Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sermon: St. Michael & All Angels

29 September 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 10:17-20 (Dan 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Rev 12:7-12)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The last book of the Bible, the Revelation, gives us a crucial piece of understanding the first book of the Bible, Genesis. And without this important piece of the puzzle, all of life itself would seem a mystery.

We are at war.

This is a celestial civil war that pitted God’s loyal angels under the command of St. Michael the Archangel against a rebellious band of angels led by the “great dragon,” that is, “that ancient serpent” that tempted Eve with the seduction of forbidden fruit, who also led Adam ever so willingly into his own grave. This commander of the fallen angels is indeed “Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”

We human beings, created in God’s image, became casualties in this great cosmic war.

Our world is truly a war zone. Our lives are exercises in daily combat. Every breath we take is drawn upon the field of battle. And as much as we try to cover it up with chemicals and perfumes, with surgeries and vain attempts to fool ourselves, we are all dying in this battle, hour by hour, day by day, year by year.

Thanks to our old evil foe, our bodies weaken and wear down as time passes. Our world becomes worse and more decadent and godless with each passing year.

And yet, dear friends, all is not lost. Far from it! In fact, in spite of appearances, we are not only winning this war, but we have won it! For Jesus won it at the cross. The cosmic bomb of His blood was dropped on the enemy. The enemy knows that “his time is short.” And that same blood of Christ, shed for you, is also a Balm of Gilead, oil and wine for our war wounds and battle scars, “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Indeed, even as the battlefield of this earth smolders, and even as the wounded and dying surround us on this contested territory, the victory is ours.

Our Lord declared the triumph when He cried out “It is finished!” He proclaimed victory and announced that the result of this victory is eternal and universal armistice. “Peace with God once more is made.” All that needs to happen now is the final mopping up, the rounding up of the guilty, the trials for the transgressors against God and creation, the executions – and then the final rebuilding will happen.

We are not only at war, but we are in the waning days. The enemy has been routed. The ink on the treaty is still wet. The vault of heaven resounds!

The angels in heaven are the Lord’s ministering spirits, servant-beings who have no physical bodies, yet exist eternally before Him who created all creatures: angels, humans, animals, and all non-living matter as well. And indeed, the Lord created man “a little lower than the angels,” but even that order has changed with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh. For “God became man, that Man might become God.” And so men do not worship angels, but now, angels worship the man Jesus and serve mankind at the command of Jesus.

We do not pray to the angels, nor even for them. Rather, we pray with them to the One who has created us, redeemed us, and sanctified us. We pray to Him who sent St. Michael into battle, and who also send us.
The seventy-two preachers sent forth by Jesus to preach in His name were stunned: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!” The name of Jesus is wielded like a great sword against our unseen, and yet very real, enemies, even unholy demons. And we fight alongside of St. Michael and all holy angels – though we do not see them either. As we pray with Dr. Luther twice a day, we ask our Heavenly Father to allow that His “holy angel be with [us], that the evil foe may have no power over [us].”

For the Lord Jesus saw Satan “fall like lightning.” And indeed, the Lord gives His servants authority over demons, treading on them like serpents, even as Jesus, the Seed of the woman, has come to crush the serpent’s head. His victory is our victory, because His name has become our name.

We Christians are, as St. Paul teaches us, “more than conquerors” because of the triumphant name given to us by grace and through faith.

God gave the name “Michael” to the chief angel, a name which means “Who is like God?” Even as the name of Christ was given to us Christians, the name of Him, before whom all the angels bend the knee, has likewise been given to the chief among them. For like all of us engaged in this war, Michael is a subordinate, a worshiper of the Christ: to whom his own name points.

Unlike the fallen angel Satan, St. Michael is faithful. Unlike the fallen man Adam, Jesus is faithful. And Jesus fights for all of us fallen men, even as we yet carry around the burden of our own Old Adams, even as the angels serve as God’s messengers to us men created in God’s image.

This good news is why on this day, the Church, not only served by our Lord’s servants, the angels, but also served by our Lord Himself, calls to mind St. Michael and all the angels. We honor the angels who remain loyal to our Lord. We praise the angels for their mighty deeds of valor and fidelity. We pray for the watchfulness of the angels, whose service before the Lord includes protecting us from every harm and danger and battling back against the ruthless evil that constantly and continually threatens us.

And most of all, we thank the Creator for His providence and love in creating these fellow creatures, these angelic beings, these mighty warriors of the unseen world. We thank God for the loyalty and ministry of St. Michael, the “great prince who has charge of [our] people.”

For even as our Lord Jesus has defeated Satan, we know that the heavenly hosts will assist our Lord on that great day when our “people shall be delivered” and, “everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sermon: Trinity 17 - 2010

26 September 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 14:1-11 (Prov 25:6-14, Eph 4:1-6)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

About a thousand years BC, one of our Lord’s ancestors wrote: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” That timeless bit of wisdom was put forth by King Solomon, and it is part of the Old Testament Scriptures.

It is a parable that teaches humility. For humility is the very opposite of pride – the original sin.
Satan fell from grace because of his lack of humility. Adam and Eve likewise brought death into the world by not being content with themselves as God made them.

And lest we become too proud ourselves, we are no better. We are indeed a proud people. We are proud of our ancestry, our country, our region in the country, our sports teams, our children, our parents, our wealth, our accomplishments. We are proud of our church’s pure doctrine. We are proud of our congregation’s history. We are proud of our own biblical understanding. We are proud of every detail in our lives. We’re proud of the brand of jeans we wear, the soft drink we drink, and the camera we use. And we will wear clothing with the brand names to prove it. There are parades celebrating open sexual sin plastered with the word “pride.” There is a patriotic bumper sticker that likewise has the word “pride” on it.

Scripture teaches us about pride. It precedes a fall.

