Monday, January 31, 2011

The Year of the DP?

The Rt. Rev. David Stechholz, English District President

According to the Chinese calendar, we are in the Year of the Rabbit.  But rendering the current year according to the Missouri Synod, it may be shaping up as the Year of the District President.  First, we see the high honor of the Gottesdienst Sabre of Boldness being awarded to a Missouri Synod District President, the Rev. Brian Saunders.  Then we see this: a Missouri Synod District President, Rev. David Stechholz, wearing a miter and carrying a crosier to carry out his episcopal functions. 

Bishop Stechholz and LCMS clergymen (including Rev. David Petersen, 2nd from right) at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne)

Maybe this is our great-great-great-great-great-grandfather's church after all.  Bishops looking like bishops (instead of guys who work at the local country club pro-shop) and bishops showing not just bureaucratic leadership, but theological acumen and courage in the face of a hostile culture, have been part and parcel of Christian churchmanship since the days of the apostolic fathers.

In our very young American church body, we have traditionally shunned having any kind of episcopal oversight over pastors or churches.  We Americans are a democratic and independent people, and our churches often reflect that frontier spirit.  However, God's regime is neither a democracy nor a republic, but a hierarchical kingdom - with Jesus as the Overseer (Bishop) of our Souls.

Traditionally, the Christian church has governed itself in a hierarchical manner.  While not referred to as "pope" in the New Testament, St. Peter was clearly respected as a leader among the apostles - at very least, a "first among equals."  We see St. Titus, who seems to have been ordained by St. Paul, being instructed to appoint "elders" (Greek: presbuteroi), which is to say, pastors, in every city.  The pastors are themselves overseen.

The biblical term "presbyter" (presbuteros) is the source of the word "priest," and the biblical term "bishop" (episkopos) is the source of the word "episcopal" - as in "pertaining to bishops."

We Lutherans are not dogmatic about church polity, or how a church body is governed.  Scripture does not mandate any particular form of government other than that a congregation is overseen by what scripture calls (interchangeably) a presbyter or bishop.  Scripture also speaks of deacons in a supporting role to the presbyter/bishop.

Early on in the church (very early in fact!), the church begins to organize clusters of congregations and pastors underneath overseers.  The terminology quickly reflects this reality by presbyters (priests) generally being those ministers who oversee a congregation, and overseers (bishops) generally being those ministers that oversee the pastors and congregations.  In time, the Roman geographical term "diocese" was used to indicate a territory underneath a bishop's churchly jurisdiction.  Bishops are themselves often overseen by other bishops (overseers).  In the Latin west, the Bishop of Rome was given a status not unlike St. Peter (the first bishop of Rome) as a kind of "first among equals."  In the Greek east, several prominent bishops share oversight over other bishops.

Bishops have generally (though not exclusively) been the grade of minister used to ordain bishops, priests, and deacons.  Bishops often "confirmed" priestly baptisms by a laying on of hands.  Bishops have generally had the authority to discipline pastors and congregations.  And bishops have generally continued serving as pastors, preaching and administering sacraments, in addition to their administrative duties.

The American Lutheran churches have generally not only shunned the term "bishop," but also most of the trappings of the episcopate.  The reasons for this are complicated, and beyond the scope of this post.  In the Missouri Synod, our synodical and district overseers have traditionally been styled and titled as "presidents" instead of bishops.  One exception to this rule is the president of the English District of the LCMS (which was at one time its own synod) who also bears the title "bishop."  Most district presidents understand that they exercise episkope (oversight) as they oversee or delegate all ordinations; they discipline wayward congregations, pastors, and other rostered church workers; they place all newly-certified candidates for the holy ministry into their first calls, and they serve as "ecclesiastical supervisors" for all pastors and church workers under their jurisdiction.  But there is a hesitation to identify this office of episkope (oversight) with the office of episkopos (overseer). 

I believe there is an inconsistency here.  Either these District Presidents are merely bureaucratic advisers, or they exercise genuine episcopal oversight.  Maybe we in the LCMS are still trying to figure all that out.  I do think our bylaws and ways of governing ourselves sometimes say two different things.  But not every Lutheran church body has this American aversion to hierarchical authority.

Moreover, the LCMS is now in fellowship with many Lutheran bodies that have retained the custom of unabashed episcopal oversight.  In many places around the world - such as in Africa - Lutherans who have episcopal polity enjoy a higher level of respect among other Christian churches.  The now sainted Rt. Rev. Andrew Elisa, for example, was the synodical president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sudan.  But most African Christians did not understand what a "president" was.  After he had been serving as president for quite some time, Pastor Elisa was consecrated as a bishop by other Lutheran bishops, and Bishop Elisa was understood as the Lutheran primate of Sudan.

While American churches often seem to be pushing the envelope of "casualness" - even to the point of slovenliness - there is also a backlash the other way.  More younger pastors are wearing the traditional garb of the clergyman in their day to day life, as well as the traditional vestments of the Church in the Divine Service.  And as the LCMS has more and more international contacts, we are seeing the value of traditionalism - in thought, word, and deed.  As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in his Letter to the Smyraneans around 110 AD, the church finds its unity around the bishop's office.  In our democratic "everyone a minister" and "every pastor a pope" ethos in the LCMS, we see a devastating lack of unity - even on such matters as whether or not to use the liturgy in worship.  There is a sense in the LCMS that anything and everything can be settled by a 51% majority in convention.

The oversight of bishops (the preferred polity according to our Lutheran confessions) may well serve as an antidote to our current chaos.  And if nothing else, the image of a bishop clad in historic vesture should stand and confess in stark contrast to the Protestantizing tendencies that plague our church body while reminding everyone that we are Catholic Christians.

Anyway, I applaud bishops Saunders and Stechholz for the good confession they are making, the courage to take a stand, and for their faithfulness under fire.  Leadership is more than just being elected.  It involves stepping out in faith to blaze a trail for other men likewise in the service of the Bishop of our Souls Himself.

Bishop Stechholz blesses the congregation

Note: Pictures are from Cyberstones.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sermon: Epiphany 3 - 2011

30 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 8:23-27 (Jon 1:1-17, Rom 8:18-23)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jonah is a prophet who is more remembered for being “in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” than he is called to mind as a preacher of God’s Word. And while it is a miracle that the Lord preserved his life under such extraordinary conditions, it is an even greater miracle that the people of Nineveh – from the king on down – heard Jonah’s preaching, repented of their sins, and were saved from the Lord’s wrath – all by the power of the Word!

And the people of Nineveh were not the only ones to repent in the account of Jonah. For Jonah himself resisted the call of God to go to Nineveh, and instead he headed to Tarshish “away from the presence of the Lord.” As if there really were such a place on this divinely-created planet.

But the Lord had mercy on Jonah. He didn’t just allow him to flee his presence. God had salvation to distribute to the Ninevites, and He had a prophet to deliver it to them. God did not give up on Jonah, although the prophet himself had to be converted before his hearers could be converted.

And so Jonah’s adventure really began to unfold while fast asleep on the ship. Frightening waves battered the vessel, and the other men on the boat were afraid that they might perish. And in their distress, they sought out Jonah’s God – who heard their prayer and calmed the storm.

Jonah would spend three days and nights tucked away inside the fish, and he would also emerge safe and sound according to God’s will.

Unlike Jonah, our Lord Jesus is often remembered more for His teachings than His three days in the belly of the earth, in the tomb. In fact, many people today treat Jesus as a great philosopher, teacher, or perhaps even a prophet – but certainly not as the Savior who defeated death by dying and who gave us eternal life by rising again!

For unlike Jonah, our Lord Jesus obeyed His Father’s will from the start, being sent as a baby into a world not unlike wicked and hard-hearted Nineveh. For far from fleeing the “presence of the Lord,” the fleshly Lord Jesus is the very presence of the Lord in His flesh.

And through the Lord’s three day passion and resurrection, the Lord has mercy on us! For God had salvation to distribute to the world, and He had His own dear and only-begotten Son to deliver it to us.

