Nicodemus, do you not know…

John 3:1-15

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

It’s not by blood…It isn’t the will of the flesh…It isn’t of the will of man, but it’s of God, that you are called heavenly heirs.  It isn’t by our own reason and strength that we call Jesus, Lord – but because we have been born of the Spirit.  Not presenting yourself once again in your mother’s womb (No!)– but passing through water combined by the command of God to the living Word of God.

Nicodemus – are you not a teacher of the children of Israel and yet you do not know that the Law does not lead to eternal life?

God’s holy law only points to that which is greater.  Moses and the prophets only direct us to the Son of Man lifted up.  And so just like Moses lifted up the serpent – the Great Serpent and deceiver of our souls is destroyed ONLY!! —by the Son of God, lifted up.  That he who first deceived by the tree of knowledge, would see his destruction by a NEW tree of life – Golgotha’s cross.

God lays down his life to redeem rebels who have forsaken Him.  For his own did not receive him.  AND…the world did not know him.  The world does not love him, and yet he loves them (He loves you).  This work of God is his love.  This is how he loves:  He dies the death we deserve, exhausts his own wrath, and satisfies justice.  And so we can rightly say God is LOVE.

And it’s this love that is the toughest thing to grasp!  It makes mad the children of men as they wag their tongues: Foolish are these Christians – stupid is this thing they call the Gospel!  For this gospel makes it sound like you don’t do a thing to inherit the Kingdom of God.  It makes it sound like you are passive receiver.  Nicodemus would agree.  Doesn’t a person enter the kingdom of God through the Law, through his own works as he pleases God by his doing?

Jesus says: no, a person must be born anew, from above.  God lavishes his love upon the sinner – from above sinners are made new.  Rebirth is it. Rebirth it has to be!  Holy rebirth – where the Holy Spirit gathers you up and places his mark upon you.  He bathes you in God’s eternal and powerful love.  The love that is so great and precise that he knows the intimate details of each person, even counting the hairs on their heads and their chins.  Not a generic love, the way some people love cats and chocolate – no a love of deliberate action.  A birth from above, o passive receiver, uniting us to the love of God in Christ Jesus.

And, this, the world hates. It’s not that the world misunderstands Jesus or you for that matter or me. The Gospel is clear. IN YOUR FACE clear. You are a passive receiver, saved by Grace —through faith in Jesus Christ and it isn’t your own work, it is the gift of God. You are his workmanship and the object of his love. It is that this infuriates the world. It is a stumbling block and foolishness and they hate it and they Him and they hate you for it.

Our God—this JESUS—deliberately laid down his life for a specific kind of person. Jesus comes only for sinners.  And so this birth of baptism makes children of God.  Baptism calls the lost and rescues the sinner.

Baptism shows the individual, specific, unique love God has for each of his children.  Your God has deliberately and specifically rescued and recreated you – turning what was doomed for demise (an eternal damnation) into heavenly heirs and children of God.

This Holy Trinity, of which we celebrate today, has rescued and recreated you in the waters of Baptism—naming you as his own.  We are no longer who we were.  We have been drawn into his death and resurrection, expelled from the womb to life eternal, born again of Water and the Spirit, renamed and reclaimed into the name of the Holy Trinity (The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit).  So also he continues to rescue and recreate you, today.  Your name has been called out and your heavenly Father lavishes his love here upon you.

Create in me a clean heart, we will sing.  Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.  He does just that.  He takes what was broken and shed upon the cross of Calvary and rescues and recreates us again.  Resting upon our altar – the God Man Jesus brings heavenly glory and calls you by name again.

The Word was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to us whom the Holy Spirit has showered the love of God upon – to us – The Children of God – born of water and the Spirit…we behold the glory of the cross.  We see the salvation prepared before the face of all people and we hold onto our King and our God.  Children of God, once again, COME, be guests at the Father’s table, with the Son as your Host with the unity of the Spirit.

