Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sermon: St. Jerome

30 Sept 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 24:44-48 (Joshua 24:14-27, 2 Tim 3:14-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today the Church honors St. Jerome, a doctor of the Church. And like all saints, Jerome’s greatness is not of himself, but of the Lord he served with his life and work.

For thanks to St. Jerome, a priest and monk, the churches and the people had Bibles in their own common language. Jerome’s translation of the Old and New Testaments from Hebrew and Greek into the common, popular Latin restored the Bible to the Western Church for a thousand years, when another doctor of the church, also a priest and monk, named Martin Luther, gave the German people a Bible in their own common, popular language.

Without the miracle of tongues, the Lord, in His grace and mercy, provided doctors of the Church and scholars of Scripture who have made the Word of God available in nearly every one of the world’s languages and dialects spoken today.

And this is indeed part of the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations,” building up the Church into the beautiful picture in the Book of Revelation of myriads from every tribe and tongue singing praises to the Lamb.

For that is the point of Scripture.

The Lamb Himself opens His mouth to give us His Word in the Scriptures, saying: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

The Word of Jesus testifies to the Word of God, and even the Lord’s Words about Scripture are the Word of God. This is the Word who was with God, and who yet was God, the Word by whom all things were made. This is the Word of the Lord, the very same that endureth forever.

Jerome’s work was not just a scholarly triumph. It was rather the tool by which the very Gospel spread across the known world, in what was at the time the closest thing to a universal language that there was. And even after the Roman Empire was nothing but a faded memory, the Word of God in Jerome’s simple Latin was being preached, sung, chanted, memorized, read, and shouted from the rooftops all across Europe, Asia, and Africa. And as the New World was being discovered, Christian pastors equipped with Jerome’s Latin Bible made their way to the Americas, with the Church being spread to places St. Jerome never even knew existed.

For the Scriptures are not merely read, but are absorbed by the believer’s heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Understanding of things by faith and not merely by sight comes through the hearing of the Word. Even as the Word teaches us: “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”

The Holy Word opens our unholy minds to the reality, the good news that Jesus has died and has risen. The Scriptures proclaim both “repentance” – that is the Law – and “forgiveness” – that is the Gospel. The Scriptures are effective not because preachers preach it, but rather because it is God’s Word that preachers preach. And that Word works miracles on us, as “faith comes by hearing.”

Our Lord “opens our minds” and shows Himself in the written Word. And that Word gives us life.

And the Lord tells the apostles that they shall be witnesses, testifiers of the Gospel recorded in Holy Scripture, as their proclamation would begin in Jerusalem, and extend throughout the ends of the earth.

And what a tragedy it is that we treat this gift of God so shabbily. How often we neglect reading, studying, praying, and teaching the Word of God. Too often, the “family Bible” is a pristine decoration in the living room or a cluttered place to keep family records. Even churches that uphold the inerrancy of the Bible and have multiple Bible studies each week struggle with a lack of zeal for God’s Word and a failure to apply Holy Scripture in our lives – as our actions often reflect a knowledge about Scripture while our sinful nature causes us to ignore God’s Word as we live out our everyday lives.

This is why our blessed Lord points us to “repentance.” For as St. Paul points out to the well-versed Timothy, whose mother and grandmother taught him the Bible from his own childhood: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

The beauty of God’s Word lies not only in its poetry, its explanations of our origin, in the historical records of ancient peoples, and in its literature, but much more deeply as the very means by which the living God speaks to us, calling us to repent, delivering to us the very forgiveness of sin, and encouraging us in our lifelong war with Satan.

St. Paul tells the younger pastor Timothy, that through the Word of God, “the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

The Bible is “equipment.” It is gear. It is a weapon. It is our defense. And it endures forever – for it is the Word of the Lord.

We give thanks for Jerome, for Martin Luther, for the many who translated the Bible into English, for all doctors of the Church, and for the countless chain of scribes and monks who copied the Lord’s Word with no acclaim or thanks from the world. We give thanks for the men and women who have risked their lives to preserve the Scriptures. But most of all, we give thanks to our Blessed Lord, whose Word is our very life, who calls us to repentance as well as proclaims the forgiveness of sins – all through the Word of God and its preaching.

And we, like the people who submitted to Joshua, have been made free by the gospel to confess with the people of Israel: “The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More Good News!

Bob Breck is willing to declare New Orleans' hurricane season to be over. It doesn't mean we can't get one, but by this time and according to the current air flows, the threat of a big hurricane (and having to evacuate) seems to be over for this year.

Iterum Deo gratias!

Good News!

The Gretna Ferry now runs to Canal Street!

We can now walk four blocks and be on Canal Street in New Orleans. This means a very short stroll for the Hollywoods from our Gretna home to the Aquarium, Imax, the Insectarium, and the the entire French Quarter. We can also pick up the streetcar right there, and go to Magazine Street, and even the zoo - all without burning any gas, or dealing with parking.

Deo gratias!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 16

27 Sept 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 7:11-17 (1 Kings 17:17-24, Eph 3:13-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Death is part of life, right? It is a natural part of our existence, and in fact, forms a great circle of life. The lions die and become grass. The antelopes eat the grass. The lions eat the antelopes. It’s all good. Walt Disney tells me so. And to further make the point, Walt Disney was long dead when the Lion King came out, but nevertheless he is still telling us how wonderful death is, and has even gotten Elton John to sing it to us.

But it is a great lie. The originator of this Circle of Life myth is not the Lion King, but rather the Lying prince of darkness, the father of lies, the one described in Scripture as a “roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”

Rather than accept the lie of the movies we confess the truth of the Scriptures.

Death is not a part of life, rather it is the end of life of the body. Death is not constructive, rather it is destructive. Death is not natural, rather it is contrary to all that is both “good” and “very good” in God’s creation and plan for humanity made in His own image and likeness. Death was never meant to be. Death is the wages of sin. But you won’t learn that from a Disney cartoon.

Nor will you learn that from well-intentioned funeral directors, Hallmark cards, or non-Christian religions. You won’t learn that from an evolutionist biology textbook nor on TV shows. In this culture, you will not hear that death is evil, it is the enemy, or that it is the result of our sinfulness and the rebellion of our ancestors. You will not hear this truth proclaimed anywhere else but from the mouth of the Church, for she and she alone speaks the Word of God, the only True God, the Creator of all things and the Lord and Giver of life.

All of the platitudes and jingles about death come crashing down when someone actually dies.

In Nain, the only son of a widow had died. And in the jaws of this tragedy, there was no catchy Elton John tune or postmodern philosophizing about the food chain to bring comfort to his mother. Nor did the people of the town simply go about their business as if death were simply a natural event and nothing to make a fuss over. No indeed. This was anything but a normal, natural Circle of Life being played out.

The young man who had died was being carried out of his home to be taken out of the city to the cemetery. This was anything but natural. Women created by God are not meant to be widows, and young men created by God are not meant to be carried to their graves. The devastated widow walked in the procession with a “considerable crowd” of mourners, showing both respect for the deceased son and compassion for his grieving mother.

And one Man in the crowd not only had compassion on her, but also held the keys of life and death. Our Lord’s compassion for the widow did not bring about a clever speech, nor a show tune, nor blather about food chains. The Lord Jesus did not try to rationalize death or make it out to be a good thing. Instead, He implored the widow “Do not weep,” for he was about to turn her mourning into joy and her helplessness into victory over death and the grave.

