Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I was NOT tagged, but...

I thought I give this a try. There is a "meme" floating around that has the following instructions...

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

This could be interesting. I'm not going to tag anybody, but I snagged the closest book (about a foot from my left eyeball): New Orleans Stories: Great Writers on the City (Ed. by John Miller). On page 123 is a story called "Mumbo Jumbo" by Ishmael Reed (which, if set anywhere other than New Orleans, would be dismissed as comedy):

"The mayor passes the flask of bootlegged gin to Zuzu. She takes a sip and continues to spread sprawl and behave skittishly. Loose. She is inhaling from a Chesterfield cigarette in a shameless brazen fashion."

I Keep Winning Lotteries!

Check this out! I must be the luckiest (and richest) man on the planet. I have yet to figure out how I will use my massive wealth, but you can rest assured, I will not spend it all in one place.

Since 2006, I have won major lotteries in the Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland.


I have won prizes of:

$500k US,
$1M US,
550k Euros,
three prizes of 750K British pounds,
and another prize of 1M British pounds.

Let's see, all together I have won:
1.5 million American dollars, 3.5 million British pounds, and 550 thousand Euros.

I'm not even trying, and I keep getting these victory notifications. I'm not even entering, and I'm winning like there's no tomorrow! Obviously, the Lord thinks I'm doing something right. Here are all the details of all my winnings. But please don't tell the IRS! Can you imagine my liability? As those great financial analysts the Rolling Stones said: "Gimme shelter!"

My congregation need not worry - I'll be staying right here in Gretna - though I will probably build a cottage in Monte Carlo, snag a nice apartment in Manhattan, and maybe a flat in Paris. I better start talking to Creflo Dollar, Robert Tilton, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, and Oral Roberts to find out the best private jets for the clergy to get around in. I'm new at being filthy rich.


Below are all the details of my streak of "Success-N-Life(tm)"...



On 3 August 2006, I won a lottery in Amsterdam...


PROMOTION AWARD NOTIFICATION

ATTENTION

We are delighted to notify you
of the result of the SPONSOR LOTERIJ AMSTERDAM quarterly award
program. In accordance with the world lottery ordnance, you authorized
as an
official lottery prize winner to immediately file in for your
claims upon receipt of this mail.
This is an online promotional program
organized by SPONSOR LOTERIJ AMSTERDAM A total number of various
individual email addresses and companies alike were entered for the
Free Lotto Automatic Subscription Ticket Game. Details were submitted
by international email service providers/marketing companies including
public service providers strictly for this exercise. No ticket was
sold.

Bear in mind that prizes will strictly be remitted to winners
that officially file in for their claims within the given time frame.
To begin your claim process, you are advised to immediately contact our
program coordinator with the details below.

MR. ROD THOMPSON
EURO
ACCREDITED AGENT
Tel: +31 623 106 984
Email:
rodthompson666@netscape.net

Note that all winnings must be
claimed within 10 working days from the date of this notification; any
unclaimed prize will be returned to the treasury of the organizing firm
as unclaimed prize.

(NB) You are to file in for the claim of Five
Hundred Thousand United States Dollar($500,000.00) under category "A"

Here are your winning details:
Batch Number: LN-DN0TR764
Ticket Number:
LN-TW09XV51
Ref Number: LN-883M09
Lucky Number: 554-20-501
Serial
Number: LN/ERS

Congratulations once more and thank you for being part
of our quarterly promotional program.

Yours truly,
Sandra Smith


Then, on 26 September 2006, I won a British lottery...

FREELOTTO INTERNATIONAL
CUSTOMER SERVICE DEPRTMENT
******************************
***************
82 VICTORIA STREET, VICTORIA
LONDON SW1 UNITED KINGDOM
*********************************************
Ref: FRL0/941OWI/02
Batch: 12/25/0034
*********************************************
WINNIG NOTIFICATION

Dear Mr/Mrs/Sir/Madam:

We happily announce to you the draw of the Freelotto
International programs held on the 25th of September 2006 in
London. Your e-mail address attached to ticket number
:564 75600545 188 with Serial number 5388/02 drew the
lucky numbers: 31-6-26-13-35-7, which subsequently won
you the lottery in the 5th category.

You have therefore been approved to claim a total sum of
$1,000,000 USD (One Million United State Dollars) in cash
credited to file FRLO/9080118308/02/BST.This is from a total
cash prize of $10.000,000 USD (Ten Million United State Dollars)
shared amongst the first Ten (10) lucky winners in this
category.

All participants were selected randomly from 'World Wide Web'
site through computer draw system and extracted from over
100,000 companies.For security reasons, you are advised to
keep your winning information confidential till your claims is
processed and money remitted to you in whatever manner you deem
fit to claim your prize. This is a part of our precautionary
measure to avoid double claiming and unwarranted abuse of this
program by some unscrupulous elements.

Note that all claims process and clearance procedures must
be duly completed early to avoid impersonation arising to
the issue of double claim. To avoid unnecessary delays and
complications, ,you are advised to keep this notice to yourself
because we shall not be responsible for any divert of funds as
a result of you disclosing your lottery award details,I hereby
advice you to report to: lottery.verificationunit2006@yahoo.co.uk
within 24hours of reading this mail.


Congratulations once more from all members and staffs of
this program.

Yours faithfully,
Mrs. Teresa Eaton


Then, on 11 November 2006, I won some kind of German Microsoft lottery...

MICROSOFT / STAATSLOTERIJ
INTERNATIONAL PROMOTION PROGRAM

Date: 11th November, 2006
Ref Nr: MSTL/CN/2628/YT
Batch Number: 26/386/UTR.
Serial Number 25742-86
Coupon No. MSTL-146478972197

Dear Email Bearer,

CONSOLATION PRIZE WINNING NOTICE!!!

Europe/America private international e-games organizers and Co-sponsors, MICROSOFT / STAATSLOTERIJ, officially bring to your notice of the final draw result of November - 2006 MICROSOFT / STAATSLOTERIJ wheel E-game which was conducted at our international corporate office complex in The Netherlands.

Most recently this foundation set up the NEW LOTTERY SCHEME to give outprizes based on COMPUTER BALLOT SYSTEM. By doing this the foundation seek to encourage the use of Internet for academic and business pursuits. It major aim is to promote music, theater, art and literature projects in the social and political arena with a focus on health, as well as science, research, and higher education. We wish to congratulate and inform you on the selection of your email coupon number which was selected among the 45 lucky consolation prize winners.

Your email ID identified with Coupon No. MSTL-146478972197 and was selected by our E-games Random Selection System (ERSS) with entries from the 50,000 different email addresses enrolled for the E-game. Your email ID was included among the 50,000 different email addresses submitted by our partner international email provider companies.

You have won a consolation cash prize of €550,000.00 (Five Hundred and fifty thousand Euros Only). The MICROSOFT / STAATSLOTERIJ Group have approved a payout of your consolation cash prize which will be remunerated directly to you by the official Payment Agency Board.

Our DUE PROCESS UNIT (DPU) will render to you complete assistance and provide additional information and processes for the claims of your consolation prize.

For due processing of your winning claim, please contact the DPU Information Officer Mr. Bill Anderson who has been assigned to assist you.

Contact:
NAME: Mr. Bill Anderson
E-mail: staatsdesk01@aol.com

Tel: +31-620 897102

You are advised to provide him with the following information:

Names:
Phone/Fax number:
Nationality:
Ref Number:
Batch Number:
coupon Number:

Once again congratulations from all our staffs on your consolation prize winning, we hope you will partake in our forth coming MICROSOFT / STAATSLOTERIJ Email-games.

