Accompany Them with Singing

The Apostolic Constitutions are a series of 4th century documents that give insight into the early Christian church. In it, Christians were instructed, “In the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing, if they were faithful in Christ” (6.30.2).

It has become my custom to conclude every funeral sermon by singing a hymn stanza. Often, it has been one of the last stanzas I sang with the person before they died, if we had that opportunity. Other times, it was simply appropriate to the sermon text, theme, or to the life of the person. In either case, it is my way of taking one small gem of our beautiful hymnody and passing it on to the congregation and the gathered family and friends. Our hymnody is so rich that I’ve hardly, if at all, had to use the same stanza more than once.

This week I had two funerals, a wife on Monday and her husband on Friday. On Monday it was “Lord, let at last your angels come” for we had spoken of the angels at Jesus’ tomb who were there to roll the stone away and announce the resurrection. But it is over us that God has given his angels charge, until they carry us to His side. Today, it was “In peace and joy I now depart” in regard to a husband who was ready to depart in peace, not only because he knew his bride was safe in the arms of Jesus, but also and more importantly because he knew that Jesus was his life, and “death is but a slumber.”

I’m pretty sure I’ve done this with all sixteen of the funerals I have conducted since coming here (I counted today). On these days, while I am filled with sympathy for those who mourn, I am also unspeakably grateful to have been able to serve these dear saints with Jesus’ Word and Sacrament, and now to speak the comfort and confidence of the resurrection to those who mourn.

Lutheran Public Radio – Music for the World

I’ve been listening to this whenever I can. Check it out!

The reformer Martin Luther had this to say about the Holy Spirit, God’s Word and music:

The Holy Ghost himself honors music as an instrument for his proper work when in the Holy Scriptures he asserts that through her gifts were instilled in the prophets, namely, the inclination to all virtues, as can be seen in Elisha (2 Kings 3:15)…The gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely, by proclaiming the Word of God through music and by providing sweet melodies with words.

The Holy Spirit is working through God’s word put to music on Lutheran Public Radio, Sacred Music for the World. You’ll hear hymns like “Thy Strong Word,” “The Church’s One Foundation, ” “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart,” “God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It,” “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” and more.

You can listen to sacred music 24/7 at Lutheran Public Radio. You can also listen on mobile devices like an iPhone or iPad or any Android phone.

It’s That Time Again

I have made it my practice to read through the Book of Concord in its entirety every other year, during the summer. Two years ago I posted an encouragement for others to read along with me using a schedule that gets us through the whole thing by the end of summer.

Read with Me
Summer Reading Schedule

Today is the first day of this schedule, so if anyone wants to read along again this summer, now’s the time. The first few days are for reading the introductory material, so it’s okay if you’re a little late.

Now is also a good time to pick up a copy of the Readers Edition of the Book of Concord. It’s on sale for just $20 at Concordia Publishing House. If you want to follow this schedule, but have to wait for your copy to be shipped, you can read online at

For those who might want to discuss what you’re reading this summer, I’ve created a group over at Facebook. It’s called Lutheran Symbols in Summer. Invite your friends to read along and follow the discussion.

Lutherans Confess from Generation to Generation

Here’s a great video and post from Paul McCain’s Cyberbrethren blog:

Confessing the Faith…Through All Generations – In Honor of Lutheran Schools Week (Featuring Lyle Lovett)

Here is a beautiful YouTube video of the reading of the Nicene Creed which dates back over a 1,000 years in the the Christian church. This recitation was done at Trinity Lutheran Church, Klein, TX during the March 4, 2012 church services by three members of Trinity as part of Lutheran Schools week. These three members, and students (former and present) are: Mr. Erich Klenk, 97 years old, confirmed in 1928, past Chairman of the congregation, charter member of the Men’s Club in 1946,  and Trinity’s oldest member. Lyle Lovett, great grandson of Trinity founding father Adam Klein, confirmed in 1971, singer/songwriter, and winner of four Grammys. Erin Pali, class of 2016 and current 4th grade student of Miss Marilyn Peterson/ Erin’s Dad Brett also had Miss Petersen in 4th grade during his years at Trinity. This video was posted to YouTube by Pat Blake.

Lot long ago I had seen that Lyle Lovett‘s new album included Martin Luther’s hymn “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Your Word.” You can listen to a preview of the song below, or click to order or download the album.

