Monday, November 30, 2009

Family resemblance

Left: Patricia Beane (1945-1994), and right: grandson Leonidas Beane (2005-2020)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sermon: Ad Te Levavi (Advent 1)

29 November 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 21:1-9 (Jer 23:5-8, Rom 13:8-14)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

One of the most exciting times in our lives is when we have company coming – especially when it is a beloved family member, an important person, or someone we’ve been hoping to see for a long time. And the longer we have had to wait, and the farther he has had to travel, the greater the excitement. There is exuberance and joy when we learn of this impending coming, and as the person’s advent draws near, the excitement and anticipation builds.

Of course there is also a lot of work to be done. The house must be cleaned. Sleeping arrangements have to be worked out. Food has to be bought. We have to do a lot of extra work to prepare. And yet, it is a labor of love.

And quite often we spare no expense in our preparations. We buy food and beverages – often way too much. We may decorate our homes and purchase gifts. We might plan things to do. And in spite of the extra cost, it is all worth it for the sake of our love for the one who is coming to visit us.

This, dear friends, is the meaning of the Church’s period of Advent, the season of the church year that begins today. This is a new year, a new beginning, and a new anticipation of looking forward to the Advent of our Lord in the flesh. And this beginning anticipates an end, the Alpha points to the Omega. The “drawing near” of our Lord in this time of Advent looks forward to our “going away” of a final Exodus from this age into eternity.

For this Advent Visitor is none other than the King of kings and Lord of lords Himself. He is the Word of God made flesh. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the one who has come to die that we might live. He is the one who redeems His creation. He is the “righteous Branch” from the house of David who shall “reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” He is the Priest of God Most High who is God Most High. He is “The Lord is our righteousness.” And it is in this context that the royal welcome of our Lord into the Holy City is a fitting passage for us to hear and reflect upon as we begin yet another Advent, even as we anticipate His final coming to establish His eternal rule over us.

But unlike our preparations when company is coming, our Blessed Lord Himself makes the preparations for His own Advent, preparing for the feast He will share with His disciples on His way to the cross. For it is on the cross where the preparation has truly been made, preparing us to meet Him, God Himself providing the Lamb not only for the sacrifice, but also for the feast.

And as the Lord draws near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, He makes the arrangements for His visit Himself, securing a donkey to not only bring Him to the city, but to fulfill the prophecies concerning Himself. For you, O daughter of Zion, pay heed, for “your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

The Lord Himself does the heavy lifting for this royal welcome. And instead of a white stallion, His royal transport is the offspring of a beast of burden – even as the Lord Himself transports our burdens to the cross.

The disciples carry out the Lord’s instructions, and they take part in the joyful preparations for His coming.

And when the Son of David comes into the Holy City on a donkey – even as His ancestor Solomon rode his father David’s donkey into Jerusalem – the people greeted Him as their King and Lord. “Hosanna!” they cried. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they shouted. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” they prayed. “Hosanna in the highest!” they repeated.

And we too repeat this refrain, dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

For we too greet our mighty Lord – humble and presented to us as bread and wine, and yet the very King of the Universe – with this very same “Hosanna.” For He is the Thrice Holy One. He is the Lord of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are indeed full of His glory, and we acclaim Him with our “Hosannas” and with the lyric of praise: “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

This, dear friends, is not simply a re-enactment of the Jesus of the long past – even though we certainly call to mind the Lord’s historic and very real entry into Jerusalem. Nor is this just a rehearsal for the coming of the Jesus of the distant future – even though we do confess and pray for His return to establish His dominion over all creatures, knowing it is certain and imminent. But we sing “Hosanna” to the Lord now, in this holy time and at this holy place, for He comes to us in the way He promises to come – riding on the donkey of His Holy Word and the colt of His Holy Sacraments. The Lord sits on the humble cloaks of bread and wine, using His Word to command and compel these lowly elements to become His very flesh and blood. The Lord says: “Let there be…” and it is so.

We sing Hosanna to our King in His Advent – not only to recall the Babe of Bethlehem, the One to whom we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” not only to greet the risen Victor of the empty tomb, and not only to anticipate His coming back in glory to usher in the end of time. But even better, we sing “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” because He comes to us in the here and now:

King of Kings yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords in human vesture,
In the body and the blood,
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heav’nly food.

This is what it means, dear brothers and sisters, to “prepare the Royal Highway,” to “greet the King of Glory, foretold in sacred story,” to “fling the gates wide open,” to “greet your promised King.”

We greet Him here, where He promises to be, where His apostles have followed His instruction, where His Word rings out in “justice, truth, and love,” where His forgiveness brings “peace and freedom” and where we continue to greet our “Word of God made flesh, woman’s offspring pure and fresh.”

And even when we are temped to distraction by the world’s hustle and bustle, by the season’s lure of drunkenness, quarreling, jealousy, and the promotion of materialism and greed, let us, as the apostle implores us, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.”

For this is the good news, dear friends, the gospel, the life-giving Word of our almighty and merciful Lord, who has come to us, continues to come to us, and will come to us: “you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”

“Hosanna to the Lord, for He fulfills God’s Word!”


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

Is Christmas Really Pagan? Not so fast...

For some timely reading on this the first Sunday of Advent, how about a little critical look at the critics?

We're so often told that Christians celebrate December 25th as the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord only because we were co-opting the Pagan festival of the Winter Solstice that we actually believe it uncritically.

However, in this article, historian Dr. William Tighe, history professor at Muhlenberg College and contributing editor of Touchstone Magazine makes a good argument that this conclusion is drawn from false premises and is only based on the wrongheaded theories of two professors, one from the 17th and another from the 18th centuries - theories that became "conventional wisdom" in an age of skepticism.

In fact, Tighe argues, the Pagans were attempting to co-opt the Festival of the Nativity from the Christians. It is their religion that was changed to ape Christianity in the second century, not vice versa.

PS: Here is a post by Gene Edward Veith on the same topic.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Waste and the Waist

Here is a report that indicates that we Americans routinely waste 40% of our food - throwing 1,400 calories per person per day into the garbage!

And given our large portion sizes and flippant stewardship, I don't think it is a coincidence that we're noticing a, shall we say, increase in the American girth? Check out these articles: (HT: Gene Edward Veith): showing the evolution of the dinner plate and (HT: Lew Rockwell): how to have a longer life through fasting.

Though I ate all of my third-pound Angus Burger from Mc-You-Know-Who for lunch today (not throwing any of its 900,000 calories in the trash), maybe I should have brought most of it home in the box and eaten it over a few days. But hey, at least I had the Diet Coke.

"When you fast..."says our Blessed Lord. Where are the textual critics - with their wild-eyed claims (with no evidence needed) that the Church tampered with the texts - when you really need them?


Friday, November 27, 2009

Strange Lutheran Beverages

The beauty of the adjective "strange" coupled with the noun/adjective "Lutheran" and the noun "beverages" can mean two different things depending on whether "Lutheran" is a noun or an adjective.

