Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bonne Année and Happy 20!

Today is the 20th anniversary of our first date at Parliament Hill in Ottawa!  Quite a bit has changed in the last two decades, including the advent of our son (who turns seven in a fortnight)!

Below is a pic taken five years ago at Parliament Hill.  Happy New Year, everyone!  Bonne Année and Happy Twenty Years, Miss Grace!  Here's to Auld Lang Syne, Veuve Clicquot, and the next 20 years of fighting the Sassenach!

My Siberian Adventure - Day 22 - July 18, 2011

Begin: Yekaterinburg
Travel to: Chelyabinsk

Father Daniel wakes me up at 8:00 am.  I'm tired.  I get some tea and some Coke.  I take a quick shower in the church flat's super high-tech shower stall.  It looks like it was made in Japan and includes many sophisticated knobs and settings - not to mention a radio.

Dan offers some cheese and bread - which I am happy to accept.  I get on the computer, and have a slow internet connection through Father Sergey's cellphone USB gadget.

I am able to finally IM with Grace.  It is still her birthday there.  It's kind of like when the day was lengthened for Joshua.  Grace's birthday will be about 36 hours this year - not counting our family tradition of extending birthday celebrations over several days.

We are both very happy to "talk" to each other, as our separation is getting very long.  We have been married 17 years and have spent only a few nights apart - when I toured with the Concordia Theological Seminary Kantorei as a student about ten years ago.  Needless to say, I am greatly homesick.

Fathers Alexey and Sergey arrive about 10:30.  Sergey is waiting for technicians to install a wireless router - which has to go through the heating duct of the building.  Father Daniel and I join the two of them in the kitchen for tea.  We have a long extended discussion about the movie Catholics: A Fable - which Alexey enjoyed very much.  There are great parallels to today's liturgical conflicts and pressures for the church to change with the times.  It is an intriguing film on many levels.

Sergey announces that we now have wifi.  We take it for a spin.  I download three free books by Dostoevsky - including Crime and Punishment (the detective character in which is the inspiration for the character Columbo) - which Dan is reading.

Father Alexey shares with us that he has just received an e-mail from a young man who attended one of our summer seminars and now desires to enroll at the seminary in Novosibirsk.  He remarked that at the summer seminars, the Gospel was clearly taught, articulated, and proclaimed.  Alexey notes that his trip has been fruitful, yielding at least two likely prospects for the seminary.

We hit the road.

At least in my admittedly limited experience, Russians drive far more aggressively than we do - but without the road rage.  They do more passing on the highway.  It's best not to look.  I begin reading Crime and Punishment on my Nook.  In the opening paragraphs I run across this poignant quote: "It would be interesting to know what it is that men are most afraid of.  Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what they fear most."

Father Sergey, our driver, plays an eclectic mix of music in his car.  He and Alexey speak animated Russian in the front seat.  We are now 41 km from Chelyabinsk.  We begin to see the smokestacks that epitomize this industrial city .

We arrive at the Malachite Hotel, a large Soviet era establishment downtown.  There is a lot of English in the lobby as well as the feel of the older Soviet hotels.

We check in, filling out forms and leaving our passports.  There are clocks on the wall showing the time in Moscow, Paris, New York, and Chelyabinsk - all in Latin (as opposed to Cyrillic) letters.  The lobby has a dated (or perhaps more flatteringly, "retro") feel to it with wood paneling and steel lettering.  Customer service is very good, though the staff speaks only Russian.  We rely on Father Alexey as translator.

The elevator is a dinosaur, complete with clunky manual push-buttons for the floor numbers (reminiscent of the old-fashioned car radios with the push-buttons) and a button to make the thing go.  It lurches and clunks loudly upon reaching the desired floor.

I will be sharing a room with Father Alexey tonight, and Father Daniel will have his own quarters.  Our room is small but comfortable.

After checking in, we walk around the corner to the pedestrian mall.  The weather is pleasant and a lot of people are out walking.  We buy a few souvenirs and take pictures as we head off to eat lunch.  Chelyabinsk is often symbolized by camels - though they no longer live here - as a nod to the history of the nomads that used to travel on camelback.  Hence the camel on Chelyabinsk's city coat of arms and the frequent statuary depicting camels.  The Ural region is also famous for its pelmini - which are like little raviolis stuffed with meat.  They are boiled and served hot.  It was originally peasant food that sustained the people of the region all winter.  They were made after the harvest time and kept outside frozen, to be eaten throughout the winter.  We pop in to a popular pelmini restaurant.

I have the now-familiar salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, bread, and a boar pelmini - along with a cup of tea.  This place is well-known and offers many exotic types of pelmini.  It's very good and filling!

After lunch, we drive to the place where Holy Spirit Lutheran Church meets - a community center where many groups rent space.  The usual room in which the church meets was rented to the church today for a special service of Vespers and Holy Communion because of our visit.  However, the room was double-booked for a party of some sort.  So the church was given a beauty salon room for the evening.

We pull in front of the building and Father Vlad (Vladislav Inanov) emerges with a big smile, gives me a large embrace, and says in English: "Hello, my friend!"

We make our way inside past a receptionist at a desk.  We wind our way to the beauty salon in which a small desk was placed in the middle of the room and transformed into an altar.  A crucifix was hung on the wall between two salon posters advertising beauty products.  The room is surrounded in mirrors.  Father Vlad quips that the mirrors make it seem like more people are in church.  Father Sergey discreetly removes the towels that have been hung over the ledge to dry.  A small padded kneeler, just big enough for three, is reverently placed in front of the altar for communion.

Father Vlad leads the service, and Deacon Victor assists.  We sing hymns and Psalms a capella.  The small congregation sings with gusto.  The Mass is dignified in spite of the surroundings.  Father Vlad is a capable and devout celebrant.  We all take the Holy Supper together.

Video excepts of the liturgy follow: the opening hymn, the opening prayer, the Kyrie, Confession and Absolution, the Psalm, the Reading, the Creed and Lord's Prayer, the Consecration, the Agnus Dei, the Post Communion Canticle, and the Benediction.

This is for me one of the many high points of our trip.  Only a few weeks before, I had confessed to Vlad that it was a dream of mine to come to Chelyabinsk and take the holy sacrament from his hand.  Not only did I make it to Siberia and to Chelyabinsk, we were able to partake of the Lord's Supper together.  A short description of this glorious event appeared on page two of the September 2011 newsletter of the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society: "With God, All Things are Possible."

Afterwards, father Daniel and I were invited to make a few remarks.  I took the opportunity to present a plaque hand-made by a member of my congregation, Ron Cantrelle, which reads in Russian: "Holy Spirit Congregation" carved into a piece of Mississippi cedar.

The parishioners are very appreciative, and take turns sniffing the cedar.  They are a small but faithful parish.

Father Vlad is very personable and friendly.  He and Victor are both Ukrainians and I am told that Ukrainians generally smile more than Russians.  Vlad's wife Svetlana came to the service a little late with her 6-month old Melissa and her well-behaved 3-year old Sophia.

