Sunday, May 03, 2015

Sermon: Cantate (Easter 5) – 2015

3 May 2015

Text: John 16:5-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Sometimes after a tragedy or an illness, a person has to learn how to function all over again.  Sometimes people need to relearn how to walk, to talk, to read, to play music, to drive a car as if they never knew how to do these things before.  Sometimes a person has to re-learn who he is, who his family members are, and what it means to be a human being.

The greatest tragedy in the history of humanity happened ironically in the Garden of Eden.  When our first parents rebelled against their loving Creator – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – they alienated themselves, not just from the wonderful Garden, but also from God and from their own humanity itself.  We forgot what it meant to be truly human.

No more would we be perfect physical, psychological, and spiritual beings in perfect communion with one another, with nature, and with the eternal God.  The Fall was a cosmic tragedy that changed all of our existence in a millisecond.

And we have been learning how to be human ever since.

God had to reacquaint mankind with Himself (God) and with himself (man).  God had to send prophets with the Word of God so that man might relearn how to be human, to fill in the missing collective memories of his past, to make baby steps toward a reconstruction of life in perfect communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to move toward a restoration of our perfect, eternal state.

The people of God had to relearn about the holiness of God, that He is not a stone idol or a created thing, not a force of nature or a mythological hybrid between a man and a beast.  The people of God had to relearn about sin and death, about atonement and forgiveness, about eternal life and the covenants and promises of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God provided the rainbow as a reminder of His mercy, the Temple as a reminder of the price of sin, and the priesthood to pave the way for our Great High Priest to come.  God provided prophecies to point us to the Lord’s coming in the flesh among us, and of what true humanity was and was to come.

And at the fullness of time, we were taught what it was to be truly human by the only perfect Man among all humanity, Jesus Christ.  Jesus taught us that God is “our Father who art in heaven,” that He is perfect and expects us to be perfect, that He is merciful, and gives us His righteousness as a free gift, and He Himself, the Son of God, laid down His life on the cross to undo the damage that we have done ever since Eden.  He rose from the dead to teach us that death is unnatural, and that it is overcome by love, by His blood, and by the will of the Father.

But we still had more to learn, even after the Lord’s resurrection.

This is what Jesus means by saying: “It is to your advantage that I go away.”  For God was not done revealing Himself to us, re-teaching us what we tragically forgot at the Fall.  For the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity had yet to come and dwell with His Church, to guide us into all truth.  This is the “Helper,” the παράκλητος (“parakletos”), which can also be understood as “advocate,” “comforter,” “guide,” “consoler” and “intercessor.”  We know Him as the Holy Spirit.  He is equal in glory and co-eternal in majesty with the Father and the Son, uncreated, infinite, eternal, and almighty.  He is “of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding.”  He is indeed to be worshipped. 

He is neither a “she” nor an “it.”  He is not an impersonal force of the universe.  He is God Almighty, and our Lord Jesus Christ has begun to reacquaint mankind with Him in this Word that He speaks to us anew in the Holy Gospel.

The Holy Spirit has much to teach us, and promises to dwell in us as fleshly temples, even as He has “called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”  Dear friends, indeed, “In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

In the Church, “He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers,” thus restoring to us our bygone innocence and our paradise lost.  “On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.  This is most certainly true.”

This is the work of our Helper, the Holy Spirit, who came at Pentecost, tearing down the linguistic walls between men (which began at Babel) and shattering the self-imposed boundary between mankind and God (which began at Eden).

Our Lord taught us what it meant to be truly human, in His life, preaching, teaching, and most of all, in His supreme act of love on the cross and in His glorious resurrection from the dead at the tomb.  And the expression, “God isn’t finished with me yet” was most certainly true as our Lord Jesus Christ promised yet another revelation of God, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, whom He promised would be sent to us. 

He came to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”  These are all things that we had lost touch with in our universal human amnesia concerning the God who created us, redeems us, and sanctifies us.  And our Lord had much more to say, but we could not bear them at that time.  As our Lord said, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.”

Dear friends, our Father is merciful!  He has created each one of us; He has seen to it that each one of us has received the Word and promise of redemption in Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism, and He continues to come to us in the Word of Absolution, in the Gospel, and in the ongoing feast of the Holy Supper.  He has enlightened us to receive this promise and given us the gift of faith in His Word.  We poor miserable sinners, now forgiven sinners, are once more in communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Because of the Father’s love begotten in the Son, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” we are able to relearn who God is, who our brothers and sisters in Christ are, and what it means to be a human being, to be truly human as we were meant to be, and to live forever in Christ’s kingdom, “and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness,” now and forevermore.  “This is most certainly true.”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sermon: Jubilate (Easter 4) – 2015

26 April 2015

Text: John 16:16-22

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

“You will have sorrow now.”

This is not something that any of us wants to hear.  The word translated as “sorrow” can be understood as pain, grief, affliction, distress, trouble, regret, mourning, and heaviness of heart. 

And Jesus is using the “you” in the plural: “y’all will have sorrow.”  It’s not just something that some other person will suffer.  The Holy Spirit caused this to be written in the Scriptures for us.  We can take no comfort in the fact that Jesus is speaking to the disciples of the first century, for we too are His disciples; we too are among those who have taken up the cross to follow Him.  Nor does our Lord say that we “might” have sorrow.  It is clear that Jesus is saying that we will have sorrow now, meaning in time, in this age, in the world, in our earthly lives.

“You will have sorrow now.”

For us average 21st century Americans, sorrow has generally been something other people have: the starving children in India or Ethiopia, the people oppressed by their own governments in the Soviet Union or China, the poor in the inner city, or people suffering with ebola or the bubonic plague safely tucked away on the other side of the world or long dead in centuries past.

Sorrow is for other people, of course until it visits us: cancer, addiction, family strife, money problems, depression, sick children, grandparents with dementia, our own aches and pains, heart ailments, anxiety, being victimized by crime, losing our possessions to natural disasters or to economic necessity, and death itself which surrounds us and nips at our own heels.

“You will have sorrow now.”

For us Christians in this culture, our sorrows are increasing.  Just a few days ago, a Christian couple was assessed a punitive judgment of $135,000 dollars for refusing to bake a cake for a ceremony that violated their consciences as Christian people.  The couple has five children, and are looking at total financial ruin.  This sends a chilling message to any of us who would dare believe in the Scriptures, confess the holy faith, and endeavor to live according to the Word of God.

“You will have sorrow now.”

These American Christians, and others like them, are not being persecuted by ISIS terrorists, by an extreme Islamic government, or by a Communist regime – but by American state and federal governments. The flag that was once waved by victims of the holocaust in World War II, who saw in it a symbol of liberation, is also the symbol of the government that has authorized the modern holocaust that has seen to it that nearly 58 million boys and girls have been legally slaughtered in the name of convenience and choice over the course of 42 years. Liberty and justice for all, indeed.  Lord, have mercy.

“You will have sorrow now.”