In other words, is it the beer that's strange, or the Lutherans?

I suggest that in this case, much like our understanding of the Holy Sacrament, Holy Scripture, and the two natures of our Blessed Lord - it is a "both/and" situation. And just because the beers are strange doesn't mean Lutherans are not. This is most certainly true.

Anyway, here is a fun article about strange "Lutheran beverages."

Eulogies and Thrivent

An interesting post by Pastor Christopher Esget regarding an article by Thrivent instructing Lutherans that eulogies are not part of Lutheran worship, and then giving people tips on how to do it and how to get their pastors to do it.

If Thrivent really wants to help, they should help us teach people why eulogies are inappropriate and that the purpose of funerals is to proclaim the gospel of Christ and to focus on His life and works, not to draw attention to the deceased Christian's life and works.

I know Thrivent can be helpful as the successors to AAL and Lutheran Brotherhood, providing opportunities for matching funds, etc. But Thrivent, being a pan-Lutheran organization, also has a dark side, for example, by being a way to smuggle pictures of gals in collars with "Rev." in front of their names into Missouri Synod churches by way of their literature and magazines. And after the latest ELCA assembly, perhaps we'll even soon be reading articles "normalizing" the unnatural regarding marriage as well. How long before same-sex couples are featured in their articles?

Intended or not, Thrivent is doing things to make it more difficult to be faithful to what the Scriptures and the Symbols of the Lutheran churches teach and confess.

Fr. Esget's blog is well worth reading!

Just in case... need a little Foo Fighters today. Turn it up loud!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving for Heroes of World Lutheranism

In the face of increasing decadence and apostasy from American and European Christianity - what a blessing to have such heroes within Lutheran church bodies around the world taking a courageous stand for the holy catholic and apostolic faith, the faith of our fathers, the biblical and evangelical faith!

Let us give thanks to God for the witness of these faithful and holy bishops of the churches of the Augsburg Confession! May the Lord grant them long and fruitful ministries as pastors of the Lord's faithful.

HT: Dr. William Tighe and Rev. William Weedon

Moleskine vs. Piccadilly

Pocket notebook users might be interested in this thorough review comparing the more expensive Moleskine with it's almost identical cheaper knock-off imitation made by Piccadilly (the latter of which only seem to be available at Borders).

The Decline: Geography of a Recession

For an extraordinary animated map of the spread of the cancer of the Federal Reserve as manifested by one tragic result of the current boom-bust cycle that causes real pain to real people (thanks to the Fed's paper money and meddling with the market through artificially low interest rates), click here and hit "play."

We will remain on this rollercoaster ride (and likely mostly in a downward spiral) until we abolish the Federal Reserve, fire the Socialist central economic planners, bind the federal government strictly to its constitutional limits, and restore the republic.

Though we face misery now and in the immediate future, this return to sound money and Constitutional liberty will not happen overnight. There is no short-term pain-free fix. We Americans need to be willing to say with Cicero: "Defendi rem publicam adulescens, non deseram senex."

Happy Thanksgiving!

For the Traditionalists (you know who you are) who celebrate the Secular Feast of Thanksgiving with an annual 20-minute musical tribute to one of the strangest Thanksgiving Days of all, this is a must.

Peace and prosperity to all of y'all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve

25 November 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear beloved children of God:

The Church asks us to do something the world does not want us to do – take a little pause. Stop. Relax. Take a breath. Just think.

While the world has been fixated on Christmas for several weeks now – or maybe more accurately, on Commercialmas – we Christians have not even begun our Advent journey to the manger. In fact, we are still rounding out the end of the church year. And although the world considers tomorrow’s holiday to be another commercial bonanza and the preparatory rite of Black Friday’s marketing blitz, the Church sees the Festival of Thanksgiving in a different way.

For we are all like the ten lepers the Lord encountered between Samaria and Galilee. We are all afflicted with mortality, with the disfiguring and corrosive effect of sin. We are all, by our fallen nature, sinful and unclean, leprous outcasts from the Lord’s kingdom. And even if we are in good health, we are still aging. And as the poet once said: “No-one gets out of here alive.”

We don’t like to think about our mortality, and yet it stands there like the elephant in the parlor, the five hundred pound gorilla we all politely ignore. But we can’t brush it off it forever. We need to confront the wretched reality, the truly inconvenient truth. We are sick. We are dying. We live in a fallen world of pain, of disappointment, of loneliness, and of death. And while the world fills our heads with images of perfect families gathered around perfect Christmas trees bursting with material goods and the “perfect” gift for everyone – we know that reality is far from perfect.

And it is into this leprous, imperfect, fallen, sinful, and dying world that our Healer and Savior crosses paths with us on His way to Jerusalem. And though our sins make us stand at a distance, we are drawn to Him who can make us whole.

The Lord Himself closes the gap of that dreadful, deathly distance by coming to us. For He and He alone is the “perfect gift for everyone.” He is born of the virgin. He walks among us, healing us, casting out our demons, and raising us from the dead. He is crucified for us, crying “It is finished!” to rejoin and conjoin anew God and man, and He rises from the dead, blazing the trail for us when we too will finally be rid of the leprosy that infects our flesh. For in our flesh we will rise, in our flesh we will see God, and in our flesh we will be healed and declared righteous by not just any priest, but by the High Priest Himself.

It has been customary during times of harvest – as the fruits of the earth are gathered, as the gifts of God are enjoyed in all their bountiful goodness – that mankind should enjoy a great feast. And this meal is not merely to satisfy our hunger, but also to offer thanksgiving to Him who has withheld nothing from us – not the harvest of the earth we have defiled by our sins, not the bread we have defiled by the leaven of our sins, and not the wine we have defiled by our gluttony and drunkenness. No indeed! Our merciful Lord continues to heap blessings and goodness upon us. He continues to take away our leprous sins, restore our mortal flesh, and bless the fruits of our labors by giving us that which we don’t deserve.

And for us Christians, we who have been visited by the Lord’s most lavish grace, have only one kind of sacrifice to offer. Our priestly sacrifice at the altar of the Most High is not a sacrifice seeking the forgiveness of sins – as though the blood of mortal bulls and goats could remove our trespasses and cure our mortal leprosy. For the Lord Himself is the Priest and the one all-availing Sacrifice, whose blood is shed for us, pleads to the Father for us, and is given to us to drink as part of the great thanksgiving feast of eternity. Our eternal priestly sacrifice is an offering of thanks and praise.

Our thank offering, our Eucharistic offering, our priestly offering of prayer, praise, thanksgiving, of almsgiving and sharing, of love and peace, of the living out of the life of a cured leper – is a life of gratitude. The Samaritan cured of his leprosy, the only one of the ten who returned to fall on His face at Jesus’s feet to give thanks, understood the nature of this sacrifice.