Victor's wife Natasha (who is well along in pregnancy) is there with their teen-age son Nikita.  It was a real joy to partake of the Divine Service with our sister congregation and to take the body and blood of Christ from the hands of Vlad and Victor.

Afterwards, we move the furniture down the hall to the original room - which has since been vacated.  We head off to a park near Vlad and Svetlana's apartment building for a picnic.  And was it ever a picnic!

We walk a ways to the woods by way of a path.  Finding a suitable spot, Vlad and Victor assemble a small metal portable barbecue pit.  They make a charcoal fire and lay out huge chicken shish-kabobs on the flame.  It is my understanding that Deacon Victor used to be a chef, and he presides with aplomb over the burnt offering, fanning the flame with a plate and wielding a butcher knife.  He smiles, laughs, and cracks jokes - none of which I can understand.  The assembled congregation is relaxed and also laughs a great deal.  We sit on blankets around the fire in a small clearing.  Vlad and Victor are a good team and are obviously comfortable working together.  They were actually laymen together in a congregation in Ukraine in the more liberal ELKRAS church - but sought a more faithful expression of the faith among the Siberians.

We sit in a circle around the fire.  The weather is beautiful and provides a marvelous view of the birch forest.

The ladies prepare salads and drinks.  Sophia plays in the dirt with a stick.  Most of the conversation is, of course, in Russian.  Sophia is shy around me.  She has large precocious brown eyes and an expressive face.  I win her over with a gift - a little green, yellow, and purple cat from Mardi Gras.  She is also wearing a little Hello Kitty bracelet.  The gift is a hit, and she excitedly shows her mother who smiles warmly while thanking me.

We dine and converse, sitting on blankets until nearly sundown.

I distribute a few gifts: tee shirts, flashlights, some pocket knives inscribed with scripture from a member of my congregation who is a retired Navy Seal.  I present a little stuffed dog to Melissa - which Sofia also claims unto herself.  Afterwards, we say our goodbyes, and Vlad joins Dan, Sergey, Alexey, and myself for a brief tour of the city of Chelyabinsk as the sun begins to set.  Father Sergey is our driver.  We visit a massive cold-war era monument at the end of Lenin Street in honor of Igor Kurchatov, the father of the Soviet atomic bomb.  Serge quips that the monument's purpose is to get foreigners to take pictures.  We all have a laugh, and sure enough, Dan and I hustle out to take pictures.

A bunch of young people are hanging out nearby.  It's 11:00 pm on a Monday night, and a lot of people are still out and about.  The young people are amusing, as the guys are hanging out with each other, looking at one another's cars, while the girls likewise are clustered together, looking bored, dressed as if they are going to a wedding.

In honor of my desire to make a pilgrimage to the Molnija watch factory (I am carrying the watch I puchased on the internet in 2004 that was made by hand in Chelyabinsk at the factory founded by Stalin), father Vlad brings me to a large building aptly named куб (The Cube) - a shopping mall that used to be the Molnija watch factory until it closed in 2007.

We return to the hotel and say goodbye to Father Vlad.  He gives me a hat and a t-shirt of Chelyabinsk bearing the camel symbol of the city.  He presents Dan with a hand-towel also depicting Chelyabinsk.

Back at the hotel, I use Father Sergey's CD drive to rip my language instruction CDs into MP3s for my mini-computer.

Here is a link to all of my pictures of Day Twenty-Two.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Make room at the table...

As the year winds down, we are mixing things up at the family breakfast table.  In fact, we have invited a rather large and rotund guest to spend the next few days with us - whose mind is even more expansive than his physique: Mr. G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936).

As I mentioned a little over a month ago, our morning coffee and meditation ritual has grown to become a lecture series as well.  And it is one of the greatest things that we have instituted here at the Hollywood Mansion.

A few days ago, we wrapped up our breakfasts with Dr. Peter Kreeft (1937- ) and M. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) - and I am sorry to see them have to go!  Christianity for Modern Pagans (a collaboration by Pascal and Kreeft) is one of those books that needs to be read again and again.  I can't thank Rev. David Petersen enough for sending me the book as a gift, and I am grateful to Dr. Kreeft for reintroducing Pascal to modern readers.  Pascal is utterly unique, prescient, brilliant, and yet easy to read - especially with Kreeft's cut-to-the-chase explanations and elucidations.  In short "Read this book!"  Buy it now.  In just a few minutes a day, we had it done over coffee in not much more than a month of readings.  If I can put together some time, I will blog a recap/review/reflection or some such.  As I said, the book has already become an old friend.

So here is where we are right now, and where we are going for the coming year...

  • We continue with the ESV One Year Bible as read by the narrator.  Mrs. H. follows along in her paperback copy and attends to the computer narration while I prepare the cappuccino during the Old Testament reading.  And by the way, our ancient Krups espresso-maker is still carrying out its matinal and quotidian duties as if yet in its prime.
  • After the Old Testament reading, I bring my offering to the table just in time to join in the New Testament reading.  I skim along in Greek as the narrator reads from the ESV (I like using my my sleek leatherbound Reader's Edition - thank you to Rev. Daniel Johnson for introducing me to it).
  • For the Psalm, I follow along in Latin using my Gaba bilingual Psalter.  
  • For the short Proverbs reading, I just listen.
  • After the Bible reading, we embark on our lecture (see below) 
  • We conclude with a brief closing meditation and prayer - this past year from St. Augustine.  Beginning January 1, we will broaden these meditations to other saints (unfortunately, the latter volume, unlike the former includes prayers to the saints, which we will simply modify as prayer to God).

So, regarding the lecture portion, having said "goodbye" to our good friends Kreeft and Pascal, we decided to invite C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) to the breakfast table, but in looking at schedules, we found that it fit in better with everyone's plans to first invite Mr. Chesterton for a reading of his brilliant Orthodoxy.  I've read it twice before myself (with nearly every other sentence highlighted), but this time, we are reading it together thanks to a narrator from LibriVox.  (And thanks to Rev. Philip Miller who told me about Librivox - a source of free audio books for works in the public domain).  We both follow along with the text in our Nook readers.  As of today, we are about a third of the way through Chesterton's witty and rollicking 1908 work defending the traditional Christian faith against both heresies of atheistic materialism (on one side) and pantheistic postmodernism (on the other) - though the word "postmodernism" would not be coined for another 40 years after the publication of Orthodoxy.  If you have not read Orthodoxy, it is a must read!  It is also free in many formats being out of copyright.

Indeed, we have had to shift around the furniture to make room for Mr. Chesterton.

He is a big man, with a big brain, a big personality, and big ideas!  He also has a big heart and a big humility, and we are delighted to have him join us!  We are also greatly looking forward to a lengthy visit from Dr. Lewis when we must say goodbye to Chesterton.  Our kitchen is simply not big enough to entertain all of our friends at once.  We expect to have bigger accommodations in eternity.

