Friday, July 31, 2009

Why Seminary Still Matters

Did Jesus actually reveal name of the 'antichrist'?

This is the kind of "exegesis" you can expect when your pastors are no longer seminary-trained, but are instead run through a few internet classes, and when they can no longer read Hebrew and Greek.

This little clip is also dedicated to the handful of my seminary classmates who felt that learning biblical languages was a waste of time, as well as to my classmates who goofed off and played the "cooperate and graduate" card because they did not believe academic preparation for the ministry was important.

Traditional is always, always, always better...

I know such absolute declarations frighten Lutherans. But this is all the proof you need.

While vestments are indeed typically adiaphora ("indifferent things," i.e. things neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture), there are times when they are not.
"Likewise, when there are useless, foolish displays, that are profitable neither for good order nor Christian discipline, nor evangelical propriety in the Church, these also are not genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference." FC SD X:7
Leitourgia Divina adiaphora non est.

HT: Greg at The Holy Cause.

Dismantling the Empire

The United States has a lot in common with the Roman Empire.

Our country is not only a "world player," but an international hegemon, the last standing Superpower - similar to Rome's status after defeating Carthage. Our language is the lingua franca of the world. Our culture is exported around the globe. Our money is the international standard. Immigrants flock to our shores. For better or worse, we are the world's policeman, with military garrisons in every corner of the world.

Like Rome, we have a multi-ethnic, diverse culture that is convinced of its own superiority - not based on race, but rather based on our nationality. We even have a word for it: "Americanism." We routinely speak of America as the greatest nation in the history of the world - even if we've never been to another country or have read very little by way of world history. We tend to see people from other countries as "barbarians" - or at very least, as being our inferiors.

As with Rome, we are also a religiously diverse people. There is, for the most part, a tolerance of all religions, provided that one is not "exclusive" about it. There is a great and increasing social pressure to be syncretistic, to see all religions as equal. It is not uncommon to see school children praying around a flagpole, and for the flag to be displayed near the altar in churches.

We are also a very militaristic people. As the Roman eagle went well beyond the provincial borders of the empire, so too does the American eagle fly beyond our union of states. Our hegemony, our imperium, depends on military might - which is expensive. Large sectors of the economy, many of which are well-connected politically, depend on vast government expenditures on what President General Eisenhower termed the Military-Industrial Complex.

In many ways, the constitutional restrictions that defined the Old Republic have fallen by the wayside. The executive branch, which under the republican model, shares power with the judicial and the legislative, is becoming increasingly powerful, with the President of the United States almost occupying a deified status not unlike the Caesars - often identified even by civilians by his military title: "The Commander in Chief." As in the days of Rome, there are advocates of restoring the republic, even eloquent statesmen within the government itself, but their voices are often trumped by the well-connected, those who benefit from government contracts and largesse.

And now, like the Roman Empire, we are finding our economy at the breaking point - as the citizens at home demand government funded bread, circuses, and health care, and our military establishment seeks to increase our interests abroad. Both federal and state levels of government are under a crushing burden of debt. Just a generation ago, we were the richest country in the world, the world's largest creditor. Today we are the world's largest debtor. The money in our pockets, unbacked by gold or any commodity, is only worth what Chinese and other international investors are willing to pay for American treasury notes in what is, in effect, a futures market for our debt. We have become only a step from being slaves for sale to foreigners.

This identical thing happened in Rome as the empire was on the wane. In an attempt to prop up the failing economy of the tottering apparatus spread too thin by spending too much (largely on politically-motivated military expenditures), the government adopted the policy of a vast stimulus package that included the government's devaluing of the currency and paradoxically seeking to spend its way out of debt.

This did not solve the problem, but only hastened the demise.

As the Roman Empire crumbled, its once-invincible defenses of its own borders began to crumble, as the Senate and People of Rome began to live in fear of invasions of the barbarians they once held in check hundreds of miles away by what seemed at the time to be unlimited military might. We're seeing some of this kind of thing today.

At this point, we still have some control. Our economy has not yet totally collapsed. We still have the personnel and the hardware to protect our own borders, even if being the military police of the world is threatening to deplete all of our resources. We must re-prioritize and redeploy our resources in ways that will protect our borders but not bring us to economic ruin. We can't simply continue to live in the Pollyanna world that says we can eat our cake and have it too.

Here is an outstanding article that provides not merely historical background and analysis, but also a practical plan of transition for us to prevent a total collapse of our economy, way of life, and perhaps even our political independence by facing reality, by fiscal realism and conservatism, and by doing what is best for the country and not what is best for lobbyists, congressmen, and those who benefit from the Military-Industrial Complex.

The amount of money we spend maintaining our hegemony is astronomical. We simply do not have the resources to continue this spree of the Democrat Party's welfare state and the Republican Party's warfare state. Frankly, it should be obvious that we don't have the money to fund either party's vision of the Superstate. We're broke. The pax americana is over.

If we don't start acting responsibly, and very soon, we will one day turn on FOX and CNN and see that the country really has been overthrown by invaders whom we used to occupy as part of our own empire. They will be angry, and they will seek revenge. We will be helpless to do anything about it. We will look out the window and see another flag flying on the pole. But unlike the invaders of Rome (as St. Augustine details in Book One of his own "blog" responding as a Christian pastor to the fall of Rome in The City of God), our new masters will not likely be tempered by Christian ethics.

Maybe we should take charge of things now instead of living in the fantasyland of partisan soundbites and "can do" slogans from both sides of the aisle.

The Romans were also a people who thoroughly believed "Yes, we can!" But one day, they couldn't.

St. Augustine on Government

The City of God, by St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430 AD), Book IV. Chapter 4:

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms?

The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity.

Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, "What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor."

What is this?

What is it that people (usually young, but not always so young) so often do as soon as anyone wants to take a picture?

They affect this ridiculous looking pout and scrunch their hands up like they have arthritis - sometimes along with cocking one's head.

This is the goofiest thing!

Sometimes even little kids often do it as soon as they see a camera.

I understand the "rabbit ears" prank. I get the peace sign. I get the muscle-flexing pose. I can even understand the gesture the Romans called the "digitus medius." But that whole "pout and arthritis" thing is just plain out there.

It just makes people look like there is something wrong with them. It makes them look ugly. Maybe that's the point. We live in a weird culture where people will spend thousands on cosmetic surgery to look better, but when they get their picture taken, they will contort their faces, adopt a pose of scoliosis, and make their hands look crippled.

Maybe one of FH's readers can make sense of these...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

LiveMocha Update

I had previously blogged about LiveMocha, the international community of people studying languages and helping one another, and I'm really enjoying it!

I enrolled in the (free) beginning French class, after realizing just how rusty I had become - in spite of three years of High School study, a French-Canadian wife, and years of practice with my sainted (and très Française) grandmother-in-law who didn't speak English. Mrs. H. and I are trying to speak as much French as we can at home to help Garçon de Lion pick up his ancestral tongue with as much facility as possible.

