Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sermon: Lent 5 - Judica - Baptism of Lila Kelly Franovich

29 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 8:42-59 (Gen 22:1-14, Heb 9:11-15)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Like most books, the Bible is a narrative, a story. And all stories are based on some kind of a conflict. In this narrative upon which all stories are based, we are drawn in, quite literally, into the most fundamental conflict of all: the war between good and evil.

And the conflict between Jesus and His detractors, revealed to us by St. John the Evangelist, is this very battle encapsulated.

For the Lord Jesus Christ, God Himself, has come into the flesh as a Man for one reason: to vindicate man before God. He has come to bury the hatchet, and to bury it into the neck of the father of lies. For even as the Latin name of this Sunday in Lent, Judica, bespeaks, our vindication at the hands of our Lord is also a judgment, and it will be Satan who is under that judgment.

And yet, the father of lies has so deluded the many that only the few follow our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, we still hear the kinds of attacks upon Christ today as St. John reported them twenty centuries ago. Notice the confusion between good and evil. Here, we see the One born to crush evil and bring man back to Paradise in perfect communion with God, but what do the people say? They say Jesus is Himself evil. And when Jesus Himself reveals that He is God, that He is the great “I AM” of the Old Testament, the sons of the devil seek to put Jesus to death.

But it was not His time yet to be the sacrifice.

This conflict sums up the most important question facing mankind. It is not about the environment, not about the economy, not about the political future of our world. The most important question in our own lives has nothing to do with where we will live or how prosperous and healthy we will be.

In the case of little Lila, the most pressing question of all, of most importance to her parents, is not where she will go to school, whom she will marry, or what she will do with her life. No indeed, all of these questions are of less importance than the big question: “What will Lila confess about Jesus.” For if she will confess with her mouth and believe with her heart that Christ is Lord, she will have eternal life.

And we know that Lila will likely grow up in a world increasingly hostile toward Christianity – which is why it is imperative that she be taught the catechism, taught to pray, and taught to confess Jesus. She must be brought to the Lord’s House to hear the Word, and she must see her parents back up what she will be taught with their own good confession of who Christ is, and what glorious gifts he offers in this place.

And Lila is not only off to a good start, she is off to the best start. For we heard her good confession this morning, articulated by her parents and sponsors in her name. Today, we all witnessed her being baptized into the name of the Most Holy Trinity, by water and the Spirit. She was sealed with the Holy Spirit, forgiven all her sins – her own and all those she inherited. And she was born again, crucified with Christ so that she might rise with Christ.

For as much as Lila’s parents love her, and would lay down their own lives for her – her Father loves her all the more, and has already given up His only begotten Son so that she might live.

If you have ever doubted whether or not God loved you, you need only look at a crucifix. For especially those of us who are parents cannot even imagine sacrificing our own dear child for someone else’s life. If you have ever wondered about God the Father’s love toward you, you have had that question answered by Moses this morning. For Abraham feared God to the point where he unflinchingly offered his only dear son, showing that he “[had] not withheld [his] son, his only son,” from God. And in that steadfastness, that “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” the Lord provided Abraham with a sacrificial lamb.

But the story of Abraham and Isaac is more than just a thrilling tale of suspense, it is the true story that prophetically waited for centuries to be fulfilled in Christ. For in Jesus, the roles are reversed. This time, God demonstrates that He withholds nothing, absolutely nothing, from His beloved people. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Just as Abraham could look into his son’s pleading eyes, and yet could sacrifice the one thing to him most dear – such is the love of our Father in heaven for us, dear friends. That is the love our Father has for dear Lila. The death of the Son means the eternal life of the daughter.

For Jesus is even greater than the miraculously supplied lamb that took Isaac’s place at the altar. Christ is the Victim who is also the High Priest. “He entered once for all into the holy places,” says the writer of Hebrews, “not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

This is the Christ, the sacrificial Lamb, the only begotten Son with whom the Father was well pleased, the one confessed by Lila’s earthly parents, by her sponsors, by all of you in this congregation, and indeed by the entire Church catholic of every time and place. It is this solemn and holy confession that sends the demons running for cover and wrecks every plan and plot of him who blinded those who refused to see that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Redeeming King and Priest, the Sacrifice, the one into whose name Lila and all Christians are baptized.

And yes, there will be people who will want to throw stones at Lila and at all Christians, even as they did our Lord. For today, Lila was marked by the crosshairs that make her a target of the evil one, but she was indeed marked by the cross of Jesus Christ that protects her from the father of lies.

This, dear friends, is why we baptize, why we catechize, and why we ask parents and sponsors to make a solemn vow that they will accept any burden and will fight to the death against any foe, human or demon, who would seek to harm their children. Our weapons in this battle are prayer, the Word of God, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Supper. For in the Supper, we drink the blood that truly saves us – not the blood of goats and bulls and heifers – but the very blood of Christ, and indeed, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

For indeed, we know how the story ends. We now who Jesus is. We believe it, confess it, and teach it. We bring all the baptized into this fellowship, and we arm them for the inevitable battle they will do against evil. And even though people can be duped into disbelief, the demons know who Christ is, and they fear Him. They know that He comes through baptism, and they loathe it. They know that God bears eternal life out of love, and they cannot withstand this reminder of their defeat.

Dear brothers and sisters, even in this somber time of Lent, we rejoice in what God has done to give Lila a second birth, to call her, to name her, to place her under His holy jurisdiction, and, motivated by nothing other than love, grace, mercy, and unmerited justification, has delivered and made good on the “promised eternal inheritance” won by Him whom Lila will confess as her Master and Savior, and to whom we all pray: “Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; oh deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! For You are the God of my strength.” Thanks be to God! Amen.

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

Saturday, March 28, 2009

At last!

Mrs. H. finds the perfect size coffee cup!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Europe to be "Gone With the Wind?"

Back in the 1990s, I was heavily active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and I did a good bit of speaking and writing regarding the principles of self-government and the rights of states to secede from federal unions as not only a right under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but also part of the human rights articulated by Jefferson in the Declaration and, oddly enough by a Congressman from Illinois named Lincoln.

I remember many times expressing the hope that the Europeans - who were creating a Union of their own - would explicitly include the right to secede from the Union as part of any Union of states. They should not assume that their status of being sovereign states would guarantee their right to withdraw from the EU. I was genuinely concerned that they would repeat the mistakes of our own history, and create a Leviathan that would hold them hostage at bayonet point.

It is interesting to see the way things are playing out: the heavy-handed and fascistic approach of the EU leadership as they use every means of contorted political rhetoric and parliamentary shenanigans to suck the nations of Europe into a superstate that they can never get back out of.

The unification of Europe was rolling along like a freight train until Ireland put on the brakes by virtue of a referendum in which the people of Ireland said "No" to surrendering their sovereignty to a bunch of bureaucrats hundreds of miles away - thus overturning the proposed constitution (which must be unanimously accepted by all member states). Most of the member states that have ratified the treaty did so by parliamentary votes - even though in many cases, the people of the member states are firmly opposed to a European superstate. But Ireland's vote by referendum ended the dream of a ratified Lisbon Treaty.

Instead of regrouping and returning to its principles of a loose confederation focused on a common market, the Eurocrats continued the ratification process, and are basically ignoring the fact that the Irish killed the treaty!

This evil and illegal action has been protested by many members of the European Parliament across national lines. In fact, in this clip, you see Englishmen actually wearing green and calling for Ireland's sovereignty to be respected. You see another British diplomat (Mr. Hannan) calling for a referendum in Latin, just as Cato the Elder ended every one of his speeches in calling for the destruction of Carthage in the days of the Roman Republic. You also see the "states rights" members of parliament being called "fascists" by the centralizers (the real fascists) who want to strip the states of their sovereignty and turn a union into a consolidated nation.

Isn't that rich? And history indeed repeats itself. I'm with MEP Daniel Hannan: "The Lisbon Treaty must be put to a vote" (Pactio Olisipiensis censenda est). Ironically, in the name of democracy, the bureaucratic heads of Europe fear nothing more than allowing the member states to vote on the treaty.

Even the rules of the Parliament were ignored as the president was given the power to censor remarks of members of those in parliament who oppose the Lisbon Treaty! If left unchecked, this new nation will be yet another monstrous tyranny like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.

If the Eurocrats get their way, there will most certainly be a secession crisis and a so-called civil war in Europe at some point in the future (and probably not that far distant, either) - the very thing a union is supposed to prevent.

Fast Food Ablaze!(tm)?

Our District President recently gave some of the pastors in his district a reading assignment, a paper written by fellow DP Robert D. Newton (available here). However, much of his argument in defending Ablaze is made against the proverbial straw man. For example, the following paragraph is illustrative...

You can read the rest here at "Gottesdienst Online" and feel free to leave comments there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Speech of the Year

MEP Daniel Hannan makes me wish we could elect a foreign national as president of the United States. Oh, wait! "Yes, we can!"

"You cannot spend your way out of recession or borrow your way out of debt."
--- Daniel Hannan

Sermon: Wednesday of Lent 4 - Laetare (Feast of the Annunciation)

25 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 3:14-21 (Num 21:4-9, Eph 2:1-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

This week in Lent is known as Laetare, from the Latin of the first word of our Introit, our opening Psalm: “Rejoice.” Our Introit also has imagery of a mother suckling her children – not only to feed them, but to “console” and “satisfy” them.

That’s what mothers do.

As part of the call to rejoice, it is customary in many churches to replace the Lenten purple with a joyful celebratory rose color for this week.

The rose has also become a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For through the blossoming of the seed within her, the fruit of her womb grows into something beautiful, something that even overcomes the thorns that surround the flower.

And today is an interesting confluence, for this date marks the Annunciation, nine months to the day before Christmas, the day on which the Church commemorates the angel’s announcement to Mary that she was with child, that she would bear the Christ to the world and become the mother of God. And this is the very reason Jerusalem can rejoice and be fed and satisfied even as our Lord was consoled at His own mother’s bosom.

For though it was a serpent and a woman and a man that first invited death into the world, and though the devil had corrupted the serpent into an agent of death to the people of Israel, the Lord would turn the tables on the devil. For on the mountain through the work of Moses, the Lord used a serpent to defeat the serpent. The bronze serpent on the pole rolled back the curse of death from the ancient serpent that the devil had possessed and bid to do his evil work.

Whereas the serpent had been the harbinger of death, it was now a bringer of life.

And it would be once more a triangular transaction between a serpent, a woman, and a Man that would see the tables turned – once more against the serpent, once more turning the agent of death into life, and in a way that would fulfill the vision of the serpent held aloft on a pole.

The serpent sought to destroy the child Jesus, but this time, the serpent would not prevail against the woman. And the Man born from her, the Seed who was also the Seed of Eve, would Himself be “lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

The serpent’s head would be crushed. Death would be destroyed by death. And Paradise is to be restored by the Word of God made flesh by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, and being sent into the world “in order that the world might be saved through him.”

And why is this, dear friends? Why does God do this?

Asking the question “Why?” to God is often a dangerous business. When Job asked God “why?” he was met with quite a blast of God’s anger. When we ask God “why?” often we are giving God a blast of our own anger. But in this case, the Lord Himself explains why:

“…that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only [begotten] Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

“For God so loved the world.”

God loved the world, that, as a result of that love, God gave his Son Jesus Christ. Notice, dear friends, God “gave” – for the sacrifice that pays for our sins, the atonement that makes peace with God – is “given,” it is a “gift.”

We have not paid for this sacrifice, we have not earned this oblation, we have not merited this lifting up of the Son of man like the serpent in the wilderness. This is why St. Paul can say with such clarity: “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ explains as much to Nicodemus when he says that “God so loved the world.” For He answers Nicodemus’s question: “What must I do to be saved” by telling him there isn’t anything he can do, but that he must “be born again” by water and the spirit. You cannot “do” anything to inherit eternal life, dear friends, it is done for you by Jesus and done to you by baptism. It is done by grace, through faith, and it is carried out by the Word of God, the Word made flesh, the “Light” who “has come into the world” to chase away the darkness of doubt, of sin, and of death.

When the Virgin Mary gave her assent to bear the Christ child, He was conceived so that He would be born. He was born so that He would die in our place. And He died so that He might rise victorious, having defeated the serpent by being “lifted up,” wrenching life from the very jaws of death.

The medical profession, whose vocation it is to likewise draw life from death, to heal and not kill – is also symbolized by the serpent on the pole. And yet, in the name of medicine, children conceived in their mothers wombs are willfully destroyed, their stem cells harvested, their DNA cannibalized, and their very lives snuffed out. This is yet another evil manifestation of the serpent and his lust for death. Such children never have the opportunity to rejoice, to feed and be satisfied by their mothers, to be consoled at their bosoms – at least not on this side of the grave.

For that is how Satan is. He takes a creature of God, the serpent, and corrupts it into a cunning enemy of man, a venomous carrier of disease and death. Satan takes the wonder of new life and turns it into a ghoulish guinea pig, slaughtering the tiny for the sake of the powerful. And Satan even uses the medical arts, a holy vocation of God to serve man and rejoice in life, and corrupts it into a system of murder, of destruction, of chaos, or cold emptiness.

And yet, it is the Lord that ultimately turns it back on the devil’s head. For through us sinful men comes the sinless Man. By the womb of the daughter of Eve is born the Son of God. And in meriting salvation for us we are saved by grace. The sweetness of the rose overpowers the bitterness of the thorn, its lovely aroma overcoming the stench of death.

Dear brothers and sisters, we have much to rejoice about! Let us rejoice with Jerusalem, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with all the saints and angels, with your brothers and sisters here in this place, and indeed with our victorious Lord Jesus Christ! For in this Jerusalem, this Salem, we are truly fed and satisfied, and we are indeed consoled by our nurturing mother, for she, our mother the Church, bears Him who was “lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Amen.

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

Monday, March 23, 2009

From an Anglican Friend

Thank you, Fr. Joe DeHart. You owe me a new keyboard.

A post at Four and Twenty Blackbirds

I decided to post some observations on the emergent/emerging church and its criticism of traditionalism here over at Four and Twenty Blackbirds.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

In Persona Christi

I just ran across a comment on Flickr to one of my pictures, a snapshot of the sainted Rev. Dr. Kenneth Korby, whom I visited with the Concordia Theological Seminary Kantorei (a 16-man touring choir) back in January 2003. We made a stop to the Washington (state, not city) nursing home in which he was living, having suffered a stroke that made speech difficult for him. We sang the Office of Matins from the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal (TLH), and Dr. Korby was able to sing the service with us. We also sang his favorite morning hymn, "Come Thou Bright and Morning Star" (TLH 539).

Anyway, a former parishioner recently left the following moving tribute to their beloved pastor who "stood in the stead of Christ" and ministered faithfully as a shepherd to his flock:

Thank you so much for your picture of our beloved pastor Korby. He was our pastor for several years and we miss him dearly. This picture really captures his cheerfulness. He married my husband and me. The pre-marrital instruction sessions have been like gold to us. He taught us about confession and absolution, completely life changing. Our church in St. Paul was very poor. There were many children who had rough homes. Pastor Korby would go to their homes, feed them and bring them to church. He did countless things like this. He was a tough teacher with strong words yet the same man was also kindly like a shepherd with the utmost gentleness. He prayed Matins every morning at church and Vespers in the evening. Our children now sing his favorite evening hymn, "Now Rest Beneath Night's Shadows", they call it Pastor Korby's lullaby. Thank you again for visiting with him. He truly was a pastor who stood in the stead of Christ.

The Palm family,

Oak Harbor, WA

Sermon: Lent 4 - Laetare

22 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 6:1-15 (Ex 16:2-21, Acts 2:41-47)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The word “grace” is based on the same word as “gratitude.” When we are given grace, which is to say, when we are given a gift, the natural attitude is to show gratitude, to be grateful.