Being the children of the living God, heirs of eternal life, theologically and doctrinally correct, and wealthy in the eyes of the world makes St. Paul’s encouragement to walk with humility even more important.

Dear friends, it is precisely because we are God’s children, we do confess the pure Gospel, we do live in a free and prosperous country, that we must not take credit for these things. We are fortunate. We have been blessed. For we do not deserve any of these benefits of the Lord. Why do we live in this place? Why are we among the richest and freest citizens in the world? Why are we heirs of the apostolic faith that has been cleansed of the false doctrine of the middle ages? Why are we so blessed as to be baptized children of the living God?

To be proud of such things is foolish. For we are nothing more than people who have been given an unearned and unmerited gift with silver spoons in our mouths.

How often we are like the Pharisees, jockeying for a position of greatness not merely at banquets like those Jesus speaks of, but among our peers, at school reunions, in climbing the ranks at work, in the symbols of status in our neighborhoods. Shame on us, dear brothers and sisters, for being so shallow and for forgetting that every good thing comes from the Lord as a free and full gift. We have earned nothing. Every hair on our head is numbered. Every penny in our bank account has been allowed to pass into our stewardship by grace alone.

For we are sinners – poor and miserable. We deserve nothing but death and hell. That, we have earned. Every last one of us.

But what does our Savior do? He has compassion on us. For when we acknowledge our sin, when we give up any pretention to pride and arrogance – then Jesus our host comes that He might say to us: “Friend, move up higher.” And then, we are honored in the presence of all – in the midst of men and beasts on earth, and among the angels in heaven. Our Redeemer takes us by the hand and says: “You are not to sit in this lowly place, but rather in a place of honor, prepared beforehand by Me.”

“For,” our Lord teaches us, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

We Christians of all people should be humble. We know that we are sinners. We know that we are saved by grace. And we also know that nothing is more off-putting to unbelievers than arrogant Christians. For who wants to be part of a kingdom that is as cut-throat and self-seeking as the world? The kingdom of God is a different kind of kingdom. It is one where the proud and arrogant are brought low while the humble and suffering are exalted.

When the Pharisees were focusing all their attention on Jesus – trying to trip Him up in some legal trifle – looking for any word or deed that they might be able to twist into an accusation – they completely missed not only the great compassion of Jesus, but the reality that He is God. Had their attention been on their unfortunate and needy sick brother, they might not have had the time or energy to engage in a game of gotcha with the One who was sent to them to save them.

But unlike the proud Pharisees (who have every reason to be humble), the humble Jesus (who has every reason to be proud) does see the suffering of the diseased man. He hears his prayer. He understands his anguish. And He comes to redeem him from his misery.

Without fanfare or a desire for attention, the Lord heals him and sends him on his way.

Instead of rejoicing at the miracle, instead of allowing Jesus to lead them to their own salvation, instead of yielding by faith to what should be obvious to all: that Jesus is God incarnate – the Pharisees chose instead to wallow in their pride, their unbelief, their dour, hateful, and joyless obsession with their own decrepit selves.
Ironically, it is the humble who is exalted. And we see this time and again in God’s Word.

Dear friends, do not let what you have draw you to a false conclusion about who you are. For all that we have is by God’s mercy and grace, according to His unknowable plan. When we are healthy and wealthy, thanks be to God. When we are sick and poor, thanks be to God. For we are all sinners who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We are all beggars, as Dr. Luther taught, unworthy recipients of a grace beyond all measure.

This is accomplished for us by our Lord upon the cross, through His sacrificial blood, by means of His Word and His sacraments, lavished upon us. The sacrifice is poured out upon us sacramentally. The Word Incarnate is given to us by the Word Inscripturated.

For our hope lies not in ourselves, but rather in our call: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

It has been done for us lest any should boast. Let us boast only in our Lord Jesus Christ – now and forever. Amen.

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sermon: Trinity 16 - 2010

19 September 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In case anyone has missed the point of why our Lord Jesus became incarnate and what the central message of Christianity is, St. Luke the Evangelist has just laid it out.

Christianity is the antidote and the antithesis of death.

Our Lord Jesus often drops hints and teaches in a rather roundabout way about the meaning of His kingdom and what His mission and ministry are all about. But this miracle recorded by St. Luke should serve as a stark reminder that Christianity is nothing like what the world thinks it is.

Many people believe Christianity is an ethical system, a reminder to be nice to people, a worldview, a world religion, a philosophy, or a lifestyle choice. It is none of these things. It is rather the God-ordained reality that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” died as one of us, rose in anticipation of all of us who are baptized and who believe, and lives and reigns to all eternity, promising this same hope of life to all who have been marked by his bloody cross and watery rebirth.

For death is the ultimate enemy. Death is the perennial reminder that the universe is broken, that sin has brought disorder into God’s creation, and that we are all eager and willing participants in its putrid corruption. We have, of our own corrupted will, joined our first ancestors Adam and Eve in wallowing in rebellion and idolatry, in selfishness and lovelessness, in making war against the Creator, He who lovingly fashioned us and gave us life by breathing His Spirit into us.

For the wages of sin is death.

This is laid bare by the tragedy of the widow of Nain. First, her husband died, leaving her bereft of not only her financial support and protection in this life, but also of the one whom the Lord had given to her, to bring her to completion as a person, to become one flesh with, one who loved her and provided her with a son. She feels the pain that only the widow knows and experiences.

And if that were not enough, the son, her only beloved son, has now died. She is all alone in this cold world. And in the midst of this hopelessness and helplessness, she weeps. And as the body of her dead son was being carried before her eyes, at the point in her life that must have seemed the lowest of the low, the Lord Jesus “had compassion on her and said to her ‘do not weep.’” For little did she know that her profound grief was, in just a few seconds, to yield to ecstatic joy. For with His touch and by the power of His Word, the lifeless body of the widow’s son filled with breath and he “sat up and began to speak.”