[amazon-mp3 tracking_id=”ashessto-20″]90ddf225-d85a-48c9-b9d3-85de08488382[/amazon-mp3]

A Faithful God—From Generation to Generation

The story goes in my family that my great-grandmother, Anna Schindeldecker Linkert (pictured right), sang to her mother as she was dying. According to the story, she sang the stanzas of Johann Heerman’s hymn, O Gott, du frommer Gott (O God Thou Faithful God – TLH 395, CW 459, LSB 696). The hymn closes with these stanzas (omitted from CW):

If Thou a longer life
Hast here on earth decreed me;
If Thou through many ills
To age at length wilt lead me,
Thy patience on me shed.
Avert all sin and shame
And crown my hoary head
With honor free from blame.

Let me depart this life
Confiding in my Savior;
Do Thou my soul receive
That it may live forever;
And let my body have
A quiet resting-place
Within a Christian grave;
And let it sleep in peace.

And on that solemn Day
When all the dead are waking,
Stretch o’er my grave Thy hand,
Thyself my slumbers breaking.
Then let me hear Thy voice,
Change Thou this earthly frame,
And bid me aye rejoice
With those who love Thy name.

By the time the hymn was over, her mother was with Jesus. Great-grandma Linkert must have taught the hymn to her children (perhaps all 15 of them). At least one of them, my Grandpa, knew it and sang it often. In fact, when my mother was in her early teens, Grandpa even offered his family an incentive to learn this hymn by heart: one dollar for each stanza. On Saturday nights, Grandpa was ready with his dollar bills, ready to listen to his daughters or foster sons recite their stanzas.

Because my mother knew that hymn by heart, she could easily sing it while rocking each of her seven babies to sleep, or by their bedside. Because this hymn was frequently heard and sung in our home, it now has the chance to make it one more generation (despite the fact that half of it isn’t even in our hymnal).

While I was up in Minnesota I had to chance to stop at the cemetery in Eagan where my Mom’s parents and grandparents are buried. The mortal remains of those generations who sang “O Gott du frommer Gott” now lie beneath those stones, still resting, still waiting for stanza eight: “Then let me hear Thy voice, Change Thou this earthly frame.”

But I am so grateful that they sang the hymn while they were here. Not only did it teach them and comfort them, but to this day their song continues to teach me and comfort me by the words they passed from their generation to the next. And they have given a voice for me to pass on to my children the fountain of gifts which come from this faithful God, and to prepare them for all of life that is ahead of them.


Professor Daniel Deutschlander often told his students that every Lutheran pastor should read Martin Chemnitz’ Examination of the Council of Trent (at least the first volume) every now and then—just to ensure that he is still a Lutheran.

A couple weeks ago I finished reading part II of Chemnitz’ monumental work, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. As Deutschlander says, “It’s so Lutheran!” The Examen is a Lutheran response to the Roman Catholic Council of Trent, which began in 1545 and was in many ways a response to the Lutheran Reformation. Many of the decrees of the Council are specifically condemning the teachings of the Lutherans. In other places, they continue to group the Lutherans together with the Anabaptists and other radical reformers. However, the main opponent seems to be the Lutheran teaching. The format goes like this: “If anyone says…let him be condemned (anathema sit).” Many have said that if you removed the anathemas from the decrees, you generally have a good statement of Lutheran teaching.

This second volume deals with the Sacraments. It first deals in a general way with the Sacraments, especially with the fact that the Roman Catholics insist on the number seven, and Chemnitz maintains that no matter how you define sacrament, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper stand out as distinct from all others. Then, Chemnitz works through each of the so-called seven sacraments and examines the doctrines and practices which the council commends and condemns.

One of the things that makes this work so brilliant is the way Chemnitz not only deals with the false assertions of the Council, but he manages to present the true, orthodox Lutheran teaching on each of these doctrines. And just because the Lutherans did not maintain seven sacraments does not mean that they had no teaching or practice concerning confession and absolution, ordination, consolation for the sick and dying, confirmation, and marriage.

That said, I think that many Lutherans would be surprised to read the way Chemnitz describes the way “our churches” practice. It appears that Lutheran practice and piety today has been shaped much more by American Protestantism than by the Lutheranism which Chemnitz describes.

Additionally, it always amazes me just how familiar men like Chemnitz were with the church fathers. And then, it strikes me that Chemnitz considers them worth listening to. The Council of Trent regularly made appeal to antiquity and tradition, and repeatedly Chemnitz shows that true antiquity was not what the Tridentine fathers were claiming. Many of the “ancient customs” to which Trent referred were not that ancient, or their writings were taken out of context, or the cited statements were exceptions to normal practice. History was on the side of the Lutherans.

