Friday, April 30, 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Some don't approve, but...

...having a laugh at the expense of pompous, fascist, centrally-planning, murderous politicians is just so much fun.

HT: my father-in-law Martin Fonda

A "Relationship With Jesus" or "Going Through the Motions"?

Being in an area dominated by Roman Catholicism, and in teaching in our parochial school that has only 7% Lutheran students, I have an interesting window into a particular part of American Christianity. In fact, though not entirely accurate, I could quip that I can tell who the non-Lutheran students are since they are the ones crossing themselves.

A lot of our school's families are Roman Catholic, and many are only nominally so. A good number of our students identify themselves as "Catholic" but have no idea what parish they belong to because they never attend church. At least in this region, Roman Catholicism has a great hold on people who tenaciously cling to the label into middle and even old age, though they have no real bond with any Christian community nor attend services anywhere - perhaps not even for decades. They have no idea who their pastor is, and can't remember the last time they went to confession. Some even come to church with his or her Lutheran spouse more often than attending Roman Catholic Divine Services.

Along with Roman Catholicism, there is another brand of Christianity that is very popular in this area: Non-denominationalism.

"Non-denominational" is really a misnomer, for even an independent church that shuns a label or affiliation with a national church body believes in something. They accept neither the pope nor the patriarch as the head of the Church, so they aren't Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. They do not practice infant Baptism, so they aren't Lutheran or Anglican or Reformed in their confession. This basically makes them either Baptists or Pentecostals - depending on their congregation's teachings regarding the Holy Spirit and "spiritual gifts."

And the Non-denominational churches in our area do tend to have a lot of former Roman Catholic converts in their ranks. I've heard the same testimony from a lot of people: raised Catholic, "christened," "made my communion" - perhaps attended Mass on occasion, but never read or learned the Bible, and, most of all: "never had that personal relationship with Jesus." Their previous Christian life was all about "going through the motions." Then the person, having visited a Non-denominational church with a friend, heard the Bible and the Gospel for the first time, and only then entered into a "relationship with Jesus."

And thanks be to God that these folks and their families now have that trust in Christ and that communion with the Most Holy Trinity. Thanks be to God they immerse themselves in God's Word and are raising their children to be Christians, not mere label-holders. Thanks be to God that they are no longer "just going through the motions."

But it is also with sadness that I hear these stories. For I think they've missed something important, something that they overlook in their assessment of their lives as Christians - the role of Holy Baptism. So much emphasis is placed on their acceptance or their faith as adults that they forget that they did not initiate the relationship. God did. And He did so when they were at their most helpless and dependent on His grace.

I don't like the word "relationship" because it is a flabby word, laden with all sorts of modern connotations. Everything these days is a "relationship." It's become an Oprah-Doctor Phil word. We have lots of "relationships" - everything from spouses and siblings, to sports teams and to our favorite soft drinks. What we have with God and with our fellow Christians is koinonia - which is "fellowship" or "communion." These words ("fellowship" and "communion") are not only more historical and churchly, they also tend to remind us that our relationship with God is not like a boyfriend/girlfriend thing, not "brand loyalty," not something driven by emotion or felt needs, - but something unique and mysterious, transcendent and eternal. Jesus is indeed our "friend" - but He is not our "buddy," "homeboy," or good luck charm.

But be that as it may, the "relationship" that converts to Non-denominationalism have with God was not initiated by them, nor by their brothers and sisters at church, but rather by God Himself - "before the foundation of the world." God knew them in the womb and called them to a vocation in this life according to His plan. And God Himself saw to it that they were "born again of water and the Spirit" and washed them in the "washing of "regeneration" (literally "re-birth") when they were baptized as infants in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

People who leave nominal Roman Catholicism (or Lutheranism) and join active Non-denominationalism do indeed re-spark that dormant relationship they had with God, the one God established eons ago and delivered personally through water, from the hands of a servant of God, and by way of the holy name of the Trinity. Unfortunately, people who find this particular path back to the Holy God and the Holy Church are typically compelled to deny or downplay their Holy Baptism, either by describing it as a hollow ritual or by re-creating it by going through the motions of being "baptized" now as a "believer." The implication is that their first church was not a real church, their baptism was not a real baptism, that they were not previously "believers," and that they never had a "relationship" with God until now.

Sadly, this denies not only baptism, but also God's Word insofar as that they were already believers as baptized children, as churches that do not baptize infants deny that children can be believers. It says to God: "You never established a relationship with me until now." It is a denial that God called them long ago, and denies that they, not God, estranged their relationship. For in reality, it was they, not God, who became the prodigal.

And though returning to an active life of hearing the Word, walking in faith, praying, striving to keep the law, enjoying the forgiveness of sins and a new life that will never end is a thing to celebrate and thank God for, I think it would be more helpful, humble, and honest to understand and confess that God initiated the "relationship" long before, and He never abandoned them - but rather the opposite. God used baptism to give them new birth, and their latter conversion was only necessary because they left God, not because God left them.

And I believe there are lessons for those of us raising children in the Lutheran tradition of Catholic Christianity.

Parents have the responsibility to raise their children as Christians - not merely drag them to church once in a while, run them through the motions of baptism, Sunday school, confirmation, first communion, and then consider it all done. We Christians are disciples - discipuli - that is "students." We finish studying and learning, struggling and growing - when we die. God calls us, predestines us, baptizes us, offers us Word and Sacrament, and holds us in the palm of His hand until we enter into the fullness of communion with Him face to face in eternity. Parents who do not bring their children to God's House, to hear God's Word, to set the example of receiving God's body and blood, and grasping hold of God's forgiveness every Sunday as their top priority are teaching their children that their "relationship" with God is a low priority, that the Christian life is a hollow, ritualistic "going through the motions" that must simply be endured.

Parents who fail in their responsibility to teach their children the basics of the faith, to live in the newness and richness of the Gospel, to pray, to assemble with the saints, and to seek forgiveness are setting their kids up to leave the safety of the holy ark of the Church for the unholy floodwaters of death and destruction. And the ark that preserved Noah and the Eight is a type of the very baptism through which our Lord claims us as His own child.

It is especially crucial for those of us who belong to historic communions within the church catholic that we not only baptize our children, but nurture our little ones who have been born again - day by day, year by year - lest we allow their "relationship" to cool and their communion with God to become a "bruised reed" or a "faintly burning wick" - something that will make it easy for them to wander away from. There is no excuse for Christian parents who, because of their own inattention to the faith, allow their children to lose their faith, so that these children must rediscover their faith later, and at the expense of the comfort of being able to look at a baptismal certificate on the wall, knowing that they were saved by grace alone, making the sign of the cross, hurling their baptism at the face of Satan, and acknowledging that they are indeed in communion with God and have been since before time began.

