Orthodox Church and the Great Lent


The Great Lent for the Orthodox Church begins today, March 14, 2016.  Ash Wednesday is not a feature of the Orthodox Church.  However, fasting is marked with abstention from meat, eggs or dairy products.  Lent is the beginning of the journey to Pascha (Easter) which is on May 1 in 2016.  Since the goal of Lent is Easter and Christ’s resurrection, the hymns will have more of an Easter tone to them rather than the concentration of Christ’s death as is the case in the Western Church.

Whereas the Western Church uses the Gregorian Calendar, the Eastern Church still uses the Julian calendar which has a 13 day difference.  Easter needs to fall after the Jewish celebration of the Passover, which this year begins on April 22.

Among the features of the first week of the Great Lent is the daily use of the Penitential Canon of St. Andrew of Crete developed in the seventh century.  The canon is made up of 9 odes interspersed with prayers.

Ode One:

A Helper and a Protector has become salvation to me.
This is my God, Whom I will glorify.
God of my fathers
I will exalt Him for in glory was He glorified.
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.


Another feature of Lent is the Prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.


Forget the Old-Behold the New


Isaiah 12:18-19, Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Yahweh who made a path through the Red Sea for Israel to pass from slavery into freedom was the great salvation event of the Old Testament.  That is, until Yahweh planned a new act of salvation.  On the shores of the Red Sea Israel didn’t know how they would escape the onslaught waiting for them at the end of the charging Egyptian swords.  But now, some 800 years later God is doing a new thing which will be new story of salvation.  He is letting his people in on his plan before its set into motion.  He will restore the fortunes of Zion, when he frees them from their exile in Babylon.  He will turn the desert into a meadow with plenty of water.  The animals living on the edge of subsistence will thank God for freeing Israel, because they too will have an abundance of water to drink.  As psalm 126 reports, “We were like those who dream.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.”

We too enjoy the new thing the Lord has done for us.  St. Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17).  The acts of God’s salvation in the Exodus and the return from Babylonian captivity in which nature was transformed, is replaced by a renewal of our nature through Christ.  Finally, in Revelation 21:5 God brings together the renewal of our self and the renewal of creation.  “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making ALL things new.”


What the Forgiveness of Sins Means


Hebrews 9:26, But He has appeared, once for all, at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

2 Corinthians 5:19, In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting (our) trespasses against (us).

Such knowledge and trust make a joyful heart, which can surely and truthfully say, “I know of no sin, for they are laid on Christ.  Now, they cannot lie at the same time on Him and on us.  Therefore, no man can say that he has atoned for sin by his own righteousness.  To expiate and abolish sin belongs to Christ alone.

If you believe it, your sins are forgiven, you are holy and righteous and you receive the Holy Spirit, so that from now on you can withstand sin.  And even if in your weakness sin overtake you, it will not be counted against you as long as you remain in faith.  (From a sermon by Martin Luther on the Friday after Easter, 1540)

That is what the forgiveness of sins means.

LSB 543

To god and to the Lamb I will sin, I will sing;

To God and to the Lamb I will sing;

To God and to the Lamb,

Who is the great I AM,

While millions join the theme,

I will sing, I will sing,

While millions join the theme, I will sing.

Wait for the Lord

Midweek Lent 3 Psalm 27

Ps. 27:14, Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.

We know the story of the Prodigal Son from our Gospel lesson on Sunday.  The son takes his portion of the property, cashes it in and goes off only to blow it all.  When he is at the point of starving and no one will give him anything to eat, he thinks of his father’s hired men.  Even they are better off than he is.  So he rehearses a speech to beg for a job from his father.  What he doesn’t know is that his father has been waiting for him to return. The father spots him coming from a long way off and runs to meet him.  Nor does the father wait for his son to get through his well-rehearsed speech the father cuts him off and restores him to the family. As the Lord tells us, “Before you call, I answer.”

