Coming This Week!

The Small Catechism is fantastic. And the synod explanation is also very useful. It explains the theology quite well.

But Luther’s Large catechism applies that theology. It is one of the most practical explanations of what we believe – and why it matters – available. I have said before that the greatest ethical treatise (how to live) outside of Holy Scripture is Luther on the Ten Commandments. I believe it’s absolutely true. The Large Catechism isn’t designed to be an ethical treatise. It is a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments. But there is nothing better for telling you what it means to do a good work. It’s simple, it’s clear, it’s straightforward.

The challenge is that Luther wrote in another language and another era. There are numerous translations. (Problem 1 solved!) But I’ve heard – even from pastors – that it can be difficult to read and understand. Not because Luther isn’t clear. But because we don’t read things like this anymore. Our theology books are usually filled with stories. (The good ones have a point at the end.) We aren’t used to the hard work of reading theology books. The Large Catechism can be intimidating. It can be difficult to follow (Luther wasn’t really a systematics guy). And so, a copy of the Large Catechism is eagerly purchased, but reluctantly put aside to collect dust.

That’s where “What Every Christian Must Know” comes in. It has outlines of Luther’s Large Catechism. Now it’s easy to follow along with what Luther wrote. You can use it with online resources (www.bookofoconcord.org) or with a printed copy of the Large Catechism. (There are many translations – google can help you find one that suits you.)

I know an author is biased in favor of what he writes, but I think this should be on every pastor’s shelf. If you don’t need it, some of your people probably do. If you are a Lutheran layperson, this can help you dig into the rich theology of Luther in a simple way. If you are wondering what the Lutheran Church (or for that matter, the Bible) teaches, this can help you understand the best explanation of the faith out there.

So, who do I think should get this? Anyone who is interested in learning more about what God says to us. And I figure we could all stand to do that.

Oh, and it’s got a very friendly price.

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Sermon for Trinity 6: Caution – This Sermon Contains Law and Gospel

I added a section near the end about God punishing our sins in this world by turning us over to them. In the case of the fifth commandment, that means a life of bitterness and resentment as we keep score of sins committed against us. Much better is the gift of forgiveness – not only the forgiveness we receive in Christ, but the forgiveness we can then show to others. Love and forgiveness is a much better way to live than bitterness and resentment. I tied that in to the “life to the full” that Jesus talks about. Not just eternal life – although we have that too. But we have a better life now, because we aren’t slaves to our sin anymore.

It was a really nice section, and I wish you all could have heard it.

When you get to that part, just insert the above thoughts.

***

In the collect today we asked that our heavenly Father would “increase in us true religion.” There’s pretty much nothing we could pray for that is more against the culture we live in than that. Continue reading

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New Resource

Coming soon at Teach These Things: Outlines of Luther’s Large Catechism.

For those who have ordered Teach These Things, you already have them in the teacher’s book. I intended them as a help for teaching. But a pastor friend suggested that they would be useful for the casual reader as well. I said that it would, if I had the time to do it. At the time I was writing Catechetics. But it’s finished, and out for Doctrinal Review. I have some other projects planed after Catechetics – but they are major projects. Once I start them I don’t want to put them down to finish editing Catechetics after it returns from the reviewer.

This is an almost ready-to go project. And, in honor of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, it will be a great help. If you’ve ever struggled to read through the Large Catechism (or if you haven’t bothered), the feedback I’ve received on it makes me think this may be the resource you’ve been looking for. It helps focus your reading. It’s not intended as a stand-alone resource. But if you want something to help you read through and understand Luther’s Large Catechism – and if you are a Lutheran, you certainly should want to read and understand Luther’s Large Catechism – then this may be just what you need. I’ve been looking at pricing options at Amazon and Lulu. The cost should be low. You can use it with the public domain online edition, the McCain, Tappert, Triglotta, Kolg-Wengert, Henkel, or the classic Janzow eidition. It is an outline. It should help no matter which version you are reading.

I’ll have more on it in the next couple of weeks. I think I can move pretty quickly, since it only needs light reformatting. Stay tuned.

 

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Teach These Things: Second (Corrected) Edition

When I was ordained, I was at a bit of a loss regarding “Confirmation Class” (Catechesis). There are a lot of programs out there. Official publishing houses for each Lutheran church have their own. I did vacancy work for a parish that used the Australian Lutheran Church program. I’d been given samples of the various CPH programs. NPH has a program. I looked at independently published programs. One was excellent – if you had a day school. I don’t, and adapting it would have been a monumental task.

I began crafting my own. For my personal use at first. I listened to any lectures I could find. I read through the Large Catechism. I looked at biblical accounts, psalms, hymns, anything I could get my hands on that was helpful for teaching the faith. I made notes about catechesis. I expanded the notes. Those would become another book. (Coming Soon!) For the instruction itself, I continued to refine things. Re-ordered, reconfigured, added here, cut there. Each year was a new adventure. But there were things that stayed the same from year to year. So, I wrote those down.

