Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 12 and Baptism of Zachary Paul Bouvier

30 August 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 7:31-37

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what a great and glorious day! For just as the people of the first century Decapolis witnessed a great miracle through the Word of the Lord Jesus in restoring a man to wholeness through His divine touch and a little moisture, so too have we, people of the twenty first century Louisiana also witnessed a miracle.

Using the mere word of God and a bit of moisture, the Lord Jesus restored our little brother Zachary to wholeness.

And now, his ears have been unstopped to hear the Word of God, the holy “Ephphatha” of the Gospel that our Lord proclaims to all of us, his beloved baptized, every time we stand to hear His Holy Word, every time we bow our heads to receive the gift of Holy Absolution, and every time the preaching of the Word condemns us in our sins, and yet restores us to life anew.

Our ancestors and fathers in the faith saw a direct connection between Holy Baptism and this specific miracle of the touch of Jesus that opened this man’s ears and mouth and resulted in the Gospel being “zealously” proclaimed.

In the early 1520s, Martin Luther conducted baptisms that included extra rituals that included a part of the service called “The Ephphatha” – a ceremony that included the application of spittle to the child’s ears and nose and an exorcism. The priest would then bless the child with these words: “The Lord preserve thy coming in and thy going out now and for evermore.” Then the priest would have the child renounce the devil through the sponsors. He would then ask the child if he believes in the creed, and the sponsors would answer on the child’s behalf.

Does any of this sound familiar? The use of the spittle was discontinued, as I’m sure suits Zachary’s parents just fine.

And yet we still understand Holy Baptism to be an “Ephphatha,” a miraculous opening done by the Lord, using humble earthly means to bring people into the kingdom. We still asked Zachary to confess the creed, we still pronounced exorcism: “Depart, you unclean spirit…”, and God’s children still receive the priestly blessing in baptism: “The Lord preserve thy coming in and thy going out now and for evermore.”

And all of these rituals, which teach and confess the truth, finally build up to the miraculous sacrament itself. For the administration of baptism is the very work of God in space and time, the execution of His holy will to save and claim us as His own. The words of invocation of the Trinity, given to the apostles by our Blessed Lord Himself ring anew from Christ Himself, the Word made flesh who pronounces His Words upon sinful flesh by sinful flesh. The holy water splashes down on this newly-born again Christian in a holy and healing flood, an opening of heaven and an opening of the ears and mouth of this newly redeemed son of God.

Zachary’s parents, in bringing him to this font, are pledging before Almighty God and this congregation to raise this child as a child of God, to faithfully bring Him to hear the Word for which the Lord has opened His ears, to teach him to pray and sing with a tongue released to give praise to his Savior.

And, dear friends, it is our duty to keep this family in the faith, to pray earnestly for Zachary, who is now in the crosshairs of the evil one. Hear the words of Blessed Martin Luther concerning what we have done this morning:
In all Christian earnestness I would ask all those who administer baptism, who hold the children, or witness it, to take this wonderful work to heart in all its seriousness. For here, in the words of these prayers, you hear how meekly and earnestly the Christian Church concerns itself about the little child and how it confesses before God in plain undoubting words that he is possessed by the devil and is a child of sin and wrath, and prays very diligently for aid and grace through baptism that he may become a child of God.

Remember therefore, that it is no joke to take sides against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child, but to burden the child with such a mighty and lifelong enemy. Remember too, that it is very necessary to aid the poor child with all your heart and strong faith, earnestly to intercede for him that God, in accordance with this prayer, would not only free him from the power of the devil, but also strengthen him, so that he may nobly resist the devil in life and death. And I suspect that people turn out so badly after baptism because our concern for them has been so cold and careless; we, at their baptism, interceded for them without zeal.
Blessed Martin’s word “zeal” is also in our Lord’s proclamation of the Gospel to us this morning: Paradoxically, in disobedience. The people were told to keep this miracle quiet – for it was not yet our Lord’s hour to reveal himself. And yet, owing to the great miracle, the work and ministry of our Blessed Lord, “the more He charged them [to tell no one], the more zealously they proclaimed it.” Their mouths too were opened, their tongues released.

We, dear friends, are under no gag order. In fact, the Lord has charged me as a minister of the Gospel to zealously “preach the Word” in season and out; to call sinners to repentance, and to comfort the contrite with the gentle balm of the good news of God’s forgiveness, love, and mercy in Jesus Christ. And you, brothers and sisters, though you are not preachers under orders to publicly proclaim, you are a reflection of the Gospel by your words and works. You can confess your baptismal faith, and indeed you are instructed to be ready to articulate the reason for the hope of everlasting life within you.

For just as Zachary has had his ears opened and his tongue released by the Ephphatha of Holy Baptism, so have all of us. We are to zealously pray for Zachary and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to bring our friends and family members to likewise hear the miraculous Word. And we have been given the Holy Spirit at our own baptisms to likewise “release our tongues” to confess what the Lord has done for us by baptism and the Word.

And whether or not the Ephphatha rituals were carried out at our baptisms, whether or not the exorcism was explicitly pronounced, every Holy Baptism is an Ephphatha and is an exorcism. The water drowns the sinful flesh, the Old Adam, and fills the demons with horror, dispatching them, even as Pharaoh and his evil army were drowned in the sea.

Today is a great and glorious day, to be sure, dear friends. For we have seen the Lord work yet another miracle, a liberation of one held captive by the evil one, the opening of the ears and releasing of the tongue of a newborn child of God and eternal heir of the kingdom.

“And looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly…. And they were astonished beyond measure.”

And this astonishing work was done with the words of the Word made flesh, the divine touch of Jesus combined with a bit of moisture, by humble water and the mighty Word, the…

Word that caused blind eyes to see,
Speak and heal our mortal blindness;
Deaf we are: our Healer be;
Loose our tongues to tell Your kindness.
Be our Word in pity spoken,
Heal the world by sin now broken.


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

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sometimes All You Can Do is Laugh...

"Laugh at the devil and he will flee from you" is a quote attributed to Martin Luther.

The near universal anger at Washington is now manifesting itself in biting satire from squeaky-clean Christian comedian Tim Hawkins. Check out his other videos while you're there - he is a genuinely funny man with a keen insight into the culture - a sort of George Carlin without the "forbidden words."

HT: Stacy McDonald at Your Sacred Calling

Police States of America?

The Constitution has become a relic, and anyone who has studied history can see where this is quickly leading.

By the way, the contact information for Officer Cheeks' superiors is here:

Major James A. Morris
Internal Affairs
Fairfax County Police Department
4100 Chain Bridge Road
Fairfax, Virginia 22030

(703) 246-2918

Col. David M. Rohrer
Chief of Police
Fairfax County Police Department
4100 Chain Bridge Road
Fairfax, Virginia 22030

(703) 246-2195

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More Federal-Imperial Arrogance

This footage of the "town hall" meeting is illustrative of what ails our country (though I find the heavily made-up cheerleading "newscasters" - including the carefully crafted leg-shots of the blonde in the red dress - to be themselves part of the problem).

Federal politicians have been treated like demi-gods far too long. They are supposed to be public servants, but it has become clear over the last few weeks that the federal-imperial hubris is a bigger problem than anyone could have imagined.

Our founders envisioned citizen-servants representing the people in a republican manner - with dignity, humility, and in accordance with the Constitution. But what we now have is a Leviathan, and out-of-control juggernaut fueled by a combination of confiscatory taxation as well as essentially counterfeit dollars cranked out by a secretive cabal of bankers, accountable to no-one, who have the power to create money out of thin air with no restriction. Congress has the power to pass extra-constitutional laws and regulations to benefit those who donate to their re-election campaigns, but which cripple the ability of ordinary people to make a living.

Congressmen, used to the menial ministrations of bowing yes-men and scraping lackeys, are cordoned off, inaccessible to the vast majority of the people they represent, only trotted out for carefully scripted pageants and photo-ops. However, the paradigm of state-worship may be shifting, as the people are starting to find their voice and have been reminded that Congress is supposed to represent us. We are their masters, not vice versa.

This is a hard concept for this elitist gang of pampered mandarins, who hold the people in contempt, to understand.

