Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Tale of Three Baptisms







My last three baptisms have been: 1) A man of 70 years of age, 2) a young man of 15 years, and 3) an infant girl of 7 days.

The first baptism took place in a private home with only five people present and very little by way of ceremony. The latter two took place in the Sunday public divine service of the church and happened providentially on the same day: the Feast of the Martyrdom of John the Baptist (which was also a poignant day for us as the fifth anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina). It was quite a day to reflect on the power of the Word to proclaim the kingdom (and to arouse the world's hatred), as well as the destructive power of water (power to destroy sin, the world, and the Old Adam).

Each of these baptisms were done according to the Pastoral Care Companion's version of Luther's 1526 rite - which includes an exorcism and an anointing with oil.

"What is Baptism? Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God's command and combined with God's Word." (Small Catechism, LSB 325)

The second birth by water and the Spirit comes to us in a variety of times, places, modes, and circumstances, with differing degrees of ceremony. In my own case, I was baptized at a Lutheran font at the age of 18. But whether baptism happens in a muddy river by immersion, in an ornate church font by pouring, or in a sterile ICU with an eye-dropper - each baptism is a miracle, a true new birth by the washing of regeneration according to the Word and promise of God.

Thanks be to our merciful Savior for the gift of Holy Baptism through which the Lord forgives, redeems, saves, and grants eternal life!

Stills of the August 29 baptisms and the reception can be found here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sermon: Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist and the Baptisms of Zachary Graft and Emily Fogle

29 August 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 6:14-29 (Rev. 6:9-11, Romans 6:1-5)


In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today is an important milestone for us as members of this particular church. On this date five years ago, our lives were changed forever. And they were changed by water. We learned how fragile life is, as well as how the Lord protected that same fragile life. We learned how destructive water can be, as well as how necessary for life water also is. We learned humility. We learned to depend on others for help. We learned how to throw off our pride and receive charity.

Today is also an important milestone for the Church throughout the world. For all historic churches of every tradition pause on this day to ponder the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. In Holy Baptism, our lives were changed forever. And they were changed by water. We learned how fragile life is, as well as how the Lord protected that same fragile life. We learned how destructive water can be, as well as how necessary for life water also is. We learned humility. We learned to depend on others for help. We learned how to throw off our pride and receive charity.

As Luther pointed out as his own death as a confessor of the faith approached, we Christians are beggars. We come with nothing, and all that we have is a gift of grace. We are receivers of charity. And the Lord Himself pours that charity, that grace, on us through water and through a baptizer. This water, made holy by the Word, destroys and drowns the Old Adam, and this water washes us clean and gives us a second birth of water and the Spirit, bringing forth from the font a New Man, incorruptible and remade by charity, by grace. Our baptism is a renaissance, a renovation, a rebuilding, a restoring.

By God’s providence, this merciful double milestone in time is also the date of a double baptism. When the Lord wishes to emphasize something, He quite often repeats it. The Lord is not only giving new and eternal life to Zack and Emily – He is reminding us of our own rebirth “by water and the Word.”

“Do you not know,” St. Paul asks us anew, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.”

“Do you not know” dear brothers and sisters? Our baptism is testimony, it is the promise of the living God, it is a historical and irrevocable act in history done by God who took flesh in history, and carried out through the hands of a pastor who lived and breathed in history. The remembrance of our baptism is a seal, an assurance of the grace that was delivered to us when water was administered upon us “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

And that divine testimony, the witness of the good news of the cross, of the forgiveness of sins, of eternal life, that testimony is wrapped up in baptism and preached by the Baptist.

For like John, we the baptized are witnesses. We can confess what was done to us and for us. We can testify of the Lord’s grace and mercy. We can state without equivocation that we were miraculously born again through this most holy “washing of regeneration.”

And like John, we confess, we give witness, by our lives. For not all are called to preach like John. Not all are called to die for the faith like John. But all of us baptized are called upon to confess the truth of the Gospel – before beggars and kings alike, in safety and peril alike, through word and deed alike.

For John told the truth to power when he called Herod and Herodias to repentance, “saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death.” Telling the truth will not make you popular. People will bear grudges. Some will try to destroy you. In John’s case, the hatred was such that the one being called to repentance succeeded in silencing John’s speech by severing his head. And yet, John is not silenced, for He spoke God’s Word, a Word that continues to be proclaimed, calling sinners to repent and forgiving sinners who do. John’s Word continues to cry out: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” because it is not just John’s cry, but that of the Church. For it is the very Word of God.

And according to another martyr who preached God’s Word: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Dear Emily and Zach, you will not always be popular for believing the truth in your heart, and you will be even less so for confessing it with your mouth. But this is how we are saved – from sin, from death, and from the devil. And as we in this place like to say: “It is what it is.”

And, dear friends, that is the job of the witness – whether preacher or hearer. “It is what it is.” That is, the Truth is the Truth.” The truth is that Jesus of Nazareth is God in the flesh. He submitted to John’s baptism, submitted to the baptism of blood by His passion and death, forgiving all our sins, restoring our broken communion with God, and rising to eternal life in an incorruptible body. He shows us where we’re going. For we have been called to follow Him. We follow Him into the grave by way of baptism, and we follow Him out of the grave to heavenly glory in being “united with Him in a resurrection like his,” in the most holy name of the Trinity.

Emily has received this second birth as a baby. Zack has received it as a young man. Others have received it in old age. But what matters is that the gift has been received.
For in Holy Baptism, Emily, Zachary, and all of us have been given a robe, a white robe, a pure heavenly robe that not only covers our nakedness but bears witness to the Lord’s glory. For the saints cry out to God: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

And though we all will die, we all shall yet live. And though some among our number of the baptized died as martyrs, giving their lives as testimony to the faith, all shall once more live – to continue giving that joyful testimony of life for all of eternity. We are that “host arrayed in white,” and yes, we “walk in danger all the way.” But even more importantly, our “walk is heav’nward all the way.”

For indeed, in the here and now, we mark the passage of time, but in eternity, time will cease. And on this date and in this place, the Lord has called us not only to reflect on the meaning of water and of life, He has mercifully allowed us to pass along this gift of life to two more precious souls, new children of God in the heavenly kingdom, a kingdom of living water and of the living and eternal Word. For indeed, in this water and by the Word we confess and sing, “Jesus lives! The victory’s won.”

For no matter what happens in this life, no matter how many more storms we must endure, no matter how many more Christians will languish in prison cells and shed their blood for the sake of Jesus, we join our blessed Lord and all the saints in that great eternal victory. For we have been baptized:

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

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ruby Red's and a Whiter Shade of Pale



The Hollywood family had a bona fide day off yesterday! We ate lunch at Ruby Red's, a local hamburger joint on the West Bank. It's a local institution, a place where the owners have worked in the place for more than 40 years.

An older father and son team were dining at a table near us, and explained to the waitress (whom I suspect is also one of the owners) that they now live in Arkansas, but had eaten at Ruby Red's on a Friday night some 20 years ago. The waitress explained that she has worked (nearly without exception) every Friday night at Ruby Red's for some 23 years straight, and in all likelihood had been their waitress on that prior occasion.

The burgers are top-quality steak, grilled on charcoal. The service is snappy and friendly, a little on the sassy side, and on the ball. Without a hint of arrogance, there is great pride in what they do and confidence in the quality of their food. The atmosphere is relaxed. There is no menu (the options are posted on the wall with very little description).

The floor is covered with peanut shells, and there is a jukebox in the corner.