Dear friends, we often choose to put our heads in the sand.  We deal with the sorrow of this fallen world by all the wrong methods.  We medicate or drink our way through it.  We distract ourselves from it by hobbies and vacations and entertainment.  We figure we can buy our way out of it or rise above it through education or technology or political action.  We think we can fix it by medical breakthroughs or programs or economic systems.  We are convinced, like the builders of the Tower of Babel, that man can reach into the heavens by evolving or growing or self-actualizing or rejecting religion and tradition or by buying into the worldview that says absolute truth is unknowable.

“You will have sorrow now.”

But, dear friends, Jesus did not come into our sorrowful, broken, sin-soaked and death-laden world to leave us in our sorrows, to abandon us in our own deserved misery.  Instead, He has come to save us, to heal us, to forgive us, to restore us, to give us a new birth and a second chance, to make us whole!

“You will have sorrow now, but…”

We have sorrow because of our sins, but Christ is sinless, and He has come to our world to save us.  We deserve the devastation that we have inherited and that we have added to, but Christ has come in mercy to save us by His grace, out of His love, by means of His cross, and through His atoning death.  Jesus replaces the bad blood through a transfusion upon the cross and at the altar: exchanging our poisoned and malignant blood with His perfect and healing blood, giving His holy body into death for His imperfect bride, who has been made holy as His very body.  And He offers His true body and His true blood to us, dear friends, so that our sorrow will be overcome.

“You will have sorrow now, but…”

Yes, we still inhabit this broken world, breathing in its poisoned air, picking through the rubble and filth of its ruins to stay alive yet another day.  But, Jesus has come to give us life, that we may have it abundantly, eternally, and joyfully – through making peace with God, atoning for our sins, and offering a new life – a life without sorrow – to all who believe, to all who are baptized, to all who confess Him as Lord.

“You will have sorrow now, but I will see you again…”

Dear friends, even as the apostles watched Him ascend into heaven, even as they were filled with the Holy Spirit, even as they preached the good news to those who received it joyfully all around the world while awaiting the Lord’s return, so do we take up our cross, follow Him, and believe and confess the Gospel, taking part in the Church’s task to make disciples according to our own callings in the Christian faith and life. 

We do not see the Lord in His full glory now, but rather veiled under the forms of bread and wine.  He comes to us to strengthen us to bear the sorrow of this world by being present for us, and by fortifying us with His Word.  For He promises as the Word made flesh and in His written Word: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”

Dear brothers and sisters, our joy is in Him, in Christ alone.  For He has come into our sorrowful, fallen, and falling world in order to rescue us.   He has come to recreate it into something new, joyful, and eternal.  He regenerates us through the new birth of water and the Word, and promises that in Him, our sorrow is turned into joy.

For in a little while, we will see Him again.  In a little while, our persecutions will cease: those far away and those close to home; those carried out with the noose and the sword, as well as those done with judicial action and social ostracization.  In a little while, the slaughter of the innocents and our own sinful thoughts, words, and deeds will end, to be repealed and replaced by joy that will have no end.  In a little while, dear friends, we will see Him again, coming in clouds of glory, to bring us at last to our heavenly home, brought joyfully before the Father’s throne in eternity.

Yes, indeed, dear friends, hear the Word and promise of the Lord:

“You will have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you!”  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) – 2015

19 April 2015

Text: John 10:11-16, (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Every year on the third Sunday of Easter we ponder our Lord’s self-description that He is “the good shepherd.”  His teaching about Himself in John 10 has led to some of the most beautiful artwork in the history of the church.  From stained glass windows showing our Lord Jesus gently tending to lambs, to the majestic King James Bible’s almost musical English language rendition of the 23rd Psalm that we recite as we or others find ourselves “in the valley of the shadow of death,” to the lilt of our uplifting and comforting hymns sung on this celebration of Christ our Good Shepherd, these images are among the most beloved in the church.  As well they should be.

For this is precisely what the Gospel is all about.

These images are meaningful to us in the church because we understand the imagery of the sheep.  Though our Lord loves His creation and has promised to make all things new, these historic images of Jesus the Good Shepherd aren’t about cuddly animals.  Our Lord is using a metaphor.  He is the shepherd, dear friends, because we are the sheep.

Like sheep, our sinful flesh is in danger of wandering away from safety.  We may be bored or distracted.  We may be malicious or greedy.  We may be confused or bamboozled.  But for one reason or another, St. Peter explains our common and universal sinful condition using the sheep metaphor: “You were straying like sheep.”  We are in danger because we stray, we wander away from safety by going where we are not led.
Peter is extending the metaphor from the Old Testament, such as what Ezekiel shared anew with us today: that God’s people are “His sheep that have been scattered.”  He goes on to say that we “sheep” are “lost… strayed… injured [and] weak.”

Dear friends, this is what sin has done to us.  We are scattered because we have lost our way.  We have been so corrupted by sin that we don’t know where we are supposed to be, and so we start walking in this direction or that.  We get “lost.”  And once we are lost, the more we walk, the farther we become “strayed.”  Without protection, we are “injured”: injured by being where we shouldn’t be, injured by predators, injured by our own folly, injured by the devil and injured even to death.  We fall prey to our enemies because we are “weak” – lacking the vigor of health and strength precisely because of our wandering.  And again, this is because of sin.

It is only in this context do the images of Christ the Good Shepherd mean anything other than just one more pretty picture.  

But think about it, dear friends.  In our sinful meanderings, we are completely at a loss to help ourselves to overcome our sinful nature and find ourselves, let alone save ourselves.  We are like wandering sheep.  We have no claws like the bear, no fangs like the wolf, no fierce roar like the lion.  We are not feared like the rhino, not capable of flight like the eagle, not aggressive like the wolverine.  We can’t even bluff like a pufferfish or a frilled lizard that can make itself look scary.

In the face of death, in the face of the devil, in the face of temptation, about all we can do is look up and make little bleating sounds.  Thanks to sin, thanks to the fall, thanks to the corruption of our glorious created nature that formerly reflected God’s image, about all we can do is look up and make little bleating sounds for a Shepherd to save us.

And, dear friends, this is the most powerful thing that a sheep can do.  At least, assuming that his shepherd is a good shepherd, that he cares for his sheep, that he is the owner and not a mere hired hand.  For such a shepherd knows his sheep, and they know him.  Such a shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  And when a sheep has a Good Shepherd, bleating out “Lord, have mercy!” to his Shepherd is the most powerful thing he can do.  

This, dear friends, is the good news.  Yes, we are like sheep that have gone astray.  Yes we were straying like sheep.  Yes we are scattered and lost and strayed and injured and weak.  Yes, indeed, all of that is true.  For we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.  

But listen to the promise, dear friends!  Listen to the Word of the prophet Ezekiel: “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out.  As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so I will seek out My sheep, I will rescue them.”  God Himself, our Shepherd, promises to gather and feed us Himself – not by means of a hireling, but rather He will do this Himself: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”

God says these things in the Old Testament in the future tense (“I will be…), but our Lord Jesus says these things in the Gospel in the present tense (I am…): “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…. I know My own and My own know Me… and I lay down My life for the sheep.”