**But you might be thinking that your sins are too much. You can’t come because you aren’t worthy of a King GodMan. Like Nicodemus who had to come to Jesus by night or Isaiah who shouted “Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips!” But you would be wrong about Jesus. He’s the one that brought you here. And just like the angel that carried a live coal to Isaiah’s lips, so also a live coal—the Living, Resurrected Lord will be carried to your lips…he bids you welcome and worth at his altar. Have your sins purged and the coal of Jesus’ sacrifice burn away your sin.**  Dine on his body.  Drink his blood.  Lift up the Cup of Peace.  Our God and King we see, as at the rail, here, on bended knee our hungry mouths from Him receive the food and drink of immortality. The victory is declared HERE…in this place…again today.  God’s love is lavished upon the children of God and you are renewed, recreated, and made whole and complete again. Your sins are forgiven.  ✞ In Jesus’ Name ✞

Soli Deo Gloria!


With Christ you bear much fruit

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.  The slayer, the liar, the deceiver – with brutal jabs from his poisoned tongue – is the planter of deception and doubt. “No one could steal the sting from death.” “No one cares enough about you to save you…no one is going to rescue you from valley of death,” he says. “Save yourself, show off to God or to yourself that you can do it all by yourself. Rub it in!”

You know, it’s the same game Satan played in the Garden on that day of darkness and despair, the day Eve gave Satan an audience and Adam abdicated his throne. “God knows that you won’t surely die, for i the day you do it you will become just like him!” He’s turned the tables, his message, which resonates with your old abdicating Adam, is all about you and your works and the ignoring and pushing aside of God and his good gifts. Ignore, rename, redefine, and downplay the works of god and instead elevate, showcase, highlight, and depend on your own works.

We live as if God doesn’t really matter and as if we really matter most! Works have captivated the minds and hearts of man in his struggles with the Old Adam ever since that horrible day in the garden. It’s ramped throughout the world. Even the church is not immune. This congregation isn’t immune. We don’t love our God with all our hearts and minds and we haven’t loved our neighbor as ourselves. We don’t even love spouses as we ought. Are we saved by our own works or by the works of God?? We call bad people good, we even query why bad things happen to good people all the while knowing (but ignoring) the fact that there are no good people and that the real question should be — “why do good things happen to bad people?” Every man for himself – with a ladder of works to climb leaves no one at the top. Satan knows that and he delights in dead branches: the causalities of the law’s accusing and murdering.

The catechumen told us Friday night at their public questioning and will tell you as they publicly denounce Satan’s teachings this morning, and call a liar for what he is, that the Bible has TWO doctrines: The Law and the Gospel. One must have both. Two good gifts from a heavenly Father, a royal gardener. They will publicly declare what you know: you can’t have one without the other. The Law will always accuse and demand. It requires everything, it demands blood for your sin. It says with Jesus, “If you don’t abide in me, the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” With the Law there is death.

“NO!! Don’t say I’m a sinner! We are not miserable and we are not poor… look at all the good we have done.” But even the good that you do help and save you never. Indeed the demand too great, the requirement impossible… apart from the Gospel, without Jesus, you can do nothing!

Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand.

There is someone who can remove the sting of death and has.

There is someone who cares enough to give everything to save you.

Jesus comes to rescue you from this valley of sorrow and death.

One man, this Man of God (the GodMan) is good and so makes you all good.

Listen not to the father of lies, but to the Vine, the Good Shepherd, the New Adam, the Crucified One. Which of you has ever heard of a branch grafting itself into the vine? It doesn’t happen. It can’t happen. But a gardener can. And he does. And it is this message that is performative. The gospel, this Jesus, is the true Vine that rescues and makes alive. So it is that the Gardener – the heavenly Father has sent the Holy Pruning Shears: The Holy Spirit. He, by water and the Word, has made you a part of the vine. In Baptism you have been grafted, named, claimed, marked, and loved. And again the Holy Spirit is sent today to prune and to water and care for you by the preaching away of your sins…the forgiving of all your sins and the nourishing of your souls.

To give you Jesus, the Father gives him up in death. By the cross he receives  the payment for sin and his righteous wrath is stilled. The good work, the perfect keeping of the Law by Jesus, is perfect Gospel for you. And it is then by grafting you into the vine that you can do anything. Did you catch what Jesus has said? Apart from me you can do nothing, but whoever abides in me bears much fruit. He wants there to be fruit. He expects hat you will do good works, but they help and save you never. They only come after the saving. After you have been claimed and the Holy Spirit has created faith in your heart then there are good works. And so he has! And an awesome day to celebrate… in just a few minutes we’ll receive new members into our fellowship. At second service our catechumens will be confirmed and brought into altar fellowship. You’re about to sing the Te Deum Ladaumus. By this you know the Spirit of God: All of us will publicly confess Jesus to be God and man and our Lord.