While we were enjoying our repast, Procol Harum's 1967 anthem "A Whiter Shade of Pale" came on. It was simply perfect for the ambiance: a British band with a grammatically-erroneous Latin name singing a beautifully lyrical ballad with both the unmistakable hint of New Orleans blues and the dreamy fluidity of an organ chanting a soft but unmistakable tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach. The tune is also of the same era as the beginning of the restaurant.

Above is a 2008 performance of Procul Harum. And along with being considered pioneers of "prog-rock," the band also produced a delightfully dated 1967 music video of "A Whiter Shade of Pale," predating MTV by 14 years - an eternity in the world of pop music.

I recommend both Procul Harum and Ruby Red's. Our waitress is absolutely right: we will be back again.


You are being ripped off...

...if you are paid in U.S. dollars.

Ever since the creation of the Federal Reserve system in 1913, a collusion between private bankers and the federal government have been siphoning off (i.e. "stealing") your hard-earned money. This is worse than traditional taxation because it is largely unseen and it cannot be approved or repealed by vote. It's like an economic version of radon gas poisoning. It is the sneakiest of all "taxation without representation" schemes. Our founders - especially Jefferson - actually warned us about it (unbacked "paper currency"), as it was used to fund the American Revolution and nearly caused the early economy to collapse from the get-go. Subsequent dalliances with central banking all ended in failure. The Fed is just the latest incarnation of the scam.

The government is indeed stealing from us.

Do you think this is an exaggeration? Click here for a tool that converts the value of the U.S. dollar in any given year into the currency of any other given year. Notice that the value of your money always decreases over time; it never increases. There is a built-in and expected depreciation (inflation) that we have come to expect as normal. But it isn't "normal." Do the math with your own income. You can clearly see that what you think is a "raise" may well actually be a reduction in your salary. The fact that you make many thousands of dollars more now than you might have a decade ago only masks the fact that it's all smoke and mirrors. Given this reality, does it make more sense for people to save and invest, or rather to borrow and spend?

Yeah.

And imagine how hard it would be to make decisions regarding buying and selling goods and services if the units of measure - such as pounds, gallons, square feet, yards, and liters - were reduced in size over time. It makes capital investment decisions a crap-shoot - as a boom or bust could be just around the corner. In the ancient world, dishonest scales were so common that in several places Scripture denounces the practice as an abomination.

Furthermore, imagine if someone were allowed to "skim" the difference for themselves. And imagine further if it were actually illegal to audit the secretive institution that runs the whole thing. Imagine if the central bank, answerable to no-one, could make secret loans of billions of dollars to anyone it chooses - loaning "money" that doesn't even exist! That's the situation in the United States today.

Is it any wonder we are in such a mess?

The difficulty in gaging the "signals" of the market, thanks to this manipulation of the currency (especially when new "dollars" are being created out of nothing by the Fed and being loaned out at interest, which drives this constant devaluation of our currency), leads directly to the boom and bust cycle and to financial "bubbles" (which brought us the Roaring Twenties followed by the Great Depression, which began less than a decade after the creation of the Fed).

We're now about a hundred years out, and our dollar is today worth less than a nickel, all the precious metals have been removed from our circulating coins (beginning in 1964), the last link to the gold standard has been abolished (1971), our government actually mints a gold coin whose "face value" is $50 but whose actual market worth is about $1,200, and the United States is now so far in debt that mainstream economists are now talking about the dollar going into default. Our savings rate is lower than it ever has been, so low, in fact, that it is statistically less than zero! And is it any wonder? What is the incentive to save money for later if it depreciates? And thanks to the artificially low interest rate (especially combined with banking fees), why should anyone have a savings account?

Once again, this little application will show you exactly why this is happening.

It is time to end the Fed. In fact, righting this wrong is long overdue. But at least now people are openly talking about it. Sadly, most in our current political class and journalistic establishment (including "conservative" talk radio), with very few exceptions, would rather yammer on about about more lurid and emotional issues that ultimately have nothing to do with the collapse of our civilization. The Fed is destroying us at home and weakening our position in the world. It explains the deficit, the trade imbalance, and unemployment. It is statistically impossible for the scam to continue forever. This is why folks around the world who used to trust the dollar for their own savings are getting rid of them and looking for more honest forms of saving. The dollar is a ripoff, and our own elected officials are literally robbing and plundering us. They are killing the goose that laid the golden egg - only know, the "golden" egg is made of paper mache with a cheap coat of paint.

I hope our people wake up soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Intro to the Book of Concord (Viewer Discretion Advised)



The above video is a high-energy introduction to the Book of Concord by the Rev. Jonathan Fisk, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Springfield, PA.

But be very careful. It's like watching a video of Camille Paglia animated by Nickelodian and played at three times the normal speed. So, if you are over 30, I would advise taking precautions. Watch in short (perhaps one minute snippets). Pastor Fisk is kinetic. His presentation is along the lines of a 2 am Red Bull fueled rave. And if you don't understand what I just wrote, you might want to avoid this video entirely, as your head could quite possibly explode.

As for me, I'm a pastor. I can handle it - though it drains me. But I'm a trained professional and shamelessly make use of espresso.

In all seriousness, Pr. Fisk is a great communicator of traditional, confessional Lutheranism to an age demographic in dire need of real evangelical catholic theology. So, watch at your own risk. You have been warned. In clicking the above link, you hereby release Father Hollywood, its subsidiaries and its assigns from all legal liability. Take a deep breath. Go!

True Lutheran Heroes and the Triumph of Biblical Christianity



It's easy for us American Christians to become insulated and unaware of the struggles of our fellow Christians around the world. We take our religious freedom for granted. Our freedom and prosperity have made us lukewarm in our faith, taking the church for granted, becoming increasingly focused on ourselves and jaded to the struggles of our brothers and sisters around the world.

The above video is a triumph of biblical Christianity and confessional Lutheranism over the forces of evil. For many years, Scandinavian Lutherans have been denied the right to pastors who believe in holy scripture. With increasingly tyrannical control, Scandinavian churches - sometimes with the aiding and abetting of the state - have pushed a gender agenda at odds with biblical Christianity. For nearly a generation, any candidate for the ministry in Sweden was compelled to accept women pastors as a profession of faith before being permitted ordination and placement. This draconian control was implemented slowly and gradually. Over the course of many years, the velvet glove was peeled off. The increasingly harsh rules eventually became an airtight choke hold that locked out any man who was faithful to scripture.

The faithful laypeople suffered for want to pastors who actually believed in scripture.

Finally, after years of frustration and oppression by fraudulent "bishops," biblical and traditional Lutherans were liberated on February 5, 2005 by a courageous bishop and pastor from Kenya, the Most Rev. Walter Obare. Bishop Obare, in the face of threats and financial bullying from the devil's tools in the Lutheran World Federation, stood up for the faith by consecrating the Rev. Arne Olsson as an indigenous bishop for the Church of Sweden, overseeing a non-geographical diocese within the Church of Sweden known as the Mission Province. And now, in Bishop Olsson and the bishops who have been consecrated since, Scandinavians have a means to have faithful candidates for ministry to be ordained and placed into service.

Needless to say, the official apparatchiks of the Church of Sweden and the Lutheran World Federation are most unhappy to find their stranglehold broken. Their lust for domination has been circumvented, and they are retaliating against anyone who bucks them.

The faithful Lutherans in Finland also needed a true bishop of their own, and so Bishop Olsson in turn consecrated the Rev. Matti Väisänen as a Mission Province bishop - for which he was "defrocked" by the malicious and malignant lowerarchy of the Church of Finland. This means that Bishop Väisänen may not officiate at weddings in Finland, and has been stigmatized by the Church of Finland (which is actually a badge of honor) as somehow being unfit for ministry. In fact, all consecrated Mission Province bishops have been systematically "defrocked" by the apostate "churches" of Scandinavia. Thank God for our faithful brothers in Christ and fellow servants in the holy ministry!

