Sunday, April 29, 2007

Good Intentions and Thought Crimes

We all know the old saying about where "good intentions" lead. We've also all read George Orwell's 1984, in which the term "thought crime" was coined. The two converge when government (especially big, unaccountable, pan-national government) is driving the issue. An example of this train wreck can be found here.

Outlawing "hate speech" is a lazy non-solution to a problem that is cultural, not criminal. But modern people have lost touch with things like "culture." So, government steps in to fill the gap. What was once considered rude and socially discouraged behavior is now enforced with fines and threats of jail. What was once combatted with education, free discourse, and intellectually unfettered debate, is now "settled" with jack-booted government enforcement.

The irony is that the occasion of this proposed new law involves the legacy of the Nazis. Of course, they were thugs who used (abused) the compulsory force of government to achieve the ends of setting up one ethnic group over others. One would think the world learned its lesson from Nazism and the Holocaust - but it seems we haven't. What is now being done in the name of opposing Nazism is a form of Neo-Nazism - in which certain ethnic groups become "more equal" (another Orwellian quip) than other groups, where denying the suffering of some groups is legal, but the denial of the suffering of "protected" groups becomes a thought crime. And the enforcement of these edicts are entrusted into the hands of the same folks who brought us every holocaust and pogram in history: government bureaucrats.

Look at the ridiculousness of the debate. The proposal is to criminalize the denial of the Jewish holocaust of WW2, along with, for some reason (political, no doubt), the 1984 Rwanda genocide, while leaving the denial of all other historical facts and genocides as matters of free speech.

An excerpt:

"Diplomats stressed the provision had been carefully worded to include only denial of the Holocaust – the Nazi mass murder of Jews during the second world war – and the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.... In an attempt to assuage Turkish fears, several EU diplomats said the provisions would not penalise the denial of mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman troops in the aftermath of the 1915 collapse of the Ottoman empire."

Also, protected species are based on ethnicity, and not other things like religion:

"The proposal draws what is likely to be a controversial distinction between inciting violence against racial or ethnic groups and against religious groups. Attacks against Muslims, Jews or other faiths will only be penalised if they go on to incite violence against ethnic or racial groups, the draft text states."

Common sense would say that all groups should be equally protected. If denial of the Jewish holocaust is a crime, than perhaps denial of the Arminian holocaust should be as well. Better yet, why not restrict the government to protecting people and property and getting out of the business of telling people what they can believe or write. If a person believes that the Nazis didn't gas six million Jews, if a person believes the earth is flat, or if a person believes wearing crystals and a tin foil hat can make them fly - so what?

What is happening is nothing more than the age-old desire to dominate others. It was wrong when Nazis did it to Jews, and it is equally wrong when EU officials seek to do it to citizens with unpopular opinions and ideas. The solution to repugnant speech is free speech. Otherwise, when certain facts become hysterically defended by the government, where dissent is criminalized - this only serves to make people wonder what the government is hiding. Ironically, in criminalizing holocaust-denial, I believe the EU and state governments are only serving to perpetuate the holocaust-denial point of view. Whereas it might have been easy to debunk were free discourse permitted, it now becomes impossible to debate and to refute the idea.

Thus the unintended consequences of "good intentions."

Furthermore, what other unpopular thoughts will once day be criminalized based on this precedent? In Scandinavia, traditional Christians are already being targeted for their biblical view of women's ordination and homosexuality. The United States has also moved in this direction with the enactment of certain "hate crimes" laws that provide different degrees of punishment based solely on the ethnicity (or even sexual deviance) of the victim.

The criminalizetion of unpopular opinions and the gagging of publication of them amounts to the reinstitution of court historians and the Stalinesque brutality that George Orwell (who was ironically a Socialist who lived in what is today an EU state) warned against. "Good intentions" don't justify a new paradigm of jackboots and the crushing of dissent, nor do they ultimately achieve the good they intended in the first place.

You can't fight Nazism with Nazism.

Big Government + Big Business = Big Trouble

This is an oldie that's been sitting in "draft" mode for quite some time. But the collusion between government and business is as old as civilization. It is certainly not surprising to us in Louisiana.

This latest installment is a story of the State of Texas (which has the power to coerce folks into getting vaccinations) in bed with the corporation Merck (which has the power to make millions upon millions of dollars upon selling vaccinations). It's not too difficult to see where this is headed...

This particular issue is loaded with outrages. First, parents, not government bureaucrats, ought to be in charge of their childrens' healthcare - especially when it comes to injecting viruses and various other chemicals into them (which, in the past, has included mercury and other toxic heavy metals). Compulsion and coercion not only violate individual liberty, but also create a captive economy in which Merck and other pharmaceutical giants can virtually charge any price - since insurance companies and taxes will ultimately cover most of the cost. Second, this type of cancer is spread sexually - and injecting 11 and 12 year old girls with it sends a horrible message about what is expected of them. Third, this is nothing more than corporate welfare (if not outright bribery), as Merck is giving thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to the governor (and other legislators) with the power to sign this coercive (and lucrative) bill into law. Of course, this is nothing new. But Merck's unabashed blatency about it - doing it in the open as opposed to in the smoke-filled room - is revealing. Dishonesty and corruption have gone beyond shameful deeds done in secret and have become the accepted way of doing things - until one gets caught and there is some backlash, of course. That's when the "spin" department is called in for "damage control." That's just how the game is played.

The irony is that you might expect big corporations to be in favor of the free market. Not so. They are in favor of making huge profits. A captive market based on compusion, one that thwarts the free-market's limit on the price one can charge for a commodity, is preferable to executives and shareholders alike over and against a free-enterprise approach in which consumers make choices in an open, competition-laden market and vote with their dollars.

I know some will object that the State does allow exceptions, and that "lives will be saved" by this vaccination. However, why should making decisions regarding one's children be a matter of additional paperwork, to be considered an "exception"? Furthermore, not every offering from Big Pharma is actually safe. For the same institution that is being lobbied and feted with money, gifts, and bribes is in charge of safety oversight and regulation. Hence it is of little surprise when drugs and vaccines routinely administered to Americans by the hundreds of thousands or even millions turn out to be unsafe. The cost of litigation is simply rolled into the highly inflated costs of these drugs, and a few "broken eggs" (injuries or death) are just considered a "cost of doing business."

I don't know that any society will ever separate the economy from state compulsion, but what would be a good idea would be for parents to do research before vaccinating their children (you might be shocked at what you'll find) and use your parental authority to decide for yourself what kind of health care your children will receive. You can't control governors or boards of directors of international corporations, but you can control what goes into the minds and veins of your own families. Don't be afraid to educate yourself and put your foot down when the two-headed hydra of Big Government and Big Business wants to feed its insatiable appetite by using your children as parasitic hosts and guinea pigs.

Sermon: Jubilate (Easter 4)

29 April 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 16:16-22

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

While the world has moved on, we Christians are still celebrating Easter. In fact, this is the fourth week of Easter, and whether or not the secular punchers of the cultural time-clock agree, we plan on keeping the party going for another three weeks.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

We celebrate with our blessed Lord as He takes the spiritual equivalent of a “victory lap” in the aftermath of His defeat of sin, death, and the devil. Only this “spiritual” victory lap is as much bodily as it is in spirit, as much in space and time as it is eternal and transcendent.

For in spite of His resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ has not surrendered His humanity. He didn’t suddenly become a spirit or an angel – any more than we will when we have been resurrected. In fact, the risen Jesus shows us what we are meant to be. And so, even as He has one foot in eternity, He still remains in time. And time becomes a major topic in the words of our Lord to His disciples shortly before His time was to come – words He speaks anew to us even as we look back on His crucifixion with the hindsight of the resurrection.

For we live in time. Our feeble minds can’t conceive of not being limited by space and time. We have no rational way to comprehend eternity. And the problem is compounded by our fallen nature. For to a sinner, time takes on a new meaning. While 15 minutes of recess seems like the blink of an eye, waiting 15 minutes for the principal to arrive after you’ve been sent to his office seems like a year or two. While parents watch their children go from infant to adult in the apparent span of a few days, eighteen years in the life of a prisoner in captivity can seem like a dozen lifetimes.

And who hasn’t heard a child on a dreadfully long trip ask that profound theological and philosophical question: “Are we there yet?”

And while Jesus is God, is eternal, is not only the Master of time, but indeed its Maker – yet He willingly lives in time, even as He knows our conception of time is quite different than God’s. Time is often not our friend. Every day that goes by, we are a step closer to death. Our bodies wear out. Time seems to slip away quicker and quicker the older we get. To the elderly, the lonely, and the ailing, time can be a prison, a dull existence of isolation and pain with no apparent hope of improvement.

Our Lord speaks of such isolation, pain, doubt, and fear when He gently warns the disciples of what is going to happen to Him – and to them. “A little while, and you will not see Me.” He has just told them of His impending departure, and that He would send them the Holy Spirit. And yet the part that is most baffling to the disciples is this “little while” business. “We do not know what He is saying,” they cry out in frustration.

Our Lord, in His mercy, explains: “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice, and you will be sorrowful. But your sorrow will be turned into joy.” He then compares this “little while” of lamentation, of separation from the Lord to a mother giving birth. For when all is said and done, the most memorable thing about the act of nativity is not the hours and hours of pain and anguish, but rather the “joy that a human being has been born into the world.” What seemed to have been an eternity during the suffering and travail is remembered, in light of the miracle of life, as only a “little while.”

Even as the joy of our Lord’s birth followed millennia of anguish, the Church of the New Testament was birthed in such a circumstance. For though the tiny band of fickle followers of our Lord had fled, and even as their Master was brutally assassinated and publicly humiliated – this “birth pang” was only to be a “little while.” That long night of doubt, pain, guilt, anger, confusion, and depression that raged on Good Friday was only to last a “little while” – even as the once-baby Jesus quickened to life inside the virginal tomb wrapped in the swaddling cloths of mortality. The “little while” of lamentation was to yield to the Church’s centuries of Easter joy, even as our “little while” in this fallen world, in this mortal flesh, in this vale of tears will give way to eternal paradise and triumph beyond measure.

For what seems to be a long time to us – this waiting for the Lord to restore paradise lost, to finally destroy the foe that He defeated two millennia ago, to transfigure our lowly, death-ridden bodies into what they were always meant to be – it is in fact a “little while.” We can take great comfort in these two little words from our Lord. We can trust in the sure Word of God when He promises that what seems like ages to us is indeed but a “little while.” For the consummation of the great heavenly feast, the victory celebration of all the universe, the reunion of the Lord’s beloved people with their departed brothers and sisters from every time and place is as inevitable as was our Lord’s victorious resurrection. The darkness of Good Friday, though darker than that of any day in creation, did not remain. It was but a “little while” to the great Pascal victory. Once more, dear Christians, it is but a “little while” before we are plucked from the prison of time and set free from the cell of sin and the captivity of the grave.

Even as we struggle with sin, sickness, loneliness, disease, and death. Even as our families are in tatters, our dreams up in smoke, our finances shaky, our futures uncertain, our bodies racked with pain, our souls tormented by temptations and assaults of the evil one, our days filled with lamentation and our nights tormented with frightful dreams – we have a divine promise to cling to.

“Therefore you now have sorrow,” says our Lord. “But I will see you again,” he declares, “and your heart will rejoice,” He says. Notice He doesn’t say “might” or “may” – but “will.” Dear baptized children of the heavenly Father, listen to the promise of Jesus, for He is speaking it to you now – right now, in time and in space. It’s not a promise for someone else – it is a promise for everyone within earshot of this pulpit. It is a promise made directly to you. It is not an idle speculation or a prediction of a forecaster – it is a declaration, a done-deal, an iron-clad oath uttered by the lips of the living God. Hear Him! Hear Him, believe, and rejoice! For he says unequivocally: “your joy no one will take from you.”

And though our Gospel text ends at this point, our Blessed Lord’s comfort does not. For He continues: “In that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” So ask, dear children, ask in His holy name that became your name through water and the Word.

Our Lord is offering you more than “pie in the sky,” an ethereal existence in a white robe on a cartoonish cloud with a harp. He is offering you unbridled joy, a removal of all evil, of all pain, of all disease, and of all death. He is promising you everything you truly need so as to be filled with joy. He has already given you new life that cannot be contained by a grave or held captive by time. And so, dear friends, ask Him for that which will make you whole. Ask in the name of Jesus. Ask that your joy may be complete.

For even as we live in this “little while” before eternity, stuck in time and wrestling with sin, we cling to the Lord’s promise. By the words of the introit we sang from Psalm 66, the Lord Himself says it best:

“Make a joyful shout to God all the earth. Sing out the honor of His name, make His praise glorious…. Through the greatness of Your power Your enemies shall submit themselves to You. Come and see the works of God, He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men. Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth. Alleluia.”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Monday, April 16, 2007


I think Pat Buchanan's article about the Don Imus controversy is spot on. Few people have the guts and integrity to stick their necks out and say what needs to be said. Buchanan does. He is providing a much-needed balance and rational perspective to this whole matter.

Personally, I don't like Imus's show, and have only listened to him a couple times in passing. But think of how many comedians and TV programs get laughs through satire or saying ridiculous and insulting things: South Park, the Simpsons, SNL, David Letterman, Rosie O'Donnell, MAD-TV, Howard Stern, Chris Rock, George Carlin, Family Guy, Comedy Central, Jay Leno, Whoopie Goldberg, etc. How many of the "offended" women on the Rutgers basketball team watch or listen to these entertainers and shows, and laugh when another's ox is being gored? How many of the "offendees" are entertained by to misogynistic and vulgar rap "songs" that routinely call black women "hos" and make liberal use of the "n-word"?

How many times are conservatives, Christians, George Bush, Republicans, pro-lifers, Southerners, home-schoolers, white people, etc. routinely lampooned and made the butt of insensitive remarks by the media (and for the record, I'm no fan of the current president, nor am I a Republican)? How many innocent people have been victimized (really victimized, not merely having been called a name by a comedian) by Al Sharpton? Are apologies or monetary reparations forthcoming from "Rev." Sharpton to the victims of the Tawana Brawley and Duke Lacross team hoaxes?

What's more over the top than a shock jock saying something shocking (imagine that!) is a grown woman, a world class athlete, going on Oprah and sniffing that a radio DJ has "stolen [her] dreams." As they say in the Big Apple: "puh-LEASE!"

Just once, one time, before I die, I would love to see a situation like this happen in which the recipient of the remark would simply roll her eyes and chuckle - and then tell the interviewer that she would like to talk about something that matters. Just once. No tears, no Oprah, no quotes from Maya Angelou, no press release from Hillary, no talk about slavery, no hyperbole, no race-hustlers, no outragious blibber-blabber from feminist groups, no use of politically-correct codewords, no calls for firings, no threats of lawsuits and boycotts. Wouldn't it be nice to see someone display real class in such a situation instead of whining and behaving like a toddler, just once?

Remember "Sticks and stones..."? Remember "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it"? Remember when having a spine was considered honorable?

