thought it appropriate and necessary to forgive a newborn of his sins. And he was right. In Romans the need for salvation is apparent.

“As it is written:
‘None is righteous, no , not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
-Romans 3:10-12

We cannot save ourselves. We are not righteous, not a single one of us. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” says Romans 3:23. How then can even the child who is new to life outside the womb be saved? Through Christ Himself! The next verse in Romans 3 tells the sweet Gospel: “And are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

The pastor granted to my child forgiveness by his Office, the Office instituted by Christ and given the power of forgiveness of sins. John 20:23, “If you forgive the sin of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

My wife and I made the decision to bring our child to the Table to be forgiven. He has not yet been received into Christ’s Church through baptism, so we know that the pastor, in his Office, can and did grant our son the forgiveness of Christ. And for that I am truly grateful. Thank you, Pastor.

“For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these…”

This weekend is Sanctity of Life Sunday. There are so many conversations to be had about the blessing of life which God grants to us:  birth and abortion, disease and comfort, aging and death. The Lord is the Giver of Life. He is the One Who Breathes the Breath the Life, as we read in Genesis 2:7.

Below is a statement from my wife, written about contraception and our human frailty and sinfulness with respect to the life of children in marriage and our culture. I find it to express fully my position on the subject.

“My opinions and beliefs on this topic are not held for the purpose of judging anyone for their family size or decisions. Everyone has their untold story and I have no business ever making assumptions. I have been on the receiving end of that judgment, having been questioned for not having more children at 32 years of age. It was directed from someone who had no idea of our infertility struggles in the past 5 years or the miscarriage 2 years ago; no idea of the agony of mourning that loss and desperately trying to understand why my body would no longer do what it was designed to do and why God would withhold the blessing of more children. It was quite a journey of learning to listen to His will over my own and trust His timing in all things.

Any “judgment” I have is purely directed at the cultural mindset regarding life and children – the mindset of “one and done” or “I have my girl and my boy, so I’m done now.” The fact that we try to plan children around the lifestyle we want to maintain. Not wanting to have more than 2 because that would mean giving up the guest bedroom in order to not have to put 2 kids in a room. Or that more children means no more fancy vacations or having to put limits on career growth in order to raise a family; the idea that we shouldn’t have to sacrifice for our children. It’s the mindset that children are a choice in every sense of the word; the cultural view of children as a consequence or burden if they show up at the “wrong” time. Birth control allowed our society to go against natural law, as created by God himself, in order to accommodate our own desires – it compromised the value of children. It is the classic battle of our own sinful will vs. God’s will for us. It is this same mindset that allows our culture to let hundreds of thousands of kids in our own country and millions around the world to be without families – to be desperately waiting to be rescued by a loving family and wondering why they aren’t good enough for that. It’s the same mindset that has allowed us, in spite of the evidence God has shown us through science and technology, to question the validity of a child in utero and to be willing as a society to destroy millions of lives in their most vulnerable state. Children have become disposable in our culture. They have become a choice in every sense of the word and subjects of our own selfish agendas. They have become political pawns as we’ve seen unveiled already this year in this horrid issue between US and Russia. My judgment is on this entire mindset. I can’t sit there and say that abortion is wrong or try to advocate for adoption and not also recognize that children are already set up for these fates by the culture which decided they are optional to begin with, thus something to be prevented.

I’m not so naïve to think that getting rid of contraception would fix this problem. Our culture has gone too far over the edge in regards to this topic to just completely pull the rug out from beneath it all. I’m more concerned with the silence over the last 50 years or so from our churches on this subject. With exception to the Catholic church, which is the only one I’m aware of that has maintained a voice on the subject of birth control in regards to affirming life, the Christian church at large allowed itself to be overcome by the culture in this regard. Pastors are now held captive to fear of their members if they dare speak out about God’s truth regarding marriage, sexuality, and children. No one wants to be “judged” and they have convinced themselves that the church is the last place where they should be judged. That the church is love and love means tolerance and tolerance means no judgment. It is such a great lie that has taken over in our Christian churches and feels like an impossible battle for our pastors to fight. What good is the gospel if we are not convicted of our sins and recognize our need for a Savior? Thankfully, I am hearing more and more pastors braving the waters of these subjects, though most are treading slowly and carefully. It can’t stop there though. If we want children to be valued again, if we want life to be protected in all stages, if we want the church to rise up and give homes to those children without one, then we have to make life important again, starting at the point of the mere possibility of life, to the point of conception and then birth, and then see it through as children are abandoned for whatever reason by bringing them into our own homes. We can’t leave it to only our pastors to teach this. We have to have these conversations within our Christian friendships. We have to be strong enough to talk about this with anyone who will listen. And we most importantly have to teach this to our own children, because they will direct the future of these issues.”

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:11

Come, Lord Jesus!  Amen!

Gospel of the Week – December 30

Luke 2:22-40 – Jesus Presented at the Temple

Jesus’ parents, being good Jews, proceeded to the temple after the appointed time of cleansing (Leviticus 12) to make a sacrifice. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are Jews, and, as such, are required to fulfill the Law of Moses, and have come to the temple to sacrifice two turtledoves.

It’s good to note here that the public life of Jesus begins with a sacrifice for His mother as required by Jewish law, to atone for sins and provide satisfaction. And His life ends with a sacrifice to remove the requirements of Jewish law and atone for all sins, including those of His mother.

Here at the temple, they meet Simeon, a fellow Jew and a righteous man, who has been awaiting the Messiah. When Jesus arrives, Simeon is filled with the Holy Spirit, takes Jesus into his arms and praised the Lord for what He had done for Simeon. For Simeon had met the “salvation” (v.30) for all people, both Jew and Gentile, to deliver all mankind. And then another Jew, this time Anna, a prophetess of the Lord, began praising the Lord as well, for God had brought to them “the redemption of Jerusalem” (v.38).

God uses many people to give thanks and praise for Jesus. He sends His Holy Spirit to those who are called to tell of Him who will redeem all men, and bring salvation. He even calls us to praise Him as well when we hold Jesus in our hands and our very mouths when we partake of the Holy Supper. That is why we sing the song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis (Latin for “Now dimiss”), after the distribution and dismissal at the communion rail.

O Lord, now let Your servant
Depart in heav’nly peace,
For I have seen the glory
Of Your redeeming grace;
A light to lead the Gentiles
Unto Your holy hill,
The glory of Your people,
Your chosen Israel.

All glory to the Father,
All glory to the Son,
All glory to the Spirit,
Forever Three in One;
For as in the beginning,
Is now, shall ever be,
God’s triune name resounding
Through all eternity.

LSB p.211

We sing with Simeon, two-thousand years later, because we share with him the presence of our Savior. We give thanks to God with Anna, because the redemption of Jerusalem has arrived and is with us. Advent is over, our preparations have ended, and the time of Christ is here!

Praise the Lord!