Mikko Louhivuori In Memoriam

Mikko Louhivuori

This morning, my uncle Rev. Dr. Mikko Louhivuori, was called into glory following a lengthy and painful illness. In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead, I re-post this magnificent stand against the Christ-emptied power of death.

Holy Sonnet X

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

John Donne (1609)

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“Liturgical Texts” in LSB

(Post edited 8/9/16, 8 pm)

One of the greatest features of the Lutheran Service Book family of books—including the Treasury of Daily Prayer—is that the biblical sources of the liturgical texts are all marked in the margins.

This is both informative—it teaches us where those texts are taken from—and edifying—it is a constant reminder that the vast majority of the liturgical texts come from the Scriptures rather than from the mind of some person or committee.

Every now and then, however, instead of the Bible, the reference is to a nebulous “Liturgical Text”, with no further clue as to what the source might be. Are those references the product of the mind of some person or committee?

As it turns out, the answer is a bit of yes and a bit of no. These portions of text, which are found almost exclusively in the various responsive chants of the orders of service (introits, graduals, Alleluia verses, responsories, and such like) are indeed taken from writings that are not in the 66 (Protestant) canonical books of the Bible but are found in the liturgical tradition of the Western church: the Latin sacramentaries and liturgies of the hours compiled in the first millennium.

However, with very few exceptions, these texts are not from the mind of a person or a committee any more than the biblical texts.

Instead, they are most commonly taken from books we refer to as the Old Testament Apocrypha: those writings which are found in the Septuagint (3rd century BC Greek translation of the Old Testament) but not in the Hebrew Bible.

Both the Eastern and Western churches read the books of the Apocrypha in the daily office (Matins, Vespers, etc.), as did the Lutheran and Anglican churches long after the Reformation. Since the responsories that follow the readings were often tailored to match the readings in any particular office, whenever readings were from a certain book, the responsory may well draw on the same book.

To give an example, the responsory appointed for the weeks of Propers 14–20 of the Post-Pentecost Season (Trinity 14–19) in the Treasury, has its origin in the service of Matins. From Septuagesima onwards, the Old Testament was read in that service continuously. In late summer, the readings were from the book of Judith, and so the responsories were also drawn from the book of Judith:

L: We have no other God except the Lord, in whom we trust. (Judith 8:19b Vulgate)

C: He does not despise us, nor does He take away His salvation from us (Judith 8:19b Vulgate)

L: Let us seek His mercy with tears, (Judith 8:14b Vulgate)
and humble ourselves before Him (Judith 8:16a Old Latin translation)

C: He does not despise…

Likewise, the previous season for Propers 8–13 is from the book of Tobit.

A complex set of factors have detached the responsories from their original context in the Lutheran church, not least our modern-day aversion to the Apocrypha and the near-death of the Daily Office in our church and personal lives.

It’s a shame that the editors of the LSB decided further to obscure our connection to the generations that came before us by concealing the source of these liturgical materials. After all, which is more offensive to a church that claims to be in continuity with the Church Catholic: the use of quasi-biblical texts that were read from the first apostolic generation of Christians until the eighteenth century, or the use of texts that came from the mind of some unknown person or committee?

Source: Ruth Steiner, “Gregorian Responsories Based on Texts from the Book of Judith“, in Terence Bailey and Alma Santosuosso, Music in Mediaeval Europe: Studies in Honour of Bryan Gillingham (Aldershot/Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2007), 23–33

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Who’s Doing the Good I Do?

Is it the case that the Christian does not repent but “is repented”?

Is it the case that the Christian does no good works, but that the only good works of the Christian are those of Christ?

