Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2)

28 February 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 15:21-28 (Gen 32:22-32, Rom 5:1-5)


In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The Canaanite woman has some nerve. First of all, she is a woman, and publicly approaching a man and speaking to Him was just not done in that culture. Second, she is a Gentile, one of the unclean people. And coming to speak to a Jew – a Rabbi even – was a shocking lapse of good taste and manners. Third, she refuses to take “no” for an answer, becoming a spectacle. Fourth, in getting an audience with Jesus because of her pushiness, she talks back to Him. What a scandal!

And unlike His response to the clean-as-a-whistle Pharisees, who knew the Law and the Prophets, who attended temple and synagogue, who gave to the poor, and who were fastidious in matters of Jewish etiquette – Jesus does not scold this woman. Instead, he praises her for her faith. He grants her prayer. He cures her daughter by exorcising the demon that oppressing her.

This is a remarkable passage of God’s Word that teaches us some unexpected things about the Kingdom. For this Gentile, this rude Canaanite, this pushy woman whose home has been disrupted by demons – has more faith than the Pharisees, and even more faith than the disciples themselves.

And it is her faith that makes all the difference.

Her faith trumps her ethnicity and its uncleanness. Her faith overcomes the influence of evil spirits in her family. Her faith eclipses her lack of respect for proper decorum and rules of social conduct.

Her faith is demonstrated in her persistence. She refuses to leave - even when the disciples scold her, even when Jesus ignores her. Even when our Lord dismisses her as not being one to whom He was sent. Even in the face of such bitter disappointments and discouragements, she clings to her belief that Jesus can, and indeed will, help her, answer her prayer, and heal her daughter.

For this is what faith is, dear brothers and sisters. Faith is belief. Faith is trust. Faith is holding onto Jesus and to the promise of His Word, come what may. Faith continues to hope even when everything looks bleak. Faith refuses to surrender or capitulate – no matter how bad things seem to be. Faith does not trust in one’s senses, reason, logic, or the discouragement that comes from the evil one. Faith looks past the brokenness of this fallen world through a prophetic window into eternity, trusting and even knowing that God keeps His promises, that God will save us according to His good and gracious will.

The Canaanite woman’s faith overcame every obstacle. She refused to be put off – even when God Himself seemed to have abandoned her.

Her faith is not only demonstrated in her persistence, but also in the way she responded to Jesus when He said that He was only sent to the children of Israel. Rather than shake her fist at Him, rather than accuse Him of being unfair, rather than walk away defeated, she knelt before Him. The word “knelt” is a weak translation. The text literally says she “knelt before Him in worship.” She did not kneel as a beggar before a judge. She did not bow as in an Eastern show of respect. No, she worshiped Him. She confessed Him to be God. When St. Peter confessed who Jesus is, our Lord told him that flesh and blood did not reveal this to him. Somehow or other, the reality of our Lord’s divinity was revealed to this women who came from outside of the covenant people of Israel. When she knelt before Jesus in worship, she was confessing to the disciples and to our Lord Himself that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is God. And she implores her God, the God in whom she has placed her unshakable faith, to keep His promises.

For indeed, the Lord came first to the children of Israel, but not exclusively for them. For He is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. She has spoken rightly. She is worthy of the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table, for the Master came to die for her sins as well as for those of the children of Israel. “For even the dogs eat the crumbs.”

We too eat the crumbs. We feed on the Lord’s body come to us in the form of a tiny wafer of bread. Most of us cannot trace our ancestry to Jacob and the twelve tribes, and yet we likewise kneel before the Lord Jesus in His flesh, crying: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” We join the Canaanite woman in pleading for relief from the very real demons that plague us and our homes and families. We kneel in worship before our Lord asking Him to forgive our sins and grant us relief from all that ails us. We too pray “Lord help me.” And the Lord hears our prayers and shares the crumbs of His body and the sips of His blood with us poor miserable sinners, we who unworthy as we are, trust in Him, put our faith in Him, and yet approach Him in spite of our unworthiness in ourselves.

The Lord takes delight in the Canaanite woman’s persistence. He rewards her faith and acts on it. He praises her for rightly confessing Him. He is moved by the fact that she holds the God of the universe to His redemptive promise. She knows that Jesus is more than merely the king of the Jews, but that He is the King of the universe. She knows that He is more than a doctrinally-pure rabbi, but that He is the loving God come to earth in the form of a Man. She knows He has power over angels and demons, over sickness and health, and over life and death.

And she knows that He will hear her prayer.

That, dear brothers and sisters, is faith – and it is potent and powerful. St. Paul teaches us that “we have been justified by faith” that faith is instrumental in our forgiveness and in our salvation. Apart from faith, there is no forgiveness and no life. St. Paul also teaches us that we “have obtained access by faith into this grace.” Just as the Canaanite woman’s faith eventually got her a hearing with the Lord, our faith gives us access to God as well. And rather than allow the fallen world to beat us down and take away our faith, St. Paul encourages us to embrace the things that seem discouraging, for “suffering produces endurance” which “produces character” which “produces hope” – and that this hope “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

The Canaanite woman had the hope borne of character and suffering, a hope given to her by grace, a hope rooted in faith, a faith founded on the confession that Jesus is God in the flesh, that He is to be worshiped, that He hears our prayers, and that He blesses us and beats back the work of Satan. This is not the work of a mere man, but the work of God.

And even as Jacob wrestled literally with God in the form of a man, we too wrestle with the Word of God. We contend with God. We sometimes fight back against His will and question His ways. But in wrestling with God, our faith is ultimately strengthened, dear friends, for God delights when we hold Him to His promises and demand His blessing.

Let us continue to pray to our Lord for mercy, for forgiveness, for healing, for power over demons, for endurance and character and hope, and most of all, for faith. In faith let us fall down and worship, let us be content with the crumbs from our Master’s table, and when we seek admission to the heavenly places, persistently pleading only the scandal of the cross and the Lord’s grace, let us also hear these words from our Blessed Lord: “Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” Amen.

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

Friday, February 26, 2010

+ Joseph DeHart, R.I.P.

Mrs. Edy and The Rev. Joseph DeHart

It is with a heavy heart that I report the death this afternoon of my friend and fellow presbyter of Christ's Church, the Venerable Reverend Father Joe DeHart, rector (pastor) of St. Mary's Anglican Catholic Church in Akron.

Fr. Joe was first and foremost a churchman. He was a servant of Christ. He loved his parish and was loved in return. Always smiling, generous, witty, and bubbling over with practical wisdom, Joe always made people feel at home, ever ready with a funny story - a rascal with a twinkle in the eye, a deep voice, a big personality, and a hearty laugh. And his devotion to his equally-devoted and sharp-witted wife Edy was apparent to everyone. Fr. Joe was a kind of American and Anglican version of Fr. Duddleswell.

While I was a seminarian in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we would visit St. Mary's from time to time while visiting my folks just outside Akron. On one occasion, Sunday happened to be October 31. And although the Anglican tradition of Christianity grew out of the 16th century Reformation, and in fact owes much to Luther and the Wittenberg reformers - Anglicans are not Lutherans. That October Sunday was Christ the King to the Anglicans, not Reformation Day. But because Grace and I were in attendance, just before the last hymn, Fr. DeHart announced to the congregation and the organist that there would be a change in plans. We sang A Mighty Fortress Is Our God instead of the assigned closing hymn. The parish sang it with gusto.