Just look at this Congressman demanding "credentials" from a citizen who was invited to a public meeting! What arrogance. When Congressman are constantly being lauded and feted, adulated, and wined and dined (especially by lobbyists) there are no requests to see drivers' licenses. It is only when they are being criticized do they behave this way - for they are not used to criticism. Even the passing of Ted Kennedy, with all the abuse of power that man has been treating himself to for decades, has caused Congress to carry on as if one of the gods of Mt. Olympus has fallen off the mountain. They act as though we have lost a hero of the Republic, when in fact, if non-Senators did the same things as this privileged substance-abuser, they would be living in a cage. And do we need to be reminded that one of the illustrious members of the august Senate is (literally) a clown? It is apparent to everyone (Congress excepted) that Congress is a joke.

The mood of the country is not unlike 1775, when the people began to wake up and realize that rather than being served by their government, they were being used and fleeced, like hosts to the parasite, and treated with abject contempt once the leech has sucked his fill of blood from his victim.

Is it any wonder people are angry?

Our ancestors sent bureaucrats and government hacks back home arrayed in chicken feathers. Tea went into the harbor. The people refused to pay taxes (which were but a fraction of those we accept as reasonable today). And the effigies of the crown's representatives were openly burned in the streets. Colonial governors were arrested as new governments were put into place by the newly-independent states - whose governments - unlike our modern Democrat and Republican controlled versions - were no longer puppets to the general government and party apparatchiks.

And it was inconceivable to the king's representatives that they were seen as the problem, as the enemy.

Hopefully, this general government will start to take the hint rather than arrogantly steamroll over the people yet again. Taxation without representation didn't work out so well then, and it isn't now. The overwhelming voice of the people in opposition to the Wall Street bailouts (some 99% of the people were opposed) went absolutely unheeded by both the Bush and the Obama regimes. Federal officials of all branches (and from both parties) hold the people in utter contempt and ignore their concerns, confident that election day is a long way off and that the people can be lulled back into worshipful awe of the federal government through appeals to patriotism and propagandistic fear-mongering to make the federal government seem indispensable. The anger of the people is being dismissed as some kind of manipulation - because that is what Congressman do: play games of manipulation. They have done it so long that they have become jaded to real outrage.

The bottom line is that the federal apparatus is too big.

When the U.S. in its current form was established in 1789 (between 11 states at that time that had ratified the new constitution), each Congressman represented 30,000 people. There was no income tax. There was no standing army. There was no central bank. Congress's powers were limited to only those specifically enumerated in Article I Section 8 - and no more. Today, each Congressman represents over 700,000 people. The federal budget is in the trillions. The people routinely pay nearly half of their income in taxes of one kind or another (absolutely unthinkable when we were British subjects!). Our empire spans over 130 countries around the globe in over 700 military bases that must be serviced, manned, and paid for. And it is all financed by a central bank shell-game that has devalued the dollar to below five cents of real value since the Federal Reserve's genesis in 1913.

Barring a radical (and speedy) reform of decentralization and a massive dismantling of the federal monster (both the welfare- and warfare-state), we are on an inevitable trajectory of dissolution, just as was the top-heavy Soviet Union (which also considered itself "indivisible"). We are simply on a path of growth that is unsustainable. And on top of all the crushing debt, inflationary monetary policy, expansion of war in Afghanistan, the explosion of federal regulations, the encyclopedic bills passed by Congressmen who do not even read them, the massive tsunami of retirees expecting a Social Security check and medicare - the federal government has now made it a top priority to seize control of the entire health care system for all American residents, legal and illegal. It is sheer madness that surpasses any of that of King George III. The federal government continues to find new ways to burden the states illegally - which explains the recent outbreak of state sovereignty declarations, and even calls for secession.

But, of course, the demi-gods in Congress have their own lucrative pension plan (insulated from the Social Security ponzi scheme of their creation for the "little people"). They have a world-class health insurance plan - unlike the socialized monster they have in store for the "hoi polloi." And unlike everyone else, individuals and businesses, Congress is never required to balance a budget. They can tax, and when the people complain about taxes, they simply print new money and pay with that (even as our dollars lose value). Somehow, even on salaries that are not exceedingly great, "public servants" at the federal level all seem to leave office as millionaires. Hmmm. I wonder how that works. It must be because they are so brilliant at managing money - which is pretty apparent, isn't it? One can certainly see why members of Congress bury their heads in the sand and expect the gravy train to keep rolling forever.

But they can only do it so long.

You cannot indefinitely pay MasterCard with Visa. You cannot continue to have an elevated standard of living with increased polities of Socialism. You cannot have freedom coexist with "central planning." Eventually, the military-industrial complex is spread too thin, and at some point, the money paid to the common soldier risking his life either devalues to scrip or simply runs dry. The people, military and civilian, will get increasingly angry and hostile, even as the states become less and less loyal to Washington.

It may go out with a bang, or with a whimper, but one way or the other, the entire federal-imperial house of cards is going to fall, and the demi-gods, exposed as the worthless idols that they are, will have to join the rest of us picking through the rubble to rebuild what they have destroyed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reflections on the ELCA

Just a few somewhat random thoughts concerning the recent high-profile actions by the assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

One of the issues is the problem that this body uses the name "Lutheran" - which has the tendency to tar-brush the rest of us. In other words, when we read articles in the newspapers like "Lutherans Endorse Homosexuality," this gives the impression that all Lutherans have done this, that the ELCA represents "Evangelical Lutheranism" in America. It's especially confusing for congregations like mine which is called "Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church" and yet is not a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

So, this confusion requires us to constantly point out that the ELCA is one specific denomination that claims the label " Lutheran." The church body that my congregation belongs to is the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS). We are not the same, nor do we share communion, churches, or ministers with the ELCA. We are different in a similar way that Mexico and New Mexico are two entirely different jurisdictions, even though they have some common shared history and even some overlapping linguistic and cultural heritage. They are simply two different entities that make use of the same name - though they are far from being the same.

There is a pastoral concern here. In spite of many years of solid pastoral teaching by my predecessors in this congregation, and an emphasis on catechesis and orthodoxy in doctrine, I have had several of my own parishioners recently either visit and in some cases commune in ELCA congregations. Others have moved away and considered joining ELCA congregations - owing to the name "Lutheran" on the door. I had one parishioner who had moved away send a request to me for a "transfer" to an ELCA congregation, unaware that our two congregations have no relationship or fellowship.

Sometimes, a family will face a choice between an established ELCA congregation that is enjoying worldly success with a beautiful facility and a large Sunday School and youth group, versus a small, struggling, or even a mission congregation of the LCMS that has no youth group or Sunday School to speak of, a humble building, but with a solid pastor. Situations like this make us really check our priorities. Would we rather our children be members of the ELCA and have a "vibrant" youth group, or would we rather them have solid teaching in the faith and fidelity to Scripture? And if no-one is willing to be the "pioneer" so to speak, and help the struggling or mission congregation grow and have children in the parish, how are they ever to have a "vibrant" youth group or Sunday School?

And what about five years from now, if the local ELCA congregation that is today "conservative" decides that their next pastor will be a lesbian? Or what about a hundred years from now when the decision to shun the LCMS congregation means that a good number of one's great grandchildren are now established in the ELCA congregation - while the LCMS congregation closed decades ago?

These are things that need to be considered now.

As far as the recent decisions to bless same-sex unions and allow open and unrepentant homosexuals to be rostered as church workers and pastors, this was inevitable. This decision was a foregone conclusion when the ELCA began accepting methods of biblical interpretation that expressed a belief that error could be found in the Scriptures, which encouraged the Bible to be read critically, if not dubiously - to the point where one could read a passage and draw a diametrically-opposite conclusion than the clear reading of the text. And this owes to a human desire not to submit to Scripture as God's Word, but rather use it as a tool to advance a certain political and social agenda. It is a case where preconceived conclusions and purpose-driven goals are allowed to replace Truth as the ultimate end of our study and theology.

The advance of the homosexual agenda was only the next logical step after the shattering of the barrier between the sexes when the ELCA began to "ordain" women. At that time, many predicted that the inevitable conclusion would be an endorsement of homosexuality. Those concerns were met with scoffing, dismissed as hysteria, by many in the movement to ordain women. The more conservative element within the ELCA is no longer scoffing, but are now shell-shocked and wondering where to go from here. There have been some who repented of women's ordination when they finally did accept the fact that they deviated from the path of Truth and this deviant path was leading to further deviation from Truth.