God did not merely "go through the motions" when He gave Himself for us at the cross. Nor does He "go through the motions" when He delivers Himself to us at the altar, pulpit, and font. Let us never allow our communion with God, or if you prefer, our "relationship with Jesus," to become nothing more than "going through the motions."

[Note: This was posted at Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Please feel free to comment there. +HW]

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Confederate History Moment

Pvt. James Buchanan McLaughlin, CSA

Two of my great-great-great-grand-uncles served together in 2nd Company C of the the 25th Virginia Infantry of the Army of Northern Virginia of the Army of the Confederate States of America. Here is a little information about them.

James Buchanan McLaughlin was born April 1, 1843 in Rock Camp, Braxton County, Virginia.

He enlisted in Company C of the 9th Virginia Battalion (later, the 2nd Company C of the 25th Virginia Infantry at Sutton, VA, now WV) on May 18, 1861. He was captured (along with his brother Richard, see below) at the Wilderness (May 15, 1864), sent to Belle Plain, then to Point Lookout POW Camp, May 17, 1864. After the death of his brother as a POW at Point Lookout, James was sent to the notorious POW camp at Elmira on August 10, 1864 (which had a 24% death rate among the more than 12,000 POWs who were held there). He survived ten months at Elmira, and was released at the end of the war, June 23, 1865.

On December 13, 1868, James married Elizabeth Mary Fox (1848-1927). They lived in Glendon, WV and had ten children. James died on July 4, 1940 (at the age of 97) in Glendon, and he and his wife were both buried in the so-called James B. McLaughlin cemetery near Glendon - which I have as of yet not been able to find even with the detailed county map.

Richard Johnson McLaughlin
was born in 1841 in Rock Camp, Braxton County, Virginia.

He enlisted in Company C of the 9th Virginia Battalion (later, the 2nd Company C of the 25th Virginia Infantry at Sutton, VA, now WV) on May 18, 1861 with his brother. He was severely wounded in the knee at Gettysburg and captured on July 2, 1863 (the regiment suffered 25% casualties at Gettysburg). He was then sent to David's Island, New York Harbor. He was paroled and exchanged, arriving at City Point, Sept 16, 1863. He was again captured at Spotsylvania, May 12, 1864. He was sent to Belle Plain, and then to Point Lookout POW Camp, where he was briefly reunited with his brother. He died there on July 21, 1864 (age 23) of inflammation of the lungs, and was presumably buried there and later moved to the mass grave of several thousand POWs, marked today by a single monument.

The courage and sacrifice of the heroic POWs captured in the War for Southern Independence is remembered to this day by grateful descendants who continue to honor their memory and legacy.

Biographical data largely taken from the 25th Virginia Infantry and 9th Battalion Virginia Infantry by Richard L. Armstrong from the Virginia Regimental Histories Series.

Now, how cool is this?

A 24 room home in 330 square feet. This could really transform the world! Gary Chang is a genius.

HT: Lew Rockwell

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Confederate History Moment

Two videos about a remarkable place called Americana, Brazil - a little outpost of Confederate America that still exists, as Southern English and Brazilian Portuguese are spoken side by side, where the traditions and customs of the Old South are still practiced by the descendants of unreconstructed Americans who fled to Brazil during occupation.

The first video gives a little more general history, while the second has more personal anecdotes.

Sermon: Jubilate (Easter 4)

25 April 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

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

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Our world is broken. It has been so for a long time. We know this not only from Scripture, but also from experience. We don’t even have to have lived long enough to be adults without it being obvious to us that things are not as they ought to be. We are all surrounded by unhappiness, stress, sadness, marital strife, addictions, family complications, and even death itself.

The world tries to explain all of these things as good and helpful encouragements to evolution. Eastern religions try to explain it with karma and reincarnation. Human nature says that someone who suffers deserves it. But the Holy Scriptures reveal another cause: sin. Sin is the inbred rebellion that infests our nature and has wrecked our world. We can’t fix the world, and we can’t fix our sin. We are sinners individually, collectively, historically, and right down to the marrow of our soon to be decayed bones.

But in spite of our suffering, the Creator against whom we have rebelled, instead of destroying us and starting again, is fixing everything. For “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning,” as the Lord Himself has revealed to us. He truly “has compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.”

Though we creatures deserve to be destroyed for destroying the Lord’s creation, our Creator has compassion on us, and implores us to likewise have compassion on our fellow creatures. He forgives us, and even empowers us to forgive others. The cause of all the brokenness is being rolled back, day by day, year by year, century by century – all in the Lord’s good time as that time reaches its fullness.

In other words, we have the luxury of being patient while the Lord goes about His redemptive work. He is fixing everything. In fact, the fix is already in. The fix was put into place on the cross, when the One who gave “His cheek to the one who strikes,” the One who was “filled with insults,” the One who bore “the yoke in His youth,” when our Lord Jesus Christ died our death and rose to restore us to life – declared victory over the forces of brokenness and death by Himself being broken on the cross and laid dead into the tomb.

But the Lord’s work takes time. Thousands of years went by before Jesus took flesh. Thirty years went by before He went to His passion. Our Lord Jesus suffered for interminable hours on the cross. He rested that holiest of Sabbaths in the grave – and only on the third day did He rise in glory.

The disciples had to wait for the resurrection. God’s people had to wait for the Messiah. Creation itself had to wait for thousands of years for the Redeemer to come. And we are all waiting for the consummation of the final victory to be played out.

We don’t like things to take time. Our sinful, impulsive flesh wants things when we want them, meaning right now. Instead of submission to the Lord’s schedule, we grumble that we can’t make the Lord do things our way. But our blessed Lord tenderly teaches us to wait, and to wait calmly and in faith. Speaking to us as dear children, He says: “A little while, and you will see Me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see Me.”

When we don’t see Jesus, we are to wait patiently. When we are tempted to doubt or despair, we can indeed wait expectantly. We can do this because of the promise of His Word. We know He is with the Father. He prays for us. He reigns in glory. He goes to prepare a place for us. And He is defeating Satan, abolishing the grave, and God Himself is re-creating the heavens and the earth on His own schedule. His kingdom is not of this world, and His mercy endures forever.

But we are in this “little while” of waiting. And the remnants of the broken world still surround us. We still suffer. We still doubt. We still struggle. We still die. But we do so knowing that all of this brokenness is a passing thing. We must only endure these things for “a little while” more, even as we won’t see the face of our Lord until He is ready to “come again with glory” in His “kingdom that will have no end.”

Nobody likes to wait, but what great and glorious news this is, dear brothers and sisters of our risen Lord! Think about it! Just a “little while” and we will see Jesus. Just a “little while” and we will experience the resurrection and the new and perfect creation. And our own “little while” of weeping and lamentation will give way to an eternity of joy. And when that time comes, we won’t even remember our current suffering, our present anguish, our tears in this life, our pain and our struggle in this fallen world and broken life. It will all be forgotten!