And Jesus “gave him to his mother.”

Death was defeated in an instant and against every impulse of logic: by the Word, by the Spirit, and by the physical touch of Jesus. And the confession that followed: “God has visited His people” is indeed a summary of the Christian creed. And where this God, this fleshly, divine, compassionate Lord and Savior is found, that is where you find healing, forgiveness, and life wrenched from suffering, sin, and death.

Our Lord Jesus did not offer useless philosophies or trite and hollow words to express his compassion. Rather He delivered His Word, His life-giving and life-restoring Word, He rolled back the corruption of the fall, and took away the widow’s sadness and hopelessness. And He gave her this most profound gift of life without cost, without condition, and purely by grace and mercy.

That is Christianity because that is Christ.

The raising of the widow’s son was a preview of what was and is to come, as God’s Son Himself encounters death on the cross. But His death is not a result of His sin, but rather the antidote to our sin. His death is not the result of His evil, but rather the defeat of our evil. For when the Lord Jesus dies on the cross, he defeats death by dying, and He delivers this victory to us as an atoning sacrifice that makes us equally victorious over sin, death, and the grave – just as surely as the widow’s son “sat up and began to speak.” We too speak, and we speak that life-giving Word, and we confess that “God has visited His people.”

A 20th century Episcopal priest named Chad Walsh put it very succinctly: “Christianity is a vast process initiated by God Himself to undo what Adam and Eve accomplished for us.” And he is right about that. Christianity is not a religion, not a philosophy, not a lifestyle choice. It is a rescue mission by God Himself carried out in love for us unlovable sinners, to save us, rescue us, renew us, and give us life – in spite of our wickedness, our resistance, our love of self and stubbornness toward His Word. God does for us by His cross what we could never do for ourselves by our works. God gives us this new life as a gift in spite of what we have done to Him over six millennia.

Dear friends, the Lord Jesus offers us the cure for death itself, and He is that cure. He offers Himself to us, in a manger, on the cross, in the empty tomb, and at the right hand of the Father. He offers Himself to us in the Word, in the waters of Holy Baptism, in the words of Holy Absolution, and in the wafers and wine of the Holy Eucharist. He offers Himself to us not in mere words, but in mighty deeds. He offers Himself, not an angel, not a surrogate, and not a sacrificial animal. For He is the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.” And where sin has been absolved, death has been abolished. The widow’s hopelessness in death has been overturned by her hope in resurrection. Life trumps death. Forgiveness unseats sin. And all of this is accomplished by Christ and given to us as a gift.

For God has visited His people! Amen.

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

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Non convenit

"Non convenit" is the rough Latin equivalent of our venerable Southern declaration: "that ain't right."

The idea of something not going together is so fundamental that Sesame Street has even turned it into a game for preschoolers. For truly, some things simply do not belong, do not go together, are incongruous. They just "ain't right." And sometimes children are the best at pointing out the obvious.

"Non convenit" can indeed mean "that's messed up there."

"Non convenit" comes to mind when the St. Joseph Church carillon here in Gretna plays certain tunes. Ironically, the powerful Lutheran reformation hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (written by Martin Luther) - which is played from time to time and just played a few minutes ago (two stanzas, in fact), does fit just fine ("convenit") with the musical style of the church bell - even if there is a historic irony based on our past enmity. Tonight, "A Mighty Fortress" segued seamlessly into "Faith of Our Fathers."

These hymns are dignified, bonded to the church in history, and just "sound right" when played on a churchly musical instrument.

By contrast, the bells of St. Joe's were ringing out some more, shall we say, "contemporary" (actually not a very good word to describe them) songs a couple weeks back. I won't use any names, as a couple of them are (I'm sad to say) in our own LSB hymnal. To hear these ditties played on the carillon made me think the ice cream truck was going by. It just wasn't working.

Non convenit.

Style cannot be separated from substance. You can play Lada Gaga on a carillon, and it is a clever novelty, but it will never be anything more than a joke. For just as you can put lipstick on a pig and you still have a pig, there are simply some tunes used by Christian churches that may work well around a campfire or at a singalong on the bus - but will never rise to the level of hymnody, of singing the faith, of confession, and of the timeless and eternal dignity that we have in our new life in Christ.

Non convenit.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Must Have Book (well, at least for Latin students...)

If you are learning Latin, or if you are Lutheran, or best of all, if you are a Lutheran and you are learning Latin, here is a resource that you'll definitely want: Catechismus Minor Martini Lutheri: The Small Catechism of Martin Luther in Latin with notes by Edward Naumann.

In the interest of full disclosure, someone mailed me a copy of the book for a review - a long time ago. Shame on me, I have been meaning to write about this wonderful resource - but somehow (imagine that!) writing a review fell through the cracks.

Let me say this much: my review is a recommendation - and it would have been so even without receiving the book as a gift.

Here's the deal: this is Luther's Small Catechism in Latin. Of course, you could simply read it from your Concordia Triglotta (if you have a Triglot, that is), which weighs as much as a bowling ball (possibly an exaggeration), or you could peruse the Catechism from your handy-dandy Bekenntnisschriften, (I'm a Lutheran pastor and a language geek, and I don't have one...). But why? This is a wonderful format, affordable, and an invaluable resource for both easy beginner-level ecclesiastical Latin and basic Lutheran doctrine.

