Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sermon: Reformation - 2010

31 October 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Romans 3:19-28

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There’s an old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Of course, it is implied in this saying that if something is broken, it ought to be fixed. Both this old saying and its implied opposite describe the Lutheran reformation that we commemorate today.

For in the sixteenth century, everybody knew the church was broken. And whether they admitted it or not, everybody did know it – from the pope and cardinals, to the clergy, the monks and nuns, and to the lay-people. From princes and kings to peasants and beggars – the festering corruption in the church was laid bare for all to see, like an open sore.

And for centuries, Christians of goodwill from all walks of life – bishops and cardinals, abbots and abbesses, professors and teachers, laymen and lay-women called upon the church’s leadership to repent.

But the church was so broken that she didn’t even know what it meant to repent.

Popes and bishops had become princes and overlords. Priests were engaging in openly scandalous lifestyles. Preaching had become almost non-existent. Parishioners no longer sang, confessed their sins, or professed the creeds. Very few people even understood the Bible readings. Masses became commodities to buy and sell, and the church had become more concerned with maintaining gold and relics and bureaucracy than she did with saving souls, serving, and shining forth the good news of Jesus Christ.

But thanks be to God that this would not stand! For even in this mess of medieval brokenness there were great men and women who understood the Gospel, taught their families the good news, and extracted forgiveness and life even out of the stingy fingers of a church gone awry.

For not even the gates of hell would prevail against the holy church – even a hypocritical church that had largely lost her way. The Lord was merciful, and thanks to scholars and teachers and printing presses and princes, through preaching and teaching, singing and reading, and through the miraculous leading of the Holy Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lord allowed the brokenness to heal, the wrongs to be righted, and the darkness of false doctrine to be illuminated by the light of Christ in those churches where the reformation took hold.

For what was broken was fixed: the priests found their prophetic voice of preaching and teaching, the people once more hungered and thirsted for the Word in their own language and the sacraments that they knew were to be had without price. The Mass ceased to be a commercial enterprise and was stripped of its superstition and once more became the Holy Supper. Professors read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew and looked to the Word as the rule and norm of our faith. Hymns of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving again rang out from our churches in languages spoken by our people. Children were taught from the cradle of God’s love and mercy. No more would the holy saints be treated like gods and goddesses. The reformation was a revival as that which was broken was fixed.

And central to all of these changes is the good news itself: “By works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law….” For although “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” the good news is that we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith.”

“All have sinned” – we cannot deny it. We “are justified” – declared righteous by God’s mercy. In Christ is our “redemption,” dying on the cross as a sacrificial atonement, a “propitiation by his blood.” His atoning blood is offered to all as a free “gift” – a gift of salvation and eternal life. This gift is “received by faith,” not by works, not by money, not by jumping through a broken church’s ridiculous set of hoops. And it is the church’s job, dear friends, as it has always been, to proclaim this from the rooftops, to be fishers of men, to give away this free gift like there’s no tomorrow – for there may not be a tomorrow, even as we await our Savior’s return.

And when the church is engaged in this preaching and teaching, in distributing holy gifts to sinners, in healing the sick and raising the dead by the Word of God and through His Sacraments, there we find not only a broken church being repaired, but a broken people being made whole.

And indeed, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” As broken as the church was in the sixteenth century, there were many things that were not broken: the proclamation of the Gospel through the liturgy, the Word ringing out among those preachers who did continue to proclaim, the constant prayers of the monks and nuns that were focused on God’s Word – especially the Psalms, the ongoing true presence of our Redeemer Jesus under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, and true confessions and true absolutions. Even in these dark times, the wick burned dimly, and yet it burned.

It burned through countless confessors and preachers of the Gospel, known and unknown. It burned through Fr. John Staupitz, the man who taught a broken monk by the name of Martin Luther the true meaning of the Gospel. It burned through scholars like Erasmus, who brought the Scriptures back to the center of the Church’s discourse. It burned through St. Bernard of Clairvaux who cried out for reform four centuries before Luther. It burned through John Wycliffe who translated the Bible into English, and St. Catherine of Siena who scolded popes, three hundred years before Luther. It burned literally in the flesh of Blessed John Huss, who was executed at the stake a century before Luther.

The Lutheran Reformation stood on the shoulders of these giants, and carried their torch, the torch of God’s Word, as a light unto the church’s path.

And we Lutherans of today hold on to that which was not broken. We baptize people young and old for the forgiveness of sins. We have retained the ministry of called and ordained pastors who stand in the apostolic ministry and preaching office for the forgiveness of sins. We confess our sins and receive absolution from the pastor for the forgiveness of sins. We reverently celebrate the Mass for the forgiveness of sins. We confess the ancient creeds and confess the one true faith with the ancient fathers for the forgiveness of sins.