Dear friends, Jesus was not a shepherd to people in the past only.  Nor will Jesus be a shepherd to people in the future only.  For Jesus is the great I AM.  He is our Good Shepherd right here and right now.  For now is the day of salvation!  Now is the moment for us sheep to bleat out: “Lord, have mercy!  Save us now, O Lord!” 

We cry out to a Shepherd and Overseer who is at the same time the “Lamb of God” who “takes away the sin of the world.”  And we are bold to cry out:  “Have mercy on us!”  For this Lamb has ransomed the sheep: “Christ who only is sinless.”

And Jesus doesn’t mere say that He is “a” good shepherd, but rather He says: “I am ‘the’ Good Shepherd.”  There is no other Good Shepherd, dear friends, no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.  “For thus says the Lord God: Behold I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out.”

He says: “I will seek… I will rescue….  I will bring them… and gather them….”  He says: “I will feed them.”

For our Shepherd who became the sacrificial Lamb for our rescue, so that we might be gathered to Him and freed from being prey to Satan and death, He who went to the cross to seek us from our wandering and save us from dying, He promises to be that one and only Good Shepherd: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”

Indeed, dear friends, He has done it.  “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live in righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.”

And as St. Peter says in the past tense, because this has been completed even as our Lord said: “It is finished,” Peter goes on to explain the good news: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  This is the same St. Peter whom the Lord commanded and ordained three times: “Feed My sheep…. Feed My lambs.”  And the Lord commands and ordains men to feed us, His sheep with the Word and the sacraments, and will do so until He returns to gather His sheep.

Yes indeed, dear friends, the church understands the true eternal beauty and the true transcendent love embedded in this gospel mystery of the perfect Shepherd who offers up His own flawless life for all of us wandering and scattered sheep, especially as we pray: “Lord, have mercy” and as we confess: “The Lord is My shepherd, I shall not want.”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) – 2015

12 April 2015

Text: John 20:19-31 (Ezek 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

We often hear people say nowadays, “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual.”  I think what they often mean by this is something like this: “I want God on my terms, and so I’ll treat my faith like a buffet line, and take only what I want.”

And what our sinful nature wants is a sterile, defanged, and easily controlled belief system.  We like being “spiritual” because it sounds so pious, but in fact, being “spiritual” means taking the body out of the equation.  The sinful flesh loves this because it means the body can do whatever it wants: be it sexual immorality, gluttony, or physical laziness and absence from carrying out our vocations.  A spiritual religion doesn’t concern itself with chastity or with visiting “orphans and widows in their affliction” and keeping oneself “unstained from the world” as St. James describes, as opposed to what he calls “religion that is pure and undefiled before God.”

But “being spiritual” is even worse.  For it is to miss the whole point of what the human spirit was created to do: namely, to animate a human body, to dwell in human flesh, to live in the perfect glory that God meant for us on the first day in which He made man in His image and breathed life into his physical body.

There is a term for “being spiritual”, separating the body from the spirit.  It’s called “death.”

To be truly alive is to be like Jesus after the resurrection.  For on that first Sunday after the first Easter, the disciples were locked in a room in fear.  And who came to visit them?  Not a ghost.  Not a phantom.  Not an idea in their heads or feelings in their hearts.  Rather Jesus, the incarnate God, the bodily resurrected Son, came to them.  He did not come bearing a socially-acceptable, safe, and self-serving spirituality.  Rather He came bearing His body, standing in the flesh among them, and He said to them: “Peace be with you.”

The peace of God comes bodily: with Jesus, through Jesus, and in Jesus.  It is not an abstract idea, but a fleshly reality: “the peace that passes all understanding.”  Jesus gives the apostles the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”  And yet this Spirit is not given to the apostles spiritually, but rather bodily.  For the Lord “breathed on them.”  He ordained them by His physical contact, in much the same way as Jesus touched the sick to cure them, touched the demon-possessed to release them, and touched sinners to forgive them.  The apostles would later pass this Holy Spirit-wielding authority to forgive sins to other men, not through telepathy, not through happy thoughts, not through navel-gazing, but through the physical laying on of hands.

Jesus did not come to make the world spiritual, but rather to make the world more physical and more alive than at any time since the Garden of Eden.

And when St. Thomas the doubter came by next Sunday, our Lord Jesus did not offer Him a mystical vision, positive energy, or an aura: rather He offered St. Thomas His very fleshly body, and His bloody wounds, given to him physically for him to see and touch.  Thomas did not grope around for a spiritual experience, but rather stuck his finger into the Lord’s hand and side.  And Thomas confessed: “My Lord and my God!”  He did not believe in Jesus the ghost or Jesus the literary character.  He believed in Jesus: God, the Son of Man, who took flesh in order to die, who died in order to rise, who rose in order that we too might rise, and do so bodily.

Another son of man from an earlier day likewise had an encounter in the Spirit of the Lord that was anything but a “spiritual” experience.  For Ezekiel saw a field of bones.  And when the prophet preached the Word to these bones, the breath, that is, the spirit, entered them.  But the result was not spiritual, but physical: “I will lay sinews upon you,” says the Lord, “and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live…. And there was a rattling and the bones came together.”  And then came sinews and flesh and skin.  And when the breath, that is, the spirit entered the flesh, the flesh came to life: “an exceedingly great army.”

The Lord did not speak through Ezekiel promising a vague spirituality, but something shockingly physical: “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves…. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, O My people.  And I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live.”

How remarkable this Word is, this promise fulfilled before the doubting eyes of Thomas, whose hands touched the reality, whose eyes saw physically, and who himself would go on to baptize, preach, and administer Holy Communion in the flesh until his dying day.

Anyone who would try to “spiritualize” Jesus is attempting to tame Him, control Him, and reduce Him to a moralizing milquetoast instead of submitting to the Almighty One who conquered death by dying, and who physically rose from the tomb so that we too might rise.

Again, dear friends, this is not about spirituality, but about Jesus: His body and His blood, the water that flowed from His side, and the touch of His nail-scarred hands, hands that forgive sins, cure disease, cast out demons, and restore life even to the dead.  This is Good News, dear friends, and you experience this Gospel physically, from your Holy Baptism which you experienced not spiritually, but in the flesh; from the preached Word and Holy Absolution through which comes faith by hearing; and from Holy Communion, the flesh and blood of Jesus received by flesh and blood sinners, for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

“For everyone,” says St. John, “who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?  This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ.”

Dear friends, our Lord does not compare us to phantoms that run on positive thoughts, but rather to “newborn babes” who “desire the pure milk of the Word.”  For “He is risen from the dead” and He “stood in the midst and said, ‘Peace to you.’  Alleluia.”

