Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Your (hard-earned) tax dollars at work

In light of the post-bailout CEO scramble for loot and plunder, that old commercial depicting what seems to be Donald Trump "dumpster diving" may not be that far off. Only I think the image of pigs at the trough might be a little more apropos. After you read this, make sure you thank your congressman and senators who likely voted to rob you so that their well-heeled cronies and benefactors could continue to belly-up and immerse their snouts in the trough. And, of course, capitalism is being blamed for what is really just a manifestation of the very opposite, a form of reverse-welfare for the mega-rich. Thanks, Democrats and Republicans! Thanks, McCain and Obama! Way to "reach across the aisle." Oink, oink!

Meanwhile, here's a little ditty from the Beatles' White Album that comes to mind:


Have you seen the little piggies
Crawling in the dirt
And for all the little piggies
Life is getting worse
Always having dirt to play around in.

Have you seen the bigger piggies
In their starched white shirts
You will find the bigger piggies
Stirring up the dirt
Always have clean shirts to play around in.

In their sties with all their backing
They don't care what goes on around
In their eyes there's something lacking
What they need's a damn good whacking.

Everywhere there's lots of piggies
Living piggy lives
You can see them out for dinner
With their piggy wives
Clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon.

[Ed. Note: Apologies are due, of course, to real pigs for sullying their image by comparing them to shameless corporate stooges, lackeys, and parasites on dollar-destroying welfare - sorry piggies. No bacon burger for me... +HW]

Kind of like the "Ten Suggestions"

A little history lesson from the Wall Street Journal.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hurricane on the way. Is anyone still laughing?

An interesting article about from the Times of London about yet another economist (Nouriel Roubini) who used to be laughed at for suggesting the "blasphemy" that the fundamentals of the U.S. (and world) economy are in bad (if not moribund) shape - but who is now slowly being believed.

A big storm is coming, and we need to make preparations. It may be a category 1 or a category 5 - but a financial hurricane is coming.

People all over the U.S. were unbelievably critical of New Orleanians who did not evacuate for Hurricane Katrina, and then were indignant that their taxes went to bail those same people out who did not prepare when the storm was coming.

Well, America, a financial storm is headed our way. Let's see you put your money where your scorn is and don't get caught unawares by the rising waters of debt. The outer bands of this hurricane are already dumping on us. How bad it will get and exactly where the eyewall will hit are not known for sure. But now is the time to prepare. It's time to "financially evacuate" - or at least get your house in order so when the time comes, you will be ready.

The bottom line: now is the time to:

1) Pay off credit card debts, 2) Get adjustible-rate (and teaser-rate) mortgages refinanced into a fixed rate (if still possible, the window is closing), 3) Stop spending money on luxuries (be frugal), 4) Save!, 5) Be careful not to let savings go down the drain if the dollar tanks. In other words, convert savings and domestic investments (including your 401k) into a portfolio of precious metals and investments tied to strong foreign currencies.

The Euro Pacific Capital brokerage company (and others who likewise understand the coming storm) can help you with the fifth point. The president of Europac (Peter Schiff) has also written a couple books that can help you prepare: Crash Proof and the Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets. Both are full of practical advice, and though written for laymen, aren't dumbed down.

The author, Schiff, is another economist who was laughed at by the establishment media and apologists for the Administration and Congress for suggesting that something as unthinkable as the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddic Mac was going to happen, or that the housing boom was really a bubble, or that recession was looming. But there are no more chuckles these days when Schiff appears on financial news programs. We would be wise to listen to those who predicted the recent unprecedented events while there is still time to prepare. Maybe we Americans really need a dose of reality instead of the eternally rosy picture that is sometimes confused with patriotism.

Barack Obama will not fix this problem. John McCain will not fix this problem. Cutting interest rates will not fix this problem. Injecting large amounts of "liquidity" (read: printing more money) will not fix this problem. The bipartisan Obama-McCain bailout will not fix this problem. Cutting taxes without cutting spending will not fix this problem. In fact, all of the above will make the problem worse. It can't be fixed overnight, nor can it be fixed without a lot of pain.

But the good news is that it can (and likely will) be fixed. And the solution starts with us as individuals: living within our means, being producers and not just consumers. We need to do like our grandparents and work hard, save, don't use credit cards, delay gratification, get through the tough times, and be as financially secure as we can when the time to rebuild comes. If we do that, we will be a better, stronger country than before. The longer we put it off, the worse the coming crash and depression will be, and the longer it will take to recover.

And, if a miracle intervenes - or if the gloomy predictions of Roubini, Schiff, and others are wrong - and the hurricane drifts safely away from our shores and peters out in the middle of the ocean, you have lost nothing. In fact, by getting rid of debt, saving, and being more frugal, you will only elevate your standard of living, and in the long run, will contribute to the financial well-being of our country. If you love your country, making the sacrifice of frugality is a better way to show your patriotism than a bumper sticker or flag lapel pin.

Regardless of what happens, being prepared for "the big one" is good stewardship and will give you peace of mind if and when we do get pounded.

Sermon: Reformation Day (transferred)

26 October 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 8:31-36 (Rom 3:19-28)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Truth is powerful. It frees us from the slavery of sin. It liberates us from ignorance. It protects us from the malicious intentions of the devil, who is the father of lies.

The word “truth” appears in Scripture over 200 times. Telling the truth is one of the Ten Commandments. And our Lord often emphasized his own truthfulness by saying “Truly, truly I say to you” (literally: “Amen, Amen”). And our Lord Himself also says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” When Pontius Pilate looked the Truth in the face and asked “What is truth?” our Lord did not answer him – at least not in words. For some truths are indeed self-evident.

But truth is also dangerous. Evil cannot abide the truth, and is at war against the truth. For the truth is more than something that is factually correct or mathematically in balance. Truth is reality, and reality is this: Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, who has come into the world for one reason – to extinguish the father of lies forever. The Truth and the Lie have been locked in mortal combat for millennia, and will be until the last lie is hurled into the Lake of Fire along with Satan and his hordes.

Saints throughout history have incurred the wrath of Satan for speaking the truth.

A French girl named Joan was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake in 1431. In 1455, her conviction was overturned, and she was considered a martyr. Finally, in 1920, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church declared St. Joan of Arc to be a canonized saint.

Some truths whisper for centuries in order to finally be heard above the roaring lies of the devil.

Reformation Day commemorates a rather ordinary event in 1517 – a professor putting up a notice in Latin to other professors seeking academic debate. But this professor was also a priest, and the topic involved a controversial practice of the Church. Martin Luther told the truth about corruption in the Church of his day. And like any whistleblower working for powerful bosses, his life was never easy after that point.

The matter under consideration was important. It was the nature of the Gospel and God’s grace. Can the forgiveness of sins be sold as a commodity? Can it be earned by good works? How does faith fit into the picture? The Blessed Reformer told the truth by repeating the same truth that was said a thousand years earlier by St. Augustine. Dr. Luther not only stuck to the truth that St. Paul spoke anew to us in the Letter to the Romans, that we are indeed “justified freely by His grace,”, he also held to the truth of the ancient Roman Catholic confession, so beautifully articulated by St. Augustine, that we can’t buy or earn salvation – for it is a gift of God.

