Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Brief Blogged Brainstorms

Just a few random thoughts not developed enough to be self-standing blog entries, all brought to you by the letter "B"

Born to be Wild

I was listening to the Steppenwolf song "Born to be Wild", and I couldn't help but reflect on how, while in my twenties, I used to listen to that tune while wearing jeans, boots, and a leather jacket while tooling down the highway alone on my motorcycle. Now that I'm in my forties, I'm listening to the same song in cargo pants, sandals, and a golf shirt driving to the grocery store with the family in my minivan. I'm not sure whether this is horrifying, funny, or both.

Banana Tree

Having grown up in cold, snowy Ohio, the thought of having a banana tree in my back yard is intriguing in theory. However, in practice, even in sunny Louisiana, I'm not so sure.

I had no idea there was a banana tree back there, but somehow, it grew up without my knowing about it. It's now about seven feet high, and it blocks my ability to walk behind the shed where I have some things stored. It's more of a nuisance than anything else. I'll probably chop it down. I guess some things are better in abstracto.

Bridging the Gap

Until this past spring, I used to live in Kenner and commuted to Gretna every day (a 17 mile commute each way in heavy traffic). The trek was almost entirely on I-10 and involved the crossing of a large toll bridge (the Crescent City Connection). The bridge spans the Mississippi River, and the two sections it connects are north and south of each other - though we refer to the two regions as the East Bank and the West Bank. The main part of New Orleans (as well as a hunk of suburban Jefferson Parish) is on the East (that is, the North) Bank, while the Algiers section of New Orleans (as well as another hunk of Jefferson Parish) is on the West (that is, the South) Bank. The cardinal points of the compass are irrelevant in our region. The degree of deviation from the meridian of the magnetic North Pole is just not as useful in matters of direction to West Bankers as, say the proximity to Sal's Seafood or in the direction of the Harvey Canal.

Since that time, I have become a West Banker myself. I live in Gretna, just a five minute drive from the bridge. Now, crossing to the East Bank seems almost exotic. Psychologically, it feels like an 8-hour drive with an international border. The Crescent City Connection now has the feel of a bridge connecting Canada to the U.S. - I almost expect to see a customs station set up at the end of the crossing. There is a cultural difference between the banks as well.

These days, Mrs. Hollywood and I would rather drive a longer distance and remain on the West Bank than to take a shorter journey that involves crossing the bridge. I'm sure there is a name for this, as well as a good reason for it. Maybe someone can enlighten me.


It's really a good thing that women have been "liberated" from being barefoot and pregnant, with men holding doors open for them, putting them on a pedestal, using respectful language in their presence, and treating them with chivalry. We're so much better these days. Equality and all that.

On I-20 near Shreveport (just after crossing into Louisiana from Texas), there are a slew of billboards advertising the local casinos. One of them features a rather scantily clad blonde with the words: "100's of Loose Slots."

We're so much better now.

In a similar theme of feminine liberation, there was an ad for soft drinks at a gas station in one of our more rural areas here in the Bible Belt that had a cartoon of a woman saying: "Nice cans, and they're all natural" or something to that effect.

The forces of feminism must be so pleased with themselves. Women are no longer seen as people worthy of respect, but are now life support systems for "cans" and "loose slots." I'm finding this cultural shift to have a tremendous effect on my middle school boys and girls.

Way to go, "womyn!" You've come a long way, baby. Ms. Magazine must be thrilled. Thanks, gals!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sermon: Last Sunday of the Church year

25 November 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA Text: Matt 25:1-13 (Isa 65:17-25, 1 Thess 5:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

It’s an all-too easy thing to become jaded to promises – especially when those promises involve the restoration of something that has been broken. Time and again politicians make promises about restoring our region following the devastation of Katrina and Rita, and time and again, the efforts are bogged down in a quagmire of politics.

In the kingdom of this world, our rulers make all sorts of grandiose promises. Certainly, some of them mean well, while others are openly corrupt. Very seldom do the promises match the rhetoric. Indeed, we expect them to be broken.

Perhaps this is why the Psalmist warns us not to place our trust in princes.