Indeed, to be called an “ingrate” is not a compliment.

The children of Israel were freed from slavery, were taken care of physically and spiritually by Moses and Aaron, and were on their way to the promised land. They were shown grace from God beyond measure. Were they grateful?

“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’”

In their grumbling, they actually tell Moses it would have been better for them to die as slaves than live as free men. They felt that the Lord’s plan to free them was not a gift, but a curse. They not only know better than God, they believe death is a solution to their problems rather than the wages of sin.

Their complaint is perplexing. It comes across like the ungrateful Katrina refugees who made headlines by grumbling that all they had was water to drink instead of soft drinks.

Moses reminds the people that they are really not grumbling against himself and Aaron, but against the Lord. And yet, the Lord is patient with His ungrateful people. He hears their cries of hunger, and provides for them. In His mercy, He gives them a bounty of quail meat and the mystical bread known as “manna” which ensures that none of the Lord’s people will be hungry in their sojourn from slavery into the promised land.

Yet even then, some of the people disregard the Lord’s instruction and try to horde extra quantities of manna. For that is what sin does – it blinds us to the richness of the Lord’s bounty, makes us think we are in want, and leads us to disregard God’s Word in search of selfish gain. Instead of being grateful, how often do we start grumbling and whining? Instead of thanking God for His bountiful salvation, how often do we pout that we should have more than we do?

This daily ration of supernatural bread is called to mind in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” In the Greek of the New Testament, the word we translate “daily” is tricky. It can mean daily, but it can also mean “supernatural.” For man indeed does not live by bread alone. When we pray for our daily bread, as we recite in the catechism, we are indeed petitioning the Lord to supply us with “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods,” etc. And yet, “daily bread” also means that which sustains us spiritually, the supernatural bread of Holy Communion, the miraculous forgiveness of sins, eternal life, being able to hear the Word of God and pray. For man does indeed live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God – and for that grace shown to us, we are grateful. For this newness of life, we are a Eucharistic people, that is, a people of thanksgiving.

For grumbling is the very opposite of the Eucharist. Like those who hoarded the manna, those who grumbled were demonstrating their lack of faith in the Lord’s providence.

In the eyes of the world, grumblers are often seen as sophisticated, like a wine aficionado who wrinkles his nose and orders the waiter to bring him a new bottle. Grumbling at one’s station in life says to the world: “I’m worth more,” but it also says to God: “I know better than You do.”

The same attitude manifests itself as our Lord performs miracles, including the feeding of the five thousand. Now, there was no grumbling going on – after all, everyone got a free meal – but the same dissatisfaction with the Lord’s will was still evident as the people completely missed the point about the grace of God.

Our Lord was performing “signs” as the evangelist John calls “miracles.” These demonstrations of the Lord’s power were not being done as parlor tricks, but rather as signifiers of something greater. Our Lord is making a point by performing signs – He is teaching them about Himself and His kingdom. He is demonstrating that He is God and that He is loving and merciful. He multiplies bread in anticipation of the miraculous distribution of His body in the form of bread in the Holy Supper – bread that will never run out, bread that provides grace sufficient for the day.

And yet, the people did not see this as a lesson on the kingdom of God, nor were they even simply content that God had provided for their physical need while He taught them. No indeed! They had other plans. They wanted Jesus to be a king in the kingdom of their choosing. For “they were about to come and take him by force.” Can you even begin to imagine a more ungrateful gesture? In exchange for His feeding them, they show their “gratitude” by conspiring to kidnap Him and hatch a plot to overthrow the temporal government. The matter is so bad that Jesus has to hide in the mountains.

Sin causes both groups of recipients of the bread of life to be ungrateful, to be filled with a desire to harness this power for their own good, to bend the Lord’s grace into something over which they can control.

And this is why our Lord not only taught us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread,” but also “Thy will be done.”

For this petition is an expression of trust. It is a show of faith that, in the words of Luther, lets God be God. To pray “Thy will be done” is to acknowledge that any benefit we have is strictly a grace, a gift, something for which we should be grateful. For if it is God’s will to allow us poor miserable sinners to partake of the Holy Eucharist, we should give thanks with all our heart, and not complain that the weather isn’t to our liking, or that we don’t like the people we have to sit with in the church, or that the communion wafer isn’t very tasty, or the billions of other things we gripe about in the face of the Lord’s bountiful goodness and mercy.

Rather, we should emulate the saints of the early church, who “day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with the people.” For they found joy not in self-indulgence, but in sharing with their brothers and sisters who were poor. They didn’t seek after greater thrills in life, but “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.”

Dear friends, we have already been saved, redeemed, and given the gift of everlasting life. It has all been earned at the cross and delivered at the font. It is made yours again and again at this altar and from this pulpit. The Lord provides meat and bread for your life in this world, and the forgiveness of sins that gives you eternal life. And for this grace we can indeed be grateful. This is the joy of the Christian life, that whether we experience prosperity or want, health or sickness, celebration or mourning, we have a living bread from heaven that can never be taken from us. The very same Lord that miraculously fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish – and taught them about the kingdom, the very same God that miraculously fed the children of Israel with quail and manna – and gave them freedom from slavery, also feeds us with our daily bread, with Himself, giving us not only bread but every Word from His mouth that He utters to preserve us. He gives us the kingdom. He gives us Himself. He gives us everlasting life.

We are a people saved by grace and who live by gratitude. Let us adopt the antiphon from our introit, Isaiah 66:10-11 as the very motto of our Christian life:

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her; that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom.” Amen.

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

Saturday, March 21, 2009

When Christians Try to be Cool...

As painfully cringe-worthy as this is, make sure you watch to the end when Lawrence Welk himself chimes in.

Three quotes from seminary professors come to mind:

"What can one say?"
- Rev. Prof. Kurt Marquart +

"Iowa always finds you. Say a Mass for me, guy!"
- Rev. Dr. David Scaer (technically two conflated quotes)

"Poor God!"
- Rev. Dr. Daniel Reuning

He needs no teleprompter

This is how a guy speaks who knows what he is talking about. Schiff doesn't even use notes. Somehow, he even finds a way to make economics engaging, and can even inject humor into something as gloomy as the economic future of America.

And, he doesn't have to insult retarded people to do it.

Watch this video. You'll be surprised at how the time flies, and how much Schiff makes sense. He is the anti-Obama.

Friday, March 20, 2009


I'm sure most people are familiar with the pompous acronym POTUS (President Of The United States), well meet the power behind the throne, TOTUS: Barack Obama's Teleprompter's Blog.

And no, I don't write this blog (I seem to be accused of writing any blog that is 1) anonymous, 2) satirical, 3) critical of authority, and 4) humorous). And, remember, we Lutherans are obliged to put the best construction on all things, so if the blog author claims to be the actual hard-drive from the presidential teleprompter, than we are duty-bound to believe him. They've come a long way with artificial intelligence these days - just ask the POTUS.

Better yet, check in with the TOTUS.

And if you want to know how important TOTUS is, look at what happens when POTUS is separated from his partner, he thanks himself, he mocks the retarded, stammers around like a total fool, etc.

Barack Obama is the answer to George W. Bush's prayers. Dubya was nowhere near articulate, but goodness! The current POTUS (and his TOTUS) should keep us laughing for four years - which is good because laughing doesn't cost anything.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sermon: Wednesday of Lent 3 – Oculi

18 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: 1 Cor 1:18-31

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

St. Paul tells us that the world thinks we’re crazy.

Well, some things never change, dear friends. “For the word of the cross is folly,” the apostle says (“folly” being literally the word from which we get the English word “moron”), to those who are perishing, but to us,” that is to us Christians, my dear fellow morons, to us “who are being saved it is the power of God.”

So which is it? Someone is not only mistaken, someone is a fool. Is the unbeliever a fool, or the one who clings to Christ crucified?