And most importantly of all, we know what is still broken must still be repaired by the forgiveness of sins. We, dear brothers and sisters, are broken and must be fixed, century after century, year after year, week after week, moment by moment. Our Christian life is a life of constant repentance and forgiveness, of being broken by sin and of being renewed by grace.

To stand in the train of the Lutheran reformers is a high honor, but even more so, it is humbling. For the reformers taught us most importantly of all that we are in need of a Savior, and that we have been rescued by Jesus Christ. We have nothing to boast about but Christ alone.

“What becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Thanks be to God that the one and only One who was not broken and who needed no fixing was willing to be broken on the cross as a fix for us broken ones, we who have been saved by His grace and mercy apart from our works. And thanks be to God for those who have proclaimed this Christian truth throughout the history of the Christian Church.

We have been broken by sin, and we have been fixed by the cross. This is the good news. Today is yet another Reformation Day for all sinners made saints by the Word of God. Thanks be to Him who has saved us by grace! Amen.

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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween controversy

Every year the debate rages among Christians: celebrate Halloween or not.

To read more, click here at Four and Twenty Blackbirds.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On the Profundity of Music

Music in our day and age is largely seen as mere entertainment.  And there is nothing wrong with the joy of music for music's sake - whatever the style.  But the quote attributed to St. Augustine "Qui cantat bis orat" ("He who sings prays twice") calls to mind how profound music really is in its deepest spiritual sense.

From the time of the Reformation, Lutherans have recognized the power and profundity of music and have tapped in to the power of music to teach, to proclaim, to confess, and to comfort - as have all Christians from the ministry of our Lord and His apostles, and even farther back in time to King David and the composition of the Psalms.

Today, Lutherans honor three saints, Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heermann, and Paul Gerhardt, all three of which were not only hymnwriters but pastors serving in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

Here is today's writing from the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

"Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608) was a pastor in Germany during the Great Plague, which took the lives of thirteen hundred of his parishioners during a six-month period.  In addition to his heroic pastoral ministry during that time of stress and sorrow, he wrote the texts for 'Wake, Awake, For Night Is Flying" and "O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright," known respectively as the king and queen of the Lutheran chorales.  
Johann Heermann (1583-1647), also a German pastor, suffered from poor health as well as from the ravages of the Thirty Years' War (1618-48).  His hymn texts are noted for their tenderness and depth of feeling .
Paul Gerhardt (1607-76) was another Lutheran pastor who endured the horrors of the Thirty Years' War.  By 1668, he had lost his pastoral position in Berlin (for refusing to compromise his Lutheran convictions) and endured the death of four of his five children and his wife.  He nevertheless managed to write 133 hymns, all of which reflect his firm faith.  Along with Martin Luther, he is regarded as one of Lutheranism's finest hymnwriters."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sermon: Trinity 21 - 2010

24 October 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 4:46-54 (Gen 1:1-2:3, Eph 6:10-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,” and there was light.” And God continued to create all things by nothing more than His Word, declaring each step in the process to be “good.”

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.”

It was “very good” because it was perfect. There was no dysfunction, no strife, no violence, no contention, no corruption, no aging, no disease, and above all, no death.

For God did not create a world of death. But we know how things turned out. Adam and Eve took that which was “very good” and made it “very bad.” In disobedience of God’s Word they took the world fashioned by that same Word, and by means of false words of a false god, self-deception, and disobedience against the Creator, and they brought every manner of evil – even death itself – to the Lord’s good and perfect creation.

And this is how it is that we have evil in the world to this very day, dear friends. It is not the creation of a merciful God, but rather the corruption of a selfish mankind. We chose to do things our own repugnant way rather than submit to God’s resplendent way. We opted for death over life, for the hollow utterances of the devil over and against the wholesome Word and promise of God. We did all of this, and now God has come into our world, the world He lovingly fashioned and created by means of His Word – in order to settle the score.

And settle it He does!

For death does not get the last word, dear brothers and sisters. For the Word of Life overcomes the word of death. The Word made flesh has come to overcome our own sin-ridden flesh. The one who made water and who made wine has come into a fallen world, one where water becomes brackish and wine becomes vinegar – and He turns water into wine, the first of His signs.

But He doesn’t stop there!

His second sign is more wondrous, more indicative of His mission among us; in, with, and under our fallen flesh; foreshadowing His overcoming of death by means of death, and delivering us from the grave by His own departure from the grave.

