Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sermon: The Last Sunday of the Church Year

26 November 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 25:1-13 (Isa 65:17-25, 1 Thess 5:1-11) (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus warns us to wait and watch, to be prepared, and not to make the mistake of assuming that we will always be waiting for him to come. For time moves on, whether flying by as we have fun, or crawling by as we await test results, or as we endure pain and suffering, or as we have to wait patiently for something to happen.

Today, the last Sunday of the church year, completes the circle of yet another revolution of the earth around the sun that began with Advent 2005 AD. We are now one more year closer to the fulfillment of the remarkable prophecy of Isaiah: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.” One more year closer to our own death and resurrection. One more year closer to the second coming of our Lord.

Here we hang between the first and second comings of our Lord. We exist in a cosmic holding pattern in the “now” of the Kingdom of God, but in the “not yet” of the completion of that kingdom. We travel along a detour, thanks to sin and the need for redemption, that has seen us leave Paradise, only to spend thousands of years winding along a dangerous alternate route, hoping to merge back onto the road that will lead us back home once more to Paradise.

In many ways, we’re like the children of Israel, wandering forty years in the desert in order to complete a trip that could have been done in a couple months. Our entire lives have been lived out on this detour, in this holding pattern, in the aftermath of the Lord’s coming, and yet, also waiting for the Lord’s coming. Like the wandering Israelites, we know of no other life. We walk and walk, and sometimes it seems there is no end in sight.

As the centuries roll by, we may be tempted to lose sight of our destination, to fall asleep at the wheel, or perhaps even worse, to leave this road all together in search of a more exciting way. Our Lord warns us to watch and wait, to stay awake, watchful, and sober, to trim our lamps, and to be ready on short notice to evacuate.

For even as it seems that Christmas shopping and preparation will never end, December 25 always comes, whether we are ready or not. Even when it seems the baby will never be born, all at once, the water breaks, the contractions begin, and the child emerges – whether we are ready or not. Even as we Christians continue to cling to the kingdom of God, to the hope of final victory over death, devil, and grave, and though it seems that we are always beaten down, we are always on the defensive, our Lord will return like a “thief in the night” – whether we are ready or not. When we least expect this world to pass away and be recreated anew and perfect – that’s exactly what will happen. It will happen. It is inevitable, and will happen suddenly.

In our Lord’s parable, five virgins have gotten tired of waiting. They forsook their responsibility to secure oil and to maintain their lamps. Perhaps they wanted to spend their money on trinkets, and maybe they wanted to use their time more selfishly than their wise sisters.

The wise virgins, by contrast, knew that the bridegroom was coming. They did not use this period of waiting to slack off and entertain other priorities. They fulfilled what God asked of them, they faithfully waited, active and watchful, expectantly, and focused on the wedding feast to come.

When our Lord returns, he will find some of us well-prepared, our lamps trimmed, our oil sufficient for the journey, our lamps burning brightly to illumine our way. Others, he will find unprepared, those who squandered their money and resources, those who used their time of waiting for selfish endeavors that will leave them completely in shock when the end comes.

This warning from our Lord is hard to listen to, dear Christians. The door to the feast will not be open to everyone. There will be those foolish virgins who will have squandered the Lord’s grace and will have taken his mercy for granted. The door will slam shut on many who will plead with the Lord, and to whom He will say: “I do not know you.”

This is a frightening picture, but it is indeed Good News that our Lord warns us now, while there is still time to repent of our foolishness and to prepare ourselves for the last things. For our waiting for the Groom may end with the end of the world and the second coming of our Lord, or it may end as we take our last breath. We may be summoned to grab our lamps and follow the Lord within the next couple minutes.

This may be the very last Word of God you hear on this side of the grave. Listen attentively, dear brethren. There is a reason why the Lord has asked me to say these difficult things to you at this time.

For the Lord is coming, and coming soon. The old order is passing away, and the wheels of time are grinding to a halt, even as the church year comes to an end, and as the secular world prepares to put 2006 AD into the history books, never to be relived again.

“Watch, therefore...”

If we find ourselves running around looking to buy oil at the last minute, like midnight Wal-Marters on Christmas Eve, we will have missed the point, and will find ourselves locked out, pounding on the door, seeking admission in vain.

The oil you need for this lamp is not available in stores.

Oil and wine were medicines used by the Good Samaritan to salve the wounds of the man who was beaten by robbers. Oil is something bread is dipped into to give it flavor, to bring joy. Oil is also traditionally used as a symbolic “sealing” of baptism – either at baptism itself, or at confirmation. Oil allows machinery to run smoothly, to last longer, and to work more efficiently, to combat friction and the running down of energy that we accept as normal in our fallen universe.

But the oil you need for your journey with the bridegroom is a spiritual oil. So where can you buy it? The Good News is that you can’t buy it. I say that is “good news” because it isn’t for sale – it has already been bought and paid for by the Groom. It is given out by the groomsmen here in the church. It is poured on you lavishly at your baptism. You are anointed with it, literally in the Greek language, you are “Christed” with it, every time the Gospel is preached into your ears. You are plied with this holy unction every time you are absolved of your sins. This holy oil of forgiveness fills your lamp every trip you make to this altar to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord.

This sanctuary is a place where lamps are filled, where wicks are trimmed, and where lights glow with good works that shine before men and proclaim the glory of him who is “God of God, light of light.”

When your lamp runs dry, run, don’t walk, to this house of light! When your wick burns dim, don’t despair! For the Lord will not extinguish a dimly burning wick! When you have no spark and are surrounded in darkness, crawl here on hands and knees if necessary, for the Light of Christ always burns here, even as our sins are purged away like silver is purified in the flames.