Once we complete Orthodoxy, we plan on reading through the works of Lewis as contained in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, namely Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, A Grief Observed, and The Abolition of Man (some, and possibly all, of these are available in audio format).  When we get to Screwtape, we will have to scramble to find an extra chair for Mr. John Cleese of Monty Python, whose reading of the letters is beyond perfect.  Interestingly, a couple parishioners just gave us another collection of Lewis works for Christmas: The Beloved Works of C.S. Lewis, containing Surprised By Joy, Reflections on the Pslams, The Four Loves, and The Business of Heaven - if we can get Dr. Lewis to commit for a longer stay, maybe we can work through those as well.

Anyway, we are pleased with the depth and direction of our morning routine.  It is a good way to get the mind and soul moving in the morning along with the body.  We encourage anyone and everyone to turn the breakfast table into a monastery and university.  It is the highlight of our day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sermon: Holy Innocents – 2011

28 December 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 2:13-18

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The Church’s remembrance of the Holy Innocents – those young boys murdered by the evil so-called king Herod in his futile quest to prevent the Savior from coming into our world is unique. We don’t know who these children were, how many of them there were, who their parents were, or even if their parents were believers. These boys died without baptism – and yet we honor them as saints in the church. We call them “innocent” when Scripture tells us that no-one is without sin except for the One Herod was trying to exterminate.

And it is a disturbing thing to think about, how horrible this scene was, how evil one must be to order brave, hardened soldiers and police officers to wrench defenseless children from their mothers’ arms and put them to the sword. One can only imagine how much the soldiers must have resented being ordered to demonstrate the ultimate cowardice and dishonor, and how much trauma this left with them the rest of their lives.

But this horrible tragedy that we might wish to forget is worth remembering – for Scripture itself records it – and not only after the fact in our Gospel, but centuries before in our Old Testament. The Lord calls upon us to meditate on this holocaust while the world is basking in the glow of Christmas.

The harsh reality is that amid the warm sentiments of the season, we live in a cold and fallen world. We are all destined to die. We are in a cosmic war, and in any war, there are casualties – even innocent collateral damage and loss of life. And evil sometimes wins battles

We are at war against Satan, and sadly, we often ally ourselves with him.

When do we ally ourselves with the devil? When we sin, when we rebel against God, when we place our own will over that of the will of the Father. And we do it all the time.

This text is often used to show that abortion is a terrible sin. And indeed it is. It is murder. And it is easy for Christians to become almost hateful in their rhetoric against those who commit abortion. And while the church is to be a prophetic voice for good, a defender of the sanctity of life, an advocate for the little children who cannot speak for themselves – we are primarily in the business of forgiving sin by the blood of the most holy innocent of all: our Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified one, the infant who was in Satan’s crosshairs and nearly in Herod’s bloody hands.

We must indeed speak up for human life and speak out against murder – which means that we must speak out against all forms of murder: including hateful thoughts, the attack of reputations by gossip, all forms of rage and anger – even when we think we are justified, the excessive use of force by those in authority, wars of aggression, the deaths of civilians in warfare, the abuse of children (physical or otherwise), the conviction of innocent people – in some cases resulting in the execution of the wrong people.

To be pro-life is to oppose abortion, but it is also to oppose hateful thoughts against our fellow human beings. For all murder begins with a single selfish thought: be it the desire for living conveniently child-free, or the compulsion to scheme and to take something from someone else. All sin is conceived in the sinful heart – Herod’s ancient sin of the atrocity of Bethlehem, and our sins that we commit here and now.

And until the Lord returns, there will continue to be “weeping and loud lamentation.” There will be innocent children killed in the womb, innocent prisoners killed on a gurney, innocent soldiers killed on a battlefield, innocent civilians killed by bombs and mines and IEDs – and innocent reputations destroyed by our careless words.

And, dear friends, we must repent of our murders – no matter what form they take. For we are all guilty of internal rage and hatred and wicked desire and rebellion against our Creator as was Herod. And if that weren’t true, we would not need a Savior to die innocently for the sake of our guilt.

And yet He does, brothers and sisters. Jesus’s manly blood was shed sacrificially “for us men and for our salvation” in our place. Jesus’s boyhood life was spared because these innocent boys were sacrificed by Herod in the place of Jesus. For Jesus was sacrificed by us poor miserable sinners by the Lord’s own consent to save us poor miserable sinners.

The only way to understand this travesty, this murder, this “Rachel weeping for her children,” the news of injustice and oppression that is in the newspaper every day – the only way any of this makes any kind of sense is when it is seen in light of the cross.

Our Lord died as the Holy Innocent for the sake of the unwholesomely guilty. The children of Bethlehem died as holy innocents for the sake of the Innocent One who came to forgive the sins of the world – including their own sins.

For indeed, the Holy Innocents were innocent of any crime leading to execution in the earthly sense, but all people are guilty of sin – even those yet unborn. We all need the Savior who came and Himself died innocently and unjustly, in order to make us just and innocent by His blood.

These unbaptized murdered children have been made innocent by the blood of the Lamb for whom their blood was shed as a sacrifice. And if indeed baptized infants can be believers, so can martyred infants. The Church recognizes this “baptism of blood” and honors these little ones who became the enemies of Satan, enemies of Herod, and enemies of the enemies of God. Jesus died for them even as they died for Him.

Jesus did not only die for those with mature minds and mouths old enough to confess Him. Jesus died for the sins of the world. Jesus even died for Herod’s sins and the sins of those who have killed the innocent of every age and of every time. All of our murders – be they abortions, gossip, hateful rage, doing harm to another person, or harboring evil thoughts – separate us from God. But the good news is that separation has been closed, the gap has been bridged, by the One who escaped Satan’s wrath and Herod’s sword, Jesus Christ our Savior. It is He, the only truly Holy Innocent, who calls us to repent of our sins and come to Him to receive pardon and everlasting life. And even when we must endure the cross of injustice in this world, we know that the cross leads onward to the tomb, the grave of Jesus that was left empty at His resurrection.

Rachel’s tears of sadness will be turned to tears of joy as those little ones who are no more will be among those who are no more dead, but living. When we confess our sins – whether these sins against life are sins of thought, word, or deed, we know that the blood of the Innocent One covers us, pardons us, a restores us to life.

The whole point of Christmas – the coming of the living Christ into our dying world – is also the whole point of Easter, as the crucified Christ paid for our sins and rose from the grave, not only outwitting Herod and the devil, but destroying the power of sin and vanquishing the bitterness of death. Indeed, the resurrection is the only thing that will comfort Rachel, that will right the wrong committed against these Holy Innocents, that will redeem all of us murderers and sinners who rightfully deserve nothing but death and hell. So dear friends, let us repent! Let us confess! Let us receive life!

And indeed let us be that prophetic voice in the world advocating for life – life unborn, life imprisoned, life around the world, lives in torture chambers, lives in abject poverty, lives under the domination of tyranny. But most of all, let us be prophetic voices of eternal life, of the forgiveness of sin, of peace and reconciliation between men, and between men and God. Let us bring the comfort of the empty tomb to the otherwise inconsolable Rachel, and let us look forward with great joy to the day when, in Christ, death will be no more.