And so we find our Lord Jesus, our New and Greater Jonah, fast asleep on a boat. Frightening waves battered the vessel, and the other men on the boat were afraid that they might perish. And in their distress, they sought out Jonah’s God, Jesus, who heard their prayer and calmed the storm. He calls the disciples to repentance for their “little faith” while saving them through their little faith. Matthew says: “He rose (not an accidental turn of phrase, by the way), and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”

This calm is a precursor to the fulfillment of time when all conflict will cease, when Satan and his angels are cast into the lake of fire, and when the Lord’s reign for eternity will no longer be our hope for the future, but rather our ever-present reality.

For Jesus would find Himself tucked away in the tomb, and on the third day, he would emerge safe and sound and victorious according to God’s will.

Dear friends, Jonah preaches the same sermon as our Lord Jesus, as every prophet of former times and every preacher of future times. It is this call to repent, to turn away from our sins, to resist the ugly part of our broken selves that seeks to flee the Lord’s presence. And this call is a gracious invitation to start fresh with a clean slate. It is the call to leave behind the world of sin and death and corruption, and climb aboard a new boat upon the calm waters of the new earth and new sea and new heavens remade by Him “by whom all things were made,” Him whom “the winds and seas obey.”

For the sign of Jonah was given to point us to the Greater Jonah. The prophet who spent three days buried in the fish was ultimately a preacher of Him who emerged from the grave on the third day. Both called their hearers to repentance, and both offered hope, forgiveness, victory, and life.

Nineveh repented. Nineveh turned back to God. And God turned away His wrath from Nineveh. And this was accomplished through a faith that came by hearing, a hearing of the Word of God.

Dear friends, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He preached from a boat, walked on water, calmed the wind and the waves, called fishermen to become fishers of men, called men to repent, and He forgave men their sins. He commanded that all nations be baptized. He took bread, and said, “Take, eat. This is My body.” He took wine, and said, “Take drink, this cup is the New Testament in My blood.” And He instructs His followers to “do this in memory of Me.”

And both Jonah and our blessed Lord suffered; they both suffered for sin. Jonah suffered for his own, and our most blessed Redeemer suffered for Jonah’s, Nineveh’s, Israel’s, and for our sins. “Behold the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world!” We sinners, like Jonah, deserve to suffer. Jesus, as the Greater Jonah suffers in the place of all of us “poor miserable sinners” who indeed deserve to suffer.

But as St. Paul confessed with us again today: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Just as Jonah’s odyssey ultimately had a happy ending, so does the pilgrimage of the Church. For in her suffering, she will be comforted. In her repentance, she has found forgiveness. In the cross and the blood of Christ, she finds her faith and her life. And in the forgiveness of sins, she eternally finds her grace and her rest and her salvation.

For our most holy and merciful God is:

[O]ur help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.


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

Friday, January 28, 2011

Revolution in Real Time

Follow the extraordinary events in Egypt live on Al Jazeera English.

Even Christians and Muslims are working together against tyranny, to which this remarkable incident of three weeks ago bears witness.We're also seeing how the Internet is no friend of repressive regimes, and even though the government has disabled the Internet and cell phones, Egyptians have found a way to access Twitter through land-line telephones.  The world continues to see what is going on! 

Pray for peace and freedom in Egypt!

J. Peterman Lives!

J. Peterman, the quirky Seinfeld character, that parodies the real J. Peterman, lives wherever products are marketed by over-the-top prose.

A recent trip to one of my favorite stores, World Market, was a case in point that marketing can never go too far.

First, the jelly beans.  World Market sells a Jelly Belly knockoff called Teenee Beanees.  They're don't have quite as much of a kick as Jelly Belly, but they are almost as good and a lot cheaper.  But what is really a hoot is the blurb on the back of "American Medley," a melange of the rather staid and standard flavors of strawberry, lime, cherry, grape, orange, and lemon:

Americana Medley - classics from coast to coast. Sit back and enjoy a cross-country tour to six luscious locales: Savannah Strawberry, Laredo Lime, Chesapeake Cherry, Napa Grape, Indian River Orange, and La Jolla Lemon. Open up and discover a delightfully delicious land with liberty and flavor for all.

There is also another collection called "Island Breeze" which includes strawberry banana, punch, pineapple banana, lime, and orange pineapple.  On the back you will find this gem:

Feel the Island Breeze - Whether you're enjoying the savory flavors of Cabana Strawbana, Caribbean Punch, Kauai Pineapple Banana, St. Kitt's Kiwi Lime, or Martinique Orange Pineapple, Island Breeze includes exotic flavors so authentic you can almost hear the sound of steel drums.  Get ready, get set, getaway.

Common to both collections is the following blurb:

"Experience the world's biggest flavor in a tiny bean.  Visit Teenee Beanee Delicious Destinations.  Like tiny passports to flavor paradise, Delicious Destinations transports you to the most mouth-watering places on earth.  This thrilling collection of superpremium jellybeans features the planet's finest, most delectable handcrafted confections."

Wow.  I mean, they're just jelly beans for crying out loud!

Not to be outdone by candy makers, a purveyor of tea called Zhena's Gypsy Tea also goes all Peterman in its marketing.  Case in point: Coconut Chai:

"A robust and full flavored black tea accented with exotic imperial spices. The bold concentrated character of this lush black tea lends itself well to the full notes of cardamom, ginger and clove. The sweet hint of tropical coconut fragrantly fills the cup, offering an inviting taste of paradise to savor from any spot on the map. Delicious with a splash of milk. A bright and flavorful steep. Sunglasses not included." 

It's good tea and all, but it's still tea.

It goes to show that its not so much about selling jelly beans and tea as much as it is selling a person on his own taste, convincing him that he is a kind of cosmopolitan James Bond even as he is pushing around a shopping cart with a wobbly wheel.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

President Schiff's State of the Union

If you really want the state of the union instead of political posturing, don't waste your time paying attention to governmental presidents who want to control your life and tax you for the privilege of doing so, instead, listen to the straight-talking president of Euro Pacific Capital and get the real story in less than ten minutes.

Real Worship

I believe one of the reasons we have "worship wars" among American Christians is that it has been a long time since we have had physical warfare on our own soil.  9-11 was close, but even that was dominated not by the theology of the cross of Christ, but rather by a sense of the national therapy of Oprah. 

Consider this poignant picture above of the ruins of a bombed-out church in Germany, where amid all the chances and changes of this life, the one thing that people could hold onto is the liturgy of the Church, the Mass, the real physical communion with the real physical Lord.

Notice what you don't see: entertainment.  There is no gyrating chanteuse working the microphone like a Vegas performer, a spotlight shining on a grimacing drummer, a perfectly-coifed guitarist wearing the latest fashions, or a trendy prancing made-up motivational speaker with gelled-up hair and a plastic smile emoting in overly-dramatic hushed intonations.

Instead, we see a celebrant, deacon, subdeacon, and two servers, all reverently and historically vested, each stationed in his proper order, proclaiming by their very placement that no matter how unpredictable and desperate things may get in this war-torn existence, Jesus is here, week in and week out, in the midst of our pain and uncertainty.  And the Church is here, century in and century out, bearing the Good News by proclaiming Christ crucified, the eternal Word of the cross.  And even amid the rubble and missing walls and blown-out windows, the old stone edifice of the church building, even in its humiliated state, carries a reverent gravitas of which the latest and greatest multi-million-dollar "worship centers" are bereft.

And at the center of it all is the chancel.  There is no stage, big screens, lasers, or sound system paraphernalia, but rather a simple but elegant book containing the liturgy and the Word of God, dignified candles flickering with the soft glow of the flames reminiscent of the Day of Pentecost and silently confessing the Son as "light of light, very God of very God."  And of course, the Holy of Holies is the stone altar, anchored like the rock of St. Peter's confession amid the gravel of a desperate world, the marble slab upon which one finds the Cornerstone, the Christ Himself in the Holy Eucharist, the mystery of the Lord's Presence for the forgiveness of sins given by means of the simple creatures of bread and wine.

By contrast, "contemporary worship" is a sad and spiritually impoverished display of vulgar bourgeois suburban kitsch, a puerile frivolity that is more at home in a sterile strip mall or a vacuous night club than in the gritty real world inhabited by real people who suffer real pain and who need a real saving encounter with the real God.

That is why we need real worship.

Note: I cross-posted this at Gottesdienst Online.  Please feel free to comment there.

Extra Orbem (Out of This World!)

Here is a repeat of a short podcast that is both a Latin lesson featuring the beautiful Latin of St. Leo the Great and the even more beautiful incarnational Christology of this fifth century bishop of Rome and defender of the doctrine of the Trinity - as recounted by the brilliant, curmudgeonly, and delightful Latin professor and Carmelite monk, Fr. Reggie Foster

This podcast is especially poignant during the season of Epiphany.

For more of Fr. Foster's addictive podcasts, click here.  They are not only insights into the Latin language, but also history, theology, and western civilization.  There is not a dull moment, and you just never know what is going to come out of his mouth next!  Here is the unique method by which he teaches Latin - which he has taught in Vatican universities, Roman hillsides, and in a church basement in Milwaukee - to appreciative students from around the world.

I had the privilege to meet Reggie and sit in on one of his classes last Summer (along with Deacon Latif Gaba).  If I were to win the lottery and be able to take a sabbatical, I would spend a summer in Milwaukee studying Latin with Reggie.  But I count it a great gift from God to have "accidentally" met one of his students on the train from Chicago to Milwaukee that allowed me to meet him and be his student if only for a couple hours.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sermon: St. Titus - 2011

26 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Titus 1:1-9 (Acts 20:28-35, Luke 10:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

On this day, the Church honors St. Titus, a pastor and bishop whose name gives us one of the books of the New Testament. St. Titus was ordained into the ministry by St. Paul, and traveled with him spreading the Gospel: preaching and administering the sacraments. Unlike many of the fathers of the Church, it seems that St. Titus lived a full life well into his nineties, serving in Eastern Europe as well as on the Island of Crete.

St. Paul prepared Titus for his pastoral ministry in Crete by describing what Bishop Titus would find there. Paul did not have too much good to say about the Cretan Christians. Just a few verses after our lesson, St. Paul writes:

“‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons…. Therefore rebuke them sharply…. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works.”

One only wonders if St. Titus read these words from his mentor wondering why Paul didn’t explain all this to him before he was ordained!

But this is the point of having a pastor and having a church. Pastors are sent to sinners, and the sinners congregate together in worship; a church is a bunch of sinners gathering together. But they are not gathering together to pursue their sinfulness, but rather to be forgiven. They do not call pastors to tell them how wonderful they are, but rather because they know that they need to be called to repentance.

It goes without saying that what is true of people in Crete is true of people of every time and place. We are all sinners and we all need to repent. We are all condemned by our works, and we all need salvation by the Lord’s grace.

And that, dear friends, is why St. Paul laid hands on Titus and sent him to Crete.

St. Paul prepares the men called by the Holy Spirit and sent out by the apostles by giving them fatherly advice: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [that is, bishops], to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.” Paul warns of spiritual battles with “fierce wolves” and those teaching unbiblical doctrines.

He reminds his fellow ministers that the “Word of His grace… is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among those who are sanctified.” Dear friends, is there anything more comforting and calming than “the Word of His grace”? Jesus has not come to condemn, but to save. He has come to call us to repentance and to offer us forgiveness! For all of the filth and muck of human sin and the fallen world in which we live (and worse yet, to which we contribute), we have the promise of the cleansing of baptismal waters, washing us clean in the mercy of the very Lord who sends out ministers armed with the pure Word!

St. Paul reminds Titus and all men who bear the Holy Office that much is expected of them. They are to be “above reproach, the husband of one wife” with obedient children. A bishop must not be “arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” He is to be a sound teacher of Christian doctrine and he is charged with the difficult task to “rebuke those who contradict it.”

This is a tall order for men who are themselves far from perfect and also under the curse of sin. And this is why St. Paul explains the ordination ceremony of his other associate Timothy as the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit, reminding him “to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

Likewise, Titus is reminded that he is not only to be a teacher of doctrine, but also a man of encouragement and exhortation, “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable to people.” He is to discipline those who cause trouble: “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissentions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

But the bulk of Titus’s work as a minister of the Gospel and a steward of the mysteries will be far more joyful. For Titus is a bishop of faithful souls, a pastor of the flock, a preacher of the Good News of the coming of God in human flesh in order to forgive sins and save sinners, and he is a man with the privilege – by grace alone – to stand at the holy altar and distribute the true body and blood of Jesus Christ to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

He is also a minister of Holy Baptism, as St. Paul writes to Titus: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

There is no greater or more eloquent summary of the Gospel that these words given to St. Titus to preach, dear brothers and sisters in Christ! And thanks be to God that this Good News still resounds the world over, declared from marble pulpits and whispered in prison cells, preached from rooftops, and chanted in the shade of mud huts. Wherever Christians gather, called and ordained servants of the Word declare that Word, forgive the sins of those who repent, and joyfully deliver eternal life to those called by the Holy Spirit.

For St. Paul does not send out Titus to preach on his own authority. Titus was called, ultimately, as every other proclaimer of the Good News of our Lord, by the Lord Himself. For Titus was ordaind by Paul, and Paul was ordained by Jesus. And it was Jesus Himself who first sent laborers into the harvest “as lambs in the midst of wolves.” It was our blessed Lord who commanded His preachers to say: “Peace be to this house” and to “heal the sick and say to them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

This ministry did not end with the death of the twelve, nor with the death of St. Paul, nor even with the death of St. Titus. For those upon whom hands were laid in ordination, likewise laid hands on other servants of the Word. And this ministry continues to this very day.

Cretans are not the only ones in need of rebuke and forgiveness. That is why the Word is proclaimed to “all nations” and disciples continue to be made by Holy Baptism in every corner of the globe. What St. Titus preached, we too hear, dear friends. For Titus proclaimed the Word. That Word is still just as valuable and relevant to us today. Though Cretans may lie, the Word of God is always true!

For as Paul reminds Titus, and us in this time and place, we have the “hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in the Word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.”

Thanks be to God for Titus, for the Word, and for our life as forgiven sinners that will have no end! Amen.

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

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sermon: Epiphany 3 - 2011

23 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 8:1-13

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“When Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who followed Him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

Jesus marveled!

Dear friends, think about how extraordinary something must be to make Jesus marvel, to strike God with awe, to cause the master of the universe to pause for a moment in wonder. And the thing that makes Jesus marvel is a remark made by a soldier, a Gentile soldier, a man who is asking for the Lord’s help. But there are thousands of people seeking out Jesus, pleading for help, asking for a healing or an exorcism or some sign or wonder from God. And many such petitions come from Gentiles. But what makes the centurion so marvelous is his faith.

He doesn’t come before Jesus dazzling Him with his knowledge of the Bible. From Luke’s Gospel, we know that this soldier is sympathetic to the Jews, but as a captain in the Roman Army, he does not worship in the temple or synagogue. He doesn’t come before Jesus citing rabbis and ancient religious commentaries – for he has not come to the Lord to discuss theology. Nor does he try to convince Jesus of his own knowledge, righteousness, or worthiness. Indeed, as a Roman soldier, an officer in the service of a cruel and pagan regime, one would be hard-pressed to entertain such a claim from such a man.

And yet this centurion comes to Jesus, seeking His help in an almost matter-of-fact way – and Jesus marvels and declares that he has more faith than any of the thousands of the children of Israel that Jesus has encountered.

The Holy Spirit uses this incident to teach us what faith truly is.

Faith is nothing more than believing a promise. And when the one making the promise is Jesus, and when the promise itself is restoration, health, and life – that is the kind of faith that results in sins forgiven, death repealed, Satan defeated, communion with God restored, and eternal life offered as a free and full gift.

Indeed, how often we have heard our Lord exclaim to those who received His merciful gifts of healing and of the forgiveness of sins with this declaration: “Your faith has made you well.” For the promise comes from the mouth of God, faith receives the promise, and the promise becomes a reality.

The centurion has faith because he believes in that which He cannot see: the promise of Jesus. A military officer routinely puts faith in his subordinates. He tells men what to do and depends on them to do it. If they don’t, lives will be lost. And soldiers obey their officers because they know there will be severe consequences if they don’t. In the military, following orders is simply a way of life.

This is what it means to be a “man under authority.” The captain takes orders from the colonel and gives orders to the sergeants. Or as the Roman centurion says it so simply: “I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’

The centurion knows that he doesn’t have to keep asking. He doesn’t have to visit each private soldier with each minor task. Nor does he have to check later to see if the tasks are fulfilled. For that is what it means to wield authority. It is the confidence, the faith, that one’s words will be obeyed and the work will get done.

The centurion understands that Jesus too has authority – over diseases and demons – and even over death itself. And just as the centurion has faith that his men will fear his wrath, respect his authority, and obey his word, he likewise has faith that disease and sickness will flee the Lord’s wrath, respect the Lord’s authority, and obey the Lord’s Word.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is what our Lord marvels at. The centurion needs no proof, no sign, nor even the touch of a hand or a personal visit. He doesn’t ask for a token or a piece of paper. He simply takes Jesus at His Word, at His promise. He simply believes. And he even declines Jesus’s offer to come and heal the servant in person, for the centurion knows and confesses his own uncleanness, but also confesses his belief in the one who overcomes uncleanness: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed.”

“I am not worthy. Only say the Word.” That, dear friends, is the very definition of faith.

Faith is that kind of belief in the Word of Jesus, and is so sure of the Word’s promise that it needs no external confirmation. Jesus said it. I believe it. The Word does what it says it will do. I am forgiven. I am healed. I have eternal life. All according to the Word and the promise. “I am not worthy… only say the Word.”

“And to the centurion,” and to all of us who cling to the Word and promise of our merciful and mighty Savior, Jesus says: “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And we are healed the very hour that we make such a confession of faith.

For centuries, Christians have prayed a version of the centurion’s prayer upon drinking the blood of Christ, upon receiving the free gift of the Lord’s salvation promised in the Word and attached to the wine of His most holy and precious blood, “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” a prayer of such faith that the Lord not only carries out the promise to forgive, heal, and make whole, but also causes Him to marvel:

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and Your servant will be healed.” Amen.

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

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sermon: Funeral of Hilda Jung

22 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Rom 8:28-39

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Robert, Ruth, and Myra; James and Ronald; nieces, nephews, grandchildren, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests: the peace of the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ be with you all.

What a sense of loss we have on this sad day, the hollow emptiness that comes from having to say goodbye to someone who has been among us for the better part of a century. Right up until her last moments on this side of the veil that separates the living from the dead, Hilda’s ever-present sisters watched over her with loving and tireless devotion, and Hilda constantly expressed her gratitude and her love back to them in return. It was a rare thing indeed to see them apart from one another.

It has been my honor to give pastoral service to Hilda at the stage in her life when age and infirmity make spiritual care perhaps more common and more intense than for younger folks. And, dear family members and friends, I want you to know what a privilege it has been for me to bring God’s Word and Sacrament to Hilda. Not only was she always appreciative and grateful, but profoundly inspiring to me as her pastor. Hilda was always an example of faith to me.

For Hilda Jung truly hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and according to the promise of the Lord, she has now been satisfied!

According to our reason and senses, Hilda hungered and thirsted because of the frailties of her body. To the world, Hilda was fragile and sick – especially in her later days. To the senses, Hilda was weak and not of much consequence in a world that worships money and position and power, a culture that admires swagger and bluster. Indeed, we live in a society that doesn’t understand the treasures waiting to be discovered among those who have accumulated a long lifespan of experience, nor their love and their prayers that the world deems foolish.

But, dear friends, the Lord’s kingdom laughs at such self-important blather. For according to God’s Word, it is when we are weak that we are strong. When we let go of self-reliance and instead depend on the Lord’s providential grace, it is then, brothers and sisters in Christ, when we are at our strongest.

In the kingdom of God, Hilda Jung was, is, and ever more shall be, a woman of might, a warrior, one who is “more than a conqueror” because she held fast to the promise that “for those who love God all things work together for good,” and that indeed, this is most certainly true for those who “are called according to His purpose.”

And this is where Hilda drew deeply from the well of divine strength. It is from the Word and promise of her Creator and Redeemer and Sanctifier, the holy name into which she was baptized – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – which endowed dear Hilda with courage and strength and a spirit of calm in the face of her increasing struggles of health.

Hilda’s faith was not merely an inspiration to us, but also for her, a passport to eternal communion with God and everlasting life. The veil that separates sinful man and righteous God was shredded when our Lord Himself died on the cross, in His own suffering and bodily weakness. For listen again, dear friends, listen and hear the mighty words of St. Paul: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?”

Who indeed, brothers and sisters? Hilda has no accuser, for she has been judged righteous by God through the cross and according to the blood of Christ. For just as Hilda understood that her strength did not lie in her physical power, she also confessed in word and deed that her righteousness does not lie in herself, but rather in her blessed Savior. For as the apostle continues, “It is God who justifies.”

Hilda understood, and now understands for all eternity, that she stands in the presence of God just as she is, “without one plea” – except the only plea that counts: the blood of Christ shed on the cross as a pure sacrifice and all availing atonement.

And she also understood, as perhaps only those who have suffered physical distresses truly can, that our strength lies not in ourselves. For Hilda often prayed and confessed these very words of St. Paul and of Holy Scripture, the rhetorical question that is actually a statement of victory: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

Hilda’s tribulation and distress included physical ailments and frustrations over an aging body that would not respond to her wishes.

But Hilda, along with St. Paul actually answers the rhetorical question with a firm “No!” And that “No!” is Hilda’s confession. It is the “No!” of the whole Christian Church on earth. It is the “No!” of every soul who has suffered for the sake of Jesus, of every person who has come to faith in Christ, of every man, woman, and child washed by baptism and set apart for eternal life. For it is the “No!” of this response:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Though the world saw a frail woman and now sees a body stilled by death, we cling to the Lord’s promise and the Lord’s resurrection, and we see the Lord’s dear child who is now with Him and awaiting the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

“For I am sure,” says St. Paul, says the Scripture, says the Church, and says Hilda Jung for all eternity, “for I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Hilda has won the victory because Jesus has won the victory. And just as God was hidden on the cross and revealed in the empty tomb, Hilda confesses with us and with the Church: “I know that My Redeemer lives!” Hilda knew that “God so loved the world...” Hilda held fast to the comfort that “The Lord is [her Shepherd] – and now she has no want. Hilda suffers and struggles no more, dear friends. And though we feel the grief, she feels the joy; though we struggle with the feeling that something is missing, she rejoices in the very real fullness of God’s glory.

“Oh what [her] joy and [her] glory must be,
Those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see!
Crowns for the valiant, to weary ones rest;
God shall be all, and in all ever blest.”


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

The South Votes to Secede

No, this isn't a repeat from 150 years ago, but this article about a present-day secession process in Sudan does go to show how limited, decentralized government and home rule never really go out of style.  Even the president of the United States is onboard. 

Of course, I wonder how he's react if Louisiana held the same vote (as happened in convention, January 26, 1861 in Baton Rouge, 150 years ago this Wednesday).  No, I really don't wonder at all.  It would be "different."  In that sense, the southern Sudanese have rights denied to Americans for a century and a half.

God save the Southern Sudanese!  Deo vindice.