In Capernaum, “an official” has come to Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, to plead on behalf of the dying flesh of his own son. Jesus bade him: “Go; your son will live.” And “the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”

How remarkable, dear brothers and sisters! What a glorious commentary on faith and the Word! For the man believed – that is, he put his trust in – the Word spoken by the Word made flesh. Rather than continue pleading, he simply did what Jesus said to do: in faith, he “went.” Jesus said “Go,” the man believed, and he “went.” The Son of God cured the son of the official at the seventh hour, the same hour that the official “believed.” Many times our Lord told people “your faith has made you well.” In this case, we are left to draw that conclusion. That, dear friends, is the power of faith; that is, the power of belief. It is the power of life over death. The power does not lie in us, but rather in Jesus, in His Word, in His divinity, in His love for His fallen creatures, and in His authorship of life itself. For in faith we flip on the light switch, and when the circuit is closed, the power of electricity surges through the wires at the speed of light, and behold, there is light.

Our faith does not create the electricity, but if we did not believe that the switch would work, we would simply never flip it to find out. The circuit would remain open, and the darkness would prevail because of our own foolish lack of belief.

But thanks be to God that the Word – He who is God and who was with God in the beginning, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, the very same Word who spoke all things into being “in the beginning,” the selfsame Word who bore our human flesh and bore our human cross and bore our human sins, who bears us from death to life – thanks be to Him that He hears our plea for mercy and delivers us from our own wretchedness and brings us to life everlasting!

For even though we may fall into allowing ourselves to be seduced by Satan’s falsehood over God’s truth, even though our sin has brought death into the world, our most merciful Lord and Savior does not leave us helpless. He has come to free us by His liberating Word, cleanse us by His life-giving baptism, and bring us at last to everlasting life. He arms us like a soldier to do battle against the devil and his hordes. For, dear brothers and sisters, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

The Lord equips us to resist, to fight, to go on the offensive, to beat back the assaults of the devil, to wage war against those who would attempt to snuff out our faith, to make battle against the mocker with love, and to exorcise demons – all by means of the Word.

“Stand therefore,” He implores us. “In all circumstances, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” For, “the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him.”

Dear friends, that faith is our shield: the faith of the One who was faithful unto death, a sacrificial death that delivers to us life and victory over sin, death, and the devil.

“And take up the helmet of salvation,” the apostle exhorts us, “and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

For in the beginning, God said: “Let there be… and there was.” The Word is proclaimed, and so we believe. “Go” dear friends. Your son will live. Your daughter will live. Your husband, your wife, your grandparents, your loved ones, your friends, your foes, those who protect you and those who sin against you – all of those who believe, who hear the Word of the Word made flesh and in repentance take to heart His promise of life – all of these will live. All who confess Christ and who believe on His name will be healed, will be forgiven all their sins, will have new life, and will one day walk out of their own graves even as the Word made flesh did in the flesh that first Easter morning from His own empty tomb.

For we hold to the Lord’s Word, the same Lord who created all things and proclaimed them “good” by His Word, the same Word made flesh who has given us the promise of a new and greater creation, one that is not only “good,” but “very good” – both now and forevermore.

Let it be so, for it shall be so. We believe! Amen.

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

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Christian persecution and prayer

Tuesday's prayer in the Treasury of Daily Prayer calls upon Christians to pray for their persecuted brethren around the world. Here in America, we are comfortable, if not exceedingly wealthy, as compared to the rest of the world. We are free to attend church on Sunday, or sleep in or do something else. No-one will round us up and put us in torturous dungeons for simply gathering for prayer, scripture, and the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist.

But this is not the case in many places.  Just meeting with other Christians is an ordeal, and people will risk their freedom and even their lives just to gather with a few other Christians in secret, even if only for a few moments, to hear the precious Word of God, and if they are fortunate, to receive the Holy Sacrament from the hands of a pastor - dodging nosy neighbors and police investigators who dog their coming and going.

There are still places where Christians languish away in dungeons for doing nothing other than believing in Christ with their hearts and confessing him with their lips (Romans 10:9).

And even where Communism has been mercifully overthrown, people still bear the scars of its cruelty, and churches continue to struggle amid the social and economic ruins created by atheistic collectivist ideology that "a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy."  The idea that human beings are created in God's image and have worth and value and that Jesus died to liberate all mankind from the prison of sin are still dangerous and revolutionary ideas in much of the world.