One of the early Church fathers, the second-century priest Tertullian, a brilliant man of intellect in his own right, a scholar with fluency in both Greek and Latin, a man of letters and lawyer who converted to Christianity from Paganism, and who coined many of the theological terms we still use to this very day, summed it up like this: “The Son of God was born: there is no shame, because it is shameful. And the Son of God died: it is wholly credible, because it is ridiculous. And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.” Sometimes his statement is summed up as: “Credo quia absurdum” – “I believe because it is absurd.”

Now, Tertullian was no fool, no moron. He was not one to believe in silly fables and tall tales. He is not saying that he believes in Christianity only because it is so off the wall, but rather because its extraordinary claims were held and articulated by reasonable and faithful people for nearly two centuries prior to his own day, learned men and women who gave life and limb, utterly convinced of Christianity’s truth.

The fact that our faith preaches Christ crucified, a God who takes human flesh, and dies as the sacrifice for the sins of the world, then rises, and sends miracle-working apostles preaching this “word of the cross” around the world unto the salvation of many by the power of God, is just not something that a mere mortal could have made up.

Credo quia absurdum!

And in St. Paul’s day, the objection that Christianity was folly was exacerbated by the Jewish demand for signs and the Greek seeking of wisdom – all according to the world’s expectations about the wisdom and power of God.

But what both Jew and Greek overlooked was that God is indeed all-powerful and possesses wisdom beyond all human understanding, but the real will of God is not based on mere shows of force or displays of intellectual brilliance – but rather love.

For love compels our Lord to take flesh, to suffer, to do battle against the devil, and to die on a cross – a scheme whose apparent folly is only exceeded in the eyes of the unbelievers by the preaching of the word of the cross. Love is why the Lord goes willingly to the cross, the sacrificial “Lamb of God who takest away the sin of the world,” motivated not by power and wisdom, but by mercy.

The world knows nothing of love, of self-sacrificial love – especially love for those who were once enemies of God, the ones St. Paul points out who are not “wise according to worldly standards,” not “powerful,” nor of “noble birth.”

And yet, even in this apparent folly, God uses the world’s folly to outsmart those convinced of their own wisdom. For “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak I the world to shame the strong.”

So, dear brothers and sisters, when you are deemed to be foolish, weak, and low and despised for your attachment to the word of the cross and Christ crucified, rejoice! For we are the very ones who are being saved by the power of God.

The apostle testifies: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

Think of how comforting this is, dear friends, we have been chosen – and chosen at that not because of how great we are, but because of our apparent foolishness and weakness in the eyes of this world. But our folly and feebleness are only an illusion, for “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

So, if you feel like a fool, good! That means you are not depending on your own intellect, but on God’s. And if you feel weak and pathetic, good! That means you aren’t relying on your own strength, but rather on Him who has all the power, might, wisdom, and strength in the universe.

“And because of Him, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” You are “in Christ” dear brothers and sisters. And it is as true as it seems crazy.

And what’s more, you are not only in Christ, but Christ is in you, by virtue of the Word of the cross, by Holy Absolution, through your Holy Baptism, and in the Holy Supper. It all seems like folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are in Christ, who are being saved, these are manifestations of the very power of God.

For with St. Paul, with Tertullian, and with our fellow lowly Christian brothers and sisters of twenty centuries from every part of the globe, we who are being saved by the very power of God, we add our voices to the chorus: “Credemus quia absurdum, we believe because it is absurd.” Amen.

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

Thanks to Rev. Eric Andrae...

...for being the speaker at Salem Lutheran Church's 4th annual Adult Retreat (joining past speakers Rev. Dr. John Stephenson, myself, and Rev. Dr. Paul Anderson).

Pastor Eric Andrae is a native of Sweden who serves as a campus pastor in Pittsburgh. Both he and his father, Hans O. Andrae, serve together as pastors out of First Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS). Hans was ordained and served for many years as a priest of the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden. After moving to the United States, serving many years and retiring as an ELCA pastor, Hans colloquized into the Missouri Synod as a pastor emeritus.

Both Revs. Andrae are heavily involved in theological translations from the Swedish language - especially in making the works of Bishop Bo Giertz (author of Hammer of God) available in English. In fact, Pastor Hans Andrae (dubbed Andrae the Greater by the Rev. Dr. David Scaer of the Fort Wayne seminary faculty) translated the final chapter into English in the revised edition of Hammer (you can read a teaser here). Mrs. Hollywood and I had the honor to type the manuscript for him, and were thus among the very first to read this part of the book in English (and we received mention in the book - a truly high honor from our dear friend and my brother in the holy ministry). Both Pastors Andrae collaborated in the historical notes, annotations, and index that were missing from the previous edition.

We invited Eric to speak on World Lutheranism, especially in light of his recent trip with his father around northern Europe as well as the remarkable events in recent years involving Sweden's Missionary Province and the involvement of Kenya's Lutheran bishop, the Most Rev. Walter Obare in making it possible once again for Swedish Lutherans to have faithful pastors over the objections and protestations of the Church of Sweden's heavy-handed and apostate hierarchy.

Pastor Andrae's presentation, a marathon of a total of nine hours of lecture, covered contemporary Lutheranism in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Germany, Scandinavia, the Baltics, and Africa - a good bit of his presentation peppered by personal anecdotes, pictures, and observations - along with history and introductions to modern heroes of the faith from around the globe.

We also enjoyed fellowship together in meals and in prayer, as well as the celebration of Mass on Sunday.

Pastor Andrae was joined by his wife Paola (who hails from Mexico) and their 15-month old daughter Michelina - to whom Eric speaks only Swedish, and to whom Paola speaks only Spanish. The Andrae family stayed with the Matherne family (Brent, Lisa, and their daughter Madison), whose property borders a wildlife reserve. The Mathernes are gracious hosts, and made sure the Andraes got as much of a taste of New Orleans as they could in their few days visiting with us.

The Andraes were able to spend a day (a long day!) with fantastic weather strolling in the French Quarter and visiting St. Louis Cathedral, as well as touring other parts of the Crescent City. During their few days here, they caught a little live music, ate po boys, seafood, alligator, crawfish, charbroiled oysters at Dragos, Miss Judy's bread pudding, Miss Kathy's casseroles, Mrs. Hollywood's pralines, and took in a meal at the refurbished Lakeview Harbor which was under water after Hurricane Katrina. They rode the Algiers ferry, visited historic Gretna, and even caught a real New Orleans parade (St. Patrick's Day parade on Sunday) - catching not only beads, plastic cups, and stuffed animals, but also carrots, cabbages, and potatoes. They also experienced frozen daiquiris procured through our ubiquitous drive-thrus, not to mention Dixie and Abita beers. You can find some pictures here.

We think they had a good time, and we know we were edified by their visit. The Andraes are easy people to like. What a joy and a privilege to count them not only as brothers and sisters in Christ, but as friends.

L to R: Brent and Lisa Matherne, Rev. Eric and Paola Andrae

Pastor Andrae and I go back a few years, and met by divine providence.

L to R: Father Hollywood with Father Eric and his daughter Michelina.

While in my first year at the seminary (2000-01), we students were all required to read Bo Giertz's masterpiece, the novel Hammer of God. We were also visited by a noted confessional Swedish pastor Fredrik Sidenvall, a faithful servant of our Lord in very difficult circumstances in his homeland and Church. I was impressed with the calm tenacity with which Pastor Sidenvall and a small group of clergy and laity in Sweden cling to the orthodox faith, and I was equally captivated by the history of the Swedish Church - including its "kinder and gentler" Reformation in which the entire Church embraced the Augsburg Confession and left communion with Rome with very little turbulence. The very survival of the Lutheran Reformation was placed upon the shoulders of a Swedish warrior-king named Gustav Adolph who gave his life in battle, in the words of a monument in St. Louis, "so that the reformation might live."

Much of the Swedish Church's history is not well known in LCMS circles, as most of our ancestors, biological and spiritual, are German. There are also a goodly number of Swedish theological works that do not yet exist in English. I remember wondering if I could learn Swedish in order to do some translating.