The beautiful thing about the truth is that, unlike the lie, you don’t have to invent it. And having told it, you don’t have to “manage” it. For once you know the truth, you can simply repeat it: one time, ten times, a thousand times. As Mark Twain once quipped: “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”

By contrast, the lie requires an army of lies to back up the original lie. Eventually, the tangled web ensnares the liar, even as the devil’s lies brought about the wrath of the Son of God, who crushed Satan’s serpentine head from the cross. As we sing in a popular Easter hymn: “Let truth stamp out the lie.” The “stamping out” calls to mind God’s promise in the Garden of Eden that the “Seed of the woman” would vindicate mankind by crushing the serpent’s head. And though the Serpent indeed struck the heel of the Truth made flesh, and though telling the truth will always cause us to suffer the hatred of the devil, ultimately, truth always prevails. The lie cannot hold off the truth forever.

Reformation Day is a great celebration for us Lutherans. Our ancestors in the faith courageously spoke the truth to power. And as a result, many things changed. Even in churches that rejected most of Luther’s reforms, we saw a cleaning up of corruption. And in those churches that embraced Luther’s reforms, the Gospel rang out once again in the language of the people, the practice of selling the forgiveness of sins was rejected, and the preaching of the Gospel was restored to its ancient and rightful place as a means to God’s free grace.

In spite of all that we have to celebrate – including 500 years of magnificent Lutheran music and hymnody, rigorous theology, gospel-centered preaching, the retention of the reverence of the Mass and the confession that Jesus is physically present in His Supper, the upholding of the power of baptism, and a long line of heroes within our tradition, lay and clergy alike – our joy is tempered by sadness that Luther and his contemporaries left behind a shattered and splintered Church. The “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” is out of communion with itself, and has been so for centuries.

However, even as St. Joan of Arc waited 500 years for the Church to formally recognize her as a saint, even as truth cannot be suppressed forever, we have seen many of the breaches between the churches move toward healing – even if ever so slowly. Today, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church speaks respectfully of Martin Luther, even citing him favorably in some instances. In the 1960s, a good many of the Reforms instituted by those early Lutherans were also instituted in Rome. And today, Lutherans are far more likely to rejoice in their common heritage with Roman Catholics than in the dark and shameful earlier times of bigotry and blind hatred.

The best and greatest contribution we Lutherans can make to the Church at large is our stubborn clinging to the evangelical truth that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,” that He is the Truth, the exclusive Truth, the only way to the Father. It is “by His stripes that we are healed.” We have no new truths to offer, just the same truths which were already ancient in Luther’s day: the truth of the Gospel, the Good News of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, the cross, the resurrection, and the free grace of God. We must hold fast to this truth come hell or high water, we must whisper it in private and shout it from the rooftops. We must be prepared to bear the cross of the scorn of a culture that will not listen to the truth. And we must cling to the promise of God that the Church, in her confession of this truth, will even withstand the gates of hell.

Words, in and of themselves, even if they are true, are just some ink on a paper or a vibration of air. Sometimes they are barely legible or can hardly be heard. However, the power of words is not in appearances, but in their veracity, their truthfulness. For there is power in truth. And “the” Truth, the Word made flesh, “by whom all things were made” – is a powerful Word, a “strong Word” that not only “cleaves the darkness” but also “bespeaks us righteous.”

God’s Word never returns void. God’s Word is a two-edged sword that delivers the mortal blow of Truth against Satan, the father of lies. For indeed, as Luther’s hymn – sung today even in churches that once declared him to be a heretic – truly confesses regarding our Lord’s victory over the devil, it is indeed the Truth of the Word of God that: “one little Word can fell him.” Amen.

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

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Back to the Future (or Who Will Reform the Reformers?)

"It's like rain on your wedding day..."

Isn't it ironic that in the week leading up to Reformation Day, I get an offer from CPH that serves as a reminder of why we had a Reformation in the first place? It's an ad for an "integrated resource kit" for Lent and Easter.

For $26.99 (not $27, mind you), I can purchase a "preparation kit" that includes "sermons, Bible Studies, [and] Children's Messages." So, a Missouri Synod pastor can buy what is essentially a turn-key kit that includes "nine sermon studies and sermons." Why agonize over biblical texts (especially in their original languages), prayerfully applying them to your specific flock, trusting in the Holy Spirit's guidance as you wrestle with the Scriptures - when instead, for $26.99 (not even $27...) you can just buy a one-size-fits-all kit and "plug and chug" - badda bing, badda boom! No fuss, no muss, leave the preaching to us.

Come on, guys! We're talking sermons. CPH is selling cookie-cutter sermons. I can buy a whole series of sermons for all of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. I find this so disturbing as to border on obscenity. Obviously, we could all just plagiarize off the internet anyway, but CPH is actually blessing such dishonesty and making money on the deal.

We Lutherans hold preaching in the highest regard. Sermons are actually a "means of grace," that is, they are efficacious unto the forgiveness of sins*. Sermons are essentially sacraments without a physical element (other than the vibrations of air that transmit the Word of God from the preacher to the hearer). So, CPH, along with the bobbleheads and NFL Bible covers, is selling the forgiveness of sins. "When the coin in the coffer rings, the balance sheet of CPH ka-chings!"

Any pastor who buys his sermons needs to be defrocked. This isn't a collection of sermons for study and reflection. These are not intended for personal meditation, or even homiletical analysis for preachers. This is a "kit" designed to take away the added labor we pastors have at certain times of the year. This is really bad.

I had a pastor long ago who actually bought his sermons from Creative Communications for the Parish - and preached them word-for-word. A parishioner found out about it, and actually had the pastor's text in his hands as the pastor preached it. The man bought canned sermons! This is utterly dishonest and shameful. If you can't preach, you have no business in the office of the ministry (German: Predigtamt: "preaching office").

This is yet another effect of our reckless move toward untrained ministers, the devaluation of ordination, and the lowering of the intellectual and academic bar for our pastors and those training for pastoral ministry. Preaching is increasingly taking a back seat to marketing and entertainment. And with the new Specific Ministry Program, we will literally have LCMS "instant vicars" in the pulpit never having taken a single course in homiletics.

Of course, we already have laymen who haven't taken a single seminary class in pulpits (and altars) - with the full blessing of pastors and district presidents. Hopefully, we won't start preparing airline pilots and brain surgeons the same way.

CPH is like the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities - reflecting the best of our synod and the worst of our synod. CPH hit home runs with Lutheran Service Book and its related materials for providing pastoral care. CPH has also recently published translations of outstanding devotional material by Bo Giertz. CPH is working to add many volumes to the American Edition of Luther's Works. And then there is the soon-to-be-released Treasury of Daily Prayer. All of these are top-notch works of Christian scholarship and piety.

But the bad news is that we, like the Church of Luther's day, are also a seller of trinkets and baubles, and now, merchants of the means of grace - spoon-feeding unqualified "pastors" with ready-to-go sermons and "bible studies" so they don't have to roll up their sleeves and do the heavy lifting.