And this is how we can confess in the flesh: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  For He has come in the flesh, and we receive His flesh in our own flesh, and like Thomas, we confess Him, the flesh-and-blood Jesus to be “[our] Lord and [our] God!”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sermon: Easter – 2015

5 April 2015

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In her autobiography, the great Christian philosopher Alice von Hildebrand recalls one of her very earliest memories.  When she was about three years old, she saw a nest that contained a dead baby bird.  And even as a little girl, it shocked and horrified her.  She ran to her mother for comfort.  Even today, as a woman in her nineties, that image remains etched in her mind.
Most of us experience death in some way while still children.  It might be the death of a pet, or the passing away of a grandparent.  For some children, the experience is one that affects one or both parents as a result of violence, maybe a home invasion, a natural disaster, or an act of war.

One way or another, we are all confronted with the horrible reality of death.  To those who believe the universe is spontaneous and without design or purpose, death appears to be final, and life appears to be only temporary. 

But, dear brothers and sisters, because of Easter and the Lord’s revelation to us as God, as the Word Made Flesh who dwelt among us, because of His resurrection from the dead, we know the very opposite to be true: death is only temporary, and life is final.

St. Paul describes it as a “mystery.”  He describes death as “sleep.”  He likens our own future resurrection to being awakened by a trumpet.  He describes what happens in a way that seems rather understated, as a “change.”  “For this perishable body,” says the holy apostle, “must put on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality.”  And when this happens, dear friends, this will be the complete undoing of the fall in Eden, for the saying quoted by Paul will be reality:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”

Indeed, thanks to our Lord’s death on the cross that defeated death, and thanks to His resurrection from the tomb, which  drove the final nail in death’s coffin, we understand death as temporary.  It is very much like the schoolyard bully who terrorizes the other children.  He does so because he is bigger and stronger, and because he is ruthless and lacks compassion.  But all it takes to stop the bullying is for one courageous child to stand up, to look the bully in the eye, and say, “Never again!”  And when he punches the bully in the nose, the bully is seen for what he truly is, a coward, a paper tiger, “all show and no go.”  And once this happens, all of the children are liberated by the champion.

Jesus is our champion, dear friends.  After millennia of being terrorized by sin, death, and the devil, our Lord looked all three of these menaces in the eye, said, “Never again!” He knocked them out for all time.  And we Christians repeat the words of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  Death is the schoolyard bully who has been beaten down.  Death is a temporary annoyance in the life of the Christian.  This, dear friends, is the meaning of Easter.  Death has indeed been swallowed up in victory, Christ’s victory, and it is our victory!

To be sure, we still live in this fallen world, as we await our Lord’s return, as we await the resurrection, as we await the new heaven and the new earth.  We will die, and we will still experience the death of our loved ones.  And we will mourn their loss, for love hates separation.  But know this, dear brothers and sisters, as painful as death is, it has lost its ultimate sting.  For in the grand scheme of things, from the perspective of eternity, death is a temporary annoyance, much like a runny nose.  It is uncomfortable, but it goes away.  It is life that abides forever, and it is a gift of God in Christ Jesus.

Even Job, who experienced suffering of extraordinary proportions, and yet who clung to the Word and promise of God, looked forward to that time when death is swallowed up in victory.  It was Job himself who wrote the stirring confession that is the church’s song: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”  Job confessed: “at the last He will stand on the earth.”  Job understood that this was not hyperbole or myth or some kind of spiritual experience, but a flesh and blood reality, saying, “in my flesh I shall see God… and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

Indeed, this is what St. Paul wrote about: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality.”

This, dear friends, is why we Christians make such a fuss at Easter.  This is not a holiday, but rather The Holy Day.  This is not a day off work, but rather, it is the day of liberation from death!  It’s not just a glorious day, it is the Lord’s Day.  It is eternity itself!

For we call to mind that Jesus not only shed His blood on the cross as atonement, as the “one all-availing sacrifice” for the forgiveness of our sins, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life, but we also confess that He proved the point by rising from the dead.  He perplexed the Jews and the Romans. He gave His followers the Holy Spirit. And by their preaching, they conquered the Roman Empire and proclaimed the Good News in all the world.  

It is truly good news that we preach, dear friends, that our Lord has given us new life in the forgiveness of sins, and in the promise of the resurrection.  He has given you this free gift wrapped in baptism and tied up in the bow of His very body and blood.  He continues to appear to us bodily in the Holy Sacrament, even as He appeared to the Marys, to the apostles, and to hundreds of people before His ascension.  

For on that first Easter Sunday, “very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”  The Marys found the immovable stone moved.  And to help them make sense of this perplexing sight, an angel sat where the body of Jesus had lain.  “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.”

And indeed they saw, these first two witnesses of the resurrection, these women who were chosen to deliver the Good News to the apostles, even though the law discounted their testimony.  But all testimony is worthy if it is true.  And the Marys told the apostles what they saw and heard.  Moreover, the apostles themselves were also to see and hear and touch the risen Lord, and be sent by Him to preach to the world.

Those first preachers of the Gospel spread the news from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  The disciples of Jesus changed the world by proclaiming His Word, and by preaching the good news that the bully of death has been beaten down, that Satan has been defanged, that sin has been atoned for, and that in Christ, we have everlasting life, by grace, through faith, and by means of the Word of God.

That childhood encounter with the ugliness of death impelled little Alice to ask questions and to listen to the revealed truth of God’s Word.  For like the Marys, Alice became a witness of the Truth, of the Risen Lord, and of all the gifts He lavishes upon those with open, humble, and contrite hearts who embrace the good news of Easter in communion with the Lord and His holy church.

As a follower of Christ and a confessor of the Gospel, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand wrote: “One thing is certain: When the time has come, nothing which is man-made will subsist. One day, all human accomplishments will be reduced to a pile of ashes. But every single child to whom a woman has given birth will live forever, for he has been given an immortal soul made to God's image and likeness.”

Indeed, dear friends, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Amen!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Awaiting the Joy of Man's Desiring

The Holy Easter Vigil is occurring now in the Eastern Hemisphere, as the good news that the tomb was unable to contain our Lord Jesus Christ is yet again repeated, as the Good News resounds around the globe yet again.

The risen Christ is indeed the Joy of man's desiring, as confessed and sung for centuries in the magnificent strains of Johann Sebastian Bach's Cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben.

The Christian faith is nothing other than sanctified defiance: a defiant refusal to bow down to the gods of this world, be they Caesars or secularism; a defiant refusal to accept the finality of death; a defiant refusal to capitulate to hatred and evil; a defiant confession of the need for forgiveness; a defiant acceptance of the reality that we are rescued by grace alone; a defiant reliance upon Christ's Word and sacraments for life's ultimate meaning and joy; a defiant faith in the sure and certain hope of everlasting life - just as sure as He walked out of His own tomb.

So, we in the Western Hemisphere wait, but we know it is coming, and we cannot contain our expectant joy, even as we await His final return in glory.

Our Lord said (John 16:22): "So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."

Our Christian brother J.S. Bach understood this joyful reality in his transcendent and ebullient confession that we continue to sing with him, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, here in time, and even unto eternity!  Amen.

Jesu, joy of man's desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.