It’s easy, all-too easy, for us to transfer this same cynicism and doubt to the Kingdom of God. Sure, we know the world has been cosmically altered thanks to sin. We know that the lush and innocent paradise of Eden has given way to the stony ground both of the uncooperative land and the sinful human heart. We also know that our Lord Jesus came into the world to crush the serpent’s head, to save us from our sins, and to give us everlasting life. We also know that “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”

But we’ve been waiting on our Lord’s return for 1,977 years. The apostles earnestly felt our blessed Lord’s return was around the corner. People living at the turn of the millennium – the first millennium that is – believed the Second Coming was in their lifetime. Martin Luther believed the end of the world was nigh. And today, TV preachers eagerly watch events in the middle east desperately trying to force them into their theories about biblical prophecy.

It’s easy for us to live as though Jesus is never coming back. And that is why the Church takes this Sunday, the last of the church year and the one just before Advent, to remind all of us that the Triune God is not a bungling federal bureaucracy, Jesus is not FEMA, and the promises of God’s Kingdom are not merely campaign hot air from a candidate for political office. In fact, the season of Advent is not only a remembrance of our Lord’s first coming, but a time of preparation for His second.

Listen carefully to our Lord’s parable. It is a dichotomy between the wise and the foolish – all of whom were awaiting the groom. The wise girls in the story, though certainly excited and joyful at the coming of the wedding, did not shirk their responsibilities. Certain things simply need done. No-one else will do them, and if they are not done, there will be horrific consequences. The five wise virgins prepared their lamps with oil before going to sleep. The five foolish virgins procrastinated, deciding to put off their chores until a more convenient time.

At last, the groom arrives. There is no more time. The wise girls are ready. The foolish girls are not. In their last-minute scurrying, the foolish girls are locked out of the wedding. In fact, they hear the most painful words possible: “I don’t know you.”

Jesus Himself, speaking to those who believe in Him, provides the moral of His story: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

This is the same warning given by St. Paul in our epistle: “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…”

The warning to be sober is the same warning St. Peter gives when he tells us how to keep watch for the devil, who prowls like a lion looking for prey. For if we are to be watchful, we must be sober. This doesn’t mean we are never to drink, and indeed, it means so much more than simply being reasonable when it comes to alcohol. Sobriety means keeping alert, not allowing ourselves to fall into distraction, not being frazzled by circumstances, but rather focused and calm.

Sobriety means we are not to be distracted by things that glitter, things that cause us pain, things that raise doubts, or things that lead us to worship other gods.

How is it that Christians can be calm, focused, and alert? Again, St. Paul provides the answer: “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We can be calm, we can be watchful, we can stay on task filling our lamps with oil – doing the things that need done, the things we are called to do, great things and small things alike – even while others around us fall into unprepared slumber or into a distracted state of drunkenness and a lack of trust in the Lord’s promise. “For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”

The Gospel gives us the ability to be sober. The Gospel enables us to be focused on the tasks God has given us in His Kingdom – whether that be proclaiming the Gospel, supporting the ministry, working for the good of the church, being a godly parent and teaching your children the Word of God, or by doing your job honestly and to the best of your ability. The Gospel allows us to watch for the Bridegroom’s coming as well as to watch out for the attacks of Satan. We are to be alert both to the return of our Lord at the end of time as well as being wary of the temptations to sin we face day to day, moment to moment, in our temporal existence.

Seven hundred years before our Lord’s coming in the flesh, the prophet Isaiah reminded us what God has been promising since the fall in Paradise: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, And her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, And joy in My people; The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, Nor the voice of crying.”

In the midst of our busy lives - Christmas shopping, dealing with family problems, struggling with health issues, being beckoned by the lure of wealth and material possessions, and being tossed about by the constant assaults of cultural forces against the Christian Faith and Church, as well as our own sinful flesh - it is easy to forget that we are in the midst of a long-term reconstruction of the universe.

This is exactly the Word of God warns us again and again to cling to the promise, wait, and watch – with expectant joy and with diligent discipline.

We stand 2,700 years after Isaiah’s warning and nearly 2,000 years since the words of St. Paul and of our Lord Jesus Christ were inscribed to the churches. We enjoy luxuries they could only dream about, and we are subjected to assaults on our faith that would shock them. Now, more then ever before we must heed their warnings. For we “know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

But this much we do know, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ: God is restoring the universe. Jesus has defeated the devil and vanquished sin. He is coming to rescue us from the ravages of Satan and of the old corrupted order. The new order is already on the way. The Church waits for her bridegroom, and she has no reason to doubt, to be drunk, to slumber, or to fritter away the gifts she has been given. The wise virgins will be rescued, while the foolish virgins will have walked away from eternal life.

