The Word Remains, a Hopeful Book by an Old Lutheran

Front cover 600pxA review essay by Todd A. Peperkorn

The Word Remains: Selected Writings on the Church Year and the Christian Life is a collection of sermons and writings by the renowned mission pastor and nineteenth century theologian, Wilhelm Löhe (1808-1872).

I first ran into this book while visiting Neuendettelsau in 2009. We were staying with friends in the area, and he happened to have a copy of this book in the German edition from 2008. Since that time it has been calling to me from my shelves, mocking me for not knowing German well enough to really appreciate the language and poetry which is Wilhelm Löhe.

But no longer.

It is available in English for the first time, thanks to the work of Emmanuel Press of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In an introductory essay, Manfred Seitz gives us good counsel on how to receive and make use of this little book. He writes:

There are two kinds of reading: lingering reading and consuming reading. People of the ancient and medieval world, where there were no or very few books, read slowly— repeating, pondering, and lingering over what they read. Then, above all through the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg (1400–1468), came reading for the purpose of consumption, in which lines and sentences were quickly skimmed. This is the way we mostly read books, newspapers, journals, and documents. The former, the careful and contemplative reading, which satisfies itself in just a few pages per day, is what we ought to take up again, apply, and practice. This is how we get back to Wilhelm Löhe, and this is how his writings should be read.

In this little volume the reader will find that nearly every sentence drips with Gospel infused wisdom. I found myself wanting to highlight every page, until I realized that the whole book is worthy of that kind of careful attention.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part follows the rhythms of the Church Year, and offers insight into each season without going into much depth on the particular texts. The second part is what I would call the doctrinal section, and which Löhe calls “Our Faith”. The third and final part is entitled, “Brief Maxims from Löhe,” that is, short says or aphorisms on various topics both theological and non-theological.

Here is a good example of the encouragement offered to the believer by Löhe:

Faithfulness—in Little Things

It is a hidden glory in the Christian life to practice faithfulness in little things, that is, in one’s vocation; yet it is more difficult and more glorious than martyrdom. Martyrdom is aided by an agitated time, an emotional disposition, and it is often quickly won; it only takes a brief moment. But being faithful in little things involves bearing patiently the quiet tedium of a monotonous, elapsing life to the praise of the Lord (p. 81).

Now you could probably sit down and read this book in an hour and a half start to finish, and none the wiser. Add in the supplementary materials that introduce and follow the book, and they are almost worth the price alone. The work stands by itself as a hopeful view of the life that is to come even while the world is dying all around us. But reading it start to finish and then putting it away would be a mistake.

My best suggestion for this work is to buy and read it straight through, so you have a sense of the whole. But then sit back and let the words linger for a time. Take a couple pages a day and drink them in. Don’t be in a hurry. The words will be there and aren’t going anywhere. I would also suggest that The Word Remains is a welcome compendium to Löhe’s Seed-Grains of Prayer, also available from Emmanuel Press.

What really typifies the book for me are the words hope and joy. So often we tend to look down in our reading and meditation, or see “devotional reading” as a chore or something to get through. But Löhe manages to look up and look forward through the cross to the Last, Great Day. His writing is, in that way, deeply Christological and sacramental.

It is just what this pastor needs every day.

This book was provided to the reviewer at no charge by the publisher.

A Sermon on Physical and Eternal Healing

Every once in a while a sermon hits a chord where there seem to be homiletic overtones. I know, a cheesy analogy. I’m ready for vacation.

…anyway, the sermon from this past Sunday is one that addresses the question between the relationship between sin, sickness, death, forgiveness, and eternal life. In about twelve minutes or so. I hope it brings you some comfort.

Sermon from Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Rocklin, California, published via the power of IFTTT.

Five Years a California Pastor

My installation at Holy Cross on August 19, 2011.

Five years ago today I was installed as pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Rocklin, California. As with many things, it seems like it was both yesterday and a thousand years ago. But here are a few of my thoughts that have bubbled up along the way.

  1. It takes about five years to get to know a congregation, and another five years to get to know a community. Years ago a seasoned pastor told me that, and I think it is generally true. Holy Cross is very much home for us now, and it is hard for me to imagine being anywhere else. California and Rocklin are still a bit surreal, but I expect that will keep coming along the way. It just takes a certain number of major life events to really get to know people. Baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals all shape the pastoral relationship with a congregation, as well as the week-to-week preaching and teaching and celebrating the Eucharist together.
  2. California is not as weird as I thought. People are people, and while the context of ministry changes from place to place, our common humanity binds us together more than it separates. While there are some unique pastoral challenges here that weren’t in the Midwest, the Word remains the same, and Jesus remains the same in Wisconsin, or California, or to the uttermost parts of the earth.
  3. Our common humanity is not as clear as it once was. The things that bind us together as human beings continue to become more blurry. Marriage, family, children, things that were once obvious and taken for granted are less so now. It’s hard to pin down, but there is a shift going on, no doubt about it. I have found myself addressing more issues of human sexuality today than I have in the past, and I believe that will continue and expand, not revert back to what it once was.
  4. I love my family, and I recognize the sacrifices that they continue to make in order for me to serve Holy Cross. I’m not saying this because their sacrifices are so much bigger or more pious than anyone else. It is, however, a simple reality that we are really, really far away from our families. That continues to be the single biggest challenge to our living here.
  5. I have grown as a pastor since being here. Going to a new congregation was very good for me as a pastor, even though it was terribly hard for me to leave all our friends in Kenosha. I am a bit more circumspect and a less impulsive when it comes to pastoral care and congregational leadership. Plus moving gives me a whole new opportunity to mess up and receive forgiveness! That has to be good.