So let me give you the skinny as to why this is such a great little book:

  1. It is a "skinny little" book (only 96 pages, paperback, 9 x 6 inches, a third of an inch thick), one that you can easily stash in a briefcase or backpack (perfect for standing in line at Wal-Mart).
  2. The font is large and easy on the eyes (and laid out beautifully with each section taking up a single page) - a real plus for teaching children.
  3. It is inexpensive (only $7.50 on Amazon!). Here is the link.
  4. It includes a preface by noted LCMS scholar Gene Edward Veith (as well as an introduction by the author).
  5. It is chock-full of extremely helpful footnotes (points of Latin grammar and references to Hebrew, Greek, German and Latin words from Scripture - well done!).
  6. Abbreviations are clearly indicated (thus sparing me a pet peeve).
  7. It is the entire text of the Small Catechism, including the morning, evening, and table prayers and the Table of Duties.
  8. There is a glossary in the back of every Latin word used in the Small Catechism!
  9. An e-book version is available for download (Kindle) for (get this) $1.00! Here is the link.

I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know Edward Naumann. And if he e-mails me and says: "Yes, you do!" I will be even more embarrassed. I'm assuming he is the same Edward Naumann who is a scholar at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. But as a teacher myself and a collector (of sorts) of Latin books - Naumann is clearly a real-world teacher of real-world students. He has put together a practical little book that is easy to use, precise, and user-friendly. It is not meant to gather dust on a shelf. It is neither burdened with too much information, nor cursed with too little. It is a Latin book that Goldilocks would appreciate. You can tote it around without need of a dictionary. Naumann has also made it accessible and affordable, and I'm surprised that no-one thought to do this sooner - especially given the current interest among Lutherans in both the Latin language and classical education.

The typical Lutheran's familiarity with the Small Catechism as well as Luther's intended young audience makes this an ideal supplement for any beginning Latin course. It is a very safe wade into ecclesiastical and medieval Latin. I wholeheartedly recommend this wonderful little edition of the Small Catechism - even if you are not a Lutheran.

Hoc certissime verum est ("this is most certainly true!").

A Beautiful Picture of World Lutheranism

On the left is the Rev. Rich Heinz, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Chicago, and on the right is the Most Rev. Walter Obare, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya (ELCK). The picture is published on Pastor Heinz's facebook page.

Our church bodies are in full altar and pulpit fellowship. Bp. Obare is a hero of world Lutheranism and an inspiration for all Christians around the globe who believe in God's Word - even in the face of rank unbelief and outright persecution.

Lutherans are white, black, brown, yellow, and everything in between. Lutherans speak Germanic languages, Romance languages, Oriental languages, African languages, Indian languages, and nearly every dialect known to man. Lutherans are governed episcopally by bishops in apostolic succession, as well as in more congregational forms of polity. Our church buildings are Gothic cathedrals with organs and bells and incense and beautifully chanted liturgies located in the world's great cities, and our church buildings are mud huts in the bush with simple tables and chairs and liturgies sung with the aid of guitars. Among the world's Lutherans, diversity is not just some silly politically-correct bromide. We are truly as diverse in tribe and tongue as the heavenly choir in Rev 5:9.

And yet, in matters of doctrine, we biblical and confessional Lutherans rally around the divinely inspired Scriptures and their correct exposition in the Book of Concord. We flock to the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, proclaimed in preaching and partaken of in the Church's worship life of liturgy, prayer, and hymnody. We find unity at the baptismal font and in the holy words of Absolution. Though there is a healthy diversity of members in the body, we serve the head, who is Christ. And it is His blood that gives us life, and His body in us that makes us one body in Him.

Among the world's confessional Lutherans there is a glorious Augustinian melding of diversity in non-essentials with unity in the essentials of confessed doctrine and lived-out practice.

This picture showing the brotherly handshake and the joyful smiles of these devoted servants of the Lord from opposite hemispheres of the globe says it all. Both pastors are vested in the red of the martyrs' blood and of the Holy Spirit's fire, both bearing the stole of the yoke of the Holy Office established by the Lord Jesus Himself, both wearing the cross upon their chests and both bearing the cross in their ministries.

What a glorious picture of the Church Militant and an inspiring icon of Christian hope as we move toward the Church Triumphant in the hope of the resurrection and the new creation!

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Let them eat what we tell them to eat"

This is like Marie Antoinette making a plea for low-fat cakes to be served to the hoi-polloi. I don't know about any of you, but not once did I try to tell Mrs. Obama what to eat when she was blasting through hundreds of thousands of dollars of money that was confiscated from us while she was irresponsibly jet-setting and hobnobbing in Spain. What a disgrace!

You know, there was a time when the American people would have told her - and her husband - to mind their own business.

Fortunately, we may going back to the future.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lutherans in Africa!

Pr. Jonathan Fisk, in his unique and kinetic style, gives us the skinny about Lutherans in Africa, especially the work of the Rev. James May and his family, and how we can help - especially by providing hymnals to Lutheran pastors and congregations.

There are more Lutherans in Madagascar than there are in North America. Christianity (including Lutheran Christianity) is exploding in Africa. The newly-released French Lutheran hymnal from Canada is a wonderful resource for the large swath of Africa where the French language is still widely spoken.

Let us keep our African brethren in our prayers.

Bishop Obare Preaches at Pres. Harrison's Installation

On September 11, 2010, the Rev Matthew Harrison was officially installed as the president of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Above is an all-too brief snippet of the sermon delivered in the chapel of Concordia Seminary - St. Louis by the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya, the Most Rev. Walter Obare.

Bishop Obare is a true hero of the faith. He bucked the extremely powerful (and apostate) Lutheran (sic) World Federation and the condescending and defied the threatening archbishop of the Church (sic) of Sweden on February 5, 2005 when he consecrated the Rt. Rev. Arne Olssen to be an indigenous Mission Province bishop to serve the faithful remnant within Sweden (and later Finland) by providing a path for faithful priests and deacons to be ordained. Bishop Obare was awarded the Sabre of Boldness award by Gottesdienst - a tribute to his courage, fidelity, and status as a true Lutheran confessor. Bishop Obare paid a high price in terms of LWF retribution - but he remains faithful and steadfast to the Bible and the Lutheran confessions. His courage is an inspiration to Bible-believing Christians everywhere - especially Lutheran clergy and laypeople.