As our Lord tells us, the joy of giving birth overturns the travail and anguish suffered by the mother who delivers a baby. For even that pain in childbearing is an effect and token of the curse of sin and the brokenness of our world. But when that great and glorious new order is generated by our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, our hearts will indeed rejoice, and no-one will take our joy away from us.

Ponder this, dear friends. Treasure this reality in your hearts! For it makes everything that we must endure on this side of the grave bearable. Even with our “mouths in the dust,” as Jeremiah speaks anew to us: “there may yet be hope.” Hope is the very reason we can wait patiently in this “little while,” in the words of the ancient prayer: enduring “all crosses, sicknesses, and trials with patience and trust” until He grants us “deliverance, peace, and health.”

And it is only in this context of hope, of resurrection, of sins forgiven and life restored, of the promise of the coming new and perfect world, of the certainty of our own resurrection and eternal life, that St. Peter’s advice to us makes any sense at all: “as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh.” For even in this broken world, we can “be subject to the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be” emperor or governor, knowing that exercising our liberty should always be tempered by love. For in love, the freeman becomes a slave to his beloved – even as our Master has done for us.

St. Peter does not mince words. He teaches us how to live the Christian life now that we have been forgiven, and now that we are free: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

For in submitting to authority, in bearing our crosses with grace and dignity, and even in suffering unjustly for the sake of righteousness, we give glory to our Lord who is indeed making all things new. In this “little while,” we must continue to endure the effects of sin and brokenness, but we know those days are numbered.

We can endure this “little while” in hope, and yes even in joy, knowing the ironclad promise of Him who walked out of His own grave, of Him who forgives us all of our sins, of Him who gives us reason to “make a joyful shout to God all the earth,” of Him who puts all of our struggles into joyful perspective in this way: “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Thanks be to God, now and even unto eternity! Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Crabby confessionals

Lutherans who pay attention to the confessions of our church often have a reputation for crabbiness. And in South Louisiana, crabbiness is a virtue - at least when it comes to seafood.

Thanks to Ron (wearing the hat) and Shelly Cantrelle (in the red shirt), tonight's Book of Concord class was treated to a first class crab boil. We also had a boatload of shrimp, lots of spicy potatoes, corn, and sausage, and even some mint juleps and some mighty fine desserts.

You can see the pictures here.

We had a wonderful turnout (from every age group) as we took up Augsburg Confession Article 10 on the Lord's Supper. This evening's devotion from the Treasury of Daily Prayer, including a writing from Thomas Kempis, was most fitting indeed.

Thanks, Ron and Shelly, and to everyone else who brought food and drink!

We also had a few other reasons to celebrate. First, it was announced that Dale Barrois, Kelli's husband (both of whom were in attendance), has been received into membership at Salem! Second, the first of our classroom crucifixes has been installed in Schmid Hall, which doubles as our school's lunchroom. Third, our class was enjoyed by former Salem member, Michael Green, currently living in Utah, thanks to teleconferencing by Skype! We got to enjoy our god-daughter, Mike and Amy's baby daughter Jillian, thanks to the wonders of technology.

Mike also kept Leo in stitches.

We really are having a blast studying the Lutheran confessions on Saturday evenings. All are welcome! We typically start around 7:00 pm with a brief order of prayer from the Treasury, followed by our class and discussion on the particular reading from the Book of Concord. Next week: Augsburg Confession Article 11 on Confession and Absolution.

Y'all come! And lâche pas la patate!

Confederate History Moment

And here are the words of the national anthem, including both the popular pre-war lyrics as well as the more patriotic form composed by the Boston-born Brig. Gen. Albert Pike, CSA (1809-1891).

Friday, April 23, 2010

If Satan had his way...

Thanks to Kelly for passing this remarkably astute, almost Lewisian, observation on about the true mission of evil and the work of the devil:

“What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over a half century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, ma’am,’ and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached.”

-Michael Horton, Christless Christianity

Leo's Favorite Song... least in the pop/rock genre. I'm not sure how it stacks up against the themes to Spider-Man or Dino-Squad. Iron-Man (the cartoon) may also have Leo-approved music - I'm not sure. But he does like rock and roll - and he assures me that "Rusted From the Rain" by the Canadian band Billy Talent is his fave. Maybe it has to do with his heritage from the Great White North. But for whatever reason, he enjoys both music and video.

The video is quite nice, but was removed from YouTube (I had previously blogged it along with how I found it). But it is available above. One would think that YouTube would be the place a band would want a promotional video to be - but that's not my call.

In case any of the Billy Talent guys are reading, though, y'all might want to get your manager on the horn and ask them if they're on drugs...

Anyway, a couple observations. There are Christological themes in the song and video. "Rust" is a form of corrosion, of corruption, something of the post-fall paradigm. To be "rusted from the rain" is really to be beat down by this fallen world. The main character in the video has indeed been beaten down. He looks weary. He is obviously marginalized. He is an outcast.

And yet, he is patiently and without fanfare taking the junk of the fallen world and redeeming it. He works without recognition in his redemptive work. And in the end, the darkness becomes light, ugliness becomes beauty, the rust yields to luster, junkyard chaos becomes an oasis of concord, and the redeemer-artisan is surrounded by happy children who benefit from his labors.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy today's FH "Canadian content" musical interlude.

PS: The line about being "crushed like a flower" is also vaguely familiar. It may have been from Hammer of God, Diary of the Country Priest, or from the writings of St. Thérèse of Lisieux - maybe Deacon Gaba knows.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Confederate History Moment

The main issue that led to the War Between the States continues to re-present itself into our contemporary American political scene. And this should surprise no-one, even as the confederate president Jefferson Davis observed: "A question settled by violence, or in disregard of law, must remain unsettled forever."

What is the role of the federal government? So far, this question (along with the corollaries: What are the limits on its power? How do the states fit in?) remains unsettled.

This uncivil disagreement in America is manifested in both the Tea Party activists and their opponents.

So, here is a Confederate History Moment twofer, first, an essay addressing the recent suggestion that verbal disagreement with the federal government constitutes sedition, and second, a statement of contemporary 10th Amendment principles. A double HT is in order to Lew Rockwell.

Maybe we will finally see the question - which was indeed settled by violence and in disregard of the law - finally settled in a civilized way that serves the American people and protects their liberties, instead of pushing the American people into servitude and their God-given liberties into mere privileges granted by government bureaucrats.

And even if American liberty simply becomes a lost cause, it is gratifying to see the question being asked once again.

Deo vindice.

Illegal Drugs Marketed Especially for New Orleans?

HT: Engrish Funny.

I'm going to stick with nice, safe legal drugs, like caffeine and absinthe. But Crawfish Crack might be tempting. Bons temps, y'all!