Ecclesia semper reformanda est.

* "The proclamation of the Gospel produces faith in those who accept it" (Ap 24:32), "God the Holy Spirit, however, does not effect conversion without means; he employs to this end the preaching and the hearing of God's Word" (FC Ep 2:4), "the power and the operation of the Holy Spirit, who through the Word preached and heard illuminates and converts hearts so that men believe" (FC SD 2:55),

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Boiling the Frog (or Countdown to Women Pastors in the LCMS)

An LCMS deaconess (and LCMS pastor's wife) who serves as a DCE (Director of Christian Education) in Florida, has served as a chaplain for many years at Baptist Health in Miami. She has just gotten certified by the Association of Professional Chaplains, which, in her own words, will "enable [her] to do the work of mercy providing pastoral care and spiritual support to those that God puts under [her] care."

Did you all catch that business about "pastoral care."

Is it just me, or did all you other frogs just feel the water warm up a little bit? I guess this isn't our Grandmothers' Church anymore either.

You can read the "official" district article here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Socialism for the Rich

Sermon: Trinity 22

19 October 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 18:21-35 (Mic 6:6-8)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. What a disturbing story our Lord tells! Can you imagine a more despicable character than this “unforgiving servant”? This parable reads like a Stephen King short story, a horrific tale of evil with a twist in the plot. At first, the parable sounds like a Hallmark card, like a beautiful story of redemption. Our main character, a slave, is so far in debt that he could never pay his way out. He is to be sold. His family is to be broken up. He pleads with his master for patience. He begs for more time to pay his debt.

And then a beautiful thing happens. The master, “moved with compassion,” not only grants the request for patience, but goes a step further and cancels the begging servant’s debt. His wife and children will remain with him. He no longer has this burden looming over him. Can you just imagine the exhilaration this servant must feel to have such a load lifted from his shoulders? Like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, he must feel like a new man. Surely, he is filled with gratitude that will bubble over into every facet of his life from this life-changing day forward.

And so what happens?

The servant finds a fellow servant who owes him a tiny sum. One can only imagine that the result is going to be that the servant will forgive the debt as he has been forgiven as a debtor. Here is his opportunity to display the same nobility and grace as his master.

But here is the twisted twist in the plot. To paraphrase Avril Lavigne – “so much for our happy ending.”

Instead, our main character grabs the one who owes him a small debt by the throat and threatens him. He then has him sent to debtor’s prison.

This matter comes to the attention of the master – who is less than impressed. His gracious offer of full forgiveness is revoked (more accurately, the master realizes that the wicked servant has rejected the master’s grace). And it is this servant who is sent to prison, suffering the same fate he wished upon his fellow servant and debtor.

At the end of this short thriller we don’t hear the voice of Rod Serling narrating the moral of the story, but rather our Lord Jesus, who explains: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Our Lord isn’t just telling a story for the sake of entertainment. Rather He is teaching us about God’s kingdom. Perhaps more specifically, He is teaching us about ourselves. For Jesus isn’t telling this story to the Godless Romans nor to the self-righteous Pharisees. To the contrary, He tells this story in response to a question about forgiveness asked by St. Peter, the one whom Jesus would call “the Rock” because of His steadfast confession of Jesus’s divinity. This is the same Peter who has written two of the books of the New Testament, who was the first leader of the Christian Church, the first Bishop of Rome who was martyred by crucifixion for the sake of the Gospel. It is to the Apostle Peter that Jesus gives this warning not to take the grace of God for granted, never to lose sight of our own debts that have been cancelled by our master. We, the redeemed of God, must never become too conceited to forgive those who trespass against us.

For that, indeed, is how we are. This terrible character from Jesus’s parable is not some nightmarish lunatic fringe from the recesses of a horror-writer’s imagination – it is a sadly accurate picture of all of us!

We are all too quick to take grace for granted and too slow to forgive. We are all too eager for others to overlook our faults and foibles, while demanding an accounting for every slight against us, real or perceived. We have been so corrupted by sin that we resist applying this description of hypocrisy and wickedness to ourselves – but deep down inside, we all know it’s absolutely true.

“We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

Nor do we heed the prophetic Word revealed to Micah: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; / And what does the LORD require of you / But to do justly, / To love mercy, / And to walk humbly with your God?” The Lord doesn’t want our sacrifices. For the Lord Himself has provided the “all availing sacrifice.” That’s the point. We are the recipients of the grace of that sacrifice of “His only begotten Son on the cross,” the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” We have no reason to boast, no claim to credit. We are nothing more than unworthy servants of our master, men who have been released of all of our debts – not because we have deserved it, but rather because our Master is merciful.

And so what does the Lord require of us? Mercy. Just and humble mercy. Our Lord has forgiven us our own debts of tens of thousands of talents, a sum of sins and offenses that would have landed us in hell many times over but for the grace and mercy of God. But what do we do? We demand settlement of a few hundred denarii in spite of the mercy shown to us.

Is it any wonder why we repeat again and again in our liturgy and in our prayers: “Lord, have mercy”?

It should cut us to the quick, brothers and sisters, that we are the “unforgiving servants” in the Lord’s parable. And it should drive us to the cross, to the blood of Christ, to our Redeemer-Master Himself. We must repent of our callous, unloving hypocrisy. We must plead with our Master to give us the gift of being able to forgive our brother seventy times seven times, and to do so from our hearts. And even that forgiving heart is something we can only have purely by God’s grace and mercy.

We have been forgiven! We have been forgiven of everything! The gates of heaven are open wide to us. What could we possibly to with the meager debts that are owed to us even if we were genuinely wronged? Surely, to a billionaire, an IOU for a penny is not worth the effort to enforce.

This is our Lord’s lesson in this parable, dear friends. And it is an important lesson. And if we harden our hearts to it, we are doing nothing but resisting the Lord’s grace, and defying him to condemn us.

You have been baptized, redeemed, and sanctified. You have been forgiven all your sins. You have been privileged to be here today to hear the Word of God, the Gospel of our Lord’s forgiveness and mercy. You are heirs of eternal life. What a source of joy! And what a way to live out this joy given to us by Christ Jesus than by sharing that joy with others by forgiving them of their sins against us. That, dear brothers and sisters, fellow redeemed people in Christ, is the true joy of the Christian life, a joy that will be with us, the forgiven who have been taught to forgive, both now and unto eternity! Amen.

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

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A sobering report on Afghanistan

The presidential campaigns of both major parties are talking about increasing American involvement in Afghanistan, especially in the form of a "surge" of military personnel.

Of course, it may just be the usual pre-election "American can-do" patriotic muscle-flexing and poll-driven red-white-and-blue saber-rattling. But before the U.S. government decides to get into Afghanistan deeper (we're already in pretty deep as it is), whoever wins this election needs to consider the very real unintended consequences of American involvement so far (especially regarding the populist spread of the Taliban) as well as the military complexities of trying to escalate guerrilla war in this mountainous country that brought the USSR to its knees.