This “foreigner” not only understood how his healing came about, but also understood that the only sacrifice he himself could, or should, offer, is a sacrifice of thanksgiving. And that sacrifice comes in the form of humility, joy, praise, and being in the physical presence of Jesus in order to worship him.

Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself comes into our midst so that we can fall before Him, thanking Him, praising Him, and offering a Eucharistic sacrifice at His altar, eating and drinking the gifts of the Lord’s grace incarnate, all unto the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is why we take a moment, like the Tenth Leper, take a little pause. To stop. To relax. To take a breath. To just think. For in that holy reflection upon what our Lord has done for us, we are led to continually return to the source of our comfort, joy, and life. When we do take the time to meditate on the benefits the Lord gives us, in spite of our unworthiness, we can do nothing else but worship our God in the flesh and to eat the holy Thanksgiving meal that we offer as a feast of victory for our God, but which is even more importantly, a feast offered by our victorious God as a feast of victory for us, for our benefit, for the forgiveness of sins, a victory over the fallen world, over disease, over our mortality, and over evil itself.

And we join the former leper in reverent worship before the Lord Jesus even as we pray:

What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord. I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

“O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.” Amen.

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Big (Easy) Day

(left to right: Scaer, Reilly, and Hollywood on Canal Street near Bourbon Street)

There has been a great convergence in the Crescent City these past few days, as the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), (as well as the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS)), and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) all decided to meet here this year. Actually, it is by intelligent design that the three meet in the same place every year, and is not the product of fortuitous randomness. And as it was explained to me today, it is a great exercise in ecumenical civility, as for a few days, the Evangelicals consider the SBL-types to be Christian, and the SBL-types consider the Evangelicals to be scholars.

Not knowing which I'm the least bad at (being a Christian or a scholar), I don't belong to either the ETS or the SBL.

But anyway, taking advantage of the fact that there was no school today, the Hollywoods made the trek across the river to meet one of the SBL attendees, the Rev. Dr. Peter J. Scaer. Dr. Scaer also happens to be the first professor I had at Concordia Theological Seminary, as he was my Greek instructor in the Fall of 2000. My class happened to be Dr. Scaer's first class at the seminary as well.

Somehow, we both survived the experience.

I had a few other classes with Professor Scaer, and a year or two later, Mrs. H. and I were most honored to have been able to help him proofread his doctoral dissertation. Professor Scaer invited me to Notre Dame to watch him defend his thesis and watch Prof. Scaer become Dr. Scaer - which was a great privilege for me. His academic adviser was the Rev. Dr. Jerome Neyrey, a prolific New Testament scholar and Jesuit priest. And all this time, we all thought Notre Dame was just a football team...

As hard as it is to imagine, it has already been nine years since Peter taught me my Alphas and Betas, my aorists, participles, and how much I hate the Greek textbook we were using. In deference to the author, I won't say the title nor my opinion that it is probably the worst book I have ever read. Did I type that out loud? Oops.

That sound in the background is Peter clicking his tongue and rolling his eyes, because he likes my writing much better when I avoid controversial topics, such as personal opinions and Christianity.

Although it is a personal opinion, I must say, we had a blast today!

The Hollywoods parked near the Riverwalk and strolled up Canal Street to the lobby of the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel, where we met Peter at just after noon. We crossed Canal Street and made a mini-pilgrimage to the Ignatius J. Reilly statue. For some perplexing reason, the iconic clock that used to mark time in front of the D.H. Holmes Department Store was not there today. Tempus fugit? One can only hope the timepiece is being repaired or cleaned, as its perpetual absence would violate the principles of Theology and Geometry. I shall have to write my elected representatives concerning this matter. Oh, there goes my pyloric valve again...

At any rate, we posed for the obligatory photo, and headed back down Canal for lunch at Gordon Biersch on Poydras Street.

It was a wonderful lunch. First, the food. I have learned that in any genre of writing in New Orleans, no matter how serious or frivolous, it must include a brief culinary excursus, presented here in the interest of Theology and Geometry...

Dr. Scaer had the Lump Crab Cake Sandwich with spinach and Cajun remoulade, accompanied by Garlic Fries. Mrs. H. and I shared the Barbecue Chicken Pizza: pulled chicken breast, onion, cilantro and mozzarella over our Märzen barbecue sauce. When he was human, Leonidas H. ate the Chicken Tenders and French fries from the children's menu. I don't believe he was eating while transforming into other creatures from the animal kingdom - which is probably best. Most restaurants frown on him eating the other customers.

The food was excellent, the service top-notch, but the company was the best of all. It was a nice leisurely lunch washed down by beer made on-site at the microbrewery, a relaxing meal with delightful conversation.

After the repast, we trekked over to the French Quarter. While en route to the St. Louis Cathedral, who should we run into but the aforementioned Rev. Dr. Jerome Neyrey, S.J.? After a nice visit, we parted company with Fr. Neyrey and took Peter to see the inside of St. Louis Cathedral, that is, after passing a Lucky Dog cart and a few fortune tellers.

We made the obligatoire visit to Cafe du Monde, drank cafe au lait, and ate beignets while the ubiquitous live music filled the air. Afterward, we strolled along the Mississippi River, as street musicians, performers, and a beautiful old riverboat dotted the landscape of our walk. We cut through the Riverwalk, and headed over to the parking lot, where we got into our sleek and stylish Maserati... okay, okay, it's actually a Toyota mini-van. Why let a little thing like truth get in the way of a good story. This is New Orleans, after all, dawlin'.

We dropped Peter off back at the Pere Marquette and said our goodbyes. From my perspective, it was a much too short visit, though we spent some five hours talking about Theology (without the Geometry), getting caught up on mutual friends, as well as engaging other deep intellectual topics such as cartoon characters.

Peter's flight back to Fort Wayne is at three-something in the morning tonight. The big question is whether to sleep and get up at two-something in the morning, or just stay up. I think the best advice came from a sage New Orleanian, whose proverbial wisdom Peter related in a really well-done New Orleans accent (not an easy thing to do):

"You don't come to the Big Easy to sleep, child!"

(left to right: Scaer and Neyrey on St. Peter Street at Jackson Square)

More pictures here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sermon: Last Sunday (Trinity 27)

22 November 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 25:1-13 (Isa 65:17-25, 1 Thess 5:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have reached the end of yet another church year. We also approach the end of another calendar year. We are all indeed another year older, and we are one year closer to the end of the age and the consummation of eternity.

On the one hand, we don’t like to talk about how things will come to an end. It can be almost depressing when a vacation draws to a close. We are terribly uncomfortable in confronting our own mortality. And the thought of how this world will end may even be the stuff of nightmares and anxiety for many of us.

On the other hand, people flock to movies that graphically depict the end of the world. Many Christians spend most of their time in Scripture trying to figure out hidden prophecies and codes, seeking special knowledge about the end of the age. And even the secular world has jumped on this apocalyptic bandwagon, with books and movies promoting hysteria about the year 2012.