As we go through our Lenten journey we find that Jesus is also waiting, waiting to become sin for us even though he has none of his own. Waiting to complete His father’s plan of salvation developed even before He created the heavens and the earth.  You see like the father in the parable, God did not wait for us to seek to be reconciled with him.  He went ahead and delivered us from sin, death and eternal separation all on his own.  While we were still sinners God acted in Jesus Christ to make friends with you and me, not counting against us all the ways we break his laws.  In the parable of the Prodigal son the father ordered the fatted calf to be killed for the celebration that his son who was dead was now alive.  In our case God sent his own Son to be crucified so that we who were dead could be alive and be restored to His family.  Even now we are preparing for the Easter celebration of Jesus restoration to life.

Now when we wait for the Lord, we do so encompassed by the Lord, as indicated in psalm 27, which begins and ends with “Lord.”  The psalmist adds, He is our light and our salvation.

When life has turned to darkness, when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death where do we find light?   Rick attends the Friday morning bible Class I teach.  He is a Vietnam veteran.  Recently he said, that in Vietnam, the worst times were at night.  “We hated the dark.” Because the ally during the day may be a deadly foe at night.   But it’s not a matter of waiting, as the song says, “Waiting for the light that never comes.”  A psalmist writes, “even the darkness is not dark to you, O Lord, the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Jesus is the light which, “shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Even in the darkness of that Friday afternoon when Jesus hung on the cross, he was “the light of the world.”

That has meaning for our life even now.  Have you survived an accident, and wondered how could it be that I am alive?  We have those occasions when something happens, perhaps connected with our work and we need to sit quietly and think about it for a while.  It might be some foolish thing we did as a teenager and when we look back we wonder that we made it to age 20.  God’s rescue may come in a job when everything looked hopeless.  It may be an escape from a destructive relationship, or from an addiction to alcohol or drugs or texting.  Thus we wait in hope and expectation a very present help in the time of trouble.

However, waiting does not mean doing nothing.  The psalmist goes on to take action in prayer. He prays that the Lord would hear him, “Hear when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me.” In psalm 73 the writer is befuddled and on the brink of losing his trust in God when he thinks of those who succeed even though they are arrogant and lack any sense of conscience, “Their hearts overflow with foolishness.” Until “I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.”  They were on a slippery slope from which they plunge to a destructive end.  For the psalmist it was good to be near God in the fellowship of worship.

Then finally, he confesses, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  Though we live our life now in the land of the dying, where suffering and disappointment are every day news, nonetheless we still live in the goodness of the Lord.  Clinging to our Lord as our stronghold, our fortress, does not guarantee a life free from adversity nor does it mean all days will be calm and peaceful.  Yet, we live in the land of the living where faith is not just a doctrine, but a living trust in the Lord across the times and places of challenge.

“Wait for the Lord,” the psalmist urges us.  St. Paul promises, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.  Therefore, stand firm in the Lord.”  While we wait for the Lord it is as we prayed on Sunday; that his mercies are new every morning.  As His children, He provides for all our needs of body and soul. We ask God’s help in giving thanks for His mercy and pray that we might serve him in willing obedience.   Let us heed the word of the psalmist to “Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage.  Wait for the Lord.”





Well of Salvation


Isaiah 12:3, With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

Parts of our country are learning the importance of water.  Water should not be taken for granted.  In the Middle East water has been a scarce and precious commodity for ages.  It’s no surprise that scripture uses water as an image of salvation and plenty.

In Genesis 2, rather than rain a mist rose from the land watering the ground.  Yet a river which divided into four not only watered the garden but seems to have watered the whole earth.  God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt via parted water.  Soon God changed bitter water into sweet.  When it came to describing the new Exodus for Israel from Babylon, the way home will not be dry desert, but will run with rivers (43:19).

