Sunday, September 30, 2007

Just wondering...

if the Speaker of the House would have been so
flippant and dismissive were it Islam, Judaism, or Buddhism that were subjected to such mockery.

I agree with her that the usual hateful diabolical attacks on Jesus and the Church by simpletons and sexual deviants of this sort cannot harm Christ and His Church (Matt 16:18). However, I wouldn't be so sure that she, as a Christian, is equally unscathed. Refusing to even speak a word of rebuke is not much of a Christian witness - especially when one has something to gain by one's silence: political peace with deviant anti-Christian voters (see Matt 10:32-34).

Will Archbishop Niederauer be condemning this attack on the holy faith? Will he be excommunicating Mrs. Pelosi for her ambivalence and cowardly tolerance of attacks on Jesus and the apostles by her political constituents?

Is anybody in the Roman hierarchy even listening?

Sermon: Trinity 17

30 Sept 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 14:1-11

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

We have lived in the sinful world for so long that we have convinced ourselves that right is left, up is down, and darkness is light.

We are so utterly deluded that we actually think we have even one thing to brag about. If we have a skill or talent, we expect to be fawned over and paid handsomely. If we have good looks, we expect heads to turn and people to defer to us in all that we do. If we have money, people had better kowtow to our every wish. If we hold a position of power, people had better give us due respect.

The reality is this: we are all poor miserable sinners who are so feeble and helpless, we need God to take extraordinary measures to save us from the consequences of our own monumental failure. We are fools, liars, thieves, know-it-alls, bullies, and arrogant blow-hards who need to be taken down a peg – which is why our Lord gives us this lesson.

He encounters a man suffering with dropsy – which is known today as edema. It is a swelling, a puffing up of part of the body in such a way that not only that part, but the entire body is put at risk. Jesus is about to heal this man on the Sabbath – knowing full well that His puffed-up arrogant opponents, the Pharisees, would be offended.

Of course, the Pharisees see themselves as greater than this quirky preacher who is gobbling up all the attention from the poor people (who, in the eyes of the Pharisees, ought to be too busy flattering the Pharisees to notice Him).

Just before performing the miracle, Jesus prods them to answer His question about sin and the Kingdom of God. He wants them to surrender, to tell Jesus that they obviously have a messed up understanding about God’s Kingdom. In other words, our blessed Lord is looking for repentance. But that would mean eating crow and admitting failure. And so, they remain silent – even though they know what is about to happen.

Our Lord heals the man puffed-up by dropsy. He is almost taunting the self-righteous but confused Pharisees to charge Him with breaking God’s law. Jesus points out their hypocrisy in being willing to rescue a farm animal on the Sabbath, while condemning Jesus for healing a person. Again, the Pharisees remain silent. They still will not admit to being wrong.

In their stubbornness, they will not yield the point. They have no good answer, so they just stew. They will certainly not admit they were wrong. They will certainly not ask Jesus to teach them and forgive them for their errors. They are the classic example of the celebrity who tries to get special treatment by saying: “Don’t you know who I am?” Of course, the problem isn’t that Jesus doesn’t know them (He certainly knows them very well). Rather, the problem is that they don’t know who Jesus is – even with the evidence staring them in the face again and again.

And so they remain silent. Once more, our Lord reaches out to them, this time using a parable. This little story isn’t even about the Sabbath. For the Pharisees suffer a greater sin than false doctrine regarding the third commandment. The problem is far worse. They actually have a false god that is leading them to hell unless they repent. This is a first commandment issue, and their false god is themselves.

Their pride is a very serious sin, for it is one that stands in the way of repentance and healing.

Like the man with dropsy, the Pharisees are puffed up – not with bodily fluids but with boastful folly. They are arrogant, prideful, thinking themselves better than everyone around them – which translates to better seats at the social events.

Jesus tells of people who assume they are due a high degree of honor, and claim the best accommodations – that is, until a person who outranks them shows up and orders them to move to the cheap seats – which would be a terrible social embarrassment.

Such an embarrassment could be completely avoided by picking a humble seat, and then when you are asked to move, it will be a show of honor rather than of humiliation.

Jesus tells them the moral: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This, dear brothers and sisters, is how the Kingdom of God works. It is so different than our prideful secular world that values hubris and encourages arrogance. God’s Kingdom looks at things as they truly are: we don’t deserve honor. We don’t deserve glory. Rather, we have earned nothing but wrath and punishment, death and hell. It is painful, but it is the truth.

We strive to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy by being honest with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with God by beginning our worship by invoking our baptism in the name of the Triune God and then by confessing how much we don’t deserve to have received that gift of baptism. Rather than claim a nice seat for ourselves, we speak harsh words concerning ourselves to all who are listening: “I am sinful and unclean. I have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. I deserve temporal and eternal punishment.”

There is no stubborn silence here, no haughty gaze at Jesus, no folded arms and contemptuous sneering. There is no plea that we truly keep the Sabbath in spirit and in truth, that God owes us gifts because we have earned them, or that Jesus is the one who has it all wrong. No indeed, we seat ourselves in the cheap seats and tell everyone we deserve it.

This is not false humility – for we know it’s true – every word of it. We are indeed “poor miserable sinners” and cannot save ourselves. We’re not heroes, we are villains. We’re not successful, we are failures. We’re not here to get a medal placed over our heads, but rather deserve to have a rope tied around our necks.

We come to the Lord’s banquet on our knees, in the position of slaves and servants, in the posture of humiliation and submission.

And what does our Lord do? He comes to us at the banquet and He says: “Friend, go up higher.” Our blessed Lord Himself exalts us – not because we deserve it, but rather because he has earned it on our behalf. In acknowledging our wretchedness, we become recipients of His grace.

He lifts our downtrodden countenance, bids us to rise from our knees, and to depart in peace.

This is the Great Reversal of God’s Kingdom. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords became the Criminal of Criminals. He is the One who, in fact, humbles Himself, and who is exalted by the Father. In His humiliation, we are exalted, beckoned to “go up higher,” to be glorified with the glory that He freely shares with us.

“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Amen.

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

Friday, September 28, 2007

I knew this day would come...

I guess I have crossed the threshold to middle age. How do I know? I was making a shut-in call today at a nursing home, and blaring out of the sound system was a big-hair-and-spandex 1980s rock and roll classic (yes, boys and girls, the 80s are now included under the rubric "Classic Rock"). It was an MTV-friendly tune by Bon Jovi (Livin' on a Prayer).

I knew the day would come when rock and roll would be played at the nursing home, but I really thought it would start with Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, or perhaps even the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, or Pink Floyd. I would not even have been so surprised at Rush or Aerosmith breaking the nursing home barrier. But I sure didn't expect the domino to fall on a sappy Bon Jovi song.

Well, it least it wasn't Winger. What would future generations think of us?

Latin Quote of the Day (again, props to Weedon)

Degeneration of the Culture

"Praestabat castas humilis fortuna Latinas
quondam, nec vitiis contingi parva sinebant tecta labor somnique breves et vellere Tusco vexatae duraeque manus ac proximus urbi Hannibal et stantes Collina turre mariti. nunc patimur longae pacis mala: saevior armis luxuria incubuit victumque ulciscitur orbem."

-- Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis (60-127 AD), Saturae VI, 287

"Humble circumstances formerly kept the Latin women chaste; they were spared contact with vice because their houses were small, they worked hard, slept little, and their hands were roughed and calloused from working Tuscan wool, because Hannibal was just outside the gates and their men were on duty at the Collina tower. Now we are suffering the evils of a long peace: more destructive than war, luxury has come to stay with us and we are punished for our conquest of the world."

-- Juvenal, Satires VI, 287

Old American Quote of the Day (with a nod to Fr. Weedon)

Democracy is a Bad Idea

"Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions. A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking."

-- James Madison, "Father of the Constitution", Federalist 10

'Tis the season of the politicians spending millions of dollars to roll around in the mud and insult our intelligence. Listen carefully how the candidates for Federal office speak about what sort of government we have. How many of them have a clue that democracy is a bad thing - at least according to the Founders? With few exceptions (perhaps as few as one), our candidates from both parties have bought in to the idea that a democratic empire based on universal suffrage and direct taxation is what America is all about.

As our republican Roman forbears might have said - at least under their breaths: "Renovemus rempublicam!"

Every fourth year is a long year - and I'm not talking about leap year either!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Georgia Volunteer

Just today, I ran across Dixie Broadcasting - which you can listen to online here. It's a mix of old-time bluegrass, real country crooning, and music that is unabashedly Southern.

While listening today, I heard a haunting melody that I have not heard for a long time. It was recorded back in the 1990s by some friends of mine from South Georgia who called themselves The Rebellaires. This particular song, "A Georgia Volunteer" was a musical setting of the poem of the same name written in the 1860s by a poet named Mary Ashley Townsend.

Interestingly, Mrs. Townsend was born in New York state, moved to New Orleans while a teenager, and had her own newspaper column by the age of 18. She came to be quite a beloved and honored writer in the Crescent City. Her biography is compelling, but her poetry is even more interesting: powerful, lush, and filled with vivid imagery.

Here is Mrs. Townsend's melancholic poem that honors the common soldier while not sugar-coating the consequences of war:

A GEORGIA VOLUNTEER by Mary Ashley Townsend (1832-1901)

Far up the lonely mountain-side
My wandering footsteps led;
The moss lay thick beneath my feet,
The pine sighed overhead.
The trace of a dismantled fort
Lay in the forest nave,
And in the shadow near my path
I saw a soldier's grave.

The bramble wrestled with the weed
Upon the lowly mound;--
The simple head-board, rudely writ,
Had rotted to the ground;
I raised it with a reverent hand,
From dust its words to clear,
But time had blotted all but these--
"A Georgia Volunteer!"

I saw the toad and scaly snake
From tangled covert start,
And hide themselves among the weeds
Above the dead man's heart;
But undisturbed, in sleep profound,
Unheeding, there he lay;
His coffin but the mountain soil,
His shroud Confederate gray.

I heard the Shenandoah roll
Along the vale below,
I saw the Alleghanies rise
Toward the realms of snow.
The "Valley Campaign" rose to mind--
Its leader's name--and then
I knew the sleeper had been one
Of Stonewall Jackson's men.

Yet whence he came, what lip shall say--
Whose tongue will ever tell
What desolated hearths and hearts
Have been because he fell?
What sad-eyed maiden braids her hair,
Her hair which he held dear?
One lock of which perchance lies with
The Georgia Volunteer!

What mother, with long watching eyes,
And white lips, cold and dumb,
Waits with appalling patience for
Her darling boy to come?
Her boy! whose mountain grave swells up
But one of many a scar,
Cut on the face of our fair land,
By gory-handed war.

What fights he fought, what wounds he wore,
Are all unknown to fame;
Remember, on his holy grave
There is not e'en a name!
That he fought well and bravely too,
And held his country dear,
We know, else he had never been
A Georgia volunteer.

He sleeps--what need to question now
If he were wrong or right?
He knows, ere this, whose cause was just
In God the Father's sight.
He wields no warlike weapons now,
Returns no foeman's thrust--
Who but a coward would revile
An honest soldier's dust?

Roll, Shenandoah, proudly roll,
Adown thy rocky glen,
Above thee lies the grave of one
Of Stonewall Jackson's men.
Beneath the cedar and the pine,
In solitude austere.
Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies
A Georgia Volunteer!

Concurrent Bisynodicalism?

My friend and colleague in the holy ministry, the Rev. Paul Beisel, quoted a snippet from Father Hollywood here.

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod has become divided to the point of being (at least) two concurrent synods living within one corporate structure. Perhaps we've become a conservative version of the Anglican Communion that is trying to maintain organizational unity between churches that believe radically different confessions.

The big issues that divide our synod are not things like abortion and homosexuality. We're even pretty much united on the inspiration of Scripture - including such corollary issues as the ordination of women. The really divisive issues (at least in my personal experience) are: closed communion, the role of women in our churches, and worship styles.

The latter has become particularly divisive, and I believe, overshadows the first two. There are other divisive issues, to be sure, such as the rancor over public Christian prayers offered with non-Christians, worship services conducted with non-Lutherans (or even non-Christians), relationships between the LCMS and the ELCA (e.g. joint schools and chaplaincies) and the division over how our synod and its convention should be constituted and governed. However, I see the worship issue as one that continues to drive a wedge deeper and deeper into the heart of Missouri.

While fighting a rear-guard action to fight off office clutter, I ran across a printout of a blog post I wrote back in July of last year. I think it is still an accurate rendering of how we, as a communion with a specific written confession (which is unique among the historic communions of the Christian Church) can disagree so vehemently and suffer such division.

I don't have an answer. But I know the answer is not to ostrich-head ourselves and pretend there is no division. We keep hearing pronouncements from on high that we don't suffer any doctrinal divisions as a synod - merely a diversity of practice. This is simply not true. We do have divisions. We cannot address them until we acknowledge them. If we acknowledge them, perhaps we can resolve them, perhaps not. But one way or the other, we can move on.

We may eventually come to a consensus, or we may have to divide the synod and its resources among two or more successor factions. Simply pretending there is no problem is a foolish approach. It is as dangerous as ignoring a growing tumor out of fear of hearing what the doctor might have to say.

Unity is important, but true unity is by far better than a pretend one.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

For Persecuted Christians

For a few weeks, I've been adding a petition to the Prayer of the Church for our persecuted brethren around the world. I recall a lecture by Blessed Kurt Marquart in which he proposed that Christians should never gather without praying for persecuted Christians. Anyway, here is what I slip in to the petitions. Please feel free to join us in this prayer for modern-day confessors and martyrs, and if more churches and confessors should be added, please let me know...

Lord God, heavenly Father, we pray for persecuted Christians around the world, especially for our Lutheran brethren, including the Church of Sudan and their bishop Andrew Elisa, the Church of Kenya and their bishop Walter Obare, the Mission province of the Church of Sweden and their bishop Arne Olsson, the faithful members of the Church of Finland, as well as those persecuted by European governments, including pastors Dr. Johannes Lerle of Germany (sentenced to a year in prison for comparing abortion to the holocaust) and Rev. Ari Norro, (who is to be put on trial on November 16 for refusing to serve at the altar with a woman 'pastor'). Grant them continued courage, steadfastness in the faith, and protection from the evil one."

Sermon: Trinity 16

23 Sept 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In our Gospel, Jesus performs one of His greatest miracles – the raising of the dead. In so doing, He demonstrates not only His divinity, but also His completion of the work begun through the prophets – especially that of Elijah in our Old Testament lesson.

Of course, death is the direct consequence of sin. And there is nothing more justifiable than for the Lord to strike every person dead, to condemn all humanity to the same fate as Satan and the fallen angels, and to simply rid the universe of anything and everything undesirable. But fortunately for us, God does not see His handy-work as disposable, as trash to be taken to the curb.

Instead of seeing the widow’s son as just another corpse of just another sinner who got what He deserved, the Lord sees something else. He sees the suffering brought on by sin. He sees a widow weeping over her only son. Instead of looking upon her son (as well as upon her as well) with wrath, with a smug appeal to justice, with anger that would be completely reasonable – our Lord looks upon her with compassion. Instead of seeing the mother as the one who conceived the now-dead son in sin herself, instead of seeing the living spawn of those first rebels in Eden, Jesus sees a person in God’s image who is suffering.

And he has compassion on her.

He tells her not to weep – even though tears are the natural consequence of sin. In telling her to weep no more, He tells her that her time of mourning is over. He tells her that the degradation of the universe is coming to an end. He tells her that the season of the devil’s dominion over God’s good creation is swiftly coming to a close. He tells her that the sting of death is about to be swallowed up by death – by His own death on the cross, to be punctuated by His resurrection – of which our Lord is going to prefigure by using this poor widow’s son as an object lesson about what is to come in the new age that is dawning.

Jesus addresses the young man. For though his ears are closed by death, in spite of the fact that his spirit has vacated his fleshly body – Jesus speaks His powerful Word over his created being: “Young man, I say to you, arise.” The creature obeys the Creator. Our Lord Jesus doesn’t speak in the stead and by the command of anyone. Jesus is not a minister, but is God Himself. “I say to you…” He says. In fact, He isn’t simply saying, He is ordering. And He’s doing more than ordering, rather He is creating. More accurately, He is re-creating. He is quickening the body of this man, speaking the breath of life back into him.

The lifeless body revivifies. The tongue that had been silenced by mortality is loosed. The breath put into him is now expelled in the form of words. And the Lord Jesus presents the boy to his mother anew, a new creation, as one born again, one who has overcome death and the grave. The widow has no reason to weep – except perhaps to shed tears of joy.

Nothing demonstrates the Lord’s motivation in creating a new heaven and a new earth than this one episode. Our Lord’s grand plan to renew and restore isn’t simply an egocentric building plan taken by a king who wants to be immortal. Nor is this great plan to be built upon the backs of the people who rightfully deserve God’s wrath. In fact, the cornerstone of this restoration is none other than the Son of God, God the Son, the sacrificial Lamb, the one who gives life to others, but who, in the words of His mockers at His crucifixion, “cannot save Himself.” The cross is the foundation of the new heaven and the new earth – for it’s here where God does for the whole world what he did for the widow’s son.

And it is done by offering Himself to death.

The reaction of the people is telling. They have observed this wondrous miracle, and they both fear and glorify God. They know that they have seen and experienced the might and the mercy of God. “A great prophet has risen up among us” they say – and yet, they don’t realize how prophetic their own words are (for this Prophet will truly “rise up” from death and speak as well, though unlike the widow’s son, this Son will do so under His own power).

The people are right to see prophecy in this miracle – for it is not only God speaking to His people, it is a prediction of what is to come – the resurrection of Jesus as the firstfruits of the dead, as well as the resurrection of all believers on the last day.

The people also say: “God has visited his people.” This is a personal visitation from God Himself – not merely an angel carrying a message, not just a prophet carrying the Word, not a pastor preaching the Gospel – but rather this is a visit from God Himself. However, there is more to this word “visit” than simply a personal appearance of God. The Greek word is a form of the same word translated as “bishop” or “overseer.” This visitation is the oversight of God looking down upon His creation – not in haughty judgment, but rather in compassionate mercy. This oversight looks forwards to the time when the Lord would visit His people through the work of bishops, of pastors, of overseers and shepherds of the flock, of ministers endowed with authority to speak in the stead and by the command of God. The minister speaks the same prophecy, does the same work, drives back the forces of death and the devil in the same way – by giving life to the dead.

The pastor is not God. He cannot on his own power order corpses to walk out of their graves. Not even Elijah could do that. He cannot re-create matter anew, and roll back the ravages of age and disease – and yet, he does have authority over the cause of these matters. The pastor, the one through whom God continues to oversee and visit His people has the Word of God and the command and the delegated authority to use it to forgive sins – through preaching, absolving, baptizing, and giving the Supper.

In fact, this office of preaching is mentioned at the end of the Gospel lesson, as “this report” circulates through Judea and the region. The word translated as “report” is the Greek word “Logos” – which means literally “the Word.” The Word of God is spoken through the incarnate Word of God (Jesus) and given to preachers to proclaim the Word of God, the good news of the forgiveness of sins, not only throughout Judea, but as our Lord commissions the apostles just before His ascension, they are to take this Word through Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

This Word, this report, this proclamation is translated into the Latin as “sermo.” That which is preached is translated into English as a “sermon” for this reason.

The report of Jesus (who is the Word of God), the proclamation of the Word of God, of the Good News, is carried out by pastors, overseers of congregations of the one holy Church. This has been happening for two thousand years. The Word of the cross has been preached not only in Judea and Samaria, but all around the globe.

In the centuries before the incarnation of Christ, prophets pointed forward to what Jesus would do in the future and applied it in the present. In the centuries after the incarnation, pastors point back to what Jesus has done in the past and apply it to the present.

And the result is the same regardless of time and place. Just as the widow’s son opened his eyes from death, received air once more into his once-dead lungs, and was empowered to speak – so too are sinners in every corner of the globe, in every era, being re-created anew, born again, given a new spirit, and enabled to articulate the Good News of their salvation from death, decay, and damnation.

What a great gift we have all been given, my Christian brothers and sisters! At Holy Baptism, our Lord re-created us. In Holy Absolution, he revivifies what has died in us. In the proclamation of the Holy Gospel, he imparts His all-powerful Word into our ears and hearts, and in his Holy Supper He puts his own eternal and divine flesh and blood into our frail bodies as not only a pledge, but as a literal application of life over death.

Like the widow upon whom Jesus had compassion, we have no more reason to weep. Though we are surrounded by a dying world, we walk about as new creatures, as those who have overcome the world by the grace of the One who has compassion on his undeserving creation, who by His Word alone is able to raise, restore, quicken, and renew for all eternity. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction, Pars Duo

Hmmm. I wonder if this would help my Latin students. This is just plain weird - if it is really true.

Stranger Than Fiction...

Here's the story.

Confession on the Comeback Trail

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal talking about the Holy Sacrament of Confession and Absolution that not only mentions the Missouri Synod in a positive light, but also quotes a well-known LCMS pastor, Rev. Bruce Kaseman - who not too long ago was a visitor (with his family) to Salem Lutheran Church in Gretna, Louisiana, where I serve.

Here is a quote from the article:

"Protestant theologians are also rethinking the rite. This past summer, the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, a 2.5 million-member branch whose members are spread across North America, voted to revive private confession with a priest. Some theologians have pointed to the writings of Martin Luther and argued that the Protestant reformer, while criticizing the way the rite was administered, never advocated abolishing it. "Some of us were saying, 'Why in the world did we let that die out?'" says the Rev. Bruce Keseman, a Lutheran pastor in Freeburg, Ill.