But our Lord Jesus tells us not to worry. He tells us that we do not know when He is coming, so the best policy is to just be ready. He teaches us by way of the parable of the ten young women on their way to a wedding. The five wise virgins made sure their lamps were topped off with oil, so that when the bridegroom came, they would be ready. However, the five foolish virgins were not ready. They chose to sleep instead of remaining vigilant. They allowed other things to take priority. And when the bridegroom came “like a thief in the night,” they were not prepared. Instead of a glorious feast, they found a locked door.

Instead of foolishly poring over the Bible looking for signs and codes, the wise will take heed of our Lord’s call to repent, to “keep awake and be sober,” to watch and pray, to fill our lamps with the oil of God’s Word, and to be ready to follow when our Bridegroom calls.

For we are recipients of the greatest gift of all! We are being refashioned and re-formed, re-created for glory in a new heaven and a new earth. Sin, sickness, and death will be no more, and even better, these “former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” There shall be no “sound of weeping,” no “cry of distress.” This is what awaits us at the end of our days in this age.

For to us redeemed, dear friends, death does not mark the end of life. Nor does the end of this age mean the end of existence. Quite to the contrary! When sin and death have drawn to a close, we can truly begin to live. And so for the Christian, the end of the world is not something to fear. For we pray for our Lord to come and to “come quickly.” And nor is death to be a source of dread to us who are in Christ. For we know that “whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” For indeed, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And while the world frets about every sort of imagined disasters, both natural and man-made, such as “climate change,” meteors, melting ice caps, nuclear war, epidemics, food shortages, massive unemployment, alien invasions, and while the world plays to everyone’s fears through movies and books, in colleges and universities, and even in the halls of Congress, our merciful God tells us not to worry.

In fact, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, just after warning these Christians about the end of the world, St. Paul urges them to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

We are not told to build bomb shelters, or move to the mountains, or pore over Mayan ruins looking for clues nor shift our focus from the Gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in Scripture to looking for esoteric theories of biblical prophecy. We are not to wring our hands and become depressed. We are not to throw away our faith and seek pleasures of the flesh while they can still be had. We are not to stop paying our bills and run around like Chicken Little in fear and dread. No indeed! We are to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as [we] are doing.” And if we aren’t doing that, well, thanks be to God that He is giving us the opportunity to repent and to do just that. And thanks be to God that he has given us encouragement by way of the Parable of the Ten Virgins to show us how to await His coming – with preparation as opposed to panic, with the joy of His impending arrival rather than in sleep and slumber.

And in living in readiness, hearing His Word and partaking of His Sacraments, in devoting ourselves to prayer and praise, in giving thanks and in enjoying the Lord’s goodness, in repenting and in receiving His grace and mercy with joy, we realize that we have nothing to dread about any end – be it the “end of the day” or “the end of our life” or “the end of the world.” For we, the redeemed and the beloved of God, know that such ends are good ends – for the end of the day brings us one day closer to glory, the end of our life brings us into that very glory, and the end of the world brings us into that glory with our resurrected body, living in infinite joy for all eternity.

This is how our ancestors in the faith could walk to their deaths singing hymns. This is what gave the martyrs their courage. This is how St. Paul can be ambivalent toward whether he lived or died, knowing that either way, he was submitting to the Lord’s will and working for the sake of the Kingdom. This is how Christians can sing the ancient hymn of evening prayer that is itself a prayer:

Teach me to live that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die that so I may
Rise glorious at the awe-full day.

For we Christians understand that the end of our day, the end of our life, and the end of the world are nothing to fear for us, the Lord’s dear children. And with the ancient church, and especially in these last days, we can continue to pray the magnificent traditional prayer used at the Office of Compline before going to sleep:

Abide with us, Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. Abide with us and with Your whole Church. Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world. Abide with us with Your grace and goodness, with Your holy Word and Sacrament, with Your strength and blessing. Abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near. Abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever. Amen.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lectio caffea

Mrs. H. and I have stumbled on a wonderfully simple way to incorporate God's Word into our addictive morning caffeination routine.

Our quotidian matinal ritual is for me to prepare a large bowl of cappuccino for each of us. While I am loading the grind into the espresso-maker, preparing the milk, gathering our cups and sugar, and beginning the aromatic process of forcing hot water through the delightful concoction of pulverized naturally-drug-laced roasted beans, Mrs. H. reads aloud the appointed lection from the One Year Bible. And we, being good company synodical types, are using the English Standard Version of the OYB.

As it takes about 15 minutes to make our brew (start to finish), and roughly 20 minutes to read the appointed reading for the day, the time is roughly congruent. It typically allows me to join Mrs. H., sit down, and begin sipping during the New Testament portion of the reading.

Mrs. H. just has to either increase the volume or take a short break during the frothing stage (which refers to my steaming of the milk as opposed to Ezekiel railing against the unrepentant). But it works out just fine.

We started roughly a month ago, and given the consistency of our morning addiction, er, routine, it makes for an easy commitment to keep.

The OYB is a particular lesson plan in which each day's readings are grouped together in 365 daily segments from January 1 to December 31. The readings are not in canonical order in one fell swoop, but comprise a four-part lectio continua (continuous reading) in the form of a reading from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, one from the Psalms, and a final reading from Proverbs. Within these categories, the readings are in canonical order. Over the course of the year, the Psalms are read through twice.

This is different than the reading plan from the Treasury of Daily Prayer (which we pray separately) - especially insofar as it is a true lectio divina. The readings flow in order from one day to the next. There is no jumping around, and nothing is skipped as a result of the flexibility of the church calendar. These morning readings are, for us, not quite prayer and not quite Bible study - but they are both studious and meditative nonetheless. We figured that the years are going to pass by anyway, and so five years from now we might as well have read the Bible (at least the 66 books of the Protestant Bible) aloud all the way through five times rather than filling the morning air with smalltalk or yawning. We've really come to look forward to our lectio caffea.

If you would like to try to implement such a plan at your home, I do have a few recommendations:
  • Start now. Don't wait until New Year's Day. By starting now (it is November as I write), you can get the routine well-established before your January First plunge into the initial chapters of Genesis and Matthew. Advent is at hand, so this is a good time to make a trial run and get the kinks worked out before the Kalends of January fall upon us.
  • Pick up the little One Year Bible Companion and read it after the appointed daily readings. It is a very brief (maybe 2 minutes) Q&A for each day. They are almost always helpful mini-discussion questions on the text, though once in a while they reflect a theological bias toward neo-evangelicalism. At very least, they get the gears turning and establish a pattern of consideration and reflection.
  • Read out loud, and if possible, make it a group or family activity. By reading silently, it is too easy to zone out or to scan the reading quickly just to make your obligation. Reading aloud to the family makes you slow down, helps insure group accountability, and, as St. Paul tells us, "faith comes by hearing." Even if you are alone, reading aloud makes use of two senses rather than one. And if you have children, you have the added benefit of them hearing the word of God and seeing Mom and Dad reading the Holy Scriptures together every day.
  • Get a small pronunciation guide. Reading names from ancient foreign languages may be awkward at first, but over time, it will become second nature.
This lectio continua will benefit, and in many cases, complement, your use of another daily prayer resource, such as the TDP. Repetition helps to implant the text into the ear, the mind, and the heart. The more familiar we are with Scripture, the more it affects our vocabulary, worldview, and biblical literacy.