And, dear brothers and sisters, if you have friends, family members, and co-workers who are foolish, who use the Lord’s Day for selfish purposes, who slumber and sleep instead of receiving the Lord’s gifts, who see the Last Sunday of all Last Sundays to be only a distant reality - urge them not to be foolish. Pray for them to see the light. Invite them to fill their lamps and trim their wicks so they can wait for the Bridegroom’s return in confidence and assurance that when he does return, they will partake completely in the new creation, the new Jerusalem, a new order of the universe in which “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food.”

Until that time, dear friends, let us keep our lamps full of the oil of the forgiveness of sins, and let us not be ashamed of the light that glows forth from trimmed wicks, fueled by that oil. Let us continue our vigil not with wandering eyes and hearts, not with sleep and slumber, but with repentant joy, with the expectation of a child awaiting Christmas. For our Lord’s coming will be a New and Greater Christmas, an Advent that will usher in a glorious eternity, of a never-ending season of peace and joy that will exist in reality and not merely in hopeful carols and on wish-filled cards.

Let us pray to the Bridegroom for the grace to remain watchful and sober. Let us “comfort each other and edify one another” – urging one another to readiness. “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us.” Amen.

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

Friday, November 24, 2006

Lingua Latina vivit! (Latin lives!)

Check out this great article in New Oxford Review, a journal for traditionalist Roman Catholics (thanks to Rev. Dr. John Stephenson for sending this to me).

The author makes a great point why Roman Catholic seminarians should learn Latin.

Many of the same arguments can be made for Lutheran seminarians - as well as all Lutherans who want to be educated - to learn Latin. There is a direct correlation over time connecting the removal of Latin from school curricula and the increasing illiteracy among young people - not to mention the lack of understanding of grammar, the inability to compose verse and prose, and the disadvantage Americans have in learning foreign languages.

The loss of Latin has cut off most Americans from the rich literary and historical heritage that formerly bound educated modern people to their past with its roots in Greco-Roman civilization - a past, from which Christianity was spawned and grew. Today's citizens (myself included) are woefully ignorant of pre-Christian mythology (which is needed in order to read works of literature that make references to these mythological characters), the great political ideals of a free Republic seeking to stave off despotic imperialism, as well as classical philosophy and early and medieval Christian theology.

Of course, one can always read these works in translation - assuming translations exist, and assuming that an educational paradigm that no longer has room for Latin still has a place for classical mythology, history, philosophy, and theology. Of course, something is always lost in translation, which is why (to the great credit of our Lutheran seminaries) pastors ought to be able to read Holy Scripture in the original Greek and Hebrew. To study only an English translation of Cicero or Augustine with no knowledge of the underlying Latin is to miss out on wordplay, nuances, and alternate readings and interpretations that may differ from the translator or editor of a particular English rendering.

Latin was the main lingua franca for the west from the days of the Roman Republic and Empire well into the middle ages. Large numbers of philosophical and theological works (including numerous volumes of Lutheran theology) exist only in Latin to this day, never having been translated. As of now, these works are lost to all but a few scholars who are able to read them. Who knows how many treasures are lying dormant, entombed in dusty tomes that sit idle century after century in storage rooms of libraries and museums?

But even if one's desire isn't to read Julius Caesar's account of the Gallic Wars or Plutarch's histories or Martin Luther's lectures on the Book of Genesis in the original tongue, there is still much to be gained by learning to read Latin. More than half of all words in the English language are Latin derivatives - and these English words tend to be longer, more difficult words than those descended from Anglo-Saxon. To learn Latin is to lay the groundwork for a vast and diverse English vocabulary. It is also the optimal way to learn how grammar and syntax work. In the age of text messaging and e-mail, much of our communications skills - especially of the written word - have become sloppy and imprecise. Latin is a sorely-needed corrective.

Children who study Latin typically score higher on SATs and have a much better command of the English language. They also have a leg up in learning foreign languages - especially (but not limited to) the lingustic descedants of Latin, e.g. French, Spanish, and Italian.

Students who pursue medicine, the sciences, law, theology, or classical history will especially appreciate learning Latin - as well as anyone who reads journals and textbooks that still make use of Latin abbreviations and words.

One of the more colorful professors at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Rev. Dr. David Scaer, begins all of his classes by requiring the students to rise and recite (or read) the Nicene Creed in Latin. A lot of my fellow students rolled their eyes and griped about it, not seeing the value, taking the tack that Dr. Scaer was just being obnoxious. However, without even studying, we ended up having the Creed virtually memorized in Latin by the end of the class - which familiarized us with a great deal of theological terminology we would encounter in other classes and in theological texts both modern and ancient - all in a painless way. The less time spent running to a theological dictionary to look up a Latin phrase from a book translates to more time spent actually pondering the text and learning concepts instead of individual words. Learning at least basic Latin is simply a part of being a well-rounded educated person.

Fortunately, after being forsaken in the 20th century (especially in the freewheeling 1960s in which avant-garde "educators" radically altered school curricula) - Latin is coming back. It is once again being offered in high schools and universities in America. Some grade schools are even offering Latin - including Salem Lutheran School - where I teach very basic Christian Latin to junior high students. Many American private schools - including Lutheran schools - are reintroducing the classical curriculum - opting to rid themselves of the failed 1960s experiments that brought about the rumor of Latin's demise and the introduction of "Social Studies" and feminist propaganda instead of geography, history, and rhetoric. Latin is a big part of this renaissance of education and the restoration of real learning.

So don't believe it when someone tells you Latin is a dead language. It never died, but rather evolved into a slew of modern languages - even contributing greatly to the English language.

Long live Latin!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve

Thanksgiving Eve
22 November 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Saying “thank you” is very important. It’s a matter of politeness. It’s a mark of good manners. It shows taste, class, and makes for civility.