A couple days after having that thought, I was in the right place at the right time to overhear a "chance" conversation between my classmates Tom Shumaker and Bror Erickson (the former now serves a double parish in Iowa, the latter serves a parish in Utah) in which they were discussing starting up a Swedish class. I asked them if I could join them, and the three of us spent about a year studying Swedish together in a vacant classroom.

The following year, while on tour with the seminary Kantorei (our 16-man choir), we sang at First Trinity Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh. I "just so happened" to speak with an affable European gentleman named Hans Andrae (not knowing at first that he was a pastor, nor that he was Swedish). And, I "just so happened" to be assigned to spend the night at the Rev. Eric and Paola's apartment - a remarkable "coincidence." We struck up a friendship, and Pastor Andrae would also go on to meet my classmates Tom and Bror. Later on, we were organizing the translation of a few articles.

We're all still working on various projects.

Rev. Bror Erickson recently had his translation of Bo Giertz's devotional To Live With Christ published by Concordia Publishing House. Our group of Swedish translators became known as the Society of St. Eric (named for Sweden's patron saint, although Pastor Andrae likes to think it was named for him). Pastor Andrae also facilitated further Scandinavian-American Lutheran dialogue by establishing the SSALT yahoo group (Swedish and Scandinavian American Lutheran Theology), the Society of St. Eric's official channel of communications that has a worldwide following.

The SSALT list (which is open to any conservative, confessional Lutherans interested in Scandinavian Lutheranism) became a great source of news of the heroism of our brothers and sisters in Scandinavia - in some cases, being threatened with jail, loss of income, and removal from the ministry for their faithfulness.

This past weekend, It was a great privilege to listen to Rev. Eric Andrae's presentation in person, which included a very moving history of the suffering of the Latvian people in World War II, the remarkable story of Archbishop Janis Vanags of Latvia growing up under Communism and becoming archbishop at 35 years of age, the heroic efforts of pro-life Lutherans in Scandinavia - some of whom like Bishop Børre Knudsen have been defrocked and jailed, the struggle to maintain traditional biblical ordination in Sweden, and the heroic work of African churchmen (such as Bishop Walter Obare) who are now returning the favor of 19th century Scandinavian missionaries who brought the faith to Africa, and are now bringing the Gospel back to Scandinavia through mission work in the western world's own dark days of paganism and superstition. We also learned about a young Finnish seminarian, Ari Lukkarinen, who, unable to be ordained in his native Church because of his fidelity to the Bible and the confessions, found a loving parish to serve in Kenya, where he was ordained and continues to serve.

Rev. Ari Lukkarinen (second from left) on his ordination day, as Bishop Walter Obare (left) looks on.

Thanks again to Pastor Andrae, and we hope he and his family will come back and visit us again!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sermon: Lent 3 – Oculi

15 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 11:14-28 (Jer 26:1-15, Eph 5:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Satan isn’t merely a tempter, accuser, treasonous spirit, prince of demons, and the chief enemy of our Lord, he is also the opponent of the mind, of sound reason, of sense and order.

Satan is able to make good seem evil, and evil seem good. He twists the mental capacities of those he attacks, and he distorts not merely Scripture, but indeed all truth.

For the father of lies is the opponent of truth.

This is how it is that otherwise intelligent and rational people, indeed people who live and die by reason, can come to believe in fairy tales like a universe that pops into reality apart from a Creator, like a preposterous myth that irreducibly complex chemical and biological forms can simultaneously develop together with no intelligent oversight by literally millions of happy coincidences.

Satan turns the bright into the dull, the wise into the foolish, the honorable into the disreputable.

We see this pattern again and again in our Lord’s ministry. What sheer insanity to witness the miracle of desperate and dying people being healed only to condemn the Healer for doing such works on the Sabbath?

And when a demon has physically possessed a man to the point of rendering him unable to speak, our Lord condemns the demon, commands its expulsion, and restores this poor man to health. But what is the reaction? Jesus is considered to be in league not only with the demons, but with Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that is, with Satan, the father of lies himself.

The claim is so preposterous that it nearly renders us mute for our inability to make any sense in it. What can one even say to such nonsense? There is utterly no rational explanation for it. It would be like accusing the men who signed the Declaration of Independence of being in league with King George. It would be along the same lines as concluding that Adolph Hitler was secretly on the side of the Jews in World War II Germany.

Our Lord not only appeals to Scripture to refute this diabolical lie that he casts out demons by the prince of demons, He also appeals to reason: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself,” reasons our Lord, “how will his kingdom stand?” And while reason, when elevated above Scripture, can be the enemy of the faith, reason, when the servant of Scripture, is an agent that bears witness to the truth.

And yet, our sinful flesh asks along with Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?”

Dear friends, the truth is God’s Word. And the Word of the Lord comes to us from the mouths of prophets, priests, pastors and from the pages of Scripture. Satan cannot defeat the truth, so all he can do is to distort it, and draw us into enmity with the truth. He can’t silence the Word, but he does tempt us to shoot the messenger.

The prophet Jeremiah knew a good bit about that. For he was sent on a mission of mercy, “Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may well be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds.”

Rather than simply mete out justice then and there, the Lord sends a messenger to warn them. Rather than punish them immediately as they deserve, the Lord sends a prophet to plead with them to repent. In this sense, God’s Law actually bears the Gospel!

There are always two ways to respond to such a Word of the Lord: one is to react in anger, in rage, to turn the tables on the messenger, and the other is to admit our guilt, confess our sins, repent, and “return to the Lord our God,” the One who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” The messenger, the prophet, the preacher is giving the warning not in order to hurt, but to heal. Like His Lord Jesus Christ, he is not there to condemn, but to save.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord’s chastening is a blessing, not a curse. As our Lord testifies, there is no place in the kingdom of God for fence-sitters: “Whoever is not with me,” says our Blessed Lord, “is against me. And whoever does not gather with me scatters.” And when an errant sheep scatters, he is prey for the ravenous wolf and lion. The Lord is Himself the Good Shepherd who provides His people with shepherds who are called to be faithful in proclaiming both the warnings and calls to repentance, as well as the full and free forgiveness to those who have wandered and yet have returned to the fold.

The Lord also calls all Christians to help keep their fellow sheep in the flock. There is strength in numbers. It is a matter of love to our fellow sheep to warn them when they wander, to lovingly call them back, to direct them to the Good Shepherd, our Lord Himself, as well as the Good Shepherd’s servants, or ministers, whose calling is to “speak all these words in your ears.”

And “all these words” of warning and exhortation are as important today as they were in St. Paul’s day, as he admonishes us to flee from “sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness,” to avoid making the Lord’s gifts of marriage and sexuality into a mockery, to shun partnerships with those who have “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” St. Paul the shepherd herds all of us Christian sheep with the invitation and the plea to “walk as children of light.”

These are not instructions for earning a place in heaven, or of securing bragging rights to self-adulation. For St. Paul places all of these things in the context of how we Christians live: we redeemed sinners for whom Christ “gave Himself up for us,” we, whom “Christ loved.” The love of God and the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ for our redemption and salvation is in the past tense, dear brothers and sisters. He has done it for us. And it is because of the grace shown to us: the love of our Father, the gift of the Son, and the call of the Holy Spirit, that we are empowered to “be imitators of God.”

For our God is also a Man, our Sacrifice is also a Priest, our Shepherd is also an Exorcist. He commands Satan and His hordes to flee from us. He bids us to pray every day to our Father who art in heaven to deliver us from evil. He brings us into the green pastures of the faithful flock through the still waters of holy baptism. The Lord expels the demons even as He has crushed the head of their prince, Beelzebul. And, dear friends, those demons seek “waterless places,” hosts who are unbaptized, or those who no longer call to mind their second births by water and the Spirit, those who do not seek refuge in the ark where baptismal fonts are found and where the demons themselves are rendered mute.

The devil is strong, but your Lord, your Savior, your Good Shepherd is indeed the one “stronger than he, [the One who] attacks him and overcomes him.”