Smokers (and vapers) can take advantage of their own brand of ritualism, especially by adding the Holy Scriptures to the morning cup of coffee and smoke. If you're going to have a habit, you might as well sanctify it.

The OYB is available in many versions - including several "Catholic Editions" that includes the deutero-canonical books, though they are segregated into separate additional readings, which is not the most natural way to incorporate these books into one's continuous reading. The Catholic Editions are also very weak translations, such as the politically-correct New Revised Standard Version used in many, if not most, American Roman Catholic churches.

The OYB is available in the KJV to the delight of both "Jack Chick" Fundamentalists and "Smells and Bells" Gottesdiensters. To the chagrin of Deacon Gaba, however, it is not yet available in a Clementine Vulgate edition.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Gospel According to Oddball

Sgt. Oddball from Kelly's Heroes is obviously a Christian:

Now, but not yet...

"Now" (Jefferson) is on the right, "Not yet" (Nagin) is on the left. "Life" is the magazine, it is not a prison sentence, though it is tempting...

Yesterday's front page of the New Orleans Times Picayune was devoted to crime. That's not news. But this was apparently a special crooked politician (sorry to be redundant) issue. Sorry to be redundantly redundant, but we're talking about two crooked Louisiana politicians. Republicans might find it further redundantly redundant in that these are two crooked Louisiana Democratic politicians, but thanks to the GOP's own "family values" Senator David Vitter, they are quickly running out of stones to throw across the aisle.

Anyway, first the "Now":

Dollar Bill Jefferson, the Congressman who was discovered with $90k in bribe money in the freezer has been sentenced to 13 years. His defense, interestingly, was that his bribery was a private matter, unrelated to his status as a Congressman, and was, therefore, not a crime. I guess this was the "honorable explanation" he was promising before his trial.

And here is the "not yet":

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has been globetrotting on the public dime. Check out the map! As the prosecutions get closer up the ladder of government in the City of New Orleans, Ray would be smart to be scoping out places to seek asylum. He might also want to make sure his freezer only has ice cream in it, hopefully Dollar Bill has coached him on this.

And, since Dollar Bill is out on bond pending appeal, maybe he and Ray will both be sipping margaritas on foreign soil together. They could take in a Roman Polanski film together or something.

Letting these two crooks flee the country might be a better solution than having the public pay even more in order to incarcerate them. Besides, the other people in prison have enough bad role models.

Sermon Trinity 23

15 November 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 22:15-22

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The Pharisees and the Herodians were clever. Their goal was to kill Jesus. And in the Roman Empire, the best way to do this is to get a person to denounce the emperor or discourage the payment of taxes. And since Jews did not worship the emperor like everyone else, and since nobody likes to pay taxes – especially to an occupying enemy – this was a nifty way to get Jesus on the bad side of the Roman authorities – incidentally, the branch of government that had the death penalty.

And so they put Jesus to the test. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not.” Of course, our Lord knew their question was no question at all, but part of a ruse. “Aware of their malice, [He] said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?’” And though He owed them no answer, He used the opportunity to teach us about church and state, about God and mammon, about the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Caesar. For we all live under both secular and divine authority, and they are not always in harmony.

They certainly were not in harmony in the Pagan Roman Empire.

And so when they showed Him the coin, He asked them to describe it. And when they pointed out that the denarius had an image of Caesar on it as well as an imperial inscription, our Blessed Lord told them: “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

His answer was so stunning – not merely in a rhetorical, debate kind of way, but also in its clear exposition of what it means to live under both divine and secular authorities. It is not an either/or situation. But is rather a both/and situation. The Pharisees and the Herodians walked away without the smoking gun they wanted, and yet they “marveled” as the “left Him and went away.”

“Render unto Caesar” has often been repeated by secular authorities to try to bully citizens into a sense of blind obedience about what their government is doing. But the words of Jesus are the Word of God – not the commands of the state. Like the Pharisees and the Herodians, when unbelievers use God’s Word, they are usually repeated out of context, for they are not speaking by enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.

There is a difference between God and Caesar, and there is a difference between the two kingdoms we all live under. The way the state collects taxes is to take that which belongs to you. In the Roman world, the tax collectors were so notoriously dishonest that Jesus Himself uses them as a symbol of those who are outcasts and hated by all. The Roman government didn’t care if tax collectors were thieves – as long as the revenue made its way to the Eternal City.

In our day and age, the federal government has our employers “withhold” a certain percentage of our income to insure compliance. If there is anything left over after we fill out all the paperwork, this remainder is returned to us in the form of a refund that they actually let us keep.

The Kingdom of God works the opposite way. For God owns everything. He is the Creator and Master of all. From the perspective of God, we own nothing. But He shares all with us. He withholds nothing from us. He compels nothing out of us. He does not send tax collectors to take from us. To the contrary, He gives us all things: life, possessions, family, the forgiveness of sins, and an eternal inheritance in His kingdom. And even though we are indebted to Him by virtue of our sins, He forgives the entire debt and pays us infinitely instead, purely by grace.

The state operates under compulsion. The Church operates under love. The state takes under penalty of the law. The Church gives that which has been given to her under the Gospel. The Kingdom of Caesar demands payments for services rendered – all from the fruits of your own labors. The Kingdom of God asks only for grateful thank offerings for that which is given to you freely apart from works.

And yet, in this fallen world, we must render to Caesar – even if under protest, even if grudgingly, even if Caesar is wicked. But in the Lord’s kingdom, we are to be cheerful givers, ever willing to share with our brothers and sisters in Christ from our abilities according to their needs, both in what the Lord has gifted to us as wealth and what He has given us in our skills. Being rich beyond measure in the Lord’s kingdom, we can share and share and never run out of blessings from above.

But notice how the Kingdom of Caesar has distorted “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.” This distortion of Holy Scripture was coined by Karl Marx. And it has been used to try to turn our Lord Jesus into a Communist revolutionary or a Fascist dictator. However, the Lord’s Kingdom, unlike the Utopia envisioned by Communism and Socialism, does not operate under compulsion. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of liberty, not of brutality; a kingdom of life, not of death. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace, not of force.

The Lord has blessed all of us richly. We live in a land where Christians are not persecuted, where we are free to preach and teach, where our churches are not taxed or regulated by Caesar, living in homes that are the envy of most people on the planet. We are blessed with technology and entertainment, free time and the ability to travel. We have choice beyond measure when it comes to food and clothing. And while your Uncle Sam is always there with his hand out, as he has already withheld what you owe him, your Heavenly Father is always ready to give you more. The Son holds His nail-imprinted hand out as well, not to take, but to bless, not to compel with a fist, but to grab your hand and pull you out of the clutches of the evil one.