But as good and noble (and sorely needed in our culture) as saying “thank you” is, the Holiday of Thanksgiving and the account of the grateful Samaritan concerns something much more profound than proper etiquette.

Jesus heals ten men of leprosy. In a matter of minutes, our Lord has restored life to those who were as good as dead. Their rotting, diseased flesh has been healed. Their shame and disgrace have been taken away. Of the ten, only one, a Samaritan, returns in thanksgiving to the One who has given him life, redeemed him, and restored him to wholeness.

Our Lord praises both the actions and the faith of the Samaritan, and is disappointed in the nine who did not return.

The point of this incident is not that the Samaritan was polite and the nine were rude, but rather that the Samaritan was making a confession. The Samaritan was confessing to Jesus that his salvation was by grace and not something he earned.
For we don’t give thanks for receiving what has been owed to us.

For example, I suspect you’ve never sent the IRS a thank you card for a tax refund. Why not? Because it’s your money. They are simply paying you what they owed you.

You don’t thank your boss every time you receive a paycheck. Now, you may thank your boss for giving you the opportunity to work, or give thanks for having a job you like, but once you have earned your money, your boss is simply squaring the account, paying you what he owes you.

We give thanks for things we have not earned, for gifts, for grace.

Hurricane Katrina saw many of us receiving gifts – often from total strangers. Many of us were unaccustomed to receiving charity, and all we could do was say “thank you.” The word “charity,” by the way, is based on the Greek word “charis” which means “grace.” As refugees, we were given grace – not because we earned it or deserved it – but rather because we were in need, and we were shown compassion. That’s something quite different than earning a paycheck.

While getting benefits from the government (such as Social Security and FEMA), and while receiving settlements from insurance companies, are simply things that are contractually owed to us (for we pay taxes and insurance premiums) – it’s a completely different thing to receive free gifts from those who are helping us out of love and compassion. While we wouldn’t send FEMA or our insurance company a “thank you” for simply paying what we’re owed, we certainly should thank those individuals in government and private industry who worked so hard out of compassion and concern for us.

It recently came to light that a family that evacuated to Memphis was given a $75,000 home by a church that had compassion on them. However, the family didn’t really need the house, never moved in, and sold it for $88,000. They went back to New Orleans with the money, and never offered to give the money to the church. They simply took what they believed was owed to them, and ran.

This kind of behavior is not only rude, not only greedy, but it reflects an entitlement mentality that something is owed to them. Legally, the house was theirs when the title was signed over to them. Legally, they were entitled to the proceeds from the sale. But this house was given to them by grace, as a free gift, when they were in need. It was an outpouring of love, of charity, of charis, of grace. It’s wrong to treat this like an entitlement.

Grace is not owed. Grace is not a paycheck. Grace is not for sale. Grace is not an entitlement.

The Samaritan understood this. He did not take the miracle and run. He did not feel entitled to God’s grace by virtue of ethnicity. Rather, he confessed his own unworthiness. He confessed the fact that Jesus took away his infirmity only out of love, out of charity, out of charis, by grace. The benefits of God are not an entitlement. The forgiveness of sins is not a FEMA check or a tax refund. Rather, the outpouring of the gifts of God upon us poor miserable sinners, refugees from sin, death and the devil, is pure unbridled and unmerited grace.

Hence “thanksgiving.” Another word for "thanksgiving" is “gratitude.” Gratitude is based on the Latin word “gratia” – which means “grace.” “Gratia” is where the Spanish word “gracias” (which means “thank you”) comes from. To be filled with gratitude is to be full of grace – like the cornucopia, the horn of plenty, filled to the point of spilling over with fruits and gifts of the earth. Being full of grace, being “gratia-full” – we give thanks to God for all his benefits to us. For the benefits God offers are not like on the job perqs that are part of your salary package. Rather, they are free gifts to those of us who don’t deserve them.

“What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call on the name of the Lord. I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.”

In response to these benefits, we offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. We offer the Lord what he has first given us: our lives, our time, our talents, our treasure, willing tongues to sing his praise, willing ears to hear his Word, and willing hearts to serve him. We will call on him, and drink the chalice of salvation.

For like the grateful Samaritan, having been baptized, having been healed of our leprous sins, having been restored to life from death - we come back to Jesus to give thanks. We return to the one who healed us, gratia-full and grateful, we kneel before him in worship like the Samaritan, we call upon his name and take the cup of salvation.

The Lord’s Supper is sometimes called the Eucharist – which is Greek for “thanksgiving.” The Holy Supper is the greatest Thanksgiving Meal of all. For even as our Lord was offering his very body and blood for us, he gave thanks to his Father.

And yet, our participation in this Eucharist is not a payback to Jesus for what he has done. Rather, through this Thanksgiving Meal, our Blessed Lord continues to heal us, forgive us, and shower his benefits upon us. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Our songs of thankfulness and praise, our offering of the sacrifice of thanksgiving, our participation in the Eucharistic feast is not a matter of politeness. Rather, we are confessing our unworthiness. We are confessing that God owes us nothing and yet gives us everything. We are confessing that we are recipients of unmerited grace.

Let us give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, and his mercy endures forever! Amen.

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

Sunday, November 19, 2006

No rules, just right?

Of course, "no rules, just right" is the slogan of an American imitation Australian restaurant chain, but it seems that it could well be the slogan of a new way in which some European cities are approaching traffic regulations.

While American society is becoming at the same time both ever more authoritarian and more violent and lawless, this may be something we need to consider - especially given the phenomenon of "road rage."

The argument that less regulation leads to more order - though counter-intuitive to those of us in a society that trumpets "zero tolerance" and fills the media with warnings about crackdowns on seatbelt violations, not to mention requirements that children wear helmets just to ride a bicycle around the neighborhood - does make a certain amount of sense.

