Archive for the ‘1 Thessalonians 4’ Category

Only One Reading Required: The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and Its Predecessors, 1850-1940   13 comments


Above:  Saint John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Image Source = Wrokic





We would gladly behold the day when the One, Holy, Catholic, Christian Church shall use one Order of Service, and unite in one Confession of Faith.

–From the Preface to the Common Service (1888); Quoted in Common Service Book of the Lutheran Church (1917), page 308


We believe the average churchgoer will thank us for not putting in more than one Scripture lesson.

–The Editors of the Book of Hymns (1917), in Northwestern Lutheran, May 1918



In U.S. Lutheran Liturgy, Part I (, I wrote about the process which culminated in the unveiling of the Common Service in 1888.  I chose not to write about that liturgy because I had already entered twenty-four pages of writing from a composition book.  In U.S. Liturgy, Part II (, I focused on the Common Service.  In U.S. Liturgy, Part III (, I wrote about it in The United Lutheran Church in America (1918-1962) and The American Lutheran Church (1930-1060).   In U.S. Lutheran Liturgy, Part IV (, I focused on The Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church (1860-1962).  In U.S. Lutheran Liturgy, Part V (, I wrote about Finnish-Americans.  In U.S. Lutheran Liturgy, Part VI (, I turned my attention to the Missouri Synod.  In U.S. Lutheran Liturgy, Part VII (, I wrote about Norwegian-Americans.  In U.S. Lutheran Liturgy, Part VIII (, I focused on Danish-American synods.  Now this leg of my journey through the history of the topic nears its completion with Part IX, in which I write about the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

I have been studying this material closely, trying to record information accurately as I have reviewed primary and secondary sources.  This has required a commitment of much time, for there are so many synods about which to read.  And, since I grew up United Methodist in southern Georgia, U.S.A., in the Baptist Belt, Lutherans were scarce, if present at all, when I was quite young.  My spiritual journey has taken me into The Episcopal Church.  Anglicanism and Lutheranism have many theological and liturgical similarities and considerable theological overlap, but my adopted vantage point is still one outside of Lutheranism.  If I have misstated anything, I can correct it.

The material is, by its nature, complicated.  I have tried to organize and format it for maximum ease of reading and learning, however.  So, without further ado, I invite you, O reader, to follow the proverbial bouncing balls with me.



The First German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Wisconsin (FGELSW) organized in 1850.  Its real founder was the Reverend John Muehlhauser, whom the United Rhine Mission had sent to the United States in 1837.  The Synod, which dropped “First” from its name in 1853, benefited greatly from missionaries whom the Basel Missionary Society sent, as did the Minnesota and Michigan Synods.

The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Michigan and Other States (ELSMIOS) formed in 1860.  Its real founder was the Reverend Friedrich Schmidt, whom the Basel Missionary Society had sent.

The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Minnesota and Other States (ELSMNOS) came in existence in 1860, midwifed by the the Wisconsin Synod.  The Minnesota Synod’s real founder was the Reverend Johann Christian Friedrich “Father” Hayer, a missionary to the U.S. frontier and to India prior to 1860.

The Wisconsin Synod became a center of gravity within U.S. Confessional Lutheranism, as we will see.  We will also see that some Confessional Lutherans were more Confessional than others.  There were (and are) Lutherans then there were (and are) Lutherans.

The Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota Synods helped to form the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America (1867-1918).  The General Council broke away from the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States of America (1820-1918), which the founders of the General Council perceived had become too liberal and permissive.  But the basic problem of with an obsession for doctrinal purity is that some of the “pure” are purer than others, so more schisms ensue.  Thus the Wisconsin Synod left the General Council in 1869, followed by the Minnesota Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Illinois (1847-1880) in 1871, then by the Michigan Synod in 1888.

The General Council, more conservative than the General Synod, faced several controversies, starting in 1868:

  1. Some clergymen were alleged to have preached Premillennial doctrine regarding the Second Coming of Christ.
  2. Certain members belonged to secret societies.
  3. Some ministers had preached in non-Lutheran churches and certain non-Lutheran clergymen had preached in Lutheran churches.
  4. And some non-Lutherans were taking the Holy Communion in Lutheran Churches.