But I don’t know anyone in Lutheran circles today who has this kind of knowledge of the church fathers—not even Seminary professors. And I know many more Lutherans (pastors, even) who wouldn’t particularly care. It is not as though we take our doctrine from the fathers, but I think Chemnitz (and many others) would make the point that they should be listened to. For me, reading more Chemnitz is a start down that path. I have just started reading Chemnitz’ Enchiridion, in which I’m finding much of the same stuff—brilliant. Definitely must-reads for every pastor.

Here’s a page where I started posting some quotes as I was reading:

A Prayer

A Prayer, when a person wants to go to the confessional and desires Holy Absolution.

“Lord Jesus Christ, my Redeemer! You have bequeathed to your dear church here on earth, and to her faithful servants, the holy office of the keys with its attached promise that the same thing which is bound and loosed here, should also be bound and loosed in heaven. For such gracious means I give you eternal honor, glory and praise. And since I—a poor, enslaved sinner–need this comforting releasing key, and so that I might not be held under the chains of this hellish jailor, I ask from the bottom of my heart that you would grant this to me through my Christian confessor, and for the sake of your blood and death, graciously release me from all my sins, grant me your Holy Spirit, that I receive the Holy Absolution in true repentance and undoubting confidence, good intentions, brotherly love, and thankfulness, and finally, be saved eternally. Amen.”

From: Evangelical Lutheran Treasury of Prayer (Gebets-Schatz), 1884. #298


Last Saturday night I had the opportunity to attend a UTEP Miners men’s basketball game for the first time. I got tickets from a member of the congregation, and so Andrew and I went and watched the Miners defeat Rice University 66-43.

Three years ago, just days after making the decision to come to El Paso, Sara and I sat down to watch a movie that had come in the mail from Blockbuster (like Netflix). Neither of us had heard of the movie before, only knowing that it was about college basketball. We were surprised to see “Texas Western College – El Paso TX” on the opening screen. The movie was “Glory Road” about the 1966 NCAA championship basketball team.

Miner basketball (and other sports) is a fairly big deal in El Paso. It’s a pretty large city—nearly 700,000—but has no big league professional sports teams. If I needed a reason to take in more UTEP Athletics, I think I found it—of all places—on my bookshelf.

Many of you know that I have lots of books. I have dozens of books on my shelves that I have never read. I have a shelf that is just translations of the Bible, several shelves of grammars and lexicons and dictionaries. Of course, Luther’s Works takes up a few shelves and then there are my Luther biographies. I had read most of them, but for years I have had one volume that I never read, but always thought it sounded interesting. I don’t even remember where I got it. It is a book on Luther’s life, in German. Half of the book’s cover is torn off, and hand-written on the binding is “Luthers Leben—Mathesius.”

Until this past week, I didn’t realize that this Mathesius is the Johann Mathesius who was the pastor in Joachimstal. Joachimstal is the Bohemian town which was the subject of the book “Singing the Gospel” by Christopher Boyd Brown, which I read this fall. This is quite an interesting and enlightening book about Lutheran hymnody, especially in the home, and how the singing of hymns among Lutherans kept the Reformation alive.

“Luthers Leben” appears to be a series of sermons which Mathesius preached on the life of Luther—which is interesting, considering that Mathesius was just twenty years younger than Luther. I presume that much of it is drawn from content which he heard Luther speak at the dinner table in Wittenberg (Mathesius is one of those who recorded what we know as Luther’s “Table Talk”) On the opening pages there is a drawing of Luther, followed by this drawing of Mathesius. It’s a similar image to the one in Brown’s book. But do you notice what Mathesius has in his hand? In his right hand he has a book—that makes sense. But in his left hand? A miner’s pick.

Joachimstal was a mining town. “The silver recovered by the Joachimstal miners was minted into the standard silver coin of sixteenth-century Germany, the Joachimstaler or simply Thaler, whose name lives on in the modern dollar” (Brown, p. 26). Because so much of the town was involved in mining, the people sang songs and even hymns that referred to mining. Pastors like Mathesius referred to mining in their sermons. And Mathesius may have even had a personal interest in the mining as a mineralogist. But certainly he never had to carry a pick and work in the mines. So why is he pictured with it?

I suspect that it simply identifies him with the people he served. I’ve remarked before about how much of a privilege it is to serve people in such a way that I am allowed into their lives at its most critical moments. As a servant of Christ, the pastor carries the business and affairs of the people he’s called to serve on his own heart. And when he serves among them, with time he begins to understand more and more the cares and concerns of his flock—even if he never actually steps foot into the mines.

So as I do this work—which is essentially no different than Mathesius’ work in the 1500’s—I figure if that pastor can be called a Miner, so can I.