So far, I am 55% done with French 101. It is a very helpful review, which I'm supplementing with another French text.

The really cool thing about LiveMocha is having native speakers (and also fellow students) critique your writing and speaking - as well as the ability to do live chat (which I have not done) and written messages with your "friends."

And some of my "friends" really are becoming friends - not to mention excellent language instructors.
  • Andréanne is a 15-year old Québecoise who is native in French, fluent in English, and intermediate in Spanish. She is a meticulous and thorough tutor, lavish with praise, and equally unflinching with criticism.
  • Eric is a 36-year old Swiss who is native in French and a beginner in English, German, Spanish, and Russian.
  • HoSeok is a North Korean who is (obviously) native in Korean, as well as being advanced in English. He is a beginner in Russian, Farsi, Esperanto, German, and Arabic!
  • Jean Marie is a real character, a 60-year old French musician and artist who lives in a small house near Bordeaux and is building a shed to use as a studio. He is a huge help with my French, and he is also an intermediate student of English.
  • Louis is a really helpful tutor. He is a native Québecois who has lived in British Columbia for more than 20 years. He is about my age, is a member of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), is native in French, fluent in English, and is himself a beginner in Spanish and Italian. He is always very encouraging and thorough.
  • Micrurus is a 30-year old Peruvian guy who is native in Spanish, fluent in Latin (!), English, and German, is intermediate in Sanskrit (!) and French, and is a beginner in Russian, Portuguese, and Italian.
  • Vladimir is a 31-year old Russian who is a beginner in English. He often submits his work to me for evaluation and review - and he works very hard to get the pronunciation and accent right. His dedication is quite an inspiration, especially given the difficulty and quirks of English - which of course uses a different alphabet than his native language.
I have other friends as well, some of whom are native and fluent in Scandinavian languages. LiveMocha does not currently have a Swedish course, but I am looking forward to when they do (they do have a lot of Scandinavian members) so I can brush up on it as well.

LiveMocha currently offers classes in Arabic, Bulgarian, Dutch, English, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Ukranian - with more courses on the way.

Each time you submit an exercise to be reviewed, you are expected to review the work of an English student - which generally takes only a couple minutes. It is all about give and take, about learning from, and with, a worldwide community, alongside people of every imaginable background and cultural circumstance.

I continue to be impressed, and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn, review, or practice languages - or if you just want to make international friends. LiveMocha is très cool!

A Confession...

I'm not a good Lutheran.

All this talk about "beer" and male bonding at the White House over a beer has made me ponder my own iniquity as a Lutheran.

I have maybe consumed a half-dozen beers in the past year. I have a little fridge in my office that has beers in it from last year's Oktoberfest. Wait, we didn't have one last year! Those beers must be going on two years old. I wonder if they're bad...

See what I mean?

I had a beer with my dad once (when I was maybe 25 years old) at the Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio Oktoberfest. I was pretty proud of myself for getting more than halfway through the plastic cup. My poor Pop!

In fact, I was not converted to beer-drinking until seminary. We had a custom known as Gemuetlichkeit - a German word that means "goodtimeliness" or some such. It is the German version of the Cajun: "Laissez les bons temps rouler!" ("Let the good times roll!"). Every Friday after Vespers, we had a couple of kegs from Mad Anthony's, a local Fort Wayne microbrewery. Seminary students, their wives, and professors would drink beer and talk theology for hours. It was great fun, edifying, and became like another elective class. It also provided opportunities to get to know the men we would be serving with as parish pastors. And it did, as I said, bring me to a conversion of sorts.

But since leaving seminary, I have backslidden into my old Baptist ways.

But then I saw this beer. And, being a traditionalist Lutheran and a student of the French and Latin languages, I had to buy a sixpack and try it. After all, it is Belgian, it comes from L'Abbaye de Leffe, and the beer dates back to "Anno 1240" - which is actually older than the Heinekens in my fridge.

It's a lovely beer. I don't have the technical vocabulary to explain what it tastes like, so I'll just say that I really like it, and you can try it for yourself. If you want an expert review, here is one.

You can read more about it here. The remarkable (and tragic) story of the Leffe Abbey and its tumultuous eight centuries of monasticism and beer can be found here, in this series of short online videos. Pilgrims and tourists can visit the Abbey, and more information is available here.

But even if you can't make a journey to Belgium, you can still vicariously take part in the Abbey's rich history by ordering yourself a Leffe.

As part of my penance, I'm trying to be more vigilant in upholding our Lutheran traditions...

Help Needed for Russian Lutherans

Lutherans were numerous in Russia from the sixteenth century Reformation until they were virtually wiped out by the Communists. However, following the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Christians have a lot more freedom in the formerly-Communist countries - including Russia itself. This includes the Lutherans, who have once again emerged in Russia.

Please take a look at this appeal for help.

I knew several of the fine men who studied in Fort Wayne in the Russian Project (not to mention the dedicated and godly professor, Rev. Dr. Tim Quill, who was in charge of the project). These men, who are now pastors, are devout and dedicated to our Lord, His Church, and the Gospel. They work under difficult circumstances, and if the seminary at Novosibirsk is allowed to fall, it could make things very difficult for the Lutherans in Russia.

If you can't support them financially, please pray fervently for our brothers and sisters in Russia!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kurt Marquart's "Liturgical Commonplaces"

Lutheran Blogger Wild Boar of the Forest has posted a link to this prescient October 1978 article (CTQ 42:4) by the sainted Rev. Prof. Kurt Marquart called "Liturgical Commonplaces."

The article is worth a fresh read, especially now that 31 years have passed, and we have been through two new hymnals since the article was written. It is classic Marquart: scholarly without being pedantic, deep without being ponderous, witty without being flippant.

To read the rest, click here at Gottesdienst Online. Feel free to offer comments there.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Just 'cuz...

Or, if you prefer a little more Nwahlunzy version...

Poor Politicians

This quote about politicians may be the best since the days of Mark Twain and Will Rogers.

Monroe Street Cafe

Monroe Street Cafe, photo: West Bank Living.

Nice meals don't have to be pretentious or expensive, and they can (and often are) served in small, family-owned and operated restaurants located in residential neighborhoods. The Monroe Street Cafe is one such place here in Gretna, located at 1038 Monroe Street.

Below, thanks to Google Maps Street View, is a 360 degree view of the Monroe Street Cafe and its immediate environs (you can point your mouse and drag it around for a virtual tour):

View Larger Map

A parishioner treated the Hollywoods to a brunch after Divine Service this past Sunday, and it would be an understatement to say that we were impressed! This was our second visit to MSC, but our first time having their Sunday Morning Brunch.

Brunch consists of the following served over several courses:

Tomato or orange juice cocktail (basically non-alcoholic Bloody Marys or Mimosas)
Fresh Fruit Compote
Shrimp Remoulade
Eggs Benedict
Breakfast Sausage
Ham and Cheese Elfair
Roasted Garlic Grits
Biscuits and Jam
Coffee or Tea
Pecan Delight

We were unable to finish the meal, and boxed up the rest which we enjoyed anew this morning. The food was all home-made, fresh, spiced just right, and served with a flair for presentation. The entire brunch costs $13.99 per person!