By His touch and by His Word, our blessed Lord commands the spirit to return to the widow’s son’s lifeless body. He touches the open casket and commands the man: “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

Immediately, the dead young man became yet again a living young man. He “sat up and began to speak.” And instead of disappointment that the Circle of Life had been broken, instead of environmental outrage that the food chain was interrupted, there was joy that life overcame death. “Jesus gave him to his mother.”

And not only was their great happiness, there was also fear. For Jesus had not simply worked a miracle, he demonstrated His divine power as well as the impotence of death in the face of God’s will that death be overcome, and that the grave lose its sting. There is fear because all of their own assumptions about death have not only been challenged, but disproved and rendered as useless as the coffin the widow’s son had been lying in.

For indeed, “God has visited His people!” A “great Prophet has arisen among us!”

This Prophet is even greater than Elijah, who centuries before had prayed to the Lord to restore the life to another widow’s son, presenting him living and breathing to his mother. For this Pophet does not have to pray for the resurrection of the son, for He is the Son, He is the Resurrection, and He is the Life. He is “very God of very God.”

God did not come bringing a rationalization of death, nor to merely preach a message of niceness. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, took flesh in order to die. And He died in order that we might live. He rose in order that we, like the widow’s son, will likewise rise. And we confess with Job: “In my flesh I shall see God.”

For the Incarnate Lord Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it.

And in this fallen, sinful, and death-ridden world, there is no Circle of Life, but only an ever-perishing Circle of Death, and it is unnatural and evil. It is an evil that has become so common for us that we no longer smell its stench and see it for the evil that it is. It has gotten to the point where we actually sing its praises in cartoon form for children to embrace.

But the good news is this, dear Christians, the Circle of Death has been trodden upon, along with the wicked serpent’s head, by the Crucified One, who instead removes us from the vicious cycle of decay and disorder, placing us instead into the true Circle of Life, an eternity with no beginning and no end, in which we live, literally and physically, body and soul, in perfection, world without end.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is how St. Paul, facing his own death, can encourage all of us not to lose heart in the midst of our mortal suffering. For “strengthened with power through His Spirit,” we are “filled with all the fullness of God.” And this divine fullness has already destroyed death and given us the “love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” – exposing the lie that death has dominion over any of us and showing us that the so-called Circle of Life is nothing more than a paper tiger that has been crushed at the cross, washed away at baptism, overcome at the empty tomb, and is ultimately as helpless to contain us as death was able to hold the widow’s son confronted by the touch and Word of Jesus.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” Amen.

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

Saturday, September 26, 2009

North Wisconsin District and Women's Ordination

It's not every day that you read a pro-women's ordination article in an official synodical publication. But you can do so here in the NWD's October 2009 newsletter. Scroll down to pages 12 and 13.


I don't believe the North Wisconsin District is actually campaigning to promote women's "ordination" in the LCMS - though there is a very small (and shrinking) minority of aging LCMS feminists devoted to that cause. But the problem with the NWD is confessional clarity. We should not be sending mixed signals as to what we confess and teach - whether to our pastors and laypeople, or to the world.

The above newsletter is available to anyone on the planet with the internet - and it gives the strong impression that the LCMS has capitulated to the world and turned its back on Holy Scripture. It is a terrible witness to the Church and world - especially in this day and age of confusion as to where "Lutherans" stand on many issues - even as our brothers and sisters around the world are persecuted for their faithfulness to the Word of God.

And this is precisely the danger in subscribing to, and printing under our own letterhead, publications by non-Lutheran church bodies. Isn't it odd that books published by CPH are subjected to a rigorous doctrinal review process, all the while districts (however well-intentioned) can, and do, promote and even publish materials from other church bodies that contain rank heresy?

For some reason, The Parish Paper is very popular with the higher-ups in our synod. My own district subscribes to it and in turn sends it out to us in the parishes, and encouraging us to print it in our church newsletters. Usually, they are rather tepid and banal - simply worthy of the delete key without comment. But the topics quite often deal with the need to "change" the way we worship and proclaim the Gospel, all based on numbers and pragmatism - a theology alien to our own Lutheran confessions.

A year ago, I blogged about my own district's use of The Parish Paper:
"My own ecclesiastical district has been rigorously advocating an agenda of change over the past couple years. Almost every communication that comes from our district involves explicit pushes and shoves to "change" - to abandon our traditions, to embrace popular culture, to follow in the footsteps of the latest "gurus" and the trendiest religious fads. Our district has subscribed to an ecumenical Protestant publication (The Parish Paper) that is sent to every parish pastor with copyright permission (and encouragement) to reprint it in church newsletters and the like (though, as far as I can tell, I'm not permitted to reproduce it electronically here). I do not know whether or not these publications are subjected to doctrinal review - though I suspect it hardly matters."
Maybe the this district's inclusion (however accidental it may be) of an open and unrepentant endorsement of women's ordination in the current issue will be the impetus to drive the stake through this thing's heart. How much heresy are we to tolerate from our districts? Is it really too much to ask of our synodical bureaucracies to cut our ties with this publication?

Anyway, the NWD's contact information is here. Maybe they would appreciate some (polite but firm) input from the people of our church body to help them discern the best way to deal with this issue.

You can also e-mail NWD President Rev. Joel Hoelter here:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Two Great Secession Songs at the Same Time

I saw Jim Stafford do this (probably on Hee Haw) when I was a kid. I wish it existed on YouTube.

But here's a little video of Jim Stafford on Johnnie Carson.

Invest an hour...

...and watch this speech (with a little debate at the end) by economist Peter Schiff, dated November 2006 - two full years before the Wall Street Meltdown, and precisely owing to the real estate bubble he predicted here. Schiff is a gifted speaker who can explain economics in ways we can all understand. History has borne him out so far, and there seems to be no reason his forecasting will not continue to prove true.

Compare what you hear to what actually happened last year, and what is happening in the mainstream news right now:
Peter Schiff (and the free market approach to economics known as the Austrian School to which he holds) has been predicting exactly this scenario for many years - in spite of being scoffed at by central economic planning Keynsian School economists. Schiff has been advising investment clients based on these Austrian School market principles for more than a decade - much to the derision of establishment politicians, academicians, and con-men in the investment and banking industries.

In fact, there is a compilation video on YouTube of snippets of Peter Schiff making predictions considered outrageous at the time (2006-2007), even being openly scoffed and laughed at in TV studios of news programs. No-one is scoffing today. Click here for the video, called Peter Schiff Was Right - which is now been viewed 1.5 million times. Some of the people who scoffed at Schiff have taken a lot of heat, including conservative economist Arthur Laffer, and conservative commentator Ben Stein, who actually made a public apology to him.

When you hear anyone say: "Nobody saw this coming," direct them to the above videos. And if you would like to help save them from ruin as the economy gets worse, encourage them to read Schiff's book Crash Proof. If you want to find a way to protect your savings from theft by inflation and the sticky fingers of the federal government, you might also want to look into Euro Pacific Capital.

There is still time to protect yourself and your families from the collapse of the dollar that is becoming more and more inevitable as Capitol Hill does exactly the opposite of what guys like Peter Schiff, Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul, Tom Woods, and the Von Mises Institute have been saying is needed for many years.