Regards,

Anita Raynes(Mrs.).
(Group Coordinator)



Then on 28 March 2007, I won the Irish Lottery


The Irish National Online Lottery
P O Box 1010 Dublin, 11 G
Lower Dorset Street
(Customer Services)

Ref: UK/9420X2/68
Batch: 074/05/ZY369

Dear Winner

This is to inform you that you have been selected for a cash prize of £750,000.00(GBP) in cash credited to file KTU/9023118308/03. held on the 27th of March. 2007 in Uk.The selection process was carried out through random selection in our computerized email selection
system(ess) from a database of over 250,000 email addresses drawn
from which you were selected.

The Irish National Lottery is approved by the Uk Gaming Board. In other to claim your won prize from the lottery board you are required to fill out the claims processing form and send it to our Claims Agent here in the UK with the details below:

Name Of Claims Agent: Mr. Robert Micheal
Email address : fiduciaryagent_rb@yahoo.ie
Phone : +447011148108

Below is the claims form you are required to fill:
FILL AND SUBMIT.

PAYMENT PROCESSING FORM
1.FULL NAMES:________________________
__________
2.ADDRESS:_____________________________________________
3.SEX:_______________
4.AGE:________
5.MARITAL STATUS:___________________
6.OCCUPATION:________________________
7.E-MAIL ADDRESS:_____________________________
8.TELEPHONE NUMBER:_____________________
9.BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF COMPANY/INDIVIDUAL___________
10.AMOUNT WON:___________________________________
11. COUNTRY________________________________

Goodluck from me and members of staff of the IRISH NATIONAL LOTTERY.
Yours faithfully,
Sir Kolyn Perkins.

Online coordinator for
IRISH NATIONAL LOTTERY
Sweepstakes International Program.
powered by-2007 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved


Not to be outdone, on 3 December 2007, the Swiss awarded me a lottery victory

SWISS ON-LINE LOTTERY
P O Box 1010 Liverpool,
L70 1NL UNITED KINGDOM
(Customer Services)
REF NO: SL/74/368/05
BATCH NO:SL-121-LT-11-12-05

ONLINE
NOTIFICATION
We are pleased to inform you that your e-mail address has won the Swiss On-
line Lottery. Therefore you have been approved for a lump sum payout (
£750,000.00 ) Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Pounds Sterling in the Swiss On-
line Lottery program held on 1st December 2007, and released today 3rd
December 2007. The online cyber lotto draws was conducted from an exclusive
list of 21,000 email addresses of individual and corporate bodies picked by an
advanced automated random computer search from the internet, no tickets were
sold. After this automated computer ballot, your e-mail ID emerged as one of
the winners in the 3rd category.

You are therefore been approve to lump sum of £750,000.00(GBP). To file and
claim your winning, please contact our Fiduciary Agent for the processing of
your winning particulars, with the following information's below.


To file for your claim, please contact our
******************************
**************
United Kingdom Lottery Fiduciary
Contact Person: MR Micheal Anderson
E-mail address:mic_anderson009@hotmail.co.uk
Telephone Contact: +447031946384
+447031955501

*********************************************
Provide him with the information below:
1.Full Name:..................................
2.Full Address:.............................
3.Status:.......................................
4.Occupation:................................
5.Age:...........................................
6.Sex:...........................................
7.Country:.....................................
8.Tel.Number:................................
9.Country Of Residence....................

Congratulations once more from all members and staff of this program.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Rose Wood
Swiss On-Line Lottery.


On 18 January 2008, I hit the U.K. National Lottery...

UK NATIONAL LOTTERY6/49
P O Box 1010, 3b Olympic Way,
Sefton Business Park,
Aintree, Liverpool,
L30 1RD
FINAL NOTIFICATION

This is to inform you that you have been selected for a cash prize
of £1,000,000.00(British Pounds) held on the 17th,of January,2008
in London, Your e-mail address was attached to TICKET No: 56475600545188
and your REF No:UK/9420X2/68.

The selection process was carried out through random selection
in Our computerized email selection system (ess) from a database of
over 100,000 email Addresses drawn from which you were selected.

Contact our fiduciary agent for claims with:

Mr. Edward Fring
Tel:+44-703-191-6044
Tel:+44-703-191-6896
Tel:+44-703-191-8799
Email: mr.edwardfringg@hotmail.co.uk

Fill the below:

1. Name: 2. Address 3. Marital Status: 4. Occupation: 5. Age: 6. Sex:
7. Nationality: 8. Country of Residence: 9. Telephone Number:

Sincerely,

Stella Roberts (Mrs.)
LOTTERY CO-ORDINATOR
INTERNATIONAL PROMOTIONS
PRIZE AWARD DEPARTMENT.


Finally, today, 30 January 2008, I won the Irish National lottery.

Ref: UK/9420X2/68
Batch: 074/05/ZY369

Dear Winner

This is to inform you that you have been selected for a cash prize of £750,000.00(GBP) in cash credited to file KTU/9023118308/03. held on this Month January 2008.The selection process was carried out through random selection in our computerized email selection system(ess)from a
database of over 250,000 email addresses drawn from which you were selected.The Irish National Lottery is approved by the Uk Gaming Board. In other to claim your won Amount £750,000.00(GBP) prize from the lottery board you are required to contact our Claims Agent here in the UK with
the details below:

******************************
****************************
1.Full Legal names 2.Occupation 3.Tel. Number 4.Country
**********************************************************
Name Of Claims Agent: Mr David James
Email address :irishclaimsunit@hotmail.com
***********************************************
Goodluck from me and members of staff of the IRISH NATIONAL LOTTERY.

Yours faithfully,
Sir Phillip Johnson.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Bayeux Tapestry Comes Alive!


You students of Latin might be familiar with the Bayeux Tapestry, a beautiful work of eleventh century art that illustrates the Battle of Hastings (1066 AD) with annotations in a fairly easy to understand Latin. It is huge - 20 inches wide and 230 feet (!) long.

A frame by frame look at the tapestry can be found here. And if you'd like to read the Latin and English texts, they can be found here.

Thanks to computer technology and YouTube, the Bayeux Tapestry comes to life in the form of a movie:



Now, how cool is that?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Father Hollywood Recommends...

I'm about a third of the way through a really enjoyable book called New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writings from the City by Andrei Codrescu.

Codrescu is a Romanian born New Orleanian who is a professor at LSU in Baton Rouge. He is also a commentator for NPR. Amour is a collection of his essays about New Orleans from 1985-2005.

This is the kind of book that is best read in New Orleans - or at least in Gretna where I live. I'm reading the book aloud to my wife. We're both suffering with sore throats and Mrs. Hollywood is laid out on the couch with a fever that I hope I don't catch - but probably will. So, we're lounging in the parlor in our robes with a fire going, reading delightful words about the place that surrounds us, the place we also love.

Codrescu's book is a mélange of the acute observations and descriptive prose of Alexis deTocqueville, mixed with the brevity, wit, and the storyteller's eye for ironic people and exotic places of O. Henry, tossed into a French press with strong coffee and a touch of gin, and plunged into a frothy brew with an intoxicating aroma that is best enjoyed served in cups and saucers in unhurried and languid sips.

Codrescu is a storyteller who tells stories about stories, about the telling of those stories, and about the storytelling itself - which is the stuff of stories and storytellers. He weaves beautiful imagery with his words - which are spun from the perspective of outsider-turned-insider, a left-wing European intellectual who seems to really want to be a vegetarian, and yet who just can't figure out his fascination and love for right-wing American red meat - especially the kind that one usually finds baking on the side of the road with its feet in the air, or something that creeps out of a swamp and looks at you suspiciously from the plate.

Codrescu may be a native Romanian, but he is a Louisianan through and through. Like Christianity, one can be converted to Louisiananism and New Orleanianity. And it is often the convert who is the most zealous.

Some of his prose is peppered with his leftist politics as well as a pinch of NPR-ish academician snobbery. And his emphasis on voodoo, quirky novelists, tombs, fig trees, and naked people is, to be sure, overstated. But the author is writing about his New Orleans, and he is truly in love with his subject - hence the title "Mon Amour" ("My Love" for the Francophonically-impaired). New Orleans really is unique, and the author conveys it well - with humor, with charm, and with affection in this collection of essays compiled over two decades of Crescent City life.

Although I'm not yet done with the book, I recommend it already.

The message of the book is clear: New Orleans is unique. The author points out that people from elsewhere either hate us or love us. I think most of us who live here love it - even if we gripe about this and that. I do think that a lot of other places in the country would have simply become a ghost town after Katrina - whereas the people of this region continue to fight for their Amour and are determined to remain, even if irrationally, in a tempestuous relationship with their fiery home rather than to throw in the towel, divorce, and get remarried to a sensible and staid suburb Somewhere Else. We are determined to "make it work."

Part of that determination involves a kind of graveyard humor combined with a resolution to live - not just to survive - but to live. The French term is joie-de-vivre. There is another term as well: élan.

In the preface, the author writes about the days right after Katrina. His home in Baton Rouge was "filled with poet refugees from New Orleans" (p.10) - people who had no idea what kind of condition their homes were in - or even if anything was left at all. This is a bizarre feeling that I remember all too well. They had escaped New Orleans in a stolen school bus. One of the author's friends "cooked four-star meals because, as he said, 'I will not have the apocalypse without style!'" Codrescu continues: "On various nights we had black mushrooms in oyster sauce with dumplings, pad thai, cold shrimp with new potatoes and corn, gazpacho, and dobache cake. With the appropriate wines. That's New Orleans awright - it may be the end of the world, but that's no reason to become uncivilized." (p. 11)

I know exactly what the author is talking about.

While I was working with a few fellow pastors and Lutheran laymen doing relief work after Katrina, we were headquartered in a church parsonage in Metairie. The house was powered by two large generators, and was filled by a motley crew of local Lutheran clergymen and parishioners, of adventure-seeking young Pentecostal volunteers from up north who had never been to the bayou, of hip veterinarians and animal lovers from California, and a few journalists from the New York Times. We put in long days on boats and ATVs. In the midst of the surreal emptiness, of camouflaged soldiers with rifles, of putrid flood water standing in residential neighborhoods, of military helicopters and deserted dilapidated houses - our little band of misfits was served fine meals by the owner and the loyal staff of Barecca's - one of those elegant neighborhood restaurants New Orleans is known for. They opened up in order to feed cops, soldiers, and volunteers for free. We ate (and were treated) like royalty. Amid the uncertainty and destruction, the staff still took pride in their culinary prowess. We were not eating MREs and hot dogs.

One of the photojournalists - a cranky French atheist whose craft took him everywhere from Paris to Palestine, from America to Afghanistan, demonstrated to the local clergy whom he had befriended the European art of opening a champagne bottle with a saber. Lacking the proper military accoutrements, he improvised: popping the cork ceremoniously with a machete, to the cheers and back slapping of his new comrades in arms. We drank champagne, smoked cigars, and ate fine food at the end of the day as the helicopters chopped their way through the heat.

Now that's joie-de-vivre. That's élan. That's New Orleans. That's why we love it. I suspect that's a good bit of why Andrei Codrescu speaks of it as his Amour.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sermon: Sexagesima

27 January 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 8:4-15

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

We are surrounded by words. There was a time when people walking down the street muttering to no-one were considered mentally ill. Nowadays, we presume they’re chatting on their cell phones through Blue Tooth attachments stuck in their ears.

Cell phones are absolutely everywhere. Televisions are almost as common.

In election years, there is a constant buzz from “talking heads” and the stifling clutter of political signs and billboards with brightly colored words and hackneyed slogans.

Even DVDs and videos are filled with unread words citing FBI regulations and quotations from the United States criminal code, not to mention the Interpol warnings flashed up so fast that no human being could possibly read them – followed by the same unreadable and unread blurb in French.

Car ads inevitably have a whispered disclaimer rattled off like an auctioneer explaining all the fine print about APR rates. And who hasn’t grown weary of the litany of possible side effects that are blurted out with every pharmaceutical ad?

Blah, blah, blah. Words have become worthless. We are surrounded by clutter – spoken and written. And we are so used to being lied to and given sales pitches that for the most part, we ignore the constant buzz of words that dance around our heads.

This clutter serves to choke out the one Word we need to hear, the only Word that truly matters: the Word made flesh, the Word by whom the world was made, the Word that brings us good news of redemption. Because of the constant hum of words, we often don’t hear the Word. And even when we hear it, do we listen?

Our Lord’s parable uses words to convey the power not only of words but of the Word.

The sower tosses his seeds to the four winds: by the wayside, upon the rock, among the thorns, and upon good soil. And as our Lord tells us, the seed in the parable represents the Word of God. The Word is sown in the ears and hearts of men by preachers who recklessly heave the seed of the Word of God to those same four winds. He preaches to those from whose hearts the devil wrests the Word. He preaches to the shallow who hear the Word gladly but lack the depth for the Word to take root in their lives, who fall away in time of trouble. He preaches to those distracted by the cacophony of competing words, whose attention is dragged away by worries and riches, by pleasures of this world and priorities that choke out the Word. And yes, he also preaches to those who will hear the Word, who will take it to heart, who will bear the fruits of repentance to the glory of the Lord and His kingdom.

The Parable of the Sower is particularly important for our ears to hear in this day and age, even as there are so many competing words seeking to drown out the still small voice of the Lord’s Word.

Even Christian churches are befuddled by the clutter of words. Preachers think they need to shout and strut, do parlor tricks and put on side shows. They write books filled with empty words that have nothing to do with the Gospel. Church officials tell us that the simple preached Word of God will no longer work, especially among the twenty-first century emerging iPod and text message generations.

We are told that the old method of casting seeds to the four winds must yield to a targeted marketing model that looks and sounds like the very clutter that surrounds us.

And this makes perfect sense. It is logical, it is reasonable, and it can be used in any sales situation. But that’s the fatal flaw. The sower is not a salesman. The seed is not a commodity. The Christian faith is not a brand to be sold like Old Navy or Abercrombie and Fitch. We sow by faith, not by reason. We proclaim, we don’t sell.

We have lost our faith in the Word. We no longer believe there is an unseen power lying dormant within the seed of the Word of God. We seem to think that the power of God needs the help of mass marketing and slick salesmanship to empower the Word take root, sprout, resist the attacks of its enemies, and grow to bear fruit. But our Lord uses the metaphor of the seed and the sower for a reason. The seed bears its power within – independent of the sower’s skill or cleverness. The Word of God is effective because it is God’s Word, not because of the messenger or the method.

The Lord chooses to work through words because He is the Word. The Lord chooses to describe the working of His Word through the seed, for He is the Seed as prophesied to the devil right after the Fall: the Seed of the woman who will crush the Serpent’s head and reclaim creation from evil unto Himself. The job of every sower is to toss the seeds and get out of the way. The task of every preacher is to faithfully proclaim the Word and get out of the way. For even the biggest agribusiness can’t make seeds grow. The seeds grow because that’s just what seeds do. They grow because that is their nature, the latent power waiting patiently inside for water and good soil.

When water works on the seed, the seed grows – even if the sower has long since gone away.

The Word of God has the power of God within itself. Nothing can be added to make it more powerful. Just as the Lord has provided sowers to cast the seeds to the four winds, He has likewise provided baptismal water to make the seed sprout.

Of course, not all words are spoken. In fact, some of the most powerful words are not spoken at all. Actions can indeed speak louder than words. The Gospel is as often communicated by acts and deeds of love as it is conveyed by doctrine and reason. The Word of God sprouts in the fertile soil of a faithful hearer when conveyed through the Holy Sacrament of the Holy Supper, where the Word of God is joined to worldly elements that are eaten and drunk. And these elements come from wheat and grapes – both of which began in God’s creation as tiny seeds.

Just as a grain of wheat dies and falls to the ground, and just as a grape seed sprouts into a vine – the Seed of the woman, our Lord Jesus Christ, comes to us by wheat that has borne the fruit of grain beaten into flour and made into bread, as well as by the vine that has borne the fruit of grapes crushed into wine. And through these seeds, the Seed comes to us. Through words meeting the fruits of these seeds, the Word Himself comes to us. And this Word goes forth from the mouth of God. It accomplishes what He pleases, and it prospers in the thing for which He sent it.

The thing for which the Word is sent is simply this: for us men and for our salvation. The Word of God accomplishes the creation of the Creator and carries out the redemption of the Redeemer. All of this is done through seeds – the seed of wheat, the seed of the grape, and most importantly, by the seed of the Word of God, proclaimed by a preacher, sown by a sower, cast about to the four winds, in faith that the Word of God bears its own power within, that the Word of God will not return void, but will indeed burrow into good soil, to sprout, to burst forth from the good creation of the earth, to beat back the clutter of thorns, to soak up water and nourishment, to triumph over the crafts and assaults of the devil, to bear fruits in keeping with repentance – all for the glory of God and for the spread of His Kingdom.

In spite of all of our lack of faith, over and against all appearances to the contrary, the Word of God can and does blast through the clutter of meaningless words and the drone of empty babble to bring forth the Lord’s glorious Kingdom unto eternity. Amen.

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

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Father Hollywood on Lew Rockwell

My last post, Dishonest Scales, has been published on LewRockwell.com. You can read it here.

I had made some minor editorial changes that for some reason didn't make it to Lew Rockwell. So, the version here on Father Hollywood is actually the up-to-date version.

The last time I was published on Lew Rockwell, I got fan mail, hate mail, and crazy mail from all around the world for weeks. I don't think this will be the case again - considering the topic - but you just never can tell. If I get anything really interesting, I'll pass it along to you, dear reader.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dishonest Scales


"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the LORD, But a just weight is His delight." (Prov. 11:1)

A crooked merchant can use dishonest scales as a way to steal from the customer. If the sign says that a pound of Cajun pastrami sells for $9.99 per pound, you expect to get 16 avoirdupois ounces for ten bucks. But what if the merchant is clever and rigs the scale to read a full pound at only 15.5 ounces? That's not a lot to shave off, but like the urban legend of the computer programmer that rolls additional fractions of cents into his own bank account, when multiplied over thousands of transactions, that's a lot of money stolen. And what's to stop the merchant from lulling people by slowly changing the scales a little at a time, year after year, so that, say in 50 years, your "pound" of meat is really only 8 ounces? If it's done slowly enough, you won't even notice.

It seems that such schemes were around in the days of King Solomon, as Proverbs 11:1 demonstrates. In fact, there are at least two other mentions of "dishonest scales" in the Book of Proverbs.

For this reason, weights and measures are standard. The days are long over from when the tailor sold cloth based on the distance from his nose to his outstretched hand (which would naturally make one avoid "vertically challenged" merchants). No more is the standard cubit the measure of the king's forearm (which changed every time a new sovereign was crowned). No, indeed, today weights and measures are standardized. In fact, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (formerly the National Bureau of Standards) carefully defines units of measure that are the legal standards for commerce in the United States.

Retailers are required to use "honest scales" that are calibrated, checked, and certified by the appropriate government bureaucracies. So, in all likelihood, the pound of Cajun pastrami really does have 16 ounces. The gallon of gasoline is, in all likelihood, really four quarts. The mile on Google Maps is truly the same, whether in Texas or Rhode Island.

But back to the pastrami. The pound is carefully standardized and regulated, but what about the dollar?

Of course, a dollar is a dollar, right? Dollars don't change. Can the "scales" be dishonest when it comes to currency?

From 1790-1913, the United States dollar was constant. It was tied to gold and/or silver. A dollar bought pretty much the same thing for Thomas Jefferson as it did for Teddy Roosevelt. A careful look at inflation rates from 1790-1913 shows some minor fluctuation, but for the most part, a 1913 dollar was the same as an 1850 dollar, and was the same as a 1790 dollar.

Sure, prices went up and down due to supply and demand. An orange in Louisiana was (and still is) cheaper than it will be in Maine. An apple in Washington was (and still is) cheaper than it will be in Mississippi. Coffee was more expensive for some reason in New Orleans in 1862 than it was in New York City. Hmmm, I wonder why? Of course, that market reality led to the inclusion of chicory in the coffee sold in the occupied Crescent City - especially at the Cafe du Monde (established in 1862) - where coffee and chicory is still the drink of choice.

Yet in spite of market forces, the dollar was still the dollar just as the pound was still the pound. The scales were honest, and the monetary unit was likewise fixed and standard. This made investing fair and gave incentive to save. For why should anyone put money in the bank if the value of the dollar were to drop over time?

In the collection of O. Henry tales from the Stories for Young People series, there is an interesting disclaimer. Most of these short stories take place a hundred years ago. In the introduction (page 7) there is a "final note on currency" that reads: "When it comes to matters of money, the reader should remember how much the value of a specific sum has changed over the last hundred years in the United States: a dollar then would be worth over twenty today."

Interesting.

Of course, the pound, the mile, the yard, the foot, the pint, and the degree Fahrenheit, are carefully regulated and kept standard. It would be preposterous to say that back in 1908, the yard was comprised of sixty feet, or that a gallon was made up of eighty quarts. And yet, we accept the degradation and the devaluation of our currency as normal. We can't even compare economic data in our own day and age without saying something like "as measured in 1995 dollars" - since the dollar as a monetary unit is not standard, but is systematically devalued every year.

So, why was there no inflation (devaluation) of the currency until 1913? That's the year the United States created a central bank. The Constitution makes no provision for the Federal government to do any such thing, and the Constitution even specifies that money must be backed by gold and silver. But, of course, the folks that tell us the Constitution is a "living document" will tell us that the dollar simply must be "flexible" (while the same people would never in a thousand years propose a "flexible" foot, pound, or gallon to shrink over the course of time).

Today, the dollar has no definitional standard - unlike the highly regulated gallon or inch. Rather, dollars - freed from any tie to gold or silver - are printed on paper out of nothing. Every year, the government incurs an ever-increasing debt, and constantly prints more money to pay its bills (great gig, huh?), which lowers the relative market value of every dollar in your pocket (or in your money market fund, in your stock portfolio, or even dollars that you have yet to earn).

Uh, what does Scripture say about "dishonest scales" again?

Here is an insightful piece by Pat Buchanan about "paper money" created out of thin air by the central bank (the Federal Reserve Bank - which, by the way, is neither truly Federal, has no reserves, and isn't really a bank) - and what the ramifications are for us today: a debt-heavy nation, a culture of borrowing, a people who refuse to save (and indeed are given disincentive to save by the "dishonest scales" of fiat currency), a demographic reality of retiring baby-boomers and a paucity of younger workers to keep the pyramid scheme of entitlement going.

It's not good.

You can only devalue currency for so long before the chickens come home to roost. I find it utterly amazing that nobody (well, almost nobody) wants to address this issue. Both the Democrats and the Republicans want to keep the scam alive, and even try to convince us that we have more wealth than we really do by playing around with the interest rates at which the money is created out of nothing. Can you just imagine if a government agency systematically lowered the pound by a few tenths of an ounce every year? People would see right through that scam, and would quickly identify who the "winners" and "losers" would be in such a racket. But let the government do it with our so-called dollar, and if you even question it, you're some kind of loony extremist (or at least some kind of geeky right-wing economist).

Look, when I spend $9.99 for a pound of Cajun pastrami, I just want it to really be a pound and really be $9.99. Is that really all that unreasonable? It hardly seems like rocket science. From my reading of Scripture, when the Lord spends ten bucks on lunch meat, He also expects to get His money's worth. The proof text is right there in Prov. 11:1 (which, if it were up to the Federal government, would probably be somewhere back about 1 Samuel after adjusting for inflation).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Cautionary Tale from Australia

Here is a sad story that has become so common that it defines an entire generation of women, not only in Australia, but around the world. We are only now beginning to feel the effect of the social, economic, and spiritual ripples of the radical reordering of society over the last generation.




The sins of our feminist mothers

By Virginia Haussegger
July 23 2002

A few years ago, in my mid-30s, had I heard Malcolm Turnbull pontificate about the need to encourage Australians to marry younger and have more children ("The crisis is fertility, not ageing", on this page last Tuesday), I would have thumped him, kneed him in the groin, and bawled him out.

How dare he - a rich father of two, with perfect wife and perfect life - presume for a moment to tell women, thriving at the peak of our careers, that we should stop, marry, and procreate. The sheer audacity of it.

Yet another male conspiracy, a conservative attempt to dump women out of the workplace and back into the home. A neat male arrangement: a good woman to run the household, and a workplace less cluttered with female competition.

A win-win for patriarchy. And precisely the kind of society I was schooled against.

As we worked our way through high school and university in the '70s and early '80s, girls like me listened to our mothers, our trailblazing feminist teachers, and the outspoken women who demanded a better deal for all women. They paved the way for us to have rich careers.

They anointed us and encouraged us to take it all. We had the right to be editors, paediatricians, engineers, premiers, executive producers, High Court judges, CEOs etc. We were brought up to believe that the world was ours. We could be and do whatever we pleased.

Feminism's hard-fought battles had borne fruit. And it was ours for the taking.

Or so we thought - until the lie of super "you-can-have-it-all" feminism hits home, in a very personal and emotional way.

We are the ones, now in our late 30s and early 40s, who are suddenly sitting before a sheepish doctor listening to the words: "Well, I'm sorry, but you may have left your run too late. Women at your age find it very difficult to get pregnant naturally, and unfortunately the success rate of IVF for a 39-year-old is around one in five - and dropping. In another 12 months you'll only have a 6 per cent chance of having a baby. So given all the effort and expense, do you really want to go through with this? Why don't you go home and think it through? But don't leave it too long - your clock is ticking." Then he adds for comic value, "And don't forget, the battery is running low!"

For those of us who listened to our feminist foremothers' encouragement; waved the purple scarves at their rallies; read about and applauded the likes of Anne Summers, Kate Jennings, Wendy McCarthy, Jocelyn Scutt, Morag Fraser, Joan Kirner, Elizabeth Proust etc (all strong examples of successful working women); for those of us who took all that on board and forged ahead, crashed through barriers and carved out good, successful and even some brilliant careers; we're now left - many of us at least - as premature "empty nesters".

We're alone, childless, many of us partnerless, or drifting along in "permanent temporariness", as sociologist Zygmunt Bauman so aptly put it in a recent Age article by Anne Manne to describe the somewhat ambiguous, uncommitted type of relationship that seems to dominate among childless, professional couples in their 30s and 40s.

The point is that while encouraging women in the '70s and '80s to reach for the sky, none of our purple-clad, feminist mothers thought to tell us the truth about the biological clock. Our biological clock. The one that would eventually reach exploding point inside us.

Maybe they didn't think to tell us, because they never heard the clock's screaming chime. They were all married and knocked-up by their mid-20s. They so desperately didn't want the same for us.

And none of our mothers thought to warn us that we would need to stop, take time out and learn to nurture our partnerships and relationships. Or if they did, we were running too fast to hear it.

For those of us that did marry, marriage was perhaps akin to an accessory. And in our high-disposable-income lives, accessories pass their use-by date, and are thoughtlessly tossed aside. Frankly, the dominant message was to not let our man, or any man for that matter, get in the way of career and our own personal progress.

The end result: here we are, supposedly "having it all" as we edge 40; excellent education; good qualifications; great jobs; fast-moving careers; good incomes; and many of us own the trendy little inner-city pad we live in. It's a nice caffe-latte kind of life, really.

But the truth is - for me at least - the career is no longer a challenge, the lifestyle trappings are joyless (the latest Collette Dinnigan frock looks pretty silly on a near-40-year-old), and the point of it all seems, well, pointless.

I am childless and I am angry. Angry that I was so foolish to take the word of my feminist mothers as gospel. Angry that I was daft enough to believe female fulfilment came with a leather briefcase.

It was wrong. It was crap. And Malcolm Turnbull has a point. God forbid!

Virginia Haussegger is ABC TV news presenter in the ACT. She has been a television journalist for 15 years, hosting the 7.30 Report in various states and reporting for the Channel Seven's Witness and Channel Nine's A Current Affair

Friends on Facebook

Just a PSA from your friendly neighborhood Father Hollywood...

I hope nobody feels snubbed, but I don't respond to the e-mails I get when people add me as friends on Facebook. I just don't have the time to get wrapped up in one more thing on the computer. I know I have a Facebook profile out there, but I just never look at it.

I also have a MySpace floating around out there that I don't read. I have been able to reconnect with old friends thanks to my MySpace page, but once again, I can't even remember the last time I actually signed on.

So, if you've extended me an invitation and I didn't respond, please don't interpret it as a snub. Who knows? Maybe I'll change my mind at some point. But for now, with teaching, tutoring, and serving as a sole pastor (not to mention my full time vocation as husband and father) - I'm spending time I don't really have just posting to my blog. I know what would happen if I started doing Facebook as well.

So please don't feel slighted. It's not that I'm ignoring you - I'm ignoring everyone. My ignorance is universal. Er, I don't think that came out quite right. ;-)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sermon: Septuagesima

20 January 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 20:1-16

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us about His Kingdom – which is not of this world – by way of the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.

In the kingdom of this world, we demand to be treated fairly. If we work twelve hours, we expect to be paid twelve times as much as the person who works one hour. In fact, we may even be entitled to time and a half for anything over eight hours. Our notion of equality demands equal pay for equal work. If we were to find out that a co-worker with less experience is making more money, we would likely demand a raise – feeling that we are entitled to make at least as much as the next person.

In the kingdom of this world, we have trade unions, discrimination laws, labor rules and regulations, and the right to sue when we feel we have been treated unfairly.

In the kingdom of this world, our Lord Jesus’s story sounds like a defense for crooked bosses, for mistreating workers, for sowing the seeds of dissent by paying the hardworking and the loyal the same salary as the lazy and shiftless.

In the kingdom of this world, God is a lousy boss and a terrible businessman.

But our Lord’s Kingdom is not of this world. God’s ways are not our ways. The owner of the vineyard is indeed not paying the laborers what they deserve – and thanks be to God! For the wages of sin is death.

In our Lord’s Kingdom, not getting what we deserve is not the cause of protest, but of praise. It is not the occasion of a lawsuit, but rather a cause of thanksgiving.

For the grumblers in our Lord’s parable confuse the two kingdoms. They expect the Kingdom of Heaven to work like the kingdom of this world. They see payment for their work to be owed to them. They see any good thing they possess as something they have earned. They see their salary as God’s payment to them for what they deserve.

Such a view of God’s Kingdom is without grace. For if God is only giving you what you have earned, He really isn’t giving you anything at all. If you have earned it, God owes it to you. And if God owes you some benefit, it places you in a position of collecting on the debt God owes you.

Such a view of the universe places the self over God. Such a view removes divine love from the picture and turns God into a payroll program that gets run on a computer.

Unfortunately, many people see God in this way. He is a giant calculator in the sky, the kind that prints debits in black and credits in red, and at the end of the day, they hope to have a balance sufficient to keep them out of hell.

But look at how God gives out the “wages.” Because He is good, because He gives mercy to those we have determined don’t deserve it, we think it is not “lawful” for God to do what He wishes with His things. And that is the problem. All things are God’s things. If He chooses to give to some but not others, it is not for us to tell Him how to distribute His gifts. If He chooses to pay the one who works for one hour in the cool of the shade the same wage as him who slaved all day in the blistering heat, who are we to question Him? Or are our eyes evil because He is good?

For in the kingdom of the world, the first is first, and the last is last. The race belongs to the swift. The gold medal goes to the strongest. The highest pay goes to the smartest and hardest working. The greatest accolades go to the most honorable. But God’s Kingdom is not of this world. His ways are not our ways. As our Lord sums up the parable: “The last will be first, and the first last.”

The Kingdom of God is a topsy-turvy Kingdom in which those who deserve to die are given life, those who have seemingly earned riches are poor, those who claim to have earned a high place in the Kingdom are overtaken by the humble, and those who come to the gates of the Kingdom with empty pockets are exulted.

For the Lord does not pay us the wages we deserve, for we deserve nothing but death and damnation. Rather He pays us the wages we don’t deserve, wages that aren’t really wages at all, but rather gifts – unearned grace.

For in God’s Kingdom, there is no room for self-aggrandizement and boasting. If you possess much in God’s Kingdom, it is because much has been given to you. If you are first, it is because you are last. Every time we draw a breath, it is by God’s grace. For not a single one of us deserves to live another second.

Those who have worked but a single hour in God’s Kingdom should rejoice in the kindness shown to them, that in spite of their short time of labor, the Lord has been generous to them. Those who have worked twelve hours in God’s Kingdom should rejoice in the kindness shown to them, that the Lord has granted them a long tenure of service in the great and glorious Kingdom – not for the reward of money, but rather for the simple joy of serving the great and mighty King of the universe, a joy which is every bit as unearned and undeserved as the full wages paid to those who worked only one hour.

The Gentiles ought to rejoice that God has given them a share in the Kingdom, even though they lack the family history and heritage that ties them to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And the Jews ought to rejoice that they have been given the Scriptures, that they have been chosen as children of the Covenant, from whom the very Seed Himself would spring, to be a blessing to all those on earth.

Neither Jew nor Gentile has a boast in Himself, but both have a boast in receiving a place in God’s Kingdom though both do not deserve it.

God is not a calculator in the sky. Rather, He is the owner of all good things, who shares those good things with those whom He has called and chosen. He is the giver of gifts and dispenser of benefits, the One who cares for us out of divine love and mercy – not simply to pay a salary that is owed. For God is not the debtor, but rather we are debtors. And as we bid in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We whose trespasses have been forgiven should daily pray for God’s mercy, so that we should equally forgive those who trespass against us.

It is truly out of love that our Lord pays us not what we deserve, but rather gifts us with what we don’t deserve. We can either receive His gifts with thanksgiving, or we can grumble at those who likewise receive the same forgiveness. Our Lord Jesus teaches us that the Christian life is life in a Kingdom not of this world. In God’s Kingdom, when the Lord is not fair, we don’t file a complaint with the union or demand the government take action, rather we rejoice in the divine unfairness that pays us not the death we deserve, but rather the life that we could never earn.

Let us not allow our eye to become evil because He is good. Rather let us sing the praises of Him who graciously withholds the wages we have deserved and yet gives us the benefits and gifts that we do not deserve – both now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I don't know why...

but this just creeps me out for some reason.



Man, the Seventies were just messed up.

[And yes, Barbara, I can hear you in the backround yelling "Yeah, but the Eighties rocked!" while holding up your limited edition AC/DC bic lighter. Let the reader understand.]

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Interesting...



I don't know what the story on this is, but this YouTube video claims to be a woman studying preaching (homiletics) under a Missouri Synod pastor named Jim Gwaltney. The video is entitled "Marla L.'s Sermon."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sermon: Baptism of our Lord

13 January 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 3:13-17 (Josh 3:1-3, 7-8, 13-17, 1 Cor 1:26-31)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

We baptized Christians are God’s chosen people. He has called us by name and we are His. Just as He is our Shepherd, we are His sheep. So what does it mean to be chosen of God?

In our epistle, St. Paul tells us: “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise.” So, God’s chosen are “foolish.” The Greek word for foolish is “moros” – where our word “moron” comes from. In other words, God chooses us morons as a way to annoy the smart people. But Paul doesn’t stop there.

To be one of God’s chosen is to not only be foolish, but to be weak, base, and despised. God roots for the underdog, and so to be a Christian is to be in last place – at least in the eyes of the world. There is a great wisdom in the Lord’s choosing of the most unlikely people to be His own. God is making the point that we dare not rely upon our own smarts, our own strength, our own mettle, or our own popularity to gauge our standing before God. As one of Luther’s last writings proclaimed, we Christians are beggars. We have nothing to boast about – except “as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’”

In selecting ancient nomadic sheep-herders to be His chosen people, God was making it clear that being chosen is a matter of grace. For God did not choose the richest people, the most civilized, the most scientifically advanced, the greatest builders, the most literate, or even the most religious. God simply selected a man named Abram from Mesopotamia and revealed Himself to this man and his descendants, promising them a land and a national identity – from which would come the Chosen One of the chosen people, the Christ, the Savior of the world. It was the Lord God that made Israel great, not vice versa. It was Israel that was on the receiving end of undeserved mercy, and not the other way around.

When our Lord chose to dwell among us in the flesh, He chose a very ordinary girl in the eyes of the world to become His mother. And yet, by God’s grace, she was extraordinary in her faith. God took the form of a baby laid in a manger stall, who grew up in humble circumstances, surrounded by people who were neither famous nor rich by the world’s standards.

And in His earthly ministry, the Lord called to Himself a collection of ministers who were quite a motley crew of misfits, men who failed miserably under pressure, who come off looking like cowards in the Gospel accounts. Our Lord preached and won converts from among the cast-offs of society – lepers and demoniacs, prostitutes and corrupt tax collectors, thieves and even terrorists. Our Lord chose the foolish, the weak, the base, and the despised to start His Church. And He did it to confound the overconfident, the self-satisfied, the smug, the self-righteous, and those admired in this world. For what is a better display of grace than for a person to be chosen whose unworthiness is laid bare for all to see? And what a better demonstration of grace than to deny the gift to those who, in the eyes of the world, deserve it?

Today the Church remembers the baptism of our Lord. God Himself stoops not only to take on human flesh, but to submit to a baptism He had no need of. Jesus willingly joins the ranks of the foolish, the weak, the base, and the despised by coming to a baptism designed for sinners. He allows an unworthy sinner to cleanse Him “to fulfill all righteousness.”