We were always treated like members of the parish when we would visit (though we never asked for communion, and like the LCMS, the ACC practices closed communion and never offered it). In spite of the differences between our communions, Grace and I were always treated with great warmness by Fr. Joe and Edy and the entire parish - and I still exchange e-mail with one of the parishioners of St. Mary's. We spent many a joyous Sunday sipping coffee in the undercroft of St. Mary's after Mass.

Fr. Joe also gave me a copy of the Anglican Missal and the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer, originally published in 1549 (bearing some influence of the Lutheran reformers), became the standard English translation of the ancient liturgy - much of which has survived even to our own current Lutheran Service Book. What a treasure we western catholic and anglophone Christians have in the common liturgy that we share!

Needless to say, Joe's gift to me is itself a treasure, and his kindness in giving these books to me typified his generosity and hospitality.

Grace and I remember fondly when Fr. Joe and Edy once took us out to dinner. It was glorious, something we will always call to mind with joy. Knowing that I was going into the pastoral ministry, and being a "second career" couple themselves, Joe and Edy really took us under their wings and were of immeasurable value as friends and mentors. They always welcomed our phone calls and e-mails. We always learned from (and laughed with) both of them.

Please keep Edy DeHart and St. Mary's in your prayers. Fr. Joe has entered eternity victoriously in Christ. Thanks be to God for his life and priestly ministry at altar, font, and pulpit. Even in grief, I look forward in hope and in joy to being reunited with my fellow churchman in that heavenly eternal Jerusalem where sin, death, and the devil will be no more, where the light of Christ will shine unimpeded for eternity!

May Fr. Joe rest in peace, and may all of his family, parishioners, and friends take comfort in the resurrection of our blessed and risen Lord Jesus Christ!

His obit can be seen here.

Fr. Joe and a parishioner enjoying a birthday picture

The Levitical Law, part deux

I got an interesting response to my last post as a comment on facebook from a facebook friend, Michael, whom I met immediately after Katrina. He is an accomplished photographer from California who came to New Orleans right after the storm to do animal rescue. He stayed with a bunch of us at Rev. Brad Drew's home which became an emergency-powered beehive of a headquarters. We all worked together with boats and ATVs to help people get into their homes. Michael is a great guy, and he worked tirelessly to help both humans and animals left helpless by Katrina. He has a few of his haunting pictures from Katrina here.

Anyway, he posed a great question concerning how we should understand laws from the Old Testament. He asked:

"King James Bible Deuteronomy 22:5 'The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.'" Just wondering if all abominations are equal. If so when do we pass laws to put women back in dresses?"

It's a great question, because it gets to the heart of the matter. I think the way we understand the law - especially those of the Old Testament - is a source of confusion to Christians (and Jews) and non-believers alike.

First, Michael asks if all abominations are equal. No, they aren't. They are all sinful and contrary to the way God designed the universe to work, but just as keying someone's car and slaughtering 10 million people in a genocide are both sinful and abominable acts, they certainly aren't "equal." Some abominations have far-reaching effects and bring about world-changing consequences, others not so much. And yet, all sins demonstrate our fallenness.

And as far as laws about women and dresses go, there is sometimes an assumption that the word "law" means "state enforcement."

In Old Testament Israel - especially before the establishment of a monarchy - there was a kind of theocracy. The state enforced religious laws. This is why we have, for example, many religious and ceremonial offenses in the Book of Leviticus that are treated as capital crimes. There was no distinction between secular and religious - as everyone in the community was expected to abide by the religious and ceremonial laws - in addition to the kinds of laws that every culture has (what we would call "secular" law).

So, obviously, we are not bound to laws regarding the temple - since there is no temple. We are not bound to laws regarding the treatment of slaves - since we have no slaves. We are not bound to the laws governing animal sacrifice - since we have no need for animal sacrifice. We are not bound to the laws regarding leprosy - since we now have medical treatments that did not exist at that time. Just as the laws regarding horses and buggies and oil lamps are no longer germane to American life, the civil laws of the people of Israel - even when written in Scripture - no longer apply. And yet, there are still underlying principles.

Furthermore, for Christians, the Old Testament religious and ceremonial laws distinguishing "clean" and "unclean" were fulfilled by Jesus, whose incarnation in the flesh in space and time, has declared all things clean. This is why the old dietary restrictions of the Old Testament are no longer applicable to us (see Mark 7:17-19 and Acts 10:12-15).

But this is not to say that the entire Old Testament law is obsolete. It is still wrong to murder, to lie, to worship false gods, to covet, and to steal. St. Paul teaches us that this law of morality is universal and inscribed on men's hearts (Romans 2:15). Jesus did not come to set us free to murder and steal, to make the moral law of the Old Testament a thing of the past. Does anyone really believe that to be the case?

So, no, not all laws are equal. Not all things declared to be abominable in the Old Testament remain so today. Crawfish, for example. And yet, there is still something to learn even from laws that no longer apply. There are still certain principles that are behind even those laws, and we would do well to pay attention.

The Deut 22:5 law about cross-dressing is not so much a statement on specific external fashion trends (pants vs. skirts). Rather, this law speaks against a sin that is internal, of which outward attire is only a symptom. The issue is that God created us male and female (Mark 10:6-9) - with all the implications this has for our life as men and women. That is our sex. Our sex is not our choice. It is the reality that we are creatures and we are not the Creator. God designed and made you to be the sex that you are, and being submissive to God means to accept this and live within your skin.

Some people rebel against this. Cross-dressing may be a manifestation of this sin. Then again, maybe it isn't. The motive is important. Homosexuality is, according to St. Paul, at its root a form of idolatry (Romans 1:24-27), for it replaces submission with God with an assertion of the self.

We see this rebellion in matters of sex in our own day and age in things we take for granted every day. For example, when you fill out a form and it asks you your "gender" instead of your "sex." "Sex" is a biological term, and can be "male" or "female." However, "gender" is a grammatical term, and can be "masculine" or "feminine" or "neuter." Sex is objective and based on biological reality. Gender is subjective and subject to feeling.

This is how it is that a man with all the physical equipment of the male sex can put on a pair of high heels, a wig, and some lipstick and may legally check the "F" box on the gender form - and in some cases, may even stroll into a women's bathroom or locker room.

So, even though the civil law of the nation of Israel no longer applies, there is a moral component, a commentary on sex and creation and the sin of rebelling against God's order that still speaks with relevance to us today. And once again, this is an internal matter, involving motives and desires even more so than fashion trends and fads.

For example, it is a common misconception (hopefully changing) that has been pushed by feminists and others with a gender-driven agenda or worldview that the only differences between male and female has to do with reproduction and excretion, that sexual differences are merely cultural constructs. The demonstrable falsehood of this myth is known by any parents of small children. With the power of imagination, a little boy will often turn a Barbie Doll into a four-wheel drive monster truck or a bazooka, and a little girl will convert a G.I. Joe with kung fu grip into unicorn-riding fairy daintily sipping imaginary tea. The differences between male and female are not surface matters of subjective psychological gender, but rather foundational characteristics of objective biological sex. God's law says that as creatures, we are obliged to submit to the reality of these created differences.

Michael's question about passing laws about women and dresses presumes that matters of sin and divine law are equally matters of civil law, of the state. I think this is a source of confusion for believers and unbelievers alike.