We were blown away. Each course was absolutely perfect.

MSC is small, with only a few tables - but almost every table was full. The chef makes a point to greet each guest and ask about the food. He obviously loves what he does. His wife was serving as the cashier, and his daughter was our waitress. The service was not only on the ball, but friendly. Obviously, they all have a stake in the restaurant, and were not just "doing a job" to earn a subsistence paycheck in a corporate franchise. In such an intimate setting, you can pretty much hear the conversations of the others in the restaurant, and not surprisingly, the main topic of discussion was the food on the table! The ambiance is casual, and yet elegant. It is relaxed without sacrificing the fresh flowers and crystal.

MSC also offers a full compliment of espresso drinks, as well as pastries and desserts made on-site. And they also serve pizza. I have not tried any of these, but I really look forward to doing so. You can also order take-out. Monroe Street Cafe has set the bar high for future visits.

Here is an outstanding review in West Bank Living. But be careful, the pictures alone will make you hungry!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 7

26 July 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 8:1-9 (Gen 2:7-17, Rom 6:19-23)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?” Doctor Luther asks in the Small Catechism. Of course, his question is specifically aimed at Holy Communion, but we can ponder the good doctor’s question in another context: the Fall in the Garden of Eden.

For gardens are places where plants grow – and Eden was a place where food literally rained from the trees, “pleasant to the sight and good for food” – food which practically fell into the mouths of Adam and Eve with no work, no worry, no weeding, no tilling, no toil, and no struggle against disease and disaster.

And, there was no death. Even had Adam and Eve avoided eating, they would not have starved. They did not know what it was to be faint, sick, hungry, or in peril of death. They did not know what it was to eat something harmful – until the day that they did eat that which God commanded them not to. “For in the day that you eat of it,” warned God in His Word, “you shall surely die.”

“How can bodily eating… do such great things.”

In the catechism’s answer that addresses Holy Communion, we confess: “Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the Words written here” at which point Luther quotes the Word of God.

The result of both obedient eating and disobedient eating is not caused by the eating and drinking itself, but is rather a result of the Word of God. For even as the Lord promised wrath and death to those who hear His Word and break it, he also promises forgiveness and life to those who hear the Word and keep it.

The power is not in eating and drinking, but rather in the Word of God, in the promise attached to the element – be it the warning of punishment for eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or the promise of mercy through eating of the Tree of Life.

The Word of God is attached to the eating and drinking, for even as the Lord has revealed in His Word: “man does not live by bread alone,” but by “every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

In this context, eating and drinking can indeed do great things – both giving life and bearing death; granting forgiveness and binding us to our sins; delivering mercy and bringing wrath. The Word of God is indeed “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,” cutting in both directions, calling us to repentance with a frightful word of correction, and declaring us righteous with a compassionate word of grace.

And it all gets back to eating and drinking.

Our Lord Jesus Christ has compassion on those to whom He preaches, including us. He knows that our lives are dependent not only on bread, but also on every Word from His own divine mouth. He preaches to the crowds, giving them life and forgiveness, grace and mercy, comfort and joy – and yet he knows that thanks to the looming angel of death that hovers over all fallen creatures, if these same crowds do not eat, they will “faint on the way.” They will become ill. Some will die. Our Lord’s compassion is not limited to the articulation of sound doctrine and solid theological formulations and catechesis. It includes all of this, but goes further: the Lord Jesus Christ feeds the four thousand in a miraculous way that uses real bread combined with His creative and miracle-bearing Word.

He gives thanks. He breaks the bread. He distributes the live-giving nourishment created by the power of His Word alone, to His ministers, who in turn feed the people according to the command and Word of their Lord and Master, who is both the “Bread of Life” and the “Word made flesh”.

“And they ate and were satisfied.”

Death was not to have its way on that day. The hearers of the Word were not to be condemned by this sermon. Those who were fed by the miraculous bread of Jesus, bread consecrated by His Word and distributed by His ministers – were the recipients of life, of grace, of compassion, of forgiveness, of the divine protection of God Himself over and against sin, death, and the devil.

“And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.”

This bread, sanctified by God’s Word, never runs out. The Lord is always able to consecrate more, using His ministers to pronounce His Word, to bless the bread made from matter created by Him in six days, in order to feed and satisfy the thousands, myriads, millions, and even billions of people with the life-giving bread of His body, with the wine of His blood – all consecrated with His holy Word, delivering His promises.

The Apostle Paul picks up on this theme that food can lead to either life or death. He uses the image of fruit: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?” asks the holy apostle. “For the end of those things is death.” St. Paul is repeating the curse that man invited on himself when he first ate of the forbidden fruit – whose end was indeed death.

For not all food is good for us. We know this. Some food tastes wonderful, but is terrible in its effect on our bodies. Some of it can even kill us – all the while our taste buds send us the false message that the poison is good. And the spiritual fruit of sin similarly leads to death. For we know that sin is destructive, and yet we fall for temptation in this realm as well.

But St. Paul does not leave us with no hope. For the Apostle, who is often symbolized by a sword, cuts back in the other direction, giving us good news as he wields God’s Word: “But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

“How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?”

St. Paul teaches us by God’s Word: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In eating and drinking the Lord’s body and blood, sanctified by His Word and imbedded with His promise of eternal life, we are indeed satisfied. For our Lord has compassion on the crowds: upon us sinful men who crucified Him on the tree that has now become our Tree of Life. His perfect, obedient life has born fruit, and we drink from the cup of His blood, the fruit of the vine of the incarnate Word of God. We eat of the bread He blesses with His Word, He, the Bread of Life come down from heaven, so that we shall never be hungry for lack of the Word, nor faint along our way.

So, “how can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?”

“Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things,” as we confess, “but the Words written here: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’…. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: forgiveness of sins.”

And “where there is forgiveness of sins,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ, “there is also life and salvation.” Amen.

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

Friday, July 24, 2009

More discussion on the consecrated elements...

Here is an interesting "diablog" between Deacon Latif Gaba and Dan at Necessary Roughness regarding the Holy Eucharist - more specifically, the practical issue of how the reliquiae (the unconsumed consecrated elements) should be treated.

If you'd like to read this post in its entirety and/or comment on it, visit the post at Gottesdienst Online.

Sermon: Funeral of Shelby Bruce Lanier

24 July 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 24:36-49 (Job 19:23-27a, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Beth, Shelby, Scott, Melissa, and all beloved members of Shelby’s family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and friends.

Peace be with you.

This is the very greeting our Lord Jesus Christ gave to his disciples when he appeared to them after conquering death by rising from the dead. “Peace to you,” He said.

