Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Monday, June 28, 2010
This is one of the most beautiful and timeless hymns ever written, Pange Lingua, (authored by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century). It confesses the holy mystery of the Holy Eucharist
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Thanks to my friend who sent me a flag of the Louisiana Republic, our national banner for the two months after secession and prior to confederation in 1861. It calls to mind our American, French, and Spanish heritage, as well as our desire for home rule, self-government, and independence - especially during the Southern national period.
It's kind of garish and colorful, to be sure. But so are we.
Text: Luke 12:8-12 (2 Sam 7:17-29, Eph 6:10-17)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Today, Christians around the world celebrate the feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria, a fifth century archbishop and theologian. You might be thinking: “What does this have to do with me, with our congregation, and with the Gospel – especially in the year 2010?”
We all need heroes and role models. In our society, we tend to point children to sports figures, actors, and musicians to emulate. In some cases, these are truly praiseworthy people whose God-given gifts awe us, and the way those gifts are used inspire us – such as the tenacity and dignity of John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, who battled for eleven hours in history’s longest tennis match this past week. A son of our own congregation, the sainted Mel Ott, was not only a hero because of his home runs, but also because of his humility and confession of Christ.
But more often than not, sports figures, actors, and musicians are less than helpful role models.
Soldiers, sailors, and marines are often presented with great military figures of the past – not only to study their tactics and strategy, but also to emulate their valor, honor, courage, and virtue. That is why the Church, ever at war against the forces of darkness – against sin, death, and the devil, against the fallen world and our own sinful flesh – honors the saints and presents them as role models, whose “history” is “set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works” for Christians of all ages “according to our calling.”
St. Luke tells us that being a Christian is a dangerous and perhaps even violent business: “When” he says, “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious.” Satan wants to destroy the Church, and that means, dear brethren, he wants to destroy you. There are times in which we will become POWs under interrogation, and yet, we are not to fear: “For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
In each of our three main hymns today: “Fight the Good Fight,” “A Mighty Fortress,” and “By All Your Saints in Warfare” – there is military, martial, language. The Church is at war. We are at war. You, dear Christian, are at war.
Another hymn, “Lead On O King Eternal,” includes this stanza:
Lead on, O King eternal,
Till sin’s fierce war shall cease,
And holiness shall whisper
The sweet amen of peace.
For not with swords’ loud clashing,
Nor roll of stirring drums;
With deeds of love and mercy
The heavenly kingdom comes.
As stated, we fight not with literal swords and drums, but with the very love and mercy of God expressed through our own words and deeds, our own proclamation and action.
St. Paul picks up this military theme when he exhorts us to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not,” proclaims the apostle, “wrestle with flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic power over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.” St. Paul bids us to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
An immaculate and unbloody sword in a display case that may only see service to cut cakes is of no use in battle. It must be at the ready and wielded at the enemy. Similarly, a pristine Bible with a spotless cover sitting unused on the bookshelf is nothing more than a decoration. It will not defeat the devil. Dear Christians, the Lord has given us His Word. Let us use it! Unsheath it! Wield it! God has promised you the Holy Spirit to give you courage and divine protection. Get your swords bloody! And take comfort that we don’t fight alone, but with an army, with a “great cloud of witnesses,” led on by our King eternal.
St. Cyril served as a general in this divine army. He was an archbishop who ministered in a day and age when the divinity of our Lord was under attack. And the cowardly devil was not beneath ravaging women and children. Satan declared war against the Lord’s mother in an attempt to harm the Lord Himself. The Church’s confession of Blessed Mary as the “mother of God” was under attack. Archbishop Cyril, as a field general, knew what was at stake. The real thrust of Satan was aimed at Jesus and His incarnation. For without a divine Jesus, the Church is a farce, and we Christians have no hope of eternal life. And so Cyril defended Mary as the mother of God, and did so before rulers and authorities. His defense of Mary (which was really a defense of her Holy Son) is part of our Lutheran confessions. St. Cyril of Alexandria’s writings are a primary source of the Book of Concord, the very definition of what it means to be a Lutheran Christian. While others may shy from confessing St. Mary to be God’s mother, we do not. That Satanic attack upon our Lord and His body the church was a “flaming dart of the evil one” that the faith confessed and defended by St. Cyril served to extinguish.
And like any army, not all are called to be five-star generals. In fact, all soldiers regardless of rank are subservient to the government – in this case, to our King. Everyone, whether a general or private soldier, serves the King and plays a valuable role in the war. You, brother, and you, sister, are a warrior. And the Lord has armed you and equipped you. He has given you life, forgiven your sins, procured salvation for you, defeated the devil on your behalf, outfitted you with faith, equipped you with the sword of His Word, fortified you by His miraculous sacraments, and still fights “by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit.”