Hang in there, Christians! Time continues to move forward. Every day is another day closer to the restored Paradise promised by God. Every year is one more in the irreversible march to eternity. The victorious Lord Jesus Christ is coming: the babe of Bethlehem is also the mighty King of the universe and Conqueror of all evil.

For Jesus is the one Prince we may, can, and must put our trust in. We trim our lamps with assurance and in joy. For our heroic groom is coming! He always keeps His promises. May He find His beloved bride ready to be whisked away to a restored Paradise that has no end!

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sermon: Funeral of Elizabeth C. Bealer

13 November 2007 at Mothe Funeral Home, Harvey, LA Text: John 12:23-26 (Job 19:23-27, Rom 6:3-9)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear family and friends. There are many things we don’t understand. So much of our existence is a mystery. The hardest questions are those that begin with “why?”

As Christians, we accept that God, the Author and Creator of all life, has a plan. We know that from our perspective, it doesn’t always make sense, but we also know that He is a loving and merciful God, and that we are His beloved children who have nothing to fear.

And yet, it is still painful and heart-rending to have to endure even this temporary separation from those we love.

Bob, your loss is the hardest. God is asking more of you than anyone this morning. For Beth has been your dear bride for nearly three decades. You may be tempted to feel that God is punishing you, or that this is your fault. It most certainly is not. Our Old Testament lesson is taken from the book of Job. Job lost everything – all his children, his servants, his wealth, and even his own health. His friends abandoned him. He cried out to God and for a long time got no answer. In the end, Job was rewarded richly for everything he lost. He was promised a resurrection and a glorious reunion with those from whom he was separated. And as far as why this happened to him, God only says: “My ways are not your ways.” As God’s children, we must accept His will – even if we cannot understand it at this time.

Your dear wife Beth gave her life in service to you. When you were in need, she was there for you. She lost her life serving you.

And that is the best way for any of us to live and die. For our service to others is a demonstration of our love for them. And when we lose our lives serving others, we are called heroes and heroines. Beth was given a calling, a vocation, as a daughter, wife, and mother – and that calling of love and service is what she was doing right until she was called to her heavenly home. What a blessing to have such an example of love in our lives!

As a baptized Christian, Beth is a reflection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For He too gave His life for His beloved spouse, the Church. Christ’s calling and vocation was to serve us with His very life – and to give us that never-ending life through Holy Baptism.

As St. Paul speaks to us anew today: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

When Beth was baptized, she became a partaker of the death and resurrection of Jesus. She was called by name, in His Triune name, by water and the Spirit, into everlasting life.

Like all Christian saints, Beth is a mirror of our Lord Jesus Christ. But also like all Christian saints, Beth was a forgiven sinner. For our Lord did not come to call the righteous, but all of us poor, miserable sinners, to take our place in the Kingdom of God. Through this gift of faith, we ordinary people become extraordinary. We imperfect people are conformed into His perfect image. And though we all must die, our deaths are not final – no more than our Lord’s death was final. On the great and glorious day of the resurrection, Beth’s tomb will be as empty as Jesus’s tomb, and like Job in our Old Testament lesson, Beth will proclaim: “I know that my Redeemer lives” and “in my flesh I shall see God.”

What a magnificent reunion we have to look forward to!

For listen to the Word of God from our Gospel reading according to St. John: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus speaks of His impending death as “the hour” – even our Lord Jesus had an appointed time to die. And He speaks of that death as a glorification. For in dying, Jesus conquers death. And St. Paul tells us we who partake in our Lord’s death become even more than conquerors. Our blessed Lord says: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Beth did not love her life more than she loved, and continues to love, her family. Love requires us to die in order to live eternally. This is the great mystery of life on this side of the grave. For death is our punishment for sin, and yet, through death, our Lord Jesus Christ conquers death, so that we too win the victory over sin, death, and the devil.

The Christian life is a life of service. The Lord serves us in dying for us, in saving us by his free grace and mercy, in rising for us, and in giving us eternal life in Holy Baptism and in faith. And we too serve Him by serving those He places in our lives. Beth served her husband and her children. And notice what our Lord says: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

Where Jesus is, there Beth is.

One of the most comforting things about the Christian life – even in the midst of death, amid all of the questions we have, and even through the pain we bear – is the fact that when we gather around the altar to celebrate the mystery of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we acknowledge that we are not alone. Rather, we are in the midst of “angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.” That means when we are united to Jesus through His Holy Supper, Beth is there with us. For you heard the promise of Jesus: “where I am, there will my servant be also.”