Would it be an abomination for a Lutheran pastor to sit on his altar, kick his feet up on a stool, and read the newspaper? Absolutely. That would be sacrilege and blasphemously disrespectful to that which is holy. Should Congress hold hearings and send a bill to Barack Obama to protect Lutheran altars from abomination? Of course not. This is not their realm. Similarly, if someone were to show disrespect to the consecrated host of Holy Communion, he would be committing an abomination and breaking God's law. Should such a person be put in prison? Should the State of Louisiana have a section in its criminal code governing the procedures of Christian Eucharist? Of course not. However, as a pastor, I would enforce this law (as opposed to government enforcement) by denying such a person communion, and barring repentance, formally excommunicating the person. That is the realm of the church, not of the state.

Not all laws are to be enforced by the state.

Jesus says it is sinful to look upon a woman lustfully (Matt 5:28) , to call people ugly names (Matt 5:22), and to make a big deal about how much money you give to charity (Matt 6:2). And yet none of these things are matters for the state. The laws concerning the right worship of God and of sins against the Lord are not necessarily issues of city, county or parish, state, or federal involvement. If a person were to go around killing Christians in the name of a demented form of atheism, or if a person were to go around killing abortion doctors in the name of a demented form of Christianity (both examples do happen) - then it is the state's business to address the issue of protecting life under the secular and civil law.

Where the issue gets messy, for example regarding homosexuality, is when it effects other people. For example, declaring homosexual unions to be a form of marriage does compel people who do not believe in its morality in a position of some kind of acceptance - say for instance to the landlord who does not want to rent a house to a gay couple. There is a conflict between the beliefs of the property owner and the desires of the ones who wish to rent his property. But where it really becomes a touchy issue is regarding the adoption of children. God created men and women different - in body and mind. It is a wonderful and glorious design for humanity. Husbands and wives complement and complete one another. Procreation is an act that involves both sexes - as is the nurture of children. In this broken world, we do have orphaned children and those being raised in broken homes, but the situation of a child having only a father or only a mother is never treated as ideal. The best situation for children is to have a loving mother and a loving father. Homosexual adoption takes even the possibility of having a parent of both sexes off the table.

I think a lot of people misunderstand how to read and apply the Old Testament laws, and this is is a huge distraction from the real issue. The small minority of Christians who believe the federal and state governments should enforce the Old Testament religious laws (such as declaring ham and cheese sandwiches to be contraband and sending bratty teenagers to death row) completely miss the point. And fortunately, such depictions of Christians by unbelievers are nearly always nothing more than mythical stereotypes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Leviticus 18

Today's reading from the One Year Bible includes a controversial passage in Leviticus 18 (especially verse 22, which declares homosexual acts to be an "abomination" (Heb: to'ebah, Grk: bdelugma, Lat: abominatio).

This passage is often mocked and discounted as irrelevant because of various arcane laws (such as dietary restrictions and various codes of ritual purity) cited elsewhere in the Book of Leviticus that are not considered binding upon New Testament believers. This famous Letter to Dr. Laura is one particularly snarky example.

Today's postmodern moral code that there is no absolute right and wrong, and that nothing is abominable (with exceptions for politically incorrect issues like "global-warming denial" or lack of sufficient reverence for "diversity") does not deal well with the notion that some of the Levitical laws are indeed universal statements of morality that still speak authoritatively today.

Leviticus 18 spends a good bit of ink on prohibiting incest (verses 6-18). And yet with few exceptions, most people (at least viscerally) indeed find such behavior abominable and disordered. Verse 19 deals with sexuality involving the woman's menstrual cycle (in terms of ritual uncleanness) - blood being a highly symbolic religious image to the Israelites - calling to mind the curse given to Eve in Genesis 3:16 that reproduction would become a matter of pain for her. This is an example of ritual law. Interestingly, the woman suffering from the issue of blood who touched Jesus (e.g. Matt 9:20-22), instead of being berated by Him for making Him "unclean," our Lord praised her for her faith (verse 22). A few verses later, Jesus touched a dead body without becoming "unclean" (verse 25). Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial laws of "clean" and "unclean" - while at the same time continuing to uphold the timeless moral laws of sanctity of marriage and chastity (Matt 5:32) - which Jesus argues is a universal matter (e.g. Mark 10:9) based on God's created distinction between male and female and the biological realities involved in procreation.

Interestingly, in verse 21 - just one verse prior to the much-maligned homosexuality reference - the Levitical code prohibits child sacrifice (as worshipers of Molech were wont to do). And while most people would tend to agree that this is a universal moral principle, the modern law of the land allows for children to be sacrificed to the god "Choice," so long as the child is little and helpless enough. Out of sight and out of mind.

Immediately after verse 22, Leviticus addresses yet another sexual abomination: bestiality.

So, to recap, the Leviticus 18 declaration that homosexuality is an abomination is sandwiched between the condemnation of incest, child sacrifice, and bestaility - but we are to somehow believe that verse 22 is not a universal moral law related to the sanctity of marriage, but is more along the lines of Jewish dietary restrictions or things like not weaving two different fabrics together? Come on!

This is the kind of self-delusion caused by a hardness of heart and a desire to draw conclusions out of thin air for self-serving reasons.

It's important to read the Word of God in context and not just quote a verse here and a verse there as though the Bible were a collection of individual cookie fortunes pulled at random.

No Excuses...


A little who's who from Holy Scripture forwarded to me by my buddy Dr. Neill Payne:


The next time you feel like GOD can't use YOU, just remember...
  • Noah was a drunk
  • Abraham was too old
  • Isaac was a daydreamer
  • Jacob was a liar
  • Leah was ugly
  • Joseph was abused
  • Moses had a stuttering problem
  • Gideon was afraid
  • Sampson had long hair and was a womanizer
  • Rahab was a prostitute
  • Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
  • David had an affair and was a murderer
  • Elijah was suicidal
  • Isaiah preached naked
  • Jonah ran from God
  • Naomi was a widow
  • Job went bankrupt
  • John the Baptist ate bugs
  • Peter denied Christ
  • The Disciples fell asleep while praying
  • Martha worried about everything
  • The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once
  • Zaccheus was too small
  • Paul was too religious
  • Timothy had an ulcer....
  • AND Lazarus was dead!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sermon: Wednesday of Invocabit (Lent 1) and Baptism of Karmen and Bryton Powell

24 February 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 1:9-15 (Gen 22:1-18, Jas 1:12-18)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“And when He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well-pleased.’”

Our Lord Jesus, the very source of grace and favor found grace and favor with His Father in Holy Baptism. As is always the case in the Most Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always working in a mysterious and wondrous perfect communion to restore, renew, and revitalize our fallen creation.

God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Triune God who shares one name, the singular name into which we baptize, does this out of love for His creatures, a

Love how deep, how broad, how high,
Beyond all thought and fantasy,
That God, the Son of God should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake.
For us baptized…

And in following our Lord to the holy waters of baptism, this declaration of the God being pleased, of being the Lord’s Beloved, and even being His Son falls upon us as well.

Today is a great day in the history of the Christian Church. For here in this holy place, at this holy font, two of God’s creatures were irrefutably given a second birth in a holy bath. Mother Karmen and son Bryton have joined the millions of followers of Jesus Christ into the water, into the full communion of the Holy Trinity, into full fellowship with the Church, and into the fullness of eternity – in a way that can never be taken away from them or called into doubt. The Holy Spirit has descended upon them, and the favor of the Father is given to them as a free gift, as free as the water that poured on their heads, and as free as the first breath of air they drew as baptized children of God.

And what’s more, Karmen’s first act as one born of water and the Spirit was to offer her own beloved son for Holy Baptism. Like Abraham before her, Karmen does not know where obedience to the Lord’s command and reception of the gift of grace will lead her or her son. She has taken a leap of faith.