Theirs is beauty's fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom's holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Sermon: Good Friday – 2015

2 April 2015

Text: John 18:1-19:42 (Isa 52:13-53:14, 1 Cor 5:14-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear friends, the world is broken.  We all know it.  The news is almost all bad, having to do with terrorism, or crime, or injustice, or someone dying.  In our own lives, how much time, attention, and money go toward trying to fix the brokenness, trying to heal sicknesses, trying to kill pain, trying to forestall death and its effects?

All religions and philosophies of the world try to make sense of it all, to explain it, and to come up with a remedy.  In modern times, many people reject all religions and look to humanity or philosophy or technology to provide the answers.

Some focus on ecological brokenness, some look at injustice in society, some see mainly moral and ethical decay, while others focus on the big philosophical questions as to why some prosper in wickedness while innocents suffer.  Depression seems to be more common, as is bullying, as is uncaring, as is disrespect, as is lack of commitment, and all the while, ignorance and stupidity seem to be on the rise.

We live in what Pope John Paul II called a culture of death, and as part of that, we live in a culture of celebrated thuggery, of coldhearted selfishness, of an indifference to life, and of a revulsion of all that is good and holy.

Some look at this mess and they blame God.  But God did not make the mess, we did.  God made a perfect world.  He created mankind with a mind, with the ability to make choices.  And as any person of any age knows, choices have consequences.  Our deviation from the that which God set up is known as “sin,” and as St. Paul teaches us in Holy Scripture, the wages of sin is death.

Everything you see around you is death.  It just takes a while to get there.  Violence leads to death.  Aging leads to death.  Disease leads to death.  Crime leads to death.  Immorality leads to death.  Death is not so much a punishment for sin, it is the result of sin.  It is a result of our choices.  We die, because we have chosen death.  Every living creature is destined for death.

We did this, not God.  And yet some people blame God.  The most curious situation of all is the person who in one breath claims to be an Atheist, but in the next breath expresses anger with God because the world is broken.

But God is not to blame, we are, we poor miserable sinners.  There is not a one of us who is not part of the problem.  And in spite of it all, God loves us and provides a fix.  Yes, dear friends, God loves us and provides a fix.  In order to overcome our death, He must die at our hands.  In order to overcome our hatred, He must be hated by us.  In order to overcome our injustice, He must suffer injustice from us.  In order to overcome our burdensome cross of this age, He must be crucified by us in this age.  In order for our debt of sin to be paid, He must pay it for us sinners.

This is why we call this day “Good Friday.”  Today is a day of sadness as we contemplate the Lord’s suffering and death, but it is a day of joy as we also contemplate the Lord’s victory over sin and the grave, for us men and for our salvation.  With melancholy, we ponder the holy wounds of Christ, but we also cheer the mortal wound to the serpent.  

Good Friday calls to mind the creation, in which God, by means of the Word (the very same Word who became flesh), created the universe and called everything “good.”  All was good because there was no death and no corruption, because there was no sin.  The first Good Friday was the sixth day of creation, in which God created man.  On the Good Friday of the crucifixion of our Lord, God, in human flesh, dies our death to reclaim the goodness of the creation that was made through Him.

And even as the first Good Friday, when the man and the woman were created, so also on the Good Friday of the crucifixion, men and women were redeemed and re-created and made good once more.

This is the meaning of the Lord’s declaration: “It is finished.”  He said this single Greek word of victory as He “gave up His spirit,” offering Himself up to death so that we might be offered again the gift of life.

“It is finished,” dear friends!  Sin is finished.  Death is finished.  The devil is finished.  The doom to which all creation had been consigned because of sin is finished.  Our hopelessness is finished. 

God’s creation has been made complete in Christ, in the cross, in the sacrifice of the one man of our race who was without blemish.  It was all finished in the shedding of the blood of Jesus: “God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages” and “man, born from the substance of His mother in this age.”

It took God to reset everything to “good,” it took a man to die to pay the debt.  It took God to forgive, and it took a man to be the sacrifice.

It took God to love and man to be beloved of God.  And dear friends, because of Good Friday, we are no longer enemies of God.  Because of the death of His only begotten Son, all of us adopted sons and daughters through Him by grace, through faith, in the waters of baptism, have been born again, created a second time, with the ravages of sin and death rolled back.

And so, dear friends, we wait for our king to return.  Just as His first coming was promised and prophesied hundreds of years BC, even in great detail as in our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, our Lord’s return to consummate the effects of Good Friday is indeed yet to come in a very specific year AD.  And though we don’t know when, we do know that it is a “when” and not an “if.”

For just as surely as Jesus’ bloodied and lifeless body was taken down from the cross and laid into a borrowed grave on Good Friday, His glorious and perfect eternal body blasted from that same tomb, rendering all Christian graves as borrowed, temporary waiting rooms – and this reality of His resurrection was discovered on a Good Sunday, a Very Good Sunday, Easter Sunday.

And even though we still live in the temporary home, we await a good new heaven and a good new earth, a very good eternity won for us by the Lord on that Good Friday of His death on the cross.

Dear friends, the world is broken.  But the fix is in.  The solution is not found in our own will power, in technology, in government, in a pill or genetic alteration, in a philosophy or in a fruitless hope that human beings are evolving to a higher plane of existence.  The solution to the world’s brokenness is found on the cross: in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, “the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world,” the King of kings, Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the Word made flesh, who created mankind on a good Friday, and who as a man redeemed mankind on “the” Good Friday.

By His good life, and yes, His good death on that Good Friday, we Christians live in a renewed hope of life: abundant life, eternal life, Easter life, redeemed life, forgiven life: good life!  Now and even unto eternity.  Amen.

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Sermon: Maundy Thursday – 2015

2 April 2015

Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35 (Ex 12:1-14, 1 Cor 11:23-32)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Maundy Thursday is a matter of life and death.  For this is the Passover, the commemoration of when the Lord used Moses to lead the people out of the walking death of slavery to new life in the Promised Land.  It began as the Lord gave life to the Israelites even as He doled out death to the Egyptians.  

The difference between life and death was a lamb.  This Passover lamb paid for the sins of the people of God by dying, by shedding innocent blood that spared the sinful people of God from sharing in the fate of death of the Egyptians, all through a substitutionary atonement for the forgiveness of their sins.

The lamb’s blood stood as a physical barrier to death, and through its blood, the people had life.  

It was this ancient Passover ceremony that the Lord Jesus Christ prepared and ate with His disciples “on the night when He was betrayed,” the eve of the day of His crucifixion.  Truly, the Passover lamb eaten by the Lord Jesus was the very last one of the Old Testament, for what was to come is what the St. Paul “received from the Lord” and what he also delivered to us through the apostles and pastors in an unbroken chain to this very evening.  For Jesus was to become the “all availing sacrifice,” the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.  And this Lamb’s blood is put into a cup and shared with the disciples of Jesus – including us – as the “new testament” in His blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins.

For, dear brothers and sisters, we have received the command of the Lord through our Hebrew forbears as given to Moses by God Himself: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.”

