Thursday, April 30, 2009

Gottesdienst Online

I posted at the New and Improved(tm) Gottesdienst Online blog. Check it out here.

Traditional Lutheranism

Thanks to my colleague Fr. William Weedon, click here for some magnificent pictures from the divine services for holy week and Easter conducted by Archbishop Janis Vanags at the Lutheran Cathedral in Riga, Latvia.

You'll notice the continuity from the pre-Reformation Church, as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (with whom the Missouri Synod shares fellowship) has retained ancient practices such as: incense, foot-washing, the veneration of the cross, Easter Vigil, High Mass, and continues to worship in the ancient Cathedral in Riga - built in 1211. Apb. Vanags was consecrated as a bishop in apostolic succession - a form of church order preferred (though not required) by our Lutheran forefathers. The political situation in Germany made episcopal polity with apostolic succession impossible - though the Scandinavian Lutherans (and through them, the Russian, Baltic, and African Lutherans) were able to retain the ancient practice - whereas we in the United States have a form of apostolic succession in which all pastors hold the rank of bishop (which explains our extraordinary form of ordination in which we are "ordained" (as presbyters/priests) and "consecrated" (as bishops). As our confessions point out, the difference in rank or grade between "priest" and "bishop" is a human tradition, not something mandated by Scripture. And yet, Latvian Lutherans were able to hold onto the more ancient custom!

The Latvian Lutherans are true survivors.

Not even Communism was able to snuff them out. The courageous Latvians, under the faithful archbishop's leadership, have even been brought back from the brink of the apostasy that plagues many other state churches to this day that have been taken over by Communists and Socialists. Nearly all of these apostate "churches" are in the Lutheran [sic] World Federation.

Someday, I would love to visit the Riga Cathedral and participate in our Lord's most Holy Mass where Christians have been doing for 798 years.

The Subversion of the Subversion

A tip of the hat is due to my "blogleague" in faith and in liberty, Greg.

Here is a post over at his blog: The Holy Cause promoting the weekly news program devoted to liberty and the Constitution: Freedom Watch with Judge Andrew Napolitano.

The show airs on Wednesday afternoons on the cable network FOX-News, and thanks to the wonders of the World Wide Web, you can watch it live or as captured on YouTube. Like Greg, I've included a widget here on Father Hollywood. Click on the widget for a replay of the latest program.

Freedom Watch is finally making a viewpoint heard that has been previously suppressed - even on FOX News - which in the past has not given this particular element of conservatism a hearing. That has finally changed.

I've labeled the widget "Subversive TV" - as according to Judge Napolitano's unrelated namesake, Janet Napolitano (the bumbling Secretary of Homeland Security [sic]), people like Judge Napolitano and those he has on his program are to be watched carefully by law enforcement personnel. I put that widget right under "Subversive Radio" - which is a link to Issues, Etc. - which is considered similarly subversive by certain people in high places of a certain Missouri-based church body.

Isn't it sad when advocating traditional Christianity and upholding the Constitution makes one some kind of "subversive"? We're only "subversive" because the world has been "inverted."

The English word "subversive" is from Latin (subverso) which means "to turn upside down." And indeed, that's what both of these programs are trying to do: to take that which has been inverted, and set it right again.

This "subversion of the subversion" is happening in both the kingdom of the Church and the kingdom of the State. The world has indeed been turned upside down.

Join the Subversives!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3)

26 April 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 10:11-16 (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

It is a humbling thing to be called “sheep.” Sheep are flocking animals, they are gentle, they are vegetarian, they are tame and domesticated, and they rely on shepherds to lead them.

How different than the American ideal! For according to secular standards, we’re a proud people that revels in being self-sufficient, go-getter, tough-as-nails, red-meat-eating, sky’s-the-limit-type individualists. Our national symbol is, after all, the eagle.

Eagles and sheep don’t have a lot in common.

And yet, we Christians are routinely called “sheep.” Hardly a funeral goes by where we don’t recite: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Isaiah says “we all like sheep have gone astray.” Ezekiel compares God’s people to sheep: “Behold I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” St. John records our Lord’s words: “I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” That would be us.

God does not call us lions, eagles, bears, tigers, or any other strong and mighty creatures that we tend to name our sports teams after. Instead, He calls us sheep.

Sheep cannot defend themselves. Sheep are prey for the predator. Sheep need to stay in a flock for safety. Sheep need a leader to make decisions for them. Sheep need a benefactor who will lay down his life in order to protect them. Sheep need grass and water. Sheep need a safe place to raise their families. Sheep need a loving shepherd who really cares about them – not a hired-hand or agri-businessman only looking to make a buck off of them.

And indeed, the Lord is our Shepherd! The prophet Ezekiel tells us of the work of our Good Shepherd: “As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out My sheep.” God Himself promises to be “among His sheep” – in order to gather them to safety. And our Lord goes even further, as the Shepherd becomes a Lamb in the course of his ministry as the Shepherd. Or as worded in the poetry of the hymnist: “The Lamb the sheep has ransomed: Christ, who only is sinless.”

The prophet continues: “I will seek out my sheep… I will rescue them…. I will bring them out from the peoples…. I will feed them…. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down…. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”

For we, the sheep, always get into trouble. We always stray and wander. We always delude ourselves into thinking that we are safe from the wolf and the lion. Hear the Word of St. Peter: “You were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

And of course Ezekiel and Peter have the same Shepherd in mind, God Himself, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, the one and only One who can say: “I am the Good Shepherd.” For Jesus Christ is indeed the Lamb who has ransomed the sheep, the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls who lays down His life by taking up His cross.

The hireling sees trouble and flees. But by contrast, the Good Shepherd sees the attacker and fights, absorbing the blows Himself rather than see His beloved sheep devoured. The hireling sacrifices the sheep to save his own life. But our Blessed Lord becomes a sacrifice for our very lives. The hireling “cares nothing for the sheep.” But our Lord indeed cares for us. He is the One who loves us perfectly and selflessly. “For God so loved the world,” as the One who loved us and gave Himself for us testifies in His own Words.

Our Good Shepherd knows us, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. He knows us. And He knows the Father. We are not random pieces of cosmic matter and happenstance chemical reactions of carbon. We are the very sheep of His flock, under His care and protection, the ones for whom He lays down His life.

This is far more comfort than if our Lord puffed up our egos by telling us we were all eagles and lions, aggressive predators and the kinds of creatures who survive by killing others. Of course, those who live by the sword also die by the sword. The predator often becomes prey. The aggressive animals in the wild have no shepherd to watch over them, care for them, and even die for them. We sheep, though despised by the world, and maybe even a little ashamed of ourselves for being sheep, have the greatest life of all.

For we have a Shepherd. And not just a Shepherd, but a Good Shepherd. And not just a Good Shepherd, but “the” Good Shepherd: God in the very flesh who leads us to green pastures and still waters. We have a Shepherd who is also the Overseer of our souls.

What comfort that we have God Himself watching over us!

Our Creator is also our Redeemer. Moreover, He is our Protector. He gathers the sheep of His flock into a gathering, into an assembly, into a Church. And in the safety of the Church, he waters us with Baptism, He feeds us with Holy Communion, and he calls us by name, absolving us, proclaiming the Good News to us, giving us the very Words of Scripture that proclaim Him to be our Shepherd – week after week as the sheep gather here in this sheepfold, we who know His name, the name into which we have been baptized, the name into which we gather again and again: the name of the Holy Trinity.

And He knows all of us by name, not merely as a conglomerated flock, but as individuals who have been baptized one by one into the flock, as distinct creatures who were made for a specific purpose.