The problem we Americans have in our social discourse is a lack of civility. We are isolated in our hermetically sealed vehicles, we avoid all eye contact, are often stressed out, on the phone, and are quite often focused only on our needs of the moment, and are often always five minutes late. In addition, more and more aspects of our lives are mandated by the federal government - removing the authority of local people to regulate and manage their own affairs as they see fit.

Perhaps what we actually need is more human contact, more cooperation and a greater reliance on manners than on regulations and harsher laws coming out of Washington.

Who knows? Maybe greater awareness, politeness, and a mutual desire for safety will save more lives than mandatory helmets, required seatbelts, and a gauntlet of traffic lights, signs, and threats of punishment to transgressors.

In 1866, General Robert E. Lee predicted that the ever-increasing centralization of government authority would not bode well for the cause of American liberty. Interestingly, he was writing to his European friend, Lord Acton when he made this prophetic observation:

"I yet believe the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it a chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it."

Isn't it ironic that the United States, which prides itself on rugged individualism and liberty has become the "nanny state," while the Europe that our ancestors left in seach of freedom is moving away from the police state toward a social contract of personal freedom and responsibility?

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I was born in Akron, Ohio, and grew up in Cuyahoga Falls - a 'burb of the Former Rubber Captital of the World (home of the Soap Box Derby, the World Series of Golf, the Firestone Bowling Tournament, and the Inventor's Hall of Fame - and former home of the world's largest aircraft hangar). Now, I haven't lived there in many, many years. But I suppose the last tie I have to the Buckeye State (aside from my father, who still lives there) is my loyalty to the Browns and the Buckeyes.

All in all, I think our culture is way too sports-crazed. Far too many resources at our universities are spent on athletics and not enough on academics. Having said that, I'm not entirely opposed to sports. They can provide a wonderful distraction to the daily grind, and provide families with a lot of fun being together. It's a matter of balance and perspective.

When I was a kid, my family spent many a Sunday watching the Browns on a small black and white TV (having driven to various parks for picknicks beyond the range of the local stations on which the Cleveland Browns had been "blacked out"). Until the mid 1980s, there was little to cheer about - but we hung in there and never gave up on our team - win or lose. We'd gripe and curse Art Modell, but we'd keep coming back for more next Sunday.

In 1986, when the Browns actually made the AFC Championship, the unthinkable happened - my dad, brother, and I actually made the trek to Cleveland Lakefront Stadium (in the Dawg Pound) for a playoff game! It was pure orange and brown canine mayhem!

Overall, the Ohio State Buckeyes provided more victories than the Brownies. And these were the days of the late Woody Hayes and the late Bo Schembechler. Coach Hayes, clad in short-sleeves and a tie - no matter the weather - was the stuff of legends in Ohio. His antics provided as much entertainment as the players - and the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry grew under his stewardship of the Bucks.

I saw a game at the Horseshoe once with my dad - and it was simply unforgetable to see 100,000 fans clad in red (it could have been Moscow on May Day!), the band doing the "Script Ohio," and the great players of that era.

Today's game was quite different than the old days of "three yards and a cloud of dust." But Coach Tressel, a much more calm and humble coach than Woody, shares Coach Hayes' commitement to victory. Although I watch very little football these days, it was a real treat to watch the Buckeyes, under the field generalship of Heisman-trophy candicate QB Troy Smith, play a nail-biter to defeat their Big-10 rival Wolverines. In their more than 100-year old tradition, this game has never pitted a number 1 against a number 2. In the old days, the winner of this game typically went to the Rose Bowl.

So, in spite of my enthusiastic adoption of the Big Easy as my home, and although I'm happy the Saints are doing so well, and although I appreciate how much LSU means to the locals - I still pull for the Orange and Brown, and especially today, the Scarlet and Gray!

Go Buckeyes!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Business Cards

I'm pretty skeptical about businesses, but I took a chance on one called Vista Print.

They make nice business cards really cheap. You can actually get cards for free - the catch is that the back of the card advertises Vista Print (very small, one line). If you want a more customized design (one that doesn't have the ad on the back), you can order the premium cards (like the ones I ordered, see above). They're running a special now (you have to click on "radio offers" on their website) to get 250 for free, or 500 for $10 (plus $7 shipping). They have some nice designs (like the icon I used), and you can also upload your own picture and use that. They have a lot of options for customizing the cards as well.

They sell other custom items, like note pads and ink stamps.

The whole process is automated and done online with software (which explains the low prices). I'm impressed with their website and the way their business works - they take full advantage of technology. They are able to do business all over the world.

Anyway, my cards arrived today, and they are really nice! I spent $17 including shipping and got 500 of them. I'm so used to shoddy service that when I get excellent quality goods and services, I want everyone to know about it.

I don't impress easily, but Vista Print has made a believer out of me!

Evidence of Original Sin

In case any of you out there are still convinced in the innate goodness of man, have a look at what passes for comedy these days.

This is about as vile as anything I've read in a long time. That's one movie I won't be seeing. Unfortunately, people will flock to this kind of thing, and not a few people will actually believe this is what life is really like in Kazakhstan - if not just about anywhere outside of the United States.
To abuse people who are least equipped to defend themselves is the pinnacle of evil. For it to be celebrated and lauded - especially by people who wrap themselves in the flag of "tolerance" is yet more evidence of who is pulling Hollywood's strings.

Real funny, Cohen. Maybe your next flick can be filmed in a children's cancer ward or set in a concentration camp. But as long as the dough rolls in, who cares, right?

I can think of no more appropriate person to bear the title "bottom feeder."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sermon: Third Last Sunday of the Church Year

12 November 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 17:20-30 (Job 14:1-6; 1 Thess 4:13-18) (Alternate One Year)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation…. The kingdom of God is within you.”