The General Council dealt with the first point immediately, condemning Premillennialism an an error and affirming the Augsburg Confession (1530), Article XVII:

Our churches teach that at the end of the world Christ will appear for judgment and will raise all the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:2].  He will give the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but He will condemn ungodly people and the devil to be tormented without end [Matthew 25:31-46].

Our churches condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishment of condemned men and devils.

Our churches also condemn those who are spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed.

Concordia:  The Lutheran Confessions–A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, 2d. Ed. (St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 2006), page 40

The General Council refrained from punishing its members who belonged to secret societies, preferring instead to educate them as to the error of their ways.  This decision did not satisfy hardliners.

And, in 1875, the General Council resolved that pulpit and altar fellowship should cease and desist.  Yet, by that point, several synods had defected and others had chosen not to affiliate, citing these controversies.



The Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America, or the Synodical Conference for short, came into existence in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1872.  The charter members of the federation (not denomination) were:

  • the Missouri Synod (1847);
  • the Illinois Synod (1846), which merged into the Missouri Synod in 1880;
  • the Wisconsin Synod (1850);
  • the Minnesota Synod (1860);
  • the Joint Synod of Ohio and Other States (1818), which left after a decade, during a controversy regarding Predestination; and
  • the Norwegian Synod (1853), which left in 1883, also during the controversy regarding Predestination.

Later Synodical Conference developments included the following:

  • The Joint Synod of Ohio and Other States, having left the Synodical Conference, divided in 1882.  The breakaway Concordia Synod of Pennsylvania and Other States (1882-1886) joined the Synodical Conference before merging into the Missouri Synod.
  • The English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri and Other States (the English Synod of Missouri) (1888) joined in 1890.  It merged into the Missouri Synod in 1911.
  • The Michigan Synod left the General Council in 1888 and joined the Synodical Conference four years later.
  • The Slovak Evangelical Lutheran Synod (later the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches), formed in 1902, joined the Synodicial Conference in 1910.  The denomination merged into the Missouri Synod in 1971.
  • The German Evangelical Lutheran District Synod of Nebraska and Other States, formed by Wisconsin Synod pastors in 1904, joined six years later.
  • The Norwegian Synod, which left the Synodical Conference in 1883, found its unity with other Norwegian-American Lutherans.  Its remnant, The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (1918), joined the Synodical Conference in 1920.

The Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota Synods federated in 1892 as The Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Other States in 1892.  These three plus the Nebraska District (1904) merged to form a new denomination in 1917.  That body retained the federation’s name for two years, becoming the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Wisconsin and Other States in 1919 then the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) in 1959.



The Wisconsin Synod and those Confessional Lutheran bodies similar to it worshiped primarily in their ancestral languages into the first few decades of the twentieth century.  The Missouri and Wisconsin Synods, for example, worked and worshiped primarily in German until the anti-German hysteria during World War I forced many members to hasten the transition to English.

The Wisconsin Synod published its first English-language hymnal-service book in 1911.  This was The Church Hymnal for Lutheran Service, with 115 hymns and four pages of liturgy.  The volume, out of print by 1923, was not impressive, but it was a start.

More lasting was the Book of Hymns (1917), with 320 hymns and sixteen pages of liturgy.  The Sunday service, simpler than those in other English-language Lutheran service books of the time, required only one reading from the Bible (as opposed to the customary two lessons).  Within a few years the process of creating the Synodical Conference’s classic Lutheran Hymnal (1941) was underway, and the WELS was on board.  However, when The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) debuted, it caused some opposition among certain WELS congregations, unaccustomed to such a formal service.



I have had to write about some complicated material, for that is the nature of portions of the U.S. Lutheran past.  All of these synods can become confusing quite quickly, can they not?  At least many of them converged and merged over time.  My strategy in presenting this material has been to do so in as clear a way as possible.  I hope that I have succeeded.