And no, we have not been created to chase down weak animals and devour them, and we have not been designed to soar above the clouds seeking smaller creatures to attack and eat, and we were not made to be hunting machines with lightning-fast reflexes and keen killer instincts. On our own, we are helpless. But as the Psalmist reminds us: “Our help is in the name of the Lord.” On our own, we are weak. But as the apostle reminds us, when we are weak, we are strong. And our voices are not impressive roars or fearsome calls. No indeed. For we are sheep, peaceful creatures who graze and bleat softly and gratefully, as we gaze upon our good, kindly, and loving Shepherd.

And as the hymnist reminds us, our Good Shepherd bids us to pray:

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;

Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise

Within Thy house forever!


Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Closed Communion Cone-size Catch-22?

We Missouri Synod Lutherans have traditionally practiced the biblical, catholic, and ancient practice of only admitting people to Holy Communion who are in fellowship with us, who believe the same doctrine.

Most people are familiar with this in Roman Catholic churches, for instance, where it would be odd indeed for a Baptist or a Pentecostal to wish to take the sacrament that the priest has just consecrated, knelt before, and pronounced to be God in the flesh while only appearing to be bread. Most Protestants would consider this idolatry.

Similarly, Roman Catholics would not typically wish to take part in a communion at a Baptist or Pentecostal church in which the bread and wine (or even grape juice) is seen only as a symbol, and is not consecrated by a priest in Roman Catholic orders.

Historically, churches are "in communion" with each other based on doctrinal agreement.

In 1054, Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking churches broke off communion with each other due to many factors. One of those factors is a difference of opinion about the authority of the pope - not a minor issue. To this day, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians don't take communion together. This is not to say they are at war, and to be sure, they recognize one another as Christians and they are trying to work out their differences - but it would be disingenuous to just pretend there is no disagreement when that's just not the case.

During the Reformation, the reform-minded Catholic churches that adopted the Augsburg Confession (churches which have since come to be known as "Lutheran") were no longer in communion with the Roman Catholic churches that remained loyal to the pope. The Lutherans, like the Eastern Orthodox, are not in communion with the pope and his churches. Again, this is not to say we don't recognize our fellow Christian - nor even deny the validity of their sacraments - we're just not in a state of communion with each other.

The Reformation saw further splintering over many issues, and so there are many Protestant groups that are not in communion with the Lutherans either.

And, to complicate matters, various Lutheran churches have adopted doctrines and practices that are incompatible with one another. So to this day, ELCA Lutherans, by virtue of some pretty important doctrinal differences, are not in communion with LCMS Lutherans. That is the sad reality that can't be changed by ignoring it any more than a Baptist could just overlook his important doctrinal divisions with the Roman Catholic Church and come forward to receive the sacrament.

So, this is why we have "closed communion" - which, again, is the traditional and ancient practice in the Church. "

If a Roman Catholic were to commune at a Lutheran altar, he would be making the public declaration that he denies the pope as the head of the Church. According to Catholic canon law, he is excommunicating himself from the Catholic Church.

If a Missouri Synod (LCMS) Lutheran were to take communion at an ELCA altar, he would be making the public profession that he agrees with the positions of that church body - many of which are at odds with the Missouri Synod.

There are, in fact, a couple dozen or so church bodies worldwide in communion with the Missouri Synod. For example, a member of the Lutheran Church - Canada congregation is in communion with the LCMS, and so we can commune at one another's altars.

But practicing this doctrine is no fun - especially for pastors. We like nothing more than to give people the body and blood of Christ - but we are called to be faithful. There are exceptions, to be sure, but exceptions are by definition rare. There are simply times when we must withhold communion from people - not out of malice or hatred, not because we feel we are "better" than anyone, and not because we don't recognize the person as a Christian - but because that is the way it is.

There are times when I have to look like the heavy because I won't give communion to those who are not in fellowship with the LCMS. Unfortunately, there are area pastors who will commune Roman Catholics, Methodists, non-LCMS Lutherans, and others who are not in fellowship with the LCMS. Their lack of backbone makes it hard for us who are trying to do the right thing.

But interestingly, one area pastor has articulated that this is not a case of "open" (vs. closed) communion running rampant in our district and synod. In fact, there is not a single instance of "open communion" in our district. Not even one.

Here is how he gets around the obvious and turns black into white, and closed into open without even checking in with George Orwell:

According to this man (name withheld to protect the absurd), all LCMS pastors practice "closed communion." It's just that some of us have "bigger cones" than others. No lie, this is exactly what this fellow says. It's all about the size of the cone. (Doctor Freud, please pick up the white courtesy phone in the lobby...).

In other words, one pastor might have a "small cone" and only commune LCMS congregants (and those in communion with the LCMS). Another pastor's cone may be a little bigger, and he may commune anyone who believes Jesus is really present. Another pastor's cone may be still larger, and he will commune any baptized Christian.

So, you see, we all practice "closed communion."

Clever, huh?

And I suppose if a pastor would commune a Muslim, that would still be closed communion, as long as he only communes monotheists. And if another pastor (with a bigger cone) communes Hindus, he too practices closed communion so long as he denies the Sacrament to those who believe in no gods. And a guy with a yet bigger cone still practices closed communion by communing atheists, as long as he withholds the sacrament from dogs and cats. But then again, the fella with the massive cone may well commune dogs and cats while withholding communion from heads of cabbage and dandelions.

See? We all practice "closed communion." "Open communion" simply isn't done in our synod. Not an issue. No doctrinal disagreements here. Nothing to see here, folks. Please move along.

Of course, the "cone theory" could equally be applied to the abortion controversy. Actually, there is no controversy or disagreement over abortion. For, you see, we're all pro-life. Some pro-lifers just have bigger cones.

A "small-cone" pro-lifer will not allow abortion at all. A pro-lifer with a bigger cone will make an exception for the life of the mother. Those with still bigger cones will make exceptions for incest and rape, and even bigger cones will limit abortion on demand to the first trimester. But we're all pro-life, right?

Pro-lifers with still larger cones will allow for partial-birth abortions, but as long as he is anti-infanticide post-partum, he is still a pro-lifer - just with a bigger cone, of course. Now, Princeton "Ethicist" Peter Singer argues for post-birth abortion - so long as the child is not self-aware. And I suppose Peter Singer would not advocate abortion for, say fifteen year olds, so he is, just like most Missouri Synod members, a pro-lifer - albeit with a really big cone.

Hitler had a pro-life Mega-cone, while Stalin could only be described as giga-cononically pro-life.

Have you ever heard such nonsense? Isn't it easier to just have integrity and just say you disagree with the doctrine of closed communion rather than create an elaborate intelligence-insulting logically-fallacious absurdity like this - and peddle it to LCMS pastors with a straight face?

Joseph Heller would be proud.

Monday, April 20, 2009

D.C. Math

For once, the media didn't just toss Gibbs a softball. However, when Gibbs replied that he wasn't joking, the reporter should have asked him about the smirk on his face. Listen to the flapping about.

Translation: Washington is beyond clueless.

How about we do the math since the administration doesn't want to?

Okay, so we have a proposed $3.6 trillion dollar budget. That's $3,600,000,000,000.00. And the president is "tightening the belt" by $100 million. That sounds like a lot of money - until you do the math. That proposed savings is about .003% of one percent of the budget.

Now that's some "belt tightening." A "medium" sized man's belt is 42 inches. Okay, so let's see how much belt tightening Mr. Obama is proposing. 42 inches X .00003 = 1.3 thousandths of an inch. The width of a human hair ranges between 17 and 181 micrometers. So (if my math is right), that means our "belt tightening" converts to 33 micrometers - the size of a rather small human hair.