The Rev. Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina, upon being liberated from prison, fled to the west and started the organization Voice of the Martyrs. The Wurmbrands' books are still available - including Richard's Tortured for Christ (which is available for free) and Sabina's The Pastor's Wife.  The Wurmbrand's story is told in cartoon form for young people in The Richard Wurmbrand Story.  You can see the trailer here.

The Treasury's Tuesday prayer (page 1307) reminds us to use our greatest weapon: prayer against the crafts and assaults of the devil who mercilessly attacks our brothers and sisters around the world.  Let us not be complacent and insulated from them, nor from our Lord who was also tortured for our sakes!

Almighty God, heavenly Father; we praise Your fathomless mercy, with which You take pity on sinful men.  All the prophets and apostles preach this to us in Your Holy Word.
Let our hope not be put to shame when we pray to You for all who suffer at this time.  For behold, the evil foe has become mighty, and the great ones of this world rule often with unrighteousness.  O God, who in former times caused Your saints to overcome injustice, strengthen also today all who stand in need of Your help.  Grant that all prisoners of war - held as slaves and sacrifices of earthly wrath - may return to their home.  Stand by all refugees and homeless people, and be their justice.  Be a father to the widows and orphans with Your strong protection.
Go through bars and fences to those who are imprisoned for the sake of Your name; strengthen them for a good witness, and let them not waver in the confession of Your name.  Teach us through their example, and the example of so many holy martyrs, to be ever watchful of the confession of Your Son's name.  Let us not be put to shame when the evil foe lays his hand on us.  But if it is Your will that we be persecuted for confessing Jesus as our Lord and only Savior, then support us in Your grace that we may withstand all trials, and grant us peaceful rest; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

How cool is this?

Not so much the skateboarding (meh...), but rather the fact that the guy is wearing a cassock!

Some much-needed straight talk

Gold closed today at a record high, the dollar is in the basement, China and the world are de-leveraging from the dollar, the Federal Reserve is completely flummoxed and proposing more of the same poison as a cure, and members of Congress of both parties have decided to continue trusting the printing press of the unconstitutional central bank (even rejecting a bill to audit the Federal Reserve "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" style).

And perhaps most amazingly of all, the people of one of the major parties in Connecticut passed this guy up for U.S. Senate in favor of a professional wrestler who is utterly clueless about economics. Honestly, how far are we from a horse sitting in the Senate?  The good news is that Peter Schiff will be more effective in continuing to help private investors weather the storm than he would be trying to teach the fools on the hill anything about basic economics.

Bread and circuses.

The show goes on. At least until the wheels of the joy-wagon go spinning into the ditch. The good news is that you can still see and hear frequent analysis by Peter Schiff here. His video blog is updated pretty frequently, and he will tell you what your clueless congressman or senator won't (or more likely, can't).

I'll bet you can't guess what this is...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sermon: Trinity 19 - 2010

10 October 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 9:1-8 (Gen 28:10-17, Eph 4:22-28)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

According to the author of the Book of Hebrews, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” For it is an article of faith that there are things in God’s creation, “visible and invisible.” Indeed, the old saying “seeing is believing” is turned on its head in God’s kingdom!

What the tired, sweaty, sheep-herder Jacob saw in a “certain place” one night in 1966 BC was hardly a “gate of heaven.” He saw an empty field. He saw a rock that served for his pillow as he camped out under the stars. But what the Lord revealed to Him in faith was a ladder that bridged the divide between earth and heaven, between man and God, between sin and righteousness, between infernal death and eternal life.

The Lord spoke a promise to Jacob – the same promise He spoke to Jacob’s father Isaac and his father Abraham. It was a promise of an unseen descendant, living dormant in the flesh of Jacob like a seed, the same Seed of the woman promised to Eve. For promises are truly part of the unseen world. We don’t believe them because we see them, but rather, we believe them because we don’t. That’s what makes it a promise.

This promise came to Jacob in the form of a vision, of angels “ascending and descending,” of a promise that the single male offspring of promise would be a blessing to “all the families of the earth.” The promise included land and descendants, riches and a national identity, history and even a kingdom that would never end. But most important of all, God promised to be there, to be present for, and with, his people – in spite of their sins, and in fact, as the promise would play out, in forgiveness of their sins.

And then Jacob woke up. All he saw was an empty field and a rock. And yet, hear anew Jacob’s confession of the unseen, his confession of faith: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” The angels and the vision of God were once more relegated to the unseen, and Jacob was left to accept the promise on faith.

Jacob’s descendants would build a Temple not far from Bethel, in Jerusalem, where sins were forgiven in accordance with this promise, through the shedding of sacrificial blood on the altar of the Temple.