In the end, the Rutgers basketball players will go on to be successful in life - perhaps even millionaires - while the cancer-stricken children Don Imus would have been able to help (many of whom are black) on his ranch will simply have to suffer. I suspect that none of the "victims," nor Oprah, nor Sharpton, nor Jackson, nor the cowardly Les Moonves (Imus' former boss at CBS) will be lifting a finger to help them.

Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson will continue to get richer and will try to bully even more people. Politicians will continue to exploit this and related issues - continuing to divide (and conquer) our people. Free speech will be further chilled. The hypocritical double-standard will go on, and race relations will further degenerate as whites will further resent (even if only in secret) being bullied by mega-rich race-hustlers and "professional victims."

In the words of Louis Armstrong: "What a wonderful world!"

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2)

15 April 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 20:19-31 (Ezek 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Our risen Lord appears to the disciples for the first time after His death and burial. Of course, those destined to become the first pastors and bishops of the Church are confused and scared. They don’t know what to make of the testimony of the women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection. The doors are shut, for fear that those who took the life of their Master might be coming for them.

In the midst of this confusion and doubt, our Blessed Lord suddenly appears in their midst. Immediately he blesses them: “Peace be with you.” He disperses their fear and banishes their angst. He commands them to be at ease in the presence of God. But this is not merely a visit to strengthen their resolve, or to make them happy (though certainly both happen). For our Lord Jesus Christ has unfinished business with His disciples. They have been His students for three years. They have borne witness to His miracles, His life, His passion, His death, and now His resurrection. They are to be sent out, which in the Greek is to be “apostled.” They are being commissioned to preach the good news and to administer the Holy Supper, to baptize, and to teach. But first, they must be ordained.

For our Lord keeps His Word. Six chapters before today’s text, the Lord promises that He will not leave the disciples orphans. He pledges a coming Helper, a Comforter, an Advocate who will dwell with and in the disciples. And, of course, in the Book of Acts, the Church will receive a manifestation of the Holy Spirit that will see the Gospel spread around the world through preaching in every language, with proclamation radiating out from Jerusalem unto the ends of the earth. But, as St. Paul would ask rhetorically many years later, how will people hear without a preacher? So even before the Holy Spirit is sent at Pentecost, our Lord gives the gift of the Holy Spirit to the men who will be doing the preaching.

For without the Holy Spirit, how can they preach the Holy Gospel? And without Holy Orders, by what authority do they preach? And so, our Lord appears to the disciples on this Sunday not merely to catch up on old times, or even to simply ease their guilt and grief – but rather to prepare them for their ministry, so that His saving work on earth will continue until He comes again.

Without a lot of pomp and ceremony, our Lord passes on the authority He received from His Father to the disciples. “As the father has sent Me, I also send you.” He breathes on them, which is to say, He gives them His Spirit, and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Thus the disciples are now apostles, ordained into the Holy Ministry, sent out with authority to preach, to forgive sins, to retain sins, to baptize, and to preside over the Lord’s Supper. As the Father placed the Spirit upon the Son, so the Son breathes this Spirit upon the apostles. And even as scoffers did not believe the Lord Jesus, a Man, could forgive sins, scoffers will (and do) claim that the apostles and their successors, mere men, cannot forgive sins. But the forgiveness of sins is precisely the authority our Lord gives as he ordains them: “if you forgive…” He says, “they are forgiven”! Just as mankind from the days of fallen Adam and Eve have needed to hear the Gospel, and even as the fallen multitudes listened as our Lord boldly forgave sins, so even today fallen people are dying to hear those blessed words of release, of absolution. Those words of the Gospel. The same is needed today, and so the successors of the apostles also have this authority by virtue of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The whole idea of the Holy Spirit imparting gifts is a controversial issue in the Church. Some claim the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to make people healthy and wealthy. Some claim the Holy Spirit’s work is to inject excitement into our lives and into the Church’s worship. Some claim the Holy Spirit is only present where miraculous tongues are spoken (though unlike the case of the apostles, these so-called tongues have nothing to do with the preaching of real words in real foreign languages to impart the real forgiveness of sins and real salvation).

Notice how our Lord links the gift of the Holy Spirit with the forgiveness of sins. Jesus doesn’t promise fame and excitement, explosive church growth, and tons of money in the bank. In fact, these first apostles actually found harassment, torture, martyrdom, and exile. “Take up your cross,” He had commissioned them before. No, the gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t about fun and ego-stroking, rather it is all about the Gospel – the blood and the water. The Holy Spirit defers to Jesus, who defers to His Father. By the Son’s sacrifice, we are reconciled to the Father. And by the Spirit, we are led to Jesus, we hear the Gospel, we receive His gifts: the blood and the water. And we are kept in the faith.

For the true manifestation of the Spirit is belief. And through that belief, Jesus gives life. For even as John testifies: the Gospel account in Scripture is “written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” There is a link between believing and life, just as life and breath are related. For breath is another way of saying Spirit. Without the breath of the Holy Spirit, there is no life in us. We are as dead as the dry bones Ezekiel saw in his vision.

For the bones could do nothing for themselves. And yet, the breath of the Triune God, manifested by His Word, proclaimed by a preacher acting under authority, under Holy Orders, could work the miracle of raising dead, dry bones to life. The proclaimed Word of God resurrected living flesh where the old had rotted away as a consequence of sin. The preaching of the Gospel linked bone with bone, sinew with sinew. And as the breath, the Spirit, entered them, the once-dead rose and stood anew. Ezekiel is commanded to preach to his sinful hearers the resurrection of the dead, the opening of their graves and the gift of the Spirit unto life. His listeners are to hear the preacher’s word knowing that, as the Triune God says: “I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it.”

For when the preacher speaks under the Lord’s authority, it is the Lord’s Word, the Lord’s promise, the Lord’s forgiveness, and the Lord’s gift of the breath of life.

This Sunday, the first after Easter, is known as Quasimodo geniti – which means: “As newborn babes.” For our Introit includes those words from the Epistle of one of those first bishops who received ordination, the gift of the Holy Spirit and authority to forgive sins from Jesus Himself – St. Peter. And with St. Peter we confess: “As newborn babes desire the pure milk of the Word,” that we have indeed, in the words of the Psalmist and of Peter, tasted that the Lord is good. For our Lord Himself told us salvation was not to be ours unless we became as little children, as those who suckle helplessly at their mother’s breasts.

For every baptized Christian - just like little born-again Matthew Enos - is given life by his Mother the Church, and nurses upon the Word and Sacraments. Quasi modo geniti. And even as babies continue to receive milk for nourishment, we Christians nurse again and again at the font. Quasi modo geniti. We remember our baptism, we drown the old Adam in daily repentance. Quasi modo geniti. And we will be resurrected from the dead to walk in the flesh anew never again to die. Quasi modo geniti.

Just as a baby doesn’t choose life, and even as nursing isn’t a matter of rational thought to a little one, we Christians who receive the Kingdom like children are the recipients of the life-giving milk of the Word of God. A Word that bears the Spirit, the Spirit that bears the forgiveness of sins. The same Spirit that took a valley of rotting skeletons and turned them into complete men of flesh and breath, of life and spirit.

And this, dear friends, is the mystery of life. We continue to celebrate Easter, in which by the breath of the Spirit, in fulfillment of the Word of God, the drying bones of our deceased Lord were raised. He is not merely Spirit, but also flesh and blood animated by the Spirit. For a ghostly apparition can be doubted. It took more than seeing to convince Thomas. It took touching the hands and side of a once-dead body to convince Him that the Lord Jesus lives. In His mercy, our Lord lays his scarred hands upon doubting St. Thomas, forgiving him his sins and ordaining him into the ministry of the Word. In response, Thomas confesses: “My Lord and my God!” He would not only confess it, but he would preach it. He would lay his hands on other Christians in absolution, and would lay his hands on other men in ordination. He would confess and preach until he was himself martyred as a witness of the living Christ and of the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.