And where the devil is defeated, where baptisms are recalled, where the Trinity is invoked, where the Supper is celebrated, where children are put to bed with prayer and raised with the teaching of the faith, where prayers are offered daily, and where the Scriptures are taught, read, believed, and studied, where calls to repentance are issued, and where forgiveness is freely given – there is where reason is sanctified, where Beezebul is silenced, where demons are expelled, and where healing and eternal life are given by Him who blessed us with these words that are also a promise: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Amen.

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sermon: Wednesday of Lent 2 – Reminiscere

11 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 8:27-38

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In many ways, the Christian life is a paradox. And there is no more paradoxical figure in Scripture than St. Peter.

Peter has enough faith to walk on water, but also enough doubts to sink. Peter pledges to lay down his life for his Lord, but denies Him as the rooster crows. And again we see Peter the Paradox demonstrating his keen insights into the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ only to be rebuked by our Lord, who actually called him “Satan,” because he just doesn’t seem to understand the kingdom at all.

And yet, in spite of his weaknesses, his hypocrisies, his inconsistencies, and over and against Peter’s predilection for saying one thing only to do the opposite, and even in the face of Peter’s denial of our blessed Lord in His hour of need – St. Peter is not only an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, but by God’s grace, the leader of the apostles.

St. Peter would preach the Gospel even in Rome, where he would lose his life for the sake of Christ and of His Gospel. In what might have been seen by Peter at the time as a rebuke, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” what is actually being said by our Lord is a prophetic utterance of Peter’s ultimate faithfulness. For Peter would not only take up his cross in following our Lord, St. Peter would die on a cross as a martyr to the holy faith, a witness of Jesus Christ, one of those of whom our Lord speaks, one who loses his life and yet saves it.

St. Peter, in spite of his wavering faith and at times empty boasts, is in no way ashamed of our Lord and His words. He dies faithful to our Lord Jesus because our Lord Jesus is faithful, and gives Himself for the life of the world – including this fisherman turned bishop.

St. Peter the Paradoxical is the living example of the sinner-saint. For his good intentions are often not backed by good deeds. Like his fellow apostle and martyr at Rome, St. Paul, St. Peter seems to genuinely desire and will to do one thing, while his flesh and his actions fail to live up to his ideal. Indeed, St. Peter was among the three who wanted to stay awake with Jesus just prior to His arrest, but could not. Our Lord summed it up just as it is: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

For this is not merely a quirk in Peter’s personality, it is the way we all are. We Christians all have good intentions. We may have made grand promises for Lent. We may have resolved to repent of our sins with earnest desire and passionate zeal – only to be deflated by our sins, hearing the Lord’s “Get behind me Satan” reverberating in our ears. For so often, we, like Sinner-Saint Peter, “are not setting [our] mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

We may indeed have mocked Peter for his boasts combined with his failures, when all the while, we fare no better ourselves, being “ashamed of [Him] and of [His] words in this adulterous and sinful generation.”

And though we may never be reminded with a rooster crowing, we too deny Jesus when confessing Him might hurt our reputation. And if we never outright deny our Lord, we certainly rebel against Him every time we choose to sin, every time we spurn His word, every time we flee our own cross and seek to serve our own comfort instead of the Lord’s will in His kingdom.

We may never walk on water, only to sink because of our wavering faith, but we too fall into the sea of despair and doubt, refusing to believe in the promises and Word of God that assures us that we have nothing to fear.

And though we will not be asked to stay awake while our Lord prays in sorrow as He is about to be arrested, how often we “fall asleep” instead of laboring in the kingdom, choosing to be lazy instead of diligent, for it is just as true for us that The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

And though it is unlikely that we will ever be led to a cross to be put to death for being a disciple of Jesus Christ, we will indeed bear our own crosses, we will most certainly be humiliated and mocked for our convictions for the sake of the kingdom, and we too will have our own opportunities to tell people who Jesus is: the Christ, the Savior, the Son of the living God.

Dear friends, the paradox of St. Peter is our paradox. We want to be faithful, but we are sinners. We want to confess boldly, but we too fall prey to our own fears and doubts. Our spirits are willing but our flesh is weak. And so what greater blessing to we have than the example of St. Peter?

For St. Peter is an exemplary example of the grace of God at work. Peter deserves to be abandoned by our Lord, but is rescued instead. Peter’s lack of faith merits him death, but the faith of Jesus merits him life. And even when Peter’s doubts threaten to drown him, our Lord Jesus pulls him up out of the water to give him life.

Dear brothers and sisters, we too have been pulled up out of the water, even as our old man drowns and the new man emerges. We too confess Jesus as the Christ, in spite of our stubborn refusal to allow our Lord to teach and instruct us. And when we do take up our cross and follow Christ, we are paradoxically enabled by Christ himself, by His cross and passion and death. For listen again to our Lord’s paradoxical warning and promise: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Thanks be to our merciful and forgiving God. Amen.

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

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sermon: Lent 2 - Reminiscere

8 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 15:21-28 (Gen 32:22-32, Rom 5:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There was a time when our world knew no struggle and strife. There was indeed a golden age when food was everywhere and men did not have to work for it. In those days, man and God had a carefree face to face relationship, not of equals, but certainly not as enemies. But of course, those days didn’t last very long.

After the Fall, our life in this broken world has been characterized by struggle and strife. Man earns his bread by the sweat of his brow. Women bear children in pain. No living creature is exempt from death. We struggle against temptation, sickness, one another, God, Satan, animals, nature, ourselves, and death.

This is our curse. This is our consequence for our disobedience.

Sometimes such struggle is demoralizing. Sometimes it is all we can do to get up out of bed in the morning. Sometimes we don’t have it in us to fight another day. We might be racked with pain, with guilt, with sadness, with fatigue, with many reasons to say: “I quit.”

And yet there is a paradox. Struggle makes us stronger. A weak man can become a strong man not in spite of his struggle, but through his struggle – as he lifts weights and hardens his body. A beginner becomes an expert by practice. A loser becomes a winner by training. And indeed, a sinner becomes a saint by passion. Not our own passion, and especially not by our own emotional exuberance or effort. A sinner becomes a saint by Christ’s passion, by Christ’s struggle, by Christ’s cross. It is indeed His pain, but our gain, His death for our life, a happy exchange that barters our sin for His righteousness.

And yet we still live in a world marked and marred by struggle, and will remain so until we enter eternity.

Sometimes struggle in this life is physical. Jacob had a limp his whole life long as a reminder of the physical cost of sin. And yet, even in a painful physical debilitation, there is mercy. Jacob wrestled with a man, a unique Man. In fact, he wrestled with God, whose human face he was able to see. Though God could have blown the molecules of Jacob’s body apart with a single breath, Jacob is permitted to struggle and strive with God, grappling all night to a draw. Even when asked to quit, Jacob refused to cease his struggle until God blessed him. And Jacob was rewarded for his tenacity, his faith in refusing to let even God off the hook. And instead, he held God to His promise and His Word. And while this pleased God, Jacob still kept a painful reminder of his struggle with God.

Out of the struggle came not only a blessing to Jacob, but through Jacob’s family line would come a blessing to the whole world. And this Seed of Jacob born more than seventeen centuries after this wrestling match would be the very God whose human face could be seen, whose body could be grappled with, whose incarnate cruciform struggle would lift sin’s curse from mankind once and for all. For from the very body of the man who struggled against God, in the fullness of time, would come the God who became Man to struggle against sin, death, and the devil, to wrestle on behalf of mankind, to restore peace between God and man for all time and for all eternity.

And we see another man, another human being, a Canaanite woman struggling in her own right. In her travail, she cried out a prayer to the God-Man on behalf of the daughter that came from her own body, a daughter herself struggling with a demon. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David” she prays, as her struggle gives birth to words of prayer.