This sounds kind of importrant...

And, as a bonus... this just in: Wholesale prices rising.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sermon: Commemoration of St. Anselm

21 April 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

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

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Everything we need to know about Jesus is recorded in the Bible.

And yet, the Lord raises up preachers and teachers in every generation who can articulate the Holy Scriptures and proclaim the Gospel in ways that help us to understand God. Such teachers do not add to the Word of God, but rather explain and provide the Church with clarity.

St. Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who died on this date in 1109, exactly 901 years ago, was one such preacher and teacher. All over the world today, Christians are thanking God for his ministry and witness of our Lord Jesus Christ and his preaching of the the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross as a payment for our sins.

Bishop Anselm wrote a classic book called Why God Became Man. He wrestled with the idea of God taking on human flesh, and taught with great clarity that our Lord became incarnate in order to die, that He died as a sacrifice, and that His sacrifice appeased God’s wrath and satisfied the Lord’s demand for blood as a payment for sin.

St. Anselm taught very clearly what we call today the “substitutionary atonement,” the idea that Jesus died in our place, taking our sins vicariously to the cross, and winning salvation for us as our “all availing sacrifice.”

This idea is hardly new. But sometimes these simple, biblical ideas need to be rediscovered by the Church.

St. Paul teaches us as much when he points out that the consequence of our justification by faith is that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Peace doesn’t happen by chance. Peace is the end of strife, and as we sang on Easter, “the strife is o’er, the battle done.” Jesus has won the war and secured the peace. The devil has been conquered, and the price paid to God for sin - the wage that the law demands - has been satisfied. And this is what our Lord meant when He cried as He breathed His last on the cross: “it is finished.”

For “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That “for us” means “in our place.” Just as the innocent Christ died to set free the guilty Barabbas, our Lord is the bloody sacrificial “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”

This past Sunday, the Lord was described as the Good Shepherd. Today, He is cast as the Condemned Sheep, the Scapegoat who bears our sins so that we don’t have to. For as St. Paul explains: “Since, therefore, we have been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.”

His blood, like the blood of the Passover Lamb, turns away the angel of death. His blood, however, is even better than the "blood of goats and calves," for it is His own blood, the blood of our perfect and holy High Priest, God in the flesh who lays down His flesh, who redeems our flesh, who rises in His flesh, and who makes our flesh clean and immortal.

Our enmity with God is ended. The war is over. “It is finished!” Peace has broken out. And Jesus is the Prince of Peace. “For if we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.”

This reconciliation took place at the cross. This once-for-all sacrifice, given to us as a gift, delivered to us in Word and Sacrament, and pleading for us at the judgment, at the end of our lives on this side of the grave, and at the end of time itself – is what St. Anselm preached, taught, wrote, and proclaimed – from the pulpit and in the lecture hall, through episcopal letters to His diocese, and in theological texts studied by theologians.

Anselm taught what Paul teaches, what Jesus does, and what we have been charged to confess before the whole world: that Jesus of Nazareth is God in the flesh, that He died a sacrificial death as a substitution, dying in our place, enduring the wrath we deserve, and rolling back millennia of strife between our righteous Creator and his mutinous creatures.

And like the troubled monk Martin Luther who struggled with his sinful nature, but who was comforted by his father in Christ, Dr. Staupitz, who quoted to Luther the Psalm we heard anew: “I am Yours, save me,” we too “have obtained access by faith” to pray this little prayer of trust to our heavenly Father: “I am Yours, save me.”

For our God is not just our Creator. He is not just the Righteous One against whom our sinful flesh rebels. He is not just the almighty, omnipotent, and omniscient judge whom we will face at the end of our lives and at the end of time. Indeed, our God is our Savior. He rescues us. He pulls us out of the pit. He endures the cross so we don’t have to. He preserves us from all evil and gives us eternal life. This is the Good News, the Gospel of the Christian faith. And without the atonement, the price paid by Jesus in full, our faith would be just one more failed attempt to keep the law perfectly. That is how we can pray with the Psalmist, with Dr. Staupitz, with Dr. Luther, with St. Anselm, and with myriads of saints of every age: “I am Yours, save me.”

St. Anselm taught us that Christianity is not a system to reach up to God, but rather the reception of a gift through faith – the bloody gift of the sacrificial death of Jesus for us.

This simple idea is not always clear – not even to scholars and churchmen. For even as our Lord prays: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” He taught us that the kingdom belongs to such as these little ones. He called upon us to turn and be like children. And He implored us to let the little ones come to Him.

We have been brought to Him in Holy Baptism, bathed not in the “blood of goats and calves,” but rather cleansed by the “washing of regeneration,” born again “by water and the Spirit.” The Father reveals Himself in His Son through the Holy Spirit, and He bids us: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

The Lord Jesus has done all the heavy lifting of securing our salvation through the cross, by His blood, by virtue of His death as a sacrifice, all delivered to us in Word and Sacrament. All that is left for us to do is to receive the gifts in faith. The Lord’s yoke laid upon Him at Golgotha was burdensome. We cannot even begin to imagine what our blessed Lord suffered and endured on our behalf. But listen to what He has secured for us, hear the Good News again, brothers and sisters of our risen Christ, listen to Him anew, as He says: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Thanks be to God for teachers like St. Anselm, the archbishop of Canterbury, doctor of the Church, and confessor of the simple Gospel of Jesus. And what’s more, thanks be to God for our Lord Jesus Christ, the sacrificial Lamb, the One who has secured our salvation and given us life that will have no end. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Confederate History Moment

A hat tip to Dr. Neill Payne, a dear friend Presbyterian elder, for blogging this article about Catholicism and the Old South by Gary Potter posted at

This meaty article not only chronicles the close ties between the American South and Roman Catholicism as well as recounting the wartime relationship between the Confederate States government and the Vatican (especially between the Jefferson Davis family and Pius IX). The article also has some good information repudiating the popular mythology regarding the so-called Civil War as it is commonly taught in politically-correct textbooks and school resources.

One irony this article points out (something that I had read a long time ago, but had forgotten about) involves slavery, the City of Richmond, emancipation, and the Union occupation. Here is the excerpt:

"One case will suffice to illustrate the immensity of Northern hypocrisy in the matter of slavery and race. Outside the South, few today know that Gen. Robert E. Lee freed his slaves before the War Between the States broke out. Even fewer know that Julia Grant, wife of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, still owned three slaves at the end of the war. Two of them were rented out. The third, a female also named Julia, was kept by Mrs. Grant as a maid. When Richmond fell and the war was effectively over, Mrs. Grant traveled down there from Washington, D.C., to visit her husband. She took Julia with her. Thus, at that moment, the only slave in the former Confederate capital who was not freed belonged to the wife of the commanding general of the Union forces!