This congregation is a unit, a corps, a legion of soldiers united in the cause, under the cross, in the battle, committed to the victory already won for us by our King, who is also our Savior. We too have officers and men and women with a diversity of skills and talents, of differing vocations and gifts to offer as service to our Kingdom. It is fitting that we should both install new officers into our congregation, as well as honor a veteran warrior of the Church, on this day set apart to honor St. Cyril of Alexandria, bishop and confessor of the faith.
For as the Lord whom Cyril and we confess testified to us in Holy Scripture: “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.”
Our first mission as a church, as a congregation, is to confess. Dear friends, we confess this one true faith and this one true Lord with the one true church of every time and place: in the creeds we confess, in the sins we confess, and in the forgiveness we boldly confess and joyfully proclaim. We join Cyril and all the saints “who wear the spotless raiment and raise the ceaseless song” purely by God’s mercy, through the gracious gift of the blood of the Lamb, the Son of God, the Son of Mary, precious blood shed on the cross as a perfect and pure oblation and atoning sacrifice. And in response to this gift, we indeed offer “praises due” to St. Cyril and all the “apostles, prophets, [and] martyrs,” and walk “in their footsteps,” knowing that like them, we are called to “live our lives for” the One who died and lives eternally for us.
By God’s grace, day by day we “fight the good fight with all [our] might,” because we depend wholly on our Champion and General, our King and Savior. For indeed “Christ is your strength and Christ [is] your right. Lay hold on life, and it shall be your joy and crown eternally.” Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Friday, June 25, 2010
The Borders bookstore in Metairie no longer carries any volumes of the Loeb Classical Library series, but they do keep whoopie cushions in stock.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Text: Luke 15:1-10 (Mic 7:18-20, 1 Pet 5:6-11)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
As often happens, our Blessed Lord is being run down because of the company He keeps.
To be sure, Jesus is at home in the Temple and in the Synagogue, with the theologians and between the seraphim in the highest heavens, at the right hand of the Father and in conversation with Moses and Elijah. And yet our Lord Jesus Christ is equally at ease in the company of thieves and prostitutes, rogues and tax collectors, and what’s more, He is happy to keep company even with all of us “poor miserable sinners” who fully understand that even the finest of our good works and the noblest of our virtuous intentions are powerless to drag us up to the heavenly places.
And so our Lord has come down from the heavenly places. Our Lord descends even to the level of the murderer, the adulterer, the thief, the con-man, the drug dealer, the terrorist, the traitor, the race-baiter, the crooked judge and the pornographer.
There is no-one beyond hope of repentance except for the unrepentant.
For the Lord has come to call sinners to repentance. Sinners. Not merely those with parking tickets or people who have eaten their desserts with their salad forks. Jesus has not come to call us to have better manners or to pay better attention to our cuticles. Jesus has come to act beyond all rationality and reasonableness, to reclaim us: his lost sheep, his prodigals, his redeemed sinners. And He has come to wrench us from the mouth of the ravenous, diabolical lion, to pull our helpless and lifeless bodies out of the fiery pit, to liberate us from the delusion that our works can save us, and to transform us into creatures that love and give – instead of demand and take.
This is His divine nature: “pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression.” He “does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love.” The word “steadfast love” might better be translated as “mercy.”
For that is what the Lord is trying to teach the Pharisees. It’s good to be good, but it’s better to be merciful. The Lord is gracious and merciful without limit to sinners who repent. In fact, repentance is itself a miracle. And when even one person repents, the vault of heaven resounds.
It is in this light that St. Peter exhorts us “humble yourselves.” For there is no room for pride in us Christians, that is to say in us redeemed “poor miserable sinners.” Pride is the realm of Satan – whether it is pride in having the right facts, the right friends, the right job, the right house, the right country, or even the right doctrine. For none of these things come from ourselves, but are gifts: pure unadulterated free gifts. Therefore, we are more to be pitied than to be proud. Therefore, we can rejoice in God’s mercy (like the lost coin and the lost sheep) rather than rejoice in our pride and rightness (like the lost Pharisees and grumbling scribes).
St. Peter doesn’t just tell us to “be humble” and leave it at that. He encourages us that we are under the “mighty hand of God” and that we will be exalted by God Himself “at the proper time.” As He is our Father in heaven, we can indeed cast all our “anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.”
That is how it is that we can be “sober-minded” and “watchful” – ever vigilant against the wiles and snares of the old Satanic foe. The devil is nothing to take for granted. We need to be awake and indeed “resist him, firm in your faith.” And at the same time, we know that the devil is ultimately powerless to “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Any power Satan has over us is given to him by our own sinful nature and giving in to temptation.
This is why we must repent, dear brothers and sisters. Every day, every hour, every second. Repentance is not a thing we do here and there, but is rather the very way of the cross, the way of Christ, the way of life. We are constantly being called to repent, and we are always being empowered to repent.
For repentance is not a chore, but a joy. To repent is to be found and fawned over, like a lost sheep, being carried home by the Good Shepherd Himself. To repent is to be recovered and rescued, redeemed, and rejoiced over, just as the woman of the house rediscovers her lost treasure amid the dust and dirt and darkness of this fallen world.
Dear brothers and sisters, repentance is hard because pride gets in the way. Repentance is delayed because of the Old Adam who seeks to be confirmed instead of confronted, coddled instead of curbed. Repentance can even be delayed to where it never comes, because of the hardness of heart and the refusal to hear the Word of the Lord. May it never be so among us.
But thanks be to God that we Christians – in spite of our Old Adam – have been not only taught what repentance is, but have been given the gift of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit – so that we might not just talk about it, but act on it.
Thanks be to God that our Lord relentlessly pursues us “poor miserable sinners”, in the “open country” where we stray errantly as well as on the road to Golgotha, where He treads faithfully, throwing us over His bleeding shoulders, Himself scarred by His own battles with our adversary the devil. Thanks be to God that He doesn’t just allow us to linger and waste away in darkness and clutter, but rather lights the lamp of His Word and sweeps the house with the cleansing broom of His Sacraments, seeking us out, finding us, and ultimately restoring us to our original created splendor.
And in so doing, the Lord is not afraid to get on His hands and knees, humbly wearing a towel and washing us clean. He is not above getting dusty and dirty and sweaty and bloody. He is not so proud as to spurn either the virgin’s womb or the virginal tomb, bursting forth miraculously from both in an explosion of light and life. He is not beyond receiving “sinners and eat[ing] with them.” In fact, He comes again and again to our table, to the consternation of grumbling Pharisees and scribes of every time and place. He receives us to receive Him in His very body and blood.
For here, dear brothers and sisters, right here is where the Lord finds us. He finds us on our knees humbly resisting the devil by receiving His steadfast love, His mercy, His grace. He finds and rescues us in repentance, the kind of which creates unmitigated “joy before the angels of God” unto all eternity. That, dear friends, is the company the Lord keeps. And thanks be to God.
“The God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
We recently got back from our trip to Milwaukee for the annual Society of Saint Polycarp retreat at Holy Hill Monastery. This was essentially the same journey as last year, but with some joyful changes - both expected and unexpected.
Once again, we took Amtrak's legendary City of New Orleans train from New Orleans to Chicago, an overnight trip in a sleeper room - followed by an hour-and-a-half commuter ride on the Hiawatha completing the journey to Milwaukee. The return trip was the same, only in reverse.
We learned our lesson from last year and took an earlier Hiawatha (Milwaukee to Chicago) on our return trip so as not to miss our connection. And we're glad we did. Instead of being stranded in Chicago overnight and then relegated to coach for the overnight trip, we were able to enjoy our privacy and comfort and stay on schedule.
Once again, the meals on Amtrak were outstanding, and the service friendly. And Leo being five instead of four made a great difference. Under the circs, the "Last of the Spartans" did really well. Especially considering that he was stuck in a monastery for a couple days with no children to play with - that is, unless one considers Brother Latif to be in that category. The game of "toss the beret on the deacon's head" was a hit.
And speaking of Br. Latif, he and his wife Ruth were most gracious in putting us up for a couple days of vacation and sightseeing after the conclusion of the retreat (not to mention a cookout that, in the words of Arlo Guthrie, "could not be beat"), even treating us to a visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum, trips to local coffeehouses (and Jimmy John's!) on Brady Street, and a bag of Alterra coffee to take home. We also experienced The Spice House for the first time. Thank you, dear friends!
The retreat itself was a time of great refreshment, of prayer, worship, and discussion of spiritual matters with both lay and clergy brethren within our beloved Evangelical Lutheran tradition and confession within the Church Catholic. We celebrated the Holy Eucharist each day. There was a lot of time built in for catching up, as well as for presentations and book reports on a wide range of topics.
The meals at the monastery were largely home cooked by Christina (who remembered us from last year, but who unfortunately for us is moving on to better opportunities). The food was simply wonderful. We also enjoyed a couple meals in town together with all of us and our families. After the conclusion of the retreat, we met with a pastor from Oklahoma who was in town for another conference, and he was received into the Society.
Mrs. H. and I also met with fellow Polycarpian (and former parishioner) Mike Green and his wife Amy - as well as (for the first time) their daughter Jillian, who is our goddaughter. She is a delightful baby - happy and intelligent - and it was a great joy to see our friends Br. Mike and Amy for the first time in months. They are wonderful parents, and seem to be really enjoying the ride. We look forward to watching Jillian grow up.
The only real downside came in the form of disappointment in not seeing my friend and colleague who had fully expected to be there, the Reverend Shane Cota, whose radiator decided to go bad on the ride up. Fr. Shane is a devoted pastor and churchman, and was sorely missed. I hope to see him before next year's retreat.
Also, thanks to the Reverend Tim May for being "pastor-on-the-spot" and taking care of the retreat arrangements for us - as well as saying Mass for us two of the three times while we were on retreat. Thanks also for his celebration of the daily Divine Service at his parish, St. Stephen (LCMS) - which we also attended while in town.
It was, of course, also a great joy to see all of the rest of the brethren - whom for the most part I had not seen since last year - as well as a few new faces. Each year, our retreat has gotten larger. We're already starting to plan and make improvements for next year.
One unexpected grace came by what can only be described as pure unbridled divine providence: I got to meet with, and sit in on a Latin class by, the Carmelite monk Fr. Reginald Foster. Fr. Reggie was, until very recently, the pope's personal Latinist. All Vatican documents must be officially translated into Latin, and that was Reggie's job. He also developed quite a reputation for his unusual teaching methods and generosity (the latter of which got him in hot water with the Pontifical Gregorian University for which he formally taught).
Vatican Radio produced a series of podcasts featuring the unpredictable, irascible, and quick-witted friar known as The Latin Lover bantering with his equally unflappable co-host Veronica Scarisbrick (archives available for your listening pleasure here). I especially enjoyed this episode in which Fr. Reggie explains what it is like to be a Carmelite. This NY Times article from 2004 captures Reggie quite well - at least based on my own limited observation and reading what others have written.
Fr. Foster's class on the Janiculum Hill in Rome has been attended by people from every walk of life - including pastors of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. It seemed an impossibility to ever sit in on one of his classes, as parochial and family duties (not to mention those two impediments "time" and "money") prevent my traveling abroad.
Fr. Foster had returned to Milwaukee last year suffering with health problems (from which he has made a remarkable recovery). Meanwhile, he turned 70- years old and was officially retired from the Vatican. He now lives in a Carmelite monastery in Milwaukee and teaches Latin out of a local church basement. His teaching schedule is as rigorous as it was in Rome, and his classes are still free.
I would have been completely ignorant of this opportunity were it not for a fellow traveler on the Hiawatha, a gracious college student whose name was Gus. We didn't speak at all until we arrived in Milwaukee. I noticed the temperature was 63 degrees and commented to Mrs. H. that this was cold for us. Gus chuckled and told us he was from North Dakota originally and had the opposite perspective. We spoke about why we were in Milwaukee. Gus, it turns out, is a university student who is interested in linguistics - especially Latin. He explained that he was in town to study under Fr. Foster.
This was simply unbelievable! I took out my small Latin dictionary from my pocket and brandished it like a passport.
I told Gus that I teach Latin to middle school kids using Hans Oerberg's book Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. It turns out that Gus's ambition is to become a Latin teacher and use this very same book! As our ride was nearly over, we closed out our conversation. I asked Leo: "Ubi est Roma?" and he replied "Roma in Italia est." Gus asked how old he was, and then asked him to count to five in Latin - which he did. I gave Gus my card and asked if he would contact me in the case that I might be able just to shake Fr. Foster's hand. I would consider that a great honor. I also got Gus's e-mail address.
A couple days later, I got a call on my cellphone. Gus said that Reggie would love to meet us, and passed along his cellphone number. I called him, and he was very gracious and invited us to meet him in the church basement. Br. Latif, Ruth, Mrs. H., Leo, and myself showed up just as he was finishing a session.
He sat in a wheelchair in front of a projector and "scolded" Latif and me for being late. We were given a copy of his large photocopied collections of readings that comprise his course. He held class for a few minutes until the break - at which time, we introduced ourselves. We took pictures and some video. He was delightfully cranky and contrary (all with a smile on his face). He was a good sport as we snapped his picture with this one and that. Leo even grabbed his projection device and moved it. Reggie tried to look annoyed, but shook Leo's hand and greeted him.
I repeated the question to Leo: "Ubi est Roma?" and upon Leo's reply, Fr. Foster knew that I was using the Oerberg text - which he proceeded to make fun of and explain that he doesn't like it (which he later said that it was actually a good text, but for him, a slow way to learn Latin). After blurting out gruffly that he doesn't sign books, that's just what Fr. Reggie did for us - inscribing beautiful Latin for both myself and Br. Latif - in my case, writing inside my little yellow dictionary that Reggie deemed "cute." I will keep the inscription to myself, as he was gracious and kind in his remarks about me and my family. I know Fr. Reggie has his cantankerous reputation to uphold, and far be it from me to spoil it.