This is what the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church have to say on the matter:

9. Likewise Luther’s statement that man’s will in conversion behaves “altogether passively”5 (that is, that it does nothing at all) must be understood as referring to the action of divine grace in kindling new movements within the will, that is, when the Spirit of God through the Word that has been heard or through the use of the holy sacraments takes hold of man’s will and works the new birth and conversion. But after the Holy Spirit has performed and accomplished this and the will of man has been changed and renewed solely by God’s power and activity, man’s new will becomes an instrument and means of God the Holy Spirit, so that man not only lays hold on grace but also cooperates with the Holy Spirit in the works that follow.
Formula of Concord: Epitome, II

63 But after a man is converted, and thereby enlightened, and his will is renewed, then he wills that which is good, in so far as he is reborn or a new man, and he delights in the law of God according to his inmost self (Rom. 7:22). And immediately he does good, as much and as long as the Holy Spirit motivates him, as St. Paul says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”8
64 This impulse of the Holy Spirit is no coercion or compulsion because the converted man spontaneously does that which is good, as David says, “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day you lead your host.”9 Nevertheless, the words of St. Paul apply also to the regenerated, “For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.” Again, “So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:22, 23, 25). And again, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would” (Gal. 5:17).
65 From this it follows that as soon as the Holy Spirit has initiated his work of regeneration and renewal in us through the Word and the holy sacraments, it is certain that we can and must cooperate by the power of the Holy Spirit, even though we still do so in great weakness. Such cooperation does not proceed from our carnal and natural powers, but from the new powers and gifts which the Holy Spirit has begun in us in conversion,
66 as St. Paul expressly and earnestly reminds us, “Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.”1 This is to be understood in no other way than that the converted man does good, as much and as long as God rules in him through his Holy Spirit, guides and leads him, but if God should withdraw his gracious hand man could not remain in obedience to God for one moment. But if this were to be understood as though the converted man cooperates alongside the Holy Spirit, the way two horses draw a wagon together, such a view could by no means be conceded without detriment to the divine truth.
67 There is therefore a great difference between baptized people and unbaptized people because, according to the teaching of St. Paul, “all who have been baptized have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27), are thus truly born again, and now have a liberated will—that is, as Christ says, they have again been made free.2 As a result, they not only hear the Word of God but also are able to assent to it and accept it, even though it be in great weakness.
Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration, II

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 472, 533–534.

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From God Can Nothing Move Me

Some notes on the hymn that will be sung at Our Saviour Lutheran Church and Brighton Lutheran Mission as the hymn of the day tomorrow, Trinity 14, 2016:

This hymn was written by Ludwig Helmbold (1532–98), a teacher, academic, poet and (in later life) pastor in central Germany. While he was serving as headmaster in Erfurt in 1563,a terrible plague broke out in the town, killing about 4,000 people. When a family of friends was about to flee the town, leaving the Helmbolds behind, he wrote this hymn (of 9 verses) to console the two mothers about to be parted from one another.

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What makes a Pharisee?

A sermon preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church on the 11th Sunday after Trinity
Date: 7 August 2016
Text: Luke 18:9–14

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Those of us who are familiar with the teachings of Jesus, and have been steeped in the Christian doctrine, know exactly what to think of this very familiar parable of Jesus. Our sympathy is with the tax collector, and we shake our heads in disbelief at the blind arrogance of the Pharisee. How can he be so blind to his own faults, and so oblivious to the mercy of God towards all sinners? How can he boast so blatantly of his spiritual achievements, and have so little concern for the salvation of his humble and penitent fellow-creature in the corner?

But before we settle down too comfortably, it might be worth asking how Jesus would tell the parable were he the one preaching this morning. Who is the Pharisee today, and who the tax collector? Is this a story told to comfort us, or to shake us out of our comfort zone?

So let’s remind ourselves who the Pharisees were. Far from the pantomime villains that we tend to think of, the Pharisees were the good people of their time. They were devout Jews who had dedicated their lives to the study of God’s word, and of applying God’s word to their lives. In the words of the New Testament letter of James, they strove to be more than just hearers of the word, and to be doers of the word as well.

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Who do you say that you are? Saints, sinners and the Ascension

I have been reading through Ed Shaw’s thought-provoking book, The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-Sex Attraction. Apart from the central subject matter of the book (Christians and same-sex attraction), one particular section stopped me in my tracks:

Sinners or saints?
But where’s the theological misstep that the evangelical church has made here? Have you missed it? Here it is: it’s the danger that some evangelicals often fall into of more generally defining ourselves as sinners rather than saints; as those in constant rebellion against God rather than his permanently adopted children (p. 40).