It is especially of concern now given the current economic crisis. There is no doubt that some in Washington see the solution to a sagging economy as going into a wartime production mode (based on the myth that World War II solved the Great Depression). My concern is that the federal government might see Afghan escalation as a "solution" to the malaise on Wall Street as well as a way of avoiding the impression of military "weakness" and the appearance of "palling around" with terrorists.

Read it here.

Sermon: Trinity 21

Image of John 1 ("In the beginning was the Word...") in Greek as posted here.

12 October 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 4:46-54 (Gen 1:1-2:3, Eph 6:10-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

On first glance, today’s readings from the Word of God have nothing in common with one another. It’s like the fathers of the Church just pulled out a few things at random: the creation account according to Moses, St. Paul’s poetic description of putting on the armor of God, and a healing miracle of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded by the Apostle John.

But, dear brothers and sisters, these readings have everything in common. Though separated by centuries, Moses, Paul, and John have one thing in common in these passages of the Word of God, and that is: the Word of God itself.

Notice what the Word of God is teaching us about the Word of God!

In the Genesis account, we are told that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” His creation was not just a crafting of pre-existent matter, but a true creation, a making of something out of nothing in the way that only God could do. And this very same Creator God revealed to His servant Moses that this creation was through His Word: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The words “God said” appear ten times in the first chapter of Genesis. For God creates through His spoken Word.

God’s Word is not like our words – words which are only vibrating air that may or may not reflect truth. Our words, at best can only describe reality. But the Word of God has creative power. “God said… and there was…”

All creation exists through God’s Word. And this has been revealed to us through that same powerful Word.

The Word of God is not just information. God’s Word isn’t there just to answer our scientific curiosity. For as God’s Word, as recorded in St. Paul’ letter to the Ephesians proclaims: the Word of God is “the sword of the Spirit” – the very same Spirit that hovered over the waters in the beginning as the Word of God was calling all things into being. The Word of God is not only the agent of creation, it is our defense against our enemies.

This sword of the Spirit, which has come to be the symbol of St. Paul in Christian art, often called by its ancient name, the Gladius Spiritus, is the only weapon we have been given to wield against the devil. Indeed, even our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Word made flesh, parried the blows of the devil with the Word of God of Scripture, thrusting and stabbing with it, ultimately slaying the devil with the Sword of His Word, uttering the powerful words: “It is finished” from the cross as he delivered the mortal blow upon the serpent.

Even as we pray “deliver us from evil,” it is the Lord Himself who delivers us through His Word, the Word that is to be on our minds, hearts, and lips, the mighty Word that creates us and defends us, the Word of the Spirit, the Word made flesh.

As John the Apostle proclaims: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

But the Word of God is not finished with us yet! The Word doesn’t merely create us out of nothing and provide us with a weapon to wield against the devil, there is much more indeed.

The Word made flesh Himself, the Word who used His Word as a sword against the devil, uses His Word to heal, to beat back death, and to fulfill the promise to make all things new.

While our Lord is scolding the people of Galilee for their lack of faith, for their desire to see signs and wonders, He encounters a nobleman whose son was ill. He pleads with Jesus, which is to say, he prays: “Sir, come down before my child dies!” This nobleman was not there for a show. He wasn’t looking for signs and wonders. Rather he was a concerned father, whose love for his son impelled him to find help where it may be found. He was not driven by curiosity and the desire to be entertained – but rather by paternal love. It was this man’s desire to see his son overcome death. And this is something our loving Father in heaven certainly understands.

Death is knocking at the nobleman’s door, seeking to take away his son.

But if you recall from our Genesis account, there is no mention of death. Death was not part of the original plan of creation. Death is the result of what our ancestors did, and what we continually do. And that is sin. We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. And like the nobleman, all we can do is pray to Jesus for healing, that we may be spared the “temporal and eternal punishment” we have “justly deserved.” Like the nobleman, we ask for the Lord’s grace and mercy: “Help, save, comfort, and defend us, gracious Lord!”

In the case of the nobleman, the Lord granted his prayer, and then some, as our Lord Jesus Christ pronounces: “Go your way; your son lives.” And St. John continues his account:

So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!” Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household.

Behold the miracle through the Word of Jesus – not only the physical healing of his son, but the miraculous conversion through faith in that Word of “his whole household.”

The Word of God not only heals, not only beats back death and conquers the grave, the Word of God creates faith, and as the sword of the Spirit, the Word defeats the lies of the devil and wins people to the truth of the Gospel.

And so here we are, dear friends, praying to the Word made flesh whose sacrifice in the flesh takes away our sins, strikes a mortal blow against Satan, and reverses the ravages of death itself. Like the nobleman, we aren’t here for signs and wonders, but rather because we have a need, and we know that the Word of God delivers. Like the nobleman, we stand before our Master and plead: “be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.”

And like the nobleman, we hear a word of promise from the Word Himself – this time pronounced by a “called and ordained servant of the Word,” announcing the grace of God to us all, and by the Lord’s command, saying: “I forgive you all your sins.”

And that Word is the same Word that healed the nobleman’s son and brought salvation to that entire family. The Word of God is mighty. It creates all things. It defends us against every evil. It brings the sick to health, the dead to life, and the sinful to pardon. The Word of God brings us into Holy Communion with the very Creator and Father of the Word Himself, who through the Sword of the Spirit gives us everlasting life.

Dear brothers and sisters, the nobleman did not come to Jesus looking for a sign, but he got one anyway. He received the miraculous sign confirming the work and Word of God.

He was given what he asked for – and more.

We too are given much more than signs, much more than simply the things for which we ask. We are given healing – just as the nobleman’s son was. We are given victory over “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness.” We are given faith in the Word of God that He keeps His promises. We are given forgiveness and life and salvation. And all of this is given to us by the Word – the Word made flesh, the Word through which all things were made, the Word of God that is the sword of the Spirit.

Once again, hear the Word of the Lord. “I forgive you all your sins…”

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

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Politicians Can't Read (or: We Were Warned)

Check out this quote:

"Government-guaranteed home mortgages, especially when a negligible down payment or no down payment whatever is required, inevitably mean more bad loans than otherwise. They force the general taxpayer to subsidize the bad risks and to defray the losses. They encourage people to 'buy' houses that they cannot really afford. They tend eventually bring about an oversupply of houses as compared with other things. They temporarily overstimulate building, raise the cost of building for everybody (including the buyers of the homes with the guaranteed mortgages), and may mislead the building industry into an eventually costly overexpansion. In brief, in the long run they do not increase overall national production but encourage malinvestment."

So, who said this, and when? John McCain? Barack Obama? Ha! If only...

This was written in 1946 (!) by a conservative journalist and economist of the Austrian school, Henry Hazlitt in his seminal work Economics in One Lesson. Hazlitt is credited with bringing the free-market economic theory of Ludwig von Mises to the English speaking world.

We were warned more than sixty years before the current meltdown.

The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the current worldwide economic meltdown, anyone who considers the vocation of citizen to be a God-given station in life, anyone who believes in the concept of being good stewards with the "talents" entrusted to us. It should be a "must read" for anyone serving in national politics.

But at this point, if we could get your average congressman, senator, Fed chairman, president, former president, or candidate for president or vice president up to the level of reading Green Eggs and Ham we would be moving in the right literary direction.