Abraham was given an order to sacrifice his son, his only begotten and beloved son. It was a shocking command, especially given the True God’s revulsion at the pagan religions that engaged in child sacrifice. As our Lord once told us, the Lord is not the God of the dead, but of the living. He has come to bring us life, and abundantly so. But one day in the 21st century BC, God commanded the most difficult order any parent could ever obey. For what father or mother would not rather sacrifice himself or herself a thousand times rather than slay his or her own child?

And yet, this is what God told Abraham to do.

And after leaving us a vivid picture of climbing a hill, of wood on the son’s back, of binding him to the altar, and of the moment when the heartbroken and yet faithful Abraham obeyed, of the instruments of execution, of an intervening angel, and of the triumph of life over death, as well as the image of the sacrificial ram caught with his head in thorns in response to Abraham’s act of faith in saying: “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” – we see God praising Abraham for not withholding his only son from God.

Two millennia later, the very same God would Himself provide the true Lamb, His only begotten and beloved Son, as the one all-availing sacrifice for us poor miserable sinners. But unlike the case of Isaac, this sacrifice of our Lord Jesus would not be interrupted. For the Father’s love is equaled by the Son’s, who lays down His life for the sake of His friends and enemies alike.

Today, the sacrifice of the cross, like the water that poured from the Lord’s riven side, was splashed upon Karmen and Bryton. Today they have become without any doubt children of God, heirs, partakers of the Son’s rightful glory, bearers of the free gift of everlasting life.

And yes, like Abraham, Karmen did offer her Son up to death. For St. Paul tells us “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

And Karmen and Bryton can now confess with us in the words of the Blessed Reformer in our Small Catechism: “the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

Dear Karmen and Bryton, this new life is lived out one moment at a time, one day at a time, one week at a time, even unto eternity. You are beloved children of the Father. He is pleased in you because He is pleased in His Son who gave Himself for you. The Lord has provided, and He will provide. Satan has yet again been given a blow on this day, and you will forever be able to call to mind the reminders of February 24th, water, the cross, and the promises of the Word of God, and hurl them like javelins into the devil’s mocking face in times of doubt or temptation. We rejoice with you, and we pledge ourselves to you as your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are your family and we trek with you as you walk the way of the cross, in good times and in bad, even unto eternity itself.

For we know “from whence cometh [our] help.” We know the heavens have been torn open, that we are showered by God’s grace like the free rain that pours on us from above. We know that we are the recipients of the forgiveness of sins and of life everlasting.

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers,” St. James exhorts us. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”

That promise is for all who believe and are baptized. That promise is for us. It is for Karmen and Bryton. It is an ironclad promise, sealed in the blood of the Lamb, and is the fullness of the Lord’s grace, now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Prayer for the Feast of St. Polycarp


Along the lines of my last post, here is a collect for this day of commemoration of St. Polycarp taken from the LCMS's Treasury of Daily Prayer, page 1233:

O God, the Maker of heaven and earth, You gave boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior and steadfastness to die for the faith to Your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp.

Grant us grace to follow his example in sharing the cup of Christ's suffering so that we may also share in His glorious resurrection;


Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A technical note for users of the TDP: since February 23 can fall either before or after Ash Wednesday (depending on the date of Easter), this prayer only appears when St. Polycarp (Feb 23) falls before Ash Wednesday (TDP page 1233) as part of the "Time of Christmas"). As St. Polycarp (Feb 23) falls within Lent this year ("Time of Easter"), the actual daily readings for today begin on page 42 (Tuesday of Lent 1) with a supplemental reading for St. Polycarp (Feb 23) on page 1282. Note that there is no collect for St. Polycarp in this section, only a biography and a reading taken from the Martyrdom of Polycarp.

St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr

Today, much of the Western Church (including the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod) commemorates St. Polycarp of Smyrna, bishop and martyr.

St. Polycarp was perhaps the last living link to the last of the living apostles, being a disciple of St. John the beloved apostle. St. Polycarp (whose name means "much fruit") was martyred about 155 or 156 AD, in the ninth decade of his life on this side of the grave, for his refusal to worship Caesar. While waiting for the flames that would blaze around him at the stake, Father Polycarp was promised his freedom if he would only renounce Christ and just burn a pinch of incense in acknowledgment of the emperor's divinity.

The grizzled warrior of the cross replied: "Eighty and six years I have served him, how then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what you will." Instead of offering a pagan sacrifice to the imperial false deity, he defied the emperor by offering his life as a thank offering to the True God.

St. Polycarp's heroic witness for the Gospel was a powerful testimony of Christ and His Church, serving to fortify the thousands of Christians who were persecuted and martyred by the Roman government. Even today, St. Polycarp continues to give courage to our brothers and sisters around the world who are still being put to the sword for the sake of our Blessed Lord and as a consequence of their good confession.

Below is St. Polycarp's letter to the Philippians (c. 110-140 AD). It is the only surviving written work of Bishop Polycarp, and it is chock full of quotations from Holy Scripture - showing the reverence and submission the apostolic fathers had for the Word of God. St. Polycarp was the teacher and pastor of St. Irenaeus, one of the greatest theologians and defenders of orthodoxy against the attacks of the numerous heretics and heresies of his day - whose heirs continue to this very day to do Satan's work in attacking the two natures of our Blessed Lord Christ and the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.

We give thanks to God for the testimony of the apostolic fathers, those who learned at the beautiful feet of the holy apostles of Jesus; men who served humbly and faithfully in perilous times and places, even unto death: doctors and presbyters of the Church whose preaching was backed by their works - even the work of following Jesus by taking up the cross of suffering and martyrdom. In this, they bore "much fruit" and offered their lives as a fragrant offering to the Lord, the "Savior of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the catholic church throughout the world" (Martyrdom of Polycarp 1:43).

May we be graced with their courage, faith, devotion to pure doctrine, and most of all, love.

THE EPISTLE OF POLYCARP TO THE PHILIPPIANS

Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi: Mercy to you, and peace from God Almighty, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, be multiplied.

CHAPTER I.--PRAISE OF THE PHILIPPIANS.

I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love [as displayed by God], and have accompanied, as became you, those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord; and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now, and bringeth forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death, [but] "whom God raised froth the dead, having loosed the bands of the grave." "In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; " into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that "by grace ye are saved, not of works," but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.

CHAPTER II.--AN EXHORTATION TO VIRTUE.

"Wherefore, girding up your loins," "serve the Lord in fear" and truth, as those who have forsaken the vain, empty talk and error of the multitude, and "believed in Him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave Him glory," and a throne at His right hand. To Him all things" in heaven and on earth are subject. Him every spirit serves. He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead. His blood will God require of those who do not believe in Him. But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, falsewitness; "not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing," or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching: "Judge not, that ye be not judged; forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you; be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again; and once more, "Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God."

CHAPTER III.--EXPRESSIONS OR PERSONAL UNWORTHINESS.

These things, brethren, I write to you concerning righteousness, not because I take anything upon myself, but because ye have invited me to do so. For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom" of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and stedfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter, which, if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up in that faith which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbour, "is the mother of us all." For if any one be inwardly possessed of these graces, he hath fulfilled the command of righteousness, since he that hath love is far from all sin.

CHAPTER IV.--VARIOUS EXHORTATIONS.