It stopped me in my tracks because what he writes of (British conservative) evangelicals is undoubtedly true of (at least English-speaking) Lutherans, too. We speak of Christians as “saints and sinners”, simul iustus et peccator, but much of our rhetoric puts the emphasis firmly on the sinner in us. I have a pretty firm hunch that Lutheran preachers and writers are more likely to refer to their congregations or readers as sinners than as saints. I know I have in the past.

But, as Shaw points out, the term “sinner” is applied to a Christian only once in the entire New Testament, in 1 Tim. 1:15. And even there, St. Paul applies it to himself, not to his reader: “sinners … of whom I am the foremost”. Moreover, the context suggests that this is more of reference to Paul’s past as a persecutor than to his present status as a Christian. Continue reading

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Liturgical Titbits: A Tale of Two Days

As we learned in the previous post, the church retained two different calendars side by side: the lunar and the solar. Thus there was a clash between two ways of dividing up the year.

But there is also another clash in the church’s time-keeping. We think of the new day as beginning at midnight. So did the ancient Romans. However, in Palestine, each day ended at sunset. As a result, from Old Testament times, Jews have marked the beginning of a new day at sunset. By Roman reckoning, the Sabbath began on Friday evening and ended on Saturday evening—but for the Jews, that was just one day, the Sabbath.
Christianity emerged out of Judaism, but soon spread into the Roman world. As a result, both ways of time-keeping exist side-by-side. On the whole, the church operates the Roman way, from midnight to midnight. At the same time, the Jewish way hasn’t gone away altogether.

For centuries, Christians in the West have begun the Lord’s Day (Sunday) with Saturday night vespers. Many churches also have the first Communion service on Saturday evening. At Christmas, we have Midnight Mass, which often finishes rather than starts at midnight.

The modern observance of the Easter Vigil is a mixture of the two systems. Originally an all-night service (hence the name ‘vigil’). In the Eastern Orthodox church, midnight is marked with particular festivity, with the lighting of fresh candles and the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection. In the West, it is common to have the service already on Saturday evening as the ‘first Mass of Easter’—since by biblical reckoning, the day of Christ’s resurrection began at sundown on Saturday.

This clash of times will no doubt persist until the end of the world—until the revelation of a new heaven and a new earth, where there will no longer be night but one endless day (Rev. 21:23), and no seasons, but a perpetual season of fruitfulness (Rev 22:2).

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More than Forgiveness

From Luther’s Epistle Sermon for the Third Sunday after Easter (1 Peter 2:11–20):

We have heard above that the two parts are to be together in a Christian and emphasized in Christan teaching. The first part is faith, that we are redeemed from sin through the blood of Christ and have forgiveness. The second part, after we have [faith], is that afterward we should become different people and live a new life. In Baptism, or when we begin to believe, we receive not only the forgiveness of sins (which is the grace that makes us God’s children) but also the gift that must do away with the remaining sins and kill them. Our sins are not forgiven so that we would continue in them (as St. Paul says in Romans 6), as the insolent spirits and despisers of grace allege. Rather, even though sins have been blotted out through Christ’s blood, so that we do not need to pay or make amends for them, and we now are children of grace and have forgiveness, yet that does not mean sin has been entirely done away with and killed in us.

The forgiveness of sins and the killing of them are two different things. Both of them must be proclaimed against those who confuse and turn things upside down with false doctrine. Against the first, the pope and many others have taught that the forgiveness of sins is to be obtained through the trickery of their own self-chosen and invented works and their own satisfactions. This error always continues in the world from Cain at the beginning to the end. Then, when this error has been put down, there are again false spirits on the other isde, who have heard the preaching about grace and boast about it and yet produce nothing more from it, just as if that were enough, and forgiveness should do nothing more in us than that we remain as we were before. Afterward, there were just as many as before, when we still knew nothing at all about Christ and the Gospel.