These blatant acts of religious discrimination by the Churches of Finland and Sweden (in societies society that claim to prize equality and tolerance) highlight the struggle between the faithful biblical and confessional Lutheranism of the Mission Province over and against the establishment that has replaced the divine theology of the scriptures with the secular philosophy of feminism, and the God-given sacraments with the anthropocentric religion of homosexualism.
The solemnity of the above consecration service shows that these faithful Lutheran Christians understand the historical and spiritual significance of their good confession. The blessing of Bishop Väisänen with the laying on of hands and the Lord's Prayer being said in multiple languages (not to mention the multilingual nature of the entire service) calls to mind the miracle of Pentecost - in which the Holy Spirit broke through Satan's tyranny to being the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world held hostage by darkness. The singing of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God at the close of the service is also poignant. We are seeing a new reformation against a modern cabal of church bureaucrats who care nothing for the Gospel.

This is multiculturalism at its very best - not politically correct repression, but rather a Pentecost-like catholic confession and liberation of the biblical faith once delivered to the saints, and still being delivered today by God's grace and mercy. For even as the Scandinavians in previous centuries brought the holy faith to an Africa dominated by Paganism and superstition, now we are seeing the enlightening come back, as a faithful and courageous African bishop was (and still is) instrumental in restoring Christianity back to a Europe now plunged in darkness and superstition.

Let us pray not only for Bishop Obare, but all of the courageous bishops, priests, deacons, and laymen of the Mission Province and of emerging confessional Lutheran groups around the world who are putting everything on the line for the sake of confessing the truth of Christ over and against a culture (and in some cases, a state) that has placed Christ and the Church in the cross-hairs. Their grandchildren may some day evangelize our grandchildren. Let us repent of our complacency and let us stand shoulder to shoulder with these faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Who do you say that I am?"

In the midst of this tempest in a teapot about what some low level party bureaucrat thinks Barack Obama's religion is, there is something of far greater importance that serves as a barometer of what Americans think about Jesus which is found here in this statement of Mr. Obama himself (which, in fairness, may or may not be accurate - in many cases, presidents and other politicians have so many poll-driven mouthpieces that the veracity of just about any statement is suspect).

Nevertheless, the statement attributed to Mr. Obama is illustrative in and of itself:

“I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful. I didn’t ‘fall out in church’ as they say, but there was a very strong awakening in me of the importance of these issues in my life. I didn’t want to walk alone on this journey. Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals.” Emphasis added.

Notice what is confessed as important here: "most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful."

Of course, Jesus is our example. Jesus is our teacher. Jesus does speak to how we should act and behave. But the big elephant in the parlor is the fact that Jesus is primarily not a moral teacher or saint to be emulated: He is God incarnate, the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world who came to restore man's broken communion with God through the cross. Mr. Obama indeed mentions redemption and the forgiveness of sins (and even eternal life) as something he believes in, but it plays second fiddle ("but most importantly...") to Jesus's work that could be seen by some as "community organizer."

I'm afraid this is yet another example of man creating God in his own image, a political image at that.

But Jesus Himself said, "My kingdom is not of this world." Jesus is not a community organizer nor a politician. And even when Jesus is carrying out His ministry as a rabbi, He isn't primarily teaching us to be nice to each other or to feed the hungry. Moses has already taught us that. Jesus is primarily teaching us about God's kingdom, about forgiveness, life, and salvation.

And to be sure, there is an ethic that follows as a result, a response of love that impels the regenerate man to act for the good of His neighbor. But without the passion and death of Jesus front and center, without the cross and resurrection as the dominant theme, Christianity is worthless, just another psychobabble-ridden self-help scheme. The world is filled with moral philosophies. But Christianity is, in the words of an Episcopal priest named Chad Walsh (1914-1991), “a vast process initiated by God Himself to undo what Adam and Eve accomplished for us.”

The conversion of Jesus into a politician or activist is a gross misunderstanding of Christianity. And based on the fact that the president of the United States would issue a statement to that effect points to the fact that a lot of Americans don't know what Christianity really is.

And the fact that most Americans are so out of touch about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is of infinitely more importance than whether or not Barack Obama is a real Christian or a closet Muslim.

The real question and answer is here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pushing Back the Abusive Nanny

Quite often we hear references to the Nanny State. There is (rightfully) a disdain for, and disgust of, meddling government. But this is not at its root a political issue. Politics picks up that which the culture lays down.

We have become a servile people - to the point where we sometimes scratch our heads and wonder how the heck did we got here.

One example of meddlesome government - even at the local level - is our local courthouse "security" measures in Gretna, Louisiana. And this is not to pick on Gretna. I suspect there is federal money lying about for local governments if they implement all sorts of "security" measures, and there may well be a penalty if they don't (our Godfather-like Uncle Sam likes to take our money, hold it hostage, tell us what to do, and then pat himself on the back when he lets us have some of it back when we do what he says). I know of an octogenarian who has lived in Gretna her entire life. She is friends with the mayor's mother. She is active in the local historical society. She has been a visitor to the local courthouse for decades. She has trouble getting around these days - and the South Louisiana heat doesn't help matters. She recently went to the courthouse (where everyone knows her). But thanks to a tiny nail file in her purse, she was sent walking back to her car, hobbling on her cane.

Whew! That was a close call. Who knows what could have happened to our country and way of life?

This is a courthouse with armed policemen inside. But in this Alice in Wonderland world we live in, a nearly 90-year old woman with a cane and a two inch nail file (implement of cuticle destruction?) threatens to bring down the republic. And there is no-one who will stand up to Uncle Sam and say "Enough!" In fact, many are so brainwashed that this is "all for our own good" that they will rationalize the irrational and actually feel safer because of the no-nail-file regulation. Some will even argue that criticizing such policies is a "sin" or somehow aiding and abetting Al Qaida. Convenient, isn't it?

But Uncle Sam isn't the only problem. Uncle Sam is a henpecked husband. He is only doing what his cultural spouse (Big Sister? Nanny?) is telling him to do.

We have let that monstrous harridan get away with far too much. And we do so because she seems so sweet and concerned, so matronly and interested in keeping us "safe" - but she is really a shrew. She is a tyrantess. She uses her maternal charm as a way to enrich her pals. Meanwhile, she controls us like pawns on a chessboard. We have allowed her to "turn the neck" of her husband (who finds it easier just to do what she says) - and hence we have become a servile people.

At this point, we don't have much of a choice but to comply with every manner of ridiculous regulation. We all dutifully strap our children into federally-mandated and (subsequently) overpriced "child seats." We buy ridiculous helmets for toddlers who are riding little bikes with training wheels on the sidewalk. We've created this sanitized Germ-X world that is so "safe" that about the only thing one can do without getting a permit and wearing government-mandated equipment is to die - and even then, all the regulations and safety gear are supposed to prevent us from doing just that.

Common sense has been defenestrated and has been replaced by paranoia.

I see a cultural pattern that this attitude has created. By not allowing children to get dirty, we have created a hysteria about germs and sicknesses - and have unwittingly compromised our children's immune systems and created dangerous mutant strains of diseases. For all of this safety-nattering, why are allergies and asthma on the rise? By creating a culture of hyper-safety, we now have an increase of children who are overweight, lethargic, and ignorant of the world around them - in addition to being unhealthy and frightened. This has also led to the specter of the hovering helicopter parents who can't even "let go" when their children start college. By striving to create a risk-free bubble for children, we now see them having become adults who lack common sense, who cannot manage the real world of risk, people whose lives are controlled by fear, ignorance, and virtual paralysis - and now they have children of their own. By babying children, we're created an entire culture of adult babies.