The promise was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. For in this offspring of Jacob, “all families of the earth” were blessed through His shedding of sacrificial blood in the Temple of His body, offered on the altar of the cross.

And though one cannot see sins forgiven, one can certainly see the effects of forgiveness. For the wages of sin is death, and sin is the source of unhappiness, and the cause of sickness. The work and ministry of Jesus in raising the dead, proclaiming the Good News, and healing the sick, all point to His unseen work in forgiving sins.

This is illustrated by our Lord’s double miracle of healing the paralytic and forgiving his sins. For the paralytic was brought on a stretcher to Jesus. To those of us blinded by sin, we only see a sick man and some desperate friends. But Jesus “saw their faith.” Faith is invisible to us, but visible to Jesus. He sees their faith, and He proclaims the healing word of forgiveness to the sin-struck and crippled man. “Take heart, my son,” Jesus says, “your sins are forgiven.” And unseen and unheard by the crowd was the unspoken muttering of the scribes: “This man is blaspheming.” But to our Lord, the invisible “evil in their hearts” is visible to Him from whom no secrets are hid.

“Why do you think evil in your hearts?” asks our Lord. “For which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” Which seems the greater miracle to us whose world is largely visible: the unseen forgiveness of sins or the seen healing of the paralytic? But that we “may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” our Lord commands the man to pick up his stretcher and walk away. “And he rose and went home” from this place.

And “how awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

For wherever the Lord Jesus Christ is physically present, wherever His Word sounds forth, wherever sins are forgiven, and wherever faith abounds – that is the gate of heaven.

In this place and with our eyes, we see a rather humble building. We see lights that don’t work and air conditioners that can barely get the job done. We see distracted people – including the pastor – fumbles with the hymnal because they get lost sometimes. We see children ascending and descending from their seats, and there is not an angel in sight. The pews are sometimes as uncomfortable as a rock would be as a pillow. We see ourselves as we confess, being sinful “in thought, word, and deed.” We hear the law’s stern rebuke, at least when we’re paying attention at all.

And in this place, we also hear the pastor tell us: “your sins are forgiven.” And aside from a gesture tracing the cross in the air, there isn’t much to see with our eyes. In this place, we see water poured on a baby. We don’t see the Holy Spirit. In this place, we see bread and wine blessed and given out, and we eat and we drink. We do not see Jesus healing the sick and raising the dead.

And yet, in faith, we join Jacob in proclaiming: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”

As unseen as it is, as much of an article of faith as it is, dear friends, it is what it is. We see it by faith, through the promise, in the Word, and by grace. We see it because Jesus tells us it is so. “I forgive you all your sins. This is my body. This is my blood. For the forgiveness of sins.”

And that we “may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” the Son of Man gives authority to men on earth to forgive sins in His name and by His command. For that Word of forgiveness is a Word of promise, borne out in the sacrificial blood of Jesus, and though invisible to the eye, it is visible to the eyes of faith.

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”

And though we may feel unworthy to enter that gate based on what our eyes see, we are made worthy based on what our ears have heard – the very Word of God.

Although we see through the glass darkly, and though we see the promise of God dimly in our own inadequacy, we cling to the promise of a putting away of the “old self,” which belongs to our “former manner of life,” a visible corruption through “deceitful desires.” In faith, we see the promise of being “renewed in the spirit of [our] minds” and the putting on of “the new self, created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

We may not see it with our eyes, but the promise is there, dear brothers and sisters in Christ! The promise is there even as Christ is here with us, veiled under bread and wine, and delivered through something as ordinary as human speech.

Dear friends, listen anew to the promise, the Word, the proclamation that the Lord makes known to us yet again on this day: “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

For here in this place is a ladder that bridges the divide between earth and heaven, between man and God, between sin and righteousness, between infernal death and eternal life. It is a ladder shaped in the form and likeness of a cross, and bearing the Promise Made Flesh!

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Amen.

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

Friday, October 08, 2010

Who Ya Gonna Call? AC/DC?

Gretna Heritage Festival 2010

The Gretna Heritage Festival last weekend was a great success, and it seems that we at least matched the 120,000 people who attended last year, according to local media coverage.

The proximity of the Festival from the Hollywood Rectory makes attendance very easy.  We can come and go, as the 4th and Newton entrance is literally a half block from the front porch.

Here are my pictures.

For us, Friday was all about the carnival rides.  Leo and I wore armbands to admit us to all of the rides.  Only one of us became dizzy and disoriented - I'll let you guess which one of us.  Let's just say that this did not happen to me before I became, as the French say, "d'un certain âge." Youth is wasted on the young.  After the rides closed down at 10:00, we did wander over for a small snippet of REO Speedwagon.  The crowd was vast, and numbered in the thousands.  The band played on the main stage on the levee, and the weather was absolutely perfect.  I'm not really a fan, but these guys are pros.  They know how to put on a show.  We went home and enjoyed the end of the set that came in through our open kitchen window.