Consider this hour an investment opportunity that won't cost you anything but your time.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How Low Will They Go?

Here is a disturbing account of police tasering an unarmed legless man in a wheelchair.

I've been watching these stories in the news for a while now.

Tasers are often sold to the public as a device that can replace the lethal use of guns by the police. But the reality is that police officers routinely use tasers in situations where they would never even think of even unholstering their revolvers. It has become common to read about tasers being used against unarmed pregnant women, grandmothers, and now even middle aged guys with no legs in wheelchairs.

The bar is getting pretty low.

About 20 years ago, I served as a corrections officer and worked closely with sheriff's deputies . I sympathize with what law enforcement people have to deal with on a daily basis. I'm not anti-police by any means. But I am opposed to police officers usurping the role of judge, jury, and executioner. I am opposed to police officers (or anyone else for that matter) trampling on the Constitution.

The bottom line is that this guy posed no threat to anyone - especially not to able-bodied armed police officers.

I'm wondering just how low they will go. What's next? Maybe we'll soon be reading about people with no arms and no legs being tasered. Or maybe people paralyzed from the neck down on nursing home gurneys will be given the shock treatment for cocking an eyebrow the wrong way (and thus intimidating the frightened officers into acting out of concern for their own safety).

Then again, truth is stranger than fiction. Here is a story about RCMP officers in Canada who tasered an 82-year old man with pneumonia and a portable oxygen tank on a hospital bed.

And if "internal investigations" continue to give rubber stamp approvals to anything and everything police officers do, no matter how ridiculous, there will be a terrible backlash that will only serve to hamstring honest cops who don't go around tasering the elderly, cripples, the deaf and mentally disabled, and other people who pose no threat.

And if you're up for a little high-voltage commentary about this topic, if you like no-holds-barred sarcasm, check out this rant by William Grigg.

Church Fathers Resource

While making use of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture for the Book of Isaiah, I ran across a quote from St. Basil. I wanted to run down the source, and to my dismay, it was not in the Post-Nicene Fathers series.

The good news is that many of the volumes of the resource The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation is available online! You can download the text, a PDF, or even read the texts online.

It's aboot time...

What a joy to see Canadians taking a stand against tyrannical government - especially since two thirds of the people living in my house are Canadian citizens.

The so-called and Orwellian named Human Rights Commissions (both national and provincial) are a stench in the nostrils of any human being who believes in liberty. They are a blot on the long Anglo-Saxon tradition of fundamental freedom and the rule of law.

We don't have exactly the same type of quasi-judicial bodies in the U.S. (yet), but the creeping police state is making use of a similar principle - the use of "implied contracts" to take away our fundamental liberties - even those freedoms explicitly protected by the Bill of Rights.

For example, the courts routinely rule that by signing up for a driver's license, you are surrendering your 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. In other words, police officers may detain and question any driver without a warrant or reasonable suspicion. Why? Because, by signing his driver's license, the driver has waived his rights.

A similar trick is used when matters that should be criminal are redefined as civil. For example, our speed and red light cameras in Gretna, Louisiana operate under the color of law by creating a system by which drivers can be fined without due process, with no witnesses, and with no evidence that the person has broken any law - and there is no judicial recourse. Such fines are civil matters, and the normal constitutional protections do not apply.

While such tyranny is minor at this point, and can be avoided by driving at 25 mph at all times in my otherwise wisely governed hometown of Gretna (the speed cameras are mobile and attached to a little white van and are often set up where the speed limit is not explicitly stated), what has happened in Canada is that Christians are being fined thousands of dollars for simply expressing the opinion that they agree with Holy Scripture. Pastors can (and have been) brought before these extrajudicial star-chambers and given fines in the thousands of dollars.

I had previously posted this video of Canadian freedom-fighter Ezra Levant's testimony before the HRC that he was summoned to. Compelling stuff.

Liberty is not just an American slogan. All people around the world crave liberty. Nobody wants to be ruled by tyrants. We all want freedom. And woe be to those who want to take or withhold liberty from people determined to have it. Both liberty and government are gifts of God, but when government tramples on our liberties - especially our freedom to preach the Gospel - it's time for those governments to change.

Bully for the Canadians!

HT: Rev. Mike Keith, the Scottish Lutheran.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Procreating Taxpayers

Few topics get people as riled up as fertility and the appropriateness of large families in this day and age. Here is an article about the Duggars - who are expecting child number 19.

Sometimes it's illustrative to read the comments left by readers. This article is a case in point. It's always amazing to see how people's blind rage and prejudice sometimes conspire to override even simple logic.

For example, GK from Maryland writes:

"Two kids are enough to replace a woman and her man when they die. You're crazy if you go for more, and it costs taxpayers a fortune. I have yet to hear about a huge family that also comes from wealth."

Well, given the fact that the Duggar family is self-sufficient, not in debt, and not on any government assistance, it seems that GK's last assertion is wanting.

But the really bizarre leap (or more accurately, lapse) of logic involves the comment about "taxpayers." The argument is that people having large families are bad for the economy as it costs "the taxpayers." But consider the economic issue we now have, where retirees are on the rise. In concert with this demand on the system's resources, employed people, who, in our idiotic mandatory ponzi scheme known by the Orwellian name of "Social Security," are the people paying the pensions of the current retirees, happen to be on the decrease. More people receiving money, less people providing money.

In other words, under the current Big Government paradigm, our economy needs bigger, not smaller, families. I suspect this is why politicians of both parties are winking at illegal immigration. Someone has to make up for the "contraception deficit" that is drastically limiting the amount of money the same politicians have at their disposal to distribute to retirees.

Given this person's bias against reproduction, and his or her indignation on behalf of the "taxpayers," one simply has to ask: "Just where do the "taxpayers" come from in the first place?"

Does G.K. need someone to explain the "birds and the bees" to him or her in addition to Economics 101?


Although I'm not a huge fan of the English Standard Version (ESV), I decided to use it, both in personal study and in public reading, for the sake of uniformity. The Lutheran Service Book, the Pastoral Care Companion, the Treasury of Daily Prayer, and the new Lutheran Study Bible all make use of it. It goes without saying that although the LCMS has stopped short of declaring the ESV to be the de jure official translation of the synod, it really has become so in a de facto way.

For the most part, it is a readable and yet solid translation, part of the King James Version (KJV) tradition (through its predecessor the RSV), and is available in many different formats. It is a great leap forward toward a word-for-word translation philosophy instead of the synod's previous de facto translation, the New International Version (NIV) with its thought-for-thought principle.

I still wish the LCMS had gone to the New King James Version (NKJV) - a much more catholic translation in terms of widespread use across the Church, as well as having a lot more formats (such as the Word of Promise dramatic reading of the New Testament on audio). But more importantly, the NKJV is more consistent than the ESV when it comes to maintaining traditional churchly renderings of certain key words. There is actually a good deal of similarity between the NKJV and the ESV. But I'm finding that when the ESV fumbles, it fumbles big!

Cleveland Browns fans might want to nickname the ESV the Earnest Byner Translation.

Our school makes use of Rev. Dr. Peter Bender's catechetical material. This week's memory verse is Romans 3:20.

Here is how the NKJV renders it: "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (emphasis added).