Following the break, Fr. Foster allowed Latif and I to sit in on his "lecture" - though he corrected me that this was not a "lecture" but rather an "experience." Indeed, it was. On this occasion, he taught using Cicero, Caesar, Livy, and a medieval German author. He questioned students around the room, cracking jokes, telling stories, detailing intricacies of language, and used mild profanity on occasion. He was dressed in rumpled street clothes and drank PBR out of the can. He made a few wisecracks about us Lutherans, took shots at modern academia, and peppered his speech with grunts, groans, and eye-rolling (this very sentence could well have been written about one of our own beloved seminary professors - I'll just mention his initials: D-A-V-I-D S-C-A-E-R). I managed to scribble out a couple pithy quotes. Fr. Reggie's students (to use the imperfect tense) were loving it.
The Wikipedia article explains:
Foster's teaching style has made him the subject of BBC documentaries and a chapter in Alexander Stille's book The Future of the Past. It is characterized by a gruff style that feigns anger, disappointment, and a sense of despair for the future of Latin studies. Yet most students see that the demeanor is merely part of his style, and consider his "tough love" approach a refreshing contrast to the coddling of undergraduate American curricula. His pedagogy often can be a bit contrarian: In terms of his teaching, the task of translating any bawdy Latin text might, for example, go to a pious sister, and a text from St. Augustine or Pope St. Leo the Great to an atheist or a Jew.
Fr. Foster's class was education at its pinnacle.
There were about two dozen students, all young save for one (not counting Latif and me who are not young, of course). Their cars in the parking lot were from as far east as Massachusetts and as far west as British Columbia. They are there for the summer, and are receiving no college credit; likewise Fr. Foster is not charging them anything. Professor and students were all there for one reason: love of the Latin language. The students are not there for grades or a piece of paper.
After an hour-and-a-half session that flew by, we thanked Gus (who was very gracious and respectful), thanked Fr. Foster again, and took our leave. If circumstances were different, I would have loved to have enrolled for the summer. But that is just not to be. But the Lord in His infinite wisdom, mercy, and providence allowed me to enjoy a short but wonderful and inspiring opportunity to meet Fr. Foster and take part in a little of the "experience."
So our retreat and subsequent vacation were an unmitigated success. Though it is good to be back home, where the only time it is sixty-three is when you walk into an air conditioned restaurant. The people of Milwaukee were, yet again, gracious and vivacious. The folks in Chicago were typically Chicagoan. There is no need to elaborate. But we sure are glad to get back to our home, critters, books, and bed. There is a lot to do this summer, and a little R&R is just what the doctor ordered.
More pictures are here.
HT: Bob Rogers via Fr. Jim King.
HT to facebook friend Ellie Corrow. Another example of the Constitution and liberty vs. the Police State and thuggery.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Here is an oldie.
Gads, how embarrassing!
Instead of being a poser, how about being a pastor? There's nothing wrong with a pastor riding a bike. But there is something wrong with a pastor pretending to ride a bike so as to pretend to be cool in an effort to "market" himself. People can spot such phoniness a mile away - especially when you wreck the bike at the "altar."
And unless you think it's proper to ride a motorcycle in an alb and chasuble, it's really best to leave the leathers in the sacristy and the bike outside.
Sometimes the "cure" doesn't help at all but makes things worse. Prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. was one such (perhaps) well-intentioned attempt to make life better through more laws, more regulations, more police powers, more courts, and more jails. It failed. It made society more violent. It made treatment for alcoholism even harder to get. It penalized people who did not abuse alcohol. The only people who benefited were the police, courts, lawyers, and politicians.
Personally, I think the most dangerous addictive drug out there is government. Once people are hooked, it's next to impossible to wean them off - whether they are addicted to the welfare state of the left or the warfare state of the right. But the Portuguese have demonstrated that it is possible to get off the government fix and approach social problems without resorting to the high of the police state.
Maybe its time to think outside the box a little bit and start limiting rather than expanding government. It might be worth a shot. What we've been doing for the past 80 years isn't really working.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Along with Father's Day greetings to my beloved bio-pop and all fathers according to the flesh, I also wish all pastors a blessed day, as Dr. Luther writes in our Large Catechism:
The name spiritual father belongs only to those who govern and guide us by the Word of God. St. Paul boasts that he is a father in 1 Cor 4:15, where he says, "I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel." Since such persons are fathers, they are entitled to honor, even above all others. But they very seldom receive it, for the world's way of honoring them is to harry them out of the country and grudge them as much as a piece of bread. In short, as St. Paul says, they must be "the refuse of the world, and every man's offscouring" (1 Cor 4:13). (LC 1:158-160).