I put together a chart of the hymns/bible readings/psalms that were used. And I outlined Luther’s Small Catechism. It turned out, I had made my own “program”. I had friends on Facebook who were lamenting the task of instructing the young: They wanted something biblical, faithful to Luther, adaptable, comprehensive enough to cover what needed covering, but something that fit in the confines of the life of the average parish. Something that could guide them, but also allow them freedom to adapt to local conditions. Something that could give them confidence that, if they missed a session, a qualified layman could step in.

Not to sound arrogant, but every time I read that, I thought, “Mine does that.” All I needed was someone to help me put it together. I found a wonderful layout artist who volunteered her time doing just that. And so, “Teach These Things” was released. It isn’t the most commonly used. But from the comments I have received, it is among the most appreciated curricula available.

Most programs out there follow the pattern of the “Deitrich Catechism”. That is a great tool for advanced training – it follows Melanchthon’s pattern of instruction in his Loci. Chemnitz follows that pattern in his own Loci. I love it. It’s great. But it’s not an introduction. For that, Luther’s Large Catechism can’t be beat. And that’s the pattern I follow in Teach These Things. It ties together hymnody, the catechism, and daily living, and relates them all to Holy Scripture. I intentionally chose mostly narratives, but there are also sections from the epistles and wisdom literature as well. It offers a chance for the pastor to not only teach the catechism, but explain how to read scripture.

If you are interested in Teach These Things, I have a dedicated website for it. I also have a few other things available there as free downloads: A Children’s Christmas Program for the small parish, and a truly *Lutheran* book on ethics and the Christian Life.

If you are wondering what to use this next year for your own “Confirmation Classes”, then take a look at “Teach These Things.” The Second (Corrected) Edition is now available. Minor errors have been fixed, and you can download it today and have it ready for your next catechism class.

Click HERE for more details.

 

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The Story of the Mural: Reflections of the Dorm Nerd at the Death of a Friend

My name isn’t there. And thanks to 1990’s photo technology, I can really only make out the three names in front: Scotty, Mike, Reg. I never knew Reg. He left before I arrived. Scotty and Mike I knew – and they are fine. Well, none of us from that time are fine today. We’re grieving. The mural is gone, except in our memories and my photos – nerd that I am. The story needs to be told. And it’s odd that I’m telling it. I wasn’t there. But on this night, when we grieve, and shed tears, and look to the hope of the resurrection, it needs to be told.

It was the 1998-1989 school year at CCRF. 3rd Kohn was a boys floor back then. The rumor was that, at some point in the past, they held a contest to see what mural they wanted on the wall. Someone submitted a stupid cartoon rainbow and butterfly as a joke. It was the only submission, and so, the dorm mural was a stupid cartoon rainbow and a butterfly.

A young freshman – Brian Oberdeick by name – who had more than his share of artistic talent and theological ability, produced some pencil sketches that he had drawn up with a new idea for a mural – one that wasn’t so embarrassing. I still remember Scotty Christenson telling the story. “We all said, well sure, if you can make it look that good full size. And he didn’t. It looked way better.” At the center of the mural was a cross – the center of our life in Christ. Chalice, the waters of Baptism, hands raised in prayer, the Word of God, the churches song. It was all there. A summary of the life in Christ, with the desert of the world on one side and the storms of life in the other. The Christian life in one mural. It was the best painting on campus – and we got to see it day in and day out. We saw in those brushstrokes a summary of our confession.

But the most striking thing – and it becomes more striking to me each year – was the cemetery. Yes, we had a mural with a cemetery on our wall. Next to a caterpillar and beautiful monarch butterfly – symbols of the resurrection – were the gravestones. The largest stone bore the inscription “Romans 8:38-39”:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The stone behind it said “Only sleeping.” And then, a collection of stones fading into an innumerable distance. The front stones bore names. They were the names of each resident that year. Some had left before I even arrived. But most were still there. Scotty, Mike, Mike, Marty, Brian, Scott. So young and full of life. The day when any of us would lie under a cold stone seemed impossible far off. How could these – well still boys really – ever face death? It was a comfort to know that death would not hold us forever. But it was an abstract comfort. Because none of us were dead.

Today I received news via facebook that another member of my 3rd Kohn family is now “only sleeping.” The mural gets more correct all the time. I’m told it was painted over years ago. The first I heard of it, the floor had been changed to a women’s floor and the residents found the graveyard disturbing. It would be a few more years before it was confirmed – the mural was gone. Another, less theologically aware, less artistically appreciative floor had given it the whitewash. But the message can not be erased. The boys of yesterday will come to fill ever more and more of those stones. And each one will still be prefaced with “Only Sleeping”.