But they were all the more troubled, as the resurrection of the dead is not something we are used to seeing. Our Lord comforts them: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see.” And to further drive home the point that their beloved Lord has indeed appeared to them in his risen flesh, and is the very same Man they knew and loved, he ate a meal right in front of them.

And then, after eating with them, he preached to them, explaining the Scriptures and “opened their minds” to the truth that He, the Christ, suffered, died, was buried, and rose again – all in order to be our Savior and Redeemer, to pay for our sins, to restore life to the fallen world, and to give us a share in the victory over death.

This is the “peace” that our Lord spoke to the disciples, and it is the very same “peace” He speaks to you today.

“Peace be with you.”

For “peace” is much more than a sign flashed by hippies or a hip-hop greeting spoken by their grandchildren. “Peace” is more than a casual “Shalom” that serves as both “hello” and “goodbye” in the Hebrew language. For Jesus is the “Prince of Peace,” who has come to end the warfare between God and man. Jesus came into the world to reconcile us “poor miserable sinners” with the righteous God, the Holy Lord of Sabaoth, whom we offend by our many sins. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn, but to save. And this termination of warfare is the cosmic peace our Lord gives us, and has given Shelby. In fact, this parish church, Shelby’s congregation, the sanctuary housing the font in which he was baptized, is called “Salem” – a variation of the Hebrew word “Shalom” – peace. This peace is what brings us comfort now and unto eternity.

When a person dies, especially after a struggle with illness, it is common to hear people say that the person is now at peace. And that is a more profound statement than any of us realize. For Shelby has been delivered from this “valley of tears,” this imperfect world, this dog-eat-dog existence that has been in a state of conflict since the fall in the Garden of Eden.

This is not to say that death is good, death is peaceful, death is our friend, or death is natural. Death is none of those things. Death is horrible. It deprives us of proximity to our loved ones. It makes us mourn. It was never God’s intention that we should die. Rather, it is the wages of sin, the consequences of man’s rebellion against God from the first day Satan whispered lies into our ancestors’ ears.

The peace Shelby enjoys is not because of death, but rather in spite of it. For peace is the absence of conflict, and peace can come either as a result of being defeated, or from being victorious. I want to be clear that Shelby is at peace because he is victorious. The world may describe Shelby as having lost a courageous battle with cancer, or some such. But that is simply not true. For Shelby was baptized into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Shelby confessed his sins and received absolution. Shelby received the body and blood of the Lord, heard the Word of God, and confessed the Christian faith. Just as the apostles were witnesses to Jesus’s resurrection, I am a witness to Shelby’s faith.

Shelby is at peace because the Prince of Peace won the victory. And because Jesus defeated death, so has Shelby. And even though we feel the twinge of loss in our mourning, it is not because of death, but rather because of our temporary parting from Shelby. For hear again St. Paul’s words: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of death is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus’s victory over sin, death, the grave, and the devil is also Shelby’s victory. For when Jesus died on the cross, He proclaimed: “It is finished.” This is a military term that would really be better understood as: “Mission accomplished.” Our Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross was a victory, and He proclaimed that victory with His dying breath.

That victory is Shelby’s victory. It is the Christian’s victory. It is the Church’s victory. And in that victory, there is no more warfare. That is indeed the “peace that passes all understanding” that St. Paul also speaks of.

The Lord’s victory and our peace with God are demonstrated to the world by the empty tomb in Jerusalem. And all believers will similarly leave behind empty tombs. For because, as Job points out, the Word of God is “inscribed in a book,” and confessing with Job in the words of Holy Scripture, we can say, pray, and sing: “I know that my Redeemer lives,” and we can also confess: “and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold.”

And like our Lord Jesus, who rose from the dead, ate, and allowed the disciples to touch the wounds of the nails of the crucifixion on his very real earthly body, we know that Shelby, and all believers, will see God “in our flesh.” For like our Lord Jesus, Shelby was given a body. And even after his skin has been destroyed, it will be restored. “For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” says our risen Lord.

Shelby, and all believers, await the coming day of resurrection in which all Christians will find their bodies raised and restored, recreated perfectly, and never again to die. This is not a metaphor, but is as real as the stone tomb that our Blessed Lord walked out of. This resurrection is not something that we can only offer a feeble hope for, but rather it is an ironclad promise of God, of the God who took flesh, died in our place, rose again, and raised his nail-scarred hands in blessing, saying: “Peace be with you!”

Today, Shelby is at peace, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the devil. Today, death has once again been deprived of its sting by the grace, mercy, and power of God. Today, Satan has again failed to snatch one of the Lord’s beloved sheep out of the Good Shepherd’s loving hand.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” “It is finished.” “For I know that my Redeemer lives.” “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

“The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sermon: St. Mary Magdalene

22 July 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 20:1-2, 10-18 and Prov 31:10-31

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Satan was really interested in Mary Magdalene. And in retrospect, we can see why.

Mary was the first witness of our Lord Jesus after His resurrection. Mary was the reporter who broke the news, the good news, the gospel itself – to the world. Mary was not an apostle, but is sometimes called the “apostle to the apostles” – for though she was not sent to preach, she was sent to “announce to the disciples” commanded by the Lord to “go to My brothers” and tell them what she saw and heard.

It should hardly be shocking to us that such an important disciple and a godly example of Christian womanhood should come under attack by Satan. In fact, this beloved saint was at one time demon possessed and under the persecution of seven devils.

Satan hates womanhood – for it was through a woman that God took flesh. Satan strove in vain to attack the woman, also named Mary, in whose womb God became human. And it was through the woman Eve that Satan first lured mankind away from God and wrought chaos and death upon the Lord’s good creation.

It should be no surprise that Satan continues to target womanhood, seeking to make a mockery of the distinction between the sexes by distorting this physical status of creation into something of our choosing: “gender.” For the Lord created us in His image, male and female – he did not give us a choice or a preference to adopt any “gender” we desire. For we are creatures who have been created with a body of the Lord’s choosing. We are not gods with the ability to create alternative realities. We creatures are to submit to the will of Him who has been placed over us. We the Body of Christ are to submit to the Head that is our Lord. We, the Church, the Bride of Christ, are to submit to our Bridegoom, our Husband, who has been placed in a position of dominion over us.

All of this talk of submission is most unpopular today. Satan has convinced us that we are masters rather than servants. The devil has redefined womanhood not in terms of wife, but of partner. In some cases, Christian wedding ceremonies deliberately edit out the part of Holy Scripture in which wives are told to submit to their husbands.

But notice that Mary Magdalene, from whom the devil was cast, does exactly as her Lord bids her to do. She runs back to Peter and the other apostles. She tells them what she has been given to say. She even endures their lack of belief.

Notice that Mary does not push her way into the ministry. She does not establish a church. She does not seek out a pulpit and disciples of her own – even though she was chosen – above all the other disciples – to have the honor of seeing the risen Lord first, of being the primary messenger and witness of the Gospel of the Lord’s rising from the dead.