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Text: Luke 14:15-24
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
If we were to ask a person at random who the very best Christian in this church is, I would guess that the most overlooked candidate would be the newly baptized Stephen Levet. But he is the Lord’s ideal of a Christian.
Stephen Levet does not bring anything of his own the Church. He is not a pastor or theologian. He is not a school teacher or Sunday School instructor. He has never served on a board or given a dollar to the church. In fact, the only thing he brings to the font with him is sin – the inherited inbred sin that curses all of us to death. The same sin assumed by our Lord on the cross. The same sin whose forgiveness is given voice by the church’s proclamation under the authority of Christ.
Stephen Levet is the ideal Christian. The Lord said as much when He shocked His listeners by answering the question: “Who is the greatest in God’s Kingdom” by placing a child in their midst and telling everyone to be like the child. For indeed, the first will be last, and the last, first.
And while serving the church, working for the kingdom, and sacrificially supporting the congregation are all good and noble works – they do not make a Christian worthy, and those good works certainly do not earn salvation.
Some will protest that little Stephen was compelled to come here. He did not decide on his own religious belief. His parents carried him to the font. And they even answered questions about his faith on his behalf. The pastor held him and poured water on him. Stephen was not in a position to refuse. He was indeed compelled.
And compulsion violates our sense of freedom.
But God’s kingdom offers not a freedom of the will, but a freedom from sin, freedom to be in communion with God, and the freedom to live forever. The truth has made Stephen, and all the baptized children of God, free.
It’s not the child, but the adult that allows excuses to get in the way of faith. Our Lord tells a parable about a great banquet. We might also call this the Parable of the Excuses. We grownups are good at making excuses. And in fact, the excuses in the mouths of those invited to the banquet don’t sound unreasonable to us in the modern world.
The first invitee declines the master’s invitation because of a land deal. We can’t really expect people to reschedule the closing on a house or a meeting with a real estate agent for the sake of coming to church.
Likewise, the second man declines the invitation because he has a perfectly reasonable excuse: he has to work. He has made a purchase of some farm equipment, and he has to have a look. One’s job is important, and the master’s invitation is just going to have to be put on hold.
The third man is placing family life ahead of the master’s invitation. After all, no modern person would deny that a wedding and honeymoon is a reasonable excuse to turn down an invitation to “eat bread in the kingdom of God.”
It is as shocking to us as it was to our Lord’s listeners that the master in the story (symbolizing the Lord Himself) “became angry.” For in our sophisticated adult world, we have to have our priorities. We’re very busy and important people. We’ll get around to the Kingdom of God when we don’t have anything else more important to do. And Jesus is not supposed to be angry and disapprove of our choices.
But notice that our newest Christian, Stephen, offers no such excuses. Granted, he is sinful, he is selfish, he has a will at odds against the Lord’s Kingdom. But at the same time, he is not swayed by real estate, work, and family obligations. He knows better than any of us what it is to trust, and as of yet, knows nothing of so-called self-sufficiency. He is content to be held and fed by his parents – and this humility, dear friends, is a picture of the Christian life.
There are genuine times when matters of this world simply have to be attended to. The Lord is not insensitive to our needs. Far from it. The Lord is gracious and merciful. The Lord took on flesh in our fallen world – a world of government forms, deadlines, demanding bosses, family life, standing in line, doctors’ appointments, and every manner of responsibility – many of which are part of Adam’s curse. But the Lord’s Kingdom is not something to take for granted, to place at the end of the queue, a thing that we participate in only if and when we have nothing better to do.
The Lord is offering us gifts, dear brothers and sisters. Gifts! Greater gifts than anything this world can offer. The Kingdom of God is the one place where we do get something for nothing, and the thing we get has no comparison to anything offered by the world.
Stephen took part in that glorious Kingdom this morning at the font. For unlike those who made excuses, he is part of the multitudes from the east and the west that were compelled to come to the water of life.
The Lord’s Kingdom is filled with the weak and hurting, the castaways and the misfits. The invitation goes out to all of us “poor and crippled and blind and lame.” He drags in the sin-sick and the humble, the little children, the suffering, the struggling, and those the world considers worthless. Jesus goes out “to the highways and hedges” and he “compel[s] people to come in, that [His] house may be filled.”
That is the Good News, dear friends. The baptismal compulsion of little Stephen as a disciple of Jesus in the Lord’s Kingdom is the very picture of a gracious God. And so are our own baptisms. In the Lord’s Kingdom, there is no seniority. The greatest in the Kingdom is the little child. The worker hired in the eleventh hour is given the same wages as the one who has labored his whole life in the heat of day.
It is by His grace that we receive His gifts, that we see the eternal value in eating “bread in the kingdom of God,” in attending the Lord’s banquet and kneeling “at table with Him” and hearing His Word. And even when the world’s business and busyness presses in on us, we can look to our Master for food and care, in the same way that our newest brother looks to his mother and father.