WELS service books in English were primitive before The Lutheran Hymnal (1941).  I wish I could write honestly that post-Lutheran Hymnal WELS worship resources were impressive, but I, having drafted that post long-hand already, know better.







Book of Hymns.  Milwaukee, WI:  Northwestern Publishing House, 1917.  Reprint, 1932.

Common Service Book of the Lutheran Church.  Philadelphia, PA:  The Board of Publication of The United Lutheran Church in America, 1917, 1918.

Concordia:  The Lutheran Confessions–A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord.  2d. Ed.  Paul Timothy McCain, General Editor.  St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 2006.

Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America, The.  The Lutheran Hymnal.  St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 1941.

Melton, J. Gordon.  Encyclopedia of American Religions.  4h. Ed.  Washington, DC:  Gale Research, Inc., 1993.

Pfatteicher, Philip H., and Carlos R. Messerli.  Manual on the Liturgy:  Lutheran Book of Worship.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1979.

Stulken, Marilyn Kay.  Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship.  Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press, 1981.

Wentz, Abdel Ross.  The Lutheran Church in American History.  2d. Ed.  Philadelphia, PA:  The United Lutheran Publication House, 1933.

I also found some PDFs helpful:

Erickson, Anne.  “God Wants to Help Parents Help Their Kids.”  Pages 8-9 in The Lutheran Ambassador (April 10, 2001).

Marggraf, Bruce.  ”A History of Hymnal Changeovers in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.”  May 28, 1982.

Schalk, Carl.  ”A Brief History of LCMS Hymnals (before LSB).”  Based on a 1997 document; updated to 2006.  Copyrighted by The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

Zabell, Jon F.  “The Formation of Function of WELS Hymnals:  Further Conversation.”  For the National Conference of Worship, Music, and the Arts, July 2008.



Community Holiness   1 comment


Above:  A California Vineyard

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress


Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-16546


The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son.

By his coming nurture our growth as people of repentance and peace;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 18


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 24:1-16a

Psalm 21

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12


Some Related Posts:

Isaiah 24:

1 Thessalonians 4:


Your hand shall mark down all your enemies;

your right hand will find out those who hate you.

You will make them like a fire, even in the time of your wrath;

the Lord will swallow them up in his anger

and the fire will consume them.

Their fruit you will root out of the land

and their seed from among its inhabitants.

Because they intend evil against you

and devise wicked schemes which they cannot perform,

you will put them to flight

when you aim your blow at their faces.

–Psalm 21:8-12, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)


As I have written recently (, holiness in the Law of Moses was for the community, not isolated individuals.  Indeed, what one person does affects others directly and indirectly?  We social humans live in a web of mutual responsibility.  Any impression to the contrary is mistaken.

Most recent lections in this series have focused on divine mercy following divine judgment.  The reading from Isaiah 24 gives us a dose of judgment explained as what follows long-term, rampant, and communal disregard of the covenant.  Communal life and holiness is also a prominent theme in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12.  Adultery, for example, is not a solitary act.  So it, by definition, affects those involved directly and indirectly, frequently damaging or destroying marriages and breaking up families.  But even what we do in private affects others.  That understanding prevents me from becoming a wholesale Libertarian.

I used to be more individualistic, especially during my adolescence.  But, as I have aged and learned, I have realized that rugged individualism is a great lie.  It is a popular cultural and political force in my nation-state.  But it is still a great lie.  We all depend on God for everything.  And we all depend on each other in matters material and spiritual.  May we, by grace, take good care of each other.  That is our covenant with God.  If we break it often enough, destruction will result.






Adapted from this post:


“But Let Justice Roll Down Like A River, and Righteousness Like An Ever-Flowing Stream.”–Amos 5:24   1 comment

Above:  Niagara Falls

Image Source = sbittante




Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 (New Revised Standard Version):

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people,

Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors– Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor– lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.

Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

Then the people answered,

Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.