It is impressive that he was chosen to be the preacher at this critical juncture in the LCMS.

I regret that this is the only bit of Bp. Obare's sermon that I have yet found (but I am also grateful to Pastor McCain for recording and posting this historic footage). Perhaps it will soon be available in its entirety. I have heard universal praise for Bp. Obare's sermon. Pr. Thomas Messer described it gloriously as "dripping with the Blood of Christ."

As a postscript, here is Pr. Weedon's description of the Installation Service.

Sermon: Trinity 15 - 2010

12 September 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 6:24-34

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There are many things we can, and do, worry about. We’re in a very uncertain economy. We live in a politically unstable world. Our children need proper education. It’s still hurricane season. And how about all those ungodly influences children (and adults!) are exposed to on a daily basis. What about our elderly family members? How am I ever going to get this project done on time? Will someone find out that dark secret from the past that I am harboring? What if I get sick? And where am I going to find the money I need for food and drink, clothing, medicine, house and home, leisure, proper amenities for my family?

And what if this, what if that?

It’s a wonder any of us can sleep at night.

Our Lord Jesus understands this. He gets it. He hears our prayers. He knows our needs. And He does even more – He takes care of us. Our Lord uses nature to make His point. “Look at the birds of the air” He says. Too often, we’re too busy hustling here and bustling there to take a moment to look at the birds. Try to catch a glimpse of one today, and have a look at that simple, little winged creature. As our Lord, our God and Creator, teaches us: “They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Our Lord also tells us that not one of them falls to the earth apart from the Lord’s good and merciful will. “Are you not,” He asks, “of more value than they?”

He also teaches us from the plants of the field. Who, even the snazziest and nattiest dressers among us, can compare to a simple lily. And lilies do not have what we have in terms of resources: work, technology, textiles, stores – even charity to provide when we are in want. And if the Lord is so kind to weeds and flowers, if He watches over nature and keeps and preserves the lives of even blades of grass according to His divine plan – how much more should we rest assured that He is taking care of us, dear friends, His beloved children made in His image?

Admittedly, this is easier said than done. We live under tremendous pressures and burdens. It might seem that the easy answer to all of our problems is money. If I could only land that plum promotion or hit that massive power ball jackpot. If only a producer or a director would discover me, if only I could get that degree, if only my family were wealthy, and on and on.

Dear Christians, we don’t have to deal in “ifs,” for we have the promises of God: “And all these things will be added to you.” For we have something going for us far greater than a better job, a winning ticket, or a wealthy family. We have our calling and promise of God in our Baptism and in the assurances of God’s Word. We have victory over death and the grave by virtue of our Lord’s victory at the cross. We have a family of brothers and sisters in Christ that spans time and space, and even the grave itself. We have God as our brother, one of us in human flesh, and we have God as our Father – the King of the universe, the one who has made all things, who has forgiven us all things, so that He can share with us, His beloved and forgiven sons and daughters – all things.

Our worrying is a sign of our little faith. And yet, the Lord has promised us that even a little faith, even faith as tiny as a mustard seed, will bear fruit. Our faith is not in vain, dear friends. For our faith, even if it is weak and feeble, is a gift from God. And like a spark in stubble, our seemingly inconsequential faith can be stoked into a roaring fire. The Lord has given us His Spirit and His Word, and that spark, that faith, that tiny hope, that still, small part of us that clings to God’s Word and God’s promise – can and does burn away our doubts and fears, purifying our hearts and desires by His grace and His mercy, leading us to “fear, love, and trust in Him above all things” instead of relying on ourselves and our money.

For we all know that money cannot buy happiness. Money cannot buy contentment. Money cannot buy communion with God and peace with men. Money cannot buy the forgiveness of sins, salvation, nor everlasting life.

And yet, dear friends, all of these things not only can, but have been bought: “Not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” Jesus has purchased and won us “from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.” And this atoning sacrifice, this redemption, this ransom that not even all the money in all the world could satisfy – is handed over to us poor miserable sinners, presented to us like a gleaming and glorious diamond ring to an impoverished bride. It is ours because He, our Bridegroom who is rich beyond measure – has said that it is so. His Word is truth.

“It is finished!” said our Lord as He claimed His victory on the cross. “Do not be anxious” He invites us, having destroyed the enemy that so vexes us. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” He beckons us, He who has given that kingdom to us without any merit or worthiness in ourselves.

“And all these things will be added to you,” He promises.

And this, dear Christians, is why we can sleep at night. For what keeps us awake is our own senseless worry. Worry doesn’t add to our lives, worry doesn’t pay our bills, worry doesn’t make the world safer. Worry doesn’t give us any of these things that we worry about.

Instead, dear brothers and sisters, we have been given the gift of faith through the Word, seeking first the Lord’s kingdom, and we have the promise that not only abolishes worry, but destroys death and banishes hell. For when it comes to the things the Lord knows we need, dear Christians, remember the Lord’s glorious promise: “All these things will be added to you.”

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

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Do-It-Yourself Blues

If you've ever wanted to write your very own blues song but don't have any musical training or ability, the Blues Maker is for you! Have fun...

Peter Schiff on the Economy

Peter Schiff posts a frequent video-blog regarding the economy. He is an adherent of the Austrian School of Economics - and he runs his financial services company, Euro Pacific Capital, accordingly. He is a frequent guest on talk-shows, especially when he used to be laughed at before the crash of 2008 - which he called. The talking heads that used to laugh at him (see here as well) have long since wiped the smirks off their faces and now they listen to him - even when he tells them what they would rather not hear.

I believe Peter Schiff is worth listening to.