The Rev. Keseman has sought to revive confession in his congregation by bringing it into pastoral counseling, giving demonstrations to youth groups and preaching about its benefits. Leslie Sramek, 48, a lifelong Lutheran and financial manager who lives near St. Louis, says she never heard about private confession and absolution in church when she was growing up. But two years ago, when the Rev. Keseman announced he would be taking confession privately, she decided to give it a try. At these sessions, the pastor wears vestments and stands near the altar while she kneels and recounts her sins. "I won't say that looking at my sins is pleasant, but they have to be dealt with," says Mrs. Sramek."

It should be noted that we Lutherans never actually abolished Confession and Absolution - rather people just stopped going to confession and pastors stopped emphasizing it. In the decades following World War I, as Lutherans abandoned the German language and became assimilated into the American way of life, we began to mimic our Protestant neighbors - who themselves had abolished private confession (as well as other "catholic" things, such as priestly vestments, altar candles, crucifixes, and the sign of the cross).

Today, we're seeing an interesting phenomenon. One part of the synod is moving further toward Protestantism, with radical and non-liturgical neo-Evangelical worship styles and emphasis on the very-Protestant Ablaze!(tm) program - as evidenced by the recent "official" LCMS youth gathering that featured dancing girls at the contemporary worship service. At the same time, another part of our synod is recovering the reverent and historic Lutheran "Evangelical Catholicism" that emphasizes the Gospel through the liturgy and the sacraments of the Church - typified by the recent Higher Things youth conference that featured a solemn Mass with incense. A tale of two synods!

The fact that there wasn't more opposition to the synodical overture concerning private confession and absolution is a good sign. Now, getting people to come to confession is a little tougher than simply voting for it. But this is encouraging news indeed.

Friday, September 21, 2007

God Smiles on Mr. Al

Look at how the Lord takes care of His sheep.

My parishioner, "Mr. Al" (I won't use his last name for the sake of privacy), who is himself a Father Hollywood reader [I know you're reading, Al. Congrats, you have now become an Internet Object Lesson +HW], headed out of town. He recently had heart surgery to replace some worn-out stints - surgery that was not very successful.

Anyway, Mr. Al found himself in pain this morning while visiting his daughter and son-in-law (the latter of whom is a medical doctor). Since they live only minutes from the hospital, they were able to get Al to the ER right away - where, it seems, he had a heart attack.

Now, here is a lesson worth taking away from this blog: if anyone is planning to have a cardiac arrest, doing so in the ER is some pretty nifty planning. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest...

Anyway, Al's doctor was able to successfully replace the stints. It looks like his heart suffered no damage - thanks to being treated so quickly. Had they not chosen Plan B for their vacation plans, Al and Judy might have been a long, long way from the hospital. God obviously has more to do with Mr. Al.

Al will be released from the hospital Sunday. He will go home in better shape than he left - after having a heart attack! From this we may conclude that God works in mysterious ways, and that Mr. Al is one tough dude (by the grace of God, of course).

Dear Father Hollywood readers, please keep Mr. Al in your prayers!

That Seminarian is No Lady

Further reflection on the degrading culture, and the participation of the mainline religious establishment in the descent...

While hunting down graphics for use on my own blog, I ran across a blog run by a Lutheran seminarian. I didn't give it much thought, but marked it in order to have a look in the future.

A few nights ago, the jackhammer inside my head was too loud to sleep. I don't get headaches very often, but this one was a doozy. So, I decided to surf the 'Net until Mr. Sandman evicted the construction worker in my cerebellum.

So, I had a look at the Lutheran seminarian's blog, and I found that the author wasn't exactly a seminarian, but rather a "seminarianette." She was obviously from a subset of American Lutheranism that has a different way of reading Scripture than my own synod. And that's not all that I found different.

It seems that the author attends a non-Lutheran seminary - which, in her denomination is fine - so long as the seminarian or seminarianette attends one of the approved Lutheran seminaries for at least a year. The higher-ups actually gave her an exemption, only requiring her to do part of the requirement - which still miffed her terribly, accusing the denomination of trying to break up her family.

In fact, she was so angry that her public blog post included the "f-word." Oh my! A previous post shows off her new tattoo. Another used a derogatory term for part of the body to describe the driver of a car that displayed a bumper sticker that she disagreed with. There was even a "sermon" she "preached" at a neo-hippie retreat center. For some reason, each person drew pieces of paper out of a bowl with words on them, and she cracked a lot of jokes. Not the kind of homiletics I'm used to.

She is also a huge fan of the "emerging" church - a youth-obsessed fad among disillusioned suburban young adults who seek to reject traditionalism while rejecting the anti-traditionalism of their baby boomer parents.

Many of her posts drop the "f-bomb" and other profanities - in what is simply a sad and juvenile attempt to look "hip." In so doing, she looks about as "hip" as a 12-year old with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth. Embarrassing, in fact.

What's more, this seminarianette has a husband and child. So, when she receives a "call" into her "ministry," I suppose hubby will have to quit his job and follow his "pastorette" wife wherever she is sent. So much for Ephesians 5:22 and following verses (though I realize not everyone believes the quaint notion that the Bible is the Word of God...).

And can you just imagine how proud this child will be growing up? Not only is mom a priestess, she has a tattoo with a quote from Martin Luther and she validates herself by public use of the f-word in her written discourse. That should go over well at the PTA. This is all very strange to me, considering that my own sainted mother was ladylike - no tattoos and certainly no such vulgarities being uttered - and most especially never in public!

Christian womanhood just ain't what it used to be when my sainted great-grandma was around. Lord, have mercy! She considered card-playing and beer drinking to be crossing the line!

I'm also a little surprised that her denomination considers such conduct to be becoming of a clergy-human. I realize that the Scriptures don't carry the same amount of weight in her world of Lutheranism, but, not only does such behavior seem out of line with 1 Timothy 3 and 4, but it just comes across as trashy.

I realize that we have some pretty trashy pastors and goofy churches in the LCMS, but I really do believe that if one of our seminarians were using such lowest-common-denominator trash-talk in his published writings, he would be rendered UFM (Unfit For Ministry) and sent back to sitting on his couch watching Maury with a mouth full of Cheetoes.

At least one can hope.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I'm not changing my name

We should have seen this latest silly example of political correctness coming.

If anyone thinks I'm going to change my name due to its similarity to an anti-hispanic slur, they've got another thing coming. At some point, we have to say "No mas!" And since I have a politically-incorrect keyboard, I don't have an upside down exclamation point to put at the beginning of the sentence.

Of course, don't expect Cracker Barrel to change its name, even though "cracker" is an ethnic slur used against poor Southern white people. Why? Because only a certifiable idiot would think "cracker" used in that context has anything to do with racial hatred. I guess the presumption is that poor white people aren't stupid, so changing the name isn't on the radar screen.

But I guess the folks at Beaner's Gourmet Coffee must think Mexicans, unlike white people, are stupid not to realize that their company's name has to do with coffee beans (ya think?) and nothing to do with ethnic slurs. But wait a minute, if they really do think Mexicans are stupid... hmmm. So the folks at Beaner's really are.... So their "sensitivity" is in fact a form of...

Goodness, this is getting very confusing.