Wow, better suck in that gut, America!

Or for some more real numbers exposing the silliness of this proposed "frugality", check this out.

I guess it really is in the government's interest to dumb down the education system - especially when it comes to math.

Maybe Obama and his smirking lackey need to learn that we aren't joking.

Has Dr. Paul been reading Lew Rockwell? ;-)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Don't you feel safer?

That'll show those terrorists: zero tolerance in matters of toilet compliance.

Maybe a few years of cooling his heels in a federal penitentiary will teach this felon (and his colon) a thing or two about America, and how we don't take any you-know-what from anyone.

What would we ever do without our brave men and women of the TSA and the remarkably intelligent bureaucracy that "keeps America free"?

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) and Baptism of Kaesyn Lee Walker

19 April 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 20:19-31 (Ezek 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia.

The Latin name of this week in the church year is Quasimodo Geniti – from St. Peter’s first epistle, as we sang right after little Kaesyn was baptized: “As newborn babes desire the pure milk of the Word.”

Quasimodo Geniti” means “Just like newborns.”

And what could be a more appropriate passage to sing just after Kaesyn’s second birth by water and the Spirit?

Some people might hear the word “Quasimodo” and think of the baby hunchback left at Notre Dame Cathedral on Quasimodo Geniti Sunday in the famous novel by Victor Hugo. And while Kaesyn is blessed to be in perfect physical health, she did enter this church building spiritually broken – just as all of us did, being born into a fallen world burdened with sin. But by the grace of God, by the death and resurrection of our Blessed Lord, and by the “pure milk of the Word,” Kaesyn was given the gift of faith that overcomes sin, death, and the devil.

“For everyone who has been born of God,” says the holy apostle, “overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Little Kaesyn has come into this faith, this “pure milk of the Word" by virtue of “water and blood.” For even as Kaesyn was surrounded in water and blood in the maternal womb of her first birth, she was given a second birth from the maternal womb of the Church, by the water and blood of Jesus Christ, which flowed forth from his side on the cross, and which flowed over Kaesyn’s head at the font. “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”

Indeed, these three agree, just as these three: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, into whose holy name this child of God has been baptized and given new birth, new life, a resurrection from the dead – all by faith alone.

What a wondrous miracle!

And yet how humble this miracle seems: simple water imposed upon a helpless baby. But this is indeed the “pure milk of the Word” that is desired by “newborn babes.”

For Kaesyn was born into a fallen world, a desert of death, a valley full of dry bones. All of us who surround this little girl, her father and mother, her sponsors, her relatives, and all of us, her brothers and sisters in Christ, are like those skeletons Ezekiel saw bleaching and decaying in the heat of the sun. But the pure milk of the Word, proclaimed by the prophet according to the Word and will of God, brought those dry bones to life.

Sinews, flesh, and skin covered the bones. The corruption of death and decay ran in reverse. But amidst the rattling and enfleshing of these skeletons, there was no life in them. But once the breath of the Word of God was blown into them by the mouth of the prophet, the bones stood up “on their feet” and became “an exceedingly great army.”

We have been raised from our graves by the Word of God, by the blood, by the water, and by the Spirit. We have been born again by water and the Word, and like those once-dead bones, our formerly hopeless and lifeless flesh has been revivified.

It was our Risen Lord who breathed on the disciples after He Himself stood on His own revivified feet and walked out of His own grave. The Lord Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

And by virtue of this ordination and gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were sent out to preach the gospel, and to forgive the sins of the penitent and to withhold forgiveness from the impenitent. They were also charged to make new disciples of Jesus by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

For this baptism and this preaching of the Word of God is for a specific purpose: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

Life. Life from death. Life in glorious abundance. Life that has no end. This, dear friends, is the life we “newborn babes” have in Christ by virtue of the “pure milk of the Word” through the forgiveness of sins, through faith, all by the grace of Him who died and rose again for us.

Today, Kaesyn gets a new birthday and everlasting life. Today she has risen from death like bones in the desert. She has risen up to join our mighty army of the redeemed, infused by the very breath of Christ, washed by the water from His side, and redeemed by the blood He shed on the cross.

For listen to the promise, brothers and sisters: “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”

The victory of the cross, the victory of the empty tomb, the victory of the One who declares: “Peace be with you,” the victory of St. Thomas’s belief over doubt, is also our victory. It is Kaesyn’s victory as well. For “this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”

And this faith, this victory, this life is given to us as a gift – not because we want it, not because we understand it, not because we deserve it, not because we have the intellectual capacity to grasp it – but rather it is given to us “as newborn babes,” as nursing infants, as helpless little children driven by hunger.

For there is a little Hunchback of Notre Dame in all of us. We, who were disfigured by sin and deemed of no value by the world, were brought to the Church. We were baptized. We were forgiven. We were given the “pure milk of the Word.” And it is in the gift given to us by Christ through the ministry of His Church that we indeed “believe in the Son of God” and have “the testimony” in ourselves, believing that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] have life in His name,” the name in which we baptize and are baptized, the name at whose command the dead walk and sins are forgiven.

Let us never forget this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us always remember how we were given life, how we were redeemed, how we were raised to be part of an army. Let us joyfully remember our own baptism as well as the resurrection of Him who gave us life through that baptism. And let us never let little Kaesyn forget this either. Let us pray for our dear sister, teach and catechize her, and continue to give her the “pure milk of the Word,” for her whole life long, as a newborn babe, quasimodo geniti, born again to life everlasting through Him who died and rose again. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia.

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

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tea, anyone?

Like hundreds of thousands of other Americans, the Hollywoods enjoyed a tea party this past Wednesday. "Tea party" (wink wink). Nothing subversive about sipping a little Darjeeling, eh wot? Nothing to see here, Miss Napolitano.

Anyway, our local festivities were held at Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie. There were literally thousands of people crammed into the neutral ground (though on that day, the ground was anything but...), as cars and trucks poured by the busy boulevard laing on their horns in support.

Here are pictures.

And like every such gathering in our environs, there was even a brass band and an improptu "second line" parade. It was a "party" after all. But it was a party with a serious reason.

The crowds were so overwhelming that it was hard to hear the speakers, and unfortunately, we did have a few politicians speaking, trying to glom onto the spontaneous citizen outcry. But overall, it was an inspiring time, a wake-up call for big-government politicians and bureaucrats who have forgotten for whom they work and the law which they are bound to obey.

The tea parties all over the country were a great blessing and at least demonstrate the idea that Americans haven't rolled over in their defiance. However, there are a few things to be watchful about, and here is an excellent analysis of the tea party phenomenon.

And here is an illustration of how messed up the country has become. Notice how the protester invokes Lincoln (the cornerstone of Big Government and centralized Washingtonian control), and notice how the "reporter" picks a fight with him (amazing!), openly defending a political position, and then concludes that this is an "anti-CNN" demonstration.

Don't flatter yourself, lady. CNN is a joke, and she proved it by this kind of "coverage." This is about something far bigger than her insignificant job.

The tea parties used the federal tax deadline as a convenient day to rally. But this is not primarily about taxes. The government will not be able to tax enough to cover its expenses. It will resort to the printing press - especially when China stops buying our increasingly worthless treasuries. And what good is this "reporter's" laughable $400 tax credit when the government is destroying the value of the dollar and putting generations into debt?