Friday, January 21, 2011

District President Receives 2011 Sabre of Boldness

 Since 1996, sixteen men have been awarded the Sabre of Boldness award by the editors of the journal Gottesdienst.  It began as a kind of joke, but like many things in the Lord's providence, God had other plans.  Today, the Sabre is a high honor, and has been awarded to Christians around the world who have suffered for the faith, and yet remained faithful.

That being said, the Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt still finds a way to blend the seriousness of those who suffer for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the self-deprecating humor that doesn't take itself too seriously.  And this is a Lutheran paradox to be sure. 

Anyway, here at Gottesdienst Online is a well-written piece that not only reports on this year's award (announced and presented yesterday) which went to the LCMS Iowa East District President, the Rev. Dr. Brian Saunders, for his heroism and boldness in finding placements for nearly all of the candidates from Fort Wayne last year who were bereft of calls.  He is truly worthy of this honor, and he has served his Lord and Church boldly with his courage and hard work.

Also in the article is Dr. Eckardt's remarks that are both humorous and poignant.

As St. Augustine said, "Take and read."  You won't be sorry! 

And, dear reader, please pray for all Christians everywhere who suffer and struggle for the sake of the Gospel!

Law and Gospel Quiz

Lutheran Pop Quiz:

Class, please take out a sheet of paper and a number 2 pencil...

Does the following statement fail to distinguish between Law and Gospel?  Why or why not?

“The sum of the preaching of the Gospel is this: to convict of sin; to offer for Christ’s sake the forgiveness of sins and righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life; and that as reborn people we should do good works.”
Bonus: Who said it?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sermon: Epiphany 2 - 2011

16 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 2:1-11 (Amos 9:11-15, Rom 12:6-16)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There were actually two miracles at Cana on that great day of our blessed Lord’s first sign. The most spectacular of the two, the one often depicted in artwork, the one that has given us a figure of speech, is when our Lord turns water into wine. And although this is the most spectacular, “the first of His signs” that “Jesus did at Cana in Galilee” is actually the lesser miracle. The greater miracle is tucked away at the end of the reading: “And His disciples believed in Him.”

Belief, that is, faith, is the greater miracle. In fact, one could say that faith is the greatest miracle – for in faith, we sinful, flawed, and by our fallen nature unclean creatures actually believe God and cling to His promises that bring us forgiveness, life, and salvation.

“And His disciples believed in Him.”

Think about how great this miracle is, dear brothers and sisters! For had they not “believed in Him,” they would have remained in their sins, hopeless and helpless, bereaved of the new life and bereft of salvation. Without this miracle of faith, all the water-become-wine in the world would have been meaningless. But with faith, the promise of the Word given in water is received and appropriated; with faith, the New Testament in the Lord’s blood given in wine is imbibed and made one’s own. For water being turned into wine is a sign done by God who reveals His might to us in power, but faith is a sign done by God and given to us by grace! To be sure, our Lord’s miracle of turning water into wine is also an act of compassion, but in the end, what saves the disciples of Jesus – including all of us disciples here – is not the fact that Jesus turned water into wine, but rather that we “believe in Him.”

Think of how easy it would have been for the disciples to disbelieve. They could have assumed Jesus was orchestrating a trick or putting on a show. They could have chalked it up to a prank by the wine steward or the groomsmen playing a little joke on the groom. Or they might have assumed the servants were in error, and now covering up their mistake. Or that they misheard the conversation. But no, they do not go there. They don’t put their brains into overdrive seeking a logical explanation to a mystery that cannot be explained.

Rather, “his disciples believed in Him.”

“Now faith,” says the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” For rational creatures to have faith in anyone or anything is, and always has been, a wonder. And especially in our own day in which science and technology, mathematics and computer algorithms rule the day – it is a miracle that anyone has any faith at all.

Moreover, we look around with our eyes and we see destruction, brokenness, sickness, sadness, suffering, persecution, the proliferation of evil, intolerance of God’s Word and against the Church, good called evil and evil called good, and even basic matters of human biology being remade into a theater of the absurd.

We see the rich oppressing the poor, and the poor taking advantage of the rich. We see intergenerational strife as children ignore parents and parents do not listen to children. We see racial and ethnic strife – even to the point of genocide. But worst of all, we see and we experience the darkness of our own hearts, our own sinful hearts, our own hearts that do not deserve to beat even one more time if God were to judge us as we deserve.

And in the midst of this, we “believe in Him.”

The prophet Isaiah speaks of a land in ruins and laid waste, with the people seemingly left to their own devices to repair, rebuild, and restore it. But the people have something that changes everything; they have a promise: “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it in the days of old.” “The mountains shall drip sweet wine…. I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them…. Says the Lord your God.”

With the eyes and according to reason, one sees a hopeless mess of ruin. But according to the eyes of faith, we see a remnant of people who “believed in Him.”

And when we look at ourselves, we hardly see the beautiful image of St. Paul’s ideal of the Church: genuine love, the abhorrence of evil, holding fast to the good, brotherly affection, showing honor, zeal, fervency, and service. It is truly impossible according to our reason and senses to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation” and “be constant in prayer” on this side of the grave.

And yet, in spite of it all, we “believe in Him.”

And this belief, this miraculous faith, is not simply understanding doctrine or memorizing the catechism – as good and helpful as those things truly are. For when it comes to the kind of so-called belief that is only comprised of bloodless facts and heartless formulas, untempered by compassion and unseasoned by love, “even demons believe – and shudder!”

The disciples of Jesus do not merely believe in what they can see and hear, nor even in what they are taught and have studied – but rather they believe “in Him.”

“In Him” dear brothers and sisters! Their belief is not in themselves, in their grasp of doctrine, in their feelings, nor in anything other than Christ!

For as remarkable as the water turning into wine truly was and is, even as John gives this miracle the venerable title of the first sign, that miracle pales in comparison to a sinner turning into a saint, of confession, of repentance, of conversion, of believing in Christ as Lord, as Savior, as Redeemer, and as God in the flesh. And yet that miracle happens every day as the baptismal waters lead people to the wine of the Lord’s blood, and as the brackish water of unbelief is changed into the sweet wine of faith.

Jesus keeps “the good wine until now,” for now is the day of salvation. Now is the day of our repentance. Now is the day of our forgiveness and new life.

“And His disciples believed in Him” – now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sermon: Baptism of our Lord - 2011

12 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 3:13-17 (Isa 42:1-7, 1 Cor 1:26-31)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

John the Baptist does not baptize everyone.

“Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees” says St. Matthew, just a few verses before our Gospel for today, came to John to be baptized. He refused them baptism and even called them a “brood of vipers” because they did not “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” They needed to repent, but acted like they didn’t.

And John sent them away.

John the Baptist initially wanted to likewise turn Jesus away – but for a different reason: “I need to be baptized by you,” John protests, “and do You come to me?” For Jesus did not need to repent, but acted like He did.

And John tried to send Him away.

But our Lord Jesus is not so easily put off. He, who is the Word Made Flesh, commands John: “Let it be so.” The one who has come seeking baptism now commands baptism, the preacher of good news is visited by Good News preaching. The same One who said: “Let there be…” in the beginning, now begins His ministry with a “Let it be so.” And what’s more, this “let it be so” is repeated in the Lord’s prayer – where it means simply “forgive,” as in “forgive us our trespasses.”

For Jesus has not come to John to be forgiven, but to forgive. Jesus does not come among sinful men to repent of sin, but to bring sinful men to repentance. Jesus does not come to John to hear him proclaim the Good News of the kingdom, but rather to be the Good News of the kingdom to the proclaimer.

This is how things work in our Lord’s kingdom. His ways are not our ways. And His ways are not merely perplexing, but shocking; not merely unexpected, but jubilant; not merely mysterious, but magnanimous!

The one Man in all the world who needs no repentance comes to be baptized in a baptism of repentance, “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And three years later, this one Man will truly fulfill all righteousness in a baptism of blood, on the cross. And on the third day, this one Man will rise from the grave, will drown the devil in a New and Greater baptism given to new preachers, who will go out into all the world preaching repentance and offering a baptism to men far and wide, men who need repentance.