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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New pics uploaded

Intéressant? Peut-être, ou peut-être pas.
Of course, this is likely only of interest to family and friends.  As one of my Christmas presents was 2 GB of memory for my computer, uploading pictures isn't as big a chore as it once was.  So here is a link to all of my Flickr sets (a set is like an album).  If you click on  set, you can hit the "slideshow" option to see all the pictures in that set.

Have fun, y'all!

Earthquake in Siberia

St. Luke's, Abakan
Almost as it was happening, I got an e-mail from Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church that a Magnitude 6.6 earthquake hit Siberia near the city of Abakan.  The quake was felt as far away as Novosibirsk where Bp. Vsevolod lives (the two cities are about 350 miles apart).

Fr. Pavel Zayakin and his family live in Abakan where he serves St. Luke's Lutheran Church.  Fr. Dmetri Dotsenko and his family live in Abakan as well (he serves St. James Lutheran Church in Novokuznetsk).

Father Pavel, near Abakan

Father Dmetri and Family, near Abakan
Thanks be to God so far, it seems that there was no major damage nor any casualties.  Let us keep our brothers and sisters in our prayers in hope that the seismic activity has settled down.

You can see Abakan in real time here.

Снег в Новом Орлеане!

For my Russian friends, here is typical New Orleans snow: "Snow to Go." 

Monday, December 26, 2011

I wish the Saints would play every day!

Gretna, Louisiana during a Saints game (not exactly as illustrated)

We just went to WalMart on the day after Christmas.  Normally, that would mean parking somewhere near Hattiesburg, Mississippi and walking, bringing three days of provisions for the wait in line, making arrangements for the animals at home to be fed and cancelling the newspaper delivery while the cashier begins to collect Social Security checks.

But not today!  More specifically, not this evening.

The New Orleans area is a ghost town!  No traffic!  No-one in the stores - not even at Wally World!

The 16-game season definitely needs "further review."  I propose that they play at least three times a week year round.

Where does this road end? And when?

Sobering.  Q: How long can we "kick the can down the road" spending "money" we don't have on a worldwide trillion-dollar empire of military bases abroad, and a spiralling ponzi-scheme of entitlements at home, desperately begging and borrowing from China (and whoever else will buy our increasingly risky debt) and printing money out of thin air to "pay" for it all?  A: Until the road ends.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hallelujah Alaska Style

Merry Christmas, y'all!

HT: Lew Rockwell

Sermon: Christmas Day – 2011

25 December 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 1:1-18

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“In the beginning…”

The Word of God begins with these words. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” On Christmas Eve, 43 years ago, the crew of Apollo 8 read the opening words of Moses from the Book of Genesis, the Book of the Beginning, as they were orbiting the moon and looking back at the reflected light of the sun on planet earth.

On Christmas Day it is traditional to read and reflect on the words “In the beginning” as well. But these words and this beginning are a new beginning, new words from a new Book of the Beginning – the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as given to us by the Apostle John at the beginning of the Gospel that bears his name.

It was no accident that John begins with Moses and gives us Jesus. It’s no coincidence that Moses begins with the Word of God, and points us to Jesus.

For indeed, dear friends, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word of God is not a what, not merely spoken words. Rather the Word is a who: God Himself. “All things were made through Him.”

And so we must be clear in our confession. We are not randomly evolved bits of protein and protoplasm. We did not come from a mindless big bang. We are not the haphazard offspring of earthworms and primates. We are not cosmic junk that accidentally developed a consciousness. Rather, we are, as the Word reveals to us, creatures created by the Word, and we are created in the image of God the Father, our Creator. And the true image of the Father is the Son – the Word through whom we were made.

This is good news, dear brothers and sisters! For we need not look at the stars and ponder how insignificant we are. Instead, we can look at the stars, the planets, the galaxies, and the vastness of space knowing that none of these great celestial objects has consciousness. None of these celestial objects will ever ask: “Where did we come from.” None of these celestial objects will ever receive a revelation from their Creator.

But we do ask, and we did receive an answer!

And what’s more, dear friends, the Creator who made us loves us. He answers our question “Where did we come from?” The crew of Apollo 8 read the answer from space. He also answers why He made us. “God is love.” And He also explains why things are so messed up, why we feel so insignificant when we look to the sky, why we seem so distant from God, why we hurt, why we struggle, why we have sickness and problems of every kind, even why we die.

Because we have chosen to rebel against our Creator. We wanted to do what was forbidden to us. We have sinned, and we have continued to sin. We deny God’s existence. We send a rocket into space and think we are gods. We live our lives as if there were no God. We turn created objects into gods. We sin and act as if there is no such thing as sin.

And yet, God loves us. God rescues us. God has always had a “Plan B.” And He had this plan “in the beginning.”

For God does not take a rocket into space to see what He can see, rather He takes human form in space and time to save what He can save.

And so, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The Word became flesh! This is the Christmas miracle, the beating heart of flesh of the Christian faith. God, the Creator, the one by whom all things were created, stepped into time and history, broke into matter and the cosmos, taking the form of a Child born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem under the reign of Caesar Augustus. He “dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory.” The Word became flesh!

Jesus did not come out of curiosity. He is not an explorer. He already knows everything about our universe down to the last electron. And He already knows everything about us. Rather, He came on a mission of mercy. He came to save us from ourselves. He came to rescue us from our sins. He came to redeem us from death itself! He came to wrench us from the grasp of the darkness of Satan. For “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” In our darkness, we tried to overcome the light. We continued to begrudge our God His rightful place of worship. We denied, betrayed, and even crucified our Savior. We “did not receive Him.”

But by a miracle, dear friends, some on our planet did receive Him. The twelve received Him. Those to whom the twelve preached received Him. Those who were baptized into His name received Him. Those who repent of their sins receive Him. And “to all who did receive Him, He gave the right to become children of God.”

And this all goes back to “in the beginning.” For before the foundation of the world, before the moon was set in its orbit, before the sun was placed in its own gravitational track in our galaxy, before the first man was placed in the first garden, before the first woman and the first man committed the first sin, indeed, “in the beginning was the Word.”

Blessed Moses teaches us where we came from. St. John teaches us where we are going. “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Dear brothers and sisters, “In the beginning” you were created and hand-crafted by a Creator who loves you. “In the beginning” you were redeemed by a Savior who would not abandon you. “In the beginning” you were called out of darkness and into the life-giving light by the Holy Spirit who makes you holy and sets you apart as “children of God.”

And in this reality – the reality that Jesus Christ came into the world to save the world, that He came to sinners to save sinners, He came to you to save you – now you have yet another new beginning. Right now, we begin another day in the Lord, another week in the Lord, another year in the Lord. We have another opportunity to begin anew in the Lord, to repent, to look to Jesus, the Child born of Mary, the Son of God, the One who lives among us to this day in Word and Sacrament, the One who remains with His Church until He comes again, the One who was “in the beginning.”

It is in this beginning that He invites you to come back into His orbit – again and again. He invites you to hear anew the Good News that the Creator loves us and calls us back to Himself. He invites you to another year of grace and truth in His Word and at His altar.