Children, you have overcome the great Liar and Deceiver of our souls. Satan is undone…and he who is greater, the stronger man, Jesus is in you all. We are from God and we are connected to him. Jesus, the righteous one has conquered all your foes and you are connected to him. He the vine, you the branches —to feed you, nourish you, keep you. You are forgiven and free.

All with the sweet sound of your Savior’s tongue, music to your ears.

In +Jesus’ Name.


Enter into the Joy – A Sermon for November 16

The day is surely drawing near…so Jesus gives us a parable concerning the last day.

For some reason or another we have constructed a safe zone between us and God. We think that we need to be kept safe from HIM — his coming in and his going out…We’ve made him out to be a hard man: reaping where he does not sow, and gathering where he scatters no seed…and that he is somewhere far far away – a journey perhaps – but definitely not in Keller, Texas, let alone in our homes, at our work, and in the midst of our lives. We have made him out to be what he is not.

It my own fault; it’s your fault. We are really good (all of us) at putting God where we want him and really good at ignoring where he actually is and what he has done and keeps doing for you and to you.

It really could be the world projecting upon us its opinions about God or maybe it could be Satan’s scowl, fierce as he will – the daily whisper of his fowl demonic breath upon our ears…but actually we’re willing accomplices of both the world and the devil. One little WORD can fell them all, but we’ve locked that WORD up, buried it beneath the dirt…because we were afraid, NOT of the world, or of the devil…but of God.

But each of us a servant, each already working for the master – called out of darkness! That’s you. He’s saved you from death and the devil. He’s marked you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. His Holy Spirit has created faith in you and taken up residence in your heart: his holy temple.

So how could WE determine that God is a hard man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he scattered no seed?

We expect good things from God, but we want that GOOD by itself, apart from where God gives it – apart from the rest of life, the GOOD we feel entitled to. We want it like the world seems to get it. We see sickness, illness, trials, persecution, and the like in a vacuum…and we expect God to answer our prayers the way we have already answered them in our heart. But God isn’t a respecter of persons…whereas the rain falls upon just and the unjust alike, his love and his mercy only come through Jesus Christ. We receive the forgiveness of sins in the preaching of the Word, at the font, on bended knee.

We can only think God a hard man because we have not known him, we do not listen to his Word, and we do not partake of his gifts. BUT Pastor Cholak, you say… “I here, you’re preaching to the choir. It’s the members of Christ’s church that aren’t here that you need to preach to…AND yet, it is we who have sat in these pews and have ignored his Word, refused to forgive our brothers – breezing past the Father’s vast forgiveness and love to hold on to our own grudges, to get what we want at the expense of others, to fulfill some requirement on a Sunday all the while ignoring God all the week long. Our prayers have faltered, we have not loved our neighbor as ourself, and we’ve kept God in our safe zone even within these sacred walls.

Repent. Your Lord and Master is at hand.

Even behind locked doors and sealed rooms, your Lord Jesus finds you. Even buried under the dirt, with large stones blocking the way He walks into the midst of your life. You’re here because His Holy Spirit has called you. Jesus has sent his gifts to you by way of that Spirit…you are a servant of the most high God because Jesus loves you and gave himself up for you.

The talents in the parable weren’t play money and they weren’t things to handle. On the one hand, He gives you responsibility from His Kingdom only as your ability allows. He’ll come back and want you to give an account. But on the other hand, you will encounter things in this world that you can’t handle. More than you can bear. He gives you crosses and pain. There will be sorrow and tears, your prayers will not always be answered the way you think they should. And it may from time to time all seem unbearable – and harsh…and it will be impossible for you.

These things are impossible for mere men like you and me. But take heart and do not fear. Jesus declares, “My peace I leave you!” Fear not that Godman from heaven — for all things are possible with him. The man, the master, has gone away, but he is not gone. He comes to you again today. His sweet and pure Word he speaks into your ears, straight into your heart.