But Joshua said to the people,

You cannot serve the LORD; for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.

And the people said to Joshua,

No, we will serve the LORD!

Then Joshua said to the people,

You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.

And they said,

We are witnesses.

He said,

Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.

The people said to Joshua,

The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey.

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.


Psalm 78:1-7 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hear my teaching, O my people;

incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.

That which we have heard and known,

and what our forefathers have told us,

we will not hide from their children.

4 We will recount to generations to come

the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD,

and the wonderful works he has done.

5 He gave his decrees to Jacob

and established a law for Israel,

which he commanded them to teach their children;

6 That the generations to come might know,

and the children yet unborn;

so that they in their turn might tell it to their children;

7 So that they might put their trust in God,

and not forget the deeds of God,

but keep his commandments.


Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 (New Revised Standard Version):

Wisdom is radiant and unfading,

and she is easily discerned by those who love her,

and is found by those who seek her.

She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.

One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,

for she will be found sitting at the gate.

To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,

and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,

because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,

and she graciously appears to them in their paths,

and meets them in every thought.


Amos 5:18-24 (New Revised Standard Version):

Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD!

Why do you want the day of the LORD?

It is darkness, not light:

as if someone fled from a lion,

and was met by a bear;

or went into a house and rested a hand against the wall

and was bitten by a snake.

Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light,

and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals,

and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them;

and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

I will not look upon.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


Psalm 70 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Be pleased, O God, to deliver me;

O LORD, make haste to help me.

2  Let those who seek my life be ashamed

and altogether dismayed;

let those who take pleasure in my misfortune

draw back and be disgraced.

3  Let those who say to me “Aha!” and gloat over me turn back,

because they are ashamed.

4  Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;

let those who love your salvation say to for ever,

“Great is the LORD!”

5  But as for me, I am poor and needy;

come to me speedily, O God.

6  You are my helper and my deliverer;

O LORD, do not tarry.


Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction,

and concern for instruction is love of her,

and love of her is the keeping of her laws,

and giving heed to her laws is assurance of of immortality,

and immortality brings one near to God;

so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (New Revised Standard Version):

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.


Matthew 25:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said,

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

The Collect:

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Joshua 24:

Matthew 25:

1 Thessalonians 4:



Sophia, Lady Wisdom

Image Source = Radomil


The Bible uses a variety of metaphors for God.  Most of these are masculine, but some are feminine.  God, in Deuteronomy, is the mother eagle who teaches the eaglets how to fly.  And Jesus likens himself to a mother hen when he laments over Jerusalem.  Then there is Sophia, the wisdom of God personified as a woman in Old Testament wisdom literature, from Proverbs to Sirach/Ecclesiasticus to the Wisdom of Solomon.

Deity, of course, exists beyond human concepts of sex and gender, terms I use in their sociological contexts.  Sex is the physical state, a matter of anatomy.  Gender is what that anatomy means for one.  Is there a glass ceiling?  Which professions does society consider fit and proper for one to pursue?  Does one receive equal pay for equal work?  Can one vote?  And does one carry a purse or a shoulder bag?

The authors of the Bible came from male-dominated societies, so it is not surprising that their vision of God was mainly masculine.  Had they been born into matriarchal societies, metaphors of God the Mother would seem like second nature to us.  My point is this:  Let us not become distracted by metaphors.  No, let us learn from them and focus on the divine reality behind them.

The love of wisdom, we read, leads to eternal life, or life in God.  The love of wisdom, we read, leads to the keeping of the law.  And what fulfills the law?  Love of one’s neighbors does.  See Romans 13:10 ( for details.


The (Western) Christian year always ends with Proper 29, Christ the King Sunday, in late November.  The readings for the Sundays immediately prior to Christ the King Sunday tend to take an eschatological tone, for Advent is near, with the twelve days of Christmas on its heels.