Well, just the same, I'm still not changing my name - even though it is the same as a 16th century Scottish cannibal (and I do think cannibalism is pretty much politically incorrect these days - though my family now has the problem relatively under control).

And I still like Cracker Barrel - even though for some strange reason, everything tastes like chicken...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sermon: Feast of St. Cyprian of Carthage

16 Sept 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 6:24-34

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

When people say “Don’t worry,” they are usually offering gentle words of comfort. In today’s Gospel, our Lord’s injunction not to worry does indeed bring us comfort – but there’s more to it than that.

“No one can serve two masters…” He says, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon. Therefore I say to you, do not worry…” Notice how our Blessed Lord links worry to idolatry. If you put your faith in money instead of the True God, you will fret and wring your hands – especially about such things as where the food, clothing, healthcare, and housing will come from. And our Lord tells us such worrying is useless. He scolds us for our “little faith.” Worry is sin, and when we worry, we have transferred our faith to a false god that is doomed to fail. He pounds us with the law, but then comforts us. He gives us beautiful examples from nature and assures us that the Father cares even for blades of grass – and that He will do much more for us.

Of course, these are tough times. Money is an issue for just about everyone. There are many unanswered questions about our future. And for Christians, these are especially trying times. We live in a culture that is increasing hostile to God’s Word and even to common decency. We fret about whether or not our church will survive – and our synod’s panic has even translated to pressure to swap our traditions, hymns, and liturgy for elements of the godless popular culture, all out of worry that we are not “reaching the youth.” Such worries about the future have resulted in division and infighting about what we should do. Unity is hard to come by, whether in the Church or the secular world.

Cyprian of Carthage also lived in trying times for Christians. He was a wealthy pagan who converted to Christianity in the year 246 AD. He gave away his money and said goodbye to his former god Mammon. He was ordained a deacon and then a priest the next year, and by 249 found himself reluctantly the Bishop of Carthage in Northern Africa. The very next year, the Roman Emperor began killing Christians.

Trying times indeed.

Cyprian governed his church in exile for a time – for which he took a lot of flack. Eventually, Bishop Cyprian was arrested and told he had been condemned to death. The sentence was to be carried out immediately. If anyone had good cause for worry, it was the Bishop of Carthage on September 14, 258 AD. Cyprian responded with two Latin words: “Deo gratias” – which translated is: “Thanks be to God!” He calmly removed his vestments, paid the executioner, and confidently allowed his head to be removed from his body with a sword.

For the holy bishop knew our Lord’s words: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

In his writings, one of Cyprian’s great themes is “unity.” His greatest work is called: “On the Unity of the Catholic Church.” Cyprian did not identify Catholic unity with the pope. In fact, he found himself at odds with the Bishop of Rome in his day. Cyprian wrote that the Bishop of Rome deserves respect, but he has no authority over other bishops. This is the same position we find in our Lutheran Confessions, which were published 1,322 years after Cyprian was called to his heavenly home. In fact, St. Cyprian continues to teach Lutherans today, as he is quoted directly in the Book of Concord!

It is a demonstration of true Christian unity that many of St. Cyprian’s teachings sound similar to Dr. Luther and the Reformers. Concerning the First Commandment, Cyprian wrote: “Whatever a man prefers to god, that he makes a god to himself.” In the Large Catechism, Dr. Luther writes: “Many a one thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions; he trusts in them and boasts of them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one. Lo, such a man also has a god, Mammon by name, (i.e.), money and possessions, on which he sets all his heart, and which is also the most common idol on earth.”

Not only does he sound like Cyprian, Luther repeats the words of our Lord when he adds: “He who has money and possessions feels secure, and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he who has none doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God. For very few are to be found who are of good cheer, and who neither mourn nor complain if they have not Mammon. This [care and desire for money] sticks and clings to our nature, even to the grave.”

Luther and Cyprian before him preached what our Lord tells us anew today: If we are worrying, we are serving a false god, and that idolatry “clings to our nature” and drags us down to the grave.

Cyprian also prefigured Luther by nearly 14 centuries when he wrote: “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother.... God is one and Christ is one, and his Church is one; one is the faith, and one is the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body.”

Luther also calls the Church “the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the word of God.”

For as Christians, as those who look to the eternal Father for sustenance, those begotten by Mother Church through the Word, and who do not look to ourselves or our money to preserve and sustain us, we see ourselves as one body, sharing one faith, redeemed by one baptism, and moving toward one glorious destiny as the bride of the eternal Lord Jesus Christ. We have been created, redeemed, sanctified, washed, claimed, and embraced by Almighty God. We have no reason to fear or fret, and every reason to rejoice and give thanks.

And though we do live in trying times, we are still God’s people. We are still the one church, the holy church, the catholic church, and the apostolic church. And though our eyes see division, sectarianism, denominationism, dissention, infighting, error, confusion, defeat, and everything but unity – we are in no more trying times than St. Cyprian, than Blessed Martin Luther, or than future generations of Christians who will assuredly find themselves being martyred for the sake of the faith. In spite of it all, the eyes of faith see the Church in unity and triumph.

We need not worry because we have the promise of God, the One who oversees His creation with intimate attention to the finest details. Wealth and mammon are worthless, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Our dear father in the faith, bishop of the church, brother in Christ, and martyr for the Word of God - St. Cyprian of Carthage - exhorts us to call to mind this unity that even transcends the grave. He wrote: “Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides of death always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence the first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father's mercy.”

Do not worry, dear brothers and sisters. The Lord has promised to take care of us through the grave and beyond. We are the beloved children of God our Father and of the one holy Church our mother. The Lord has promised that His bride, would stand firm even against the gates of hell. And this is how it is that even in the face of trying times, of uncertainty, and even confronting death, we can joyfully and confidently say with our brother Cyprian: “Deo gratias – Thanks be to God,” now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ham Radio, Motorcycles, and the Degrading Culture

Last Saturday, a few of us from the Westbank Amateur Radio Club assisted with communications for a Poker Run for the local chapter of the Red Knights.

By way of explanation, the Red Knights are a motorcycle club consisting of active-duty or retired firemen (of both sexes). A Poker Run is a social/fundraising event in which participants ride as a group, stopping at five check points to draw a card. At the end of the circuit, each rider has a poker hand. Prizes are awarded. It's not a race, but rather a leisurely cruise and a chance to meet other bikers. Amateur Radio - also known as "ham radio" - is the name given to the practice of licensed radio operators who run two-way radio stations from their homes or on their persons. Ham Radio is typically a hobby, though in times of crisis or disaster, it proves to be the only means of communication.

Hurricane Katrina convinced me to get involved in ham radio again (I got my license in 1975 at the age of 11, and basically stopped operating after moving out of my parents' house). I'm gradually getting a radio station set up at home once again. I have also joined the local club, for which last Saturday was a public service opportunity. It gave me a little experience in that kind of volunteer communications work. With cell phones, ham radio communications is more of a back-up. But sure enough, cell phones do fail, whereas amateur radio gets the job done in all kinds of conditions. So, I was monitoring my hand-held radio operating on the two-meter band through a repeater (a kind of relay-station that enables a hand-held radio to communicate all over the area) and maintaining communications with hams at the other stops.