The kingdom of God is like no other kingdom, country, empire, or nation in history. This kingdom doesn’t appear on any globe or map – it is borderless. And yet, it encompasses the entire world and crosses all borders. This kingdom has no flag, no constitution, no parliament, no official language or currency. It includes all flags, all constitutions, every form of government, is comprised of every tribe and tongue, and is the richest kingdom in all of history.

The kingdom of God has outlived – if not toppled – tyrannies and dictators for two thousand years. Every attempt to overthrow this kingdom has ended in destruction and humiliation for the aggressor. The kingdom of God exists peaceably with those governments that don’t attack it, and yet, the kingdom of God has elevated the life of citizens of every nation and culture.

Every citizen of the kingdom of God is a former slave who has been liberated from bondage by a King’s ransom. Every citizen of this kingdom is himself or herself a king. Each citizen carries a baptismal passport that entitles him to full access to any place in the kingdom – even direct access to the Sovereign Himself.

To become a citizen of the Kingdom of God doesn’t require any paperwork, any bribes of government officials, or any tests. There is no waiting list, no green card, and no need to surrender one’s current citizenship in any state or nation of the world. There is a loyalty oath, however, known as the Apostles Creed. To be a citizen of the kingdom is to submit unconditionally to the King.

This kingdom, though ancient, powerful, and granting benefits that no other kingdom can provide, and though the kingdom of God is the largest human organization on the planet – comprising of some two billion people, and though this kingdom has outlived every attempt to destroy it – this kingdom is the laughingstock of the world.

For this kingdom appears weak and without power – seemingly lacking armies, weapons, riches, and territory (when in fact, the kingdom of God has all of these in measures that make even the mighty Roman Empire look like a tiny village in the middle of nowhere).

For the kingdom looks like the King. The King Himself comes across as weak and appears to lack armies, weapons, riches, and territory. The King was put to death by a worldly government, and the sign above His head mocked His very kingship. The King sits on a throne, wears a crown, and bears symbols of His authority in His hands. But His throne is not soft and velvet, but crude and bloody. His crown is not made of gold, but of thorns (the same thorns that mankind brought on himself after the fall in Eden). And instead of an orb and scepter, this King has bloody holes in His hands, which are, in the words of the hymn: “those dear tokens of His passion.” Indeed, these battle scars are symbols of His victory over the Evil Empire that is older than mankind itself.

So is it any wonder that so many do not see this kingdom, that it is hidden from them, clouded by their own lack of faith and covered up by their own expectations? The Pharisees want to know when this kingdom is coming. Jesus tells them their problem is that they’re looking for it. It’s not something you can see with your eyes. This kingdom is “within you.” It is hidden. It is not like the tottering kingdoms of the world that depend on military might (that eventually fails), on natural resources (which are eventually depleted), on political leaders (who inevitably become corrupt), or on worldly wealth (which is eventually spent or stolen). But such a kingdom is what the Pharisees sought.

It’s also what we sinners seek.

We rebel against our King when he calls us to be humble (for in our minds, great kingdoms are arrogant). We don’t want to hear Jesus when he tells us to store up our treasures in heaven (for we like the “prosperity gospel” and the “theology of glory” that makes promises that Jesus doesn’t make). We don’t like it when our King orders us to be servants, instead we want glory and domination over anyone and everyone. And the last thing we want is a cross of our very own.

Look around this embassy of the kingdom of God. We’re all sinful, we’re all mortal, none of us in this sanctuary are movers and shakers on the world stage. We’re not powerful in the eyes of the world. Even compared to other churches, we’re a pretty sad and sorry lot. In this church, we have people who are penniless, people who are suffering, people who are dying. We have people who are trapped by sins, people who are lonely, people who are stuck in bad family situations. We’re hardly the glorious image of a mighty kingdom – and yet, this is what our Lord tells us we are.

And so the world looks at us and laughs.

The kingdom is not visible to the eye, but must be grasped by faith. The eye sees only water, but faith sees a holy bath that washes away sin and gives eternal life. The eye sees a bread wafer and a cup of wine, but faith sees the miraculous and holy body and blood of God. The eye sees a man standing in the pulpit talking to us, but faith sees the supernatural Word of God breaking our chains and nourishing us unto eternity. The eye sees a humble minister forgiving us, but faith sees Almighty Jesus opening the gates of heaven for us.

Look at the individual citizens of this kingdom. The world sees a sinner, but faith sees a saint. The world sees a person one day closer to death, but faith sees a person one day closer to eternal glory.

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation.”

And yet, it will eventually be observed. As St. Paul proclaims: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” The kingdom will not always be hidden from the eyes. It will not always be visible only to faith.

Our Lord warns that when the kingdom does become visible, when the Son of Man is “revealed,” that is to say “unveiled” – it will be like lightening flashing from one end of the sky to the other for all to see. It will be like the raining down of fiery brimstone on Sodom. Those who do not believe, who reject Jesus, who deny his kingship and scorn his kingdom of the Church will see it all revealed to them before their eyes. It will be a horrific revelation.

But to us, dear Christians, we who confess Christ, we who come to this place week after week to increase our faith, we who have been ransomed by the King – this revelation of the kingdom will be beautiful. It will put before all of our senses the glory that has been hidden from us. In due time, sin will finally disappear forever, our flesh will be restored to its original glory, our graves will be opened, and we will once again live. We will enjoy life without end. This will be visible! Our senses will have an eternity to enjoy the wonders of a world before the fall; a paradise with no sickness, disease, sadness, or death; a kingdom without corruption and intrigue.

And though this kingdom has not yet been revealed, dear brothers and sisters, that kingdom is here indeed. And though the kingdom cannot be observed with our eyes, this kingdom does indeed have what every other kingdom has: armies, weapons, riches, and territory.