Normally, I would want to see people serving in government to be brighter than those of us who elect them. But given the hole the politicians have dug us into, the only way to even begin climbing our way out will require us to be smarter and better educated than the Washington ruling bureaucracy.

The good news is that's not much of a stretch right now.

If you haven't read Economics in One Lesson, you might want to do so. You can order the latest edition here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sermon: Funeral of Ronald Richoux

Funeral of Ronald Richoux
Friday of Trinity 20

10 October 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 22:1-14 (Isa 55:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Jean, June, Jason, Matthew, Mark, Liz, grandchildren, those related by marriage, all family members, brothers and sisters in Christ, and friends - the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

There are times when every father must do something unpopular, something his children do not understand. But fathers who love their children will do what is best for them regardless. It is up to the sons and daughters to put their faith in their father that “father knows best.”

Our dear brother in Christ Ronald Richoux certainly knew this – as do all of us blessed to have the title “father.” And so does the One to whom we pray: “Our Father who art in heaven.” For listen again to the Word of God: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

In times like this, we are tempted to ask “Why?” Why was our husband, brother, father, grandfather, friend, and parishioner taken from us? Why did he suffer illness? Why him? Why now? But our heavenly Father doesn’t answer such questions. Instead, He replies: “My ways are not your ways.” And there is great comfort here, dear brothers and sisters. For God is in control. He is all powerful and knows all things. But God is not just some capricious force of nature. He is our loving Father who cares for us and who knows what is best for us. Even though we don’t understand God’s plan, there is a plan.

Nothing is by accident.

Ronald passed from this life on the same date as his sister. And what a merciful statement of family solidarity our Lord, who is in command of all things, makes to us! Ronald breathed his last on this side of the grave on a Sunday – the day when his family would always gather as a family, in love for each other. Sunday is also the “family day” of the Christian Church, a weekly reminder of our Lord’s resurrection, a feast of thanksgiving in the Holy Eucharist, in which we have communion with our Heavenly Father by the forgiveness of our sins. Even the readings for today are the Church’s assigned passages of Scripture for last Sunday – and how appropriate they are!

We don’t know why Ronald was called home when we weren’t finished with him here. But God’s ways are indeed not our ways. His plan is not our plan – but there is a divine plan at work. Ronald’s mission is now complete, his reason for being with us in this “valley of tears” is over. He has been permitted to leave behind this fallen world of sin, sickness, and death, to be called into the marvelous light of paradise with the angels and archangels, with all the faithful departed, and with the Holy Trinity, to await the resurrection of the flesh, in anticipation of all of us joining him on that glorious day in which we too will find our rest.

We may never know for sure what God’s plan was for Ronald. Those details may well remain hidden from us. But we do know a few things he was created to do. Ronald Richoux was created to be Jean’s loving and devoted husband of 43 years. He was created to father a large, loving, close-knit family. He was created to be an example of manhood to his sons and to teach his daughter what to look for in a husband. He was given the gift of appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation, the gift of a dry sense of humor, the gift of many friends. But most of all, he was given the greatest of all gifts – eternal life, freely given to him through Holy Baptism, nurtured through Holy Absolution and the preaching of the Holy Gospel. He was strengthened in his faith through participation in Holy Communion.

Through these gifts, Ronald Richoux received faith – a real, flesh and blood faith that gave him the courage to look death in the eye and not be overcome. Through these gifts, Ronald’s sins were forgiven, and the ancient curse of our ancestors that separated us from God had been lifted. Through these gifts, Ronald was prepared for this day – the day his body will be laid in a tomb to await the glorious resurrection promised by our Lord, a promise Ronald believed without wavering, a promise that comforts us today.

In our Gospel, our Lord tells the story of a wedding feast. The king withholds nothing from those who are invited – a royal feast, a wedding banquet, the privilege to eat at the table with the king. But some were too busy. Some had other priorities. They had lost faith in their king, and now served themselves instead. In their selfishness, they squandered the invitation, and the king found others to invite to this feast – the good and the bad, the poor, the sinners and tax collectors, the imperfect, the hurting, and those burdened with guilt. In other words, all of us “poor miserable sinners” have been invited to the Lord’s Table. We are worthy not because of ourselves, but because the King has called us, and has chosen us. The king provides us with a wedding garment to wear, signifying that we are indeed worthy. This wedding garment was given to us when we became His dear children at baptism.

In the story, the king finds an impostor at this feast – a man without a wedding garment on. He is thrown out. For many are called, but few are chosen.

Like all those who believe and are baptized, like all those who commune with the Lord, hearing His Word proclaimed, those who know the voice of the Good Shepherd and are indeed His sheep – Ronald Richoux wears the baptismal wedding garment that is the gift of the King! Ronald is worthy and sits at the table, feasting with the Lord, “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven”! And in this Holy Communion, we partake of the same Christ whose face Ronald now sees. In this Sacrament, we not only feast upon the Lamb who takes away all our sin, we feast with all others like us, those whose sins have been taken away by the same Lamb, all our departed brothers and sisters in Christ. They are all here with us! For where Jesus is, there is Ronald Richoux. Where the body and blood of Jesus are, there you are sure to find the Lord’s servants who are now at rest.

Good fathers must make unpopular decisions – and that is why we respect them so. They don’t act just to make us happy in the short term, they do whatever it takes to protect us, nourish us, make us into the men and women we have been created to be, and do whatever is best for us.

Our earthly fathers – as imperfect as they all are – are snapshots of the Fatherhood of God.

We do not always understand the will of our heavenly Father, but we always know that our Father loves us, takes away our sins by the blood of His only begotten Son, and that it is His will that we join in His Son’s victory over sin and death, a victory that gives Ronald and all the saints, everlasting life.

Indeed, “father knows best,” and “our Father who art in Heaven” knows best. We rejoice in the love of fathers, and in the “Father’s Love Begotten” in Christ Jesus that has brought Ronald Richoux victory over the grave and everlasting life! Amen.

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

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I've Been Tagged!

I was tagged! by the Scottish Lutheran, Rev. Mike Keith, a really solid traditionalist Lutheran pastor from Ft. Qu'Appelle, SK. And if you don't now what state SK is, you'll have to look it up youself. :-)

Anyway, this is the question as tweaked by Pastor Keith's tagger, Rev. William Weedon:

What five people - past or present - inspire your spiritual life??Hmmm...OK, we know that our Lord Himself has to be at the top of the list, so He is assumed. Your five simply follow Him. In Lutheran circles, we will also presume "Fr. Martin of Wittenberg" as well. :-)So the five would be additional people who (humanly speaking) have greatly impacted your life of faith and love on this earth.

This is a really great question, and I'm going to narrow my list to the following (with, of course, my own "honorable mention" list following this numbered list). Numbers 1-3 are people with whom I had personal contact, while 4 and 5 are obviously known to me only through their writing.

1) Rev. Alvin Boehlke - a humble, soft-spoken now retired LCMS pastor who catechized and baptized me in 1982, and who preached Law and Gospel and fed me with the Holy Sacrament while I was under his pastoral care for some five years. When I first met him and asked what Lutherans believe, he handed me a copy of the Augsburg Confession - which I still have and keep in my office at church 26 years later.