Another canard is that this is about "losing an election" and that the American Revolution involved only "taxation without representation." It demonstrates how few people have actually read the Declaration of Independence - which enumerates a litany of reasons for the separation - many of which are being done to us today and in far greater numbers - not by George in London, but by George and Barack in Washington.

These tea parties are not about the Republicans vs. the Democrats (as both are culpable for where we are today). This is about the need for the government to be severely curtailed and limited by the Constitution and by the need for both parties to renounce Socialism and to embrace free markets, free thoughts, and free people.

The press and the politicians don't get it yet. But hopefully they will. A free America has much to offer not only her own citizens, but people all over the world. But a fascist and imperial America will be as destructive as any other tyranny in history.

We're at a crossroads in our history.

Tea anyone?

Gretna Statue Honors Mel Ott

I know this report is quite late for the old blog, but that's how it goes sometimes. The following is based on my article in the April Renaissance, the newsletter of Salem Lutheran Church.

On March 7, 2009, the City of Gretna honored Mel Ott , Gretna’s most famous hometown hero, by unveiling a life-size statue at 4th Street and Huey P. Long Avenue.

Mel Ott was a member of Salem, and his 1909 baptism is recorded in our oldest book of records. He was also well-known by several current members of Salem. He went directly into the major leagues at the age of 16, playing for the New York Giants for 22 seasons until retirement in 1947. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951 having compiled a lifetime batting average of .304 and hitting 511 home runs.

In spite of his extraordinary accomplishments, he remained a “Gentle Giant” according to Dr. Alfred Martin of New Jersey, Mel Ott’s biographer, who was the main speaker at the statue unveiling. According to all who knew him, he remained a genuinely humble Christian gentleman until his untimely death in a New Orleans traffic accident in 1958.

The weather was beautiful for the unveiling ceremony that featured major league baseball luminaries and Gretna officials, a bugler, a color guard, and even a singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” amid red, white, and blue bunting. The event was attended by people from all over the United States, and many members of Salem were on hand. I was honored to give the invocation:

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

Lord God, Heavenly Father, we give thanks to you for the gift of Mel Ott. For You are the Creator of all men, and You are the source of all we have and are, in body and soul and all things.

You give us the gift of athletic competition, which not only provides us with joy, but also serves to remind us to discipline ourselves bodily so that we might strive for physical health and excellence in all things. Your servant Mel was not only such an example of athletic prowess to the people of Gretna and people around the country and the world, but he also served as a model of sportsmanship, humility, and gentleness as he was called to do as a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We ask that this monument may be a blessed reminder of Mel Ott, to us and to future citizens of Gretna, who affectionately remember him as an athlete and as a gentleman. We pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, with whom You live and reign with the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The statue is the work of nationally-known sculptor William Binnings, and is right in front of the railroad car at the Gretna Visitor’s Center three blocks from Salem’s 4th Street entrance.

It is a beautiful tribute not only to a great athlete, but a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ who learned the faith from Pastor Eugene Schmid and from his brothers and sisters in Christ at Salem Lutheran Church.

For more photos, click here. For the story in the Times-Picayune, click here. For the City of Gretna's article, click here. And for some archival footage of Mel Ott, click here.

And here is the location according to Google Maps, before the statue...

View Larger Map

Fr. H. on Lew Rockwell

Here is my seventh article to be published on Lew tomorrow (April 18, 2009) : Is Secession Anti-American? Lew Rockwell is the president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

My previous offerings (in reverse chronological order) are:
Needless to say, I heartily recommend reading LRC on a regular basis - in spite of the fact that Lew likes to humor me by publishing my stuff. If you are interested in defending individual liberty, conservative/libertarian constitutional principles, limited government, peace, and free markets, you won't be disappointed browsing around LRC. You will even find entire books on economics, some of them rare and hard to find, available for download at no charge.

If "Liberty" in America ever becomes once more something greater than a meaningless word carved on nearly-worthless coins, it will certainly be due in part to Lew Rockwell and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

The Institute's motto Tu Ne Cede Malis says it all: "Do not give in to evil."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Another young international freedom-fighter

Hat tip to Rev. Mike Keith of Saskatchewan.

The "human rights" commissions and tribunals in Canada are an odd, Orwellian extra-judicial imposition against liberty, through which the state attacks human rights in the name of human rights. It was a similar commission that fined a Christian pastor in British Columbia for nothing more than quoting Scripture in a newspaper ad.

Ezra Levant is a Jewish conservative/libertarian magazine publisher and blogger who courageously published a controversial cartoon that was offensive to some Muslims. His opening remarks to the commission both eviscerate the proceedings and strike a mighty blow for liberty.

This is just Mr. Levant's opening statement. Several other portions of the proceedings are posted on YouTube, though his opening statement is the best part.

The charges against him were eventually withdrawn. But these tyrannical structures still exist in Canada, and their very existence among civilized people is an affront that crosses borders. I hope freedom-loving Canadians will rally around Ezra Levant and call for their abolition.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Watch Simon's eyes fall out...

Check out this 47-year old "frumpy church lady" stunning Simon Cowell (plus two other judges and a studio of skeptics) on a British talent program. Good stuff. Read more here. Everyone loves an underdog. Go Susan!

We Told Y'all So...

States' Rights is not just a Southern thing, it is a Freedom thing. The Tenth Amendment is for all the people of all the fifty states. Save the Union by supporting the Tenth Amendment and by ending Federal tyranny and oppression by simply appealing to the document through which We The States created our servant, the Federal government.

Bully for Gov. Perry, for the Great State of Texas, and for the growing worldwide movement for liberty and self-government.

Our founding fathers knew what they were doing when they included this simple amendment into the Bill of Rights:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Deo vindice.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Christ is Arisen!

This haunting hymn Victimae Paschali (To the Paschal Victim) is attributed to Wipo of Burgundy (d.c. 1050). Early Lutherans sang it in Latin interspersed with verses from a medieval German hymn Christ est Erstanden (Christ is Arisen).

It is found in the LSB hymnal as hymns 459 and 460.

When I sang with the seminary Kantorei, we sang this hymn in English blending the two hymns together. It was sung in four parts a capella with handbells. We often used it as a Gospel procession for Mass at Kramer Chapel. During the Easter season, Salem Lutheran Church uses hymn 459 as our Gospel procession.

Here are the lyrics from LSB 459 & 460:

Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
The Lamb the sheep has ransomed:
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciling sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended
In that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life who died,
Reigns immortal.

Christ is arisen
From the grave's dark prison.
So let our joy rise full and free,
Christ our comfort true will be.

"Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw when wayfaring."
"The tomb of Christ, who is living.
The glory of Jesus' resurrection,
Bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
My Lord, my hope, is arisen;
To Galilee He goes before you."

Were not Christ arisen,
Then death were still our prison.
Now with Him to life restored.
We praise the Father of our Lord.

Christ indeed from death is risen,
Our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Now let our joy rise full and free;
Christ our comfort true will be. Alleluia!

Sermon: Easter Festival

12 April 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

An empty tomb. Think about it: a Man was placed inside on Friday, and on Sunday morning, the detachment of soldiers guarding the grave is lying comatose, the big stone sealing the tomb has been mysteriously rolled away, and an angel is saying that the dead Jesus is risen.

Is it any wonder the Marys are afraid? This was the last thing they expected to find that Sunday morning in April in the year 30 AD.

But their fear would soon give way to joy, as the Lord would not only appear to St. Mary Magdalene, but to St. Peter and all the apostles as well. The risen Jesus made one thing perfectly clear – he was not a ghost. He was not a disembodied spirit. He is the very flesh and blood Jesus, still bearing the holes made by the nails of His cross. He rose, not merely “living on” in spirit, not just in the hearts of those who remember him, not in the remembrance of His words and deeds. No, indeed, He rose: physically, bodily, and historically. For forty days, He was seen by many real historical people on numerous occasions. Contemporary historians recorded these events, but have no explanation for them.

