The entire Gospel embodied and presented to us

Grunewald: LambTherefore also it is vain talk when they say that the body and blood of Christ are not given and shed for us in the Lord’s Supper, hence we could not have forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament. For although the work is accomplished and the forgiveness of sins acquired on the cross, yet it cannot come to us in any other way than through the Word. For what would we otherwise know about it, that such a thing was accomplished or was to be given us if it were not presented by preaching or the oral Word? Whence do they know of it, or how can they apprehend and appropriate to themselves the forgiveness, except they lay hold of and believe the Scriptures and the Gospel? But now the entire Gospel and the article of the Creed: I believe a holy Christian Church, the forgiveness of sin, etc., are by the Word embodied in this Sacrament and presented to us. Why, then, should we allow this treasure to be torn from the Sacrament when they must confess that these are the very words which we hear every where in the Gospel, and they cannot say that these words in the Sacrament are of no use, as little as they dare say that the entire Gospel or Word of God, apart from the Sacrament, is of no use?

via The Large Catechism – Book of Concord (V.31–32)

The extraordinary ordinary

Homily preached at the Lutheran Women’s League of Great Britain Workshop at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Fareham
9 November 2013
Text: Romans 16:1‒16; Luke 8:1‒3; 10:38‒42

The lists of names in the final greetings of the New Testament Epistles tend to pass us by in our daily reading. When I first started reading the Bible regularly as a teenager, I was very keen, so I read everything. But after a few years, I began to skip about, to leave out certain bits. And the first thing to go were the lists of names. They just didn’t seem to have any spiritual value, nothing in them for me. Later, at university I learned that they were not entirely without worth: scholars of the New Testament use these lists to cross-reference names in different books to try and get a sense of what was written when, who knew whom, and so forth. Very interesting, if you are into that sort of thing. But still, hardly heart-lifting spiritual edification.

Are you with me?

Well, I hope you are not, because I was just plain wrong. These lists, these names of people about most of whom we know nothing at all except that Paul knew them—they are you and me. Ordinary Christians who were known to the apostle, who had sat in the services where he preached and been members of the churches he had planted. Some of them had served him, or served the churches in various capacities. Others were fellow-preachers, tasked with proclaiming the same apostolic and prophetic message that had been entrusted to the apostles.

Continue reading The extraordinary ordinary

If we are going to sing long hymns

… as I advocated in my previous post, we are going to have a couple of problems.

First, it will lead to longer church services. Which, to be perfectly frank, isn’t a problem at all, but a good thing. There are 168 hours in a week, most of which we spend working, sleeping, eating, drinking and washing. Being very busy. So setting aside more time for church must only be a good thing. At least Martin thinks so.

Secondly, and this is a real problem, people are going to get tired of singing. I don’t mean bored. Tired. Singing is a physical activity, and like all physical activities, it requires stamina. Most people don’t get that much practice at singing these days—I’ve heard anecdotal claims that it’s mostly football fans and Christians who do any singing in today’s Britain—and so they aren’t particularly fit. As a result, if you ask them to sing for ten, fifteen minutes without a break, their voices will get very tired. And when that happens, the spiritual benefit will also begin to be lost, because the pain and the fatigue will start to take over the singers’ attention. It’s like going for a jog in the mountains: when your lungs hurt and you can taste the blood in your mouth, the scenery won’t be quite so beguiling. And this second problem needs to be taken seriously. So here are a couple of suggestions for dealing with it on a Sunday morning:

  1. Alternate between the congregation and other singers.
    Have the congregation sing some of the stanzas (always the first and the last!), but give some of the other stanzas to the choir,  to a soloist, to the Sunday school. That way, there will be a breather. It’s also benefitial to listen to a hymn with the words in front of you.
  2. Alternate within the congregation.
    Split the congregation into sections and assign different stanzas to different sections: men/women, adults/children, gospel side/epistle side, etc. The benefits are the same as above. And when everyone joins in for say, stanzas 7, 14 and 21, the sudden increase in volume will give them extra oomph.
  3. Split the hymn.
    Sing some of the stanzas in one part of the service, the rest later on. For example, the offertory hymn could continue as the communion hymn, the hymn of invocation could be finished off as the sending hymn, or as a gradual hymn. There are plenty of possible permutations.

These are just some ideas. There are others, depending on the resources available to your congregation. The real point is this: there is no reason not to sing long hymns, and there are lots of good reasons to sing them!