Along with Grace and Leo, I spent a good eight hours at a fairground site that was the start and finish of the event (on the property of a local Roman Catholic Church). There were more than 600 motorcycles congregated at the site. There were vendors of food, drinks, and motorcycle gear. Leo got to sit on a bike and play with cicadas in the church/school's playground.

I also got to stroll around and make observations. While I haven't ridden in many years, I actually had a motorcycle license even before a license to drive a car. In other words, I actually had a drivers license that was not valid for an automobile! My dad and I were enthusiastic motorcyclists - having taken many vacations together, as well as managing to ride daily nearly year-round in Ohio (thanks to boots, gloves, and a snowmobile suit). It was fun to see all the bikes.

The Red Knights are good guys. What binds them together - besides their affection for bikes - is their service as firemen. It is not an exaggeration to call these folks unsung heroes. The Poker Run was raising money for the widows and orphans of firemen killed on the job. It just seems like there shouldn't have to have fundraisers for such things - but I suppose the politicians have "better" ways to spend our tax dollars than taking care of these people who take care of us.

One of the Westbank Amateur Radio Club members is himself a Red Knight. I nearly didn't recognize him as he was decked out in his leathers.

Of course, I've always got an ear to the ground of the culture. I do believe what I saw reflects a general coursening of our culture compared to my days as a teenage motorcyclist/ham radio operator.

A lot of the riders had shirts and jackets with openly profane, crude, and vulgar language on them. There were frequent references to parts of the anatomy, sexual commentary, and language that used to be confined to all-male, all-adult gatherings in locker-rooms, dorms, and barracks. Instead, this kind of thing was paraded about in front of families. On one occasion, I saw a fresh-faced little girl of perhaps eight years old (who I believe was a member of the church where the event was being held) skipping past a man (who was probably in his sixties) sporting a sexual reference to the female anatomy on his shirt. Nice.

Nobody seemed to have had any shame. There was no desire to steer the little girl (or any of the children who were present) away from the vulgarity. The folks who had this kind of attire made no effort at all to shield their vulgarity from young eyes. There were also lots of merchandise sporting the most course and explicit language imaginable. There were also tee shirts emblazoned with photographs that bordered on porn. They happened to be displayed at eye-level for the little kids. Nobody batted an eye. There was a time when adult women would not have been subjected to such things - but little girls? And, of course, there is no way of saying anything about it without provoking even more bad language and simply being dismissed as a prude.

Nor was there any sensitivity to the fact that they were on the grounds owned by a church. Members of the congregation (identifiable by their T-shirts) were working on the grounds. I wonder if the parishioners liked their children reading about human biology on the attire of the bikers.

The other thing that was rather unfortunate, in my unsolicited opinion, was the collection of Nazi memorabilia for sale. I realize part of riding a bike is the idea of being a non-conformist - although the "nonconformity" was pretty uniform: boots, jeans, t-shirt, denim jacket, leather vest, and bandanna. The outlaw image notwithstanding, I just don't get the Nazi thing. Maybe its a celebration of cruelty - a glorification of the violent and evil - that seems to make people feel "powerful." I have done a lot, and I mean a lot, of riding in my time, but I've never felt the need to glorify Hitler while doing so [Note to Peter: I get the Godwin Award this time! +HW].

None of this reflects on the Red Knights. Like I said, they are good guys. But I think it does reflect quite a cultural shift in general over the last few years to the point where swastikas and references to genitalia being displayed before the eyes of little girls at public events held on church grounds are seeming so common as to not even warrant raised eyebrows. Things have changed from the days when I was riding a Suzuki 850 to work and chatting with folks around the world in morse code from my dad's basement. Of course, that was some 25 years ago. I can't help but wonder how things will be when my son is 43.

In spite of the unfortunate displays of what has become too "normal" in our culture, I had a great time being surrounded by reminders of my own youth: motorcycles and amateur radio. The event culminated in a parade of firetrucks and bikes. It goes without saying that Lionboy thoroughly enjoyed himself. What little boy wouldn't revel in creeping insects, wailing fire engines, and rumbling motorcycles?

Photos can be seen here and here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

We told y'all so...

In the early nineties, I was an officer in the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).

The SCV was founded in 1896 by sons of men who fought honorably in the American military forces of the Confederate States of America in the War for Southern Independence (1861-1865). At its inception, the SCV's main purpose was the care of aging and dying veterans and their widows (who did not receive Federal pensions for their wartime service). There are still a few "real sons" left in the SCV - though their ranks are dwindling. Today, the SCV is a mainly a fraternal, patriotic, historical genealogical society dedicated to the honorable memory of the Confederate soldier, sailor, and marine - charged with maintaining cemeteries, historical artifacts, the care of the remaining "real sons," and the defense of the symbols of the Confederate States of America.

Defense of the latter in the current age of political correctness impressed the SCV into service as something it never really intended to be: a civil rights organization.

Beginning in the 1980s, the NAACP, facing a decline in membership and an increasing irrelevance, began a self-serving symbolic campaign against Confederate symbols - including flags, "civil war" re-enactments, and even historical markers and monuments. In one ghoulish example, NAACP leaders were calling for graves of a Confederate general and his wife to be exhumed.

As corporations, governments, and schools allowed themselves to be bullied into submission, adopting a position of hatred against those of us of Southern heritage - our symbols and flags were being forced down all over the country. Many of us warned that the politically-correct war against Confederate symbols would lead to symbols of the United States being likewise attacked. We were laughed at and pooh-poohed, and accused of making an extreme argument that "would never happen." "There is no slippery slope" was often the response.

Well, get your skis on, folks. This is not the first example of our prediction coming true, but it is a particularly egregious one. But get used to it. It will get worse. We told y'all so.

The bottom line is this: free speech is for everyone. It means just what it says. It means that we are free to express even unpopular opinions - especially political opinions - with which others disagree (which, of course, are the only opinions that need legal protection in the first place). We are free to show pride in our heritage - even if others disapprove - even if others may have valid objections.

There are some American Indians who (quite understandably) find the stars and stripes repugnant. There are some American blacks who find the Confederate flag (which, by the way, is included in the state flag of Mississippi, and implied in other state flags) offensive. There are some Irish folks who are offended at the Union Jack (which, by the way, is included in the state flag of Hawaii). There are some Jews who do not approve of German flags (and have even suggested that Oktoberfests should be banned out of "sensitivity"). Scottish highland games have been deemed "racist." There are some Americans who find the Japanese banner (not to mention automobiles) to be offensive - not an unreasonable position for some of our WW2 vets. Folks have been killed for wearing the "wrong" color bandanna or the "wrong" soccer jersey.

The list goes on and on.

Being offended is one thing, but when you allow one group to ban, bully, or control the symbols of another, you open a can of worms and repudiate the very notion of freedom. You create master-races and classes of inferior peoples, and do violence to the virtue of equal protection under the law.

You also do away with the idea of tolerance that is so often trumpeted by flag-grabbers and busy-bodies - who want to tell other people what they can and can't display as an ethnic or political symbol. This is especially an issue today with rampant legal and illegal immigration - which has turned the flag of the United States into a controversial and divisive political symbol (hence its banning in "public" schools).