In Isaiah 12, “you” is plural.  All Israel will draw water from the wells of salvation.  God has a depth of grace that cannot be fathomed.  The well of salvation will never run dry.  When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well he offers her living water.  (John 4:1-42) Her life has run dry.  She thirsts for more than the water from Jacob’s well.  However, she can’t imagine anything more than the daily grind of getting the water which will sustain her one day at a time.  But Jesus will give her flowing water, the Holy Spirit, who gives new birth through water (3:5).  Through her new birth she will believe that Jesus is the Savior, the well of salvation from which the woman and her village will draw the waters of life.




2 Cor. 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation

Ps. 133 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.

When the prodigal son comes back home he isn’t looking for a full reconciliation with his father.  Though he is starving for his father’s love, he believes he dare not ask for more than a job which will fill his starving stomach.  Yet, what does he receive?  His father welcomes him back into the family restoring him to full son ship again.  The father reconciled his son to himself.

However, the older son would have none of it.  He refused to live with his brother in unity.  He refused to be reconciled.  He refused the ministry of reconciliation of which St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5.  But St. Paul tells that God has reconciled the whole world to himself in Christ.  God has entrusted to us the good news of what God has done for the world.  We are ambassadors for Christ.  God makes his appeal to the world through us.  We are the means through which God gets his message of making every new available to the world.  We are the carriers of the news that God was in Christ and made him to be sin who knew no sin.  Therefore, by believing in this gospel everyone can learn that they too are right with God.  They too are friends with God.

As we may have sung in the Hymn of the Day,

What wondrous love is this,

O my soul, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this,

O my soul!

What wondrous love is this

That caused the Lord of bliss

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul,

For my soul,

To bear the dreadful curse

for my soul.


Mid Lent Rejoicing


Laetare is Latin for “rejoice.”  In the old church year Laetare, “Rejoice Sunday” fell in the middle of Lent.  The Introit began: “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem and be glad with her: all ye that love her.”  “Rejoice Sunday” provided a break in the long season of Lenten purple.  It functioned a bit like the third Sunday, the Sunday of the pink candle during Advent.

The lessons for this Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent, all have something of the tone of rejoicing.

Isaiah 12: “I will give thanks…that your anger has turned away, that you comfort me. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Sing praises to the Lord…shout, and sing for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

2 Corinthians 5: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away; behold, the new has come…For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Gospel Luke 15: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again, he was lost, and is found…And they began to celebrate.”

Psalm 32: “Be not like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle lest they come near unto you…Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous: shout for joy, all you that are upright in heart.”

The Prayer of the Day in ELW:

God of compassion, you welcome the wayward, and you embrace us all with your mercy.  By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace, and feed us at the table of your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Bach Made the Secular Sacred


I was working on the Good Friday evening service this week.  For the Tenebrae or darkening part of the service I intersperse reading Jesus’ Passion from John 18-19 with stanzas from Sacred Head Now Wounded.  This morning I came across something written by Madeleine L’Engle on Bach and his hymn.  I’m taking her historical background material at her word.

“Bach might have been forgotten forever had not Mendelssohn discovered some monks wrapping parcels in music manuscript-and gave the St. Matthew Passion back to the world.

Bach, of course, was a man of deep and profound religious faith, a faith which shines through his most secular music.  As a matter of fact, the melody of his moving chorale, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, was the melody of a popular street song of the day, but Bach’s religious genius was so great that it is now recognized as one of the most superb pieces of religious music ever written.

There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred.”

The following is my favorite stanza of the hymn:

What language can I borrow

To thank you, dearest friend,

For this your dying sorrow,

Your mercy without end?

Bind me to you forever,

Give courage from above;

Let not my weakness sever

Your bond of lasting love.