But we do!

While unbelievers come up with increasingly ridiculous stories that the Romans botched Jesus’s execution; or that his disciples broke into the tomb and stole the body in order to create a new religion that they would all die for; or that Jesus recovered from crucifixion, got married, and became the grandfather of kings and founded secret societies – we see through all the absurdity to the simple truth – Jesus of Nazareth was, is, and ever shall be, a unique Person in history, the Son of God and the Son of Man, the One who died to pay for our sins, but also the one who defeated death by death and rose again.

Thousands of years before Christ, Job, the man who lost everything and who gained it all back – prophesied about the bodily resurrection. While all other religions of the world either teach that the body is discarded at death, or believe in reincarnation again and again, only Christianity teaches this message of hope: “After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold and not another” – a hope vindicated by the empty tomb of Jesus.

The empty tomb is still there. Today, it is a Christian church. Your eyes can indeed behold it – even as you can visit the tombs of dead religious leaders and false messiahs by the thousand. Only their tombs are not empty.

Job’s hope in having his own flesh resurrected, keeping his own consciousness, being restored to perfect health after death, is rooted in the fact that God created His world good. Matter is good. Flesh is good. Creation is very good – according to Genesis. Our sinfulness, which corrupts God’s creation and introduced death, has made it necessary for that corrupted creation to be redeemed and made new. And this is what God has done. This is how Job could proclaim: “I know that my Redeemer lives.” Job “knows” – he does not merely imagine, hope, guess, or request it to be. Job has faith, faith given him by God, just as Job’s life and redemption came from God.

Unlike what many people – including many Christians – believe about their bodies, our Lord Jesus Christ proves that the resurrection is not a spiritual matter, but a flesh-and-blood reality. In the Apostles’ Creed we confess: “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

That’s why Jesus had a tomb. The Scriptures speak of resurrection. The pagan Greeks and Romans treated the bodies of their loved ones like garbage, and rejoiced that those bodies were no longer needed. The Jews, however, having prophets like Job who proclaimed the resurrection, buried bodies in tombs.

And Jesus’s tomb is the best kind of tomb of all – one with no-one in it. The tombs of all Christians will be filled, like our Lord’s was on Good Friday, but those same tombs will also become empty, like our Lord’s was on Easter Sunday. For that is what it means to confess a resurrection. That is why Christianity is unique among all the religions of the world.

You will not hear this historically-grounded message of hope except in Christian churches, dear friends: “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

And because of this perishable becoming imperishable, this is how Christians can rejoice even at funerals of loved ones, for we can indeed shout: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

We mourn the loss of our loved ones, to be sure. Not because we believe they are gone, but because they are temporarily separated from us. This is why St. Paul says that we grieve, but not like the unbelievers.

Dear friends, do you want to be unafraid of death? For that is really the only way to live, isn’t it? Do you want to be free from worry about your own death and of the deaths of your loved ones? Then keep the image of Christ before your eyes, keep the Words of Scripture in your ears, keep the sign of the cross over your hearts, and keep the body and blood of Christ on your lips.

This church, and churches like it all over the world, are the only places where you will behold with your own eyes life defeating death, joy overcoming grief, and hope destroying fear. For the Church is the bride of Christ, and where she is, there He is as well – protecting her, comforting her, dying for her, and rising again for her.

St. Paul tells us yet again that “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We are all sinners who deserve death. Indeed, death will come to all of us. But Jesus has risen, dear friends! He has risen, and He calls you to Himself, to hear His Word, to commune with Him, to be forgiven of your sins that lead to death – week in and week out. He invites you here every week, to strengthen you and your families, to unite you with your Christian brothers and sisters not only here, but around the world, in every time and place where the Gospel has been proclaimed and where the sting of death has been crushed like the head of the serpent by the heel of the Lord Jesus, who defeated him on the cross, and walked out of His own tomb to preach the victory to every mortal human being.

Dear redeemed brothers and sisters, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen.” He is not in the tomb, but is here in this sanctuary, physically present in His Word and in His body and blood. And because He has risen for us, we can sing with Job, with Mary Magdalene, with Peter and with all the saints, with angels and archangels and with all the hosts of heaven: “I know that my Redeemer lives!” world without end. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Sermon: Easter Vigil

12 April 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 20:1-18 (Gen 1:1-2:2; 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13, Ex 14:10-15:1, Ezek 36:24-28)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

This is the one thousand nine hundred and eightieth consecutive year we Christians have observed the Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord. The world would have you believe that this is a celebration of some old myth. But it isn’t. It is a fact of history that since the year 30 AD, we have been doing this. And that first Easter changed the world forever.

Every few years politicians trot out the phrase “New World Order.” And they all make the same wild claims: a new age of world peace, of no strife, of no hunger, of no poverty, and a new golden age of mankind. In 1959, the United Nations was given a statue with the slogan “Let us beat swords into plowshares.” There are two remarkable things about this sculpture in New York City: first, it is a quote from the Word of God, from three prophets in fact: Isaiah, Joel, and Micah. Second, it was presented to the UN by the Soviet Union, a brutal atheistic regime that persecuted people for reading Scripture, a nation that is now in the dustbin of history.

In spite of the continued promises of world leaders and bureaucrats, wars continue to rage. Poverty and death still abound. Politicians are impotent to implement any new Garden of Eden. They can’t do it through Socialism. They can’t do it through Capitalism. But God can do it, is doing it, and will do it, the only way it could ever be done – by the undoing of the curse of sin.

The New World Order that every human ideology promises to deliver is found nowhere other than in the Garden of Eden. And they cannot bring it back – not with diplomats, not with missiles, not with money, and not with government. The answer is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The solution sought by the United Nations lies in an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

But how can that be? In spite of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the world is still beset with problems. Indeed, this is true. We still wage war against the temptations of sin, the decay of death, and the lies of the devil. The nations continue to rage, and the love of many has waxed cold. And yet, the empty tomb shows us that death has not won. The problems that seem so insoluble, which everyone from politicians to rock stars claim to have the answer to, can only be fixed by God.

And they are being fixed on His schedule, according to His plan, and by His will.

It was God who created this world “in the beginning” by His divine creative breath. His Word said: “Let there be,” and there was. Not only that, it was all “good.” Not only “good,” but “very good.” That was the Old World Order that our ancestors traded away for the lie that they could be like God. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, that, dear friends, became the New World Order, an order of suffering, temptation, violence, death, and decay.

Things corrupted to the point where God condemned the entire world in a flood – except for eight righteous souls – Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their wives. And as much of a cleansing as this flood was, it did not restore the Old World Order. But it was a start.

When the children of Israel were led out of Egyptian slavery, the Lord again used water to drown the evil and deliver the blessed. The Lord swept the armies of Egypt into oblivion, allowing the children of Israel to walk across the sea “with unmoistened foot.” Again, this cleansing flood did not restore the Garden of Eden, but it did move us toward a New Testament between God and mankind.

The promise of the New Testament is indeed found in the Old, as we heard the testimony of the prophet Ezekiel: “I will take you from the nations…. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean…. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” For the promise of the restoration of Eden doesn’t begin with a government program, rather it begins within each person, in his heart, as he converts and as the Lord gives Him a new spirit. For God promises: “You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

Dear friends, that is the turning of swords into plowshares. That is the restoration of the Good World Order, of Eden, of Paradise, of the way we were meant to be, and shall be, according to the promise of God. That is the road-map to peace, true peace, peace between God and man, between Creator and creature.