That is the kind of small but illuminating fact that is kept obscured by writers and others who must distort or hide true past reality in order to fabricate a history on which to base a present and future shaped according to their own idea of what they should be."

Once again, you can read the whole article here.

Some outstanding reading as we round out Confederate History and Heritage Month.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Salem Lutheran School Spring Concert: Christ Has Triumphed!

Cross-posted from the Salem Renaissance:

This evening's Salem Lutheran School's Annual Spring Concert: Christ Has Triumphed! was a rousing success.

Miss Rehema Kavugha led our school's student choristers, as well as directing our musicians (Mrs. Kristin Albarado, piano and organ; Miss Kimberly King, clarinet; and Mr. Kyle Bergeron, trumpet) in an ambitious program of classical Christian hymnody that included Felix Mendelssohn's O Rest In the Lord, Johann Sebastian Bach's Rejoice O My Spirit, St. Patrick's classic hymn I Bind Unto Myself Today, as well as more modern hymns (including the Carol of Prophecy by Shirley W. McRae that had the children singing the Latin chorus: "Exultate, jubilate Deo!"

They were outstanding!

The choirs included:

The Alleluia Chorus: Madeline Appel, Luke Althage, Joshua Ballay, Matthew Clement, Isabella Clouatre, Madeline Grisoli, Trinity LeBlanc, Nathan Levandoske, Jessica Lotz, Cross Mitchell, Madison Meladine, Madison Olson, Jena Stallings, Christian Swoop, Emily Vedros, and Joshua Wichers.

The Sanctus Singers: Jae'la Every, Isabella Grisoli, Karrington Keller, Brianna Lassiegne, Jonathan Pagan, Haley Rodrigue, Kennedi White, and Kaylee Wichers.

The Glory Givers: Macey Boudreaux, Keslea Hall, Elyssa Lassiegne, Imani Mulmore, Joye Pate, and Cheryl Ricks.

The Chime Choir: Colton Darnell, Jacob DeMoss, Keslea Hall, Brant Jambon, Freddreionne King, Elyssa Lassiegne, Imani Mulmore, Kourtney Parker, Joye Pate, Jaelyn Robinson, and Zoey Turner.

There are a few pictures here. They aren't the best pictures, but were taken from the balcony with no flash. But what the snapshots lack in quality our choirs, musicians, and Miss Kavugha made up for in the quality of their work.

Thank you for you magnificent performance to the glory of our triumphant and risen Lord!

Confederate History Moment

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has a nice article today about Judah P. Benjamin (1811-1884), our antebellum New Orleanian U.S. senator from Louisiana. He actually lived just outside of the Crescent City, on the West Bank (in Belle Chasse), not far from where I live. He was the first Jew to hold a cabinet level office in any American national government (which happened to be the CSA).

The 19th century South was by far more tolerant of Jews than their northern counterparts, and the largest Jewish community in the United States was in Charleston, South Carolina. Bernard Baruch (1870-1965), native of the Palmetto State who went on to become a famous 20th century financier (whose father was a surgeon in the Confederate States Army) wrote that his first exposure to antisemitism was when the family moved up north after the war.

After secession, Judah P. Benjamin resigned from the U.S. senate, and after confederation, he served as the first attorney general of the Confederate States of America, later being appointed secretary of war, and then secretary of state, a post he held until the overthrow of the government.

He was present at the last cabinet meeting of the CSA in Washington, Georgia. After the dissolution of the confederate government, having discharged all of his duties and rather than to face "victor's justice," Benjamin engaged in a harrowing high-stakes adventure, making his way to Florida, the Bahamas, and finally England. There, he obtained asylum and became a noted jurist and legal scholar. Born in the West Indies, he was quite a remarkable American and (later) Englishman, who lived the final years of his life in Paris - where he is buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

As the "brains of the Confederacy," Judah Benjamin was a true man of mystery and citizen of the world - often photographed with a slight smile on his face (smiling was not the norm in portrait photography in the 19th century). One of the legal textbooks he authored remains to this very day a current reference work used by jurists in Great Britain.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Confederate History Moment

The Bonnie Blue Flag is both a secessionist flag (particularly beloved of Texans) and a rousing anthem of confederation.

The grotesque and rapacious political hack Benjamin "Beast" Butler made it a crime for New Orleanians to sing it. Well, this one's for you, Beast! Until I get my very own Beast Butler chamber pot, this is my best efforts to show due respect...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3)

18 April 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

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

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Young people who inhabit the Internet are familiar with the expression: “Owned.” To be owned is not a good thing. It means to be defeated, dominated, or even humiliated. And thanks to an Asian misspelling, a particularly bad case of “ownage” might even be called “pwnage.”

But we Christians take comfort in being “owned.”

We are the Lord’s creation, and thus He owns us. But rather than treat us as objects or as slaves, our Master actually behaves as if He were the slave, making us the object of His divine affections. For He serves us and takes care of us, more as beloved people than owned people. And yet, we can take great comfort in the Lord’s ownership. St. Paul even calls us God’s “workmanship” and urges us to submit to His will for us, like a piece of clay looks to the hands that formed it into a vessel for some use.

When the owner is God, being owned is not a bad thing at all. In fact, our Lord allowed Himself to be “owned” in the eyes of the world by submitting to the cross. He was seemingly defeated, submitted to being dominated, and He willfully allowed Himself to be humiliated – all out of love and mercy for the sheep he owns and loves and in obedience to the Father He serves and loves.

And ultimately, this is the difference between the world’s understanding of being owned and that of our Lord and His Church.

A shepherd has a job: to watch and take care of the sheep. Insuring their welfare is what He is called to do. If the shepherd is only a hired hand – in other words, if the sheep are not owned by the shepherd – the sheep are in great danger. For they will get their water and food only so long as the shepherd is afraid of being fired. But as soon as a predator comes along, as soon as being fired is no longer his worst fear – the shepherd will abandon the sheep, and will leave them to the tender mercies of lions and wolves.

How different it is to be owned by the Good Shepherd, dear brothers and sisters! For the Owner cares about His sheep. Getting fired is not among His cares. Rather He knows that His life is intertwined with that of His sheep. He knows His sheep. He is committed to them. Ultimately, He loves them. And the greatest expression of love is to lay down one’s life for the beloved.

Our Good Shepherd truly lays down His life for His sheep. And we are truly His sheep.

For unlike the calm pictures of shepherds strolling aimlessly in the sunshine among flowers and gentle brooks, the life of the shepherd is actually violent and militant. The shepherd carries a crook. He must stand guard like a combat sentry. He must extricate his sheep from life-threatening trouble. He must beat back vicious attackers that would not only eat his sheep, but would make a meal of the shepherd as well.