"But the love of money is the root of all evils." Knowing, therefore, that "as we brought nothing into the world, so we can carry nothing out," let us arm ourselves with the armour of righteousness; and let us teach, first of all, ourselves to walk in the commandments of the Lord. Next, [teach] your wives [to walk] in the faith given to them, and in love and purity tenderly loving their own husbands in all truth, and loving all [others] equally in all chastity; and to train up their children in the knowledge and fear of God. Teach the widows to be discreet as respects the faith of the Lord, praying continually for all, being far from all slandering, evil-speaking, false-witnessing, love of money, and every kind of evil; knowing that they are the altar s of God, that He clearly perceives all things, and that nothing is hid from Him, neither reasonings, nor reflections, nor any one of the secret things of the heart.

CHAPTER V.--THE DUTIES OF DEACONS, YOUTHS, AND VIRGINS.

Knowing, then, that "God is not mocked," we ought to walk worthy of His commandment and glory. In like manner should the deacons be blameless before the face of His righteousness, as being the servants of God and Christ, and not of men. They must not be slanderers, double-tongued, or lovers of money, but temperate in all things, compassionate, industrious, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who was the servant of all. If we please Him in this present world, we shall receive also the future world, according as He has promised to us that He will raise us again from the dead, and that if we live worthily of Him, "we shall also reign together with Him," provided only we believe. In like manner, let the young men also be blameless in all things, being especially careful to preserve purity, and keeping themselves in, as with a bridle, from every kind of evil. For it is well that they should be cut off from the lusts that are in the world, since "every lust warreth against the spirit; " and "neither fornicators, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God," nor those who do things inconsistent and unbecoming. Wherefore, it is needful to abstain from all these things, being subject to the presbyters and deacons, as unto God and Christ. The virgins also must walk in a blameless and pure conscience.

CHAPTER VI.--THE DUTIES OF PRESBYTERS AND OTHERS.

And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always "providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man ; " abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from . all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil re port] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin. If then we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also ourselves to forgive; for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and "we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, and must every one give an account of himself." Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]. Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offence, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error.

CHAPTER VII.--AVOID THE DOCETAE, AND PERSEVERE IN FASTING AND PRAYER.

"For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist;" and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan. Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning; "watching unto prayer," and persevering in fasting; beseeching in our supplications the all-seeing God "not to lead us into temptation," as the Lord has said: "The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak."

CHAPTER VIII.--PERSEVERE IN HOPE AND PATIENCE.

Let us then continually persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, "who bore our sins in His own body on the tree," "who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth," but endured all things for us, that we might live in Him. Let us then be imitators of His patience; and if we suffer for His name's sake, let us glorify Him. For He has set us this example s in Himself, and we have believed that such is the case.

CHAPTER IX.--PATIENCE INCULCATED.

I exhort you all, therefore, to yield obedience to the word of righteousness, and to exercise all patience, such as ye have seen [set] before your eyes, not only in the case of the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself, and the rest of the apostles. [This do] in the assurance that all these have not run in vain, but in faith and righteousness, and that they are [now] in their due place in the presence of the Lord, with whom also they suffered. For they loved not this present world, but Him who died for us, and for our sakes was raised again by God from the dead.

CHAPTER X.--EXHORTATION TO THE PRACTICE OF VIRTUE.

Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood, and being attached to one another, joined together in the truth, exhibiting the meekness of the Lord in your intercourse with one another, and despising no one. When you can do good, defer it not, because "alms delivers from death."" Be all of you subject one to another? having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles," that ye may both receive praise for your good works, and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But woe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed! Teach, therefore, sobriety to all, and manifest it also in your own conduct.

CHAPTER XI.--EXPRESSION OF GRIEF ON ACCOUNT OF VALENS.

I am greatly grieved for Valens, who was once a presbyter among you, because he so little understands the place that was given him [in the Church]. I exhort you, therefore, that ye abstain from covetousness, and that ye be chaste and truthful. "Abstain from every form of evil." For if a man cannot govern himself in such matters, how shall he enjoin them on others ? If a man does not keep himself from covetousness, he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the heathen. But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord ? "Do we not know that the saints shall judge the world ?" as Paul teaches. But I have neither seen nor heard of any such thing among you, in the midst of whom the blessed Paul laboured, and who are commended in the beginning of his Epistle. For he boasts of you in all those Churches which alone then knew the Lord; but we [of Smyrna] had not yet known Him. I am deeply grieved, therefore, brethren, for him (Valens) and his wife; to whom may the Lord grant true repentance! And be ye then moderate in regard to this matter, and "do not count such as enemies," but call them back as suffering and straying members, that ye may save your whole body. For by so acting ye shall edify yourselves.

CHAPTER XII.--EXHORTATION TO VARIOUS GRACES.

For I trust that ye are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures, and that nothing is hid from you; but to me this privilege is not yet granted. It is declared then in these Scriptures, "Be ye angry, and sin not," and, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." Happy is he who remembers this, which I believe to be the case with you. But may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, and purity; and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who "raised Him from the dead. Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings, and potentates, and princes, and for those that persecute and hate you, and for the enemies of the cross, that your fruit may be manifest to all, and that ye may be perfect in Him.

CHAPTER XIII.--CONCERNING THE TRANSMISSION OF EPISTLES.

Both you and Ignatius wrote to me, that if any one went [from this] into Syria, he should carry your letter with him; which request I will attend to if I find a fitting opportunity, either personally, or through some other acting for me, that your desire may be fulfilled. The Epistles of Ignatius written by him to us, and all the rest [of his Epistles] which we have by us, we have sent to you, as you requested. They are subjoined to this Epistle, and by them ye may be greatly profited; for they treat of faith and patience, and all things that tend to edification in our Lord. Any more certain information you may have obtained respecting both Ignatius himself, and those that were with him, have the goodness to make known to us.

CHAPTER XIV.--CONCLUSION.

These things I have written to you by Crescens, whom up to the present time I have recommended unto you, and do now recommend. For he has acted blamelessly among us, and I believe also among you. Moreover, ye will hold his sister in esteem when she comes to you. Be ye safe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with you all. Amen.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sermon: Invocabit (Lent 1)


21 February 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA


Text: Matt 4:1-11 (Gen 3:1-21, 2 Cor 6:1-10)


In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Enmity” is not a word we use every day. But we sure see it every day. Enmity is the root of the word “enemy.” Enmity is the state of hostility, opposition, antagonism, or animosity. It is the best one-word summary of what life in this fallen world is. We see enmity all around us. We are drawn into it. We gladly take part in it. We welcome it.

Enmity manifests itself in big events, like wars and acts of terrorism, in mass murder and genocide. It also shows up in playground bullying, in judgmentalism, and in gossip. There is enmity in everything from weather patterns and predatory behavior in the animal world, to everyday acts of dishonesty and cruelty in the human sphere of existence, things we consider normal and even laugh at.

Enmity began at the Fall, when man placed himself at enmity with God. But God uses this curse of enmity to become a blessing, to use enmity against itself. For God promises the father of enmity, the devil, the “old evil foe,” that his enmity against God the Son would be his undoing: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring,” and here the Lord adds a specific promise of the serpent’s demise: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Though Satan would drive a nail through the heel of the Seed of the woman, that Seed, the offspring of the woman, would mortally injure the serpent’s lying head.

And this was the beginning of our age’s epic struggle between God and Satan, and the first declaration of a promise to destroy evil and restore paradise.

With that one word “enmity,” God reveals to us that our history was to be a long and bumpy ride.