But rather than being defeated by being ignored, she persists. Like Jacob, she refuses to capitulate. For she knows to whom she prays. She knows He has power. And she refuses to let go until she receives a blessing. And even when the Word of God seemed to discourage her, she refused to give up. She holds the incarnate Word of God, the Son of David, the Son of Jacob, the Son of God – to His Word of promise. And like that of Jacob, her struggle is not in vain: “O woman,” Jesus blesses her, “great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And that particular struggle ended with the healing of the persistent and faithful woman’s daughter.

Faith is not a warm and fuzzy “passion,” or an emotional feeling. Nor is faith a cold and calculated intellectual form of knowledge. Rather faith is holding God to His Word, and struggling against any and all tests, trials, or temptations to quit. Faith is belief, and it clings tenaciously to Christ. Faith refuses to back down, refuses to quit, refuses to surrender hope. And though faith may be weak, and though hope may be but a faint glimmer, faith holds fast to Christ – for in reality, Christ holds fast to us.

And this kind of faith is not the kind of struggle that earns God’s favor, but is rather the result of it. Faith does not merit our justification, but rather flows out of it. Strictly speaking, we are not so much rewarded for our faith as we are rewarded by faith.

St. Paul states it both logically and poetically like this: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith” – notice that the justification by faith is a given, a starting point. Paul continues: “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In other words, the warfare is over. The strife and struggle that pit man against God are done. St. Paul confesses: “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope in the glory of God.”

Dear brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus did all the struggling and striving on the cross as he defeated Satan on our behalf. And though we have this grace, this access, this faith in the here and now, there is indeed a “not yet” component as well. For we still live in time and yet abide in this fallen world. We still struggle, but we struggle not as one who may be overtaken by his enemy, rather we struggle as an athlete who uses struggle to become stronger.

For listen to St. Paul’s description of the Christian life: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Dear friends, when we struggle, when we strive, when we get knocked to the ground, when logic and reason seem to defeat us, when temptation pummels us, and when the devil seems to overpower us – we have no reason to lose hope. In fact, all of our trials and crosses in this life are a training exercise to give us endurance, character, and hope. We already have the victory. For while baptismal water was poured upon you, “God’s love has been poured into [your] hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to [you.]” Given to you!

While you didn’t struggle or fight or scrap or otherwise climb your way to earn the Holy Spirit, nevertheless, the Holy Spirit was earned by Him who struggled and strove on the cross. And it is Christ who gives us salvation and the Holy Spirit as a free gift.

Even when our trials are severe, our Savior is greater. Even when our pain and anguish are almost unbearable, our Lord endured far worse for us. And even when we must wrestle with death itself, we know that we have already defeated that foe through the faith given to us by the One who defeated sin, death, and the devil in the struggle to end all struggles.

Our golden age is not only our past, it is our future and our eternity according to the promise and the Word to which we hold our Lord by faith, to His delight and unto our salvation. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Salem's New Chasuble

Salem Lutheran Church has a new chasuble for Lent and Advent. Unlike my old plain white chasuble, this vestment was custom made to match our church paraments.

The chasuble is the traditional vestment worn by the celebrant over the alb and stole during the celebration of Holy Communion (Mass). The chasuble looks like a pancho, is typically adorned with Christian symbolism, and is usually either gold or the color of the season of the church year. It is an article of clothing that dates back to the Roman Empire, and has been part of Christian worship since the earliest days of the Church.

We were planning on buying chasubles from the Lutheran-owned and operated D.K. Brunner and Son. In fact, many of my colleagues have Brunner vestments, and they are beautiful. But in our case, the colors would have clashed with our paraments. So, Mrs. Hollywood did the research, ordered the fabric, and did all the sewing. We saved hundreds of dollars because of her work - some of which was done painstakingly by hand.

Sewing vestments has traditionally been the loving work of churchwomen - sometimes clositered nuns, sometimes pastors' wives, sometimes sewing circles of ladies in the church. Sadly, such work is largely denigrated today. I heard from a seminary wife recently that one of the seminary professors was saying that sem wives should be doing more "important" work than sewing vestments. How sad.

I suppose it was an inevitable result of "equality" and the "sexual revolution" that loving acts of service and devotion to our Lord and His Church, pioneered by such women as Sts. Mary and Martha, should be seen as beneath the dignity of modern women, who want to chair committees, be presidents of congregations, and even serve as elders and chaplains - all of which are done now by women in the Missouri Synod, even as most of our churches lack things like beautiful chasubles - especially those sewn by ladies of the parish (so far, the LCMS is not actually ordaining women to the pastoral office).

I am blessed to have a wife who dismisses all such demands for women in "more important" leadership roles as nonsense (of course, "nonsense" might be considered a euphemism). And, her Bryn Mawr sisters might well be appalled to see the above picture of the skirted Mrs. Hollywood sewing barefoot on the kitchen floor. Somehow, I don't think the alumnae bulletin will be interested in running such a picture.

But thanks to donations from faithful church members and Mrs. H.'s hard work, you can see just how such an object of beauty is fitting in the Lord's House and bespeaks the dignity of Christian worship. It is also a link to the antiquity, continuity, and catholicity of the Church in a way that a bandstand or a Power Point screen just doesn't cut it.

And by saving money on the labor, we were able to afford the finest silk damask for the chasuble itself, and added a beautiful lining. This chasuble is designed to last. There is no reason why a century from now (or even two) this vestment won't continue to proclaim the majesty of our very present Lord when His Holy Supper is celebrated at Salem's altar.

Scroll down for more pictures...

And note the applique of the pelican on the back of the chasuble. It was the most beautiful that Grace was able to find, and the company (Tonini) was gracious enough to make an exception and send it to her in a way that allowed her to make her own vesica (the oval part) and sew it onto the chasuble. Mrs. H. sewed all around the pelican by hand so the color would match.

Louisianians will be familiar with the imagery of the mother pelican and her three chicks - as it is part of our state flag. It is actually an ancient Christian symbol, and a nod to our state's Catholic heritage (don't tell the ACLU!). It is based on the legend of the mother pelican sacrificing her own life by piercing her own breast to feed her young. This symbolism is found in LSB 640, Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior, stanza 3:

Thou, like the pelican to feed her brood
Didst pierce Thyself to give us living food
Thy blood, O Lord, one drop has pow'r to win
Forgiveness for our Word and all its sin.

The original Latin is here:

Pie Pelicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine:
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

This hymn was composed by St. Thomas Aquinas (ca 1225-1274) in the thirteenth century and is to this day sung according to a plainsong melody based on ancient Gregorian chant.

Soli Deo gloria!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Sermon: Wednesday of Lent 1 - Invocabit

4 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 1:9-15 (Gen 22:1-18, James 1:12-18)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In the Small Catechism, we recite:

“God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.”

Dr. Luther drew this explanation of the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation” from St. James, who reminded us yet again: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

And yet, God does test us. He disciplines us. He challenges us. He teaches us. But this is different than temptation. Indeed, Satan is himself called “the tempter” by St. Matthew. To tempt is to lure into evil, into rebellion. To tempt is to try to separate people from God, to try to compel or impel people to do wrong, to ensnare them into a trap. Temptation has the goal of sin. Testing has the goal of resisting sin.

In fact, as Moses spoke to us yet again, when God asked Abraham to make the ultimate sacrifice of his beloved son, the chosen one begotten of the promise of God and conceived miraculously – God was not tempting Isaac, but rather testing him.

Our Lord Jesus, by contrast, was indeed tempted. In His human nature, he was visited by Satan, the most ancient enemy of the Triune God, the bringer of death to mankind, the accuser and the tempter, the serpent, the fallen archangel, the prince of darkness and the father of lies. And this was not a friendly visit. Nor was this a test. Rather it was a temptation.

And in His human nature, this Champion of mankind, this New and Greater Adam, not only turned back the devil and resisted temptation, he did so as a result of the fact that the Holy Spirit “drove him out into the wilderness” in the first place.

Notice that this temptation was in a very real way set up by God the Holy Spirit – it was not for the purpose to tempt Jesus. Rather it was for the purpose of Jesus to defeat the devil in a battle. Jesus was led into a test, but God never tempted him.