The shepherd gets sweaty, dirty, bloody, and bruised. The shepherd stays awake at night and loses sleep. The shepherd frets over the little ones and dotes on the older ones. He binds wounds and he makes sure all of those under his care are fed and watered. The shepherd is not meek and mild and cowardly – that is unless he is a hireling.

Dear friends, our Lord is no hireling.

He did not see the wolf coming and leave the sheep and flee. And nor did the wolf snatch us and scatter us. No indeed! Our Shepherd beat back the wolf even to the point of the cross. Our Shepherd lays down His life for us sheep. Our Shepherd owns us, and it is a good thing in God’s economy to be owned.

And look at what this means for us! We have no faceless caretaker that changes day in and day out. We are not subjected to a shepherd who is only in it for money. We need not fear predators because we expect our Shepherd to cut and run. By no means! Our Shepherd is a good Shepherd, the only true Good Shepherd, the Shepherd who owns the sheep and lays down His life for them.

And so He knows us. He calls us by name. He has baptized us and given us His name. He summons us to worship as He gathers all of His sheep around Himself. He makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters. And we too know Him. We hear His voice as He proclaims the good news that our sins are forgiven. We know His Word, and we gather as a flock around it.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, dear sheep. He fulfills what Ezekiel prophesied: He owns us, loves us, feeds us, redeems us, protects us, and raises us from the dead. He, God Himself, has sought us out. He rescues us. He brings back the strayed, binds up the injured, strengthens the weak, and brings the sheep who hurt the others to justice. And St. Peter, Himself a faithful shepherd charged with feeding the Lord’s lambs, explains: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.”

The wolf came for us, and our Shepherd interposed Himself and defended us – with no regard for His own life and limb. That is the mark of the owner, the one who loves, the one who gives all for the sake of His beloved. As St. Peter continues: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

It is indeed a good thing to be owned: to have been created by the Creator and shepherded by the Good Shepherd. He is the Lamb who has ransomed the sheep – “Christ who only is sinless, reconciling sinners to the Father.”

For this is the work of the Good Shepherd: to become sweaty and dirty and bloody and bruised, to beat back the assaults of the evil one, for “death and life have contended in that combat stupendous.” Our Good Shepherd is indeed the “prince of life who died” who now “reigns immortal.”

And, dear sheep, we look forward to the day when we will join our Good Shepherd in eternity, the one who lays down His life and takes it up again, the one who has defeated death by dying, the one righteous Man who has redeemed all sinful men – the “Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.”

“So there will,” indeed, “be one flock, one Shepherd,” even unto eternity. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Friday, April 16, 2010

Confederate History Moment Twofer

Lost amid all the self-serving politically-correct propaganda masquerading as history that is being taught in American government schools is the story of black Southerners, free and slave, who took part in the Confederate States war effort to defend their families, homes, and country. This was as natural and inevitable as the (also largely overlooked) black Americans who took part in the war effort of the first American war of secession of 1775-1783.

My friend H.K. Edgerton talks the talk and walks the walk (in one case, walking from Asheville, NC to Austin, TX carrying a Confederate battle flag) to explain to anyone who will listen that his family took an active and courageous part in the war to repel northern invaders during the second American war of secession of 1861-1865.

When the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) met in reunions after the war, there were always black veterans who took part. They were not segregated - unlike their northern counterparts in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) - whose black veterans were housed in separate camps. This caused some consternation in the joint GAR-UCV reunion in Gettysburg in 1913 on the 50th anniversary of the battle, when black Confederate veterans showed up, and Union veterans were stunned that they were not placed into separate quarters like the blacks who wore the blue.

To those who actually live in the South (and not just read about it in books), this is not surprising at all. In spite of our bumpy history (much of which was fueled by poverty and Jim Crow that were both legacies from the fallout of the war and reconstruction), black and white Southerners have a long and shared history of personal interaction and mutual hardship that seems inconceivable to those who need a myth of hatred to fuel their own political and academic careers.

Those interested in the truth will get it, and those who don't will continue to cling to their convenient mythology.

Confederate History Moment

My pal and fellow SCV member Ronny Mangrum writes...

"Since it is Confederate History month here is an interesting tidbit for ya.

This is a drawing of a unique Alabama Confederate "First national" flag that belonged to the 2nd Alabama Artillery. What is cool about this one is that it was made from a captured US flag. The US flag was taken apart and sewn back together to be a First national flag."

Deo vindice, y'all!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mrs. H. is a Ham

One has to be careful about making porcine references regarding one's spouse. This is the one exception: when it has to do with amateur radio.

As of today, Mrs. H. is a ham. By passing the FCC Technician Class exam last week, she joins the international community of amateur radio operators, and her callsign is KF5GFE. Congratulations are certainly in order!

She and I both checked into our local 2 meter net on the Westbank Amateur Radio Club repeater this evening using our little Alinco handheld, and we are greatly looking forward to getting our ICOM 706 on the air - especially as hurricane season draws near.

June 3rd of this year will mark Fr. H.'s 35th anniversary as a ham. Here is a nice little introduction to ham radio narrated by the late Walter Cronkite, KB2GSD, back in 2003.




For your April 15th Goodfellas Day festivities, an updated version of the Beatles' classic "Taxman" (and here are the words if you don't know them, and here is a version with some new words performed live by George Harrison and Eric Clapton).

"More Taxes at Work" or "It's Good to be (hiccup) King"

Here is a Washington Times article explaining what tax-and-booze-fueled government bureaucrats do best.

And since we have no choice in the matter, here's a little musical message from the taxpayers to the taxdrinkers on this most auspicious of days.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Weedon on our Lutheran Liturgical Heritage

You might be familiar with the Rev. William Weedon (pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hamel, IL) from his Bible study in this past December's Lutheran Witness, his many appearances on Issues, Etc., his work with the PALS program, his service with our seminaries as a vicarage and field education supervisor, or his being acknowledged on page 991 as a contributor to our hymnal.

He has served in the holy ministry since graduating from our St. Louis seminary in 1986, and earned a second masters degree from Concordia - St. Louis in 1998. His expertise on liturgical matters was acknowledged in Joseph Herl's treatise Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism (Oxford University Press) - see Dr. Herl's endorsement. Pastor Weedon also edited a new edition of the Starck's Prayer Book published last year by Concordia Publishing House (CPH).

He is also a blogger who always has interesting insights, pastoral sensitivity, and excellent scholarship. I can't recommend his blog enough.

Pastor Weedon recently blogged a few passages from the Lutheran Confessions, from Martin Luther, and from C.F.W. Walther "on the liturgical heritage of Lutheran Christians - the formation of which in these gray and latter days is never an easy task." And he adds: "May these few lines be of some help!"