2) Rev. Dr. David Scaer - The legendary (and bombastic) seminary professor at CTS Fort Wayne who teaches the faith and specializes in the Scriptures with integrity, panache, and wit. In spite of his gruff persona and abrasive classroom shtick, he is a true gentleman, churchman, intellectual, and pastor. He always makes his students think, and challenges them to do so sacramentally and christologically.

3) Rev. Prof. Kurt Marquart - The now sainted genius professor who taught the Lutheran Confessions (among other interesting and unique classes, such as Apologetics) at CTS Fort Wayne. Aristocratic in bearing, devout in faith, articulate in discourse, and yet genuinely humble and ever ready to help anyone in need, he was completely fluent in several languages and was gifted in rhetoric. He brought a kindness and warmth to his teaching, which was always designed to make the material accessible to his students - no matter how difficult the subject matter. He was a true gentleman, churchman, scholar, educator, and above all, a genuine pastor.

4) St. Polycarp of Smyrna, Bishop and Martyr - An apostolic father and churchman called the "most significant figure for our times" by Rev. Dr. John Stephenson. St. Polycarp was the link between the Apostle John and St. Irenaeus. He was martyred at age 84, after refusing to renounce his Lord. He was a humble, and yet courageous bishop whose writing clearly demonstrated that the Scriptures were constantly on his mind and lips, both as a Christian, and in his ministry as a bishop. His steadfastness to the Lord and His Church in the face of a hostile culture remains an inspiration today, as do his episcopal and fatherly exhortations from his Epistle to the Philippians.

5) Rev. Dr. Arthur C. Piepkorn, Confessor - Now sainted professor at CS St. Louis, a churchman, historian, beloved professor, and theologian par excellence. He had a keen understanding of Lutheranism not as an "ism" but rather as a living Evangelical tradition within Catholicism. His writings continue to shape the ongoing movement toward a more historical ecclesiology and appreciation of liturgy, sacraments, and the ordained priesthood among Lutherans. He was the face of Lutheranism in ecumenical dialogue for decades - especially among the Roman Catholic theologians who held him in high esteem.

I do have a list of honorable mentions (in no particular order):

Rev. Dr. Fred Baue
- my former pastor who planted the seed of my going to seminary.
Mrs. Mamie Hustead
- my late Baptist great-grandmother whose devotion to the Gospel and the Holy Scriptures were greatly inspiring.
Mrs. Patricia Beane
- my late mother who read Scripture to me from my earliest days.
Rev. Dr. Peter Scaer
- friend and CTS Fort Wayne professor who taught me Greek.
Mr. Rick Bowman - my childhood friend who invited me to attend church with him.
Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt
- publisher of Gottesdienst and brilliant writer/theologian.
Rev. Subdeacon Latif Gab
a - one of my oldest friends from seminary, a former classmate, whose deep theological insights are always a joy to read and discuss.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Bo Giertz, Bishop and Confessor - sainted author of Hammer of God, former atheist who became Sweden's youngest bishop, an advocate of the liturgy, pastoral care, and the authority of Scripture, defender of the male pastorate and leader of the confessional resistance in Sweden.
Dr. C.S. Lewis - Author, lay theologian, literature professor, convert from atheism, genius.
Rev. Kantor Richard Resch - professor at CTS Fort Wayne - taught me more about church music than any other person, and allowed me to sing with the Seminary Kantorei.
Rev. Jim King, S.J. - Jesuit priest, my first Theology instructor at Walsh Jesuit High School.
Rev. Dr. William Weinrich - brilliant historical theologian and professor at CTS Fort Wayne.
Rev. Douglas Punke - who ordained me into the presbyterate.

I'm sure I'll think of others, and I'll add them as they pop into my mind.

Thanks, Mike, for tagging me, and I hope you'll forgive my tardiness.

Okay, now I guess I get to tag some folks.

How about: Peter Scaer (who as far as I now, doesn't blog, but he is free to post his answers as a comment to this post), Piotr Malysz, Past Elder, and Latif Gaba.

Your Bailout Dollars at Work

The folks at AIG are enjoying their $85,000,000,000 "bailout."

Check out this invoice of how they spent $440,000 of that money within a few days sending executives to a corporate retreat at a swanky California resort.

It was really nice of them (meaning "us") to throw in the $23,000 worth of spa treatments. Why, those poor suits were so stressed out by all of this, what else was there to do? What inhumane and uncaring soul would deny these poor people such basic human necessities as: "catered banquets, golf outings and visits to the resort's spa and salon"? Are these not the birthright of every American?

But the least they could do is send me one of the mints on their pillows. I don't know about you, but I didn't even get a "thank you" card. But maybe that's their way of being responsible and frugal with the taxpayer's money. Those stamps have really gone up.

Had enough yet?

More Pearls of Wisdom from our District

On Partnership (October 7, 2008):

"Stephen Ministries cites the quiet yet significant shift in leadership - from the star leader to the builder leader. They point out that successful, enduring organizations have leaders who empower people to share ownership of a dynamic mission and work synergistically to succeed. So do not try to do it alone! Develop partnerships and teams at the local level! Ministries strive when people are more devoted to the mission than to the leader of the organization."

I believe this paragraph is illustrative that there is an "ecclesiology gap" between the dominant culture of the LCMS and the traditional worldview of the Church Catholic.

The Christian Church is, by definition, the most "enduring organization" in history. She has survived persecution, political turmoil, heavy-handed leadership, infighting, schism, heresy, cultural shifts, liturgical butchery, musical inanity, and even the Ablaze!(tm) program. Not even the gates of hell will prevail against her. She is eternal. And yet her survival is not "synergistic" (nor based on "shared ownership"), but monergistic (rooted in divine grace).

And this most enduring organization of all thrives best when people are more devoted to the Leader of the organization, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, than they are to some bureaucratic organizational mission.

Political Discourse

I didn't watch the latest McCain-Obama debate - though the universal consensus I'm hearing from the press, from colleagues, and from across the political spectrum is disappointment. One area of common ground among Democrats and Republicans is the mutual dissatisfaction with today's political discourse.

Nobody will answer a direct question! No one will simply let his 'yes' be 'yes' and his 'no', 'no'. It used to be that a skilled rhetorician could answer a question and yet "steer" his answer smoothly in a direction of his choosing. But today, rhetorical smoothness has been replaced by the sudden jerkiness of the sound byte. Intelligent discussion has been supplanted by the parroting of "talking points". Questions are now just blatantly ignored. It has almost gotten to the point where a "debate" might include the question: "What is two plus two?" and the answer: "my opponent is a jerk."

I believe this disappointing performance of the top echelon of the candidates reflects a "dumbing down" of politicians overall. There are exceptions, of course, but the brightest and best as a rule don't serve in government. Instead, we get the slick, the connected, the wealthy, the image-salesman, the one with a quip, the one who tells people what their itching ears want to hear - with no regard for truthfulness.

Our politicians have become laughingstocks and buffoons.

