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Archive for July 28th, 2014

Bio:  Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is acknowledged as one of the most famous and gifted composers in the Western world. Orphaned at age ten, Bach was mostly self-taught in music. His professional life as conductor, performer, composer, teacher, and organ consultant began at age nineteen in the town of Arnstadt and ended in Leipzig, where for the last twenty-seven years of his life he was responsible for all the music in the city’s four Lutheran churches. In addition to being a superb keyboard artist, the genius and bulk of Bach’s vocal and instrumental compositions remain overwhelming. A devout and devoted Lutheran, he is especially honored in Christendom for his lifelong insistence that his music was written primarily for the liturgical life of the Church to glorify God and edify His people. (from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  On this day in 1750, Johann Sebastian Bach died, thus it is for the saints in Christ, a “heavenly birthday”.   When I was at  Concordia Junior College, Milwaukee (Now Concordia University, Mequon Wisconsin), I took the one credit on Lutheran Hymnody.   Professor “Ollie” Ruprecht pointed out that Bach’s library had around 80 volumes in it.  Prof. Rupprecht pointed out that back then book were quite expensive and about 60  of those volumes were books of orthodox Lutheran theology.  

Now I may not remember the professor’s numbers correctly but the impression has lasted.   Orthodox Lutheran theology is all about proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God.  And so did Bach’s music.  One of Bach’s most marked set of volumes was Abraham Calov’s 3 book set of Luther’s Bible, with Calov’s commentary.  Bach, spending a large fraction of a year’s salary, purchased a 7 volume edition of Luther’s writings which Calov has based his commentary.  Calov wrote regarding Luther:

“It hinders a preacher greatly if he wants to look around and concern himself with what people want to hear and not hear.”

Bach double-marked that sentence for emphasis (from Evening in the Palace of  Reason by James R. Gaines). That sentence sums up Bach’s understanding of music, “his” music, as he would mark on his scores AMG, ad mairorem Dei, to the greater glory of God.  In his day, the Enlightenment, ‘modern’ music was suppose to reflect how the composer felt and what the people wanted to hear.  Sound familiar?  On NPR, they will have a segment that I call OMS, the obscure musical segment when the artist intros his/her work and tells us what “he is trying to do”, or what he was feeling at the time of composition.  Not for J. S. Bach:  it was to proclaim the Gospel.  Bach did not listen to what people wanted, but what he heard the Lord command and promise.

 In an episode of M*A*S*H, Radar falls for a nurse who is quite cultured and loves classical music.  He goes to Hawkeye and Trapper for lessons in classical music.  Hawkeye gives Radar the names of some composers and then says, “…then if she mentions Bach, just say, ‘Ahhh, Bach’”.

 

He has been called, after Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the 5th evangelist.  In his day, he was not known beyond Germany.  After his death,  his music was rediscovered.  His output for 27 years in Leipzig for 4 churches was massive.  St. Augustine said that singing is praying twice: with the words and with the music.  Bach’s texts usually were the Bible and he put the Scripture to music.

Bach in the age of the Enlightenment was already becoming a ‘has-been’ and not well-received.  Only two of Bach’s works were ever published in his life time.  But the word of the Lord endures forever and the Lord gave Johann a gift that he did use to the greater glory of our Lord.

Pr. Paul McCain wrote about Bach: 

People grow increasingly uncomfortably the more specifically Christian the talk gets. But Bach’s great church music was all about Christ. They can’t help but tell us that when they feature the popular chorale from Bach’s Cantata 147,  Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, You have taught us in Holy Scripture to sing Your praises and have given to Your servant Johann Sebastian Bach grace to show forth Your glory in his music. Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all Your servants who write and make music for Your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of Your  creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives,and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

Luther on Music:

I would certainly like to praise music with all my heart as the excellent gift of God which it is and to commend it to everyone…. Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. She is a mistress and governess of those human emotions—to pass over the animals—which as masters govern men or more often overwhelm them. No greater commendation than this can be found—at least not by us. For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate—and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good?—what more effective means than music could you find? The Holy Ghost himself honors her as an instrument for his proper work when in his Holy Scriptures he asserts that through her his gifts were instilled in the prophets, namely, the inclination to all virtues, as can be seen in Elisha [II Kings 3:15]. On the other hand, she serves to cast out Satan, the instigator of all sins, as is shown in Saul, the king of Israel (1 Sam. 16-23)

Thus it was not without reason that the fathers and prophets wanted nothing else to be associated as closely with the Word of God as music. Therefore, we have so many hymns and Psalms where message and music join to move the listener’s soul, while in other living beings and [sounding] bodies music remains a language without words. After all, 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 Treasury of Daily Prayer)

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Sermon Text:  St. Matthew 13:  44-52 and in particular these verses:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

 One of the perennial outdoors children games is “Hide and Go Seek”.  One child is “it” and counts to certain number, and everyone goes and hides, then “it” seeks after all those who are hiding.  There was always a certain excitement in hiding of both not wanting to be found and then actually being found.  After awhile, if I hid too well, it felt like it was taking forever and then I wanted to be found because hiding was both boring and scary.  Scary because there could be the kid who hid too well:   “Where’s Billy? Everyone else is has been found.” “Let’s play ball!”   “Oh, let’s leave him!” “We just can’t leave him!” “Billy!!!”  

The Bible begins with Hide and Go Seek.  After Genesis chapters 1 and 2, all about the creation of the heavens and the earth and plants and cattle and people, the Lord God gives to the man a garden. The Lord tells the first husband and wife that they may eat of all the trees of the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for on that day, you will die.  In chapter 3, the woman is tempted by the serpent and so eats of that one tree, not trusting in the Lord above all things, and so does her husband. Remember what happened?  The Lord God was walking in the cool of the day, calls out to the man, Where are you?  Adam responded, I was afraid so I hid.  Hide and Go Seek but this was no game.  Adam was found out. 

In the game, the child who is “it” is kind of like God, powerful, in so far as “it” is the only one free to go searching but the Lord is all powerful and all knowing, He knew where Adam was hid.  The Lord’s question was and is the probing question of the Law:  Where are you?  Where are you in life?  Where are you this day?  People think they can hide in plain sight but from the Lord no secrets are hid.  We know the Lord’s question that day was one of the Law because of Adam’s answer: I was afraid and so I hid, because he was naked before the living God. Adam was looking only now to himself as the serpent’s false promise duped him: you will be like God.  Adam’s faith was now in himself, not the Lord, looking to Him alone. 

 It is scary, say after gossiping and lying, to be found out.  Too many think just being found out is bad, no, it is the deed of gossiping and lying that is bad, and though seemingly a peccadillo,  a small sin, it can lead serpentine like to greater temptations and sin. Yet the Lord’s question was also one of grace as He allowed the crown of His creation the dignity to answer and confess.  I was afraid and so I hid.  Yes, the Lord punished Adam and his wife, Eve but He also clothed them.  Adam and Eve had made clothes for themselves out of fig leaves but what we do to cover up is insufficient for any wrong we think, say or do.  All the self-made pious and religious works of man will not cover-up wrong. Later the Lord Himself made clothes for them, not of plants but of  skins. Only the Lord can cover us,

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Finding us in the nakedness of wrong, He has clothed us in the garments of righteousness, of our baptism in into Christ, His death and resurrection, found, hidden and bought. 

These two  parables of the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price are about hide and go seek. The treasure and the pearl were hid, lost and now found.  It is funny in the game that children will purposely go hide, in a sense, to get lost for awhile.  But when it is not a game, when a man or a woman purposely hides, they are lost, in a sense not wanting to found, as in the children’s game, but also wanting ever so to be found.  The kingdom of heaven is a like a man who finds a buried treasure and a pearl of great price.  In both parables, the man sells all that he has to buy it. 

These two short and yet crazy, wild parables someone finds a pearl or a hidden treasure and sells all he has to buy it.  Can you imagine one of these guys getting home?  “Hi, dear.”

“What’s new”, asks his wife.

“I bought this perfect pearl,” he says with a smile that won’t quit.  

“That’s nice, dear, how did you pay for it?”

“I sold everything we have to buy it! The house is not ours!”

I do not think dinner that night would be pleasant…at least Jack’s magic beans were eventually fruitful.

The man finding the treasure calls up his wife:

“Hi Hon…Where am I?  Oh, the Simpson farm…What am I doing here?  I bought it…Yup, all 1,280 acres…Why?  I found buried treasure on the farm, so I covered up again and bought the field so I can have it…Yes, that’s how much I wanted the buried treasure…yes, honey, I sold everything we have…No, I don’t need a psychiatrist.”   And in the hidden treasure parable the guy “in his joy” literally bought the field, he bought the farm,  to have the treasure. 