Therefore, those who want to be Christians must know and learn that, since they have obtained forgiveness without their own merit, they must from now on not allow or indulge in sin, but rather oppose their former, evil, sinful lusts and avoid and flee their work and fruits. That is the summary and meaning of this Epistle reading.

Luther’s Works, Vol. 78: Church Postil III (St. Louis: CPH, 2014), 154–155

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Liturgical Titbits: A Tale of Two Calendars

The Christian Church was borne out of the mixed soil of the Old Testament Scriptures, first-century Judaism and the Græco-Roman world. This mixture of influences is still with us today when it comes to measuring and marking time in the Church’s life.

The worship of the Old Testament, and much of the Judaism of Palestine in the first century, operated with a lunar calendar, where the change of months was determined by the cycle of the moon. Months, and therefore festivals, would not always occur at the same time of the natural year.

This is why the chief festival of the Church, Easter, which is based on the Jewish festival of Passover, can occur on any time between 22 March and 25 April, depending on when the first full moon of the spring occurs.

On the other hand, the Romans (like us) used the solar calendar, so that months always occur at exactly the same time of the natural year. Festivals that have no Old Testament precedent but were introduced by Christians, such as Christmas, therefore have a fixed date.

Some of the seasons of the Church Year relate to fixed dates (e.g. Advent for the 4 Sundays before Christmas), some to movable dates (e.g. Lent for 40 days before Easter), and others vary depending on how the two relate (Epiphany and Pentecost).
The Church Year has kept both calendars side by side, giving us a number of fixed festivals, with Easter moving to and fro. As a result, in any given year, we might have a short Epiphany season and a long Pentecost (Trinity season), or vice versa.

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The Humble King

A sermon on Palm Sunday, preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Fareham
20 March 2016
(You can listen to the sermon here.)

Texts: Zechariah 9:9–12; Philippians 2:5—11; Matthew 21:1–9; Matthew 26:1—27:66


Behold, your king comes to you, humble and riding on a donkey.

The people of Jerusalem recognised their king. They knew Him because they knew the Scriptures and they had come to know Jesus. The Scriptures promised a king to sit on the throne of David, who would bring about the restoration of Israel and the restoration of creation. Jesus came with authority over the powers of evil and over the power of death. And so they recognised Jesus to be the promised king. And so they sang, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

But the rulers of Jerusalem did not recognise their king, because they knew neither the Scriptures nor Jesus. They expected a triumphant king who would come and rule in the way that they understood ruling: to lord it over the people, as the kings of the Gentiles, and their puppets in the Jerusalem, lorded it over God’s people.

And the rulers of the synagogues also failed to recognise their king, because although they studied the Scriptures, they did not recognise Him to whom those Scriptures pointed. They sought the Scriptures in order to establish their own righteousness, and did not recognise Him who was coming to bring to them the righteousness of God. And so the rulers of Jerusalem ,and the rulers of the synagogues shouted, “Crucify!”

And the Roman soldiers failed to recognise Jesus as their king, because they neither knew nor believed the Scriptures, and they saw only the weakness and the defencelessness and the abandonment of yet another Jewish man given over to them to crucify. So they mocked him, shouting “Hail, king of the Jews”, and they crucified Him.

And at the end of that week, the shouts of “Crucify!”, the voices of mockery, and the thrust of nails against human flesh drowned out the songs of “Hosanna”, cast out the faith and the joy of the disciples, and draw the lifeblood out of the battered and abused body of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. That night, disciples, enemies and bystanders alike were in agreement: Jesus’ claim to kingship had turned out to be a vain hope, an empty claim. Even the centurion’s otherwise remarkable confession, “Truly, this was the son of God”, was in agreement: this was the son of God. But what is he now? A corpse, a piece of history.

All because Jesus died at the hands of others. Kings who do that cease to be kings, and pretenders—people making a claim to the throne—lose their claim if they die at the hands of others before they manage to take their throne. That’s common knowledge.

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