We don’t have all the answers. The answer to the question “why?” eludes us. But there are things we do know, testified by the very Word of God. Elizabeth Colvin Bealer is a baptized child of God, given the gift of everlasting life. She continues to pray for her beloved family. She sings the praises of the Lamb of God day and night. Her body will be resurrected, and she will be reunited with those whom she loved and served in this life whom Christ also redeems by His own death and resurrection. And furthermore, in eternity, we baptized and believing children of our heavenly Father will never again know pain, grief, separation, or death.

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last hour he will stand upon the earth… in my flesh I shall see God.” Amen.

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

Blog Recommendations

To my surprise and delight, a lot of my parishioners are reading Father Hollywood. The ranks of the self-declared "computer illiterate" are dwindling among the faithful at Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Village of Mechanickham, the City of Gretna, the Parish of Jefferson, the State of Louisiana.

So, my beloved parishioners, as well as other readers, I want to direct you to a few other blogs that you might find edifying.

The first is by a dear friend and colleague, the Rev. Subdeacon Latif Gaba - a seminary classmate of mine who served as the subdeacon at my ordination Mass. He is also a lay brother in the Society of St. Polycarp.

Although Br. Latif had to leave seminary to work full time to pay bills, and was not permitted to return, he is one of the finest theologians and scholars that I have ever met. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the members of the committee that denied Latif re-entry into seminary studies assured me that this was not due to any moral or academic issue with Latif - but rather the impression that he would not fit in well with the current ethos of LCMS pastors.

I have to agree with the assessment, though I think it would have been prudent to allow Latif to complete his studies and see if the Lord has a place for him to serve our church body rather than presume that there is no LCMS altar or classroom where Latif could serve. I can think of many, many places where a man of Latif's integrity, pastoral heart, humility, and intellect would be appreciated, even though he has been known to wear a cassock (gasp!) and listen to Bruce Springsteen.

When I say that I agree with the assessment, I mean that there are an awful (a truly awful) lot of LCMS pastors who support the Ablaze!(tm) program, have no quarrels with so-called contemporary worship, spend little time reading Scripture in the original languages, and try very hard to look and speak like a local Baptist or Methodist preacher. Many of my classmates, Latif included, do not fit in with that paradigm at all.

In short, most of my best friends and most faithful colleagues are terribly out of step with the increasingly typical LCMS pastor - although Latif is the first example to my knowledge of such a man being refused a seat in the classroom (perhaps if Latif were to get a sex change operation and enroll in the deaconess program he might have a better shot...). If my congregation ever gets thrown out or leaves the LCMS, I might consider kidnapping Latif, laying hands on him, and impressing him into service as my father confessor. It is my earnest belief that had I been in the same boat at the same time as Latif, I would have been equally thrown overboard to the sharks as an "undesirable." But there really are congregations out there who don't want a cookie-cutter wannabe Methodist "company man" to be their shepherd. Nothing against a certain midwestern state that starts with the letter "I" (you know who you are...), but there are actually places in this country where high culture doesn't consist of belching the national anthem. Some people actually want men like Latif Gaba to serve as their pastors.

I know of few men as committed to the contemplative prayer life, the Holy Eucharist, and the Lutheran confessions as the good subdeacon. It is my fervent prayer that the Lord open a door for him to serve as Lutheran pastor. We desperately need men of his caliber and pastoral sensitivity.

Latif also happens to be an eloquent writer as well. I highly recommend his Luther's birthday blog article. If anyone "gets" Luther and the reformation it is Latif. I also thoroughly enjoyed his meditation on chocolate and the sacramental life. Delicious writing!

Another offering to the Father Hollywood Community (ha!) is yet another classmate of mine who might today be deemed "undesirable" (who is also a fellow member of the Society of St. Polycarp and a fellow former singer in the Seminary Kantorei), the Rev. Kent Schaaf. I'm honored to work in the fields of the Lord with men of such integrity, fidelity, and sense of humor. There are some great photos and commentary on Fr. Schaaf's recent mission trip to Sudan.

I recently discovered another one of my former (likely now "undesirable") classmates and fellow Kantorei member who is also writing a blog, the Rev. Jon Sollberger. This entry is just a taste of the kind of writing you'll find from this musician and word-smith.

