Woe is me! … Send me!

Isaiah 6:1-8. Have you noticed the dramatic turn-around in this call of Isaiah? It is also a dramatic call for us.

We are surrounded by “reality TV,” which looks nothing like real life. News and entertainment often are indistinguishable. We have a “god” of our own imagination. Isaiah’s words slap us in the face, waking us up from our own created world, to the real world. The real world is filled with sin and its effects. But Isaiah opens our eyes to the real God too. We may reduce God to our buddy, who is confusing at times, even a laptop god who acts as a comfort blanket. Or we push him away then wonder why he is indifferent to us. So, our ultimate question is: “Who is this God?”

God appears in his holiness (majesty). The angels sing the refrain of praise, far beyond anything we can imagine. Isaiah is being called by this holy God to speak to an unholy people. Isaiah’s reaction (like the people in Exodus 19) is to take stock of the people (sinful) and himself (sinful). “Woe is me!” strips away any pretense that Isaiah is “better” than his hearers. Before this holy God, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

God obviously was aware of Isaiah’s sinful state, but God also knows that the solution rests with him (God) not with any human effort. God approaches Isaiah through the angel who touches Isaiah’s lips with the burning coal and then proclaims: “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” As a cleansed person, now Isaiah is transformed from the woe-filled sinner to the forgiven sinner, a prophet ready for God’s work. Only that will sustain him as he faces a nation of people who refuse to listen to him.

How critical it is for us to be reminded of this truth about the forgiving God who restores the sinner! Each Sunday in worship as we confess our sins, we join Isaiah saying “Woe is me!” But even better, God’s words come to us “I forgive you your sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. Those life-giving words bring us back from the sinful reality of this world to the restored reality of life with God. So simple, so profound! Send me, Lord!

Relationship between Theology and Worship

 Nick Norelli responded to a question about whether theology affects doing church, specifically worship.

Here was my initial response. From a Lutheran perspective, theology and worship are intimately connected. Thus, justification by grace through faith is not only the pillar by which the church stands or falls, it is the heart of worship (or strictly “divine service” – meaning God serves us through Word and Sacrament, and we respond in service with praise, prayer, and singing).

This also means that our theology and worship are Christocentric, while also being Trinitarian. The invocation (”in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”) is Trinitarian and Baptismal. Note that Lutheran worship traditionally begins with those words, and not the common Protestant one (”We make our beginning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit), because we see worship as not only God centered, but God-initiated. The God who baptized us is the God who calls us into to his presence to receive his gifts in the Word and in the Lord’s Supper. The invocation is matched by the Trinitarian benediction (Numbers 6:24-26). This is not a conclusion but a sending with the promise that all that God has bestowed in the service now goes with the person. This matches the use of Numbers 6 as the blessing before the Israelites begin their extended journey.

Of course, there is much more to this, which I hope to address in the near future.

The Passive/Receptive Life

Oswald Bayer wrote an excellent book, Theology The Lutheran Way. Here is an insightful comment from that book.

What does the passive/receptive life (vita passiva) or the passive righteousness (iustitia passiva) mean, systematically for faith and theology? The righteousness of faith is passive in the sense that “we let God work in us by himself and we with all our powers do nothing of our own.” “Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born again of God, John 1[:12-13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different, in heart and spirit and mind and powers” (cf. Deut. 6:5). Faith then is entirely God’s work and not a human achievement. We can only “suffer” it. Christian righteousness, which is passive, is entirely opposite to works-righteousness. We can only receive it. We do not work but let another work in us, namely, God. Christian righteousness is not understood by the world. It is hidden from people trapped in themselves and want to boast of their own achievements. It is hidden from those who not only want to make something of themselves but who want to be self-made people.

Oswald Bayer,
Theology the Lutheran Way, Lutheran Quarterly Books, edited and translated by Jeffrey G. Silcock and Mark C. Mattes, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007 [orig. 1994]), p. 24.

The Lord’s Prayer

The first liturgical text I will examine is the Lord’s Prayer, found in variant forms in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. Probably along with Psalm 23 no text of the Bible is more well known. This is great, but it also raises concern when looking at translations to flow within the liturgy. Liturgically, the Lord’s Prayer is used in every worship service; for communion services, it occurs within the “Service of the Sacrament” immediately following the Sanctus (Lutheran Service Book [LSB], p. 195-196), and for non-communion services at the end of the Prayer for the Church (LSB, p. 193/196).

It appears that the liturgical development of the Lord’s Prayer became a synthesis of the two accounts in Matthew and Luke. For instance, in Matthew the text reads, οφειληματα, “debts” but in Luke the text reads αμαρτιας, “sins” or sometimes “trespasses.”

Of course, the primary textual issue concerns whether the ending is in fact part of the original text (“For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. “). For this study, I will not pursue that point, except to note that the evidence suggests that the ending was not original to the texts in Matthew/Luke, but became canonical because of its incorporation into the liturgy as such. Interestingly, within Lutheran liturgy, there is recognition of the difference between the ending and the rest of the prayer in the “Service of the Sacrament”, in which the pastor prays/chants the prayer itself, and the congregation responds/chants with the last line as an appropriate doxological response. Musically, theologically, and emotionally a very powerful combination! For me this is the most significant musical memory of the entire liturgy from 50+ years ago.

The first rendering is from the traditional liturgy as (LSB, pp. 196), which follows the KJV.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 6:9-13


    Our Father in heaven,
    Hallowed be Your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done
    On earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our debts,
    As we forgive our debtors.
    And do not lead us into temptation,
    But deliver us from the evil one.
    For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.


    “Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread,
    and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.


    “‘Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name,
    your kingdom come,
    your will be done
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us today our daily bread.
    Forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.


    Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy.
    May your Kingdom come soon.
    May your will be done on earth,
    as it is in heaven.
    Give us today the food we need,
    and forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
    And don’t let us yield to temptation,
    but rescue us from the evil one.


    Our Father in heaven,
    help us to honor
    your name.
    Come and set up
    your kingdom,
    so that everyone on earth
    will obey you,
    as you are obeyed
    in heaven.
    Give us our food for today.
    Forgive us for doing wrong,
    as we forgive others.
    Keep us from being tempted
    and protect us from evil.


    Our Father in heaven,
    let your name be kept holy.
    Let your kingdom come.
    Let your will be done on earth
    as it is done in heaven.
    Give us our daily bread today.
    Forgive us as we forgive others.
    Don’t allow us to be tempted.
    Instead, rescue us from the evil one.

Apart from the “understandability” of the words, I am focusing on the use of this within the context of liturgy. I think that God’s Word is the easiest to understand in contemporary English, although NLT and CEV would be second. Obviously, the NKJV most closely reflects the KJV and liturgical text. In the case of the Lord’s Prayer, however, there is another factor to keep in mind, the synthesis of two different texts. So a proposal to the Lord’s Prayer to modernize it would go like this:

Liturgy Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Notice that this involves changing only five words, but retaining the cadence of the original liturgical text. This means that those who learned the traditional wording and those who used the “modernized” text can speak it together without an interruption or disturbance. I have experimented with this, having ½ of the congregation speaking the traditional words and the other ½ of the congregation speak the modernized text (then we switched sides). They were pleasantly surprised that it worked so well and they appreciated that either would be acceptable.

This might be a help for those who look for a translation that will engage everyone in the memory of Scripture texts, especially those who learned using the KJV. I found that when getting the congregation to memorize together, the NKJV worked the best.

Liturgical Translation – Cadence and Psalm 136

Psalm 136 Refrain

As a beginning point for liturgical use of Scripture, I begin with cadence/rhythm of language. Specifically I explore how English can provide an appropriate spoken cadence, while still doing justice to the Hebrew.

Derek Kidner offered these words at the beginning of Psalm 136. “Our versions of this psalm are mostly cumbersome: they lack the swiftness which should rid its repetitions of their tedium. The six Hebrew syllables of the response have their happiest equivalent in the Gelineau version of Psalm 118:1 (117:1 in Gelineau’s numbering): ‘for his love has no end.’”[1] I have included several translations of that refrain with the number of syllables in parentheses.

  • KJV for his mercy endureth for ever. (10)

  • For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. (12)

  • NASU For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (11)

  • NKJV For His mercy endures forever. (9)

  • ESV for his steadfast love endures forever. (10)

  • WEB for his loving kindness endures forever. (11)

  • NIV His love endures forever. (7)

  • TNIV His love endures forever. (7)

  • NIrV His faithful love continues forever. (10)

  • NLT His faithful love endures forever. (9)

  • CEV God’s love never fails. (5)

  • NCV His love continues forever. (8)

  • HCSB His love is eternal. (6)

  • NJB for his faithful love endures for ever. (10)

  • GW because his mercy endures forever. (10)

  • AAT/Beck His mercy endures forever! (8)

  • NJP His steadfast love is eternal. (8)
  • Obviously, one concern is how to translate הסד, ranging from “love” (1) to “lovingkindness” (4). As Kidner notes, if the context of the Psalms are noted, then the concept of “covenant faithfulness” can still come through in the translation “love.” A second problem concerns whether the Hebrew supports the idea of “endures” or is better rendered with the implied “is”; which is Kidner’s choice. finally how do we translate לעולמ as “forever” or “eternal” or “everlasting,” which adds 3 or 4 syllables. Also, do we translate the conjunctions כי and לֹ, and if so, how? For those that translate כי, it is either “for” or “because”; about half of these translations leave it untranslated. Yet it seems necessary within the context of antiphonal reading.

    My concern isn’t as much on the theological choices in each case (there is a definite need for that!), but rather how does this affect the oral cadence of the choices. In order to evaluate each, I had to speak them out loud several times to see whether the cadence was consistent and sustainable. The CEV is shortest in terms of syllables, but the possessive “God’s love” seems almost awkward in such a short sentence, especially after a few repetitions. The more formal equivalent (word-for-word) translations include the conjunction “for,” which is needed and seems appropriate. On the other hand, the desire to expand on הסד also increases the length of the response, which seems contrary to the sense of the Hebrew six-syllable structure.

    For those translations remaining, NIV/TNIV have a good sound, but lack the conjunction, which loses something of the connection of the response to the preceding statements. Also, both use “endures” (as do most of the translations), rather than “is.” Surprisingly, HCSB provides the same six-syllable structure of the Hebrew “ His love is eternal.” The one draw back is that the first three words are monosyllabic, whereas the last word is trisyllabic. This means that the syllable count is correct, but is a little jarring to the oral sense of the response. It appears that Kidner’s approval of Gelineau is the best, “for his love has no end.” In this case, the six-syllable structure is maintained, and each word is monosyllabic.

    Now, obviously not every passage in English will be able to sustain the same syllable count as the Hebrew. But in the case of an oral response, there is something to be said for the terseness of this translation. As a suggestion, perhaps the reader can experiment with a group of people. Use three or four of the translations (each with a different syllable count, i.e. don’t use NIV and TNIV, or KJV and ESV) and antiphonal speak 6-8 verses. Then try using Gelineau’s translation. See what impact it has on the group. Notice whether the interest flags with the longer response line.

    As we explore liturgical use of translations, we can see the importance of oral cadence in that process.

    [1] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150: A Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, edited by D. J. Wiseman, Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975, p. 457.