Those are my thoughts on this Friday morning. Now it’s time to write a funeral sermon for a dear parishioner, finish up things for Sunday, and begin year six!

(Originally posted on Lutheran Logomaniac.)

In Praise of Pastors’ Wives

Last week I served in the chapel service for Higher Things in Fort Collins, Colorado, and watched all of the other pastors assist with Holy Communion. At this Higher Things event there were somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred pastors present. It is one of the more unusual blessings, that HT has so many pastors able to come, teach, preach, assist with services in various ways, and in a phrase, to be there.

The sacrifice isn’t really theirs, however. It is their wives (and children) who most often make the sacrifice.

Between serving in three districts, working in admissions, and graduating from both a seminary and a Concordia prep school (Go Seward Bulldogs!), I know a lot of pastors, and with that, a lot of pastor’s wives. Now my lens is clearly shaded toward that most awesome of all pastor’s wives, namely, my own wife. She has been by my side for twenty-one years, and almost all of those years have been while I was serving as a parish pastor. She is beautiful, passionate in all things, and is awesome. I have, however, seen these “patterns of awesomeness” repeated many, many times over the years, by lots of pastor’s wives. Here are just a few character traits that come to mind today. We could talk about each one, but the list will start to give you the picture:

  • Faithfulness.
  • Sacrificial.
  • Persistence.
  • Honesty.
  • Flexibility.
  • Love.
  • Encouraging.
  • Empathy.
  • Courage.
  • Kindness.

We pastors are not always the wisest when it comes to how we use our time and energy. There are many times when my wife and family seem to get the left-overs. But through it all, God is merciful, the pastor’s family somehow stays together, and there is still food on the table and a bed to sleep on at night. And so much more. The only way I am able to serve the people whom God has entrusted to me is because my wife is by my side.

St. Paul says that an overseer must be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2), and Solomon asks the question, “An excellent wife, who can find? She is far more precious than jewels” (Prov. 31:10). As I looked out over the thousand young people, pastors, chaperones and others in Fort Collins, it reminded me once again that the Ministry of the Word is never about one person. My wife isn’t a co-pastor or minister in some kind of cheesy way. She is much more than that. She is the one who serves, who loves, and who does all these things without anyone even seeing it, for the most part. That makes it all the more amazing.

Yes, I know pastor’s wives are sinners. Yes, I know sometimes they are a burden, just like everyone can be at some point or another. But generally speaking, husbands will serve their wife and family better by holding one another up, and by covering one another’s sins. I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible, even.

So there you go, Wives of Awesomeness. You know who you are. This pastor salutes you, as do your husbands, and the whole church. And if anyone ever makes light of the burdens you bear and the sacrifices you make, send them to me. We will straighten them out real quick.

The Bread That Does Not Run Out

Wednesday of Higher Things, (July 27, 2016)

1 Kings 17:8-16

TITLE: “The Bread That Does Not Run Out”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Do you know what it is to be hungry? I don’t mean I’m so hungry I could eat a fourth donut. Have you lived at a time when you did not know where your next meal comes from, or even if there will be one? Many in our world know the life of this widow from Zarephath. Many know what it means to tighten the belt one more notch, to give food to their children but not to themselves. For us Americans, It is far more likely that we will die from overeating than it is from starvation.

But here she is before you. This woman, this widow and her son. Her husband is dead. She is preparing her last meal for her and her son. She might as well be condemned. Can you feel her sadness and despair? Two sticks. That’s what she’s missing. Just two sticks. Put them together, start the fire and her life will burn out with her son and with the bread.

This is your life, if your life is only made up of what you can cobble together for yourself. You may not be starving, but you do long for a life that is full and abundant. You long for the daily bread that you need to live, but know that even with all you have, it will never be enough. No matter how much you consume, someday the apple will be like ash in your mouth. Some day, you will die, for that is the way of life under the curse of sin.

But for the widow, Elijah gives hope. “Do not fear,” he says in the words of the angels. The bread that the Lord makes for Elijah and the widow and her son will not run out. It is as if he prays the Psalm for her, “You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Ps. 145:16) The widow and her son live. God gives hope to the hopeless. This bread that will not run out is life for them, real life.

Do you see yourself in this widow and her son? You are not here, in God’s house, because you look great, feel great, or have your life all perfect and tidy., You are not here because you were born into the right family or have the appropriate color of skin, whatever that may be. You are not here because you live in the right town, or the right part of the country, or the right country at all. There is nothing in you that makers you worthy to receive the mercies of God from His hand.

No, you are here because God feeds you with the bread of life, the bread that lasts for all the ages to come. You are here because Jesus Christ opens His hands to you and shows you the wounds, indeed bears the wounds of the cross for you for all time. You are here because Jesus Christ hungers and thirsts for you, that you would receive His righteousness as only He can give.

And according to the Word of the Lord, it is His own body that you eat and His own blood that you drink. And because of that, it is not just that you receive life. A life apart from God is no life at all. No, in receiving His own flesh and blood, the bread of life, you receive the life of God Himself. The hymn says “Thou hast desired Thy life for man” (LSB 834:1), and it is true. God put two sticks together on the cross so that you would live from that bread which never runs out.

God desires that you would live in Him and He in you. That is your hope, that is your future, that is the very bread you eat.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Rocklin, California

Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn