Monday, January 26, 2009

Uh, how are we going to escape hyperinflation?

And these folks are in charge of the budget...

The following revelation from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is stunning on a number of levels.

First of all, she is actually trying to argue that spending hundreds of millions of dollars is needed to save money. Has the woman ever lived in a normal household a day in her life? This is like arguing that the family needs to buy a Rolls Royce so we can drive to Sam's Club to save money over shopping at the local grocer. Typical Washingtonian idiocy.

Second, she is buying into the "culture of death" argument that the problem with the economy is children. Yep, it's the children. It's not compelling banks to loan to people who can't and won't pay the loan back, not banks taking risks they would not otherwise take because of government backing and the promise of "bailouts" if the risks don't pan out, not a governmental monetary policy of fiat currency and debt-based "wealth," not the failure of central economic planning over and against the free market, not years and years of deficit spending in Washington, not Washington-directed meddling in the private sector. No, the problem is... children. Typical Washingtonian arrogance.

Third, she seems to be utterly clueless that a huge part of the federal budget is Social Security and Medicare - which operate in the same manner as Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Current workers pay the entitlements of the retired workers. Hence, looking at this looming funding crisis in a purely utilitarian manner, (assuming that there is not going to be a needed overhaul of the entire system), we need people to have more children, not less. Typical Washingtonian cluelessness.

The baby boomers are called "baby boomers" because of the population boom following World War II. These boomers are now beginning to retire. The "boomers" are also the first generation to have widespread contraception in the form of "the pill." This means they had fewer children, as did their children. This means we have a bulge in population being supported by a sliver. This means the house of cards is being maintained by a fraction of the people who were once supporting it.

Having worked all these years in Washington, the land of pyramid schemes, you would think Mrs. Pelosi ought to know that a pyramid has to have a bigger base than top. But then again, Washington is an upside-down world where they have actually come to believe they can legislate anything and everything - even the laws of physics. Maybe Pelosi thinks Congress can make a two-legged stool that won't topple over or create prosperity through debt. Maybe she thinks she is a teapot and wears a straightjacket.

And they seem to think the problem of spending money we don't have can be solved by (what else?) spending money we don't have, which also means we can fix Social Security and Medicare by (what else?) aborting and preventing the births of those who would be paying into the system down the road. Even with contraception, how would the numbers have played out if the abortion holocaust of the last thirty-five years had not occurred? This is sheer madness.

One thing is for sure: the inmates are running the asylum - and their view of human life isn't that far off from "the final solution." In fact, maybe Mrs. Pelosi's credo is: "This would be a great country if it weren't for the people."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sermon: Epiphany 3

25 January 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 8:1-13

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There’s an old saying about atheists in foxholes – but even if soldiers are in fact atheists, they do know how authority works. Even atheist soldiers have a great deal of faith. For lives, and even nations, depend on orders being carried out. A commander gives an order and believes, that is, has faith that his subordinates will obey those orders.

A centurion is an army captain, a commander of a hundred men. As an officer of this rank, he knows about giving orders, and he knows about taking orders. He knows what it is to command a soldier, and he knows what it is to be commanded by an officer. A centurion operates by his word. And woe to any officer and to any army where orders are not followed, where no-one can believe in the power of authority moving men and arms with mere words.

The example of the centurion illustrates how God’s kingdom works – for the centurion understands quite well what most of our Lord’s Jewish countrymen do not. And Jesus marvels at the irony of it all. For centurions were Roman citizens, typically pagans, typically without any knowledge of the God of Israel or of the Hebrew Scriptures.

But while the Jews demanded signs and the Greeks desired wisdom, this very practical Roman imperial soldier is seeking the solution to a problem.

He is no quibbler in the law or philosopher looking for a debate. He is a man on a mission to find a healer for his servant. Somehow, it has been revealed to the centurion that Jesus could, and would, heal the centurion’s paralyzed slave. Jesus describes this revelation as “faith” – and Scripture is clear that faith is something we receive as a gift. Faith is something that comes from above. Faith is not something revealed to us by flesh and blood. Somehow – perhaps by the preaching of Christ Himself who was to become the One crucified by another later centurion – this veteran comes to faith.

He believes in Jesus’s power to heal, to restore, to make new. And he believes this firmly, to the point of simply asking Jesus to “only say the word” with the result of his servant being healed.

The centurion seeks no sign nor word of wisdom. He doesn’t even ask Jesus to come in person. He doesn’t try to use his own position of authority to arrest and compel Jesus. He simply shows up and asks Jesus for His help. And notice too that the revelation of Jesus’s power also seems to include a revelation that the centurion is “not worthy” to have the Lord “under his roof.”

Once again, this is a clear conviction of sin by the law. This is not the natural state of hubris of a Roman citizen, soldier, and officer. The centurion’s humility to come before the Lord with his humble petitions is likewise a gift of God, evidence of a converted heart.

The centurion explains matter-of-factly that he, as a soldier and commander, understands the top-down nature of power. He knows that Jesus is the general over men and creation – even over the forces that cause sickness. He puts his faith in the very words of Jesus, and places his trust blindly on the promise of Jesus.

It is no wonder that our Lord marvels. For he hasn’t seen such faith even among the Israelites, who not only have the ancient prophets, but the Scriptures, as well as the preaching and miracles of their Messiah to bolster their faith. But instead, it is this Gentile, this imperial soldier, whose faith exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees.

This passage not only illustrates the way the Lord works, passing His power in the form of His Word through a chain of command to affect healing and regeneration, this narrative also shows clearly that citizenship in this kingdom is not based on one’s race or social status.

And what a glorious picture of the Church!

Natural children of Abraham are bound in service with adopted children of Abraham. Men, women, and children of every race, tribe, and tongue are united in a vast army of soldiers fighting the forces of evil under the command of our Lord. And just as any army contains a diversity of gifts and talents to keep on marching against the enemy, the Church likewise has footsoldiers, centurions, and commanders of the highest rank – rallying around a blood-red banner of redemption and united in His Majesty’s service.

In this army, there is no cause for arrogance among men of rank. For in the army of God’s kingdom, those who command are to be servants of all. In this army, there is no reason to boast of one’s station, for we are what we are by grace, because it has been commanded us, because we have been created to do what we have been designed to do.

Our victories are His victories, even as our failures and shortcomings are our own. But like any army, we aren’t alone, dear brothers and sisters. We march as a unit, we support one another, we bind up one another’s wounds, we lay down our lives for our comrades in arms, and if we pay the ultimate sacrifice, we are only following the example of our Lord, who not only says “go” and His servants “go,” “come,” and His servants come, but also “Let there be light” and there was light.”

The Word of Jesus moves men and mountains, for the Word of Jesus is the Word of God. The Word of God creates anew and forgives sins. The Word of God heals and restores. The centurion not only knew how the chain of command works in God’s kingdom, he understood that he was addressing the One who had the authority to command even paralysis to obey.

The centurion understood that when our Lord said: “Go, let it be done for you as you have believed,” these were not simply words of encouragement, empowerment, self-esteem, or best wishes. For psychobabble, no matter how well-intended, is powerless to cure disease and forgive sin.

Indeed, the centurion understood completely, or more accurately, he believed, he had faith, he trusted the promise of Jesus and confessed Him to be God Almighty. The centurion believed that the Word of Jesus has authority, not just to express a sympathetic wish, but rather make it so.

You, dear brothers and sisters, have also been cured of something far worse than paralysis. You have been cleansed of your sins. You have been baptized and washed clean, like Naaman, the leprous general, who bathed away his rotting, dying flesh in the Jordan River. You have been cleansed of death and decay as well, in miraculous water containing the Word and the mighty power of Jesus – applied to you by a man under authority, bearing the Word of God and giving the promise of healing to you.

The Word of God is effective and powerful. It creates, it heals, and it sustains. And hear the mighty Word of the Lord again, dear friends, for I too am a man under authority: by virtue of my office as a called and ordained servant of the Word, and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins…

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

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Again on Lew: (O Death, Where Is Your Stimulus?)

Obviously, a slow-news day on Lew Rockwell (or will be Monday, January 26), as Lew has opted to run my look at the Latin behind the stimulus.

Sermon: Memorial Service of Kevin Rome

24 January 2009 at Mothe Funeral Home, Harvey, LA

Text: Matt 11:28-30, (Isa 25:6-9, 2 Cor 4:7-18)

In the + name of Jesus. Amen.

Dear family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and guests.

Peace be with you. May you be comforted by Him who says: “I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Of course, in times like these, the yoke feels anything but easy, and the burden sure doesn’t seem to be light, but we cling to the promise of our Lord and trust in Him.

For Jesus is far more than a gentle teacher, a noble spiritual master, or an all-around good-guy. The empty tomb in Jerusalem and the billions of people around the world who, for two thousand years, even in duress and martyrdom confess Jesus as God in the flesh, point to a very different Jesus: one who has power, even over death and the grave.

Jesus said: “I did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.” For we do live in a world that needs saving.

We live in a fallen world, where things are not the way they should be. Men should not be cut down in the prime of life. We are surrounded by crime, sadness, broken families, sickness, natural disasters, and every manner of pain and suffering. This is not the world as God created it. This is not what the Creator placed man into. But our own sinfulness and rebellion has brought on all these things – even the very death that we will all endure because of our own fallenness.

Rather than condemn us sinners and destroy the fallen world, our Lord is also our Savior, that is, our Rescuer and re-Creator. As the prophet has told us:

“He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”

But in the meanwhile, as St. Paul has told us anew:

“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

For this, dear brothers and sisters, is what the Christian faith is. It is not a collection of fables, nor even a quaint way to learn morals. It is not part of a cafeteria of beliefs that you can pick and choose from, or just another hobby that you can do on Sundays. The Christian faith is the only comfort we have in death – because it is true in every sense of the word. Your Lord uses all manner of events in life – be it prosperity or sadness – to call you back to Himself.

The baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit applied to Kevin is indeed a source of comfort today. Your baptism should bring comfort to you – and the seed planted at your baptism cries out for you to nourish it with the Word of God and prayer, with Holy Communion, and being attached to the “one holy Christian and apostolic Church” – where Jesus is found, where sins are forgiven, where comfort is given, where death and the grave are forever conquered. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting” says St. Paul.

In spite of our continued life in this fallen world, this valley of tears, this place of brokenness, of crime, of suffering, of family problems, of hurricanes, of economic woes, of drug addictions, of disappointments, of broken hearts, of widows and orphans, of terminal illness, and even of death itself – we have a Savior. Cling to Him, to the only One who defeated every form of temptation, the One who crushed the head of the devil, the One whose death destroyed death and whose resurrection to eternal life is a pledge to those who hold fast to Him.

For this is how the apostle can say:

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."


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

Friday, January 23, 2009

Housewives making a comeback!

Wow! Check out this report from Australia.

Through a confluence of various cultural phenomena, it seems that there is a trend among young women to reject the modern woman-hating feminism and self-centered careerism that pushes women to compete with men, and instead are returning to the traditional vocation of what Scripture calls a "helpmeet" (Gen 2:18) and a "keeper of home" (Titus 2:5) - which sounds a whole lot like the modern version of the strong and powerful woman of Proverbs 31.

Dare we hope that womanhood will once again be something to celebrate and venerate instead of something to be ashamed of, something to exchange for a knockoff of masculinity? If nothing else, individual families that return to the biblical traditional model will experience home life that is impossible under the secular egalitarian approach. Can you just imagine quitting your job, bringing your children out of daycare, eating genuine and tasty home-cooked (and maybe even home-grown) meals with husband and children, and spending oodles more time together as a close-knit family? Let me tell you - any square footage in the house or material stuff to cram it with that you have to give up in order to do it is well worth it!

Of course, the mannish, sourpuss champions of "choice" will soon be denouncing women who opt to submit to their husbands and who choose to live out the godly vocation of wife and mother as some kind of "gender traitors." So much for the "freedom to choose."

Ladies, join the resistance!

A couple of places to start: Ladies Against Feminism (website) and Passionate Housewives (book). You're not alone, and your husband (and children) will love having a wife, a mother, and a real home-life once again.

Home, Sweet Rome

At the risk of being called a "Romanizer" by the "usual suspects," I offer this wonderful article that has both Father and Mrs. Hollywood agreeing that if I had no divine call, we would be on our way.

Being that leaving is in no way an option for a servus Christi under holy orders, we continue to enjoy cappuccino in the morning in a city and region that may be the among the most un-American (in the good sense) in the Imperium Americanum.


Brits Learn Hard Lesson

My old pal Steve who lives in London writes:
Yes, the video is a very good portrayal of what happened here. I remember at the time of the gun ban that most people simply didn't believe this would happen.

Well, it happened. Now you in America have a perfect example of the consequences of a gun ban. You have seen the 'mother country' throw away 1000 years of hard-won liberties - and become LESS safe and LESS civilized.

If you in America don't learn from our mistake then you are stupid and deserve everything you get.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fr. Hollywood on Lew Rockwell

Insects and Bureaucrats

In celebration of our son's 4th birthday, my wife and I brought him on a long-promised trip to the New Orleans Insectarium. It's the least we could do for our lad, given his penchant for insects and arachnids (he recently taught me the word: "cephalothorax").

But of course, if it were that simple, it wouldn't be a story worth telling. And like any story, there are villains and heroes.

Click here to continue...

Prayer or Nursery Rhyme?

How sad.

An eighty-seven-year old Methodist minister had the honor to give the benediction at an Inauguration. Here was his opportunity as a Christian pastor, an elder-statesman, a worshiper of the Holy Trinity, to give a benediction, that is, a blessing, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on a day that could have been seen as a day of unity and harmony.

But instead, America got the opposite.

With two million people listening live, and perhaps billions around the world via TV, Rev. Joseph Lowery tried to be "cute" instead of genuinely praying for the Lord to bless the people of the United States of America and the man who has been elected to the helm of its executive branch. Pastor Lowery seems to worship his own race and his own sense of "empowering victimhood" rather than the Triune God. What a missed opportunity for a called and ordained servant of the Word!

USA TODAY patronizingly calls Pastor Lowery's insulting race-based frittering away of his few seconds to bless and to do what God has called him to do (to stand in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ to forgive sins, to proclaim the Gospel before the world, to speak truth to power) as an "impassioned benediction."

"Impassioned" is basically a euphemism for "emotional drivel." But I guess that wouldn't be politic to come out and say so.

I'm not sure whether I should be more insulted by the pastor's race-baiting and arrogant scolding of white people, praying to God that they "embrace what is right" (this after millions upon millions of whites voted a black man into office), or rather more embarrassed for him as a fellow pastor for what appears to be his attempt to sound like Dr. Seuss:
"help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right."
This is about as much as a "benediction" as the old water-saving adage:

"If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down."

The sad part is that if Rev. Lowery hasn't grown up by now, he probably won't. At the age of 87, it's high time to join the ranks of the adults. Maybe the next inauguration will be more dignified (hopefully without the chanting at, booing, and taunting of, the former president). Americans are becoming an uglier people with an uglier culture, it seems, with each passing day. I can only imagine how far we will degrade over the next four, eight, sixteen, or thirty-two years.

No matter who wins the next election, I hope the Inauguration will have better, more faithful representatives of Christianity to offer prayers, and a real Christian benediction next time around.

Actually, the best benediction of all isn't particularly "impassioned," but at least it doesn't sound like a toilet flushing rhyme or a first book for toddlers. It is especially powerful because it is God's Word, it is not designed to be an insult or a belittling of people of any ethnicity, and it is applied to all of God's children regardless of their race, tribe, or tongue:
"The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and + give you peace. Amen."
Now that would have been a benediction we could have all said an "Amen" to.

Anybody need $6.8M ?

Free to good home: $6,800,000.

I got the following e-mail...

Contact Smith Raymond for your (ATM Card)with a fund worth 6.8 Million Dollars has been accredited in your favor.Email:

...and I'm passing it along to all Father Hollywood readers who may be interested. Of course, being clergy, I'm subject to some pretty unusual IRS rules, and I'm sure that if I were to take this money, I would get bumped into a different tax bracket. Boy, that would really mess up my tax forms.

Besides, $6.8M just isn't what it used to be. These days, I don't even think that would buy Steve Austin a hip replacement.

But it sure is nice that so many kind people, like this Smith Raymond, write to me on a daily basis to make such offers. For some reason, g-mail has a tendency to sort them into a folder called "Spam" along with all kinds of offers for pharmaceutical products. These kinds of e-mails always renew my faith in the goodness of man, and quite frankly, make me wonder if St. Augustine and all that "original sin" stuff might be an exaggeration.

But please do post back here if you take the money, and let me know what you plan on doing with it!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Treasury of Daily Prayer presentation

I continue to be impressed with the new Lutheran breviary (prayer book) published by CPH called the Treasury of Daily Prayer. Quite of few of my parishioners have purchased the book, and many of them report being similarly delighted.

However, for first-time users of a breviary, the practice of traditional, disciplined prayer can be unfamiliar or even strange. To Lutherans, it may seem strange to pray the Bible rather than studying it (and this is not to dimish the importance of the latter). It can also be an intimidating tome, with 1500 pages and six different colored ribbons to mark pages.

But in reality, TDP greatly simplifies daily prayer, and yet it is very flexible, being as rigorous as one desires.

After Sunday's Mass, I gave a presentation on the TDP and a workshop on how to use it. Of course, we had to begin with food, as parishioner Jean Richoux brought sandwiches (including muffulettas!) and other church members brought various cakes and goodies. After the repast, I opened with a scene from the movie Southern Belles that comically depicts a less-than-disciplined approach to prayer at a dinner table - a sort-of "what not to do" which stands in stark contrast to the TDP's traditional approach to Christian prayer. I then jumped into my powerpoint presentation itself, after which we concluded with a prayer service from the TDP itelf.

It was a real joy to be able to encourage my parishioners to join their brothers and sisters in daily prayer with this fine resource.

My powerpoint is not a scholarly treatise, and I'm quite sure it could be done much better. But if anyone is interested in what I presented, you're free to take it, look at it, modify it in any way, and use it as you see fit for any presentations of your own. If it can help someone else, great! The point is to help people get over the hump and start praying!

So, if you'd like a copy of the ppt file, click here and then click on "Treasury of Daily Prayer presentation."

Birthday of a Great American

For more than a century, Southerners in particular have celebrated the Birthday of Robert E. Lee as a holiday - in many Southern states as an official observance. In Virginia (the home state of General Lee and his compatriot General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson - whose birthday is January 21), the official state holiday for many years was "Lee-Jackson Day).

For a century, it has been the custom in many Southern states and communities to fly the battle flag of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in tribute to Lee on January 19 in honor of his birthday. Some folks from the North are shocked, even scandalized, to learn that many Southern states give state employees the day off for Confederate Memorial Day - which few realize actually predated the Federal version of Memorial Day (which later was added to the list of holidays in the Southern states as well).

Robert Edward Lee was always a man of extraordinary character and talent.

He was born January 19, 1807, the son of Revolutionary War hero and Governor of Virginia, Gen. Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee. The Lees are among the oldest and most venerable families in Virginia. Robert's father died while Robert was eleven, leaving the family in disarray - and Robert grew up in Arlington, Virginia, raised by his devout Episcopalian mother.

He went to the USMA at West Point (class of 1829), and was one of the very few cadets to graduate with no demerits on his record. He finished second in his class. He served in the Corps of Engineers, and worked on Mississippi River levees (New Orleans has a prominent traffic circle near the river downtown named for Lee that features a towering column with a statue of General Lee atop). He later distinguished himself as an officer in the Mexican War (1847-49).

One of his last duties as a U.S. Army officer involved the "war on terror" of his day. Colonel Lee was put in charge of a detachment of U.S. Marines to arrest a terrorist named John Brown, a fanatic and mass-murderer, who, along with a small militia of extremists, had overtaken an army arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in an attempt to seize arms for a planned slave uprising. Brown was captured, and later executed for treason. Today's history books largely (and shamefully) overlook his murderous spree of violence and even justify his terrorism based on his abolitionism.

Following the secession crisis of 1860-61, as seven states of the deep South had seceded (which did not include Lee's native Virginia), Northern President Abraham Lincoln offered Col. Lee command of all military forces of the United States. This was only three weeks after Lee had been promoted to full colonel - a remarkable offer. Though he opposed secession, Lee understood that his own state was poised to secede from the United States should the North invade the seceded states. True to his principle of honor over careerism, and in patriotism for his beloved Virginia, Lee declined the promotion. Virginia did later secede in indignation toward the refusal of the Lincoln administration to allow the seceded states to leave the Union in peace. Lee resigned his Federal commission to take command of the military forces of the newly-independent Commonwealth of Virginia.

After Virginia joined the other ten seceded states (as well as two other disputed provisional state governments and several U.S. territories that had likewise seceded) in forming the Confederate States of America, General Lee would find himself commanding one of the three major armies of the CSA: the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV).

Lee's ANV would rack up a remarkable record of victories, being noted not only for their military prowess, but courage, audacity, discipline, strategic and tactical brilliance, and innovation. As the ANV's commander, Lee insisted that his soldiers act with gentlemanly military bearing and chivalry toward civilians - whether Northern or Southern. Lee's reputation, both as a general and as a man of honor, was unquestioned - even by his opponents.

Lee wrote many letters to his family, and was deeply committed to his Christianity, to chivalric honor, to patriotism, to duty, and to ethical rigor.

As a general, Lee was concerned for the welfare of the common soldier. While on the march, he typically slept in a tent rather than in a house. The affection with which Lee was held by both grateful civilians and fighting men alike is shown by the anecdote (I believe recounted in Michael Shaara's Killer Angels) of how Lee was sleeping in his tent as a large detachment of Confederate soldiers tiptoed by as silently as possible so as not to disturb the general. Anyone who has participated in reenactments - being laden down with a clanging tin canteen, heavy musket, foot-long bayonet, bags of supplies, ammunition, and shod in noisy metal-heeled brogan shoes - realizes how comical and touching this scene must have been.

Lee and his indefatigable warriors beat the overwhelming odds for four long years. My own Confederate ancestors fought in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and participated in some of American history's greatest battles. But in the end, the Confederates were defeated by sheer numbers in a war of attrition. In April of 1865, Lee surrendered his forces and laid down his arms. He was determined to partake in whatever misery lay ahead for his fellow Virginians. The now penniless General Lee, whose Arlington home was confiscated by vindictive federal bureaucrats, was a "man without a country." He was offered several lucrative contracts to do nothing more than allow his name (and thus his reputation) to be listed on corporate boards of directors - which General Lee felt would be dishonest. He turned down all such offers.

Instead, General Lee accepted the presidency of Washington College, believing education to be the best path to rebuilding the infrastructure of the demolished South. He insisted that every Washington College student be first and foremost a gentleman. After the war, General Lee showed respect and compassion to the veterans who were mostly common soldiers on both sides. He continued to exhort his fellow Southerners to patiently endure the insults, brutality, and outright political plunder of their post-war Northern countrymen, and get on with rebuilding their families and society.

General Lee died October 12, 1870, and was buried in a tomb beneath the chapel of Washington College (today known as the Lee Chapel of Washington and Lee University).

Wikipedia's article on General Lee, which in places is quite deliberately insulting, includes the following quote from the great Georgia Senator and orator Benjamin Harvey Hill delivered four years after the General's death, an opinion shared by Americans in the North and South alike:
He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbour without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guile. He was a Caesar, without his ambition; Frederick, without his tyranny; Napoleon, without his selfishness, and Washington, without his reward.
In a day and age when "role models" are selected based solely on things like athletic ability, being in a rock band, having wealth, or artificially and arbitrarily based on race, sex, or perceived "gender identity"; even as character and nobility are overlooked, as trashiness is exalted, as scandal and sometimes criminality are no longer barriers for making a person worthy of emulation by young people - continuing to remember and honor Robert E. Lee on this, his birthday, is a refreshing act of rebellion against the forces of political correctness.

Robert Edward Lee was a man who stood for principles. He was a Christian, a patriot, a warrior, an educator, a peacemaker, and a man whose life was quietly ruled by the ever-present desire to do what is right. It is fitting that Americans, especially Southerners and most especially Virginians, remember this heroic man on this auspicious holiday commemorating his birth. And though fewer and fewer recall his ideals and example as the years go by, those who do continue to be edified by true greatness as opposed to manufactured mythmaking and the politically-correct collective overlooking of "inconvenient truths" that cannot be wished or ignored away.

Here is a tribute to General Lee written by Fr. Abram J. Ryan, the Roman Catholic priest who served as a Confederate chaplain and as a prolific and beloved American poet:

The Sword of Robert Lee

Forth from its scabbard, pure and bright,
Flashed the sword of Lee!
Far in the front of the deadly fight,
High o'er the brave in the cause of Right,
Its stainless sheen, like a beacon light,
Led us to Victory!

Out of its scabbard, where, full long,
It slumbered peacefully,
Roused from its rest by the battle's song,
Shielding the feeble, smiting the strong,
Guarding the right, avenging the wrong,
Gleamed the sword of Lee!

Forth from its scabbard, high in air
Beneath Virginia's sky --
And they who saw it gleaming there,
And knew who bore it, knelt to swear
That where that sword led they would dare
To follow -- and to die!

Out of its scabbard! Never hand
Waved sword from stain as free,
Nor purer sword led braver band,
Nor braver bled for a brighter land,
Nor brighter land had a cause so grand,
Nor cause a chief like Lee!

Forth from its scabbard! How we prayed
That sword might victor be;
And when our triumph was delayed,
And many a heart grew sore afraid,
We still hoped on while gleamed the blade
Of noble Robert Lee!

Forth from its scabbard all in vain
Bright flashed the sword of Lee;
'Tis shrouded now in its sheath again,
It sleeps the sleep of our noble slain,
Defeated, yet without a stain,
Proudly and peacefully!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sermon: Epiphany 2

18 January 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 2:1-11 (Amos 9:11-15, Eph 5:22-33)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

This miracle, turning water into wone at a wedding feast, is, according to St. John, “the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”

This first of many miracles got the disciples’ attention, it was a manifestation of the Lord’s glory, of His divine nature. It worked faith in the disciples, and this in turn brought about an even greater, though unseen miracle: the miracle of the mystery of faith itself.

And it is fitting that this, the first manifestation of His glory, was done at a wedding, the celebration of the mystery of the oldest institution known to man, the order through which God continues to create humanity, bringing new people into the world.

It is also fitting that this first sign was done at a feast, a celebration of great joy in the context of a meal. For indeed, it is impossible to have a feast without eating, to celebrate without bread on the table, without hospitality, and without table fellowship.

And again, it is fitting that this first miraculous manifestation of the Lord’s power was an event marked with not only wine, but with the “good wine,” wine made miraculously by the Word and command of Jesus. Wine is also part of feasting, of celebration, of joy. The Lord spoke through the prophet Amos, promising that in the final paradise, “the mountains shall drip sweet wine” and that the Lord’s people “shall plant vineyards and drink their wine.” In many of our Lord’s parables, eternity is pictured as a marriage feast in which wine is enjoyed by all the guests.

And yet, in this fallen world, marriages, feasts, and the drinking of wine are far from ideal.

What was created by God to be a wondrous bond between a man and a woman for life, designed to create a nurturing home for children, has fallen into selfish short-term partnering arrangements that are anything but a place of refuge for little ones. In the culture of death, we see abortion, abuse, and neglect of children. We see selfish parents going back on their vows. We see marriage even being redefined to run contrary to nature. The picture has become so murky that one is hard-pressed to see this as St. Paul did, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” The biblical notion of a man lovingly serving as the head of his family, and his wife lovingly submitting to his headship has largely become a forgotten relic – and we can see the results all around us.

Feasts have likewise changed from being celebrations of thanksgiving to our gracious God who provides all things, into being hedonistic displays of gluttony and consumerism in which God may never be mentioned except for as a curse word. Wedding receptions, in particular, have become crass and vulgar affairs wrapped up in self-obsession and wasteful spending that, far from calling to mind the mystery of men and women binding themselves together in love, instead become spectacles of gaudiness and trashiness unbefitting the dignity of a Christian sacramental act.

Even wine, one of the oldest and most joyous gifts from the Lord to man, has been perverted and ruined by our sinful nature. Instead of serving man in pleasure, alcohol is often abused and turns man into a slave, sometimes violent, and even to the point of the alcohol becoming a false god. What a terrible distortion of the glorious promise of a paradise in which wine drips from the very mountains, its sweetness to be enjoyed.

Sin has taken all of these good gifts and corrupted them, turned joy into despair, turned grace into a curse, and distorted the manifestation of our Lord’s glory at a wedding feast as He turned water into wine.

And yet, the fact that sin has corrupted this sign makes this sign all the more meaningful. For our Lord uses this miracle not only to prove a point, not only to “manifest His glory,” but also to give His blessing to marriages, to feasts, and to wine. He has come to reclaim what man, at his basest and vilest, has perverted and made nearly unrecognizable as gifts of a gracious God.

“You have kept the good wine until now,” says the master of the feast. The best of the Lord’s creation is yet to come. This “first of His signs” is but a preview, a small glimpse into His re-created Eden, His new creation, His eternity that He has prepared for us, His redeemed.

For no matter how unfaithful husbands and wives are to one another in this fallen world, Jesus is the perfect Bridegroom to His Church. Jesus indeed shows men how to love their wives, as marriage as it was created and as it was intended to be is the very picture of Jesus’s love for the Church. Marriage is redeemed by the Redeemer, and the bride and bridegroom become one flesh, even as our Lord’s flesh is mingled with our flesh in the mystery of Holy Communion. For in mutual love in which each spouse loves the other above himself, we see the picture of the Lord Jesus Christ and the perfect love that will be between Him and the Church when heaven and earth are made anew.

No matter how far we have taken our eyes off of Jesus as we seek to find fulfillment in material things, our Lord Jesus continues to feed us with the foretaste of the greatest feast of all – the Eternal Wedding Feast of the Lamb and His Bride. The Feast is redeemed by the Redeemer, and the eternal celebrations are unmarked by gluttony and selfishness, by garishness and false gods. For this Feast is not about us, but all about our Lord and His triumph over sin, death, and the devil.

No matter how much we abuse the good gift of wine, our Lord chooses to make His first sign a miraculous provision of the fruit of the vine. Wine is redeemed by the Redeemer, and the wine in this eternal banquet is not abused, not used as an excuse for shameful behavior, and is not there for the purpose of seeking to dull the senses or fulfill an addiction. For this is the Savior who gives His blood to us in the form of wine, the cup of the New Testament, shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.

Dear brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus manifests His glory in the very midst of all the worldly things that we sinners abuse. This is not by accident. For our Lord’s mission is one of re-creation, reclamation, and restoration.

For we are to marry, and feast, and drink. We are to become one flesh as men and women, to multiply, to live in traditional families, and see marriage as sacred and holy. We are to feast, to enjoy the fruits of the earth, to celebrate with all the faithful the marriage feast of the Lamb, to eat the daily bread provided for us by our Creator. And we are to drink wine for sheer joy, celebrating the good gifts of creation and partaking in the blood of Christ that was shed for us men and for our salvation.

And though this was the first sign, it was not to be the last. For the Lord Jesus Christ became one flesh with His Church as He shared His body and blood at the Last Supper. The Lord Jesus gave His Bride the eternal feast of the New and Greater Passover Lamb, whose sacrifice is partaken of by all the redeemed. The Lord Jesus has promised to drink wine with us anew in His kingdom, even as He poured out His blood on the cross and gives us the wine of Hid blood in the Holy Sacrament.

The Lord Jesus withholds nothing from His Bride, the Church. The feast we partake in is eternal, for indeed, He has “kept the good wine until now.” Amen.

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

Friday, January 16, 2009

Let Us Scribble!

My colleague in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and brother in the Office of the Holy Ministry, Rev. Christopher D. Hall , has given me a high honor - the Superior Scribbler Award. I think it must have something for my lifelong inability to "stay inside the lines."

In accordance with the rubrics and stipulations of this ancient order of blogospheric knighthood, below is a list of the rules and rubrics governing this distinction:
  • Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.
  • Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
  • Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.
In accordance with my obligations as a Scribbler, I hereby nominate the following as fellow-Scribblers, granting them all the rights and privileges thereof (and of course, I commend them to you for your perusal, dear reader):

The Rev. Subdeacon Latif Gaba for Gaba's Notebook
The Rev. Paul Beisel for One Lutheran…Ablog!™
The Rev. James McDonald for Family Reformation
Mrs. Stacy McDonald for Your Sacred Calling
"Past Elder" for Past Elder

Now go and do likewise...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sermon: Baptism of Our Lord (trans)

14 January 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 3:13-17 (Isa 42:1-7, 1 Cor 1:26-31)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is full of surprises.

He presents Himself to His cousin John in order to submit to a baptism of repentance, a washing away of sin by water and the Word. Obviously, this stuns John, for even as an infant in his mother’s womb, the Holy Spirit revealed to John who Jesus is. And John knows full well that this is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

“What are you doing here?” says John. He suggests that the proper thing would be to change places. But John is wrong. The proper thing is not always what reason and the senses say is proper. Rather the proper thing is what our Lord says: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” To fulfill all righteousness…

Jesus is not submitting to a sinner’s baptism to admit, repent of, or be forgiven of sins. Rather He submits so that we sinners can admit, repent of, and be forgiven of our sins – which are washed away by water through the Word. And this Word is in the water itself.

Fifteen hundred years later, a fellow baptizer and preacher, whose head many wanted on a plate as well, would pen the question: “How can water do such great things?” The answer is: “Certainly not just water, but the Word of God in and with the water does these things.” The Word is not only the Bible. Nor does the Word mean only the baptismal formula spoken over the water – but is truly the Word, that is Christ Himself, “in and with” the water that makes disciples, forgives sins, saves, and gives us a washing of rebirth.

Baptism without the Word of God, that is, without Christ, is only water. But when the Word is implanted into the water, as we confess in the catechism: “it is a baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three.”

And this, dear friends, is made possible because the Word, that is, the Word made flesh, has sanctified the water of the Jordan, and indeed, as Luther’s famous flood-prayer confesses to God: “You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” The water in this font is as holy as the water of the Jordan – for our Lord has made it so.

Though our world is fallen, though creation reeks of sin, though much of the water on our planet is brackish or polluted – even as our sinful nature is corrupted – things are not to remain this way. Dear brothers and sisters, God broke into creation to redeem that creation, to re-create, and to make new!

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” to redeem our flesh, and our dwellings. Jesus, the Word of God “by whom all things were made,” who “created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it,” enters the water like the sinful world drowned by the flood, like “hard-hearted Pharaoh,” like a body descending into a tomb – and from this position of death, of sin, of tainted creation, He breaks to the surface, having consecrated all waters, all creation, and indeed all men in the name of the Godhead, the Omnipresent made present in our limited creation, the Omnipotent given to “what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”

Jesus had no reason to be cleansed by baptismal water, but baptismal water had need to be sanctified by Him!

Jesus, who is holy, nevertheless submits to being declared holy by the priests. Jesus, who is the God of the covenant, nevertheless submits to circumcision under the law. Jesus, who is sinless, nevertheless submits to a baptism of repentance under a prophet. Jesus, who is king, nevertheless submits to being declared a king by a lesser man, who posts the declaration above His cross. Jesus, who owes no wages of sin, nevertheless submits to death on the cross as a ransom for those who believe and as victory over death itself. Jesus, who is God, submits to manhood to save mankind.

This is what He means by: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

And this was not to be the last surprise of the day, for as our Lord emerged from the water, “behold , the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him.”

Thus we see the Holy Spirit’s work – which is never apart from the Word of God, from the Son, from the sacramental means by which He is present among us, “the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” If the Holy Spirit is given to our perfect Lord as He is washed with baptismal water, how much more are we, the redeemed, the ones who stand in the wake of our Lord, surrounded by the same “Lord and giver of life.”

And as if God the Son showing up in space and time, humbly waiting in line to be given a sinner’s baptism, and, the very Holy Spirit descending into space and time in the visible and humble form of a dove, are not enough of a surprise, imagine the “shock and awe” of hearing the voice of God the Father Almighty resounding as a voice from the heavens themselves, rending the air with a mighty Paternal proclamation: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” In this Most Holy Baptism, we have the triple miracle of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity showing up in space and time, being completely accessible to the senses, all out of love for His creation and for the redemption of His creatures.

And yet, this is not where the surpeise and the miraculous wonder end. The baptism of our Lord Jesus begins His ministry, His sojourn of three years walking the earth before His death and resurrection. At the very end of that three year ministry, our Lord gives the great commission to the eleven disciples, the men who are being ordained as apostles, the men whom the Lord is placing into an office of authority to act on His behalf in preaching the Word, forgiving sins, and bringing people into communion with the Holy Trinity. And how does He tell them to do this?

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…” To be brought into the redemptive work of God, to be recreated, to be born again, to be cleansed from all sins, to be renewed and restored to new life is to be baptized. And the miracle of the Word, that is, the Son, being present in the water; the Holy Spirit’s descent; and the Father’s voice of Paternal acknowledgment, love, and delight are all present for us in this ongoing Holy Baptism applied to each one of us.

For the Trinity is still at work. The Persons of God continue in self-revelation for the surprising purpose of saving and making new. And this divine power is still at work in all of our miraculous baptisms, which as our Lord instructs, are indeed carried out, even as was His…

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

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm reminded of a saying by...

...the Rev. Kenneth Korby:
"God ordains men to the pastoral office. Be one."
Enough said.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Taste Worship?

I recently got an invitation to a "worship event" at a local LCMS congregation in which the worship is to be "led" by a guy named Peder Eide. I don't believe he is an ordained minister. I asked him what his denominational affiliation is, and he wrote back that he is a Lutheran.

Sadly, "Lutheran" has become a word that lacks precision these days. Obviously, there are not only many synods, but many theologies covered by the term "Lutheran" even within our own synod.

According to his Taste Worship website, his next event (Jan 21, 2009) will be at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Excelsior, MN, a self-described "open and welcoming ELCA congregation" that has a woman "pastor" on staff.

His use of the term "taste worship" is interesting, if not ironic.

The word "taste" can mean different things. "Taste" can be used in a literal sense, as in physical eating - which is indeed central to worship in the Lutheran tradition - as in the Sacrament of the Altar, also known as the Mass or the Lord's Supper (e.g. AC X and AC XXIV). "Taste" also has a more figurative meaning, which conveys propriety and decorum - which is certainly also central to the Lutheran tradition of reverence in Lutheran worship - which is, in fact, clearly spelled out in our Lutheran confessions (e.g. the condemnation of "spectacles" and the requirement that worship embody "Christian discipline" and "evangelical decorum" per FC SD X:7 and the "greatest reverence" of liturgical worship, per AC XXIV:1).

Is either definition of "taste" being used here?

I would certainly describe the worship at my own congregation as tasteful. Not because of any aesthetic talents of our own. But rather only because we follow the reverential historic liturgy of the Western Mass as it has been handed over to us from our Evangelical Catholic (Lutheran) fathers. Our worship is also centered on the physical act of "taste," as every Divine Service is grounded in the miracle of the Holy Eucharist of the Lord's most holy body and blood.

And our worship services really do embody what Mr. Eide dreams about - diversity according to age. Our version "taste worship" routinely includes newborns right up to octogenarians (and occasionally, a nonagenarian) gathered in family groups from every race and socioeconomic status. That is the beauty of traditional worship - our hymns are not bound by time and style. They don't pit one group against the other. Nobody is left out just because they might not like rock music or fit in with the ever-transient youth culture.

I'm sure he means well, but if Mr. Eide truly wants to "taste worship" in New Orleans, featuring diverse trans-generationalism (even transcending the grave!), he might want to visit a traditional Lutheran church to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps 34:8) through the Most Holy Sacrament, and join with young, old, living, dead, human beings, angels, and even the Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh Himself, in heavenly worship that leaves this fallen culture of death outside the doors of the Holy Ark of the Church, and likewise leaves the guitars, light-shows, and other entertainments to the real rock stars who perform at places like the House of Blues in the French Quarter, or in our many music festivals in New Orleans. If we want to rock, rap, or zydeco the day (and night) away, there are lots (and lots!) of times and places to do that - just not during the Divine Service in our church sanctuary.

Some things are sacred.

And just because I habitually wear all black, cut my musical teeth on hard rock and heavy metal, and one of my parishioners gave me the CD "Black Ice" as a Christmas present (thank you, Barbara, you rock!), doesn't mean I'll be strutting into the sanctuary any time soon to the strains of "Back in Black" or screaming lines from "Rock and Roll Damnation" to those on the "Highway to Hell." As an adult convert to Lutheranism I have to make an observation: you "cradle Lutherans" have a treasure that you too often take for granted, not only in the magnificent corpus of sacred music from 500 years of rigorous sung "theology of the cross" that is glorious, timeless and applicable to every generation, and the envy of all Christendom, but you also have the mother lode of the liturgy, the full richness of ancient words from the very Word of God that breathe life into dead bones and make them live! Please don't take these holy treasures for granted and trade them away for a pottage of mere entertainment.

And in spite of Mr. Eide's good intentions, there are always "unintended consequences" - such as the utterly unrealistic expectation among teenagers that worship (and indeed the Christian life itself) will always be fun, entertaining, pulsating, filled with adoring fist-pumping crowds, and an emotional "high." For when when his "theology of glory" rock and roll roadshow has moved on, and when those same young people find themselves back in the real world struggling with family problems, with temptation, with the culture of death, when they find themselves in hospitals, at deathbeds, and dealing with authentic life in the sin-weary flesh rather than a rock and roll fantasy - it will be us pastors who will minister, truly minister to them under the cross, with traditional hymns and liturgical worship, forged in the furnace of the centuries, which preach Christ crucified, breathe life into fallen flesh, and bequeath salvation and true comfort - not just a catchy tune or a slogan on a t-shirt.

And under the cross, God's people of every generation and demographic will truly "taste worship", drinking the sacred wine of the Lord's blood unto eternal salvation rather than simply slurping the artificial Kool-Aid of sugary pop entertainment.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sermon: Epiphany 1

11 January 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:41-52 (1 Kings 8:6-13, Rom 12:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

It has suddenly become popular to be “spiritual” as opposed to “religious.” To be “spiritual” is cool, but to be “religious” is somehow old-fashioned and out of touch. And, as a bonus, being “spiritual” means having no organized religion, no place where one is expected to be, no obligation of other people, no need to live one’s life in conformity with the demands of organized religion. After all, God is everywhere, so I might as well let him deal with me where I want to be: the golf course, the fishing camp, or best of all, sleeping in on Sunday. In other words, being “spiritual” means doing whatever we want and being convinced that God is happy with the arrangement.

Of course, being “spiritual” in this way is a lot less rigorous than being “religious” and avoids the social stigma.

St. Paul speaks of “spiritual worship.” And yet his use of the word “spiritual” has nothing to do with having God meet us on our terms on the golf course or on the beach. In fact, “spiritual worship” means to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” It means: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Notice how Paul doesn’t drive a wedge between the body and the spirit. The two are together. And to be spiritual means using the vehicle of your body to submit to God’s will. And notice how Paul carries this talk of the body to lead us right to the Church that is so despised by people who would rather be “spiritual.” St Paul observes: “as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”

In other words, being “spiritual” means, at least according to God’s Word, to be physically attached and active in the Body of Christ, that is, the Church. And just as an arm doesn’t get to pick when and where the body will be, and what he, the arm, will be doing at any given time, neither does “being spiritual” in the true sense of the word mean shunning the “living sacrifice” of church life and pursuing a self-centered hobby instead.

False religions vilify the body and seek the body’s separation from the spirit. But if you think about it, this is death. But Christianity doesn’t seek to separate the two. In fact, “spiritual worship” is based on a transformation and renewal of the mind, and offering up our bodies in submission to our Lord through service to His Church! And that, dear friends, is the very opposite of death. Jesus describes the physical attachment of the Christian life in terms of His being the vine and we the branches. Plants survive by bodily organic connection – not by some kind of “spiritual” separation.

And it is true that God is a Spirit. He needs no house. He is truly everywhere. But notice that God wanted a house, a place where He could be located in space and time, where man could meet Him. The Ark of the Covenant was a place where God’s Spirit could dwell in the physical world, and where God’s flesh-and-blood people could assemble around His Word. The Lord assigned certain men to a priesthood to stand in the Holy Place and to minister before Him for the sake of the people.

The omnipresent God is indeed on the golf course. But God doesn’t invite us to the golf course to enter His presence, to receive His gifts, to eat and drink with Him in unending communion, to forgive our sins, or to strengthen our faith. For that is done physically, in the flesh, in the very same mode that God comes to us. And if God, who truly is spiritual, who has no need to be “religious,” but even He chooses to be present in space and time, in body and blood, in His Word proclaimed by His priests, in holy places at holy times – what makes anyone think they are somehow different?

Let us look to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself!

When the holy family went to Passover as our Lord was even still under the age of the traditional bar-mitzvah, the boy Jesus was in the temple, in His “Father’s House.” And though His Father had no need of a house, the Father knew beforehand that His Son, in human flesh, would be in that holy place at a holy time to be about His Father’s business.

And notice that not only does our Lord submit to His divine Father’s will, but also to His human mother’s: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.”

This, dear brothers and sisters, is the ultimate in what it means to be “spiritual.” If anyone had reason, and indeed the right, to shun “organized religion,” it would be our Lord. Our Lord Jesus Christ always pointed out hypocrisy and false religiosity, and yet He never spurned the temple, never played “spirituality” against “religion,” and never attended to His own comfort instead of meeting the obligations given Him by the Father – including the cross itself. And it is He who taught us to pray “Thy will be done.”

Dear friends, we too have obligations. We parents are obliged to baptize our children, to instruct them in the faith, to bring them to their Father’s house, to establish our own homes as sanctuaries for the Word of God – which is our “spiritual worship.” Even those of us who are not parents have responsibilities as members of the Body of Christ. In human physiology, when part of the body rebels against the rest of the body, it is known as cancer, and such malignant cells do not seek merely to be independent, they seek to destroy their host. Those who claim to be Christians, but of a “spiritual” sort, bodily disconnected from the House of the Lord, from the Body of the Church, are likewise malignant – even if their only intention is to be selfish and lazy.

And lest we become self-righteous, let us all heed St. Paul’s admonition: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,” for by virtue of the sin that dwells in each one of us, we all bear the malignancy of selfishness, of rebellion, of a lack of love for the Body of Christ and an inbred desire to push back against the divine Head of the Church, our Lord Himself. And the good news is that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

Because of our sinful nature, we cling all the more tightly to the Body of Christ, seeking Him where He may be found, “in this holy house,” and bodily gathering with “all who offer here their worship and praise” – which is indeed “your spiritual worship.”

The old temple was finally destroyed, as the Lord tabernacled among us in the Word made flesh. The temple of His body was destroyed, but on the third day, that Most Holy Temple was rebuilt. And unlike the old temple of stone, this new and greater temple is one of flesh and blood. And that flesh and blood is not limited, as ours are, to only one place and one time. Indeed, the new and greater temple is the Lord’s body and blood, and He is housed in the tabernacles of Christian churches of every time and place, and give to us to eat and to drink, turning our bodies likewise into temples of the Holy Spirit.

Dear brothers and sisters, to be truly spiritual is to submit – even as our Lord did – not only to those placed over him by virtue of their parental vocation, but to submit to the will of our loving Father that we gather in spirit and in body around His Word, in His sanctuary, in the Most Holy Place where His flesh and blood are given to us. Being spiritual is also about being in the flesh. In God’s good creation, both the body and spirit of man are in the image of God. For our God is not only a spirit, but willingly took flesh and dwelt among us.

And just as a child instinctively gathers around the bottom of a Christmas tree or roots around inside a stocking to seek gifts, we, the body of Christ, know where the Lord’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation are to be found. We, like our pre-teen Lord, know that we are called upon to be in our Father’s House, to submit to our Lord’s Will, and to see to it that being “spiritual” doesn’t mean deluding ourselves that where our bodies are makes no difference.

Indeed, dear friends, it is only “by the mercies of God” that the Lord empowers us to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Amen.

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

Friday, January 09, 2009

Only in the Big Easy... the following three items go together: Mardi Gras, lingerie, and crawfish.

Carnival is officially here, and today, the Hollywoods joined a tour group of friends to visit Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World. MGW is a local institution, as Kern (a.k.a. "Mr. Mardi Gras") makes the "greatest free show on earth" possible. Mr. Kern's studio is where local artists, beginning on the day after Mardi Gras (which for a lot of Lutherans could be called "Ashless Wednesday") and work like mad to get the floats created for next year's Carnival.

After a short film giving the historical background of Mardi Gras and of Blaine Kern's studio, we were all treated to king cake and coffee, after which we were given a tour of the warehouse/workship/museum as artists plied their trade.

We had a great time, and afterward wanted to get some lunch.

A block from our church, and two blocks from home is a little neighborhood pub called Bourré's. It always smells so good in the neighborhood when Bourré's is preparing barbecue. A couple weeks back, the three of us were bicycling by, and stopped to check out the place. I wanted to make sure Lion Boy was permitted inside (some restaurants are also bars, and they do have different rules for the under-21 crowd). When we stopped at that time, the place was basically empty, and the lady manager (owner?) told us that they serve lunch, have excellent burgers, and indeed Leo was welcome to come. They even have live music on Friday nights.

And so, after working up a Big Easy appetite touring Mardi Gras World, this seemed like a good time to pop in.

Again, the place was basically empty, save for a fellow at the end of the bar, a single occupied table with a couple folks in the middle of the small dining room, and the same lady manager. Our eyes were immediately drawn to the 12-foot alligator (real) mounted above the bar. The manager came out from behind the bar with an awkward look on her face (maybe it isn't every day a clergyman "in uniform" walks into the bar, at least without a rabbi...). As Leo and I looked at the gator, I heard Mrs. Hollywood, in her ever-unflappable, deadpan way, remark: "I seem to be a little overdressed here."

I turned to look just in time to see two ladies at the table in the middle of the dining room scurrying to cover up with long coats. The manager then sheepishly explained that on Tuesdays and Fridays they have "lingerie shows." I shrugged and smiled at the now-draped ladies at the table and offered: "Kinda chilly in here, huh?" Of course, it was 70 degrees and the doors were open...

Mrs. Hollywood was enjoying this way too much. What else could we do but laugh. We thought of it as just another comical thing that routinely happens in our alternate universe known as New Orleans. But it did seem like the women were genuinely embarrassed. The guy at the end of the bar was cracking up. Oblivious, Leo was petting the tail of the stuffed tiger (this is LSU country, after all) next to the cigarette machine (of which I didn't think any existed any more), and the manager did her best to smooth things over with me and actually try to talk us into staying. Her poise and salesmanship were something to behold.

We said we'd just go somewhere else for lunch. The manager did let us know the show would be over at 2:30 and that there would be live music tonight (presumably, the band would be clad in more than their underwear). Ever chipper, Mrs. Hollywood said good bye and thanked the lady manager. I said we'd be back another time. Leo happily called out "Bye" and waved.

How archetypically N'wahluns! The only things missing missing were the inexplicable guy carrying a chicken under his arm and the ubiquitous fella in the pirate costume. It was funny that there was no sign or anything to give us a heads up that there would be nearly nude women in the restaurant one block from our Christian elementary school at noontime during the week. But leave it to Mrs. H. to put it all into perspective: "Well, they weren't naked." And, as Mrs. H. pointed out, they did cover up when they saw the clerical collar. Mrs. H. has indeed acclimated herself to the local "laissez-faire" Crescent City culture - but then again, she's a French Canadian, cut of the same cloth, and has inherited her iron constitution and "Gallic shrug" from her equally unshockable grandmother.

So, we ambled off to our usual neighborhood haunt, Common Grounds - reasonably certain that only the sandwiches there might be "undressed."

And, as a bonus, one of the specials was crawfish pasta - which was a fitting way to end a great Big Easy day! Bons temps. Seulement ici.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

ESV Gains International Traction

The ESV Bible Blog has a post about the president of Ghana being sworn in on an ESV Bible.

There are things that irk me about the ESV, but it is a vast improvement over the NIV. I suppose we should keep in mind that every English Bible is only a translation, and no translation is going to be perfect. One thing going for the ESV is that an ESV with the Apocrypha is being released February 1, 2009. This provides Lutherans, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics with a conservative alternative to the hideously leftist NRSV.

It also bears saying that the ESV Study Bible is a tremendous scholarly work, arguably the best (and most economical) single-volume study Bible in the English language, even with its tilt toward Reformed and Neo-Evangelical theology in the study notes and many of the articles (some of its assertions about Lutheran theology are simply wrong). The maps and charts, as well as the included customizable online version, are head and shoulders above anything else on the market. It would have been better if the ESV Study Bible were more truly ecumenical - as its ancestral New Oxford Annotated (RSV) was. But for its aids and helps to understanding the literal reading of the text, the ESV Study Bible is a real treasure.

Hopefully, the upcoming Lutheran Study Bible from CPH (the LCMS's publishing house) will incorporate some of these outstanding features as well. Augsburg Fortress (the ELCA's publishing house) is also coming out with a Lutheran Study Bible this year. Hopefully, there won't be too much confusion!

We may indeed see the ESV overtake not only the NIV but also the NKJV as the preferred conservative modern English-language Bible translation.

The Latin Lover Podcast

"The Latin Lover" isn't a title one would associate with an American monk living in Rome - but "The Latin Lover" in this case is the Rev. Fr. Reginald "Reggie" Foster, the Vatican's foremost expert in the Latin language.

I stumbled upon Fr. Reggie's podcasts. You can subscribe and hear the good father hold forth on various topics related to ecclesiastical Latin and church history. If you think the words "Latin" and "lecture" and "boring" go together, you're dead wrong. Father Reggie is anything but dusty and musty (graduates of Concordia Theological Seminary - Fort Wayne will be reminded of our incomparable and beloved Dr. David Scaer - either with warm affection or with a chilling sense of dread - or both at the same time).

So if you'd like to be a Latin Lover, check out these podcasts. Father's Christmas special can be heard here. And here is a site dedicated to Fr. Reggie's Latin pedagogy.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sermon: Epiphany (transferred)

7 January 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 2:1-12 (Isa 60:1-6, Eph 3:1-12)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There is something about royalty that we Americans distrust. There is something terribly unfair about allowing a man to govern just because of his parentage. And even though we Americans have our Kennedy and Bush families, we at least make them stand for election.

Kings, however, are not elected – at least not by the people.

In the church’s Gospel reading for the Day of Epiphany, we have several kings. There is the seated king of the Jews, Herod, a wicked king who was not particularly loved by his own people, a cruel man who exalted himself for the sake of power. There is also the new and eternal King of the Jews, our Lord Jesus Christ, a King who is not only godly, but is also God, who was likewise not loved by a goodly number of His own people, a perfect Man who humbled Himself out of love for the people He has come to rescue.

Then there are the magi, traditionally three kings from the orient, who were led to the one “born king of the Jews” by a star, and likely informed about the coming King by a copy of the Old Testament left behind in Persia by the ancestors of King Jesus hundreds of years earlier.

So who has been “born king of the Jews?” The question is why Herod is “troubled” – for Herod and his ruling dynasty were not truly legitimate. They clung to the power they seized by ruthlessness and by appeasing the pagan Romans. Herod and his family were destined to be knocked off the throne, and they seem to grasp the tenuous nature of their rule. King Herod fears King Jesus – for Jesus is truly the one “born king of the Jews” – which was to be written in words above His thorn-crowned head a little more than thirty years later by the Roman governor Pilate – a friend of a later Herodian king who would likewise seek the extermination of the true King of the Jews.

Unlike the jealous pretender-king and tyrant Herod, who would go as far as to murder babies in a desperate bid to rid the world of the one “born king of the Jews” according to the ancient prophecies, the magi humbled themselves before the baby King. The magi brought gifts demonstrating the fitness of Jesus for the throne – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And what’s more, they did not call upon King Jesus as equal heads of state, as fellow monarchs, as peers within the royal system. Indeed, these kings “fell down and worshiped Him.” The nature, the divine nature, of King Jesus was revealed to the magi. And it may well have been revealed by the prophet Isaiah: “the wealth of the nations shall come to you… camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.”

The magi did not come to worship Herod. In fact, they only consulted Herod for information about the one “born king of the Jews.”

The Church has set aside this “twelfth night,” this day after the twelfth day of Christmas, to commemorate this “epiphany,” this manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For He has been shown to the entire world – even to Gentile kings from hundreds of miles away – to be worthy of not only respect due a king, but worship due to God alone: “God in man made manifest.”

Our Lord’s entire life was to be a manifestation of God in the flesh, of the Lord’s ministry of reconciliation in a physical body, a body born of Mary, a body that ate bread and drank wine, a body that would bear scorn, stripes, and a spear, a crucified body gushing water and blood, a body that withheld nothing from His beloved people.

For when the one “born king of the Jews” hung on the cross, He demonstrated not the vengeance of Herod, but the mercy of God: “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.” Rather than spill the blood of children to save Himself seated on a throne, our Lord spills His own precious blood to save the children of those who sent Him to the cross. Pilate’s sign that read: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” was the thing Herod feared most – a manifestation, an epiphany, for all the world to see that it is Jesus who is the true and legitimate King, while the Herodians were half-breed pretenders to a puppet throne.

The magi came to adore the eternal King – as do we. We come to this holy place week after week, year after year. Christians have come to “fall down and worship Him” century after century where He is to be found. We bend the knee to the One who was given gold, frankincense, and myrrh, offering Him our lives as humble tokens of submission to His kingship and His divinity.

But this king, unlike wicked Herod, doesn’t come to hold onto power, to govern by terror and intimidation, to collaborate with our enemies. No indeed! Our Lord and King uses His power to make us kings and priests of a new kingdom with Him, governed by love and righteousness. Jesus came to conquer our enemies – and did so on the cross. This King does not tax us for His own comfort, but rather gives Himself as a gift of Himself to comfort us – the bread of His flesh and the wine of His blood.

Like the royal magi who bowed in humility, our Lord Jesus gets on His hands and knees before His disciples to scrub their feet. Rather than exalt Himself on a mighty throne, our Lord descends from the highest throne of all to lie in a manger and hang on a cross, to lie in a tomb, to descend into hell, and to rise again to demonstrate his Lordship over sin, death, and the devil.

The discomfort we Americans have in the face of royalty has to do with the unfairness of it all. Why shouldn’t we enjoy the same benefits as the aristocrats? Our dear Lord agrees. For in taking on our flesh, He has elevated our human flesh to the level of the divine. In His kingly status as the Son of David and the Son of God, He shares his kingship and His kingdom with all of us, declaring us all to be Sons of God through Him. The most unfair thing of all is that we poor miserable sinners do not get what we deserve. For we are no better than the cruel and hypocritical King Herod – and yet, the one “born king of the Jews” unfairly overlooks that, forgives us our sins, intercedes to the Father on our behalf, takes away our reproach and guilt, and manifests Himself as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who has come to rescue us, so that we may, with St. Paul, “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God.”

And we, along with the magi, continue to fall down and worship Him and “bring gold and frankincense,” as well as “good news, the praises of the Lord,” now and evermore, world without end. Amen.

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