We are not on a tiny space capsule named after a non-existent Greek god, rather we are on our earthly home created for us by the One True God. And in spite of how we have corrupted our world, the Lord has come into our world to save us from sin, death, and the devil. He has come to bring us to a new heaven and a new earth – through His blood, through His grace and truth, through His mercy – all offered again this Christmas Day to you, my dear brother or sister in Christ, offered to you right here and right now, even as it ever was, for “In the beginning was the Word.” Amen.

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sermon: Christmas Eve – 2011

24 December 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Isa 7:10-14, Mic 5:2-4, Isa 9:2-7, Matt 1:18-25, Matt 2:1-12, John 1:1-14

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way” says St. Matthew.

The “in this way” part means that we are being told the circumstances. For the circumstances of this birth and of this Person are what make the story not only interesting, but historically unique and relevant today.

Sadly, a lot of people aren’t interested in history. We live in a world bombarded by information overload, so much so that information that is older than the latest tweet or status update is long forgotten. And sadly, a lot of people today question why the Christian faith is relevant to their lives. And so, the world largely sees this Christmas story – this narrative of the birth and life and death and resurrection and coming again of Jesus Christ – to be irrelevant. And this is why Christmas has been created in modern man’s image.

In the quest for relevancy, modern Christmas is largely a holiday without holiness, a Christmas with Christ surgically removed, a Christ’s Mass where the Holy Supper is largely forgotten, having been replaced by large meals and parties and drinking binges and family squabbles.

But listen to God’s Word, dear friends: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.”

Did you catch the little word “now”? The birth of Jesus is supernatural, but it isn’t a myth. It happens in the “nowness” of time. It happens in a place. It happens according to God’s plan revealed through centuries of prophets. Jesus is physically born of a mother – but this birth is anything but ordinary.

This is the miracle of Christmas, dear friends, that God, the Almighty Creator, takes on creaturely flesh in space and time, becoming a mortal in order to die, for the purpose of giving us mortals immortality!

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.”

This miracle is relevant, dear brothers and sisters! It happened in the “nowness” of time, and because of that, is timeless. The latest news about the polls in Iowa will be forgotten. The recent bloodshed of shoppers over tennis shoes in a shopping mall will be forgotten. The many wars and political struggles around the globe will be forgotten. Our sadnesses, pains, sicknesses, anxieties, and even death itself will be forgotten. “But the Word of the Lord endures forever.”

For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

In our fallen world full of deception, full of lies and broken promises, full of advertisements luring us to buy more and more stuff with false promises of happiness, in a world where truth is considered either relative or subjective or non-existent, we have the Truth, dear friends! And that Truth was born that first Christmas, the “way, the truth, and the life,” the Truth that is not just factually correct, but true in the sense of perfect, straight, a true and correct image of what man was created to be, a Man who is the Truth because He is the very Creator of man! And He is “full of grace.”

This “grace” does not mean that Jesus can dance like a ballerina or catch a football like a hall of fame receiver. It means that He bears the fullness and the goodness and the mercy of God Himself – in the flesh, in our flesh, for the forgiveness of our sins, and the reclamation of our flesh – and He graciously offers these gifts as gifts, without price and given in love.

For “He will save His people from their sins.”

This had long been prophesied and foretold, though centuries upon centuries, far longer than our technological gadgetry and changing wants and whims of the flesh last. No matter how much our technology changes and improves, our greed, our lusts, our hatreds, our self-absorption, our petty-mindedness, our desire to make ourselves seem bigger than we really are, our laziness, our dishonesty, our desire to control others, our gossip, our covetousness, and our indifference to others is always the same. It has been the same since the fall in the Garden of Eden, when and where the Lord promised the coming of the Messiah to save us.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the birth of Jesus in space and time, the Word becoming flesh in order to save His people from their sins, is not only relevant to us today, it is the only relevant thing. Nothing else matters. All other “good news” is meaningless by comparison. For this good news – this Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, of redemption, of a new creation, of forgiveness, salvation, peace, and eternal life and eternal communion with God – is the reason why Christmas is such a time of joy to those who confess Christ as the living God in the living flesh.

For “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

God is with us, dear friends, with us! He came into our flesh, lived in our flesh, suffered in our flesh, died in our flesh, and rose again in our flesh – so that we too might rise in our flesh. The angelic song of “Peace on Earth” is not just a Christmas card sentiment or feel-good slogan to sell trinkets – rather this peace is a gracious gift of the grace-filled Prince of Peace – a gift hand-delivered to us where we are, handed over to us by the same hands that shared His body and blood with us “on the night in which He was betrayed,” when He was “handed over,” the same hands pierced by nails, the same hands shown to St. Thomas and the twelve, the same hands raised in benediction over His people as He ascended to the Father – the same tiny hands caressed by the hands of His virgin mother after His miraculous birth. “God with us.”

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” Amen.

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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Siberian Adventure - Day 21 - July 17, 2011

Visit: Yekaterinburg

I woke up fairly late, got ready quickly.  Father Sergey is picking us up at 10:30 am for the 11:00 Divine Service - which will likely start somewhere around 11:15.

Before Sergey and Alexey arrive, Dan and I go to the 2nd floor of the hotel for the buffet breakfast again - which is similar to yesterday's offering, but with a little variation in the fare.  We notice that there are several families on vacation and a lot of English writing on t-shirts - especially among the children.

Sergey and Alexey pick us up.  We arrive at church.

Father Sergey is the celebrant, and Father Alexey Trapiznikov - whom I have not met before - assists.  Before the service, we are greeted by a visitor, a pastor from Canada who has a missionary ministry.  He serves the Association of Free Churches (I think this is the name of the church body), a Norwegian Pietist church that is, I believe, headquartered in Minneapolis.  It is a denomination that is both liturgically "low" and has a "low" view of the office of the holy ministry.  He has worked with Father Pavel (Zayakin) for many years, and the two are good friends and colleagues.  He is on his way to Abakan to assist with Father Pavel's Bible camp for young people.

He is dressed in civilian attire, and he tells us about his eclectic Lutheran background, having served congregations in both the LCMS and in the ELCIC.  he currently lives near Vancouver, and makes annual mission trips to Russia and India.

He ended up in the Free Church because of their particular brand of low-church conservatism.  His church body does not "ordain" women.  When we ask him what is his church body's view of the Lutheran confessions, he is unsure.  He is a very likable middle-aged man and is shadowed everywhere by his 30-ish Russian translator.

After our morning visit and tea, Father Sergey prepares for Mass.  He is a soft-spoken middle aged man with a kind face, a closely-cropped beard, and short dark hair that is starting to develop "salt and pepper."  As the celebrant, he is clearly in charge.  Not typical for the services is Father Alexey (Streltsov) snapping pictures on his Nikon.  Father Alexey (Trapiznikov) preaches the sermon and serves liturgically as the deacon.

The communion rail only accommodates two communicants at a time, and the pastors only have room to scoot sideways between rail and altar to distribute the Holy Sacrament.  The church furniture originally came from the fist seminary in Novosibirsk.

After Mass, we retire to the kitchen for tea and cookies.  In deference to my caffeine addiction and shortfall, Father Sergey presents me with a day-glow yellow half-liter bottle of Mountain Dew with a rascally smile on his face.