Let us rejoice and be glad, for we have been invited by a Lord who is so kind as to compel us. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Monday, June 07, 2010
I had the privilege to assist in the laying-on-of-hands of the Rev. Dr. Jeff Dukeman, my seminary classmate who was ordained yesterday into the office of the holy ministry and installed as the pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Congratulations and blessings in Christ to Dr. Dukeman, his wife Sarah, and their two daughters Maria and Ana - as well as the faithful at St. Matthew!
Sunday, June 06, 2010
Text: Luke 16:19-31
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
How many of you have heard this expression: “Money is the root of all evil”?
We might assume that this comes from the Bible, but in fact, it’s a corruption of 1 Timothy 6:10 in which St. Paul writes: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” It’s not the money that is evil, but rather the love of it – for that is what corrupts a person to be selfish and greedy and to begin to think that he is not just a manager of the Lord’s possessions, but rather the owner.
The love of money turns a person into his or her own personal god. It causes a person to trust himself instead of the Lord, and to listen to his own wants and desires before hearing God’s Word. And the truly sad part is that God’s Word gives to us riches beyond measure, wealth that will never wear out, treasure that can never be spent, abundance that can never fail nor will ever end. It is the highest tragedy when a person shuts out the riches of the Word of God only to exchange it for the dark pottage of a few worldly trinkets that are rotting away anyway.
This is the delusion of trusting in one’s wealth – whether one is wealthy or not. The sin of the rich man in our Lord’s parable is not his being rich in his possessions – but rather in his poverty in his faith and in the Word of God.
Today’s Introit, or entrance Psalm, comes from Psalm 13. We Christians need to keep this on our lips and in our hearts. The rich man in the Lord’s story ended up in hell because he did not heed this Word of God: “O Lord, I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.”
The word bountiful is a reference to wealth. The rich man in our Lord’s parable was wealthy. He wore exquisite and expensive clothing. He “feasted sumptuously every day.” The Lord dealt bountifully with him.
For all that we have comes from the Lord’s bountiful goodness and mercy. The rich man did not trust the Word of God, but rather in himself. He did not hear Moses and the Prophets, but rather the siren song of this world. His heart did not rejoice in salvation, but rather he was loveless to those who were less fortunate. His faith was not in the Lord’s mercy, but rather in his own works. He did not sing to the Lord, but tooted his own horn.
What a contrast to poor Lazarus! He was “covered with sores.” He would have been content with the scraps from the rich man’s table.
He would have prayed with us: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” He may well have felt that God had abandoned him, and even lifted up his voice in a desperate prayer: “Why are you allowing this to happen to me?”
And yet, even in his sadness and poverty, even in his perplexity and questioning of God, and perhaps even in outright anger toward the Lord – Lazarus continues to believe. He holds on to his faith and clings to His Master – even when he does not understand the will of God.
Unlike the rich man, Lazarus is not wallowing in many possessions that can lure him away from the worship of the true God. Lazarus is tempted by his poverty, to be sure. But wealth is an even greater danger to one’s faith – even as our Lord Jesus warns us about camels and eyes of needles and sad young rulers who refuse to follow Jesus because of his many possessions.
But now, the tables are turned. In the afterlife, it is Lazarus who is feasting at table while the rich man is in pain and suffering. And the father of the Jews, Abraham, tells his descendant in the grave: “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things.” What is going unsaid here is that, in life, the rich man could have eased Lazarus’s suffering. He could have shown mercy and charity and love. He could have placed a drop of water on Lazarus’s thirsty tongue – but he chose not to.
And what’s more, the rich man could have helped save not only himself, but also his family, by calling them to repent, by warning them to leave their destructive path. But just as he refused to listen, so too do his brothers. In fact, our Lord prophecies: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
But even in this tragedy, there is good news, dear friends. Our Lord’s words are hard, but they are a warning. They call us to repent, but they do so while we are able. They remind us not to place our trust in our worldly riches – whether we are wealthy in the world’s eyes or not. Rather, we have been convinced by Him who rose from the dead, by Him who is rich and bountiful and loving and merciful beyond all measure.
For we can truly live from the crumbs that fall from the Lord’s table. Our burning tongues are quenched with the water from the end of His finger. Our sores are comforted and cured by the balm of His forgiveness. And like Lazarus, we will receive good things and be comforted forever – in spite of our questioning of God and our weak faith. Even though we may wonder if God has forgotten us, or even getting angry with Him. We know that God loves us and knows what is best for us – even amid the struggle and suffering that is the hallmark of this fallen world.