For this is a gift, dear brothers and sisters. It is not the work of any group of people, no matter how well-intentioned. This “peace that passes all understanding” will not be accomplished by the Marine Corps, nor the Peace Corps, but rather by the Corpus Christi, the body of Christ! For that body died and has risen, and now sits at the right hand of the Father. That body will “come again with glory… whose kingdom will have no end.” And even as we await this promised consummation of the Perfect World Order, we have His risen body with us in the mystical communion of the Holy Supper He gave us.

The sepulcher is empty, but our altar is not. The body of Christ is not entombed in Jerusalem, because it is manifest all over the entire world. The Body of Christ is not only Holy Communion, but by virtue of that communion, also exists in the corpus of the Church.

All of this is because of the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord. God made the promise to restore Eden, to defeat the devil, to roll back the ravages of death, and to once more make the world “very good.” That promise is unfolding before the very eyes of man, and it has been unfolding since 30 AD.

Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb and the risen body of Christ with her own eyes. She spoke to Him. She touched Him. She brought the message to the apostles. The apostles themselves would later see Him, touch Him, hear Him, speak to Him, and be ordained to preach by Him. These witnesses gave their lives rather than renounce what they saw, heard, and touched.

And as St. Paul testifies: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, than to the twelve.” This is the gospel, the good news by which St. Paul declares “you are being saved.”

Indeed, the world has been changed forever. Each passing Easter we find ourselves one year closer to the fullness of the kingdom and the restoration of our once and future Eden. And while we await the final coming of our Lord to make a new heaven and a new earth, we know how the story ends, just as it was proven at the tomb, and as we have believed, gathering at altars since the truly New World Order began one thousand nine hundred and seventy nine years ago.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sermon: Affirmation of Matrimony: Michael and Jeanne Hunt

11 April 2009 at Harvey, LA

Text: 1 Cor 13:1-13

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Michael and Jeanne, Cameron and Lauren, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests. Greetings in the name of the Crucified One, whose glorious resurrection we will commemorate tonight and tomorrow. Peace be upon you.

St. Paul’s magnificent description of love is as profound and true as it is beautiful. For it is God’s Word. He speaks of a specific kind of love, the love God has for His people – a love that is unconditional, self-sacrificing, limitless, and all-availing. St. Paul also teaches us that human marriage is a window into this divine love, that marriage is itself a picture of this kind of love.

Indeed, love between spouses is patient and kind, not envious, arrogant, or rude. It is not resentful, nor does it wallow in wrongs. It is rather rooted in truthfulness.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

It is this persistence, this endurance, this steadfastness that is the mark of true love – God’s love for us, and the love between spouses.

People often confuse love with the very real emotions and feelings that love generates. But the emotions and feelings are not themselves love. Infatuation quickly burns out. Lust fades away. Marriages entered into out of social pressure, greed, or ulterior motives are doomed to fail. But love, real love, godly love “endures all things” and “never fails.” For such love is the will of God. Nothing can get in its way.

Michael and Jeanne entered into this holy covenant 20 years ago. And today we have hindsight. They have indeed endured all things, and done so together in submission to the Triune God. They have been blessed to grow into a family of four, who likewise bound in love, continue to endure all things together. But 20 years ago, this holy estate was entered into by a leap of faith, not knowing the future, but grounded in a mutual promise of fidelity and supported by loving families and a childlike reliance on God.

Not every marriage follows the script. Life is full of surprises and twists and turns. And yet, “love endures all things.” Come what may, the two have become one flesh, and this one flesh finds a way to remain united in love in defiance of a world hostile to this sacred institution. This is why two decades ago, Michael and Jeanne vowed to endure together “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health.” For love is unaffected by all of these things. For “love bears all things.”

And yet, looking back in time, we see there was a script all along – a plan according to the Lord’s precepts and will. And as the Psalmist proclaims: “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands, you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.”

Michael and Jeanne, this blessing is yours. It has been demonstrated over the past two decades, it is borne out in your children, and it is my prayer for you in decades to come, even as the Word of the Lord continues: “The Lord bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children’s children! Peace be upon [you].” Amen.

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

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sermon: Good Friday

10 April 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 18:1 – 19:42 (Isa 52:13 – 53:12, 2 Cor 5:14-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”

Love makes people do strange things. And it seems that this human trait reflects the image of God in which we were created. For God cannot be constrained to a body, and yet He is. Sinners cannot look upon the face of God and live, and yet they do. Sins cannot be atoned for by a substitute punishment, and yet they are. God cannot suffer and die, and yet He does.

The divine love not only turns “can’t” into “can,” but goes further and “does.” The divine sacrifice turns death into life. The divine gift turns sinners into saints.

This surprising, no, this shocking work of God is sometimes called an “alien work.” It seems to be outside what we would expect of a righteous God – and yet this is precisely what He does. One would not expect a husband to treat his unfaithful wife like a queen – and yet this is what the Holy Bridegroom does for His fickle and wayward bride. One would not expect an innocent victim of injustice to die for those who hated, betrayed, and condemned him, and then pray for their forgiveness – and yet is what the “Lamb of God pure and holy,” the one “stricken, smitten, and afflicted,” does for you, for me, and yes even for the entire world.

The non-believing world looks upon this time of year with a cross between morbid curiosity and quaint mockery. Those who actively hate the Church often rail against a God that they portray as the ultimate child-abuser – which is odd indeed for people to rail against a God that they claim doesn’t exist.

Some Christians seek attention for themselves by morbid ritual, as every year people around the world allow themselves to be attached to crosses – sometimes even with nails – which draws attention from the Crucified One, the true Lamb led to the slaughter, and places that attention onto themselves. For unlike our Lord Jesus Christ, none of these people will die. It is only a show, with props, and stage direction. None of these people were condemned though innocent. None of these people are the only begotten Son of God who is crushed by the will of God and by whose stripes we are healed.

No indeed. There is no glory in our own crosses. As we pray in the prayer the One who gave up His Spirit on our behalf, taught us: “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” In the cross of Christ we glory, and it is only God’s kingdom and His power that redeems us.

We are servants of the King. We are subjects of the Kingdom. We are the recipients of the healing by His stripes. We are the sheep who have gone astray, whose Shepherd gives His life in order to gather us into the flock. We are the benefactors of this “ministry of reconciliation.”

The Prince of Peace died to bring peace, a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that reconciles us to God, a peace that removes from us the fear of death, the terror of hell, and the constant threat of bondage to the evil one.

The events of Good Friday are not simply a historical curiosity or a macabre ritual of primitive people locked into the prison of religion. No indeed. Good Friday impacts every moment of our lives, for our Crucified Lord has set us free, has paid our penalty, and redeemed us from the punishment we deserve. The ramifications are life-changing and earth-shattering.

And what a great shame when we Christians only see the passion and death of our Lord as nothing more than a reprieve from punishment. Yes, our Lord does redeem us from hell, but our Lord accomplishes even more on the cross. Our redemption is just the beginning. For the one who promises “I make all things new” indeed makes us new, as St. Paul proclaims: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, the new has come.” And while our senses continue to see the old person, and while we still live in this Valley of Sorrow surrounded by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, and while we yet experience death and decay – we have a divine promise! And this promise is not seen with the eyes, but is rather grasped by faith.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you are a new creation. You may not feel like it. You may see very little evidence of it at times. But our Lord Jesus Christ truly defeated the devil from His cruciform throne. The King of the Universe wore the thorny crown, and while displaying the royal jewels of His blood, tokens of His royal authority, issued the decree casting the devil into hell. He also pardons us poor, miserable sinners who crucified Him by our own hands, by our own thoughts, words, and deeds. And finally, our King declared victory when we issued the edict: “It is finished,” using His final breath before dying to put all of these orders into place. The same Word that commanded “Let there be light” has now commanded “Let there be forgiveness” and “Let there be a new creation.”