And this humility, this obedience, this submission to the Father’s will immediately precedes the revelation of Jesus’s divinity. For the Father claims His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased, passing over the worlds kings, priests, generals, scholars, men of might, men of fame, and men of wealth to announce to the world that His true Son is this One who submits to a sinner’s baptism of repentance. The Holy Spirit descends on Him in the form of a dove, a common ordinary pigeon, the same ordinary bird that informed Noah that God and man were once more at peace. The Triune God is revealed to the world in a way that shows the Lord’s embrace of the lowly, His exaltation of the despised of this world.

For this Holy Baptism – both that of our Lord and of ours in the name of the Lord – likewise use something lowly: common water. Our Lord Jesus is not showered in rose petals or gold coins. Nor is He given a grand triumph or tribute. He is not bathed in precious oils or placed upon a regal throne. Instead, our Lord’s public ministry begins with a washing in river water among a sweaty crowd of ordinary people, sinful people, foolish, weak, base, and despised people. He is baptized by His cousin who is seen by the authorities as a rabble-rouser and a bit of a lunatic.

And though water is powerful – large amounts of it can turn turbines and generate huge amounts of power, it can surge in from the ocean to destroy entire regions of a land, and it can pound away at rocks, reducing them to sand over the course of time – baptismal water is, by worldly accounts, pretty weak. When Christians are baptized, it typically involves three little handfuls – a tiny amount of water that we claim is more powerful than any substance in the universe. The world looks at our claims regarding baptism, and thinks we are foolish, because a little water is weak, faith in such a thing is base in the eyes of the world, and we Christians are despised for believing it. And yet, look at the promise: salvation from sin and death, a restoration of perfection, of immortality, of communion with the Creator. Those three little handfuls dwarf the might of the Hoover dam, make a mockery of the devastation of Katrina’s storm surge, and in a single minute removes more sin than the ocean can wear down solid rock over the course of centuries.

God chooses “foolish things of this world” to reveal Himself – simple bread and wine, words spoken by a pastor, a few ounces of water poured on a baby’s head, and the proclamation of good news that the world considers foolish, weak, base, and despised.

This is how it is that St. Paul says: “When I am weak, then I am strong.” For in our weakness, we see the might of the hand of God (instead of our own strength). In our foolishness, we see God’s wisdom (instead of our own cleverness). In our baseness we see the Lord’s righteousness (instead of our own claim to uphold the law). In being despised, we see the Lord’s love and care (instead of relying on the world’s praise and adulation – which often come at the price of integrity).

Dear brothers and sisters, your baptism doesn’t seem like all that much – and that is exactly why it is so mighty, so holy, so rich in grace. Christian baptism is seen by the unbeliever as foolish, weak, base, and even despised – and that is exactly why we cling to it for dear life. Just as the Lord chose the Jordan River to be blessed by His Son’s presence, the water in baptismal fonts around the world has been chosen by God “to put to shame the things that are wise… to put to shame the things that are mighty.”

“But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us the wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” Amen.

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

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sermon: Funeral of Violet F. Graf


12 January 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 10:27-29 (Isa 25:6-9, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The text of our reading of the Holy Gospel is one of the most comforting passages in all of Scripture. I read it to Violet the last time I visited her on this side of the grave. Jesus says:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”

Jesus describes His people as His “sheep.” We are His creatures, He cares for us just as any farmer looks after His animals. There is no doubt as to who our Shepherd is. In these three verses, Jesus says “Me” or “My” seven times.

In this passage, Jesus promises eternal life over and against death. And He promises that no-one is capable of snatching us away from our Shepherd’s hand. Even though it seems that death snatches our loved ones from us, notice the promise of our Lord – no-one can snatch any of us, His sheep, from Him.

Violet was, is, and always will be one of our Lord’s sheep. She knows the voice of her Lord. She listened intently to the Word of God. She heard the Lord Jesus place His name upon her way back on December 7, 1919, when that very Word of God was joined to water and poured upon her tiny infant head. Ever since that day, the Lord was Violet’s Shepherd, and she wants for nothing.

For nearly nine decades, this dear sheep heard the voice of her Shepherd. He fed her with the same devotion and affection that she fed her own animals. He defended and cared for her with the same steadfast love with which she lovingly tended her own children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and all those who enjoyed her company. Again and again Violet heard the Word of the Gospel, assurance from God Himself that her sins were forgiven, that she is an heir of the Kingdom, that her life is to be eternal and physically united with Him in the same way that Violet and her daughter Violet were always seen together, receiving the body and blood of our Lord side by side, in this very sanctuary.

What comfort to her family who mourns her loss at this time – her biological family as well as her extended church family here at Salem. Though it may look like Violet was snatched away by death, in reality Violet snatched life from the jaws of death by the grace of God her loving Father, by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

For our Lord’s victory over death and the grave is Violet’s victory. The Lord’s resurrection to eternal life is Violet’s resurrection. For the promises of Jesus are Violet’s promises, just as they are the promises made good to all those who believe and are baptized.

Of course we mourn our loss. Death is painful, but its sting is short lived. For we have the promise of God in Scripture from St. Paul: “When this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’”

This is the same promise spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.”

Jesus, by His own death, has destroyed death. By His own resurrection He has shown us the promise of our own resurrection. Our Lord rebuked the devil and conquered the death we deserve due to our sins. He has paid the price of those sins, and crushed the head of the ancient serpent. He has done this so that we might live, so that death, for the Christian, is nothing more than a slumber, a peaceful sleep, in which we wait to reopen our eyes, eyes that will never again know weeping, to see a new heaven and a new earth, creation made anew and made perfect.

And though we don’t like to wait, even this waiting is sanctified. For hear again the prophecy of Isaiah: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

And so we wait, dear brothers and sisters. We wait in this life, though our dear sister Violet no longer must wait. We wait in this Vale of Tears while Violet will never again weep. We must endure aches, pains, sickness, sadness, and yes, even the mourning of death – while to Violet, death has lost its sting, and the wait is over.

But we do not wait alone. Our Lord remains with us, abides with us, shares Himself with us in His Word and in the Holy Supper. While we wait in this life, waiting for the Lord to return, waiting for creation to be made perfect, waiting for our joyful reunion with Violet and with all the saints, we can wait with joy and gladness, in thankfulness and praise, with assurance that this is not our home, but a greater and more glorious dwelling awaits us, His sheep, once we awake from our slumber.

These promises of God, these victories won by our Lord Jesus Christ, this blessed assurance given us in the Lord’s Supper is why we can pray with the hymnist:

And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.

Amen.

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

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Emerging Luther?

The latest trend in the American religious scene is the Emerging Church Movement. It is largely a reaction against the phoniness of the Church Growth Movement and a bucking of the trend toward the megachurch.

Missouri Synod leaders - especially those engaged in youth ministry - are intrigued by the movement, and are not only trying to co-opt Emerging approaches to evangelism and worship, they are actively seeking leaders of this movement from outside Lutheran circles to instruct LCMS pastors and laity as to how to implement these methods in a Lutheran context. This is happening at the synodical, district, and local levels of our church body.

The LCMS sponsored a Youth Ministry symposia featuring noted Emergent Church Movement guru Dan Kimball:

“EMERGING FROM WHAT? EXPLORING MINISTRY WITH YOUNG ADULTS.” This year’s symposium will take a serious look at how the church can be in ministry with the post-high school, twenty-something young adult. Why do we lose so many? And why does no one seem to care? How can we engage them in the life of a congregation? And what is this “thing” that has come to be known as the “emerging church?” Dan Kimball, author of “The Emerging Church,” “Emerging Worship,” and “They Like Jesus But Not the Church,” will be the featured speaker for the conference. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Associate Director for the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations will lend his theological expertise. The conference is slated for January 4-6, 2008 at the J.W. Marriott Hotel at the Galleria in Houston, Texas. Conference registration is just $200 and includes three meals. Housing is available at the J.W. Marriott for only $89 per night. A registration brochure mailing will arrive in congregations the first week in September.

Rev. Dan Kimball's wrap-up of the event can be found here.

Kimball's "What Would Luther Do?" ponderings are really very interesting, especially in light of the fact that the early Lutherans had an Emerging Church Movement of its own during Luther's reformation - and it wasn't Luther. Rather it was Luther's friend and colleague at the University of Wittenberg, Andreas Karlstadt.

During Luther's 1521 exile to the Wartburg Castle, Karlstadt took temporary leadership of the reformation movement, and implemented many Emergent methods nearly five centuries before the current Emerging movement.

Karlstadt made radical changes to the cultural landscape of worship. He abolished the traditional vestments in favor of casual attire - which he wore while officiating over worship. He distanced himself from academic life, stressing his lived-out life among the ordinary people. He rejected being called "Reverend Father" and instead sought to be addressed more casually as "Brother Andreas." He made radical changes to the liturgy and music of the church. He removed the Apocryphal books from the Bible. He also rejected both infant baptism and a belief in the Real Presence in Holy Communion (both of which mirror the beliefs of the vast majority of modern day Emergents). Furthermore, Karlstadt certainly had his finger on the pulse of youth, given his marriage at the age of 38 to a 15-year old girl.

Karlstadt was really the father of the Emerging Church Movement in Lutheranism. So, What Did Luther Do?

Luther was so outraged, he returned from exile and removed Karlstadt from the ministry. Martin Luther was no radical, no revolutionary, no Emergent Leader.

Luther (and those who were later pinned with the name Lutheran) never abolished the Mass. They believe Jesus is physically present in the elements, that when the pastor consecrates the bread and wine, they are truly changed into the body and blood of Jesus. In fact, Luther condemned those who did not believe this as heretics - refusing even to consider them Christians! I don't agree with Luther on this, but I don't think Luther should be misrepresented by those he himself would have not considered to be fellow Christians.

Luther retained the traditional priestly vestments. He retained the traditional address of the pastor as "Father." In areas where it was politically and ecclesiastically possible, the Lutherans retained the bishop-priest-deacon division of the Office of the Holy Ministry - including the apostolic succession of bishops (as is the case to this day in Lutheran Scandinavia, Russia, the Baltics, and Africa). Luther (and Lutherans) believe in baptismal regeneration (and thus infant baptism) and the pastor's authority to hear confessions and forgive sins by delegated authority of Jesus Himself.

Whereas Karlstadt eliminated the elevation of the consecrated host in the Mass, Luther restored it. Whereas Karlstadt called for the abolition of statues and traditional art and music in the church, Luther restored them. True enough, Luther translated the Mass into German (as well as the Bible) and wrote hymnody, but these hymns were not (as is often asserted by urban legend) drinking tunes or bawdy pop songs. Luther's hymnody is dignified and rich, to the point where Johann Sebastian Bach arranged many of his melodies.

And while Luther translated the Mass into German, Latin Masses were still being sung in Lutheran territories into the 18th century. Until American Lutherans began to speak English, Lutheran Bibles contained the Apocrypha. Lutherans (following Luther's example) were not anti-tradition. In fact, the Lutheran default position on tradition was to retain it wherever possible. The only time tradition was jettisoned was when such traditions were contrary to scripture and the Gospel. The Lutheran Mass was virtually identical to the Roman Mass - with the exception being the part of the Roman Mass known as the canon. Luther greatly simplified the canon for the sake of the Gospel. other than that, Luther retained the sign of the cross, genuflecting, bowing, and nearly every other traditional ceremony. The early Lutherans also retained the Hail Mary prayer, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, and even belief in the immaculate conception. While these did not have the force of canon law among the Lutherans, it's simply a fact that the Lutheran fathers believed in these doctrines and taught them. Early portraits of Lutheran leaders show them clutching rosaries.

Finally, the very heart of the Emerging movement is an accommodation of postmodern epistemology. In other words, there is a great deal of subjectivity in the Emerging movement. It is often hostile to "denominationalism." Lutheranism, by definition, draws an objective boundary around the faith in terms of specific confessed doctrine. Lutherans, by definition, confess a particular collection of historic creeds and confessions known as the Book of Concord, and do so without reservation. Such confession is seen as terribly constraining by the Emerging movement, and we are told again and again that such "denominationalism" is a stumbling block to "reaching the youth."

In my own experience as a high school campus pastor, I was admonished by a school board member: "The kids don't need all that Book of Concord stuff. They just need to know that Jesus loves them." There is an increasing belief among Lutherans that confession and doctrine are antithetical to evangelizing young people.

For all of the current LCMS "Ablaze" rhetoric about "saving the lost" and the need to use innovations for the sake of people who are going to hell, there is a rather obvious elephant in the parlor. Many LCMS leaders (at synod and district levels) are almost panic stricken at the decline in numbers within the LCMS. Kimball cites that Terry Ditmer (the Youth Ministry leader of the Missouri Synod) opened the symposia by presenting numbers and statistics about teens in the LCMS. I believe the real underlying panic is not so much hellfire as it is a "brand loyalty" and "shrinking market" approach to Lutheranism, specifically the corporate entity known as the Missouri Synod. The LCMS is treated as though it were a corporation with a product to sell, and is in need of some serious changes in marketing philosophy in order to retain its place, let alone expand, in the market. This explains the increasing reliance on corporate strategies and the constant citations and endorsements of books about business marketing and CEO-style leadership being endorsed by LCMS officials. I believe this shows a lack of faith in the Holy Spirit as well as a flawed ecclesiology. The "market share" approach to evangelism always appeals to the whims and vagaries of the current culture.

But Christianity has always been counter-cultural. The early martyrs of the Christian faith were willing to die for their confession, their objective confession of Jesus Christ. They did not seek rapprochement with the larger culture - not even for the sake of making the Christian faith appeal to outsiders. They did not try to change the nature of Christian worship to appeal to Pagan teens, nor did they strive to reinvent the terrible and horrendous image of Christianity for the sake of marketing the faith to non-believers. Instead, they went to the stake and the arena singing countercultural hymns and dying faithfully to the bafflement of the non-believer. But look what happened. The Holy Spirit worked through these countercultural "martyral" Christians. Mission work was done by standing against the anti-Christian culture, not by making the Church look more and more Pagan, nor by watering down doctrine and practice into a subjective mush for the sake of marketing and appeal to youth.

I believe the Emerging Church Movement is completely contrary to the Lutheran tradition and confession of the catholic faith. The two are like oil and water. Lutheran leaders who see the "success" of the Emerging movement and strive to do the same things in our context will ultimately follow Karlstadt's path. What did Karlstadt do? He left the Lutheran confession of the faith and served as a Reformed minister who was quite open to many Anabaptist doctrines (Luther condemned the Reformed as not even Christian, while the Lutheran confessions explicitly condemn many Anabaptist doctrines as false).

I don't agree with Luther's position that those who confess Christ and yet deny the Real Presence in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar are not Christians. However, I do think a lot of Christians - including many in the Emerging Church Movement - are deluding themselves when they try to wrap themselves in the mantle of Martin Luther. I also believe Lutheran dabblers in Emergism are on a path away from the confession of the faith per our confessional symbols, and have chosen to embrace Karlstadt over Luther. I believe the Lutheran path is to stand for the Gospel, to cling to tradition where it does not contradict the Gospel, and to avoid the ebb and flow of an ever changing cultural landscape, instead clinging to the unchanging confession of the immutable Triune God, into whose name we have been regenerated through Baptism, and by whose grace we have communion with Him in the Mass.

Anything else is, by definition, not Lutheran.