For our Lord is no mere spirit. He is flesh, born of the Virgin, amid blood and water. The Spirit bears witness. He was circumcised and was baptized – more blood and water – and the Spirit bears witness. He was crucified and thrust with a spear – more blood and water – and the Spirit bears witness. And the Lord commissioned Thomas and the other disciples to baptize and to administer the Lord’s Supper – more blood and water - and the Spirit bears witness.

And the Spirit gives life, the Spirit points to Jesus, the Spirit empowers the Church to carry out her ministry. The Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies – and keeps us in the faith. It is indeed the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. And the truth, dear friends, is that Jesus has died for the forgiveness of all your sins. You are indeed like newborn babes, born again, drinking the pure milk of the Word. The Spirit bears witness. Quasi modo geniti. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sermon: Easter Wednesday

11 April 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Mark 16:1-8

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Ever since that very first Easter when the women discovered the empty tomb, and the risen Jesus began to appear, Christians have annually celebrated the resurrection feast. It became a New and Greater Passover, in which the meal is no ordinary lamb, but the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Every Sunday’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper was to become a remembrance of that first Easter in which death was conquered by death, in which the Author of Life Himself rose to a life that has no end.

We Christians rightfully celebrate this resurrection, for it is confirmation of our own conquest over death and the grave. It is a banquet of our deliverance from bondage to sin. In His death, our own guilt is put to death, and in his rising, our own literal bodily resurrection is promised.

Every Easter, the entire world has to come to grips with Jesus – either confessing Him as Lord and God, or trying to use tawdry historical trickery to portray his resurrection as a hoax. And here we are one thousand nine hundred and seventy seven years later as two billion people around the world pause to ponder and meditate upon how our universe has never been the same after that April day in the year 30 when an explosion of light burst forth from a stone crypt and a Man of Sorrows and of scars came walking out by His own power, a Man of Triumph, a God of victory.

Nearly 400 years after the first Easter, a Christian preacher named John Chrysostom proclaimed the same crucified and risen Christ as we do today. His short sermon so embodies the meaning of the resurrection that it has been repeated from Christian pulpits now for some sixteen hundred years.

St. John Chrysostom was not only a beloved bishop and gifted preacher, he was himself a man of sorrows who suffered for the sake of the truth, who was persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, who constantly had the name “Jesus” on His tongue and at the forefront of his ministry.

And even as St. John awaits the resurrection, he does so from the perspective of paradise, being a member of the Church Triumphant, one of the hosts of heaven that lauds and magnifies the glorious name of the Lord evermore with us here in this holy sanctuary. Bishop John Chrysostom’s golden mouth may have been silenced in the grave, but his words ring on into eternity even as his soul magnifies the Lord. And those words are our words too, for they are the Church’s words, the Church’s confession, the Church’s testimony of the risen Lord.

So, dear brothers and sisters, please listen to this Easter homily preached around the year 400 AD. Thus preaches St. John Chrysostom:

Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.Let no one go away hungry.
Partake, all, of the cup of faith.Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Here ends the Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom.

And even as we Christians, two billion strong around the world, prepare to take the proclamation of the resurrection of our Lord into the third millennium, and while our preaching styles and technology may change – the Gospel, the good news, of the death and resurrection of our Lord, does not change. It is as true now as it was in 30 AD, 400 AD, and will be unto the ages of ages. Jesus Christ, the risen one, the holy one, the one who takes away the sins of the world, the same yesterday, today, and forever. All honor, praise and glory be to our crucified and risen Lord, now, and even unto eternity! Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Blog Manners, the LCMS, and Aristocracy

It was inevitable. As blogging has become more and more popular, growing at a rate faster than social ettiquette could catch up - there's now a debate about blogging manners and ethics. This article is an example.

I find the piece interesting, but I think some people are making it more difficult than it really is.

A blog is not much different than one's home. For instance, you're visiting my blog right now. You are in my "home." If I like your company, you can stay. If you get drunk and vomit all over my hard-wood floors, I will toss you out on your ear. There's really no need for an international treaty and a committee of rocket scientists to hash this out. It's kind of a "private property" situation - which is why the simple and easy solution (that the blog owner has ultimate control and say over the content of the posts) isn't acceptable to a lot of folks.

Some people claim a "right" to post anything they want on anyone's blog. They can post profanity, insults, smutty doctored up pictures, threats, or spam - and if you remove such posts, you are "violating their free speech."

I see.

Once again, if you come to my house and become unpleasant, loud, rude, arrogant, annoying, insulting, or otherwise odious - out you go. If I invite you to dinner at my place, and you want to give me an Amway pitch, try to convert me to your religion or political party, or proceed to tell me how to raise my son - you'll be on your way to the local McDonald's. That's because it's *my* house - not a socialist collective.

Similarly, this is *my* blog. I post what *I* want to write and talk about here. If some find it interesting, they'll read it. If not, they'll visit someone else's blog. I do enjoy rigorous debate and other points of view - especially given that I do post personal opinions here (the usual raison d'etre for blogging in the first place) but as the owner of this virtual house, and as the host of this virtual dinner party, I make the rules. Nobody is forced to come here.

Having said that, Father Hollywood's guests have overwhelmingly been ladies and gentlemen. Seldom have I had to remove comments. Sometimes the debate gets a little heated - and that's fine. But there is a line, and I decide where it is. If you feel that this infringes on your free speech, you can express yourself by getting your own blog. They're free and easy to set up.

Personally, I don't read many blogs. First of all, there's way too much out there. To even read all the Lutheran blogs would be a full-time job. There are maybe a half-dozen I check out on a regular basis - and even those, I basically scan. My own blog serves as a place for me to archive my sermons - and if a parishioner wants a copy, he can read it online. I also enjoy writing articles from time to time, and the blog is a way to self-publish and get immediate feedback and discussion. I find writing articles far more satisfying than reading other blogs and getting caught up in arguments. In the past, I've wasted a lot of time doing that - and there is very little to be gained from it.

I've lately been appalled and disappointed by the conduct of posters to a lot of Lutheran blogging sites. Discussions too often devolve into the internet equivalent of Pro Wrestling: posing, name-calling, straw-man argumentation, repeating slogans, personally insulting verbeage, etc. And these are Christians! And typically these are among the "confessional Lutheran" crowd (in other words, our "friends" and allies in the church and in the culture at large).

But I don't think this kind of thing is limited to Lutherans. I think it has become a characteristic of modern conservatism. We LCMS Lutherans have always been on the right-wing side of the spectrum theologically. But something has happened to conservatism in recent years. Conservatives used to be known for being cerebral, well-read, reserved, thoughful, and even aristocratic. Conservatism used to be the movement of G.K. Chesterton and Richard Weaver. But there's now a kind of "white trash" conservatism typified by pseudo-intellectuals who are more entertainer than thinker. And this seems to be the direction of discourse among many in the LCMS. Not all, but many.

I was watching "The Ten Commandments" last night. I was struck at how our culture has changed so much since the 1950s. This movie was an Oscar-winning Hollywood blockbuster. It is a long film, one that requires a certain degree of biblical and historical literacy, an ability to focus on formal polysyllabic dialogue, and is devoid of wise cracks and contrived one-liners. Charleton Heston delivers (in an almost monotone) the simple biblical script in King James English. He never once uses the word "smackdown" or says "Yippee-ki-yay, M.F." He doesn't even squint at the camera and say "make my day." The message of the film is so dignified (being a dramatization of the Word of God) that no attempt to jazz it up or make it a little rougher around the edges was even considered.

But in more recent times, conservatives seem intent on not appearing "stodgy." To be honest, in a lot of the conservative talk-show world, the topics and language used is not all that different than the barrage of "mature themed" Sunday night cartoons on FOX. Some who are considered leaders of the conservative movement carry themselves with the same amount of dignity as streetwalkers, reducing political discourse to schoolyard name-calling; intentionally looking, acting, and speaking like Paris Hilton and her friends.

Basically, American conservatism have been taken over by savages. And a lot of us in the LCMS are part of that American conservatism. We've become a synod of Philistines. And if you think that assessment is a little harsh, check out some of the Lutheran blogs. We're rapidly becoming the theological equivalent of a low-rent trailer park. One has to wonder how long before Will Ferrell will be portraying an LCMS pastor in a movie with a lot of flatulence jokes.

I don't believe that this barbarianism serves the Gospel. I've gotten to the point where I don't even want to read most of the blogs out there. Not because I think I'm better than everyone else, but to the contrary, thanks to original sin (which has been called "the lust for domination" by one of my heroes in the faith, the Rev. Dr. John Stephenson), my "inner barbarian" just needs an excuse to run amok. In the LCMS, we don't bow down before Baal or a golden calf, rather we worship the god "I'mrightandyourwrong." And any commandments we break en route to sacrifice before that altar are fair game, covered by our "freedom in the Gospel."

I think we need a return to an aristocratic conservatism. Not an aristocracy based on wealth or parentage, but one of conduct and personal dignity. I can't help but think about my great-grandmother - an unlikely aristocrat. She grew up as an orphan in West Virginia, was married at 15 to a coal miner. At the age of 25, she was an uneducated widow with two small children and another on the way. She moved to Akron, Ohio and scrubbed floors and toilets to feed her children.

Yet, my great-grandma, though never well-to-do, always conducted herself with personal dignity. She was always dressed nicely, used proper English, was kind, displayed manners and grace, was devout in her faith, and charitable. She sipped tea in cups with saucers. Her house was adorned with flowers. She was not a smart-alec. And though her home and lifestyle were humble, she carried herself with propriety. She was a true aristocrat, and she understood her duty of "noblesse oblige."

I don't know if we'll ever be able to restore such civility in our culture, or even in the LCMS, but what a saint and heroine to emulate!

I would especially like to see our clergy, myself included, strive toward a new culture of refinement. Given that all LCMS pastors are men, I would like to see more of our clergy behave as gentlemen, displaying chivalry and setting the example of the Christian knight in the midst of a decaying and depraved culture of wise-cracking "conservative" talking heads and Howard Stern wannabes.

I once heard some LCMS pastors boasting about going on a retreat and getting drunk, breaking bottles, damaging the furniture, and getting thrown out of the retreat center (which was run by an order of nuns). Their conduct was winked at and excused by an appeal to "freedom in the gospel" and the desire not to be considered a "pietist."

Somehow, I think we have got to get beyond this notion that in order to be a solid Lutheran or a good conservative, one has to be a belligerent lout, a loudmouth, and a neanderthal. Maybe the way we behave on others' blogs might be a good place to start.

Sermon: Easter Vigil and Baptism of Heather and Samantha Imbraguglio

8 April 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Gen 1:1-2:2; 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13; Ex 14:10-15:1; Ezek 36:24-28; 1 Cor 15:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Today is a matter of life and death. Your presence here in this place is God’s will. He has brought you here to give you the most important gift you will ever receive: life.

The two most solemn, and yet most joyful, feasts of the Christian Church are Christmas and Easter. Both of these ancient commemorations are matters of life and death. For on Christmas, we celebrate the gift of the birth of God in the flesh. Birth is always a wondrous, even miraculous event. The birth of our Blessed Lord, the incarnation, the enfleshment of God as one of us, limited by space and time, surrounded by sinners, subject to pain, and even submitting to death – that most unique birth of all - is one of the two greatest triumphs of life over death, of good over evil, in all of history.

And of course, we celebrate the second of these two today, Easter Sunday, the festival of that same enfleshed God, whose life was taken violently by all of us poor miserable sinners, but who rose again from death to life.

In a way, Jesus has been born twice. Once from the womb, and again from the tomb. Though just as physical and fleshly as his birth from Mary, this second birth is a birth to immortality – to a literal, physical eternal life.

And we, dear Christians, are likewise born twice. Once, in the flesh, mortal and sinful, being conceived in guilt and subject to pain and death. But we are also born a second time, born again by water and the Spirit. This second birth, this spiritual birth, this birth into the Kingdom of God is what we celebrate this Easter Sunday.

This is why the Mother that gave us this second birth, the Christian Church, has for centuries celebrated and commemorated baptisms on this Holy Vigil of the Festival of the Resurrection of our Blessed Lord. Easter and Baptism are one and the same.

For Jesus was born a second time, in His bodily resurrection, in order that we too might be born again, just as we too will be bodily resurrected.

When God created the universe, with His Spirit hovering over the waters, He created everything and declared it all “good.” “Very good,” in fact. All creation was good, perfect, and holy – including human flesh.

But thanks to our rebellion and rejection of His will, our flesh became corrupt. It began to shrivel and age. It became subject to suffering and death. Our sins multiplied and became so great that the waters over which the Holy Spirit brooded became a cleansing agent, wiping out sinful men from the face of the earth – except Noah and His family.

Creation was, in a very real physical way, born again.

And even as the Children of Israel, the chosen people from whose loins the Christ would come to give the second birth, found themselves facing extinction at the hands of a wicked Pharaoh, those same spiritual waters gave the Israelites a fresh start, a rebirth as a nation.

The Old Testament people of God were, in a very real physical way, born again.

The prophet Ezekiel also looks forward to the coming Messiah, promising that the Lord God would sprinkle water on his mortal, dying people, and they would be cleansed. They are to receive new life through a new heart. And this new life comes with a new spirit – and yet this new heart is also “a heart of flesh.”

And on that first Easter, the Messiah, the New Adam, the New Moses, the Prophet of all prophets, the Giver of the second birth into whose name all Christians are baptized, walked out of His own grave, alive, demonstrating His mastery over creation, over death, and over Satan.

This morning, we have all borne witness to two births. Heather and Samantha have been born a second time, by water and the Spirit, walking away from death to life. These two daughters of Israel, by the holy water prophesied by Ezekiel combined with the same Word and Spirit proclaimed by the prophet, have received the gifts of new hearts, of the Spirit of God, and of everlasting life.

Their holy baptisms are the fulfillment of thousands of years of their ancestors’ participation in the covenant of the blood of the Lamb. For as their forefathers had the blood of the sacrifices sprinkled on them by priestly hands, they have now been covered by the blood of the once-for-all sacrifice of the priestly Lamb that the Lord Himself supplied.

These two daughters of Abraham have, in a very real physical way, been born again.

Of course, no two births are exactly the same. In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul calls himself “one born out of due time.” St. Paul, a pious Jew, came to faith by a special revelation from Jesus Himself – and Paul’s baptism sealed that conversion and rebirth.

Most Christians are born again shortly after their first birth. But some are “born out of due time,” being converted to the faith through the Word of God, through the preaching of the Gospel, through the miraculous forgiving work of the same Spirit that brooded over the waters and preserved Israel from all of her troubles. Some come to faith and are baptized as older children, while others are born anew in the waters as adults.

The result is the same. Rebirth. New life. Forgiveness of sins. A reclaiming of the goodness of creation. A Christ-won conquest over death. Baptism gives us a historic reality to which we can cling when doubts arise and Satan accuses. Whether we have the privilege of being able to remember our baptisms or not, we can all call them to mind as we make the sign of the cross.