Dear friends, that is why this sad and somber Friday is “Good.” We are freed from the demons and the temptations that lie to us and claim falsely that we are under their dominion. We have been liberated by a royal and divine act of mercy, of pardon, of love, of peace, and of re-creation. From the moment that our Blessed Lord yielded up His Spirit on the cross, nothing in our universe has ever been the same.

In this brutal act of violence, we have been given peace. In this unspeakable act of injustice, we have been made just. In these hours of darkness, we have been given an entire lifetime of light. In these bitterest days of mourning and fasting, we have been given an eternity of joy and feasting.

We know where this Good Friday leads. We know that death does not have the final say. We know that the body and blood of Christ cannot be contained in the tomb, nor constrained by the devil, nor limited by space and time. And we know that this sacrificial mercy is the ultimate act of love of the Father for His dear children; of the Son for His brethren for whom he willingly lays down His life; and of the Holy Spirit, who is poured out upon us abundantly bearing this divine love, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Thanks and praise be to the One who suffered and who died! For even as we are surrounded by death and mourning, we know what is yet to come: on the third day hence, and forevermore. Amen.

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

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sermon: Maundy Thursday

9 April 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35 (Ex 12:1-14, 1 Cor 11:23-32)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord, throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.”

Thus says the Lord to our spiritual ancestors who were freed from their slavery, who were protected from the angel of death, who were delivered by a perfect sacrificial lamb and his blood, and who entered freedom by way of a feast.

Mankind became slaves to sin by a feast of sorts, a forbidden fruit in the Garden that looked good to the eye, but was poison to us in body and soul. And because of our rebellion against our Creator, we enslaved ourselves to sin, death, and the devil. The food that once literally fell from the trees now had to be coaxed by blood, sweat, and tears. The carefree innocent nakedness of our ancestors was replaced by burdensome clothing made from animals who now tasted death because of our folly. And the great and joyful gift of food has become the source of gluttony, of disease, and of self-indulgence.

Of course, left to ourselves, we would do nothing but fall deeper into our bondage, like a debtor who can no longer even pay the interest on his loan.

But we are indeed God’s people, the apple of His eye, the creatures made in His very image. Our Lord is also our Savior. Our Master is also our Redeemer. And the great plan for our emancipation is revealed in the historical episode of the children of Israel being led from Egypt, from slavery into freedom.

For God raised one of their own to lead them, to speak His Word to them, to work miracles, and to confound the evil Pharaoh. Moses would be a shepherd to the flock, and a prophetic voice for freedom. And there was also to be a lamb, a sacrifice that would pay their debts and liberate them from slavery. The lamb was without blemish and male, and his blood would signify to every creature, angel and demon alike, that those who consumed the flesh of this lamb were freed from bondage and from death. By the flesh and blood of this lamb, God’s children would set off to the Promised Land, while the angel of death would simply “pass over” them in his work of carrying out God’s wrath.

But this Passover meal was itself a glimpse into a yet-brighter future.

For how many lambs must be sacrificed to pay for the sins of the world? How much blood must be shed? How much flesh must be consumed? How many priests much minister night and day to slaughter enough victims?

These questions would be answered on a very special Passover. On this day, the one and only Lamb is also the one and only Priest. On this day, the all-availing sacrifice is also the almighty God who commands it. The Host of the feast is also the Meal, not to mention the lowliest servant in the house. Instead of being clothed with the skins of animals, our Lord Jesus Christ is wrapped in a towel as he washes those held in bondage to sin in order to free them and cleanse them, making them worthy for the feast.

And on that night in which He was betrayed, the Lord took the Passover Meal and performed a miracle. He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and by the power of the very same Word of God through which the universe came into being, He said: “This is my body.” Thus the Passover bread becomes the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.” It is indeed His flesh, given “for the life of the world.” And in eating this flesh, the children of God once more are delivered from the bondage of sin.

After supper, He took the cup, saying “This cup is the new testament in my blood.” Thus the Passover wine becomes the blood shed for “you for the forgiveness of sins.” Our Lord promises “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” And in drinking this blood, the children of God are once more “passed over” by the angel of death and are delivered from the snares of the death and the devil.

This day, this evening, dear brothers and sisters of the Lamb, is indeed a memorial day and a feast to the Lord. In it, we not only call to mind the historical deliverance of God’s people from bondage in the desert to freedom in the land of milk and honey, but we have a Greater Remembrance – a memorial meal in which we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” For His death is not merely a death, it is the sacrifice of the Lamb, the Holy Lamb, the Lamb of God, the Lamb which is God. His death is paradoxically our life.

St. Paul exhorts us to eat this unique feast in a worthy manner. And what makes us worthy, dear friends, is “discerning the body.” In other words, we are worthy when we believe. For what do we believe? We simply believe the Word of God: “This is my body… This is my blood… shed for the forgiveness of sins.” We believe that this miraculous meal is for us, and that in eating His flesh and drinking His blood we have eternal life, that the angel of death has no power over us, that we are clothed not merely by the skins of dead animals, but rather our shame is completely covered and our debt fully paid by the flesh and blood of the sacrifice that has become our feast.

And this feast never ends! Unlike the Old Covenant, in which the elements of the meal pointed to a greater reality, these elements, this bread and this wine, met by God’s Word by God’s command, mandate, and authority – are no mere symbols. They are exactly what our Lord says they are. And though Maundy Thursday comes once a year, just as Good Friday and Easter are annual days of fast and feast to us Christians, the body and the blood of the Lord are given to us “often.”

Following the precedent of the Christians in the Book of Acts, this Holy Meal is central to us as Christians who gather around the Word of God week in and week out, throughout the entire year. We celebrate this New and Greater Passover “often,” as it is offered here at least twice a week.

For this feast is no mere exercise in gluttony or self-indulgence. It is a true indulgence, a forgiveness of sins, a holy meal of holy flesh and holy blood, by which we enjoy the holy gift of a holy life – one that never ends.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us keep the feast by holding fast to our Blessed Lord. He comes to us in Word and in deed – in Word by Holy Scripture – which we study and upon which we meditate and make part of our daily life in this world, but also in deed, in the celebration of this Holy Feast, this meal of meals, this foretaste of the eternal banquet in which the Passover Lamb is none other than the Human and Divine Agnus Dei, the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.”

We have departed Egypt. The blood protects us. The flesh fortifies us for the journey. Now let us follow our New and Greater Moses, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb who is also the Shepherd, who speaks prophetically and guides His flock to an eternal land of Promise, of freedom, of life, and to a feast that has no end. Amen.

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

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sermon: Lent 6 - Palmarum

5 April 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 27:11-54 (Zech 9:9-12, Phil 2:5-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

For three years, Jesus has been slowly revealing the kingdom to those with ears to hear.

But even among those with ears, very few understood. Our Lord had been teaching in parables – not, as many often suppose, in order to make His teachings easier to understand, but rather so that His intended audience would grasp the kingdom, while others would be left in the dark: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God,” says our Lord to His disciples, “but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”

The events of Palm Sunday, and indeed of the entire passion, were seen plainly and publicly by all. And yet, some of those who witness these events see, but don’t see; they hear, but don’t understand.