This day Jesus has bridged our chasms, walked into the midst of our safe zones, and bids you come, kneel and receive food from heaven, the very body and blood of Christ who died upon the cross that you would have life. It is medicine of immortality. Christ your Lord unites with you this day. Come, for all things are ready, come, enter into the joy of your master and live. AMEN.

Preaching Christ Crucified

I expect to be soaking in the blood of Jesus when the preacher says, “Amen.” That bright red river of life from the cross of Calvary makes the robes of God’s people white like snow. The professors at the seminary would say that a sermon should be a good exposition of Law and Gospel in a liturgical context. There should be Law that cuts you down and Gospel that picks you up. BUT the Gospel should always predominate. In other words, when the preacher opens his mouth – Jesus picks you up. The preacher must give you Jesus. He shouldn’t just tell you about Jesus. He shouldn’t just mention the cross. Preachers should never tell you about telling the story. Preachers are called to preach the Christ. They are called out of darkness to proclaim light and life into this dark and dead world. Preachers do that by preaching Jesus to your person. Pastors bring the forgiveness of sins from the cross and wrap you with it, like a warm blanket on a cold, winter’s night. They take his blood and wash you with it. Like a mother after you’ve played in the mud, a pastor scrubs you clean (even behind the ears) with Christ’s blood. They do it because only that blood can take away your sins. They are faithful to this call because God resurrects the sinner from his watery grave and gives him new life. How does God do it? He does it by opening the mouths of preachers, and then soaking you in his Son’s blood. He does it by opening your mouth and pouring that blood down your throat. He does it through weak and sinful men. He does it through your pastor. Expect to be soaking in Christ’s blood when the pastor says, “Amen.” Expect to be alive because Christ has wrapped you with his love and breathed new life into your ears. Not only should you expect it, you should demand it. It is your heritage. It is God’s good gift. AND…it’s yours.

Oculi at Emmaus

Satan would have you silent. Holy Scriptures tell you that all the thoughts of your heart are evil all the time. And yet Satan’s demons close the mouth of this man… they make mute their captive and it is the Lord Christ that opens his lips. A bit backwards to the world’s reason, the weapon of slander and hateful word-play is loosed by the Lord of Heaven and closed by the prince of lies. Your tongue is the most used and well seasoned of all your evil tools in your sinful bag of tricks. It only gets better with time. For all men are liars – and their tongues and lips carry on their speeches of deception.

But Jesus opens the lips of men because he remembers why they were created. He knows that praise must come to His Father in heaven and if they were not to come from the tongues of men, even the rocks upon the road would cry out. So he opens the mouth of the sinner. The man oppressed by the power of a demon finds his mouth unloosed and his lips free to move once again. Free to pray, praise, and give thanks. To speak all things with the best construction, not to hurt or harm his neighbor, but to help him keep what belongs to him.

You are just like that man. Caught between a rock and a hard place, you know not when to use your mouth and when to speak the praises of the heavenly King. Are they lies that come from your lips or do you keep silent as others exercise their tongues in deceitful abuse of neighbor and so called friends and family? Those that don’t know Jesus – do you leave them that way by appeasing the devil in silence or have you spoken out of both sides of the mouth your Savior gave to you? You back-peddle, deny, and lie with the best of them. For the children of men are practiced in the art of deception.

And even as the Psalmist declares that you are a liar, he also declares that it is Christ that opens your lips to declare His praise. Not only does He open your mouth to bring forth the praises of heaven, He opens your ears to hear what the world wishes would go silent… itching ears that wish to hear more of the deceit so familiar to their lips, instead receive the Word of God given to your pastor and to pastors throughout Christ’s church. The One that so graceful opens the mouth of a sinner, opens their ears to hear the Word of God.

The kingdom of heaven is not divided and no civil war has pulled it apart. The finger of God that so beautifully placed the stars in the heavens is at hand to open the mouth of a sinner. The Kingdom of God has come to you, for knowing that all men sin and that to open the mouth of a sinner means that they will lie, deceive and trick – Jesus still opens first your ears to hear and the mouth of your Pastor to tell of the heavenly victory over the prince of deception and your freedom from an eternal death. He opens your mouth to sing the heavenly song… and here you offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and your tongue calls upon the name of the Lord!