We have the gift to repent of our selfishness, of our trust in our own riches, of our callousness toward the poor, and of our desire to feast sumptuously while others are covered in sores. And we pray with the church of every age, along with rich and poor: “Lord, be merciful to me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against You. Blessed is he who considers the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”
There is a world of so-called rich men and their brothers in this fallen world who need to hear the warning not to trust themselves. And they need to hear the good news that our Blessed Lord, rich beyond measure, became poor for our sakes, took on flesh to bear our sins, and went to the cross to be our Savior. And though some will not believe even Him who rose from the dead, others will repent and believe.
And like another Lazarus who encountered the Lord Jesus, we have a resurrection to look forward to. This is the pinnacle of the limitless bounty promised to us by our God, He who is merciful beyond measure, whose riches fall upon us like showers from the heavens.
Whether we are rich or poor in this life, we are rich in the Lord’s mercy. And what’s more, we will be wealthy beyond all imagining in eternity. And when we have joined the saints in Abraham’s bosom, then will the Church sing about us:
Oh, what their joy and their glory must be
Those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see!
Crowns for the valiant, to weary ones rest;
God shall be all, and in all ever blest.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Saturday, June 05, 2010
In 1990, I went on a dog sledding trip in Quebec. I previously posted my pictures here. This was a magnificently beautiful rural region in Quebec near the village of Rapides-des-Joachims ("Swisha"). It really was in the middle of nowhere. The village itself was so remote that they lived in a kind of libertarian anarchy of coexisting French and English speakers. The nearest police were 200 km away. There was no crime to speak of, because the village basically policed itself. I have never heard pure, unadulterated quiet until I took a little walk out of our cabin into the wilderness. The blood in my own veins and my heart beating was all I could hear. It was indescribable. Also, I was the only person who spoke English primarily. The only time anyone spoke English was to converse with me.
The guy on the video "training" me (and what you see really was the extend of my training) was learning English. We had a blast together, as I tried to speak French to his English. When we were stymied, I had a pocket-sized electronic translator that came in handy.
We stayed in cabins, and really did eat boeuf bourguignon and drank wine. I guess North American French people are basically the same, be they Canadians or Cajuns. They love food, music, fun, the outdoors, and joking around. The trails were pretty difficult for beginners. I took several spills, but never let go. My legs were pretty bruised. At one point, we hit a frozen lake, and the dogs "opened up" the throttles to unbelievable speeds. I think aside from eating, that was the dogs' favorite part.
Friday, June 04, 2010
My dad is a photographer - a real one. When I was little, I would join him in the basement darkroom and watch him develop pictures. There were gray plastic tubs of smelly chemicals and curly rolls of cellophane film held up with clips, all illuminated by a spooky red light. Pop had an enlarger, and developed both black-and-white and color film. His prize possession was (and probably still is) his Nikon FTN which his friend, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, purchased for him while on leave in Japan. This is the camera NASA brought to the moon.
I've heard the Ironman 2 movie isn't so good, but I love the clip from Tony Stark's testimony before Congress. The above video has a blue tint as part of an ad. You have to click the little icon in the lower right corner to clear it.
Thursday, June 03, 2010
Thanks to the Rev. H.R. Curtis, a fellow LCMS pastor and fellow advocate of Austrian Ecomomics, for sending this along. It's funny, but at the same time, it isn't.
This is what the founding fathers warned us about when they railed against "paper money" - that is currency unbacked by gold and silver (which the dollar has been, beginning in 1913 and brought to completion in 1971). The current economic collapse around the world is because we did not heed their warnings. What you think is money is really stacks of IOUs backed by other IOUs that nobody can pay. The dollar bills in your wallet and in your bank account are basically monopoly money that only has value because China has been willing to buy back them in expectation of getting interest payments. When we can't afford the interest, they will stop backing them.
The Euro is collapsing because it - like the U.S. dollar - is a ponzi scheme, basically a chain letter of intertwined loans and promises - by nations so far into debt that they cannot pay. But now the payments are coming due. So, who wants to pay?
The economic system of the world is nothing more than an Amway pyramid. And Americans need to be ready for the dollar to collapse in the same way as the Euro when the Chinese (who have already backed off in buying U.S. treasuries and are carefully shifting their reserves into gold) decide to take our credit card from us.
If we, as a national economy, don't wake up soon and peg our dollar to gold (as the Constitution actually says the dollar is supposed to be), start saving money, quit spending money and going into debt, and roll back the socialism we have injected into the economy - we will be looking at economic ruin and a worthless dollar. The solution will require frugality, discipline, and shedding the notion that other people can pay our bills. It will require an economic and philosophic revolution. Otherwise, we're looking at hyperinflation and total collapse.
We won't be laughing then.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Find more videos like this on eLatin eGreek eLearn
This is a perennial question for Latin teachers: which system of pronunciation to use.