The Lord’s reason for revealing the kingdom to some while confounding others is a mystery to us. We are in no position to make judgments as to who is worthy of the revelation, and who is to rather to be puzzled and reject the kingdom. But we, the bride of Christ, the bearers of the revelation, can rejoice that the kingdom has not only been revealed to us, but entrusted to us. The expansion of that kingdom is not dependant on any numbers-driven program or agenda – no matter how well-intentioned – but rather, the kingdom is based upon revelation, upon the revealing of that kingdom by the Holy Spirit. Some get it, and others don’t.

On first glance, the king of the universe riding into His royal city on a donkey is ridiculous. Mighty men ride aggressive stallions, not female donkeys watching their colts. Kings and lords are conveyed by sleek, fast, intimidating steeds, not lumbering and braying beasts of burden.

And yet, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the prophet Zechariah had foretold this advent of our king six centuries before these events happened: “Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey.” The prophet goes on to describe this great King not as a man of war, but as the Prince of Peace; not as a conqueror bent on enslaving his enemies, but rather on setting prisoners free.

Even those students of Scripture who called history to mind should have recognized the gesture. For a thousand years before our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, King Solomon also rode into the city of his father, King David, mounted on a donkey, immediately after being anointed king (and it is hardly a secret that the Greek word for “anointed” is “Christ”).

No indeed, the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem was neither pathetic nor comical. The priests and scribes and Pharisees knew exactly what was being said about David’s Descendant, and the prophetic and eternal kingdom of peace He was laying hold of, and which they feared.

They understood, but tried in vain to oppose it.

Interestingly, it was children and common Jews who waved palms and “made sweet hosannas ring.” For the word “hosanna” means “save!” – and only those in need of a Savior will truly embrace the kingdom and cry out for salvation.

And once our Lord and King was in the city that personifies His timeless and borderless kingdom, we see the depth of this revelation. The priests and scribes and Pharisees whip the deluded crowds into a bloodthirsty mob, seeking to save a terrorist instead of the Peacemaker.

An unlikely recipient of this revelation of the Lord’s kingdom is Pilate. Again and again, the Roman governor protested our Lord’s innocence – a remarkable conclusion considering the Roman Empire didn’t make it a habit to allow just anyone to be called “king.” But Pilate not only believes Jesus, he annoys the Jewish leaders by placing “King of the Jews” above the Lord’s cross.

In Pilate’s case, the revelation about the kingdom was given directly by God, as a prophetic dream to his wife, and by the direct testimony to him from the mouth of the Word of God in the flesh. And even having this revelation, Pilate refuses to confess Christ, but instead allows the mob to take Him away and crucify Him (his claim of clean hands in the illegal execution notwithstanding).

Most of the Roman soldiers were clueless about the kingdom of God, being servants of a different king, a man who claimed to be a god in the flesh, the adopted son of Julius Caesar who was bestowed the title “Augustus” – “the exalted one.” These servants of the false god mocked our Lord’s claim of kingship, even using phony royal gestures to taunt Him: a scarlet robe, a crown of thorns, a reed in the hand, spitting and striking and shouts of “Hail King of the Jews.

Simon of Cyrene, who was conscripted to carry the Lord’s cross could hardly have been expected to understand what was happening. But according to longstanding tradition, he is said to have later embraced the revelation of Christ’s kingdom even as on this day, he embraced the Lord’s cross.

At the Place of a Skull, the mockers of the crucified Jesus missed the revelation of the kingdom when they claimed that they would believe in the kingdom if Jesus came down from the cross. But there would have been no kingdom had He done so. For this kingdom serves a self-sacrificing King who rules by love and who takes the “form of a servant” and does not “count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” It is precisely because “He was obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” that God has “highly exalted Him.” He is the true Augustus – not a Caesar, but the Christ; not a bloodthirsty power-monger and empire-builder, but a bloody sacrificial peacemaker between God and mankind.

The Lord Himself never doubted His own standing as King nor the truth of the revelations – even when He prays the words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” For the Psalm doesn’t end there. But many of those with eyes to see lacked understanding, thinking Jesus was calling upon Elijah for help. However, it was the Lord Himself who “yielded up His Spirit,” not the leg-breaking Roman soldiers. Jesus the King is always in command. Jesus knew the revelation because He is the one who revealed it.

And yet even among some of the soldiers, such as the centurion, there were those whose eyes and ears were opened to the Gospel, who were given the revelation of the kingdom, and who proclaimed: “Truly this was the Son of God.”

We Christians confess with the centurion that Jesus is the Son of God, the Son of David, the Son of Man. We believe He is the King of an eternal kingdom. We believe He is our Savior – which is why we children raise palms and sing “Hosanna” to our King. We are the recipients of this revelation, and what is more, we are the recipients of the forgiveness of sins and of eternal life.

For “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

And though the palms we wave on this day are part of a fallen and falling creation, and though they will either be burned to ashes or simply rot away, another revelation about the kingdom has been given to us. According to St. John in the Book of Revelation, we Christians will again wave palms, free of corruption and decay: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

That, dear friends, is the revelation of the kingdom. We have ears to hear. We are that kingdom. We wave palms to Jesus Christ our king. We have received forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. And we will sing “all glory, laud, and honor” to our Redeemer-King for all eternity. Amen.

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

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Dambisa Moyo - The Anti-Bono

Check out this interesting NY Times interview with the "Anti-Bono", the Zambian economist and author Dambisa Moyo. Her own website has information about her provocative book, Dead Aid - which argues that billions of dollars of foreign aid for Africa is the problem, not the solution.

She argues instead for economic freedom.

Africa needs capital to become self-sufficient - not welfare to further its dependency. By way of example, even very small amounts of money can be invested by individuals making small personal loans to individual entrepreneurs - see here. This form of microfinance is a way for, say, Americans to not only receive a higher interest rate than a bank savings account, but is also the means to help other people who need small amounts of capital. It is how capitalism, savings, and investment are supposed to work - and how it did work before such dishonest practices as fractional reserve banking and fiat currency debased incentive to save and invest. And apparently, the Asian nation of Bangladesh recently raised a billion dollars for capital investment through microfinance, avoiding the strings and pitfalls of foreign aid.

There are also a couple video interviews with her here and here.

Moyo is not a libertarian in the sense that she doesn't argue for an unfettered free market, but she does realize that the current handout model isn't working, and that there is a better way for Africa to emerge from poverty and dependency. In fifty years of receiving aid, Africa has only become poorer and more corrupt. Moyo argues that we should look to what has worked in other now-successful and growing economies in Asia and Eastern Europe and stop doing what is obviously a failed paradigm.

I believe that beyond pragmatism, there is also a strong moral case to be made for freedom - including the much-maligned economic freedom. Dambisa Moyo is swimming upstream making the case for capitalism in a day and age in which Socialism, bailouts, and monetary manipulation have become all the rage in the U.S. among Democrats and Republicans alike. Her alternative also flies in the face of an American foreign policy of dangling money in front of ravenous and corrupt third-world dictators in exchange for their alliances and loyalties - all the while the people of these countries remain impoverished.

Just as the Christian Church in Africa is now re-evangelizing the dark continent of Europe, perhaps we will see a future in which the U.S. is reduced to third-world standing with an economy of hyper-inflated monopoly money overseen by a draconian Washington dictatorship as freedom-loving Chinese and African entrepreneurs will be in a position to show us the way to liberty and prosperity by re-educating us about capitalism, markets, and economic freedom.

Stranger things have happened in history.