We all pose for a group picture in the sanctuary - except of course, Father Alexey, our photographer.

Sergey and Alexey bring us to the hotel to check out and then bring us back to the church flat.  They go off for a while.  While waiting for them to return, I look out the window and journal.  It is warm and sunny outside, about 80F.

It looks very much like an American scene outside - with a few differences.  A young girl is walking a dalmatian, who would just as soon stay put under a tree.  She has to coax him to go.  Two babushkas (elderly ladies) walk together down the street clad in their "uniform" of flowery dresses and head scarves.  Two middle-aged women walk together with what appears to be a dachshund/beagle mix.  Two younger guys are checking out a car - perhaps to buy.  One of them is smoking a cigarette.

 Cars zip down the highway that is maybe a quarter mile (if that) from the flat.  The building across the street has typical enclosed balconies with clothes hanging outside.  Some people are on foot bearing plastic grocery bags.

Tired looking Latas (a Russian domestic automobile) roll by in sharp contrast to the more modern-looking imports - mainly Toyotas brought in directly from Japan, as evidenced by the steering wheel placement on the right.

Summers are very short here, and I get the impression that people make the most of their warm season.  Like my family members in Ottawa, they experience about six months of winter - with short days, reaching a peak of sunrise at about 10:00 am and sunset at about 4:00 pm.

Fathers Alexey and Sergey return and pick us up.  We are headed to lunch somewhere in Yekaterinburg.  Dan reads Crime and Punishment on his Kindle.  Alexey and Sergey converse intensely in Russian.  I'm getting a little road-weary.  I'm also quite homesick and looking forward to getting home.  Today is Miss Grace's birthday, but it's only 4 am back home.  Maybe I'll be able to get on an Internet connection some time today.  Otherwise, I'll ask Dan for his phone and fire off a text message to my dear wife.

Our drive takes us to a large event called the Technology Expo at Yekaterinburg - held in a huge convention center.  Parking and admission are free.  It is really incredible!

On the way in, we have to pass security.  The guard laughs at me good-naturedly as I have to deal with my crucifix, pocket watch, Palm device, pocket knife, and all sorts of coins, etc.  Unlike in the U.S., my small Swiss Army knife was not a problem.  I scramble to gather all of my things as my companions also have a laugh.

We ate lunch there, traditional Russian fare: salad (tomatoes and cucumbers), bread, pelmini (dumplings) and coffee/tea.  I took a chance on the instant coffee, as the brand name suggested it might be some kind of espresso.  It was a mistake.  I should have gone with the tea.  But the rest of the meal was nice.

We spent a good bit of time at the show.  We took a lot of pictures.

Father Alexey eplained that by air, Yekaterinburg is six hours from both London and Beijing.  The movers and shakers of Y-burg are trying to position the city as a business hub, an alternative destination at which to meet halfway.  Alexey is skeptical.  Russian president Vladimir Putin is very much pushing "nanotechnology" and Russians teasingly refer to him as the nano-president ("little president").  There is a girl at the show who wears what seems to be a red latex suit consisting of a skimpy top, short-shorts (also latex?) with the word "NANO" written in western letters on the bum.  The outfit was completed by her towering high heels.  It's quite a tableau.

There are also a couple of girls in day-glow green leotards advertising a bank.  They look a bit like the way C.S. Lewis portrayed the blue woman in his science-fiction novel Perelandra.  Father Daniel suggests that I get a picture.  Since my new policy is not to automatically say "no" and not hide behind my being an introvert - especially as a non-Russian-speaking foreigner - I walk up to them and motion to my camera asking: "Фото пожалуйста?"  They insist on including me in the picture.  They are fluent in English and are interested as to where Dan and I come from.  They are very good sports.

In the middle of the exhibit there is a huge, detailed model of the city of Yekaterinburg.  There is a section devoted to various businesses in Chelyabinsk.  There is even a booth selling Christian icons - which would have been unheard of twenty years ago. The place is crowded with people of every age group.  The most amusing to watch are the young couples.  Almost inevitably, the guys are quite casual - if not bordering on slovenly - while their wives or girlfriends are dressed to the nines.  It is so common as to be a cliché.

I buy a coffee mug on the way out that epitomizes Alexey's critique of many politicians' vision of modern Russia.  The mug had a tribute to Russia on one side, and another to the USSR on the other.  The caption reads (in Russian) "One History, One Country."  It is the view of those who see modern Russia as simply a reconstituted Soviet Union.  We go outside where there there are various trucks and heavy equipment - including a high-tech helicopter.

Afterwards, we drive downtown for some sightseeing.

In front of the main administrative building is a statue of - who else? - Lenin.  Father Alexey directs our attention to the top of the Soviet-style administration building complete with statues of triumphant workers and stars and other garish Soviet symbolism.  But Father Daniel is not with us.  I turn around to see him chatting with a group of young people who are sitting on the base of the Lenin statue.  I figure Dan is fielding questions about the United States or helping young people practice English.  I take a picture as Dan calls me over.

The college-age students hail from Spain, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Russia.  They are loud, gregarious, and friendly.  They all speak very good English, and are respectful.  We chat a little about where we come from.  One of the guys jots down his e-mail address so I can send him the pictures.

Father Sergey tells us a funny story about the Lenin statue.  Down the avenue are statues of Sverdlov and Kirov - two other Bolsheviks.  They seem to be pointing to Lenin.  The joke is that they are asking Lenin where he got his nice coat, and Lenin in turn is pointing at the shopping center across the street.

We went to that shopping center, which is located on a beautiful brick pedestrian mall.  We stroll along the walkway in the sun and chat.  We go inside and up the escalators to the 5th floor of the mall where there is a small food court.

There we find a restaurant called Hot American Pizza, a pelmini place, a more traditional Russian lunch establishment, and a (believe it or not) dessert place called Cherry Berry (back home we frequent a frozen yogurt shop of the same name).

Dan and I order pizza - of which Alexey quips is actually neither hot nor American.  Sergey gets the Russian food, and Alexey opts for the Pelmini.

We eat our "hot American pizza" in the capitalist mall as we look out the window to see Lenin pointing at us.  It is surreal and ironic.  Lenin seems so lost, so anachronistic and defeated, though his body is frozen in his usual triumphalistic pose.  From our view we see a good sized crater behind a fence.  It is filled with water.  Alexey explains that in Soviet times, it was a public toilet.  He said that it was free.  I remarked: "It still is" to the great amusement of my Russian brothers.  I think my attitude for Big Government and natural inclination to make fun of the state dovetails nicely with the post-Soviet sense of humor about the USSR.

From, we see a sign on the wall that is missing a letter.  I ask Father Alexey about it.  It says ССС-.  The last letter has been torn off.  Alexey confirms that indeed the now-truant final letter was a Р - the Russian R.  This was the sign for the now-defunct "USSR Cafe" - but the R has been taken away.  The word Кафе remains though.  More symbolic irony.