It’s always amazing when skeptics claim that the Bible gives no explanation for the origin of evil. But it is clearly explained every time the first three chapters of Scripture’s first book are read. Man’s disobedience unleashed the real version of the mythical Pandora’s Box, and did so by failing to worship the Lord our God and Him only.

And in short order after this declaration of enmity, the first murder happened, and soon after, God sent the flood because of the degradation of mankind in his sin. Not long after that, the tower of Babel was destroyed, languages were confused, and man splintered off into nations that have been constantly at war ever since. And we have all been at war against God and against our fellow men as well.

But God has no intention of allowing the enmity to remain to defile his good creation. Though it seems to us that there is no other way to live, the Word of God made flesh teaches us otherwise in the Word of God given to us to read and understand. For the Lord’s disciple Matthew gives us a battle report from the front lines of a skirmish between the serpent and the Seed.

Like Adam, Jesus was tempted by the one who, four thousand years earlier, deceived our first ancestors with the question that was not really a question: “Did God actually say…?” But this time, the New and Greater Adam did not fall for the serpent’s cunning and deceit. When asked to turn stones to bread, our Lord quoted Deuteronomy: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” When the devil, himself quoting Scripture, taunted Jesus to throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple, our Blessed Lord answered, again citing Deuteronomy: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” And on the third try, when Satan promised to give our Lord the entire world in exchange for worship, Jesus delivered the winning blow, again citing Moses in Deuteronomy: “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”

“You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” This, dear brothers and sisters is where Adam and Eve failed. They elevated their own wishes, wants, and desires above the will of God. When Satan offered them a promise he was in no position to deliver on, to make them like God, to defile the order of creation, they snapped at the perceived opportunity to dethrone God and put themselves in charge.

And this is what we all do as well. This is our inherited sin, and this is the sin we add to every time we fail to carry out God’s good and perfect will and replace it with our own selfish desires.

And we always feel justified in our sins.

When we destroy someone’s reputation through rumor-mongering, we lie to ourselves that the other person deserves it. When we are disrespectful to our bosses, our spouses, our parents, our children, our co-workers, our customers, and even complete strangers – we convince ourselves that they have it coming. When we lie, cheat, steal, have impure thoughts, commit impure acts, when we envy and covet and harbor grudges, when we feather our own nests while the Lord’s kingdom is reduced to begging, when we worship ourselves and our possessions instead of the Triune God – we always make excuses, compare ourselves to others, and get angry at God for not giving us the things we think we deserve.

And thank God He really doesn’t give us what we deserve, dear brothers and sisters.

Thank God that He has come to destroy Satan and not us rebels, sinners, and ungrateful hypocrites. Instead, He has come to redeem us, to beat down Satan on our behalf, to uphold God’s law in our place, and to deliver and make good on the promise to smash the head of Satan into the dust and cast him into the lake of fire – “for us men and for our salvation.”

And this, dear friends, is why St. Paul pleads with us: “not to receive the grace of God in vain.” For “behold, now is the favorable time; behold now is the day of salvation.”

Now is the time to acknowledge our wretchedness and repent. “Now is the day of salvation.” A few days ago, we bore the ashes of death on our foreheads and were reminded of the Lord’s words to Adam that we have heard said to us anew today: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

We will all die. It may not be for another century (in the case of the youngest among us), but for any of us, it could happen in the next second. This may be the last sermon you ever hear, your last opportunity to confess, to repent, and to “receive the grace of God,” not in vain, but in faith, unto your salvation, lifting you to victory over death and the grave – not by your own worthiness, but rather in spite of your own unworthiness by the worthiness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

As we begin our Lenten walk anew, let us remember that in our Lord’s victory, He clothes us with His sacrificial garments the way He clothed Adam and Eve. In this victory of our Lord over Satan, He causes the devil to leave us, even as He commands the angels minister to us. The end of time will mirror the beginning, a new heaven and a new earth, a world without sin, without death, and without the devil – with no enmity. For the command is also a promise:

“You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”

Amen.

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

Friday, February 19, 2010

Practical Wisdom from Ignatius


Ignatius J. Reilly, that is, the brilliantly authentic bigger-than-life New Orleans personality created by the late John Kennedy Tool in his "comicumentary" on life in the Crescent City, A Confederacy of Dunces. In the tradition of Pastor Weedon's "Quotes of the Day," here is a little daily dose of Dunces:

"I am at this moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."

Thanks to Fr. Mason for the facebook entry that called Ignatius to mind. If you like quirky comedy (I think of it as being like Seinfeld but set in New Orleans) and have not read this Pulitzer-winning work, you might want to click here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A very cool portrait...


...made for me a couple years ago by the sons of one of my best friends. The coolest part of this little superhero fantasy is that I have a sidekick, my dear and fiercely loyal Vicar (who holds seniority among the feline denizens of the Hollywood rectory, and who has been living with us for some ten years now).

Though given the reason King Henry VIII was named "Defender of the Faith" by the pope, and then again by Parliament, maybe a more appropriate slogan would have been "Touch not the cat!"

And even in my cassock, note that I'm a good synodical company man, being "ablaze" and all that. And yes, I can hear everyone laughing all over the interwebs.

Saints Fever Spreads to Lutheran Radio?



A nice ad for Issues, Etc. - the online voice of confessional Lutheran radio - highlighting some of the saints commemorated in the Lutheran Service Book (LSB) with days set apart to honor them "as examples of those in whom the saving work of Jesus Christ has been made manifest to the glory of His holy name and to the praise of His grace and mercy" (LSB xii).

HT: The Rev. William Weedon.

A Reflection on Ash Wednesday


"Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

I always forget how stunning Ash Wednesday is. It is especially apparent in a place like New Orleans where Carnival and Mardi Gras highlight the polar opposites of the feast and the fast. One day, we're having a party in the parking lot and joyfully catching trinkets from garish floats, serenaded by upbeat music: high school bands, brass bands, even rock bands. The next day, we're singing ancient hymns set in a minor key, pondering sin and death, as our church is adorned in black paraments.

The most striking thing for me as a pastor on Ash Wednesday is applying ashes to my parishioners' foreheads.

As they kneel before me, I smear a mixture of burned palm leaves and olive oil in the shape of a cross, echoing the somber refrain: "Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." I am forced to repeat this curse upon young and old, rich and poor, sick and well, people of all races and classes. For this - the sobering reality of mortality and the infestation of sin - is the truly great equalizer. Death is no respecter of men, and every individual who breathes today may be dead tomorrow. I know that there is a good chance that many of the people whose healthy foreheads I sign with this cross on Ash Wednesday, I will later sign with the cross upon their ailing foreheads as they lay dying. And at their funerals, I may well make this same sign of the cross one last time upon their temporarily lifeless foreheads. On Ash Wednesday, this sad antiphon is proleptically whispered to one person after another, until all have taken their places back in the sanctuary.

Even the little ones are given this same curse and marked with the same morbid ashes. It is especially disconcerting to mark the children, even nurselings, in the same way. And as a husband and father, I must also confront the mortality of my own wife and son. There is a reason why there is a hush over the church on this first confrontational day of Lent.

Conducting the liturgy after applying the ashes is also shaking.

As I look out, I see the faces marked and the people labeled as mortal. The ashes signify that each person is under a sentence of death; each is terminally ill with sin-laden mortality. On every other day of the church year, this reality is conveniently (and perhaps mercifully) hidden. But on this day, the scales are taken from our eyes, the veil is lifted, and we see clearly the curse of sin and the crushing reality of the fall and its consequence.