The reading from Joshua contains foreboding.  The people swear to serve and obey God, but Joshua knows better.  The prophet Amos, a few centuries later, warns of God’s judgments on their descendants.  And what have the people done?  They have practiced idolatry, economic exploitation, judicial corruption, and condoned rampant social inequality beyond that which exists in a simple meritocracy.  They have not loved their neighbors as themselves.  We read in Romans 13:10 that love of one’s neighbors fulfills the law of God.

There is hope, even in Amos.  The divine judgment has not come down yet, so there is still time to repent–to turn around, to change one’s mind.  And Paul, in 1 Thessalonians, does not look upon the return of Jesus with dread.  No, he thinks of it as an occasion to encourage people.  Those who have followed Jesus have no reason to dread the Second Coming, in Paul’ mind, for God has justified them.  And so there is no condemnation for them.  But, as the reading from Matthew cautions us, those who become lax at the wrong time will regret their inaction.

Church history contains many incidents of people predicting the Second Coming of Jesus.  He has not kept any of those dates yet.  One might think that, after a while, more people would learn not to place their trust in dates.  We–you and I–have an assignment from God.  It is to love our neighbors as ourselves and to honor the image of God in ourselves and others, whether or not they are similar to us.  How this translates into actions will vary from person to person, according to one’s time, place, gifts, abilities, and circumstances.  But, however God calls you to live this vocation, may you do so.  Then you will be like a bridesmaid with plenty of oil.








Adapted from this post:


Individual Faith, in Community Context   1 comment

Above: The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (1838-1842), by Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow (1788-1862)


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Finally, brothers, we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus Christ to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live:  the life that God wants, as you learnt from us, and as you are already living it.  You have not forgotten the instructions that we gave you on the authority of the Lord Jesus.

What God wants is for you all to be holy.  He wants you to keep away from fornication, and each one of you to know how to use the body that belongs to him in a way that is holy and honourable, not giving way to selfish lust like the pagans who do not know God.  He wants nobody to at all ever to sin by taking advantage of a brother in these matters; the Lord always punishes sins of that sort, as we told you before and assured you.  We have been called by God to be holy, not to be immoral; in other words, anyone who objects is not objecting to a human authority, but to God, who gives you hisHoly Spirit.

Psalm 97 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The LORD is King;

let the earth rejoice;

let the multitude of the isles be glad.

2 Clouds and darkness are round about him,

righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.

A fire goes before him

and burns up his enemies on every side.

4 His lightnings light up the world;

the earth sees it and is afraid.

The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD,

at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.

The heavens declare his righteousness,

and all the peoples see his glory.

Confounded be all who worship carved images

and delight in false gods!

Bow down before him, all you gods.

Zion hears and is glad, and the cities of Judah rejoice,

because of your judgments, O LORD.

For you are the LORD,

most high over all the earth;

you are exalted far above all gods.

10 The LORD loves those who hate evil;

he preserves the lives of the saints

and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.

11 Light has sprung up for the righteous,

and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted.

12 Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous,

and give thanks to his holy Name.

Matthew 25:1-13 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Jesus said,

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this:  Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five sensible:  the foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps.  The bridegroom was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.  But at midnight there was a cry.  ’The bridegroom is here!  Go out and meet him.’  At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps, and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil:  our lamps are going out.’  But they replied, ‘There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.’  They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived.  Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the door was closed.  The other bridesmaids arrived later.  ’Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us.’  But he replied, ‘I tell you solemnly, I do not know you.’  So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.


The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


This day’s readings flow naturally from those ( for the previous day; the theme continues to have an eschatological root.

The wedding custom to which Jesus refers in Matthew 25 is one in which a wedding was a week-long event.  Bridesmaids kept the bride company until the bridegroom arrived.  But nobody knew when the bridegroom would arrive, so the wise bridesmaid was prepared with a lit lamp and spare oil.  And nobody was allowed to process to the wedding without a lit lamp.  Once the doors closed, those who were in were in and those were outside were outside.