Modern feminists have tried to co-opt Mary as a symbol of their ungodly desire to be ordained ministers. A certain novelist has become a millionaire by slandering our dear sister in Christ, by lying about her as a bride of Jesus rather than properly confessing her as a member of the Bride of Christ, the Church.

Satan continues to lie to women about their role in the family, and lie to the world concerning what Scripture and the Church confess about womanhood.

For though Scripture teaches women to be submissive wives, it in no way diminishes or demeans womanhood. Far from it! Woman is an exalted vocation, the giver of life, the nurturer of children, the one who establishes the Christian home, the one whose service makes the work of the Church possible.

As Solomon’s proverb asks: “An excellent wife, who can find?” For “she is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.”

How different this is from the secular world’s view of the wisecracking wife who is always running down her husband to her friends, and even in front of her own children.

Solomon writes of the godly woman: “She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.”

Far from being treated as an object, the godly wife labors for the household. She provides food. She runs the home. Her value is not in running a business or working for another man, but in serving her own family and household.

“She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.”

The godly wife sees to it that the home is a self-sufficient business. That is hard to do these days when all young girls are encouraged to seek outside careers and compete with men. For how many women in modern marriages can say that their “lamp does not go out at night” because they are making clothes for their families? Typically, women are so tired after working all day that they collapse in exhaustion, barely able to perform even the most basic tasks of keeping a home. In fact, even suggesting that the keeping of the home is the sphere of the wife – and not of two equal partners of opposite sexes – tends to make people angry. And yet, Scripture says what it says. Our job is to submit, not to let the devil whisper into our ears and convince us that we know better, or that God’s Word is no longer relevant today.

“Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.”

How “politically incorrect” such a notion is, that the godly wife’s duty is to serve her husband to increase his reputation rather than seeking fame for herself! In our current culture, men are actually a minority among university students. Women are often the heads of households and the chief breadwinners. And in this setting, children are sent to daycare in growing numbers and at increasingly younger ages. Some schools now take children as young as two months old, and in most cases, this is not because of necessity – unless one considers a luxury car, a “fulfilling career,” or a cavernous house items that one cannot live without. The modern divorce rate shows how well the new paradigm is working.

For the woman of Proverbs 31 is clothed with “strength and dignity.” She “opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue…. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” with the following words: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” For as the Lord teaches us: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”

The godly Christian woman is epitomized by St. Mary Magdalene. For as much as Satan hates her, tries to possess her, seeks to mislead and deceive her, and even savages her reputation – she is a servant, a steadfast witness to her Lord, and a servant to those whom she has been placed in submission.

St. Mary is “far more precious than jewels” as our dear sister in the faith, as a godly example of womanhood, as a blessed pattern of service to all Christians, men and women alike, whose lives are to be lived in godly submission to our Bridegroom, our Husband who lays down His life for us, giving Himself completely to His bride, and sharing with us, His Church, the good news that He has risen and that the cunning devil has been defeated.

In death, Jesus has conquered death. By taking our sins, he has paid for our sins. And in His life born of a woman and in His death arranged by sinful men, the Lord has not only redeemed all sinful men and women, but has defeated the lying Serpent who wishes to destroy all men and women, created in the image of God, male and female.

It is fitting that the first bearer of this good news, the one who carried the Gospel to the preachers, enabling them to proclaim the good news to all nations, is the holy woman whose life still stands not only as an example of the godly woman of Proverbs 31, but of the faithful and submissive Christian of both sexes of every time and place, bearing witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.

All praise for Mary Magdalene,
Whose wholeness was restored
By You, her faithful Master,
Her Savior and her Lord.
On Easter morning early
A word from You sufficed;
For she was first to see You,
Her Lord, the risen Christ.


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

Canadian Prime Minister Communion Controversy

Here is a new story that riled Roman Catholics in Canada, as the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, a Protestant, received communion at a Catholic funeral.

The video of the event shows Mr. Harper taking the consecrated host with his hand, but does not show him eating the host, leading to speculation that the Prime Minister, whose religious beliefs would consider the Catholic Mass to be idolatry, pocketed the Body of Christ.

The Prime Minister's office claims he ate the host after fumbling around with the church bulletin - something that does not seem to be happening in the video.

Of course, politicians say a lot of things. Who knows what the truth is?

But the story has a few lessons of practical theology:

1) If you are a guest at a church that is not your own, it would be best to refrain from participating in any sacramental rites, unless: you know what you are doing, it does not violate your own religious beliefs, and is being done by express invitation of your hosts. Figure all this out ahead of time. It would help to know what everyone believes beforehand.

2) If you are a pastor, make it clear what your church's policy is, and if a guest shows up for communion and you know they ought not be receiving it, have a clear back-up plan, such as a blessing to be given in such a situation - even if the person is a powerful politician.

3) Any hint of scandal that the Lord's Body went into someone's pocket could easily be avoided by the traditional practice of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue.

Lessons 1 and 2 both involve what is commonly called "closed communion." Church visitors need to respect their host churches, and officials in those churches need to make sure visitors respect the religious doctrines held by the hosts - lest others be scandalized.

Lesson 3 addresses the role of tradition in theological practice.

There is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about taking the host in the hand. And doing so has almost become a "law" in the Roman Church over the last 40 years or do. It has also become the norm among modern American Lutherans, as the old adage: "When the pope gets a cold, the Lutherans sneeze" is yet again shown to be true. What's done is done. Taking the host in the hand in no way invalidates the sacrament or does damage to our Lord's holiness. And lest the unscrupulous attempt to put words in my mouth, I am by no means saying that communing on the tongue makes one a "better Lutheran" or communing in the hand is in any way banned in my parish. Most of my parishioners commune the traditional way as they always have, but many also prefer the more modern method. It is the choice of the communicant. We have no canon law on the matter.

However, there was a reason why the medieval practice (continued by Luther and the reformers for centuries) of distributing on the tongue was initially put into place, and why it had such staying power: to avoid this very kind of scandal. In the centuries before the Reformation, some people, pious but ill-advised, would pocket the host to take it home and use it in a superstitious way as a talisman. This negates the benefit of the sacramental mandate: "Take, eat." Similarly, some non-believers (perhaps including witches or even Satanists) would pocket the host in order to show contempt to Jesus, the Church, and the sacrament, or even to use the pilfered consecrated host in desecratory rituals.

Both problems were solved by having the celebrant distribute the Body of Christ directly onto the tongue of the communicant.

There was simply no good reason to change this practice in the 1960s - not even the romantic idea of returning to the primitive church, or making the laity feel good about themselves that they were now free to touch the host with their hands - a practice previously reserved to the clergy.

In spite of whatever good intentions the Vatican II reformers had, the net result is that the Lord's Body is now much easier to desecrate - whether by intent or accident. And if the Lord's Body is desecrated even one time, was the change worth it?