At the risk of coming across as flippant, this reminds me of a science fiction movie from 1988 called They Live. The movie is campy, but the underlying story is quite a commentary on our fallen world. In a nutshell, the main character of the film (whose name "Nada" is Spanish for "nothing") discovers some sunglasses that, when looked through, reveal the world as it really is. In the story, unseen to the vast majority of people, the world is being run by hostile aliens. The people are being manipulated by them into a kind of gradual slavery through the mass media (such as TV and billboards). Having looked through the glasses and having seen reality for the first time, Nada's priorities have changed. For the rest of his life, he is at war against the forces of evil that seek to control mankind.

Looking out into the sanctuary and seeing the ashes on the foreheads of my parishioners is a little like putting on those sunglasses, seeing with the eyes what is usually only seen by faith. As Dr. Luther famously wrote, to see the world as a theologian of the cross is to see reality as it is. And on Ash Wednesday, the reality of sin and its curse and consequence of death are as stark as the black cremains of the palms used to hail Jesus on Palm Sunday, but are now used to mark as mortal those called to repentance.

And of course, this repentance and redemption from death is the reason for the season, so to speak. We do not linger morbidly on our mortality. We do not dwell upon death. For we know that death has been destroyed by His death. The deserved curse of the cross we bear was broken by His undeserved bearing of the curse upon His cross. Therefore, to us redeemed and beloved of God, death is only a temporary slumber of separation, a necessary consequence of the passing of this tired world in hopeful expectation of the creation of a new and greater world. And it is to the true treasure of this promise we cling - rather than to all the passing "treasures" of this fallen and fading world, mere trinkets eaten by rust, consumed by moths, and stolen by robbers. We come into the world with nothing, and we leave with everything - as baptized children of God and heirs of the king.

And it is this call to repentance and the promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation that we are also bidden to "Remember, O man..."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sermon: Ash Wednesday

17 February 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Joel 2:12-19 (Matt 6:1-6, 16-21, 2 Pet 1:2-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord. Even now, when we’re still basking in the glow of so much to celebrate. Even now when people have come together to cheer and raise the glass, to hold our heads high and to drink in all the attention our city and region are enjoying – even now, “declares the Lord, ‘return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’”

We look at one another bearing ashes on our foreheads. “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Even in the midst of the euphoria and joy of the last few weeks, we have been confronted with this somber reminder that we are mortal. And now, we must confront why. “Even now” the Lord calls us to set our celebrations aside and look deep within our darkest mortal nature.

The Lord calls upon us to fast. Even the Lord Jesus uses the little word “when” to describe the Christian practice of fasting. “When you fast,” he says. It is not an option. God speaks to us anew through the holy prophet Joel: “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”

“Even now,” the Lord calls upon us to deny ourselves; to withhold food from our bodies and to discipline ourselves to shun that which we crave. In pondering our sin, He calls us to weep and mourn, for this is what we do in the face of death, and the wages of sin is death. All mourning is caused by sin. “Remember, O man…”

But, dear friends, the Lord does not call upon us to destroy ourselves. Fasting is not starvation. Weeping is not self-destruction. Mourning is not giving up. For He calls upon us to “rend your hearts and not your garments.” He bids us to repent, to have a change in heart and mind, to reorder our disordered priorities. He invites us back to Him, not to be repaid with the wrath we deserve, but rather with the mercy that we don’t deserve: “for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

The Lord has gifts to give us, mercy to heap upon us like endless beads in a parade. He draws and impels us to meet together in a holy gathering: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly.” He assembles us, literally “churches” us, draws us out of our self-imposed prisons and into the congregation where His healing and liberation come to us, where the ashes of death are to be replaced by something better. For the ashes on our foreheads are not ashes alone – they have been mixed with oil, and you have been literally “christed,” anointed, marked with chrism, shaped in the form of a cross, labeled not only as one who will die and return to dust, but also as one who will rise and wipe the dust of this sinful world from your feet. For the oil mixed with the ashes calls to mind the Holy Baptism with which we were washed.

“And when you fast,” says our Lord, “do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others…. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father in secret.”

We have been washed in Holy Baptism and anointed by the Anointed One Himself when He called us out of darkness into the light, when He blessed us with the seal of the Holy Spirit and invited us to pray with Him to “Our Father.”

“Gather the people,” God says to us. “Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.” For just as not even the little ones are exempt from death, even as they too must bear the cross of mortality upon their little brows, shouldering with us our common cross and burden of six millennia of sin and death, so too does our Lord invite the children and nurslings into redemption, to be baptized along with the elders. Our Lord Jesus bade us to allow the children to come to Him, and not to hinder them. For these little ones “believe” in Him. None are left out of this sacred assembly. We neither segregate nor exclude by race or class or age, neither rich nor poor, neither old nor young, neither sick nor well. For likewise none are exempt from this mortal mark of ash upon the forehead and the somber reminder: “Remember, O man…”

“Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.” No-one is excluded from death, but more importantly, all are bidden to come to partake of eternal life!

For the Lord also calls His ministers to pray for the people, weeping and saying: “Spare Your people, O Lord, and make not Your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.”

The Lord is truly merciful, dear friends. He loves us. He spares no expense to save us, not even the life of His only begotten Son. He pleads with us to come, to return, to repent, to turn away from all things that draw us from Him, to turn aside from all those things that lead us to death. He even “relents over disaster.”

The Lord “had pity on His people. The Lord answered and said to His people, ‘Behold, I am sending you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied.”

Even though we fast, we shall be satisfied. Even though we weep and mourn, we shall be comforted. Even though we sin, we shall be forgiven. And even though we are dust and to dust we shall return, we shall be restored to life anew.

For the Lord Himself sends us grain to be made into the bread of His body, and wine to be made into His blood, and oil, to be traced upon our heads in the sign of the cross in a holy anointing – at baptism, and again when we are suffering illness, even the kind of illness that may bring about our return to dust. The cross-shaped anointing with oil is a reminder – not that we are dust, children of the Old Adam, but rather that we are sons, children of the new covenant. It is a reminder – much like the blood of the Passover Lamb – that the angel of death has no ultimate power over us, for he had no ultimate power over our Lord Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead, the Conqueror of the grave, and the Victor over Satan.

Ashes may remind us of death, but the cross reminds us of the death of death and the victory of our Lord unto everlasting life.

And as St. Peter reminds us anew: “For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

“Even now” dear brothers and sisters, “even now” let us return to the Lord, and even unto eternal life. Amen.

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Salem Lutheran Church on Facebook


Annual Mardi Gras "Debauchery"

Another glorious Mardi Gras is here (we just shifted the party from the church parking lot, where Grela and Bes rode past, to home), and I still have not received an apology from the pastor from a certain potato-producing state who has never been to New Orleans in his life, but felt qualified to use our beloved tradition of Mardi Gras parades as an illustration about sin in a popular Lutheran devotional the day before Ash Wednesday a couple years ago.

My congregation was not impressed.

The potato pastor was called on it. He was asked to retract it. He was even invited to come and join us for a real New Orleans Mardi Gras. But instead of joining us for the party, he dourly stood by his insulting words and just blew us off. Nice. Having grown up in Ohio, I know that the cold weather (especially this time of year) can certainly make one's world rather gray and drab. But why is it that the cold doesn't turn Canadians (nor Wisconsinites and Minnesotans) into wet blankets and scolds? That is one of the great mysteries of North American culture.