The other big news from Minnesota was that the ELCA was entering altar-and-pulpit fellowship with the United Methodist Church. Again, this was hardly a shock. The two denominations had already been sharing churches and ministers before the agreement. For many years, the ELCA had already been in communion with church bodies that denied the physical presence of Christ in Holy Communion, asserting only a spiritual presence. Entering into a communion arrangement with the Methodists takes things a step further, as the Methodists, unlike the Presbyterians (with whom the ELCA already shared fellowship and who believe in a spiritual presence) completely deny the presence of Christ in the bread and wine, relegating the elements of Holy Communion to mere symbols. Accoding to the Formula of Concord, church bodies that deny the real presence have no presence at all, and have no valid Eucharist (FC SD VII:32). The ELCA is thus condemned by the books it claims to confess.

None of this matters to the ELCA, in which unity trumps truth. It is more important to share communion than it is to agree what that communion is. It would be like the United States and Russia declaring that we are one country, while each operates under contradictory constitutions.

Again, the development of the of the ELCA entering communion with the Methodists is hardly a shock. Once they mounted the slippery slope of open communion, even allowing communion fellowship to go beyond what Lutherans believe about the Sacrament, it quickly degenerates and becomes a situation of "anything goes."

At this point, what is to hold the ELCA back from sharing communion and ministers with, say, Unitarians and various Pentecostal groups that deny the Trinity? What, ultimately, is to prevent communion with Wiccans and Hindus? What seemed impossible and scoff-worthy 30 years ago is today reality. Once the restraints of submission to Scripture have been torn asunder, what can be considered a boundary at all? There have already been Episcopal clergy who claim to be both Muslim and Christian or Muslim and Buddhist at the same time. The ELCA is in full communion with the Episcopal Church. The sky is the limit as to how this "unity" will play itself out.

Practically speaking, I can only hope that the shock value of the homosexual agenda will finally translate into a withdrawal of LCMS involvement with the ELCA. There is simply no reason for us to be involved in joint missionary work, joint chaplaincies, and joint school and university projects. There is no reason why any LCMS rostered (or unrostered) church workers should be sent to churches with ELCA pastors and workers, or to foreign seminaries that train female "pastors."

It is time for us to move on and recognize that the "division" has become a "chasm," to borrow President Kieschnick's terms, and did so decades ago. The chasm has, in fact, become a Rubicon that is now a permanent border of separation between us. As the office of the holy ministry is a mark of the church, and as God's Word makes it abundantly clear that women are not ontologically equipped to be pastors, how can one even recognize the ELCA in an ecclesiological way at all - even without the added anti-Scriptural sexual conclusions they have drawn?

I believe we need to consider the ELCA in its official, national, and organizational sense to be outside of the Church, no different than the Watchtower Society. In destroying the office of the ministry in their own parishes, they have made their exit from Church, ministry, and sacraments. This is not to say that there are not churches and faithful Christians located under the umbrella of the ELCA. But it is simply a fact that LCMS churches will increasingly be presented with the situation of bringing in members who were allegedly baptized by women "pastors" outside of any emergency baptism situation, and that some of those (questionable, to say the least) baptisms will have been done using euphemistic language, avoiding the Trinitarian formula decreed by Scripture.

We need to develop a clear vocabulary as to what constitutes heterodox baptisms and ordinations that we will accept (though being schismatic or laden in error), vs. what makes for baptisms and ordinations that are heretical or apostate, liturgical actions that we will not accept. I believe we need to be clear that not every error is "heresy" and not every errorist is a "heretic." We need to also find a way to teach everyone in our churches that formal communion fellowship is important. The name "Lutheran" does not mean the same thing everywhere, and just because "Lutheran" congregations outside of the LCMS will allow you to commune with them does not mean that you should, nor is it a guarantee that there really is communion going on in that place at all. It is entirely possible as of now to walk into a "Lutheran" (ELCA) church and have a Methodist minister blessing and distributing elements to Methodists, ELCA Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians all at the same time. What is actually being given and received there? The answer, according to FC SD VII:32 is "only bread and wine."

And as refugees may come from the ELCA clergy roster seeking status as LCMS pastors, are we going to make distinctions between those who have been "ordained" by women ministers of ordination/bishops vs. those who have been ordained by legitimate pastors? Some in the LCMS would undoubtedly argue that a woman "pastor" can indeed officiate at an ordination, or that the congregational "call" is all that suffices, or that ordination is only an optional ceremony anyway. Lack of clarity in our confession and consensus on these issues will come back to bite us, unless we figure these things out now.

We need to be clear about what is heretical vs. what is merely heterodox. It does not help our situation be be triumphalistic and be eager to operate under the self-aggrandizing notion that all things LCMS constitutes orthodoxy, and all that happens outside of our communion fellowship is heresy. We must recognize "the distinction between errors that threaten the foundation of the church and going astray in less weighty matters, in general the distinction between false teaching and mistaken belief, between heresy and erroneous opinion" (We Condemn, Hans-Werner Gensichen, 1967 edition, CPH, p. 7) - especially as people cross denominational lines for many reasons.

In spite of the name "Lutheran," I believe it would be better for a Lutheran with absolutely no alternatives but a conservative Baptist church and an ELCA congregation led by a woman to choose to attend the former rather than the latter (though a better alternative might be to stay home and pray the traditional offices of the Church together until a local congregation can be established). Similarly, I believe a local congregation has more claim on being a real church if their pastor is an unrepentant homosexual than a "conservative" woman claiming to hold the office. In other words, I believe the female "ordination" to be a far bigger scandal than having an unrepentant gay man as a pastor. We live in confusing and convoluted times.

Again, this confusion we are now experiencing is the inevitable result of dabbling in "open communion" and seeking to make the Scriptures submit to reason rather than vice versa. Once a church body starts down that road, they all end up in the same place. We have been warned by history playing out before our eyes.

Though it draws us further at odds with the majority of those who use the name "Lutheran" in our country and around the globe, and though it exposes us to further ridicule and alienation from the world and our culture (including the American religious scene), we need to cling to Scripture and the confessions. We need to continue to hold a clear and unambiguous understanding of church fellowship and altar-and-pulpit relationships. We need to draw very clear lines about what constitutes the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and what makes for valid ordination and baptism. And we have to do it in a way that seeks glory only for God, not to ourselves, in a way that is humble rather than self-congratulatory and prideful. For we are saved by grace. Correct doctrine is given and believed by grace rather than the other way around, lest any of us should boast.

And like any time of schism, heresy, doctrinal confusion, and upheaval in the Christian world, this is our opportunity to be very clear in our confession for the sake of Christ and His Church, not just for ourselves, but for our brethren around the world and for generations yet unborn.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Is Tradition a Bad Thing?

In response to this post about bad clerical vestments ("Tradition is always, always, always better"), FH reader and frequent commenter Theophilus responded:
"Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition."(Matthew 15:6) This judgment applies today as well. This is always a present danger when tradition overshadows Jesus' covenant-gospel proclamation.
And I'm glad he raised this issue. For our Blessed Lord comes down very hard against tradition several times.

In fact, one could certainly conclude that Jesus is against tradition! Many Protestant Christians, in response to medieval abuses and excesses by the Church, abolished a good number of traditions of the medieval and ancient church, such as the traditional liturgy, music, vestments, lectionary, calendar, etc. while some reforming groups went even further, abolishing sacramental absolution, the office of the ministry, instrumental music, infant baptism, and other ancient traditions of the church.

The Lutheran Reformation got rid of some traditions, such as the prayers to the saints, the withholding of the cup to the laity, indulgences, and the liturgical language of the canon of the Mass that refers to a propitious (sin-forgiving) sacrifice, offered ex opera operato (by the work itself apart from faith) for the living and the dead.

But the Lutherans kept a whole lot more than they got rid of. "We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc." (Ap 24:1)

So, is tradition a bad thing? And is Jesus is somehow condemning tradition that "overshadows Jesus' covenant-gospel proclamation" in Matthew 5:6?

In fact, in that part of Matthew 15, Jesus is not preaching the Gospel at all, but rather the Law. He lays into the Pharisees not because they are obscuring the Gospel, but rather because they are obscuring the Law. In verse 4, our Lord quotes the Fourth Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother" and then demonstrates how the Pharisees weaseled out of the demands of God's Law and the need to repent of their sins by inventing a new tradition designed to circumvent the law. He calls them "hypocrites" (v.7) and cites Isaiah 29:13, applying it against their "teachings as doctrines the commandments of men." In this passage, Jesus never mentions the Gospel at all.