Saturday's festivities for us were more about the food and the music.  No rides on Saturday.  So, while my inner ear was spared the spinning, my eardrum was given a good workout!

The Festival is largely a musical smörgåsbord.  The band that I really wanted to see played on Saturday: Bonerama. I have blogged about these remarkable musicians before.  They are a quintessentially New Orleanian gumbo-bowl featuring trombones, drums, bass, guitar, and voices.  They play blues, jazz, funk, R and B, classic rock, gospel, and heavy metal.  They are as polished as their gleaming brass instruments reflecting the colored lights, and yet are as spontaneous as the slides on their trombones that glide and bend notes one into another without regimented precision.  They blend the tight sound of well-rehearsed professionalism and perfect musical timing with the raucous spontaneity of a live outdoor show.  They closed out their set with Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" - and they hit it out of the park.  I have posted video of some of their performances ("You Got a Friend in Me" and "Down By the Riverside" and "The Ocean" and "War Pigs").

The Doobie Brothers played on the main stage, and we could hear them from the levee.  Once again, we were able to "listen to the music" from our kitchen table.

Sunday we mostly wandered around, noshing on goodies and taking in the sights (such as little parades and processions of Indians).  After a shrimp boil and Saints party with the next-door neighbors, we ambled into the festival in time to watch a good bit of Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys.  Amanda Shaw is a local phenom, a former child-prodigy violinist who at the age of  20 is a seasoned veteran of the stage.  She is a firebrand singer, fiddler, song-writer and performer.  She just gets better and more polished each year.  Her band (comprised of herself and a small cadre of middle-aged men) performs an eclectic mix of covers and original tunes: country, cajun, pop, classic rock, alternative, blues, and just about anything else you can imagine.  The show was held at the main stage on the river as cargo ships coasted by, literally only feet away.

Here is some video that I shot.

She and her family (and music) were featured in the IMAX film Hurricane on the Bayou when Amanda was only 14 years old.  Her new album includes a sassy cover of Lynyrd Skynrd's "Mississippi Kid" (listen to the sample from here) which she and the Guys performed with vigor.  Amanda Shaw never disappoints, and she didn't start last week!  And she'll be back at the levee Friday, November 12, for the Gretna Riverfront Concert Series.

Once again, we were able to listen to the Charlie Daniels Band from our kitchen.  And as heretical as this thought might be, I think Amanda Shaw might be a better fiddler than Charlie Daniels.  Sorry.

I went back Sunday night for one more show: Frankie Ford.

Frankie is a 1950s rock and roll pioneer and native of Gretna.  More than 40 years ago, I played his 45 rpm record "Sea Cruise" on my little record player.  It was from my dad's collection of late '50s singles (some of which he used to play on his custom-mounted record player on the hump of his '57 Chevy).  "Sea Cruise" stood out like a sore thumb to a five-year old.  It had a white label with an ace of spades on it.  It opened up with a bell, a saxophone riff, and a crazy singer with a yodelly voice.  "Hoo-wee, baby!"  I think that record was in a close competition with Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" for my favorite of the bunch.

Little did I know that 40 years later I would live in Gretna and would walk from my house to the Mississippi River to see Frankie Ford perform "Sea Cruise" live.

He missed last year's Heritage Festival as he was in the hospital.  Frankie Ford is only 70 years old, but his health seems to be very frail at this time.  He was escorted to and from the stage by two men who helped him walk.  But his big voice is still there, as well as his quick sense of humor and masterful showmanship.  Seated at an electronic keyboard with his trademark long keyboard-styled scarf, his bony gold-ringed fingers can still make the ivories rise and fall with precision.  He hits the notes with verve and joy while gleefully sipping on a beer in between numbers.  And the crowd loved it!  I got to shake his hand after the show, as local Gretna folks conversed with him about where they grew up, dropping names of common friends.

Here is some video that I shot, including "Sea Cruise" and "You Talk Too Much."

I still have no idea what this line from "Sea Cruise" means:

I gotta keep a-rockin', get my hat off the rack
I gotta boogie-woogie like a knife's in my back

Maybe I'll get a chance to ask Frankie Ford at next year's Gretna Heritage Festival.  I'm already looking forward to it, hoo-wee, baby!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Because it's Thursday...