There are a couple other blogs I think members of my flock would appreciate: those of the Rev. Dr. Fritz Eckardt, and the Rev. William Weedon - both men of profound pastoral experience, brilliant Augsburg theologians and writers, and the kind of guys you just enjoy reading and interacting with - in person or in cyberspace.

There are more blogs out there, of course, many of which I think are worth reading whenever anything new is posted - but I'll leave you with just these for now.

And I know which parishioners are reading my blog. They are the ones who greet me on the way out of church and say: "I gotta have more cowbell!"

Let the reader understand.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 23

11 November 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 22:15-22 (Prov 8:11-22, Phil 3:17-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The enemies of Jesus – both human and supernatural – have become desperate. As the time draws near for Him to go to the cross, the forces of evil – who hate each other – are now cooperating. The Pharisees and the Herodians form an alliance. They plot. They seek to entangle. And they approach our blessed Lord with flattery designed to make Him lower His defenses and fall into their snare.

And notice that even in their deceit there is truth: “We know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth.” Jesus is truthful, He is the Truth, and He is the very way. He is God in the flesh, and they claim to believe this – though even with this beautiful confession, they are seeking to destroy Him. Perhaps they honestly don’t believe Him. But then again, maybe they do, but have been so co-opted by evil as to believe that they can snuff out God in the flesh with a political trick.

They know Jesus will not waffle. He will not stay on the safe side of political correctness. They also know that the Romans are ruthless, and that they will crucify any non-citizen of the Empire who dares to question Caesar – especially in matters of taxation.

The Pharisees and the Herodians are clever, but they have no wisdom. They seek the rubies of this world through their guile, but they do not seek wisdom that dwells with prudence. They do not hate evil, but see evil as an ally to their own goals. They seek the destruction of the Way, the Truth, and the Life by their pride and arrogance.

Sadly, the Lord offers them “enduring riches and righteousness,” that which is “better than gold” and “choice silver” – but they instead try to use fleeting earthly weath as a snare to entrap the One who not only made, but freely distributes all the wealth in heaven and on earth to those who love Him, who seek Him diligently and find Him.

They are truly “enemies of the cross… whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame” – for they “set their minds on earthly things.” They do not seek the citizenship that is “in heaven.”

And so, Jesus teaches them about what it means to be a dual citizen, subjects of imperfect, and even at times evil worldly rulers, as well as being citizens in the Kingdom of heaven.

In response to their stirring the pot about taxes, the intended Victim of the snare becomes the trapper. For they ask the controversial question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” This is no innocent question, for as the Evangelist narrates “Jesus perceived their wickedness.” Our blessed Lord calls their bluff, openly assails their hypocrisy with a rhetorical question of His own, and then says: “Show Me the money.” Unlike the pop-culture catch phrase, this is no expression of greed, but rather an honest request for a coin to use as an object lesson about the Kingdom of God.

Our Lord makes His wicked interrogators answer a few questions of His choosing, for as they themselves have confessed, Jesus “does not regard the person of men.” Our Lord does not attempt to curry favor with the powerful Pharisees nor the well-connected Herodians. “Whose image and inscription is this?” “Caesar’s” And then our Lord delivers a line that has been quoted in every imaginable context ever since: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Jesus leaves them with mouths agape. For they had no answer. They could not extract themselves from the snare by using clever words. Jesus has no need to be politically correct nor politically incorrect. Our Lord Jesus Christ has not come to call the overtaxed into protest, but rather sinners to repentance. His Kingdom is not just another rinky-dink empire or human state convinced of its own immortality. For as we all know, Caesars come and go, empires rise and fall, and yet the Lord’s Kingdom, the Church, the citizens of the living Word of God, continue to serve their King unto eternity.

The governments of this world certainly do God’s work in protecting the innocent and prosecuting the guilty, in maintaining order over and against chaos and in securing a peaceful forum in which the Gospel may be preached. But we also know that governments, all governments, are filled with corruption, greed, Pharisees, Herodians, and all other sorts of scoundrels who have no regard for our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy Church.

And yet, the Lord God says: “By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all the judges of the earth.” Worldly rulers often forget this fact, being so used to being fawned over, enjoying privileges and wealth – not to mention easy access to riches that do not belong to them. In the same way, our Lord told Pontius Pilate that any authority Pilate had came from the Father of Jesus, from the mighty and merciful God who governs the world, and yet whose Kingdom is not of this world.