The preaching of Jesus is certainly more than the Gospel, the good news of forgiveness. Jesus's first sermon recorded in Mark's Gospel is a call to "repent" (Mark 1:15). A good bit of the Sermon on the Mount is Law, rather than Gospel. And Jesus doesn't shy away from warning His hearers hell and the wrath of God. There is a tendency among many in our culture toward a "gospel reductionism" by which the Lord's call to repentance and the truly Good News that "by His stripes we are healed," are allowed to be overshadowed by the misunderstanding that Jesus's primary mission is to be a Gandhi or Oprah or Mister Rogers telling us all to be nice.

Jesus is not merely excoriating the Pharisees for allowing tradition to trump the "covenant-gospel proclamation," but rather the "Word of God" - which includes the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27), the Law as well as the Gospel. The faux-traditionalism of the Pharisees was more often a way to circumvent the Law that they purported to uphold than anything concerning the Gospel.

St. Paul himself actually refers to the Christian faith that he preached and taught as "tradition":

"Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you." (1 Cor 11:2)

"Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle." (2 Thess 2:15)

"But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us." (2 Thess 3:6)

Note that in the 1 Corinthians passage, St. Paul refers to the traditions being "delivered." This same theme comes across in the 2 Thessalonians passages, as the traditions are both "taught" and "received."

The Greek word is "paradosis" - which means literally a "handing over" of something from one person to another, like a relay runner's baton. It can also mean to "hand over" in the sense of arresting someone - such as when our Lord was "handed over" (betrayed) by Judas. The Latin version of the word is "tradidi" - from where we get both of the words "tradition" and "traduce." St. Paul uses this same word in a bit of wordplay when he writes about the Lord's Supper "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;" (1 Cor 11:23). In other words, just as Jesus was "handed over" - so too does Paul receive that which was "handed over" to him, and he "handed it over" to the Corinthian Christians. This "handing over" (Greek: paradidomi, Latin: tradidi) is the very essence of Christian teaching. Our Lord taught the apostles, who in turn "hand over" this teaching. We, in turn, receive this apostolic teaching that is "handed over" (tradition!) to us, preserve it, and hand it over to those who come after us. This is why we confess the church to be " one holy, catholic, and apostolic."

This is a very different thing indeed than what our Lord is criticizing.

For the Pharisaic tradition is rooted in trying to distort God's Word, rather than uphold it. And this is why the traditional liturgy of the Church is so important. The liturgy is a repetition of the Word of God, spoken, chanted, and sung between pastor and people, for the sake of the Word of God, encompassing the Law and the Gospel, "handing over" the Word of God from one generation to the next - even among those who cannot read, the very old, the very young, and the illiterate. This same Word of God was handed over by our Lord, the apostles, the Church throughout the ages, and to us today. God's Word is thus preserved in tradition - which is why St. Paul commends tradition and exhorts is to keep the biblical, apostolic tradition.

Tradition that "nullifies" the Word of God is a bad thing, and must go. Tradition that upholds the Word of God is a good thing that ought to be retained. This was a very important principle guiding the Lutheran reformers, and it continues to guide Traditionalist Lutherans today.

Those who cut themselves off from the apostolic tradition cut themselves off from the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God, and are left with nothing more than their own imaginings and the sorts of "traditions" of the Pharisees that our Lord condemns.

Sermon: Trinity 11

23 August 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 18:9-14 (Gen 4:1-15, Eph 2:1-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord uses three “whens” describing the Christian life: “When you give to the needy…. When you pray…. When you fast.” These are not options. These are simply things Christians do. To be selfish with what the Lord has given us, to refuse to pray, and to allow our bellies to master us instead of vice versa are indeed all contrary to the Christian faith. These are sins we all need to constantly confess, struggle against, and repent of.

But there is a sin that is far worse and far more dangerous than forgetting to pray or eating the large order of fries – and that is the sin of self-righteousness. For this is rooted in the devilish lie that we can be righteous by ourselves, which is to say, we don’t need a Savior, that the Lord’s death on the cross was a worthless sacrifice.

In His presentation of a story, through the characters of the Pharisee and the tax collector, our Lord is comparing and contrasting two opposing religions.

The Pharisee indeed carries out the three “whens” of the Sermon on the Mount. He gives to the needy – a whole tithe, a ten percent of all that he gets. He prays. In fact, he prays a prayer of thanks right in the Temple that he isn’t like the tax collector! He also fasts, not merely once a week on the Sabbath, but twice that amount! The Pharisee is a religious man. But his religion is misguided. For he is exalting himself rather than glorifying God.

On the other side of the coin, we have the tax collector. These folks were scorned not only as collaborators with the Romans, but as greedy cheats. So terrible are the sins of the tax collector that he stands away from the altar, beats his breast, bows his head in humble prayer, and pleads: “Be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.”

“I tell you,” says our Lord, “this man,” the tax collector, “went down to his house justified, rather than the other,” the almsgiving, praying, fasting Pharisee. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

It is sinful not to give to the needy, not to pray, and not to fast. It is sinful not to go to church and to avoid study of God’s Word. It is sinful when other church bodies that have the name “Lutheran” ordain women and give the church’s blessing to homosexuality, among other false doctrines. It is sinful for tax collectors and public officials to accept bribes and fleece the people. It is sinful to engage in sexually provocative dancing, to sing along with blasphemous music that mocks our Lord and our faith, to gamble away the money the Lord has provided to sustain the family, to drink to excess, and to indulge the lusts and passions and cravings of the flesh.

And indeed, people repent of these sins all the time, thanks be to God. But the really dangerous sin is self-righteousness. For it is much harder to recognize, let alone confess and root out.

Self-righteousness camouflages itself behind a religious façade. It lurks just under the surface of tithing, praying, and fasting. It grows like a weed alongside of church attendance and bible study. It actually thrives among those who attend churches that are more doctrinally pure and theologically rigorous. And it can take over the souls of those who go on crusades against drinking, dancing, gambling, smoking, the wearing of make-up, the partaking of Mardi Gras festivities, or even the enjoying of a fudge brownie or cup of coffee.

For the danger is that such attitudes deceive our sinful flesh by the desire to claim some degree of credit for our justification – as though we have the ability to be righteous unto our selves.

But this Pharisaical self-righteousness is condemned by St. Paul in his letter, his pastoral reminder, to the Christian Church in Ephesus, that “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.”

“No one may boast.”

Pride, boasting, and the pointing out of the sins of others in order to exalt oneself has no place among Christians. For we are to do all the good works that the Pharisee did, all of the “whens” of Jesus – but we are to do them with humility, in the knowledge and understanding that these works count for nothing towards our righteousness. They do not justify us, and are therefore nothing to boast of. In fact, we should, like the tax collector, be so consumed with the horrific nature of our own many and manifold sins, that we should derive no pleasure from the sins, errors, and false doctrine of others.

There is no room for Schadenfreude (that is, taking pleasure in the failings of others) in the Christian faith and life.

The genuine Christian, that is, the tax collector, bowed his head, stressed his unworthiness, and humbly prayed the very words of our liturgy in search of forgiveness. As a result, the tax collector’s lowly head was lifted up in exaltation. He was declared worthy and righteous by God’s grace “because of the great love with which He loved us,” and his sins were forgiven by God, who is “rich in mercy.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are saved by grace alone, through faith, as a result of our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross. This gift was given to us purely gratis by way of the proclaimed Gospel, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Supper. In securing our righteousness, Jesus has done it all, and we have done nothing. In fact, we have done worse than nothing, because we are “poor, miserable sinners.”

If you give to the needy, pray, and fast, it is by grace alone. God be praised! If your church holds fast to biblical doctrine and the orthodox Christian faith, it is purely a gift. God be praised! If you don’t engage in various social ills that have become acceptable in our society, it is purely by the love and mercy of God that you are held in this faith. God be praised! For not even the Pharisee had the right to boast, and not even the Pharisee went to his home justified. Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be the glory!

We have no worthiness in us, and no reason to boast. And this, dear friends, is good news indeed! For it means that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

And when we, by the grace of God and through faith alone, do any good thing for the sake of the kingdom, all glory, all boasting, all credit goes to Him alone. And what comfort and joy this is!

For He has “raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith.” Amen.

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ghoulardi Would Be Proud

WJW Cleveland: "Stay sick, turn blue!"