This election cycle is no different than any other (though perhaps worse in magnitude) - we are besieged by career politicians doing the bidding of lobbyists and handlers - all pulled by the strings of focus groups, strategists, and party bosses.

That is not leadership, but marketing.

The uncanny resemblance Sarah Palin has to Tina Fey invites Fey's comedic timing and imagination to perfectly spoof this reality. The above video shows that Fey's "comedic" rambling shtick is virtually identical to Palin's "serious" rambling discourse. Think about it - there is an increasingly blurry line between Saturday Night Live and the Federal government.

The United States is quickly becoming a parody of itself. Statesmanship is all but dead. And on that, it seems that Republicans and Democrats have a lot of agreement.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Post-Church Era?

Here is a quote from an official dispatch from my District (which is the LCMS's version of a "diocese"). This was written by one of the lay district officials.

"Many persons no longer come to the church to "join" the church. This is especially true for the younger generations. However, even the more mature will choose to support the ministries and participate with time and monetary support but reluctant about joining and what that means. For years, we have approached it with a mentality of believing like us, behaving like us, and then eventually belonging to the congregation. This was true in a church era. However, in this post-church era great significance in placed on belonging before they work on the instructional classes (catechesis)."

I find the words "Post-Church Era" to be disturbing. I think Scripture is clear: the Church is an eternal entity. And while the culture is increasingly hostile to the Bride of Christ - especially the more the Church clings to ecclesiastical traditions that the world finds repugnant - we have the Lord's promise: "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt 16:18).

The word "post-church" is an oxymoron to the believer. Such language is the prattle of secular sociologists. When the Church stops talking like the Church, when she uses the language of something else - like a business in need of a bailout, or a social club in need of a marketing strategy to attract new members - it is indicative that she no longer sees herself as the supenatural bride of a supernatural God - but rather just another organization that can be analyzed and manipulated using the world's methodologies.

Instead of speaking of Christianity in the argot of the atheist analyst (from the perspective of the world) as "post-church", we should be describing the fallen world (from the perspective of Christ and his church) as that which is passing away.

It's little wonder that so many church bureaucrats I run into are wearing phony, forced smiles that cannot hide the lines of worry and despair in their faces, reflecting a lack of faith in the Holy Spirit. And so these middle-aged men try to adopt the faddish lingo of the iPod generation and the secular "youth culture" in a desperate and pathetic bid for "relevance."

I can't help but think of this "lost generation" of "church leadership" when I hear the melancholic strains of Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days." There is nothing so sad and so tragic - especially when the Church's glory days are always in the "eternal present." The Church is around us, before us, behind us, extending back to the Old Testament and forward unto eternity. We are literally surrounded by "angels and archangels and glorious company of heaven" in the Divine Service - if we care to yield to the comfort of the liturgy and truly listen. And at the center of the liturgy and of the Christian life is Jesus Himself, in the flesh - not merely a message to talk about, a tally on a scorecard, but the Godhead made manifest in the flesh and in humble elements given for our consumption and communion.

People who talk the defeatist rhetoric of living in a "post-church" era have truly lost touch with the Gospel. Instead of a catholic and effecacious living faith to impart, they have an obsolete and uncompetitive product to vend - seeking to revive the carcass with marketing gimmicry.

They've traded in their compass for a shiny new GPS - but they're still lost.

Osteen to Help with Bailout!

This Just In from TBNN!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Pierre Cardin Has Lost His Mind

Fashion is often a bellwether for the culture. As the stock market becomes bearish, we are seeing women's wear becoming more conservative and men's suits more classic.

But there are always exceptions, aren't there?

Other than seeing (and enjoying) The Devil Wears Prada, I don't know anything about fashion. I wear black cargo pants from WalMart and ill-fitting clerical shirts from Almy. I realize that I am in no professional position to critique the design of ladies' clothing (though I did a stint as a software consultant at Leslie Fay in Pennsylvania back in the nineties while Arthur Anderson Consulting was calling the shots - and my boss told many of us back then that Anderson was "cooking the books" - an expression I had never heard before - and that people from Arthur Anderson would eventually be in jail).

And I do have an old set of soft luggage with the Pierre Cardin label on it, so I guess that makes me "qualified" to critique the latest offerings (as if!).

But be all that as it may, based on Cardin's latest creations, I think it is safe to say that this is one Frenchman that needs help. He has lost his grip on reality.

I mean, look at this picture! Oh, the humanity!

I really feel bad for this model. Can't you just imagine, the agency tells her she's going to be going on a dramatic, exotic seaside shoot at Theoule-sur-Mer in the South of France for the famous Pierre Cardin? She was probably imagining beautiful gowns, or expensive dresses, or even some kind of flattering casual line or stylish swimware. And professionally, she would be able to include the pictures in her portfolio, show them off to mom and dad, put them on her MySpace, and use them as a jumping-off point to make a bigger splash in her profession.

But look at what actually happened! I think the look on her face says it all.

This is just one step removed from putting on a giant mouse costume at Chuck E. Cheese's. I'm sure the pay was good, and she probably had top-notch travel and accommodations, but let's face it, this outfit is more along the lines of a giant grape in a Fruit of the Loom ad, or Big Fig from the old Fig Newton commercials. As a modeling job, this just doesn't look much different than putting on a chicken suit in front of a Popeyes and handing out flyers for 30 cents off a side dish of your choice.

How can you not just feel terrible for this unfortunate lass?

And does Pierre Cardin actually think real people are going to be running out and buying this? Is he envisioning a futuristic world where we all have personal jet-packs and need to have nylon delta-plane airfoils to fly around? Did he think he was doing the costuming for a production of the Jetsons or a bad Star Trek parody? What is up with those low-slug armholes? Are the tights and boots sold separately? And what exactly is that fin on the top of the head part for? How did the photographer not laugh himself silly?

Goodness, is there any grace and glamor left in this man's head? Maybe it's time for Pierre Cardin to retire and let someone with some connection to reality run his company for him.

Oh la la la la la la la!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 20

5 October 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 22:1-14 (Eph 5:15-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

One of the results of the fall into sin is that we lack balance. God pours out gifts upon us, all by grace, and He bids us to enjoy ourselves. It seems like a pretty simple assignment. But what do we do in our sinful, fallen state? We either stuff ourselves or starve ourselves.

Instead of being content with the gift of wine that, in the words of the Psalmist, “gladdens the heart,” our sinful flesh must be scolded by St. Paul not to be “fools,” not to be “unwise,” and not to be “drunk with wine.” Our flesh is very good at taking a beautiful gift and perverting it through immoderation. It isn’t sufficient to “gladden the heart,” we abuse the Lord’s creation to the point of impaired judgment, brawls, and even sickness. What is a good and noble gift from the Lord is often distorted into a destroyer of hearth and home. And we sinful human beings do this with every good gift of God – not just alcohol.

And then there is the opposite problem. The Lord gives us the gift of joy, the gift of beauty, the gift of grace without limit, and through our own sinful nearsightedness, we refuse to see this glorious grace he has bestowed upon us. To paraphrase Auntie Mame from the old musical: “Life is a banquet, and some poor people are starving to death” (Auntie Mame said it a little more emphatically in a way that wouldn’t be very appropriate from the pulpit).