This is an accurate translation of the Greek: "διότι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ δικαιωθήσεται πᾶσα σὰρξ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ, διὰ γὰρ νόμου ἐπίγνωσις ἁμαρτίας" (emphasis added).

But here is the ESV: "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (emphasis added).

Notice the emphasized Greek word σὰρξ (sarx). The NKJV translates this as "flesh" whereas the ESV renders it "human being." As every first-year seminarian knows, "sarx" means "flesh" - especially in the context of fallen creation. It is a theologically-loaded term. We often modify "flesh" with the adjective "sinful." And the word "flesh" is graphically incarnational, as Jesus comes in the flesh (Latin: in caro, or incarnatus) to redeem our fallen flesh. The politically-correct clunky sounding "human being" not only fails to convey the nuances of the original Greek word, it is a weak, figurative translation when there is nothing at all wrong or confusing about "flesh." This translation violates the ESV's own stated translation principle.

This is a big fumble.

The ESV also drops the ball with the word "seed." For the life of me, I don't know why they choose to render this literal word (which occurs throughout Scripture in both Hebrew and Greek: זַרְעָהּ and σπέρμα) using a more figurative English word: "offspring." This is a radical departure from the translation tradition going back to Jerome's 5th century Latin Vulgate (semen) right up through the King James' 1611 English translation ("seed"), from which the ESV claims heritage.

Just when I get comfortable with the ESV, it drops the ball on the one yard line.

Dylan sings in Latin

"Venite adoremus, Dominum." From 3:40 - 3:51 (O Come All Ye Faithful).

HT: Dr. Veith

Are things getting worse?

Are things getting worse around us?

According to science, yes. The label for this tendency is "entropy," and it is summed up as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. And anyone who has ever had to deal with rust or mold or putrification knows that the universe has a natural tendency to degrade, to move from order to chaos, to break down over time.

Does this jibe with the Word of God? Absolutely.

At the creation, all things: matter, energy, sub-atomic particles, planets, dinosaurs, mankind - everything - were in a state of perfection, or harmony, of non-violence, of non-degradation, not on a trajectory of death, and not moving from order to chaos. Everything was perfect, or as is repeatedly stated in the creation account of Genesis, "good" (six times in the first chapter of Genesis, with the verse 31 climax of "very good" following the completion of creation).

At this point, there was no entropy, second law of thermodynamics, sin, nor death. At this point in human history, we could answer the question: "Are things getting worse?" with a definitive "no."

That all changed in Genesis 3 with the Fall. As a result of sin, so the testimony of Scripture goes, came natural disasters, discord between created things and lifeforms (with each other and with God), and also death itself. Sin became a snowballing phenomenon as evil gave rise to further evil. The world was indeed on a trajectory toward self-destruction and an exponential rise in wickedness and its effects.

At this point, there was indeed entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, sin, and death - and these had a compounding effect on everything else. At this point in human history, we could answer the question: "Are things getting worse?" with a definitive "yes."

The reversion from order to chaos and the increase of evil (Gen 6:5) upon the earth became so bad that God sent a worldwide cataclysmic flood to destroy all living beings on the face of the earth save one family and a group of animals from which to rebuild.

But prior to the flood, at that very time of increasing wickedness and in the face of warnings from God to repent, there were those who didn't think evil was on the rise at all. People went about their day-to-day business in a state of denial of the increase of wickedness and its effects. It is like the phenomenon of living and working near a chemical plant. Being surrounded by the stench makes one increasingly insensitive to one's own environment, feeding a culture of denial that anything is amiss. In cases like this, it takes a prophetic voice from the outside to break the denial of those who have become accustomed to the rot.

Our Lord Jesus compares this state of denial of the increasing wickedness to one another - both in the days of Noah and "now in these last days" (Heb 1:2), as our Blessed Lord becomes that prophetic voice to rouse us out of our denial of the entropy and increasing evil:
"For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matt 24:37-39).
Our Lord speaks of the increase of evil as time marches inevitably and irresistibly onward until the consummation of time. In fact, he speaks of the Church herself falling under the spell of the secular deniers of Christ as things further degrade into the future (Matt 24:24). Jesus is warning us not to be arrogant, like the antedeluvian entropy-deniers: "See, I have told you beforehand" (Matt 24:25). He has indeed warned us: "And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold" (Matt 24:13 - emphasis added).

The Lord Jesus Himself says "lawlessness will be increased...." I think we deny this at our own peril. It is a false hope to say "nothing has changed, evil is not on the increase, things have always been as they are today."

In fact, this fallacy of constancy is known as "uniformatarianism" - and it is the source of a lot of the evolutionist worldview and denial of Scripture. Much of the controversy of the age of the earth stems from the scientific assumptions made by geologists based on a philosophy of uniformatarianism. It is the reason why scoffers mock the idea that antedeluvian people lived for hundreds of years (Gen 5:3-32). Since we do not observe people living such lifespans today, so the argument goes, the Bible is a book of myths, if not outright fiction - or even a deliberate lie. As an aside, the gradual decrease in lifespans of man from 900+ years (Gen 5:3-32) to 400+ years (Gen 11:10-16), to 200+ years (Gen 11:22), to maximum lifespans as they exist today (around 120 years) - is itself evidence of the entropy.

St. Peter condemns uniformatarianism, and links it with the corruption of sin. He also links it to the scoffers "in these last days" - whom our Lord likewise links to the scoffers "in the days of Noah." Peter writes: "Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation (2 Pet 3:3-4 emphasis added). And in verse 5, Peter explains that this denial is through "deliberately overlook[ing]" the testimony of Scripture that the Lord sent a flood in response to the increasing corruption and wickedness of the world.

The argument that every generation believes things are worse than the last generation only serves to confirm what both Scripture and science teach - that things are going from order to chaos, not the other way around - and certainly not "continuing as they were from the beginning."

The Church is often mocked for being out of step with the world - even as the world becomes more and more corrupt. Even in the span of our own times, we can easily observe the increasing wickedness on the earth and the Church's increasing tolerance of, cooperation with, and in some cases, the eager joining with, the world's increasing evil.

In the twentieth century, the "youth culture" (by definition a rebellion against "tradition" - including the "tradition" St. Paul identifies with the Christian faith itself, e.g. 2 Thess 2:15) became increasingly dominant - from the "flappers" of the 1920s to the postwar "beatniks" of the 1950s, and the "hippies" of the 1960s. And though much of this subculture was quite innocent, its underlying rejection of tradition was to have a radical effect on western culture. Over time, the youth culture became the dominant culture in western society - which is the most influential culture around the world. Today, it is not uncommon to see gray-haired grandfathers and grandmothers wearing skimpy bathing suits, toying with mind-altering drugs, sporting tattoos and piercings, and chasing after youth and promiscuity, making use of things like Viagra and Botox. We're also seeing middle-age people behaving like adolescents - with their children utterly ignorant of the Christian faith in its entirety. The younger culture is reverting to a pre-Christian paganism, if not outright savagery. These kinds of behaviors have become increasingly mainstream - even among Christians.

The western youth culture is increasingly hostile to Christianity and increasingly open to sinful behaviors. Sin has been around since the Fall, but sin is increasingly accepted, taught, promoted, and encouraged "in these last days" - even among Christians. Technology has made its spread all the easier and has exponentially increased the rate of corruption.

And the corruption is by no means limited to the secular.