Best line in this update:

"Maybe the Republicans are gonna win in November in these elections. And there are people who are optimistic that we're gonna get gridlock if the Republicans take Congress. I'm afraid we're not gonna get gridlock. My fear is that we get something much worse than gridlock, and that's bipartisanship. And what bipartisanship is, is when you get the worst Democrat ideas and you combine them with the worst Republican ideas, you put them in one piece of legislation, and then you pass it."

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A Bipartisan Congress

In case you're wondering what bipartisanship looks like, here it is.

The Long Way Down

If you're looking for something out of the ordinary to watch on the telly (especially if you have Netflix), you might enjoy the 3 DVD set The Long Way Down. It is a remarkable video series chronicling the adventures of Scottish actor Ewan MacGregor and English travel writer Charley Boorman as they made an epic motorcycle journey in 2007 from the northern tip of the UK (John O'Groats, Scotland) to the Southern tip of Africa and over to Cape Town (South Africa). The 15,000-mile journey took 85 days and spanned 18 countries.

Needless to say, the videography and sights are beautiful. The guys meet interesting people, and see things up close that the rest of us only see on television. They deal with language barriers, mechanical problems, temper flare-ups, bureaucratic wrangling, and every sort of local character from a diversity of tribes and cultures. In some places, they are required to have armed escorts. They have to watch out for snakes and scorpions. They encounter camels and wild monkeys. They visit Roman ruins and ancient churches. They ride through bustling traffic in Rome and London, and hunker down in sandstorms in Northern Africa. Poor people living in huts share their food with them. They meet young people mutilated by land mines. They are greeted by people following their progress on the Internet. It is a candid and at times rather raw look at their trip, their difficulties, their triumphs, and the simple joy of riding. The also spotlight the plight of African children living in villages decimated by AIDS, in many cases taking care of one another with no adults present. It is a remarkable odyssey.

No other form of travel can compare to motorcycling - the exposure to the elements, the openness, the wind and sun and rain, the acceleration and the leaning in and out of curves. There is a oneness between rider and bike that just is not there in a car or van.

Though obviously nowhere near as extreme as The Long Way Down, I loved the motorcycle trips that I have taken - usually with my dad. We rode up and down the beautiful beclouded and craggy mountains of our ancestral home of West Virginia - usually camping, sometimes staying in motels, meeting distant relatives, doing genealogical research, visiting old haunts, seeing the sights, and spending irreplaceable father-and-son time together. We rode up the narrow and treacherous gravelly path to the top of Spruce Knob together (the highest mountain in the state) and took pictures of the odd plant life atop the foggy peak - decked out like 1960s cosmonauts in our snowmobile suits and space-age looking Nava helmets. It was a great adventure - especially for me as a young man of about 20.

Our longest trip was a trek from Ohio through the wild hairpin mountain passes in the Ozarks in Arkansas. While there, we slowed down and spent a relaxing day at a campsite near Hot Springs, actually spending some leisurely time together on a paddleboat on a lake in the mountains - a uniquely unhurried activity for us ever-on-the-go mountain-men who seldom go near water. From there we went to Tulsa, Oklahoma to visit family, and returned home to Ohio in two days of hard riding - the last leg through driving rain. It is the greatest fun I have ever had being completely miserable. We communicated by 2-meter band ham radio stations mounted to our Suzukis (my dad's GS850GL and my GS250T - I would later get a Suzuki 850 of my own - wonderful bike!). I had the unfortunate situation of throwing a chain in Tennessee - necessitating a not-so-exact fit of a replacement chopped together at a Harley dealership. But it got me back home to where we could order the right chain. Good times!

I had a few later adventures on my own, such as several trips to Canada and a few solo camping trips to the Poconos from my home base (at that time) in New York. These days, my biking is limited to visiting parishioners or coasting on the levee on my human-powered Schwinn.

Maybe when Leo is old enough to ride, we'll take one adventure that I actually planned, but never pulled off - a motorcycle trip to St. Pierre et Miquelon - an overseas department of France consisting of two islands off the coast of Newfoundland. It would be an even greater adventure setting out from Lousiana. When Leo is 16 years old, I'll be 56 - so God willing, and if there is time and money and if we are both around and healthy - maybe we can have a father-son adventure. Better yet, maybe we can ride three bikes and Mrs. H. could come along as well. Who knows? Maybe we'll be riding electric or solar powered motorcycles by 2021.

Well, enough of that. If you are interested in travel, motorcycling, and/or the sights of Europe and Africa - you might want to get your hands on The Long Way Down.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Uncle Buddy's Prayer

Mr. Herb "Uncle Buddy" Bennerfield prays this magnificently rich scriptural and confessional prayer every day. I had him pray it for us at the close of Wednesday's Bible class. I had Mrs. H. video it for posterity and also so we could transcribe it.

Uncle Buddy is a treasure of our parish. He is an 87-year old WW2 vet who still lifts weights for exercise and attends every Sunday and Wednesday Divine Service and every Wednesday Bible class - unless he is out of town, has no ride to church, or is sick (all of which are rare).

Thank you Uncle Buddy!

Uncle Buddy's Prayer

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

Heavenly Father we thank You for the many blessings that You have bestowed upon me and my family, me and my household. You have given us both temporal, earthly blessings and spiritual blessings. We do appreciate these blessings, Lord, and we thank and praise You for them. We thank You too for providing for the necessities of this life: our daily bread. You have truly exceeded our fondest hope and our greatest expectations.

But Lord, we thank You most of all for our most precious and wonderful gift, Your Son, Jesus Christ, who purchased and won us from sin, death and hell. And He did it not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death on Calvary’s cross. He, Jesus Christ, became sin for us - He who knew no sin - that we might become the righteousness of God through Him.

Lord we pray that your Holy Spirit remain with us all the days of our lives, to guide, guard and protect us and keep us in the one true saving faith, until we finally we meet You in heaven. This we pray in our blessed savior’s name. Amen.