The Kingdom of God has come to you… the Son of God has fulfilled the will of His Father and laid down his life as He took His seat on the throne of Calvary’s cross. Not only by the sword of the human tongue did they murder Him, but with nails and a spear they ended His life… it temporarily silenced the only tongue that never lied and always told the truth so that every law would be complete and even Jesus would remember the Sabbath day and lay in a tomb to rest. That rest removed the sting of the grave and the mouth of Christ was again opened to speak of His victory over death… to speak to your ears, to fill your mouths. You who were once mute, now speak… you who were deaf, now hear…
Your sins are forgiven.

Jesus has driven out the demons and the kingdom of God has come to you. You belong to the Lord of heaven. That Lord has opened your lips. Thanking the Lord. Singing His praise. Telling everyone what He has done. What has he done? He has made all things well. Taken your sins and sent them as far as the east is from the west, given you heavenly inheritance by making you His brothers. He has removed the guilt of your sin and now oh beautiful bride He shows you to his heavenly Father and brings you to eat of the feast His Father has prepared for you. The Cup of Salvation is ready. Come, the Lord has opened your lips – now eat and drink!

The Son of God Breaks In

So as the season of Epiphany comes to a close, we return to the recurring truth that is the Son of God: He walks through locked doors. We would have all sorts of walls to keep him out, but instead, he walks right through them and settles in on our sin. What does he do that for?? He comes for one reason: to take it from you. In its place he puts his righteousness and salvation. As you celebrate Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras or Carnival… remember that we celebrate because our God has become a Man and he walks through the mess that is your sin and forgives it all. He comes for you and clothes you in his righteousness. You don’t have to go find him, he has sought you and found you.

What’s Love Got To Do With It? Ephesians 5

Every marriage is about a name.  Whether you choose to hyphenate it, or keep your old one, or take up his or hers.  When no suitable helpmate was found for Adam, God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep and when he was asleep took a rib from his side, having closed up the place with flesh – God took the rib and made it into a woman and gave her to the man.  At LAST, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh… she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man. (That’s what all you guys said at your wedding, right?)

And yet it is the sin of Adam that everyone has inherited…coursing through the whole human race. The problem is we aren’t comfortable with the word LOVE… and therefore can’t begin to be comfortable with obey or submit.  You have to be accountable to someone else and that isn’t the way we want it.  We have to be connected to someone else??!  Our god is our belly and our life is narrated by our passions.  And the problem with that is that our passions, our bellies, always leave us alone and worse yet, dead in our sin.

What’s love to the world?  What’s love to you?  Forget about submitting and obeying and listening…  What is love?  Tina Turner thought it was a second hand emotion.  The world talks about falling into and out of love, but it misses the whole point. Don’t confuse love with the wicked passions of your belly.  Don’t be tempted by the world to think that love is a passing feeling that resides in some warm fuzzy you feel in your heart.  No!  We have other names for those feelings.  Those feelings are real – ALBEIT fleeting, but real and they are not LOVE.  Love has to do with neighbor and with God.  Love has to do with looking away from your navel and looking up at the world around you – and the persons around you.

And yet… and yet… we will not do it.  There is need all around us and even us who work at the church headquarters are belly watchers.  And with all this belly watching going on, how will we learn to LOVE?  How can we love the Lord our God with all our heart when it is lent out as a second hand emotion or even a first hand one?  How can we learn to submit or even take the time to figure out what that is if we can’t stop thinking about our own passions and lusts?


God loves a wedding feast!  “Go bright jewel of my crown!  It is time to have compassion, he says.  Bring to all salvation, from sin and sorrow set them free!!  Slay bitter death for them that they may live with you forever!”  OH, this is a mystery, Paul says… This is a profound mystery about Christ and his church.  Want to know what LOVE is?  Look to Jesus Christ alone.  For the Son of God became incarnate and was born of the Virgin Mary to shed his blood for your forgiveness and peace.  Therefore the MAN, Jesus Christ, left his Father in heaven and came for you and me.  Dying upon the CROSS of Calvary he holds fast to the church, his bride, for there they have become one flesh.