In a very short span of time, we have seen women's "ordination" not only happen, but become the rule. In most places where it has happened (and with rare exceptions), it has become too late to reverse. In fact, we've seen the wickedness increase to the point where abortion and homosexuality are no longer identified as sinful, but even supported by large swaths of those claiming the title of Christian. There are even "mainline" Lutherans who openly engage in goddess-worship without censure from their denomination - the largest Lutheran body in the United States. The acceptance of this kind of decadence and open idolatry simply would not have happened prior to the 1960s cultural revolution. Idolatry has always existed, to be sure. But one has to be blind to see that this wickedness is not increasing exponentially, as is the Church's acquiescence.

Anytone who thinks "things are continuing as they were" is delusional and in a state of denial - not unlike those "in the days of Noah."

And this is not merely a local phenomenon. There is also an increasing, if not exponential, interest and use of occult practices and demonic religion. Again, this goes beyond the current fascination suburban American teen girls have with vampire love stories. I previously blogged about this manifestation of the increase in wickedness here and here. People may be shocked to learn that the Vatican made it policy to assign an exorcist to each diocese around the world, and that this order did not come in 1540 or 1832, but rather in 2006 - and the plan is to be implemented first in America. People may also be shocked to learn that some half million people in Italy are under the pastoral care of an exorcist.

But the end-time scoffers are not limited to skeptics who believe in evolution and mock exorcism. Sadly, some Lutherans are likewise in a state of denial about the spiritual entropy and the reality that our Lord Himself teaches that "lawlessness" is not a constant, but rather will indeed be "on the increase" as time inexorably marches forward "in these last days."

I believe all Christians must be on alert, knowing that Satan is not to be trifled with, that he will use this sliding scale of morality to get us to gradually lower our guard. Pastors especially, as men entrusted with the care and cure of souls, need to be "sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8). And even if it means being mocked as a "fundie" or derided for not being considered "cool" enough by tricking our daughters out like Hanna Montana (the 16-year old wholesome Disney Christian role model) and calling it "cute," we ought to cling to St. Peter's exhortation and encouragement:
"Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Pet 5:9-11).
And the fact that things are getting worse should not drive us to despair! The Lord calls this increasing trouble (Luke 21:20-26) in the world the "birth pains" (Matt 24:8) of the New and Greater Age to come, a restoration of perfection, a repeal of the second law of thermodynamics, and a restoration of the goodness and perfection that was the order of creation before the fall. Instead of denial, we are to embrace the "inconvenient truth" and be prepared (Matt 25:1-13). Far from being discouraged by the increasing wickedness, lawlessness, and evil around us, the Lord gives us courage: "straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:28).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Lutheran Study Bible

I've had my Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB) for a few days now. I have not read every study note and every article. But I have been jumping around various parts of the Bible and comparing it to the ESV Study Bible (ESVSB) in the course of my readings, sermon preparation, and Bible study. At this point, there are things I like very much about TLSB, and there are things I think are not so good. On the whole, I think it is above average, and so far, I give it a B.

"B" is not a bad grade by any means - although in our day and age of grade inflation, it might seem like a slight. It isn't. In fact, I give the most recent efforts by CPH very high marks. I have been using the Pastoral Care Companion (PCC) for a couple years now - and I give it an A+. It has been invaluable for giving pastoral care to the dying, for funerals, home and hospital calls, baptisms, house blessings, and (above all) private pastoral care in ordinary and extraordinary situations. The PCC is not just a home run, but a grand slam, hands-down.

Second, I am very pleased by the Lutheran Service Book (LSB). There are things I don't like, to be sure (some of the hymns selected are a big disappointment, and having five settings of the Mass is, I believe, a hindrance to unity, etc.). But on the whole, the book is remarkably well-done, laden with good features, laid-out in a logical and user-friendly way, and has proven itself to be a source of unity among liturgical congregations in our synod. It is an especially remarkable achievement given the political climate of the LCMS and the hoops those who worked on it had to jump through in order to bring us a synodical hymnal this good. After using it for a few years, I give LSB an A.

Third, the Treasury of Daily Prayer (TDP) is another home run. Again, I can pick nits about this and that, but over all, this is just what laypeople and pastors in our synod need - a common resource for liturgical and biblical prayer and devotional reading rooted in the offices of the historic church. I give the TDP an A (almost an A+, but not quite).

Again, these are just my opinions based on my own use of these resources. Obviously, many people will disagree considerably.

So, given CPH's report card (according to me) of 2 A's, a B, and an A+, that is a GPA of 3.83. And that is not bad at all. That is dean's list material, and as much as I gripe about some of the stuff CPH puts out, when it comes to the serious churchly resources, it would be hard to make better marks than this.

In my opinion, the weakest link is TLSB.

I don't think it has lived up to the promotional materials. And given CPH's latest outstanding efforts, I would be lying if I didn't say I was somewhat disappointed. I should have known something was up when I saw the marketing materials, such as way that two of the twelve "features" CPH made use of to sell TLSB are the facts that the chapter and verse numbers are indicated. Are they serious? Do any other Bibles (all of which have chapter and verse numbers) claim these as "features"? Such marketing is usually done to cover weaknesses.

And there are weaknesses. But in spite of the many features I don't like about TLSB, I still give it a B, based on the strength of the study notes and articles.

But having used the ESV Study Bible (ESVSB) for about a year, here is what I see about TLSB as inferior to ESVSB:

Paper Quality
- I have had TLSB for less than a week, and already some of the pages are getting wrinkled. The pages are almost gossamer-thin, and this results in some ugly bleed-through - especially with the black-and-white charts in TLSB. Some of the pages are difficult to read as a result. By contrast, a thin but robust paper was used for the ESVSB. The bleed-through is minimal. The physical book itself is holding up extremely well as I have used it over the past year.

Ink Quality - The print is too light in TLSB. And especially the red ink for the words of Jesus (something about TLSB that I find annoying in and of itself that is not in the ESVSB) - which are so light as to be a nearly unreadable pink in some places. The ink quality (black and red) is really poor and inconsistent. Maybe this is an intermittent problem. But I bought two copies of TLSB and they are identical. I did hear the same complaint from another TLSB purchaser.

Typeset - The ESVSB is easy on the eye, and uses contrasting sans serif fonts for the study notes. Also, its use of bold in the notes makes it easy to navigate, while italics are used only for emphasis or for foreign words. The typeset is crisp and clean. Notes that are of a heading in nature are given a light greenish highlight color. TLSB's notes are in a serif font (which does not contrast with the biblical text), and italics are overused in a non-standard way.

Maps - I find maps to be extremely helpful in studying the Bible, and the ESVSB has over 200 sharp, color relief maps inset right into the texts. Nearly every book of the Bible has a map in the introductory materials. And, in the back, there is an additional section of 15 beautifully detailed full-page maps - including the large maps of Paul's missionary journeys in bold color. Take a look at them here. By contrast, TLSB has a paltry four color maps (not even one with St. Paul's journeys, nor of the tribal allotments of Israel). Only one of these is related to the New Testament. The rest of the maps are awful black and white drawings that are terribly behind the times as to what is possible and standard for today. This is a huge disappointment - especially in a day and age where we are used to pulling up images from the internet. Somehow, I doubt that the folks at CPH have monochrome computer screens sitting on their desks.