The armies are the angels, archangels, and the hosts of heaven, the apostles, martyrs, and saints from every time and place – as well as all the baptized warriors of faith presently on earth. The weapon of the kingdom, its only weapon, the One that trumps all others is the Word of God. The riches of the kingdom – in which we share – is the treasure of heaven, glorious material things of extravagance and beauty that do not wear out and are not destroyed by warfare, theft, and vandalism. The territory of the kingdom is the new heaven and the new earth – very real physical places ruled by a very real physical King.

But most importantly of all, this kingdom has what every kingdom must have: a Monarch. Our King is also our Redeemer. Our King is also our Servant. Our King is also our High Priest. And our King is also our all-availing Sacrifice. And even as we await the full revelation before our eyes of this Kingdom – we see it by faith. It is fitting that we show the image of our King at every opportunity, to place the crucifix before our eyes and the eyes of all who come into contact with us, to show the world that He is indeed the King of the Universe.

He rules his domain from a cross, wears a crown of thorns, and blesses his subjects with raised hands that bear the glorious scars of the defeat of our enemy. The crucifix is our standard, and the sanctuary is our embassy. In this kingdom, we don’t pledge allegiance to a flag, but worship the King in the flesh and confess Him in the creeds. This King eats and drinks with us, and speaks to us through his ambassadors. He has adopted us all as royal sons.

And today, dear friends, the King has a proclamation for me to read to you. These are not my words, but His. They are sealed with His blood and signed by His cross. The Lord of the Universe has asked me, rather has commanded me, to proclaim this to the citizens of the kingdom in this place, and to continue doing so, until He returns. Hear this royal fiat, this edict from the throne, and know that it is true:

“I forgive you all your sins…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Friday, November 10, 2006

You can't serve both God and the Dollar

Hollywood could not come up with a better mockery of the Christian faith, a more stereotypical lampoon of the money-grubbing clergy than the all-too-real Rev. Dr. Creflo Dollar of Atlanta, GA.

Dollar is a well-heeled Southern preacher whose name sums up his theology. He is involved in a "team ministry" with his wife ("Pastor" Taffi Dollar), and he drives a Rolls Royce, has a million-dollar home in Atlanta (as well as a home in New York City), and a private jet. He lures people by their own greed via the so-called "prosperity gospel."

He's a Richard Pryor caricature writ large.

In the following article he argues that Jesus was rich, and wants his followers to likewise be rich. His website's "statement of beliefs" includes the following: "We believe that God wants us to have a full life, free from poverty, sickness and disease."

Of course, to take this premise to its logical conclusion is to believe that material wealth is an indicator of God's favor, that the rich are blessed and the poor are cursed. Take it yet a step further, and one can conclude that suffering is a curse from God, punishment for sin or for a lack of faith. This means that cancer patients, orphans, aborted children, crime victims, people who must deal with alcoholic relatives, children who have been molested, people who live in third world countries, etc. have somehow gotten on God's bad side. This also means that Mafia dons, crooked politicians, playboy tycoons and wealthy TV preachers are all doing the Lord's work.

This view of theology was around in the sixteenth century, and Martin Luther called it the Theology of Glory. Of course, it was also around long before the middle ages. It was condemned by our Lord when he refuted the Pharisees who believed those who suffered illnesses were being punished for their (or their parents') sins. It was condemned when Jesus warned of the difficulties of the rich entering the kingdom of God. It was condemned when Jesus praised the widow's offering of two mites over and above the flamboyant religious folk who blew trumpets to announce their wealth.

In contrast to the Theology of Glory is the Theology of the Cross. Though the image of our Lord suffering and bleeding hardly fits the triumphant image of Dr. Dollar's idealized Messiah on a lear jet, this image is the very picture of God. The Suffering servant of Isaiah may not appeal to a man who sees imported suits and gold watches as the purpose of the coming of Jesus, but to those who heed the Lord's doctrine and store up their treasures in heaven, this seemingly weak and defeated Man is the very picture of the victor over the grave.

I would bet a few dollars that Dollar's megachurch in Atlanta nowhere has a crucifix on the wall.
Pastor Dollar needs to know a few things: the first will be last, and the last first. He will one day deteriorate in health, and all the money in the world will not buy him comfort, joy, or favor from God. He will get sick and he will die. He will be held accountable for his false teachings that have served to deceive the gullible and fatten his bank account. As our Lord says, such people "already have their reward."

You would think that snake-oil salesmen and shysters would lose their appeal over time, that people would figure them out, that the well would run dry - like a Ponzi scheme or multi-level marketing pyramid. One would think that after the likes of Reverend Ike, Oral Roberts, Robert Tilton, the Bakkers, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyers, Benny Hinn, and many others of their ilk, people would be immune to the teachings of the "prosperity gospel."

But like any get-rich-quick scheme hawked on late-night infomercials, this kind of satantic false doctrine will always attach itself to people in the name of the Christian church like the blood-sucking parasite that it is. This is no different than John Tetzel selling indulgences with a flourish of showmanship and false promises to beguile the faithful. There will always be new Creflo Dollars to mock Jesus and to fool the greedy - and give the enemies of the cross ammunition to portray all preachers as sharing this kind of ethic and thelogy.

But by the same token, for every buffoon of his ilk there will be many faithful shepherds who lead people to Jesus, to the true wealth espoused by our Lord: the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life; men who proclaim the humble-sounding Gospel and who administer seemingly simple sacraments of God's grace. Such shepherds seek no attention for themselves, but rather put the spotlight on the Crucified One.