Dear friends, we too are tempted – but it is the evil foe, not God, who tempts us. It is our sinful flesh that lusts after that which is not given us. It is the fallen world, in league with the devil and our fallen human nature that draws us into sin. It is a sweet and alluring call. But don’t confuse this with being of God. For the forbidden fruit that seduced Eve and her husband in the Garden at the hand of the devil was “good for food” and a “delight to the eyes.” And though God tested our ancestors by placing the tree in the garden in the first place, commanding them not to eat – it was indeed the serpent that drew Adam and Eve into sin by a combination of lies, marketing, salesmanship, and seduction.

And just as the first Adam fell to temptation and brought death and misery into the world, our Lord Jesus Christ overcomes temptation, and restores life and joy back into the world. Falling into temptation is the way of hell, but passing the test is the path to heaven.

Our Lord Jesus Christ passed this and every test, and not once fell for the lies and false promises of the devil. And He did so for us.

The greatest temptation that our Lord suffered, however, was not this first skirmish with the enemy, but would come later.

He prepared to ascend the hill with wood on his shoulder, to be the fulfillment of Isaac, the beloved Son to be sacrificed – though he would not be spared like Isaac. He would instead become the Lamb supplied by God with His head ensnared in the very thorns of the curse of Eden, to be the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, to be, in the Greek language of the early Christians, the “holocaust,” the offering that is completely consumed, the all-availing sacrifice for the entire world. And as He prepared Himself for this holocaust by prayer, He was tempted with agony and distress.

The devil, who worked through Judas, was tormenting our Lord. And had the devil succeeded in tempting Him into disobeying His Father, our salvation would not only have been lost, but the very fabric of the Trinity itself would have been torn. But this was not to be. For like faithful father Abraham, our blessed Lord went forward with the sacrifice – even as His Father, who “so loved the world,” gave His only begotten Son into the sacrificial death for the sake of His fallen sinful people. Satan’s temptation of our Lord was doomed to fail: for “God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ, having both divine and human natures, cannot yield to temptation. It is a great irony that when it comes to sin, this is one thing that fallen man can do that God Himself cannot.

And thanks be to God that this is the case! For this was not merely the story of a superhero beating up a bad guy. This isn’t like a sporting event where we cheer and say “Hooray for our side!” For the very state of the cosmos hung on the shoulders of our tempted, crucified, and victorious Lord, whose conquest over sin, death, and the devil is our conquest as well.

Dear friends, temptation will come – but it will not be by God. God is not a sadistic monster who sets us up for failure out of malice and hatred. Rather our Lord is our merciful Father – for He sets us up for victory out of grace and love. Like faithful father Abraham, our faithful heavenly Father is willing to sacrifice all – even the very thing most beloved to Him. And our Lord Jesus is likewise faithful, spurning every temptation, passing every test, enduring every trial – even His passion and death for our justification and life. And our Lord the Holy Spirit, who does not tempt us, nevertheless draws us into our own wilderness where we too do battle with the evil foe – not to tempt us to defeat, but rather to spur us on to victory by God’s grace, by the cross, and by divine power.

In any warfare, battles are won and lost. And you will lose many skirmishes with the serpent just as Adam and Eve did. But unlike casualties of earthly wars, though you are mortally wounded, you are restored to life. Though you may be taken out today, you will live to fight another day. And though you will die, yet you will also live.

And this, dear friends, is because of what our Lord Jesus Christ – the One who overcomes temptation, who defeats the devil, and who rolls back death and its wages – has done, continues to do, and will always do for us. We have His promise, His Word. His victory over the sin, death, and the devil is our forgiveness of sin, our resurrection over death, and our strength in the face of temptation.

This victory is a gift, a free and glorious gift, a gift that will never be taken from you. For listen again to St. James: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Amen.

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

Monday, March 02, 2009

Sermon: Funeral of Helen Chiasson

2 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 14:1-6 (Ps 121, 1 Cor 12:31b-13:13)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Lloyd, Lloyd, Shannon, Marnie, Cassidy, Henry, Audrey, family, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ: grace mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We knew today was coming, and yet that provides little comfort. Our dear sister in Christ Helen knew she was dying, and so did all of us. We all shared her last few months of life with her on this side of the grave knowing that each day was a gift from God – and yet we still grieve the loss of our wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, sister, and dear friend.

And though the temptation is for us to minimize our grief by rationalizing away death as some kind of a friend, as some natural or God-pleasing phase in our existence – Holy Scripture teaches us that nothing could be further from the truth. For the truth is that our Father and Maker did not create us to die – and especially not after a long illness. Death is not natural, and it is certainly not our friend.

Death is the wages of sin – our own sins, as well as the sin we have inherited from our ancestors who rebelled in the Garden of Eden. Death is the consequence of this flaw in which all of us hold a share. And yet, death does not have the last word.

For our Father allowed another death to come into the world – a completely unjust death that justifies us – including Helen: the death of our Blessed Lord on the cross. This is how it is that the Psalmist can proclaim: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” For it isn’t death that is precious – it most certainly isn’t – but rather the fact that death does not conquer the saint, but the other way around. What is precious to God is the victory His dear children have over death because His dear Son conquered death by death.

And this is confirmed by the resurrection.

A passage in which Helen took great comfort is St. John’s quotation from our Blessed Lord: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

This preparation and the fact that even in death we have a place in the Lord’s kingdom is how our Lord can say to us even now: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” For Helen was prepared, and the Lord has prepared a place for her. She was created according to the Lord’s plan for her. She was born not once, but twice, having been born again by water and the Spirit in this very font more than eighty years ago. She not only lived a full and rich life according to the flesh, but also in the spirit. She shared a long life of love with her family, and enjoyed intimate communion with her Lord Jesus in His body and blood for some seven decades since her first Holy Communion right here at Salem.

For the Lord’s love for Helen was such that He willingly sacrificed Himself to redeem her from her sins, and to give her everlasting life over and against her own mortality – through the gracious waters of Holy Baptism, as well as through His body and blood, born of Mary, sacrificed at the cross, and truly offered as food and drink in the Lord’s Supper.

St. Paul’s famous passage on love is often read at weddings, less often at funerals. But in this case, it is fitting that we be reminded that love – especially married love – is a picture of Christ’s love for His bride, the Church. Lloyd and Helen’s love for one another has been apparent to me as I have had the privilege to minister to them over these past few months. Sixty-three years did not diminish their affection and devotion, but in fact added to it. Helen’s intense love for Lloyd beamed from her face, even when she became too weak to speak it out loud. Lloyd’s selfless and tender devotion and dedication to his beloved bride knew no sacrifice too dear for her honor and her comfort.

And, Lloyd, I am humbled and privileged that I was able to bring the Lord Jesus to you and Helen in His body and blood and in His Word these past few months. Any blessing that I have been to you has been as a simple messenger of Christ. But you and Helen have been a far greater blessing to me as living icons of not only married life, but of the intense and selfless love our Lord has for us: His people, His Church, His own dear bride.

For you brought Christ to me as well: Christ in suffering. Christ in service. Christ in love.

And what more beautiful picture do we have of this kind of holy love than this: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends”?

For though all of us walk in the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear anything, not even death itself. The Lord is with us. And as the Psalmist proclaims in the very text Helen herself wanted read today:
“My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber…. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand…. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”
Indeed, we grieve the loss of our dear Helen. We miss her. We will always miss her on this side of the grave. And yet we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We have the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Victor over death and the grave, the One into whose name Helen was baptized, and whose name she confessed all the days of her life. We have the hope and the promise of being reunited with her at the resurrection, in our heavenly home, in the mansions prepared for us, in the newly-created universe promised to us by our Lord Jesus, who overcame sin and death to replace it with righteousness and life.

For hear anew the Gospel, that is the Good News, from the Apostle our Lord loved:
“‘And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
This is the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the faith which Helen confessed. This is the creed which the Church proclaims. This the hope to which we Christians cling – now and unto eternity. Amen.

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