Charts - The ESVSB is chock full of color charts that make it easy to read them. They do not bleed over into the next page, and it makes comprehension of the material quick and easy. TLSB's charts are all black and white. There are also some charts in ESVSB that are really helpful for Bible study that have no corresponding charts in TLSB (such as the chart showing all the citations of the OT in the NT, and the side-by-side lists of all the kings of divided Israel and Judah).

Illustrations - The ESVSB also uses full-color in all of its 41 illustrations (such as the temple, tabernacle, ark of the covenant, etc.). The pictures are detailed and professional. The TLSB's pictures are black and white and simply look tired and dated. It is my personal opinion (I know others disagree vehemently) that the use of the throwback black and white line drawings from an 1860s era Bible was not such a great idea. Instead of sending a message of continuity with the past, they just look cartoonish to me in the context of a modern study Bible.

Timelines - The ESVSB's chronologies and timelines are more user friendly and easy to follow with the eyes - both in layout and in use of color and graphics.

Many Articles - Many (though not all) of the articles in ESVSB are scholarly and helpful, and there is no equivalent in TLSB for many of these. There are no longer or more detailed articles in TLSB as there are in ESVSB. Some of the articles are extremely well-done - but of course, it must be kept in mind that the articles are going to reflect a wide swath of Christian traditions beyond Lutheranism only.

Now, here is what I like about TLSB over and against ESVSB:

Lutheran Doctrine - When the study notes address doctrinal issues, it does so from an unabashedly Lutheran perspective. The ESVSB is a more ecumenical Bible that tries to represent historical Protestantism, including Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Reformed-ism (we really need a word here, don't we?), and neo-Evangelicalism. In some cases, it is helpful to know the various distinctions between the interpretations of these groups. But the ESVSB often drops the ball when trying to explain uniquely Lutheran theology - especially of a sacramental nature. If Lutherans are looking for an exclusively Lutheran interpretation (as opposed to a comparative study of biblical interpretation), they will certainly appreciate the notes in TLSB more than those of the ESVSB.

Patristics - Reflecting Lutheranism's continuity from the ancient church as well as Lutheranism's catholicity, TLSB cites the early Latin and Greek fathers much more frequently than the ESVSB does in the study notes and articles.

Lutheran Sources - TLSB makes use of the Reformation fathers, the Book of Concord, and hymns from LSB in its study notes. While the vast majority of the study notes do not contain these (or the patristic citations), it is helpful and commendable when they do.

Exegetical notes - I give a slight nod to TLSB in what I have studied so far. TLSB often points out wordplay, and carefully explains when it happens - a literary device that speaks volumes, but the meaning of which is lost in translation. The ESVSB often has the same notes when it comes to the Hebrew and Greek - and in some cases the ESVSB has more exegetical notes than TLSB in the same passages - but again, from what I have read so far, I give a slight advantage to TLSB for volume and consistency.

Dates at the Top of the Page - this simple chronological device is a great aid for study! It was a brilliant idea to revive this once-common practice among older Bibles in TLSB.

On the whole, I find a lot of similarity between the study notes of the two Bibles - except (as I said above) where the notes specifically address doctrine. Obviously, a Lutheran Study Bible is going to reflect a Lutheran perspective in matters of systematic theology. But there are times when it is helpful to know about other interpretations and the hermeneutics used by other church bodies. Whether or not one wants only the Lutheran view, or wishes to compare various views, will determine which study Bible one prefers.

I'm not impressed with the "Law and Gospel" notes in the study notes of TLSB. Maybe I will warm up to them later, but so far, I don't find them very helpful. I'm also not a fan of the methodology of the little icons in the study notes - but that is just a personal preference of my own. I also find the inclusion of the Small Catechism to be superfluous - as it is already in LSB and TDP.

I also prefer the ESVSB's lack of columns over TLSB's two-column setting. And again, it is just a personal bias, but I think it allows the poetic structure and paragraphing of the ESV to stand out better, and makes better use of white space. The center column cross-references are still there in the ESVSB - they are simply off to the side instead of in the middle.

The ESVSB also has a couple of helpful features that TLSB could perhaps adopt:

1) a web-based version that allows for a user password and the creation of personalized notes - included with the purchase of every ESVSB at no extra charge (which is a great feature for use in Bible class as we do have a flat-screen TV with internet hookup in our parish hall). The ESV Online Study Bible includes all of the study notes, articles, and maps of the print version - and all of the biblical references are hyperlinked together at the click of the mouse. It also has streaming in order to listen to whatever passage one chooses read by a narrator. Here is a video demonstration.

2) a Palm-device version - which serves as a commentary linked to my Olive Tree Bible software on my Palm TX. I would imagine iPhone users would also appreciate having an application so as to access TLSB and link it to their Bible apps.

In spite of its overall weaknesses, the strength of TLSB's study notes and the articles save TLSB from being a flop. And though I'm not as enthusiastic as others about TLSB, I am encouraging parishioners to buy it - especially if they are still using the cobbled-together Concordia NIV Study Bible. TLSB is far superior.

How I plan on using TLSB (and I do indeed plan on making extensive use of it) is not as a study Bible per se, but as a commentary. That is what I'm doing now, and that is working out well. I read the actual English text of the Bible in the ESVSB - with its maps, charts, illustrations, and with its admittedly ecumenical study notes - followed by looking up the explicitly Lutheran study notes and articles in TLSB. This provides me with the best of both worlds.

Maybe CPH could release a version of the TLSB without the Bible - just a set of study notes and articles. If they did that, I would use it as a supplement to the ESVSB (which is how I plan on using TLSB anyway).

You can buy your own copy of TLSB here at CPH.

When it comes to eating catfood...

...let us call to mind that in Latin, "possum" means "I can!"

Sermon: Trinity 15

The official symbol of the religion of Atheism

20 Sept 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 6:24-34

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

This portion of our Blessed Lord’s “Sermon on the Mount” could be subtitled: “A Tale of Two Worldviews.”

And to prove the timeless nature of the Lord’s preaching and of the relevancy of the inspired Word of God, consider how applicable our Lord’s homily is for us today.

For there really are two major worldviews locked in hand to hand combat, fighting to the death – and we are caught in the middle of the warfare. And as our Lord Jesus proclaims, the two worldviews are not compatible and cannot be reconciled.

When one worships the master of mammon, of money, of material – he buys into the worldview of materialism. And this worldview is much more than shallow consumerism and runs far deeper than the lifestyle of a Hollywood starlet with a tiny poodle and a handbag costing thousands of dollars. Materialism is a way of looking at the world that denies any spiritual reality, anything deeper than what can be made with molecules and atoms, a philosophy that either denies or pushes God to the very margins of our thoughts.

Materialism is the philosophy that teaches us such unbiblical fairy tales as the belief that everything spontaneously came from nothing, that all life forms evolved from lower life forms (no matter how complex the DNA and in spite of scientific observation of how mutations really work). Materialism is the source of abortion on demand, and of the disposability of the aged, the handicapped, the poor, and the ill. Materialism reduces human life to a price tag. Materialism teaches us that all that exists can be seen, measured, cataloged, and even bought and sold. This worldview denies love, denies the hope of eternal life, and denies the Creator. It is a hopeless and ultimately death-based worldview. It reduces all mankind into blobs of accidental proteins. And if this is true, we might as well spend our few miserable years scurrying after toys, money, and possessions – for these are all that matter anyway.