Be offended, if you wish (you have the freedom to do so). But if you truly believe in tolerance and freedom, look the other way if your neighbor has a something (be it a U.S. flag on his belt buckle or a Confederate flag on his jacket) of which you disapprove. Sticks and stones and all that. And government-school administrators that think banning the U.S. flag on September 11 is a good idea, please resign from the "education" business. With educators endowed with IQs like this, is it any wonder why things are the way they are, why "U.S. Americans" have become the intellectual laughingstocks of the world - even in places like "The Iraq" and "such like"? Just a helpful suggestion: do something more commensurate with your talents, like starting a Stupidity Training Institute instead - preferably with private funding.

However, the most important lesson is this: tolerance is a two-way street.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sermon: Funeral of Richard E. Iverson

Monday of Trinity 14, 10 Sept 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 17:11-19 (Gal 5:16-24, Prov 4:10-23)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Rick and Lisa, family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, Greetings in the name of our risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Losing a parent to death is a terrible cross to bear. Saying goodbye to those we love as they pass from this side of the grave is the most difficult thing that is ever asked of us. And, it is never really “asked” of us at all – it is demanded of us. We are without a choice in the matter. Death comes to all of those we love, even as it will also come to us.

Of course, we know this. In the case of the elderly and those who have been sick it is less of a surprise, but nevertheless, it crushes us with sadness and sorrow all the same. Please accept my sincere condolences for your loss, for your pain, and for your grief. If I could take this away from you, I would. I cannot. But I do speak for Him who can and does bind up all our wounds, He who “lives to wipe away (our) tears.” Indeed, I have good news for you, even in the midst of all of this sadness.

For Jesus says to our dear brother Richard Edward Iverson even this day: “Your faith has made you well.”

The text for this week’s gospel lesson – the account of the grateful leper whom Jesus heals – is the perfect text for Richard’s funeral. And this is not by accident. Richard Iverson is the grateful leper, for he has been cured of the leprosy of sin that infects all of us. He is the grateful one, the one who spent the last days of his sojourn on this side of the grave in thankfulness for what Jesus did for him. I speak with authority in this matter, because I brought Jesus to him in the Word of God. I brought Jesus to him in the Holy Eucharist of the body and blood of the Lord and administered this “medicine of immortality” to him with my very hands. With my own ears I heard this sainted man giving thanks to God and confessing his faith in the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

According to God’s will, Richard’s time in this vale of tears has drawn to a close – just as it will for all of us. Though it was not our Lord’s will to cure him of the cancer that ravaged his body, it was certainly the Lord’s will to deliver him from sin, death, and the devil. Though death seems to have conquered Richard, the opposite is in fact true: “The strife is o’er, the battle done, Now is the victor’s triumph won.”

For Richard is a baptized child of God, indelibly marked with water and the Word, with the name of the Holy Trinity, sealed for all eternity by the Holy Spirit just as he was marked upon his head with the sign of the holy cross when he became a child of God so many years ago.

It is an ancient custom of the Church for the pastor to take the newly baptized person and sign him with the cross upon his forehead – often with an anointing of oil. For in baptism, we are sealed and marked with the cross. We become property and followers of Christ – which means literally “the anointed one.”

It is also the custom of the Church that we Christians re-enact this baptismal mystery and gift by tracing the cross upon ourselves – especially when the Holy Trinity is mentioned, especially when we take communion, especially when we receive a blessing at the hands of one of Jesus’ called and ordained servants.

I visited Richard many times in his last days with us on this side of the grave. I prayed over him and anointed him with oil – just as the apostles did with the sick. I traced the oil upon his forehead in the sign of the cross – the very same cross traced on the very same forehead – the cross given to Richard at baptism. And for this baptismal blessing Richard was grateful.

Again, Richard is the embodiment of the grateful Samaritan leper in our gospel reading. Ten men were cured, but only one came back to say “thank you.” Only one fell at the feet of Jesus, worshiped him as God and Savior, and sang his praise. Consequently, only this one was pronounced to have faith – the kind of faith that made him well. The other nine may have had a physical healing, but they remained in their sin. They were spared death this time, but it would come again at a later time. Death came to the Samaritan leper as well, but even in spite of death, his faith truly made him well. His faith conquered death through Jesus Christ – the one who gave him the faith as a gift in the first place.

The Samaritan not only received a physical cure, but was given eternal life. He truly believed and had faith in Jesus, faith evidenced by his thankfulness, by his “euchariston” in the original Greek of the New Testament.

In the same way, Richard was always thankful for my visits with him, and furthermore, that thankfulness, that “euchariston” was evidenced by our participation together in the Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. Except when Richard was asleep, I offered him the Holy Sacrament each and every visit. No matter how tired he was, no matter how badly he felt, his response was always the same: “Yes sir!”

After communion, Richard always responded with “thank you.”

Richard, a baptized child of God who was healed of the leprosy of sin when he was born again by water and the Spirit, continued to offer Jesus his praise, worship, and gratitude as he approached the end of his days on earth seeking Jesus and living in Eucharistic thankfulness for his Savior.

Today, with our physical eyes, we see only Richard’s mortal remains. But with the eyes of faith, we see a victor over the grave who awaits the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” Just as our eyes see only bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, the Word of God declares these humble elements to be the true body and blood of our Lord, given and shed for us, for the forgiveness of sin, and for everlasting life. Similarly, the world saw a Samaritan leper, a sick man to be avoided, a man bereft of hope and purpose – but our Lord, looking with compassion, saw a man created in the image of God. Our Lord Jesus restored the Samaritan to health, and though he would later die, he would also later live forever. The Lord never turns away a repentant sinner.

I told you that I had good news for you in the midst of this pain and suffering. Here it is: Richard today gazes upon the face of our Lord Jesus. He has triumphed over the grave, and enjoys everlasting life – having been liberated from pain, sorrow, worry, and the sting of death itself. And the news gets even better. For like all the “grateful lepers” called Christians who have been cured by baptism and who worship Jesus in His flesh, Richard is not just a spirit hovering about. Just as our Lord Jesus burst forth victoriously from the tomb in a fleshly body, perfect and eternal – so too will Richard’s remains rise and be reconstructed anew.

For Christianity is not merely spiritual, it is also bodily. Sin, which clings to our flesh like cancer and threatens to drag us down into death, has been excised by our Great Physician. This is how it is that the Christian – even through tears of sorrow – can mock and call out to death saying: “O Death, where is thy sting?” Just as Jesus cured the ten lepers, he has cured us. Just as the Samaritan came thankfully and physically into communion with Jesus, so do we this morning as we partake in the Holy Supper.

Where Jesus is, there is Richard and all the saints. When we kneel before the Lord to partake in that Eucharistic feast, Richard is there as well – “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” in the midst of the “watchers” and the “holy ones,” taking his place with “all saints triumphant” who “raise the song.”

And on the day when our risen Lord opens the graves of Richard and of all the saints – He will restore our bodies to life, recreating them even better than before, incapable of death and completely rid of sin. On that great and wonderful day of the resurrection of the body, Richard and all the rest of the grateful forgiven sinners who bear Christ’s name and are marked by Christ’s cross, will hear the following words one last joyous time: “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

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

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 14

9 Sept 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 17:11-19 (Gal 5:16-24, Prov 4:10-23)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There are two approaches to the Christian faith: gratitude and ingratitude.

For the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world – the whole world. Our crucified Lord took upon Himself every sin committed by every person in the history of the world. Strictly speaking, he didn’t die for “sins” – for individual sinful acts that seem to be totally unconnected – rather our Lord died for “sin,” the root cause, the condition, the sickness that causes us to commit sins – those individual thoughts, words, and deeds that appall us.