One interpretation of the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl, the treasure and the pearl represent God’s grace in Jesus Christ His mercy is priceless, in terms of worldly treasure, a pearl of great price, etc.  So the disciple needs and seeks God’s grace.  No doubt about that but that is not what the parable is about.  It’s worth our all, everything. It’s true. So sell all that you have to buy God’s grace?!?  Can we buy His grace, His mercy?  You better start coughing up the money now. Now there’s a new stewardship campaign. Sadly it would work to bring in money, gilt with guilt, but it does not work in terms of God’s grace in His Son. Grace which is gift. We cannot buy God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  In fact, the only way I am downright joyful in buying something is when I can get it a half-price! Not an exorbitant price. Anyone visiting in the Middle East knows about haggling in the suqs (marketplaces),  you try to get the price down and the men in the parables do not haggle.   No half-price sale in these parables. What’s going on here? 

Another interpretation:  The Lord said of Israel that they are his “treasured possession”, out of all the peoples on the earth.  Why did He choose them?  Because they were the fewest of the peoples on the earth.  He loved them.  He found them. He freed them out of Egypt. The Lord keeps covenant with them.  In His parables about the reign of heaven it is about the reign of heaven in and with His beloved Son Jesus Christ.  He goes seeking,  searching and finding, as in another parable like a shepherd in search of his lost sheep.  The hidden treasure and the pearl are His disciples:  you.  Treasured. Remember that at this time of the Gospel narrative, things are going against Jesus and the 12. He tells them:  I found you. You did not choose Me, but chose you that you go out and bear much fruit.   With joy I brought you to Myself.  I dug you out.  Then we hear of joy in a parable about the lost sheep.  There is more joy in heaven over one sinner repenting than 99 who do not.  The shepherd carried the 300 pound smelly sheep home to himself. The shepherd just could not leave the one sheep behind, he could not leave Billy.  What was of great value, one life, is found, paid for, dug out.  Notice that the Lord’s currency exchange is not the same as the United States or any country for that matter.  In the first parable, the man bought the farm to have the hidden treasure he found. In the parable of the wheat and weeds, Jesus said  that the field  is the world.   “He bought the farm” is a grim saying about dying.  Jesus bought the farm, the world, He so loved,  to have us, not with silver or gold, but His own precious blood. Priceless.  So is the price of one life: yours and your neighbor’s life.  He is risen!  “Oh wondrous thought, He found me when I sought Him not!”  He catches the fish in His net and yes some will be unclean and unrepentant. As if He is saying:  “Fear not, again as in the parable of the wheat and the weed, I will sort it out.  I have caught you alive because you were buried and My will and My word is to catch others alive.  Spread the net. I take care of the birds of air, and are you not worth more than they?  I paid salvation’s price for you out of  My love which does not die, but is alive as I am the resurrection and the life.”  

Look at what the Lord values…I have heard many times in the news that in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States spent much in terms of, “blood and treasure”. It is true, but it is blood that is our treasure.  Christ’s blood is our treasure that buys us, not finally with silver or gold, but with everything He had.  The Father treasures His Son’s blood.  We want a bargain in using our treasure and rightly so.  Yet, if you want a good idea of what the old Adam treasures:  see TV commercials, see e-bay. He found us but not at a bargain. 

Truly, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” 

This verse is unique in all the 4 Gospels.  Some have suggested that Matthew included it because it described him to a tee, the former tax collector now a scribe in the reign of heaven.  Matthew brought out new and old, both testaments, all of Scripture, Law and Promise is the Lord’s treasured Word to us all. When we grow up we realize that our parents’ commands were good because they loved us.  Golden rules are His Law. His golden Rule is in and through Jesus Christ reigns in our life by His forgiveness, by grace alone.  Without mistake and without mistakes in His Word in the Scriptures toward us so that we believe and live in Him.  Found.  Nothing in all creation can take us away from the One Who has found us and dug us out and made us alive. God’s law finds us out.   His Gospel has found us.  We live as found people, conformed to the image of His Son, looking like Jesus because He first loved us.  In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

 

 

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