Jesus, of course, is the bridegroom, and each of us is a bridesmaid.  The oil stands in for a right relationship with God.  Nobody can borrow this from anyone else.  This relationship with God is in faith community; it is not hyper-individualistic.  But each person must take responsibility for his or her faith life.  Hence the Church has incorporated the balance of individual and community into its rites for baptism, confirmation, and reaffirmation of faith.

The reading from 1 Thessalonians also pertains to marriage.  Paul cautions the recent converts to Christianity to avoid promiscuity, which was apparently common among many pagans.  The reference to taking advantage of a brother refers to wrecking his marriage by luring his wife away from him, hence leading to divorce, or by merely committing adultery with his wife.  Either way, the result was negative.

The subtext is this:  What we do affects others.  All that we do, for good or for ill, we do in community.  And we are how we think; our attitudes influence our actions.  So proper regard for each other is the first link in a chain that leads to a healthy community and society.  We cannot borrow this attitude from anyone else; we must take responsibility for it ourselves.

And who are our neighbors, brothers, and sisters?  All persons are our neighbors, brothers, and sisters.  On that day when God asks us if we have loved them as ourselves, may we be able to say honestly that we have tried more often than not.  Until then, imagine what the world would like if more people followed this ethic.  Then try to make it look more like that.






Adapted from this post:


Posted May 4, 2012 by neatnik2009 in 1 Thessalonians 4, Matthew 25, Psalm 97

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Death Has No Dominion   1 comment

Above:  Graveyard and Church


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (The Jerusalem Bible):

We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus:  God will bring them with him.  We can tell you this from the Lord’s own teaching, that any of us who are left alive until the Lord’s coming will not have any advantage over those who have died.  At the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, then those of us who are still alive will be taken up in the clouds, together with them, to meet the Lord in the air.  So we shall stay with the Lord for ever.  With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.

Psalm 96 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Sing to the LORD a new song;

sing to the LORD, all the whole earth.

2 Sing to the LORD and bless his Name;

proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.

3 Declare his glory among the nations

and his wonders among all peoples.

4 For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;

he is more to be feared than all gods.

5 As for the gods of the nations, they are but idols;

but it is the LORD who made the heavens.

Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence!

Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!

7 Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples;

ascribe to the LORD honor and power.

Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name;

bring offerings and come into his courts.

Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness;

let the whole earth tremble before him.

10 Tell it out among the nations:  ”The LORD is King!

he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;

he will judge the peoples with equity.”

11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;

let the sea thunder and all that is in it;

let the field be joyful and all that is therein.

12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy

before the LORD when he comes,

when he comes to judge the earth.

13 He will judge the world with righteousness

and the peoples with his truth.

Luke 4:16-30 (The Jerusalem Bible):

He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did.  He stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,

for he has anointed me.

He has sent me bring the good news to the poor,

to proclaim liberty to the captives

and to the blind new sight,

to set the downtrodden free,

to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down.  And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to speak to them,

This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.

And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.

They said,

This is Joseph’s son, surely?

But he replied,

No doubt you will quote the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”

And he went on,

I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of those; he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town.  And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged.  They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.


The Collect:

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.


The spirit of the Lord Yahweh has been given to me,

for Yahweh has anointed me.

He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,

to bind up hearts that are broken;

to proclaim liberty to captives,

freedom to those in prison;

to proclaim a year of favour from Yahweh,

a day of vengeance for our God,

to comfort all those who mourn and to give them

for ashes a garland;

for mourning robe the oil of gladness,

for despondency, praise.

–Isaiah 61:1-3a (The Jerusalem Bible)

The story of our Lord and Savior’s rejection in his hometown appears in all three synoptic gospels.  In Mark and Matthew, however, the rejection is immediate.  But Jesus finds immediate adulation in the Lukan account.  Only after he keeps talking about the extension of grace to Gentiles does he face rejection.

None of this bothers me, for I am not a Biblical literalist.  In these devotions I read the accounts in their literary context, not as a great, unified harmony of the gospels.  Minor differences exist among parallel readings, but so be it.  I have my eyes on more important matters.