And all the Lord has ever requested for the work of the Kingdom is not the 30, 40, or 50% that Caesar demands, but rather a paltry 10% for the sake of the Lord’s work.

The earthly government can never spend its billions of dollars in taxes in a way that will please everybody. Many people want the government to run health care, while others do not. Many want government-funded abortions, while others do not. Many want the government to be involved in faith-based initiatives, while others do not. And the political arguments involving these things can divide families, cities, and even churches.

But the Lord’s kingdom, funded by our thankfulness to the Lord, by our denying ourselves a little for the sake of giving to the Lord, goes toward keeping this local parish operating, so that the Word can be preached and the sacraments can be administered; so that people may be taught God’s Word, and so that those with special needs – such as the shut-in and the aged, the sick and the temped, the suffering and the depressed – may receive the spiritual care they need. And if you’re not one of these people, you may well be tomorrow. We also give to support missionary work, so that the Gospel may be preached to all nations, so that others may find the grace of God by which we have been blessed.

We give from our abilities, not because Karl Marx commands us that we must, but because the Lord tenderly invites us as His chosen people to do so. And we receive from the Lord according to our needs not because it is a government entitlement, but rather because we are children of the King and we have the Lord’s promise to deliver to us that which government can’t – the “peace which the world cannot give.”

And unlike that which we give to Caesar, nothing is wasted. Even the widow who placed her two pennies in the poor box did not offer her sacrifice of praise and thanks in vain. For truly she received a reward from the Lord for her love, for serving and trusting Him instead of herself.

Ultimately, that’s the difference between Caesar and God, and between their respective kingdoms. Even the best worldly governments do not love us. Even the most honest and popular of the presidents have not been crucified for us sinful men in order to save us.

And though we may pay taxes patriotically and even with love of country, it is indeed a very different thing to “[render to] God the things that are God’s,” things that are His to begin with, to offer of ourselves without compulsion to our Lord, who has given us all things, who withholds nothing from us, who runs no Internal Revenue Service, who requires no works on our part in order to be saved, and who has made all of us heirs of His kingdom which will have no end. Amen.

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nothing says: "We don't really believe this stuff" better than...

...carving a gargoyle of "Darth Vader" on the side of your "cathedral."

If the ones who claim to be Christians don't take their sacred spaces and their faith seriously, why should anyone else? Is it any wonder our churches are emptying in the west?

Read the rest here, where your comments are welcome.

When guns are outlawed...

Here is a sobering warning about tyranny.

This is exactly what happens when governments outlaw firearms, when juries (largely thanks to public school indoctrination) are ignorant of their right to nullify such verdicts (instead of spending 20 minutes to obediently send an innocent man to prison for five years), and when brain-dead bureaucrats are permitted to exercise power.

The people of the UK fell asleep at the switch, and the Americans are not far behind.

This is yet another reminder that one should never make any statement to the police without legal representation.

If there is any sane person in the entire British legal system, this man will be cleared - which is why I'm not optimistic.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2012 or Why is This Man Not Smiling?

This poor guy. He is a Mayan Indian elder who is tired of being barraged about the 2012 myth.

Even if the Mayan calendar were accurate, it does not date 2012 as the end of the world. And even if it did, why are some Christians looking to sorcery and false religions to validate their end-times hysteria and ever-changing formulas?

And why is anyone still buying the 1970 pop-prophecy primer The Late Great Planet Earth, when the author was shortly thereafter to publish The 1980s, Countdown to Armageddon? Now, I know the 1980s included spandex, mullets, and Wham! (yikes!), but even with those abominations, the world did not end before Seattle grunge went mainstream. Interestingly, 1980s Countdown is no longer in print (Hmm. I wonder why not...) - but you can get used copies for as low as a penny.

And get ready for the hype to continue thanks to the 2012 movie that is coming out soon.

Make no mistake. Time is moving toward a finite end. The world is running down. We are living in the last days. Jesus will return. But the reality will be far different than the escapists and enthusiasts (who have tried to turn the Bible into a Nicholas Cage movie) imagine and sell to people as genuine Biblical prophecy. There will be no rapture. Jesus will not come back two more times, nor set up a literal thousand year kingdom - which will come to an end. The "last things" have nothing to do with the modern State of Israel. But as we have in the past, we Christians will endure persecution to the end. We will continue to suffer the results of this fallen world until the end of time and the beginning of eternity.

There have been all sorts of ever-changing speculations from the 19th century to the present - especially among American cults and sects - about the exact date of the end of the world. And when their predictions don't materialize, excuses get made, new dates are selected, a few leaders take the fall, new people are found to buy the line, and the great snake-oil show continues - to the detriment of the faith of the many who have been duped.

But we Christians know better than heed such nonsense.

As we Christians have prayed since the first century: "Come, Lord Jesus! Amen."

C.F.W. Walther Quote

"The second type of so-called orthodox Christians, on the contrary, maintains that with Christ, a person can continue to sin safely. These individuals portray Christ as a servant of sin. They, too, have a false Christ in their heart. Christ wants to cover our sins, but He also wants to take them away. He wants to clothe us with His righteousness, but He also wants to take shape in us, to be the High Priest who reconciles us with God, and to be the King who rules over and in us. He suffered and died to atone for our sins, but He also rose and ascended into heaven that He might live in us and we in Him and so we might walk in new life." *God Grant It!* p. 888

HT: The Rev. William Weedon

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Bonerama in Gretna!

Friday night we were treated to yet another free concert as part of our Back to the River Fall Concert series. And what a treat it was! Bonerama played a full set at the Mississippi River levee in Gretna where Huey P. Long Avenue meets the ferry station.

The river is unusually high for this time of year, so the stage was moved from the amphitheater inside the levee itself to a few feet outside the levee. The slight change in venue did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the huge crowd, nor did it compromise in any way the genius and musicality of this New Orleans institution.

Bonerama is a jazz/funk/brass/blues/rock ensemble consisting of a guitarist, bass player, keyboardist, drummer, and three singers/trombone players. Yes, three trombonists - hence the name. And man, are these guys good. They're scary good.

You might think such a line-up would come off gimmicky or trite. No way. They are polished musicians who know how to perform and squeeze every decibel of energy and joy from their horns.

I had seen them perform a couple times before at the Gretna Heritage Festival, and was blown away (pun intended). I'm especially fond of their rendition of Whipping Post - which they reprised for us Friday night. But the pinnacle of the evening was when they closed the show with their version of Led Zeppelin's When The Levee Breaks. The above video of a performance at another venue doesn't do the song justice. For a mere $9.95 you can order their latest CD with Levee on it, or download the album here for $4.95.

Levee is the perfect Bonerama song. It has bluesy vocals, tight harmonies, extended musical intricacies, and a section in which the three horns play in uncanny unison (beginning around 8:45 on the above video). Even Leo, who normally can take it or leave it, sat perched on my shoulders mesmerized. After the band finished playing When the Levee Breaks, Leo opined: "That was awesome. I likeded it!"