And these "babies" now vote and hold office. Thus Nanny's consummation with Sam.

Fortunately, there are signs of a growing resistance not only to Uncle Sam's heavy-handedness, but also to the Nanny Culture's soft tyranny. Things just didn't used to be this way, as columnist Fred Reed points out. As for me, I'm not yet 50 years old, and my parents were rather overprotective by standards of the day - but my childhood was a virtual anarchy compared to the regimented life the typical kid lives today. Many of today's parents would be shocked, if not scandalized, by the way my parents raised me.

At last, some doctors and medical experts are breaking ranks and speaking out against this insane Howard Hughes culture of germophobia and horror of dirt. And pioneering this rejection of living a life dominated by hysteria, fear, and paranoia, there is a burgeoning "Free Range Kids" movement out there - named after the blog of the same name, a term coined by the much-maligned (meaning "heroic") Lenore Skenazy.

I say it's about time.

Children are growing up in a world that, for all of the security theater and governmental safety nets, is risky and unforgiving. They will have car wrecks. They will face violence. They will get lost. They will lose jobs. They will struggle in school. They will make mistakes. They will have investments fail. They will face sickness and death. That is what it means to live in a fallen world. Original sin cannot be fixed with gooey hand sanitizer, having mom speak to the dean of students, or burdensome bureaucratic regulations. Our kids need to know how to manage risk, how to think on their feet, how to deal with real life when bad things happen. It's called "learning." That involves allowing them to take some risks now and to use their brains. And it is up to parents to teach them to think, not confine them to a secure and sterile bubble. It involves having a little faith combined with sanctified common sense.

It used to be called "growing up."

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 12

22 August 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Rom 10:9-16


In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

We are a self-serve people.

There used to be “full service” gas stations in which a guy would not only pump your gas, he would check your oil, clean your windshield, and make conversation with you. But now, we do it ourselves. We often use U-Haul to move, take out library books by swiping a card, and check ourselves out of the grocery store. Often even the restaurants we go to have no waiter or waitress to serve us.

We Americans like to be self-sufficient do-it-yourselfers. Some people even think the Bible says: “God helps those who help themselves.”

In fact, the Christian faith is just the opposite.

One of the last things Martin Luther wrote was the theologically profound statement: “We are beggars.” The Christian faith is a faith in which we are served and we serve; meaning God serves us (as beggars, as poor miserable sinners with no worth or merit in ourselves), giving us forgiveness, life, and salvation. We, in turn, live our lives as servants – offering ourselves, our lives, and our possessions as thank offerings to God, offering service to our neighbors in need, out of love. Whereas the motivation for being a do-it-yourselfer is money and independence, the motivation to be a servant in God’s kingdom is to receive out of love, and as a result, to be mutually dependent upon, and with, one-another.

And this is where God’s kingdom clashes with the kingdom of the world – especially the self-starter, free-market, individualist culture we live in.

The holy Christian faith is not self-serve, but full serve. Jesus came to us as a humble servant. He gave of himself fully and completely. He pronounced His saving and serving work for us with His triumphant cry: “It is finished.” He serves us with His Word and His Sacraments, His absolution, His baptism, His body and blood, and His eternal and merciful Gospel.

St. Paul proves the futility of a self-serve faith, when he begins with a citation from the prophet Joel: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” and then asks a few rhetorical questions as a result: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”

St. Paul is telling us that we need more than a self-serve faith to be saved. The Christian faith is not something you can teach yourself intellectually with a book or an iPod. Rather it is a faith that is miraculously appropriated through the Word and lived out – however imperfectly – in deed and in truth. And as Paul later tells us: “Faith comes by hearing” the Word of Christ.

But how are we to hear this Word today? The holy apostle tells us that the Word of Christ is proclaimed by the Lord’s servants. For we call on Him when we believe. And that belief, that faith, is given to us when we hear the Gospel. And that Gospel is heard when it is preached. It is preached when there is a preacher preaching. And there is a preacher when a preacher is sent.

And so the Church sends preachers.

St. Paul does not tell the Church to bring people to salvation by handing out Bibles. Handing out Bibles is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a good thing. But God’s Word is not meant to be figured out in isolation, but rather lived out in community. It is taught and preached by preachers. It is learned and internalized by hearers. The Word of God finds its real power in the church, that is, the assembly of the redeemed, of the forgiven. We are served by the Lord’s servants who serve in the name of the Lord who Himself took the form of a servant.

This is why the pastor forgives our sins with the following preamble: “By virtue of my office as a called and ordained servant of the Word…” You are not left to forgive your own sins the way you pump your own gas. You are not left to preach to yourself the way you use the self-checkout line at the store. You are not given to consecrate bread and wine into the Lord’s Supper on your own the way you withdraw money from an ATM. For even the word “Communion” shows the communal nature of the most holy sacrament of the altar.

No, indeed, the Lord has given us a kingdom that is a full-service realm, a glorious faith of forgiveness, life, and salvation, preached by preachers, heard by hearers, and shared by all of us sinner/saints who serve and are served, both by the Lord and by our neighbor.

For though we believe quietly in our heart, we confess aloud with our mouths. We do so in order that someone might hear it. We confess with our mouths because we are not alone, nor are we left to serve ourselves. For God helps those who cannot help themselves. As Blessed Mary sang: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” And as her Blessed Son proclaimed: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” If the Word that saves us could have come to us only in a book, the Word would not have been made flesh and dwelt among us. We would have a mere Word of information instead of the atoning Word of the cross. Nor would that same Word ordain and consecrate servants into a holy ministry to preach, teach, baptize, absolve, administer the Supper, and serve you with the eternal gifts of the kingdom – if the Word were administered in a self-serve manner.

The Christian faith is not a self-serve faith. Rather it is a servant faith. And thanks be to God that our mighty Lord is also a humble servant, one who is not ashamed to serve us poor miserable sinners who cannot help ourselves.

Amen.

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

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sermon: Trinity 12 and Teacher Installation

22 August 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 7:31-37 (Isa 29:17-24, Rom 10:9-16)


In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In this world “by sin now broken”, many things can, and do, go wrong.

Each one of us is laden with imperfections and faults. We are burdened with not only obvious sins and shortcomings, but also with physical crosses to bear. Many suffer with chronic pain, with cancer, with crippling disabilities, with mental anguish, and with the effects of trauma. One of the worst consequences of our life in this fallen world is the fact that some bear the physical burden of having one’s senses impeded, struggles such as blindness and deafness.

Being unable to hear is a particularly trying burden, for as St. Paul teaches us: “faith comes by hearing.” In fact, St. Paul asks rhetorically, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”

But before one gets to the difficulty of hearing the Gospel when no preachers are sent, one who is deaf has the more immediate problem of hearing the Word of God at all. As with all physical calamities, Satan delights in deafness, for it impedes the Word of God from doing its miraculous work of saving and regenerating, of bringing to repentance and forgiving. Moreover, a deaf person is likely also mute, thus making it difficult to “confess with [one’s] mouth that Jesus is Lord.”

But, dear friends, Satan and our own sin-corrupted flesh do not get the last word. In fact, the deaf-mute from the Decapolis is made able to confess the Word that is both first and last, the Alpha and the Omega. For that Word, the Word made flesh, the Word by whom all things were made, the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that was God, He Himself spoke a single word: “Ephphatha – be opened!” And just as in the beginning when the mighty Word resounded into the primal darkness with the command: “Let there be light…” the Word of God made reality happen. At the Lord’s command “Be opened,” the closed ears of the deaf-mute were made receptive to that very Word that resonates with the Good News of regeneration and re-creation.

Furthermore, once his ears were opened, his tongue was also released. And that which he believed and knew in his heart, that Jesus is Lord over creation, that Jesus is the One sent to make all things new, that confession was now to be articulated with his no-longer silent mouth: “and he spoke plainly.”

Education is based on the Latin verb “to lead out.” Scholars argue about the origin of the English word, but it is clear that teachers do perform this function of leading their students out of darkness and into light, out of the muteness of ignorance and into the plain speech of confessing with one’s mouth what one has internalized in one’s heart.

And while teachers are not preachers, there is certainly a parallel. For teachers likewise use the power of human communication to enlighten their students. And in a Christian school, that education includes the very Word of God. Teachers are not pastors, and yet teachers do shepherd those lambs placed in their charge – as is especially apparent among those who teach the very young, trying to herd them into a flock over and against their sinful nature to wander away from the rest of the lambs. Teaching – especially in a Christian school – is indeed a holy vocation, a service to one’s neighbor as well as a thank offering to one’s Lord.

And indeed, teachers do break through deafness and speech impediments, bringing knowledge of God’s world and of God’s Word even to the Lord’s beloved children who suffer such consequences of the fall.

Our students hear, really hear, God’s Word. Our teachers not only speak about the Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel to these students, but they also are means through which our Lord Himself works – teaching through them, forgiving through them, and sharing the Good News through them – in word and in deed.

It is a daunting calling, one that must be entered into with fear and yet with joy, with prayerful trepidation and yet with reverent confidence, in godly humility and yet with holy zeal. For it is the Lord who is in charge, who shepherds, who speaks His “ephphatha” to His people both young and old.

The slogan: “Jesus teaches at Lutheran schools” is not just a clever quip, it is a profound theological reality. For even as the Lord Jesus uses the physical element of saliva in conjunction with His Word to heal, and just as He uses the physical element of water combined with His Word to baptize, so too does the Lord use the humble preacher, teacher, parent, colleague, and friend to convey His Word of truth, forgiveness, life, and salvation. Not all are given to preach, nor are all given to teach, but all “poor miserable sinners” who have been redeemed are empowered to confess, to pray, praise, and give thanks, to make known before beggars and kings the reason for the hope that is in us in Christ Jesus.

The Lord may or may not permit us to see physical miracles, such as the dramatic healing of the sick or the scientifically inexplicable ability of a deaf person to hear. But the Lord has given to us the joy of seeing students hear with joy and to understand, to speak with confidence and articulate what they have learned. We see them grow. We see them react to God’s Word – all through His work through us, His unworthy servants: preachers, teachers, parents, colleagues, and friends. For we have all seen people leave the dark and silent prison of sin and enter the bright and resonant glory of forgiveness. And that is an even greater miracle, a more profound and lasting Ephphatha, even more spectacular than that which Jesus did for the deaf man in the Decapolis.

For the holy prophet Isaiah not only prophesied that the Messiah would make the deaf hear, but proclaimed that “the deaf shall hear the words of a book,” divine words that would pull those hobbled and crippled by the ravages of sin, death, and the devil out of the “gloom and darkness” and enable them to “obtain fresh joy in the Lord.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Word of God is always fresh and the Gospel is always joy. Jesus has come to break through our stubborn ears that resist the Word of God, and He has come to tear away the speech impediments that stand in the way of our proclamation, confession, and articulation of the Good News.

For the burden of the cross of deafness will forever be lifted by the One who bore the burden of the cross of Calvary, the cross upon which the blood of the Word Made Flesh was shed “for us men and for our salvation.” For that same Ephphatha comes to us by the preached Word. And likewise, the burden of the cross of our own inability to open our mouths to confess the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world” will be forever lifted by the One who was lifted up on the cross of Calvary, whose body and blood are given and shed for us, placed and poured into our open mouths “for the forgiveness of sins.” For that same Ephphatha comes to us by the administered sacraments.

Jesus is here to liberate our ears and loose our tongues. Jesus is here to teach the children and announce the Good News among their families. Jesus is here to forgive us all our sins and give us eternal life.

For as our ears, opened by God’s mercy, have just heard, and as our tongues, loosed by the power of God’s Word, just sang to the glory of God, we pray yet again:

Word that caused blind eyes to see,
Speak and heal our mortal blindness;
Deaf we are: our healer be:
Loose our tongues to tell Your kindness.
Be our Word in pity spoken,
Heal the world, by sin now broken.


Amen.

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

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Houses (or: Why we Need to End the Fed)


It is interesting how the vagaries of Federal Reserve-driven economics drive cultural matters. Two recent articles are illustrative windows into how bureaucratic policy translates into the real world of life for ordinary people:

First, this CNBC article chronicles the recent seismic shift in demand away from large houses. Second, this Global Economic Trend Analysis blog post captures a new cultural trend toward extremely small houses.

Part of the danger of our current Federal Reserve system (the darling of both major parties) is the boom and bust cycle. So long as interest rates are held artificially low by a collusion between private bankers and government, so long as the system rewards debt and punishes thrift (which is exactly what happens during a time of "stimulus" according to Keynesian economic theory), so long as paper money is forced into currency through a central bank and legal tender laws while constitutional hard currency is spurned - these kinds of shifts between extremes will forever be the rule.

A few lessons this teaches:

1) Paper is just that: paper.
2) What goes up must come down.
3) There is no free lunch.
4) Debt is best avoided if possible.
5) It's time to "end the Fed" and stop the shell game of paper money.

A Facebook Message from Pastor Ivanov

[Note: This is a facebook message to me from the Rev. Vlad Ivanov, and it is cross-posted here from The Renaissance - +HW]

Vladislav Ivanov August 15 at 1:23pm

Hi Larry!

This is a short story about our community in Chelyabinsk.

Community of the Holy Spirit is very young. In our congregation of 10 people. We serve the liturgy at the center of aid to the blind people in a small room which we rent for a few hours a week. Every Sunday after worship we study the Small Catechism, or hold Bible hour. Once a month we have an Evening Prayer with Holy Communion. When one of our parishioners come with their grandchildren, my wife holds classes for children.

My daughter is always happy when there is occupation, she quickly tired of the fact that she needs to sit or stand still all the liturgy:) She was two years.

Last year we ended with two-year Bible school, which we helped to organize the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk. Once a month we go to Beloreck. This we do with Father Sergei, a priest from Yekaterinburg. City Beloreck located 400 km from Chelyabinsk. There lives, our parishioner and her daughter. Perhaps there will soon also be missionary community. This fall, we want to hold it once a month Bible hour for all who are interested in Lutheran Church and the Christian faith. Every year our community participate in the city exhibition devoted to the birthday of Chelyabinsk. This year we will also take part in it. For us this is a good opportunity to tell others peoplesabout the saving faith and our church.

In missionary work, we use the book of Lutheran Heritage Foundation and the magazine "Good News". I have some interesting photos of life in our community. I can put these photos in an album of our parish. My family sends greetings to you all!

Vlad







Friday, August 20, 2010

AC/DC Goes Accordion

Watch and Be Amazed!



This is how you know someone is really (really) good at something: it looks effortless. But you can only imagine how many thousands of hours of practice went into this performance. Brilliant!

"Socialist" isn't just an insult

A lot of modern political discourse is childish name-calling. It happens so often that, like the boy who cried wolf, the words lose their potency. The term "Socialist" is thrown about so often that it would be easy to dismiss it as just another meaningless epithet.

However, the term "Socialist" is something that dozens of members of Congress actually claim as a self-description.