I believe they are, and here they are:

The Lutheran Confessions on Various Matters of Worship:

Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. The Mass is held among us and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved… Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV:1,2

Because the Mass is for the purpose of giving the Sacrament, we have Communion every holy day, and if anyone desires the Sacrament, we also offer it on other days, when it is given to all who ask for it. Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV:34

We answer that it is lawful for bishops, or pastors, to make ordinances so that things will be done orderly in the church, but not to make satisfaction for sin… It is proper that the churches keep such ordinances for the sake of love and tranquility, to avoid giving offense to another, so that all things be done in the churches in order, and without confusion. Augsburg Confession XXVIII:53-55.

However, it is pleasing to us that, for the sake of peace, universal ceremonies are kept. We also willingly keep the order of the Mass in the churches, the Lord’s Day, and other more famous festival days. With a very grateful mind we include the beneficial and ancient ordinances, especially since they contain a certain discipline. Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article VII/VIII:33

Masses are celebrated among us every Lord’s Day and on other festivals. The Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other such things. Apology to the Augsburg Confession, XXIV:1

Nothing in customary rites should be changed without a reasonable cause. So to nurture unity, old customs that can be kept without sin or great inconvenience should be kept. Apology to the Augsburg Confession, XV:51

Luther on the Elevation (lifting up the body and blood of the Lord):

We do not want to abolish the elevation, but retain it because it...signifies that Christ has commanded us to remember Him. For just as the sacrament is bodily elevated, and yet Christ's body and blood are not seen in it, so he is also remembered and elevated by the word of the sermon and is confessed and adored in the reception of the Sacrament. In each case, He is apprehended only by faith; for we cannot see how Christ gives His body and blood for us and even now daily shows and offers it before God to obtain grace for us. -- Blessed Martin Luther, *The German Mass* AE 53:82

Luther on Genuflecting during the Creed:

And when the congregation came to the words “from the Virgin Mary, and was made man,” everyone genuflected and removed his hat. It would still be proper and appropriate to kneel at the words “and was made man,” to sing them with long notes as formerly, to listen with happy hearts to the message that the Divine Majesty abased Himself and became like us poor bags of worms, and to thank God for the ineffable mercy and compassion reflected in the incarnation of the Deity. [Luther on John 1:14]

Luther on Kissing the Bible:

It [kneeling before the Sacrament] is a matter of freedom, just as one is at liberty to kiss the Bible or not. -- Table Talk 344

Luther on what was spilled:

[In 1542, in Wittenberg] a woman wanted to go to the Lord’s Supper, and then as she was about to kneel on the bench before the altar and drink, she made a misstep and jostled the chalice of the Lord violently with her mouth, so that some of the Blood of Christ was spilled from it onto her lined jacket and coat and onto the rail of the bench on which she was kneeling. So then when the reverend Doctor Luther, who was standing at a bench opposite, saw this, he quickly ran to the altar (as did also the reverend Doctor Bugenhagen), and together with the curate, with all reverence licked up [the Blood of Christ from the rail] and helped wipe off this spilled Blood of Christ from the woman’s coat, and so on, as well as they could. And Doctor Luther took this catastrophe so seriously that he groaned over it and said, “O, God, help!” and his eyes were full of water. (Johann Hachenburg, quoted in Peters, p. 191)

The Lutheran Confessions on Adoration of the Sacrament:

However, no one - unless he is an Arian heretic - can and will deny that Christ Himself, true God and man, is truly and essentially present in the Supper. Christ should be adored in spirit and in truth in the true use of the Sacrament, as He is in all other places, especially where His congregation is assembled. (FC VII:15)

Walther (Synod’s first President) on Chanting:

It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won't accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?

It is too bad that such entirely different ceremonies prevail in our Synod, and that no liturgy at all has yet been introduced in many congregations. The prejudice especially against the responsive chanting of pastor and congregations is of course still very great with many people -- this does not, however, alter the fact that it is very foolish. The pious church father Augustine said, "Qui cantat, bis orat--he who sings prays twice."

This finds its application also in the matter of the liturgy. Why should congregations or individuals in the congregation want to retain their prejudices? How foolish that would be! For first of all it is clear from the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:16) that the congregations of his time had a similar custom. It has been the custom in the Lutheran Church for 250 years. It creates a solemn impression on the Christian mind when one is reminded by the solemnity of the divine service that one is in the house of God, in childlike love to their heavenly Father, also give expression to their joy in such a lovely manner.

Whenever the divine service once again follows the old Evangelical-Lutheran agendas (or church books), it seems that many raise a great cry that it is "Roman Catholic": "Roman Catholic" when the pastor chants "The Lord be with you" and the congregation responds by chanting "and with thy spirit"; "Roman Catholic" when the pastor chants the collect and the blessing and the people respond with a chanted "Amen." Even the simplest Christian can respond to this outcry: "Prove to me that this chanting is contrary to the Word of God, then I too will call it `Roman Catholic' and have nothing more to do with it. However, you cannot prove this to me."

If you insist upon calling every element in the divine service "Romish" that has been used by the Roman Catholic Church, it must follow that the reading of the Epistle and Gospel is also "Romish." Indeed, it is mischief to sing or preach in church, for the Roman Church has done this also . . .Those who cry out should remember that the Roman Catholic Church possesses every beautiful song of the old orthodox church. The chants and antiphons and responses were brought into the church long before the false teachings of Rome crept in. This Christian Church since the beginning, even in the Old Testament, has derived great joy from chanting... For more than 1700 years orthodox Christians have participated joyfully in the divine service. Should we, today, carry on by saying that such joyful participation is "Roman Catholic"? God forbid! Therefore, as we continue to hold and to restore our wonderful divine services in places where they have been forgotten, let us boldly confess that our worship forms do not tie us with the modern sects or with the church of Rome; rather, they join us to the one, holy Christian Church that is as old as the world and is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.”

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2)

11 April 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

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

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Is your church Spirit-filled?”

I was asked that question a couple years ago by someone who was interested in visiting our Wednesday night Divine Service. I don’t think he meant the question the same way that I took it. He was in all likelihood really asking whether or not our services are emotional, if we jump around and make funny noises during worship. But that isn’t what he asked. His question was: “Is your church Spirit-filled?” And so I answered his question: “Absolutely! We are a spirit-filled church.”

The work of the Holy Spirit is as far from its portrayal on TV – by Hollywood and by TV preachers alike – as is the difference between Olympic wrestling and the kind of entertainment wrestling that involves garish outfits and flying chairs. The real and genuine work of the Spirit is dramatic and life-changing, but it is not the stuff of sideshows and circus tents, of marketing and manipulation.

Salem Lutheran Church is, like all congregations around the world in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, a Spirit-filled church. The Greek word translated as “church” literally means an assembly of those called out. We have been called out by the Spirit of God, summoned forth from the decaying bones of the corrupted and decaying world to join a vast army of the resurrected, filled with the breath of God, to stand together as one vast body, a corps, immortal and incorruptible, linked bone by bone, and joined into a holy assembly, person by person.