Of course, brass music, the blues, and songs about levees breaking are quintessentially New Orleans. It is an especially poignant number when performed on the river in plain view of the Superdome, the Crescent City Connection, the ferry running over to the French Quarter, and the skyline of the City. People of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and walks of life danced, sang, and enjoyed food and, er, beverages together. Children played tag, threw balls, and rolled down the hill.

There is a good number of Bonerama videos on YouTube. You can see them perform such diverse songs as: Helter Skelter, Tchfunkta, The Star Spangled Banner (from Super Bowl 2008), Bap Bap, War Pigs, I'm Walkin', as well as a video of a Letterman appearance. And here is a recent article about them in the Times-Picayune.

And of course, all their albums are for sale here. And no, Father H. Does not get a penny. I just think these guys rock, and I want to share the joy.

I really came to appreciate the remarkable flexibility and sound of the trombone while at the seminary, as the bones were often played with the organ at chapel services and in accompaniment with our Kantorei choir. In fact, I sang in Kantorei with a classmate, a friend, a countryman of my wife and son, and now a pastor in Michigan who opted against a professional musical career and instead answered the call to serve in the parish ministry: the Reverend Jon Bakker. Jon showed up at my ordination at Zion Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne with his trombone in hand and accompanied Michael Hollman on the organ. It was a great ordination gift and a testimony to the Lord's gift of music and musicians.

Sermon: Trinity 22

8 November 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 18:21-35 (Micah 6:6-8, Phil 1:3-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord’s parable gets to the heart of the Christian faith: the forgiveness of sins.

Satan loves for people to misunderstand Christianity – both inside and outside of the Church. If you ask a hundred people what the point of Christianity is, you’re likely to get one hundred and one different answers.

People often think the main point of Christianity is to get to heaven when they die, or to make us better people, or to create an ethical society. Some believe it is to teach young people morals, or to perform acts of charity, or to provide a social network for adults and children to have fun. Some believe Christianity is mainly a way to learn facts and figures about the Bible or to provide the United States with a worldview in support of the Constitution.

But all of these miss the point.

The point is to rid ourselves, the Church, and the entire world of the one thing that destroys: sin. Sin corrupted the Lord’s perfect creation. Sin makes us live in a world filled with heartache, sickness, and sorrow. Sin is the very reason for death.

In His mercy, God chose to fix us, rather than throw us in the garbage and replace us. It is often cheaper to get something new rather than mend the old – but the latter is the more loving solution – especially when we are the ones in need of repair.

The Christian faith is about God Himself taking up the needle and thread and sowing our broken bodies and souls back together, and in the process, His own hands are pierced, and His own blood from his own broken body is spilled on our broken bodies and souls. We are being repaired of our sins, and sin can only be fixed by forgiveness.

And so the entire point of the faith is for God to take flesh, for God to die for us as the one all-availing sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, and for the world to be repaired, with all of our sins being forgiven – all by the merciful and nail-scarred hands of God in the flesh.

And though the following are not the goals of Christianity, they are wonderful results of the forgiveness of sins: the hope of eternal life, growing in faith and love, and the cultivation of a worldview based on good rather than evil. Young people are indeed instructed in wisdom, the hungry are fed, and the Body of Christ becomes a community in which to work and play. And in the context of the forgiveness of sins, learning Scripture is a devotion, a meditation, a discipline of prayer, and not the mere acquisition of trivia. And when people in this country and elsewhere turn to the Lord in the forgiveness of sins, we fulfill our mandate to bring the Gospel to all nations, giving us a yet more glorious citizenship in heaven.

Of course, it is all too easy to miss the point, as St. Peter did when he asked our Lord “How often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Peter was seeking a benchmark. For he saw forgiving his brother as a chore, a legalistic hoop to jump through. He wanted to know when he had done enough, in other words, when he could stop doing it.

Our Lord’s reply, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” is a way of saying we can never stop. Mathematical purists can interpret the Lord’s reply as “infinity” and young children might see it as a “bezillion billion million” times.

Forgiving sins is not a chore. It is not something for us to put on our to-do list. There is no merit badge after we have completed so many forgivenesses of sins. Rather forgiveness is a way of life. It is a constant practice, because it is what we Christians have had done for us. The Lord’s parable puts it all into perspective.

In His parable, the main character, a servant, owes the king “ten thousand talents” – a comically huge sum. Our Lord might just as well have said “a bezillion billion million dollars.” Of course, the servant can’t even begin to hope to even service the debt, let alone pay off the principal. The king prepares to liquidate the debt by selling the servant and his family. The pitiful servant pleads pathetically: “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”

Of course, this is impossible, but thanks to the king’s “pity” – in the Greek, “being moved by compassion,” the King “released him and forgave him the debt.” The word translated as “released” conveys the sense of being liberated from shackles. Anyone who has ever been in debt knows exactly what our Lord means. “Forgiveness” means setting the scales back to zero from a “bezillion billion million.”

The servant, however, is also himself a creditor. Having been forgiven, being what is essentially the recipient of more money than anyone could ever earn or spend in a lifetime, we would expect the servant to have learned a lesson about pity and compassion, about patience and forgiveness, about humility and empathy. But not so. There is no conversion, no Christmas goose and a trip to Bob Cratchet’s home in this tale.

The unforgiving servant finds a fellow servant who owes him “a hundred denarii” – a large amount of money, but not an unrealistic amount that the ungrateful servant was forgiven. But instead of being moved with compassion, the servant has forgotten the grace shown to him. He becomes greedy to the point of violence. He had his own debtor thrown into prison. A fate shared by the unforgiving servant himself when the master revoked his grace and forgiveness and treated the unforgiving servant in the same way.

And in this short tragedy, our Blessed Lord explains that forgiveness is not a chore, a series of deeds that can be tabulated and benchmarked, but is rather a way of life. It is freely and liberally received and is to be freely and liberally given. He says that forgiveness is to be “from your heart.”

Dear Christians, we have been forgiven a debt of infinity. The deficit has been filled by the blood of Christ – which is of infinite value and is not for sale. We are the servant who has been forgiven the astronomical sum through the Father’s pity and mercy, grace and compassion. We have been released by virtue of the Son’s passion and death. We have been called to “go and do likewise” by the Holy Spirit’s calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying.

We would all do well to meditate on the Ten Commandments, as our sinful nature always seeks to minimize our own sins and maximize those of others – when the Lord’s teaching bids us to do the very opposite. Our own sins are as ten thousand talents, while those who sin against us as a mere hundred denarii. And since we have been forgiven all of our sins, since we have been given a gift too large to number – how can we, the forgiven, justify our own bloodthirst and demands for justice for our own sake?