For new Christians are not made, they are born. Born of water and the Spirit. Born of the will of God that all men receive life and salvation. Born of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and born of His walk from the tomb.

This is why Christians take Easter so personally. For we are born again by name at the font. We are baptized in the name of the Triune God. We are given the name “Christian” at this birth. Having been baptized into the death of Jesus, being crucified with Christ, we rise with Him to a life that will never end.

Most people around the world mark their calendars to commemorate the date of their birth. We give gifts on this date to celebrate the gift of life. We eat a feast in honor of the person who has done nothing more than draw breath for another year. We celebrate life with joy, and even giddy silliness.

And we Christians also mark time. The Christian has several birthdays in time – even as we exist outside of time, in eternity. We too celebrate the day in which we passed from our mother’s womb to draw our own breath. And we also commemorate the date in which we are born anew of God our Father and the Church our Mother – the date of our holy baptism. And when we die in this flesh, we mark that date as a Christian’s spiritual birthday, enjoying paradise in expectation of the resurrection of the body. And finally, the Christian Church acknowledges another birthday – one that changes every year according to the phases of the moon that the Lord Himself set into motion in the heavens. That birthday, dear friends, is today. The day of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Giver of life.

On this day, we Christians celebrate the rebirth of our Lord’s body, having passed from the tomb, to give us breath. We celebrate with gifts – gifts which are given to us: reconciliation with the Father, forgiveness through the Son, and newness of life by the Holy Spirit. We eat a feast – the greatest banquet of all – the Body of the Passover Lamb and the Blood of the New Covenant.

Today is indeed a matter of life and death. His death has given you life. His resurrection has given you hope. His baptism has washed you clean and made you a Son of God. His Supper has brought you forgiveness, life, and salvation, enfleshed in the very creation He has pronounced “good.” “Very good,” in fact.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Sermon: Good Friday

6 April 2007 at Christ Lutheran Church, Chalmette, LA
Text: John 18 & 19 (Isa 52:13-53:12; 2 Cor 5:14-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Christians, today is the one thousand nineteen hundred and seventy seventh time the Church has looked back and commemorated the crucifixion of our Lord. Through the rise and fall of empires, during wars and persecutions, in plague and sickness, and even as the foundations of the Church herself have been rocked by controversy and scandal – we Christians soldier on, following our Crucified Captain, and standing in the train of the millions of our brothers and sisters who have gone on before us.

And how silly we look!

For in the eyes of the world, we annually commemorate the death of the founder of our religion, calling it “good.” We wear crosses around our necks and adorn our churches and homes with images of a man who has been nailed to a piece of wood. More than one comedian has pointed out the foolishness of such a faith.

We kneel and scrape before a table and solemnly eat a little wafer of bread and take a tiny sip of wine – when we could be outside having a crawfish boil, drinking beer, and laughing. But instead, we huddle around a table and chant ancient words translated from languages nobody speaks anymore.

The Kingdom of God has always been different than what reason tells us it should be. Adam and Eve’s reason, distorted by the wicked serpent, concluded that God’s Kingdom was just a trick that God was using to keep them down. Their faulty reason made them think they knew better than God, and so they disobeyed.

The children of Israel again and again, convinced they knew the Kingdom of God better than God himself, turned to false gods, putting the prophets to death, and disobeying God’s Law.

And even when God Himself assumes human flesh, works miracles in the plain sight of all, speaking and preaching about the Kingdom – that Kingdom was misunderstood and distorted by the people. Even at Jesus’ arrest, Peter thought the Kingdom could be attained by the violent work of human hands (although, in a way, it was). Caiaphas thought the Kingdom of God would be advanced by the expediency of killing one man, Jesus, instead of many dying (and, in a way very different than what he understood, there was truth in this statement). Pilate perceived Jesus to be something more than a man, and himself thought he would be helping this King whose Kingdom was not of this world by finding Him innocent (though Pilate unwittingly advanced God’s Kingdom by allowing Jesus to be crucified).

And what about the crowds? They thought the advancement of the Kingdom of God would come through killing Jesus and releasing a sinner in place of Him who was innocent (and ironically, how right they were!).

For no matter how many human beings conspire with Satan throughout the centuries to destroy God’s Kingdom, His will shall be done, His Kingdom shall come – on earth and in heaven.

For even as we think we understand the mysteries of God, we can’t even begin to comprehend them. Like children, all we can do is trust. We must trust even when our eyes and our reason are filled with images and thoughts that tempt us to take God’s Kingdom into our own hands. For God is in control. Obedience, dear brothers and sisters, is a direct result of trust. When we jump out of a burning building into the arms of a fireman, we do so in faith and trust that he will catch us. When we struggle against sin and temptation, we do so in faith that there is a very good reason why we ought to obey God and trust in His Word.

This is the very reason such a sad day is called “good.” For all of the misery of our Lord’s passion, His humiliation, His physical and mental anguish, His torment upon the cross, and the apparent victory of Satan over Him are all part of the great plan that we accept by faith and not by sight. For the passion, the cross, and the death of Jesus were not in vain, nor were they defeat. Jesus’ triumphant cry of: “It is finished!” is not a waning wail of submission of the conquered, but rather it is the superlative shout of victory of the Conqueror.

For though the eyes tell us otherwise, faith, fed and nourished by the Scriptures, teach us that this is the greatest victory in history – a victory over the devil, a triumph over the grave, a rout of death itself.

The disobedience of Adam and Eve have been rolled back. The infidelity of the children of Israel has been undone. Even the sins of the disciples, of the Jewish leaders and the mob, of Pilate, and of all of the world have been atoned for by this ultimate act of love by our Lord.

The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus is a bittersweet goodness. Through His passion and death, we can confess with St. Paul per our epistle: “God… has been reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation…. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

And so, today is rightly called “Good” Friday. Though our joy is still stifled by mourning our Savior. For we join those first disciples in space and time as they looked upon their friend and their master, stricken, smitten, and afflicted, lifeless on the cross, with blood and water pouring from his riven side, seeing Him seemingly defeated and laid into a tomb. And with the disciples, we now wait for our Lord to return. For His rising from the dead is a victory lap of the Great Triumph. And on the third day hence, we will join two billion Christians around the world and will celebrate the resurrection of our Lord for the one thousand nine hundred and seventy seventh time.

But until Eastern morning, we contemplate His death and passion. We sing praise to God, though our Alleluias are muted. We know that our Redeemer liveth, though we hold our joy in check.

Let us wait for the Easter triumph in expectation of God’s grace, even as the “love of Christ compels us.” Dear Christians, the Lord’s death has reconciled you to God. Your sins have been put to death, and through baptism you have been crucified with Christ. His victory is your victory. Death has been defeated, now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

Sermon: Maundy Thursday

5 April 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35; (Ex 12:1-14, 1 Cor 11:23-32)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today is known as “Maundy” Thursday based on one of the words in our Gospel reading. For it was on Thursday of Holy Week that our Lord celebrated the Last Supper, washed the disciples’ feet, and then gave his followers a new commandment (which in the Church’s Latin is the word mandatum).

Of course, we Lutherans celebrate our freedom in the Gospel, and confess with St. Paul that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works of the law. That being said, our Lord Jesus Christ still gives us a new mandatum – something that is “mandatory.” As Christians, this mandate is placed upon us: that we love one another even as Christ has loved us.

This mandate from our Lord isn’t optional. It is something that is a defining mark of being a Christian.