With this post I follow the Canadian Anglican lectionary into the Gospel of Luke.  The story before this reading is simple:  Mary becomes pregnant.  So does her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.  Both women give birth.  Prophecies unfold.  Shepherds visit shortly after the birth of Jesus.  At age 12, Jesus astounds scholars of the Scriptures at the Jerusalem Temple.  Jesus grows up, and eighteen years pass.  John the Baptist announces the coming of the Messiah, baptizes Jesus, and speaks out against the tetrarch Herod, who sends John to prison.  Jesus then goes into the wilderness, passes the test of temptations, and begins to preach, to much acclaim.

So we come to this day’s reading from Luke.  The quote from Isaiah 61 matches one of the central concerns of the Lukan Gospel:  God’s care for the poor.  And let us remember another theme of the book:  The Jews are the chosen people, but God calls Gentiles, too.

Now, for 1 Thessalonians…

You and I, O reader, have an advantage that the Thessalonian Christians of circa 50-51 C.E. lacked.  We have the benefits of subsequent history and theological development.  Christian theology was in its infancy during the time of Paul.  A common expectation among followers of Jesus at the time was that the Lord would return very soon.  But people who had come to faith in Christ began to die.  There was some concern in the Thessalonian church that the deceased believers would be a great disadvantage upon the Second Coming.  This is where history comes in:  Those alive at the time of the writing of 1 Thessalonians died without seeing the Second Coming either.

Paul assured the members of the Thessalonian church that nobody who trusted in Jesus, whether he or she have a pulse or not, was at a disadvantage.  Death did not break the relationship of faith.  Those who have predeceased us are still alive in God.

And, as Luke reminds us, those who can come to this faith include Gentiles.  So God places no obstacles–not even death–in the way of a continued faith life.  Neither race nor ethnicity nor cultural background nor death have dominion.  Jesus came to preach a liberating message, the best news of all.  It is for you, and it is for me.  And Jesus keeps his promises.  Deo gratias!






Adapted from this post:


Posted October 14, 2011 by neatnik2009 in 1 Thessalonians 4, Isaiah 61, Luke 4, Psalm 96

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Sins of Omission, Part I   1 comment

Above:  Parable of the Talents Woodcut, 1712


1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 (The Jerusalem Bible):

As for loving our brothers, there is no need for anyone to write to you about that, since you have learnt from God yourselves to love one another, and in fact that is what you are doing with all the brothers throughout the whole of Macedonia.  However, we do urge you, brothers, to go on making even greater progress and to make a point of living quietly, attending to our own business and earning your living, just as we told you to, so that you are seen to be respectable by those outside the Church, though you do not have to depend on them.

Psalm 98 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Sing to the LORD a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

With his right hand and his holy arm

has he won for himself the victory.

3 The LORD has made known his victory;

his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,

and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;

lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

Sing to the LORD with the harp,

with the harp and the voice of song.

With trumpets and the sound of the horn

shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,

the lands and those who dwell therein.

9 Let the rivers clap their hands,

and the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,

when he comes to judge the earth.

10 In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.

Matthew 25:14-30 (The Jerusalem Bible):

It [the kingdom of heaven] is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them.  To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to a third one; each in proportion to his ability.  Then he set out.  The man who had received five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more.  The man who had received two made two more in the same way.  But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them.  The man who had received five talents came forward bringing five more.


he said,

you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more I have made.

His master said to him,

Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown that you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.

Next the man with two talents came forward.


he said,

you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made.

His master said to him,

Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.

Last came forward the man who had the one talent.


said he,

I had heard that you were a hard man, reaping where you had not sown and gathering where you had not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground.  Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.

But his master answered him,

You wicked and lazy servant!  So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered?  Well then, you should deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest.  So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents.  For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.