The Democratic Socialists of America is a modern Socialist organization in the U.S. It isn't a party, but rather a kind of Trojan Horse to use the Democrat Party as a means to elect Socialist candidates into office. Although it sounds like a pipe dream, it's actually been quite successful.

Here is a DSA newsletter from October of last year. It lists the names of seventy members of the current (111th) U.S. Congress who are (dare I say it?) "card-carrying members" of the DSA - including eleven members of the Judiciary Committee. This means there are 70 seated congressmen who openly and publicly consider themselves Socialists.

And the mainstream media is utterly silent about it!

I believe there are actually far more than this. I believe there are a good number of congressional members of both parties who are philosophically Socialists of one stripe or another: advocates of big government, be it the welfare state, the warfare state, or both. But these seventy seated members all shamelessly call themselves "Socialist." To run either a cradle-to-grave system of social security or a massive worldwide empire requires huge transfers of wealth from the people in the form of confiscatory taxation. And to ensure compliance, such a system requires an authoritarian state. These were lessons learned the hard way in recent times by the Soviet Union. The U.S. currently has more people incarcerated than any other nation - most for non-violent and/or victimless crimes. We are burdened with more and more laws and regulations with each passing day - so many so that congressmen have long abandoned the practice of actually reading the voluminous bills they pass with lightning rapidity. The United States has also given up on the idea of ever living within our collective means. We all know what is coming down the pike.

But ultimately, the welfare-warfare state is about control. It is driven by what St. Augustine called libido dominandi - the lust for domination.

What makes Socialism bad is not merely that it doesn't work, but the fact that it is immoral. It's theft. It is a system that turns ordinary people into criminals and turns the normal and natural human activity of free trade and commerce into a "black market." It criminalizes the very thing that impels human progress. It turns the state into a tyrannical master instead of a godly servant. Worldwide, this philosophy, when given the reins of power in elected governments, has brought us concentration camps at the worst and bankrupted economies and broken dreams and poverty at the very least. Even in relatively benevolent Socialist regimes, such as Sweden and Canada, religious freedom of speech is targeted and ominous tribunals investigate innocent citizens to make sure they aren't having "wrong" thoughts. It is impossible to exert control over people (the way Socialism must) without a system of compulsion - however well it is hidden or however friendly it looks according to the propaganda.

It is the living consequence of the cautionary tale of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

While railing against greed, this is exactly what Socialism is. It is the desire for a good or service while compelling, by force if necessary, someone else to pay for it. It is stealth slavery, a circumvention of the 13th Amendment. It crushes the human spirit.

And your Congress has at least 70 members openly committed to this philosophy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Song Five Year Olds Do Not Want...




Any song with the word "no" sung over and over is a parent's dream and a kid's nightmare. Thanks to former DJ and walking musical almanac the Rev. Dave Juhl for helping me identify this song.


Oktoberfest and Gottesdienst Central

Note: Various impediments (parochial, familial, financial, spacial, and temporal) will sadly stand in my way of attending this event. I am really bummed out about it. The Rev. Dr. David Scaer is a treasure of American Lutheranism, and I had the honor not only to study with the good (and ballistic) reverend father in many classes (both officially and unofficially), but I also wrote my M.Div. thesis for him.

If you can make it to this event, I urge you to go - not only for Dr. Scaer, but for the entire experience and fellowship with the men who both run and read Gottesdienst - the world's leading journal of Lutheran liturgy. I guarantee that you will learn a lot, will be edified by the Word and Sacrament, and will enjoy yourself. And if you don't engage in a hearty belly laugh at least two dozen times during a Scaer lecture, you have lost your soul and have ceased being human. Put on your seatbelt, hold on, and enjoy the ride. "Praise the Lord, guy!"

Not only will Dr. Scaer lecture and introduce his new book, there will be a reverent celebration of the Mass, a Choral Vespers, bratwurst and beer, and Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt will lead a "
discussion and hands-on workshop on matters pertaining to the ceremonies of the Lutheran Mass" - all in three days!

Anyway, below is the announcement. Go if you are able! And whether you go or not, be sure to subscribe to the print edition of Gottesdienst and read (the free) Gottesdienst Online.

+HW


Announcing the Fifteenth Annual
Oktoberfest and Gottesdienst Central


With Dr. David P. Scaer

at St. Paul's Evangelical-Lutheran Church
Kewanee, Illinois
October 10-12, 2010 (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday)

Conference theme:
Liturgy, Church, Ministry: Some Afterthoughts

This year we are pleased to welcome as our guest the Rev. Dr. David P. Scaer, Professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Dr. Scaer has made his mark among the foremost confessional Lutheran scholars of the 20th and 21st century, and has taught and mentored a generation of pastors. A prolific writer, he has been in the vanguard for confessional thinking on the topics he will be addressing for us. We are honored to have him return to St. Paul's to address our conference.

Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. is our Autumn Choral Vespers, followed by our annual bratwurst banquet (if you haven't had our award-winning Sheboygan brats, it's high time you did!). On Monday morning, following Holy Mass at 9:30, the Gottesdienst Central seminar will feature Dr. Scaer and run until 3:15 p.m.

On Tuesday, St. Paul's Pastor Burnell Eckardt will lead a discussion and hands-on workshop on matters pertaining to the ceremonies of the Lutheran Mass, and will highlight the content of his new book, The New Testament in His Blood: A Study of the Holy Liturgy of the Christian Church, which will be available for purchase at the conference.

Join us for "Gottesdienst Central," our annual liturgical and theological seminar.

Lodging: AmericInn, 4823 US Hwy 34. 800-634-3444 (rooms set aside: let them know it is for Oktoberfest)
Super 8 Motel, 901 S Tenney (Rt 78). 309-853-8800
Aunt Daisyís B&B, 223 W Central Blvd. 888-422-4148
Kewanee Motor Lodge, 400 S Main St. 309-853-4000
Days Inn, I-80 & Rt 40, Sheffield. 815-454-2361
Holiday Inn Express, I-80 & Rt 78, Annawan. 309-935-6565

REGISTRATION: $25 per person (students $20) $40 per couple -- includes Sunday banquet and Monday continental and luncheon; no charge for children with parents.

To register, please call 309-852-2461 and leave your registration information (name[s] and address) or log on at http://www.liturgyseminar.blogspot.com where you will may register by email, with the option of using PayPal with an account or a major credit card. Or you may pay the registration fee when you arrive. Please register ahead, even if you choose to pay when you arrive.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sermon: The Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary

15 August 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 1:39-55


In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There is a slogan that is popular in some circles that reads: “Well behaved women seldom make history.” It’s actually the title of a book written by a Mormon Feminist named Laurel Ulrich.

And there is some truth to her statement.

This slogan is often quoted as a way of encouraging women not to behave well, not to be submissive, but rather to question and to buck authority. For if one’s goal is fame and fortune in this world, if one desires to “make history” –one is more likely to succeed by behaving badly. One only needs to consider women who are considered great in pop culture to see the truth in Dr. Ulrich’s quip.

The very first woman, our common ancestor Eve, made history by not being well behaved. Eve was created to submit most immediately to her husband, and also to God. She had her place in the order of things. But Eve was convinced by Satan not to accept this patriarchal hierarchy, and she behaved badly. She disobeyed. She grabbed hold of that which was denied to her – and she demanded to leap over the authority of both her husband and her Creator-Father. She desired to be like God.

She made history all right.

Eve – along with her equally-guilty husband who did not protect her, who did not assert his masculine leadership of the family – brought death to the world. The two of them destroyed the perfect communion between God and man, devastated the ecosystem of the planet, and brought sickness, suffering, and death to our own lives. They invited sin into our universe. They certainly made history.