And the sin of spurning the Lord’s grace is an even greater sin than gluttony. For when we are greedy, selfish, and gluttonous, it’s hard to fool ourselves. We know that we need to repent. But “starving to death” in the face of the Lord’s bountiful goodness can easily be mistaken as an act of holiness. How often we hear in our churches that it is somehow more noble to offer the Banquet of the Lord’s Supper less frequently! This is spiritual starvation in the face of a literally endless table of eternally satisfying food. How often we hear of churches who offer their parishioners the fluff of entertainment instead of the meat of the liturgy! I have even heard of pastors boasting – boasting – that their copies of the Book of Concord go unread – as if this kind of spiritual anorexia were somehow healthy.

But even in this congregation – where the Sacrament is offered weekly and the traditional liturgy and hymnody are retained – we can, and do, easily fall into the starvation trap as well. Our congregation is lacking both a Vice President and an at large member of the Board of Directors. Our Board of Elders is down to five men. It is not uncommon for our boards to call a meeting, and then have to reschedule for the lack of a quorum. Our congregational meetings are not well attended. We’ve had to suspend Sunday School for all but the youngest children because the many young people in our congregation are nowhere to be seen. How many confirmands have we seen fall off the face of the earth after taking their first communion? Hopefully, it won’t be their last communion as it was with Judas. Bible class is not all that well attended. And as is so often the case with our fallen natures, 20% are expected to do 80% of the work – though 80-20 is probably too conservative in this case.

The Lord is giving us a banquet, but too many are starving.

Our Lord speaks to us of a feast, dear brothers and sisters. His Gospel is indeed Gospel, but there are words of warning as well. Our Lord compared the kingdom of heaven to “a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.”

Can you imagine spurning a royal banquet? Can you imagine the humiliation the king would feel at being snubbed?

“Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.’” But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. ‘And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.’”

Notice by this point, any pretensions of piety are out the window. The desire to spurn the grace of the king has become openly murderous and destructive. In this case, self-destructive. We don’t have to imagine the reaction of the king. For our Lord continues his parable:

“But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

The king is determined to have a full banquet hall – even if it means bringing in outsiders, calling the undesirable, having to wash up the unclean and mix social rank at the table. In fact, the king will have to supply the wedding garment, since these guests aren’t even high enough up the social ladder to have the right attire. But what does the king find at this banquet? An imposter:

“a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

We have been called, as the Lord invites all men to repent and believe the Gospel. But only the few who are chosen wear the baptismal garb of the believer. The unbeliever who seeks to enter the kingdom by his own merits apart from the will of the Triune God, lacking faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that he is a forgiven sinner by grace through faith – will find himself removed from the banquet he tried to enter unworthily.

Ironically, those who were originally so unworthy that they had to be given a proper jacket for dinner will find themselves worthy – because the king himself declared their worthiness.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us never forget that we are worthy by the sheer grace of God, as we are clothed with the Lord’s righteous garment through baptism. Let us feast with joy – not as gluttons and greedy savages, but rather as joyful sinner-saints who are neither too haughty to wear the King’s garment and feast at the King’s table, nor are we so self-centered that we turn our belly into our god and lose sight of the gift.

The Lord has gone out into the highways and invited us to the table. He invites us to feast with Him every week in the Divine Service, to enjoy the appetizers of Confession and Bible class, to savor the many courses of Word and Sacrament, of prayer and service to our neighbors, and to partake of the dessert of eternal life. He provides this feast to us in the eternal glorification of His Son, whose true body and blood are the bread and wine of this banquet. He provides this holy and life-giving meal to us beggars, whose tattered clothing is covered over with a royal baptismal robe, a wedding garment for this feast, provided, like the banquet itself, by the King.

Let us not misuse this feast like the impostor, nor let us take this feast for granted like those who refused to come when invited. Let us not gorge ourselves as gluttons nor starve ourselves in arrogance and pride. Rather, let us feast! Let us enjoy the goodness of the Lord. Let us accept His mercy and find satisfaction and grace in the holiest meal of all, a banquet that will have no end. Amen.

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

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Louis Armstrong & Danny Kaye

This is just extraordinary showmanship. You'll think you're hearing double.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

So, who really won the Cold War?

Here is an outstanding article published in Canada's National Post about why this proposed Wall Street bailout is nothing other than warmed-over Marxism.

The author is absolutely right.

Economically, a centrally-planned national bank is the fifth principle of Marx's Communist Manifesto, as the author points out. He also explains coherently and concisely why this principle - which is now embraced by mainstream "conservatism" is doomed to fail.

For further evidence that the Soviet Union didn't really fold but has only relocated to American shores, read this Associated Press piece. I especially like this part:
Now it's not about financial institutions. The focus has switched to everyday Americans. And it's not an expenditure of taxpayer money, it's an "investment."


"Let's not call it a bailout. Let's call it a rescue," said Republican John McCain.

Democratic rival Barack Obama said, "This is no longer just a Wall Street crisis -- it's an American crisis, and it's the American economy that needs this rescue plan."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's take: Its not a bailout but "a buy in, so that we can turn our economy around."

Bush, McCain, Obama and top congressional leaders agree the plan -- which would nationalize large numbers of bad mortgages and securities tied to them -- is needed to unclog the nation's financial arteries.

We need to "nationalize" bad mortgages. It's not a bailout, but a "buy-in," a "rescue plan," an "investment." The Communists (who were likewise proponents of nationalizing the economy) often changed the names of things to try to convince us, in the words of George Orwell, that "War is peace", "Freedom is slavery", and "Ignorance is strength."

Politically, I'm struck by the inherent Soviet-style polit-bureaucracy going on here. Instead of the mythical two-party system, we have the leadership of both "parties" agreeing in principle about the need for this unconstitutional corporate welfare. Both presidential candidates of our allegedly two-party system are in lockstep unity with each other that the taxpayers bear the burden of this bailout. Pelosi and Bush might as well be slow-dancing with each other.

So, in reality, we only have one party (sound familiar?). Finally, notice the use of rhetoric, of euphemisms, and of outright propaganda and lying that is going on! Goodness, back in the Cold War days, we mocked the Russians for this kind of thing.

And speaking of Communism, check out this excerpt from the actual bill (now, this is the one that failed in the House, but a version of which will most certainly be brought back from the dead like the Frankenstein monster to be wed to its bride that passed the Senate today):
"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."
Huh? Non-reviewable? May not be reviewed by any court? Goodness, does that sound remotely American? Again, such a proposal coming out of 1950s Moscow would have drawn hoots from the same supposed "conservatives" who are willing for this to become law in 2008 Washington.


Well, there are two small silver linings here, comrades:

1) quite a few people are waking up the the fraud that is today considered "conservative" economics and are learning about truly conservative economics instead (and they are calling their senators and congressmen, as well as pulling their money out of Wall Street and away from the increasingly-worthless dollar - or should we just go whole-hog and start calling it the American Ruble?).

2) Louisiana's two senators, one from each half of our single American party, were among the 25 senators who voted against Karl Marx on this one.