And that baptism truly fulfills all righteousness.

For what happens to Jesus happens to us, dear friends: “When Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him.” The Holy Spirit descends upon Him even as the Father pronounces Him “beloved.”

Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, we are “poor miserable sinners” in need of forgiveness. And like Jesus, we have been drawn to the waters of Holy Baptism by the will of the Father and by the life-giving ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In our baptism, we are given the gift of life – the life of Christ. We are given the gift of a ransom – the ransom of the cross. We are given the gift of forgiveness – of the fulfillment of all righteousness by the One who not only takes flesh with us, is baptized among us, but who dies for us.

What makes our baptism so glorious in the light of our Lord’s baptism is illuminated by St. Paul: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”

The Pharisees and Sadducees went away dry, and Jesus went away wet. Sinners who counted themselves righteous because of pride were humbled, while the Righteous One who allowed Himself to be numbered among sinners in His humiliation is exalted. And we, dear friends, share in the exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ, for “because of Him,” proclaims the apostle, “you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

“For consider your calling,” says St. Paul. “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness,” prophesies Isaiah. Even though we are not righteous of ourselves, the Lord has fulfilled all righteousness in baptism. “I will take you by the hand and keep you,” says the Lord, even as we are taken by hand to the waters of Holy Baptism.

And hear anew the gracious promise of help to those in need: “A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench.” For though we may become tired or lose heart, He, who is our righteousness, “will not grow faint or be discouraged.”

And even though John refused baptism to the Pharisees and Sadducees in their sins, and even though John nearly refused baptism to our Lord in His righteousness, we, dear brothers and sisters, have been mercifully granted baptism from our sinfulness into the Lord’s righteousness. We have gone up “from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened” to us.

We have been forgiven, we have been born again, we have been given “righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” for we have been baptized…

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

Sunday, January 09, 2011

"Everybody blames the Lutherans."

Here is a link to a poignant scene from a great (at least in my opinion) film.  The "embedding" feature is disabled, so you'll have to do the hard work of clicking on the link to see the YouTube video of the clip.

The movie is, of course, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino (spoiler alert). 

The movie has some beautifully done Christological symbolism; deals with confession, absolution, and redemption (note the scene in front of the baptismal font as well as the ending which I won't spoil for you); and is a classic Clint Eastwood good vs. evil story.  And, atypical of modern movie-making, the persistent pastor is a good guy.

The language is gritty, so viewer discretion is advised.

It calls to mind my own baptism at age 18 with 7 Hmong people gathered around the font at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.  For a while, we even had the Gospel read in both English and Hmong.

I thought of the line "Everybody blames the Lutherans" in our Book of Concord class last night, as we covered Apology 7 and 8, article 25:

"Now, if we would define the Church in this way, we would perhaps have fairer judges.  For there exist many excessive and wicked writings about the pope of Rome's power, for which no one has ever been charged.  We alone are blamed, because we proclaim Christ's graciousness, that by faith in Christ we obtain forgiveness of sins..." (Ap 7/8:25, McCain edition).

"Everybody blames the Lutherans" (Walt Kowalsky, Clint Eastwood interpretation).

Sermon: Epiphany 1 - 2011

9 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:41-52

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Being the mother and step-father of God has its challenges.

There is a balance to be struck between, first, what Mary and Joseph must do in responsibility for the Son charged to their parental care, and, second, what they must do in obedience to God.

This is one of those things that the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the mystery of the Incarnation makes interesting in our fallen world. For Blessed Mary is rightfully hurt that her Son seems to have disobeyed her. And yet, her Son is God. To obey His parents means to be in His Father’s house, doing His Father’s work, preparing to enter the Father’s service.

And likewise, St. Joseph understood full well that he is not the true Father of Jesus. He may not have been able to wrap his head around the fact that His stepson is God, or that in the real order of things, the Son should be telling the stepfather what to do. But we know this much: Joseph is a good and pious man, who loves his wife and who serves God obediently.

And while the boy Jesus does explain to His mother that He is the Son of God, and that as such, He has obligations that even outweigh His need to obey every wish of His mother, notice how He treats His mother and stepfather: He “was submissive to them.”

This humility is not Jesus just being polite. He knows that the Law requires Him to obey His mother and stepfather, to submit to their authority in matters on earth, and to carry out His unique vocation of the Son of God sent to redeem mankind. Jesus knows that He is also the Son of Mary, born into this world to be nurtured and raised by her and by her faithful husband.

For ultimately, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord’s humility is not about His putting on a good show, or even upholding the Law perfectly (though He certainly does that). Rather, our Lord’s submission, His humility, His placing of every single sinner before Himself, is the very reason He came to earth.

This is our Lord’s salvation at work!

Every aspect concerning Jesus’s humility points to His humiliation – which culminates with His passion and death. Even as Jesus submits to His “blessed” mother and his “just” stepfather according to the Law, so too will He submit to the unjust priests and Pharisees, the unrighteous Herod, and the malevolent Pontius Pilate – all for the sake of going to the cross “for us men and for our salvation.”

In order to win for us the forgiveness of all our sins, our Lord also earns the forgiveness of the sins of all sinful men – even those who have not merely humbled Him, but humiliated Him. That is the perfect submission of the Lamb of God, the One led to the slaughter, and yet who opens not His mouth, the One who suffers in the Garden of Gethsemane because of what we have done in the Garden of Eden, the One who rises again victoriously from the tomb in the garden, “who will come again with glory” to be submissive no more.

We do not like to submit because we are sinful. Our Lord willingly submits because He is sinless. We do not like to submit because we think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Our Lord willingly submits because He thinks more highly of His Father than we do. We do not like to submit because we love and trust more in ourselves than in God. Our Lord willingly submits because He is God, and He can trust Himself and His Father – even as He loves us.

For that is what submission is, dear friends: love.

Love is not a warm feeling, a physical urge, nor even profound devotion. Love is not abstract or emotional. Love is submission of the self in the interest of the beloved.

Some women chafe at being submissive to their husbands as the Lord describes married life in His holy Word. It isn’t about power and rights. But rather when wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, they are really being invited to love: to love their husbands, to love their children, and to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Likewise, some husbands will not give up everything for their wives. They may feel that any man who would give up activities and things that they like for the sake of their wives are being weak in their submission. To the contrary, submitting to the beloved one under your authority is not an act of weakness, but rather of strength, of integrity, of love.

For that is the very submissive love not merely spoken about, or even demonstrated, but lived out by our Lord in His submissive love for His bride, the Church.

Our Lord is also submissive in honoring His promise to forgive us all of our sins, to bring to us the magnanimous gift of everlasting life, to hear our prayers, to bring us into harmony with His Father and in His Father’s house through lowly baptismal water, to commune with us submissively in humble bread and wine.

In submitting to His Father’s perfect will and in submitting to the passion, cross, and death according to the twisted will of us sinful men, our Lord Jesus displays perfect love: obedient love for His Father, and heroic, saving love for us sinners. He obeys the Law and takes all of the world’s sin made manifest by that Law upon Himself – following to the letter the perfect will of His Father. And to us, He manifests the Gospel, taking all creation to Himself for renewal, in spite of, and by means of, the imperfect will of His fellow human beings.

Mary and Joseph had an impossible job: to exercise authority over, protect, and teach the already-perfect God. Jesus likewise has an impossible job: to be perfect and yet die as a condemned criminal for the sake of the imperfect world. But with God, all things are possible, dear friends, even our salvation by a God who comes into our world as a child. St. Mary “treasured up all of these things in her heart,” even as she was to watch Her Son, Savior, and God die on the cross. Our Blessed Lord, in humble submission in death, claims victory and dominion over all life.

And this is the greatest mystery of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, dear friends. We have many questions that must remain unanswered in this life, on this side of the grave, but the one answer that we have been given, the answer that trumps all other answers, is in response to this question: “Why did Jesus submit?”