What is LOVE?  To die for your beloved.  To lay down your passions and your heart and all the fuzzy feelings to give the other your everything.  What’s love look like?  The Cross alone.  That Cross of Jesus is our life… for it is there that Christ loves us.  “At last, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh… she shall be called CHURCH and they shall be called Christians for they were taken out Christ.

In Jesus+ Name.  Amen.

Rev. Steven Cholak

LCMS International Center (January 23, AD 2014)

Advent Meditation on Genesis 49:9-10

We never would have planned for it to be Judah’s reign… but then again God always seems to turn our reason on its nose.  So not only do we have a lion of the tribe of Judah (remember Judah), but Mary places her little lion cub in a manager for you and for me.  Isn’t that just strange?  The God that made you and the entire universe, that will conquer Satan and Hell and death, we first meet as innocent and harmless as a kitten.

And that is the mystery of our God.  He takes created things to deliver to you his promises and the goods of that very promise.  He doesn’t beckon you to his high and holy throne; NO… instead he comes to you as part of the very creation he made.  He comes as the man… to redeem man… by clothing himself not only in the flesh and blood of you and me, but in the temptations and the sorrows and tears of living in the valley of the shadow of death.  Indeed, he who knew no sin becomes sin and devours it like a lion – a full grown, roaring lion.

Judah’s line is a royal line and this King of the Jungle reigns by being crucified on a Roman cross.  The full strength of our God is realized in the death of a man… The full strength of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah cannot be stolen from him, but instead he rises again to life and the scepter shall not depart from him.  He stooped down, to grab you and by the water of your baptism – now you have lion’s blood in your veins.

Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Steven CholakLion

The Good Shepherd Institute: A look at the Elephant in the Room


This past November 1-3, my wife and I traveled up to the great white north to visit Concordia Theological Seminary for the annual Good Shepherd Institute (GSI).  This year’s conference was on the open topic of music in the church… a look at the elephant in the room.

First of all, I should say that I recommend the Good Shepherd Institute for all church workers – EVERY YEAR.  It is a great conference on what the church (as church) does.  There are discussions of liturgy (ordo), music, hymnody, and how these things have meaning and import in the lives of various church workers and lay people.  (A friend of mine likes to refer to catechesis and Bible study as “practice” and the divine service as “game day.”) I love these kinds of continuing education events.  Not only do you get to soak in the information coming from the plenary sessions, but then you get to engage various people in individual conversations containing specific application to your situation and the needs at your place.  This happens in the hallway, the bookstore, the cafeteria, and at chapel.  Not only that, but seeing various people and a plethora (one of my favorite words) of contacts face to face, can’t be beat.

I work in the youth ministry office of our church body’s headquarters.  Last year’s GSI was specifically targeted toward youth ministry, and at first glance you would think that this year’s conference had nothing to do with it, and you would be incorrect.  Last year’s conference set the stage for a conversation about the ordo (the liturgy of the church) and the hymnody and songs that we sing.  This year’s conference took up the difficult conversation of actually talking about those components in their context and identifying problems with a varied practice.  Of course, they wanted the conversation to be inclusive of the whole church… and it was.  However, it was very appropriate conversation to continue the stream of thought from last year’s conversations.  Also, the impact of having the whole church together in an intergenerational ministry situation is best for the youth, the children, and the adults (and the seniors).  So you didn’t have to a “youth ministry” shingle outside the door for this conference to take up these very important youth topics.

Rev. Dr. Thomas Winger of our sister seminary in Ontario, Canada (President of Concordia Theological Lutheran Seminary in Saint Catherine’s) opened the conference up with his plenary address titled, “What’s right for the rite?”  This was a great conversation about the liturgy itself and where music fits into it.  Dr. Winger did a fabulous job of illustrating the liturgical melting pot of what is divinely mandated and what turns out to be human decision (and everything in-between).  The gifts of God are wrapped and presented just like every other gift.  Dr. Winger identified the gifts as: Word and Sacrament, Absolution, Scripture Readings, Preaching, The Body and Blood of Christ, and the Benediction (I’m sure he did not mean this to be an exhaustive list).  What is the box for the gift?  That’s the setting or the order of service, a Law and Gospel Order to things, the biblical canticles, the lectionary, the church year, our hymn texts, and music (not a specific kind of music, but that we have music in our services).  We wrap the box with our own (human decision) paper and bow: specific music, vestments, posture, gestures, movement, locations, vessels, incense, and the like.  “The beauty of this is the person of Jesus.”  (Other parts of the discussion: Does “liturgy” mean the same thing to you as me?  How do the Lutheran Confessions address worship and music?  Does the history of the ancient church have anything to say about liturgy today?  There is a difference between what man creates and what the church is creating – in other words, the collective work of the church is quite different from the singular work of any one pastor alone.)