This entire scandal could have been avoided - had the priest and the prime minister behaved with integrity, and had the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church not been so eager to throw out a church tradition that came into being centuries ago to prevent this very thing from happening.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

State Sovereignty

Now that the Federal Leviathan is approaching the monstrous point of no return as it gobbles up and consumes everything in its juggernaut path - even as it is simultaneously going bankrupt - it seems that many of the states in the Union are waking up and once more asserting the historical and legal truths that:

1) the federal government did not create the states, but vice versa,
2) the federal government is the servant of the states, not the master
3) the federal government does not represent the people in the aggregate, but rather by delegation of authority from the people represented by the states through the Constitution,
4) the federal government's power is strictly limited and enumerated by the Constitution,
5) the federal government is, in many cases, operating entirely outside of the law - often through a collusion of the branches, sometimes empowered by the major political parties
6) sovereignty resides with the states, who delegate limited powers to the federal government in certain specific matters (enumerated by the Constitution),
7) the current federalist model is too expensive and too unresponsive to the people.

One of the stumbling blocks standing in the way of curtailing the monster is the mythology that includes the "one nation, indivisible," the outlandish untruth that the federal government created the states and that federal law supersedes state law, and that the states are subservient entities to a superior federal government - all shameless lies told to the American people by Abraham Lincoln in order to justify his illegal aggression against the seceded South for the purpose of conquering and colonizing the states - which incidentally includes all states, north and south.

Not only was there no "civil war," there was no winner - unless one wants to count the bloated federal bureaucracy. The losers of the war were the states and the people, north and south. That's the wrong that the Tenth Amendment movement is trying to right.

All of the states today, who are bearing the brunt of this historical and political falsehood, are now starting to tell the truth - an inconvenient truth for Big Government, for federal hangers-on, and for academicians who have made a career out of divinizing the dishonest and, in the interest of honesty, war criminal president who set in motion the current malaise and the contemporary consequences of the out-of-control federal monster that is threatening the union with ruination.

Will it be a little too late? Can the American people give up their notion that, when it comes to government, "bigger is better"? Will the defenders of Lincoln finally admit what this reprobate has done to our country? Can the union be saved?

Personally, I think the monster is too big. I believe it will break up as the Soviet empire did. I believe the only way to avoid this fate lies in the states asserting their sovereignty, and in the hope that the federal government will yield back to the states and not simply send in the tanks and warplanes. Hopefully, if American soldiers are ever again ordered to invade fellow Americans, commanded to lay waste homes, businesses, and churches in a rampage of rape and pillage - they will simply refuse such immoral orders and join the militias of their own states.

But just maybe if the state sovereignty movement gains enough steam, such violence can be completely averted, and peace and prosperity will once again be the hallmarks of a decentralized, freedom-loving, constitutional America. Maybe we can have our liberty by wielding the pen this time instead of the sword. The Soviet Union was disbanded peaceably. If the Russians could do it, how can we say the Americans can't?

In short, to restore the republic, we must first restore the republics.

Stranger than fiction - Secular Edition

No, this isn't one of those really goofy stories where the church and state are trying to figure out how to bless yet another form of "non-traditional marriage" (such as a person marrying himself), this is actually a pretty funny story that involves the shocking situation of people of the opposite sex getting married.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Not the Onion...

...or Truth is Stranger than Fiction, Ecclesiastical Edition:

Here is an article that would have been funny had it appeared word-for-word in The Onion (which, by the way, some people accuse me of writing), but is actually from the newspaper of a certain very large American Lutheran demonization, er, I mean "denomination."

Joseph Heller could not have done better.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Zion Liturgical Conference

Bp. Stechholz and Fr. Braden

Here is a conference that I would love to attend. I had made it to a couple of the annual St. Michael Liturgical conferences at historic Zion Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Detroit while living in the tundra of Fort Wayne as a seminarian.

And in spite of Zion's reputation for "high" liturgy and unabashed devotion to the Western Catholic tradition, she remains not only firmly within the confessional heritage and theological moorings of Lutheranism, but also enjoys a surprising level of respect from rather mainstream folks within the Missouri Synod. This includes professors from both seminaries who have attended and spoke at the annual conference, as well as the Rev. Al Barry, the now sainted president of Synod, who was videotaped officiating liturgically at Zion's altar, vested in a cope and carrying a traditional bishop's crosier, while incense wafted its way heavenward and as votive candles flickered before the statues of our Blessed Lord and His virgin mother.

Zion's devotion to reverence and tradition stands in stark contrast to the frenetically hyped youth-driven approaches to worship often touted by those in positions of power in Synod. Traditional liturgy is driven by the confession that Jesus is physically present in our midst in a physical and miraculous way, as opposed to the more Protestant notion that worship is primarily information to be conveyed, often using secular techniques and gimmicks to do so.

This year (as in years past), the District President will not only participate in the conference, but will be giving the benediction at Mass at the event. He is pictured above on the left (The Rt. Rev. David Stechholz, District President and Bishop of the English District) along with Zion's new parish priest, the Rev. Fr. Mark Braden - a classmate of mine at seminary, who is not only one heck of a Greek scholar, but a highly respected pastor and colleague in the ministerium of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

Note also that the keynote speaker this year is the Dean of the Chapel of Concordia Seminary - St. Louis, the Rev. Dr. Kent Burreson.

I highly recommend this conference, and I also recommend a visit to Zion for anyone who can get there. Zion is living proof that American Lutheranism doesn't have to jettison its Catholic heritage, can unabashedly use traditional churchly terminology and ritual, and still be within the mainstream of the Missouri Synod and hold steadfastly to the Evangelical doctrine of the Lutheran Church.

Soli Deo gloria!

"We are all beggars..."

These words are among the final written notes of Dr. Martin Luther. They are a theological commentary on our own spiritual impotence to save ourselves. They are another way of saying with St. Paul that salvation is a matter of God's grace alone.

But there seems to be a new kind of begging going on in the LCMS.

A few months ago, I received a beg letter from an LCMS congregation in another state. In 1998, at the height of the real-estate bubble, this congregation took an unwise risk. They sold their original church property and with the proceeds bought a "glorious 40-acre parcel of land" with the intention of selling off 27 acres to a developer and making a lot of money on the deal. Why a church needs even 13 acres of "glorious" land is beyond me. I can't help but think of the proverbial bone-bearing dog seeing own reflection in the river according to Aesop's fable. But these were the days when the profit spigot was spewing almost uncontrollably in a seemingly unlimited cash flow. Fortunes were being made all around.

Fast forward to bursting of the real estate bubble.

Bottom line: this congregation is now asking my congregation for help. We don't have a "glorious 40-acre parcel of land." Let's just say that money is tight around here, and leave it at that. I know this is just a form letter, and it probably went to everyone, but it strikes me as terribly insensitive to ask a congregation still struggling from Katrina losses augmented by the current economic downturn to subsidize their poor financial decision-making now that the bubble has burst. This is the ecclesiastical manifestation of "bailout fever."

I can't help but think of the movie poster for Arthur 2 of Dudley Moore holding the sign: "Hey brother, can you spare $750,000,000?"