But the good news is that our Lord doesn’t require of us something that he hasn’t equipped us to do. For our King is not like Pharaoh who ridiculously demanded the Israelites make bricks without straw. The Christian life is all about gifts – and those gifts the Lord bestows on us, we are to freely and liberally “re-gift.” Jesus has just shown us what true love is, and then he tells us to go and do likewise.

The loveless Pharaoh, whose heart was hardened by the Lord in response to his impenitence and arrogance, is the opposite of our Lord Jesus. For Pharaoh seeks to hold God’s people in bondage, to benefit from the toil of others. And this is what led to the first Passover described in our Old Testament lesson, in which the lamb was slaughtered and eaten, in which the blood of that sacrifice was placed upon the children of God, marking them as those who are being spared the ravages of the angel of death.

By contrast is our blessed Lord, who opposed Pharaoh by freeing the Israelites, who becomes the sacrificial Lamb of the final Passover, described in our Epistle lesson. In this Last Passover, the Lamb Himself is slaughtered and eaten. The blood of this Last Passover is placed upon the tongues of the children of God, marking us as those spared the ravages of the angel of death.

It is this sacrificial act that embodies pure, perfect love – the kind of love we Christians are mandated to carry out. The Church is commanded not only to have orthodox doctrine, but also to love. Indeed, we are to correct the erring, but we are to “speak the truth in love.”

And contrary to everything our culture screams at us, love is not a feeling or emotion. It isn’t libido, an obsession, or a self-centered passion. Love doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor is love necessarily manifested by flowery words. For love is quite simply acted out in deeds.

And those deeds are not always moonlight and roses. Dying on a cross after being humiliated and flogged, isn’t exactly the stuff of Hallmark cards. Handing out small pieces of bread and passing around a chalice of wine doesn’t look all that romantic in the eyes of the world. Putting on a towel and washing people’s dirty feet isn’t something you’ll likely ever see on a commercial for a cruise-line. But these are the kinds of deeds that embody love – deeds of humble service.

For love, true Christian love – is often pretty dull, if not outright unappealing. Husbands and wives who take care of one another in their old age is such an example. Children who have to help their parents deal with their brothers’ and sisters’ vomit and dirty diapers is that kind of love. Police officers who risk their lives for very little pay in return exhibit the kind of self-sacrificial love our Lord orders us to do. Being a faithful student, or teacher, or clerk, or grandparent is the epitome of this mandate. For we are all called to serve someone.

The lover thinks of his beloved instead of himself. The lover will go to any length, suffer any personal loss, will endure any inconvenience or even pain to himself in order to ease the suffering or serve the needs of his beloved. A true lover will even die for his beloved.

And doesn’t that describe our Lord Jesus to a tee?

For after establishing the Lord’s Supper, in which the Almighty God of the universe is willing to condescend to be contained in bread and wine for our sakes, after teaching by humble example how baptism washes away sin while demonstrating how the apostles and their successors are to busy themselves with cleansing the members of their congregations through menial service of the Gospel, and just before Himself being subjected to betrayal, arrest, torture, mockery, and murder by the very people Jesus repays with love and forgiveness – He tells us, He command us, to carry out the same mission of divine love ourselves.

Of course, like all the other mandates of our Lord, we’re not so good at keeping this one. We are weak and weary – like the disciples who fell asleep as Jesus suffered anguish in Gethsemane. We are unreliable and self-serving just like the disciples who scattered when their Shepherd was struck. We are like Peter, whose boasts melted away when they made the transition from nice-sounding theory to action in the real world.

And this is why Maundy Thursday is so important.

For if you strive to obediently keep the Lord’s love mandate, you have no choice but to fill yourself with the Lord’s love. If you want to love others, you must first be filled with love yourself. And that kind of love only comes from the Lord – directly and physically. He offers Himself to you in His body and blood. He doesn’t merely set an example to follow (though what an example he does set!), nor does he simply recite a TV commercial jingle and say “Just do it!” – (as though we have any power at all to “just do it”), nor does He simply give you a Bible as a guidebook for the Christian life (though it contains such information). Rather Jesus Himself works these acts of love through His own body, the Church. Which is to say, He works through you, dear people.

For “when you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” And in that proclamation, that confession, you are loving the other members of your family. You are loving your fellow Christians. And you are loving your Lord. For in being forgiven, you are demonstrating to others their need to be forgiven. And when you partake in the Lord’s gifts, he is as pleased as a father watching his children play happily with gifts he provides them.

This mystical meal gives us everything we need to carry out the mandate. For when we are weak, He is strong. When our feelings tell us we are not good enough, the very real blood of our Lord that you see and taste from this cup pleads with the Father on our behalf. When our own personal Pharaohs lovelessly oppress and crush us – we have no need to retaliate, to debase ourselves with bitterness or revenge – for we have the luxury of responding in love – having been given everything and then some by our gracious Lord.

Love is a mystery. The more you give it away, the more it comes back to you. The Holy Supper is likewise a mystery. We can’t any more rationally explain the Lord’s Real Presence in the Sacrament than we can explain love. And yet, we know both exist. In fact, they exist as one. For when you partake of this Supper, dear brothers and sisters, the unbounded love of Almighty God becomes part of your very body and soul.

For “He has given food to those who fear Him; he will be ever mindful of His covenant.” This Holy Supper is love that can be eaten and drunk – it is literally a “love-feast” – a banquet in which God and man sup together in friendship and love. And the irony is this: the more our Lord binds us with the mandate to love one another, the more we are freed up to love one another. The more we give, the more we receive. The more our bodies are filled with this Supper, the more we can fill others with the milk and honey of divine love.

So come to this table, dear brothers and sisters! It is a foretaste of the love-feast that will have no end! For here you are free to carry out the mandate of the Lord. Amen.

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

Monday, April 02, 2007

"Insanity" according to a homosexual pastor

The following article is an interesting look at how a gay Anglican priest views the Gospel of the atonement of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world. His is an increasingly prevalent way of interpreting Scripture in order to make the reader the master and the text the servant. This was foretold by traditionalists a generation ago when they opposed women's ordination - and their much-ridiculed prediction has come true.

He believes the idea that Jesus died as payment for sins is "insane." He has some other opinion of why Jesus died - a much more politically-correct and malleable explanation - one that avoids the issue of sin all together. The fact that the Old Testament is replete with sacrificial prophecies and types of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, that the New Testament epistles overwhelmingly speak of the reason for the crucifixion, and the gospels themselves contain this kind of theology of ransom and atonement - make no difference to this cleric.

The fact that the Christian Church has proclaimed the forgiveness of sins by virtue of Jesus' death on the cross for 2,000 years means nothing to him. He claims to be right where age upon age of church fathers are wrong. The Nicene Creed and the proclamation of the liturgy embraced by Anglican Christians (both recitations of Scripture) hold no sway with this shepherd of souls.

Scripture and the tradition of the church are considered "insane" - and yet two men pathetically using body parts for things they obviously weren't designed to be used for is somehow "sane"? This shows the depths of denial into which people can sink who reject not only Scripture and churchly tradition, but even natural law and common sense. They are so deluded as to call good evil, and evil good. It has gotten to the point where they can look at "2 + 2" and see "5".

Our sinful flesh is such that it's easier to deny the clear truth of the written word and to declare obvious deviance to be the norm than it is to submit to a higher authority (even biological reality itself) and to repent of sin.

Goodbye to Girlhood

There is a cultural phenomenon going on that has disturbing long-term consequences. This article describes the disappearing window of childhood innocence in young people - especially in girls.

Teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade kids, I have to agree with the article. Thanks to cable TV, the internet, absentee parenthood (whether caused by two working parents or divorce), and peer pressure, children feel the need to engage in "adult" (though not necessarily "mature") behavior at increasingly younger ages - things like smoking, drinking, sexuality, exposure to mature themes in media, crass vulgarity, piercings, and tattoos. They are being manipulated and encouraged by advertizing experts who see these children as nothing more than a potential market.