We visit a bookstore, a sort-of Russian version of Barnes and Noble.  They have a small English language section of books in English - some paperback classics.  They also have a section for learning Russian.  I buy a Random House course with 40 lessons, a book and 3 CDs.  I also pick up a phrasebook with CD for half the cost back home.

Father Daniel buys a beautiful political map of Russia.  Alexey picks up a few books.  Pastors are seldom as happy as when they are in bookstores.  I wandered off to buy some souvenirs.  My inability to communicate is a profound frustration.  The clerks are patient and kind, and they treat me like a child counting my coins for me and taking them from my outstretched hand.  I do know how to apologize and indicate to them that I don't know Russian.

On the way out, I see a 3D book with a jumping spider on it.  It includes a 3D viewer with various stereoscopic photos of bugs and spiders.  It costs the equivalent of $10 U.S.  Of course, I have to buy it for Leo.  My Visa card is declined - which Dan suggests is a safety feature because I had just used it a few minutes ago.  I pay cash.

We continue our stroll.  The architecture is western, modern, and beautiful - in some cases even opulent.

Father Sergey goes back to the car and meets us at the other end of the pedestrian mall.  Sergey and Alexey drop us back off at the church flat.  Dan and I venture out for a stroll and end up back at the beer tent.  We order a couple beers.

This time, I have my phrase book and dictionary.  With these tools, Dan and I set out to figure out the menu.  I call over to our waiter whose name is Ильхом (Ilichom?) - who is probably Kazakhstani.  He remembers us from before.  This time I use the phrase book to order in Russian.

He is amused and asks to see the phrase book.  He uses the book to ask me how much the phrasebook costs.  He is looking at the English section.  We all have a good laugh.  I took a couple pictures with him and the phrasebook.

I pay for our meal in cash, and Dan picks up the tip.  We head back to the flat.  I have trouble getting to sleep.

Here is a link to all of my pictures of Day Twenty One.

Armed Chinese Troops in Texas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sermon: St. Thomas – 2011

21 December 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 20:24-29

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We all know the expression “doubting Thomas.”  St. Thomas had a difficult time after the death of our Lord.  He may have been mourning the loss of his friend, master, and Savior.  He may have been confused about what lay ahead for himself and his fellow believers.  He may have felt left out of the earlier appearances of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

The reason isn’t important.  What is important is that the Lord has revealed to us the reality of St. Thomas’s struggle, removed St. Thomas’s doubts, and revealed to us St. Thomas’s faithful confession: “My Lord and My God!”

Indeed, this twofold confession of Christ is the difference between doubt and faith, between unbelief and belief, between hell and heaven.  For Thomas not only acknowledges that Jesus is the Lord, that is, “God,” he also confesses Him as “My” Lord and “My” God.

St. Thomas not only acknowledges the truth, he internalizes this truth.  This truth is not simply a dispassionate observation, rather it is the very truth that makes him free!  Indeed, this is the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise of the liberation of faith.  It is not only the dispelling of doubt and the knowledge of truth, it is also the source of comfort, the fountainhead of life, and the center and focus of one’s entire being.

For doubt is not the problem.  We are all sinful human beings.  We all doubt at times.  In fact, it is healthy to have a certain amount of skepticism.  Jesus even tells us that at the end of time, many people would claim to be the Christ.  He also counseled us not to believe them.  Jesus does not ask us to believe anything on blind faith.  Faith clings to something – and in this case, someone.  The Lord allowed Thomas to see and touch, to have an encounter with the body and blood of the risen Lord in space and in time, not to prove, but to bolster the faith he already had – even if that faith was weak at times.

This is a demonstration of the Lord’s true majesty – made manifest in His humility, in His taking the time to convince one beloved man beset of doubts to believe, to receive, and to have life.

What is worse than doubt is complacency.  For even in Thomas’s honest doubt there was a desire to see the truth, a yearning to believe, a willingness to be molded by the good news of the coming of God in the flesh for the forgiveness of sins, a wanting to be where his Lord and his God was, to see, hear, and touch God in the flesh.

Complacency is indeed far worse.  Complacency says: “I believe in God.”  Complacency says: “I believe in Jesus.”  Complacency says: “I read my Bible and pray.”  And then complacency refuses to allow the Word of God to take hold of one’s life.  Complacency allows everything else to take precedence over being present with God.  Complacency cannot even be bothered to gather where God miraculously comes in the flesh for the forgiveness of sins.  Complacency lacks even the yearning to be where one’s Lord and one’s God are, lacking the motivation to see, to hear, and to touch God in the flesh.

Dear friends, let us not be complacent.  If you have doubts, welcome to the human race.  Welcome to the Lord’s Church, where the incredible Gospel is credibly preached and the incredible gift of the forgiveness of sins is credibly offered freely.  And also welcome to the Lord’s altar, where the doubts and fears and anxieties and troubles of this fallen world melt away in the very same flesh and blood revealed to St. Thomas!  And before this altar we offer our own incredible creed: “I believe…”  Bring your doubts to this altar, and bring your faith from this altar.

For we have the opportunity to see the risen Christ in His flesh and blood and to confess: “My Lord and my God!” with St. Thomas and with all the saints of every time and place.  We can come to this altar again and again, this place raised above the fallen ground, this place where our Lord comes to us in His flesh and blood for the forgiveness of sins, giving us eternal life.  And as we kneel around this altar, week in and week out, we receive the Lord’s body and blood into our own body and blood, for the strengthening of our faith, and for the powerful communion we have with our brothers and sisters and with our very God Himself!

“My Lord and my God!”

St. Thomas believed, and the Lord said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Following this encounter with the risen Jesus, St. Thomas was to have many other encounters: serving at altars around the world in the holy ministry, celebrating Holy Communion, preaching, teaching, baptizing, and absolving sins.  St. Thomas spread the Gospel even in India, where the evidences of his ministry are all over the place – most of all in the body of Christ that is still there to this day: the Christian Church in India, believers who likewise confess Jesus as “my Lord and my God!”

St. Thomas’s doubts were resolved not by memorizing the catechism or studying doctrine (both of which are good things to do, but do not give one faith).  St. Thomas’s doubts were scattered like the gloom of night when the risen sun bursts over the horizon as the risen Son of God revealed Himself in space and time, in flesh and blood, in Word and Sacrament.  And this same gracious invitation is offered to us, dear friends, even now twenty centuries later. 

The same risen Christ says to us: “take, eat… take drink.”  The same risen Christ says: “I forgive you all your sins.”  The same risen Christ continues to baptize, forgive, restore, heal, repair, and bring life from death and light from darkness.

The same risen Christ continues to say: “Peace be with you” – coming to those who are willing to expose their dark doubts to the light of His glorious presence – a Light that overcomes the darkness and brings cool doubt into a burning faith, bearing the Light of Christ, chasing away the darkness, and drawing all who are drawn to that light to believe.