Matthew 25 is a chapter about the Second Coming of Jesus.  It has three distinct and related sections.  The first consists of verses 1-13, the Parable of the Bridesmaids.  Some were prepared, others were not.  Then follows this day’s reading, the Parable of the Talents.  I will return to that in a moment.  The final part of Chapter 25 is the familiar discourse about the final judgment.  Jesus will interview people.  He will inform many of them that they fed him when he was hungry, clothed him when he was naked, and visited him when he was in prison.  Surprised, they will ask when they did this.  And Jesus will say that they did this for him when they did it for others.  Conversely, Jesus will inform others that they did none of these things.  Shocked, they will ask when they did not.  As it turns out, they did not help others in these ways.

These three sections of Matthew 25, taken together, focus on actions, inactions, and their consequences.  Those who act righteously, even if they have little or no idea how righteously they are behaving, will reap what they sow.  Those who act unrighteously, even if they have little or no idea how unrighteously they are acting, will reap what they sow.  And not doing something when that is appropriate and one has the opportunity to do so is a sin of omission.  God frowns on those, as well as sins of commission.

And all of this occurs in the shadow of Golgotha.

So, with preliminaries out of the way, let us explore the Parable of the Talents.

It is a simple story.  A very wealthy landowner entrusts his property to three servants before he goes abroad for a long time.  A talent, according to The New Interpreter’s Bible, was “a large sum of money, equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years” (Volume VIII, page 453).  So each servant, whether he received one, two, or five talents, held a large amount of wealth, especially by the economic standards of most people of that time and place.  The servants entrusted with two and five talents invested it wisely and doubled their amounts.  Their master was pleased with them when he returned.  But one servant buried the talent in the ground.  It was common to bury something valuable in the ground for safe keeping.  This servant was honest; he did not abscond the wealth and flee the area.  But he did nothing.  Neither did he disobey instructions, for there are none in the parable.  But he displeased the master by not even depositing the talent in a local bank.  The servant had nothing to show, for he did nothing.

William R. Herzog II, in Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed (1994), interprets this story in a way unlike I have read anywhere else.  He treats the servant with one talent as the hero of story.  According to Herzog (pages 150-168), the point of the parable is to identify with the vulnerable whistle-blower who, by his inaction, calls attention to the unjust means by which his master accumulates wealth.  As much as I identify with Herzog’s notions of economic justice and injustice, I conclude that he twists more than one parable, including this one, to fit his preconceived ideas.  I skimmed his chapter on the parable before typing the parable word-for-word into this post.  So both are fresh in my mind.  Herzog’s interpretation makes no sense within the textual context of Matthew 25.

The Biblical texts are what the are, and they say what they say.  Sometimes I argue with them.  Other times I agree with them.   But I try first to identify what they say.  And Matthew 25:14-30 does not say what Herzog wants it to say.

The anticipated Second Coming of Jesus also figures into today’s excerpt from 1 Thessalonians.  Some members of the Thessalonian congregation had dropped out of the work force so they could devote themselves to preparing themselves for the great event.  So Paul wrote that they should resume their lives as productive members of society.  Matters of prophecy will tend to themselves, but we have work to do.  May we not be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good.

Reading the Bible according to a lectionary is the best method, for it facilitates the recognition of connections between passages.  The readings from Matthew and 1 Thessalonians are especially appropriate to read together, for a common thread runs through them.  My synthesis of these lessons follows:  Some of us have more to offer to God than others, but all of it comes from God.  We have the option of seeking the safest course in life, which is not to take risks or rock the boat.  But that is not what God calls us to do.  No, God calls us to take risks–even the chance of losing everything without trying to accomplish that end.  But, if we do this faithfully, at least we have been faithful.  Jesus did not “play it safe,” and neither should we who claim to follow him.  What each of has is time, in various quantities.  May we make the most of it, for the glory of God.  As Mother Teresa said, God has calls us to be faithful, not successful.

Too much of religion consists of “playing it safe.”  But I prefer a riskier spiritual route, one I have heard described as “doing a daring dance with God.”  The tango sounds like fun; God will lead.







Adapted from this post:


Posted October 11, 2011 by neatnik2009 in 1 Thessalonians 4, Matthew 25, Psalm 98

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