But thanks be to our Blessed Lord, who calls us out of the darkness of materialism and into the marvelous light of the revealed truth that we are creatures of a loving Creator, who in spite of our sins, loves us, redeems us, and “richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”

Therefore, we are to reject this materialistic worldview and its empty and depressing lifestyle of scurrying after, and worrying about, mere stuff.

“Do not be anxious,” He tells us, “about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” In those two little words “more than,” our Lord exposes the shallow myth of materialism. There is more to the universe than meets the eye, than can be measured with empirical and scientific instruments, than can be placed in a jar in a museum, or can be bought at a price.

Since there is a God, and since “God is love,” and since we are created in the image of that loving God, we are indeed of “more value” than even the birds our heavenly Father feeds. And this is why our Lord tells us not to worry about food. Life is indeed “more than” food, and certainly “more than” worrying about where the money will come from to pay for it. And being created in God’s image, having been given dominion over the earth, we are certainly to expect “much more” than the plants of the earth which God adorns so magnificently with flowers, taking care even to “clothe” the grasses of the field.

The Lord rightfully scolds us for our “little faith” – for that “little faith” we all display in our anxiety is a misplaced faith – a faith in material, in matter, in stuff, in money, in mammon – over and against faith in our Creator, our Redeemer, the one who loves us, hears our prayers, and promises to feed and clothe us unto eternity.

For ultimately, dear brothers and sisters, Jesus is our food and Jesus is our clothing. We are fed on the Word of God and on the Holy Sacrament. For “man does not live by bread alone,” but, “by every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” We live on the flesh and blood of the crucified one, for we live, and live eternally, by virtue of the forgiveness of sins.

And Jesus is also our clothing, the cover of our shame and nakedness. He is the fulfillment of the prophecy the Lord Himself gave Adam and Eve, when the Lord Himself sacrificed animals, shedding their blood, to provide for skins to cover Adam and Eve’s shame.

Our crucified Lord Jesus is the one “all availing sacrifice” offered as the perfect oblation for every man, woman, and child, the “Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” whose perfection covers the shame of all of our sins – including our “little faith” and our futile attempt to mix materialism and Christianity.

And let us not confuse “materialism” with “material,” dear friends. "Materialism" is sinful and evil. "Material" is, as the Lord teaches us in the first two chapters of Genesis, “good.” In fact, created matter is “very good.” And there is nothing inherently wrong about money, handbags, little poodles, big houses, automobiles, and creature comforts. For as our Lord preaches, we do need material things, especially those things our catechism reminds us of: “food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.” And the Lord Jesus assures us that His Father and our Father “knows that you need them all.”

So instead of worrying, we are to rejoice. Instead of serving money, we are to let money serve us and serve the Lord. Instead of finding our self-worth and value in material, we should remember that we are created in God’s image and redeemed by the sacrifice of love of Jesus on the cross, and that material is good and is created for our good.

And this is why the Lord implores us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When we don’t choose material things over God, we ironically receive material things from God.

Those who serve money instead of God get just what they ask for: material. And that’s it. And as our Lord teaches us, material wears out, rusts, is eaten by moths, and is stolen. But we who have been blessed with the revelation that God is the Creator of all things, when we seek first the Lord’s kingdom, we receive all the material that we need as a free gift. For these things are “added to” us.

Of course, our Lord’s exhortation is easier said than done.

Our sinful nature craves and covets that which we don’t need. Our sinful lack of faith drives us to hoard and gorge and refuse to share. Our sinful flesh demands fulfillment in material and spurns the eternal and unseen things. Our sinful minds fret and worry as if the Lord does not provide for us even better than He provides for birds and grass.

Instead of being anxious, let us be in prayer. Instead of looking around to see what we can get, let us look around to see what we can give. Instead of joining the world in the materialistic lie, by the grace of God, we commune with God in the eternal truth – the truth that there is “more than” mere material, and that we are of “more value” than the sum of the molecules and atoms in our bodies.

Dear friends, the reason you are of “more value” is because there is more to existence than meets the eye. Where we see a sinner, the Lord sees a saint. Where we see anxiety, our Lord sees a call for us to repent and follow Him. Where we see ourselves as lacking faith, as being of less value than a bird or worth less than a blade of grass, our Lord sees a person worth redeeming by the death of His only beloved Son.

And even though in this fallen world, “sufficient for the say is its own trouble,” and although “tomorrow will be anxious for itself,” nevertheless, we are not condemned to a shallow and unsatisfying life of chasing material, and of being “anxious about tomorrow.”

No indeed! For we cannot serve two masters. And thanks be to God that He is our one true Master, that He provides for us materially, spiritually, graciously, and completely, in time: in this life, and in eternity: in the age to come.

To Him alone be glory, now and unto eternity! Amen.

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

Friday, September 18, 2009

Gutenberg 2.0?

If I lived in Connecticut...

As a bonus, here is Peter Schiff's announcement that he is running for Senate. He isn't boring!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Occult on the Rise

As a postscript to my earlier post about the occult, I offer this citation from The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio, 2009, pp. 6-7:
Ironically, while many priests and bishops seem bent on skepticism, the general public has become enamored with the occult, gravitating to new religions such as Wicca. According to an American Religious Identity survey, Wicca grew in America from 8,000 members in 1990 to over 134,000 in 2001. (By 2006, that number was said to have risen to more than 800,000.) Sales of occult and New Age books have also skyrocketed, as has the number of people who believe in angels and demons (according to a 2004 Gallup poll, about 70 percent of Americans said they believe in the Devil). All this coincides with an explosion in the numbers of people who say they are afflicted by evil spirits. According to the Association of Italian Catholic Psychiatrists and Psychologists, in Italy alone, more than 500,000 people see an exorcist annually.

For many years, a small but vocal group of overworked exorcists in Italy, led by Father Gabriele Amorth, has tried to get the Church to take the increasing numbers of people who claim to be possessed more seriously....

[I]n the fall of 2004 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a letter to the various Catholic dioceses around the world, starting with those in America, asking each bishop to appoint an official exorcist.
I think we Christians (especially those in the pastoral ministry) ignore or marginalize this increase in "the Satanic arts" (per the Small Catechism) at our peril.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sermon: St. Cyprian of Carthage

16 Sept 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 10:11-16 (Ps 23, 1 Peter 5:1-4, 10-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Perhaps the best definition of a saint is a forgiven sinner. And this is why it is such a blessing to celebrate, remember, venerate, and honor the saints from every age of the Church. They were filled with faith, but suffered doubt. They acted nobly, though sometimes shamefully. They displayed courage in the face of death, but sometimes had to overcome cowardice in order to preserve their lives.

If the saints were perfect, they would need no Savior and would not be Christians. And yet, these imperfect people, “poor miserable sinners” the lot of them, have risen above their doubts and fears, their sins and foibles, all by grace alone, through the mercy of God. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, they have lived victorious lives in securing the “unfading crown of glory” while leaving us holy examples to follow as fellow followers of Christ Jesus.

St. Cyprian of Carthage, the African bishop and martyr, is one such sinner-saint who now “dwells in the house of the Lord forever,” who has been called to “eternal glory in Christ,” having been restored, confirmed, strengthened, and established by the “God of all grace.”