This feast of the flesh of the Lamb, the bread of life, the true body of the Lord, served with His very blood, taken from the cup of the Passover meal, declared His body and blood by means of His mighty Word, is our Passover, and we shall eat it as often as we celebrate it, in memory of Him.

For even as God was with the children of Israel in their 40 year sojourn in the wilderness, He is with us, dear friends.  Even as He was in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, He is with us in His Most Holy Word.  Even as He was physically with them as water from the rock, He is with us in Holy Baptism.  Even as He was with them in the Manna, the holy bread from heaven to sustain them in their walk in the wilderness, Jesus is with us in the holy bread of the Holy Eucharist, His very body, as we too walk through the wilderness of this, our fallen world, generation after generation, until He calls us to the promised land of heaven, and of the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting in a new heaven and a new earth.

Ever since that first Maundy Thursday in the Upper Room, ever since that Good Friday in which our Lamb was sacrificed, ever since that first Easter when our Lord rose triumphant from the grave, we, the disciples of the Lord, have celebrated this Passover Supper.  

He abides with us in good times and bad, in times of growth of the church and in times of persecution.  He abides with us in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, the bridegroom of the Church, He who lays down His life for His beloved.  He abides with us in His intercessions before the Father, in the sharing of His sacrifice that atones for us, in His continual presence among us in Word and Sacrament, in the Gospel, in the forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting.

Dear friends, our Lord is merciful!  He knows that we are physical people living in a physical world.  And while our culture boasts about being “spiritual,” we have the blessings of the physical Jesus coming to us tangibly, in a mystical and mysterious way in which we eat and drink His perfect flesh into our very bodies, as His holiness becomes part of us, giving us not only the blessing of the forgiveness of sins, of everlasting life, but also of the sanctification of our bodies and minds, through repeated contact with the holy.

In the same way that the repeated touching a magnet to a paperclip shares the magnetism, this Holy Communion with the body and blood of our Lord Himself makes you holy, and allows you to grow in faith toward God and in fervent love for our neighbor.  Even as the touch of Jesus brought forgiveness, healing, and even turning death unto life, so too does He come to us physically, in a way that our eyes see and our ears hear.  Even as He took on a body like ours, He comes to us through our bodies, like His.  As St. Athanasius put it, “God became man so that man might become God.”  This is just another way of speaking in St. Peter’s biblical terms: “He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desires.”

Oh, what magnificence the world misses out on!  While scientists look for the “God particle” and researchers seek a “fountain of youth,” we, the Church, have had it all along!  This is truly, as St. Irenaeus said, “the medicine of immortality.”  What a precious treasure that exceeds all things: to participate with our brothers and sisters in Christ, here and around the globe, in a greater participation “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” a holy participation with all of the people of God from Moses onward in participation in, with, and under the Lamb of God Himself!

Dear friends, treasure that moment, that eternal moment, in which the Lord comes to you in this Most Holy Communion!  Hear anew His words, from Genesis to Revelation, from the Alpha to the Omega, from the creation to the consummation, the immortal, almighty, and omnipotent Word, the same cry of command: “Lazarus, come out!” – applied to us, we who have been baptized and who believe – beckoning us to leave our grave and join the throngs of the righteous even unto eternity.

And all of this is purely by grace, dear friends.  You bring nothing to the table but your sins (which are forgiven), your mortal flesh (which is made to live forever), and your open mouth that hungers and thirsts for righteousness (which is filled by Him with the eternal Passover Lamb, whose flesh He places in your mouth with His very own blood).    

For indeed, dear brothers and sisters of the Lamb, Maundy Thursday is a matter of life and death.  For this is the Passover, the commemoration of when the Lord used Moses to lead the people out of the walking death of slavery to new life in the promised land.  And it is for us, the memorial of the Lord in His ongoing ministry to lead us out of the walking death of sin to new life in eternity, “given for you,” now and forever.  Amen.

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Down with Big Brother and the Routine Republic!

Well done, Taco Bell!

This delightful ad campaign works on many levels.

It's a jab at the ubiquity and uniformity of McDonald's, drawing a comparison between the fast food giant and the drab, uninspiring, staid life of Iron Curtain Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.  The commercial is cheeky and awash in 1980s imagery.  Even the use of the punk-retro Ramones tune "Blitzkrieg Bop" (1976) during the Keystone Cops-like chase scene is a bit of nostalgia to people who remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of European Communism.

The commercial pays homage to dystopic literature, in particular, George Orwell's 1984, especially with the throwback cathode-ray TVs blaring out mind-numbing technologically-backward propaganda.  We see a contrast between the dreary East-Berlinish skyline of Soviet-era concrete apartment blocks in stressful uniform rigidity over and against the beautiful, colorful, relaxed European scene of freedom and vibrancy at the end of the short.  And yet, the commercial manages to invoke dystopia in a lighthearted way, with the dictators and apparatchiks appropriately portrayed as Ronald McDonaldesque clowns, with frequent humorous visual references to Mickey Dee's culture as the little story progresses.


Dystopia is an important genre.  1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451Atlas Shrugged, and others promote a worldview of liberty in describing a futuristic world of repression.  These novels serve us as Jacob Marley's ghost to Ebeneezer Scrooge, a warning of what is to come unless we recover the "eternal vigilance" that Jefferson taught us is the price of liberty.  And in addition to these classics, a good bit of modern literature aimed at young people falls within the realm of dystopia.  These works have much in common, holding up for our examination the reality of original sin, manifest as the desire of one person to control another, and of this "lust for domination" (per St. Augustine) to magnify itself in groups, hence the inherent danger of government and of the state.  These novels also typically show the contrast between the classical liberal and libertarian respect for individual life and spontaneous liberty, as opposed to  the totalitarian collectivist impulse toward Marxist economics and top-down thought-control.  The latter promotes a worldview that sees individual human beings as cogs in a wheel without rights, without purpose other than to aggrandize the state and serve party masters.

The commercial depicts these themes, even to the point of the heroes of the story, the defecting rebels, being a young man and a young woman.  This is a common theme of dystopia, as hope of beating back the seemingly invincible apparatus of the totalitarian state lies in youth, in those willing to recklessly risk all for the sake of freedom and love, and it is the love between a man and a woman that leads to children, to new generations of those who will join the generational fight for freedom.  Love is the antithesis of the totalitarian state.  Love provides the impetus for freedom of association, which in turn drives the rebels to seek ways to outsmart the monolithic oppressive dinosaur by using whatever means necessary: technology, low-tech covert communication, tying up the state in bureaucracy (as heroic Soviet dissidents like Vladimir Bukovsky did - see his must-read To Build a Castle), and voluntarily working together as a team in order to promote the individual (which is anathema to the totalitarian state).

The climax of the story takes place at a wall, very much like the seemingly permanent structure that rent Berlin into two - into a free West and a captive East - from 1961-1989.  There is a hole in this wall, a portal to freedom.  It is covered by propaganda in the form of posters lauding the philosophy of the state.  But there is a hole in the wall, indicated by a piece of graffiti, a spray-painted hexagon on one of the state's posters, that has become the symbol of rebellion against the Routine Republic.  And as the couple rushes through the opening, they find freedom and humane civilization.