I know of one congregation in another state that a few years ago spent a million dollars for a building project that essentially gave the pastor a bigger office and made a bigger narthex. The sanctuary was not improved at all. They still sport a roll-away altar with chairs. One has to have priorities, I suppose.

Another congregation that I was familiar with in former times got dollar signs in their eyes, sold their land to a big box store, and relocated up the road thinking they would make a killing. But instead, they underestimated their expenses, ran out of money before the new sanctuary could be built, went way into debt, and had to worship in the school's gym before an altar on wheels, surrounded by tape on the floor and folded up basketball hoops. Every now and then during school sports events, volleyballs would pelt the holy altar. But hey, at least they never asked me to write them a check.

But it seems that another recent beg letter is making the rounds.

This one is from one of these new trendy "churches" that won't use the name Lutheran, shuns the liturgy, and is essentially a pop-music entertainment center. Their beg letter says that they "were led by what [they] believe was the miraculous and Divine hand of the Lord to plant a mission" in one of their state's "fastest growing communities." Isn't it funny how "the Lord" seems to be at times a little too interested in evangelizing the "fastest growing communities"? I think it was Al Capone who said he robbed banks because "that's where the money is."

And so, this 75 year old LCMS congregation with a normal name took a chance. They sold everything and moved. They adopted a hip and happening "Community Church" mission format with a new and funky name. They rolled the dice in the bubble economy, borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars, spent over a million dollars of their own, and bought 26 acres of land (my goodness!). But when the reality kicked in, they could not afford the payments. It seems that the generation raised on entertainment resented the church talking about money. That's for "organized religion" chumps. The bottom line: they failed to pay their bills and their property was foreclosed. It seems that the Miraculous and Divine Hand of the Lord is no more reliable than Lady Luck at the roulette wheel.

Now they want other LCMS congregations to send them money so they can buy a new facility.

Interestingly, the website of this "mission" mocked the practices of many of the very churches they are now asking for money, with allusions to "stodgy" worship, "dead rituals," and "14th century classical music." The congregation (which describes itself as "exciting" and "passionate") is also saying that its relationship with the synod is "cloudy" at this point. Of course, none of this information is included in the beg letter - which unlike the church's website and sign, identify it as a Lutheran congregation.

This is the sad reality. For all of the promise of endlessly flipping houses and wheeling and dealing in real estate to achieve overnight millionaire status, it was all hot air inflating a bubble. The real estate boom was nothing more than a grand ponzi-scheme that could not sustain its own propaganda.

And this same kind of hot air is behind the bubble of the "relevant" gimmicky churches championed by some in the LCMS hierarchy - and even marketed to us as a kind-of successful turn-key franchise model, sometimes bearing the same names and formats as "churches" across many denominations. Amid all the promise and excitement of rock music, of the "come as you are" mindset where selfishness trumps sacrifice, of the shallowness and vapidity of chasing after ever-changing tastes in a fickle "religious marketplace" - the reality is that this growth-oriented model of "ministry" is unsustainable.

And when the church bubble merges with the real estate bubble, it becomes a "perfect bubble." I can only imagine that we will see more of these implosions, and a lot more begging. And what is pushed to the back seat in all of this desperate financial water-treading in the aftermath of the bubbles bursting is the genuine Gospel, the authentic proclamation of Christ in His Church. "Stodgy" stuff indeed.

We are all beggars to be sure.

Sermon: Trinity 6

19 July 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 5:17-26 (Ex 20: 1-17, Rom 6:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

After proclaiming this Gospel to you, I announced, according to our liturgy, “This is the Gospel of the Lord.”

The Gospel is not the threat that you will remain in hell until you have paid for your sins (which means that you would never get out). For that is not good news at all, dear brothers and sisters. In fact, that is a horrific and terrifying thought. What is the gospel is that this dreadful fate can be avoided. For now is the time to repent. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the time to receive God’s grace and live forever.

The Gospel is not in the threat of punishment, but rather in the promise of deliverance. Our Lord tells us exactly how to avoid the recompense for our sins which we so richly deserve: “the hell of fire.”

Our Blessed Lord, our Advocate, advises us to settle out of court. Don’t let your sins be brought to the bar of justice. No indeed! Confess your sins! Plead with the judge for mercy, even as we pray: “Lord, have mercy!” For our Lord has not come into the world to condemn, but to save. He is truly the “Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” He most certainly hears us when we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses” and indeed He responds with: “I forgive you all your sins.” And what’s more, He forgives our sins “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – in His own holy name, sealed by His own Word, backed by His own divine authority, and given to us by the promissory waters of Holy Baptism. “Do you not know,” dear friends, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”

We settle out of court when we come to the sanctuary instead of the courtroom, to the pew instead of the prison. We come to this place of freedom to be liberated from our sins rather than go to a place of confinement to be bound to them.

That is how we Christians “come to terms quickly.” Instead of being dragged into a court of judgment, we joyfully take refuge in the courts of the Lord’s House. Instead of being forced to our knees in a dungeon and being placed on a subsistence diet of bread and water, rather we kneel in adoration and in praise in this place where the Lord dwells, participating in a glorious banquet of bread and wine, body and blood, quickened by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, born again by the waters of Holy Baptism. And instead of a terrifying sentence of condemnation, we hear consoling words of absolution, pardon, and release.

“Come to terms quickly with your accuser.”

God is not our accuser, dear brothers and sisters. The name “Satan” means accuser, and our Blessed Lord Jesus has indeed “come to terms quickly” with the serpent, dealing him a mortal blow even as He died on the cross. We came to terms quickly with Satan when we were baptized into the Lord’s death, even as we sing to the Lord: “Baptized into Your name most holy.”

We settle out of court when we plead our watery rebirth before the Judge, remembering our baptism, marking ourselves with the sign of the cross, that ancient emblem of victory over our accuser, the sign by which we are sealed and delivered. For “we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

And it is in this freedom, secured by the death of our Lord on the cross, given to us in Holy Baptism, laid hold of in Holy Absolution, proclaimed to us in the Word, and physically placed into our mouths in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, that we sinners settle out of court, are pardoned by the King of the Universe and are paroled by the power of the Lord’s Word, promise, and command.

That, dear friends, is the Gospel. That is the Good News. For indeed, the last penny has been paid for us – “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

This is the true joy of the Christian faith: we have been liberated. Though we still live in the valley of tears, and though we still struggle in this body of death, we are no more prisoners to our Old Adam, to our flesh, to sin, to death, nor to the devil. We have settled out of court. We have been pardoned. Our debt has been paid. Our freedom has been given by order of the King. We have cheated the hangman, the doors of our cell have been opened by a turn of the key, and we are free to put all of that behind us, to walk away and never look back.

We have not been freed to return to our cell, to repeat the crimes for which justice would demand our blood, to fall again into the folly of the Old Adam. For that kind of “freedom” is truly slavery – as St. Paul proclaims, we have been crucified with Him “so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

We have been emancipated not so that we can transgress the law, but rather that the law might be fulfilled by Christ Jesus through us, through His body, the Church. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” asks the Apostle. And he answers His own question: “By no means!” For we are baptized Christians. We are liberated captives. We are pardoned prisoners.