Sermon: St. Bernard of Clairvaux

19 August 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 15:7-11 (Ecclus 39:1-10, Rev 3:7-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In our ever-changing world, it’s easy to forget how important the past is. And for us Lutherans, it is very easy to forget that we are part of a Church that spans back in time well beyond the time of Luther, a time that includes the middle ages – even though in many ways, those were dark times for the Christian Church.

In this darkness, there were still lights. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who lived in the 12th century, 400 years before Luther, was one such light. Bernard was a monk who prayed and an abbot who led men in prayer. He was a Christian who delved the depths of God’s love, as well as a doctor of the Church who wrote on matters theological. He was a man under orders who understood that his duty to the truth meant, at times, even criticizing popes.

Luther quoted St. Bernard in his own sermons and lectures. Our Lutheran Confessions mention Bernard eight times, even quoting him in support the Lutheran teaching on faith, and calling him a “holy father.” Two of St. Bernard’s hymns are in our hymnal, and we are singing them tonight: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded and O Jesus, King Most Wonderful.

St. Bernard was a doctor of the church, but he was always a student of the Scriptures, one “who [devoted] himself to the study of the law of the Most High,” who sought out “the wisdom of all the ancients,” “concerned with prophecies,” one who preserved “the discourse of notable men,” a disciple of parables and proverbs. And Bernard was certainly to “appear before rulers,” respected for both his learning and his piety, St. Bernard was a reformer before the reformation.

But St. Bernard was not a people-pleaser. He did not shy away from wagging a finger at prince or pope when they needed to be rebuked. Bernard never sought fame and glory by seeking high office in the church – whether as a bishop or as a bureaucrat. Bernard’s weapons of choice were prayer and the pen.

Our Lord Jesus promises: “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.”

Nearly a thousand years after the life of St. Bernard, we Christians can pause on this day and reflect on one of the Lord’s humble, and yet fruitful servants. For as we confess in our Augsburg Confession: “Our churches teach that the history of the saints may be set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works, according to our calling.”

Though none of us are called to monastic life, we are all called to pray. Though none of us have the vocation of universal “doctor of the Church,” we all have the vocation to study the Scriptures. Though none of us are called upon to give up all worldly possessions and live as paupers for the sake of the kingdom, we are all called upon to be good stewards with what the Lord gives us to manage for the sake of the Kingdom.

We are, like St. Bernard, living in difficult and dark days. Both the Church and the world have made peace with the “synagogue of Satan.” And we indeed, like the Church of Philadelphia that our Lord addresses in the Book of Revelation, “have but little power,” and yet, we are called upon to keep the Lord’s Word in spite of it all, in “patient endurance,” knowing that the Lord sets before us “an open door” leading to eternal paradise, a door that no-one, neither “life nor death, nor angel nor ruler” is able to slam shut.

For as St. Bernard reminds the Church, the Lord says clearly: “I have loved you.” And the Lord promises to watch over us in every time of trial.

We Christians are blessed by the long train of saints, from the apostles, through the early church fathers, down through the days of the middle ages and reformation, right up to the saints we have today: parents, friends, grandparents, teachers, and other Christians the Lord gives us as gifts to set examples for us to follow, and who serve as channels of His love and grace to us through their various vocations and godly callings.

Though St. Bernard of Clairvaux never sought the riches of the world nor the praise of men, we Christians remember him with reverence, affection, and joy for the life given to him at baptism, and the life he offered to the Lord as a living stone in the temple of the Lord’s Holy Church. The praise of the writer of Ecclesiasticus is most fitting to be read in honor of our brother, Blessed Bernard, who himself followed in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ:

“He will be filled with the spirit of understanding; he will pour forth his words of wisdom and give thanks to the Lord in prayer. He will direct his counsel and knowledge aright and meditate on his secrets. He will reveal instruction in his teaching and will glory in the law of the Lord’s covenant. Many will praise his understanding, and it will never be blotted out; his memory will not disappear, and his name will live though all generations. Nations will declare his wisdom, and the congregation will proclaim his praise.”

Praise and thanks to God for providing the Church with such saints. For they provide us with courage in times of trouble. As our Blessed Lord promises: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full,” and, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” Amen.

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ring Them Bells

In his profound work, Towards a Renewed Priesthood, Anglican priest Fr. Arthur Middleton writes:

"The Book of Common Prayer requires that every deacon and priest shall say daily and publicly Mattins and Evensong, unless 'let by sickness', when he is to say it with his family. Before saying The Daily Office he must first 'cause' the bell to be tolled, an action more significant than we realize, for it is the carrier of a message to the community at large. Thomas Merton tells us that bells are the voice of our alliance with the God of heaven, reminding us that we are His true temple and calling us to peace with Him within ourselves:
The bells say "We have spoken for centuries from the towers of great Churches. We have spoken to the saints your fathers, in their land. We called them, as we call you to sanctity. What is the word with which we called them?

'We did not merely say, "Be good, come to Church." We did not merely say "Keep the commandments" but above all, "Christ is risen, Christ is risen!" And we said: "Come with us, God is good, salvation is not hard, His love has made it easy!" And this our message, has always been for everyone, for those who came and for those who did not come, for our song is perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect and we pour our charity out upon all.'
Writing of the sacramental quality of church buildings, Solzhenitsyn, in a Russia where the human Christian voice was muted, writes of hearing the stones cry out proclaiming the Word in Christ.
People were always selfinsh and often unkind. But the evening chimes used to ring out, floating over villages, field and woods. Reminding men that they must abandon the trivial concerns of this world and give time and thought to eternity.... Our forefathers put all that was finest in themselves, all their understanding of life into these stones, into these bell-towers.
Three years ago at a conference, a woman asked me whether I rang the bell before worship. O relied that I always do, not only before the Eucharist, but also before the Offices. She had convinced her vicar that ringing the bells was worthwhile and rang it for him every day. She invited me to join with her in the prayer she uses as she rings, 'Lord renew me, renew your Church'. I myself now say these words, as well as the prayer of the Angelus in celebration of the Incarnation (Middleton, pp 49-50)."

Fr. Middleton's book is a treat, indeed, a must-read for LCMS pastors, as we face nearly the same set of problems as sacramental Christians caught in a gnostic culture. Middleton's book is not only for the clergy, but for the laity as well. It is a gem. A hat tip to my colleague, classmate, and fellow Polycarpian, the Rev. Dave Juhl for introducing me to this beautiful meditative work.

Monday, August 17, 2009

ELCA Youth Gathering in NOLA, LCMS to Follow

Local media account of the ELCA youth gathering in New Orleans. Next year, the MoSyn kiddoes will be coming to da Big Easy for the "official" (cough) LCMS youth gathering (For local FH readers, that would be a Ute Gadrin').

It makes me want to have a T-shirt made up that says: "Dare to be New Orleanian."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Is there a special place in hell...

...for these kinds of false preachers? WWDS: What Would Dante Say?

The readings for Trinity 8 in the LSB one year series come to mind: Jer 23:16-29, Acts 20:27-38, Matt 7:15-23.

Cross-posted at Foreign Twenty. Feel free to comment there. Bring your checkbook...

Sermon: Trinity 10

16 August 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 19:41-48 (Jer 8:4-12, Rom 9:30-10:4)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The prophet Jeremiah complains that things are not always as they seem. Everyone,” from “the least to the greatest” – including prophets and priests who have a reputation for integrity – are “greedy for unjust gain” and dealing “falsely.” They declare “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

For this kind of “peace” is contrived. It is an illusion, a lie.

To the casual observer, the Peninsula of Korea seems peaceful. While there are armies there, no shots have been fired and no battle has raged in half a century. Indeed, it does seem like the soldiers, called “peacekeepers” are doing just that. But the reality is that the two Koreas are still under a declaration of war.

Similarly, the former nation of Yugoslavia seemed to be at peace under the heavy-handed Communist government of Tito. But once Communism fell, so did the façade, as what appeared to be peace broke out into open and brutal war.

Our church’s name: “Salem” means peace. It sounds like the Hebrew “Shalom” and the Arabic “Salaam.” It is the last half of the word “Jerusalem,” whose name ironically means “city of peace” – a city that is, in reality, often racked with violence or the threat of violence.