I find that either parents 1) are too disconnected to even know what their children are doing, or 2) approve of, and even assist, in the behavior!

The results are disastrous.

Of course, there are the obvious physical manifestations: promiscuity, an increase in the percentage of teenage pregnancy (which may even lead to abortion), drug use, drinking, smoking, the spread of disease, or even suicide. But there are also other, perhaps more subtle consequences: guilt, lack of courage, materialism, bullying, emotional problems, lack of discipline, difficulties in relating to people of the opposite sex, distorted family relationships, and even involvement in the occult.

Though I'm not exactly sure why, my intuition tells me this is more destructive to the feminine psyche than it is hurtful to boys (though it isn't healthy for them either). And when the feminine in a culture is destroyed or watered down, there is no longer the social force to civilize the testosterone-laced boys and men. When mothers are no longer feminine and can no longer teach their sons how to relate to women, woe to the next generation! And when parents teach and encourage their daughters to appear and conduct themselves as sexual objects, one wonders how they will ever regain their dignity (how can the salt be made salty again?).

Of course, not all parents raise their children this way, and there are a lot of kids out there who are content not to push the envelope. But there is definitely a cultural pressure on parents and children to move away from traditional boundaries.

The irony is that in ages past, children had to grow up more quickly than in today's culture. They moved from childhood right into adulthood without the luxury of being teenagers (think of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or numerous examples from our own family histories of great-grandparents who responded heroically to hardship). However, that kind of maturity was true maturity - becoming an adult by being forced into responsibility by hardships forged of necessity (war, poverty, family obligations, etc.). What we have today is actually a lack of maturity - displayed by parents and children alike - an indulgence in childish conduct that masquerades as "adult" behavior - brought about by such things as wealth, greed, disdain for family and social obligations, lack of proper role models, etc.

Being a junior high student and getting one's belly-button pierced, using MySpace to engage in sex talk, and sneaking into R-rated movies are not hallmarks of maturity (though that is the overwhelming perception among young people). A pre-teen might say something like: "I'm a very mature person because I smoke cigarettes with my mom and use the f-word." Ironically, a junior high kid who is content to play pickup basketball and ride a bike around the neighborhood may be the most mature of all.

I foresee a lost generation of children of gen-x-ers who were themselves raised as guinea pigs by their baby-boomer parents. These children aren't the hippies who rebelled against tradition, but rather these kids have no clue what the very concept of tradition is. They are being pushed into a Lord of the Flies existence of savagery and short-term self-indulgence. And before long, they will become parents themselves.

Pray for this generation!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sermon: Dominica Palmarum (Palm Sunday)

1 April 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 21:1-9 (Matt 27:11-54; Zech 9:9-12; Phil 2:5-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

On this Palm Sunday, we have two Gospel readings (which, incidentally also happens every time we have a baptism). As we processed into this holy place named after Jerusalem, we called to mind our Lord’s procession into David’s Holy City. We heard anew the proclamation of St. Matthew concerning the commencement of our blessed Lord’s passion.

Year after year, we wave palms and sing All Glory Laud and Honor to Him, our Redeemer and King. As we are in our final week of the penitential season of Lent, and even as we still refrain from singing Glory Be to God on High and as we hold off chanting Glory Be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we can’t completely stifle our praise to the Redeemer King who makes his triumphal entry into his kingdom on a lowly donkey.

But we also replay a bit of this Palm Sunday pageantry every week in the Divine Service – in the Sanctus. Right before our Lord comes to us humble, and riding under the forms of bread and wine, we laud and magnify his name as he processes into this holy place, this Salem, with the very same shout: “Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!”

For as the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just as our Lord and King rode among His subjects, and just as He came bearing gifts, and just as He came humbly, motivated not by a desire for self-aggrandizement, but in order to do His Father’s will, and just as He is the One who loves us with such a perfect love that He would lay down His life for His friends – He continues to do the same today.

For no truer confession has ever been uttered than those divine words penned by St. Paul about our Lord Jesus: “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

Though He is exalted and sits at the right hand of the Father, and though He is in His glorious body that shall never again die, that shall never see corruption – it is a body that He continues to subject to space and time, permitting Himself to be handled by sinners.

For Jesus, the triumphant King and Master of the universe is still playing the servant, still kneeling before us to wash our feet, still doing our bidding as a common slave. He continues to invite us to His table where He is both host and feast. He drinks the fruit of the vine anew with us in the Kingdom of God – just as He promised.

He continues to serve us, dear brothers and sisters, even as we continue to be fickle, to praise Him with our tongues and betray Him with our deeds. For the same crowds that sang “Hosanna” in our first Gospel were shouting “Let Him be crucified” in our second. The more things change…

This is what makes Jesus a truly divine King. For history has many examples of kings who lay down their lives for their people, their country, their homes, or even a noble idea. The new movie 300 is a retelling of the story of the 300 Spartan heroes who stood up against a million man army of invading Persians at a critical pass called Thermopylae nearly 2,500 years ago. The heroic sacrifice of King Leonidas and his brave soldiers who laid down their lives in order to fight a delaying action until Greece could ready itself to repel King Xerxes and the mighty Persian Empire has been told and retold thousands of times. A good king will lay down his life for his people. Good kings are rare, but they do exist.

Jesus does this, and more. For He is not just a good king, he is the Good Shepherd, he is the Son of David, he is the great I AM, who lays down His life not just for his own tribe, his own supporters, but even for His enemies, even for those who drive the nails, even for His mockers, even for sinners like us whose wicked thoughts, words, and deeds brought the pain of the passion, cross, and death to Him. Jesus not only dies for His friends, but for His enemies as well – for us who choose to please ourselves instead of submitting to our rightful King, we who seek to serve ourselves instead of others, we who routinely opt for evil instead of good.

For our Good King, our Good Shepherd, has humbled Himself and come as a sheep, as a sacrificial lamb that “goes uncomplaining forth.” For Jesus knows His Father’s will, He knows His mission, and even as the adoring crowds wave palms and sing His praise, He knows they will soon become a lynch mob. And yet, he rides on in majesty just the same.

Even as the adoring crowds sang “Hosanna” as Jesus began his holy week journey – a word that means “Save Him!” – a word that basically means “God save the King!” – they will soon join the malignant taunts of jeering multitudes as He suffered on the cross, saying: “save Yourself… He saved others, Himself He cannot save.” Indeed, even as He saves others, He Himself dies. And yet, it isn’t true that He cannot save Himself, for that will come at Easter.

For in rescuing us, He will indeed rescue Himself. The grave will not hold Him. Evil will not declare victory. The taunts of the crowds will be silenced. The pain of the cross will be removed. The stench of death will give way to the fresh breath of life. The sting of the thorn will be replaced by the sweetness of wine. The sweat of the brow will be overcome by pools of living water. The groans of pain of giving birth to new life will be supplanted by the joyful singing of the multitudes of heavenly saints waving palms. The cemetery plot will be replaced by gardens, and the Lord will once more walk with His people, and His beloved children will see Him face to face. And “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Until that great and glorious day, we Christians can only experience the foretaste of the Great Feast. We sing “Hosanna” – “God save the King” - even as our God and King saves us, even as he invites us to dine with Him, even as we continue to fall into sin and even as we seem helpless in the face of death. We come to this altar week after week to receive everlasting life from the King who humbles Himself, who dies for our sakes, and who continues to give us rich and eternal gifts.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

And so with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying:

Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He, blessed is He; blessed is He
That cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest! Amen.

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