The Thursday prayer from the Treasury of Daily Prayer (page 1308) from the section "Daily Prayer for the Christian" is especially poignant.  It reads as follows:

O Lord Jesus Christ, true King of heaven and earth, You promised to Your Church that the gates of hell would not prevail against her, and You still cause Your Word to be preached and Your Holy Sacraments to be administered among us.  But ah!  O Lord, the sins of Your people obscure the majesty of Your Bride.  Your holy vineyard is trampled and Your blessed sacrifice stands neglected.  Many think themselves strong and despise the life-giving food that You have ordained for Your people, for the forgiveness of their sins.
Pardon all our arrogance and do not come to us in wrath to remove the lamp of Your Word from before our eyes!  O Lord, we pray You: visit this vine, which You once established for Yourself, and renew us with the sun of Your mercy and the water of eternal life.
Give us a great hunger for the food of Your true body and blood, and let all Your faithful people ever be found in the apostles' doctrine, in the fellowship, in the breaking of Your bread, and in the prayers.
We implore You O Lord, for our altar, that it may ever be a place where the medicine of eternal life, the forgiveness of our sins, strengthens us in body and soul; that disbelief and impatience may stay far from all who come there so that they may not eat and drink to their own judgment.
O Eternal High Priest, let the fruit of Your Spirit grow in us, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and chastity.  Cause us to live in holy conduct toward one another to the glory of Your holy name, here in time and hereafter in eternity; for You live and reign with the Father and the same Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

I don't know the source of this prayer.  It doesn't seem to be noted in the Acknowledgments in the Treasury.  The Treasury of Daily Prayer is aptly named, and I highly recommend it especially for those who want not only guidance in prayer, but the fellowship of praying the same prayers and reading the same readings with Christians around the world.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Te Deum Laudamus

There are many beautiful arrangements of this arguably most magnificent (and most ancient) hymn in all of Christendom, the Te Deum Laudamus, sung in every language of the world.

But this Gregorian Chant version in Latin is one that will not be subject to capricious changes, either in music or in text.  In all likelihood, this ancient version in these immutable words will be sung right up until the day our Blessed Lord returns, and from then, sung for all eternity!

Te Deum, laudamus, in saeculum, et in saeculum saeculi!

Monday, October 04, 2010

The True Colors of Fascism

HT: Lew Rockwell

In case you were wondering about what such "movements" as 10:10 think about the value of human life and liberty, watch the above video.  Keep in mind, it is disturbing.  So disturbing that I would not suggest children watch it.

And when you've had enough of this godless fascism, a manifestation of what St. Augustine called "the lust for domination," you might want to consider Christianity and its corollary philosophy that human beings are made in God's image and are endowed by their Creator with freedom.

Sadly, not even our own governments understand the master-servant relationship. Fascism is alive and well. Is this how you want to live your life?

Had enough yet?

Classroom Management "Old School"

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The "drought" in Finland is over!

A decade long "drought" in the Lutheran Church of Finland is over! For ten years, it has been impossible for a man who believes in the Scriptures to be ordained as a Lutheran pastor for service in the Finnish Lutheran Church.

But thanks to the faithful Bishop Matti Väisänen and the courageous Mission Province, those days are no more! On October 2, 2010, three men were ordained to the priesthood in a solemn ordination rite at the Chapel of the Sacred Heart in Helsinki.

More details of this happy and holy occasion - as well as some magnificent pictures - can be found here at Dr. Chris Barnekov's Scandinavia House website.

This is an exciting and joyful time to be a Confessional, Traditional, Scriptural Lutheran, especially in places where Satan has been temporarily successful in using hijacked "ecclesiastical" structures to hinder the spread of the Gospel.

O little flock, fear not the foe!  For the gates of hell shall not prevail!

Sermon: Trinity 18 - 2010

3 October 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 22:34-46

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There are questions that come up in life that are very important. Big questions. Questions whose answers will guide the rest of our lives, such as: “Is the tumor cancerous or benign?” or “Did I get the promotion or am I being laid off?” or “Will you marry me?”

There are also less life-changing questions, but nonetheless questions that mean a lot to us: “Will I get to take that trip this year?” or “Will our picnic get rained out?” or “Will my grandchildren be able to come and see me next week?”

It is not wrong to ask such questions. Nor is it wrong to ask the Lord to grant the answers we want. He hears our needs and our wants. He loves us and delights in granting His children’s wishes, just as parents love to treat their own beloved children.

And yet, all of these questions – even the big questions – pale in comparison to our Lord’s question: “What do you think about the Christ?” and its related follow-up question: “Whose Son is He?”