For does our Lord not say: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but fulfill them”? For truly he has proclaimed to us anew: “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

The Law is powerless to condemn the one who repents not because the Law has been changed, but rather because the man who repents has been. We are a new creation at baptism, and we are being conformed into the Lord’s image.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is why our Lord implores us to seek an out of court settlement. This is why we are all here today. We have come to petition the King for pardon, for clemency, and for mercy. We have come to throw ourselves on the mercy of the court – for we have the Lord’s promise that our judge is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” We have the Word of Jesus that He has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.

Heed our Blessed Lord’s counsel, dear friends! “Come to terms quickly.”

The fact that we are forgiven empowers us to forgive. The reality that we have been reconciled to our Father makes us able to be reconciled to our brother. The truth that our Lord’s “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” is what enables us to “enter the kingdom of heaven.”

For this is what it means to “Come to terms quickly with [our] accuser.” This is what it means to settle out of court. This is what it means to repent, to forgive, to live a life of service in the kingdom as pardoned sinners with a new lease on life. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ.”

“Alive to Christ,” dear friends. This is the state of those who “come to terms quickly,” who settle out of court. This is why we are here. This is why we pray: “Lord, have mercy.” This is the Gospel of the Lord! Praise be to Thee O Christ! Amen.

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

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"I'm still here, me."

Holy Ordination, July 18, 2004 (Photo: Martin Fonda)

Ego tamen hic sum, gratia Dei.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 5

12 July 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 5:1-11 (1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Cor 1:18-25)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus calls his disciples in a strange and supernatural way. He doesn’t rely on a human resources expert to tell Him who will make a good disciple, someone who can assist Him and stand in His place to preach the Word of God. Jesus makes no use of any synodical programs, psychological analysis, or spiritual gifts inventory forms.

Instead, He goes to a small group of fisherman who have failed to catch anything all night, tells them to try again, and miraculously fills the nets to the point of breakage.

He then observes Simon Peter’s reaction.

Is Peter so impressed that he signs up for a one-year trial membership to the Jesus Organization, so he too can learn to be a self-actualized and confident fisherman? Does Peter grab Jesus’s coattails hoping to rise up the ladder of success, maybe even starting a franchise of his own one day? No indeed.

Peter is shocked and horrified – not with the mysterious Rabbi’s miracle, but with his own sinfulness: “Depart from me,” he says, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” This is because, as the Evangelist reports, Peter and his cohorts were “astonished.” These were seasoned fishermen, and they knew that this was not a natural phenomenon. This Jesus had lordship over the forces of nature itself. There is something divine about this Man, something holy and otherworldly – which serves to remind Peter of his own uncleanness which stands out by contrast.

And notice that far from disqualifying Peter from the apostolic ministry, it results in our Lord dismissing his fears, removing his reproach, and calling him into service: “Do not be afraid,” He says, “from now on you will be catching men.”

Peter’s recognition of his sinful state is just what Jesus was looking for in a “fisher of men.” Peter, for all of his faults, is honest. He can see his own unworthiness based on his own merit and power. He can see his own weakness, and in his sincerity, bids the Lord to leave rather than allow his own uncleanness to defile this holy Man.

There is a candor about Peter’s plea, a humility and a melancholy acknowledgment of exactly what the Lord Jesus has come to fix: sin. And in his failure to be perfect, Peter passes the test. For had he claimed to be perfect, he would have been a liar, deluding himself about the very issue Jesus has come to fix. Coming to grips with the destruction of sin is something that will make Peter a good “fisher of men.”

Our Lord dismisses Peter’s sins and forgives him with one little word: “Do not be afraid.” For Peter, the forgiven sinner, the follower of Christ, no longer has anything to fear as a result of his sins. The powerful Word of the Lord has spoken, and has done far more here than make a lot of fish jump into a net. This is why there is no reason for Peter to shrink from Jesus in horror. For the Son of Man has come not to condemn, but to save. And He has come to save by the “word of the cross” – which is “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The Lord has come to die on the cross, to forgive us all our sins, and to reanimate us. This new life comes from the same source of power as the miraculous catch of fish – the very Word of God.

We are told that just before this miracle, just before calling the disciples, our Lord stood at the side of the lake, and “the crowd was pressing in on Him.” And the reason they were doing this was “to hear the Word of God.” They were hungry to hear this Word of life.

For this Jesus taught with authority, unlike their lawyers and preachers of self-righteousness. This Man’s Word was different. It had power. It could work miracles. It could indeed catch men in righteousness with the ease by which great numbers of fish can become entangled in a fisherman’s net.

The Word of Jesus is indeed powerful, and it does what it was sent to do – to forgive us, draw us into itself like a net, drawing us to our loving Father, all in order to forgive us, make us new, and give us everlasting life. But this Word, the mighty “Word of the cross” needs mouths so that the Word may take flight, may be proclaimed, may be heard, and may win men to the gospel even as a net ensnares its prey. And this is why the Lord calls ministers and preachers – to “catch men” by this preaching of “Christ crucified…. Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Preaching is not the transmission of information. It is not a message. It is “the power of God.” It is the Church’s holy vocation to proclaim the Gospel to all the world. For we do not preach our own opinions, our own sorry attempts at wisdom. We do not preach a wealth and prosperity cult. We do not preach a political utopia or a “social gospel.” We do not preach in order to be clever, controversial, famous, or loved. We do not preach to win the favor of men or the approval of the government.

We preach, rather, the Word of God, the Word of the cross. “We preach Christ crucified” – and that preaching is seem by some as an offense, and by others as stupidity. This kind of preaching is mocked, discouraged, treated as of little consequence, and ignored. But this is the preaching the Lord calls his ministers to do. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

St. Peter and his band of fishermen-turned-preachers would see far greater miracles than a strange and mysterious catch of fish. They would likewise look at their own sinfulness in horror again and again, as they lived out their lives in the flesh in the fallen world. And yet, through it all, their Lord was with them, preaching to them, and through them, telling them not to fear, urging them to resist the devil, imploring them to continue preaching that Word that is both hated and loved by the world, the Word through which we are saved and have eternal life.

And this Word is sufficient for us in this life, dear brothers and sisters. For even as St. Peter and the apostles gave up everything to follow Jesus, all for the sake of the Word, we too are called to be disciples.

Some of us are called to preach the Word, some are called to hear the Word – but we are all called to be drawn into the evangelical net of the Word of God, the Word of the cross, the Word of Christ – “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

For this Word is our very life. All else is worthless when set next to this mighty and life-giving Word. For Peter and the disciples “left everything and followed Him.”

Then let us follow Christ our Lord,
And take the cross appointed
And firmly clinging to His Word,
In suff’ring be undaunted.
For those who bear the battle’s strain
The crown of heav’nly life obtain.


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