Dear friends, we may be mourning the loss of loved ones, we may be confused about what lies ahead in our lives and in the lives of our fellow believers, and we may even feel left out of the kind of faith that others seem to have.  If so, dear brothers and sisters, we have a patron saint in Thomas the Apostle.  He has shown us how to receive Christ – even in doubt.  Come into the Lord’s presence!  Let the Lord speak to you!  Allow yourself to be drawn to the Light of the body and blood of Him who is the “light of the world,” the “light no darkness can overcome.”  Let us join Believing Thomas in his confession, in our confession, in the church’s confession, in the one life-giving confession of Jesus Christ as “My Lord and My God!”


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

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sermon: Rorate Coeli (Advent 4) – 2011

18 December 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 1:39-56

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a belief about Christianity among the unbelievers in Christianity that the first Christian was St. Paul.  What they mean by this is that Paul invented the Christian religion, that the Jesus he preached was not the “historical” Jesus, and that we are really more followers of Paul than of Christ.

This is an interesting theory that awkwardly tries to explain the origin of Christianity.  But if we believe Christianity is true, the question of who is the first Christian becomes interesting.  Some might argue that the first disciple, St. Andrew, was the first Christian.  Others might say that Abraham, as the first man called by God under the old covenant would be the first Christian.  We could even argue that Adam was the first Christian, the first to see God face to face.

It all depends on how you want to define “Christian.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary was the first human being to be in the physical presence of the fleshly incarnate Jesus, and immediately, she confesses Him as both God and Savior.  In that sense, Mary is the first Christian.  She is not only the beloved mother of Jesus, but also the beloved elder sister of every Christian.  And this young girl, a lay person: not a rabbi or a priest, not an apostle or a pastor, not a deaconess or a professional church worker – blazes a trail for all Christians in confessing the Christ within her very body: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

“God my Savior.”

Dear friends, this confession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of God, is the beating heart of the Christian faith.  For the Christ child within her is not only a savior, a prophet, a deliverer like Moses – but He is also God.  And equally important, she is not merely worshipping a God who is afar off, but a God who has come into space and time, becoming an embryo within the womb of His mother – even as have been every one of billions of human beings ever born (with the exceptions of Adam and Eve).

And notice also that the Blessed Virgin confesses Jesus as not only “God” and as “Savior” – but also as “My.”  For even the devil has to confess the truth that Jesus is God and that He is a Savior.  But Christians also confess the “my” part.  Mary’s threefold confession is a complete confession of Christ: Almighty God, humble human being, our Savior.

This “first Christian” is utterly unique in all of human history.  For she is indeed as we confess in our Lutheran confessions and with the Church of every age: “holy” and “pure.”  She is the mother of God.  And yet she too needs a “Savior” – a rescuer from sin.  Mary is pure because Jesus has made her so.  Jesus is born because He came to our world through His mother.  God created Mary, the God the Father called Mary, God the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary with His presence, and Mary conceived God the Son within her womb.  And from this created creature emerges the uncreated Creator.  From one descended from sin comes One who is sinless.  The tiny embryonic Christ child conceived miraculously within the virgin is also the Savior of the Virgin who created for Himself a pure portal into our impure world.

Christians sometimes squabble over how this can be.  Such arguments happen when fallen man attempts to impose reason on a miracle.  Was Mary conceived without sin?  God did not reveal this to us to be either true or false.  He did something to protect His Son from inherited sin – beyond that, God is silent.  But we know this much: Mary calls her Son her Savior, and Jesus was born of a pure womb.  Rather than argue over dogma, we Christians, like the first Christian herself, would do well to fight less and rejoice more!

“For He has looked upon the humble estate of His servant… all generations will call me blessed.”  Mary is not a goddess, but neither is she a nobody.  She is God’s mother.  She is the first to confess the man Jesus as God and as Savior.  For she also confesses: “He has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”  Mary is holy because of the holy name of Jesus, not the other way around.

There is also a lot of squabbling over Christmas.  Of course unbelievers use Christmas as an excuse to try to control the free speech of Christians, even to the point of firing people and expelling school children for uttering the word “Christmas.”  The confession of the Christ child, of the one who is “God my Savior” divides people to this very day.

The Lord continues to come to us in His Word – which all Christians continue to confess, and also in His sacraments – which causes Christians to fight among themselves.  Indeed, the Lord’s coming in our midst in the repeated weekly Christmas miracle of the Sacrament of the Altar also causes Christians to squabble.  Some mock by asking: “How can God be a wafer?”  The answer is, of course to ask right back: “How can God be an embryo, an infant, a barefoot preacher, and a condemned criminal”? 

Some Christians even squabble over the terminology of the sacrament.  Is it the Sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or the Mass?  It is indeed all of these.  Christmas is a contraction of two words: “Christ” and “Mass.”  Christmas is the coming of God to His people in the flesh – not only in Word, not only in Spirit, not only in our hearts – but in all of these and more: in His fleshly physical body, in the miracle of the Christ Mass.

This, dear friends, is the beating heart of Christianity: Christ Himself, EmmanuelL God with us.  Just as the Lord was present within the body of Blessed Mary in the mystery of the Holy Incarnation, He is also with us in our bodies in the mystery of Holy Communion.  Indeed, all generations will also call us blessed.

We are blessed by the coming of Jesus at Christmas, in His Word, in the Sacrament of the Altar, in absolution, in baptism, and in the proclamation of the Good News because “His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”  Again, dear friends, rather than squabble, we Christians should confess and rejoice with St. Mary and with all the saints of every time and place.  For the Lord is merciful!

He came into our world not to make a show of force, not to do some parlor tricks, not to serve Himself – but rather as a demonstration of mercy, to reveal the miracle of Himself, and to serve us as our God and Savior. 

He has “exalted those of humble estate,” we who are humbled because of sin, because of sickness, because of death, because of disappointment, because of sadness, because of anxieties and addictions, because of pain and depression, because of the realization that we are broken and headed to our own deaths, separated from God by our sins.

But, dear friends, this is why He came!  This is why Mary rejoices!  He is God our Savior!  He has come on a rescue mission to save us from ourselves, from our iniquities, from our greed, from our wicked hearts, and to pluck us out of this broken world and to place us in a perfect kingdom, a paradise restored, a new heaven and earth.  This is what it means that Mary confesses her Son, God’s Son, as her Savior – our Savior.

For He will indeed “fill the hungry with good things” once and for all, and the rich – those who trust in worldly possessions instead of the riches of the kingdom – will be “sent away empty.”

Dear brothers and sisters, let us squabble less and rejoice more.  Let us confess what we know and let us rejoice in the mystery of the Incarnation and our Salvation.  Let us sing with Mary not only at Christmastime, but every time that our Lord mysteriously comes to save us, both spiritually and physically, throughout the year when He comes to us in both Word and Sacrament.  Let us follow the lead of the first Christian by also submitting and following the lead of the only Christ – our God and our Savior.  Let us never be too proud to confess and sing with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with all the saints in heaven, and with all of us here on earth who need rescued: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.  Amen.

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

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Which Candidate Supports the Troops, and Is Supported By the Troops?

If you watch to the end of this short video, you may be shocked.  Don't expect the mainstream media (nor any of the chicken-hawk talk radio entertainers) to share the last irrefutable statistic with you.

Which candidate really supports the American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines - and is a veteran himself?  Check it out...