And so, dear friends, as a result of this great forgiveness, the Christian faith is not a chore, but a labor of love, a life of redemption and service. We make no sacrifice seeking forgiveness, but rather our sacrifices are thank offerings, Eucharistic sacrifices of walking “humbly with your God,” seeking how we can serve the cause of justice and in love of kindness.

Instead of seeking reward, our good works seek only to spread the kingdom, to serve others in need, to offer our thanks to our merciful Lord, and to partake in the Lord’s transformation of creation unto its once and future state of perfection. Our forgiving others a bezillion billion million times, our living a humble life of daily repentance and forgiveness, our giving of mercy even as it has been shown boundlessly to us, are all part and parcel of our Christian life of thanksgiving and praise.

This is the very essence of the Christian faith. All of the impediments to a new heaven and a new earth – all sin, and all the resulting sickness, disease, and death – are being rolled away as we await the consummation of our Lord’s Kingdom. We already have our dwellings assigned in the New Eden, and there is no mortgage, for as we pray in Blessed Martin Luther’s Eucharistic hymn:

All our debt Thou hast paid;
Peace with God once more is made.

O Lord, have mercy!

And it is St. Paul’s prayer that our...

love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that [we] may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.


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

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Workers of the world, unite?

If the president of the United States, his political party, and labor unions don't want to be tainted with Socialism, they might want to stop citing Marxist slogans and advocating a Leninist and Stalinist view of government and private property.

But maybe there is no way to do this without selling out their own philosophy.

Why do Socialists/Communists/Marxists always think it can work here and will never end up being a brutal totalitarian dictatorship that results in not only a loss of liberty, but poverty for all? Look at Marxist track record. Why do American Socialists they think American Socialism will not end up the same way as it has in the former USSR, its former satellites, Cuba, and North Korea? The only reasons China and Vietnam are becoming prosperous is because they are moving away from collectivist economics and moving in the direction of free markets and private property.

Don't these people read? Do they have eyes in their heads?

Is this guy an ignorant fool or a corrupt liar? He has to be one or the other. And if either is true, should the president of the United States be so interested in him?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Leo the Yellow Jumping Spider on WVUE-8

... as in 8 legs and 8 eyes.

Note: Click on the first little picture ("Halloween in NOLA"), the one with the pic of the guy's face made up like the Joker, and you'll get the little story about the Audubon Insectarium.

Sermon: All Saints

1 November 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 5:1-12 (Rev 7:2-17, 1 John 3:1-3)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In our Blessed Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, he relates a series of “Blesseds” – known by their Latin name, the Beatitudes. It’s interesting that the Lord sets the fulfillment of almost all of the Beatitudes in the future.

In other words, those who mourn will be comforted. But not yet. The meek shall inherit the earth. But not yet. They who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. But not yet. The merciful will find mercy, the pure in heart shall see God, the peacemakers shall be called sons of God. The completion of all of these blessings are set at some future time.

But notice that the Lord never says: “Blessed will be those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness…” The Lord declares that the suffering, those who struggle to remain faithful, those who are beaten and battered by the world and by sin, “are” blessed.

Dear Christians, we are blessed now, even though the fruits of those blessings are “not yet.”

But the Lord does set one of the fruits of the beatitudes in the present: when He says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” for “theirs is,” not “shall be,” but rather “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

You, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, you possess the kingdom, right now, even in your poverty of spirit and in your being persecuted for the faith. For these are true marks of the Church. No Christian escapes the sinking suspicion that his own spirit is poor, that he has nothing to offer God in himself but a beggar in rags. Likewise, no Christian escapes persecution for the faith from the hostile world, from the hateful devil, and from his own defiled flesh. And yet, the Lord in His mercy does not withhold the kingdom from you.

For as we Lutherans around the world sang either yesterday or last Sunday, even in spite of persecution:

And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our vict’ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.

The kingdom belongs to the Lord’s Church, the Lord’s redeemed, the Lord’s saints. Not at the end of the world, not after we have become perfect, but now, even in our woeful poverty of spirit and in our shameful persecution.

It may not look like it to our tear-stained eyes, but the kingdom is ours, and it is ours now. And yet we look forward to the day when “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.” For when the beatitudes are completed and brought to fruition by our Blessed Lord, we will be comforted, we will inherit the earth, we will be satisfied, we will receive mercy, we will see God, and we will be called sons of God – even as we partake in our reward in heaven.

These are promises for the future spoken by the mouth of God Himself, and we can rely on Him.

And yet, even in the present, in spite of the fallen world and the mockery of Satan, we are “blessed” in the here and now. It is our kingdom in the here and now. Because Jesus is our King in the here and now.

St. John was given a vision of the Church, that is, of us. In his heavenly and beatific vision, the holy apostle saw “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” This is the direct result of the Lord’s command to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” The preaching of the twelve has borne fruit and multiplied, and that fruit has likewise borne fruit and multiplied. And so in John’s vision, the Lord’s handpicked twelve has each been multiplied a thousand times over.

And in this vision, the multitudinous Church is no longer weak and poor in spirit and persecuted. In fact, she is victorious. She who formerly sang feebly in many tongues in discord, now eternally sings with one voice in one language and in perfect harmony: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

And yet, this vision of triumph was not always so.

One of the elders asks John the identity of this jubilant choir. He then explains to John that these are they whose robes were formerly dirty in their poverty of spirit. These are they who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Their poverty of spirit has been replaced by richness beyond imagining. And these are they “coming out of the great tribulation.” For they have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Their persecution has been replaced by vindication and comfort.

For on this side of the grave, they were tempted from within and pressured from without to be separated from the Lamb and from their brothers and sisters in the worship of the Lamb. But in eternity, “they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.”

On this side of the grave, they were subjected to hunger and thirst and torture of the elements. But in eternity, “[t]hey shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.”

And this is how we can say with St. John “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” John does not emphasize that we will be called sons of God (even as our Lord does in His sermon), but points out to us that the reality of being called sons of God in eternity coexists with the reality that we are “children of God” in the here and now.

And this, dear friends, is an act of love on the part of our Father. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us.”

The world who hates the Church and persecutes the Church does so because the world does not know Christ. And this is why the world does not know us either. The world persecutes Christ when it persecutes the Church, for “we shall be like Him.”

And the Church has been poor in spirit, and has suffered persecution for nearly two thousand years. We look upon the Church with the eyes of faith, as an article of faith, for there is no other explanation for the continued existence of this assembly of the poor in spirit and the persecuted. For she clings to the promises of her Bridegroom, looking upon Him not with her tear-filled eyes, but rather with the promise-holding blessed eyes of faith.

And when the kingdom is brought to fulfillment, when our persecution gives way to praise, and when our poverty is exchanged for riches, those same eyes will be wiped dry, for we “shall see God, whom [we] shall see for [ourselves],
and [our] eyes shall behold.” And as we wait for that blessed day:

Now let us worship our Lord and our King,
Joyfully raising our voices to sing;
Praise to the Father, and praise to the Son,
Praise to the Spirit, to God, Three in One.


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