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

Uncle Buddy adds: "And then I say the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Benediction, and then I go to bed."

Labor Day!

We took advantage of Labor Day to do some much needed (and neglected) labor around the house. The side alley was in desperate need of weeding. Upon opening the side gate, I realized that I could not get into the alley that way, owing to a surprising weed: a banana tree that planted itself and happily grew to a good ten feet high or more.

This is a far cry from the kind of weeding I did as a kid in Ohio: pulling dandelions and the occasional thistle. In those days, I used knives from my mother's silverware drawer. In South Louisiana, it's not a bad idea to have a machete.

Mrs. H. took good care of the other side of the house. Now, if we could only have Labor Day every couple weeks or so...

A few more pics (including some "befores" and "afters") are here.

Who'd a thunk it?

The carillon of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church here in Gretna is playing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" today.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
LSB 656
Text and Tune: Martin Luther (1483-1546)

1. A mighty Fortress is our God,
A trusty Shield and Weapon;
He helps us free from every need
That hath us now o'ertaken.
The old evil Foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On Earth is not his equal.

2. With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabaoth Lord,
And there's none other God;
He holds the field forever.

3. Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us.
This world's prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He's judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

4. The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He's by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom our remaineth.

Scots Wha Hae

Above is a modern, and yet staid and dignified "unplugged" vocal version of the Robert Burns poem sung by The Corries...

and here is a leather-and-kilt bagpipe punk rock version sung by The Real McKenzies.

The longevity of not only the poem and its resilience in song, but also its memorialization of history, is a tribute to the Scottish character and culture - whether highland or lowland, highbrow or lowbrow, whether the word "tattoo" conjures up notions of military drums or of inked skin.

One thing Scots and descendants of Scots value is independence and to be left alone. And this is essentially the meaning of "liberty."

Below are the lyrics, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Original lyrics in Scots
'Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome tae yer gory bed,
Or tæ Victory.
English translation
'Scots, who have with Wallace bled,
Scots, whom Bruce has often led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victory.
'Now's the day, and now's the hour:
See the front o' battle lour,
See approach proud Edward's power -
Chains and Slavery.
'Now is the day, and now is the hour:
See the front of battle lower (threaten),
See approach proud Edward's power -
Chains and slavery.
'Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha will fill a coward's grave?
Wha sæ base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee.
'Who will be a traitor knave?
Who will fill a coward's grave?
Who's so base as be a slave? -
Let him turn, and flee.
'Wha, for Scotland's king and law,
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or Freeman fa',
Let him follow me.
'Who for Scotland's King and Law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand or freeman fall,
Let him follow me.
'By Oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free.
'By oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins
But they shall be free.
'Lay the proud usurpers low,
Tyrants fall in every foe,
Liberty's in every blow! -
Let us do or dee.
'Lay the proud usurpers low,
Tyrants fall in every foe,
Liberty is in every blow,
Let us do or die!'

Justin Wilson Chiropractor Story

Dedicated to mah frien' Doctuh Payne, de bes' Chiropractin' man in da Souf, ah ga-ron-tee!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sermon: Trinity 14 - 2010

5 September 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Gratitude” is closely related to “grace.” In fact, both terms come from the same Latin word: “gratia.” And it makes sense. For gratitude is a response to grace. A Spanish-speaking person responds to a kindness by saying “gracias.”

We are not grateful when we have earned something. “Thank you” is said in response to a gift. And that, dear friends, is the essence of the Christian life. As unworthy recipients of the greatest gift of all, our very lives as Christians are a thank offering to the Lord who has saved us by grace alone, a “salutary gift” received by faith – for as our Lord Himself says: “your faith has made you well.”

As priests of the new covenant, we “offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving” and “call on the name of the Lord.” For our sacrifice does not bring us forgiveness (that “all availing sacrifice” is the Lord’s passion and death on the cross), but we offer, rather, a Eucharistic sacrifice in response to the Lord’s forgiveness of us, a sacrifice in which we receive the Lord’s gifts and in which we respond with thanksgiving. It is never an odious burden to say “thank you.” It is the joyful response to a free and generous gift.

The Christian life is embodied in the Tenth Leper. For in his leprous state, he has been stung by the law, by his body of death, by the fallen world. He has been afflicted in the flesh and by the flesh. He is dying before his very own dimming eyes. And in response to this helplessness and hopelessness, along comes a Savior, a Rescuer, a Redeemer – the Lord Himself entering into the leper’s village, The Lord whose own cross-scarred flesh restores the leprous flesh, and his pure life atones for the sinful life. The ten lepers cry out: “Lord, have mercy!” and the Lord has mercy. Healing and wholeness are given to each of them by grace, and the gift is received by faith. The Lord’s healing even satisfies the law – for his forgiveness – carried out by the Word alone – truly forgives and heals. Jesus sends the cleansed lepers to be blessed and restored by the priests, for he has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

And the Christian response to this grace is embodied in the Tenth Leper. He was not just a Samaritan, but a leprous Samaritan. He loved much because he was healed of much. And “praising God with a loud voice,” he “fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” He worships the one who made him whole. What could be more natural?

And we give thanks to our Lord, our Savior, our Rescuer, our Redeemer, by worshiping him, by working for him in the kingdom, by giving of ourselves in time, talent, and treasure, in resisting temptation, in striving after good works, in patiently loving our neighbor – for all of these things the Christian offers, not in order to be saved, but rather out of love and in gratitude for being saved.

Gratitude follows grace. We say “thank you” because we have received a full and free gift.

And notice how it grieves our Lord that only the Samaritan comes back: “Were not ten cleansed?” asks our blessed Lord. “Where are the nine? Was no-one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Our Lord is shocked and taken aback by the large show of ingratitude. For he literally gave these men life, brought them back from the dead, restored them from isolation, and made them whole. And they would not even return to say “thank you.”