When our Lord Jesus “drew near and saw the city” of peace. “He wept over it.” He was distressed that they had rejected “the things that make for peace.” For the true peace, the peace of reconciliation with God and the putting away of sins was “hidden from [their] eyes.” Like the Pharaoh of old that enslaved their ancestors, the people of Jerusalem rejected the “peace that passes all understanding,” the peace of the one true Passover Lamb who has come into the city to make a sacrificial (not a superficial) peace by dying on the cross.

And in rejecting this heavenly peace, the children of Israel chose war in the fallen world. The city of peace was to be leveled precisely 40 years after our Lord brought the peace of God to the City of Peace by His passion and death. It is no coincidence that at His resurrection, the first words He would greet His beloved people would be: “Peace be with you!”

For as in Jeremiah’s day, our Lord observes that things are not as they seem, nor as they ought to be.

The Temple is supposed to be a “house of prayer” but it had been converted into a “den of robbers.” Instead of a place of atonement, a place where the grace and mercy of God are poured out for free like the holy blood of the sacrifice, the temple had become a place where favor could be bought with coins bearing the idolatrous and unholy image of the false god Caesar.

And while Jerusalem seemed to be at peace, it was really under occupation. While the Jewish leaders seemed to be at peace with the Romans, they had really chosen this peace by making war against the God of their ancestors. “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”

As a result of our Lord’s preaching, they considered him a scandal, a “stumbling stone.” For they had turned the temple from a place of sacrifice, a place of grace, to a place of merchandise, where one could purport to buy God’s favor. As St. Paul teaches, “Israel who pursued a law of righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because it did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.”

In departing the grace of the sacrifice for the merit of works, we leave the “peace of God” for what only appears to be “peace.” There is no peace with God apart from the cross, apart from the Crucified One, apart from the blood of the Lamb, apart from the Stumbling Stone of Israel.

And it is easy to lose the focus of the cross, dear brothers and sisters, to seek a counterfeit peace based on our own merits rather than “hanging on His words” as our Blessed Lord’s followers did. It is easy to be busied by all the things we must do that we turn the Church into something other than a house of prayer, a place of worship.

There are many who have been baptized in this font, who have not set foot in this or any church in years, who have convinced themselves that they remain in the faith and have “peace, peace” when all they have is the lack of outward violence. For true peace is when the Lord’s Body and Blood are held before your eyes in this House of Prayer, as the Lord speaks through His unworthy servant: “The peace of the Lord be with you always!” The Church responds by singing her great confession: “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world!” seeking His mercy, and beseeching Him the third time to “grant us Thy peace.” And then, that peace is given to you in the body and blood, for the forgiveness of sins, unto everlasting life.

We also fall into the trap of seeing Salem as primarily a school, a bustling place of a quality education, the largest in our district, an impressive campus, and a respected institution within our community – instead of seeing ourselves primarily as a Church, a local manifestation of the fullness of the Body of Christ in this place, that happens to run a school for the good of the Lord’s Kingdom.

It is easy for the work of the Church to also be seen in terms of the necessary details that need to be attended to: budgets, upkeep, writing sermons, changing light bulbs, sending letters, attending meetings, voting for officers, and the like – rather than seeing all of these things in subordination to our mission: to be the Church in this place.

But the easiest thing of all to forget is this: we creatures have been created to worship our Creator. Preaching, teaching, telling people about Jesus, doing good works, serving the neighbor are all good things that we do according to our vocation. But all of these things are of secondary importance to doing what we were made to do: to prayerfully worship the Holy Trinity.

In fact, when Martha complained that she was doing all the work while her sister Mary was sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to Him, our Lord reminded her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

While various things need to be done for the church, and while our school is an important and outstanding use of our church’s resources, the “one thing necessary” is to hear the Lord’s Word, the Word that forgives us and holds us in communion with Him. The “one thing necessary” is to worship our Creator. Everything else is secondary. That is the source of true and lasting peace.

In fact, the Christian faith is not simply believing in Jesus and holding the right doctrine. The Christian faith is not self-help pop psychology or even the very good and noble work of running a school. In our Athanasian Creed, we confess the following: “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith…. And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”

For “worship” of the Triune God is the “one thing necessary,” the very essence of the Christian faith: the faith through which we have salvation as a free gift by the sacrifice of Jesus. That is the “one thing necessary” for this congregation, to which all other things are subordinate. That is the source of peace – not a false peace that only exists on the surface, a peace that is limited to a lack of fighting, but rather true peace, the peace of God, the peace the Lord declares after winning the war against sin, death, and the devil, the peace that is given to us in joyful and loving communion with the Trinity and with one another.

That peace is no illusion, nor is it simply the lack of violence held in check by soldiers or dictators. It is the peace won for us by our Lord, the “one thing necessary,” the “righteousness that is by faith,” the Shalom, Salaam, and Salem, the house of prayer, the true Jerusalem, the city of the Lord’s Peace, the heavenly kingdom ruled by the Prince of Peace, unto eternity. Amen.

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

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A little tidying...

I made a few cosmetic changes to FH.
  • replaced our old Lenten portrait with a couple of pictures of the family that I like
  • removed widgets to Issues, Etc. and Freedom Watch - replacing the widgets with links
  • added a widget for a verse from the Vulgate (the Latin Bible) for the day
  • added a widget for the latest from the National Hurricane Center (down at the bottom in the right hand column) - 'tis the season
Whew, that was exhausting. Cleaning up is such drudgery.

"It is liturgy or it is nothing."

A new FH post at Gottesdienst Online. Feel free to post comments there.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Is the Church a Democracy?

[Note: No, I'm not trying to sound like St. Luke with the "Dear Theophilus" business, rather this is a reply to FH reader "Theophilus" in his comments to this post].

Dear Theophilus:

Thanks again for your comments.

I would advise you against skipping around from church to church, you will not find consistency in what they teach, especially regarding the Lord's Supper, Baptism, the Office of the Ministry, the Sabbath, Eschatology, etc. Church skipping also temps the flesh with not being accountable to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Committing to one congregation is like committing to one spouse. Bouncing around enables a person to "call the shots" rather than submit to the Word and commit to a specific flock of brothers and sisters.

I would also caution you against imposing American (and Jeffersonian) democracy on the church. God establishes the universe and the church in a hierarchical way. This is very unpopular among us egalitarian Americans (I count myself as a Jeffersonian, politically speaking).

God created a definite pecking order. There are legions and orders of angels. God created man in His image, but not the animals. God breathed His breath (spirit) into animals but not into inanimate objects. Man was given dominion over the earth (Gen 1 & 2).

The one who first bucked this system and insisted on "equality with God" was not our Lord Jesus (who truly is God, and yet did not consider this "equality a thing to be grasped" Phil 2:6), but rather Satan - who though he was God's inferior, sought to dethrone Him.

Similarly, the Lord gave Adam and Eve "dominion" over the earth, and gave Adam a position of authority over his wife. And yet, they were to be servants of God. Satan (who didn't like the hierarchy and all that "institutional" stuff) tempted Eve to not only bypass her husband in the chain of command, but also to seek to "be like God" (Gen 3:5).

Every form of sin is a rebellion against the pecking order.

Feminism is a sin because it seeks to overthrow the male headship of the family (Eph 5:22-24). The more radical elements of the animal rights movements that seek to make animals and humans to be equal violates the "dominion mandate" (Gen 1:28) as well as ignoring the fact that man bears the "image of God" (Gen 1:27). The submission of children to parents is the fourth commandment (Ex 20:12). Homosexuality is a sinful confusion of the sexes, which are to be distinguished, even according to natural law (Rom 1:24-27). We are called upon to submit to earthly government (Rom 13:1). The Lord maintains order through a system of delegated authority.

In the Church, we see the same hierarchical use of authority. The Lord Jesus always describes the Church as a "Kingdom" - never a "democracy" nor "republic" (though both forms of government were well-established and well-understood at the time of the NT).

Jesus calls the apostles, and gives them the "authority" (Matt 28:18) that was given to Him to preach, forgive sins, baptize, and administer the Lord's Supper (Matt 28:16-20, Luke 22:19, John 20:19-23). This calling (vocation) is not given to everyone, but is given to the apostles, and they, in turn hand that authority over to other men ordained into this ministry (e.g. Paul ordains Timothy, 1 Tim 1:6).

The men ordained into the this office are called many things in Scripture: pastors (shepherds), overseers (bishops), elders (presbyters), and in one case, "priests" (Rom 15:16) - though "priest" is an embarrassment to many Protestants, whose English translations often refuse to properly translate the Greek word "hierourgounta" (lit: "priesting") - and, by the way, do you see the word "hierarchy" in there?).