God promised the serpent who tempted that first badly-behaved woman that the Seed of that same woman would not only make history, but would define it. In the fullness of time, He would crush the serpent’s head. He would vindicate and redeem the badly-behaved woman and all of her offspring, not by condemning Eve, but by dying for her forgiveness and for the redemption of all her descendants. And He is the beginning and the end of history, the Alpha and the Omega.

In fact, all of history is divided between BC and AD to this very day.

Our Lord Jesus took flesh in a unique act of history. He walked among us. He taught. He preached. He worked miracles. He proclaimed the good news of freedom from Adam and Eve’s sin, and from our own. For Eve’s children, “for us men and for our salvation,” He took up the punishment of death that we have earned, bore it in our place on the cross, shed His blood sacrificially for the sins of the world, died, was buried, and rose again. And this He did as a matter of history.

Jesus behaved well, not merely in obeying the law perfectly for us (which He did), but also in sacrificing Himself for us in perfect love (which He also did) and being present with us, as He is and ever shall be, even to the end of history.

And on this holy day, the Christian world honors the greatest woman in history. She not only changed history, but carried History in her virginal womb. She not only obeyed God, but became the mother of God. She not only behaved well, but became a model of the kind of submission and humility that would shock and appall many women who would wear Laurel Ulrich’s quote on a t-shirt.

For Mary has a quote of her own: “My soul” sings the Blessed Virgin, “magnifies the Lord.” Notice that she does not exult in her own deeds. She does not call attention to herself. She doesn’t seek to make history. Rather she submits to the Father and to their Son. And by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, she proclaims: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Like St. Paul, St. Mary’s boast is in her Savior. Her glory is in her Son’s cross.

Blessed Mary made history not in being a bigmouth, not in her swagger, not in being great in the eyes of the world, not in showing that she is “as good as any man,” (as though that would be a step up), and certainly not in vulgarity – but rather in her humility, obedience, and purity. She is great for what she receives in humility rather than what she achieves in self-esteem. She confesses: “for He has looked upon the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed.”

Indeed, history is most often made by scoundrels of both sexes: by the selfish, by the loutish, by those filled with the lust to dominate, by those who see themselves as great, by those who will not submit themselves to any man nor to any God who would call Himself “Father.”

Seldom is history made by a well-behaved woman.

But in the case of the one whom all generations call blessed, our “most highly favored Lady,” the one who bore and nursed the only perfect Man in all history, the one whose heart was pierced by a sword at His crucifixion, the one who bore Jesus in shame so that He could bear His cross in shame – all to take away our shame – she is history’s greatest woman.

Her simple act of submission, humility, and obedience was used by God in the Creator’s redemption of Eve, for she conceived and bore Him, “the Seed of the woman,” whose own act of submission, humility, and obedience redeemed all of mankind.

And what better understanding of the Christian life, the life of God’s mercy, the confession that we are truly justified by grace and not by works, can one find than this: “He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name”? In God’s kingdom, greatness lies not in what one does, but rather in what God does for us; not in making history, but being a humble instrument for the Lord to act within history. In God’s kingdom, history is not made by ill-behavior, but rather through confessing such ill-behavior as sin. History is not made by being assertive and loud, but rather in submission and obedience.

“And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.” For those who put their faith in disobedience and rebellion, seek not mercy, but rather desire to go down in history.

Eve went down in history. Our first mother, who was created by God out of a man and made perfect – she made history by bringing death into the world. But our new and greater mother, the blessed mother of our Blessed Lord, she conceived a man and was in turn made perfect by grace, by His defining act of history in bringing life back to the world. For that is the Lord’s goal of history – to remake the entire world perfect by grace. To be made perfect by grace is what it means to be a redeemed and forgiven sinner.

For it isn’t the ill-behaved Eve who made history by being hailed by the angel Gabriel: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” And it isn’t the anti-patriarchal Eve who is immortalized by St. Elizabeth with the words: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” But it is rather the humble, submissive, pure, and blessed Mary who holds this highest of all maternal honors.

Most of our own dear mothers will never be mentioned in history books. Most never did anything great in the eyes of the world. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers may well have been overshadowed by the words and deeds of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers – but our mothers and grandmothers gave us life, nurtured us, and gave of themselves sacrificially for us. Maybe they were too well-behaved to make history. That may not make them heroic in the sense of a clever feminist slogan, but it does make them spiritual daughters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, women entrusted with precious life to bear and to raise. Billions of daughters of Eve have carried out this highest and noblest calling of all with no mention in history. And thanks be to God that this was not their ambition.

For Laurel Ulrich does not seem to understand the kingdom of God as confessed by St. Mary: “He has shown strength with His arm, he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, he has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” Those who seek to make a name for themselves by making history in this world will be humbled.

By contrast, to be great, to “make history” in God’s kingdom, is to follow Blessed Mary’s example. She submits. She obeys. She behaves well. She points to the divine and holy fruit of her womb at every opportunity. Her soul rejoices in her Savior.

And we sing anew to this most humble of all maidservants, this icon of all that feminism loathes, this woman most hated by Satan and by the world, in the words of the church’s ancient historical liturgy:

O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,
Lead their praises: Alleluia!
Thou bearer of th’eternal Word,
Most gracious, magnify the Lord, Alleluia!


Amen.

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

Friday, August 13, 2010

21 Years of House Arrest

And yes, this is in the United States: Philadelphia, in fact.

At first blush, such a sentence sounds harsh, the stuff of repressive banana republics. But upon reading the facts of the case, I believe this is a win-win for all involved.

The alternative would be to put the convicted thief (in this case, a 40 year old woman who embezzled from her employer) in a cage where she would cost the taxpayers a lot of money, would be subjected to possible violence and humiliation, and would be unable to work to pay back the money she stole. To order a person to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution while the person is incarcerated makes no sense. It is basically a reversion to debtor's prison. Ultimately, the victim would never see a penny.

In such a scenario, the only "winner" is the state. It also adds to the brutish and thuggish American culture that seems to revel in seeing people suffer in a dramatic way rather than seeing to it that wrongs are righted.

Although 21 years of "house arrest" sounds extreme, it is not based on some arbitrary standard, but rather on the time needed to make restitution. If she pays off the debt sooner, her sentence will be over sooner.

Justice (and mercy) will be served, restitution will be made, taxpayers will be spared, and there will be one less incarcerated non-violent American. This is not to say such a sentence would work in every case (and it may not even work in this one), but there really must be better ways to serve justice than to leave the victims with no restitution and to have people who are not in any danger of violence languishing away in overcrowded prisons.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Those were the days...


The delightfully cranky and insightful retired University of South Carolina historian Clyde N. Wilson and cultural commentator remembers the way things were. Click here for his latest rant from Chronicles Magazine.

I had the honor to meet Dr. Wilson at a well-known Columbia barbecue joint while serving as a vicar in the Palmetto State in 2004.

Deo vindice!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

History is Interesting and Relevant!



And Judge Napolitano obviously knows his topic and takes great joy in teaching.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Welcome to the Future, Part Deux

I think Mike (in Toyko) Rogers is onto something in this article.

I'd like to say that he's wrong. I want to dismiss what he has to say as crazy. In fact, my heart tells me to believe that music will always be a human art, that the human voice and performance will always trump that of a robot or software simulation. But my mind and my gut tell me that he's right about this. What I would like to be true isn't necessarily what will be true.

You can already see the trend in current pop music. A large segment of the top rated pop songs has at least some use of a vocoder (such as Auto-Tune) - if not to create a outright robotic sound, then to make mediocre or even dreadfully off-key singers able to make their pitches.