He did it out of perfect obedience to His Father and in perfect love for us, His dear and yet sinful brothers and sisters. He loves us with the love that submits in order to save, that bears sin in order to forgive those who sin, that dies so that we might live – both in this life, and even unto eternity. Amen.

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

Friday, January 07, 2011

Veni mecum vela da

Although released in 1977, "Come Sail Away" by Styx may be the quintessential 1980s prog-rock pop song:

Soft piano ballad beginning? Check.
Operatic vibrato-laced vocals? Check.
Power chords on the guitars? Check.
Synthesizer solo, more than one minute long? Check.
Key change in the last verse? Check.
Fade out? Check.
More than six minutes long? Check.

It's dated, but still fun to listen to; the kind of thing middle aged guys listen to in the minivan on the way to the Circle-K to buy milk...

Bonus: Live performance from way back in 1996.


Lady Godiva

One of the more interesting stories in history is that of Lady Godiva.

Her account, though shrouded by legend, is actually at its heart, a true story involving a tax protest, persecuted Christians, God's grace, conversion, and of course, a naked ride through town by a bold long-haired eleventh-century noblewoman.  You just can't make up stuff like that!

The part about Peeping Tom seems to be a myth added much later.

St. Paul makes reference to a woman's hair being symbolic of her modesty, a "covering."  When it is grown out, a lady's hair can actually be a "covering."  For example, Mrs. Hollywood could certainly walk around in public (not to mention ride a horse) without a stitch of clothing on and not break any decency laws - at least with a strategic arrangement of the mane.

I would not advise her to do it, especially since she gets a chill very easily - even here in South Louisiana.  But one thing that both of us can support is a good old old-fashioned tax protest.

And then there is the chocolate...
Mrs. H. a few months ago when her hair was shorter...

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Sermon: Epiphany (transferred) - 2011

5 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 2:1-12 (Isa 60:1-6, Eph 3:1:12)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Darkness can be a good thing. Nobody wants to eat a nice meal in what appears to be a surgeon’s operating room. And a lot of people are unable to sleep with the light on. But typically, darkness symbolizes ignorance, crime, sneakiness, and evil.

And similarly, light symbolizes knowledge, propriety, openness, and righteousness.

Isaiah takes up this theme of darkness and light when he prophesies: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

He tells the people to “shine” with the reflected light that shines on them. It is the light of the “glory of the Lord.” It emanates from God and dispels the gloom of the sinful and fallen world. And Isaiah continues: “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.”

This darkness of our present age hangs like a pall, covering the face of the earth like a cloth draping a body in the morgue. This is the darkness of sin, of evil, of death; the darkness that causes men to stumble and despair. It is the darkness that can be overcome by one thing, and one thing alone: “but the Lord will arise upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

And listen to the prophet’s words as he elaborates, “Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult.” The darkness of the captivity of Israel will not only come to an end, but Israel shall shine like a beacon, illuminating the darkness of the Gentiles who do not know God.

The prophet speaks of camels and travelers, and of gold and frankincense being presented as gifts. And these travelers from afar are also bringing “good news, the praises of the Lord.”

Isaiah’s prophecy is called to mind every time we set up a nativity set, and the camel stands in the presence of Jesus as the wise men – usually depicted as three men – open their treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh – kingly gifts for a baby King who is also a Prophet and Priest.

For the good news of the coming of Jesus to dispel the darkness of our sin-draped and death-covered world is too radiant to be kept hidden under a veil, or contained in a manger, or hoarded by the children of Israel. No indeed! The brightness of the Lord’s coming is manifested not only in the shining of the angels in the heavens, but by the heavens themselves, as a mysterious star heralds and guides the travelers through the darkness by heavenly light to the very Light of the World, the Lord of the heavens and the earth!

The Lord Himself guides these Gentile travelers, navigating them around the dark and wicked plans of the brooding Herod, drawing them to the baby Jesus in the flesh, so that they might “worship” him. For this is no ordinary prophet, priest, or king. He is truly “the” Prophet who is the living and active prophetic voice of God; He is “the” Priest who sacrifices Himself as the all-availing oblation to atone for the sins of the whole world; and He is “the” King of the universe, the fleshly manifestation of the God who has created all things, and who governs all things – not by raw power, but by love and mercy.

This Christ child, “God in man made manifest,” is the “Light of the World that,” as John the Evangelist confesses, “no darkness can overcome.” No darkness – not even the curtain of sin, death, and the grave can stifle this beam of radiance. Not even a cold, dark tomb. For this Child is God, He is the very Light prophesied by Isaiah, and He shines forth with the very Glory of God, for He is “light of light, very God of very God.”

For that which was “hidden for ages,” namely God’s plan to “bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery” is done so in Christ. He, and He alone, is the Light that dispels the darkness of sin and death. And this Light is not spread by candles or laser beams – but rather as St. Paul says, by the grace of preaching.

For the God who “created all things” is now, in Christ’s manger and at Christ’s cross, the one who “might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” And this manifestation of the Light of Christ is delivered “through the church.”

That means us, dear friends!

Our Lord Jesus, the Light Himself, preached about the light of our good works being placed on a stand, so that all may see this manifestation of Him working through us, and glorifying our Father in heaven. Our Lord dispatched the apostles into the dark and gloomy world to enlighten it with the Lord’s gifts, with the lamp of the Word of God unto our feet as a light unto our path. And this light is shared neither by burning flames nor by glowing bulbs, but with water and words, with Baptism and preaching, with the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, and the Real Presence of the Light manifested in His Holy Sacraments. For this dark mystery has been made known by revelation, to St. Paul, and through him to us.

Dear brother and sisters, listen and see how fortunate and blessed we are! Isaiah’s hearers could only dream and imagine a world where darkness could be chased away by the light of Christ. But we now know, and we have seen His glory – not in the light of a star, but rather in His manifestation among us in our lives, in the mystery of the Word’s proclamation and its power to free us from sin and death, as well as the mystery of the Sacraments, which enlighten and strengthen us, forgiving and restoring us, even as we walk and move and live in this sin-darkened world.

This “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations, dear brothers and sisters, “as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”

For here is the good news, the mystery revealed, the veil of darkness lifted, and here is the glorious radiance of the light: we are “members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

We are partakers! Partakers of the promise! The promise in Christ Jesus! This is the gospel, the good news, the manifestation and revelation of the enlightenment of the truth that in Him, “we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.”

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

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Your Obligatory 80s Flashback: "Parts is Parts"

Amazingly, both Wendy's chicken sandwich and McDonald's Chicken McNuggets are still around today.

Sermon: Christmas 2 - 2011

2 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 2:13-23 (Gen 46:1-7, 1 Pet 4:12-19)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt,” the angel of the Lord instructed Joseph, “for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.”

Of course, we know that Satan’s attempt to use Herod to snuff out the life of the Christ child was futile – even as his attempt centuries earlier to use Pharaoh to wipe out the life of the infant Moses did not bear fruit. Of course, many innocents were slaughtered by these wicked accomplices of the devil. “Collateral damage” is the term we use today, as evil takes its toll even when it fails to accomplish its goal.

For whether we’re talking about Pharaoh or Herod, Nero or Diocletian, Hitler or Stalin – Satan has used, uses, and will continue to use powerful men to try to thwart the will of God, even as he sought to persecute the prophets who preceded Christ and to crucify Christians who follow the cross of Christ, the Crucified One.

And just as Satan failed to destroy Moses, the savior of Israel, and our Blessed Lord, the Savior of the World, neither will Satan destroy the Word proclaimed by the Church. The devil does indeed claim “collateral damage,” dear Christians, and has claimed the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters in the last century alone, but he will never destroy the Word made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, and the very same Word of the cross, preached by the Church: the Word that has not only the power, but also the promise, to save sinners the world over.

For even as the Lord spoke to Joseph, the Lord’s stepfather, and told Him to take the infant Christ to Egypt for safety, the Lord also spoke to Jacob, the father of an earlier Joseph, telling him to join his children in Egypt for safety and to be saved from death. And in the very bodies of these Israelites was the Seed, the yet unborn body of the One destined to crush the head of the devil and save all of us from our sins and from the grave: our Lord Jesus Christ.