In seeking to make Jesus the Victim of their snare, they made the enemy of Jesus the victim. Ultimately, the Pharisees and Herodians, the priests and the scribes, conspired together to cast our Lord dishonestly as a rebel against Caesar. They brought Him before Pilate, thinking that Pilate had authority over Him by virtue of Caesar instead of by virtue of God. When they succeeded in crucifying our Lord, in bringing about His passion and death, they thought that they had finally snared Him whom they called “true.” In fact, they ended up in their own web, for it was Satan who was ensnared on the cross of our Lord.

In dying, our Lord caused “those who love [Him] to inherit wealth.” And in rising from the dead, He has extended the promise to “transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”

And so, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we may have presidents and governors – but the principle remains. We live under governments that are filled with the corrupt and the greedy – and yet the Lord Himself ordains these governments to the ultimate working out of His plan and His glory. We are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we must also remember that even what Caesar owns is still God’s.

And what God has, He lavishes upon us. His riches are better than a few shiny trinkets or some electronic gadgetry that will be obsolete in a few weeks. He gives us a new creation, a body freed from disease and mortality, a New Jerusalem and a restored Paradise. He forgives our sins, gives us His very body and blood, and promises us absolutely everything in His glorious Kingdom. He nurtures us with His Word and with the wealth of His divine and eternal love and mercy. No gold coin – even one with the picture of a mighty Caesar – is able to buy any such thing. So render to Caesar, even as God renders unto us.

We must keep in mind the Word of the Lord that the Pharisees and the Herodians had long since forgotten:

“For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her…. Riches and honor are with me, enduring riches and righteousness…. I traverse the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice, that I may cause those who love me to inherit wealth, that I may fill their treasuries.”

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

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sermon: Festival of All Saints (Transferred)

4 November 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Rev 7:9-11

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The word “saint” can mean different things depending on the context. St. Paul often uses the term “saint” as a title and description of all baptized believers, those in the words of St. John’s revelation whose robes have been washed by the blood of the Lamb. Of course, when I referred to Saints Paul and John, I was using the word in another way, a more restrictive way, meaning a Christian with particular virtues that the whole Christian Church on earth recognizes. The modern-day Roman Catholic Church has a thorough bureaucratic process by which a person is canonized, or given the title of “saint.” And, of course, in the fall months in the New Orleans area, the word “saint” has still another connotation.

In the ancient liturgy of the Church, right before communion was distributed, the celebrant would declare “holy things for holy people.” The word “saint” in Greek and in Latin means both “holy things” and “holy people.” So, our liturgy of Word and Sacrament is truly “saints for saints.” The “holy things” are reserved for the “holy people,” and yet at the same time, the “holy people” are made holy by the “holy things.”

Today, we celebrate all saints, all “holy people” who are never far from the “holy things.” We celebrate those heroes and heroines of the faith whose lives have become models in holiness and good works that all Christians should emulate. We celebrate those saints who are officially recognized in the church calendar, those particular saints whom we lovingly remember year after year – especially if they have been martyred for the faith. But again, today is the festival of “All Saints.” We celebrate all followers of Jesus Christ: those who died in agony in the arena and those who died comfortably in their own beds. We call to mind the rich and the poor, the known and the unknown, the role models and even those whose entire lives reflected a great struggle with sin. No two saints are alike, which makes the pure white a fitting color for All Saints Day. Scientifically speaking, white is the result of the blending of all colors, and the Church is indeed “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.”

And what’s more, we celebrate those saints who have not yet departed this life – we who gather around the altar here on this side of the grave: seeking absolution for our sins, praying for mercy because of our shortcomings, singing imperfect praises, and making our way hungrily for the comfort of the holy sacrament. As we confess in the creed, there is only one, one holy catholic and apostolic Church. There is not one church of the dead and one of the living. For in Christ, we are all alive. We are all of one communion of saints. The love, affection, esteem, and celebration of saintly lives and virtues do not suddenly come to an end at death.

In fact, the Christian life is quite the contrary. As followers of Him who is the Alpha and the Omega, time takes on a certain irrelevance. In eternity, there is no beginning and no end.

And yet, in this life, there is both a beginning and end. We mourn our dead even as they conquer death in Christ. We acknowledge their new beginning, their heavenly birthday – as the Church usually commemorates a saint based on the day of his entry into glory.