On the side opposite the tombstones, hands are raised in prayer and thanksgiving. Multi-colored tongues of fire go up, while the spirit descends as a dove. We offer our prayers in the Spirit. And we are comforted in our grief. A number of my friends have posted hymn verses on their facebook walls tonight, as we say good bye to our friend. As we grieve the loss of another who meant so much to so many.

I ran with a mostly different crowd. I didn’t see him too much. But two stories stick out in my mind. One was the story of them coming in each Friday night to wake up my roommate. Loudly. Usually at about 2 am. “Where’s pickle?” Let’s just say that I was surprised, week after week, they found the right door. Or for that matter, the right building. College foolishness. No hard feelings. It still brings a smile to my face to remember.

The other was one day, I was in their room – which only happened once or twice. We were talking about their loft. Every year, they would bolt it to the wall – highly illegal. Every year the inspection team would come in, give it a shake, and commend them on the sturdiness. And we shared a laugh at the expense of the administration.

We sang in choir together – different sections. We lived together, but hung out with different groups. We likely played Euchre together – although they were usually smart enough to avoid having me as a partner – I have always been terrible at cards. Those are my memories. Indistinct and growing fainter.

But the words painted on that wall – words that have been gone for years – burn brighter and more clearly with the passing of each member of my 3rd Kohn family. At some point, it will be down to one, and then the last will go. The tombstones were painted so long ago when we were so young, so naive, and yet so sure of the confidence that was ours, and so secure in that hope; a hope that has not grown dim over the years, but ever more sure. They were, we knew prophetic. Although we could not imagine the time ever arriving when that prophecy was fulfilled. It’s a little closer now than it was. And the girls that followed us were correct- we are very disturbed by the news. That another is placed under the stone of death grieves us beyond words. We hate to see this, as much as our Lord hates to see it. He hated it so much, he went there first for us, to give us a way through death, and into life. That’s why we could have the confidence to see those names every day and find it hopeful. Why those who came later actually envied the men who got to have their own names on those painted stones. Why I return to that image from time to time. Because Scott is only sleeping. And we wait. He will wake one day.

At the top, next to the cross, it says, “God is with us.” It was true then. It is true now. It will be true tomorrow. And thanks to what Jesus did, Scott is with God.

Rest in peace, old friend.

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Visitation Sermon

Today we commemorate The Blessed Virgin Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth. They have both been miraculously made with child. Elizabeth and Zechariah, long past the age of child bearing, are now expectantly awaiting the birth of John the Baptist. Mary, who is still of tender years and unmarried, is with child not because of a man, but because the Holy Spirit came upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her. The child she will bear is holy – the Son of God. And so Elizabeth, speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit, calls her “the Mother of my Lord”. And that is what Mary is – the Mother of God. Jesus – the Son of God – is her son. The child that Mary will bear and place into the manger is God. These are strange things, they do not make sense to human reason. They can only be grasped by faith. That is why Elizabeth also says, “blessed is she who believed…” Mary is blessed, for she believed the Word of God spoken to her by the angel.

The curse of Eden, where Eve took the apple ate of it, and gave it to her husband and he ate of it – will be undone through the child Mary will bear. That is why the promise given to Eve was that “her seed… shall crush the head” of the serpent. Singular – seed. The fruit of the woman alone. Jesus is the Son of Mary, but will have no human father. His Father is God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Joseph will serve as step-father, foster-father. He will fulfill his duty humbly, and faithfully, as will Mary. But while Jesus is fully human, he is not only human. He is also very God of very God.

This account of the conception and birth of Jesus goes against everything our culture holds dear. Two old people who have been kept childless for years so that when they finally do receive their hearts desire, it is timed with the arrival of Jesus. They did not willingly delay having a child – God willed that there be a delay. A young unmarried woman who is pregnant and does not seek to escape from that responsibility  or that birth. A man who faithfully fulfills the position of father for a child who is not his own. And this is the part that really offends today’s sensibilities – a God who asked none of them their opinion of what he will do, and seeks no permission to carry out His will among them. Elizabeth and Zechariah must wait patiently for the Lord to give a child to ease the burden of their childlessness. Mary will bear the Son of God in her body because God sent the angel. Joseph will marry her at God’s command. God simply assumes that their bodies – which he created – are his to do with as he pleases. Continue reading

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To Everything a Season…

Each Summer, I try to get the services planned for the next liturgical year. June is “Do the schedule month”. June is almost over. Just under the wire, here is the schedule of services for the 2018 Liturgical year at Trinity Lutheran Church, Wheatland WY. 2018 calendar

These are the times specifically set aside for God to come to us with his Holy Word and Blessed Sacraments.

“Since, therefore, so much depends upon God’s Word that without it no holy day can be sanctified, we must know that God insists upon a strict observance of this commandment, and will punish all who despise His Word and are not willing to hear and learn it, especially at the time appointed for the purpose.” Luther. Large Catechism.

You may use, adapt, alter, etc. for your own use, as necessary.

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