One such shepherd was a 20th century Lutheran clergyman, a real theologian with a doctorate in theology, a true pastor who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He knew the meaning of suffering, as he watched innocent people rounded up by the National Socialists - not so they could be given Mercedes-Benz cars and fancy homes on the Rhine, but rather to have their possessions confiscated and to be put in concentration camps. Bonhoeffer's friends and relatives lost all of their wealth at the hands of the Nazis, and many lost their lives - as would Dr. Bonhoeffer himself. Their plight was not attributable to their lack of faith, their saying of the wrong prayers, or somehow deserving to be tortured - but rather due to the fallen state of the world - something not addressed by the "name it and claim it" crowd.

Dr. Bonhoeffer understood the gospel, the real gospel, the theology of the cross - as can be seen from this very un-Dollarlike quote:

"The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard."

For all of the questions scholars have raised about Bonhoeffer's orthodoxy on various points of theology, this much is certain: Dr. Bonhoeffer truly understood that God hides himself in suffering, that the Christian life is lived under the bloody sign of the cross as opposed to beneath the glittering dollar sign, that the Lord's beckoning "Follow me!" means following Him to his passion and cross and death, and not to follow him down the red carpet into a Rolls Royce - at least not on this side of the grave.

Creflo Dollar is not entirely wrong about Jesus being rich. Jesus is God. All things were created through Him. Indeed, He shares all of His wealth with His adopted brothers and sisters. However, the Lord humbled Himself, taking the form of a servant. He has come to serve rather than be served, and He implores His followers to do the same. The riches that are His in the Kingdom, which are the riches He shares with His Church make anything on this side of the grave look like baubles from a bubble-gum machine. And while some, like Dollar, are distracted by what amounts to cheap costume jewelry that is really junk inside - our Lord promises true wealth beyond measure to those who confess Him and lay up their treasures in heaven.

I cannot imagine how any pastor can sincerely believe the "prosperity gospel" and the "theology of glory" and surround himself with such crass wealth as Creflo Dollar if he has spent any time ministering to Christians in the hospital, in the nursing home, and on the deathbed. Perhaps that's the special cross of the televangelist - to be too busy and "important" to minister to anyone except through the sterile lens of a camera man, to sacrifice the privilege of giving of personal pastoral care in exchange for mere material trinkets of temporarily shiny "bling" that is subject to rust and the moth.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lew Rockwell Responses

One thing I had not considered in getting an article published on was the amount of responses I would get. Within hours, I was getting e-mails from around the world. Most of them were really positive - coming from people from all walks of life - including many combat veterans. Contrary to radio talk show entertainers, not every veteran is pleased with the War in Iraq and the way it is being conducted.

I also received a fair share of those who disagreed with me. Some were intelligent and cogent, and others were, shall we say, a little on the edge. I didn't get any death threats, although a Roman Catholic lady warned me that we Lutherans (especially pastors) are headed for Hell unless we join the Roman Catholic Church. However, her own church doesn't say anything of the sort (in fact, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, we Lutherans are already Catholics, though in a state of "impaired communion"). She also had quite a slew of historical "facts" about Martin Luther. I suggested she check with some good Roman Catholic historians (perhaps even Pope Benedict himself, who has read more Luther than most Lutheran pastors).

Another fellow thought I was secretly a Muslim. I knew he was inclined to disagree with me right from the get-go from his salutation: "Dear Dummy." I think if I were a secret Muslim, my congregation would figure it out the first time I had to turn down a plate of barbecue and a beer!

I had a couple of nice exchanges with a Roman Catholic lady who is a doctor in South Africa. Although she did not entirely agree with me, our discourse was civil and Christian. In fact, I would like to ask you to pray for her and her countrymen. Doctor Brenda laments the ravage of AIDS on her country (reporting that many homes are headed by children eight years old or younger), as well as the government's push to remove religious instruction from the public schools in lieu of secular "life orientation" - at a time when public morality is a matter of life and death. There has also been a sharp increase in schoolyard murders.

I also received a nice note from a gentleman named Emmanuel in France who shared with me the inspirational story of a new abbey (Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux) that has been built in the South of France (in Provence). Father GĂ©rard Calvet, founder and former Abbot of the Abbey once wrote: "Mothers are essentially the ones who put up the ladders on which the generations go to heaven." Please keep these fathers and brothers in your prayers, warriors manning an outpost of the Christian faith deep in hostile territory. Check out their website at:

Please also pray for a man named Robert from South Carolina. In the course of our correspondence, he told me about his many serious health problems - even as he accepts his cross and continues to pray for others in his family who are struggling with other issues.


I found that a lot of hard-line conservatives agreed with my position that women ought not be involved in combat, but they bristled at the notion that our troops should not be running over children. Their ability to justify anything in wartime simply astounds me. Doctrinaire left-wingers (especially self-identified feminists) took the opposite tack: that running over children is wrong, but to allow men to do it, but not women, is unfair and discriminatory. The latter group objects vehemently to the notion that men and women are fundamentally different (i.e. that God is guilty of sexual discrimination), that women have been designed by God to be carriers and nurturers of life. I guess that just doesn't sound like An Important and Satisfying Job to them. Very sad.

One letter of disapproval was sent to me by a former seminary classmate. He recently served a year in Iraq driving trucks. The rest of this post will deal with his response - so if you want to bail out now, dear reader, I completely understand. But I do think a response is called for - though not a personal one under the circumstances.

My classmate makes the argument that the woman in question was not under any orders or policy to run over children, but rather that she was not permitted to stop following a tragic accident involving a child, since that would be dangerous for the soldiers in the convoy. He also informs me that American soldiers do study Augustine, and Aquinas to boot. He compared me to John Kerry, accused me of stupidly getting my news and opinion of soldiers as "heartless" from the "drive-by-media" (whatever that means), and said that it would be a "shame" if I didn't retract my article, apologize to the anonymous woman in questiom (if not all American soldiers) - since my "good name" might be "drug through the dirt" for my "unfounded opinion" and not having my facts straight.