God, Preaches to the Choir

Midweek Lent 2, 2016 Bunker Hill Psalm 91

Recently, I heard the host of a radio talk show ask a guest. “Aren’t you preaching to the choir?”  The implication is that the guest was trying to convince people of the rightness of his position who are already convinced that the speaker is correct.  Could it be that the choir also needs to hear preaching?    “Well, who is this choir?”    I don’t see the choir from Concordia seminary here.  No, the choir of which I speak is you and me. We who are gathered here this evening are God’s choir.  It matters not whether we sing in tune or monotone God has chosen us all and put all of us into his choir. As it happens at every worship service, we are here this evening for choir practice, because that’s what worship is.  It’s practicing for singing in the eternal choir in heaven where we will praise God the Most High, the Almighty Father, our Lord and God who was, and is, and ever shall be and Christ the Lamb, who was slain and is now risen from the dead.

Therefore, choir of God give ear to God’s sermon this evening.  Yes, God’s sermon. The one preaching to the choir, to you and me, this evening is none other than God.  Listen to what God has to say.  It’s a short sermon.  He tells us,

“In your great love for me, You cling to me for dear life.

I’ll deliver you from your troubles.

You know my name and trust me, I’ll protect you.

When you call on me, I’ll answer.  I’ll be by your side in the bad times;

I’ll rescue you and honor you as one of my own;

I’ll satisfy you with a long life, and show you my salvation.”

Did you hear that?  Because you cling to him and know his name he promises, “I will be with you in the bad times; in all your troubles, I am there.”  What a great preacher is our God.  Our God is so great that the author of Psalm 91 needs four names to tell us of our sheltering protecting God.  He is the Most High, Almighty, Lord and God.

He is the Most High, far beyond what we might imagine God to be, above and beyond the farthest galaxy in the universe.  He is the owner of everything.  Yet, he takes a deep interest in our personal lives. When the angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to a son whose name would be Jesus; Mary asked how that could happen.  Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  This is the Most High who does not dwell in temples made of stones; yet in Jesus the Most High was found in the temple at age 12.  This is the Most High who is beyond all mountains, planets, stars and galaxies, and yet is as near as this sanctuary.

The Most High is also the Almighty Heavenly Father, whose name we ask to be made holy on earth as it is in heaven in the Lord’s Prayer.  He is the one to whom we pray for our daily bread.  He is God, our Almighty Father to whom, according to Luther, we “In all boldness and confidence may ask Him for whatever we want as dear children ask their dear father.”  Many of us remember, especially as new parents, looking in on our sleeping child just to be sure everything is okay.  We may even have gone in and poked them a bit just to be extra sure. When we go to bed this evening the he Almighty is looking in on us at night.  The Almighty is present there when the troubles of the day leave us tossing and turning in the dark time hours.   So we are precious in the Almighty’s sight, we are his and He is our Father, who knows when we sit down or rise up; who was there in our mother’s womb as we were formed cell by cell.

God is also the Lord who is “my refuge and my fortress…my God in whom I trust.”  At Holy Cross in Collinsville, there is a stained glass window above and off to the right of the pulpit.  It depicts a young lady clinging to a rock with waves crashing in from a dark and stormy sea.  John W Behnken who served as the president of our church body from 1935-1962 may have been preaching at Holy Cross or at a church which had a similar window.  Behnken said that day, “Angry and furious waves rage turbulently, but they cannot swallow the woman who clings to the rock.”  The woman in the stained glass window is clinging to the rock of her deliverance, Jesus Christ, the Rock of our salvation, the Lord who is our refuge and fortress.

Lastly, God’s fourth name is, well, just plain God.  “My God in whom I trust.”  And Jesus Christ has rolled up into himself the fullness of God.  Jesus is the Most High participating in creating the world.  Jesus is the Almighty who enfolds us in his mighty arms.  He is the Lord of our life nourishing us now with daily bread and the words of eternal life.  He is present with his blessings. The repentant criminal beside him on the cross received such a blessing, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.”  One day we too will hear him say, “Come blessed of my Father inherit the kingdom created for you before the creation of the world.”

Our choir practice for this evening is nearly over.  As we leave, continue to practice your part this week in living under his protection, trusting that when we call, the Most High and Almighty Father, our Lord and our God will answer.