Saturday, December 09, 2006

John Stephenson

This past Spring (March 31 - April 2), our congregation had a retreat. The topic was "Eschatology" (the "last things" - death, the end of the world, the second coming of Christ, etc.). Such things were on the minds of New Orleanians with the wounds of the very-apocalyptic storm Katrina still fresh and raw. We invited the Author of the book Eschatology from the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series, Rev. Dr. John R. Stephenson, a professor at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada (a seminary of the Lutheran Church Canada).

The presentation was even greater than our expectations! I highly recommend John as a retreat speaker. He was not only knowledgeable and articulate, but pastoral and entertaining. He was simply spellbinding, and held the rapt attention of his listeners the entire time. If you're looking for a dull and pedantic speaker, John is not your man. But if you want a lecturer who knows his stuff, and who can communicate it - you will be pleased.

My family also had the pleasure to host Father John at our humble home. We took him on a brief tour of some of the devastated areas of New Orleans, as well as the French Quarter. It was a great joy to be able to spend time with him. It's too bad for us he lives so far away.

What follows is a sermon Dr. Stephenson preached at the chapel of the St. Catharines Seminary yesterday, 8 December 2006, the Friday of the First Week of Advent. I don't normally post other sermons to my blog (in fact, I think this is the first time) - but I believe Dr. Stephenson's sermon is timely and historic. I believe we are living in a transitional age, one in which western culture and the governments of the world will become increasingly inimical to Christianity. Dr. Stephenson's proclamation reminds us of our responsibilities as Christian citizens to confess and live out the Christian life. He especially exhorts those of us in the office of the holy ministry.

Keep in mind as well that sermons like this in Canada, which are critical of so-called "same sex marriage", may even be considered illegal under "hate speech" laws! Please continue to pray for Dr. Stephenson and faithful Christians in places around the world, including Canada, whose orthodox confessions may have consequences.

We are fortunate to count men like Dr. Stephenson as churchmen in our communion, and I am personally grateful to call him a very dear and beloved father in Christ, a font of wisdom for young (and not so young) pastors and those who aspire to the pastoral office. I look forward to hearing him lecture again, God willing, in the future.

Text: Rv 1:4-8

by Rev. Dr. John Stephenson

If we had any commonsense, which we don’t, we’d be wearing sackcloth and ashes this Friday. If we were connected to reality, which we aren’t, all the Christian people of Canada would be fasting today, we’d be crowding into the churches and falling on our knees to recite the seven penitential psalms and to implore the mercy of God. Unfortunately, we’re going about our daily routine, conducting business as usual, dreaming that God’s kinda complacent in His heaven and that all’s well with the world. Alas, we have the same sort of mindset as the ancient Jews did when they tuned out all the dire warnings of the prophets and didn’t realize what was coming down the turnpike as Nebuchadnezzar marched on Jerusalem.

Every Christian pulpit and every Christian spokesman in this land needs to shout out loud and clear and for a prolonged period that 1941 isn’t the only year in which 7 December marks a “day that will live in infamy.” Down in the US yesterday they were remembering how the airplanes of the Empire of Japan rained down fire and destruction on ships of US navy that lay docked in Pearl Harbour. 7 December 2006 will go down in history as the day when the Canadian House of Commons sitting in Ottawa blasphemed Almighty God, insulted Christ the King, and dared Him to rain down fire and destruction on this land. Around a third of our MPs voted for a wimpy and inadequate resolution that said a marriage should kinda be between one man and one woman but nevertheless allowed for a bunch of exceptions to this rule. At the same time two thirds of the MPs just threw the fear of God out of the window, and the newly elected Leader of the Opposition proclaimed, “Our God is the Charter!”

If one of the Roman guards was looking over John’s shoulder as he wrote Revelation, he must have laughed his helmet off when he read the description of Jesus Christ as “ruler of the kings of the earth,” and if he kept going, he would have thought it pretty hilarious later on in the text when John beholds Christ seated on a white horse returning as king of kings and lord of lords to judge the earth. Those Roman guards were very confident that Caesar had the kingdom and the power and the glory and that it was curtains for John and the seven churches of Asia. It goes with the flow of the flesh to accept earthly things and worldly powers as our gods and to ignore Almighty God and Christ the King.