We also celebrate new life, as mothers and fathers continue to heed our Father’s mandate to “be fruitful and multiply.” We also celebrate a new saint’s second birthday, when he is born of water and the Spirit, as our dear little brother Christian Ebersole was today.

And how fitting for the latest saint to be born again in the midst of this congregation to bear the name “Christian” as a constant reminder of whose he is!

“‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’”

All Christians, all saints, have been cleansed by the Lamb’s holy blood, washed in the Lamb’s holy and living water, they are the hosts arrayed in the white garb of baptism – those “who from their labor rest” as well as those who continue to “fight the good fight.”

And make no mistake, dear saints, every Christian, every saint, is a warrior, a soldier waging a hellish battle between good and evil, between the New Man and the sinful flesh, that age-old clash between the legions of light and the demons of darkness. It is our prayer that all the saints “fight as the saints who nobly fought of old.” For this is not something ultimately as trivial as a sporting event or as fleeting as a video game. This is real warfare, desperate warfare, eternal warfare.

This is why we gather here, seeking direction from our Commander in Chief, being nourished and emboldened by His encouraging Word and fortifying sacraments.

We limp from the battlefields of life in this fallen world, shot down, maimed, even mortally wounded – but never defeated.

For battles are lost, individual warriors fall, but the Word of God remains forever. Jesus Christ reigns triumphant – and brings all His saints to reign with Him. And in victory, all the saints and angels sing in the eternal liturgy of heaven: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!...Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

This is the song of the saints – from the greatest to the least, those honored by the Church, and those who lie in unmarked and forgotten graves, those whose warfare is ended, and those whose struggle against the vile and bitter enemy continue.

And though we continue to live in time and struggle against sin, we know where our true home is. We know that time has no meaning to us who have been born again unto eternity. For we know that we are one Church with those who are “before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple.” We know the promises made to them apply to us as well: “He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Oh, what their joy and their glory must be,
Those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see!
Crowns for the valiant, to weary ones rest;
God shall be all, and in all ever blest.


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

Friday, November 02, 2007

Sermon: Wedding of Wade and Ivonne Stoner

3 November 2007 at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX
Text: Gen 2:7, 18-24

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Wade, Ivonne, friends, family, guests.

The matrimonial union that we witness today is only the latest manifestation of the most ancient institution on the planet. Marriage even predates mankind’s fall into sin. The first wedding was itself wedded to the creation of the world.

For God created all things, every form of life, every creature under heaven, and created man as the pinnacle of that creation. And yet, the man’s life remained incomplete. Using flesh from the man, God created another human – which was something skeptics scoffed at until science caught up with the Scriptures and envisioned cloning. The woman was a perfect match for the man, herself created in God’s image, and uniquely qualified to make the man’s life complete. And likewise, the man made the woman’s life complete.

The primary reason for married life, according to our reading, is the alleviation of loneliness. For God pronounced all creation good – except for the man without the woman. “It is not good” says God “that the man should be alone.” For not even God is alone, as His Triune nature demonstrates. God is love, and His threeness in oneness makes love possible. But the solitary man – even in this Edenic paradise – was lonely.

But the creation of the woman was the completion of the man’s joy: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. The man was now whole – as the two became “one flesh.” Within this oneness, there is also a twoness that enables both persons to be lover and beloved. This is a little hint of the mystery of the Trinity. It is also a hint of the mystery of Jesus Christ – the bridegroom of the Church He loves by laying down His life.

Thus there is another lesson married life teaches us. It teaches us that love is unselfish. For the lover will do anything and everything for the beloved. And growing out of married love, new creatures are begotten. Children are conceived, given birth, nurtured, and raised to maturity. Through marriage, God continues His wondrous work of creation, using His creatures created in His image to do it.

By the design of the Father, the man becomes a father as well, and the woman likewise becomes a mother. The “one flesh” of the married couple becomes a dim reflection of the Trinity – the Creator and Nurturer of life.

It is for this reason that the Church describes Holy Matrimony as a “sacrament.” It is a flesh-and-blood sign of a divine reality. It is the miraculous manifestation of the Holy Trinity – even in our fallen and sinful state.

Married life is a glimpse of life in Eden, a paradise in which love brings unity out of multiplicity, and new life out of the one flesh that has been commanded by God to be fruitful and multiply.

Though we are imperfect, marriage itself remains what God intended it to be. It is a reminder of paradise.

Wade and Ivonne, welcome to this glimpse of Eden. Thanks be to God, now and for all eternity. Amen.

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