And while we mourn the loss of those who suffer for the sake of Christ, we rejoice that the Lord Jesus suffers for our sake, taking away our sin, winning life for us, and defeating the devil. This is how it is that those who lose their lives for the sake of Christ find life. And those who choose to save their own lives at the expense of Christ ultimately lose their lives. Jesus has already won the war for us, dear friends, even when we (as we inevitably will in every manifestation of warfare) lose battles and suffer casualties.

The Holy Innocents were killed in the place of the Christ Child, owing to Satan’s failure. But the Lord Jesus Christ has come to die in the place of the Holy Innocents, owing to His own victory over Satan at the cross and at the tomb. Satan brought death upon the children in his futile attempt to destroy the Son of God, while Jesus brings eternal death upon the Satan, giving life to the children of God.

And while we mourn with Rachel, who refused to be comforted, we are comforted by the promise of the resurrection, the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ over Satan, over sin, and over death itself.

This is why St. Peter, who would find Himself persecuted and put to death on a cross for the sake of the Crucified One, can exhort us to “rejoice” when the “fiery trial… comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” He tells us not to be surprised at this.

For how can we consider it strange, dear brothers and sisters, when Satan attacks us, when the devil persecutes our brethren around the world, when the old evil foe seeks to tempt us and discourage us and separate us from Christ and His love? And what greater fool’s errand could there be, dear friends, for we bear the promise in the Word (the Word that cannot lie) that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Satan is burdened with one failure after another, even if he is able to make us suffer, to persecute us, and even kill many of us.

But hear again the word of our martyred and yet victorious brother, the apostle Peter, in his encouragement: “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

For we worship a God who is willing to come to us, even in danger, even in vulnerable flesh, even in the form of a helpless baby in need of protection from sinful and imperfect men. We worship a Father and Creator who takes risks – for He created us knowing that we would rebel against Him, reject Him, choose Satan over Him, and even kill His prophets and crucify His Son. But for our loving and merciful God, our Savior and Redeemer, no risk is too great to save us, no sacrifice too dear, no love too costly – and yet it is all given to us as a free gift.

That, dear friends, is the message not only of Christmas, but of Christianity, not only of our Lord’s flight to Egypt to be saved from the evil one, but the flight of God’s Word all over the Word to save us from the evil one.

For the “Word by whom all things were made” makes His way from the Father by the Spirit to the womb, from the womb to the manger, from the manger to the cross, from the cross to the tomb, and from the tomb to the Word proclaimed to the glory of the Father and in the unity of the Spirit. He has descended to our world to save us, even as He was taken to Egypt to save Him.

For Jesus was saved from the devil that we might be saved from the devil. And He came to suffer in time so that we will not have to suffer in eternity. And so any temporary suffering of ours, any “collateral damage” meted out to us or to our brotherhood for His sake only serves to remind us that He has suffered for our sake to give us eternal life.

His victory is our victory, even as His life is our life.

For “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name,” the glorious name “Christian” given to us, dear brothers and sisters, by the God into whose name we are baptized, through whose name we have salvation, by whose name we have victory over sin, death, and the devil, and that is…

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

Saturday, January 01, 2011


I've actually had a little time today to savor the current issue of Gottesdienst

If you're a Lutheran and you love the historic liturgy of the Church, you might want to consider subscribing.  It is a quarterly journal, and is in its 18th year of publication.  The Editor in Chief is the Rev. Dr. Burnell F. Eckardt, Jr., pastor of St. Paul's Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Kewanee, Illinois.  The editorial staff currently includes ten rostered clergymen of the LCMS - one of which is me.  I'm one of the Gottesdienst Online departmental editors, and have recently been named the Sermons Editor for the print edition.

Gottesdienst is unapologetically Lutheran, and we are committed to the Western Catholic tradition of which the Evangelical Lutheran confession is a part - especially in matters pertaining to our confessional commitment to the Gospel in its expression in the Lutheran liturgy.

Some people have accused us of being "chancel prancers" - a below-the-belt stereotype that implies that we are shallow in our appreciation of the liturgy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I was a Gottesdienst reader even before I attended seminary, and have always found it to be focused on the Gospel, on the cross, on the Word of God and the Sacraments, and rooted in the Bible and the confessions.  I have always been impressed by the depth of the theology, the sermons, the studies of Holy Scripture, and the lively defense Gottesdienst has for traditional Lutheran worship practices. It is a wonderful shot-in-the-arm, especially to American Lutherans who are sick and tired of (if not wearied and despondent at) seeing their churches turned into stages, their worship transformed into entertainment, and their liturgy degraded into pop music and dancing girls.

That is rather what is shallow about much of American Lutheranism.

Reading and supporting Gottesdienst one of the best ways you - whether you are a pastor or a lay person -  can get involved in pushing back against the diabolical trend that would turn your congregation into a party center.  To borrow a turn of phrase from the previous LCMS administration: "Gottesdienst is not a program, but a movement."  The current issue includes what amounts to be a mission statement and summary of what Gottesdienst is all about, presented in a magnificent piece by the Rev. David H. Petersen (pastor, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana) entitled "Reverence: Fearful Knowledge and Hopeful Expectation" which begins on page 10:

"The actual details of what is now being done, such as wearing chasubles, chanting, and the like, are not so significant as the reason behind them.  Gottesdienst might have the reputation of being all about smells and bells, but that reputation is undeserved.  It has been foisted upon us not by our readers, who know our journal is about the grace of God in Jesus Christ, as demonstrated in its sermons, biblical commentary, and articles on the history and practice of the liturgy, but by those who are simply threatened by the reverent and deliberate worship practice and who love the status quo.  But our advocacy for reverent and deliberate worship comes not from personal preference or love of fancy stuff.  It comes, rather, from the deep conviction that God interacts with His people in the Service.  God is present for us in the Divine Liturgy.  So we ought to pay attention.  Even as we are overjoyed at His grace and mercy, we must always remember that He is God and we are there to receive His gifts and hear His Word, not to be entertained" (Gottesdienst Vol. 18, No. 4, p 11).


The entire article is as well-reasoned, eloquent, and relevant as the above quote.  Parts of it will even make you chuckle.

This issue (Christmas 2010) also includes:
  • a Christmas sermon by St. Augustine, 
  • a series of Liturgical Observer articles by Dr. Eckardt ("The Trouble with a Vocalist", "The Trouble with the Installation Service", "Drama in the High Pulpit", and "On Being Backstage"), 
  • a Motley Magpie column by Rev. Peter M. Berg ("The Art of Preaching, Part 1"), 
  • a Sabre of Boldness column by the Rev. Colonel Jonathan E. Shaw ("The Role of Religion in National Security Policy since 9/11"), 
  • a guest essay by Jane Schatkin Hettrick ("The Disappearing Organist"), 
  • a Pondering the Holy Liturgy column by Dr. Eckardt ("The Distribution"), 
  • news announcements concerning a Christmastide Retreat in Kewanee, Illinois (January 2-4) and the upcoming annual awarding of the Sabre of Boldness in Fort Wayne, Indiana (January 20) 
  • a Musing on the Mysteries column by Dr. Karl F. Fabrizius, engaging Genesis 1:6-13.  
  • And last, but not least, some tongue in cheek humor, offered in the spirit of Reefer Madness, poking a little fun at the latest document from our synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations.

And if this were not enough, also included is a handy liturgical calendar for Sundays in 2011, and a flyer and order form for Gottesdienst's latest publication, Dr. Eckardt's magnificent book The New Testament in His Blood: a Study of the Holy Liturgy of the Christian Church.

The only bad thing about Gottesdienst is that we don't have the resources - financial and temporal - to make Gottesdienst a monthly endeavor.  But it does make those four issues a year all the more celebratory!  And if you are Jonesing for Gottesdienst between issues, please feel free to join the resistance at Gottesdienst Online.