On the other side, they find color and youth and happiness and spontaneity.  They find diversity and joy and life apart from the stifling and stultifying cradle-to-grave Big Brother.

Another theme of this three minute mini-movie is propaganda.  Every oppressive regime relies heavily on propaganda, on controlling access to information, be it the printing press, radio broadcasting, television news, or the Internet.  People of every time and place do well to always be suspicious of any government that would seek to regulate any aspect of the press and communications.

Part of what makes the commercial work is the idea of breaking free of a routine.  Of course, in real life, nobody is forced to eat at McDonald's or to submit to an every-day same-same routine of an Egg McMuffin.  But in the dystopian real-world economics of Marxist regimes, centrally-planned by bureaucrats and party functionaries, people are left with soul-crushing imposed sameness and drab routine.  A centrally-planned economy in which people are not free to start businesses, invest capital, take risks, and go off the economic grid results in gluts and shortages, food lines, dependency on state welfare, devaluation of currency and hyperinflation, and possibly even starvation.  Such economies lack the incentive of the profit motive, the production feedback of the price system, and the flexibility required to keep production going in a dynamic world of rapidly changing supply and demand paradigms.  History has clearly shown the results of the warfare-welfare state, of cradle to grave "security," and the Orwellian surveillance state that falsely promises safety at the dear expense of liberty.

Life under Marxism is the motive lurking behind most dystopia.  This commercial captures it.  In a nod to the spirit of the age, the final frame shows a website URL made to look like it has been spray painted.  It says: "Breakfast Defectors . com."  The "R" in "breakfast" is reversed to look like the Russian letter Я.  The word "defect" conjures up images of people escaping from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to start new lives in the west.  Great attention to detail.

Some of this detail is, however, lost on people who were not around in the 1980s, and who are not conversant with the historical era and unique circumstances of the fall of Communism,

For example, this critique from The Daily Meal appears to miss the connection to Orwell's 1984 and the remarkable events of the real life 1980s.  The author does pick up on the theme of dystopia, but only through the eyes of the Hunger Games trilogy.  I believe her critique (which is admittedly about food and not about politics and economics) could have been better had she acknowledged the commercial's tongue-in-cheek homage to this unique epoch in western history and the literary tradition of dystopia.

Yes, it's a commercial for Taco Bell to sell breakfast thingamabobs.  But it is a commercial rife with ideas - clever ideas, humorous ideas, profound ideas, and even ideas that are grand enough to be called ideals.

I'm not a fan of breakfast sandwiches, but I just might have to make a run for the border and try a hexagon in gratitude for a commercial like that.  

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

I don't believe in religious freedom

I don't believe in religious freedom.

Freedom should have nothing to do with one's religious beliefs or lack thereof.  The reason we intuitively have a concept like freedom is because we are individuals.  We have different worldviews. We disagree about what we prefer and what we don't like. We have different opinions.

One person likes Coke.  Another person likes Pepsi.  In a free society, you buy what you want.  In an authoritarian society, you get what someone else wants you to have.  In a free society, you can discriminate (choose) between the two.  In an authoritarian society, the discrimination (choice) is decided by someone else.  In fact, in a free society, you can buy both, or neither.  It's really nobody's business, so long as there is no aggression.

And in a free society, if you have a business, you can choose to sell only Coke, only Pepsi, both, or none.  In an authortiarian society, it is illegal to sell Coke, or Pepsi, or neither, or both.  In a free society, a person may want to buy a Coke, but may walk into a store that sells only Pepsi - and he simply won't do business there.  There will be no lawsuit, no arrest, no thug demanding protection money, no extortion, no threats, no violence, and no moral outrage that Coke-drinkers are being discriminated against.  He will simply find someone that sells Pepsi.  The Coke-only seller misses out on a sale, and the market sends a signal that selling Pepsi is a good way to make money - which someone does.  This is a system of voluntary and peaceful interaction.  It is far superior to any alternative, which is inevitably violent or enforced with the threat of violence.

That is how freedom works.

I do believe in freedom, as opposed to freedom that is qualified by religion.  For a lot of things go into what makes us different: worldview, tastes, priorities, religion (or lack thereof), intelligence, ability, physical stature, culture, etc.  Religion is just one of those things that contribute to the diversity of the human race.

Part of the current discussion about freedom has focused on religion, largely over the issue of whether or not people with traditional religious views have the right not to violate their consciences as they ply their trades, or are they rather compelled to act contrary to their worldviews in contracting business?

What has sparked this controversy involves the question as to whether or not a Christian photographer has the right to refuse to accept a job photographing a ritual that is contrary to his faith, one that would be uncomfortable for him based on his ethical worldview.

Here are some analogous questions:

Should a lesbian photographer be compelled to accept a job taking pictures at a celebration of Fred Phelps at the Westboro Baptist Church?  Or does this photographer have the right to either accept or decline this job based on her comfort level and freedom of choice?  Does she have a choice, or is she under compulsion to go and be uncomfortable, to do a job against her will?  Which option, choice or compulsion, would be considered "freedom" as opposed to "tyranny"?

How about:
  • a black photographer at a white supremacist ritual, 
  • a Jewish photographer at a neo-nazi political rally, 
  • a vegan at a slaughterhouse, 
  • a Mennonite at a pornography convention, 
  • a Muslim at a pig farm, 
  • a Jehovah's Witness as a flag-raising ceremony, 
  • a Tibetan at a function honoring Chairman Mao?  
Should a photographer who does not believe in the death penalty be compelled to photograph executions?

Do any of these photographers reserve the right to say "No, thank you," or must every photographer be compelled to do business with every other person on demand, regardless of religion, worldview, or comfort level?

What if a photographer suffers from an irrational fear of left-handed people?  Could he only contract weddings for the right-handed?  What if a photographer is afraid of heights?  Could he refuse to shoot a wedding on the observation deck of the Empire State Building?  What if an Atheist thinks religion is stupid, or even offensive, could he refuse to take pictures at a Christian ordination?  What if a photographer suffered the effects of promiscuous parents and a broken family, could he turn down a job at a swinger's party?  How about a person whose father was beaten to death in an incident of police brutality, can he refuse jobs involving the police?

Of course, this issue of freedom of association doesn't only affect photographers.