For this is a question not only of life and death, whose answer will not only alter the circumstances of the rest of our lives, but on this question hangs all of eternity.

“What do you think about the Christ?”

Who is Jesus? Is he a long-dead religious fanatic whose followers created a religion? Is Jesus a super-nice-guy who taught us to likewise be nice? Is Jesus a lawgiver who tells us to eat our peas or bad things will happen? Is Jesus a political figure? Is Jesus a spokesman for vegetarianism, the NRA, gay marriage, or deep-water oil drilling? Is Jesus a Mister Rogers figure who doesn’t care what we do as long as we have self-esteem?

Or is Jesus something else?

Our Lord asks the Pharisees because He is challenging their conclusions. Having already silenced the Sadducees, the political and social liberals of his day, our Lord then challenges the Pharisees, the political and social conservatives of that time and place.

The Pharisees were a law-and-order group. They were devoutly religious. They were generous with their offerings. They made sure they were seen praying in public. And they hated Jesus. For Jesus called them to something deeper than mere appearances. Jesus called them to repent of their selfishness and to keep the law not merely outwardly, but inwardly. Jesus challenged them to look outside of themselves and see their neighbors in need. He reminded them that the law is really about love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” – and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

These two little sermonettes on love sum up the Ten Commandments, and indeed, the entire Old Testament. For “on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

And it is on the heels of this little lesson that our Blessed Lord forces the Pharisees to think even deeper, to directly confront the Word and will of God in the form of the incarnate God who is asking the questions in the flesh.

“What do you think about the Christ?”

This question is put to us today. It is spread around the world. It has been translated into nearly every known language of mankind. It is a profound question that is a window into eternity.

Knowing the historical record of Jesus – His life in the flesh, His death on the cross, His resurrection from the tomb, His record in the Scriptures, and His death-defying followers in the Church that continues to this day – we know that this Jesus of Nazareth is unlike any man who ever lived. And like the Pharisees, we can comb the Scriptures for clues about the Christ.

Jesus points out that there is a paradox about the Christ. He is both David’s Son and David’s Lord. He is a human descendant of David and He is also David’s God. The Christ is both God and man, both a figure of the past and of the future. Or as was revealed later in Scripture, He is alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. He is the Word who was there in the beginning, the Word who was with God and the Word who was God.

And we know from Scripture that Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save the world. Jesus is the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”

What a puny and worthless Jesus we would have if he were just a politician, a giver of advice, a life-coach, or a literary figure! For none of these have empty tombs.

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?”

St. Peter confessed on behalf of all the apostles and all of the Church when the same question was posed to him. He didn’t give a risk-free, dry, academic answer like the bloodless Pharisees – who could look Jesus in the eye and confess a Christ safely tucked away in a biblical prophecy. Peter rather confessed Jesus boldly and recklessly to His face, saying as: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

That is the correct answer that eluded the Pharisees.

For it was more than flesh and blood that revealed this to St. Peter and to us. The Holy Spirit delivered Peter, the apostles, the saints and martyrs, and all of us, to our Savior and Redeemer, for the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life, bringing us into joyful communion with our God.

“What do you think about the Christ?”

The Church has the right answer: “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And rather than reward us for giving the correct reply, Jesus gives us something far better: grace. He delivers to us the forgiveness of sins as a free and full gift. He sheds His blood on the cross and offers it in the cup. He offers His body on the cross and offers it in the bread. He gives us His Word – the same Word with the power to create the universe – and He uses that Word to forgive our sins. And even as water flowed from the sacrifice of His crucified body, pierced by the Roman spear, water is poured out lavishly and lovingly upon His body the Church in Holy Baptism: all for forgiveness, life, and salvation. All so that we can be born again. All so that we can ask the big questions in faith, knowing that His Father is “Our Father who art in heaven.”

For all of these questions that are important to us are dependent on the one question above all questions: “What do you think about the Christ?” For the answer to that question is not based on head-knowledge, nor even on biblical information. The answer to that question is a confession of faith.

And when we answer that question the way St. Peter did, the Lord’s faith is our faith, and the Lord’s Father is our Father. So then next question, “Whose Son is He?” becomes not merely an academic answer from the head: “God,” but rather a confession from the heart: “God our Father, who has forgiven us all our sins and gives us eternal life.”

For ultimately, questions don’t really change our lives. The question has an answer, and that answer is a confession of faith – the faith that saves us.

For by faith we answer Jesus with a joyous confession of faith: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, our Savior and Redeemer, our strength, tower, hope, joy, our best and truest friend, and our crown of gladness – so long as life is ours, even unto eternity. Amen.

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