Just listen to any song by Ke$ha. If you want to hear what she really sounds like without a machine to keep her on key, click here. It does seem like modern pop-stars are becoming so lazily dependent on machines that the artificial sound has itself become part of the pop culture.

I believe "Hatsune Miku" will only get better in terms of realism. "She" will become more human in "her" sound. "She" will learn to "speak" better English. And there will be a whole slew of different "singers" cut of the same virtual cloth. We've seen what CG animation has been able to do in just a few years, and I believe we will see this Vocaloid technology improve at an exponential rate.

Here is a search for Hatsune Miku videos on YouTube.

I suspect this technology will also exacerbate the current trend whereby fewer young people will bother to learn music (because it is hard work). I also believe we will see less young people taking up traditional instruments or singing in choirs. Just as fewer kids spend their summers actually riding bicycles and playing football, instead opting to simulate these same activities virtually on the couch with a video game - I think this paradigm shift will ultimately have a negative impact on music.

I hope I'm wrong about that. When music becomes less human, I think we will likely soon respond in kind. The richness of the vox humana is becoming the shallowness of the vox robota.

Hopefully, the machines won't keep us in pods and use us as batteries any time soon...

Welcome to the Future





Thanks to Salem Lutheran School principal Joseph Althage for sharing this with the faculty today. Here is the link to WolframAlpha.

And don't bother. I have already tried to get the upcoming PowerBall drawings. Either it doesn't know, or it's not telling.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Old Plus New



I almost always carry a pocket watch. Wristwatches are just too sweaty for me (or maybe, I'm too sweaty for the wristwatch...). Anyway, I have a nice goldtone Jules Jurgensen quartz watch, made in Denmark, that my dad bought me as a gift many years ago. It is kind of small, but well-made and elegant.

I also have a Russian Molnija pocket watch (80% handmade, though unfortunately, they are no longer being manufactured as of 2007). It is silvertone, standard-sized, with a mechanical jeweled movement, and it was made in Chelyabinsk, Siberia, home of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit and pastor Vladislav Ivanov.

The above video is an interesting way to recycle an old case with a new movement. I'm posting here just 'cuz.

Sermon: Trinity 10

8 August 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 19:41-48


In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The last place anyone would have wanted to be on this month exactly nineteen hundred and forty years ago was Jerusalem. For in August of 70 AD, the mighty Roman military machine completed a cruel siege and destroyed the City of Jerusalem. And the worst cut of all was that the Temple, the Holy Temple, the place where sacrifices were offered for the forgiveness of sin, where Jesus Himself taught, and there Jacob saw the vision of angels ascending and descending into heaven – was destroyed.

For the Roman occupiers “set up a barricade around” the city, surrounded it and hemmed it in “one every side.” They tore the buildings “down to the ground,” and indeed regarding the magnificent Temple, they did not “leave one stone upon another.”

The cruelties of the siege and the subsequent invasion are beyond belief. The historical account of the people of Jerusalem – including atrocities upon women and children – are the stuff of nightmares.

But what is even worse is the cause of this devastation. For Jesus specifically uses the word “because.” In this case, the Lord actually answers the question “why?” Why? “Because, says our Blessed Lord, “you did not did not know the time of your visitation.”

The destruction of the Holy City and of the Temple was a divine judgment of the people for their rebellion. Because they did not know the visitation of their very God, Pagans, who worshiped many false gods, would come and dissemble the Temple built to serve the one true God.

And what is even sadder is that this judgment could have been averted. For Jesus warned Jerusalem in a sermon given nineteen hundred and eighty years ago – exactly 40 years before the Romans indeed built a barricade, hemmed in the helpless people, and toppled every holy Temple stone to the ground – just as our Lord prophetically warned.

This judgment could have been avoided had the people heeded the Lord’s Word. For Jesus called the buyers and sellers in the Temple courtyard to repentance for turning the “house of prayer” into a “den of robbers.” And instead of humbly bowing their heads before the altar, acknowledging their guilt, and praying “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities,” the “chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy Him.”

And their lack of repentance led our Lord to weep.

Our Old Adam always resists the divine call to repentance. He always seeks to avoid the great truth that we are saved by grace alone, by mercy alone, by the sacrificial blood of the Lamb alone. We are saved as a gift, and part of that gift is that God loves us enough to call us to repent, to give us the opportunity to confess, and the ability to hear those words which are truly more valuable than all the gold and silver that ever graced the temple walls: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

But our Old Adam seeks to be forgiven by means of our own deeds: be they our own prayers, our own fasts, our own almsgiving, our own works that we claim are good, or our own delusion that we keep the commandments. Our Lord called the Pharisees to repentance for putting their faith in their works. Our Old Adam also looks to ourselves in the form of who we are, as if we are saved because of our nationality, our race, our political affiliation, or because we have somehow chosen the “right” church body to join. Our Lord called Abraham’s children to repentance for putting their trust in who they were, reminding them that God can turn stones into children of Abraham.

Dear friends, we are not saved because we come to church, pray, give money, or do good deeds. Nor are we saved because we are Lutheran, or because we belong to the Missouri Synod. Nor are we saved for any other reason other than this: God has visited us – literally, God has “overseen” us, God has come to us and become our “bishop,” God shepherds us pastorally and He Himself leads us to the still waters of baptism, to the green pastures of the Lord’s Supper.

Any time we are tempted to take credit for anything, to express pride in anything of our own doing, to see ourselves as worthy of anything other than eternal damnation – we need to repent.

And the good news is that our loving Father calls us to do just that. And what’s more, His Son shed His blood on the cross to pay the debt we can never pay. Moreover, the Holy Spirit calls us and draws us to know the time of our visitation – so that even our conversion to the faith and confession of the pure Gospel is nothing to brag about.

For our boast is in Christ alone, by the cross alone, through grace alone!

And even though the Temple would be destroyed in 70 AD, the Lord Jesus gave the people of Jerusalem 40 years to repent. The Lord weeps and laments at their hardness of heart; He takes no joy in their stubbornness nor does He rejoice in His own vindication. And even amid the devil’s work through the leaders of Judea to try to murder Jesus and silence God’s prophetic voice among the people, there were still those in Jerusalem who heard the Word, took it to heart, were converted, were drawn to repentance, and were given life and salvation – even as there are to this very day.

These were the people St. Luke describes as “hanging on His Words.” This is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used. St. Luke literally says that the people were “hanging from” Jesus, which St. Jerome translates into Latin using a word that means both to be “in suspense” as well as to “be suspended from.” It is as though the people were pierced by the Lord’s Words and pinned down, held captive to the Word of God. His very universe-creating Word was binding them in suspense, keeping them from falling.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord calls us to repent. Our Lord weeps over us and gives us everything out of love, even to the point of His being pinned down, suspended, and hanging from the cross – all so that we might be saved. Jesus surrounds us with His love and mercy by means of His Word. He allows us to “hang on” to His Word for dear life, life that has no end.

We know that the Lord has visited us, and even that knowing is itself a gift. We are saved by grace alone, not by works (but rather in spite of our works), and not by who we are (but rather in spite of who we are). For though because of our sins we deserve to be besieged by our enemies and be left without one stone on top of another, our Lord, in His mercy, has instead chosen to build us into the Temple of the Church, comprised of “living stones,” that are “being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

For wherever people hang on the Word of God, there is a new and greater Temple, one against which not even the gates of Hell shall prevail. For this Temple, this Holy Temple, the place where sacraments are received for the forgiveness of sin, where Jesus Himself teaches, and where angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven laud and magnify God’s glorious name, that New and Greater Temple will endure unto eternity. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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