How about these:
  • May a Christian ob/gyn refuse to perform abortions?  
  • May an all-women's college refuse admission to men?  
  • May a merchant refuse to sell alcohol or pornography or marijuana (in states in which it is legal) if he finds these legal substances to be morally troubling?
  • May a Muslim-owned convenience store sell eggs but not bacon?  
  • Must a sporting goods store sell weapons and ammunition, even if the owner is a pacifist?  
  • Must an animal rights activist who runs a pawn shop purchase a stuffed deer head for resale?  
  • May a Lutheran pastor refuse to conduct a wedding for two Methodists, two Unitarians, or two men?
In a free society, we have the right to make choices.  Others may agree with us or disagree with us.  We can even be wrong.  If I were to walk into a store, and the manager said, "In order to do business here, you must hop up and down on one foot while reciting a poem by Catullus, and agree with me that 2+2=5," I could either comply, or choose to leave.  And I would imagine the success of his business would reflect whether or not such practices are within the mainstream or not.  I don't think I would call the police on him, threaten him, or compel him to say "2+2=4" and sell me a carburetor just because I feel entitled, or because I don't like Latin poetry, or because his math is wrong, or because I think I would look like an idiot in complying with his rules.  He has a choice of whether to sell; I have a choice of whether to buy.  And we may choose to do business with each other, or either one of us may opt out and the transaction will not happen.  Both parties are completely empowered.  And neither party pulls a gun and compels a transaction.  It's all voluntary.

That is how freedom works.

Sad to say, both left and right have lost touch with what freedom is.  The left talks the talk on tolerance, but is utterly illiberal when it comes to extending tolerance to those who disagree with them.  The right talks the talk on freedom, but prefers to focus on religious freedom instead of seeing the bigger picture that freedom is freedom whether or not it has anything to do with religion.  Both left and right are willing to throw liberty under the bus if the state has "a compelling interest" in taking away this or that freedom.  And, of course, it is the state itself that decides whether the state has a "compelling interest" or not.  How far we have fallen since 1776, when Jefferson opined about "inalienable rights" and the role of government being "to secure these rights."  Nowhere in the Declaration is King George allowed  to violate the liberties of Americans based on his own "compelling interest."

Even the word "compelling" suggests "compulsion" - which is the antithesis of liberty.  This kind of language is indicative of the controlling and tyrannical tendency of government by its very nature: a nature our forefathers sought to curtail through conscious limitation, institutional distrust, and eternal vigilance.  Sad to say, the fact that we're even having this discussion in the United States is indicative of our own failure to uphold the very principles of liberty and independence our ancestors attempted to secure for us, their posterity.

And yet, even in its weakness (which seems to approach mortality in many cases), the ideal of freedom refuses to be snuffed out entirely.  It lives in the hearts and minds of men who are not afraid to challenge the assertions of the ruling mob, whether personified by an elephant or by a donkey, by a red star or by a twisted cross.

I don't believe in religious freedom.  I believe in freedom.  Including freedom for people to associate with others or not, to conduct business or not, in accordance with their religion, or lack of religion.

Maybe instead of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, we should have Freedom Restoration Acts.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fight the Stupids!

A lot of classic works of literature are proving to be prophetic in our day and age.  Our 21st century American culture and political life are growing more and more to resemble Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and other seminal works of art.

I would also include one that resonates with me as a Christian pastor trying to shepherd people in Christ's Church amid the decay and normalization of the rot, and that is the insightful apocalyptic novel Father Elijah by contemporary Canadian wordsmith and raconteur, the traditionalist Roman Catholic author Michael O'Brien.

And then there is Mike Judge's satirical film Idiocracy, which has become eerily prescient of our own breakneck cultural decay a mere eight years after its release.  Things that seemed over-the-top crazy in 2006 have nearly become downright quaint in 2014.

Today's Drudge Report headlines could have stepped right out of many of these works that predicted the unraveling of western civilization into a quivering ball of anti-intellectual animalistic mush.

These current headlines include:

  • Outrage over LAPD's state-of-the-art spy drone
  • BRAIN DRAIN: IQ scores decreasing
  • Mob tackles airline employees as ticket giveaway descends into chaos
  • Debut 'SPIDER-WOMAN' Cover Slammed as Sexist Due to Butt Shot
  • 'DATING NAKED' sued by cast member -- for showing her naked!
  • 'SEX BOX' Reality Show to Put Couples on Display
  • HBO defends scenes of violence and rape
  • 'Performance Artist' Vows To Have Sex With Someone New Every Day
  • Sex-Crazed Narcissist
  • CHENEY: Obama Would 'Rather Be On Golf Course' Than Situation Room
  • All Smiles And Fist Bumps
  • Doctors baffled by rise in penis birth defect
  • Spanish senator blames national debt on homosexuals
  • Hook-Up Culture at Harvard, Stanford Wanes Amid Assault Alarm

This is our Brave New World, where ignorance is strength, a sensationalistic (and yet bored) culture of casual orgies and mind-numbing pharmaceuticals and lack of interest in books and in thinking, a society that rewards sloth and mooching, where good is evil and evil is good.  We live in that culture in which plants are figuratively believed to crave electrolytes, and to suggest otherwise is to invite ridicule from one's mouth-breathing "superiors."

Having said all of that, I believe I'm going to apply the cure suggested by Mrs. Hollywood: a daily dose of Anthony Esolen.  Go here.  Read an essay every day.  And even if you are not Roman Catholic or not Christian, give Dr. Esolen a shot anyway.  Your mind will thank you.  He is eloquent, uses our language as an art form, and writes with his mind directed at that which is good, beautiful, true, transcendent, and uplifting. Even in matters of disagreement with him, what a delightful alternative to the incessant pipeline of cultural bilge that flows unabated (and in fact, invited) into our inboxes and news-feeds incessantly.  We do not have to yield to the forces of barbarianism.  We can choose to be civilized.

In the words of the slogan of a local bookstore: "Fight the stupids!"

Saturday, August 16, 2014

In Memoriam, Francis T. Nichols

I had the privilege to say the prayer at a wreath-laying ceremony in honor of the birthday of a great hero of our state, Francis T. Nicholls - after whom is named a street in the French Quarter and a university.

Other than that, Nicholls's story is largely unknown to modern Louisianians and Americans.  As a devout Christian and confederate veteran of the War for Southern Independence (twice seriously combat-wounded brigadier general), along with being the first freely elected post-reconstruction governor (two terms) and state supreme court chief justice, today's ceremony was conducted under the auspices of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and held at his gravesite at St. John's Episcopal Church in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

Here is today's prayer:

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Lord, God, heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the life and the memory of Your servant, Francis Nicholls.  We thank You for his legacy of courage and public service that continues to inspire us today.

Along with all the men and women, military and civilian, black and white, wealthy and impoverished, who sacrificed for the principles of limited government and independence, we honor General Nicholls, acknowledging his valor and continued service to his country even when severely handicapped by wounds in battle.

We also thank you, O Lord, for the post-war heroism of your servant Governor Nicholls, who defended the rights of those who were oppressed during the so-called reconstruction of the South.  We also acknowledge You, O Lord, as the King and Judge of all in calling Your servant Chief Justice Nicholls to serve as an honorable magistrate in our state.

In humility we honor Your servant Francis for his long and fruitful Christian life of courage and labor for the improvement of the lives of his countrymen.  May You continue to raise up men and women of courage in our day and in the days of our posterity: those willing to lead by taking up the cross, those willing to accomplish greatness through service.

And we pray in the name of Him who taught us to lay down our lives for others, the One who died on the cross for all, Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, for You live and reign with Him and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.