First of all, threatening to drag a person's "good name" through the dirt isn't the most effective way to argue a point that could presumably be won by an appeal to reason. One resorts to such personal attacks when one's case is weak. Ditto with the John Kerry remark. And as far as the "drive-by-media," I haven't had cable TV for about ten years. I basically get one local broadcast channel (Fox), and watch the local news once in a while. I do watch "House" about twice a month (on those Tuesdays when I'm not at church late attending meetings). I like the writing, and find Hugh Laurie to be an unbelievably talented actor. I hope that doesn't make me a lackey of the media.

In general, I just don't like TV, and don't have time to watch it. Contrary to popular belief, we clergymen work more than one day a week. I don't watch FOX-News or CNN. I don't listen to talk radio blowhards from the left or right. I don't read "political commentary" by Howard Stern-style entertainers who pose as pundits or pundettes (I'm amazed at how many conservatives find such people to be "brilliant"). My views on this issue and other political matters have been shaped by years of studying classic works of history and constitutional and political philosophy - in addition to reading great political thinkers of the present day. Perhaps the term "drive-by-media" refers to Pat Buchanan, Thomas Fleming, Clyde Wilson, and Lew Rockwell.

I did not respond to my former classmate. Not every e-mail should be dignified with a personal response. Nor will I mention his name. I don't believe in dragging people's good names through the dirt just because they disagree with me.

But to deal with the substance (such as it is) of his note: the article to which I was responding is clear: the woman was not permitted to stop to avoid hitting the child. I don't believe American soldiers relish running over children. They are not heartless. But my former classmate admitted that this happens often enough (with children begging near the convoy lines) as to warrant a policy about it. In fact, he told me he witnessed such an incident in which a little girl was run over. The convoy was not allowed to stop to even say anything to the dead child's parents. That would have been too dangerous for the soldiers. It sure was dangerous for the Iraqi kid, wasn't it? Of course, in our own civilized country we have 20 mph speed limits near schools. Apparently, these convoys travel at 60 mph and the trucks are spaced 30 feet apart. Can you imagine the carnage if this were permitted stateside in school zones and residential areas? Given the results, should we be surprised at the lack of rose petals being tossed at the feet of the American soldiers in Iraq? How would we view the situation if the roles were reversed - if the children were Americans and the army convoys were Iraqi?

When soldiers volunteer to join the army, they assume a certain amount of risk. When they invaded another country and started shooting at the inhabitants, they entered a situation of danger. It doesn't give them carte blanch to kill civilians on the off-chance that the civilians are insurgents. Such a morality ultimately means "anything goes" - as every single civilian is a potential enemy. The only way to take away all the risk from our soldiers is to kill every civilian. There is another way to remove the risk, and we shall see if this comes to pass now that the people have made their opinions on the war known to the powers that be. Will Brer Rabbit ever learn his lesson?

The woman soldier - to her credit - still has enough humanity and femininity to be bothered by the incident. Had she simply shrugged it off amid macho bromides about "doing her job" and "spreading democracy" - that might be different. No, indeed, this woman is ultimately a mother, a wife, a woman. That's her true vocation, and God be praised for it. And shame on Christian pastors who downplay this "order of creation" issue of women soldiers by just shrugging it off. If LCMS pastors oppose women pastors, they ought to equally oppose women soldiers.

As far as how military personnel are educated, I admit my speculation about Augustine was just that - speculation. That's why I worded it as such in my article. The fact that American soldiers study Augustine is a mixed blessing. Of course, it's good that they read him, but there is something truly wrong that Augustine is studied even as we now wage wars in which civilians are routinely subjected to bombs, children are run over out of concern for the safety of soldiers (ponder that for a moment), and preemptive strikes and "waterboarding" of prisoners are now considered to be in accordance with Christian principles of warfare.

For all of our indignation that some (including President Bush) consider Islam a "religion of peace," we're sure doing out best to insure no-one confuses Christianity with a "religion of peace." If we object to Muslims trying to spead Islam by the sword, perhaps we should reconsider trying to spread "democracy" by M16s. Just a thoughht.

Contrary to the claim of my former classmate, I had my facts straight. I just disagree with him in matters of morality - not the facts of the case.

Of course, in times of war, disagreement with official policy is sometimes seen as aiding and abetting the enemy, treason, or a lack of support of the troops. But the reality is this: I really do support the troops. If I were the president, every American soldier would be eating Thanksgiving dinner at home where they belong. If they want work, we have plenty for them to do in the Gulf Coast region. If the American taxpayer really wants to continue spending money at the rate we are on this war (some $101 billion in 2006 so far) - we have a few levees and homes in New Orleans that could use some reconstruction. We could even use Halliburton right here at home! If we had the kind of money and manpower to rebuild New Orleans that is going into "rebuilding" Iraq, we'd have little to worry about next hurricane season.

And if women were once again respected by a child-friendly society where men are men and women are women, we would once again have young men learning about chivalry, how to properly use superior force - and young women would not pressured into looking, acting, and thinking like men - and being ashamed (if not in a state of irrational denial) of what God has made them to be.

I realize not everyone will agree, but that's the beauty of our God-given freedoms that governments are compelled (usually against their will) to respect and protect.

Dona nobis pacem.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Father Hollywood on Lew Rockwell

I'm really honored to have been published at My article from the November 1, 2006 edition of LRC is here.

I'm grateful to Lew Rockwell for giving me a shot as a guest columnist. He is the founder and president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama and a former student and colleague of the late economist, Murray Rothbard - a monumental scholar in the field of libertarian economics.

If you are interested in limited government and economic liberty, LRC has new essays posted every day on a variety of topics by quite a lively diversity of authors - which now includes even yours truly.