Bishop Cyprian served the Carthaginian Christians in the third century. Carthage was in Northern Africa, and was under the domination of the Roman Empire. And at this time, the emperors were persecuting the Christians. In one persecution, under the wicked emperor Decius, Cyprian fled the persecution – not unlike St. Peter, who abandoned the side of Jesus in order to save his own skin. Bishop Cyprian did not behave as Saint Cyprian at this point in his life. For our Lord condemns the pastor who “sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.” “He flees,” says our Blessed Lord, “because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

This is a harsh rebuke from the Lord, the Good Shepherd who “lays down His life for the sheep” – the Shepherd in whose service Bishop Cyprian was called to serve as a pastor.

But once again, saints are not perfect, just forgiven.

Following the persecutions, Cyprian returned to Carthage, and had to help settle the question of what to do with Christians who, in fear of persecution, had denied their Lord. The Church concluded that such lapsed Christians could indeed be forgiven and restored, but were required to repent, undergo a time of penance, and be absolved.

Bishop St. Cyprian himself was a sinner who fled persecution and was likewise a sheep in need of a Shepherd to forgive him. Like St. Peter before him, Cyprian was to receive a second chance.

The Lord’s holy flock was again persecuted under the cruel Emperor Valerian. Bishop Cyprian once again fled. But this time, he understood that his duty was to be a good shepherd, not a hireling. He was obliged to “lay down his life for the sheep” even as his Lord did for the sake of sinners.

The bishop returned to his church, to his beloved sheep who needed a good shepherd to protect them from the coming wolf. Bishop Cyprian bravely faced the sword of the wolf, and was beheaded in 258 AD, in the city of Carthage, among his faithful parishioners.

St. Cyprian became a martyr to the faith, knowing that the Lord would confess him before His Father even as Cyprian confessed Jesus before the fathers of the Empire. Bishop St. Cyprian died defending his flock, confessing the faith, inspiring a courageous faith and a faithful courage for Christians of every time and place, even here in North America nearly eighteen centuries after he surrendered his own head in surrender to the will of the Head of the Church.

This faithful shepherd took comfort in the fact that the Lord is his Shepherd, and that he would never be in “want.” But rather was to be led beside the “still waters” of baptism, his soul was restored – even after a humiliating lapse and fall from grace motivated by fear. And in submitting to martyrdom, St. Cyprian displayed what that earlier forgiven sinner and martyr, St. Peter called the exercising of “oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have [him].”

Dear friends, though we are not suffering persecution for the faith, we must not forget our dear brothers and sisters in Christ who have, who are, and who will be. put to the sword for the sake of Christ and His holy Church. Some were pastors cut down for being preachers of the Word, but thousands more were faithful lay people whose veins were opened for making the good confession of the Good Shepherd. We love and venerate them all, known and unknown, ancient and modern, clergy and lay, men and women, children and the aged, of every time, place, tribe, and tongue – that great cloud of witnesses, those who cry out from beneath the altar for the Lord to vindicate them.

They are our heroes, our guides, and our brothers and sisters, separated from us by the thinnest veil of space, time, and the grave. They have triumphed because He has triumphed. They died as He died, and yet they live because He lives!

Hear again the Word of the Lord:

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Political Rallies

I am strangely drawn to both of these opposing articles.

The first looks at the huge September 12 rally in Washington, DC and sees this as a great encouragement to the cause of limited government. I like much of what is being said here. I think it is encouraging to see so many people taking a second look at the Constitution and holding the feet of the politicians to the fire. The "sleeping dragon" of the "silent majority" may at last be rousing itself from its sloth.

But on the other hand...

My inner cynic resonates with the second - a more curmudgeonly and crankily critical look at political rallies. It's hard to argue with the down-to-earth reality is that much of this activity is showboating and venting with little promise of success in achieving any goal. Political victories are engineered in smoke-filled rooms (although these days, they are likely more tofu-filled and baby-carrot-fueled than traditionally hazed with cigarette and cigar emissions), not in marches on Washington and in sign-carrying rants.

Besides, Lew Rockwell is spot on about the idolatry that runs rampant in D.C. even conservatives treat government and government institutions with a hushed devotion that is, if not full-blown idolatry, pretty near to being so.

Since the days of the Pharaohs and Caesars, political leaders have claimed divinity and been portrayed artistically like Zeus and Athena. Their meeting halls are often designed in the form of pagan temples. Some even have religious iconography and appeals to holy writings of many religions. Maybe it's time to take a little wind out of their sails - whether at boisterous rallies and marches per Breitbart, or in pensive study and writing à la Rockwell.

Either way, I found the following 1984 quote from the late Roman Catholic priest and novelist, Blessed Malachi Martin, illustrative for maintaining a sense of theological balance and perspective:
"You don't look for Jesus at a political rally. You look for Him in prayerful solitude, in the church, in the Bible, in your own heart, with a friend, and with solid guidance. But not in frenzies that have something other than Jesus at their center." (Malachi Martin, There Is Still Love, Ballantine Books, 1984, p. 76).

Do We Worship Hundreds?

In the latest Lutheran Witness, there is an article written about church planting.

Part of the article consists of a pastor's bragging about how many people attend his congregation, including one instance where 500 showed up for a "baptism bash" and another "community celebration" that boasts of "more than 1,000" in attendance. But the most interesting boast involves how many come to church on Sunday now as opposed to the ten families he started out with in 2005. The author of the article says this congregation "now worships as many as 600 on Sunday."

I believe this is a case where grammar imitates life.

This is a sort-of Freudian slip. "Worship" in this sentence is acting as a transitive verb - which means it takes a direct object. We worship something or someone. We may worship money, we may worship Zeus, we may worship the Holy Trinity. We may worship the one true God, or we may worship the ground our children walk on. We may worship the Chicago Bears or Elvis Presley or Barack Obama or Glenn Beck.

We may worship our parishioners. Or, maybe more accurately, we may worship the number of parishioners.

It is not only grammatically wrong to say we worship the number of people in the pews. It is the very heart of the problem with numbers-driven, seeker-sensitive, church-growth thinking. It is the idolatry of the Ablaze!(tm) program, movement, initiative, or whatever the bureaucratic word of the day is.

Unless we are pagans, we do not, never have, nor ever shall "worship as many as 600."

The Athanasian Creed sums it up nicely:

"And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity." The Triune God must always be the direct object of our worship.

A numbers-driven person might accurately say: "We worship Three in One and One in Three." A Christian should never say: "we worship 600." For what is the direct object of the active verb "to worship"?

Again, this common grammatical misconstruction belies a faulty theology in the church-growth movement. The primary purpose of the worship service is not evangelism. This is not to say evangelism is a bad thing. But the primary purpose for which we Christians have been created is to worship the Triune God. Evangelism is not only good, but necessary. But it is simply poor evangelism to turn numbers into an idol and shift the focus of the Divine Service from the worship of the Holy Trinity and turn it into the worship of the multiplicity of parishioners.

As Richard John Neuhaus wrote in his tribute to Arthur Carl Piepkorn:
"We do not worship in order to assist, to facilitate, to serve any other end, no matter how honorable or urgent that end may be. We worship God because God is to be worshiped. Worship is as close as we come here on earth to discovering an end in itself, for it is our end eternally."
When we forget this, worship is curved in on itself and becomes idolatry.