Well, it's his loss. Although the weather was chilly, it was beautifully clear. For yet another year, we had a wonderful time of family fun (you can see pictures of the "debauchery" here - note all the children, both tossing and receiving beads, stuffed animals, candy, and toys. Quelle scandale! Well, one of our cats (who, incidentally, was not wearing a stitch of clothing) did vomit when we got home. And I did manage to drink an entire Corona over the course of the day. I can just hear some of my more northerly brethren clicking their tongues from here. Tsk tsk.

And, incidentally, I am only kidding. It is Fat Tuesday, after all.

The mood this year was rather footbally, as this years Carnival colors (green, purple, and yellow) were augmented by a healthy dose of black and gold. I got some really nice fleur-de-lis throws. There were quite a few spontaneous chants of "Who dat?" and eruptions of the anthemic Stand Up and Get Crunk - especially as one of the Saints' players rode past us in one of today's parades. For his part, Leo was very excited to get a couple sets of beads featuring insects and spiders (as well as a crab and an octopus) from "Aunt Jean," who rode in the parade and was "scandalously" tossing beads from the Charlotte's Web float with her daughter and granddaughter. Leo was replete with joy. I immediately thought of the Nunc Dimittis: "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace" - Leo's life had become complete at that point.

However, I half expect to see Jean's parade picture make the cover of Lutheran Witness as an example of sin - especially as payback from angry Colts fans.

Sigh.

Who dat?

We dat!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

d'Etat's Inferno - No target is off limits

An old Krewe d'Etat float mocking Katrina looters

Le Krewe d'etat really outdid themselves this year in their no-holds barred satire in their February 12 parade. Here are their pictures.

All I can say is that it's a good thing the riders are completely masked - as they openly target the powerful and mighty in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the United States - with absolute fearless comedic and satirical abandon. The theme this year was "d'Etat's Inferno" - and the criticism was as harsh (and funny) as Dante's.

And you just can't beat their Latin motto: "Vivite ut vehatis, vehite ut vivatis" ("Live to ride, ride to live").

Some highlights:

  • A float depicting outgoing New Orleans mayor Ray Nagan "asleep at the wheel" - with reminders of the various scandals, his extensive international travel on the taxpayers' dime, and various stupid remarks he has made in the last eight years.
  • A float making fun of the local burlesque personality Chris Owens and other celebrities who have been surgically reconstructed (such as Joan Rivers, Cher, and Dolly Parton), complete with warnings that they may melt in the heat.
  • A tribute to Bernie Madoff, whose Ponzi pyramid scheme ripped people off of billions of dollars.
  • A float in honor of ACORN, (The Root of All Evil) - which the Krewe claims stands for A Corrupt Organization Run by Nitwits. There were references to pimping, prostitution, and voter fraud- as well as lots of ripped off taxpayers. Classic!
  • The Dancin' Dilibertos (in honor of the late Saints broadcaster who said that if the Saints ever won the super bowl, he would wear a dress). After all, what New Orleans parade would be complete without guys in dresses?
  • Of course, Tiger Woods was on display, complete with "score cards" listing his girlfriends' names, a depiction of Elin whacking him with a club, and his sponsors being crossed off one at a time (but with the addition of "Trojan"). Harsh!
  • Then there was the Hypocrites Club featuring senator David Vitter in his underwear holding a "service menu." Ouch. Also featured: governor Sanford of South Carolina and his Argentine mistress, and senator John Edwards and his "love child" - portrayed to look exactly like the perfectly coifed narcissistic former senator in grotesque miniature. The float also read: "Politicians gone wild."
  • There was a float poking fun at all of the tasteless Viagra and Cialis commercials, including a huge prescription bottle some funny names of a fictional doctor and patient. There is also a warning about calling your doctor after four hours and cartoons of randy old folks in bathtubs - not to mention the ubiquitous list of side-effects - including "big smiles."
  • There was a tribute to Barack Obama's "Nobel Prize" - including fantasies about him winning the Heisman, the Oscar, the Masters, and becoming the CEO of GM.
  • One of the most delightfully distasteful involved a local crook (sorry to be triple-redundant), a contractor in the Nagin Administration Craig Meffert. He is depicted as a severed talking head (the ax-man was U.S. prosecutor Jim Letton, a local hero) with an extensive list of all the criminal acts and scandals (money laundering, tax fraud, kickbacks, conspiracy, wire fraud, etc. and no use of the word "alleged" in sight) - including sending the mayor to Hawaii for an ethically-challenged paid vacation.
  • There was also a spoof of the recent mayoral elections showing a multi-headed monster of candidates (Anybody But Nagin).
  • More spoofs of Nagin - "C. Ray's Magical Illusions" - showing the many broken promises of the mayor.
  • One of the most biting spoofed outgoing New Orleans chief of police Warren Riley, depicting him as a forked-tongue lying serpent. The float reminded us of the hallmarks of Riley's administration: guns, drugs, missing evidence, shoddy reports, etc.
  • Of course, Mose and (former U.S. senator) Bill Jefferson were depicted as a two headed monster- along with their entire family - in prison garb.
  • And, clearly demonstrating that there are no "sacred cows," even a mockery of the greed of Saints' owner Tom Benson.

Like I said, it's a good thing these riders are masked. Gadzooks!

Scotland's National Anthem



Here is a nice rendition of Scotland's National Anthem, Flower of Scotland, a surprisingly modern tune (written in 1967). In its short existence, it has become the true national anthem of Scotland - along with being a separatist tribute to Scottish independence. Here is a beautiful rendition in a football stadium before a match, and here is another example of the anthem being sung for the first time as the National Anthem in a French stadium before a rugby game against England (!) in 1990.

Scotland has been assertive of autonomy and independence for centuries. My own ancestors from Clan MacBean (sometimes spelled MacBain) in the Scottish highlands have been proponents of a free Scotland since the 14th century. They supported Scottish independence in 1715 and 1745 - and their defeat in those uprisings led many of them to settle in the American South - including Virginia, where all of my Bean/Beane ancestors ended up.

Clan MacBean was also a member of a confederacy called Clan Chattan (the Clan of Cats). Our motto was "touch not the cat without a glove" - which is a poetic and heraldic way of saying "don't mess with us."

While I was serving as a vicar in South Carolina, Mrs. H. and I had the joy to meet Lee and Sharon Honeycutt. Lee is of Scottish heritage, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and a former U.S. Marine. He would sometimes wear a kilt to church. Lee is a true Christian gentleman, but he is also a fellow not to mess with.

On one occasion, Lee gave us a tour of Columbia, including the many war memorials. One of them was a statue of a rather sad-looking American veteran of the Korean conflict, standing in the rain, looking defeated. Lee did not approve. He said that had this been a Scottish war memorial, it would have looked something like this: the Scot would be standing triumphantly in the pouring rain, head held high with a look of triumph on his face. He would be holding the severed head of his enemy aloft by the hair as he gave a cry of victory.

It was quite a remarkable and spell-binding monologue. I wish I had a recording of it. It was classic. Lee was the first person I ever heard use the word "Sassenach" - often accompanied by expectoration.

Anyway, here's to the Scots, the Highlanders, the Chattan Confederacy, the MacBeans, and home rule, freedom, independence, and courageous opposition everywhere to government that believes it is a master instead of a servant. People all over the world crave freedom, to be left alone in their "wee bit hill and glen." It is a universal aspiration of mankind to seek liberty against all forms of tyranny. Flower of Scotland is a tribute to freedom and the courage to bleed and die for it.

In my defens God me defend.