There’s something about the operation of the Roman Empire back in the first century that helps us to understand the way Canada is run today. Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor, was one of the few rulers in history who pulled off the feat of fooling just about all of the people all of the time. He behaved like a regular upper class Roman and didn’t insist on elaborate ceremonies about his person. But look a little more closely at him and you will see the makings of a ruthless tyrant, of someone keen to usurp the place of Almighty God and Christ the King. He was the commander in chief of the army, which was the ultimate source of power. Every year he graciously accepted election as consul, so that he was so to say a permanent prime minister or chief executive. Now he was very respectful toward the Senate, but please bear in mind that at the outset of his reign he went through the roster of the Senate, dismissing his enemies and appointing his friends. So it was easy for him humbly to fall in line with the Senate, given that he already ran it behind the scenes.

In the place of Augustus Caesar behold Pierre Trudeau and his successors. When it came to the oxymoron known as same-sex marriage, Paul Martin simply had to follow the Charter, and he absolutely must kowtow to the judges’ interpretation of the Charter, but no one called his bluff by pointing out that Trudeau and his successors appointed the judges to do their will, to be their instruments in a grand process of social engineering that involves the elimination of all morality and the complete dechristianization of this land.

But it won’t do on this morning after the day that will live in infamy to point the finger of scorn at our political establishment, at the powerbrokers who fill the shoes of C. S. Lewis’s “Conditioners,” at the ruling elite who are successfully transforming Canada into Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Nor will it do to shake our heads in disapproval at the student unions of two of our universities who want to deny freedom of speech and assembly to the minority of students who embrace the pro-life position. Of course, Paul is talking about all of these people when he rebukes “all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” But instead of blaming other people for our misfortunes, let’s pose the embarrassing and uncomfortable question whether we’ve ever told these folk the truth in a plain, straightforward, and unmistakable fashion.

If carefully, closely, and on your knees you read through Ezekiel chapters 3 & 33, you’ll think twice about entering the office of the ministry. Those who die in their sin will rue their folly, but the Lord demands something of those of us with Reverend before our name, collars about our necks, and stoles around our shoulders. If you don’t warn those who are walking toward their doom, their blood will be on your hands. Alas, we don’t want to make waves and we do want to be liked, so we don’t tell people in season and out of season that abortion is murder and that Almighty God does not look kindly on tearing babies apart and burning them in saline solution. We don’t want to get grey-haired people and the officers of our congregations talked out of shape, so we don’t tell their grown-up children that sleeping around and being shacked up are mortal sins that put their salvation in peril. We’re frightened to tell young people that to enter holy marriage is to step on holy ground, that it involves restraint and sacrifice and self-control, and that it should be open to God’s gift of life. We’re frightened to preach the Law full blast and with both barrels so that people fall under conviction and experience real terrors of conscience. We talk about the second use of the law as though it were a caged animal that can do no harm; we forget that the second use of the law only achieves its purpose when we gladly embrace the third use by starting to carry out with a glad heart the imperatives God lays on us.

By our cowardice we’ve put Ezekiel 3 & 33 into cold storage, and, my, how the chickens have come home to roost! Generations have grown up and are growing old who have no idea what the sacred writers mean when they say that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” People are walking the streets who have never been told that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God and that we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, who is the first-born from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Woe to us that so tragically many people are perishing, sinking into hell in the Brave New World of the Charter without ever being confronted with the majesty, the mercy, and the monarchy of Christ the King.

So may God grant to the churches of this land sackcloth and ashes, lamentation, penitence, and the fruits of repentance. May He grant His children in this land to understand why 7 December 2006 is a day that will live in infamy. May He grant us all a due sense of His holy majesty and may He grant us to feel the full force of His holy law, because then and only then can we appreciate the bounty and gift of Christ the King who cleanses penitent sinners in His blood and makes them priests and kings to sing praise to His God and Father. Yes, may the fruits of repentance abound in this land so that it may be the dominion of Christ the King from sea to sea.


Michael said...

I wish I could attend his church. Why don't Lutheran's pray on their knees in church anymore, by the way?
Best regards,
michaelk borussia

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Michael:

Actually, this sermon was preached in the chapel of the seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada). Indeed, Dr. Stephenson's preaching is a delight.

As far as kneeling, I think a lot of our churches went Protestant, and the more recent ones copied Vatican II. My congregation doesn't have kneelers (our current sanctuary was built in the late 1950s, and is very traditional other than the lack of kneelers). It would be nice to see our churches install kneelers and re-institute the practice. I think it's good for us.