Can that relate to YOUTH?  How can the topic of liturgy and worship not be one of youth?  For me, this was an immensely important presentation because it broke apart the ordo and its components to show that it can’t just be dismissed in its entirety.  The liturgy has to be addressed in some way in every congregation.  This particular topic had parallels with Stephen Johnson’s presentation later, which I will get to in more detail soon.  But, even in our post-modern, millennial, nexter (mosaic) society there is and must be a Lutheran ethos to our worship and our song.  When we engage the youth of our church, we have to give them the distinctively incarnate God – Jesus Christ in the context of how he promises to be present among us.

As we plan youth events and continue to engage the youth of our church at various levels, it is important to have a thorough and serious conversation about why certain things make Lutheran worship and praise, Lutheran.  That means that regardless of whether we have a drum set or a timpani, electric guitar or an organ, there is a specific Lutheran backbone that is identifiable.

In order to specifically engage the topic of music itself and the theory behind it, Dr. Barbara Resch spoke on “Music for the Church.”  Dr. Resch is the music department chair at Indiana Purdue University Fort Wayne, Indiana.  This was very important because we talked about whether or not music is a universal language.  Ponder this for a minute, “Music from a style with which we are totally unfamiliar is meaningless.”  We rush past this in our everyday world and just assume that because we are familiar with something – then everyone is and it carries the same kind of meaning for others as it does for me.  That just isn’t the case.  We also need to be aware that bringing what is common from the world into that which is sacred may result in many people having a meaningless experience.  Here we might get into a conversation about what happens to the life long Lutheran when new forms of “modern” music are introduced for the sake of the young and the youth.

More from Dr. Resch included what emotion music drags into the scene and how music communicates across borders.  How does music’s appeal and power over emotion make it appealing across borders (or does it?).  Also, can music be used (even unawares) to manipulate emotions of church goers.  These are important topics because we are not the church of emotional heart strings (I’m not saying that we don’t have emotion in church, we do, it’s just they are not the focus – Jesus IS), but we are the church of the incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ.  He comes for the lost even if we don’t feel him there.

Does the music serve the Word? or Does the Word serve the music?  We have to keep these kind of questions in mind as we think about youth ministry and what we are preparing as we look for worship and praise opportunities.  Ultimately, the music serves the Word and must serve it so that Jesus is carried to the youth and even with them into their everyday life.

Now on to Stephen Johnson.  Stephen is a hymn tune writer.  He explained his fascinating journey from evangelicalism to Lutheranism and how his journey as a musician impacted him through it all.  The most important piece I took from his plenary was the discussion about Lutheran ethos in Spiritual Songs.  He introduced what he called, “Lutheran Signature Items.”  At least one of these items every Lutheran song should engage.  This is because of a fundamental characteristic of Christian song: it confesses the Christ.  Now, Lutherans are distinct about this Christ.  Certain characteristic are important for the ongoing conversation and life of the church within itself and without itself (with the world): Original sin, Justification, Christology, The Sacraments, Theology of the Cross, Law and Gospel distinction, the Holy Ministry, and the Church.

This whole thing reignited my love for catechesis and the ongoing work of the church to teach the faith to Christ’s flock.  We are a church of the incarnate Jesus and everything about us shows him.  Ordo and music have a profound stake in the formation of catechumens and for the ongoing life of the Christian.  We too often overlook how profound an impact this has on our church.

I give kudos to the seminary in Fort Wayne for a job well done.  There were many more aspects to the conference that I can’t go into detail here now, but I’m glad that our presenters and the seminary were willing to openly talk about difficult issues for the sake of the church.  I’m going to try to include some more posts on specific topics that have come up because of this conference.  Look for more soon.