“Prophesy to the breath,” says the Lord, and Ezekiel speaks the Word.

Through the preacher, the Lord heals even dead and decaying bones. “Prophesy to the breath,” the Lord reiterates, and the breath enters the reconstructed fleshly bodies of the once-dead skeletons, and the Lord’s breath becomes their breath. They are born again. Death yields to life. They rise. They walk. They serve the Lord. In the Hebrew and the Greek of the Bible, the word “breath” and the word “Spirit” are one and the same. This is why we confess the Holy Spirit as the “Lord and giver of life.” God the Holy Spirit is sent forth by the Father and the Son, and He is the breath of life that makes dead bones walk, putting life-giving words into the mouths of preachers charged with reanimating the fallen.

For we have been born again by water and the Spirit. We have been blessed by the working of the Holy Spirit through the men the Lord has called by His Word and breath: to preach, to baptize, and to forgive sins. For nobody can take this authority unto himself. Rather, this spiritual authority is delegated.

Hear anew what the Spirit says in the Scriptures He has inspired: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’”

Our Lord Jesus calls all believers to life and fills all of them with the Holy Spirit. And the Lord calls some of these Spirit-filled believers to be sent, to be “apostled” and commissioned to “prophesy to the breath.” For “when He had said this, he breathed on them,” these specific ones He has chosen to send forth as preachers, proclaims the holy Evangelist. Our Lord Jesus “breathes on them” – filling their bodies with the breath, the Spirit of God, as well as the authority to proclaim, to form words using that borrowed divine breath. And with this breath, these apostolic proclaimers of the Good News will indeed “prophesy over these bones” and “prophesy to the breath.”

And how is it that this breath, this Spirit, this proclamation can raise the dead and turn dry bones into a vibrant army? Look at what comes with this gift of the Spirit, this delegated authority from the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. Our Lord continues: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

The Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, delivers the forgiveness of sins!

For the wages of sin is death. Sin has turned the entire world into a hopeless and hapless valley full of decaying bones. But the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, the proclamation of the Gospel by those to whom Jesus has breathed this authority, transforms rotting bones into thriving fleshly creatures, and changes corruptible flesh into Spirit-filled immortals. For the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And note that this is all accomplished by the forgiveness of sins!

This is why the risen Jesus greets the fearful disciples with the greeting: “Peace.” Their days of fear of God’s wrath are over. The rift between sinful man and righteous God is ended. In Christ, we are indeed sons and daughters of the King!

Our risen King blesses his beloved followers of every age with this Spirit-filled benediction: “Peace be with you!” And as evidence of being Spirit-filled, Jesus doesn’t do parlor tricks or appeal to their emotions. Rather He “showed them His hands and His side.” Dear friends, this is where we find peace – in the holy wounds of our Lord, in the sacrificial blood shed for us on the cross, in the same body and blood delivered miraculously to us – all in space and time.

We are Spirit-filled because of the fleshly Jesus. We have the Holy Spirit because of the bodily incarnation of our Lord. And we are temples of the Holy Spirit in our bodies, because we are the body of Christ. The Spirit dwells in the body, and just as Jesus rose bodily from the grave, so too we have the promise: “I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live…. I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

For the Spirit comes through the Son. As St. John also proclaims: “This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”

The Spirit testifies, dear brothers and sisters. The Lord and giver of life is breathed into you, and you are absolved by the authority of the Father delegated through the Son, and given to you through the life-giving Spirit – who testifies.

In the waters of Baptism, where one name of the Triune God was impressed upon you as a seal, placed upon you with the sign of the cross, seeping into you bodily through water, and resounding through every molecule of your fleshly existence by the proclaimed Word – you became Spirit-filled. And just as the peace-bearing Jesus pointed to His wounds, He continues to point you to His body and blood, where the Spirit continues to fill you “for the forgiveness of sins.”

In spite of our stubborn sinful nature, our nagging weaknesses, our feeble shortcomings; in spite of the fact that our bodies are decaying along with this fallen world – we know that God the Holy Spirit will not fail us. We know that God our Redeemer lives. We have been born again by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. We are invited to eat and drink the body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. We are bidden to hear the Holy Gospel and the authoritative words of Holy Absolution. We are called to be a Holy Church, Spirit-filled, redeemed, brought to life by the prophecy of God’s Word. And we have the promise and the fullest benediction of the Risen One Himself: “Peace be with you.”

Like St. Thomas who once doubted, we believe. “My Lord and My God!” we confess right along with the holy apostle and with the whole Spirit-filled Church throughout the world of every time and place, even as the Holy Spirit gives us “the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Friday, April 09, 2010

A Public Service Announcement...

... by Christopher Walken and Tim Meadows on how to complete a census. For information on how the federal government has used this "confidential" information in the past, click here.

Your Complimentary Musical Interlude

A 1980s rock and roll/big band retro performance of "Face the Face" by Pete Townshend's Deep End. Try to sit still during this one. I dare ya.

Father H. is sending this one out to the Rev. Greg Alms and the Rev. Dr. Larry Rast.

If you enjoyed this piece of mid-80s high-test musicality, you may also like "Slit Skirts," "A Little is Enough," "Give Blood," and the greatest rock anthem of all time: "Won't Get Fooled Again" - all performed by Deep End with the same full brassy sound. But who allowed Pete Townshend and David Gilmour to be in the same place at the same time? Somehow, that has to stress the core of the earth to concentrate that kind of talent in one geographical place. Maybe we should ask Al Gore how much more of that kind of thing The Environment can take.

Others who prefer their Townshend a little more al dente, with (unintentional but present) baptismal overtones, will appreciate this virtuoso acoustic performance of "Drowned," or the really toned down ukulele-driven meditation on contentment "Blue, Red, and Grey."

Who needs MTV when we have Blogspot and YouTube?

Remember to turn it up, boys and girls, because if it's too loud, you're too young. And don't forget, all the best cowboys have Chinese eyes.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

New pictures, and some new old pictures, uploaded

Mrs. H. in 1988, three years before we met at an outdoor table right under the awning behind her in this pic, at the Mayflower

Our fifth annual Adult Retreat pics are here. My trek through the French Quarter is chronicled here. And what Crescent City blogger would omit culinary photos? Here are a few pictures of our church for Good Friday and Easter Sunday (including bruch and the easter egg hunt). Our Easter dinner with neighbors and friends can be found here.

For those (like my sister in law Pia) who enjoy the classics, here are some scanned oldies...
At last, I think I'm caught up on scanning. Not that all have been scanned in (by no means!) but these are, I think, the best ones. I have also uploaded a good number of these on facebook. I also learned that you can tag people in facebook pictures even if they aren't on facebook.