Paul, in 1 Tim 3, uses the term "episcopos" for the minister. The word is sometimes translated traditionally as "bishop" or more literally as "overseer" (epi = "over" and "skopos" involves "seeing" - like a telescope or microscopr).

The pastor is "over" the congregation in the sense of his authority. He is a leader and is to be obeyed as long as he himself is submitting to God's Word.

"Obey your leaders and submit to them," the inspired writer of Hebrews says (Heb 13:17), "for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."

This is pretty politically incorrect stuff, and it runs against our democratic impulse - which might explain why all of these passages ended up on the cutting room floor in Montecello.

Now, authority does not mean power for the sake of power, but rather out of love - even as Paul exhorts the husbands, as heads of the family, to be willing to die for their wives (Eph 5:25-33) as Christ dies for His bride, the Church. And if you read on, you see further exhortations to the hierarchy in Eph 6:1-4: children to parents, and 6:5-9: slaves to masters).

There is a sense in which we do share equality before God, that of our worth and value, of our salvation by grace (see Gal 3:28). But our equality before the Lord in this way no more authorizes everyone to be a preacher, leader, or hierarch in the church than does our equality as American citizens mean that I have the authority to walk into the White House any time I want, or perform surgery, drive a bus, wear a badge, or sport the insignia of a colonel on my lapel. For I do not have such authority and vocations.

We are at war against the forces of darkness. The Lord's Kingdom is, in that sense, a vast army. Armies are hierarchical, and so is the Lord's Kingdom. We all have a place and a calling in the Lord's Kingdom, and not all are equal in authority (Eph 4:11-13).

This is another reason for you to settle in to a congregation. How can you "obey your leaders, and submit to them" if you are bouncing hither and yon? It would be like a corporal jumping from army to army every time he receives an order he doesn't feel like obeying, or encounters an officer he doesn't want to submit to. You are currently unable to do what our Lord bids you to do in Heb 13:17.

Thanks again for the discussion!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Free, Happy, and Secure Christians"

"For wherever they become certain that they do not need to be bothered whether they have been taught rightly or wrongly, they sleep and snore quire securely, naturally asking no more questions concerning preaching or teaching. Once they have learned that it is enough that they know and believe that Christ believes for them, why should they want to have more than this? What more could they ask for, these free, happy, and secure Christians? Unless, of course, one wanted to learn in addition that it is not necessary to do good works and suffer wrong, that it is enough that Christ does and suffers. Let Him also be pious for you and do it all. Then you will have no need to believe or do what is good. And for whatever is bad you would consequently have to let the devil be an unbeliever and do evil, for then he would have to go to hell for you just as Christ must go to heaven for you. We good fellows, however, would remain here on earth to eat and drink, confident that we need go neither to heaven nor hell. Now there's a church fir to be praised - built in a pig sty!

"I hope, however, that such Christians and preachers do not boast or pretend that it was Luther who first advised and taught this. For where I could see and be certain that they suck such a poison from my books and lay all the blame on me, would have to spare no pains to scrub each one a little around the eyes and set their spectacles on their noses and bid them not to read my books through colored glass. For I know well enough to give the devil and his apostles credit, that wherever they turn my words upside down and afterwards are able to lead the people astray with my name, there they do not let it lack persuasion. This is something these same sectarians have often done to me, pulling my words into their own meaning."

- Blessed Martin Luther

"An Open Letter to Those in Frankfort on Main" (1533) Trans. Jon D. Vieker, CTS Press, Ft. Wayne, 1991, paragraphs 16-17, pp 8-9.

A hat tip to the Rev. Br. Latif Gaba, deacon of St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, for passing this document on to me.

Posted by me at Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Please feel free to comment over there.

Les Paul, 1915-2009, R.I.P.

More here with a hat tip to Lew Rockwell.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Is the Church a Buffet?

I posted this article over at Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Please feel free to join the discussion there! Bring your own chopsticks...

I'm surprised it has taken this long...

... to buy a copy of The Cars eponymous album, 31 years after first hearing it played at ear-blistering levels of volume in my freshman year in Mr. Caraboolad's home room classroom at Walsh Jesuit High School (surrounded by foosball tables, couches, dart boards, posters, and a beer tab chain hundreds of feet long hanging from the ceiling). My chair that year was a bucket car seat. Mr. C. was, to say the least, not your run of the mill high school Geometry and Theology teacher.

Along with staples such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, the Easy Rider soundtrack, the Woodstock soundtrack, and AC/DC, Mr. C. really enjoyed the fresh new sound of The Cars that year - in classic vinyl and sent through an amplifier that could be heard throughout the entire school.

The video above is a live rendition from a concert in Houston in 1984. It seems that The Cars didn't have a studio video for "Good Times Roll," the opening track of the album, and a nice piece of rock and roll. Either that, or it is simply unavailable at YouTube.

Anyway, it has been a long time since I bought a CD, but thanks to the bargain section at Borders, I was able to snag a copy for $7.99, and I'm enjoying it.

"Let the good times roll," indeed, which is the English translation of our unofficial motto of New Orleans.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Health Care Proposal

Obviously, there is a lot of disagreement regarding the proposed health care legislation. There are a lot of folks who want it, and others who don't. And there are a lot of assurances from Congress and the President that this bill, if enacted, will provide quality health care at a lower cost.

Since the Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to take over or run health care, I am opposed to any federal government involvement in health care at all (and the state of the VA hospitals bear out the wisdom of the founders not to make health care among the enumerated powers of the central government).

However, I have an idea how all sides can be appeased through the following compromise:

1) Make it completely voluntary. You can choose to be taxed for the government-run plan, or you can opt out and go with something else.

2) Make all Congressmen, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, and the President participate in the government-run plan, standing in the same lines, being placed in the same queues, subject to the same rationing (which should be no problem, since they all assure us there will be no rationing).

As it stands now, very few people are able to opt out of Social Security (government workers have their own plan and are not required to participate in the SS ponzi scheme). And, Congress has its own health insurance plan. If what they are enacting will be so good, they should participate in it.

Quite simply, the lawmakers ought to live within the laws they make, and the people ought to always have the option not to participate in these programs.

But it will not be so. We know full well the feds will never allow such freedom of choice. Participation will be compulsory, it will be paid for with confiscatory taxes, and the political class will always be exempt from their own shoddy programs.

Maybe that's why so many people are angry.

We know where this is headed. We are watching two trains about to collide while the conductors of the doomed trains are telling us to stop yelling and be rational about the whole thing.

C'est nôtre fils, bien sûr

Monday, August 10, 2009

The State of Conservative Radio

Since I commute daily on foot, I don't listen to the radio too often. I turn it on when I go to visit shut-ins or run to the store at night for milk - which we always seem to be out of.

As far as I can tell, we have basically one talk radio station in New Orleans, WRNO 99.5, the local FOX affiliate. WRNO has all the usual conservative and neoconservative fare, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Dennis Miller, and Glenn Beck.

But what amazes me is what "sells" on "conservative" radio.

Quite often when I do have the good old conservative family values talk radio station on, they are bombarding me with ads for "male enhancement." Obviously, the ads are properly placed or they wouldn't sell. What are they trying to tell me about Republican men?

Then, there are the ubiquitous strip club ads, complete with highly charged sexual innuendo and talk of "couch dances" such as offered at the Larry Flynt Hustler club and Rick's Cabaret. Obviously, GOP government officials pay close attention to FOX radio...

They also have a radio show called the Jesus Christ Show, a blasphemous self-help program in which a guy is in character claiming to be our Blessed Lord. I listened for a few minutes and was not only offended, but amazed at what superficial garbage passes for the Christian faith these days. If you can't dazzle them with brilliance...

And when FOX isn't mocking our Lord, they are having shows of spiritualists, mediums, and psychics, pontificating about how the dead speak to us, channeling, and telling fortunes. Gimme that old time religion...

One recent show was dedicated to the Maitreya, how he is already in the world to usher in a "new golden age," and how Jesus was basically his lackey. Radio host Episcopal Church deacon Ian Punnet even excitedly weighed in about how interesting this all was. Way to stand up for the faith, Deacon!

And then there are the political pundits. Times sure have changed. It used to be that Howard Stern created a stir by using naughty entendres and various slang terms for body parts on the radio. In fact, he used to get some pretty hefty fines - the biggest ones from the GOP-controlled FCC - for saying things that one can hear today without incident on today's conservative radio.