We are very much like the ten men our Lord healed in our Gospel text. These beggars of the Lord’s mercy didn’t have just a few blemishes or a case of the sniffles. They were suffering from leprosy – a deadly disease that not only destroys the immune system, but literally causes the flesh to rot right on the body, part by part.

They didn’t need healed of a few isolated individual maladies here and there. They needed a complete and total physical restoration for them to have healing.

Of course, the Lord has come for this very purpose – to heal, to recreate ailing and terminally ill people into what they were meant to be from day one: perfect, clean, wholesome, healthy, and eternal. They were meant for full communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be worthy to stand nose to nose with God with no guilt, shame, or self-consciousness – for all eternity.

And so the Lord’s miracle of cleansing these men of leprosy is only a hint at what he truly gives them. For as horrible as leprosy is, it only hurts the body and brings physical death. But the malady that caused the leprosy in the first place – sin – causes eternal death of the body and the spirit. As Paul reminds us in our epistle, the works of the leprous, gangrenous, flesh are “evident,” they are obvious, they are right before our eyes and impossible to deny: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissentions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.”

But the cause of this unholy litany of sins is something more sinister than individual acts of depravity, greed, and ungodliness. The deeper cause is sin – not an act, but a condition, a sickness. It is a terminal disease that eats away at our flesh as surely as leprosy.

To one who sees no connection between his disease and the fallen world, the ravages of sin, the rebellion of our dying flesh against the living God, to him, the only thing that matters is to fix his disease. For him, pardon of sins doesn’t matter. Living in communion with God means nothing. Being able to stand nose to nose with God is of no consequence. He is not interested in the recreation of the new man – for he sets his sights lower – only on the temporary repair of the body. Apart from faith, that’s all he sees.

Of course, one leper that Jesus cures has something the others don’t. Obviously, he has gratitude – but that is only a sign, a symptom, an indicator of something more important. He has “faith” – and that faith not only cured his disease, it “made him well” – which more literally is “saved you” or “made you whole.” Jesus is telling him that more has happened to him than that his leprosy is cured – something supernatural, even something sacramental. In fact, the Greek word St. Luke uses to describe the grateful leper’s action in “giving Him thanks” is “euchariston.”

His Eucharistic attitude of thankfulness, of falling at the feet of Jesus in worship, in confessing Him as God, in praising Him and in thanking Him, in desiring to be in His presence, in having physical and holy communion with Him is an example of the fruits of the Spirit Paul speaks of. For in being cured – in body and in spirit – the Samaritan leper – or should I say former leper – now demonstrates “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” He is not too proud to fall at Jesus’ feet and publicly submit to him, thank and praise Him, serve and obey Him. For “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh” – the once rotting, mortal flesh – with its passions and desires.

Our Lord expresses a certain sadness and frustration at the ingratitude of the nine others – who were presumably not Samaritans, but fellow sons of the covenant. Our Lord is flabbergasted that only 10% of these recipients of this life-giving miracle even bother to show up to say “thank you.” Of course, they, unlike the grateful Samaritan, lack saving faith. For they were cured in the flesh, sure enough, but nowhere are credited by our Lord as having the “faith” that has “made” the Samaritan “whole.” They do not give glory to God and worship Jesus in His flesh and blood. They are eager to take the minor gift, but seem oblivious to the major one that has been handed to them – and so they reject it. They miss out on the greatest healing of all – the one that will never end.

It is a great and wondrous thing when in response to our prayers our Lord heals the sick. Often, it is through ordinary and natural means. Sometimes it is through what can only be described as a miracle. And yet, as sinners for whom Jesus took on our flesh and died, we ought to see through the eyes of faith that physical wellbeing is only a small part of the equation. For even if we are miraculously cured of a life-threatening disease – be it leprosy, cancer, AIDS, or some other plague – we will still die. A miraculous cure – as wonderful as it is – is only a reprieve. For we all face death. It is the cure of death itself that is the greater miracle – the one for which we Christians should – like this humble Samaritan – be grateful.

For there are indeed two approaches to the Christian faith: gratitude and ingratitude. Gratitude means kneeling before the Lord in adoration and worship, seeking Him out where He is physically present, enjoying a bodily communion with Him who has made us whole and saved us. Gratitude means giving God worship and praise before His face, confessing Him as God before men and angels, and truly receiving His greater gift that restores our flesh to eternal life and not merely the temporary healing of some illness or another.

For again, we are sinners not because of our many sins, but we commit many sins because we are sinners. The Lord Jesus has come into the world and suffered His passion and death in order to remove the cause of sins from us, to make us whole not merely by applying an ointment or sticking on a band-aid. He came into the world and was sacrificed for our wholeness, our re-creation. He has given us far more to be thankful for than taking away our guilt and shame (though this is a gift beyond all measure in and of itself). He has given us far more than payment for our sins (even though this gift would be more than we could ever dream of receiving). Indeed, our crucified Lord has given us the gift of faith – which makes us whole, which recreates us in an indestructible new creation, a removal of the disease of sin that causes the symptoms we call “sins.”

And having been so healed, what else is there to do but gather in His presence to sing His praises, give Him thanks, confess Him as God, and enjoy physical communion with Him? In other words, how can the Christian not unite with God in the mystery of the holy liturgy of the Church, the Divine Service, the hearing of the Word and participation in the Sacraments – as often as physically possible?

For in the case of the nine lepers, being ungrateful is not just a matter of bad etiquette. Rather, this is indicative of the refusal to let go of the leprosy of sin itself, a stubborn clinging to that which caused the deadly malady in the first place. To accept the Lord’s baptism, to be confirmed – and then suddenly disappear from God’s house, to absent oneself from further contact with Him who has given you the healing gift of baptism, to refuse to come back to say “thank you” and to glorify and worship Him who is both God in the flesh and Savior – is very dangerous. Our Lord’s frustration with the nine reflects his frustration with those who do the same today – those who are confirmed and view their confirmation as a graduation that excuses them from coming to church again. To be that ungrateful and selfish is indicative of a lack of faith. Parents, I’m pleading with you to hear the Lord’s words and take them to heart.

For we can all learn a lesson from this “foreigner.” Once again, the Kingdom of God is illustrated by the deeds of a Samaritan. For God’s Kingdom has nothing to do with your race, your denominational affiliation, your pedigree, your past involvement with the church – but rather it has to do with your faith. Your faith is not gratitude, but gratitude does reflect it. Your attendance at church, your desire to study His word with your Christian brothers and sisters is not a sacrifice you make to earn God’s forgiveness, but is rather what the Old Testament calls a “thank offering” – the very same lived-out gratitude that prompts our Lord’s declaration and blessing over the grateful leper.

Let our Lord’s blessing over Him ever ring in our ears. We aren’t perfect. We have not yet been recreated to where we will not suffer physical death. But we have been reborn by the cleansing of baptism, by the removal of the leprous flesh of the Old Adam in exchange for the flesh of Christ given for the life of the world. Let us return again and again to where Jesus is found in His body and blood, where we can physically bond with Him, hear Him speak to us, and where we have communion with Him.

Let us hear Him proclaim these words to us every time we gather for worship: “Your faith has made you well.” For these words “are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

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