Ingratitude, in the words of one of the greatest of all church fathers, is a “shameful blasphemy” and a “destructive sin” and a “disgraceful vice” that “destroys the joy and love of life.” In fact, he speaks very strong words in saying “there is neither joy nor salvation for the ungrateful.” *

Although the nine had faith to be healed, their ingratitude and hardness of heart threatens to cost them the grace given to them in the first place. In taking grace for granted, they are in peril of falling from grace.

“In effect, Jesus is saying ‘You just wait; if you insist on being ungrateful, you won’t get off that easy. I’ll find out where you have disappeared to without a word of thanks for my having restored your health.’ In due time he will ask all ingrates, ‘Why haven’t you acknowledged that I have given you your body and life and have created everything you need? Then everyone will know what a disgraceful vice ingratitude is.’” *

But the good news, dear Christians, is that the Lord does shower us with his grace, boundlessly, without question, and without regard to our own unworthiness. He is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” He is “good, and his mercy endures forever.” And he does give this gift to us without charge, without merit of our own, without any works on our part. And the gift is given so that we might receive it. Our faith makes us well indeed. And truly, we have much to be thankful for. What we offer to the Lord as thanks pales in comparison with his goodness to us. A simple act of prayer, of praise, of worship, is a true and fitting thank offering to him who has cured us of our own leprosy and death.

And the Lord teaches us how to deal with an ungrateful world. For any Christian who does good works and serves his neighbor will be faced with ingratitude – just as surely as the Lord himself had only one in ten come back to say “thank you.” We are not to be discouraged, but rather be encouraged to continue to serve the Lord, for truly he continues to serve us. Our efforts are not in vain.

Let us rejoice in the gifts he gives us, in the blessings he bestows upon us, in the forgiveness of sins he lavishes upon us, in the life with which he quickens us, in the Word with which he revives us, in the Supper with which he strengthens us, in the Absolution with which he restores us, and in the Baptism with which he gives us new birth. Let us thank him for giving us life, for revealing himself to us, for his incarnation, preaching, death, and resurrection, for his proclaimed and saving Word, and for every grace large and small that he gives to us, day in and day out – all without price and without our own merit.

“Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God. It is meet and right so to do.” Let us continue to sing “Now Thank We All Our God” and pray each morning and evening: “I thank you, my heavenly Father.” Indeed, the Lord loves a cheerful giver. Let us never be so ungrateful as to withhold our offerings from him who withholds nothing from us.

Let us pray for those who are ungrateful, that the Lord would turn their hearts. Let us pray for ourselves for the many times when we are ungrateful, that the Lord may continue to bless and preserve us by His Word and through His mercy, granting us humility and ears to hear, refashioning us evermore in his image for the sake of the kingdom.

“To sum it all up: We will be good Christians, first of all, when we have a firm faith and trust in God’s goodness; second, when we are grateful to God and our fellowmen; and third when we patiently tolerate ingratitude as we keep on doing good to all people. In any case, nine people will be ungrateful for every one who is grateful and thanks you for a good deed. And it may well be that the one who thanks you and is grateful is the one of whom you least expected it, just like this Samaritan. May our loving Lord God grant his grace that we remember this and keep growing in our sanctification. Amen.” *

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

[Note: Quoted passages are from Martin Luther's sermon preached on the 14 Sunday After Trinity, 1533 as recorded in Luther's House Postils, The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 6.]

Friday, September 03, 2010

A Song Written by a Seven Year Old Boy

Tim Hawkins is what they call a "Christian comedian."

Whatever you call him, he is really funny and creative. For country music and American Idol fans, his Cletus, Take the Reel is not to be missed. Advocates of small government will appreciate his The Government Can. And if you prefer stand-up to musical parody, check out his Favorite Bible Verse.

The Legendary Clem Caraboolad

My high school, Walsh Jesuit, has placed a huge banner above the home bleachers at Conway Memorial Stadium (where the Walsh Warriors battle on the gridiron). The banner honors four "Legends of Walsh Jesuit." One of the honorees is Clemens J. Caraboolad, who was a faculty member at Walsh from 1965 to 1982 - serving as a Math and Theology teacher and football coach.

I had blogged about my own personal reminiscences of Mr. C. here, along with forwarding a YouTube of one of his classic speeches.

The P.R. director of Walsh Jesuit contacted me and asked if she could quote me on the school's website. Not only did she quote me, but posted a lightly-edited version of my blog post here. Thanks, Claudia!

To the left is a picture of Mr. C. as I remember him at the helm of Room 110. Hopefully, other Walsh men will likewise share their memories of what it was like to study under Clem Caraboolad.

It was a great privilege to attend Walsh Jesuit High School from 1979 to 1981. And being a teacher myself, both in my ministry and as a classroom teacher, I appreciate the qualities and traits that made Clem Caraboolad a great educator. Though I am nowhere near the caliber of a Clem Caraboolad, teachers of such quality and devotion continue to set the bar very high and provide those who come along after them with examples of how to make an impact on the lives of our students - whether in the classroom, on the football field, in chapel, or in simple conversation.

Pastors are required to be teachers, and I thank God that I was blessed to have so many outstanding teachers from a multiplicity of backgrounds and from a diversity of styles and approaches. I'm grateful to have been a student of Clemens J. Caraboolad, as well as for my three years at Walsh.

Interestingly, at least one other LCMS pastor is an alumnus of Walsh Jesuit: the Rev. Steve Cholak of Houston, Texas. Steve and I were classmates at seminary, and though we are separated by some 13 years in age, we shared some of the same teachers.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!

New Siberian Lutheran Mission Society Newsletter

Click here for the September 2010 newsletter of the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society.