Way to go, FOX! Aren't these the same people that brought us Family Guy on broadcast TV during prime time? And how nice of WRNO "Rush Radio" to publish the "Belle of the Day" on their website for when family values conservatives want to have a look at some soft-core porn - not to mention the rotating headlines with the picture of Miley Cyrus doing a pole dance. I just hope none of these gals are Democrats. I mean, someone must think of the children here!

Well, it's a good thing conservatives have their own media outlets. As a family man, I would hate to have to turn to the left-wingers for spiritualists, Viagra, strip joints, porn and blasphemy.

Wrongo in the Congo

This is America's top "diplomat" at work in an international situation.

Lord, have mercy!

Mrs. Clinton has proven her unfitness. The Secretary of State is called upon to conduct himself with dignity and tact. It is an office that at times may stand between war and peace. Mrs. Clinton's husband would, for all of his faults, have displayed more tact and winsome diplomacy than this embarrassing display of egocentrism and hysteria. The Secretary of State is to represent the State Department, and by extension, the President of the United States. The Secretary of State is not called upon to be a scold, to treat foreigners like nursery school children, or to fly off the handle over perceived slights.

This is what happens when backroom deals are cut, and political jobs are doled out to settle elections and make peace within the parties instead of truly appointing the best person for the job. I cannot see how anyone could surmise that Mrs. Clinton is the best diplomat we have in this country. Have we ever heard her address anyone in any language other than English?

Hopefully, Mrs. Clinton will not do something so stupid as to draw us into a conflict by losing her cool over a slip-up by an interpreter (which a more seasoned diplomat would understand happens when dealing with translations). A diplomat simply has to exhibit more class than this - especially when the "diplomat" is the Secretary of State.

These boys love to sing!

HT to my friend Cmdr. Elliott Cummings.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

You've Come a Long Way, Baby!

Bryn Mawr alumna (McBride Scholar) and former MicroSoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) Mrs. Hollywood, barefoot, in the kitchen, and making a sandwich for the husband.

That sound was Gloria Steinem's head exploding.

Mmmm! Turkey pastrami! Thanks, Mrs. H.!

Sermon: Trinity 9

9 August 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 16:1-13

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Desperate times often call for desperate measures.

The threat of losing one’s job is one such motivator. In the face of the loss of income and the loss of face, people who are facing the loss of work can sometimes resort to clever, if not illegal, ways to keep their jobs and incomes.

This is why the Lord’s story, “The Dishonest Manager,” is a perfect parable to teach us about the kingdom of God. For indeed, desperate times call for desperate measures.

In the Lord’s story, the manager is “wasting” the “possessions” of the boss. Whether he is double-dipping, or just plain lazy, we don’t know. But we do know this – the owner of the business has had enough. The owner tells the manager to clean out his desk and find employment elsewhere.

The manager’s options are slim, as he is not physically able to do manual work, and he is too proud to receive assistance. So, in order to try to win his income back, the manager hatches a clever scheme. He figures out a way to bring in a quick and substantial cash flow, perhaps even hoping to change the owner’s mind.

Without any authorization from the boss, the manager cuts deals with those who owe the owner money. He aggressively negotiates with the owner’s debtors. It’s a risky strategy, but the money rolls in.

Though we’re not told for sure, it seems that the owner is so impressed with the clever (and yet unethical) manager’s ability to bring in the cash flow that he “commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.”

Jesus then points out how lacking we Christians are by comparison to the world when it comes to being shrewd, by making friends with wealth – even unrighteous wealth – for the sake of the kingdom.

For desperate times often call for desperate measures.

When we consider the stakes, the fact that our effectiveness in proclaiming the Gospel has a direct bearing on the eternal destiny of those who come in contact with us – we should be anything other than complacent. Like the shrewd manager, we need to be brainstorming, desperately seeking how we can bring people into the kingdom before this age of grace comes to an end. Just as the threat of a loss of work would keep most of us awake at night, we should agonize over the fact that more people are not being reached with the Good News that our Lord Jesus has taken our debt of sin and paid the bill with His own blood.

For spiritually speaking, we are not strong enough to dig. There is no amount of labor that we can do to extricate ourselves from the hole we have gotten ourselves into. Not a one of us has sufficient strength or power to earn our way out of this debt – which is why we pray as our Lord Jesus taught us: “Forgive us our trespasses” – that is, our “debts” – “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

For even as we seek the Lord’s renegotiation of our own debts, so too are we called to tear up the bills of others, and allow the Lord’s sacrifice on the cross to renegotiate the debts owed to us.

And like the dishonest manager, we too are “ashamed to beg.” And that is simply sinful pride. What choice do we have, dear brothers and sisters, but to beg, to plead “Lord, have mercy” and to go before the Owner with hat in hand: “I am heartily sorry… and sincerely repent… and I pray You of Your boundless mercy… to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.”

For we are all dishonest managers. We have all squandered the gifts our Lord gives us. We are all guilty of seeing our possessions as things we have earned, not as things the Lord has entrusted to us to manage for the good of His kingdom. We have all spent money foolishly when it comes to things we want, but refuse to give to the Lord from our first fruits, offerings to the Lord made out of a cheerful heart, in gratitude to Him who withheld, and withholds, nothing from us.

We are poor stewards of our time, a gift from God that marches ever forward. We allocate time to everything, work and play alike, ahead of prayer, of worship, of study, and of the giving of ourselves for the sake of the kingdom and of the proclamation of the Good News. We hardly ever consider that people may well go to hell because of our lousy stewardship with our time and our treasure.

And this, dear friends, is why our Lord tells us this parable anew. He isn’t just weaving a tale for our entertainment, or getting us hooked on a story so there can be commercial interruptions. Our Lord is teaching us about the kingdom, and especially, about ourselves. We are indeed dishonest managers, and what’s more, we’re not very good dishonest managers. We lack the shrewdness and the sense of urgency of the world’s crooks. And in this, we can learn from the dishonest of this world. For in order to survive, a crook has to keep his story straight, and he has to remember his priorities. For one slip-up can send him to prison.

Our Lord is telling us to keep our story straight, and to remember our priorities. For we can indeed gain the world and forfeit our souls. We can indeed be so preoccupied by the cares and worries of this life that the Seed of the Word of God is choked out. We are called upon to be both honest and shrewd managers, good stewards of our time and our possessions – keeping the kingdom of God first and foremost in our minds, hearts, and souls.

For the bottom line is that we cannot “serve two masters.” We “cannot serve God and money.” Money ought to serve us, and that means money ought to serve the Church. For we are the Church, and the propagation of the kingdom of God should be the top priority of the Lord’s people, of us as the Lord’s stewards and managers.

For like any employee, we re being tested and tempted on a daily basis. We can be good and faithful servants, or we can be lazy and unfaithful. We can be productive workers for our Master, or we can be worthless employees. We can, by our labor, get results for the greater good of the kingdom, or we can be so self-centered and greedy that we serve only ourselves and do the kingdom of God no good at all.

Dear friends, our Lord Jesus has done better than simply renegotiate our debt. He has liquidated it. He has torn up our bill, and paid the obligation of our sins in full. And now, as His managers, He gives us the power to show others – our families, our neighbors, our friends, and our co-workers – how they too can be relieved of debt and become members of the kingdom.

For we live in the gritty and grimy fallen world. Every dollar and every cent is tainted with sin. Even our best intentions are soiled with dishonesty, pride, and misguided priorities. And all that being said, we are still managers of the Lord’s creation. We still have been entrusted with the Word of God and with the responsibility to be “little Christs” to the world. How we labor in the Lord’s kingdom makes a difference, an eternal difference.

“One who is faithful in a very little,” says our Blessed Lord, “is also faithful in much.” Thanks be to God that He is always faithful, always calling us to repent, always beckoning us with His glorious Word, and always embracing us with His miraculous sacraments. And in light of the forgiveness He has won and earned for us by His own laborious passion, death, and resurrection, let us joyfully labor for Him and for the kingdom, presenting our very lives and treasures as a thank offering to Him who always serves God, who never serves money, who paid all of our debts on the cross, and who gives us His body and blood to eat and to drink unto eternal life.

For the desperate times of our sinful state and eternal peril impelled God to the most desperate measure of all, ransoming us “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death” in order to “receive [us] into the eternal dwellings.” Amen.

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